More than want you, p.12
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       More Than Want You, p.12
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         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  She nods. “So…I guess if I’m going to tempt your brother into losing his mind, I need to know about him.”

  I nod. Down to business. I can respect that, even if I’d rather keep things between us personal. “Griff—Griffin, which he hates—is three years younger than me. He’s almost my doppelgänger. But of course I’m way more awesome.” I flash her a cheesy grin.

  “I had no doubt.” She rolls her eyes. “What is he like?”

  The fact that I’m not good at reading people does not help me with this question. “Um…”

  “What does he like to do? What are his hobbies? What does he value? What are his goals?”

  I frown. Three years is a long time, and I don’t know how much his interests might have changed. After he left, I tried to close my memories of him away into a little box and nail that sucker shut. The knowledge feels rusty.

  “He likes to succeed as much as I do. He’s better at socializing, so he’ll put on a gregarious face and act like your best fucking friend. But under the facade, he’s a ruthless bastard, too. Like me, he’ll crush anyone in his way. He values hard work and everything that comes with it—money, success, beauty… If I had to guess, his number one goal is to beat me.”

  “So how is he different than you?”

  Good question. We had roughly the same upbringing, with a mother who didn’t know how to control two rambunctious boys, so she gave up trying, and the same asshole of a father, who didn’t mind doing whatever it took to squeeze the most out of us.

  “Up until he walked out, I would have told you Griff was the most loyal bastard imaginable. The one time I saw him love, he went full throttle—hard and open. He didn’t care what anyone thought.” Well, except our dad.

  “And that bothered you?”

  I shrug as I finish the last of my dinner. “I didn’t think about it. I didn’t love. Too much of a weakness, so I overcame it. I don’t know if Griff ever did.”

  Keeley looks totally horrified by my answer. “Who told you love was a weakness?”

  “Dear old Dad. If you think I’m a raving son of a bitch, you ought to meet him.”

  She frowns as if she would rather not. “So you think Griff loved Britta?”

  “I would have sworn he did, but it didn’t matter in the end. I’m sure he thought that, as my assistant, Britta was in on the secret deal I was working at the time, the one he thought I took to undercut him. But she didn’t know about it, either. I gave her some tasks associated with the purchase, but I never told her the client’s name or the address of the residence. She was totally in the dark.”

  “You’re right. He should have asked questions, but if your father only taught you disdain for love…”

  “That might be an understatement. He told us both from the time we were kids to learn from his mistake and to marry only if a woman upped our stock. If she brought cash or a pedigree to the marriage, that was logical. But love did nothing except give a man an Achilles’ heel enemies could use against us.”

  At her look of horror, I’m almost embarrassed by my upbringing. Most people would be jealous. Big house, gated community, the best schools, all the new toys and gadgets, trips, money, opportunities. I was full of first-world problems.

  “It wasn’t that bad.”

  “It doesn’t sound good,” she contradicts. “So his marriage to your mom isn’t…happy.”

  I scoff, then snag a swig of wine. “No. Dad has had more mistresses than new ties over the years.”

  “Do you resent him for it?”

  Interesting question. “I don’t know. It just is. I don’t like him for it. I think…” I sigh, grappling for a way to explain my family. “I first found out about his extracurricular sex life when I was eight. I’d done really well on a math test he had warned me not to fail. After school, instead of going home, I convinced a friend’s mom we carpooled with that I had to go to my dad’s office. I pleaded some emergency. When I got there, I barged in and found his secretary on her knees in front of his massive office chair, her head bobbing in his lap. They jumped apart guiltily.” I close my eyes, still remembering how much that day shattered the boy I once was. “He wore a ring of her lipstick around his dick.”

  Keeley holds her breath. “What did you do?”

  “My friend’s mom dropped me off in front of my house, but I ran to the nearby park instead and hid. I didn’t make it home until almost midnight.”

  She braces a hand over her heart, and I can almost feel her worry. “Your parents must have been worried sick.”

  “I was too pissed to care. A neighbor finally found me.” I’d been hiding between two bushes, dry eyed and hungry and confused as hell. At that age, I wasn’t precisely sure what my father was doing with that other woman, but I knew it was wrong. “When I got home, my mother screamed out her anger that I worried her for nothing before she retreated to bed. Once we were alone, my father sat me down and told me not to be a righteous little pussy about what I’d seen that afternoon. Then he took a conference call with someone in China. We never spoke about it again.”

  “Did you ever tell your mom what you saw?”

  I shake my head. “You have to understand… I was a kid who wanted to please the father who never seemed to have time for me. I thought keeping his secret—and a lot of the others I learned about over the years—might make him care more. Besides, I think my mom knew and tattling would have been merely rubbing her face in all her misery.”

  “Does Griff know what kind of man your father is?”

  “Of course,” I assure her. “He figured it out a few years later when he discovered Dad banging his third-grade teacher.”

