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Authors: Laurelin Paige

Last Kiss (4 page)

BOOK: Last Kiss
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I managed to avoid Reeve until much later that evening. I’d spent much of my time with Amber, hoping for a chance to talk, but just as content to be near her. She’d slept off and on through the afternoon and when I thought I might have a shot, she decided she felt well enough to have more visitors. Word had gotten out among the ranch staff that she was back, and, apparently¸ many of them had been fond of her.

Which wasn’t surprising.

Feeling the odd man out, I curled up on the love seat in her room while Brent and Parker, the stable manager, doted over her along with a handful of other cowboys I’d seen around but never spoken more than two words with. Even Cade, one of the men who worked the surveillance room, seemed to be friendly with Amber.

She’d been here longer,
I told myself. Of course she’d have more friends. Of course she’d fit in as though they were her family and she wasn’t just the ranch owner’s fuck toy. Because she hadn’t been that for Reeve like I had been. Like maybe I still was.

Joe seemed to be the only one who noticed my withdrawal. He sat on the arm of the couch next to me, and I tensed at his nearness when he leaned in and said, “She sure has a lot of fans.”

I hugged my knees to my chest and smiled bitterly. “Oh, yes. Everyone always loves Amber best.”

“Not everyone.”

Uneasiness ran through me as I assumed he was talking about himself, but when I followed the line of his gaze, I found Reeve at the end of it. Reeve, who, despite Amber’s presence in the room, was looking at me.

Around midnight, I slipped out and went to my room to shower and change for bed. Having expected to primarily sleep naked when I’d packed, I had to be creative with what to wear, settling on an oversized T-shirt that barely hit the tops of my thighs. It covered enough, I decided. The only person who might be bothered by the length was Reeve, and I didn’t really mind bothering him at the moment.

Back in Amber’s room, I was almost disappointed to find he’d left. Well, everyone had left, and now only Jeb was there changing her IV.

“Tomorrow,” he said, tapping the line to get the fluid moving, “I want to get you on real food. If you tolerate a soft breakfast and lunch, you might be able to join everyone downstairs for dinner.”

“You know how much I love dinner,” Amber teased, and the way Jeb laughed made me sure I’d missed an inside joke.

I picked up the laptop on the bed next to her. “Are you still using this?”

She shook her head. “I’m done with it. Thank you.”

I closed the lid and set the computer on the top of the dresser. Then I stretched out beside her in the full-size bed and waited for Jeb to finish his checkup. “I’m on shift with you until four,” I said. “So I’ll be over on the sofa if you need me. Unless you want me to climb under the covers with you here.”

She turned awkwardly onto her uninjured side to face me, flinching slightly with the movement. “Remember when we used to share that twin at your mom’s house?” Her eyes twinkled with the memory. It was infectious. “We used to stay up half the night talking.”

“You need rest, not talking,” Jeb scolded.

She peered at him over her shoulder. “I won’t be able to keep my eyes open for longer than ten minutes, so quit your worrying. When did you turn all prison guard, anyway?”

“Maybe when you started acting like someone who needed to be kept in line.”

“Fair enough.” Her expression was somber when she turned back toward me, and I wondered if Jeb’s comment had her thinking the same things I was. About how Reeve had “kept” her before. I didn’t think Jeb had known about that, so his comment was made innocently, but it had to hit home with Amber. Did she regret that she’d ever got involved with a man who wanted to guard her? Or did she regret that she’d ever left him?

Whatever her regrets were or weren’t, I didn’t like seeing the pain that was now etched in her features. I preferred the glow she’d had when talking about the past.

“You used to spoon me,” I said, attempting to rekindle that glow. She’d been the first person I’d ever slept in the same bed with. I could still recall the warmth of her body next to mine, how it made me feel safe and protected and cared for in ways I’d never been. In so many ways, she’d been my first love, and, while I’d never been attracted to her sexually, I’d been attracted to everything else about her. Especially to the way she’d made me feel about myself.

“I did spoon you. You hated that.”

“I did not. I liked it.”

