The way you look tonight, p.29
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       The Way You Look Tonight, p.29

         Part #10 of The Sullivans series by Bella Andre
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Page 29

  Author: Bella Andre

  "I want to see it. " It would be so easy to let herself listen only to his words of love, of how deeply he claimed to feel it. She forced herself to focus on what he’d done, instead. "I want to see what you found out about me in your background check. "


  "Show it to me, Rafe. "

  His eyes were wary as he reluctantly handed her his phone. "Ben told me it’s on page ten so that I could skip it. "

  As she scrolled through the report and quickly read through the list of all of her old addresses, her previous jobs, information about her parents and their jobs, one stupid tear fell onto the screen, and she dashed it away with the back of her hand.

  "You missed the candy bar I slipped into my bag at the corner store when I was five because my parents wouldn’t buy it for me. "


  She scowled at the man who had made her cry out with pleasure mere minutes before. . . and who now was just making her cry. "And there’s the math test where I copied an answer from the girl sitting next to me when I was ten because I ran out of time and panicked about not bringing home an A. You should make sure you have your staff add that to the reports for the next guy who decides he has to do a background check before he can decide whether he’s sure enough to let himself love me. "

  "I was an idiot for not trusting you," he said in a voice made raw with emotion, and something that sounded like fear. "I was a fool for thinking you might have skeletons in your closet like everyone else. "

  "But I do have them, Rafe. I’m not perfect. Nobody is. And if you’d asked me about my past instead of running this stupid report, I would have told you that my parents told me over and over my whole life to be careful, to watch out, to make sure I didn’t get hurt. I would have told you that my grandparents taught me to believe in myself, and in others, no matter what, but that no matter how hard I try I hadn’t been able to completely shake away the fear my parents instilled in me. Not until you. I would have told you that I knew I would be safe being wild with you because you would never let anything happen to me. " She didn’t bother to wipe her tears away this time, not when she knew more would just fall. "And I would have told you that finding out you’d bought the house next door felt like my birthday and Christmas all wrapped up into one, because you hadn’t just come back to the lake. You’d come back to me. I saw that you were darker, more cynical, but I thought I could help erase your pain with fun and laughter. And love. But now—" Her breath shook, along with her limbs. "Now I don’t know what to think. "

  * * *

  "You did help. " Didn’t she see? "You showed me I could love when I didn’t think it was possible. " Rafe wanted to reach for her so badly that his fingers were actually cramping from holding them in check. But she hadn’t offered him another touch, and he sure as hell hadn’t earned it yet. "I can change. I swear I can, for you. " Feeling as if he was grasping at straws, he told her, "I just told Ben that we’re not going to take infidelity cases anymore. I don’t want to see anymore relationships fall apart, and I don’t want any of my employees to have to deal with seeing it, either. "

  "I’m glad to hear that," Brooke said softly, but she was too pale and looked terribly fragile. "But I don’t know if that changes the fact that I always trust, even when I shouldn’t. And you always doubt, even when you shouldn’t. I wanted to believe we could make this work, that we could love each other through the rough patches, but—"

  "We can. We will. Let me start by loving you right, Brooke. Let me prove to you I can fix everything I broke. Let me start replacing doubt with trust. "

  "Maybe my parents are right," she said softly. "Maybe I don’t know how to make good decisions. Because even though I know I should be kicking you out after what you’ve done, I just can’t. "

  She could have told him to get the hell out of her house, then rammed the deadbolt home to keep him out. But even though he’d hurt her, badly, he could still see the love in her beautiful eyes. She’d never been able to hide that from him.

  "Thank God," he said, relief sweeping through him as he reached for her.

  For one perfect heartbeat she let him hold her. . . but then she slid out of his arms and moved far enough away that he couldn’t reach out and touch her again.

  "That day on the beach when we first kissed, you said we needed twenty-four hours to make sure we thought things through. While I’m in Seattle for the next twenty-four hours, we both need to do some more thinking. At least," she added with an exhausted sigh, "I do. "

  "You’re not coming home tonight?"

  Her eyes flashed with surprise at the way he’d called this home. Though he’d lived in Seattle his whole adult life, he’d never felt as though he was truly home until he’d shared one with her.

  "I can’t think straight when I’m with you, Rafe. " The breath she took shook through her. "I need to be sure. Completely sure. "

  God, he hated hearing his own words coming back at him. Hated even more knowing what a fool he’d been to ever think them in the first place. Desperation clawed at him to get her back. . . and to make her stay.

  He knew if he kissed her the way he had that first afternoon out on the beach when both of them were dripping wet, he could keep her from leaving, could get her to change her mind about taking twenty-four hours to think about whether they could make things work.

  But Rafe had already made too many mistakes with Brooke. Using their attraction in an attempt to temporarily bind her to him would only destroy whatever was left of the love she still had for him.

  So when she said, "I need to get ready to leave now," then turned to walk back into her bedroom and closed the door behind her with a soft click, even though it nearly destroyed him, he let her go.

  Twenty-four hours.

  He had twenty-four hours to figure out how to prove to her that he could change. . . and that he could love her the way she deserved to be loved.

