Authors: Ava Claire
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Anthologies, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College, #Collections & Anthologies
She covered my hand with her free one, giving it a squeeze before she pulled away and pushed the plate of cookies closer. "These aren't going to eat themselves."
I took a bite out of it, the chocolate bringing my taste buds to life. I'd helped her make these exact cookies countless times, so much so that I could make them with my eyes closed. I'd even tried replicating it, but something was always missing.
I washed it down with a gulp of the milk. "Thanks."
"You're welcome. Now tell me what's happened."
A smile cut its way across my lips. She was never one to mince words. Straight shot, cut and dry. "I'm sure you've seen a hint of it on Access Hollywood."
She smirked, a blush racing through her cheeks. "Even if I watched that show, which I don't, I'm not watching much of anything since the TV died." She held up a finger before I could say I'd have one delivered tonight if she wanted it. "I don't need a television. How about you give me the news the old-fashioned way?"
"I met someone." Melissa. I saw her in my mind so clearly. Her hair like spun gold, wrapped around my fist as I pulled her lips to mine. I didn't give her the release that she craved. That I craved. My eyes touched every curve of her beautiful face, then I kissed those lips that were the sweetest thing I'd ever tasted. I got a hold of myself. Getting an erection with Rose waiting anxiously for more information wasn't my idea of a good time.
That would include Melissa, silk rope, and the spanking bench.
"So you met someone," Rose ventured. "That's not a good thing?"
"Melissa is a great thing," I cut in quickly. "The best thing. She's feisty and funny and a puzzle that gets more complex and beautiful the further I..." The hollowness came back. The emptiness that made me pull up her number, finger hovering above the phone icon.
"You love her," Rose said softly. She handed me a second cookie. "More milk?"
"You got anything with a kick?"
"Are we celebrating? You're in love—"
"And then the baby happened." When her eyes bulged from her skull, probably hearing the word 'Grandma', I tacked on the addendum. "There is no baby anymore. Not for me anyway. A woman I saw before I met Melissa tried to use the baby to revive our relationship."
She patted my hand and moved soundlessly to the cupboard beside the fridge. She came back with a bottle of Kahlua. I was tempted to ask her how old it was but decided that I didn't care much. She poured a few dollops in mine, then sat back down.
"What a terrible thing to do to you," she clucked her tongue unhappily.
"Because I'm clearly not ready for a child?" I said bitingly.
"Because you have so much love to give."
I frowned, studying her for some sign that maybe I needed to put a trip to the doctor on the list. "Me? You must be kidding. I fought you and Johnny at every turn. And out of all of the shit I've dealt with, if anyone was deserving of anything resembling love, it's the two of you."
She ruffled my hair, her bony fingers tousling my hair like she'd done countless times. I usually shook off her touch in a huff, but I let her love in. "The harder you pushed, the clearer it became. You loved us so much that you were terrified of losing us. The barrier you built around yourself was because we'd burrowed our way beneath the wire. Loving terrifies you, because you have such a big heart. And when you have a big heart, being hurt hits you that much harder."
I shot to my feet, turning my back on her. The emotion, it was unbearable. All these weeks of feeling nothing but anger at Delilah, anger at myself, and regret at ever letting Melissa walk out of my door when I promised I wouldn't let her go again. And now Rose—
Her frail arms wrapped around my midsection. "It's going to be okay."
The emergency alerts blared in my head, my arms jutted out awkwardly, unmoving, afraid that if I moved, if I wandered down this road, the only thing left would be tears that I refused to cry. No weakness, no prisoners, no—
She was holding me tight, not letting me go.
Not just Rose. Not just the foster parent that didn't send me away. She was the woman that chose to be my mother. The woman who saw past my scowls and fights at school and saw the cry for help. The kid that was just begging for someone to give a damn.
When I turned back to her, she lifted her fingers to my cheeks and smiled. I cleared my throat, standing up tall. "Allergies."
