McKenna’s mouth pinched closed and she gave me a tight nod.
I had no idea what she was thinking, but if she was so worried about money, I could open my wallet and show her we wouldn’t be locked in the kitchen washing dishes to pay for our meal. I could afford a nice dinner, for Christ’s sake.
Once we had ordered, I pushed my chair closer toward her and leaned in. “Are we going to talk about what’s on your mind?”
McKenna swallowed the piece of bread she’d been absently nibbling and placed the rest on her saucer. “Okay.”
Watching her chew on her lower lip again, I suddenly had a sinking feeling about whatever it was she was going to tell me. Like a schmuck, I’d planned a romantic date, and by the sour expression on her face, she was going to break up with me. Just my f**king luck.
“I had a moment of clarity in Indiana and realized you were right about some things.” She took a deep, fortifying breath. “I can’t keep up this pace. It’s not healthy, and my parents wouldn’t have wanted this for me.”
“What are you saying?”
“This is too much for me, Knox. I thought I could do it, be with you and lead Sex Addicts Anonymous, but I can’t. I’m emotionally exhausted and it’s not something I can continue.”
“You don’t want to lead group anymore?”
She shook her head.
“And us…are you saying…”
“I feel like I probably rushed you. You were in treatment and I just…wedged myself into your life, your home…your bed.” A playful smirk lifted her mouth.
“I had no complaints.”
The truth was, the aspects to our physical relationship moved at a much slower pace than I was used to, but our emotional relationship was what had sent me spiraling out of control. That loving side of me had died a long time ago, on the day I’d watched my mother be lowered into the cold, hard earth. But if there was anything that gave me hope that maybe I could get that part of me back, it was McKenna.
“So you were worried about telling me you’re leaving group?” I asked.
She nodded. “And there are a few other things, too.”
“First, I’m happy that you’re realizing your schedule was too full, and I think it’s good you’re taking a step back. Besides, my days at group are done anyway. It’s no longer court appointed for me. I passed through all the sessions with flying colors.”
“Why was your therapy court appointed?” A crease in her forehead lifted her brow as she apparently realized it was something we’d never discussed.
“We’ll get to that.” Later. When hell froze over, hopefully. I needed to man up and grow a pair, to tell her about my secret past, but knowing there was a chance she wouldn’t be able to live with my actions, I wasn’t willing to do that just yet. I wanted her to know how I felt about her first, and since the idea of telling her I loved her made my body break out in a cold sweat, I figured I needed a little time. She probably didn’t realize it, but I’d never said that to a woman before. It was a big f**king deal to me and not something I just tossed around.
“Tell me what else is on your mind,” I said, my voice low and more commanding than I’d intended.
She took a deep, shuddering breath, her nerves rising to the surface. “I finally settled all my parents’ legal affairs.”
“And?” What did that have to do with us?
“I inherited some money.” She cleared her throat. “A lot of money, in fact.” With her eyes darting up to mine, McKenna licked her lips. “Enough to take care of college for Luke.”
I bit down and tasted blood. “Absolutely not.”
“W-why?” she asked.
“Because the Bauers pay their own way. And your parents left that money for you. This is another one of your do-good charity routines and avoiding facing reality. They left that money for you and only you. They didn’t set up some scholarship fund for needy kids. They wanted you to take care of yourself, have a nice, comfortable life. And I won’t have you shoving this cash at Luke just to avoid that.”
McKenna drew a deep breath as anger flashed in her eyes. She could argue all she wanted, but she knew I was right. This was just another of her damn avoidance techniques. She said she’d grown during this trip home, had realized a few things; well, it was time to see if she was telling the truth. Because there was no way in f**k her parents worked hard and saved their whole lives just to see their only daughter give away their life savings to pay someone else’s way while she lived like a pauper in a tiny apartment and took the bus. Fuck that. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became.
“Is this money the reason you offered to pay for dinner tonight?” I asked through clenched teeth.
McKenna lowered her eyes, her chin falling to her chest.
Great. Not only was I not good enough for her, now there was some type of financial divide between us, too. A low growl emanated inside my chest. “Let’s just go.” Feeling defeated, I reached for my wallet and tossed more than enough money down on the table to cover our bill before I stood.
She rose to her feet and followed me to the exit, her eyes still trained on the floor.
Once inside the Jeep, I tried to shake off the sting of defeat I’d experienced back there in that restaurant. I’d tried to do something nice for her, show her that she was my girl and I could take care of her, and it had all backfired in my face. She didn’t trust me to pay for a simple meal, let alone take care of my own family. Fuck.
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