| 14 | Stay ||

He grumbled and sat up in the bed, tossing his legs over the edge.

“Devlin, come back to bed.”

He glanced over his shoulder at her wild, tousled hair as she stretched onto her back. The corner of his mouth pulled up. No one would have ever guessed she was wearing a tight French bun a few hours before. There was no trace of propriety in the woman that laid naked next to him.

“I have to take care of something.” He grumbled, looking at the message on his phone. He’d been staring at it, even after he responded, for who knew how long. The man finally surfaced and not in the way that Devlin was expecting: Nephew, let’s meet: 1hr, cocoa.

A meet-up? After the shit the bastard pulled with Lacey?

“It’s so early.” She yawned. “What could you do at this hour?” She slurred, struggling to open her eyes.

He exhaled and rubbed his hands down his face. “It can’t wait. I have to handle it.”

Sinister laughter made him look at her over his shoulder.

She exhaled and stared up at the ceiling. “I am such a fucking idiot.”

He frowned and angled his body toward her. “What?”

“I’m a deluded ninny thinking that a guy like you actually has the capacity to care.”

Anger split through him like lightning across the sky. He didn’t have time for this emotional bullshit. He pushed off the bed instead of spewing the venom that was on the tip of his tongue. He pulled on his underwear and jeans.

Frantic brown eyes followed his swift, efficient movements.

She hung her head instead of saying whatever was building up behind her pretty lips. He was glad for it. Nothing ruined a good fuck like talking, and even worse, arguing. “I thought you just needed someone to love you first, but now I’m beginning to see that maybe you just don’t know how.”

Did she just say that she loved him? He paused and looked back at her then continued dressing, mostly because he didn’t know how to react. Was she expecting him to say something in response?

“We can talk about this later.”

“It’s always later unless you’re trying to fuck―”

“Me trying to fuck?” He raised an eyebrow. “From where I’m standing, you’re an equal in the wanting to fuck thing.”

“Listen,” she said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I-I-I can’t do this high school crap with you. If you walk out that door, don’t bother coming back.”

He frowned over his shoulder at the beautiful woman. “What?” He crouched down, to tie his boots.

She sat up in the bed and wrapped the sheets around her, shielding her nudity from his sight. Was she trying to be modest? He’d seen it all before, several times, and he’d be damned if he didn’t see her, feel her, several times more.

“I won’t be a whore for anybody.”

Devlin’s chest tightened, as did his fist at his side. “Lacey.” He finished with his shoes and stood up.

She pushed off the bed and struggled to hold the cloth over her body. “I’m not some disobedient child that you can lower your voice at.”

He glared at her and took a deep breath. “I know you’re not a child, but you’re acting like one right now. A bratty ass one throwing some fucking temper tantrum.”

She scowled at him and folded her arms over her chest. A cold glare consumed her usual warmth.

“Lacey,” his voice was soft, even to his own ears. “You’re not a fucking whore.”

“Am I not? You come over here, fuck, then skulk out before the sun can, what, turn you to ash?”

“Something like that.” He laughed in spite of himself, cleared the space between them and slid a hand around her waist. He didn’t like that her body stiffened under his touch. “I’ll send a brother over with your car. It’ll be here by morning.” She dodged his kiss.

“I mean it, Devlin.” She brought her caramel-eyed gaze to finally meet his. His chest tightened at the confusion and hurt in the depths of her expressive orbs. “I-If you leave, then don’t bother calling, texting, stopping by, riding through my fucking neighborhood. I can’t. I just won’t.”

He’d been avoiding all this shit like the plague. In the past, when this type of nonsense came up, he put time and distance between it. He never looked back. His memory pulled up the morning he looked over his shoulder at Lacey when she called his name.  Every one of his father’s bones was telling him to hit the hills. Something else was telling him that the risk of losing this woman, again, was a far greater injury than the freedom of the open road, than some long overdue meeting with some rat bastard who got his dad killed.

He let his head fall.

He needed to resolve this shit with his dad, though. He owed it to the man to do at least that. It would be a shit show wading through Duprey’s cryptic bullshit, but he had to. He’d wanted to know what happened that day. Duprey was tight-lipped at his trial. Said nothing, and that wasn’t like the silver-tongued snake.

He exhaled and took a few steps backward. She swatted away his hand when he went to cup her cheek.

“Don’t.”

He reached for her again, dodging her swat. He cradled her face in his palm. Her big eyes looked up at his, moist with pent-up tears.

He frowned, and his chest contracted.

It hurt. Physically hurt, but he didn’t have time to hurt. He had enough problems as it were, and having the burden of Lacey’s affection was too much to bare.

“Stay with me, Devlin.” She whispered, and leaned into his touch. He took an unconscious step toward her, despite the battle to flee in his mind, laced in his limbs, stroking his instincts. The yearning, the plea in her voice that he loved when she was whining for him during sex, he found he also wanted that now, needed that, craved that. He knew it came with chains, and he was battling against that, but what else did it come with?

Could he imagine not finding out? Could he imagine never kissing her again, never feeling her touch, hearing her laugh or ever seeing her eyes light up when she talked about Valentine’s and weddings? It was quickly becoming clear that this meant all to her, and he feared that he wouldn’t have a third chance.

He let his hand fall, despite being caught up in the moment, in her innocence, in the temptation of her beauty and warmth and his growing desire to relieve her of her pain. The pain he caused her.