"They say it's especially terrible this year," she said with a sly grin. She pulled her cardigan close and worked her way towards the living room. "I know enough about all the ugly in the world to know something good when I see it. You're a good person, Logan. And I saw the way your face lit up when you talked about Melissa." She stopped in front of the mantle with a sigh. "I can still remember you walking through that door, so angry. So sure you didn't deserve anything good, or to be happy." She looked back at me, tears glittering in her eyes. "You know one of the last things Johnny said? 'Don't let Logan believe that it's okay to put love off. Love is worth more than all the riches in the world.'"
I loosened my tie, loneliness circling my heart. Tightening its hold on me. "I had love. I was the one that threw it away, because I was too stubborn to let go of my anger."
"And have you called her? Tried to make it right?"
She said it so simply. So casually.
"It's not that easy."
She looked puzzled, dusting her hands off. "I thought technology advanced over the years? Whole phone books in the palm of your hand." She gave me a stern look. "You still have her number? Call her up. Better yet, go to her. Don't live a life of regret, son. Life's too short for that nonsense." She moved back into the kitchen like she was on a mission. She pulled a cloudy-looking Tupperware container from her cabinet and went back to the table, putting the cookies inside.
"Cookies for later?"
"Cookies to go." She clicked it shut and held it out to me. "You came to see me for a kick in the rear, so here it goes. You can't wait for divine intervention. If you want love, if you want Melissa, go get her."
I couldn't help but laugh until I realized she was being dead serious. "Just like that, eh?"
"Just like that." She beckoned for me to lean down and planted a kiss on my cheek. "Maybe I'll come see you two in the city sometime."
I wasn't completely on board with this scenario yet, but my heart was already on a plane, flying to SMF International Airport.
She shepherded me to the door, reminding me to not send a bunch of people to be a nuisance and disrupt her organized chaos.
I gave her another hug, holding tighter this time. "It was great to see you, Mom." The word sprung from my lips and when I realized what I'd said, a sob cut through me.
She reached up and fixed my tie, her lips quivering. When she stepped back, she was beaming. "It's about time."
'd given countless presentations before my colleagues and complete strangers, and I still got butterflies right before a pitch meeting. I threw back my bottle of water, running through the generic fact sheet about Kaleidoscope. We were far from the biggest firm in the Greater Sacramento area, but that gave us the flexibility to treat every client like a VIP. We'd helped clients weather all sorts of PR disasters, from product recalls to CEO gaffes. My team and I usually spent the days leading up to our first meeting with a new client researching and finding the right angle to help them see Kaleidoscope was the perfect fit. This client was a last-minute addition, a local CEO interested in media coaching.
I polished off my water and rose from my chair, smoothing my hair back and running my hands over my skirt.
"Ready to go?" Dad stood in the doorway, smiling from ear to ear.
"We're going to knock 'em dead," I said brightly.
"With you at the wheel, how could he not fall in love?"
I frowned as I followed him toward the conference room. Since our dinner, Dad had been more approachable, less intense. But he never used pronouns to describe our clients. They were always Dietnem Motors. The Gale Brook Foundation. Roberts Cola. He was always the consummate professional.
I shook it off as the marketing team filed into the room and I followed. I was just nervous. I'd get into the zone once the client sat at the end of the table and we got the ball rolling.
I pulled out a chair in a neutral position and sat down, with paper to jot down notes that had a few talking points scrawled at the top. I scanned the room curiously, picking up on everyone seemingly in a great mood. They all flashed me toothy grins when they met my gaze.
"Weird," I muttered, heat stirring in my cheeks.
"Can't believe he's actually coming to this building."
"This is like something straight out of a movie."
When my father pulled out a chair beside mine instead of his usual spot at the head of the table, I knew something was up. He covered my hand with his.
"I know the last time I tried to call in reinforcements, it was the wrong choice. But I talked to him." He stroked his chin. "It dawned on me that I never had such a conversation with Jason. That was remedied—this one will be the last one because I informed him if he breaks your heart again, I'll break his legs."
