Not Until You Part VIII: Not Until You Love

BOOK: Not Until You Part VIII: Not Until You Love
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Titles by Roni Loren

Crash Into You

Melt Into You

Fall Into You

Caught Up in You

Not Until You

Part I: Not Until You Dare

Part II: Not Until You Risk

Part III: Not Until You Crave

Part IV: Not Until You Trust

Part V: Not Until You Beg

Part VI: Not Until You Surrender

Part VII: Not Until You Believe

Part VIII: Not Until You Love

Specials

Still Into You

Not Until You

Part VIII

Not Until You Love

Roni Loren

I
NTER
M
IX
B
OOKS,
N
EW
Y
ORK

INTERMIX BOOKS

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

For more information about the Penguin Group visit penguin.com.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have control over and does not have any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

NOT UNTIL YOU LOVE

An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author

PUBLISHING HISTORY

InterMix eBook edition / July 2013

Copyright © 2013 by Roni Loren.

Excerpt from
Caught up in You
copyright © 2013 by Roni Loren.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-62486-9

INTERMIX

InterMix Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group

and New American Library, divisions of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Contents

Also by Roni Loren

Title Page

Copyright

 

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Epilogue

 

Special Excerpt from Caught Up In You

About the Author

Chapter 38

I woke up groggy and disoriented, a loud sound filling my ears and the bed jostling. I rolled over to find Foster groping around the hotel room in the dark and cursing.

“Who the fuck would call this early? And where the hell is my phone?”

I wrapped the covers around me, the chill of the room raising goose bumps on my skin, and climbed out of bed, dragging the sheet with me. “I think it’s over here on the desk.”

I grabbed it for him, but it’d stopped ringing by that time.

“Dammit,” he said from the other side of the room.

I peeked over at the clock. A little past five. Calls this early were never good. For me it usually meant a panicked family and an injured pet, but I had a feeling someone calling Foster this early would be even more ominous.

“Does it say who it was?” he asked, fumbling around for the lamp.

I flipped over the phone and hit the button to illuminate the screen. Ugh. Bile burned the back of my throat. I tossed the phone on the bed. “Yeah. It’s Bret.”

“Bret?” he said, the lamp flicking on, lighting his stricken face. “Shit.”

I pulled the sheet tighter around me, my chill no longer related to the overactive air conditioner. “I’m going to go shower, so if you need to call her back, you’ll have some privacy.”

If he caught the biting edge to my tone, he didn’t acknowledge it. Instead, he was already moving toward the phone, probably not even hearing me.

“Right,” I said under my breath. Guess when
she
called, the whole world needed to stop. I turned on my heel and headed to the bathroom before the ugly jealousy could cause me to say something I’d regret.

As I stood under the stream of hot water in the shower, I tried to pull myself back together and
not
picture Foster in bed with that blond knockout. He’d said Bret was a colleague and a friend now, not a lover. If she was calling, it probably wasn’t for a booty call. My logical brain knew that, but my completely irrational heart wasn’t hearing any of it.

He’d told me last night that he
loved
me. I still couldn’t fully digest that turn of events. My cognitive functioning had frozen when he’d said the words. In a lot of ways, it’d been everything I’d wanted to hear. Being with him last night, feeling his touch, had only solidified how strongly I felt for him. And maybe I had fallen in love with him, too. But I had no idea if that was enough. I had moved my life here. And a relationship with Foster meant a certain kind of lifestyle that my brain and body were at war over.

I couldn’t—wouldn’t—say the words to him if I wasn’t going to be able to back them up with a commitment. I didn’t want to be another hurt in his life.

By the time I stepped out of the bathroom, Foster was fully dressed and tossing clothes into his suitcase. Any remnants of my jealous bitch side shut her mouth and concern flooded me. “What’s going on?”

He turned to look at me, face drawn. “Bret said she found some information about my sister’s case and had to go to the FBI with it. They wouldn’t let her give me the details over the phone. I have to get back to town.”

I wrapped my arms myself. “Of course. Is there anything I can do to help?”

He walked over to me, taking my face in his hands, and pressed a quick kiss to my lips. “You can forgive me for leaving before we have a chance to talk things out.”

“Done,” I said without hesitation. We could deal with the complicated tangle of our relationship another day. “She didn’t give you any indication of what type of news this was.”

He went back to his packing, his movements efficient but his shoulders stiff with tension. “Well, there really is no good news in this. I’m not naive enough to think Neve is just going to reappear one day. But if we could find out what happened, who took her . . . I may be able to provide some closure for my parents. Some peace. They’ve spent every day since she went missing dedicating their lives to the cause.”

