I see Eliza and Cassie and I hate it that they are worried about me. Again. I see the concern etched on their faces and try to smile, but I have forgotten how. I am learning the hardest lesson of all.
Good intentions be damned.
You cannot immunise yourself against some things, and all-consuming love appears to be one of them. How stupid I was to believe I could control it. How awful the pain at realising my mistake.
Did he sleep with her?
I dismiss the idea instantly. Of course he didn’t.
Ethan isn’t Jeremy. He wouldn’t do that.
That’s the problem. Just like I said to him over a week ago, when we argued. I’ve forgotten how to trust, and that includes my instincts. I don’t know if I believe him to be good because I want to or because I should. I cannot see clearly any longer.
Jeremy took that away from me.
I’m not ignoring Ethan because I believe him to be a cheat. I’m ignoring him because I believe he is a pathway to unimaginable pain. I know that I’m not strong enough to weather the demise of what we are. It is almost killing me now, and we have only been sleeping together for two weeks. What if I let myself admit how much I love him? What if I let him into my life? And after six months...two years...five years...two kids? What if it ends then?
I see the future and I see those paths before me, just like on that first night, and every single path leads to hurt and lost hope.
Unless I stay right where I am, pretending that I’m glad we’ve ended it.
I stare at the images on my screen and rouse myself. Ethan’s brownstone. The proposal is complete. I have arranged two options for him, and yet I know which he will choose. I have selected pieces that inherently reflect the essence of who he is. On that score I have no doubts.
I have chickened out of presenting them to him, though. Natasha can do that. I can’t see him again. I can’t see him in the house that I have come to love. I can’t see him there and imagine him living in those rooms, only a few blocks away from me. I can’t.
‘Your four o’clock is here.’
Lesley’s voice comes through the intercom, about a thousand degrees too cheery for my current mood.
‘Great,’ I say through gritted teeth, clicking into my calendar to see just what appointment I’ve got. I can’t see an entry but I stand, a perplexed look on my face.
The door swings open and there he is.
Ethan tormenting-my-dreams Ash—all sexy, dishevelled, good-enough-to-eat handsome, watching me as though I’m a bomb that might detonate.
I have no time to gather my wits. He moves into the room and shuts the door behind himself and then he comes right up to me, so close that I can feel his warmth and smell his adrenaline and I want to kiss him. I want to kiss him all over.
The knowledge of that makes me push back. I’m not that woman. I have a brain and I have a decision-making process and, damn it, I’m going to use both.
‘What are you doing here?’
The question comes out in a rush, but I am pleased with how defiant I sound. How pissed off, when actually I’m part-way to melting.
‘Well, you haven’t been returning my calls or responding to my texts, so what choice did I have?’
I glare at him, all the angrier at the effect his accent has on me. At the way my body is sensitised, my stomach churns and my mind almost goes blank.
‘You had the choice to take the hint,’ I snap, moving away from him, seeking sanity in the distance. ‘You had the choice to let me go.’
His eyes glint as they meet mine and I feel like I’ve slammed into a brick wall. His determination is mighty.
‘No?’ I repeat sarcastically, even as my heart is shredding me from the inside out.
He crosses his arms over his broad, muscular chest. He’s wearing a leather jacket over a grey T-shirt and a pair of faded jeans. They’re low on his hips and I know that if I lifted his shirt an inch I’d see his hipbone. I remember running my tongue over the blade of his waist, but it’s wrong to remember something so personal.
I take another step back, swallowing. ‘We had a deal.’
His lips flick with amusement.
‘Don’t you dare laugh at me.’
‘Believe me, I’m not laughing.’ He drags a hand through his hair, his eyes probing me thoughtfully.