More than want you, p.28
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       More Than Want You, p.28
 

         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  We’re the only patrons left in the joint, and Griff stands as I approach. Not out of deference, I realize. He simply doesn’t want the psychological height disadvantage of me towering over him any more than I would if our situations were reversed.

  “I didn’t think you’d come.” He gestures to the chair opposite him at the table.

  I proceed cautiously to my seat until he does the same. “I promised Keeley I would be here where and whenever she chose. I’m keeping my word. Where is she?”

  He won’t tell me, I’m sure. But it’s worth a shot.

  “She doesn’t want to see you now.”

  Those words make confetti out of my heart. Yeah, they hurt that bad. I suck in a breath, try to rein in the pain. Winning Keeley back will be a marathon, not a sprint. I have to remember that. I have to hang tough.

  “She left her yoga mat on my lanai. I’d like to give it to her.”

  Griff raises a dark brow at me, silently asking me if that’s the best I’ve got. “I’ll buy her another one.”

  That grates at me…mostly because he can. Because she’s apparently chosen him. “I’ll return this one. Tell me where to find her.”

  “Seriously, she won’t see you now,” he reiterates, his tone more forceful.

  “All I need is five minutes.” Which I can hopefully parlay into the rest of our lives.

  I don’t beg my brother. If I thought it would do any good, I would blurt every bit of my regret and love. But I know better.

  “Look, Maxon. You’re a lot of things. A bastard, a son of a bitch, and a shitty-ass brother. But I know you’re not stupid. The answer is no.”

  I’ll put it aside for now, but I’m not giving up.

  “Why are we here? Isn’t this place closed for the night?”

  Griff nods. “I sold the owner a new pad about six months ago. He told me the doors were always open for me. So when Keeley insisted we have a conversation, I figured this was neutral ground. Apparently she thinks an hour is all it will take for us to patch up our differences.”

  I snort. “Did you tell her that’s impossible?”

  He reaches for a tumbler of whiskey I hadn’t noticed just beside his elbow and cuts a stare at me. “You think it is?”

  Griff thinks it isn’t? Does he want to make up? That would be a sudden change in tone.

  I sit back and study him. But I still can’t figure him out. What does he want?

  Suddenly, a bartender sets a Grey Goose martini in front of me. My brother remembered my drink of choice? He should, I guess. We drank together for a decade. But it’s still unexpectedly nice.

  A waitress approaches us next with two dishes of bread pudding and sets one each in front of Griff and me. The haupia ice cream is already beginning to melt and mix with the oozing rum sauce. The bready confection is covered in candy nuts. It smells divine. I remember it as an orgasm for my mouth.

  But I’m not particularly interested in dessert right now.

  I stare across the table at my brother and drink my vodka concoction. “If you and Keeley are going to be ‘in a relationship,’ then yes. It’s impossible.”

  He cocks his head, stares. The fucker is dissecting me. He’s good at it, too. “She means something to you.”

  It isn’t a question.

  I’m not ready to confirm his supposition. I’ve already given him way too much to use against me.

  “Are you only here to make your new girlfriend happy or do you have something else to say?”

  Griff’s mouth slides into a cynical smile. He doesn’t answer for a long minute. I can’t tell whether he’s enjoying my suspense or he has an outcome in mind and is trying to figure out how to get there.

  “Just for grins, let’s say Keeley’s feelings have nothing to do with my reason for tonight’s peace accord.”

  As he digs into his bread pudding, I ponder his answer. If he’s not here for Keeley, I can only think of two other possible reasons why he’s come, both equally unlikely. Well, almost equally. “Your pitch today went badly?”

  It must have. The even less likely scenario, that he’s here strictly to repair his relationship with me, can’t possibly be true.

  He hesitates for a long minute, his face giving nothing away. Finally, he gives me a slow nod. “Disaster.”

  I’m shocked he replied at all, much less that he was so honest. “And you want my appointment with the Stowes tomorrow to try again?”

  That infuriates the fuck out of me. He used the feelings he must know I have for Keeley to drag me here to steal my hard-won opportunity out from under me. I hustled, I sweated, I thought outside the box, and I prepared like hell.

  None of that matters now.

  He hasn’t confirmed that’s what he wants but…

  I lean across the table and glare his way. “What are you willing to give me for it?”

  I’m hoping like hell he says Keeley. Negotiating for a woman is a bit more underhanded than I’d like, but all Griff can give me is a chance to speak to her. I’ll still have to win her back on my own.

  “I didn’t say I was in the trading mood.” He leans closer, too. We’re almost nose to nose. He’s wearing that amused smirk again that makes me want to rip his face off.

  “You didn’t say you weren’t in the trading mood, either.”

  “Touché.” He shrugs as if conceding the point. “All right. I want something.”

  But he won’t tell me what?

