More than want you, p.29
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       More Than Want You, p.29
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         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  that shitty bar and beat the crap out of you. She tsked at me.”

  I can actually picture the moment. “She does that a lot.”

  “Yeah, but she’s usually right. She suggested that she should meet you at the little dive instead. I called Gus, the guy who owns the place, and paid him a hundred bucks to let her sing.” He drags in a breath. “She wanted us back together…but she wanted to meet you first, get the lay of your land, and see the best way to approach you. When you propositioned her about distracting me, she was worried that you extracting revenge would undo all the progress I’d managed and that if she didn’t play along, you’d just find someone else to help you. What she didn’t expect was to fall in love with you.” He taps his fork against his plate. “Her relationship with you was totally real. You broke her fucking heart, Maxon.”

  I close my eyes. I’m still reeling from Griff’s confession that he and Keeley are friends when he stabs me with the sharpest of his words. I doubt he means to…but that’s how it feels. I can only blame myself. I know I’m a fucking wretch—but I’m still not giving up. “Hell, I broke my own heart with that stupid shit. But when Dad came by, then you called… It’s no excuse for putting the Stowe listing over her. I just…fell into old hatred.”

  “That’s what I told her when she showed up at my place in tears. Normally, I would suggest that two people in conflict work it out. That’s what she’s taught me. But before I let you see her again, I needed to know that you really love her.”

  I frown. “That’s what tonight’s meeting is about? Me proving that?”

  “Yeah. I, um…used her Facebook status as a litmus test, to see if it would matter to you. You never lifted a finger to get Tiff back, so I had to gauge you somehow.”

  I grip the table. “Tiff was never important. Keeley is everything.”

  My brother murmurs his agreement. “After everything she’s done for me, I put aside my pride, my past, my inability to apologize…” He laughs at himself. “I had to know if you’d changed enough to be worthy of her.”

  “I have,” I swear.

  “I see.” He nods.

  My head is still spinning with everything Griff has told me. But my goal is still completely clear and top of my list. “Good. I want to see her now.”

  A look of regret passes over his face.

  She won’t see me, period? It’s my first concern. I panic. She can’t do this, can’t leave me. Well, she can but…no. We can’t stay apart. I’ll die if I can’t see her again, at least one last time. If she can’t forgive me, that’s on me. But I have to at least tell her how damn sorry I am.

  I’m already gathering arguments when Griff holds up his hands. “I’m not saying no. I’m just telling you that she’s gone to Phoenix.”

  The bottom drops out of my stomach before logic sets in again. Okay, I need to get on the first flight out. I won’t bother with a suitcase. I can buy shit there. I refuse to have her wondering even an hour longer than necessary how I feel about her and if I value her above all else. “I’m going now. Where can I find her?”

  He’s already shaking his head before I’ve finished speaking. “She’s gone home to think. Left this morning. She wanted to see her mother and clear her head. She couldn’t afford the ticket, and she’s never asked me for anything, so I surprised her. She’ll be back in a week…unless she decides to stay.”

  “What? She might not come back.” After all, she’s been trying to return to the mainland for years. “I can’t leave her hurting and miserable. She can’t make a decision without knowing how I feel.”

  “She needs this time,” he warns. “You can’t rush her, man. I’ve learned that about her. She sometimes gets upset or has her feelings hurt. You can’t talk to her about what’s happened or how that makes you feel until she’s sorted through her stuff.”

  In some ways, I hate how much my brother seems to know about my woman that I don’t. The old me would have thought he was lying his ass off to spitefully keep us apart. Now…I get the feeling he’s straight-up right. Getting up in her face would be the worst mistake I could make. “Fuck.”

  “You’ve put her through a lot. She already knows you’re sorry. I’ll tell her you gave up the deal. After that…she’s got to want to come back, Maxon.”

  I really despise how much he’s right. “So I just have to sit here for a week with my dick in my hand? C’mon…”

  “If you do, I don’t want the details,” Griff drawls, then turns serious again. “Do you know what you want to say if you do see her again?”

  “I think so.” It’s been solidifying in the back of my head since I switched off the guided meditation and tuned back into my own train of thought. “Do you, um…”

  Griff raises a brow at me. Getting these words out is going to be tough.

  “Are you and I good?”

  He swallows and looks away. “You tell me. I’m the one who fucked up big.”

  I nod. Getting used to the idea of not hating my brother again will take time, but now that we’re here and I’m sitting in front of him and we’re talking without shouting? I don’t want to give up having him in my life again.

  “Why didn’t you even listen to me when I tried to tell you I wasn’t stabbing you in the back?”

  He closes his eyes. “I was just so angry back then. Dad was on me constantly about the fact that I was letting you beat me at everything. I probably could have handled that, but things at home weren’t right, either. Britta was hiding something. She’d closed herself off. So when I found out about the deal and Tiffanii told me her lies, I just exploded and…I was stupid. I’m more sorry than you’ll ever know.”