Oh my God.
The room spun and flipped upright.
It couldn't be.
I looked over Dad's shoulder and met the deep green eyes that always seemed to look right into my soul. To know everything about me. To hold all the passion, love, and hope that I thought had gone out of the world the minute I walked away.
"Logan," I whispered. How was it possible that I felt faint and at the same time, I could run laps around the building? I wanted to leap for joy but stayed right where I was, just in case this was a trick. Just in case I was dreaming.
But in my dreams, he didn't smile. And there it was, his thick delicious lips spreading, and anyone with a pulse let out a collective sigh, completely enthralled by him.
I tracked him with my eyes. Black suit, crisp white shirt beneath, and a slender gray tie. His hair was cropped shorter than I remembered, but the wisps still spilt on his forehead, giving him a playful air. But his eyes were molten and the games we'd play weren't for children. They involved rope and blindfolds and paddles and moans that shattered me until he drove inside and put me back together again.
I tore my eyes from him. Of course I was attracted to him. Lusted for him. That was never in question. But I needed more. I needed him to be playing for keeps.
"Thank you for having me today." His voice was cool water washing over me, steam rising from my heated flesh. "I've been going through a bit of a PR nightmare."
I bit the inside of my jaw, wringing my hands in my lap. So this was a business meeting then. I was going to have to excuse myself because there was no way I could sit here and be professional when I'd been longing for this moment.
And then my father put a hand on my shoulder. I tugged my chin from my chest, and he gave me the strength to turn my attention back to the front.
Back to Logan.
He was looking right at me. No one else existed in the room.
"I believe my issue was that I avoided the press. While silence is generally the best avenue to de-escalate the situation, I know now that I should have held press conferences and interviews of my own. I should have shouted from the rooftops that I found something more rare and precious than anything in this world."
Excited whispers echoed around the room as people streamed in, all holding bouquets of red roses. Dozens of them. I stopped counting when I hit the fifteenth person and whirled back to face Logan.
"A bouquet for every day that we were apart, Melissa,” he explained tenderly. “I said 'no comment', but I should have said that I found the love of my life. That she's the best part of living because she loves me despite my faults. She challenges me, sees the better man that I never knew existed. And without her, I am utterly lost."
I shook relentlessly, trying to keep the cork on the bottle. Trying to not become a sobbing mess right here and now. "D-Delilah-"
"Is no longer my concern," he finished. He glanced at the doorway, a final person entering the room with a single rose. He thanked her and took the rose, moving toward me. I knew I was in trouble. This display? He was forgiven for every sin he committed now and ever would.
I wiped the tears from my cheek as he held the rose out to me. "This rose is for our future, along with a promise that my love for you is everlasting."
I sniffled along with everyone else, feeling so overwhelmed by love and hope that I could barely keep my feet on the ground. I leapt into his arms, the rest of the room melting away as our lips met. That kiss was the start of something magical. Even when we were apart, he never left me, and I never left him.
When we caught our breath, nose to nose, searching each other's soul as my coworkers whooped and whistled, I realized that we had something greater than forever. I was his, and he was mine.
plated the asparagus just so, the bright green stalks contrasting beautifully with the rich darkness of the filet mignon and purée. The candle flickered as I rushed to make sure everything was perfect.
She was waiting in the car, blindfolded, and from the way she squirmed when I stroked her thigh, dripping wet.
Tonight, I wanted all of her.
Tonight, everything had to be perfect.
I remembered the first time we came to this beach. She'd practically run away from me when she found out that I was the billionaire that broke Delilah James' heart. Things were already so intense with Melissa and I, even though we had only known each other for a number of days. I had loved her then, watching her look out at the ocean, struggling with her demons. I struggled with my own, and in that moment I let her in. It hadn't been easy, but we made it work.
I moved through the sand toward the car where she waited for me. Months had passed since I went to Kaleidoscope and we started over again. The headlines grew more brutal, the board grew more restless.