“That’s what you want, isn’t it?” He sounds reasonable. Too reasonable.
“Yes, but you can tell me if you have any misgivings. It’s your friend’s company.”
“Why? Do you have to hand over any secrets to Grayson?”
My face heats. I can feel blotches of red blooming in my cheeks, neck and chest. “That’s uncalled for.”
I put my hands on my hips. “You know I could’ve just applied for the job on the spot when Traci mentioned it, but I wanted to talk to you first.”
“Because you made a big deal about talking things over first, and the last time we talked about me getting a job, you seemed standoffish about the idea.”
“You can do whatever you want, Belle.”
“You want me to beg, don’t you?”
“If you want.”
My teeth grind together, but I force myself to relax so I can talk with some outward semblance of calm. “I already said I was sorry. And I am sorry. I honestly didn’t think it would matter so much to you, or that it would be such a betrayal. I haven’t told Mr. Grayson anything, or done anything on his behalf. I don’t even know what he really wants.” The only thing I am pretty certain of is that he doesn’t just want his money back from me, except…I can’t imagine what he thinks I can do for him.
“Have you considered the fact that if he knows about my needing to marry, he might know how long I need to marry as well?”
I tilt my head. “No. It never crossed my mind.”
“Then now you can see how he could’ve asked you to divorce me before the year is up.”
“Except I wouldn’t. You and I signed a deal.” His expression doesn’t change, and I know I’m not convincing him. So I add something he’ll understand. “I want that million dollars.”
Elliot’s mouth slants upward in an unpleasant smile. “He could top that amount. Easily double it.”
Would Mr. Grayson go that far? I shake my head. “Well, I don’t care. I still wouldn’t do it.”
“Why not? You said it yourself back then—you needed money.”
“Yes, but a million is more than enough. Besides…” I sigh, suddenly tired. “I love you, Elliot.”
His eyes shutter. The only thing that betrays that he feels anything is a light flush streaking his lean cheeks.
He is shutting me out, and I ache. There’s something so painful about telling a man you love him and having him reject it. Did it have something to do with me telling him that I didn’t think I could love romantically? Back then I believed that because my experiences were less than ideal, and I couldn’t let myself be that vulnerable. But then Elliot had to show me another side of him that I couldn’t resist. It was more than sex, more than just kindness. It was as though he knew exactly what he needed to do to heal my soul.
My eyes prickle, and I blink quickly. I won’t have him accuse me of using tears to get my way, but I’m not going to look away either. I’m not lying and I have nothing to hide.
“I don’t care what you think,” I begin, “but it’s the truth. God knows…” My voice breaks along with my heart. “I didn’t want to love you.”
With that parting remark, I go upstairs to my room, feeling Elliot’s eyes boring into my back. I need to text Traci that I’m interested in the position, and I need some time alone to lick my wounds. In addition, Nonny’s going to be home soon, and I need to mentally prepare for the cold shoulder I’m undoubtedly going to get from her. I refuse to lose my temper or break down.
I can get past this.
As I feared, Nonny is aloof. She makes an effort to be more pleasant when Elliot’s around, but when it’s just me and her, she’s frigid.
“Is school okay?” I ask.
“Sure. Why wouldn’t it be?”
You know why. “You’ll tell me if anything’s wrong, won’t you?”
“Yeah.” She shrugs, then disappears into her room.
The strain between us weighs heavily upon me. I’m not used to this with my sister. No matter how awful things got, even when everyone else turned their back on me, we were always a team.
But now…I’m really alone.
The rest of the week passes slowly, every day as awkward as the one before.
Clearly, time isn’t going to make anything better on its own. Nonny is still standoffish. If Elliot notices, he doesn’t let on, and I don’t say anything to him, since it’s something I need to work out with her. The longest she’s ever been upset with anyone is a week. I’m going to give her that much time and hope that she comes to the realization that everything I’ve done is for us.
But her attitude doesn’t improve. And Elliot…
We no longer talk much during the day. It’s impossible to hold a conversation when the other party doesn’t say more than a syllable or two. I don’t sit on the deck and watch him swim, either. It hurts too much. We’re like polite strangers from dawn to dusk.
But once night descends…
He comes to me in the dark, when I’m in that state of half sleeping and half awake. He takes me hard, but he doesn’t kiss me or drive me like he is punishing me. It’s as though he’s on a mission to exorcise a demon from his mind.
The first night, I told him I loved him, and he quickly put a hand over my mouth. Since then he always muffles my declaration with his palm or mouth.
I might resist if he were a selfish lover, but he isn’t. He always painstakingly coaxes my body to mind-obliterating orgasms. And now I’m so primed for him that I grow wet every time I sense him slip into bed. Pavlov’s wife.
Even as I lie in the dark, my body sated and covered in sweat, I know something has to change soon or I’m going to go mad. Maybe other women can continue like this, but not me.
Saturday morning, a dress box arrives. It has my name outside on the otherwise spotless matte black exterior, and its sleek look reminds me of the place Josephine took me to replace my wardrobe. I take it to the bedroom and open it. Inside is a note:
Thought this would look best for tonight. Let me know if you have any questions.