More than want you, p.8
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       More Than Want You, p.8
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         Part #1 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black

  certainly never said it.”

  “Maybe you don’t think I’m cheap in the hooker sense, but you view me as disposable. I hadn’t had sex with anyone in about a year. I only share bodies with someone I think I can share souls with, too. You were a mistake. I can’t be with someone who wants revenge more than they want me.”

  Her words make me feel like a douchebag. “That’s not how it is.”

  Well, not entirely.

  She doesn’t respond as the waiter sets her sparkling water in front of her. Instead, she merely raises a skeptical brow at me.

  I sip my wine. I need to regroup. Come up with something. Appeal to her heart. Simply being near me isn’t getting the job done.

  I stare into my glass. I need to explain somehow, give her a damn good reason for her to both like me again and help me. The only rationale I can think of is the truth. “Remember I told you that my brother slept with my ex-girlfriend? That my assistant, Britta, is like a sister to me?”

  “Yeah.”

  “That’s because she should have been. My sister, that is.” I tap the table nervously. “I really thought she and Griff were going to make it…”

  “Get married?”

  I nod. “He’d started talking about it. He loved her—or I thought he did. They seemed perfect together, but the fucking bastard crushed us all and never looked back.”

  Her face softens. I’m not looking for sympathy but it feels good to know she’s listening. “What happened?”

  I blow out a breath. Now it gets hard. “Three years ago, I picked up an overseas client. Royalty. He bound me to absolute secrecy because he wanted someplace lavish to stash his favorite mistress, and the truth would be a terrible scandal. Legally, I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my own brother. Despite the fact Griff hadn’t assisted with this client, I had every intention of closing the deal and depositing the money in our joint account, like I always did. We shared everything we earned fifty-fifty.”

  “Makes sense. Why would he get angry about that?”

  “Just before signing, Griff found out I was working this side deal and assumed I was trying to screw him out of both the glory and half the commission on the twenty-million-dollar property. He accused me of trying to undercut him and the business we’d spent six years building together. No matter how much I swore it wasn’t true, he didn’t believe me. He said that because Tiffanii and I were in the throes of splitting up that I’d let her screw with my head.”

  “So he left the business. You told me,” she says. “That upset you, so you want revenge, right?”

  “Sure, I’d love to repay that bastard, but if all I wanted was revenge, having you ‘distract’ him isn’t personal enough. If I merely wanted to make him suffer, I’d punch him in the face and hustle all his business out from under him. But it’s not that simple. There’s more.”

  “I’m listening.”

  “By the time the estate closed, Griff had already taken his half of the money from our joint account and moved out of our office—all without saying a word to me. In less than twenty-four hours, he hung out his own shingle and started taking listings. Britta was crushed he didn’t take her with him—or even let her know. They’d been dating for a year. But her nightmare got so much worse when Griff e-mailed me to say that he wanted me to know how being stabbed in the back felt, so he fucked my ex. Repeatedly. He even sent pictures. Wasn’t that thoughtful? Of course, he knew my assistant would read the message first…” I frown. “Britta had just learned she was pregnant.”

  I watch Keeley’s soft lips fall open. She covers her heart with her palm. “Oh, my gosh… She must have been devastated.”

  “Utterly. But she’s a fighter. She’s come back and has been raising my nephew alone. I make sure she and Jamie have everything they need financially. I visit the little guy and play with him when I can.” But I’m keenly aware that I’m not daddy material. I’m too much like my own father for that. “To this day, Griff has never acknowledged his son and has never given any indication that he cares.”

  The waiter comes by with hot plates and sets them down. He tries to break the tension by engaging in small talk that makes me gnash my teeth. Finally, I growl at him until he gets the message.

  When he slinks away, Keeley blows out a breath. “I don’t blame you for feeling as if your brother has behaved like an absolute bastard. That’s a lot to overcome. I’m sorry for you, for Britta, for your nephew. I hope karma gives Griff exactly what he deserves. But, Maxon, if you repay anger with vengeance—no matter how good the reason—what do you think happens next? It becomes hate. Hate is awfully hard to come back from. He’s your family. This festering fury isn’t helping either of you. Maybe you should just call him, clear the air, and—”

  “Fuck that. He walked out on me.” I realize I yelled at her and I feel like an asshole. “Sorry. I know you’re trying to help. If Griff had shown one iota of remorse, if he’d given us any indication that he missed Britta, wanted his son, or gave a damn about his only brother, I might be willing to let this go. Sometimes I miss him and the closeness we used to share like hell. But he left. He has to be the one to come back.”

  “Is pride more important than family?”

  I curl my fingers around the arms of the chair. If I don’t, I’m pretty sure I’ll hop to my feet like a fidiot and say something I’ll regret. “You have a knack for asking the one question designed to crawl under my skin.”