  For my brother, that’s a huge speech. He sounds like he’s changed in a lot of ways. He’s not perfect. Then again, neither am I. I’m still pissed at him for what he’s done to Britta. But one problem at a time.

  I stand and wait until he does the same, then I round the table and drag him into a hug. He crashes against me. We slap backs. It’s all manly and shit. But it’s also monumental and moving. And yeah, I find myself having to fight back tears.

  “We’re good,” I assure him.

  He pulls back, looking like he’s trying not to lose his composure, too. “Let’s do the Stowe deal together.”

  I’ve already promised him my notes, my preso, my appointment. I’m handing him the opportunity on a silver platter. “Are you serious?”

  “Yeah. I let a stupid misunderstanding screw up our business. Once I didn’t have you as my partner anymore, working with you was one of the things I missed like hell. I vote we do this deal together. If it goes well…maybe we can think about making it permanent again.”

  I pause. Think. In my head, I can hear our dad saying that I’m number one on the island and I’m demeaning my business to bother with Griff again. Then I remember how fulfilling it used to be. And I hear Keeley whispering that she’s happy for us.

  But I need him to answer one other question because I don’t need history repeating itself. “Are you letting Dad stay with you?”

  He recoils at the mere notion. “Fuck no.”

  “Still talking to him?”

  “I’m done. He came storming into my place, all full of himself and ragging on you. I realized a few years ago that he’s toxic, so I wasn’t going to let him stay anyway. But when he told me about some of his conversation with you, it gave me some hope that you’d realized it, too.”

  “Totally,” I assure him. “Let’s do the Stowe deal…and think about resuming business together again.” It would feel good. “But I might need one more favor…”

  When I outline my plan to convince Keeley how much I love her, he smiles. “It’s perfect. She’ll be the happiest woman in the world if you do that.”

  As long as she comes back to Maui.

  “I wish…” Griff lets out a rough breath as he sits again. “I wish things could have turned out better for me and Britta.”

  I don’t know what to say. He turned his back on h
is pregnant girlfriend when she needed him most. Of course, that was then…and this is now.

  I’m going to try like hell not to give my brother false hope. Britta says their ship has sailed. Maybe. I know she still has feelings for him…but I don’t know if that’s enough.

  “It’s not hopeless. But you’ve ignored Jamie for almost three years. I don’t know if she can forgive that.”

  He frowns. “Who’s Jamie?”

  Is he for real? I’m trying to figure out if he’s being sarcastic or if there’s a chance he really has no idea what his own son’s name is. I should answer but I’m only managing to gape at him.

  “Who is this guy? I saw her about a month ago at a restaurant with a Hawaiian dude who looks like a banker. They were pretty cozy. I wanted to rip his fucking head off. Is that Jamie?”

  Okay, I need to take a step back and challenge all my preconceived notions…like the one where Griff received Britta’s letter advising him that he was about to be a father.

  I scrub a hand down my face and stare at my brother. Shit. I hope like hell I’m not about to betray Britta, but I think Griff has a right to know.

  “Jamie is James Tucker. His birth certificate says he’s a Stone. But it should say Reed. He’s your son. He’ll be three in July.” I whip out my phone and scroll through my pictures until I come to the ones I took the other night of him smiling while he played with his toy trucks.

  Griff grabs the phone, looking stunned and stricken and so fucking confused.

  Goddamn it, I should have known that he wasn’t the sort of man to completely ignore his own flesh and blood. Now I really regret not confronting him about this a long time ago. I’ve done both my brother and my nephew a disservice.

  “I… My son?” He’s grappling for words, staring at the picture like he still can’t fathom what he’s seeing, fingers hovering over the screen as if he wants to hold his son badly.

  “Yeah. He’s adorable. Smart. Stubborn. Loved.” I swallow. “Britta tried to tell you, I swear.”

  “She was pregnant when I walked out?” He closes his eyes and shakes his head, rubbing at his temples and looking as if he’s fighting tears again. “I had no idea. Did she?”

  “I don’t know. She told me about a week after you’d gone.”

  “I have to talk to her. Now. Where is she? I know she moved after I walked out. I don’t know where she went.”

  “She didn’t have a choice. She couldn’t afford the apartment you two had,” I point out. And I can’t help the scolding note creeping into my voice. “Besides, Britta wanted a house with a yard for Jamie. I’ve been helping her with rent since she found this place.”

  He stands and throws fifty bucks on the table. “Thanks. I have to go. Where can I find her? Please tell me. I’m helping you with Keeley, man. Don’t shut me out.”

  “This isn’t necessarily a quid pro quo situation. When you didn’t respond to her news—”

  “I didn’t know,” he insists.

