Racer looks at the toy and his Melanie-induced cry morphs into a squeal of delight. Remy smiles down at him and then his eyes slide to Brooke, and what I see there truly, deeply kills me as he kisses the top of her head.
It’s that true, real I’d-die-for-you love that I’ve always dreamed about.
“Mel,” I hear from behind me, and when I turn to the sound, I realize Riley has been watching me all this time. He steps closer to me and whispers ominously, “Can I talk to you?”
I nod. There’s no mistaking the look of lust in his eyes. I sense that he wants me, aside from the fact that he also wants to talk to me. The old me would’ve wanted nothing more than another night with a f**k buddy. I can rarely say no to an attractive guy who wants me, but every pore in my body wants just one man now.
But I still nod at Riley, because he’s the only one I can talk to about the one thing that’s been plaguing my thoughts other than Greyson King.
♥ ♥ ♥
“HERE.” RILEY SETS a check atop the white linen of a small round table by the bar of a chic little restaurant just blocks from the hotel. “I’ve been saving up,” he explains.
“No!” I gasp. “Riley, don’t be ridiculous! I couldn’t!” I push the check back, feeling flustered as the waitress sets down our drinks. I wait for her to leave before hissing out, in a whisper, “It was my decision. I chose to do it, okay?”
“But I’m the idiot who suggested it in the first place,” he counters on another hiss, and he seems so genuinely mortified, he won’t stop shaking his head. “Remington never loses, Melanie. Never. If I’d known he’d throw the fight for—”
“Urgh, to save stupid Nora because he just loves Brooke too much not to do anything. But even if you’d told me he would lose, I’d never put my money on Scorpion. NEVER.”
“Then let me help you pay this debt off.” I ignore his pleading look and push the check back to him yet again, shaking my head too. “At least let me tell Rem,” he urges. “He’d pay on your behalf if he knew. If I hadn’t given you my word I wouldn’t tell anyone . . .”
“Riley, I’ll kill you if you tell anyone. We were drunk, out in town, you were making a bet, I was nosy and asked about it, thought it was such a great idea to make a bet of my own, especially when it seemed like such a sure thing! Then we went to your room and celebrated by thinking it cool to get in bed together. I feel stupid as it is. I don’t know what I was thinking!” An image flashes across my mind of a beautiful apartment—the apartment of my dreams—and my car debt paid off, and I add, “Well, I do know. I could’ve made a handsome down payment on my very own apartment and maybe even have the balls to start my own design firm.”
“Then let me help, Mel.”
I look at the check and a part of me screams Take it! Take it, Melanie! Please just save yourself from those monsters!
But what will Riley expect in return? How can I take money from a man when I’m in love with another? “This is very sweet of you, but no. Really.”
He cocks one blond eyebrow. “What about your new boyfriend? Will you at least let him help?”
My chest aches as I think about him and all the reasons why I can’t bear for Greyson to know. I gulp down the rest of my drink and admit, “I think that . . . if I ask for help from anyone . . . he’d be the last.”
“Because I don’t want him to know I’m this stupid! He knows I’m a mess already. Riley, he met me out with my convertible parked on a rainy night without the top—enough said. It’s a miracle he stuck around long enough to get to know me. I don’t want him to . . . lose respect for me. Think less of me.”
Riley’s scowl is getting darker by the second. “I can see he’s tossing diamonds at you already?” He nods to the necklace half-dipping into my top. “You know men do that to buy the women they sleep with? It has nothing to do with caring about you.”
“Yes, it does,” I counter. “It means he took the time to go and look for something pretty he thinks will make me happy.”
“You can use that necklace to pay, Melanie. Just tell him you lost it or something and get rid of this debt. Those men kill for five bucks—they’re f**king gangsters! Even the guy Pete deals with, Eric, looks sharp and polished in that suit, but they don’t trust that guy for shit. He just kisses Rem’s ass ’cause he’s their prime moneymaker, but everyone knows his boss Slaughter makes Scorpion look like a teddy bear. They say he’s got an enforcer that’s like some demon straight from hell, and he’ll come collecting whether you want him to or not!”
