He rose up behind her, disappearing into the bathroom, then rejoined her on the bed. Moving the pillows, he cuddled her close, stroking her dampened skin, kissing her neck. She melted into his delicious body warmth.
“Tell me something you’ve never told anyone else,” he said, his voice husky with male satisfaction.
She brought his hand to her lips and nipped at him playfully. “Chatty after sex, huh? What if I just want to roll over and sleep?”
“Indulge me first.”
“Secrets in the dark?”
Her heart pounded. This was the time to do it. She just needed to take a deep breath and say it. Instead, she bought time. “You first.”
“My brothers and I created a boy band when we were young. Cal played the drums and Tristan played the guitar. I was the singer.”
She relaxed again. This type of secret was easier to share. “Is this how your love for the Backstreet Boys and NSync sprouted?”
“Yes. We were going to be rich and famous. We tried to send in a video to MTV but never heard back.”
Giggles burst from her like tiny bubbles. The picture of three young boys trying to rock out and film themselves for an audience was priceless. “What type of songs did you sing?”
“Stop laughing. This is serious stuff.”
She bit her lip. “Sorry.”
“We wrote our own songs. Some of them were pretty good, too. Not sure why we never took off.”
“I’m impressed. You did more than some groups who go viral. What was your name?”
“The Builder Brothers.”
That did it. The laughter burst back up and escaped. “Oh, my God,” she squealed in mirth. “Priceless. No wonder you got no response! Who came up with that?”
“I did. I’m not feeling very inspired to share any more secrets with you, darlin’. I entrusted you with a secret my brothers would deny to the very grave.”
She twisted around to press a kiss to his lush lips. “I apologize. I suck. I’ll do better next time.”
He wrapped his legs around her and took the kiss deeper, punishing her in the most pleasant way possible until she surrendered to the embrace. “Your turn,” he growled against her ear. “And it better be good after mine.”
She scrunched up her face and thought hard. “Well, remember when I told you I wanted to be a movie star when I was younger?”
“Yep. I still think you missed your calling.”
“Many wouldn’t agree with you. Well, in third grade we were putting on the play Cinderella and I was positive I’d get the lead. I practiced every night, and then the day came when our teacher assigned our roles.”
“Why do I have a bad feeling?”
“I got cast as a wicked stepsister. Judy Filly got the lead role, and I was pissed.”
“I hope she changed her name for the billboards.”
“I know! And she was a real brat about it. She knew I wanted the part and that I dreamed of being a famous actress, so she took every opportunity to brag. Each day I got madder and madder until the day of the play.”
“I’m getting nervous here. Put me out of my misery.”
“I found the princess dress she was supposed to change into and sprinkled itching powder in it.”
He sucked in his breath, pausing. “Wait a minute. They actually make real itching powder?”
“Haven’t you ever seen the Brady Bunch episode?”
He began laughing. “I had no idea you were so ruthless. I’m also sad I didn’t know I could get that type of stuff. Would’ve loved to put that in my brothers’ underwear.”
“It was terrible. She started twisting around and couldn’t sing the song and they had to yank her offstage before she got to meet the prince. Then I felt horribly guilty, but I was afraid to tell my father, so I kept it my secret.”
She sighed. “Until now. Huh. You know what? I feel better that I confessed.”
“See? I won’t tell a soul. But if I was a bartender at Harry’s, I’d be real worried.”
Raven chuckled. “Yeah, I forgot to add that to my long list of bad attributes. I’m a terrible loser.”
“Luckily I don’t mind putting up with you.”
They fell quiet for a few moments. The next time he spoke, something had shifted in his voice. “I’m sorry you lost your parents.”
“I’m sorry you lost yours,” she whispered.
A pause. “It’s my mother’s death that haunts me. Even after all this time, I still keep going over the pieces, wondering what would’ve changed if I’d known more.”
Nerves danced in her tummy. She tried to keep her voice even. “You said it was a car accident?” she prodded.
She waited, not expecting him to answer.
But he did.
“My mother was running away, Raven. I knew she was unhappy with my father, but she never indicated there was someone else in her life. The day of the accident, she was with another man. We found one-way tickets to Paris, and she hadn’t told anyone. She just intended to disappear from our lives forever.”
Raven closed her eyes. Hearing the story from his lips was a different experience than she’d imagined. It was more real, hearing the pain in his voice, the obvious confusion she’d felt herself for so many years. The constant questions of why barraging her thoughts. Her hand slid into his and he gripped it tight.
“You don’t think she was coming back?”
“I want to believe she was. But we found something that says the opposite. She took our baby teeth.”
“I don’t understand.”
“My mother had a thing about our baby teeth. She kept them in this box. We used to tease her all the time that it was icky, but she said they made her feel close to us and reminded her of our childhood. She said they made her happy. She was taking the box of baby teeth with her to Paris. Wouldn’t she have left it if she planned to return?”
Raven’s head spun with more questions. Would she? Or was it possible she’d taken them only to feel close to her sons while she made her own leap for love? Did it really prove they weren’t coming back? And when had Raven begun thinking of this story in a different light? When had Dalton’s hurt become hers?
“She didn’t leave a note? A message with your father or a relative or friend?”
“Nothing. She left nothing.”
She dropped her gaze. Confusion swamped her. He was finally giving her the true information, but she didn’t feel good about it. “Maybe she didn’t say anything to you because she was coming back,” Raven said softly.
“No, she would’ve told me. We were close. We talked every day, about everything. She listened with an open mind and she . . . got me. She made me laugh and helped me look at the world in a better way. I loved her. I loved her so fucking much, and she left, and I have to live with that fact every day.”
Her heart broke open and oozed the raw, angry wounds of the past. This didn’t sound like a woman who’d manipulate a man or leave behind her family. This sounded like a woman who adored her sons and was trapped.
“I’m so sorry, Dalton,” she whispered.
“I can’t believe I told you that,” he said. “I’ve never told anyone the whole story before.” The warmth of his hand wrapped around hers. “I don’t know what’s happening to me,” he confessed, as if he realized the secrets murmured tonight would go no further. “I don’t know what’s happening with us. But I’ve never felt like this. With anyone.”
Raven didn’t answer, too terrified of what confession would spill from her lips.
Her eyes stung with tears. They lay in the quiet, in the dark, for a long while. Finally Raven knew it was time. She couldn’t listen to his truths and not give her own. This thing between them was too big, and right then, right there, she came to a shattering, awful, splintering conclusion.
She was falling in love with Dalton Pierce.
The words formed in her mind, and she tried desperately to focus so she could communicate all of her feelings. She dragged in a shuddering breath. “Dalton, I have to tell you something. I know you’re going to have a lot of questions, but first I owe you the truth. I’m falling for you just as hard, and I’m scared to death. Because my father was the one who ran away with your mother. I’ve wanted to tell you for a while, but I was confused and trying to work out this whole thing in my mind. God, I’m probably telling you this all wrong, but I think they fell in love with each other and I think they were coming back. I believe it. My father wouldn’t have left me, and now I know your mother wouldn’t have left you. Do you understand? I’m so sorry . . . Please answer me.”