I reach and lightly turn his face towards me. “Graham,” I say, and then I lean down and kiss him.


I take her to the loveseat, not the bed. We sink into it, and she’s boneless and crying, easy to pull into my arms, onto my lap. Sobbing, she curls into the smallest possible Emma, her face turned to my chest as I hold her. She’s still wearing the goddess dress, barefoot and so undeniably lovely. My fingertips whisper over her back, her skin warm and soft.

At the outset, I thought this was simple. Not necessarily simple in execution, but simple in potential conclusions. Brooke would seduce Graham, and I would reap the benefit when Emma needed comfort and a shoulder to cry on. And here, literally in my lap, sits my hoped-for conclusion.

It’s the execution I’m having issue with.

I fully assumed Brooke would succeed in seducing Graham, but that has not been the case. The fake phone call was, for some reason, a deception I can’t slip past as easily as I’d like. Thanks to Brooke’s clever scam, Emma and Graham each believe the other is cheating. And having exclusive knowledge of the entire scheme makes me an accessory to purposefully breaking Emma’s heart. As my father would say in closing arguments—there is no other verdict to be reached.

I know how this feels—to think you love someone, to think you’re loved in return, only to be slammed breathless by betrayal. Brooke did that to me.

Absently stroking her, I notice that she’s grown quieter, still dragging in shuddering breaths. I grab a tissue box off the side table, pull a few tissues out and hand them to her. She blows her nose and dabs at her eyes, which somehow starts the whole process over again. It’s a full ten minutes before she’s calm.

“Emma,” I say, the sound of my voice like the crack of a rifle. An alarm is going off in my head, telling me not to say what I’m about to say. I ignore it. “Last fall, you never asked me about Brooke, or the pregnancy. You never asked if there were extenuating circumstances, or how I felt at the time, or if I wished I’d made a better decision.”

Her tears start to flow again, but she says nothing.

I close my eyes, inhale the familiar herbal scent of her shampoo, memorize the feel of her in my arms. I can’t say I love this girl. But I know someone who might. “You need to ask the questions this time, Emma.” My voice is soft and low.


She looks up at me, silent, and I’m staring back. Amazingly, her eyes are trusting, and I don’t know why. I don’t deserve her trust. I can’t and won’t tell her everything.

“What are you saying?” Her voice is raw, her face streaked with tears, and she has never, in my presence, been more vulnerable.

I press my lips to her temple, her cheek, the corner of her mouth, and her eyes close. She doesn’t protest. Fucking hell, it would be so easy. So easy. It’s been ten, maybe fifteen minutes. Graham may or may not have succumbed to Brooke’s lies and misleading photos. I’m positive she’s pulled out all the stops. As much animosity as there is between us, I’d have a difficult time refusing her under those circumstances—and Graham has naively trusted her for years.

“Go. Ask him the questions you need to ask. Now. Before I change my mind.” Cupping her face in my palm and pressing another tissue into her hand, I add, “And if you need to come back, come back. I’ll be here.”

Chapter 32


Brooke hasn’t kissed me in two years—not since the one drunken endeavor that went nowhere, which we both pretend never happened. I’m not counting the kisses along my jaw a week ago. Maybe I should.

I am numb. Lying motionless under her practiced hands and mouth, there’s nothing but the memory of kissing Emma, just a few hours ago. Before she entered Reid’s room, with his arm around her. It’s like last fall all over again except much, much worse. My heart squeezes so tight I think it might stop beating. For the barest second, I don’t care if it does.

And then the shock begins to fade. When my brain begins to power up, it does so sluggishly, like a cold engine that might or might not catch and turn over. I register the fact that Brooke is kissing me, and that I’m sort of responding, on autopilot. Taking her by the shoulders, I push her away, gently, and sit up.

She clutches my arms, moving onto my lap, and the sensation is like having a tub of ice water dumped over me. Clarity rushes in.

Brooke sent the photo of Reid and Emma kissing last fall, taken with her phone. She sent a photo of me, asleep with my arms around her, to Reid. Now, the current batch. Again, on her phone. Something more nags at the edge of my consciousness. I shove her away and stand.

“There’s no need to confront them.” Brooke holds onto my wrist as though she can anchor me here, in this room. “Maybe the studio edicts just made it too difficult. All of that onscreen chemistry they have—it just translated too easily into real life.”

I close my eyes because all I see with them open is red. Everything, everything awash with red, like a fine spray of blood across a window pane. “No,” I say, my eyes flashing open. She blinks, hard.

She moves in front of me, grabbing and holding both of my hands, which still feel numb. “Graham, stay here with me. I’ll make you forget her. I’m right for—”

“No,” I say again, louder, and then I look down and see the naked hunger on her dazed, upturned face and the needling detail clicks into place in my brain. “Where’s your ice bucket?”

