I’ve given you three months. I allowed you to walk away from me, because I knew you needed time to process what I’d revealed to you. But I must remind you, my love, that you are mine. I own you. I will always own you.
And you own me. That’s the deepest secret I possess.
I cannot know your heart, but I am driven to show you mine:
I love you.
I’m not sure how that happened. It was unexpected, to say the least. I expected to spend a few days tasting the sweetness of your perfect body, but I never expected to find myself embroiled in the beauty of your soul. I told you, when I revealed my guilt, that I knew you deserved more from me than some meaningless tryst. Yet, when I sent Harris to bring you to me, that was all I intended. I’d fought my desire for you for seven years. I never allowed Harris to take revealing or immodest photographs of you, because I knew if I got but a single glimpse of your naked body, I’d be unable to resist making you mine. So I kept my distance.
For seven years, I fought this battle.
My feelings were based on a single vision of you. That one moment when you walked into your father’s office was the moment when you hooked me. I remember it vividly. You wore a lime-green dress. It came to just above your knees, and it hugged your hips. It was cut low between your perfect br**sts, which swayed and bounced with every step you took. They mesmerized me. I felt like a randy schoolboy all over again, unable to stop myself from staring at you, going hard as a rock in my pants with one look. You glanced at me and dismissed me, focused on your father, but I wasn’t so capable of moving on. Right then, I wanted to throw you over my shoulder and drag you to my hotel room. I fantasized about ripping that dress from your body and licking your perfect tanned skin all over, and making you come, and making you mine.
But that was mere lust. I possessed more self-control than that. I would not succumb to lust, not when I knew you deserved more than the lust of a man like me.
Yet I couldn’t ever shake you out of my mind. I used the excuse of taking care of you to keep you on the periphery of my life. You tantalized me, Kyrie. Every day for seven years, you tantalized me.
Yet every one of those 2,555 days (the day you arrived in the foyer of my Manhattan home was exactly seven years to the day from the first time I laid eyes on you, in that Detroit office) was also fraught with the reminder of my guilt.
What happened to your father was an accident, but I am still at fault. I am not a man to absolve myself with excuses of “I didn’t mean it.” I do not expect you to forgive me.
Yet I hope you can.
If, my sweet, lovely, perfect Kyrie, you find yourself capable of such a thing, you have but to walk out your door.
My hands shook, fluttering the letter like a leaf in the wind.
Directly in front of me was a door. Faded green, battered metal. To either side of the door was a narrow window of reinforced safety glass. So dirty as to be nearly opaque. Yet I could just barely see through it, and I wasn’t sure I was capable of believing what I saw on the other side. A long, low shape. A car.
I stood slowly, the letter fluttering to the threadbare carpet of the stairs. A step down, a second, a third and a fourth. The cold metal knob twisting in my fist. Hesitating, a riot of conflicting emotions giving me pause.
Behind me, a door opened. “Key? You get lost out here? I saw your car pull up, but you never came in—” Layla’s voice couldn’t break through my trance, but I heard her nonetheless. I heard her steps on the stair, heard paper rustle as she picked up the letter. Moments passed, long enough for her to skim it. “Ho-ly shit. ‘Embroiled in the beauty of your soul.’ Who the hell says something like that?”
I heard her come down the stairs, felt her beside me. My hand shook as I gripped the knob, yet I couldn’t open the door. “Roth,” I whispered. “That’s the kind of thing Valentine says to me.”
“Goddamn. That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.” She peered out the window. “Is that—? It is! That guy! Harry! He’s out there.” Layla stared at me in horror. “Girl, I love you. You’re my sister, the only family I give two shits about. But if you don’t get your fine white ass out that door, I swear to Jesus, Mary, and all the saints that I’ll never forgive you.”
“You think I should go with him?”
Layla put her hand to my forehead as if checking for a fever. “Kyrie. Babe. He’s embroiled in the beauty of your soul. Of course you should go with him. You’d be a fool not to.”
She pushed the door open and shoved me through it. I was force-marched by my best friend over to the long, white Bentley limousine. She waved to Harris. “Hey, there, Harry. She’s just nervous.”
Harris frowned. “Miss St. Claire. Miss Campari.”
Layla kept marching me directly to the passenger door. Harris just barely got there in time to open the door for us. “Miss Campari, I don’t think you should—”
“It’s fine, Harry. I just want to see my girl off.”
“My name is Harris.”
Layla eyed him up and down. “Sure it is.” She took my face in her hands, squishing my cheeks. “This is what you want. Give yourself permission to have it.”
I stared into Layla’s eyes for a long moment, then, tearing up, pulled her in for a hug. “What would I do without you, Layla?”
“I really don’t know, but it’s a good thing you don’t have to find out, isn’t it?” Layla squeezed me one more time, then pushed away. “Now go. Before I whack you upside the head and take your place, you lucky bitch.”
I licked my lips, hesitating still, knowing that if I got into the car, everything would change again. Yet…it already had. It had just taken me a long time to catch up. But really, there was no other choice.
I clutched at Layla’s hand. “Thanks.”
This time, she didn’t make a snarky comment. She just smiled at me and nodded.
I met Harris’s eyes briefly, seeing relief in them. “Miss St. Claire. I’m glad to see you.” He nodded at me.
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just smiled at him as steadily as I could. I didn’t know what was happening. Was Roth really in this car? Or was I about to embark on another mysterious journey to who knows where? It was near the end of September, and I remembered him saying he traveled from September to November.
In the end, all I could do was duck my head and slide into the soft cream leather. I honestly didn’t expect to see Roth. Yet there he was, at the far end of the car, breathtaking in khaki chinos and a forest-green Henley, the sleeves pulled up around his elbows, the fabric stretched tight across his chest and molded to his broad arms.