Authors: Jenna Black
I shook my head, barely able to find enough voice to muster a weak protest. “This is a fake. I never—”
Brian didn’t even let me finish. He dropped the envelope and the photo on the floor, then turned away and stormed out my front door, slamming it behind him so hard my teeth rattled.
I fell to my knees, clutching my abdomen, unable to absorb the enormity of what had just happened. I wanted to cry,
to cry, maybe even to scream and break things. But all I could do was kneel in my foyer, trying to remember to breathe as I stared at the faked photo that had just destroyed something precious.
know how long I knelt there, swimming in misery. Long enough for my knees to ache and my feet to fall asleep. Eventually, I staggered to my feet, pins and needles jabbing fiercely at me, and moved the pity party to the sofa, where I could be more comfortable in my despair.
I knew who had to have sent Brian that envelope, of course: Barbara Paget, PI to the rich, famous, and vindictive. She’d even warned me, in a way, that time I’d spotted her snooping outside Adam’s. She’d said it was going to get worse, and that she was good at her job. Of course, what she’d done had been well over and above her job, and surely against the law. I don’t suppose it’s against the law to falsify an incriminating photo as long as you’re not using it in court, but it was clearly unethical. And the note had said she’d found traces of my blood on a whip in Adam’s house. I didn’t imagine she’d come by that evidence legally. What kind of moron would break into the house of the Director of Special Forces, especially when he was a demon?
, Lugh’s voice whispered in my head.
Remember the sister at The Healing Circle?
I remembered, all right. I remembered speculating on how Barbie could afford to keep her sister in such an expensive facility in her line of work. She must have been well paid for tearing my heart out of my chest. I wanted to track her down and beat her into an oozing puddle of goo, but getting arrested for assault probably wasn’t in my best interests.
Of course, if Barbie had broken into Adam’s house to acquire evidence of our supposed affair, she might have left some evidence behind herself. Wouldn’t it be lovely if Adam searched the room and found a hair that could be matched to Barbie’s? It probably wouldn’t mean a whole lot of jail time or anything satisfying like that, but it could put her reputation in the toilet, where it belonged.
I forced myself to my feet and trudged to the foyer, picking up the envelope that Brian had dropped. I shoved the note and photo in the envelope; then, without giving myself time to think about what I was doing or whether it was wise, I headed out to Adam’s place.
There were lights on in the house, and both Adam and Dom’s cars were in the small private lot across the street, so I knew someone was home. However, it took about ten rings of the doorbell, which Adam had finally gotten around to fixing, before anyone came to the door. The small part of my brain that was still working told me the delay in answering the door meant I’d come at a bad time, but that didn’t keep me from hitting the buzzer over and over again.
The door swung partially open to reveal Adam, his hair mussed, his feet bare, and his shirt misbuttoned. Yup, I’d interrupted something all right. And I didn’t give a shit.
“This had better be good,” he growled at me. His glare should have reduced me to a pile of ashes.
I couldn’t meet his eyes, unable to bear that look when I was about one wrong word away from shattering into a thousand tiny pieces that could never be put back together again. I tried to think of something to say, some way to broach the subject of what Barbie had done, but I couldn’t seem to form words.
“Shit,” Adam muttered. “I guess it’s not anything good.” He sighed heavily, then opened the door all the way. “Come on in.”
I stepped inside and saw Dominic leaning against the wall in the foyer. He didn’t look quite as disheveled as Adam, but he’d obviously dressed in a hurry, and his face was flushed. For half a second, I worried that Dom might react as badly to the falsified photo as Brian had, but I shook the idea off. For one, Dominic knew
what had transpired between Adam and myself. For another, his relationship with Adam was a lot more solid—and, let’s face it, more healthy—than mine with Brian.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
I had a childish urge to throw myself into his arms and bawl my eyes out. Dom is probably one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met, the kind of guy who would always know the right things to say. I felt the sting of tears in my eyes and blinked rapidly.
