More than want you, p.20
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       More Than Want You, p.20
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         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  this, but if I do, whatever move you make won’t be authentic. Keeley sounds like a smart cookie. I’m guessing she’ll see right through any choice that doesn’t come from your heart.”

  Most likely. “I don’t know how to choose with my heart. I have three chromosomes—X, Y, and asshole. How do I change that?”

  “Stop making excuses and decide what you want most. I only called to drop a little knowledge on you. First, tonight Griff is going to someplace called Lelani’s Beachside Grotto. He should be there about…now. So if you want to proceed with your original plan to introduce Keeley to him, here’s your chance.”

  My breath seizes up. My heart pounds so hard I swear it’s going to bruise my rib cage. I have to decide now? Right this minute?

  There’s still a little part of my brain screaming that I’m an idiot if I don’t follow through, but all the function in my body seems to be coming from my chest these days. It’s telling me that my head needs a fucking vacation.

  “Thanks,” I manage to mutter. “And he’s still not seeing anyone?”

  “Nope. But something is going on. I talked to him today. He sounds really wound up.”

  “He’s probably on edge about the Stowe estate.” The end of the week is going to creep up on both of us.

  “Maybe.”

  “What’s the other reason you called? I mean, besides the chance to talk to your amazing elder brother,” I try to joke.

  It falls flat.

  Harlow gets quiet, sober. My gut starts screaming.

  “Mom picked up and left yesterday.”

  “What? What happened?”

  “I don’t know exactly. Dad called me in a huff this morning. Mom didn’t come home last night. She didn’t call. She didn’t say she was going anywhere, she just…left. She also took her Mercedes, a suitcase…and half their checking account.”

  “Damn it. That move sounds as if Griff, that fucker, has been giving her pointers. You think she’s gearing up for a divorce?”

  “Apparently, she called a lawyer.”

  “She’s done that before,” I rationalize aloud. “She usually backs down.”

  “True.” Harlow lets out a troubled breath. “But something tells me this time will be different.”

  As soon as I hang up with my sister, I call Keeley again. Still no answer. I leave her another voice mail with some assorted groveling and a casual question about the bar Harlow mentioned. Has she heard of it? Damn it, why won’t Keeley even talk to me? I can’t seem to go on without this woman.

  How can I soothe her anger so we can have a… What do shrinks call it? Yeah, a dialogue. I start racking my brain for ideas. I’m pretty sure she would find flowers lame. In the larger scope of things, they’re easy and cheap. But if I try to buy her something expensive or substantial, she’ll tell me she can’t be bought.

  Where does that leave me?

  I reach my condo and dash through my door, hoping that Keeley will be here, waiting. Maybe she’s just too pissed at me to answer the phone. Maybe she wants to yell at me before we talk. I’m okay with that. I’d probably feel like I wasn’t important if someone tried to persuade me to flash a little leg or whatever to make them a buck.

  My hands tremble as I shove the key in the lock and push the door open. “Keeley?”

  Nothing. The place is painfully quiet.

  As I glance inside, the kitchen looks completely spotless, so I have no idea whether she even stayed for breakfast. Nor has she set anything out for dinner. That worries me.

  I toss my keys on the bar and scan the family room. Nothing of Keeley’s is lying around. No book. No glass of half-imbibed water. No rumpled pillows on the sofa.

  My guts starts to clench with dread.

  “Keeley?” I call again.

  I can’t stand that she’s not here, not responding to me. I swallow as I dash to her bedroom.

  Please tell me she’s not gone for good.

  The minute I hit the threshold, her absence is palpable. But the bedroom smells so much like her it nearly drops me to my knees. A pang for her obliterates my composure. I imagine her skin. I see her smile. I can almost feel her heart.

  Keeley Kent would never use or sell me. She would never put her job first. If she loved someone, she would never betray them, hurt them, or leave them.

  I have fucked up so badly. Every cell in my body aches with that truth.

  The worst part is, I don’t know if the damage I’ve done is reparable.

  Taking four giant steps across the room, I rip open the closet door. And I breathe an audible sigh of relief. Her clothes are still hanging. Her shoes are still lined up along the bottom of the closet.

  I work a lot of long hours, so I don’t always think about the fact that my condo could be tidier. But Keeley not only tucks everything away, she has this knack for arranging items around the room so they’re both clever and functional. I’ve noticed recently that she’s completely turned my kitchen upside down—in a good way. Same is true of this bedroom. It used to be a spare space for guests to crash. Now she’s brought in pictures, throw pillows, and knickknacks. The space actually looks homey.

