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Melanie. The Underground is exactly as I remember.
The Underground is exactly as I remember.
Nervous about encountering any mean men, but happy about Brooke expecting us, I tug Pandora toward our ringside seats, and that’s when I spot her.
My best friend. Dark hair in a ponytail, skinny jeans, spaghetti-strap top. She’s staring up at the ring as the two fighters work each other to the point of collapse.
“BROOKE!” I call as I start running over, and she leaps out of her seat.
She’s been my best friend since we were old enough to wear halves of a locket that said “Best Friends” and broke right in the middle. Naturally I still have my part in a little box under my bed, but Brooke’s part fell during a sprint and we never got it back. Which is fine, because our friendship itself has never broken. I’ve never fought, loved, or had as much fun with a girl as I’ve had with my best friend, so there’s naturally squealing involved when we hug today after months of separation.
After a tight squeeze, we both push each other back to make a thorough inspection. I want to make sure Mr. Riptide is taking care of my girl, but, holy shit, Brooke looks . . . there are no words for the shine in her eyes and in her hair and in her smile.
“Look at you!” I cry. Shit, of course he’s taking care of her, he freaking adores the Jesus out of her.
“No, look at you!” she counters as she hugs Pandora even though Pandora doesn’t like to hug as much as I do.
Pete comes and greets us as we settle in our seats. He starts chatting up Pandora about his romance with Brooke’s sister, Nora. I loathe Nora, so I’m glad the bitch is in college and away from here. Pete is so good for her, but I secretly hope he’ll fall for someone nicer and sweeter and smarter and break up with her for good. Nora used to be the girlfriend of one of the Underground’s grossest fighters, one with a scorpion tattooed on his big fat head—enough said.
I squeeze Brooke’s hand so that she updates me on everything possible. “How’s Racer? Am I going to get to see him tonight or is it going to be too late?” I demand.
“You can come over to our suite, of course! He’s so big, Mel. But tell me—” She stops talking and her eyes widen when we hear the word “RIPTIDEEEEEEE” shoot out from the speakers.
And the arena knows it’s that time. Riptide. Remington Tate. Brooke’s husband. God of sex—in case I haven’t mentioned him a little, let me just say I know for sure that every vagina in this arena is crushing over him.
The fights in the Underground are never as alive and intense as when he comes out—there’s just something about him. He puts it in the air, excitement, intensity, raw strength, and boyish playfulness.
“My ovaries just exploded,” Pandora mumbles to my left.
Brooke jumps to her feet as Remington “Riptide” Tate leaps into the ring, draped in a boxing robe that is redder than red—and I’m so excited to be here, to see this, to get my mind out of my own insecurities and that stupid debt that I can’t help it, and my body can’t help it, and my vocal chords can’t help it—so I scream.
“Remmyyyyy!!!” I’m on my feet with Brooke, where I can’t resist hugging and smacking her simultaneously. “God, you fucking whore, I can’t believe you do that every night!” I say, shoving her.
She shoves me back, yelling, “Several times a night!”
And that’s when he winks down at her from the ring.
She stops goofing around with me and grins back at him—all her attention on only him. Her husband now. And as he waits for his opponent, he keeps his smile and his sparkling blue eyes on her. And that look? It’s a clear You’re Mine look, but it’s so fucking tender I feel it melt over me. Greyson . . . Greyson . . . Greyson . . . suddenly he’s in my head, his own version of this look swimming inside me. His own version is a little less tender, a little more guarded, a lot more raw, a lot more dark, like there is something painful inside that makes him hurt more when his eyes meet mine. My body feels like a huge void just opened inside it at the mere memory of him. Of us.
“Oooh god, you guys are going to kill me,” I tell Brooke, watching as a big-ass man comes to take the stage. I’m concerned for Remy for a moment as the fight begins, but then, wham! He takes control so thoroughly that I’m not concerned anymore.
“YOU’RE THE SHIT, REMINGTON!” I squeal, pulling Brooke’s face to mine. “Look at you. Wife and mother, dude, he’s so fucking in love with you, I can’t even take it!”
“Oh, Mel.” She sighs and sags against me like she can’t take loving this man any more than she already does.
They bring another man up for Riptide, and I swear these opponents get bigger and bigger as the seasons pass by.
“Remy!” I scream again as the men start fighting up on the ring.
Brooke squeezes my hand, and I squeeze back and lift her hand in mine, high in the air as we watch them fight. “Remy! Your wife is hot for you, Remy!” I scream.
Brooke has always been the reserved one of us two, a little shy about speaking out with conviction, but I know that she loves it when I do the screaming here.
“Remington, you’re so fucking hot!” I scream on her behalf.
And then Brooke stuns me when she leaps up to her feet and cups her mouth so her voice carries farther, and she starts screaming with me, “YOU’RE SO FUCKING HOT, REMY, KILL IT, BABY!”
