"In the top drawer," he said, tilting his head to the side so that he could watch her.
Heart pounding in her chest, she walked over to his bureau. She threw him one last look to find him sitting there with his head once again in his hands and she couldn't help but wonder just how bad this was going to be. After taking a fortifying breath, she reached up and opened the drawer.
It slid out easily, but that wasn't exactly surprising since there wasn't much inside, not much at all. In the middle of the drawer sat a small velvet jewelry box.
"What is this?" she asked, swallowing nervously as she picked it up.
"Your birthday gift, Rory."
Her hands shook so badly that she almost dropped the box, twice, but after a minute she managed to open it. Her chin trembled as she traced the tiny diamond with the tip of her finger. It was the smallest diamond ring that she'd ever seen, but it was without a doubt the most beautiful one that she'd ever laid her eyes on.
She pulled the ring out of the box for a closer look when something inside the ring caught her eye. Swallowing hard, she turned the ring over until the dim bedroom light hit the inscription just right and when it did, she almost dropped it as she read the three letters engraved on the ring.
Him and his big f**king mouth.
If he'd just kept his mouth shut and his feelings for her to himself, at least for a little while, they wouldn't be sitting here rehashing all of this bullshit. This wasn't how he wanted her to find out. Actually, he never planned on telling her, but he knew the moment that he walked into that bathroom to face her that the choice was no longer his to make. Now she knew what a pathetic ass**le he really was.
"What does LRJ stand for?" she asked softly as she knelt down in front of him.
"Little Rory James," he admitted with a sad smile, knowing that he'd truly gone and f**ked up his one chance with her.
"May I?" she asked, gesturing with her broken hand to his chest. With a small nod, he leaned back and wasn't too surprised when she traced her fingers over her initials that he'd had tattooed all those years ago when he'd had a little bit too much beer and not enough common sense not to tattoo the name of a woman who hated him on his body. He'd been young and foolish and now he just felt old and stupid.
"The suites are yours, Rory," he said when he couldn't think of anything else to say.
"I know," she said softly as she continued to trace the letters, looking mesmerized by the tattoo.
"The deal's off, too," he needlessly explained, licking his lips and trying not to moan when her fingers teasingly traced over his nipple.
"Yes, it is," she said, running her fingers to the other side of his chest while he sat there, trying to remain unaffected, but it was nearly impossible with Rory touching him.
"What were you hoping to get out of this deal?" she asked, slowing her movements as she looked up and met his gaze.
"It doesn't matter," he said truthfully, because none of it mattered without her, not Strawberry Manor, not his business, nothing. It might have taken him a while to figure it out, but he knew that the only thing that mattered to him was Rory. Her touches gave him hope that they might have a future, but he wasn't a fool. He'd pissed her off and she'd be justified in toying with him.
"Not going to tell me?" she asked, cocking a brow in question as she moved closer, resting her broken arm across his leg as her other hand slid up his chest and over his shoulder.
"It doesn't matter any longer, because I don't want it," he confessed, unable to stop himself from reaching up with one hand and cupping her beautiful face.
"Then what do you want?" she asked, moving closer until their lips were only a few inches apart.
"You," he simply said.
"Why?" she asked, looking a little confused.
"Because I'm in love with you, Rory," he answered, wondering if she was going to try and kick his ass for saying it again.
"You love me," she said, not asked as she leaned back, robbing him of her touch, but he let her go. What other choice did he have? He knew Rory well enough to know that if he pushed her for something that she didn't want that she'd push right back. For the first time since he met her, he was terrified of pushing her.
"I'm not sure how I feel about you, Connor," she admitted as she stood up and stepped away from him.
"Do you hate me?" he asked, gripping his knees as he struggled to stay where he was and not do something foolish like beg her for a chance, a chance that he probably didn't deserve, but wanted desperately.
"No," she answered, walking away from him and heading for the patio. "I need some time to figure this all out, Connor. I have a lot of things to think over."
"Take as much time as you need. I'll be here when you're ready," he said, knowing as soon as the words left his mouth that he'd just lost her for good.
Oh f**k that.
* * * *
She needed time to think and sort through everything, she reminded herself as she fought the urge to run back inside and throw herself into Connor's arms. A couple of hours ago, she knew where she stood with him. It hadn't mattered that she'd been falling for him, because she'd known that she would never be able to get over what he did.
Now she didn't know what to think about him. For the first time since he came into her life she didn't think that she hated him, at all, not even a little bit. Actually, she was terrified that she wasn't just falling for him anymore, but was more than a little in love with the man. Before she did anything that she might regret later, she needed to be sure that what she felt was real.
She should kick his ass for confusing her, she thought as she opened the sliding glass door and stepped into her room. Why couldn't she just hate him? It made everything so much simpler to-
"Veto," Connor said as he scooped her up in his arms, took her out of the house and placed her bottom on the patio railing before she could put up much of a protest. He settled himself between her legs just as quickly, placing his hands on her h*ps to steady her and hopefully stop her from falling over the side. She’d never been afraid of heights before, but after falling into that cellar and breaking her arm, she could now say that she had a very healthy respect for heights.
"Veto what?" she asked absently, reaching up with her good hand and placing her hand on his bicep to help steady herself as she fought against the urge to look down.
"Space, time, a break, whatever the hell you want to call it, Rory. It's not happening. I've waited too many years to have you in my arms and I'm not about to let you go over some bullshit."
"Wait a minute," she said, frowning up at him as his words registered in her mind. "You can't veto a break!"
"Yes, I can," he said, leaning in and brushing his lips over hers in that soft, fleeting gesture that she both loved and hated. Loved, because it made her feel precious and hated because those kisses always left her wanting more, a lot more.
"Since when?" she demanded, resisting the urge to hit him with her cast when he pulled his mouth away.
"Since now, Rory. You're not allowed to run away, because you're too afraid to face what's going on between us."