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Blake led Anna into his home, bypassing the kitchen – he hadn’t set foot in there since yesterday morning because all he saw was memories of her at his kitchen table – in favor of the living room.
Hope had shooed them out of her house, insisting they work their problems out somewhere else. “I love you both very much,” she’d said. “But I’m tired and want to sleep without listening to you two talk about what happened.”
“Sure thing,” Blake said, gripped Anna’s elbow firmly in one hand and led her to his truck. “We’ll be at my house.”
Hope snorted, shook her head, and shut the front door behind them. Anna didn’t say a word, but the look on her face told Blake she wasn’t happy about going anywhere with him. Screw that. We’re talking about this whether she wants to or not!.
Gesturing for her to take a seat, Blake asked, “Did you want anything to drink?”
Anna cut him a sharp look. “We’re not on a second date, Blake. There’s no reason for you to pretend to be nice.”
Blake scowled and stormed across the room until he stood toe-to-toe with her. “It doesn’t mean you can be rude either.”
“Let’s just get this over with,” she muttered and plopped onto his sofa.
“Oh no. You’re not getting off that easy,” he warned while pacing the living room floor. “I want to know two things right now. One, were you awake when I left to go to work?”
Her insolent tone raked across his nerves like a serrated knife. Blake glared at her, took a deep breath and let it go slowly.
“Two, tell me why you left.”
“You heard what–”
Blake held up a hand and shook his head. “I heard you tell Hope but I want to hear it for myself. Why’d you leave?”
The urge to throw something at Blake’s big head was overwhelming and Anna clenched her hands into tight fists to keep from grabbing the nearest object – a throw pillow – and lobbing it at him. What the hell was the point in repeating anything? He’d heard her, loud and clear he’d heard her! Cursing him all the way to Sunday, Anna jumped to her feet and glared at him.
“I’m not going to have a relationship with a guy who isn’t happy with me. There. I said it. Happy now?”
She tried to dart around him but he was fast, snagging her around her waist and hauling her into his arms.
“Happy?” he repeated and shook his head. “Hardly, sweetheart. Happy is seeing you at my kitchen table or in my bed. Happy is falling asleep and waking up to you. But this? This isn’t anywhere close to that.”
Anna stared at him. The sincerity in his voice urged her to believe him, but doubt and second-guesses kept her from doing so. Pushing against his chest, Anna shook her head. “It was just dinner and sex. That’s all it was.”
She held her breath, hoping he bought the lie. He raised his eyebrows at her. She should’ve known better.
“Keep telling yourself that, honey, and you just might believe it,” he drawled and let her go. “It wasn’t just sex and you know it. If it was, I wouldn’t have cared if you snuck out while I was sleeping. But I did care, still do, that you left the way you did. Tell me why you left, Anna. The truth.”
Dear God, was he serious? Anna chewed nervously on her lower lip, glancing anxiously around the cavernous room they stood in. When she looked back at him, the determination in his eyes remained the same and Anna knew he was indeed serious.
He half-expected her to start spouting some watered down version of truth. When she didn’t, he wondered what was going to say. Time passed. Anticipation grew. Blake was nearly at his wit’s end when she finally spoke.
“You’re my best friend’s brother,” Anna began. “We’ve known each other forever. I don’t want anything with you if it’s going to jeopardize my relationship with Hope.”
Blake stared at her, stunned by her admission. Didn’t she know he’d never do anything to ruin her relationship with Hope?
“That’s only part of it,” Anna hurriedly added. “The other part, yes, is about Taylor. He never told me, not once, that he wasn’t happy with me or our relationship. Maybe it was partly my fault because I never asked but I’m not going to take all the blame for our failed engagement. Yeah, it’s in the past. Yeah, it shouldn’t matter because every man is different. But it does and you need to understand why.”
He nodded because, truthfully, he did want to know and understand why. Anna had always been the epitome of female confidence – she dressed, acted, and spoke with absolute self-assurance. Always. To see even a hint of uncertainty… That was rare.
Anna took a deep breath. “The day of our wedding was when Taylor told me he wasn’t happy with me. He said he loved me but our relationship didn’t have that spark anymore. He said he’d rather be friends than be married to someone who didn’t make him happy.”
Unshed tears brightened Anna’s beautiful eyes. Blake wanted to punch something. What man wouldn’t, couldn’t, be happy with Anna in their life? An idiot, that’s who!
Which was what Taylor was in Blake’s book. But that didn’t help him solve the problem of Anna’s battered confidence in herself when it came to them. Blake studied her while reaching out and gently drawing her back into his arms. Women were…tempestuous creatures, he mused. Beautiful but unpredictable.
He wracked his brain for the words to say that would build her up again, enable her to see how she–
Blake froze, realization dawning. How could he have not seen it sooner? Reaching up, he tipped Anna’s chin up. Emotions flashed across her face, lighting up and darkening her eyes like a thunderstorm. He smiled slightly, caressed his thumb over her lower lip. Hoping he wasn’t a sentimental fool, praying he was asking the right thing, Blake whispered, “Ask me, Anna. Ask if I’m happy with you.”