And he instantly kills it.
The public goes wild as his opponent falls down with a thud, and I stupidly blink at my best friend. “Omigod, so you scream now? And how well trained is Mr. Riptide to immediately please his sweet little wife?”
I’d go on, but Brooke is too busy grinning up at Remy because he’s grinning down at her, all sweaty and lickable, and I fall quiet while something squeezes hard in my heart.
I will never be the first person Brooke turns to now when she wants to cry, or talk something out, or vent, or go out for a run. My best friend is deeply, madly in love with this man who I know would go through hell and back for her—because he already has.
So, in a way, my best friend has a new best friend now. And he’s a husband too, a father to her baby, a lover to her.
But me? My guy likes to fuck me. He says he’s bad for me, but I sense he needs me. I sense he misses me. Is it my gut talking to me, or my silly hopes? All I know for certain is that I’m falling in love and I’m so far in deep now that the sheer gravity of it all makes it seem impossible to stop myself from continuing deeper and harder into this dark, unknown, scary plunge.
God, I’m so fucked.
Brooke seems to notice I’ve fallen quiet, and I hadn’t realized she’d been watching me intently.
“Do you want to talk about him?” she asks me softly, surveying me with the keen perception only a best friend could have.
I nod and I have to lean closer to her in order to be heard through the crowd. “When I don’t have to scream over these assholes!”
When the fights are over for the night, Pandora and I take a cab to our hotel, which, unfortunately, is not where the Tates are staying—their hotel is much too expensive. Pandora didn’t want to take anyone’s “charity” and I’m a world past broke, so we’re staying at a small three-star hotel a couple of blocks away.
Pandora, however, decides to opt out of visiting Brooke’s suite for the evening.
“Why?” I ask her, nudging her in the back of the cab. “Come on, it’ll be fun. I need to see Racer! Last time I saw him he was growing just a little buzz of hair and he smelled like talc and grinned at me with this one lone dimple that’s going to kill a lot of ladies someday. Come on!”
“Nah, I’m tired. You two should catch up. I’ll order pay per view and wait for you later.”
“You sure you don’t want to come?” The cabdriver seems to be getting impatient, so I open the door and wait for a second longer.
“Yeah I’m sure. You know I’d rather pet a dog than a baby.”
I nod slowly because I think I get it. I get her more than she knows. She thinks because I try to have fun, that I don’t hurt, or want anything, or take anything seriously. I laugh away my hurts, but she uses anger as a barrier. And I know it hurts her too when she sees Brooke sometimes, because Pandora used to be in love.
All I can guess is that she loved him very much. “Pan,” I say softly, “the guy who hurt you so bad . . . he wasn’t the only guy you’ll ever love.”
I don’t even know what else to say because I’m no expert on feeling like this—I can barely stand the way I feel for Greyson and I’m afraid to call it love. I feel even more awkward when we stop at Brooke’s hotel and the cabdriver complains, “Ma’am, you either in or out?” so I quickly step out and shout at her, “I’ll see you later. Watch a comedy!”
She flips me off as the cab takes her away, and I smile and wave. But as I get on the elevator, I just don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore except that a couple of months ago I didn’t know Greyson King. How can I miss him so bad now?
You’re in my veins, you fuck.
You’re in me one moment, you’re lost the next. You take me, you leave me, and I still wait, trembling for you to come back and do it again.
Ugh. When are you coming back?
Brooke swings the door of her suite open and babbles out, “I want deets and I want them now!” pulling me into the first bedroom, away from the group of guys in the living room.
She sits me down at the edge of a bed and then plants her hands on her hips like some demanding angel-bitch, her eyes gleeful with excitement. “Tell me. Tell me all about him!”
I laugh in excitement but then I groan and jab a finger into her chest. “I’m experiencing some déjà vu, except the poor sucker thinking she’d fallen for a guy who may be wrong for her was you.”
“Omigod, you love him, Mel?”
I can’t believe how hard it is to talk about him, even with my best friend. Sighing, I drop on the bed and pat the place next to me so she settles down close.
Love didn’t feel like this when I imagined I’d fall in love. Love was exciting and precious in my mind, not frightening and unexpected.
Brooke and I lie on our sides facing each other, smiling like we’ve done the thousand times we’ve spilled out secrets and fantasies and more. “Brookey, am I lovable like that? The forever kind? I’m good for fun, but do you think . . . Sometimes I think Greyson just doesn’t want to involve me in other parts of his life. I wonder if I’m just a sex toy to him, like I’ve been to every other man, but then he calls me, or then he gives me this . . .” I touch the diamond necklace hiding under my silky shirt. “He just looks at me in this way . . . I don’t know, there’s not even a word for that look. But Remy gives it to you too. It’s the BEST look. It gives me heat and heart palpitations and butterflies. And if you saw him with my parents, how he was laughing while we did our stupid Sunday games. I just refuse to believe that I don’t mean something to him, you know? He says I’m his girl.”
