More than want you, p.11
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       More Than Want You, p.11
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         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  alone.

  Besides, Griff is a ghost in the room all too often. I kept meaning to move my offices elsewhere after he left. I just…didn’t. Never enough time, never high on my priority list. I never got around to it.

  “But it’s over and it doesn’t matter anymore.” She forces a chipper expression. “Tell me, what’s the deal with you and Keeley? I thought she’d be temporary.”

  I frown. “Why would you think that?”

  “Not that many people meet the love of their life in a bar, Maxon. And I admit, that tight animal-print dress just said ‘bimbo’ to me…which I realize is judging a book by its cover and that’s unfair. She’s nice?”

  I nod. “And interesting. Smart. She makes me laugh. She even makes me think.”

  “You, think? That’s a feat.” Britta gives me a teasing grin. “Oh, my gosh, you like her.”

  “Yeah.” I won’t deny the obvious. But I also can’t tell my assistant more. “We’ll see what happens. Maybe nothing.”

  “Or maybe she’s the someone you can finally invest your heart in. That would be great. I’d be really happy for you.” She turns quiet. “You deserve better than Tiffanii.”

  Can’t argue there. “What about you? You deserve to be happy, too. Are you still seeing Makaio?”

  “Yes.” Her smile turns muted.

  “He seems like an okay guy. How’s that going?”

  “He’s a good man. Kind. Patient. Funny. He seems to love spending time with Jamie. I’m lucky.”

  The words she uses to describe this guy suggest he’s top-notch boyfriend material. She might say she’s lucky, but she doesn’t sound happy. She’s not in love, though I suspect she wants to convince herself she is. “You guys have been dating for…six months?”

  “Eight.” Her voice has gone quieter.

  “Getting serious?” I ask.

  I don’t think she’s ready for that.

  “He’s spending a couple of nights a week at my place.” Britta hesitates. “I have this feeling—intuition?—he’s thinking about proposing.”

  I sit back in surprise. “Really? That’s…fast.”

  “A little,” she concedes.

  “How do you feel?”

  “He says he loves me.”

  I analyze her expression, her body language. She’s closed off, her movements small, her voice gone soft. She didn’t actually answer my question. “You don’t love him back.”

  I see a crack in her outer shell. “I care a lot. And if he asks me to be his wife, I can’t think of a single reason to say no. He’s loving and steady. He has a good job, a great family. He treats Jamie like his own. He helps with everything when he’s around the house. His heart is open…”

  In other words, he’s perfect—for someone else.

  “You can’t help it if you’re not ready to move on.”

  “I need to be! I loved your brother. But he’s gone, and I can’t stay stuck here.”

  She’s got a point…but one point isn’t the whole picture. “If Makaio wants to marry you, don’t you owe him your whole heart? Is it fair to make him settle for only the parts of you that you’ve wrested free from Griff?”

  Now she looks agitated. “Maybe knowing I’m committed will make a difference. Maybe that will free up my heart. All I know is that Griff has taken years of my past, and I refuse to give him more of my future.”

  That’s wishful thinking. “I get it, but—”

  “Why are you grilling me like this? In the old days, you would have just asked if he made me laugh and if he was good in bed. What’s with the probing questions about the state of my soul?”

  I can’t refute her. Normally, I would ask those very questions. I might claim I want details just to watch her blush. But I fear the reason I’m different now has something to do with Keeley’s bad influence.

  “You’re right. It’s none of my business. I’ll shut up.”

  She sighs with regret and shakes her head. “Sorry. You asked fair questions. I just don’t have any answers.”

  “I’m always here if you need help figuring it out.”

  “Thanks. You’re one of my best friends.” She gives me a sisterly pat on the shoulder. “I mean this in the most loving way but, at least for now, I need you to butt out.”

  If she was grilling me hard-core about my love life, I’d probably be touchy, too. “All right. I’m butting out. Just don’t rush into anything, okay?”

  “It’s been three years. I’d hardly call that doing a ten-yard dash to the altar.” She picks up the last of her stuff. “I think I’ll go ahead and leave. I can run a few errands before I pick Jamie up. Good night.”

  “Night.”

  I’ve got two hours before I can go home. I return a few phone calls, answer a few e-mails I’ve been putting off. Rob and Britta have assembled a “war room” in Griff’s former office and filled it with ideas for the Stowe estate. I poke around, see their progress, make a few mental notes. Something is bugging me about everything they’ve laid out so far. I was loving it yesterday but today it feels like too much hoopla. Like we’re planning a rockin’ New Year’s Eve party in March. The strategy seems overdone and outdated. The visuals look like overkill. Everything feels…wrong.

  What would be right?

