"Can we go out into the hall and talk for a minute?" Colton asks, his voice whisper soft.
"Hear him out, kid. Do it for me," Pace says, dimples out in full force, like he knows they’re impossible to refuse. The jerk.
I swallow and give an imperceptible nod before following him into the hall. He flew halfway around the world; the least I could do was listen to his explanation. Maybe it will give me some much needed closure. Maybe I can get the answers I need to move on and also figure out where we stand with respect to the large chunk of money exchanged between us. He never collected on his end of the bargain after all, I am still a virgin.
Once we’re out in the hall, Colton stands before me, looking directly into my eyes. "So, that’s Becca, huh?" He tips his head toward the door.
"She looks good – healthy, I mean."
I nod. "Yeah, the treatment worked – so far. She goes in for another round in two weeks, but with everything that’s happened, it seemed like a good time to get away – for both of us." She and I have never done anything like this, but it was part of my plan to start actually living.
He nods. "I see."
We’re silent for several seconds and Colton’s hand twitches like he wants to touch me, but he doesn’t. Thank God.
"And would your running away to another country have anything to do with…Stella?"
I flinch involuntarily. I hate that he’s just said her name. It immediately conjures images of that day in the pool, when my whole little world shattered. In the country of Italy, her name should not exist.
"Will you tell me the story?" I ask.
"Anything you want to know."
"Are you getting divorced?"
"That’s up for debate."’
"Then I’m leaving." I turn for the door, my hand gripping the knob.
"No. Stay. Please hear me out," Colton pleads, prying my fingers from the door handle.
His hand on my skin sends a flash of heat through me at the memory of what those hands can do. He’s still the only man who’s made me come. I shudder as though the memory singes some part of me.
I hear a wave of girly laughter behind the door. It warms me to hear Becca enjoying herself, and it grounds me in the moment. Turning to face Colton again, I draw a deep, calming breath. "Do you love her?"
"No." His voice is sure, steady. "I never loved her like I should have."
My shoulders relax just slightly. Even if my body wants to run, and my head is screaming at me to flee, my heart has grown attached to this man. And for better or worse, part of me needs to hear him out, to understand this messy situation I’ve found myself in. Maybe if I can make sense of it, then I can move on.
"Please let me explain, that’s all I’m asking." He raises his palms in a placating gesture.
I’ve never seen him look so devastated and broken. Dark circles line his eyes and he hasn’t shaved in days. Even though I’ve agreed to hear him out, a wave of nausea washes through me. Am I prepared to handle whatever he’s about to tell me? I fasten one hand against the wall for support. "I just need a minute…"
He releases a heavy exhale and I swear what looks like regret washes over his features. "I will give you all the time you need, sweetness," he whispers.
The nickname against his lips presses like a weight onto my chest. My heart feels heavy, thudding dully against my ribcage.
Another fit of Becca’s giggles greet us from behind the door.
"He’s probably trying to de-pants her," Colton says.
"I don’t think she’d mind much."
"Should we check on our siblings while we’re giving you a minute?"
I nod. We might as well. I don’t think I’m ready to hear the entire sordid tale about how the man I was falling for is married and by the sounds of it, not necessarily planning to divorce. A stiff drink might help ease some of this ache in my chest too.
Back inside the cramped hotel room, Becca and Pace are standing near the open windows, deep in conversation. I’ve never seen her look so happy and chipper. She’s openly flirting and preening like a peacock, twirling a lock of hair around her finger and smiling up at him brightly. Our vacation is about to get a lot more interesting.
Realizing we’re back in the room, Becca turns to me. "Soph, did you know Pace spent a semester studying here in Rome? He’s going to take me sightseeing – show me all the best spots that aren't in those travel guides we bought."
So much for kicking Pace and Colton out. This was supposed to be a girl’s trip, but I won’t deny Becca anything, and I can tell she’d love to spend more time in Pace’s company. It’s that damn crooked grin and dimple of his that just beg you to come out and play.
"How did you know where I was?" I ask Colton.
"Kylie," he confirms.
I’d started working with Kylie at Colton’s charity organization a few days a week and it didn’t feel right to leave her hanging. And while I’d only intended to tell her that I would be out of town for a while, she somehow got me to spill the beans about my trip to Rome.
"When did you get here?" he asks.
"Last night." It’s almost noon, but with the jetlag and the wine we consumed last night, Becca and I haven’t unpacked a thing. It’s actually a small miracle we’re up and showered.