  “But in her eyes, you just didn’t care. You left her to give birth and raise a child alone. She says she’s moved on. I don’t know this for sure…but I’m pretty sure she got engaged tonight.”

  Griff slaps his hands on the table between us, looking somewhere between agonized and enraged. “Where. Is. She?”

  I think hard. I keep coming back to one conclusion: Britta loves him. And it looks a whole lot as if he still loves her, too. At the very least, a son deserves to know his father and decide for himself whether he wants the man in his life. Besides, if Griff hadn’t been willing to come forward to talk to me about Keeley, I’d still be a miserable son of a bitch.

  Sighing, I whip out a pen and one of my business cards. I write an address on the back and hand it over. “Go gently. You broke something in her. She’s not the same woman. And I doubt she’s alone.”

  Griff snatches the card out of my hand and claps me on the shoulder as he runs for the door. “Thanks. I’ll call you early in the morning.”

  I pick up my phone from the table and pause over my open iMessage. Tell Britta she’s got incoming…or not? Give her time to put her defenses up…or let whatever is going to happen between my brother and my assistant unfold naturally?

  I slide the phone back into my pocket and head to my condo with a little smile.

  I have my brother in my life once more. Soon, I’ll be with Keeley, too. And this time, I plan to make sure she never wants to be apart from me again.

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  Keeley

  My head knows why I’m back in Maui. My heart still isn’t sure.

  The weather in Phoenix was sunny, warm, and much less humid. I had amazing Mexican food there—a must for me. The visit I shared with my mother did me so much good. She’s happy with my stepfather, Phil. She even stopped wearing the locket with my dad’s picture. She kept it because she’ll always love him. But she also said she had to give her current husband equal devotion. The sentimental part of me wanted to argue with that logic, but I can’t. She also said she tucked the locket away for another simple reason.

  Living in the past isn’t moving forward.

  She’s right, and that best explains why I decided to leave Phoenix for good.

  Oh, I had options to stay. Mom and Phil claimed they were traveled out for a while after their amazing South Pacific trip and offered to let me live in my childhood bedroom until I got on my feet. The day I arrived, I was convinced I should. I could be permanently closer to family and my roots. I could even see some friends from high school. It wasn’t as if I’d always planned to live on Maui for the rest of my life. Since my existing professors were great about working with me during my absence, I could have easily transferred my credits to Arizona State University and finished my degree as a Sun Devil. After that, I’d have been able to get a job in Phoenix that didn’t involve tourism and came with better hours.

  Best of all, if I’d stayed, I wouldn’t have Maxon Reed around to break my heart again.

  But my mom is right. Living in the past isn’t moving forward.

  I don’t belong in Phoenix anymore. The bittersweet week I spent there clarified that.

  So here I am, back in paradise. Lost.

  I’m glad that Maxon and Griff finally made up and decided to work together on the Stowe estate. They’re already marketing the property jointly to prospective buyers and getting a lot of interest, according to the younger of the Reed brothers. That’s great news. They will finally be on the road to whole hearts. My work there is done. Their future is looking up.

  Where is mine?

  I was really trying to decide that while I was in Phoenix. I started to miss the ocean and trees and the sultry breeze on my skin. I missed the incredible Asian food, the lazy pace of the days, and the quaintness of Maui. I definitely missed Griff—one of the best friends a girl could have. We talked nearly every day on the phone…but it wasn’t the same.

  I didn’t want to think about the sheer beauty of my adopted home—or that tall, infuriatingly ego-driven, looks-like-a-god Realtor I’m mad for—but I couldn’t seem to think of anything else. I still can’t. No matter how I try to shove the memories out, they creep back in. Maxon kissing me on the beach. Maxon holding my hand as we toured the amazing plantation-style house with the endless views, where I swore I could picture our future. Maxon trying to karaoke and leaning on me like a trusted partner and friend. Maxon making love to me on his bed that final, fatal night.

  I think he loves me…in his way. But being second to his ambition, to his need to win at all costs, isn’t something I can accept. I hope he understands.

  I’m disappointed that I haven’t heard from him since the night of the brothers’ reunion. Griff says Maxon was devastated about our breakup and even volunteered to give up the Stowe listing to prove how much he cares about me. That shocked me…and gave me a glimmer of hope, I admit.

  Maybe that’s the real reason I decided to return to Maui. No denying how badly I want to be with him. I’m still afraid
that I’ll surrender myself and he’ll break my heart once more. But my future isn’t in Phoenix…and the romantic in me can’t stop wanting Maxon to love me enough to put me first.

  Yes, I know expecting him to change is unrealistic, which is why I’m as confused and conflicted as I was three days ago when I boarded the plane back to Maui. Since landing, I’ve picked up my phone a million times to call Maxon. And I’ve put it down again
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