Brooke laughs and sits, hugging me briefly. “Mel, you’re fun and sweet, loyal and honest. You’ve got so much love to give. You love everyone, even strangers. You’re my little love bug. He’s lucky you not only get to love him, but you get to fall in love with him.” Her eyes light with excitement as she squeezes my shoulders. “Melanie, you’ve found your prince. He’s not even a prince, turns out he’s a king. Do you realize you’ve talked about this faceless, nameless guy since you were seven?”
“Dude, I’ve waited all my life to feel like this and now that I do, I don’t want to. I feel unstable, unsafe, vulnerable, happy, and yet worried it’s not going to last.”
“No! No, no, no, don’t hold back. Is Pandora poisoning your head? Mel, OWN THIS. Own how you feel. Tell him. Go after him. Go after what you want. You’ve always gone after it—you won’t back down now that you found it!”
“You say that now ’cause you’re no longer a chicken! You know Remington loves you. You know he loves you so much he’s never letting you go. If something happens, you’ll work it out and you both know it. He’ll fight for you and you will for him. But me? I don’t know what Greyson feels. He wants to be with me and then he’s gone for days. Whatever we have, it could be real or it could be something passing like—”
“Lust,” a low voice by the door says.
I lift my head to spot Riley Cole at the threshold, Remington’s coach’s second, looking cute as ever. Riley and I are great friends. We’ve gotten into a lot of mischief in the few times we’ve met after a Riptide fight, and not just sexually.
He’s a guy used to guarding secrets. I know, because when I tried to dig out all of Remington Tate’s secrets when he was pursuing Brooke like a battering ram, all Riley said to me was that he’d never seen Remington go after a woman the way he went after Brooke.
So Riley’s definitely a man who knows how to keep a secret. Including, thank god, mine.
Brooke has always said he looks like a sad surfer boy, and she’s right, he does. Which works for him. But tonight he looks more like Pandora’s angry blond twin brother, scowling at me with the same scowl he wore the day he first met me.
“What’s up with you?” I ask him, returning his scowl with one of my own.
“If this boyfriend of yours ever hurts you, we’ll take care of it.” He cracks his knuckles, and instead of making me scared on Greyson’s behalf, the sound makes me laugh.
“You mean you’ll take care of it, or Remy?” I say as I stand, hearing his quiet, familiar chuckle.
“Okay, you got me. Maybe I’ll bring Rem along just for intimidation purposes,” he says jokingly, but his smirk fades into a flat line of displeasure. “No one hurts you, Melanie. Or I punch him. I don’t care how many times I need to punch him to make him bleed, but I’ll make him bleed.”
I laugh as Brooke pulls me out to the living room so I can see her precious baby.
“Barbies don’t hurt, remember. Don’t worry,” I toss past my shoulder at Riley, kicking him playfully as we pass. He’d called me Barbie when we met, and not in a nice way, so flinging it back at him makes him simmer a bit.
Then I hear a baby sound and am filled with glee. I spot Racer proudly sitting on the curled arm of the bodyguard-nanny, Josephine. But he doesn’t want to stay there. Racer throws himself at his father, who was chugging down a blue sports drink, but when he sees his son coming, Remington catches him in one arm and slam dunks the empty sports drink into the kitchen sink.
Lifting Racer up high, he makes a growling sound, then carries him in a football hold, which makes Brooke groan at my side.
“Remington, he’s going to puke up all his dinner,” she chides.
“Ahhhhh,” he says, the sound incredibly cocky as he twists his son into a sitting position and avoids the catastrophe. Looking at Brooke, his smile flashes two sexy dimples at her, making her forgive the transgression, and I swear I’m almost dead.
And then Racer grins and flashes his mom one dimple too.
“Urgh! You’re both killing me!” I tell them. “Remington, I need to touch this baby or else!” I go and grab Racer and as I hold him to me, I make cute baby sounds as I nuzzle his little tummy.
He protests like he’s not exactly thrilled about it, and he looks at his mother, then at his father, then at Pete, with a new, sad dimple in his chin.
“What? He doesn’t like me?” Racer looks at his mother and his father again and makes a face that deepens that dimple on his chin. “OMG, I’m making him cry!”
I pass him to Brooke. “What a failure!” I laugh.
“You’re fine,” Remington says as he drops on a chair and pulls Brooke to his lap with one arm while he passes a nearby squeaky toy to Racer with the other.
Racer looks at the toy and his Melanie-induced cry morphs into a squeal of delight. Remy smiles down at him and then his eyes slide to Brooke, and what I see there truly, deeply kills me as he kisses the top of her head.
