“That’s not fair.”
“What’s not fair is you never trusted me. I trusted you enough to tell you about Annabelle Underhill. Do you think it was an easy story to tell?” He finishes his coffee. “At least what you said about your roommate checked out.”
“Of course I checked. Had to make sure I had all the facts.”
He comes closer until I can smell coffee and alcohol overlaying his warm flesh. My heart thuds, and I wet my lower lip, wondering what he’ll do next. “You know what I hate the most about all this?”
I shake my head.
The back of his forefinger brushes along my cheek. The gesture is unexpectedly tender, which just makes it hurt more.
“I still want you in spite of it all.” His words are so soft, they barely whisper across my skin.
“I need to shower and do some work.” He drops his hand like a guillotine and stalks away.
Closing my eyes against the pain, I bury my face in my hands. How can I fix our relationship when he hates the fact that he still feels the connection between us?
I can’t keep running. I ran before, when things went south in Lincoln City. People blamed me for being my father’s daughter, and there was nothing I could do to change that. But things are different here. Elliot doesn't have a problem with who I am…it’s just what I’ve done.
I can work with that. I can find a way to make him see that I won’t do it again…and convince him I didn’t do anything to betray him.
I am not like the Annabelle from his past.
My finger still tingles as I viciously yank off my clothes and dump them on the bathroom floor. A button from my shirt hits the tiles, and I curse under my breath. Fuck it. The housekeeper will have to find it, or else the dry-cleaning lady can just replace it. I really don’t give a damn.
The shower is heating up, turning the room steamy. I put an overly large dollop of toothpaste on the brush and start scrubbing my teeth with more force than necessary, as though that will somehow stop me from going back downstairs and kissing my wife’s lush lips.
I should hate her for what she’s done. I do hate her. But somehow my hormones become entirely too active when she’s around.
I rinse my mouth out and step into the shower. The hot water erases the rest of the fatigue weighing on me. I didn’t sleep a wink last night. Impossible, when all sorts of thoughts were spinning and bouncing around in my mind like a BB in a pinball machine.
My wife’s betrayal hurts. In fact, it enrages me. Maybe time has dulled my memory, but I don’t remember betrayal causing this kind of anger before. Not that I wasn’t furious when Annabelle announced her engagement to my father, but the intensity wasn’t like this…this…all-consuming fire.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I bow my head under the water.
Belle’s voice shatters what meager calm I’ve been able to gather. I pull back from the spray and glare at her standing on the other side of the glass stall. She’s still beautiful, her green eyes dark and solemn and her soft mouth like a lush flower in that finely carved face. The flimsy silk gown skims the gorgeous body that I spent hours worshipping just a few days ago. Was it just yesterday that we came back from our honeymoon?
Knowing what she is changes nothing of my reaction to her.
I let my mouth curl into a sardonic line. “Didn’t you hear what I said about shower and having things to do? Unlike you, I actually need to work.”
She hugs herself. The gesture makes her look oddly alone, and I instinctively want to reach out and comfort her. “Don’t use that to shut me out,” she says.
Damn her. Damn me! I curl my hands into fists instead and keep them hanging by my sides. “Like you didn’t shut me out when you kept your secret?”
“You’re being unfair.”
I bark out a laugh. “There it is again. Unfair. That’s rich, coming from you.”
“When was I supposed to tell you? When you were shoving money into my G-string? When you were telling me to get down on my knees in exchange for three thousand dollars? When you were manhandling me at OWM?” She flings an arm out. “Or how about when you told me you wanted to marry me for a year so you could ‘fuck me’ and put your hand between my legs?”
That’s it. I’m not going to stay in the stall and listen to her try to justify what she’s done. I cut the water and come out, grabbing a towel. “How about the time I asked you to tell me your secrets? How about the time I told you my ugly past with Annabelle Underhill? I’ve been many things with you, but never a hypocrite.”
“As far as I’m concerned, Mr. Grayson is my problem. I owe him money, and I figured once I pay him off he won’t have any leverage over me. Why do you think I wanted to get a job?”
“And you could’ve told me then, too. When I told you it was pointless to get a job since I would be providing for you. You also could’ve told me what was going on, and I would’ve paid Grayson off on your behalf.” And seen if I could squeeze any information out of the man, given his connection to Keith Shellington, the Embezzling Asshole.
“I was embarrassed, okay? It was stupid to take his money. But…I was desperate.” She bites her lower lip. “You know how things were when we first met. We just started to have a decent relationship, and I didn’t want to ruin it by asking you to pay off my debt or talking about all the ways I screwed things up after I left Lincoln City.”
I toss the damp towel on the floor and glare at her. “So it’s my fault that you couldn’t come clean.”
“You’re twisting what I’m telling you.” Unshed tears spike her eyelashes, and she looks at me as though I’m the monster.
The same way Annabelle Underhill did when I called her out on her fucking scheme to marry my father. We were in a small closet where various dresses and outfits were stashed for their ceremony and reception. It was one of the few places we could have some privacy.
You’re twisting what I’m telling you, she said. If you hadn’t kept your plans secret…
“If we hadn’t such a rocky beginning…” my wife is saying.
I close the distance between us in three big steps and grip her wrist. I can feel her pulse spike against my thumb. “Then what, wife? You would’ve told me everything?”