More than need you, p.37
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       More Than Need You, p.37

         Part #2 of More Than Words series by Shayla Black
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  I close my eyes and savor her touch for a sweetly sharp moment. But I’m barely holding it together now. I need to say the last thing I came to, then leave.

  “Second”—I reach into my pocket and pull out the box containing her engagement ring and wedding band—“I want you to have these. I bought them for you. I know you probably won’t wear them. But…maybe you’ll look at them and think of me sometimes. Or not. I just know these don’t belong with me anymore.”

  She presses her hands to her chest, as if her heart will fall out at my feet if she doesn’t. “I can’t take these from you, not like this.”

  “Hey, I’d love to insist that you wear them for real… But unless you want to marry me, I don’t have that right. My offer still stands, though. I would marry you tomorrow. I will—if you want that.” When she opens her mouth, I press a finger over her lips. “Don’t answer me now. I want you to think. Without me here, without my interference. I want you to comb through everything I’ve said and everything we’ve been through. I’ll never be an easy man to live with. I know that. If you still want me, come to Maxon and Keeley’s house tomorrow about noon. If you can’t spend your life with me, if this is good-bye…then it’s been my pleasure and my honor.” I lean in to kiss her cheek softly, working my jaw to hold myself together. “And I will love you always.”



  The day begins with a hushed anticipation I can’t shake. I’m not even sure what I’m waiting for. To see Griff again? Sometimes I think I look forward to that more than I should when we just hurt each other so much. At least I finally know why.

  Now that the truth is between us, can we stop it from happening again?

  I roll down the car window. The trade winds are gentle. The skies are clear.

  I wish I could say the same for my mind.

  Gripping the steering wheel, I head north. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to say. Griff gave me so much to think about yesterday. I spent most of the night turning his confession over and over. I finally fell asleep about four this morning, still shocked. When I woke, only two things were clear to me: I’ve spent so much time wrapped up in my own anger and hurt, carting around my own baggage, that I never stopped to ask myself what thousand-pound monkey Griff might be carrying on his back.

  I regret that utterly.

  His behavior about so many things makes perfect sense to me. Initially, we dated for months before we had sex. Sure, some of the wait was navigating office etiquette. But he kept asking me to be sure—really sure—before we took that step. He always said he didn’t want me to have regrets. I’m guessing he didn’t sleep with Tiffanii for months because she reminded him too much of one of the country club women—shallow, self-absorbed, completely unconcerned for anyone’s feelings but her own. It also explains why he might have taken her to bed once in a moment of loneliness or weakness, then resolved to never do it again.

  Griffin Reed has been looking his whole life for love, acceptance, someone he could trust.

  I feel so terrible that I didn’t give it to him when he needed me most.

  The second thing I know for sure? When I tried to force him out of my heart, I found it impossible. I will always love him, too.

  Tears pool in my eyes again. I’ve been crying off and on for hours—for what he’s survived, for how it’s shaped him, for how it’s torn us apart. For the turmoil of not knowing exactly what to do next.

  But at least I know now what I want.

  Last night, I stared at the engagement ring and wedding band he left me for at least an hour. I took them out of the box. Put them back inside. I imagined wearing them for the rest of my life. I considered what life would be like if I never once put them on my finger.

  “Mama, you cryin’?” Jamie asks from the backseat.

  “I’ll be all right.” I wipe away a stray tear that falls down my cheek.

  He frowns. “You got a boo-boo?”

  Yes. A gigantic one, breaking my chest in half at the thought of all Griff has been through. At all the ways he tried to overcome his past to learn to love me like I wanted him to. At the thought of never being with him again.

  “I’ll be fine.” Maybe. I hope.

  My phone rings in my purse. Is it Griff, wanting to know if I’m coming to see him? I admit it, I have a thousand questions. Yet…what’s really left to hash out between us? Everyone who should have protected him as a kid warped his innocence and broke his trust. I want to understand more about how he felt, how he coped, but that’s me trying to fill in my head with the details so I can empathize the best way possible. For him, answering would probably only be another twist of the knife.

  When the cell trills again, I pull myself from my thoughts and rummage through my purse for the device. I glance at the screen. Keeley.

  She’s called every day for the past week. I haven’t answered. I know she only wants to help…but I don’t know what to say.

  Maxon is lucky to have a wife who’s both soft enough to give him all the feels and strong enough to make that difficult man toe the line. They’re perfect together. I’m happy for them.

  The device rings a third time. I silence it. She wants to do whatever she can to help her best friend be happy, and I commend that. But I have to be the one to tell Griff what I’m thinking, not whisper it to his pal to pass on to him like seventh-grade gossip.

