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Things We Left Behind: Chapter 24


Grilled Cheese Peace Talks

Sloane

I’m not cuddling with you,” I murmured into Lucian’s neck. “I just can’t use my arms or legs.”

I was sprawled naked over the man’s godlike body, too many hours and orgasms beyond caring about anything except Lucian’s cock and the endless pleasure it gifted me.

He landed a stinging swat to my rear end.

“Ow.”

“My limbs still work,” he said smugly.

His limbs and the superhuman dick that was still semihard and wearing the last condom in my house.

I lifted my head and looked around. “Oh good. We made it upstairs to the bedroom finally.”

He pulled me back down, cradling me against his chest, but not before I caught a glimpse of an honest-­to-­God smile on the man’s beautiful face. I decided after the seven orgasms he’d delivered, I could let him have this moment.

Teenage Lucian had been affectionate, I recalled. He’d snuggled with me in this same bed, playing with my hair, stroking my arm or back. He’d submitted to all the hugs and back pats and shoulder squeezes from my parents with a rueful smile. Like he’d craved physical contact but didn’t want to let on.

My heart clenched for the boy who’d deserved so much more.

He stroked a hand through my hair, letting the strands fall against my back, and I felt my eyes go damp.

The panic was rising again.

That was what had propelled me out of my own hotel room after four orgasms and less than two hours of sleep. The realization that I was muddling the no-­strings-­attached present with the feelings of the past.

Neither of us was the same person we’d been back then. I couldn’t afford to let my feelings for teenage Lucian get tangled up in what was clearly just a physical thing.

very physical thing.

“Are we going again?” I asked nonchalantly, hoping not to let on that my entire body was too tired and too sore.

Lucian sighed. “Much as it pains me to admit, Pixie, you’ve bested me. I’m going to need an ice pack, a bucket of ibuprofen, and a four-­hour nap if you want one last last time.”

“Loser,” I muttered into his neck. “I’m ready to go again.”

“Liar.”

He tugged on my hair until I looked up at him.

“Okay. Fine. I’m back to being nauseated by the thought of sex with you,” I teased.

“So we’re officially done then?” His face was once again guarded. It was somehow worse after having seen him in so many shields-­down, orgasmic moments.

I shrugged one shoulder. “I guess so. I suppose I could feed you before I send you packing.”

As if on cue, Lucian’s stomach rumbled.

I feigned a gasp. “I didn’t know vampires got hungry.”

He lunged for me, his teeth grazing my neck. “Hold still, you snack-­size human.”

I gasped with laughter and collapsed against him again. Playful Lucian was an entirely new creature to me. Like Edward after Bella had discovered his secret in Twilight. Only I hadn’t discovered Lucian’s secret. I’d just had a whole lot of sex with him.

His hands gentled on me. “You have a beautiful laugh.”

I sat up again and frowned. “Okay. You’re officially delirious. Come on. I need lunch and electrolytes since you dehydrated me via my vagina.”

“My cock is sore. As in the-­day-­after-­leg-­day-­at-­the-­gym sore,” he complained as we crawled out of bed.

I pulled on a blue bathrobe with daisies while Lucian yanked on his underwear. He frowned down at his dress shirt. It was missing a few buttons and had a questionable wet spot on the sleeve.

“Hold on.” I limped into my closet and found the sweatshirt I was looking for. “Here,” I said, tossing it to him.

He caught it and his frown turned into a scowl. “Whose is this?” he asked, holding up the extra-­extra-­large Penn State hoodie.

“Mine now,” I said.

“Whose was it?”

“An old boyfriend. We dated for a couple of months after I graduated college and was working in Hagerstown. He was a social studies teacher.”

“Blake.” He said the name like it was an insult.

I raised an eyebrow. “You know, Unfucked Sloane would be giving you shit for knowing my ex-­boyfriend’s name from fifteen years ago. But Well-­Fucked Sloane is too tired and hungry to start a fight.”

He threw the sweatshirt back to me. “I’m not wearing this.”

“You’re missing out. It’s comfortable and it’ll fit you.”

Lucian picked up his ruined dress shirt and stubbornly shoved his arms through the sleeves. “You probably think of him every time you wear it.”

“Fondly,” I said, not above adding just a few drops of lighter fluid to the flames. “Come on. I’m starving.”