Instead of answering Dom, I invited myself into the living room, taking a seat on the couch and hugging a throw pillow to my chest. The guys followed me, Adam sitting on the opposite end of the couch, Dom once again leaning a shoulder against the wall. I glanced up at him.
“Why don’t you come sit down?” I asked. I could hear the strain in my voice. I tried clearing my throat, but it didn’t help. “This might take a while.”
The flush in Dom’s face deepened, and one corner
of his mouth rose in a grin. “I think I’ll stand, thanks.”
I was a little slow on the uptake—as usual when it came to these two—so I stared at him cluelessly for an awkward moment before I figured out what he meant.
“Oh,” I said, and felt the heat rising in my own cheeks. I must admit, I was a bit surprised. Obviously, I knew the two of them were into S&M, but I’d been under the impression that Adam didn’t inflict any serious pain on his partner. Then I remembered the time Adam had been forced to “perform” for Shae, the owner of a demon sex club. I’d gotten a front-row seat, so to speak, as Adam took a paddle to Dom’s ass. Those had not been little love taps. Of course, Shae wouldn’t have been satisfied with little love taps.
I must have looked more uncomfortable than usual, because Dom hastened to reassure me.
“I’ll be fine in a little bit,” he said. “You just caught us at a, um, awkward moment.”
“Sorry,” I mumbled, squeezing the throw pillow tighter and dropping my gaze to the floor.
“Come on, Morgan,” Adam prompted. “Tell us what’s wrong.”
I took a deep breath, doing my best to shove my rioting emotions into a closet and close the door on them. I glanced up at Dominic once more.
“I know you’ll figure this out on your own, but let me tell you anyway that it’s complete bullshit.”
He blinked at me. “Okay.”
I let go of the throw pillow and dug the envelope with the incriminating evidence out of my purse. I handed the note and the photograph to Adam.
“Someone sent these to Brian,” I said.
Adam’s eyebrows shot up when he saw the picture. Dominic came over to look, and his expression
mirrored his lover’s. He reached for the photo, and Adam handed it over without any hesitation. I guess he didn’t suffer a moment’s worry that Dom might think it was the real thing. Dom frowned at the photo while Adam read the note.
I looked up at Dom. “Like I said, total bullshit.”
He waved his hand dismissively and handed the picture back to Adam. “I know.” He put a hand on Adam’s shoulder in a silent show of solidarity. “I’m guessing from how awful you look that Brian took it at face value. Frankly, I’m a bit surprised at him.”
Adam shook his head and handed Dom the note. “Read this and you’ll understand,” Adam said. He looked at me. “Let me guess: Brian asked you about the blood, and you gave him your usual poker face.”
I nodded. “He showed me the note, and I just…” I shrugged. How could I describe what I’d felt when I read it? But I didn’t really need to describe it. Adam and Dom both understood.
Dom dropped the note on the coffee table then came and sat beside me on the couch, a brief wince the only evidence that sitting down was uncomfortable. He grabbed both my hands and gave them a squeeze.
“It’ll be okay,” he said, and the tears I’d been fighting since I stepped through the door rose closer to the surface. “I’m sure he’s not thinking straight right now, but when he’s had a little time to calm down, he’ll listen to reason.”
I wished I could believe that. Maybe if there hadn’t been so many other problems in our relationship, I would have. But honestly, we’d been fighting an uphill battle to stay together anyway, and I wasn’t sure our love could survive a blow like this. Right now, I was the walking wounded, my heart bleeding all over the floor and my soul bathed in pain. But
when that first wave of pain and shock began to ebb, I knew what would follow: fury.
Yes, I understood that the evidence looked damning. If there’d been nothing but the photo, or if there’d been nothing but the note, I probably could have convinced Brian that it wasn’t true. I knew the two together had been a devastating one-two punch, especially when I’d acted so guilty over the note. So in many ways, Brian’s reaction had been perfectly reasonable, and it should have been hard for me to blame him.
But it wasn’t.
How could he know me as well as he did and still believe I would cheat on him? I wasn’t even willing to cheat on him in my
, despite the constant temptation Lugh threw my way. I’m the first to admit I have plenty of flaws, but fooling around on the man I love wasn’t one of them.