  I pull off the highway and turn up the radio, hoping it will occupy my mind. All I get is talk and commercials, so I turn it off again.

  In the silence, broken only by Jamie’s gurgling truck noises, my thoughts wander again. My son looks so much like his father. More every day, in fact. Sometimes, I used to resent the way just looking at my son would remind me of Griff. Now…it touches my heart. I’ll protect Jamie the way Linda Reed never sheltered Griff. I already know he’s the kind of father who would never let anything happen to our boy.

  I’m pretty sure I know what kind of stepfather Makaio would have been. Logical and slightly removed. It’s how he treated everyone, even me. He would never have become a roaring beast the moment anyone tried to harm my child—or any others we had together.

  He would have been all wrong.

  I’ve known that for weeks. I’m glad Griff finally made me admit that to myself.

  If he hadn’t walked back in my life, I would be putting on a flowing white tent of a dress that Makaio’s mother picked out and listening to the wail of conch shells as I headed toward the altar to marry a man I respected…but didn’t love.

  Whatever else Griff and I say to each other today, I have to thank him for saving me.

  A few minutes and a few turns later, I pull up in front of Keeley and Maxon’s big, sunny house. As I stop and put the car in park, I see the front lawn is set up for another wedding, very much like last weekend’s. Vaguely, I wonder who’s getting married today…but I’m way more focused on making sure everything I need is in my purse.

  I grab the straps and sling them over my shoulder, then climb out and reach in the backseat for Jamie.

  My heart is pounding so hard I’m sure it’s going to bruise the insides of my ribs. It gets worse once I stand up, cradling my son, and see Griff prowling toward me in ground-eating steps, a silent question shouting across his face.

  I close the car door, lock it. I can’t take my eyes off him. He’s…everything. He always has been. A glance tells me he hasn’t slept. His eyes are red-rimmed. He looks pale and unshaven—and still unbearably handsome. I can’t take away the agony he survived, but maybe—if he’ll let me—I can help crowd it out with devotion and love.

  “You came.” He cups my cheek, then abruptly jerks his hand away. He covers the gesture by ruffling Jamie’s hair.

  The boy smiles. “Daddy!”

  I’m not sure if Griff uttered those words because he’s talking to me or reassuring himself. It doesn’t matter. He allowed me to make this decision. The man who’s spent the last fifteen years controlling everything so that no on
e could ever hurt him again gave me total dominion over our future.

  I’m going to set it right.

  “I had to. I thought about everything you said yesterday. I ache for everything you told me. I admire who you’ve become.”

  He flinches. “I’m hardly perfect.”

  “I’m not, either. Far from it. The fact that you could open yourself up to tell me your darkest memories simply to help me proves your strength and compassion and—”

  “I couldn’t leave you to wonder anymore. Not explaining was cruel.”

  “You were protecting yourself, Griff. You probably learned to do that a long time ago because no one else did.”

  He frowns, drops his head. He doesn’t have to tell me I’m right. I know. And every bit of me aches for him.

  “Why did you come?”

  The question takes me aback. He told me to. At noon. I’m five minutes early. Did he change his mind overnight?

  Dread clenches my belly. “I wanted to see you. I wanted to talk about us.”

  Over Griff’s shoulder, Harlow runs out of the house and adjusts all the blue bows on the folding chairs. She drops more tropical petals on the white sheets underneath. “There’s another wedding here today? Is this Keeley and Maxon’s first official day open for business as a bed-and-breakfast?”

  He pauses. “Not exactly. Maybe Jamie can run around with Auntie Harlow while we talk?”


  Griff calls out to his sister, who dashes our way, wearing a beaming smile and a full face of makeup, which seems odd for this early on a Saturday. Maybe she’s got someplace to go later?

  She hugs me tightly, which surprises me even more. “Glad you’re here. We’re—”

  “Going to talk,” Griff cuts in. “Can you entertain Jamie for a few?”

  Harlow’s smile falters but she nods. “Sure.”

  When the pretty brunette carries my son away, I watch. She’s an interesting woman. I hope she doesn’t marry the guy she’s engaged to, but it’s none of my business. She’s not my sister-in-law. I don’t even know if she considers me a friend right now. The mixed signals are confusing.

  Then again, I’ve got a mountain of problems in front of me. Harlow is a smart cookie, and she’ll make the right choice. I hope she finds love someday…but I’m pretty sure her outlook on happily ever after matches the one her brothers shared for years. Her heart won’t go down without a fight. Vaguely, I wonder what secrets are lurking in her closet after growing up in the Reed household, but Griff takes my hand, distracting me.