  Suddenly, I’m tired of this cat-and-mouse game. Every minute we live out this stupid charade is another moment that Keeley is somewhere else thinking that I love a fat commission check and my big reputation more than I love her. “C’mon, you bastard. Spill it.”

  “What if you’re right? What if I was willing to trade my knowledge of Keeley’s whereabouts for your appointment tomorrow?”

  I don’t hesitate a second. “Done.”

  And happily. I don’t care if Rob quits. I’ll figure something out. Britta might still leave me, too. I can handle that. For Keeley, I can handle anything.

  As long as I get her back.

  My brother raises a brow at me. “You’re serious?”

  “I’ve never been more serious in my life. I will trade you my appointment for the chance to explain everything to Keeley. You can have my notes and my goddamn presentation, too. It’s better than your verbal pyrotechnic and ticker tape parade crap. They want subtle.”

  Suddenly, he laughs. “You’re right. I didn’t see that and I didn’t listen.”

  That’s a huge admission for Griff. He hates to confront the fact that he’s wrong—ever.

  On the one hand, it’s gratifying to know Keeley and I were right. Not so much because I wanted to beat Griff, although it doesn’t hurt. Mostly because I feel like I’ve learned something about being not only a better Realtor but a better man from this experience. She’s helped me so much.

  “If you’ll arrange for me to meet her tonight, I’ll hand everything over to you. Every note, every idea, every slide. It’s yours. In return, I expect you to end whatever you’ve got with her and to fuck off. You don’t get to see her again. She’s mine. And she’s going to stay that way. You will forget every minute of every day—or night—you spent with her.” When my brother looks as if he’s going to protest, I shut him down. “Look, you asswipe. I’m potentially giving you one point seven million dollars for this privilege and the title of the number one agent on the island. So I don’t want to hear another fucking word.”

  “I wasn’t going to object. I simply had a few questions.”

  He probably wants me to paraphrase the presentation so he can be sure it’s up to snuff. Fuck him. “It’s going to sell the Stowes. Don’t worry about that.”

  “I’m not.” He shakes his head. “Do you love her?”

  Why is he asking? First, I’ve already shown my hand in the most obvious way. Second, why the hell does it matter to him? “Do we have a deal?”

  “Yes or no, Maxon? Do you? I’m not budging until you
answer me.”

  I chug the rest of my drink and slam the stem on the table. “Yes. Of course I love her. I made a huge mistake the day she disappeared from my life. I know that. I’ve tried to tell her…” I toss my head back and draw in a deep breath, looking for patience and calm. “I’ve been a fucking mess since she left.”

  Griff smiles. It’s the first genuine curl of his lips I’ve seen him wear in…well, years. “I should tell you a story.”

  What? I just admitted that I’m falling apart and I’m completely in love, and Griff wants to blab out some tale? “Now?”

  He holds up a finger. “It’s relevant, I promise. You might eat your dessert before it becomes a puddle.”

  I look down and see that my ice cream is rapidly liquefying. I’m not broken up about it, per se. But the dish is in front of me. Wasting it seems a shame, and Griff is going to pontificate about something, so I might as well keep busy while he does.

  The first bite is heaven. The next is no different, just sweeter. I moan. “This shit is good.”

  Griff laughs, and it’s almost like old times, hammering out how we’re going to approach a client or a property over a meal. We did it so often when we were business partners. I miss it. I miss him. Even though I’ve spent the last three years thinking I hate him…I don’t. I can’t. I don’t respect him for being a dick to Britta. And I’m pissed as hell that he even looked twice at Keeley, but that’s my fault far more than his.

  “Yeah.” He finishes another bite of the dessert, then wipes his mouth. “It’s the only thing, besides the view, I ever liked about this place.”

  “Ditto.” Too many memories of uncomfortable anniversary dinners here for me, too. “All right. Tell me your story.”

  My brother sucks in a deep breath and lets it out as if he’s gearing up to say something major. “When I left following the secret deal and your split with Tiffanii, I…um, had trouble sleeping and concentrating. Four months later, I started seeing a therapist.”

  I rear back. Griff stating that is basically an admission he’s not perfect—something he’s sorely resisted owning up to in the past.

  “For the record, now that I have nothing to lose, I didn’t stab you in the back over the ‘secret deal.’”

  Griff rubs at the back of his neck. “I’ve suspected that for a couple of years.”

  I can’t help it. I stare at him like he’s the most ridiculous bastard on the planet. “Why didn’t you call me, then?”

  “Honestly? I didn’t think I could. I’d fucked up so big. I thought you would hate me forever, especially after I compounded one mistake with another by moving Tiffanii in with me. She told me so many lies… That you cheated on her. That you’d been working that secret deal for months and hiding it because you wanted all the glory and profit. That you got her pregnant and threw her out.”