“I’m sorry. I can’t stay.”

*


Lacey tried as hard as she could not to let the empty bed get to her. It was her fault to think that the man could be who she wanted him to be. Who did she want him to be? Her thoughts moved to Jacob. For some reason, she shivered. Devlin was right when he spoke about her fears of Jacob out loud. He chose to end his life over living his life with her. Did that not, in itself, speak volumes?

They were such different men and yet she was still alone. She grumbled as the realization started to soak into her soul. She was the common denominator.

She was dreading opening her eyes. They were puffy and swollen from crying all night. She touched her head and frowned. Somewhere in there, the man took down her perfect French bun and the―

She tapped the bed around her then sat up, looking for the pretty hair comb. She looked around the bed, even hung her head over the edge to look under and around on the floor. Damn it. She had to find it, but that could wait. She looked over at her vanity where she kept his biker jacket, but it was gone. Gone like him. Was there no trace of him? Was he really gone? Like, gone for good? Had her tears been that of mourning? Mourning the inevitable loss of her dark lover’s touch, kiss, those bottomless eyes when they looked into her and seared her soul?  

She got out of bed more out of sheer willpower and the refusal to let any of this crap keep her down. She wandered into her bathroom and caught her reflection in the mirror. God, she looked a wreck, like the Devil had his way with her. She smirked when she plopped on the toilet. Well, he kind of did.

What she also couldn’t get off her mind was how passionate he was. He was a different Devlin than she’d experienced before. She could see a war waging behind his eyes, the emotion and concern in the twist of his eyebrows. The struggle to leave her, but the result, the outcome, was the same.

She pulled her eyebrows together and pulled her fingers through her hair. It was senseless wasting any more time on this man. He made his choice; now she had to make hers. She sent a quick message to her assistant to verify the travel arrangements for her meeting that was to take place right after her Valentine’s day event. Landing the account to do all the law firm’s event planning was a big deal for her growing business. She had to nail it. Distractions were not going to feed her staff or keep the lights on his her house.

Despite her self talk, she knew the only way to purge the excess energy was to do what she did best and she couldn’t wait to get to the first thing and that was paying dear Mr. Dallas a little visit.

After a much-needed shower, some makeup and a ginseng smoothie, she pulled open the flower shop door and took off her shades.

“L-lacey,” the plump, stylish man stammered.

Ha! She thought. Of course, he should be surprised to see her. After their snafu on the phone, there was no way she wasn’t going to show up in person before her event to make sure this man knew that she meant business.

“Mr. Dallas, how are you?” They kissed each other on the cheeks before pulling apart.

“Oh, I wasn’t planning on seeing you for a couple weeks.”

“Mr. Dallas, come now. My event is in a couple weeks. You know I’m the sort that likes to dot all her “i’s” and cross every single little “t” twice.” She presented a wide smile.

“Well, your flowers aren’t in yet but should arrive in three days. We will take the very best care of them from then until the day of the celebration.”

“I would hate for us to have any misunderstanding, so I will return in three days to see that everything is in order, personally.”

The man gave her a tight smile. “That really won’t be necessary.”

“Oh, but I think it will, Mr. Dallas. There’s a very big wedding the day before my event, and from what I heard, they wanted the same flowers that I ordered a year ago.”

“That so?”

“Mhm.” She said, strolling around, looking at the floral displays. “You know what I also heard?”

“I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”

She presented a smug, slight smile when she faced the man full on. Her eyebrow raised and she knew she was shooting pointed daggers at him when his pudgy face started to turn red. “I heard that there is a shortage of those flowers in the market these days.” She backed the man up to his counter and clasped her hands behind her back, closing the space between them with slow, measured steps. She got close enough so the man had to look up to her, to hold her eyes.

“What I also happen to know is that I put my order in last year. Just like I do every year to guarantee that I get first pick of the flowers that I want for this event that I’ve hosted for almost ten years.”

“Ms. Diaz―”

“We’ve been doing business for how many of those ten years?”

“A-about three.” He stammered.

“That’s right. You know why that is?”

“I’m sure you will tell me.”

“I had to fire my other florist for not getting my order precisely the way I ordered it. I gave you three hundred and sixty-five days, and I’ll be damned if you blame your fucking up my flowers on some misunderstanding. I know that flowers are very important to you and I hope my business is just as important because flowers are valuable to me. I will indeed be back in three days to lay claim to the flowers that will be in this shop just for me and my event.” She placed a hand on his back. “I’ll bring my own truck to pick them up and keep them safe. Do you have a problem with that?”

The man swallowed and shook his head. “Not at all, Ms. Diaz. L-like you said, they’re your flowers.”

“That’s right. They’re mine, and as long as we’re on the same page about that, I think we’re going to have a long and fruitful relationship.” She placed her shades back on her face and smiled. “Have a splendid day, Mr. Dallas.”

She felt on top of the world for blowing off all that steam on the unexpecting man. The man that she really wanted to blow off steam on―

She paused when her phone buzzed a couple times in a row.

Her chest did an obnoxious squeezing thing whenever the devilish man was mentioned or in sight, or she smelled him or chocolate.

UNKNOWN: I’m a dick for last night.

She tossed the phone back in her purse and fought the smile that tried to steal her rage. Damn straight he was, but if he thought sending some pathetic text message was going to atone for his sins, he had no idea who the hell Lacey Diaz was and what she was capable of.

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