  * * *

  Brooke stood in her bedroom and stared at her unmade bed where Rafe had made such sweet love to her hours ago. . . and where she’d told him she loved him. She hadn’t had a single doubt. Hadn’t had a single fear. She’d simply given him her heart with the perfect certainty that he’d never harm it.

  As a child, Brooke had looked at Rafe Sullivan with stars in her eyes. Eighteen years later, when he’d touched her as a woman, those stars had transformed into something so bright, so beautiful, that she’d been blind to anything else. All she’d wanted for him was to see him smile more easily, more often. And for herself, a little taste of being wild and safe and warm in his strong arms.

  She’d loved him so much that she’d believed she had enough faith in the world for both of them, enough to help renew his faith in people, to show him that love could change everything.

  But could it?

  Chapter Twenty-three

  It had been barely fifteen minutes since Brooke had driven away, and Rafe missed her so badly already that he’d almost fired up his motorcycle a dozen times to race after her. But she’d given him twenty-four hours when he’d asked for it. He owed her the same now, owed her one more chance to think things through.

  He had left Seattle for the summer to get away from the assholes for a little while so that he could clear his head…only to find out that he was the real asshole. And now, if he couldn’t convince her to take him back, he’d have to come to the lake every summer, wave at her from his porch next door, and watch her fall in love with some other guy who was smart enough to know a good thing when he held it in his arms. It would kill Rafe to see Brooke grow pregnant with another man’s children, and to have someone else teach them to swim and tell them scary stories around the bonfire at night, all the while knowing that that guy should have been him.

  But he’d been so stuck on focusing on everything bad in the world that he hadn’t let himself see that the
very best thing had been in his arms the whole time. He was supposed to be a great investigator, but he’d ignored every loving, honest cue Brooke had given him.

  Although Rafe now had a newly renovated and furnished home, a home that had once been filled with the love and laughter of his family, he finally understood where his real home was. With Brooke.

  A week ago, next door hadn’t seemed like far enough away in case things went wrong with their fling. But now it was too far away. He couldn’t stay here, couldn’t imagine spending even one night in his new bed without her curled up against him.

  God, he was such an idiot. He’d been so worried about hurting Brooke, about stripping away her innocence with kinky sex. But nothing they’d done in the bedroom had taken away the sweet light in her eyes. No, sending Ben out to dig into her past had been what had finally torn the veil away.

  Her parents had never let themselves see the real Brooke, and he’d told her he had. But he’d been so scared about what he’d seen whenever he looked into her eyes that he’d tried to look through the cynical investigator’s eyes instead of those of a man who had fallen in love fast and hard. He’d come up with the perfect way to test that forever. . . and to make sure she knew exactly how far he was from being a man she could count on to share her sunny, sweet life.

  And all the while he’d believed that it was better to throw something away than to have it stolen from him later.

  Rafe hadn’t cheated on Brooke, but it was just as bad that he hadn’t talked to her, or had enough respect for her strength to tell her how scared he was about loving her, and about whether he could be the man she needed him to be. He’d been so proud of himself for never cheating on a woman, when all the while it turned out that he was worse than any of the scum he’d caught cheating over the years.

  How was he going to fix things?

  These were the most important twenty-four hours of his life, and he felt lost. Completely, utterly lost. He’d finally put a stop to the investigations that had darkened his heart, but was it too little, too late?

  Other people came to Rafe Sullivan for help. He didn’t go to them. But, suddenly, he realized he’d been a fool for more than one reason, with more than just Brooke. His family had always been there for him, but he’d shut them out. Not just after he’d been slashed with the knife, but long before that, when his job—and life—had become something he didn’t much like anymore.

  He pulled the phone out of his pocket and dialed. "Mia, I need your help. "

  "Rafe? What happened?" Of course, before he could answer, his sister had already guessed it had something to do with Brooke. "What did you do?"

  "I screwed everything up, just like you predicted. "


  "I ran a background check on Brooke’s business partner without checking with her first. "

  She made a considering sound. "Well, that shows a major lack of respect, but honestly, even though I’m sure she’s mad about it, I don’t think it’s anything you can’t come back from if you grovel enough. "

  "That’s not all, Mia. " He swallowed hard at the full extent of his stupidity. "I did a background on Brooke, too. "

  "Oh, shit, Rafe. " She was silent for a long moment. "You’re my brother, and I love you, but you sure aren’t making it easy on a sister to help. Because if a man I was sleeping with did that to me—"

  "We aren’t just sleeping together. I love her. And I only have twenty-four hours to figure out a way to get her back. "

  He didn’t know what he expected Mia to say to him upon hearing that he’d fallen in love with her childhood friend. He only knew it wasn’t, "You would never have done something like that if you didn’t love her. " Of course Mia followed it up with something he did expect. "I swear, men are so stupid sometimes I can’t believe there’s any of you left. " She let out a long, deep sigh. "If you had just forgotten her birthday or something like that, I could give you an easy fix. You know, a dozen roses or standing outside her window while you recite the poetry you wrote about how beautiful she is. But after what you’ve done, I’m going to need some time to think of a much better way for you to unlock her heart again so that she can trust you. "
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