But then Alayna asks a very unexpected question. “What happened between you and Stacy?”
“Stacy?” It takes me a minute to figure out who Stacy is. Then I realize she means the girl who works with Mirabelle at her boutique. “Nothing happened.” I’m baffled she’d think there was anything between us. “What do you mean? Like did I date her? I took her to a charity event a year or so ago. But after that, nothing. And I didn’t sleep with her.”
Alayna doesn’t seem to be comforted. “Is there a reason she’d have a vendetta against you? Or reason to distrust you?”
I shake my head. “Not that I can think of.”
Except that’s not true, because suddenly I can think of a very valid reason why she wouldn’t trust me. Celia had played her. And when she did, she had used my persona for her scheme.
I should tell Alayna. There’s no reason to keep it from her. It wasn’t even me who played her. Well, that’s not entirely true either. I’d let Celia use my persona. And, in the end, I’d participated. I told myself it was to put an end to the scam, but I had enjoyed the rush of the game, just as Dr. Alberts had led me to realize.
Whatever the reason—the guilt of my participation, the newness of being so open—I’m not ready to share it with Alayna. Not yet. Not until I understand the reason for her interest. “Why are you asking?”
She takes a deep breath. “The last time we were at Mira’s, Stacy told me that she had some sort of video. A video that proved something or other about you and Celia. She didn’t have it with her, so I gave her my phone number so she could contact me later.”
And just like that, the peaceful place I’d discovered is disturbed. What the f**k video could Stacy have? Something from that night? Something after? Did Stacy know about our plot with Alayna? There was no way she could, but if Celia had given her something…recorded a conversation or something…
These were paranoid thoughts. Liars and schemers learn that’s the only way to stay a step ahead of discovery. I’d believed I was past this. I’m disappointed to find that I’m not.
I stall the conversation as much as I can as I try to get my balance. Then she asks point blank, “Do you know what she’s talking about?”
“No idea.” And I don’t. Not really. “She didn’t tell you what the video was of?”
“No. Just that she had it, and that it would show me why I couldn’t trust you. And she texted me again tonight. Or sometime this past week when I didn’t have a phone, and I didn’t get the message until tonight.”
Though the water is still warm, the hairs on my arms stand straight up, as if I’d been thrown into ice. It’s possible that Stacy has proof of something in the past which Alayna is already aware of. But what if it’s something else? “What did her text say?”
“That the video was too big to send over the phone but to contact her if I wanted to see it.”
I’m frightened. I would never say that aloud, but I can admit that to myself. I’m scared that I will lose Alayna. I don’t know how to deal with that fear. I’m not one who cowers.
What I do know is that Alayna can’t see that video. Not until I do. It’s with self-loathing that I resort to my greatest skill—manipulation. “Do you want to see it?”
There’s no way I’ll let her see it first. Letting her believe I’m indifferent will take away her need to pursue it.
“No.” She hesitates. “Yes.” Then, “I don’t know. Should I?”
She’s conflicted. It’s right where I want her. Now to push her to the answer I want her to choose but gently. Too forceful, and she’ll see right through me.
“Well.” I rub my hands up and down her arms, taking advantage of the distraction our intense physical connection provides. “You know that Celia can’t be trusted already. And there is nothing that Stacy could have on me that you don’t already know. You know more about my secrets and my past than anyone. You know me, Alayna.”
“Then unless you don’t trust me…” The words taste so sour in my mouth. Yet I chew through them.
“I do trust you. If you say there’s nothing I should be concerned about…”
Direct eye contact is the best way to sell a lie. “There isn’t.”
It may be the worst thing I’ve ever done, misleading her like this. Worse than my actual participation in the game. Because then I didn’t know her. Now I’m doing this to someone I love.
I hold my breath as she makes her decision. Though I’m sickened by my betrayal, I’m desperate for her to choose as I wish.
After what seems like a lifetime, she smiles and says, “Then I don’t need to see it.”
A mix of emotions overcomes me. Relief is the most prominent, but there’s also a heady rush. Not from the successful conning but because Alayna has just given me her trust. It’s delusional to think that I deserve it. But oh, how I want it. It’s a gift I can’t ever begin to repay.
I vow that I will try. Whatever it takes, I will work to finally earn it.
I lean forward and kiss her chin. “Thank you.”
“For what, exactly?”
There’s no way to explain my true gratitude. I make it simple. “For being open with me. You didn’t have to tell me about that, and you did anyway.”
“I’m serious about being more open and honest.”
“I see that. I’m serious about it too. The only way we can move on is to decide that we’re committed to each other first and foremost.” These words are more than my attempt to erase the lie I’ve just told. They’re the beginning of the most important promise I plan to ever make. It’s because I’m so devoted to her that I’ve hidden what I have. It’s for her. It’s for us. “Are we?”
It’s only two words, but they’re musical. When I marry her—and I will, one day—that vow of forever will only be a repeat of this moment right here, right now. “So am I.”
I make love to her. I need her like this, need to blot out the horrible thing I just did with the beautiful thing that we are together. I pretend that the weight of my love for her can drown out the buzzing of the lies.
My hands and mouth take over her body, a body I know by heart. Quickly, I send her toward orgasm. It’s selfish, really. I need to be inside her. Need her ready. She intervenes, though, deciding to stall her release. Straddling me, she lowers herself down my cock, moaning as I take rest inside her.