More than want you, p.27
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       More Than Want You, p.27
 

         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  she’s free to do whatever—and whomever—she wants.

  Why doesn’t someone just stab me now? I’m miserable. I’m contrite. I’m nauseous at the thought of ever seeing her with my brother.

  I utterly and completely fucked up. And I’m definitely getting what I deserve.

  Since Tuesday night, I’ve practically been living at the office. I hate going home because I see Keeley everywhere—in the kitchen cooking, on my bed looking up at me with welcoming eyes, on the lanai as she waits for me to pleasure her. The place smells like her. I can’t sleep. I’m a goddamn disaster.

  What am I going to do with the rest of my life?

  As I enter my condo and toss my keys on the bar, I try not to let memories haunt me. I’m only here because tonight is the cleaning staff’s designated evening to scour the office. When they walked in, they looked a little bit like they pitied me. And they avoided me as if I needed a shower. I probably do.

  With a sigh, I head to the bathroom and take care of that chore. I put on pajama pants and contemplate what I’m going to choke down for dinner and how I’m going to sleep in the bed still rumpled from the last time I rolled Keeley on those sheets.

  As I meander through the living room, I grab the room service menu off the counter. It all sounds like shit. I can hear her in my head talking about sodium and saturated fat and all the stuff I didn’t give much thought to before her. Instead, I grab an apple from the bowl on the counter. She’s already washed it. This is the last one.

  I bite down into it and remember the last time I ate one, talking to Keeley after work. In some ways, I can still taste her. Her kiss, her caring, her heart.

  Jesus, I’m becoming a weeper. I choke down the succulent bite but all the while I’m fighting actual tears. I almost want to know when this feeling will go away. On the other hand I don’t. Once this heartbreak is less sharp, that will mean she’s even further away from me.

  I’ve got it bad. I love Keeley. The fact that I fell in love once is a miracle in itself. I don’t expect it to ever happen again.

  Maybe that explains why my brother turned into such a miserable asshole after Britta.

  Frankly, it makes the fact that he’s most likely boffing the one woman I can’t live without even more infuriating. He knows how terrible having a gaping hole in your heart feels.

  I glance at my phone. Nothing. I should stop hoping to hear from her…but I can’t. It’s not quite six thirty. I’ll fill up a few hours with pacing, cursing, wall punching, and regret. But really, what’s after that? I’ll have to face the bed eventually.

  Fresh air. Maybe that will help me not want to slit my wrists with rusty spoons. At least now I know why people write so many songs about breaking up and heartache. They’re real and they suck.

  The last rays of the day beam through the glass doors leading outside. My lanai beckons, and I head out there.

  Immediately, my gaze darts to the beach. I zero in on the rocks where I first had sex with Keeley. Everything was light and fun and easy that night. I wish like fuck I’d taken it—and her—way more seriously before it was too late. Yeah, I could say I’d never come close to really caring about a woman before so I didn’t recognize the symptoms. They crept up on me. Love is a sneaky bastard like that.

  I want to rewind time to that night—was it really only twenty-two days ago?—and start over.

  But I have to stop wanting what I want when I want it. It doesn’t do me any good now.

  I can only go forward…and I’m not sure how.

  I breathe in the fresh air and watch the last rays of light disappear. The moon rises. It’s waxing gibbous. Granddad taught me moon phases, along with lots of other fun stuff. Miles Ambrose was good at so many things. He sure did love my grandma before she passed away, too.

  Why didn’t I make him my role model and ignore my dumb-shit father? Come to think of it, Granddad always disregarded Barclay Reed.

  I guess I had to reach thirty-three to get half as smart as he was.

  If he were here, he wouldn’t tell me that feelings were pointless or stupid. He would tell me to feel them…and to figure out how to handle them so I can go about life like a man should—strong, confident, steady. With honor.

  I scan the lanai again, absently trying to decide which chair will give me the best view of the sea so I can contemplate. I spot Keeley’s yoga mat. She must have accidentally left it behind.

