Unwilling to get out of bed just yet, I curled myself against the sheets, remembering the way Ben’s hands would tunnel under the blankets until he found my sleeping form. He’d tug me closer, scooting my body across the bed until he could spoon his body around mine. I smiled sleepily at the memory. His warm palms would caress my skin. With one hand resting flat against my belly, he’d burrow his face into my neck and inhale against my skin.
In bed at night in the silent darkness, the memories refused to fade, somehow growing in their intensity each day I wasn’t with him. When my brain would stop replaying our intimate moments, I didn’t know. But I hoped whenever that happened, it’d also take away the deep ache in my chest.
“Emerson Jean, get outta that bed,” my mom drawled, pulling the blankets off my legs.
“Ugh,” I groaned, rolling over and curling into a ball. Getting out of bed had become surprisingly difficult in the weeks since my breakup with Ben. I’d fled for Tennessee, quit my job at Status without any notice, and packed only one small bag.
I felt bad because Ellie was holding my room open, paying my half of the rent in the hopes I would soon return to New York. I had no plans to do that. There was nothing for me there now.
“Come on. Enough of this. I made your favorite pecan buns with caramel sauce and coffee. No more moping.”
It was easy for her to say. Her heart hadn’t been put through a blender. To make matters worse, my brother, Porter, was living at home again after ending his lease with a roommate. As if I needed any more spectators to my demise. My mom hadn’t had us both under the same roof in years. Porter was now twenty and though he’d yet to determine his direction in life, my mother cherished having him around. And I was half-worried Porter was going to drive up to Manhattan in his beat-up old pickup truck and hunt Ben down to kick his ass. I may not have objected much.
Ben had called and texted me nonstop until I changed my number. I couldn’t get sucked back into his world. I didn’t belong in it from the beginning. I was a simple southern girl. I wasn’t cut out for the level of drama that followed him around. And if he was the father of Fiona’s baby, they’d be linked for life. Even if he wasn’t, I doubted he’d ever cut ties with her. He didn’t see things clearly when it came to my old boss. I couldn’t be with someone who didn’t put me and our relationship first.
I was left to mourn the loss of him in my life, knowing the ache I felt would never fully heal. But I couldn’t hide in Tennessee forever. I needed to go back to New York, if not to stay, to at least see Ellie and collect the rest of my things.
One Week Later
Seeing Emmy standing on the curb at the airport was surreal. I’d been seeing her everywhere—imagining every long-haired brunette was her—so it took me a second to realize that this time it was real. She really was here.
It took every ounce of restraint I had to avoid pulling her into my arms, holding her against me, pressing kisses all over her pouty mouth. Her expression was weary—guarded. And I hated how she seemed to be on high alert around me. I wanted to hold her, to comfort her, but I knew I’d lost that right.
“Emmy . . .”
She stared straight ahead, looking determined to ignore me. I watched the way the wind lifted the strands of hair that had escaped her ponytail. I wanted to bury my face in her neck and kiss that spot just below her ear.
My feelings for her hadn’t changed. Not one bit. I loved her. To the very depth of my being. I needed her in my life. I knew I’d f**ked up time and again with Fiona, but I needed Emmy to hear me out.
Ignoring me, she raised her hand in the air, waving at a cab. It zoomed on past.
“Emmy, wait.” I reached for her but stopped myself. She wasn’t mine to touch anymore. The thought was sobering. To be near her again and not have the right to reach out and take her in my arms was a strange realization. I didn’t like it.
“How’s the baby?” she asked, her voice cold and unemotional.
That was what I wanted to explain to her. “We should talk, Emmy.”
“I have nothing to say to you.”
“Well, I do. There are a few things you should know.”
When she spun around to face me, all the venom in her expression dissolved. She’d been suffering just as much as me. She closed her eyes briefly and drew a shaky breath. I wondered if she was being hit with a barrage of memories like I was. Her soft laughter, sharing a glass of wine at a sidewalk café, teaching her curse words in French, feeding each other in bed at night. And, of course, making love. Her willingness to experiment sexually and the chemistry we shared were off the charts. There were so many things I missed about her, and I wondered if she missed me, too. Or did she only remember the bitter way things ended between us?
