Authors: Mia Sheridan
I took another sip of wine, feeling anger move through me. I held on to the emotion tightly—it felt so much better than the jealousy, the hurt. Perhaps I deserved all three, but it didn't mean I had to like it.
The fact remained, though: I did have to endure it. I'd agreed to as much.
Brogan and Anna came into the dining room. Anna shot me an annoyed look. Clearly, she'd rather be alone with Brogan. Who could blame her, really? I'd be uncomfortable if I were her, too. I'd serve dinner and make myself scarce.
I brought the dished-up plates to the table and refilled their drinks. "If you don't need anything else—"
"We might. Stay nearby," Brogan instructed. I felt my nostrils flare, but I simply nodded and left the room. In the kitchen I poured myself a second glass of wine and sat at the island flipping, unseeing, through a magazine of neighborhood coupons that was sitting with the other junk mail.
Anna's feminine laughter drifted from the dining room. I heard Brogan call my name and froze, getting up slowly and walking back into the dining room where I saw Anna had pulled her chair closer to Brogan.
"What can I get for you?" I asked, clasping my hands in front of me and smiling placidly.
Without turning to me, Brogan said, "I dropped my napkin. Will you bring me a new one please?"
Or you could simply bend down and pick it back up, you arrogant asshole.
"Of course." I retrieved another napkin from his linen drawer and took it into him.
"Thanks," he said, not looking at me. I held the napkin out to him, but when it became clear he wasn't going to take it, I set it down on the table, my knuckles rapping against the wood. The noise caused him to glance up at me, those blue, blue eyes meeting mine. My heart squeezed.
"God," Anna moaned, putting a forkful of halibut into her mouth, "this is so good." She licked her bottom lip slowly and giggled, putting her fork down and sliding her hand across the table where she used her index finger to run along the top of Brogan's hand. "My compliments, Lydia. This food is almost better than sex." She looked pointedly at Brogan. "Almost." She turned her eyes toward me, clear hostility there now.
I'd done nothing to her.
"Well," I said, shooting her what I hoped was a fake looking smile, "I really wouldn't know. I've only been with one man, and it was an extremely
Brogan's body went rigid and Anna's eyes narrowed. "That's a shame, Lydia. Maybe you should get out more."
Like right now,
was written on her face.
"That's a good idea, Anna. If there'll be nothing more, I'll leave you two to enjoy your date." I didn't give Brogan the chance to reply before rushing from the room. I grabbed my phone off the counter and headed up the stairs. I'd come down later—after they were gone wherever it was they'd end up going—and clean the kitchen then. Was she going to spend the night here? I ran my fingers over my forehead. So this was his plan. How stupid I was to even consider that he'd brought me to his home to use me as some modern-day sex slave. He was going to keep me here to show me how very
he was by other women. How very little he wanted me. Why? Because he'd thought all those years ago my tricking him meant that I hadn't cared for him at all. And yet, if he cared enough to go to such extreme lengths to prove something to me, didn't it also prove that
cared and cared deeply?
care? I sighed.
What is this you're doing?
And now he knew he was the only man I'd ever been with because I'd blurted it out in a moment of anger. I cringed. I hadn't thought that out. I hardly wanted
to know that.
I undressed and took a long, hot shower and then put on a pair of cotton shorts and a tank top I slept in. I hoped Brogan wouldn't try to call me downstairs to serve dessert. Oops, I hadn't made dessert. Well, Anna would appreciate that—she wouldn't have to wait to get Brogan upstairs and into bed. I put in a pair of ear buds and turned on Spotify on my phone, lying back on the bed.
Something woke me. I blinked, trying to grasp where I was for a moment, moaning aloud when I finally did. I felt like I'd been sleeping for hours. My eyes adjusted to the low light and I turned over, bringing my knees up and wrapping my arms around them, loneliness assaulting me in the darkness of this strange bedroom.
"Were you lying?"
I startled, letting out a small yelp and jerking upright. Brogan had turned one of the chairs flanking the fireplace and was sitting on it, leaned forward, his elbows on his thighs as he watched me.
I allowed my heart rate to slow for a few moments, removing the now-silent ear buds. My playlist had ended. "It's not okay to come into my room without permission."
"You went into mine."
Ah, so he'd noticed.
"Not while you were in there," I defended.
"That makes it better?"
"I . . . what do you want? I didn't think midnight visits to my bedroom were part of our deal, not that we've defined the terms of our deal since you stood me up last night." I scooted to the side of the bed, running my hand through my hair, trying to work out some of the tangles.
"Were you lying about having only been with me?"
I stared at him in the dim light, his features softened, the color of his eyes subdued. "No, I wasn't lying."
"Why?" he hissed.
I jerked back slightly. "Why what?"
"Why haven't you been with another man in all this time?" He stood suddenly and stuffed his hands in his pockets, turning toward the window.
"Maybe I didn't find the experience particularly pleasant. Maybe I haven't been eager to repeat it."
He didn't turn, didn't react to what I'd said. I wasn’t sure if he really wanted the truth here, or whether it was to satisfy some morbid curiosity. I released a slow breath, biting my lip. "I don't know. I guess I just haven't met anyone it went that far with. Between my dad passing, and the problems with the company . . . I just . . . my focus hasn't really been on dating."
"But before that?" he asked, still not turning. There was a note of something I wasn't sure how to define in his voice. Almost a sad weariness.
Before that . . .
I waved my hand around. "Before that, I realized it was much more fun playing games with a whole handful of boys than just one," I lied. "More fun being a tease than actually giving in." It seemed to be what he wanted to believe and he wouldn't get the truth from me. Not under these circumstances. He already had enough leverage against me, plenty to hurt me with. I would not give him more.