  “Is this okay?” He squeezes my fingers. “To touch you like this?”

  “Of course. Griff, I’m here because I love you. And I’m here because I don’t want this.” I extricate my hand from his and reach into my purse for a small manila envelope, then pass it his way.

  He scowls at it. “What’s in here?”

  “Look inside.”

  Prying open the lip, he stares down into the contents. “Is that confetti?”

  “It is now. It was the papers you signed yesterday relinquishing your parental rights. I can’t keep you from your son any more than I can bear to stay away from you myself. What you told me changed my outlook—and mind—about everything between us. You told me your past because you wanted me to understand your behavior. But what you really needed was for me to understand you. So I could be with you. So we wouldn’t repeat this terrible cycle again. So we could commit to each other with whole hearts.” I swallow nervously. “Am I wrong?”

  He crushes the envelope in his fist, then shoves it in his pocket. “No. You’re right. So right. About everything.”

  His voice isn’t quite steady, and I’m touched down to the soul. This man has walked through fire and stripped himself bare for me. I can’t do any less for him.

  I reach into my purse again and withdraw another form, the one he had drawn up voluntarily establishing his parental rights. I swiped it from his desk at the office on my way over here.

  With a deep breath, I hand it to him. I understand this is forever—and that makes me so happy now. “Here. I’ve already signed this. If you do the same and give it back to your attorney, you’ll be Jamie’s father in the eyes of the law.”

  Reverently, he takes the paper from my hand and unfolds it. After a quick scan, he breaks out in a big smile and starts looking for a pen. Luckily, I come prepared and hand him one out of my purse.

  He smooths out the form against the car and adds his name in all the places marked FATHER. Then it’s done. My heart feels lighter already.

  “Thank you. Really. That means the world to me.”

  I shake my head. “You don’t have to thank me. You’re his father. And I know you’ll be a great one.” I dig into my purse again. “I also brought you something else.”

  After a little searching, I finally find the black box containing the rings he bought me so early in our relationship and held on to because he couldn’t let me go. I put the velvety square in his hand. “I also came here today because I finally have an answer to your proposal.”

  He glances at the box, then yanks his gaze to my face, as if he’s desperately trying to read my intentions. “Angel?”

  “Yes.” I cup his jaw and look into his beloved hazel eyes. “Unequivocally, most certainly, wholeheartedly yes. I want to marry you.” I break out into the tears I swore I wouldn’t cry. “Finally.”

  “Thank god.” His voice crumbles. “I love you, angel.”

  “I love you, too.”

  Griff wraps his fingers around my nape and hauls me closer like he can’t get to me fast enough, slanting his mouth over mine. There’s hunger in his kiss, but I taste the relief and the devotion. We’ve only been apart for a week, but it’s felt like an eternity. I press myself against him. He’s solid, strong. His heart beats against mine. This feels right. We feel right.

  We share a love—and trust—we can both count on. I’m convinced of that all the way to my soul.

  His fingers are in my hair. I grope for his shoulders. He moans. I melt.

  “Get a room!” Maxon yells across the yard.

  We jump apart guiltily. I give a nervous laugh.

  Leave it to Maxon to say the most inappropriate thing at the most inappropriate moment.

  Griff turns to him with a snarl. “I’m going to kill you.”

  “Nah, you look like you’re going to be too busy to mess with me.” He winks, then waves at me. “Hi, Britta. Your job is still available…”

  I giggle through my tears. “I’ll think about it.”

  “Later,” Griff adds to his brother. “Go the fuck away. Don’t you have things to do?”

  “Now I do.” He salutes us. “I’m on it.”

  Then he disappears inside the house again.

  “What was that about?”

  Griff clears his throat nervously. Why he should be worried now that I’ve said yes is a mystery.

  “Let’s get this engagement ring on you.”

  I’m beyond ready. “Please.”

  He flips open the box, and I’m struck again by how beautiful the stones and setting are. It’s something I would have been drawn to. If he had turned me loose in a room full of rings, I have no doubt I would have chosen this one. He knows me so very well. Finally, that’s a comfort.

  He lifts the ring from its pristine perch. I hold out my hand. Together, we work to slide it on my finger. It fits perfectly, and the unfamiliar weight clenches at my heart. I’m his—now and always.

  “It’s beautiful,” I murmur.

  “I really believe it was made for you.” He pockets the box containing the wedding band. “I’ll keep this until the right time.
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