God, he deserves better than this.
I swallow, looking towards the window, uneasy and uncertain.
‘You’re not wrong.’
The words are so soft they’re almost a whisper; I don’t even realise I’m going to say them until I hear the way they float across the room towards him.
I clear my throat. ‘Before you, I hadn’t... It had been a while since I’d been with anyone else.’
‘But there was someone important before me?’ he prompts.
I nod, my eyes locking to his, showing the depth of my emotion and the ache of my pain. ‘Yes.’
‘And it didn’t work out?’
He says it gently, like teasing a knot out of a rope.
I shake my head and those stupid, stupid tears are back, hot in my eyes. I blink furiously, wiping them away without touching my face.
He asks the question with such kindness that I think I could collapse.
I’m not going to be weakened by Jeremy any more. I’m stronger now. Stronger than when I first met him and I believed in fairy tales and happily-ever-after and soulmates. What a load of nonsense.
Ethan takes my silence for an unwillingness to discuss it.
‘Look...’ He shifts his weight from one foot to the other. ‘You don’t have to talk about it. But don’t run away from me, Alicia. Just...stay and have more fun.’
My body jerks at the prospect. It’s what I need and want. More than anything.
‘Why don’t you have a bath? Relax. I’ll call you when dinner gets here.’
He’s being so kind and it’s hurting my heart to experience that, knowing the limitations of what we are.
I nod, though, and move towards the enormous bathroom before he can see the emotions on my face. And before I can make sense of them.
Because they’re scaring me half to death.
* * *
We have devoured almost the whole tray of room service food. Despite the fact I said I wasn’t hungry, it turns out that incredible, mind-blowing, multiple orgasm sex is enough to give anyone an appetite.
‘Things with me and Sienna hadn’t been working for a long time...’
I am torn. Morbid curiosity is at the forefront of my mind, but so too is the knowledge that this discussion is dangerous.
Curiosity, apparently, wins.
He reaches for a chip and eats it thoughtfully. ‘I don’t know.’ His smile is disarming. ‘Maybe we were never right together. But, man, we hated each other by the end. Still, for her to be engaged to someone else months later...’
I wince at his description and again I think of Jeremy. Of that afternoon.
‘Is this what you do? You farm me off to my mother’s, with our kids, so you can screw her?’
‘Come on, Fiona! Why wouldn’t I be fucking around behind your back? You’re as cold as ice and I’m bored. We never see each other any more. I don’t remember the last time we actually fucked.’
The memory makes my heart hurt.
‘I guess relationships change. People change. Love is complicated,’ I say with a shrug. ‘Do you know the guy?’
‘Tom Banks?’ He grimaces. ‘Yeah.’
‘That’s so much worse,’ I say softly. ‘Do you like him?’
Ethan shrugs. ‘The thing is, I kind of thought something was going on between them. She told me I was imagining it.’
My stomach twists. Lies. Love and lies. How common—and complex—it is.
‘How long were you guys together?’
‘On and off around six years,’ he says.
As though that’s nothing. As though that doesn’t change everything. Honestly, if he’d told me they’d had twins together I’d have been less shocked.
That’s a hell of a long time. He’s only twenty-eight. So they started dating when he was in his early twenties. I blink at him, but he doesn’t seem to realise how spun out I am.
‘We were friends for another six or so years before that.’
It’s Jeremy and Fiona all over again. A shiver runs down my spine—that same trickling sense of being an outsider, running over me like a rash. But for some reason this almost seems worse, and I can’t say why.
‘All this...the fame thing...it’s a tricky son of a bitch. I guess because I knew Sienna before. Before I made it...before she made it... I thought that somehow future-proofed us. I thought that made us more real.’