More than need you, p.28
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       More Than Need You, p.28

         Part #2 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black
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  But I get it. I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up, either, unless she’s truly going to marry me.

  I slam the sock drawer shut and stomp back to bed.

  Five minutes later, Britta emerges in a soft, dark cotton nightie that says LITTLE BLACK DRESS and slides between the sheets next to me. “Thank you for understanding.”

  That she needed orgasm? That I couldn’t touch her? That she’s not ready to wear my ring? Probably all of it.

  I can’t be mad at her. I did next to nothing to accommodate her in the past. I have to give her everything I can now. “You’re welcome.”

  With a light kiss on my cheek, she turns out the light and rolls over, dipping into a deep rhythm of sleep between one moment and the next.

  I stare at the ceiling for a long time. Tonight notched the game up again. I’m more determined than ever to come out on top and win Britta back. I will make use of every single one of my remaining forty-seven-ish days so it’s a foregone conclusion that she’ll be mine.

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  We all sleep in the next morning. It’s not uncommon for me to hold a private open house on a day like this, but Maxon and I both agree we have a lot going on in our personal lives, and this is one Sunday we’ll live without the potential new leads and lookie-loos.

  Britta and I fix breakfast in companionable silence. There’s an easiness between us that wasn’t there before last night. But awareness also simmers in the air. She glances at me often. I see her smile my way more.

  Maybe I should stop myself, but I can’t not pile on the incidental touching. A caress of her shoulder. A hand at the small of her back when she’s reaching up for something in the cabinet. A brush of her hair off her cheek. Yes, I’m pushing my luck. And I suspect where this sort of thing will lead eventually. But I want her to feel adored. I want to feel close to her. Is that so bad?

  “Angel, I think we need to get Jamie a real bed.”

  “We could go to the house and pick up his crib. I need to check on my houseplants and my little garden—”

  “Don’t you think he’s too big for a crib? He’s almost as tall as the mattress. He climbs out of it. What’s the point?”

  “You mean…a big-boy bed?” She looks distressed.

  I understand the resistance. She doesn’t want her baby to grow up.

  I give her a gentle smile and caress her cheek. “Yeah. Let’s go out today. I want to give him a bed he can grow into.”

  “You’re right.” She concedes after a long moment. “Let me get ready. I told Keeley I would call her. She texted me earlier and said she needed a minute of my time for wedding stuff. I should be ready about an hour after breakfast.

  “Perfect.” And if she’s getting us one step closer to our wedding, even better.

  After pancakes and eggs, Britta disappears by the pool, phone pressed to her ear. Jamie and I have a ball trying to clean both him and the dishes at once. I put him in his room with his toys to make sure he can’t get free, at least while I hop in the shower. I’m climbing out with a towel wrapped around my waist when Britta sweeps into the steamy space and her eyes fall on me.

  “Oh. Sorry. I didn’t—”

  “It’s fine.” I shrug. Does she think I mind her seeing me naked? “I’m just about done in here.”

  But if she’s going to linger in the bathroom for makeup and hair, I can stand here—barely covered—for a while.

  As I trim my beard, she doesn’t hurry through her morning routine. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her take twenty minutes simply to brush her hair and put it in a ponytail. But I totally notice her gaze sliding over me again and again. If I thought she wouldn’t freak out, I would lose the towel and stalk across the bathroom, maybe lift her up and spread her legs so I could have my wicked way with her.

  But I can tell by her furtive glances that she’s not ready.

  Finally, I hear Jamie getting antsy in his room. The sounds jolt us out of our mutual eye-fuck-fest, and we start dashing around to toss on clothes, grab our little man, and head out the door.

  Big-boy bed is first. Britta sniffles as I purchase the double-sized bunk beds. I tell her I’m buying it bigger in case he ever wants a friend to sleep over, but I’m really thinking ahead. Someday, she’s going to want more children. I’m sure of it. Just like I’m sure I’ll be the one to give them to her. Our sons can bunk together. It’s something Maxon and I did when we were little, and I loved that simple time before our dad tried to poison our minds against one another.

  After we arrange delivery of the bed on Tuesday, we run errands—checking on Britta’s house, then groceries, dry cleaners, pharmacy. I notice she isn’t picking up birth control pills. I haven’t noticed her taking them anymore.

  What does that say? That she and butthole have had a next to nonexistent sex life? Or that since she’s getting married soon, she’s gone off them so she can get pregnant right away?

  I’m searching for the right words to broach the topic when we get back in the car. It’s none of my business—yet. Before I can find a subtle way to bring up my observation, my phone rings.

  The display tells me it’s Maxon. “Hey, bro.”

  “Hey,” he says over the line. “Where are you guys?”

  “On our way back to the house with groceries.”

  “Good. We’re headed that way. I’ve got a surprise for you. Meet you there in thirty?”