He looks around warily, then leans closer, across the table, lowering his voice. “Pete heard rumors the only guy with a lick of sense was Slaughter’s eldest, but he didn’t want shit to do with the dad and apparently dropped off the Underground years ago. Not even his son wants anything to do with a man like Slaughter. I swear I don’t sleep thinking you still owe them.”
My heart starts stampeding in my chest with renewed fear, and I hold my hands up, palms out, to pacify him. “Riley, I asked for more time, okay? We have to just . . . breathe here.”
“What? What the f**k? When’d you ask for more time?”
“Last time I came to see Brooke. It’s okay. Really! I just sold my car and can buy more time if I maybe give them half the payment.”
“No you f**king can’t, they’ll take it as interest and demand you pay fully before you can even walk out the door! Don’t ever approach men like these alone. Jesus, just trust me and get out of this, Mel. I paid my debt and I want to pay yours, and if you won’t let me, then at least promise me you’ll let your new boyfriend help. If you’re too proud to ask, just pretend you lost those diamonds on your neck and get rid of this debt; trust me.”
I guess I look as hopeless as I feel, because he adds, more direly now, “I vow, Melanie, if that debt isn’t gone before you leave, I’m telling Tate and we’re taking care of it for you, him and me.”
I gasp in outrage. “I will not let you or my best friend’s husband step into this, do you hear me? And I will not involve my boyfriend either. This necklace means something to me.” I touch my diamonds with an awful wrenching sensation in my chest as I wonder—Is this the only way I’m going to be free, letting go of the only thing the man I want with all my heart has given me?
“Riley,” I whisper, almost plead with him, “I’m just not this girl who swindles her boyfriends out of expensive things to turn them into money.”
He glowers at my precious necklace, and my stomach starts to hurt just thinking about parting with anything that has to do with Greyson.
“That gift didn’t mean to him what it means to you, I assure you,” Riley says with annoying self-confidence. “I’ve never seen a guy more in love than Remington, and he doesn’t need to throw dollars at Brooke to show it.”
“Well, Grey has a different style, so what? The end is the same. I feel pampered and taken care of and he gets a look in his eyes when he sees me wearing them that I absolutely adore.”
I can’t stand having another person in my life criticize Greyson to me! So I stare at him narrow eyed and add, so that he at least gets the true depth of my feelings for my man, “When he looks at me like that, I swear it’s all so perfect I sometimes have nightmares that I dreamed it all, that he’s too good to be true.”
“Maybe he is, Melanie. Maybe he’s two-timing you right now, meeting with some chick in secret as we speak.”
“Ha!” I lift my glass and sip my drink. “He’s a workaholic. If I have anything to worry about, it’s that mistress of his called Work Myassoff.”
Riley smiles at me, a chilling smile, a very unfriendly smile, and he nods to the entry of the restaurant.
I turn about ninety degrees to get a look . . . and that’s when I see him walking into the restaurant.
All my recognition flares into disbelief, excitement, and then, anger combined with a bolt of nearly blinding lust.
It feels as though an energy source clings to his skin, for the entire air shifted the moment he materialized in the room. Over six feet of pure male perfection. Greyson. Fucking. King. My hormones burst awake when he starts walking forward, following the mâitre d’, his eyes directly on a table at the far end.
I can’t believe it. My eyes run up and down his form. There is no word for the way Greyson walks, with a hand in his pocket, his face somber, his cheekbones chiseled, his jaw smooth and tan, his mouth perfection, his dark hair carelessly tousled; I swear that awesome hair is the only thing careless and playful about him. The rest of him is Bond 007 perfection, even those narrowed, hazel-green eyes, which seem beautifully self-contained and remote. Even now, two months after going out with him, I can sense he’s still holding back the most crucial part of him, but I can visualize an “us” and what we can be so perfectly, and I’m determined to make it happen. Greyson and Melanie, living Happily Ever After.
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