  What the hell do I do if she decides not to come back? Will she send me a Dear John letter asking me to return her stuff while telling me to fuck off?

  Those thoughts pelt my brain over and over as I change into pajama pants and head for the sofa. Absently, I turn on the TV to wait. I text her to say I’m home. No reply.

  With a sigh, I tune out the news. Politics—don’t care now. Economic data—whatever. I usually listen to the housing info, but I can’t even pretend to give a damn tonight. The program drones through the local news and special interest stories.

  Still no Keeley.

  I call once more—just in case. She ignores me utterly.

  My stomach goes from tight to nauseous. The clock tells me it’s past time to eat dinner. For maybe the first time in my life, I’m way more worried about someone else and how they feel than what the fuck is going on in my life. Food will come later. Once I know what’s up with Keeley.

  Eight o’clock rolls past. Stupid sitcoms with bad laugh tracks can’t hold my interest. Nine o’clock comes and goes. I don’t even know what Keeley is doing, where she’s gone. If she’s trying to teach me a lesson, I think I’ve learned.

  Finally, my phone rings. I pounce on it, fumbling with the answer button. But the display tells me it isn’t Keeley.

  “Britta?”

  “Yeah. I just wanted to check on you. I finally got Jamie in bed and thought I’d call. As I backed out of the parking lot at the office, I thought I saw through the window that you and Rob were arguing. Everything all right?”

  I need to get control of myself. Stop this man-period I’m having. I have to not freak out.

  Deep breaths.

  It doesn’t help.

  “I’m good.”

  “You don’t sound like it,” Britta chides gently.

  She’s not stupid, and I shouldn’t treat her that way. “He threatened to quit.”

  “He what?” I hear the shock in her voice and grimace. “That man has devoted years to you. What the… Everything seemed all right when I left.”

  It was. And now that I’ve opened my big mouth and started talking, I don’t have any other way to explain our fight except the truth. “Keeley isn’t just the woman I’m hooked up with right now. I was grooming her to distract Griff so we would get the Stowe listing.”

  I explain everything, including the fact that I have no idea at all what to do next.

  When I’m done, Britta says nothing for an unnervingly long time.

  “You still there?” I ask. My voice croaks with nerves.

  “How dare you.”

  My assistant doesn’t yell or scream. I wish she would. Then we could get into a knock-down-drag-out and purge her anger. But no. She says the words so softly I have to strain to hear them. I know Britta’s temper well. Silence is bad.

  “Um…because I’m stupid?”
I’m hoping that’s the right answer. When I explained my scheme aloud again, that’s how it sounded.

  “Maxon, you are thirty-three years old. You need to learn that you don’t always get your way.”

  Actually, I feel as if I’m figuring that out damn fast. “Yeah.”

  “I’m only going to admit this once, and if you ever tell anyone, I will deny it until my dying day.” She pauses. I hear her swallow. “I love Griff. I will always love him. I think about your brother every single day. I see him every time I look at our son. I think you know that.”

  “I do.”

  “So how could you betray me like this? It’s one thing for Griff to troll bars and pick up tourists and bimbos. I can tell myself they don’t matter to him. But Keeley is different. You’re teaching her to be everything Griff could ever want and shoving her in his face. You’re giving him a woman to fixate on. You’re guaranteeing he never looks at me again. I thought we were family and that you would never hurt me.”

  Something that feels a lot like shame liquefies my guts. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

  “Maybe, but you didn’t tell me earlier because you knew the truth would cut me deep.”

  She’s right, and if I refute her or attempt to soft-shoe this, Britta will know. And she will only distrust me more.

  “I’m sorry.”

  A stifled sob sounds over the line. I tense against her cry because it almost causes physical pain. “Maybe you are, deep down. But you’re also your father’s son, just like Griff. You’re all selfish bastards to the end.”

  “I know. I’m sorry. I swear.” I don’t know what else to say. “I screwed myself up, if it’s any consolation. I’m really into Keeley, and the thought of her with anyone else…”

  I can’t finish that sentence.

  “How about with your own brother?”

  I grip the phone and close my eyes. At her words, I’m both sick and want to commit murder. “She said she wouldn’t sleep with him.”

  Unless she wanted to.

  “Oh, grow up. You’ve seen your brother in action. He can be very charming… If you don’t want her to become another notch on his bedpost, then stop all this. Do the right thing for once, Maxon. Be the bigger man. Think about the people around you. Care about someone more than yourself.”