“Please. My driver’s here.” I indicated the black sedan parked at the curb. “Let me take you home and explain.” I had no f**king clue where to start, but I couldn’t let her walk away, for fear I’d never see her again. I picked up her bag without waiting for her response.
She straightened her mouth into a polite line and allowed me to help her into the car.
I’d never been to Ben’s apartment, and even though I knew visiting was a terrible idea, I was completely helpless to say no. Part of me was curious about where he lived, and all of me was curious about what he wanted to tell me.
The car stopped in front of a beautiful brick building on a tree-lined street. The doorman greeted him and smiled warmly at me. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ben brought women here often. Surely Fiona had been here. I shuddered, shaking off the thought.
Riding the elevator to Ben’s floor, I found myself wanting to wedge myself against the far wall. I hadn’t been alone with him since I found out about the baby, and I had no desire to share the same small space, the same air with the man who had broken my heart so completely.
Ben quietly appraised me with his intense hazel eyes that always saw too much.
When we reached the ninth floor, he stepped off the elevator, still carrying my bag, and I dutifully followed.
Unlocking the door, Ben held it open for me to enter ahead of him. His apartment was spacious and open. The kitchen was to my right, and straight ahead were the combined living and dining rooms. It was neat and orderly, though a little stuffy with stale air.
I wasn’t sure where he was coming from, but it appeared he hadn’t been home in a while. He flipped through a large stack of mail that had been handed to him by the doorman and motioned for me to go ahead and take a look around.
The dining room held a round mahogany table and four cream-colored leather-upholstered chairs. I continued to the living room and the large bay window with a view of the city. The room held a chocolate-brown sofa, modern and sleek in its design, and two armchairs. There wasn’t much in the way of decorations, just a few black and white architectural photographs hung on the wall and a brick fireplace filled with tall white candles. It was simple but nice. Classic and elegant without being pretentious. It suited him.
Ben stowed our bags near the entryway and asked if I wanted something to drink. He pulled a couple of bottles of mineral water from the fridge, and I gave him a nod.
Something to distract me would be good. I fiddled with the cool bottle once he handed it to me, taking small sips.
Ben sat in one of the armchairs across from the sofa. “Sit down, Emmy.”
My body, accustomed to pleasing him, immediately lowered to the couch. I couldn’t meet his eyes so I stared down at my hands instead. It was too painful to look at him. Too many memories. As quickly as we’d started our relationship, it had been snatched away. Just sitting across from him was throwing me for a loop.
“I’ve asked Fiona to have the paternity testing done,” he said, cutting straight to the chase.
The air in my lungs contracted painfully, pinching in my chest.
“She said the in-utero testing has some risks associated with it. She also gave me a speech about how she’s wanted this baby . . . dreamed about this for two years and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize it. She’s agreed to do the test just as soon as the doctors say it’s safe, which will be after the birth.”
“Oh.” I should have felt something here—worried? Relieved? But, strangely, I was devoid of all emotion. Nearly eight months more of not knowing. “Are you still working with her?”
“I am,” he replied, casually.
“I see.” I didn’t know why he wouldn’t just quit. She was clearly toxic to him . . . to us. . . .
“I have a contract with her. It doesn’t expire until next spring,” he added.
And just as he wouldn’t press charges for her taking advantage of him, I was willing to bet money he wouldn’t take her to court to end their contract early, either.
Ben leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and pinning me with a heated stare. “Emmy . . . I miss you.” His voice broke into that deep, husky tone.
I felt his anguish. It was the same anguish that had haunted me for the last two months. I missed him, too. There was no denying that. But I worried we were all wrong for each other. Too much drama. Not enough normalcy.
“Ben, you really think a relationship between us would have ever worked out? We’re from two different worlds.”
“Of course I do. I know it would have.”
