He’s quiet, but his calm demeanor tells me this makes him happy.

Rather than sitting at the stool next to him, I round the kitchen island and stand across from him, leaning my elbows against the slab of granite.

He chuckles at me. "What’s on your mind, sweetness?"

I didn’t realize I was that obvious. I straighten my shoulders and relax the line crinkling my brow. "You and Stella…" I shouldn’t ask, I’m only torturing myself, but I can’t help it. I need to know, because I just can’t picture him with her. "I want to know the nature of your relationship. Was it like a regular marriage, with all the perks and benefits of marriage?"

He presses a button darkening the screen on his tablet and draws a steading breath. "What are you asking?"

"You lived here with her. I’m assuming this house is full of memories for you, and it’s just strange for me to think of you with another woman living here, sleeping together in the bed I shared with you…"

"What do you want to know?" Colton asks.

"I guess what I want to know is…were you happy? Stella, in my very brief interaction, seemed quite different from me." She was all hardened exterior, sharp edges and manicured to the last inch of her.

"You were different. Fuck, you are different, Sophie."

I like knowing that perhaps what he and I shared was different from what he had with her. "How so?"

"You’re soft and sweet and gentle. You make me laugh."

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"I hate that you have memories with her of things you and I never shared."

I’m sure he knows I’m talking about sex, and my cheeks flush slightly. He said we’re only friends, so why I'm pushing him to tell me about their sexual history, I have no idea. I sound like a jealous girlfriend, but I’m unable to stop myself.

Colton leans in toward me, his dark eyes pinning me in place. "Do you want to know why I only wanted oral sex with you?"

I nod, unable to resist the nugget of information he’s dangling in front of me.

"Because, that’s something Stella wouldn’t do."

"What are you saying?"

"I never fucked her mouth. I never completely lost myself with her. Each time with you – it was just us. There were no bitter memories to taint that. It was our thing."

His words send a rush of conflicting emotions skittering through me. My heartbeat thrums in my chest as I remember our erotic encounters with vivid clarity. "She wouldn’t…Why?"

He shrugs. "Said she didn’t like the taste. Of course, that’s exactly what I caught her doing to the gardener – deep throating him in the library. She seemed to like it just fine – as long as it wasn’t with me."

My heart aches for him. As pissed as I am, I’m beginning to understand the deep hurt and mistrust he’s carried around with him. I recall how he never seemed to want to go into that room and my heart softens just a bit. And I do like knowing that as trivial as it is, going down on him was something only I did. I guess I now understand his aversion to the library too.

"Being with her was a mere convenience. You are a choice. One I desperately want to make – if you’ll let me."

His words rattle me. I shouldn’t trust him – not after he lied about his past – made me believe he was single. Yet, there’s no denying part of me still wants him. "But you said friends." My voice is tiny. It would take little to no effort on his part to convince me we’d be better as more than friends. The heat buzzing between us is palatable and intense.

"For now, yes. I want you to trust me again. I won’t push you yet."

Yet. That word rings loudly in my head.  I swallow heavily, trying to decipher the deeper meaning behind his words. He wants me back, I’m sure of it. So why in the hell won’t he just divorce Stella and move on with his life? Two years of waiting her out seems extreme. Even for someone as stubborn and cocky as Colton.

"I’m sorry…" I apologize, though I’m not entirely sure for what. I just hate the thought of Colt finding that witch on her knees, giving to another man what she withheld from him.

"Don’t be," he says, coolly. But his eyes tell a different story. They’re dark and faraway, as if he’s fighting to escape the sour memories that follow him around the rooms of his own house.

I leave Colton to his work and find myself wandering the rooms of his house, ending in the library. I hate Stella. I can't say I've ever really hated anyone before, I hate Becca's cancer, I hate that Colton is married, but I absolutely fucking hate Stella. She's made a man who is so sweet under his hardened exterior question himself and his relationships. I stand there in the library, silently staring off into space for far too long.

When I find Colton in his office later, I convince him to leave his work for the night and get some sleep. The dark circles under his eyes tug at something inside me, but I resist the urge to wrap my arms around his neck. He is not mine to soothe.

We part ways at the top of the stairs and say goodnight. The walk to the guest room feels too long and just odd. As I crawl in between the cool sheets, my thoughts are squarely on the man down the hall.

***

The following day is interesting. A strange sense of unease grows as the day passes. We eat our meals together, I go for a jog, and Colton works at the kitchen island while I flip through a magazine, but I can’t help but feel something is off. We’re struggling to find our rhythm as just friends. I keep stealing glances at him, noticing the way his white t-shirt clings to his sculpted chest and I feel his eyes on my backside when I walk away. I hate that I can’t touch him.