“When you showed up here, a thousand emotions I hadn’t felt in fifteen years raced through me. Emotions I didn’t have time for, or frankly want to feel. My life was easy. My company was my focus, and I had my brothers to lean on for support. Tatianna was…” Shit, this is going to sound harsh. “She was here for my physical pleasure.”

Mia flinches like someone backhanded her.

I reach for her hand and she lets me take it, but it’s limp and lifeless in my own.

“These last several weeks even that wasn’t working between us,” I admit.

Her eyebrows pinch together. “What do you mean?”

“I haven’t slept with Tatianna since you arrived. And even before that, I’m embarrassed to say… Well, let’s just say, my body knew something my head didn’t.”

“Okay…” She draws out the word, her eyes searching mine for understanding.

I’m not making any sense, and I know that. I take a deep breath and prepare to start over.

“Then why did you stay with her?” Mia interrupts.

“If I was single, I’d have no excuse not to pursue you. The idea of you and I both single and under one roof scared me.”

She chews on her lip, looking unsure. “So, you don’t want me here. I get it, Coll. I’ll take my old job and move on.”

Shaking my head, I tug her hand into my lap and grip my fingers between hers, like that will somehow show her how I feel. “Let me finish.”

She waits, watching me, hardly breathing while I search for the right words.

“When you showed up here and reminded me of a promise I made when I was ten years old, it scared the shit out of me. I used my relationship, as damaged as it was, as a buffer to avoid my real feelings. But I can’t do that any longer. I have no idea what the future holds, and I need to take this one day at a time, but I want more.”

“More?” she asks, her tone guarded.

“Yes. More. I don’t know what that means, and I can’t have this marriage promise hanging over our heads. We’re friends first. And whatever happens between us, I’m not willing to lose you as a friend. I need you to understand that before things go any further.”

“I understand.” She takes a moment, her eyes wide, watching me. “So you don’t want me to leave?” she asks, her voice small.

“Of course not,” I say. There is so much unexplored sexual tension between us, but more than that, there are real feelings too. A strange feeling comes over me and my chest tightens. It matters to her how I feel, if I’m eating, if I’m happy. It’s kind of like how my brothers understand me, even when I’m barely stringing two words together. Mia just gets me. The real me. I know I don’t deserve her tenderness, the concern she’s shown me the last few days as my ex moved out and I threw myself into my work. I had a girlfriend I’d been stringing along, all because I was scared of my future with Mia. She’s a forever kind of girl. And after my mom died, I didn’t want to give my heart to another woman. But the thing about Mia is that she had it already. She’s had it all along.

“But why did you get me my old job back?” she asks.

“Because it didn’t sit right with me knowing that your name had been tarnished. Because you spend all your free time looking for a job, and whenever you talk about your past, your face gets this pouty expression. I wanted you to have choices. Not to be stuck here, living with me by default. That’s what Tatianna did… I’m not looking to be anyone’s second choice.”

“You could never be my second choice,” she whispers. “You were my first everything.”

I give her hand a squeeze. Regret over the night I took her virginity still churns inside of me but I push it aside. “Are we okay?” I ask.

She nods. “Yes, but what happens next?”

“That depends. If you go back home to your old job, we keep in touch and visit as often as we can. And if you stay here…we have a lot of catching up to do from the past fifteen years.”

“If you’re sure you’re okay with it, we do have a lot of catching up to do…”

We’re both quiet as the meaning behind this moment sinks in. Mia is moving in with me. Tatianna is gone and all but forgotten.

“Are you pissed at me about how I handled things with Tatianna?” I ask.

“No,” she says, without hesitation. “I think it had to happen that way. We both needed time.”

I nod. “I still think about that night, you know.”

Her eyes, bright with desire, dance on mine. She knows exactly which night I’m referring to. “I do too.”

“I still feel like an asshole,” I admit.

“What? Why?” she asks, like she genuinely doesn’t know.

“I saw the blood smears on your inner thighs. I know I hurt you. I didn’t know what I was doing and … I still hate that you didn’t get off.” The weight of my admission presses down on my shoulders. It’s been buried inside me all this time and it feels good to finally talk about this.

“You didn’t hurt me.” She shakes her head. “Well, I mean, you did, but not on purpose. Your size was….well…” She becomes flustered and clamps her mouth shut. She takes a deep breath, then she starts again. “You were so tender. It was exactly what I wanted, please don’t feel bad about it. You were sweet and careful. I remember it perfectly. Don’t ruin it for me.”

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