Authors: M. S. Parker
By M.S. Parker
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Belmonte Publishing LLC
Published by Belmonte Publishing LLC.
hat was wrong with me? When Reed showed up at my house and said that his marriage was over, I should've been thrilled. So why was I thinking that maybe he wasn't what I wanted after all?
When handsome and rich Reed Stirling says he's giving up everything to be with Piper, she knows that this should be everything she's ever wanted. But something is holding her back, and she's pretty sure it isn't just her justifiable trust issues with men.
Former Vegas stripper Piper Black is torn between what she's always thought she wanted and something new that she'll have to fight for. Will she be able to figure out what her heart truly wants, or will she lose everything?
Don't miss this final steamy installment to M.S. Parker's Sinful Desires series.
“What the fuck did you just say?” The words popped out of my mouth without me even thinking about them.
Reed's eyes widened.
Moments ago he’d told me that he was getting a divorce and that he wanted me back. I was pretty sure that wasn't the response he'd imagined coming from my lips when he played out this little scenario in his head. There wasn't anything I could do about it now. A gust of cold morning air made me shiver and I wrapped my arms around my middle.
“Can I come in?” Reed asked.
I nodded, stunned and stepped back automatically. He walked into the living room and I took my time closing the front door. I turned, and saw him pacing. He ran his hand through his hair again, a wild, almost feverish look in his eyes.
“You know that this whole marriage is a sham,” he said, his words coming out in a rush. “And I thought I could go through with it, for my family. You told me I couldn't see you anymore and I tried to accept it, I really did.” He took a step toward me, his hand coming up like he was going to touch me, and then dropping back to his side. “When all this shit happened with Brock and I saw how his family protected him, I realized that I didn't want to be a part of it. How could I defend him when I knew what he'd done to you, what he'd done to that girl?”
I thought about how I hadn't seen Reed during any of the news coverage about Brock. I'd seen plenty of Britni defending her brother, and of Rebecca at her side. I'd seen both the Michaels and Stirling parents offering their support. Reed had been conspicuously absent.
“Britni and I started arguing about it since it happened, how I wouldn't go on record saying Brock hadn't done anything wrong and then, last night, it all just blew up. She accused me of having an affair... with you, and I snapped. I told her that you were an honorable person and that you'd turned me down. Then, she asked if I was in love with you.”
Shit. I didn't want to hear this. I started to shake my head. I couldn't do this, not now. Not with Julien in my bed upstairs and my head spinning.
“I told her that I wasn't in love with her, that I never had been, that I wanted to be with you. I said that she and I were done, and I left. I've been driving around all night, trying to decide what I want to do, and I realized that I had to come here and tell you how sorry I was about everything...”
I held up a hand. “Stop, Reed. Please, just stop.”
He fell silent.
It was too much. I couldn't think straight, not with him looking at me like that. “I need you to go.”
He blinked. “What?”
“This is a lot to take in, Reed. I need some time to think.”
Hurt blossomed across his face and I wondered if he'd thought he could show up at my door, confess that he'd chosen me and was leaving his wife, and I'd just welcome him with open arms. One look into his eyes and I knew that had been exactly what he'd expected. I probably should've been annoyed, but I couldn't really muster much in the way of a response.
“We'll talk, I promise,” I said, then took a much needed gulp of air. “But you have to give me time to process all that you just said. It’s been more than two months since I saw you. I’ve moved on with my life and then…” Blessed anger finally began to fill me, strengthening my resolve. “Then, life gets rough on your side and you think you can just show up at my house, blurt out this shit and I’ll fall gratefully into your arms?”
He closed the distance between us and put his hand on my shoulder. Despite how cold it was outside, his hand was warm through the thin cotton of my robe. “I'm sorry. You're right.” His voice was soft, the gentle voice that had drawn me to him in the first place. “I wasn't thinking.” He squeezed my shoulder and then stepped away. “I'm going to go meet my lawyer and start getting the divorce papers drawn up. Take all the time you need and call me when you're ready to talk. I'll wait.”
He left, letting in another blast of cold air, but I barely felt it.
I walked over to my couch on shaky legs and sank onto the soft cushions. Did that really happen? Or was it simply a dream? I pinched myself and sure enough, reality of my situation kicked in.
Why would Reed knock on my door the morning after Julien and I first made love? Was I cursed, being punished by the gods?
I nearly growled out loud in frustration. I knew I'd have a lot to think about today, but I figured it'd be centered on Julien, and how sleeping together could change our friendship; what would happen between us next. I'd never in a million years thought that something like this would happen. I’d been looking forward, focusing on my future… not back.
I sighed, hugging my knees to my chest, trying to curl myself into a tight little ball. Maybe if I were small enough, all of this pain and confusion would diminish as well.
Not too long ago, Reed coming to my door and saying that he'd picked me over Britni would've been everything I ever wanted. But I'd spent my time since that last conversation trying to get over him. I didn't know how well it'd worked.
“Hey.” Julien's voice came from behind me.
I jumped up, my face flushing. “Julien, I–”
“You don't have to say anything,” he interrupted. He picked up his jacket from where he'd tossed it on the couch the night before. “What happened between us was a mistake.”