She shrugged her shoulder as though she knew full well that I’d liked it and had just wanted to hear me say it. “You liked it until I’d throw my leg over you, and then you’d bitch about feeling crowded, and somehow you’d always end up on the floor.”

Actually, I’d liked it when she’d done that too. Liked how it had made me feel owned. I’d only ever moved out of the bed for her – because she was a restless sleeper, and I’d always ended up feeling like I was in her way.

Those weren’t things I needed to admit though. Not now. “So, I’ll take the couch.”

She laughed. “When I’m better though,” she said, her expression suddenly serious, “I’d really like to talk to you. When I’m sure I won’t fall asleep halfway through the conversation.”

“I’d really like that too.”

I slept fitfully on the love seat, and when Brent came to relieve me at a quarter to four, I didn’t feel the least bit ready for bed. My head was too buzzed and my emotions too tangled. For several minutes, I stood outside of Reeve’s closed door, wishing I had the courage to knock or just go in.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I grabbed slippers and a blanket from my room, then tiptoed downstairs and out to the front porch.

It was warm for Wyoming in April, or so I’d been told, meaning that the crisp early morning temperature hovered around forty. Wrapping the blanket around me, I took in a deep breath of air and let it out with a sigh. Why did I feel so miserable? Amber was alive. And I was with her again. It was what I wanted, why I’d started down this whole path.

I leaned against the railing and stared up at the stars. If only my head could be as clear as that night sky.

“She used to talk about you.”

I straightened at the sound of Reeve’s voice behind me, knowing immediately the “she” he referred to. I didn’t turn around, too scared that he’d stop talking when I so badly wanted him to say more.

He went on. “Bragged about you, actually. When she saw your picture in the magazines she’d beam with pride. ‘That’s my friend, Emily,’ she’d say. ‘I always knew she’d be a star.’”

She’d talked about me.
 

All the time I’d assumed she’d moved on with her life, never thinking about me at all.

I pivoted slowly toward his voice and found him sitting in the shadows on the porch swing. He brought a beer bottle to his mouth and took a swallow.

My cheeks warmed as I realized what else he was telling me. “Then you always knew who I was. From the very beginning.” God, what a fool I’d been, thinking I’d pulled anything over on Reeve Sallis. He could have silenced me real quick if he’d wanted to. “Why did you even get mixed up with me?”

Though I couldn’t make out his face, I saw his head tilt, felt his eyes piercing through me. “I knew who you were. I didn’t know what your game was.”

I was silent as I tried to put myself in his position. He’d had a bad breakup with Amber, and she’d left him to be with his enemy for no reason but to piss him off. Then, I’d shown up and flirted my way into his company. What the hell must he have thought I was after?

“At first I thought she’d sent you,” he said, as if reading my mind. “To test me or to mock me in some way. When you started asking questions about her around the resort, I decided you were trying to pin something on me. Either on your own or with her, I wasn’t sure.”

“No.”

“I figured that out soon enough. You were gone by then.”

I’d left because he’d scared me off. No wonder he’d been such an asshole to me at his resort – he’d thought I was the one who’d been cruel.

I leaned back against the railing. “Then you bumped into me at the award show.”

“I came
looking
for you at the award show. I did some investigating and tied your questions to the ones that a certain private investigator was asking and realized that you’d been looking for Amber. Which meant you didn’t know where she was. I helped you out by sending the picture of her with Michelis to Joe. Do you know which one?”

The anonymous picture that Joe had received of Amber with another man.
It had proved that she’d been alive after she’d left Reeve. “Yes. I know which one.”

“I thought that would lead you in another direction. Get me off the hook, so to say.”

“Why did you even care?”

“Because I wanted you. And I didn’t want her to be the reason you wanted me.”

Goose bumps skated down my skin that had nothing to do with the cold. I pulled the blanket tighter around me anyway.

I liked this, though – this talking. Sharing. Trying to understand each other. It was worth exposing myself when he was doing the same. Somehow it felt even more intimate than anything we’d done with our bodies. It made me hopeful. He was trying and that meant… well, it meant something.

“I’m guessing the photo didn’t work.” He ran his palm up and down on his thigh.