  “No, Maxon. I ask you the question designed to make you think.”

  It’s working. And I’m annoyed. Though I shut my mouth before I say anything else. She has a point, and I need to consider it. I take a bite of pasta. It’s decent. The wine is better, and it’s way more likely to improve my temper.

  “He hurt everyone who cared about him,” I finally say.

  “I get that. And I grant you that I’m removed from the situation, so I don’t exactly understand the betrayal you felt. What I am sure of? If you try to make him feel the hurt you’ve suffered, you’ll be no better. Take the moral high ground. I don’t know you well, but I believe your grandfather. You’re a man of honor, even if you don’t know it yet.”

  She did not just say that. Yes, damn it, she did. “It’s not that simple. This shit eats at me every day.”

  “Stop letting it.”

  I grab my wineglass and lean in, teeth clenched. “What would you do to get back at the pot-smoking ex who ran out on you? How far would you—”

  “I wouldn’t. I refuse to give him that much of my energy. But losing the deadbeat dragging me down didn’t have the same impact as your brother. I didn’t love Tim.”

  And I’d loved Griff. I sigh. “I can’t just let it go.”

  “Then…I’m not sure we have a reason to see each other anymore.” She looks sad at that prospect.

  I feel fucking wiped. “Not even to date?”

  “Do you really date? You don’t make time for the ocean that’s literally in your backyard. You’re preoccupied with business and one-upmanship. I can’t imagine you actually have time for me.”

  When she stands, I feel my guts drop to my toes. I hop to my feet. “Don’t go, Keeley. What about the money I offered you? That’s got to mean something.”

  She shakes her head. “I would never sacrifice my conscience to line my wallet.”

  Without meaning to, I’ve insulted her again. “I can’t say the right thing here…”

  “You can. You just don’t want to. You’re not ready yet. I’d offer to listen if you wanted to purge your feelings or guide you through some meditation meant to reduce anger—”

  I snort. I don’t mean to. It just slips out.

  A sad smile lifts her lips. “That’s what I thought, so I didn’t offer.”

  “I want to see you again, Keeley. I like you.” I swallow. “A lot.”

  That’s a pretty big admission for me. I can usually say I like a hookup’s tits. I might even say I like her laugh or her eyes or whatever. But I feel like I know Keeley in a
way I probably shouldn’t after so little time together. And what I do know, I’m enamored with.

  “Somehow…I really like you, too. I wish things could have been different.” Her blue eyes fill with regret as she tries to sidle past me for the door.

  Of their own free will, my fingers wrap around her wrist. “Don’t walk out on me, too.”

  I can’t say precisely why I’m… What’s the word I’m looking for? I search my mental thesaurus and can only come up with one: begging. Sadly, that’s accurate. I have a sneaking suspicion my urge to have her near has less to do with repaying Griff and more to do with my desire.

  “I need to go,” she murmurs. “Give me your number. I’ll…think about it.”

  With most anyone else, I’d call bullshit. But Keeley has never been less than mindful and ethical and wonderful.

  I hand her a business card. My cell is listed on the front. She takes it without a word. Instead, she kisses my cheek, gives me one last look of regret, then shoulders her way past me and out the door.

  My head tells me that, Griff aside, it’s for the best. As Keeley pointed out, I don’t have time for romance. I don’t need someone so sentimental they overlook the practical. The chemistry between us would probably fizzle out in another night or two anyway.

  So why do I feel as if letting her go might be the biggest mistake of my life?

  CHAPTER FIVE

  Three long days drag by. I feel like I’m standing in slow motion while everyone is running in fast-forward around me. Rob and Britta are putting together amazing materials to wow the Stowe heirs. Dazzling marketing videos, brokerage tour concepts, and high-dollar-buyer party suggestions. Even a fucking slogan. They are brilliant, thank God.

  My brain is stuck.

  I’m going through the motions, wishing I could force myself to get my head in the game. I look at my phone again for the umpteenth time today. Not that I expect anything different, but Keeley still hasn’t called.

  She’s gone.

  I could track her down…but she has my number. If she wants me to find her, she’d tell me where to look. I feel antsy because I haven’t talked to her since the weekend. I even called Gus, the guy who owns the lousy sports bar. He couldn’t say if or when Keeley would be singing again. When we spoke, he sounded disappointed, too.

  “You okay, buddy?” Rob asks, briefcase in hand.

  I glance at the clock. Is it really six fifteen? “Yeah. Have a good one.”

  “Will do.” He hesitates, then looks over at Britta, still huddled over her desk in the far corner. “She all right?”