He turned after several tense moments, his jaw ticking. "I see."
No, you don't.
I nodded, standing and walking to the door where I opened it and then crossed my arms, waiting for him to leave my room. "You shouldn't keep Anna waiting. I'm sure she's wondering where you snuck off to in the middle of the night."
"Well that was . . . fast."
He studied me from where he stood by the window for several tense seconds before tilting his head minutely, his eyes narrowing as he walked toward me. I willed myself to stand still, not to look away as he approached me. When he got within a foot, I dropped my arms and backed up slightly, my back hitting the wall next to the door. I wished he wasn't so tall. Standing this close to me, I was forced to tip my head back and look up at him giving him an unfair advantage. I stiffened my spine. "We took such alternate paths after that day, princess." He stepped right up to me, leaning toward my ear. I felt his warm breath fan my neck and shivered slightly. Unconsciously, I inhaled to catch his scent before I realized what I'd done. I remembered him smelling salty with sweat when I'd known him before.
I'd loved it.
It had spoken to my body in some primitive way my mind didn't understand completely but thrilled at all the same. He didn't smell like sweat anymore, though. Now, he was a man who looked as if he'd smell like some expensive cologne. But even this close, I could only detect clean skin and soap. But of course, Brogan Ramsay wouldn't wear cologne, would he . . .?
"My family was completely destitute, see. We couldn't even put food on the table after your brother kicked us out." I closed my eyes.
Oh God. Oh, Brogan, no.
He leaned back slightly and ran one finger down my cheek as he shrugged. "You ever feel hunger, princess? Real gut-wrenching hunger? The kind that makes you want to pick a fistful of grass and eat it just to stop the incessant painful gnawing in your stomach?" I let out a gasp of anguish and Brogan's lips tipped up. "Oh, I don't want your pity, princess. See, I had a few things going for me. As it turns out, there was a whole slew of rich, married women in New York City willing to pay good money for a vigorous fuck with a young, strong boy." My eyes widened, shock cutting through me like a blade as I stared into the angry, ice-blue depths of his eyes. "I was able to support my family fucking in hot tubs, limos, once on the bar of an exclusive dinner club after hours." He smiled but it didn't come anywhere near his eyes. "In so many delicious positions. You have no idea, princess. Would it shock you to know I loved every minute of it?"
I stared at him, the expression on his face challenging and cold and yet . . . his eyes were filled with . . . stark pain, something I imagined he didn't even realize was there. It prompted me to recall things I'd once noticed about him. I'd been fascinated by the way his senses seemed so . . . acute. I had never asked him about it, but then the one time we were together, when I'd touched him, I'd known I was right. He was lying to me now. I wasn't certain if I should trust my gut on that or not—it'd been so long since I'd spent any time with Brogan. But I didn't think that sort of thing changed. "It must have been very difficult for you," I murmured.
Confusion washed over his features as he took one step back. "Difficult?" He attempted a smirk. "Hardly."
"All those women . . ." I tilted my head sucking on my bottom lip for a moment as I watched him closely. His eyes leapt to my mouth and then quickly back to my eyes. "All the smells, the textures, the way they must have clawed at you . . . It must have been very difficult for you."
He froze, his expression arrested as he took another step backward like I was a venomous snake who had struck out at him. I felt no satisfaction in the wound I knew I'd just inflicted, only sorrow.
"Ya know nothin' about me," he said, but his voice was raspy, his accent suddenly appearing and betraying some emotion I wasn't sure I could put my finger on.
"Don't I, Brogan? I did once. Once, we were friends," I said softly.
And for me, more. Much more.
He laughed. "Ya were a spoiled little princess who thought slummin' it with the gardener's son a time or two made us friends? Is that what ya thought? We were never friends. We fucked once and that's it. And as ya said, it wasn't even very satisfyin'."
"Don't make it dirty, Brogan. Please don't do that," I said, a hitch in my voice that I couldn't hide.
"Why not? Isn't that what ya did by settin' me up? It was dirty before it ever began, Lydia, wasn't it? A dirty trick."
I shook my head. "I know but I—"
Brogan stepped forward, swearing softly. "I promised myself I wasn't gona discuss this with ya." He stepped closer, staring me down. "You're an employee of mine now, nothin' more."
I lifted my chin. I would not cry. I had survived worse than this. Brogan thought I was still a self-serving princess. And yes, perhaps I had been. Once. Perhaps I had been petty and maybe even unknowingly cruel, an insatiable flirt who didn't always consider the feelings of others. A princess who played games instead of being honest about my feelings. But I had been a teenager. He was a full-grown man now, and if treating me this way was going to give him something he needed, then let him have it, whatever it was. Suddenly I was too drained and weary to care.
Our gazes held for long moments and I swore I saw something intense—
—in his eyes, and it made my heart clench.
I opened my mouth to say something, to try to make some sort of peace between us. But then Brogan's expression went carefully blank, and he stepped back once more. "I'm having a cocktail party this weekend," he said evenly, enunciating every word. I blinked as my mind struggled to catch up to the change in topic. "A housewarming of sorts. I'll need you to work it. The caterers will be here Saturday morning to begin setting up, along with the band and the florist. I won't be back until then."
"O-okay. And what should I do until Saturday?"
"I'm sure you'll come up with something." With that he turned and walked out the door.
I fell back against the wall, tilting my head up as tears filled my eyes and blurred the high ceilings above me. I'd known what happened that day must have hurt his pride deeply, had understood the overwhelming anger it must have caused. But I hadn't known he'd suffered the way he'd just described. All these years, when I thought of him, I hadn't imagined he still carried such raw pain.
God, Brogan, I didn't know. I didn't know it still hurt so much.