  She’s right. I know that deep in my heart. There’s just one problem… “I’m not sure I know how to.”

  And there goes my voice again, broken and coming from someplace deep in my gut.

  “Figure it out because if you do this, if you go ahead with your plan to make her Griff’s latest lover—”

  “Don’t say that,” I growl, teeth all but bared.

  “Lover. His lover. Keeley would be Griff’s lover,” she spits the words at me. “Call it what it is. Now that you’ve started this ball rolling, you can’t run away from it. You groomed her to warm his bed and you didn’t give a damn who you upset in the process. He hurt you, so you wanted to beat him—and fuck everyone else. But if you continue with this, fair warning, Maxon. I quit.”

  I groan aloud with the actual pain twisting my insides up. “Don’t.”

  “You’re not leaving me many choices. I’ll never try to stop you from seeing Jamie. You’re his uncle, and he loves you. He was just asking for you this morning.” Her voice is clipped, as if she hates to admit that. “But you and I can’t work together if you’re going to intentionally do things to keep breaking my already broken heart.”

  “Rob threatened to quit if I didn’t go through with my plan.”

  “Then you have a choice to make. This is all on you.” She sniffles.

  Why doesn’t she just take an ax to my chest? It would hurt less.

  “You know what’s at stake.” I realize I’m wheedling and quit.

  “Money. Your pride.”

  “My career. My future.” As much as that’s inconvenient, those are indisputable facts. “I’m incredibly fond of you and I love Jamie, but—”

  “Don’t rationalize this!” She finally starts yelling at me. “There will be other big-dollar properties. You will still have a career and a future without the Stowe listing. Your biggest problem is that you can’t stand to let your brother win. You have an insane need to be better than Griff at everything. You know I’m right. And he’s no different. You two are both egotistical, and I’m tired of trying to be the water always flowing around your immovable rock. If you want me to stay, you’re going to have to change direction for once.”

  I’m digesting her speech. It’s raw. Starkly honest. She’s stripped me down to the ugliest place in my soul. I’d rather look away, but just like a train wreck, I can’t stop staring.

  “Britta…”

  “Don’t call me again unless it’s to tell me that you’re not going forward with this stupid scheme. And by the way, I know I need to accept that your brother and I are never getting back together. Makaio asked me to marry him yesterday afternoon. I’m going to say yes.”

  Then she’s gone.

  I scrub a hand down my face. Holy shit. Britta married to someone other than Griff. I guess it’s time. I mean, they’ve been apart for three years. I shouldn’t be shocked. Somehow, I am. My brother used to be the most protective, possessive boyfriend ever. I can’t imagine that he’ll take seeing Britta wearing another man’s ring well.

  Then again, I never imagined he’d let her go at all.

  I know I don’t want to, professionally speaking. She knows me well. We work together seamlessly. She fills in the blanks when I’m too busy or disorganized. She’s so knowledgeable. I would be lost around the office without her.

  I look at the clock. It’s after ten now. I can’t sit here. I have to pace.

  Thirty seconds later, I realize that wearing a path in the floor from one side of the condo to the other isn’t doing me a damn bit of good. I feel so fucking wound up and turned inside out. I need more space. I need air.

  What I really need is Keeley.

  I wrench open the door to the lanai and step outside. The sultry Hawaiian breeze immediately sweeps across my skin, ruffling my hair. I look out at the inky water shimmering under the golden moon hanging low and lazy. But there’s no peace. I seize the railing in a crushing grip, as if I can funnel everything I’m feeling out of my body through my hands.

  Impossible.

  Along the beach, I see the rocks where I stripped away Keeley’s reservations and clothes before I took her body. At the moment, I’d give anything to take that night back and start over. Get to know her just for her. Because she’s interesting. Unique. I sigh. Because it feels like she belongs with me. To me.

  I’m fucking doomed now. What if she never speaks to me again? What if… Oh, shit. What if I fell in love and I realized it too late?

  Behind me, I hear the slam of the front door. I spin around and see Keeley entering the living room, staring at me through the glass door. She’s decked out from head to toe in the pinstripe suit that hugs her body so well it’s impossible not to see that she’s made for sin.

  I wrench open the patio door. “Keeley?” Thank God you’re here. “I called. I texted. Where have you been?”

  “Doing my ‘job.’ I met your brother tonight.” She lifts her chin. “We should talk.”

 
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