“And you still think that after living through the catastrophic levels of drama Fiona stirred up for us?” I hung my head; I couldn’t stomach seeing the hope in his brilliant eyes. “I can’t do this again.” I couldn’t put my heart through the wrenching feelings that had owned me for the past few weeks. If and when I was ready to date, I promised myself I’d choose someone safe. A nice, normal guy with a normal job. Not an insanely sexy and intense man who turned my insides into a pile of goo. I’d been defenseless against Ben. That couldn’t happen again. With time to reflect, I knew that the way I’d become totally fixated on everything he said and did wasn’t healthy. Every tiny emotion he made me feel—and let’s not forget my body’s response to him. I’d never had such an intense relationship. When I was ready, I knew I needed something like my parents had. Slow and steady. Something stable and reliable.
“You don’t have to see her. You don’t have to talk to her. I’ll be represented by her agency for the next several months, but that’s it. I’ve cut out the personal shit. No more doctor appointments, no more hanging out. . . . You were right. She wanted more with me. Probably always has. It was time to end it.”
“Ben, she jumped you in your sleep. You could just quit working for her.”
He released a deep sigh and scrubbed one hand over the back of his neck. “It’s not that simple. Just trust me, okay?”
I smiled smugly. “I tried that. It didn’t work out so well for me.”
He frowned. “Fuck, Emmy. I’m sorry. I was trying to do the right thing, do the committed relationship thing with you . . . be a friend to Fiona. Fuck.” He twisted his hands in his hair.
Realization struck me like a smack to the head. Ben hadn’t truly done anything wrong. Fiona had asked him to keep her fertility issues a secret. And he’d honored that. He hadn’t cheated on me—well not purposely, anyway. She’d taken advantage of him. Maybe I was being too hard on him. God, this was confusing. My head was a mess.
When I looked up and met his eyes I saw that he was telling the truth. He wanted to make this work. He wanted me.
Each time I saw him, it was like the first time. His strong jawline, defined chest, broad shoulders, and full mouth were such a sensual combination; it destroyed my presence of mind to stay away. Even if it ended up destroying me, I couldn’t stay away from him. Wouldn’t. “What will you do if it’s yours?”
“I honestly don’t know.”
“Would you . . . want to be with her? Raise the baby?” I held my breath.
“No. I’m with you. I want you. Even though she and I were romantically involved in the past, I never considered actually being with her. It wasn’t like that between us.”
“Okay. I guess we’ll . . . figure it out together. . . .”
“Yes. Together.” His hand reached out to take mine. It seemed harmless enough. But when the warm weight of his palm slid against my skin, one touch was all it took. I realized in an instant that even without knowing if the baby was his, I was willing to accept him and all his baggage.
Memories that refused to fade rushed in, overwhelming my sense of clarity. His touch pushed away the hurt and betrayal and flooded me with warmth and awareness. We’d always had this raw, chemical reaction. Time hadn’t changed that. I didn’t know why I thought it’d be safe to come here with him. No way was I immune to this man. And his home was very much him. His light male scent clung to the space, and the interior exuded his sexy, confident charm.
Ben laced his fingers between mine, the move possessive and sure. My whole body clenched, tightened—my breathing coming in shallow pants. Ben read my reaction all in a single heartbeat, and I could see how affected he was by me, too. My lips trembled. I knew I should say something to his revelation. That was why we were here—to talk—but somehow all I could think about was that his bedroom door was less than twenty feet away, and how the incredible pressure of his thick c*ck pushing into me always stole my breath.
“What do you want?” he asked, his voice a low whisper.
“I . . . I don’t know,” I murmured. I wanted to go back in time to tell Fiona to shove the promotion up her ass, and I’d stay with Ben in Paris. Unfortunately, life didn’t work that way.
Ben moved to sit beside me on the couch. One hand gripped my waist while his other combed through my hair. It had been so long since he’d touched me and my body was on fire with want. Want for this beautiful, sexy man who destroyed me from the inside out.