“So have you,” I said gently.

He peered back over his shoulder at me. “I owed that much to her. If I had done what I was supposed to that day, she may still be around.”

“You were a kid, Foster,” I said, coming to sit on the edge of the bed. “You weren’t old enough to be responsible for someone else.”

His jaw twitched. “I just need to be able to tell my parents—we got him or them or whoever was involved. Maybe once there’s some justice handed down . . .”

“They’ll forgive you?” I asked, my heart heavy for him.

He zipped up his suitcase and stared down at it, his expression grim. “No, angel, they’ll never do that. How could they? But maybe they’ll at least be able to move on.”

The lonely ache in his voice—that of a kid still looking for love from his parents—made my chest hurt. But I knew there was nothing I could say to make him feel better. That wound was one only his mom and dad could heal. I hoped for his sake that they would mend that bridge.

“Will you call me and let me know how things go when you get a chance?”

A brief smile touched his lips and he cupped my cheek. “I won’t have to. As soon as I take care of this, I’m coming right back down here so we can really talk.”

“Okay,” I said returning his smile.

“Just tell me one thing.”

I leaned into his touch. “What’s that?”

“Tell me I have still have a shot, angel.”

I closed my eyes, knowing the truth in my heart even if I couldn’t quite face it yet. “You’ve still got a shot.”

He grinned fully now and laid a soft, toe-curling kiss on my mouth. “I love you, Cela.”

“You keep saying that,” I teased, trying to lighten the impact of the words.

“I keep meaning it.” He gave me another quick peck, then grabbed his bag. “Come on, I’ll drive you home.”

“All right.” I went to grab my things but then realized I had no things. I’d basically gone out in my pajamas last night. No phone. No purse. Just my keys. Then the rest of that reality hit. “Shit.”

“What’s wrong?” he asked, pulling the door open.

“Remember how angry you got when I didn’t check the peephole?”

“Yeah,” he said cautiously.

“Well, that is going to look like a trip through the daisies compared to how livid my father is going to be when I get home.”

He wagged a finger at me. “Ooh, someone’s getting grounded.”

I swatted his arm and laughed. “Shut up.”

He put his arm around my shoulders. “See, at least when I punish you, you get some fun out of it.”

“I’ll add that into your pro column.”

He gave me a squeeze. “Good, I need all the help I can get.”

I leaned into him and sighed. Being there with his arm wrapped around me again was like finding my comfortable corner in the universe. Something inside me smoothed out when I was with him. He thought he was the one that needed help. But really, it was me who was in trouble.

Because if I followed my head, I had a feeling I’d never find anyone who made me feel this way again. And I would always wonder what could’ve been if I walked away from him.

But if I followed my heart, I was going to alienate the people who meant most to me in the world.

Either way, someone’s heart was getting broken.

***

Foster dropped me off with a promise to call me and to be back as soon as he could. I kept the good-bye brief and chaste, knowing that my parents were probably crowded up against the blinds in their house, spying on us.

But when I opened my front door, I realized the truth was even worse. My father was sitting on my living room couch, drinking a cup of coffee and staring out my front window. He’d at least changed out of his pajamas from last night into a pair of jeans and a Rangers T-shirt, but otherwise didn’t look like he’d slept or shaved. He didn’t look my way.

“Papá, what are you doing here?” I asked, too tired to even get angry that he had a key.

“Are you okay, Marcela?” he asked, still staring out the window. “Did he hurt you?”

I blew out a breath and dropped my keys onto the table by the door. “Of course not. Foster’s a friend and a good guy.”

“A friend who you take off with wearing next to nothing. A friend who doesn’t bring you home until morning.” The quiet anger rumbled beneath his words.

“Papá, I was dating Foster in Dallas. We were in a relationship. Maybe still are.”

He turned to look at me then, lines of strain around his eyes. In that moment, I felt bad that he carried that stress, that he felt the need to watch over me so closely. I saw the age there, the wear of years gone by while I’d been away. “Is he why you were delayed moving back home?”

I shifted on my feet, my gaze flitting away. “Yes.”

“And what are you going to do now, Marcela? Did he come here to try to bring you back?”

I hugged my elbows, folding in on myself, the fear of admitting the truth to my father making a shiver go through me. But what else could I do? I’d lived my whole life trying to land on the right squares of hopscotch so I wouldn’t get ejected from the game, wouldn’t disappoint my family. But if winning that game meant never taking a risk, never following my heart, then I guess I was finally prepared to lose. “I think I love him, Papá.”