I stared at him, unable to believe my ears. The words hurt more than they should have.
“Things just got out of hand. It won't happen again.” His tone was flat and he couldn't look me in the eye. “I should go be with my mother.”
He left before I could argue. Not that there was anything I could've said. 'Hey, I know your dad just died and you want to be with your grieving mother, but I want to talk about the fact that we just fucked' didn't exactly seem like the best thing to do.
I sank down on the couch and put my head in my hands. How had things gotten this fucked up? I'd done the right thing and walked away from Reed. I'd told myself to stay away from romance and had been doing a pretty good job of it. Now, in one night, the nice little world I'd been building for myself here was shattered.
I didn't know what I was supposed to think or do. There was no order to the chaos in my head. I couldn't figure out what to process first. Reed's declaration? What had happened between Julien and me? His abrupt departure? My feelings for Reed? My feelings for Julien? Did I believe Reed? How damaged was my friendship with Julien?
There were too many question marks, far too much for my brain to handle, particularly without coffee. I stood. I needed to call in reinforcements. Anastascia was going to be pissed that I woke her up this early on a Saturday, but when she heard what happened, I knew she'd understand.
My only other option was to go curl up in bed again and try to pretend like none of this had happened. But considering my sheets and pillows probably smelled like Julien now – that subtle musky scent that wasn't cologne or aftershave, just him – I doubted I'd be able to put anything out of my mind. So, no matter how much I wanted to act like nothing had changed, I trudged back upstairs to get my phone and make the call.
I ended up spending Thanksgiving with Anastascia and her parents. They'd both been happy to have me and the holiday should've been the best I'd had since before my mother died. In Vegas, I always worked the holidays. The tips sucked, but there had usually been a bonus and the girls with families always appreciated it. Being with the Galaways was the closest thing to being with family I'd had in more than two years, but I hadn't been able to fully enjoy the experience.
I'd called Anastascia not long after Julien left and told her everything. She'd agreed that pushing Julien about what had happened wouldn't be right considering all he was going through. Instead, I sent him a text telling him I was here if he needed me, and then waited for him to initiate contact. By Tuesday, without a word, I gave in and called. It had gone to voicemail and I left a stumbling message, telling him I'd seen the funeral announcement in the paper and that I'd be there if he needed to talk. I told myself that I'd had a good reason to call and that, this time, I'd wait until he reached out first.
By Tuesday night, I tried texting. Then another two calls on Wednesday. I texted him on Thanksgiving, but received no response. Not even a cursory return of my 'Happy Thanksgiving' greeting. Friday, I placed two calls, though I'd been tempted to do more. I hated looking like I was needy, but the silence was unnerving. I was worried about him. I missed him. Now, I was walking into the church with Anastascia and had absolutely no clue how I was supposed to handle seeing him again.
“How do you want to play this?” Anastascia asked as we approached the receiving line at the front of the sanctuary.
“Damned if I know,” I muttered, biting the inside of my lip.
She and I got in line behind some people that I recognized from the cover of Forbes magazine. I'd only met Julien's parents once and didn't know anyone else in the family, so I kept things simple. A handshake and a murmur of condolences got me up to Mrs. Atwood. I repeated what I'd said before, but my “so sorry for your loss” was more heartfelt as I looked into her sad face. She was impeccably dressed, her hair and make-up perfect, but no matter how expertly it had been applied, I could still see the circles under her eyes. I remembered what Julien had said, how his parents had been arguing when his father collapsed. I could only imagine the guilt she must be feeling.
And then I was moving along and Julien was right there. A million questions came into my head, but I didn't let them out. He looked like he'd aged ten years since I'd last seen him, even though it had been only a week. My heart ached for him. I opened my arms and, after a brief hesitation, he stepped into my embrace.
“I'm so sorry,” I said.
I felt a tremor go through his body and his arms tightened around me for the briefest of moments. I inhaled deeply, indulging myself for a few seconds as his scent carried me back to that night. Then he was releasing me and taking a step a backwards, putting distance between us.
“Thank you for coming.” His voice was stiff and he didn't meet my eyes. He seemed to be looking everywhere but at me.
“Of course.” I was surprised that I managed not to let the words betray the stab of hurt that went through me. He was grieving. I had no right to have expectations of his behavior. I repeated that to myself as Anastascia and I found seats. It didn't lessen the pain and only made me feel guilty. It wasn't only my questions, though. Those were easier than I'd thought to hold back. No, I simply wanted to be there for him. Be his friend, as he’d always been to me. I wanted to put my arms around him and hold him, try to take away his pain.
A low male voice said my name and I turned, starting to smile. The expression froze when I saw Reed taking a seat across the aisle. I forced myself to finish the smile. I still hadn't figured out how I felt about the other morning. Every time I tried to think about it, I started worrying about how Julien was doing. Reed really did have awful timing.
“Can I talk to you?”
I shook my head. “Not now.” I gestured toward the front of the sanctuary where the family was moving to their seats.
“Do you know what you're going to say to Reed?” Anastascia whispered as a priest slowly walked across the platform to stand on the other side of the casket.