More than want you, p.10
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       More Than Want You, p.10
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         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  At the thought, I want to hang myself with barbed wire.

  “This arrangement is going to work out.” I’m more hopeful than convinced, but I’m doing my best to be persuasive and upbeat for her.

  “Sure.”

  Her one-word responses are killing me. I grit my teeth. “You know, we’ll be together for a month. We have to speak to each other.”

  Keeley finally pauses, looks away from her suitcase. “We have to speak about Griff and whatever I need to learn about the man in order to wow him. We have to speak about business stuff and how I can run the best inn ever.” She gives me a tight smile. “We don’t have to speak about anything else. Call me when the food is here.”

  With that, she shuts the door between us, right in my face.

  Screw being at square one. I’m less than zero.

  I’m beginning to think that, despite negotiating this agreement to my advantage, I got thoroughly screwed.

  I can’t sleep. Knowing that only one teeny-tiny closed door separates me from Keeley frustrates the fuck out of me. On the other hand, she’s so much closer than she was the night before. I’m getting the sense that I need to accept the small victories with her while plotting the larger ones in the future.

  It’s already after midnight. I can’t sit still. The heavy doorknob that opens Keeley’s portal is like a magnet, urging me toward her with a gravitational pull I can hardly resist.

  But I have to—for now.

  As promised, I clear a spot on the lanai and stow her yoga mat out there so she’ll have it in ready position after sunrise. I also find a local grocery store that takes online orders. Grabbing the list Keeley made earlier, I take my laptop to bed and arrange for everything to be delivered by four o’clock tomorrow afternoon. I’ll ask her to be here. That way she can sign for it all and start cooking. We’ll eat as soon as I walk in the door. Maybe domestic bliss will ensue…which might include hugging and kissing and reintroducing her to my bed.

  I’m fantasizing about tomorrow evening. She doesn’t mind spending a little time on her knees, right? But I’m equal opportunity. If she wants to lie back, spread her legs, and let me do my worst, I’m all in. Hell, I’m fucking excited. In fact, if I get any more excited, I’ll have to take myself in hand. This raging erection poking at the fly of my pajama pants is pissing me off.

  Why is Keeley the only woman who makes me lose my self-restraint?

  I’m trying to solve that conundrum when my phone rings. The name on the display provokes a smile. “Hey, Harlow.”

  “Hey, big brother. What’s up?”

  “Work. You know. Not much new.” Well, that’s not exactly true, and if Keeley could hear me, she’d raise that brow and look at me like my ethics suck. “Well, maybe a little new. I might have met someone.”

  “Yeah? I was going to talk to you about Mom and Dad’s latest drama, but this sounds way more interesting. Tell me more.”

  “Her name is Keeley. I met her in a bar.”

  “Oh, dear god. So it’s a meaningful relationship, then?” Harlow snorts.

  “I’m kind of hoping it is.” I like her. That’s more than I can say for most of my hookups.

  “Exactly how did you two meet?”

  I debate whether to tell her about my scheme to sidetrack Griff because A) since Harlow still speaks to both of us, she asked me not to put her in the middle of our feud a long time ago. And B) even if she didn’t call me twenty kinds of dumb ass and agree to keep my secret, I don’t want anything—even unwittingly—to slip loose.

  On the other hand, Harlow would make a hell of an ally…and a spy.

  It’s a calculated gamble, but after some mental debate, I decide it’s worth the risk.

  I give her the abbreviated version of events, minus the sex. “Want to help me make sure Keeley succeeds?”

  “Maybe. Tell me the truth first. You nailed her, didn’t you?”

  Harlow has always been smart and good at reading between the lines.

  “I couldn’t help it. I’m really into this girl. I’m not sure yet what we have in common. But she’s a good person. You’d like her. She only agreed to my plan because she’s convinced she can help Griff and me patch up our spat.” I scoff. “Like that’s ever going to happen.”

  “If you keep being a douchebag, it won’t. Isn’t three years long enough to hold this grudge? You didn’t love Tiffanii, thank god. Don’t be so bitter.”

  We’ve had this argument before. “It’s not about Tiffanii.” Although when he moved her in with him, it sucked knowing my brother was shacking up with the woman I’d thought I might marry someday. In retrospect, it didn’t actually hurt. “What burned me was the way he handled everything.”

  “If it helps, I think he regrets it.”

  On the tip of my tongue sits my usual acerbic answer: Isn’t it too late for that now? I hold the words in. The sentiment is old, and I’m tired of feeling it. Besides, she knows my outlook on this. “If that’s true, he could start by apologizing.”

  “You could help him along by not trying to dangle a woman in his face designed solely to trip him up. You know he gets terribly distracted.”

