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“I wish I’d never introduced you to him.”
The statement was jarring in its suddenness, and weighty, as if it had been a burden bearing down on him for some time now. He avoided her gaze as he went on. “I don’t know why he wanted to come visit me at school in the first place. He never had before, not in four years. I wish I’d tried to talk him out of going to that party where you met him.”
“Evan, for God’s sake, don’t blame yourself. I cast enough blame around, on myself, on Courtney, on him…and we’re all three guilty of something. But not you. If there’s one truly innocent party in all this, I imagine it’s you.”
He shook his head, and she didn’t think she’d ever seen him look so distant and forlorn. “You don’t even know.”
What could he have done? Something told her—and that something was ten years of knowing him—that he would confide in her in his own time, and now wasn’t it. But something was eating away at him. “Well,” she sighed, “we can’t change it now, can we?”
“Would you?” he asked.
It was a question she’d pondered herself, but had never come up with a definite answer. In the end, it didn’t matter. “Some days, yes. Some days, no. On one hand, it showed me what I want and don’t want in a relationship, but on the other…I wish I could have avoided the whole ugly mess by whatever means necessary.”
“I deal with people every day who tell me they never thought anything bad would ever happen to them. But it’s not their fault that it did. You gave it your best shot.”
“Sometimes I think I could have done more.”
“I don’t know what. When I would go over to your house and watch how you were, I was always—I always wished I could find someone like you.”
She had to laugh. “Courtney was nothing like me.”
“Trust me, there isn’t another you.”
It was said lightly but there was an undercurrent of despair in the words. She watched the water bubble and swirl and lifted her feet so it could tickle her toes. Evan’s gaze was on her. It had a familiar weight she could detect even when she wasn’t looking at him.
“So why do you think you can’t come during sex?”
If she’d been drinking something, she’d have spit it through her nose. Her heart was hanging by threads somewhere around her stomach at the intimacy and bluntness—he’d never said anything like that to her in all the years she’d known him. Now she was the one stuttering. Damn him. “I-I…just never…”
“He couldn’t get you hot?”
Oh. My. God. Was he drunk? Was she? What universe was this? And he wouldn’t look away from her. His gaze was inescapable. And burning. Her nerve endings came to life, agitated by the rushing water, the heat of it. Of him, so close to her. Evan Ross made her hotter just by existing than Todd Jacobs had in eight years of sex. All put together. It was horrible to admit.
“God, Kelsey, you’re looking at me like you used to.”
“Nothing. You haven’t answered my questions.”
“Talk about this with…you. I know I started it, back in the bar, but…”
His lids fell over his eyes, hooding them. She didn’t know how she was supposedly looking at him, but he was looking at her as if he wanted to eat her. She couldn’t be mistaking it. “He didn’t take care of you,” he murmured, and her breath stilled as his hand smoothed back a strand of hair plastered to her forehead. “I was afraid he wouldn’t.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this back then?”
“I did. You didn’t listen.”
No, she didn’t. He was right. She’d thought he was being a jerk for never wanting her yet questioning the happiness she’d finally attained with someone else. What was she supposed to do? She couldn’t have Evan, yet she couldn’t have anyone else, either? “I needed someone.”
“You didn’t need anyone.”
“I didn’t need anyone, but I wanted someone. And he was a good guy, for the most part. He shouldn’t have done what he did, but I stopped making him happy.”
He sighed. “How long ago did he stop making you happy?”
The question caused her to freeze. He went on. “Todd and I grew up together, lived on the same street, played baseball all through school together… I probably know him better than anyone, better than you, better than even his parents. I’ve known him practically my whole life, and I’d seen him do some shady stuff before. I never thought he was quite good enough for you, but I never thought he would betray either of us like he did. Kelsey, truth be known, I don’t think there’s a guy walking this planet I would trust with you. So you can’t really listen to me, I don’t guess.”
Now she could feel her blood heating and it had nothing to do with the water or his proximity. She wasn’t going to condemn herself to a life of loneliness and remain a slave to this infatuation, just so Evan Ross could know she wasn’t with some guy who was neglecting her needs. It made no sense. It was pissing her off.
She made a move to stand, though she had no idea where she might go. The suite keycard was in his pants—probably the only thing she would ever get out of that particular article of clothing, and that was damn fine with her at the moment—but if she ran back there he would only follow.
“Kelsey.” His hand caught her arm, keeping her seated. “Don’t get upset. We don’t have to talk about any of this, if you don’t want. But maybe it’s not such a good idea to keep it bottled up.”
“Then why don’t you talk about Courtney? You haven’t mentioned her at all.”
Even in the darkness, she saw his expression tighten. “I have nothing to say about her.”
“I think it hurt you more than you let on.”
“Kelsey, you have to let it go. Courtney is what she is and she’s not for me. Good enough? I think you need to face what happened and move on.”
“Oh, I did face it, Evan Ross. I faced it head on. When I faced it, she was on top of my husband. You didn’t have to see it. I did.”
Kelsey sensed his demeanor change—he stiffened as if she’d doused him with ice water. “If I didn’t know better, I would think you are blaming me for not being able to hold on to my woman.” His voice had taken on a dangerous edge she’d never heard before.
She licked her lips, the urge to challenge him rising up in nearly undeniable waves. Despite her earlier words to the contrary, the thought had crossed her mind. Not lately, of course…but back when her heart had been lying in bloody shards along with her life, after having to move out of the house she loved so much into a closet-sized apartment—putting most of her stuff into storage because it wouldn’t fit there and spending Christmas in Lisa and Daniel’s empty house rather than facing the pity in her family’s eyes—she had wondered why Evan hadn’t kept Courtney happy enough to keep her hands off Todd.