  I didn’t really want company. I was hoping to talk to Britta. But Maxon on a mission is an unstoppable force.

  I hold in a sigh. “Sure.”

  When we pull up about twenty minutes later, we settle Jamie with a snack and unpack all the groceries. I glance out one of the kitchen windows to see Maxon’s SUV appear in the side yard. He and Keeley step out of the vehicle, wearing big smiles.

  “They look happy,” Britta remarks.

  I noticed that, too. What the hell is going on? Did they elope or something?

  Then the car’s rear door opens and the last person I expected to see steps out.

  “Harlow!” I shove the eggs in the fridge and take off running.

  I haven’t seen my baby sister in three years. She’s funny, acerbic, and sharp as hell. And she’s definitely more grown-up than the last time I saw her. But it makes sense. She was an angsty undergrad finishing her degree when she left Hawaii with my parents to move back to San Diego. Now she’s twenty-five, completing her master’s, and engaged to be married—to some guy I know nothing about.

  As my sister pulls a rolling carry-on from the backseat, I reach her side and hug her tight. “What are you doing here? This is a real surprise.”

  “Hi, Griff. I’ve barely stepped out of the car, and you’re already trying to interrogate me.” She rolls her eyes. “I want to say hi to your way better half. How are you, Britta?” Harlow holds out her arms to my angel.

  Britta steps into the sisterly embrace with a smile. “I’m good. It’s been a long time. You look fantastic.”

  Harlow does. Her dark hair is in some haphazard twist that shows off the varying tones of browns, reds, and caramels. She’s looking fit in a T-shirt that reads I’M NOT TRYING TO BE DIFFICULT. IT JUST COMES NATURALLY. Truer words were never spoken. Her white shorts fit like a second skin and her wedges are beige, high, and fairly impractical.

  That’s my sister.

  “Thanks. You look as beautiful as ever,” Harlow says to Britta with a laugh. “If you weren’t so sweet, I’d really hate you.”

  My angel giggles in return.

  “Come on in,” I invite my sister. “Come meet Jamie.”

  I’m so proud to introduce my son to her. There’s a swell in my chest and a lightness in my heart. I know nothing is settled or official, but I’ve made progress.

  “Nice digs.” Harlow glances at the mansion. “This place is…beyond. And huge. No wonder Maxon suggested I stay here with you.”

  I freeze and look at my brother. Is she kidding? By the apologetic expression working its way across his face, I’m
guessing not.

  Britta leads Harlow and Keeley inside, and Maxon sidles up to me. “Dude, I didn’t have a choice. The house I bought for Keeley is being painted. We planned to move in after our wedding, but it’s not habitable right now. So I’ve got twelve hundred square feet of condo, including my lanai space. It’s a bachelor pad I’m sharing with my fiancée…who’s a screamer.”

  I didn’t need to know that.

  Wincing, I turn to him. “I’ll make it work. It’s just terrible timing. Britta and I have resolved to spend the rest of our time together acting like a normal married couple, as long as we’re not doing anything that’s technically cheating on her fiancé. We really need privacy and normalcy and…” I rake a hand through my hair. “I’ll put her up in a hotel.”

  “I offered to do the same,” he murmurs under his breath.

  Neither of us wants Harlow to feel unwelcome. But shit, the timing couldn’t be worse.

  “She’s not having it?”

  Maxon shakes his head. “No. She says she’s on the island to take care of wedding details. She wants peace and quiet to prep for her thesis defense, which is just before her ceremony. But she’s really here to be with family.”

  It makes sense but… “Shit.”

  “Yeah. Keeley and I will help you all we can. So…what do you know about this guy she’s marrying?”

  “Nothing. Have you met him?”

  Maxon shakes his head. “I was hoping you had.”

  “Other than Dad’s rude drop-in a couple of weeks ago, I haven’t seen any of the rest of the family since they moved away.”

  “Me, either. Harlow tells me that Dad introduced her to this guy.”

  That sets off a few hundred red flags. Finding out that Dad is hitching his only daughter to someone who is potentially similar is not welcome news.

  “I don’t like it.”

  My brother nods. “I don’t, either. I’m hoping I’m wrong. I don’t know anything about him but…”

  “I’m not holding my breath. Simon. That’s his name. The way she talks about him, it seems as if she’s invisible to him.”

  I watch her laugh. She’s not restrained in the least. Harlow is big and full of life. She’s definitely buckets full of sass and sarcasm. Why would she marry some guy who doesn’t see what’s in front of him?

  “If he ignores her, how long before she does something to raise brows? How long do you think she’ll stay?” Maxon muses aloud.

  I send my sister a measuring glance. She’s already dressed like she wouldn’t mind male attention, and I don’t think her fiancé is anywhere on the island. I know how Harlow thinks. If she believes she’s getting short shrift, she’ll eventually fix it. She doesn’t let grass grow under her for long. Her lack of patience is well documented. Her audacious behavior is even more legendary.