  Britta grilled me about why Keeley was answering my phone the other morning. I couldn’t tell Griff’s ex that I’d hatched a grand plan to make sure my brother caught a giant case of lust for the woman I put in his path. Britta would see that as a betrayal, whether she wanted to admit it or not. Instead, I told her that Keeley and I had been triaging my old family wounds. Not surprisingly, Britta seemed skeptical of a lounge singer in a cheetah dress giving me life coaching.

  “I think. You know Britta.”

  “Still touchy sometimes. What about you?”

  Have I been acting weepy or something? “Me? Sure.”

  Rob rolls his eyes. “Listen, I know I’m the last person who should give you romantic advice…”

  “Um, yeah.”

  My marketing manager is pushing forty and has never come close to marriage. Until recently, he’s always loved them and left them, then somehow convinced them to come back again so he can screw them once last time before casting them off for good. He makes me look like the poster boy for consideration and sensitivity.

  “Ha!” Rob rolls his eyes. “I’m going to give you advice. Get laid. You’ve let this chick mess with your head. Move on. Find another pussy you like.” He shrugs. “It usually works for me.”

  It would be a waste of my breath to point out that he’s practically living with Alania, a mortgage broker he met four months ago. I don’t expect it will take him much longer to realize that in terms of prowling like a bad boy, she’s moved him into the “former” column.

  I also don’t want to admit that I’m one step ahead of him. On Sunday night, I hung out at the hotel bar near my unit and hit the jackpot with a bachelorette party. Eight single ladies, all eager, all looking to make dreamy memories in paradise. Instead of zeroing in on one from the group and sharing a great night with her, I drank a scotch, nodded their way politely, and left alone.

  “Thanks,” I say, despite knowing he’s full of hot air.

  “Have a good one, man. Night, Britta,” Rob calls. With that, he leaves.

  My assistant stands and stretches, glancing at the time on her computer. “Oh, it’s later than I thought. I need to go get Jamie. You going to be okay here?”

  “Yeah. Do you need my help with anything?”

  “No. I think we’ll just have soup and watch a few cartoons before bed. You’re welcome to join us for dinner. He likes when Uncle Maxon drops by.”

  It’s been a while since I’ve seen the little guy, and I’ll bet he’s grown. I’m certainly not accomplishing much here. I open my mouth to say I’d love to. I’ll even bring dinner. But the door to the suite opens.

  My heart fucking stops when Keeley walks in. Then it begins to chug triple time. Damn, she looks good dressed in a black tank top, sexy cutoff shorts, and a pair of blingy flip-flops. Her pale skin stands out amidst all the Hawaiian tans. She looks like a pearl, all luminous and gorgeous. It’s no surprise I want her. Then again, I probably would have drooled even if she’d been wearing a sack.

  “Hi.” She gives me an uncertain smile. “Can I talk to you?”

  Does she really think there’s any way I’m going to say no? “Of course.”

  She glances at my assistant, hand outstretched. “You must be Britta. I’m Keeley.”

  I’m floored when my dependable, always friendly assistant fills her hands with work-related stuff and sniffs Keeley’s way. “I gathered. Stop messing with his head. He refused to track you down so he could set you straight about my ex because he’s a good guy. But I have no such qualms. Griff ripped us both apart. Stop being an AFAOE and actually listen to his side of the story.”

  “AFAOE?” Keeley frowns.

  “Don’t worry about it, sunshine.” I give Keeley a gentle push toward my office. “Britta is just tired. Cranky. Don’t you have PMS, too?”

  My assistant utterly ignores my heavy-handed hint to shut up. “It means a fucking authority on everything. That’s how you’re behaving. You waltz into Maxon’s life and want him to give up the biggest deal of his career—his lifelong ambition—over some high-minded ideal about being kind to the man who stabbed us in the back, then left us bleeding to die without a second thought. Grow up.”

  The room is utterly silent as she slams out the door. I have to close my eyes and shake my head. Could this visit start off any more awkwardly?

  “Sorry about that.” I show Keeley to a chair in my office, then loop around the desk to sit. Damn, she’s a sight for sore eyes. “Coffee?”

  “No, thanks. What did you tell her about our conversation?”

  I had to tell Britta something. I couldn’t think of another quick excuse to explain my moping and lack of focus. Besides, we don’t keep many secrets from each other. “I told you a bit about her life to help you understand my situation with Griff. Since I divulged some of her painful past, I felt as if she deserved to know a little about our conversation and…” I need to stop digging myself a verbal hole and shut up. “I told her the advice you’d given me.”

  “Clearly, she didn’t agree.” Keeley presses her lips into a grim line, then sighs. “Britta isn’t the reason I’ve come. Can we talk?”

  “Of course. I was hoping to hear from you.”

  Understatement of the century.

  “I’ve given a lot of thought to your request over the past few days.”

  To my request. Not to me. This isn’t exactly what I want to hear. Still, m
y palms get sweaty. My cock stands straight up. It’s
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