We made quite the picture, stumbling and limping our way down the back stairs into the kitchen.

Meow Meow glared judgmentally from her perch on a pot holder in the middle of the island. The tip of her tail twitched.

“That’s incredibly unhygienic,” Lucian observed.

“Good thing you don’t plan to spend any time in this house, because every flat surface has probably come into contact with cat butt,” I said, ruffling her ears before opening the refrigerator door.

“What’s it’s name?”

“Her name is Meow Meow.”

“That’s an unimaginative name.”

“Her official name is Lady Meowington,” I said, opening the cheese drawer.

“That’s worse. I’m horrified. You’re terrible at naming things.”

“Cats name themselves. You start with an official name, and it devolves over the years until you find something they actually respond to. Lady Meowington here only responds to Meow Meow or ‘Hey, asshole.’” I glanced up and found Lucian eyeing the cat while she devoted herself to cleaning her belly.

Meow Meow was a furry lump of disdain. My one-­night stand, however, in his underwear and open shirt with his tousled hair and sleepy eyes, was absolutely delectable. I’d known he was good-­looking. Devastatingly handsome even. But I’d never allowed myself to really look.

Now that I had? I was going to need some alcohol with my post-­sex snack.

I held up two blocks of cheese. “How do you feel about grilled cheese?”

Lucian grimaced. “You eat like a child.”

“I’m going to make you the best damned grilled cheese you’ve ever had, and then I’m going to allow you to rub my feet while groveling for my forgiveness.”


“A little more pressure on the arch, servant,” I ordered.

Lucian’s strong thumbs dug deeper on the sole of my foot. “Your feet are so small. How do you walk on these things?”

“You’re so weird after a sex marathon and grilled cheese.” I took another victorious bite of my buffalo chicken grilled cheese sandwich of awesomeness. Lucian’s plate was empty. He’d inhaled his sandwich with gusto and was shooting longing looks at my second half.

With an eye roll, I tore the half into two pieces and handed him one.

He dropped my foot in his lap and dove in.

We’d set up camp in the family room off the kitchen at the back of the house to eat and watch Night Court reruns. I said it was because the TV was bigger, but really it was because I didn’t want anyone catching a glimpse of Lucian Rollins through my front windows and broadcasting it to the entire town. Sharing this catastrophe with anyone was not an option.

As Bull delivered a punch line to Judge Harold T. Stone, I heard a dramatic thud behind us. I tilted my head on the cushion and spied the cat’s hulking fluff prance across the console table against the couch.

“What is it doing?” Lucian demanded, swiveling his head.

She is trying to make you uncomfortable.”

Meow Meow sat directly behind him and stared at the back of his head. “It’s working.”

“She doesn’t really like people,” I explained. “Mom and I are the only ones who can pet her. Dad was the only one she’d let pick her up, and that was only if he stood still.”

“I feel her eyes boring into the back of my head,” he complained, shifting closer to me on the cushion. His bare thigh rested snugly against my knee, his shoulder a comforting weight against mine. Couples did this. Had sex on a Sunday morning and then snuggled up on the couch with junk food to watch old favorites.

We were not a couple. We were a mistake. A hot, sexy, mind-­melting mistake.

“Just ignore her. She’s so lazy she’d never go out of her way to jump on your head just to bite and claw your face off,” I promised cheerily.

“That’s comforting,” he said dryly.

I took Lucian’s empty plate and placed it on the table behind me. Meow Meow gave the back of Lucian’s head one last scowl before sauntering over to investigate the crumbs. Satisfied that what we were eating was subpar, she heaved herself to the floor and wandered off.

Lucian slung his arm over the back of the couch behind me.

Was Lucian Rollins snuggling with me? Had I given him a concussion when I’d accidentally banged his head against the headboard while riding him?

The studio audience dissolved into hysterics over Dan Fielding’s flirtation with Christine Sullivan. This was so normal. So not us. So exactly what I wanted…with a different man, of course, and with a couple of kids thrown into the mix. Lucian had always wanted something different. I couldn’t help but wonder if all those things he’d wanted—­the wealth, the power, the ability to crush enemies with a flick of his wrist—­were just a replacement for what he thought he could never have.

“Your father loved this episode,” Lucian mused as I attacked the last quarter of my grilled cheese.

“He did,” I agreed, stacking my empty plate on his. “Now that your penis has invaded my vagina on multiple occasions, I think you should tell me why you’re so close to my parents. Oh God.” I sat up straighter. “You didn’t have an affair with my mom, did you?”

“I did not have an affair with your mother,” he said dryly.

“Then what kind of a relationship do you have with her?”

He sighed and paused the episode. “Your parents helped me through a difficult time in my life. I owe them for that.”

“So you have some kind of invisible tally system, and once you’ve hit the appropriate number of tick marks, you’ll vanish from Mom’s life?”

“You’re a lot like your father,” he said, though it didn’t sound like a compliment.

“In what way?” I pressed, eager for any connection to the man I missed.

“You never give up. Even when you should.”

“He never gave up on you,” I said softly. But I had. Not that I’d had a choice.

“Not many people have the unbridled, delusional optimism that Simon Walton brought to this world.”

I sighed against Lucian’s broad shoulder. I may have gotten my tenacity from my dad, but I had missed out on the delusional optimism gene. “He was one of a kind,” I agreed.

We were silent for a long moment, both staring straight ahead at the frozen faces on the TV screen.

“I can’t believe Ansel is dead,” I said finally.

Lucian stiffened next to me like I’d just pushed the button where all his walls came up and the gate to his castle rolled down.

I put my hand on his thigh and gripped. “Wait. Before we jump into Lucian versus Sloane Round two million, let’s call a temporary cease-­fire and have some peace talks.”

He looked down at me, his expression halfway between amusement and annoyance. “Peace talks? Why do women feel the need to talk everything to death?”

“If you’ll shut up, I’ll explain. Now, I’m not admitting to having wondered for a long time what sex with you would be like.” His expression went wolfish, and I held up a finger. “No! We’re still recovering. If we attack each other now, you’ll sprain your penis or I’ll lose feeling below the waist.”

“I’m willing to take that chance.”

I rose up on my knees and faced him. “Keep it zipped, Sir Fucks a Lot. What I’m suggesting is since we’ve appeased our curiosity with our one-­night-­only sexual shenanigans, why don’t we apply the same consideration to all the questions we’ve always wanted answers to?”

“No.”

I pouted. “You didn’t even consider the offer. That’s not very peace talky of you.”

“Don’t look at me like that.”

Sensing impending victory, I deepened my pout, saddened my eyes, and straddled his lap. “Come on, big guy. We cleared the air sexually and survived. Why can’t we drop a couple of truth bombs consequence-­free before we go back to normal and never speak again?”

His handsome face with its poetic cheekbones and stormy eyes gave nothing away, but his cock was making its feelings known beneath me.

“I’m not above holding a pillow over your face until you stop annoying me, Pix,” he warned.

“Yes, you are. Please?”

His hands came to my hips, and he dropped his head against the cushion. “If I say yes—­” I wiggled victoriously in his lap, and his hands gripped me tighter as his teeth clenched, deepening the hollows of his face. “Behave. I have conditions.”

I slid my hands under his open shirt and rested them on the warm, firm flesh of his shoulders. “I’m all ears.”

“You’re never all ears. You’re all agendas,” he pointed out.

“Oh, come on. You’re not the least bit curious about anything?” I prompted.

His eyes were steely on mine as he presumably tried to figure out my motive.

“I’m just thinking, we cleared the air sexually, why not clear it all the way? We end today baggage-­free. Like lancing a boil.”

“A very attractive metaphor,” Lucian said dryly.

“Come on,” I cajoled. “Admit it. It makes sense.”

I knew how to build up a rapport with a suspect thanks to Becoming Bulletproof by former Secret Service Special Agent Evy Poumpouras. About a year ago, I’d started a secret, unofficial book club for a few local high schoolers who were going through tough times as unpopular misfits. We read a lot of self-­help and nonfiction about interpersonal relationships, and I didn’t mind deploying some psychological warfare when the scenario called for it.

“I don’t like this,” he said.

I bounced victoriously in his lap. “But you know I’m right. This could finally be our blank slate, big guy.”

“Blank slates are for new beginnings.”

“Ugh. Fine. This could be our ‘the end.’”

“If I agree,” he said, arresting my movements with his hands, “you have twenty minutes and then you’re shutting up and I’m taking your clothes off.”

I arched an eyebrow. “I thought we were done with each other.”

“Do you have something better to do this afternoon?”

I grinned. “Nope.”

“Twenty minutes,” he repeated.

I scrambled off his lap and planted myself against the arm of the couch, hugging a pillow to my chest. “I’ll go first. What kind of beard maintenance do you do? Or is it just rich guy magic where you wake up, look in the mirror, and command your facial hair to do what you want?”

His expression was priceless. “You can ask me anything and you want to know how I maintain my beard?”

I shrugged. “I’m warming you up before we get to the interesting stuff.”

“I already regret this.”


“Did you ever have feelings for Knox or Nash?”

Lucian’s question caught me by surprise. We’d mostly lobbed softballs back and forth, participating in a delicate dance around the minefields of our past.

“Uh, yeah,” I said emphatically.

“When?” he demanded, his grip on my feet in his lap tightening.

“Probably right around the time I hit fourteen and they suddenly got hot.”

“Do Naomi and Lina know you lust after their men?”

“Yep. They’re used to it. Anyone who enjoys looking at attractive men lusts after those two.” I laughed when he looked downright grumpy. “Oh, come on. You’re not left out of that equation. Women walk into glass doors trying to get a better look at you.”

He grunted.

“My turn. Why won’t you let me blow you?”

His laugh startled me.

“Do you find oral sex funny?” I demanded.

“On the contrary, I take it very seriously.”

My lady parts knew this intimately. I nudged him with my foot. “Elaborate, Lucifer.”

“I like being in control,” he said as if that answered everything.

“You can be in control during a blow job.”

His gaze slid to my mouth. “Not enough.”

“Clearly, you haven’t experienced the right kind of oral sex. I’ll be happy to demonstrate in…” I checked the clock on the mantel. “Seven minutes.”

“Pass.”

“Party pooper. Since that was a lame answer, I get another question. Did you tattoo over all your scars?”

Lucian stared at me for a long beat. I wondered if I’d pushed too far.

“Yes,” he said finally.

“Why?”

“Because I’d rather have marks on my body that I chose.”

I nodded. It made sense. The man was literally rewriting his past on his own skin. He surprised me and reached for my wrist. He rolled it over and examined the silvery scars left behind. “A plastic surgeon could probably do something with this.”

I smirked. “I dunno. I kinda think it makes me look like a badass. It reminds me of how brave I was once.”

He cleared his throat and released my wrist. “Have you met your future husband yet?” he asked, changing the subject.

I closed my eyes. “I officially had my best date since I started this quest.”

“And?” he prompted.

“Best doesn’t mean much when it’s stacked up against all the other catastrophes. Nice guy. Wants kids. Zero sparks. I almost fell asleep in my soup while he was talking about last season’s fantasy football league. But maybe that’s what marriage is? A sparkless partnership based on what you can accomplish together.”

“Is that what you think our friends have? Sparkless partnerships?” Lucian asked, his lips curving ever so slightly.

I sighed. “No. They tamed the unicorn.” At his blank expression, I continued. “You know, they found the smoldering, I-­wasn’t-­my-­best-­self-­until-­I-­met-­you, I-­want-­to-­make-­all-­your-­dreams-­come-­true kind of once-­in-­a-­lifetime, I-­still-­watch-­you-­walk-­out-­of-­the-­room love.”

“And you want the unicorn?” Lucian guessed.

“Who doesn’t? Present company excluded, of course.”

“Of course.”

“Yeah. I want the unicorn,” I admitted.

“Then you’ll get it.”

I glanced up at him, but there was no hint that he was making fun of me.

“You think so?”

He rolled his eyes. “Sloane, what have you ever worked for that you didn’t end up getting?”

The man had a point. With the exception of my father’s health, everything I set my sights on eventually came to fruition. Could I just will the perfect man into my life?

“Thanks,” I said. “So tell me one of the things my mom was thanking you for at the funeral.”

He remained silent.

“As per the rules, I’m not allowed to hold it against you or throw it back in your face ever,” I reminded him.

He lifted my foot and applied a heavenly thumb to my arch. “Fine. I helped them find their condo.”

The man was definitely withholding information. “That was nice of you. But in the pursuit of honesty, Mom was more thank-­you-­for-­saving-­the-­life-­of-­our-­favorite-­child and less thanks-­for-­sending-­me-­a-­real-­estate-­listing grateful.”

He muttered something that sounded a lot like “tenacious pain in the ass” under his breath.

“Come on, big guy. This boil isn’t going to lance itself.”

“You are such a pain in the ass,” he complained.

“Oh my God. Just tell me already,” I said impatiently.

“Fine. I bought it for them.”

I blinked. “Bought what?”

“If you’re going to force me to talk, the least you can do is pretend to listen. I bought the condo for your parents.”

That shut me up.

“Stop it,” he said, dropping my feet and using my ankles to pull me closer.

“Stop what?” I managed.

“Stop trying to read anything into it. It wasn’t heroic or thoughtful. I was just balancing the scales.”

“Crap on a cracker, Lucian. What scales require a very expensive real estate transaction?”

“Sloane, your parents drove me to college and furnished my first shitty apartment. They helped me get a job. They fed me when I was hungry. They kept an eye on my mother until she moved. They took me out on my birthday every year since I turned eighteen. They showed up to my college graduation and stood up and cheered when I walked the stage. They invited me to be a part of their family when I couldn’t be part of my own.”

My eyes were starting to burn and blur. It had been a huge gift, finding the perfect “affordable” place just two blocks from Dad’s oncologist. Lucian had given them that gift.

“That was very generous of you,” I rasped.

This was not helping me. If I was going to get over the man, I needed to focus on his dark, stubborn side, not his hidden, microscopic heart of gold.

“Do not get emotional about this,” he warned.

“I’m not getting emotional,” I insisted even as my voice cracked.

“I should have just put the pillow over your face.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“For what? Not smothering you?”

I shook my head and then did something neither of us could have predicted twenty-­four hours ago.

I hugged him.

My arms went around him, my face pressed into his neck, and I held on. “Thank you for what you did for my parents.”

He tried to disentangle himself, but I refused to let go. Finally he stopped fighting it and gave me an awkward pat on the back. “I like it better when you hate me.”

“Me too.”

He tugged on my ponytail until I met his gaze. “Tell me the truth. Isn’t there part of you that wishes you would have gotten that scholarship and gone into sports medicine? Is this life some kind of consolation prize?” He gestured around the family room.

Baffled, I sat up straighter. “Is that what you think?”

“You had bigger dreams than this, Sloane.”

“Lucian, I was a teenager. I also wanted to marry Jerome Bettis from the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

“Just because they were teenage dreams doesn’t mean they weren’t real,” he said quietly, no longer meeting my eyes.

I wondered what teenage Lucian had dreamed of before he’d been forced to become the man of the family.

“This life is better than any I could have planned at sixteen. Or at twenty. Hell, even thirty. I love this town, this house. I love being close to my sister and my niece. All that time I got with my dad that I wouldn’t have had if I’d moved across the country in pursuit of some crazy career. That time is priceless. I would have missed out on so many things. I wouldn’t have the library. I wouldn’t know Naomi and Lina. So no. I don’t regret for one second that my teenage plans were derailed.”

“Even though you don’t have everything you want?” he pressed. “The husband. The kids.”

“Yet. I don’t have them yet. I built a life based on everything I wanted, and I fit them together one by one. That means the missing pieces of a partner and a family have an almost complete puzzle to fit into.”

He let out a long breath, but it didn’t sound like his usual exasperated sighs. It sounded like he’d let go of something heavy he’d carried for too long.

“What was it like?” I asked.

“What was what like?”

“The week Wylie had you locked up.”

The silence was oppressive. It felt like a cold, wet blanket had descended on us both, smothering us with its damp weight.

I leaned into him and rested my face on his chest, listening to the steady thrum of his heart.

After a minute, his hands came to my back and began to stroke slowly.

“It was the worst six days of my life.”

I absorbed the hurt, accepted it. I’d done that to him. I’d hand-­delivered his worst moments. “How?” I asked softly.

“He was alone with her. There was no one to protect her. Officer Winslow knew, or at least he suspected, and he’d drive past the house a few times a shift. I know your parents were watching too. But there’s a lot of damage that can still be done behind closed doors.”

