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Things We Left Behind: Chapter 10


Annoyed and Hungry

Lucian

You seem tense,” Emry observed.

“Tense? Why would I be tense? Just because I’ve got clients to deal with, the FBI moving at a snail’s pace, an exasperating woman interrupting my schedule, a tail that smells like the Hugo crime organization. There’s no reason to be tense,” I snapped.

The city streets were always bumper to bumper in black luxury SUVs. But I’d still made the tail when I’d been alerted to Sloane’s arrival.

I hadn’t been able to deal with the security issue because I’d needed to see her. I’d been compelled to ignore the situation I could have easily dealt with because I wanted to see her in my offices. I wanted to be there when she saw what I’d built.

And then I’d gone and lost every shred of discipline. I’d forgotten the most basic of lessons. Sloane’s proximity to me brought her too close to danger. It always had.

My friend steepled his fingers over his rounded belly and waited expectantly.

I realized I hadn’t even taken a seat. I’d been pacing in front of the man’s fireplace since the minute I arrived. We were meant to be having dinner tonight. But one look at me when he opened the door and he’d shed the apron and waved me into his home office.

I brought my fingertips to my forehead. “Sorry, Emry. I’m ruining our dinner.”

It had been a long time since I’d felt this out of control. I needed to lock down my feelings to put a stop to the images that played incessantly in my head. Those green eyes at half-­mast. The red lips parting.

He waved away my apology. “It’s a casserole. It’ll keep.”

“You burnt it, didn’t you?”

He grinned ruefully. “I’m surprised you didn’t notice the charcoal smell.”

I hadn’t noticed anything. I needed to calm the fuck down. “She’s infuriating,” I said, resuming my pacing.

“The FBI agent?”

“No! Sloane.”

Chuckling, he heaved himself out of his leather recliner and crossed to the brass bar cart he kept under a painting of stormy seas challenging a wooden ship.

I leaned against the mantel and willed myself to stop thinking about how it had felt to have Sloane pinned between me and my desk.

Emry poured two glasses of wine from a shapely decanter. He was wearing a black wool sweater covered in neon fish over a checkered button-­down.

“That sweater deserves to be set on fire,” I observed when he handed me one of the glasses. He looked like someone’s kindly, hapless grandfather.

I wondered briefly what he thought of when he looked at me. Did I look like the CEO of a multimillion-­dollar company? Did I look like I could be someone’s husband, someone’s father? Or did I look like the villain I was?

“Let’s table the subject of the exasperating Sloane—­temporarily—­and go back to the part about you being followed by an organized crime syndicate,” he suggested, indicating the second chair.

“I didn’t lead them here if that’s what you’re worried about,” I said as I reluctantly sat.

“Hmm,” came the pointed reply.

I blew out a breath. I was, as Emry would have said in our therapy days, “coloring others’ words with my ego’s definitions.” Nowadays, he only had to hum for me to get the message.

“I know you well enough to understand you take every precaution to protect those you care about. My concern is for you. Do you give yourself the same care?”

“Can’t you just tell me how to stop feeling all these feelings so I can focus on what needs to be accomplished?” I asked, staring into the glass.

“If we were in a session, I’d say something thought-­provoking about how sometimes the feelings we resist the most are the ones that have the most to teach us. Then we could discuss why, in an itemized list of situations anyone would find challenging, you’re most concerned with a woman from your past. One you claim to have nothing but animosity toward. But we’re just two friends about to order pizza so we don’t have to eat the smoking meteor in my kitchen. As a friend, I’ll ask this. Why is a visit from a public librarian more disconcerting to you than the fact that a mob boss might be aware you’re helping the FBI build a case against him?”

Because I was in control when it came to Anthony Hugo.

Because I knew how to deal with men like that.

Because I savored their ruin.

“Because she reminds me of a past I’d rather forget,” I said out loud. “She betrayed me when I was vulnerable.”

And today she’d spread her thighs for me, perched on my desk like she belonged there. Like she wanted to be there. Like she wanted me there.

I shook the images out of my head and replaced them with another older, darker memory.

Sloane looking brokenhearted and brave, her arm in a sling, those emerald eyes glittering with defiant tears.

“What did you do?” I’d shouted at her. What I’d meant but hadn’t said was, “What did he do?”

“Lucian, you’re a smart man,” Emry stated as he peered at me over the rim of his glass.

I already didn’t like where this was going.

“What are you getting at?”

“As a reasonably intelligent man, I’m going to assume that you know you can’t just forget the past or pretend it doesn’t exist. And as you’ve spent significant time in therapy with a brilliant therapist, I’ll remind you that the only way out is through. You can’t just keep putting your emotions in a box with a lid and expecting them to stay there. That’s not what feelings do.”

“Then I’ll remind you that we both know why letting those emotions out of their box is dangerous.”

“You have a lot more control than you give yourself credit for,” he pointed out.

“That control hinges on not letting my emotions get the better of me.”

“There’s a difference between quelling impulses that everyone has and refusing to acknowledge any feeling at all.”

I scoffed. “I have feelings that I acknowledge all the time.”

“For instance?” Emry prompted.

“For instance, I’m hungry and annoyed right now.”

My friend chuckled. “Pepperoni and sausage?”

“Fine.”

“Lucian, I don’t pity you for what you went through as a child any more than I excuse you from doing the hard work of realizing you are a whole, complicated man capable of not only experiencing happiness but sustaining it.”

“Why is everyone so obsessed with happiness? There are other aims a bit more worthy than walking around with an idiotic grin on my face.”

“Let me say this. You’re a grown man who has achieved wild levels of success, which in itself is impressive. But when you factor in your upbringing, it’s downright miraculous. Trust yourself to handle having feelings. Even the uncomfortable ones.”

The man gave me too much credit. He didn’t know what I was capable of. But I did.

I exhaled slowly.

“Out of curiosity, what did she do this time that aggravated you?” Emry asked, his eyes dancing behind his half-­moon spectacles.

“She got fingerprints on my desk,” I said testily.

Our bickering had always turned me on. It was a weakness that made me feel pathetic. But today she’d taunted me on my own turf, and my cock had risen to the occasion so swiftly I’d gone light-­headed.

I’d wanted her. I’d craved her. And I would have had her right there on that desk.

Maybe that was the answer. Maybe this torturous tension between us would finally vanish if we gave in, just once.

Emry chuckled. “Sooner or later, my friend, you’ll learn that embracing the messiness of life is where you find its greatest treasures.”

“I prefer my orderly piles of money, thank you.” But I wasn’t thinking about bank balances. I was thinking about Sloane, thighs spread, red lips parted as I finally thrust home.

“Come on. Let’s order our dinner, and then I’ll let you trounce me at a game of chess.”


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