“What did you do to her? She wouldn’t disappear for no reason.” I ask evenly, my heart drumming in my ears.
“I made a couple of mistakes… but she’s great, Dad. If you knew her like I do, you’d agree.”
“I bet I would,” I say ironically, and a twinge of guilt twists in my heart. Emotions clog my throat. I’m upset at Riley for not telling me the truth, and mad at Alex for breaking her heart—but a small part of me is also grateful for indirectly sending her my way. But I can’t talk about any of it with my son. “Remember when you mentioned to me once she was pretty and I told you to stay away from employees? To keep it professional?” I say with a straight face, grateful we’re not on a video call. I am the irony personified right now.
“Yes. I knew you’d say that,” he says in a low voice, like he’s too tired to fight me on this.
“And that didn’t ring any bells? I mean, Riley is great at her job. We don’t want to lose her or make her feel uncomfortable or unsafe at work. Not to mention any kind of ethical problems.” Another fresh wave of guilt washes over me. I guess I can’t follow my own advice, can I? