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Things We Left Behind: Chapter 44

It’s Not about Drawer Space


Stef: Flowers and champagne are too cliché, right?

Me: Too cliché for what?

Stef: For asking a man to move in with me.

Me: I’m honored that you’d come to me for your grand gesture advice.

Stef: Naomi is too much of a romantic, and Lina wouldn’t know romance if it bit her in her delectable ass. So I’m asking you. Advise me already. Too much or not enough?

Me: It depends on the rest of the setup. Is this an intimate-­conversation-­over-­wine-­and-­homemade-­pasta-­or-­whatever-­your-­talented-­gay-­hands-­make thing? Or is this an announcement-­with-­fireworks-­and-­a-­marching-­band-­in-­front-­of-­the-­entire-­town thing?

Stef: I see I’ve come to the wrong person. I should have asked a straight dude.

Me: Have you thought about tattooing “Will you move in with me?” on your ass? Or turning a kid’s birthday/petting zoo into a surprise proposal?

Stef: I need to go back to the drawing board. Everything has to be perfect, meticulously planned. It’s got to be romantic and on-­brand. A story we’ll tell our kids. My God. What if he doesn’t want kids? Do I want kids?

Me: You’re spiraling. Go eat some chocolate.

Aha! There you are,” I said, triumphantly digging the bra I’d been looking for out of my overnight bag. I shoved the rest of the contents back inside and zipped it shut.

The very naked, very sinful-­looking Lucian cast a baleful look in my direction from his position on the bed.

“What? You said we were going out for dinner. I can’t go braless in public. These babies unleashed have been known to cause stampedes,” I said over my shoulder as I headed into the man’s massive spa-­like bathroom. Hexagonal charcoal tiles were warm and toasty under my bare feet. The double vanity had enough space between the high-­end onyx sinks to play a round of shuffleboard. And the shower. Oh, the shower.

It was the main reason I hadn’t yet demanded that Lucian take me home to Knockemout.

Anthony Hugo had been in custody for four days. The danger was officially over. But I was still here, enjoying four days of dinners out and walks under the cherry blossoms. Four days of working out of the same office together, sharing the same bed. Four days of having an astronomical amount of sex with Lucian Rollins.

I unpacked my toiletries from the bag I kept hanging on the linen closet door and finagled the settings on the shower’s touch screen.

“I can program your preferences into the system,” Lucian offered from behind me.

I eyed him as he prowled into the bathroom naked. “Nah. I like pushing buttons,” I said as I took in the obscenely fine view. He looked like a moving statue. A marble ode to perfection come to life.

I stepped into the tiled shower and let the rain head faucet pelt me from above. I groaned. “Ugh. This makes me want to renovate my bathroom.”

Lucian joined me, his hands immediately finding the curves of my hips.

We showered in silence, luxuriating in the hot water and each other’s bodies. But I could feel a tension in him that hadn’t been there before.

“What’s wrong? Is there a problem with the Hugo case?” I asked as Lucian watched me pensively in the mirror while I towel dried my shampoo and conditioner bottles before slipping them back in the bag.

“My problem is you,” he said, turning to face me.

“Me? Now what did I do?” I demanded, trying not to be dazzled by the water droplets sprinkled across his chest.

“I gave you drawers and closet space. I gave you vanity space,” he announced, yanking open one of the empty drawers next to the sink he’d designated as mine. “I made room for you in my shower, in my home.”

“And I told you I don’t need any of that.”

He stuck a finger in my face. “That is my problem. How are we going to share a life together when you won’t even unpack your shit, Sloane?”

“Seriously?” I scoffed. “You’re mad because I’m not taking up enough of your storage?”

“You won’t unpack here. You didn’t make space for me in your place. I had to bring in a closet company just to make room for myself. You’re not committing to us.”

“Lucian, we haven’t even talked about being an ‘us’ beyond you stubbornly announcing that we were a couple.”

His scowl darkened. “You want to talk? Fine. We’ll talk.”

“You could have at least let me dry my hair,” I grumbled as Lucian stabbed the bell on a swanky three-­story brick home on a tree-­lined street in Georgetown. Every vehicle at the curb looked as though it cost somewhere in the six-­figure range.

The door opened, and a white-­bearded, bespectacled man peered out at us. “You’re early,” he announced. He wore a white apron over a black, orange, and neon yellow speckled cardigan.

“Emry, meet Sloane. Sloane, Emry,” Lucian said as he towed me across the threshold and toward a stately study.

“Sorry about Lucifer. I think he’s hangry,” I explained over my shoulder.

“Well, this should be fun,” Emry announced, rubbing his palms together and following us inside.

It was the office of a man with means, intellect, and great taste, I decided, scanning the titles on the dark mahogany bookshelves.

“Work your therapy magic and fix her,” Lucian announced, taking a stance near the fireplace.

“I thought we were going to dinner at your friend’s?” I pointed out.

“We are friends. He forgets that from time to time,” Emry added, crossing to a cabinet and producing a bottle of wine. He gestured toward one of two leather armchairs in front of the bookshelves. I sat.

“I don’t need your friendly advice. I need a therapist to talk some sense into this woman,” Lucian announced, crossing his arms and glaring at me.

I glared back. “Seriously?”

“This is highly unusual. Even for you,” Emry said to Lucian.

“Don’t look at me,” I said with a shrug. “One second, I’m enjoying the shower of the gods, and the next, he’s yelling about drawer space and closet organizers.”

Lucian pushed away from the fireplace and began to pace. “Do you see what I have to deal with?”

Emry looked amused. “I take it this is not about drawer space? Though if it is, I’m happy to call Sacha. She’s the expert in home organization. You should see her pantry.”

“She won’t commit,” Lucian announced, then winced. “Sloane, not Sacha. But you should burn that sweater before Sacha sees it.”

“I think it’s a lovely sweater,” I insisted.

“I’m trying to integrate our lives both here and in Knockemout, and Sloane is refusing to participate. The woman repacks her toiletries after every shower!” Lucian bellowed.

Emry looked as if he were trying very hard not to laugh as he poured three glasses of wine. “I see.”

I got out of my chair and stalked toward Lucian, interrupting his pacing. “And I told you, you don’t just get to order me into a relationship. A couple of drawers are not going to make me feel secure enough to even entertain the idea of dating you.”

“We’re not dating,” Lucian said. “We’re living together. We’re having sex. We’re getting married.”

“If that’s your proposal, it needs work,” I shot back.

I heard a crunching sound and found Emry settled in the chair I’d vacated, snacking on pistachios and watching us gleefully.

“Why can’t you just accept that I mean what I say?” Lucian demanded. He shoved both hands through his hair. His movements were jerky and frenetic, so unlike his usual animallike grace.

“Because past experience dictates I should run screaming into the night! You’ve cut me out of your life twice now—­once for two decades—­and you just expect me to forget about that? To trust you?” I was shouting now too. I definitely wasn’t winning any dinner guest of the year awards.

“Tell me what you want, and I’ll give it to you,” Lucian said, frustration bleeding into his tone.

“I want everything you’re promising, but I don’t believe you’re going to deliver! Happy now?”

Silence descended between us as we stared at each other. Emry cleared his throat and brushed the pistachio crumbs from his hands. “It sounds as if you two have never really had the opportunity to deal with the issues that kept you apart in the first place.”

“I always thought that I needed to forgive you,” Lucian said suddenly. He took a breath and stared down at me, his gray eyes stormy. “You broke my trust. You deliberately disobeyed me, and because of you, I went to jail. Because of you, my mother was left completely vulnerable to him. I missed my eighteenth birthday, my high school graduation. Because of you, my past cemented my future.”

I winced as the truth he’d kept bottled up for all these years hit its target. It was a wound that had never fully healed in either of us.

“But…” Emry prompted, reaching for another handful of pistachios.

“But you put yourself between my mother and father to protect her, to protect me. You did it again this week. Trying to stand between me and a madman threatening us both and then once more with my own mother,” he rasped.

“If you’re pissed off about that, you’re wasting your time, because I’m not apologizing. Anthony Hugo is a dickless slug, and your mother doesn’t get to raise a hand to you ever,” I told him, my voice shaking with emotion.

He reached out and took my wrists, his thumb sliding over the old scar. “I don’t want an apology. I don’t need one. I never did. You are the only person in the world to ever stand up for me like that.”

I opened my mouth, but he shook his head.

“Yes, Knox and Nash would if given the chance. But I’ve never asked. I never had to ask you either. You simply did it. Because that’s the kind of person you are. Stupidly brave. Dangerously headstrong.”

“Your proposals and your compliments really suck,” I said.

But he didn’t smile. Instead he squeezed my wrists again. “Broken men break women, Sloane.”

I went still. “Lucian,” I whispered.

“My father broke my mother to the point that even years later, she’s still a victim,” he continued. “She might never be whole or healthy because of him. I didn’t want to chance that with you. I didn’t want you anywhere near me where men like my father or Anthony Hugo could hurt you to hurt me.”

I gripped his forearms, unsure of what to say. I felt dizzy and off-­kilter, as if his words were enough to shake the very foundations I’d built my life on.

“I can still hear the snap of your bones in my head,” he confessed. “I wasn’t even there, but it still echoes. It’s the first thing I hear when I wake up in the morning. It’s what I hear every time you walk out of a room and I want to go after you. It’s been my reminder to leave you alone. He could have killed you, and I couldn’t protect you because I was behind bars. I couldn’t protect her. I couldn’t protect you.”

My eyes welled with tears. I reached up and cupped his face in my hands. His beard was rough against my palms. “Lucian, honey. It was never your job to protect your mom. It was never your job to keep the world safe from your dad.”

“For the record, that’s what I’ve been saying for years,” Emry cut in.

“Go burn a casserole,” Lucian said without any heat to his words.

Emry chuckled.

“I broke your trust. I’ll admit that,” I said. “I was young and impulsive, and I couldn’t stand the thought of him hurting you. You hear my wrist breaking in your head? I hear him screaming and hitting you that night. It still haunts me.”

Lucian closed his eyes. “Sloane—­”

“No. Now it’s my turn. I was scared. Too scared to go outside and stop him. And too afraid he’d hurt my dad if I told him. Maybe if I had, things would have been different. But we’ll never know because I called 911 just like you asked me not to. And I watched Wylie Ogden march you out in handcuffs just like you knew he would. And I will never, ever get over that. If I had made a different decision that day, you wouldn’t know what the inside of a cell looks like.”

“I would have. Eventually. Because there was only one way he was going to stop.”

“That’s why I called. Because you wouldn’t have recovered from that. You would have spent your life thinking you were just like him. Which, by the way, means you’re nothing like him.”

He drew in a shaky breath, his eyes burning into mine.

“But thinking about all the what-­ifs is a waste of what we both know is precious time,” I continued. “I’m so sorry you’ve spent your life believing that you’re tainted. That you don’t deserve happiness. That breaks my heart, Lucian, because you’re the most stupidly generous person I’ve ever met. You see a need to be filled, and you quietly go about filling it. You don’t require an audience or accolades. You’ve spent your life righting wrongs at the highest level. And that’s heroic. You’re heroic.”

“I don’t see it that way.” His words were quiet, but his hands had moved to my hips and were holding me gently.

“I know. And I’m so sorry you’ve been battling with that by yourself. You aren’t to blame for a single thing your father ever did.”

“According to him, I was to blame for everything. My room wasn’t clean enough. My grades weren’t good enough. I didn’t call him sir loud enough. Everything I did was wrong.”

My heart wasn’t just cracking open now. It was shattering into a million shards.

I held on tighter to him. “You did nothing wrong, Lucian. That was all on him. He was a broken man who tried to break you, but he failed. On his best day, he would never be able to hold a candle to you. I’m so proud of the boy you were, the man you became. You took back your family name, and made it mean something good. You don’t have him in you. I see more of my father than yours in you.”

“I have a temper. But I’m working on it. I’ve been working on it.” He gestured to Emry, who was still devouring pistachios like a chipmunk.

I snorted indelicately. “Who doesn’t have a temper? It’s what we choose to do with it that matters. Your self-­control is annoyingly impressive. And that’s coming from someone who dedicated most of her adult life to trying to drive you nuts.”

Lucian shook his head. “All this time, I thought I needed to forgive you for what you did.”

“How about now?” I prompted.

“And just like it wasn’t your fight to win, it was never your apology to make.”

“I feel like you’re gearing up to apologize to me. Are you hangry or dehydrated?” I asked.

He traced his knuckles over my cheek. “You don’t need to apologize to me, Pix. Because I don’t need to forgive you.”

“Do you want, like, a Snickers or something?”

He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Sloane. Sorry for blaming you. Sorry for putting you in the position where you felt you had no choice. Sorry for never communicating what I really wanted or needed until now.”

“What do you need now?” I asked breathily.

“You. Only you. Always you.”

Now I was downright terrified.

He was closing the distance between us. His breath was hot against my face, and I was already anticipating the feel of his lips on mine.

“I think you’ve both done some excellent work here tonight,” Emry said, wrecking the moment like a human record scratch. “I’d like to suggest that you take some time to get to know each other on a deeper, more intimate level before you make any decisions.”

“Time?” Lucian repeated, like the word tasted bitter on his tongue.

“There’s a lot of undoing to be done. This is real life. It’s not like the movies where one grand gesture will convince Sloane that you aren’t going to close down and abandon her again,” Emry explained.

I’d seen that look before on Lucian’s handsome face. A challenge had been laid, and he was compelled to meet it.

“Now, who’s ready for some wine?” Emry asked.

“Me,” I said with more than a hint of desperation.

Naomi: How are things with Lucian?

Lina: Has he let you out of his bedroom/sight yet?

Me: Things are…complicated. Well, not in the bedroom, just everywhere else. He says he’s committed to this. That he’s not going to change his mind. He’s saying all the right stuff. Everything I’ve spent years wishing he’d say. But I still feel like I’d be an addled idiot to just happily believe he’s going to stick around and make a family with me.

Lina: What if he buys you a castle or something as a symbol of your happily ever after?

Me: I wouldn’t hate that.

Naomi: Or maybe his grand gesture will be listening to the therapist and proving himself to you over time?

Me: Great. We’ll play “getting to know you” while my eggs shrivel into raisins. I just don’t think there’s anything he could do that would undo twenty-­plus years of distrust. At least not before I’m a barren wasteland of fertility.

Naomi: There are other ways to be a parent.

Lina: Yeah. You just have to wait for your evil twin to abandon the child you didn’t know about.

Naomi: I was thinking more along the lines of adoption. But I can confirm that the evil twin thing works!

Lina: Hey guys, not to steal the spotlight, but I’m getting married next week!

Me: Has Nash thrown a Morgan hissy fit over baby’s breath yet?

Naomi: There will be no fit throwing of any kind. Only bridal perfection!


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