How could he have believed it of me? And even if he could somehow come to see the truth, even if he could somehow come to forgive me, the question remained—how could
I gently extracted my hands from Dom’s grip and leaned back into the cushions of the sofa. The elephant was still sitting on my chest, and holding my head up was more trouble than it was worth.
“I assume our faux-reporter friend is the source,” Adam mused.
“Why don’t you leave your investigation hat in the closet for a while,” Dominic suggested softly.
I shook my head. “Thanks, Dom,” I said, forcing what I’m sure was a pathetic imitation of a smile. “I appreciate the thought, but I need to keep my mind occupied. From the content of that note, it sure sounds like she broke into this house. If she conveniently left some evidence behind…”
“Did you tell anyone about what happened that day?” Adam asked me.
I shuddered. “No.” I couldn’t look at him, fearing I would remember the terror that had shaken me as I waited for the lash.
“Dom?” Adam asked, and I saw Dom’s eyebrows shoot up.
Adam shook his head. “Just asking. I’d have an easier time believing Barbara found out because someone let something slip in a conversation than that she broke into the house and found the whip.”
I winced. Adam could talk about this so calmly, not the least bit troubled by the hell he’d put me through. I had for the most part managed to suppress the memories, but clearly Barbie’s little fishing expedition had dredged it all up.
“Besides,” Adam continued, “only an amateur doesn’t clean his whips when—”
“Adam, shut up,” Dom interrupted as he slipped his arm around my shoulders protectively.
The corners of Adam’s mouth tightened, but he stopped talking. I found myself leaning into Dominic’s body. Since he wasn’t into women, Dom was probably the only man—other than my brother, who seemed to have checked out of the human race— I could accept a hug from right now without having to worry about what signals I was sending. And I badly needed that hug.
Without another word, Adam stood up and left the room. Great. Now
was pissed off, too.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured, and Dom gave me another squeeze.
“Nothing to be sorry about.”
I groaned. “If only that were true.” A little self-pity, anyone? But I had ample justification for it.
Dom ignored my whining. “You look like a woman badly in need of a drink,” he said.
I had to bite my tongue to quell the protest I wanted to utter when he let go of me.
“I don’t want a drink,” I said instead. I’ve never been much of a drinker, and I was upset enough that my stomach threatened to toss anything I put in it back up.
“I’ll get you one anyway. You don’t have to drink it if you don’t want to, but it’ll be here if you want it.” He flashed me a sad little smile, and I nodded in acquiescence. Dom stood up and reached his hand out to me.
“I’ll wait here.”
He rolled his eyes. “No, you won’t. Come on.”
It would have taken more energy than I had to argue, so I took his hand and let him drag me to my feet. I followed him into the kitchen and took a seat at the table.
Dom knew my tastes well enough not to try to convince me to drink anything too hard and manly. Instead, he made a perfect, frothy cappuccino and then added a generous shot of Frangelico. Adam’s host had made that drink for me once, and it had been damn good. And despite my misery, the smell of first-class coffee was more than I could resist. When he put the cup in front of me, I immediately picked it up and took a sip.
I couldn’t help smiling a little in wonder. “You are an absolute genius in the kitchen,” I said, savoring the smooth, sweet aftertaste.
I took another sip, trying to focus all my attention on how delicious the drink was. Dom sat next to me at the head of the table, and his presence was a balm on my wounded soul. I realized he was the one man I
knew who was just an uncomplicated friend, not someone who wanted something out of me. That realization threatened to bring on the tears, so I shoved it aside and drank more coffee.
My devastated mental state left most of my barriers and shields down, and I found myself asking Dom something that under ordinary circumstances I’d never have even considered asking.
“How can you like it when Adam hurts you?” I immediately regretted the question, but Dom didn’t look offended.
“I like it because when he hurts me, it doesn’t really hurt.”
He smiled at me. “I can’t believe you’re actually asking me about this. You usually look like you’re going to die of embarrassment if we even vaguely allude to anything you might consider kinky.”