I swallowed around the lump in my throat.

“I knew it was only a matter of time before he ended up in the cell next to mine,” he continued. “It didn’t matter how friendly he was with the cops. Even Ogden wouldn’t have helped him cover up a murder. But I knew my life was over. I turned eighteen in a cell, and I knew those bars and bunks were my future. I was going to have to become the kind of person who survived in a cage.”

A tear scalded its way down my cheek.

“My safety, my well-­being was at the mercy of all those badges. I wasn’t even human to some of them.”

I’m sorry. The words were there, in my throat, on my tongue, begging to be let loose. But they’d never be enough for either one of us. And I didn’t know if that meant they weren’t worth saying.

“What is that incessant buzzing noise?” Lucian demanded. He’d left his memories behind while I was still mired in them.

“Oh my God. It’s my phone. I haven’t looked at it since you showed up and whipped your dick out.” I sprang off the couch and raced into the kitchen where I found my phone facedown next to Mary Louise’s case files. “Twenty-­four messages and two missed calls?”

Lucian appeared in the doorway, looking like debauchery personified. “Is there an emergency?”

“I can’t tell yet,” I said, scrolling to the top of the texts.

Naomi: Stefan Liao, did you really chicken out on telling Jeremiah you see a future with him and run back to New York this morning for a fake work excuse?

Stef: First of all, a board of directors meeting is not a fake work excuse. Second, yes. Yes I did.

Lina: Wow, Stef. I never pegged you as a coward.

Stef: Excuse me, Ms. Pit Stains on Her Wedding Dress!

Lina: I may have sweaty pits, but at least I’M STILL IN KNOCKEMOUT WITH THE MAN I LOVE!

Naomi: Normally I shy away from conflict and raise the de-­escalation flag, however in this case I feel it’s important to present a relevant case study: Knox Morgan.

Stef: I’m not pulling a Knox Morgan. I just had business to attend to so I’m attending to it.

Lina: You forgot to put quotes around “business.”

“No emergency. Just busting on Stef for getting ready to make a grand gesture and then panicking and leaving town,” I reported.

“What kind of grand gesture?” Lucian asked, opening a cabinet and helping himself to a glass.

“He wants to move here and live with his hot boyfriend, but he got cold feet about actually admitting it to Jeremiah,” I said, still scrolling while Lucian got himself a drink of water.

Stef: Where’s Sloane? She’s always more fun to pick on than me.

Naomi: Sloane!

Lina: Yo, Sloane!

Stef: You don’t think she snuck off for another date without telling us and got murdered, do you?

Lina: Well, I do now.

Naomi: She’s not answering her phone. I’m worried.

Lina: Maybe she’s in the shower?

Stef: Maybe she’s in the shower with someone.

Naomi: She wouldn’t be taking a ninety-­minute shower.

Stef: Not alone at least.

Lina: She’s probably working and left her phone in her office.

Naomi: I distinctly remember her saying she had today off. Chloe told Waylay Sloane had plans last night, but no one seems to know what they were.

Stef: Hopefully she’s getting laid.

Lina: We haven’t heard from her since 7:13 p.m. last night. Nobody gets laid for that long.

I smirked reading Lina’s text. I turned the screen so Lucian could read it. “Well, that’s not true,” I said smugly.

“You’d better tell your friends that,” he said, pointing to the next message.

Naomi: Maybe we should go to her house?

“Uh-­oh,” I said.

Lina: Nash and I are naked but we could be unnaked in about ten minutes. Try calling her again and we’ll get dressed.

“Shit,” I muttered, thumbs flying over the screen.

Me: No need for a welfare check. I’m alive and well. Just busy!

“They’re going to know what you’re busy doing,” Lucian pointed out, running his hand down my ponytail.

“Damn it.” He was right. “I’ll tell them I’m cleaning the house.”

“Naomi will be over here with a truckload of cleaning supplies in five minutes,” he predicted. “Pick something they’ll all find unpleasant.”

“I’ll go with the truth then. They’ll be horrified,” I joked.

His grip on my hair tightened. “Would you rather spend the afternoon being interrogated by your friends or letting me fuck you?”

Me: I’m having my septic tank pumped! The fumes are powerful! Anyone want to come over for game night?


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