  I peer at the purple rubbery thing standing in the corner. I roll it out. She always claimed that yoga centered her. Not precisely sure what that means, but I have a general idea and it sounds helpful.

  Except…I’m staring at the mat with no idea what to do. There are poses, I know. I’m simply not sure what they’re called or how to get into them.

  Reaching for my phone, I open an exercise app I subscribe to. I’m usually doing a weight/cardio mixture for men. Now I click the button for yoga. A few seconds later, a woman in a gray tank and matching spandex pants, hair neatly pulled away from her face, is giving me a too-cordial smile I don’t trust. She says her name is Chandra and welcomes me to the beginner’s class.

  I have this feeling she’s going to kill me.

  Immediately, she starts talking to me about blocks and blankets—huh?—all while assuring me I can do this. I’m physically fit, so I should be able to.

  Still, she scares me.

  The background music is both exotic and folksy. She tells me to do the easy pose. Thankfully, the visual lets me know she’s sitting cross-legged. Why didn’t she just say that? Then she instructs me to roll my shoulders and shake my head. After that, I’m supposed to put my head over my heart, my heart over my pelvis. What? I already have to contort myself? No, just sit up straighter. Okay. I can do that. I’m good…until she says I’m supposed to come into the moment with “integrity.” What the fuck does that mean? Sighing in irritation, I decide to skip that part and press on.

  Mostly because I can see Keeley doing this, which makes me feel weirdly closer to her.

  From there, it’s a lot of breathing and a little stretching. I probably need it. I have to admit that the deep inhalations and exhalations are calming my head a little. At least I’m not trying to think about fifty things at once. It’s taking most of my mental energy to figure out how to press my palms together in a prayer pose and lift my sternum to my thumbs. It’s not so awful…until we shift.

  Suddenly, I’m sitting on my knees, back on my heels, and curling my toes under my feet. That doesn’t feel good at all. I’m relieved when she instructs me to get into a tabletop position. I follow along, then realize I’m on all fours on my patio, wearing nothing but pajama pants. Any of my neighbors or the vacationers in the unit across the pool can see me round and sway my spine like a cat in heat looking for a good time.

  Fuck whatever they think. This is for me. To better understand Keeley.

  I’d rather pass on the downward dog stuff. Perched on hands and feet, my body in an inverted V shape, I kinda feel like a canine waiting for some random animal to come sniff my butt. Plus, my shoulders ache from holding up my weight for a few minutes while I stretch my hamstrings and calves like I’m made of rubber. I’m totally relieved when we switch positions again and finally do some standing shit. Warrior poses are more my thing.

  Then after a little more breathing and her telling us to take this grounded center through the rest of our day, it’s over. I feel better…and worse. I’m definitely less scattered mentally. But the temporary Zen of focusing on the exercise is fast dissipating. Reality is crashing back in, as is my mental whine about missing Keeley.

  With a curse, I roll up the mat and slip inside my condo, grabbing my laptop before I plop on the sofa. Magically, I manage some productivity. I answer a few emails, return a few phone calls to other agents. I even sort through the Stowe presentation for tomorrow morning, adding extra notes and incorporating some of the final research details we received earlier.

  I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I’m still n
ot sure I’ve chosen the right tack. The listing may already be Griff’s. But I can’t control that. I can only do my best, give the Stowes something to think about, and work my ass off the rest of the year.

  I’ll go through the motions of this pitch, but I’m not sure I care anymore. For weeks, it’s taken my time and stolen my sanity. And it’s cost me Keeley. Well, I helped, too, but…

  I look at the clock. It’s just before eight. Some people go to bed this early. And I’m feeling exhausted. The sofa in my office must have had a former life as a torture rack in a medieval dungeon. I’ll be replacing it ASAP. I’m grateful that I’ll be sleeping in my bed tonight, except…I still can’t decide what to do about the sheets. Change them and get rid of Keeley’s scent altogether? Once it’s gone, it’s gone. But if I sleep on the sheets, I’ll likely be torn between crying and fighting the urge to hump the mattress all night.