Was he warming his hand up? Or was he nervous? “It almost did. Except I recognized the ring on his finger, and I’d seen pictures of you and him together.”

“Clever.” He sounded impressed. But then a beat passed, and when he spoke again, his voice was low and raw. “I didn’t know. I thought you’d let your search go.”

He’d thought I’d been with him honestly. I was surprised how much it stung to watch him realize I hadn’t been. “I’m sorry.”

“You were being a good friend to someone I care about. You shouldn’t apologize for that.” His words were dismissive, but his tone belied them. He couldn’t pretend that what I’d done hadn’t affected him. He’d let me in too far, and I knew him too well.

I’d let him in too far too. So far that it prickled at me when he said he cared about Amber. So far that I was almost glad that he’d been hurt.

I moved to the swing to sit next to him. Pulling my legs underneath me, I faced him. “I
did
let my search go eventually, Reeve. I wasn’t looking for her anymore.” I didn’t tell him that I’d only given it up a few hours before Amber had turned up. The point was that I’d been there honestly in the end. I’d been there honestly for quite some time, actually.

He put his arm on the back of the swing, his fingers resting so close to my shoulder I could almost feel them brush against me. I
wished
they would brush against me.

But he kept them just out of reach.

He studied me. “You stopped searching because you thought she was dead.”

“Yes, but then I wanted to know what happened to her. And then…” Only the day before, I’d had Reeve’s office keys in my possession. I’d planned to sneak in and watch the camera feeds of when Amber had been there, hoping they’d tell me what had happened to her.

Except, I hadn’t. Because I’d decided it didn’t matter. Because I’d decided I cared about Reeve more than I cared about the truth.

“And then?” Reeve prompted. Even when he was gentle, he dominated me.

“And then, there came a point that I didn’t.”

“But you still didn’t trust me.”

But I loved you.
 

I still loved him.

And I still couldn’t say it. So I said the next best thing instead. “I trust you more than I’ve trusted almost anyone.”

“I guess that’s something.”

It was so much more than just something. It was everything to me. The only other person I’d ever trusted had been Amber, and, in the end, even she’d betrayed my trust.

Maybe my statement had been wrong. Maybe I trusted Reeve more than
everyone.

But I didn’t correct myself because it didn’t matter. What he really wanted to hear were the other words, the words I couldn’t give. He’d danced around it, too, though. He’d suggested he loved me, but he’d never told me outright. Those words stood so prominently that they’d become a barrier between us. Either they’d been a lie, a cruel response to my scheming, or they’d been truthful – a possible doorway leading to something else. Something more.

Damn, how I wanted the more. Wanted it enough to brave broaching the subject. “You said things the other night, Reeve —”

He jumped in, turning his head to meet my eyes straight on. “I meant them.”

“Oh.”

Oh.
 

There was so much to say in response and yet nothing at all came to mind. And as wary as I was to fully trust him, I believed him. Many men had proclaimed their love for me – usually when I had my mouth around their dick – but it had never been sincere. The plethora of false variations had been enough to teach me that this version was the real thing.

But Reeve had said he’d loved Amber that night as well. And I believed that too.

“I want you sleeping in my bed, Emily.”

Or perhaps I was wrong about everything, and his devotion was tied up in sex like all the other men I’d known.

I considered retorting back something sassy about not always being able to get what you want. But I wasn’t quite sure that was an adage that Reeve understood. Besides, I wanted to be sleeping in his bed as well, and maybe I would be eventually. If it was really where he wanted me. If I was really the one he wanted there.

I knew I should just ask –
how do you feel about Amber now? What happens next between us?
It was on the tip of my tongue, the questions preformed in my mouth when I decided to swallow them instead. Because I wasn’t sure I was ready to hear those answers – whatever they may be – and, in this moment, at least,
I
was what he desired. And maybe it was just an excuse to not have to think about her for a minute, to not worry about feeling guilty or like I’d betrayed her. As long as I didn’t know, I could blame my behavior on ignorance, and I could please him too.

The swing rocked as I shifted to my knees. Ignoring the chill of the seat against my bare shins, I leaned forward and unfastened Reeve’s jeans.

BOOK: Last Kiss
2.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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