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Fall Into You: Chapter 43

Shay

Groggy with afterglow, I lie quietly in Cole’s arms, enveloped in his warmth and strength. Sweat cools on my skin. The fire paints the yard in dancing patterns of light and shadow. His heart throbs beneath my ear with the strong, steady beat of a drum, and for once, my mind is still.

I don’t know what lies beyond this moment. All I know is that he feels like home to me in a way I never expected any man could feel.

It’s terrifying.

As soon as that realization hits, my quiet mind explodes into a tornado of questions, worries, and imagined outcomes to this nonrelationship of ours, each one progressively worse.

He rouses, turning his head to kiss my hair. His voice is a husky murmur. “You okay?”

“Yes. Why?”

“You’re thinking.”

“God forbid.”

“Exactly. Hence the question.”

Sighing, I close my eyes and snuggle closer to him. “This morning in the stairwell.”

“What about it?”

“We didn’t use protection.”

I wait for him to say something, but he doesn’t, so I continue. “What I meant was we should probably talk about contraception. Assuming we’re going to keep doing this, which I hope we will.”

He inhales a slow breath, then exhales quietly, gliding his fingertips up and down my arm. He kisses my head again, then pulls me on top of him, arranging my body on his so I’m using him as a big pillow. He pulls one of the soft furry throws over my back, then puts a hand on my head and tucks it into the space between his neck and shoulder, keeping it there when he speaks.

“I take it you’re not on the pill.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“So you are on the pill?”

“Yes. I never stopped after Chet and I broke up.”

After a pause, he says, “Ah. This conversation isn’t really about contraception.”

“I’m not accusing you of not disclosing that you have an STD, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“What I’m thinking is that you’re looking for answers about our situation that I can’t give.”

A lump forms in my throat. Hurt gathers into a sick little ball in my stomach. I wish I wasn’t so emotional, but that’s like saying I wish the sky wasn’t blue. Nothing can be done about it.

Why do I keep getting ahead of myself with this man? Why am I already in so deep? I know whatever shape it will take between us will be messy, so why am I setting myself up for the heartbreak that’s almost certainly coming?

Oh yeah, because I’m a stubborn, foolish romantic who never learns the lessons the universe keeps trying to teach me about the real cost of love.

He’s right. I should stop reading romance novels.

“Can I ask one question?” Without waiting for a response, I hurry on. “Why would you say you’d buy me a ring if we can’t have a relationship?”

“I asked if you wanted me to buy you a ring, not that I would.”

“I see. Pardon me while I lie here and die of embarrassment.”

“Shay. Love. Why can’t we just take this one day at a time?”

I’m hurt and angry, but he called me love, so it shaves a hair off my angst. I lie on his chest and try to reason with myself that I’m asking for too much too soon, but then I get mad all over again.

“Hey, remember a little while ago when you asked me to promise I’d catch you if you fell into me? I guess I must’ve taken that the wrong way. You were actually talking about falling into my vagina, correct?”

He rolls over, pinning me underneath his heavy body and staring down with blazing intensity into my eyes.

He growls, “You know what I meant, and it wasn’t falling into your goddamn vagina.”

“So you were alluding to falling in love with me.”

“Would you like me to draw you a picture?”

“There’s no need to be snarky. Nice sidestep, by the way. You’re incredibly good at those.”

His lips thin. His eyes narrow. Thunderclouds gather over his head. All of that might convince me to drop the subject, except I just decided that I’ve had enough of dancing circles around each other.

“Okay, Cole. I’m just gonna go ahead and ask because I don’t love the whole cloak-and-dagger thing you’ve got going. What are you hiding? Do you have a wife stashed away somewhere? A girlfriend you haven’t told me about? A bunch of kids?”

“No, no, and no. And now we’re going to go upstairs, shower, and go to bed.”

Nose to nose, we stare into each other’s eyes. I can tell he really means this is the end of the discussion. He won’t answer any more questions. He won’t give me more than he already has.

Maybe ever.

He waits silently as I wrestle with dueling desires to let it go and see where time takes us or get up and walk out of his house and his life for good.

Instead of either of those choices, I lob the tennis ball back onto his side of the court.

“Okay. I believe you. And I’ll leave it alone for now. But here’s something I want you to think about, especially in light of what happened Friday night and the things you apologized for afterward, namely things you weren’t proud of like slamming doors and raising your voice.”

I pause to make sure I’ve got his full attention. I do, so I continue.

“There’s a fine line between privacy, which is everyone’s right, and controlling the flow of information, which is something bad guys do.”

His response is instant. He delivers it in a low, calm tone while staring right into my eyes.

“Believe me, I’m very aware of the behaviors of abusers. And if we were in a committed relationship, I’d tell you everything. No part of my life would be hidden from you, and I’d expect the same in return. But as I keep telling you, I don’t do relationships. There are reasons for that, very valid fucking reasons, but the primary one is because being with me isn’t safe. Not because I’d harm you in a physical or emotional way, but because my lifestyle is dangerous. That isn’t an exaggeration. It’s dangerous, Shay, and what you’ve encountered so far with how I handled Dylan is only the tip of the iceberg. So yes, I want you, and yes, I’m falling for you, but because I know what I know, I can’t let it go farther than this.”

My throat closes. My pulse races. My shame is a bottomless well that I throw myself into headfirst.

He’s flat-out telling me that this is it. Random hook-ups at his convenience.

No commitments, no questions, just sex.

I shouldn’t be so hurt. It’s not like he hasn’t been saying this since the beginning. I just haven’t been listening.

“I understand. I think I’d like to go home now.”

“Shay, please listen—”

“No, you listen, Cole. I hear you. I get it. And how you want to live your life is totally up to you. But you know what? I deserve better than late night bootie calls and an uncommitted heart. So yes, this has been amazing, and yes, I’m completely gaga over you, but you need to let me up now because I’m going home.”

He closes his eyes and mutters, “Fuck.”

Then he exhales heavily and rolls off me.

I stand, grab my heels, and walk across the grass-lined pavers to the terrace, where I grab my dress off the chair and step into it. As I’m zipping it up, he approaches, naked and stupidly beautiful, his face pained.

He watches me slip into my heels, then suddenly pulls me into his arms.

In a raw voice, he begs, “Stay. Please.”

When I don’t answer, he squeezes me tighter. “I’ll take you home in the morning. Just stay with me tonight, baby. Please stay with me.”

The vulnerability in his voice melts my fragile resolve. I rest my cheek against his chest and close my eyes, trying to keep the pain from my voice when I speak.

“Okay. Just for tonight. You’ve got me until the sun comes up, handsome, then I turn into a pumpkin.”

He kisses my neck. Without another word, he picks me up and carries me inside.


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