  I feel like I should hand over my man card for even silently making that admission.

  My stomach rumbles again, and I raid the last of what Keeley had in the fridge, then come back to my laptop. I’ll deal with the great sheet debate later. I click open Facebook out of boredom…then remember that I accepted her friend request last week. Maybe she’s posted something.

  At the time we became “friends,” I was so wrapped up in the Stowe deal that I didn’t look through her timeline, but I should be able to see her pictures now. I’d like to see snapshots of Keeley as a kid, of her adventures around Maui. I wonder if she posts her bar crawls with girlfriends, political rants…or her innermost thoughts.

  When I click her picture from my friends list, the first thing that pops up is a change in her status. In big letters, a post last night proclaims that she’s now in a relationship with Griffin J. Reed. There’s a selfie of the two of them somewhere on the beach as the sun sets, his arm wrapped around her waist. My stomach free-falls to my toes—and beyond. Twenty-four hours after their first date, and Keeley is already fucking committing to my brother?

  And when did Griff get a personal Facebook account? He hates making his private life public.

  In the next instant, my chest implodes. Then a whole slide of symptoms I’m beginning to know well set in. I can’t breathe, can’t feel my fingers, can’t find calm.

  I jump to my feet, pace, trying to figure out how all this has happened. I fucked up. I admit it. I’ve even tried to tell Keeley that. But Griff will be no better. He’s the sort of man to walk away from his own son, and she knows that. Why is she willing to be “in a relationship” with him so soon? I was with her for three fucking weeks. I got to know about her, care about her. I even tried yoga for her. And I can’t believe she chose him instead.

  I also wonder why Griff is suddenly feeling so public about his commitment. He was never a PDA kind of guy, even with Britta, and now he’s practically proclaiming his love for a woman he barely knows all over social media?

  Of course I wanted my brother to like her. Yeah, I expected him to dig her. But…this?

  I want to hit something, strangle him. I already know if I did, it wouldn’t be enough to release the valve building pressure inside me. Fuck, it’s growing, straining my ability to hold it in. My panic is going to swallow me whole.

  Maybe I should blame her or be angry that she’s already jumped in my brother’s bed. It would be easy, yeah. But I’m the one who sent her out my door. So no matter how much I want to slam my fist into a wall, I’m going to swallow it down, suck it up, and get my shit together.

  I guess there’s no such thing as a panic attack prevention hotline, and Keeley’s not here anymore, so I’m on my own.

  What would she tell me to do?

  Meditate.

  Fuck. At this point, I’ll try anything.

  I scroll through my apps and come to one that’s supposed to boost the selected brain activity. There’s specialized music and nature sounds for focused work, which I use during crunch time. There’s also a section for deep sleep and naps. And meditation. I tap on the button for the guided tour because what do I know about this shit?

  The dude tells me he’s going to walk me through an effective technique I can use whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed. Like now. Good. Can I lie down for twenty minutes? Sure. It’s not as if I’ve got anything better to do now that Keeley isn’t coming back. He’s asking me to clench and relax each of my muscles systematically to release the tension and increase circulation. All right. Whatever.

  More closing my eyes, focusing on my breathing, and looking inward while trying to block out the pain. This guy wants me to think peaceful thoughts. I snort. If I could, I wouldn’t be here. But he insists I should be feeling my body let go.

  I try to adhere to the spirit of his words. But…my mind drifts. I think about the last time I saw Keeley. I knew something was off. I recount my conversation with Britta on Tuesday night. My assistant is right. Keeley didn’t feel valued when I chose the Stowe deal over her. How much better would I feel if I could tell her how untrue her assumption is? Would she listen? Maybe not because those are just words. They’re easy to say. But what if I showed her? Would she still be choosing Griff if she really knew how much I love her? I drafted a plan a mere two days ago. I just need to update it a bit, go the extra mile, and implement.