It’s that true, real I’d-die-for-you love that I’ve always dreamed about.
“Mel,” I hear from behind me, and when I turn to the sound, I realize Riley has been watching me all this time. He steps closer to me and whispers ominously, “Can I talk to you?”
I nod. There’s no mistaking the look of lust in his eyes. I sense that he wants me, aside from the fact that he also wants to talk to me. The old me would’ve wanted nothing more than another night with a fuck buddy. I can rarely say no to an attractive guy who wants me, but every pore in my body wants just one man now.
But I still nod at Riley, because he’s the only one I can talk to about the one thing that’s been plaguing my thoughts other than Greyson King.
♥ ♥ ♥
“HERE.” RILEY SETS a check atop the white linen of a small round table by the bar of a chic little restaurant just blocks from the hotel. “I’ve been saving up,” he explains.
“No!” I gasp. “Riley, don’t be ridiculous! I couldn’t!” I push the check back, feeling flustered as the waitress sets down our drinks. I wait for her to leave before hissing out, in a whisper, “It was my decision. I chose to do it, okay?”
“But I’m the idiot who suggested it in the first place,” he counters on another hiss, and he seems so genuinely mortified, he won’t stop shaking his head. “Remington never loses, Melanie. Never. If I’d known he’d throw the fight for—”
“Urgh, to save stupid Nora because he just loves Brooke too much not to do anything. But even if you’d told me he would lose, I’d never put my money on Scorpion. NEVER.”
“Then let me help you pay this debt off.” I ignore his pleading look and push the check back to him yet again, shaking my head too. “At least let me tell Rem,” he urges. “He’d pay on your behalf if he knew. If I hadn’t given you my word I wouldn’t tell anyone . . .”
“Riley, I’ll kill you if you tell anyone. We were drunk, out in town, you were making a bet, I was nosy and asked about it, thought it was such a great idea to make a bet of my own, especially when it seemed like such a sure thing! Then we went to your room and celebrated by thinking it cool to get in bed together. I feel stupid as it is. I don’t know what I was thinking!” An image flashes across my mind of a beautiful apartment—the apartment of my dreams—and my car debt paid off, and I add, “Well, I do know. I could’ve made a handsome down payment on my very own apartment and maybe even have the balls to start my own design firm.”
“Then let me help, Mel.”
I look at the check and a part of me screams Take it! Take it, Melanie! Please just save yourself from those monsters!
But what will Riley expect in return? How can I take money from a man when I’m in love with another? “This is very sweet of you, but no. Really.”
He cocks one blond eyebrow. “What about your new boyfriend? Will you at least let him help?”
My chest aches as I think about him and all the reasons why I can’t bear for Greyson to know. I gulp down the rest of my drink and admit, “I think that . . . if I ask for help from anyone . . . he’d be the last.”
“Because I don’t want him to know I’m this stupid! He knows I’m a mess already. Riley, he met me out with my convertible parked on a rainy night without the top—enough said. It’s a miracle he stuck around long enough to get to know me. I don’t want him to . . . lose respect for me. Think less of me.”
Riley’s scowl is getting darker by the second. “I can see he’s tossing diamonds at you already?” He nods to the necklace half-dipping into my top. “You know men do that to buy the women they sleep with? It has nothing to do with caring about you.”
“Yes, it does,” I counter. “It means he took the time to go and look for something pretty he thinks will make me happy.”
“You can use that necklace to pay, Melanie. Just tell him you lost it or something and get rid of this debt. Those men kill for five bucks—they’re fucking gangsters! Even the guy Pete deals with, Eric, looks sharp and polished in that suit, but they don’t trust that guy for shit. He just kisses Rem’s ass ’cause he’s their prime moneymaker, but everyone knows his boss Slaughter makes Scorpion look like a teddy bear. They say he’s got an enforcer that’s like some demon straight from hell, and he’ll come collecting whether you want him to or not!”
He looks around warily, then leans closer, across the table, lowering his voice. “Pete heard rumors the only guy with a lick of sense was Slaughter’s eldest, but he didn’t want shit to do with the dad and apparently dropped off the Underground years ago. Not even his son wants anything to do with a man like Slaughter. I swear I don’t sleep thinking you still owe them.”
My heart starts stampeding in my chest with renewed fear, and I hold my hands up, palms out, to pacify him. “Riley, I asked for more time, okay? We have to just . . . breathe here.”
“What? What the fuck? When’d you ask for more time?”
“Last time I came to see Brooke. It’s okay. Really! I just sold my car and can buy more time if I maybe give them half the payment.”