  Keeley pushes her bowl away, shaken. “I can’t imagine… My father loved us with all his heart. The day he passed away, he squeezed my mother’s hand in his hospital bed, kissed my forehead, and promised her that his love for us was deathless, even if he wasn’t. He was a good man. Despite having remarried a few years ago, my mom still wears a locket with his picture around her neck. I miss him.”

  Tears shimmer in her eyes. The memory is one she holds close to her heart. She’s proud to wear the emotion on her face.

  I’m not the enemy, but if I was, she just exposed a big chink in her armor. Does she know that? Or does she trust me enough not to use her feelings against her?

  I like that idea.

  “And mine is a selfish, womanizing pig. Griff and I saw a thousand instances of that as teenagers. When we were little kids, he seemed to take delight in watching us twist and contort, trying to please him. But when we interned with him a few summers, we bonded over our dislike of the way he treated us. We swore we’d never be anything like him.”

  Yet I fear he’s exactly who we’ve both become.

  Our shared boyhood crap held us together until three years ago, when that goddamn deal with the freaking Middle Eastern prince splintered our pact into a thousand pieces. If I’m being really honest, I’ve been somewhat lost since.

  “I’m getting the picture,” she murmured. “Did you try to talk to your brother after he left?”

  “Sure. I thought someone had stolen money from our bank and broken into our office at first. I called him that morning he didn’t show up for work. He answered with ‘Fuck off, you backstabbing shitbag’ and hung up. So I went to his place. He lives in a guarded complex. He told the guard there to advise me that I was no longer welcome.”

  That’s one memory I would rather forget, driving over to Griff’s building and trying to reason with security as the pounding rain soaked my freshly starched shirt thirty minutes before I was supposed to FaceTime this royal prick every square inch of the property he was signing for later that day. Security wouldn’t budge, and I drove away soaked and confused and fucking sad.

  “That’s it?”

  “What else did you want me to do? He wouldn’t see me. He wouldn’t see Britta, even when she sent a letter to his house to tell him that he would be a father in seven months. He just cut us cold.”

/>   Keeley pauses, and I see the wheels in her head turning. “Then came his nasty e-mail with the pictures of him and Tiffanii naked?”

  “Yeah, and there was nothing to say after that.”

  She nods. It’s a lot to absorb, and it sounds as if she had a really awesome childhood with parents who loved her. No wonder she’s not really grasping all the baggage from mine.

  “It’s safe to say that your dad’s behavior affected Griff, too?”

  I never thought about it quite like that. I mean, we were both warped. That’s a fact. Emotion never entered into our decisions. Showing weakness was the worst thing we could do. I thought I had feelings for Tiffanii, but lifelong commitment to one woman was something I shied away from because, of course, why pluck a single flower when I would always want to plow the whole field? I really thought that until recently. Griff’s departure had me examining the past. Keeley’s perspective makes me reevaluate my attitude. No doubt about it…filtered through her lens, my life looks fucked up.

  “It must have. I’ve wondered for years if he left Britta and Jamie without blinking because the responsibility scared him or, like Dad, he was just incapable of caring. I don’t know.”

  “What do you think he saw in Britta? I mean, you said he has a ‘type’?”

  “And she’s the epitome of what trips Griff’s trigger.”

  “Blonde?”

  I shake my head. I can accuse Griff of a lot of shallow shit because I know he’s screwed hordes of willing women. Hell, in college he used to love the tourist hangouts because the ladies were drunk and easy and looking for a good time. Britta seemed to change all that. Or I’d thought so until the day he left.

  “Smart. Sharp. Someone with attitude and verve. Good tits help.”

  Keeley swats my arm. “Seriously?”

  “What?”

  “Tits?” she challenges with a cock of her head.

  “Do you like breastsss better?” I intentionally stumble over the word because, really, it’s not the easiest word to say.

  “Yes, especially when you’re not being an ass about it.”

  I try not to roll my eyes. “Don’t make me call your girl parts a vagina,” I warn. “That’s a pussy. Yours is a really pretty one.”

  Her expression turns tart. “Mine is off-limits to you. We’re talking about your brother.”

  “But not in the same sentence as your pussy.”

  In all honesty, I’m poking at her. I don’t know why exactly. To lighten the mood? So she stops feeling sorry for me? So things seem less heavy? Probably all that. When I’m with her, I have so many thoughts. But they’re more than thoughts when they make my chest squishy. They’re feelings.

  Jesus, I’m allergic to those. I need to stop.

  “All right,” she sighs in exasperation. “So your brother likes smart women with personality?”

  “Yeah. He has this…thing about dating a woman who’s his intellectual equal, who is also good with banter. Arguing—sorry, debate, as he calls it—is his foreplay. He needs someone who can keep up. It’s no fun to verbally beat someone who didn’t have a prayer of winning in the first place.”