  I do. His business almost didn’t make it the first four months because he was too wrapped up in Tiffanii to pay attention to much else. I heard a rumor that he’d planned a surprise getaway for two to Bora Bora. When he came home to pack a suitcase, he instead found some other guy packing his cock into Tiff’s pussy.

  Can’t say I was surprised… She cheated on me, too. It’s why we broke up.

  “He’s getting what he deserves,” I argue.

  “Maxon, stop. I know he hurt you.”

  So fucking much. I really still don’t know how to reconcile the kid brother who did everything with me with the man who did his utmost to take everything from me.

  “Did you ever stop to think that maybe you hurt him, too?”

  “Bullshit.”

  “Ugh, you and Griff both have way too much fight and pride for your own good.” Harlow sighs on the other end of the line. “You know, I’ve never met this Keeley woman, but maybe she’s onto something. If one of her conditions to this hare-brained scheme is for you to sit down with Griff for an hour and just talk, I can get behind that. I’ll even spy on him for you if it helps to end this.”

  “Excellent.” I smile.

  “That remains to be seen. I just hope I don’t regret my decision.”

  Somewhere in the back of my head, I wonder if both Keeley and Harlow are right. Will my plan do anything more than ratchet up this ugly family feud?

  Who cares? a voice in my head asks. It’s unlikely we’re going to be pals again tomorrow. Or ever.

  “You won’t.” I give her an empty assurance because I know it could become a shit storm. But I have to try. “So what’s the Mom and Dad drama?”

  I’m not sure I actually want to know. It’s always horrendous. Frankly, I wonder how they ever got along enough to conceive three children. They only stay married now because it would cost Dad too much money to divorce Mom. She puts up with his crap because she’s never worked outside the home a day in her life and wouldn’t know how to start now. So they have a sick, co-dependent union. Mom shakes him down to “maintain her lifestyle,” and Dad puts up with it because he can’t afford to do anything else. Besides, she’s the grand hostess for glitzy community events that make her giddy and the stuffy business parties that further his career.

  “I don’t know if they’re going to make it out of this, Maxon. Something’s up. Something more serious.”

  I frown. “If they’re not speaking, that’s nothing new.”

  “Of course it’s not,” Harlow agrees. “This is more than the normal resentment, silence, or accusations and yelling. This is ugly. It’s…cold.”

  Harlow isn’t the sort of woman to be dramatic. Mom and Dad took care of all that for us kids, so we had to stay pretty grounded or lose our minds. “You think they might actually split up for good this time?”

 
“I think it’s really possible.”

  Her words sink in. Not that they’ve been married in spirit for at least the last two decades, but the thought of them being legally divorced is chilling in a way I don’t understand. “See if you can find out what’s going on and keep me posted, okay?”

  “Sure. Britta and Jamie doing good?”

  “Yeah.” I think. I haven’t actually seen the little guy in a while. Other than Harlow, they’re really the only family I have left. I should make time for them. I’ll need them when I’m old and gray, I guess. And I care. That’s pretty rare for me.

  “She still hasn’t changed her mind about making Griff live up to his responsibilities with Jamie?”

  “No.” And she’s not likely to.

  When Griff didn’t acknowledge Britta’s pregnancy, we both figured he just didn’t care. She pleaded with Harlow, who still talks to the asswipe, to leave it alone. If Griff didn’t want his own son, she didn’t want anyone trying to make him give a shit. My sister didn’t love it but she agreed to respect Britta’s choice, mostly because she was pissed at Griff, too. And we all agreed that Jamie needed to be kept a secret from my parents. My mother would have turned that into a custody battle worthy of a made-for-TV movie. We know all too well how my father would treat the boy.

  “He’s going on three…”

  I get the emotional argument for Jamie meeting his father. I do. I would have loved a father who gave a damn about something besides business. “I think Jamie is better off. Britta gives him unconditional love.”

  Barclay Reed never gave that to his sons. Neither of his apples have fallen far from the tree, either. I worry Griff would only use his son to manipulate Britta, and because she would move heaven and earth to protect her child, she’d let Griff run all over her. Keeley would probably find my low opinion of him shocking, but what good does lying to myself do?

  “I know she does,” Harlow agrees. “And she’s been through a lot, but I think Griff has changed. He’s… I don’t know. Less angry.”

  Or better at hiding his problems. “Maybe you caught him in a good mood. Griff is never going to change. I don’t think he wants to.”

  “Do you?” she asks softly.

  I grit my teeth in irritation. “Haven’t you done enough probing, Freud? Why don’t you bug your fiancé for a while?”

  “He’s in London on business, so I decided to call you instead. Aren’t you lucky?”