  “We’re in for a bumpy ride,” Maxon whispers in low tones.

  “I want to meet this guy before I pass judgment, but yeah. I suspect you’re right.”

  We follow the women into the house. I catch up to my sister and lead her to Jamie, who’s still sitting on the floor. He walked away from his animal crackers and found way more amusement tossing his trucks from Britta’s organized basket and onto the tile.

  I pick up the little man and hoist him onto my hip. “Jamie, this is Auntie Harlow.”

  My sister flashes a big smile. “That has a nice ring. Hi, Jamie. Can I get hugs?”

  He looks at her uncertainly, then slants his stare over at me, silently questioning whether she’s trustworthy. “It’s all right. She’s always going to be your friend.”

  Jamie hesitates a moment more. Harlow obviously planned for this possibility and pulls a big box from her carry-on containing six utility trucks. There’s a crane, an excavator, a cement mixer… My son is going to be in heaven.

  He obviously realizes it when he lunges at Harlow to get his hands on the goodies. Everyone laughs.

  Maxon retrieves my sister’s suitcases from his vehicle, and I schlep them upstairs, in the bedroom farthest away from the one I’m sharing with Britta, on the opposite side of the house.

  As I head back down, I see everyone congregating in the kitchen, sipping iced tea, and eating raw veggies and sliced fruit with yogurt dip. There are smiles, jokes, laughter. It’s really nice to have all the Reed siblings together. Well, the legitimate ones. Dad has two others close to our age, whom we’ve never met, and another one on the way. He’s always paid for his children but never cared about any of them. I have no idea why—if he’s going to fuck around with every assistant he hires—he doesn’t get snipped.

  Because he’s a fucking idiot. And he married someone every bit as self-absorbed as he is.

  I join the group and take the tea Britta proffers in my direction, then grab a slice of mango she cut off the tree out back earlier. “So how long are you staying, Harlow?”

  Everyone laughs, my sister most of all. “You are so transparent. I’ll try not to be a bother here in your palatial love nest. But I’ll be here for about a month. I have to take care of wedding details before all this shit gets away from me. Simon can’t help, and I’m over Mom and her ‘boyfriend’ right now. He’s a young leech who wants her money but has no trouble hitting on me.” She shudders. “I had to get out of there. I figured I can prepare for my thesis defense anywhere, so why not come to paradise?”

  Why not? Except that a month is most of the time I have left with Britta. Still, I can’t turn my sister away. It’s great to see her, and I have the feeling she needs some time to decompress. Under her usual fun, flirty demeanor, she seems tense.

  “Will we get to meet your groom before your big day?” Britta asks.

  I’m glad she’s quizzing Harlow. It saves me from asking the same question, and I’d probably sound a lot less polite since I don’t like the sound of this guy.

  “The way it’s looking now, I don’t think he’ll make it to the island until the day before our wedding. He’ll be working on a big deal in Amsterdam for the next few weeks.”

  I don’t want to paint him with Dad’s brush simply because they know one another, but showing up the day before tying the knot and not lifting a finger to help seems like a dick move and something Barclay Reed would do.

  “Sorry to hear that. What does he do?”

  “International finance. He brokers deals between overseas players, gathers consortiums for construction or infrastructure projects, finds investors from all over the world. That sort of thing. It’s all boring to me.”

  Basically, what our father does, just on a global scale. I’m shocked Dad doesn’t consider him a competitor.

  Unless… “Is his firm bigger than Dad’s?”

  She shakes her head. “Smaller. Simon’s company has only been off the ground a couple of years. He’s gone a lot because he says the face time while he’s establishing his business is critical. He’s sure it will taper off soon.”

  Yeah, and monkeys will fly out of my ass before that happens. Dad wants to gobble up his new son-in-law’s company. I’ll bet you anything. Then he’s going to send junior on the road indefinitely to make him more money. And Simon must like the travel. He might even like the exotic pussy he can sample all over the world. If he didn’t, he would stay home more. Or at least stay home enough to make Harlow a priority. Sure, he’s put a giant rock on her finger, but that doesn’t hold her when she’s sad or had a terrible day and needs a shoulder. And good ol’ Barclay doesn’t give two shits about his daughter’s happiness. He’s really only ever cared about money and sex.

  Shallow. Trite. Predictable.

  Even Britta smiles like she doesn’t really believe my sister’s line of crap. I’m worried, however, that Harlow does believe it—or is trying really hard to. What woman doesn’t want to be happy with the man she’s going to marry?

  I suspect that’s Britta’s issue with Makaio…

  The conversation wanders, and Britta leads the other ladies on a tour of the house. I kiss the top of Jamie
s head as I set him
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