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Just To Be With You (Page 41)

Damn it, she was stubborn.

But so was he. And though he knew the very last thing she wanted was for him to accompany her home, he kept pace beside her every step of the way.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Tatiana’s two-block walk home was a blur of rain and emotion. She made sure to keep her head down to lower the odds of anyone recognizing her, and tried to stay a couple of feet ahead of Ian. She’d been right about him not risking throwing her over his shoulder to get her into his car, but he had stubbornly refused to let her walk home alone.

Her heart wrenched in her chest with every step, not only at how something so unbelievably beautiful could turn ugly so fast…but at the fact that she hadn’t seen it coming. Hadn’t for one single second guessed that the love she felt for Ian, the love she’d thought they’d expressed to each other every moment they’d been together last night, wasn’t being returned in full.

When he’d told her he wanted to cherish her, she’d assumed he’d been speaking about more than just her body, that he’d meant he wanted to cherish her heart, too, the way she cherished his. She’d been so sure that the sweetness and the intense heat of their lovemaking had been the ultimate proof of all the things Ian felt for her but didn’t know how to say out loud.

Less than an hour ago, she’d been so full of joy, so excited about their future together, so painfully naïve as she’d wrapped herself up in his shirt then walked into the kitchen to find him.

Now, all she could hear was his voice in her head. “Just because we burn up the sheets together doesn’t mean I love you.”

She had never been so thankful for the wet Seattle skies so that she could pretend it was just the rain she was wiping away from her eyes. Looking up, she saw that they were nearly at her building. Ten feet more, and she’d be safe inside, away from Ian.

“Tatiana.” He surprised her by reaching for her hand, and holding firmly on to it until she had no choice but to turn to look at him. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

But she already knew that, and somehow, it made everything worse.

She’d been loved and protected her whole life, but even with his mother’s warning combined with how hard Ian had worked all week to keep his distance from her, she’d still thought love would be straightforward and effortless and easy.

Easy.

Now she knew just how wrong she’d been.

Tugging her hand free, she walked into her building and into the elevator, waiting until the doors closed so that she could be absolutely certain that she was alone before she let her tears fall.

And fall.

And fall.

* * *

Every other time in her life when she’d been knocked down, Tatiana had reached out for her sister, and Valentina had always been there. It was pure reflex to go find her phone, only before she had, she was shocked to realize that making that call for help just didn’t feel right this time.

Valentina had been there for her her entire life, and though Tatiana knew she would be again, this time they wouldn’t be dealing with a skinned knee, or a rude co-star, or Tatiana feeling temporarily overwhelmed by the pressures of fame.

Love was so much bigger than all of those little irritations. So freaking big and confusing, in fact, that she finally understood why Valentina had kept her budding romance with Smith to herself during those early weeks when the two of them had been starting to fall for each other.

Tatiana’s stomach rumbled, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to keep any breakfast down. Not when she was churning inside—mind, body, and soul. Hurt warred with love, and pleasure warred with the fear that she’d been foolish to see something in Ian—in both of them—that wasn’t actually there.

He’d told her that life, that love, wasn’t a fairy tale, and that no matter how good sleeping together was, they weren’t going to get happily-ever-after with each other. Tatiana had always believed that she had a good grasp on fantasy versus reality, and that she’d been careful to keep a wide distance between playing a role in her work life and being true to herself when the cameras were turned off.

But was that true? Or had she just been fooling herself?

After waiting all these years to go to bed with a man, after waiting to make sure it was love and not just sex, had she simply told herself the lie she wanted to believe so that she could take what her body had craved so badly? Had she been so focused on the butterflies and the fireworks shooting through her every time Ian looked at her that she hadn’t stopped to look carefully enough at what was really going on? Had she been wrong to believe that there was more than heat and attraction and sheet-melting sex between them?

Even now, as she stripped off her coat, she could still feel the imprint of his mouth, his hands, his hard, heavy weight over her.

And even after everything he’d said, her body—and her heart—still craved him.

It was so tempting to slide under the covers of her bed, pull them up high over her head, and let the darkness of sleep temporarily shut down her brain and the ache she felt in her heart every time it pulsed in her chest.

But Tatiana couldn’t stand the thought of being that girl who hid, who cried under the covers. She might not have the answers yet to any of the questions she’d been asking herself. But how would she ever figure things out if she didn’t keep facing the situation head on?

Hoping everything would seem clearer after a shower, she was heading for the bathroom when she saw the invitation sitting on the corner of the small desk in her bedroom.

The Seattle Family Foundation event was tonight. She’d promised to go, and though she felt like a truck had run over her, there was no way she was going back on her word.

Maybe, she thought, this was exactly what she and Ian needed—to be forced to see each other again before he could retreat even further into himself. She’d picked out a dress to wear earlier in the week—black and white silk, belted at the waist and fluttery at the knees.

But that had been before.

After, though she wasn’t nearly as angry as she’d first been when he’d deliberately tried to push her away in his kitchen with his harsh words, she was still hurt…and just human enough that she wanted to push Ian back in some way, if only to show him that she wasn’t the only one who cared.

Flipping on the light in her walk-in closet, she scanned the clothes hanging in front of her, running through them with her fingers. They were all pretty, elegant, sexy even. But none of the dresses were exactly right.

She wanted to dazzle Ian tonight, wanted his eyes to pop out of his head and his brain to turn to mush when he saw her.

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