“No you fucking can’t, they’ll take it as interest and demand you pay fully before you can even walk out the door! Don’t ever approach men like these alone. Jesus, just trust me and get out of this, Mel. I paid my debt and I want to pay yours, and if you won’t let me, then at least promise me you’ll let your new boyfriend help. If you’re too proud to ask, just pretend you lost those diamonds on your neck and get rid of this debt; trust me.”
I guess I look as hopeless as I feel, because he adds, more direly now, “I vow, Melanie, if that debt isn’t gone before you leave, I’m telling Tate and we’re taking care of it for you, him and me.”
I gasp in outrage. “I will not let you or my best friend’s husband step into this, do you hear me? And I will not involve my boyfriend either. This necklace means something to me.” I touch my diamonds with an awful wrenching sensation in my chest as I wonder—Is this the only way I’m going to be free, letting go of the only thing the man I want with all my heart has given me?
“Riley,” I whisper, almost plead with him, “I’m just not this girl who swindles her boyfriends out of expensive things to turn them into money.”
He glowers at my precious necklace, and my stomach starts to hurt just thinking about parting with anything that has to do with Greyson.
“That gift didn’t mean to him what it means to you, I assure you,” Riley says with annoying self-confidence. “I’ve never seen a guy more in love than Remington, and he doesn’t need to throw dollars at Brooke to show it.”
“Well, Grey has a different style, so what? The end is the same. I feel pampered and taken care of and he gets a look in his eyes when he sees me wearing them that I absolutely adore.”
I can’t stand having another person in my life criticize Greyson to me! So I stare at him narrow eyed and add, so that he at least gets the true depth of my feelings for my man, “When he looks at me like that, I swear it’s all so perfect I sometimes have nightmares that I dreamed it all, that he’s too good to be true.”
“Maybe he is, Melanie. Maybe he’s two-timing you right now, meeting with some chick in secret as we speak.”
“Ha!” I lift my glass and sip my drink. “He’s a workaholic. If I have anything to worry about, it’s that mistress of his called Work Myassoff.”
Riley smiles at me, a chilling smile, a very unfriendly smile, and he nods to the entry of the restaurant.
I turn about ninety degrees to get a look . . . and that’s when I see him walking into the restaurant.
All my recognition flares into disbelief, excitement, and then, anger combined with a bolt of nearly blinding lust.
It feels as though an energy source clings to his skin, for the entire air shifted the moment he materialized in the room. Over six feet of pure male perfection. Greyson. Fucking. King. My hormones burst awake when he starts walking forward, following the mâitre d’, his eyes directly on a table at the far end.
I can’t believe it. My eyes run up and down his form. There is no word for the way Greyson walks, with a hand in his pocket, his face somber, his cheekbones chiseled, his jaw smooth and tan, his mouth perfection, his dark hair carelessly tousled; I swear that awesome hair is the only thing careless and playful about him. The rest of him is Bond 007 perfection, even those narrowed, hazel-green eyes, which seem beautifully self-contained and remote. Even now, two months after going out with him, I can sense he’s still holding back the most crucial part of him, but I can visualize an “us” and what we can be so perfectly, and I’m determined to make it happen. Greyson and Melanie, living Happily Ever After.
Then I see the woman at the table. Waiting. A redhead.
My blood pools at my feet when Greyson bends to kiss her cheek.
Riley and I only stare.
And I’m certain it’s not him. He’s working . . . somewhere. It can’t be him.
But it sure looks like him.
He’s wearing all black, his hair shining under the light, and he settles down in his chair, leans back in that self-assured way of his, and starts talking over a fucking candle to a redhead. A fake redhead. One who looks older and expressionless.
It cannot be Greyson!
I never get cheated on, I’m the one they cheat with.
My belly muscles are rigid with anger as I try to breathe and force my lungs to expand. I scan the restaurant around me for something to throw, but the best thing I can think of is throwing myself at that no-good whore.
My eyes blur and ache with the sudden urge to cry. It’s almost midnight. In fifteen minutes, I am twenty-five years old and my boyfriend is sitting at another table with another woman. I really, really want to cry now.
No. And let him see me snivel and cry like a hurt baby girl again? My mind churns with ways to make this hurt go away. How does it go when he’s in your veins? How?!! I laugh out loud, hard, and grip Riley’s hand, but Greyson’s not even looking in my direction, he’s not within hearing distance. He and his elderly whore are deep in conversation in their own little world. Their own Melanie-less world. A part of me still refuses to believe he would do this to me.
An idea occurs to me and I grab my phone and text him an angry face.
Then I tell Riley, “If it’s him, he will at least look at the text. He’s a slave to his phones.”
As if on cue, the man at the table edges back and slides his gloved hand into his pocket, looks at his phone, stares at it for a long, long moment, then he tucks it away and continues talking to the redhead.
My heart just got quartered.