  I have to smile. “Honestly?”

  “No,” she teases back. “Keep your opinion to yourself. I should get back to studying. Big exams coming up. Tell me when Keeley is ready to go in. I’ll call Griff, see if I can figure out where he’s at mentally and what his schedule is like. After they’ve officially met, I’ll be nosy, find out what he thinks of her, then report back.”

  “Perfect.” Having a co-conspirator should feel good—a sign that I’m not fucking up everything with this plan. But ultimately, Harlow is on Keeley’s side. I can’t lose sight of that.

  So…I’m alone. What else is new? And why does that suddenly bother me?

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  Keeley is still asleep when I leave for the office. I know it would piss her off, but I sneak into the spare room. I have to make sure she’s all right, don’t I?

  She takes my breath away. Lying on her back with her arm cocked up and knuckles brushing her smooth, pale cheek, she looks angelic. She also appears as if she’s sleeping naked. I want to peek under the blankets to be sure, but I can’t risk waking her up and inciting her wrath. I’m smart enough to pick my battles. Still, I don’t see any sleeves or spaghetti straps. If she’s in the buff, maybe that’s a silent sex invite.

  Or not, dumb ass.

  When my phone starts buzzing in my pocket, I slip out so I don’t wake Keeley. All through my workout, I speak to a client in Vienna. After a quick shower at the hotel’s fitness facility, I head to the office. There, the pace doesn’t change all day. It’s one phone call after another from clients buying or selling amazing properties on Maui. They have multiple demands. This sort of thing has beaten me down over the last few days. But right now I’m energized. I’m making it happen. Tonight, I’ll go home to Keeley. She’ll fix me food. Hopefully, we’ll talk, preferably in more than monosyllables. Then…who knows?

  I smile.

  As afternoon slips toward quitting time, Britta drops a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry about yesterday. I lost my temper.”

  It’s unlike her, so I know Keeley’s ideas about healing the rift between me and my brother upset Britta on some level, probably the one where she’d be forced to see Griff—and maybe share their son—if we mend fences. “Don’t apologize. You have a right to your thoughts and feelings.”

  “And she has a right to hers.” Britta looks down, peeling a bit of old turquoise polish from her thumbnail. “I think I was a bit jealous, too. If Griff meets Keeley, even to negotiate peace, I’m sure he’ll be attracted to her.”

  Britta sees that, too. Nice validation of my plan…not so nice reality for my assistant’s feelings. She knows precisely what kind of woman attracts Griff since she’s paid attention to the wide swath of females my bonehead brother has “dated” since their split. That tears her up, probably more than usual because she couldn’t really date in the same way. She gave birth to a much bigger responsibility that doesn’t allow for random sating of her sex drive. I’m glad for her that she has a seemingly steady someone now, even if it still seems weird to see her with someone else.

  “Hey, why don’t you take off early? Go spend more time with your little man. Jamie would like that.”

  “I can’t. He had a field trip today. They won’t be back at daycare until five.”

  “Do you miss him?”

  “Jamie? Every day but—”

  “Griff.”

  Britta falls dead silent. She presses her lips together. A furrow takes up residence between her brows.

  She’s not the same woman she used to be. Before everything went to hell, Griff and I decided that Britta would become my assistant so the two of them didn’t keep mixing business with pleasure. He hired an empty nester looking for something to occupy her time since the last of her kids had gone to college. Sheila still works for him, I hear. But three years ago, Britta always wore bright colors and a smile every day, along with heels and short skirts and a cocky attitude.

  Today, she’s got on a navy pencil skirt that almost covers her knees, a plain white starched blouse, and a beige cardigan that does nothing to liven her up. She’s scraped her blond hair into a tight bun. If she wore makeup this morning, it’s gone now. Britta dresses like a librarian. She acts like an old maid. She looks as if she has the weight of the world on her shoulders.

  “No,” she answers hesitantly. “I don’t miss him.”

  She sounds as if she’s trying to convince herself.

  “Be honest.”

  We haven’t talked about this in well over two years. At first, when the anger was still fresh for us both, we ranted and railed and trashed her apartment together. We grieved. We grew close. I wonder why I’ve never wanted to have sex with her. Under her current frump garb, she really is gorgeous. I guess in my head she always belonged to Griff.

  In so many ways, she still does.

  Britta swallows and won’t quite meet my gaze. “I tell myself I shouldn’t. He obviously hasn’t looked back.”

  “But you do?” My heart softens. It’s been doing that a lot lately.

  I’m not a fan.

  She sighs in defeat. “Sometimes. More than I want to.”

  “Me, too,” I tell her. After all, I don’t want her to feel
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