  That fucking pisses me off. “You believed that? It’s utter bullshit!”

  He holds up a hand. “I know that. Now.”

  “Why did you believe her at all?”

  “She came up with just enough paperwork to be persuasive. Somehow, she copied the signature page of your listing agreement with that prince, which included the date…but none of the terms about confidentiality. She recorded a video of her pleading with the locksmith who re-keyed your place the day you threw her out. She even had a positive pregnancy test from her doctor. No idea how she manufactured that…” He sighs. “I think at the bottom of all that, I heard Dad’s voice telling me that partnering up with the competition wasn’t blending forces to make something better, just cooking up my own demise.”

  Yeah, I’ve heard that speech of his about ten thousand times myself. I remember fighting the pull of his constant browbeating and brainwashing when Griff and I were kids and during most of our partnership.

  “I believed in us,” I grind out between clenched teeth. “We were doing great things.”

  He nods slowly. “Amazing things. But I needed someone to help me get my head on straight.”

  “So you saw a therapist?”

  “Yeah. Dr. Wilson was useless. Couldn’t stand her or her leading questions. It seemed like she talked more than she listened. But she had this receptionist… At first, I noticed her because she would send me apologetic glances when I stormed out. Finally, she started talking to me. Small talk at first. But she sounded so compassionate, you know. Eventually, those chats led to longer discussions outside the doctor’s office. She asked me questions that really made me think. It wasn’t long before I realized that this woman who merely answered the phone was far more helpful than the woman with PhD after her name. So we started having coffee, walking along the beach. She listened. She played devil’s advocate. And she refused to take a dime for helping me.”

  That’s pretty selfless. “So what did she want?”

  “Nothing. A friend, I guess.” He shakes his head as if he’s still not sure. “To help. That’s who she is. Anyway, she told me I’d been wrong. She’s been telling me that for over two years.” He laughs at himself. “She’s the first beautiful woman I’ve ever spent hours and hours with and didn’t want to nail.”

  Kind of like me with Britta. “Yeah. Platonic friendships with a woman are a mind blower the first time you have one.”

  “Totally. This receptionist really opened my eyes. At first, we talked about my anger. Slowly, we started talking about my childhood. And we talked a lot about you.”

  I’m suddenly wishing I had another martini. The tone of this conversation has been shockingly positive until now…but I can’t stop thinking it can still take a turn for the worse. “What did she conclude?”

  He looks up at me, his hazel eyes full of gravity. “That I need my brother in my life.”

  When Griff looks like he’s working hard to tamp down emotion, it grips me in the chest, squeezing everything between my ribs until I can’t breathe. My brother has never been emotional. Hell, I never have, either. But his words hit me in the middle like a two-by-four, knocking the breath out of me. “What do you think?”

  He shrugs, dragging his fork through the remnants of his dessert, as if looking at me is too much to take.

  “She’s been right about so many other things. She knows people. Really gets them.” He finally looks my way, and I see more stark emotion he’s barely managing to hold back. “I suspect she’s right about this, too. She sure reamed me a new one after I called you the other night about Dad. She told me I was looking at the situation all wrong. In retrospect…I was a stupid hothead. She was right about that, too. She’s really helped me get my head screwed on straight in about every facet of my life. She introduced me to healthy food, yoga, and meditation.” He looks up at me, brow raised. “Sound familiar?”

  It takes me about half a second to make the connection. Once I do, I swear I can barely breathe. “Keeley?”

  “Yeah.”

  His confirmation is a complete bombshell. “She’s been your friend for more than two years?”

  He nods. “The best.”

  “So…” She was a plant? A spy? A…what? “Was any of her relationship with me real?”

  “Let me finish explaining. Then everything will make sense.”

  When I nod numbly, I have to resist the urge to hurry him up and put me out of my misery. I can’t stand the thought that Keeley doesn’t love me a fraction as much as my heart beats for her.

  Thankfully, Griff doesn’t drag it out.

  “I just want you to know that I never have touched Keeley, not even once.”

  “She said you kissed her the other night.”

  “On the cheek, like I always do. That’s it. I probably would have come apart a long time ago if she wasn’t one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I was never going to muddy that with sex. And she’s wanted to meet you forever…”

  I think through what he’s really saying and the truth whacks me in the face. “It wasn’t a coincidence that she was in that bar the night we met. Or that she zeroed in on me.”

&n
bsp; He shakes his head. “She’s been insisting for some time that I wasn’t going to be whole until you and I cleared the air. Well, she also thinks I need to resolve things with—” He stops himself, shakes his head. I see agony on his face. “The important thing is, the day you called the Stowes to drum up business, I got fucking furious. I was ready to unleash a shit storm on you. Keeley took me aside—again—to remind me about love and tolerance. Forgiveness. I was trying. But that afternoon, I told her I was going to go to
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