I don’t know how long we sit there, Riley fuming in his seat, gripping it ferociously. They’d met briefly at Brooke’s wedding, and I could tell neither of them liked the other much. Now veins are popping up in Riley’s neck. “I’m going to go over there—”
“And what?” Stopping him, I pull him back down by the sleeves of his suit. “She could be a client. He never did really tell me where he would be this week . . .”
I trail off when she gives him her hand over the table, and he takes it and whatever was in her hand. Then he gives her a box with a bow and all. A blue box. She peers in, looks delighted, he smiles back at her, they have some wine.
“Waiter!” I yell. “Another round, please!”
♥ ♥ ♥
I’VE DOWNED A lot more cocktails by the time Greyson takes care of the check and they stand to go. Riley stands too. I foolishly turn around in my seat, my heart pounding as Greyson and the woman head for the door.
And that’s when he sees me.
A current, electric, runs through me at the way he looks at Riley, then at me, and I see a dozen expressions in his eyes until he shutters them, turns to the woman, whispers something and pulls her toward the exit as if he hadn’t just seen me.
All this time lying his gorgeous ass off.
All this time probably laughing at how stupid I am.
As he walks off with her, I see him turn his head the merest fraction. Straight toward me, and our eyes catch again. He searches my expression for a moment, the remoteness in his eyes flickering for the briefest moment with . . . jealousy? Anticipation pulses through me like a live charge at the way his eyes darken in . . . fury? He tingles my extremities, and it’s just that, a stolen look, and then it’s gone and he’s gone, taking HER—another woman—with him, at exactly the stroke of midnight.
Happy birthday, Melanie . . .
Riley remains standing, then he looks at me with a what-the-fuck look. “Your boyfriend . . .”
“Ex.” A sudden raw and primitive grief overwhelms me. “Ex-boyfriend. God, not even a text necessary. Not even a . . . Riley, please, let’s go. Please, please let’s get out of here.”
The tears are going to come whether I want them or not, and I don’t want them to be here. I grab Riley before he sits down again. “Please just get me out of here. Will you take me to your room, please—let’s just walk back to your hotel, please,” I whisper.
He pays our tab and ushers me out of the restaurant, tucking me close as we walk the couple of blocks to the hotel. I’m cold, cold down to my bones. We get on the elevator and I’m grateful that no one else is in here with us. My throat is on fire as the feelings of being a fool swim in me, and the necklace—his necklace—feels like a steel weight around me, choking me with his lies. I tear it off me and press it into Riley’s hand. “I can’t see this anymore. Let’s just do it. Sell it, get anything, take it please.”
My throat aches with defeat as I replay Grey looking at me, walking away . . .
Looking at me . . . walking away . . . like I am nothing.
Like we meant nothing.
“Do you think he’s got a wife? A family?” My voice breaks and I can’t ask any more questions as we head to his room.
“Dude, I don’t even know what to think. He didn’t look happy to see you, I’ll tell you that.”
I continue fighting my tears, fisting my hands at my sides as my whole body starts shaking. “He can go fuck himself and that whore. That fucking liar, that . . . I hope she gives him crabs. In fact, I hope they both have alien babies together.”
Riley ushers me into his room and shuts the door, and a sensation of intense desolation and betrayal sits deep in my gut. I’ve never in my life hurt like this. Never. I want the hurt to go away. I want the image of Greyson walking away with another woman to go away.
Blinking back the tears, I grab Riley’s shirt and pull him to me. “Riley,” I beg. His eyes widen when I press my lips to his.
“Mel,” he protests, but I can’t bear to hear it, so I press my lips harder.
“Please don’t say no,” I beg. “Please don’t say no. I swear every man-whore in the world should be castrated. You said you’d punch him if he hurt me. This hurts, Riley. This really hurts and I’m so done. I am so done with him.”
I kiss him. He kisses me back with only lips, soothing his hands down my arms. They feel warm, familiar. He holds me to his body and he feels good. Safe. I kiss him and wonder if maybe this is why one-night stands have been all I’m worth. Because I can’t deal. It hurts too much. And always someone else comes along, and for whatever reason, my guys stop seeing anything of interest in me. For some reason Greyson has lost interest in me. I lost him.
No. I never even had him.
The realization wrecks me, so I try kissing Riley on the mouth a little more and he lets me. His arms aren’t as thick, his lips aren’t as fierce, but I need them so much. Anything to try and stop thinking of . . . Grey pulling on my nipples with his teeth . . . tugging . . . sucking . . .
There’s a knock on the door and I groan in protest when Riley sets me aside.
“Pete could need me,” he explains, and I watch quietly as he heads to the door, his image blurry through my tears.
I unstrap one of my shoes and wipe my eyes. One night with Riley and in the morning it won’t all look so miserable. I will realize Greyson King isn’t the only man in the world. My heart will still be broken but I’ll glue it back together any way I have to, and I will be happy again.