  No damn idea. What do I know about the Stowe kids or their preferences? I don’t usually research clients. What’s there to say? They have a house to sell and I know how to list well and find a buyer. End of story.

  Except my gut tells me not this time.

  When I plop behind my desk again, my eyes go immediately to the clock on my laptop screen. Seventy minutes until I can close up shop.

  Could this day drag on any more?

  I can fill it by staring at a wall and thinking about all the fantastic things I’d like to do in bed with Keeley. With the sleek line of her shoulders and back, along with the feminine flare of her hips, she’d look great if I fucked her from behind, filling my hands with her tits. Mentally, I throw in a few of her gasps and cries because of course I’m going to make her come. On the other hand, she’d look great on top, too. That bright hair thrown back, exposing the delicate, pale curve of her throat, breasts bouncing with every thrust as she grabs my shoulders and cries out my name.

  Yeah, I can picture it now.

  Unfortunately, it also makes my cock so hard my pants are damn uncomfortable. And I still have sixty minutes before I can leave. Even when I get there, no matter how much I want to touch Keeley, she’s not going to say yes simply because I want her to. If I press her, she’ll remind me that she’s not fair game.

  Maybe I should pull my brains out of my dick and focus on work.

  Google tells me that the Stowe descendants are George, twenty-seven, and Vivienne, twenty-three. Their father died a decade back after a lingering bout with cancer. The elder of the Stowe kids finished an MBA from Yale three years ago and has been running the family business day to day since. Shortly thereafter, their mother moved to Maui and remained until she died of an unexpected heart attack ten days ago. Vivienne graduated from Vassar last year and, though planning to be married soon, is making the Stowes’ legacy, their syrup company, her number one priority. The Burlington Free Press even included a picture of the siblings clutching hands and sharing a moment of grief on the snowy day of their mother’s funeral.

  I sit back, ponder. By all accounts, these heirs value family, tradition, and their New England roots. George was quoted as saying that he had never stepped foot in his mother’s Maui home and never planned to. He sounds proud of that fact. It seems a bit like sour grapes to me, but I imagine that if I’d come from a normal family—which I didn’t—if my father had died and my mother took off to someplace seemingly exotic seven time zones away, I might be bitter, too. Confused at the very least.

  It also makes me realize that George and Vivienne probably aren’t attached to the idea of having Griff list their place, as their mother had been. They simply don’t have a good reason not to. If I giv
e a better pitch than my brother, I might have a real shot at this listing.

  With a curse, I tear everything pinned up on the war room’s walls down, tuck all the ideas away in a drawer, find a marker at the white board, and write two words: THINK SIMPLE.

  I return to my laptop and pound out an e-mail to Rob and Britta, linking them to the articles I’ve read about the Stowe siblings. I close with assurances that we’ll regroup and discuss tomorrow. We can get this done.

  I’m onto something. I feel it. Griff is going big, bold, loud—and he’s in deep with that strategy. Somehow, I know that’s so wrong and I’m completely right. I’m going to find a way to win. I just need one more advantage to get it done.

  Keeley. I look at the clock and I smile.

  Now it’s time to go.

  Game on.

  When I enter the condo, I find all the doors and windows open. Ocean salt mixes in the air with ginger and sizzling sesame oil that smells like one of my favorite restaurants.

  Keeley is cooking. More than my stomach jumps with excitement.

  “Hi.” I set my keys and laptop on the bar and peer at her behind the stove. “What are you making?” And what are you wearing under that little sundress?

  She turns with a distracted glance. “Asian.”

  I peer closer. “I had a wok?”

  “No.” She huffs out a breath that says she doesn’t want to speak to me but knows she has to. “When I finished school, I came back here to start homework. The groceries arrived on time, but you have almost no pots, pans, utensils… How did you think I would cook the food?”

  That might be a fair question. “I had, um…a couple of saucepans, didn’t I? A skillet, a cookie sheet, and some other stuff.”

  She rolls her eyes. “And how long have you lived here? Never mind. I already know your excuse. You’re not home much.”

  “Right. So, the wok came from where? Did you have one in your boxes?”

  “No, I used my homework time to run to the Target in Kahului to buy a few things I’ll need if we’re going to eat reasonably in this place for the next month.” She reaches into her pocket, pulls out a strip of paper, and slaps it on the bar. “Here’s the receipt.”

  I glance at it. She managed to fill my kitchen with stuff for less than a hundred and fifty dollars. Frugal. I would have ordered a bunch of crap from Williams Sonoma and paid the exorbitant shipping fee for the convenience. But the fact that she stopped what she was doing to take care of me…

  Well, probably not all for me. She’s feeding herself, too. But she’s including me, so that counts. And it smells spectacular.

