“I met him once,” she says. “You get your height from him.”
“Yes, and if you ask Maman, I got my stubbornness from him too.”
“Naturally.” She tilts her head as she watches me. The coin in my pocket is hot in my fingers, from me rubbing it hard, but I can’t stop. “You’re tense.”
“As I always am when I’m around my father.”
“You didn’t get along?”
I shrug a shoulder, every instinct in me screaming at me to shut it down, walk away from the conversation and take Kate back to our room where I can sink inside her for about two days.
“I loved him fiercely,” I say instead, surprising me. “And there were days that I hated him just as much.”
“Those are extreme emotions.”
“I spent my entire life trying to live up to what he wanted me to be,” I say quietly, and remember the man now six feet under the ground. His loud laugh. His cold hazel eyes. His disapproving shake of the head.
“I’m sure he was very proud of you.”
“No,” I reply, and let Kate fold herself into my arms for a long hug. “He wasn’t.”
“How do you know?”
“He told me.”
“What?” She pulls back with a frown. “He told you that he wasn’t proud of you?”
“Let’s sit.” I guide her to the bench beneath a nearby magnolia tree. She sits facing me, waiting to hear more.
Am I seriously going to tell her something that I’ve never spoken aloud before?
“He told me to pull my head out of my ass and do what I was born to do, which was take care of my family’s business.”
She blinks for several seconds. “That seems harsh.”
“He was right.” I sigh and rub my hand down my face. “He’d already groomed Beau to take over as CEO of Bayou Enterprises, which makes sense because he’s the oldest. I have a master’s degree in business, but I spent ten years partying, taking advantage of the perks that money brings. Fucking random women.”
I sigh and shake my head. “I was irresponsible and old enough to know better. I would have been disappointed in me too.”
“You’re not those things now,” she says.
“No,” I agree. “Sitting beside my father as he took his last breath, his last words being, ‘You can be so much better than this’,” will turn a man around.” She takes my hand in hers and places a sweet kiss to my knuckles. “So, I focused all of my energy on the business, on the family. I work stupid hours.”
“That’s a good description.”
“It’s accurate. Working twenty-hour days is stupid, but I can’t stop. I work, I look in on my family, and I go back to work. Occasionally, I call up one of the several women I know to hook up with and scratch that particular itch, and then I go back to work.”
Kate flinches. “You seem to respect women more than that.”
“Of course I respect women,” I reply. “My mother would kill me herself if I treated any woman with anything other than respect. But sex is sex, Kate.”
She nods. “I’m following.”
“Women don’t usually understand that.”
“I do.” She shrugs. “I haven’t been divorced long, and the relationship I just came out of was…combative. I’m not looking to replace it.”
“Combative,” I repeat, and just like every time she begins to talk about the hell—a hell I don’t even fully understand yet—that her ex-husband put her though, my hands want to clench and I want to simply kill him.
With my own bare hands.
“Mmm,” she confirms with a nod.
“He hit you.”
“I told you he did.”
I nod. “What else?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t play stupid, Kate. You’re a smart woman. Did he ever put you in the hospital?”
“Pshaw,” she tips her head back, staring up into the branches above, but doesn’t directly answer. I grip her chin in my fingers and thumb and pull her gaze back to mine.
“You don’t have to tell me everything, just don’t ever lie to me, Kate. Did he put you in the hospital?”
“Once,” she whispers. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. “So, you see,” she clears her throat, “I’m in no hurry to jump into anything serious.”
“I wasn’t trying to warn you off, cher.”
“I know. But even if I did want something serious, this,” she points back and forth between us, “has an expiration date.”
“I’ll be gone in a few weeks. But I need to make something very clear, Eli.”
“While you’re doing…stuff with me, you’re not doing that same stuff with anyone else.”
Is it any wonder that I can’t get enough of her? She’s fucking adorable.
“What kind of stuff?” I grin as she blushes.
“You know perfectly well what kind.”
I lean in and tuck her hair behind her ear, then drag my nose over the apple of her cheek to her ear and plant a kiss there, making her shiver.
“Walks around the Quarter?”
“No.” She sighs as I nibble down her neck, then back up again and kiss the tip of her nose.
“Pizza on the balcony?”
“Now who’s playing dumb?”
“I want to hear the words.”
“You always want to hear the words.” Her hands grip onto my T-shirt. I love that I can turn her on so easily. She’s so fucking responsive.
I grin wickedly and kiss her forehead, and then it occurs to me: My life has been in black and white for the past two years, and the minute she walked through my office door, everything was in blazing color.
I don’t know what the fuck to do with that.
Except enjoy her, for every moment she’s here.
“What is the stuff that we do?” I ask again.
“The sex stuff.”
“You can do better than that.”
“Do you have any idea how many Hail Marys I’m going to have to say because of you?” she demands.
“A lot,” I reply with a laugh. “I haven’t seen you go to church while you’ve been here.”
“I only go when I’m visiting my parents.” She shrugs one slender shoulder. “Okay, I’ll make it clear. While you’re fucking me, you don’t fuck anyone else.”