Page 28

Just ironic.

“So, you want to tell me what Hawke is to you?” Todd says from the gloom of the passenger seat.

“Just a friend,” I say quietly, but I intend to give him the full truth. “We were more, though…back in Sydney. We dated.”

“For how long?”

“Four years; started when I was sixteen years old.”

Todd coughs, clears his throat. “Why did you break up?”

I don’t answer him, because I can’t. It’s not a story that I feel comfortable sharing with him, especially when I haven’t ever shared the reason with anyone other than Avery and my father.

“The reason is private,” I say carefully as I turn in the seat slightly to face him. “But that was a long time ago. Hawke and I went our separate ways and haven’t spoken with each other until we both landed here at the Cold Fury. He’s angry at me, and I suppose he feels he has the right. Hell, he does have the right, but I’m angry at him too. I’m trying to set that aside, though, because I can’t afford to get caught up in the negativity of it all. I don’t have room for that in my life.”

“And do you have room for me in your life?” he asks as his hand reaches out to take mine.

“Of course I do,” I say automatically. Almost like a robot.

And I realize that’s a true statement. I do have room in my life for him, but he didn’t ask the right question. The one that would have me really hesitating is if I want him in my life. That, I’m not so sure about.

And that’s because Hawke complicates things for me.

He’s dredged up so many emotions these past two weeks, I feel near to bursting from it all.

Anger, bitterness, yearning, sadness, desire.

Yes, there was desire tonight in his bathroom. There was a moment when I was all in. Where I might have even given myself to him. But when he started in on the tattoo and reminded me of my disloyalty, I realized Hawke didn’t want me.

He wanted to punish me.

So I beat him to the punch and let him get a quick peek of what I refer to as my rose garden. That quick look was enough to make him stumble backward and away from me with a look of shocked disdain on his face. I quickly dropped my skirt, because if he looked closely, he’d see his name was still there. I couldn’t bear to cover it up, instead merely asking the artist to camouflage it so I would always have a tiny piece of him with me.

“Listen, your dad has another MRI coming up this week, right?” Todd asks in a complete change of subject.

“Yeah,” I say hesitantly, not sure where he’s going. “Wednesday.”

“And didn’t you say if it’s under control, they’ll probably do another three months after that?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking…why not just move back to Columbus? Bring your dad, because I have plenty of room at my house. You both can stay there, and just fly back for the follow-up visits. I mean, if the tumor is shrinking and he’s doing well, there’s really no reason for you to stay here. You won’t have rent to pay. I’m sure you’ll be able to get another job quickly…maybe even back at Ohio State. What do you say?”

What do I say?

My entire being rebels against the idea, so what in the fuck do I say to that offer?

“Todd,” I say softly, giving his hand a squeeze. “I just don’t think that’s feasible.”

“Why not?” he asks, leaning in toward me, trying to search my eyes in the darkness.

“For a lot of reasons. My dad…he needs to be here near Duke in case something happens.”

“But if the tumor is under control, and he’s doing well—”

“I have a job,” I cut him off gently. “I can’t just quit my job. That would be unprofessional.”

“They created that job for you,” Todd reminds me with no tact whatsoever. “You’d be freeing up their budget.”

And damn, he’s right about that. I’d probably be doing the Cold Fury a favor, adding my measly forty-one-thousand-dollar salary to their profit margin.

“Without a job, I’d still be living off of you,” I point out desperately, with the utter realization that I’m scrabbling for excuses. “You know how I feel about that.”

“Then what would you say if I asked you to marry me?” Todd says quietly. “Would you have a problem with it if you were my wife?”

I drop Todd’s hand like it’s a hot potato and rear backward. “Is that a proposal?” I ask, stunned beyond all belief.

“Not the most romantic, I know, but I do love you,” he says, his face dropping down to stare at his lap.

“But…we’ve only been going out for a few months.”

“Six,” he supplies as he raises his face back up to mine. My eyes have adjusted to the gloom of the night, and I don’t miss the unfettered hope in his eyes. “But who’s counting?”

I clasp my hands tightly together, almost in a desperate attempt to cling to myself for strength and clarity. Todd has laid it all out on the line. He’s declared his love for me. He’s offered me marriage and a stable home. He’s invited my father to live with us. On its face, it seems the perfect solution, and yet…my mind still races trying to figure a reason to decline.

What sane woman would pass up an offer like that?

Perhaps one that still has unresolved feelings for another?

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