  “For real?”

  I can’t tell whether she’s intrigued or horrified. “When he met Britta at a caravan—that’s the term for a bunch of Realtors spending a morning hopping from property to property en masse to preview new listings for their clients—she was filling in for her sick boss. She looked impeccably beautiful. Crisp white shirt that hugged her body. The open collar revealed just a hint of cleavage… The black skirt flirted with her knees and wrapped to a slit up the back that showed most of her legs. She wore these ridiculous heels with wraparound strap thingies. She had great legs. Don’t get me wrong. She looked professional as hell. Put together, low-key makeup, understated jewelry. But she looked like a woman. And she put him in his place with a sentence. That’s definitely Griff’s thing. He likes to conquer the strong and dirty up the pretty.”

  Keeley looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind. “Then you picked the wrong woman for this task. I’ve never been understated or professional in my life.”

  “I can make you those things.”

  “You want to change me?” She raises a brow in warning.

  “No, I like you as is. But for the purposes of derailing Griff… Think of it as a—what do you women call it?—yeah, a makeover. If you really decide to be an innkeeper, it could help you.”

  The accusation on her face relaxes, and I’m damn glad I think fast on my feet.

  “Maybe,” she concedes.

  “Besides, I’m only altering the way you appear temporarily. It’s you he’ll want. Your humor and wit. Your charm. Your intelligence. Your quick comebacks.” And her compassion. He’ll like that, too. “Once my brother has conquered and dirtied, he wants someone he can relate to. I don’t know if he’d ever admit it, but that’s what he once liked most about Britta. She understood and accepted him.”

  Keeley nods as if she grasps all that. “That makes sense.”

  “Right. To stay with someone long term, you have to talk after you boink, I guess. I’ve never experienced that, but I’m sure it would be nice. Tiffanii wasn’t a conversationalist—unless she was the subject. Every time I tried to talk to her about my past, she’d tell me to see a therapist, then shove her earbuds in her iPad and watch another YouTube video about makeup.”

  Keeley rolls her eyes as if she has a strong opinion about Tiff that isn’t good. “You think I’m smart, huh? That my personality is slightly dazzling?”

  When she smiles, I’m captivated by this little dimple in her cheek. I never noticed it before, but it’s a spot of cute on an otherwise beautiful face.

  “Fishing for compliments?” I tease back.

  I like this happy Keeley way better than the serious, digging-in-my-psyche version.

  She looks like she has a quick, playful reply right on the tip of her tongue, then reconsiders it. “Mostly I just want to know why you chose me.”

  It’s a fair question. I can’t put it into words except to say, “It’s a gut feeling. I looked at you beyond the makeup and the dress and I heard you. The way you sang. I could hear…your heart, I guess. That probably sounds stupid because you were totally singing about thinking of me and touching yourself.”

  “Well, not you specifically.”

  “Of course it was me,” I refute with a wink. “Everyone in the room knew it.”

  “You mean, except the three other guys who wanted to pick me up?”

  “They were dense. You could look at them and tell their IQs were in the neighborhood of their shoe size.”

  “Maxon…” She laughs at me as if she can’t do anything else.

  At least it clears up the last of the tense air between us. But I’m not dumb. She’ll go about her business tomorrow, then come back with more questions. She’ll dig deeper and want to understand. Really, I’ve never dissected my life like this, and it’s funny how much I’m realizing just by saying it out loud. At this rate, why would I ever need therapy when I have Keeley?

  “To be honest, after you teased the audience and put that one wrestler wannabe in his place, I knew Griff would be intrigued. Then I pictured you in something tailored and classic yet feminine and put it together with your sweetly assertive personality. I knew my brother would go insane.”

  She takes a sip of her wine. “If you wanted me for your brother, why did you sleep with me first?”

  How much do I tell her? Anything I say makes me sound like a dirtbag. Then again, I’ve never apologized for who I am. Why start now? “I couldn’t help myself.”

  Her face softens. She has to be thinking that she couldn’t help herself, either. Some gentle sentiment I can’t quite decipher pours from those blue eyes. Despite all the sparkly shadow and heavy black liner, I see it. Hell, I feel it.

  But Keeley doesn’t speak it. She merely nods.

  “I understand wanting what you want when you want it. The truth is, we can’t always have
that.”

  A veiled warning not to come on to her again. I don’t know how the hell I’m going to heed that. We’re sitting close. During the conversation, night has fallen and the moon makes her glimmer under its soft silvery beams. She’s chewed her bottom lip so much it’s swollen and red. Our forearms are so close I can feel the body heat rising from hers. If I lift my hand, I could tangle our fingers together. I think about it. I think hard. One little move and I could be touching her…

  But that would make me an even bigger asshole, wouldn’t it?

  Having this sudden conscience is annoying.

 
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