  “I’ll give you cash,” I promise her. “I didn’t consider that my kitchen wouldn’t be stocked. Sorry.”

  She softens and shrugs. “I know. But you’re on dish patrol. I’ll finish my homework then, so we can get started on…whatever.”

  “Sure.”

  “Thanks for laying out my yoga mat, by the way. I really enjoyed my morning workout. What time did you leave?”

  “Six thirty. The usual.”

  “You put in a twelve-hour day?” She frowns like she’s worried.

  Does that mean she cares a little?

  “Eleven. I worked out first. Actually, I cut today a little short, but coming home to these smells makes it worthwhile. What’s in there?” I try to peer across the space between us and into the wok.

  “Not telling. You have to try it first and let me know whether you like it. I set some placemats and silverware out on the lanai. And some wine. This will be ready in two. Go change.”

  “You’re bossy.”

  “You need it,” she tosses back without missing a beat.

  I laugh, relieved that she’s giving me more than clipped, one-word answers today.

  After a quick change into shorts, I come out of my bedroom to find her carrying two plates outside. The evening is warm, pleasant. Sunset beckons over the glittering blue water, filling the sky with shades of pink, orange, and yellow. I pour wine as the sultry breeze grazes my skin. It’s nice out here. Why didn’t I ever spend time outside before? I can’t really remember a reason. Just…busy.

  But I’ll change that to savor every moment I can with Keeley.

  She sits beside me, staring out at the water and sipping her wine. “Good day?”

  “Interesting. Britta sends her apologies for yelling at you. She’s got a lot going on.” Vaguely, I worry about whether Makaio will propose to Britta and how she might answer. The idea of my parents divorcing niggles at me, too. But I can’t borrow any more trouble now. I need to focus on prepping Keeley to become the distraction Griff can’t afford…while figuring out how to bend her no-sex rule—a lot. “I might be making some progress on the big deal I was telling you about.”

  “Yeah?”

  I shovel the first bite into my mouth. My taste buds are ready to declare undying love. This is probably more vegetables than I’ve eaten in the last month, but everything is so crisp and fresh. I’m devouring it with my eyes and my mouth—and I’m loving it. Maybe she’s right about dining out too much. Nothing at a restaurant ever tastes like this. “Hmm. This is amazing.”

  She smiles proudly. “Now you can say you like tofu.”

  I choke and try not to spit it out. “What the fuck?”

  “Don’t think about it. Keep chewing. Tell me about your deal.”

  We talk a bit. As long as I don’t think about the fact that I’m eating soy milk that’s coagulated into curds, I enjoy the flavor. I show her some pictures of the estate and walk her through what I’ve learned about the sellers.

  “I think panoramic pictures and big parties and streaming a live YouTube event is the wrong plan,” I muse aloud. “On paper, it should be right. This is a really unique, breathtaking estate. But to convince these sellers, I think less is more.”

  She looks at the pictures on my phone, then takes another sip of wine. “Absolutely. Flaunting this estate and celebrating it for these two syrup heirs who may never understand their mother’s decision to leave them even before she died will be a losing strategy.”

  There. Keeley put into words exactly what my instinct was telling me.

  “So it stands to reason that the approach I use for sheiks, European business moguls, Asian dignitaries, and assorted royalty around the world isn’t the one I should take now.”

  She shakes her head. “Not for two grieving, salt-of-the-earth siblings.”

  I send her a challenging stare. “I thought you didn’t know anything about business.”

  “I don’t. But I know people. And from everything you’ve said, those two want this over and they want top dollar for their mom’s place. I’ll bet they want to put the funds back into the business and honor their family’s legacy.”

  What she says makes a lot of sense. I should have thought of that sooner. I know business…but I never thought people mattered that much. I’m marketing houses. I’m making money. None of that is about individuals.

  But maybe that’s why Griff is more successful at selling. He’s good at reading folks. He watches, listens, pays attention. Which is why I could never understand how he completely misunderstood my intentions when he walked off without saying a fucking word. How did he not get that I loved him and I would never have betrayed him? Why did he think I was capable of such deceit? Not that I’m not a bastard. I am. But if I wanted to mess with a loved one, I’m not the kind of coward to stab them in the back. I’d punch them in the face.

  “You’re right. That makes so much sense. I need to tell Rob and Britta.” I reach for my phone.

  “Finish your dinner first. Nothing worse than cold snow peas.”

  “And tofu,” I grouse.

  She laughs at me. The sound sparkles. The waning light of the day makes her fair skin shimmer with a warm glow. I’m drawn to her as if I’m the dark daring to peer into the light.

  “All right.” I take another bite. “Thanks for listening, by the way.”

 
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