She frowns, shakes her head. “What?”

“You said you were getting ice. Where’s your ice bucket?”

Her eyes widen, shift away and come back to mine in the space of two seconds. “I—I forgot it… Graham—”

Brooke pleads that she doesn’t want me to get hurt any further. Ignoring her, I focus on a building resolve: I have no idea how long Emma has been with Reid, or what they’re doing, but by God, if she’s disregarding every murmured longing of my heart and soul, she’s going to do it to my goddamned face. I leave my room and head for Reid’s, Brooke following. I don’t know if she’s still talking. I can’t hear anything over the monster roaring in my head.

At the intersection of the hallways, I collide with Emma, grabbing her shoulders, hard, unable to slow quickly enough to avoid plowing into her. I’ve lifted her and propelled her forward a yard by the time we come to a stop. My first thought: her face is a wreck.

I’ve seen her cry. I’ve witnessed her grief over memories of losing her mother, and her misery over a spat with Emily last fall—tears I’d thought were over losing Reid. But nothing did this to her. She’s lost and hollowed out.

Her eyes dart over my shoulder, where, I assume, Brooke has come up behind me.

“Did you… did you sleep with her?” Emma says, voice hoarse and breaking, tears streaming down her face.

I feel as though she’s slapped me. “No. No! Why would you think that?”

The anguish in her eyes is unbearable. “I heard her talking on the phone to someone… about it…”

“What about him? You went into his room, Emma—”

“When?” she cries.

“Just now. Ten, fifteen minutes ago—”

“After I heard her say…” She closes her eyes, unable to look at me. “I heard her say you were the best she’s ever…” Releasing one sob, her hands fly up to cover her face.

I tug her to me as everything begins to fall into place and fit, like footage of something breaking into hundreds of pieces, played in reverse. “Emma.” I pull her hands from her eyes and hold them. “You went into his room because you thought I’d betrayed you?” I feel sick. I can’t look at Brooke or even think about her proximity, because I have never and will never in my life be physically violent with a woman, but right now I want to hurt her. “Did you—ah, God, I don’t want to know—”

“Nothing happened. He told me to come ask you about… about her.”

“Son of a bitch!” Brooke says, storming around us. My eyes narrow on her as she charges around the corner and bangs on Reid’s door. And then I just don’t give a shit about her or what she’s doing.

Emma starts to tremble, biting her lip so hard to keep from crying that I’m worried she’ll split it. A door across the hall creaks open an inch. No telling how many people are glued to their peepholes. Screw this.

“Come on.” I take her under my arm and lead her to my room.

Once inside, the rest of the world locked out, I hold her close and murmur the words I could have blurted out the first time I saw her, because I fell in love with her in those few seconds, months ago. I just didn’t know it yet.

Her arms loop around my neck. “I love you, too,” she answers, her voice raw from the battle we’ve just waged, and won.

I sweep her up and we fall onto the bed, and I kiss her so hard that I know I must be bruising her mouth, but she’s responding in kind, our teeth tapping against each other, our fingers digging into flesh and scraping skin and pulling at the maddening layers of clothing between us. I’m trying to slow down, to savor her and this moment, but I need this, need her, need us, too much. I rise above her. “Look at me, Emma.”

Her eyes are full, the lids heavy. “Graham,” she breathes.

“I need you to hear me.” Cradling her head in my hands, thumbs sweeping her tears away, I stare into her eyes. “I belong to you. There is no one else. All I want is to be where you are.”


“I’m right here,” I say, touching his face.

“Yes.” His voice is husky and strums some deep new chord—the kind you feel more than you hear.

“I’m right here,” I repeat, whispering into his mouth. “And I belong to you, too.”

He kisses me, restraint evident in the tremor along his arms, under my palms. He closes his eyes and rests his forehead against mine. “I want to read this right, Emma. I don’t want you to feel pressured by the emotion of this night—”

“Graham.” I wait until his dark eyes open, his body motionless and pressing mine into the mattress with very little between us. “I know what I want. And I’m not nearly as principled as you are. Because if I have to pressure you right now, I will.” I run my hands down his back, sliding my fingertips lower, skimming under the minimal fabric remaining between us. Arching into him, I watch his resolve travel from control to something altogether opposite.

When his mouth crashes down on mine again, I know I won’t have to say another word. His decision made, he begins to slow everything down—every kiss, every movement tender and careful—but his apprehension is gone. The pace he sets is excruciating and perfect, allowing me time to realize, over and over, exactly what I want him to do seconds before he does it.

Sometime later, our hands are intertwined just above my head and he’s kissing me gently. At my sigh, he whispers, “Did I hurt you?” His lips are soft against my neck, and I tilt my head towards my shoulder.

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