I will be happy again.
Sniffing, I am quickly starting to unbutton my top when I hear a low, familiar voice speak.
“Where is she?”
I have never, ever heard anyone speak so quietly and at the same time sound so pissed.
My skin pricks and my gaze snaps up to the door.
Greyson’s tall, lean, black-clad form covers the threshold, and I hate how my systems go haywire at the sight of him.
I’m partly undressed in the middle of the room. Drunk. My hair a mess. My face a mess. Anger and hurt coil in my stomach as he comes forward with a blazing, territorial gaze.
I grab the shoe I’d been removing and throw it at him. “Get away from me!” I yell.
He ducks, and the shoe hits the wall and falls with a stupid thud to the carpet. Then, slowly, he straightens and comes the rest of the way over, grabs me by the arms, and hauls me up against him. Every inch of my body feels his. He looks at me with a fury I’ve never seen before as he starts to button me up, all the time those eyes looking at me until my stomach feels heavy as a rock. He jerks off his suit jacket and drapes it over my shoulders, forcing my arms inside and buttoning that too. Then he reaches for my strappy ankle boot lying across the carpet. Before I can stop him from putting on my shoe, he slips it on, efficiently straps it, and then he speaks to me in a low, cold voice. “Put your arms around me.”
“Where’s your fucking redhead?” I demand.
“I said put your arms around me.”
I don’t obey.
He doesn’t care.
He lifts me in his arms, his coat huge on my frame, and I have no choice but to hold on to his nape. Suddenly, I smell him. I smell him on the coat he put on me, and in the scent of his hair, and on his skin. Forest and leather and mint. The pain in my heart becomes a fierce and fiery gnawing as the stinging in my eyes returns.
As we pass Riley at the door, he flatly says, “Stay away from her.”
“If you fucking hurt her—” Riley starts, but Greyson cuts him off.
“No, if you touch her again, I’ll kill you.”
Greyson’s words—if you touch her again, I’ll kill you—send a chill through me.
Riley takes a step forward but I lift my hand to stop him and shake my head in a frantic no. I can’t bear to risk Riley and I’ve never—ever—seen Greyson like this. His whole body crackles with unleashed energy as he carries me to the service elevators, holding me in one arm as he murmurs into his phone, “Back service entrance,” and then he tucks the phone into his slacks and presses me even tighter to his chest.
Tighter than ever.
We’re alone in the elevator, and though he’s quiet, he’s wearing an expression I’ve never seen before.
I think I’m going to vomit.
We exit into the underground parking lot, the cool air biting into my legs and cheeks, and I close my eyes and duck against the cold, feeling utterly miserable when the heat of his body rises up to warm me. I wonder if she licked his skin. Slid her fingers into his hair. If he calls her princess too.
I briefly hear a car motor start nearby, and when I look up, Greyson is looking at me. When our eyes lock, my nerves sizzle down to my toes. My body is screaming possessively for me to claim this man from any other woman. But no. Greyson might drive my body crazy, but I just realize he can never, ever be the man for me.
He’s a cheater.
And he’s very, very mad right now.
A car pulls over in front of us and he yanks open the back door and as he guides me into the backseat, all this confusion rears up in me, and all the alcohol in my system isn’t helping.
He climbs in behind me, settles to my right, and slams the door, then a gloved hand cups my face and forces me to turn, where he looks at me with frustration carved on his hard jaw. “Sometimes I won’t be able to tell you everything about my work. I do it to protect you.”
“Fuck you! I saw you holding her hand. I saw you—”
“You saw me working, Melanie. That’s all you saw.”
“I saw you giving her a present, motherfucker! How on earth would a security job involve that, huh?” I push him away and he curses under his breath. “Do you feel like a big man, having lots of women panting after you? All of them deluded? Thinking they’re special to you?”
“Jesus, listen to you!”
“That’s right, and hear me well, Greyson, this is the last time I’m played! Do you hear me?” I rap on the limo ceiling, hoping Derek hears, but he doesn’t stop the car.
Greyson laughs in dark disbelief, then he rakes his hands through his hair and stares outside, his hands in fists, and I stare unseeingly out at the passing storefronts, stubbornly clinging to my anger and insecurities.
“I’m on to you, Greyson. What’s in your secret steel room? Porn? Is that where you Skype with . . . who the fuck is she?”
Until he interrupts, softly, “I saw your lipstick on another man’s mouth and I can still go back and break it until he can’t find his fucking teeth. Hell, I want you to watch me break it if only so you know, once and for all, that you’re my fucking girl and the only lucky bastard getting a piece of my girl is me.”
“Was!” I drunkenly correct. “Was your girl.”