A black cloud seemed to eclipse his expression, chilling the temperature in the room. He stood. “Go change clothes. We’re going for a ride.”

I straightened. “What?”

“If you still have any respect for me, you will do as I ask and come with me.”

I clenched my teeth together, wanting to tell him that I was tired and wasn’t in the mood to go anywhere, but a lifetime of good behavior was too deeply ingrained. I couldn’t disrespect my father. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

***

An hour later we were pulling up to a spot I hadn’t been to in years, with a sack full of breakfast tacos and tall cups of coffee. The view through the windshield made nostalgia wash through me, dragging me backward in time. I glanced at my dad, waiting for an explanation. He hadn’t said much of anything the entire drive out here.

He nodded at the grease-stained paper bag. “Get our breakfast. Let’s see if our spot is still there.”

I grabbed the bag and got out of the car, my tennis shoes hitting the packed dirt of the makeshift parking lot. In front of me stretched a line of trees that marked the entrance to the nature park. A Don’t Feed the Animals sign sat askew on a wooden post. I could still see myself at eight, carrying my backpack on my shoulder and walking past that sign, ponytail swinging. Back then, my dad had tirelessly fed me information and answered my endless questions while we traipsed along the trail. What kind of bird is that? How do raccoons always manage to break into the Dumpsters? Where do the squirrels hide all those acorns? Why do armadillos look like that?

This had been our no-one-else-allowed place. No Mom, no Luz, and no Andre. Not that any of them would’ve wanted to come anyway. Neither of my brothers nor my sister had ever shown a real interest in animals or my father’s job like I had. And Mom was about as outdoorsy as a houseplant. So this place had been sacred to me back when I thought my father was the best man in the world and time spent with him was a special privilege.

Sadness settled over me as I followed my dad down the path, passing the old sign. The place hadn’t changed. The trees had gotten bigger and the underbrush more tangled. But the scent of wildflowers and morning dew still hung in the air. The hum of life buzzed around us, as if the bees and dragonflies were excited that we’d finally returned. It was all so familiar. Comforting. But as I looked ahead at the back of my father, his gray hairs now more prominent than the inky black of all those years ago, his proud gait a little hunched, a sense of loss filled me. Everything has stayed the same except us.

Life had tarnished that dappled sunlit photograph of a doting father and the daughter that worshipped him. The long afternoons of discussing the wonders of nature and the animal world had shifted into butting heads and growing distant. I didn’t even know who those two people were anymore.

Papá stopped at the small clearing where two picnic tables had sat for as long as I could remember. He set down our coffees and bent over to check beneath the tables. A smile touched my lips. I didn’t have to ask what he was doing. Ever since the day I had a very unfortunate encounter with a pissed off yellow jacket, my dad had always checked for nests before we sat down.

He stood and patted the top of the table. “All clear,
mija
.”

“Thanks.” I set the bag down in the center of the table and climbed onto the bench. “You want the brisket or the chorizo?”

“Give me one of each. I haven’t had them in a long time. Your mamá has me drinking smoothies in the morning.
Green
ones.”

I cocked an eyebrow at him, having a hard time imagining him drinking such a thing. “Do they have bacon in them?”

He laughed. “I wish. She puts kale. Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

“I think I’d rather eat a salad.” I unwrapped two tacos for each of us, spreading the paper out on the table.

We ate for a few minutes, the chirping birds providing the soundtrack, and I began to wonder if we were going to share the whole meal in silence. But as soon as my dad polished off the brisket taco, he took a long sip of a coffee, then pinned me with his patented don’t-lie-to-me look. “So you think you’re in love.”

I picked at a piece of egg that had fallen onto the grease-speckled paper. “I think I may be.”

“But you were out with the Ruiz boy last night before Romeo showed up?”

I frowned. “His name is Foster. And yes, I was, but Michael and I are only friends. I was out with him . . . trying to forget about Foster.”

He balled up the wrapper from his first taco and tossed it in the bag, his thick brows low over his eyes. “I see.”

I huffed a breath and peered out toward the trees, not sure what to say to my dad to make him have any sort of understanding.

“You know,” he said, following my line of sight, “when we used to come out here, I’d break the rules and feed the animals.”

I turned to him. “What? No, you didn’t. You were always careful. You told me we couldn’t mess with their natural diet.”

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