  When my “tour guide” calls me back to full alertness, I feel a little better. Meditating didn’t necessarily make me feel as if I’ve had a spiritual awakening or a major hug with peace. The good news is, I’m no longer going to lose my mind and do something stupid like hurl chairs over my balcony…or hunt Keeley down right now and insist she talk to me. But the better news is, I’m dedicated to getting her back. Having a plan makes me feel more in control. I have a lot of action items to put in motion, but that’s all right. I have ammo and I have persistence.

  I will not rest until I make that woman mine for good.

  Suddenly, my phone dings in my pocket. It’s probably Britta texting me. Again. For two days, she’s been harping about two things: whether I’m ready for tomorrow morning’s presentation and whether I know what happened between Griff and Keeley. I don’t really want to answer either of those questions. Mostly because I can’t.

  With a tired sigh, I pull my phone from my pocket. Maybe my assistant wants to make sure I intend to wear clean underwear tomorrow, too. Or have shiny shoes. We’re doing this presentation over Skype, so I don’t think George and Vivienne Stowe are going to get a good look at my undergarments or loafers.

  I’m shocked when I glance down and see Keeley’s name on my display. Her message is short and to the point.

  You promised to meet your brother at a time and place of my choosing for one hour, no arguments. Tonight. Nine p.m. Merriman’s in Lahaina.

  I stifle the urge to reiterate via text that I fucked up and I’m sorry. She’s heard all that and was unmoved. Instead, I try something new because…well, I have to. I value you more than my brother ever will. Where are you so I can tell you how I feel in person?

  No reply.

  She’s a smart, stubborn woman, so I’m not surprised. I’m crushed to know that she’s with Griff. Part of me is hoping that she’s merely trying to teach me a lesson. A guy can dream, right? Yeah, I know I lost her fair and square. She must already have my brother wrapped around her finger if she’s able to convince him to meet with me, something that nothing else—not even finding out he had a son—could accomplish.

  The realization hurts like hell. But I’ll do my best to move past it, man up, and be better. Someday, somehow, someway, I will win Keeley back, put a ring on her finger, make her Mrs. Maxon Reed, and love her forever.

  The screen tells me it’s eight thirty. Britta and Rob would disapprove of me going out now. We agreed to have a calm evening and get a good night’s sleep so we’d be crisp and ready to do another practice run first thing in the morning before the real presentation.

  Fuck that. Griff knows where Keeley is, what she’s doing, how she’s feeling… And I need to know because she is
way more important than any listing, any paycheck, any prestige.

  I’m going to prove that to her once and for all.

  After dragging on a clean shirt and a nice pair of pressed pants, I make my way to Merriman’s. It’s a classy place on a little peninsula, surrounded by ocean and overlooking Kapalua Bay. Lots of weddings and other special events are held here. When they lived on the island, my parents celebrated their wedding anniversary at this restaurant every year. Mom would always insist we kids come along, probably so she didn’t have to be alone with Dad. At the time, I resented her because I would ten times rather have been playing video games or hanging out with friends. Can’t say I blame her now. I refuse to be alone with that asshole, too.

  I wonder what prompted Griff to pick this place tonight. He never liked it much. Except their pineapple and macadamia nut bread pudding with rum sauce. That was a hit with me, as well.

  Technically, their dining room closed half an hour ago. Their sign says they should be locking up now. A native man in a subdued tropical print shirt and beige slacks is waiting for me at the door. He ushers me in, then closes up behind me.

  Across the room, near the open doors leading to the deck and the ocean beyond, I spot my brother. He’s looking right at me, jaw clenched. Not much has changed except that he looks harder, angrier. Bitter. Closed off.

  Why the fuck is he mad? He got the girl—at least for now.

 
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