He laughs more darkly. “You are so fucking mine you don’t even know how mine you are,” he says in a soft, threatening voice, and in my drunk brain, I suddenly register that he’s trembling with rage. He’s not worried about me having just caught him cheating. It seems all his thoughts are on his selfish jealousy. But I can’t even remember what happened in Riley’s room, all I keep remembering is Greyson and that bitch.
“You walked past me like you’d never seen me before!” I cry, hitting his chest.
He catches my wrist and squeezes. “Because I don’t want a woman like her to use you against me—anybody to use you against me. Do you understand me? Do you, baby?” he asks, lowering his voice, tender, almost pleading.
“I understand you are a liar and a cheater and you didn’t want HER to know you also had ME waiting on the side!”
“Fuck! Seriously? You were in another guy’s fucking room, stripping for him! Were you trying to drive me insane?” Suddenly the vivid pain in his eyes is real. The pain in his voice is real, so real my chest cracks open like glass. “Were you really intending to go through with it? Were you honestly going to let that motherfucker inside you?” he asks, every word like a shard inside me.
“YES!” I cry.
He shudders as if he’s breaking, and I start sobbing for real.
He releases me like he needs some distance, his voice trembling with more than anger. It’s pain, and it wrecks me. “Do you think you can fuck someone to replace me? Do you think he’ll make you feel the way I do? Was I nothing special to you, Melanie? Do you fall in love with every asshole you date?”
A tear runs down my cheek.
He slams a hand to the window and curses. “Fuck this.”
“It hurts,” I sniffle, talking to myself as I lower my hands. “You hurt me like nobody’s ever hurt me, Greyson! I can’t stop thinking about it. Do you call her princess? Do you spend your weekdays with her and your weekends with me?”
He stays silent, gazing out the window, his shoulders tight. “I don’t call anyone else princess. I don’t spend time with any woman but you. Hell, I work my days around just so I can come home to you.”
“Then why are you here with her? I’m not big on second chances, you know! But I’ve given you every fucking chance you’ve wanted!” I cry.
“She is nothing.” He grabs my face with his free hand, hissing through ground teeth, “She is nothing but a work contact. You are everything, you’ve been everything from the moment I saw you, screaming for Riptide. You didn’t see me, you didn’t see me, Melanie, but I’ve watched over you ever since—you are everything. Can you say the same about me? Can you say the same about him—that he’s nothing?”
I stare blankly at him for a moment. “He’s nothing, he’s a friend, I swear. He was a fuck buddy when I came over to see Brooke sometimes, it meant nothing!”
He stares at his hands. “But he’s touched you.”
I suddenly can’t stop myself from touching my boobs. So much smaller than the redhead’s. “Who was she? What’s her name? How do you know her?”
He rubs his face with both hands. “Just a business contact. She gets the dirty on men I need to negotiate with. I’ve never had a relationship with her. I’ve had a thousand fucks, but she hasn’t been one of them. My every single fuck for weeks has been you.” He looks out and curses, and I wipe my tears.
I see his face and remember the way he smiled at her and my stomach roils with fresh jealousy. “I wanted to pull her fucking hair out.”
“I want to pull his guts out!” He grabs me by the shoulders. “What part of you being my girl didn’t you understand?”
“I refuse to be yours if you’re not going to be mine. If you fuck around I’m going to fuck around—an eye for an eye!”
“Stop being a stubborn-fool drunk and listen to me. I am not cheating on you—but you were.”
I fall quiet.
“You and I were over the moment you walked past me and I realized all this time you’ve been lying to me,” I cry, sniveling.
“Come here,” he rasps out.
When I edge a little close, he opens his arm, and my eyes blur more when I think about explaining to him what Riley knows about my secret. “I’m fucking sorry, Melanie,” he says.
He pulls me into his chest and the familiarity in his embrace and the comfort I feel in his arms unexpectedly opens my floodgates.
“I’m sorry too, Grey,” I cry.
I start sobbing harder as he presses a very firm, almost desperate kiss to the crown of my head and squeezes me with almost enough force to break me and says, “It’s going to be okay. You’ll never have to run to another man again because I’m going to be right here. Right here for you, if you still want me after I tell you what I have to tell you.”
I try to wipe my face and look into his eyes. “You made me feel unworthy, Grey. Like you’re hiding me. I don’t know who you are, your parents, your family, I don’t know anything about you. Please, I want to know you. Can’t you see I want to know you,” I sob.
His eyes look haunted as he looks at me. “I hide you to protect you, because you’re my princess.” He strokes my nose. “I’ll tell you about me. Just let me enjoy the way these eyes look at me a little longer.”
He kisses my wet eyelids almost desperately, like what he is telling me is going to be bad, real bad, and like he thinks I won’t be able to stay after I hear it.
I cry harder. I’m used to his touch. His touch is unique, delicious, and I’ve felt it for eight weeks, but I knew one day it was going to break me.
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-13; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 6; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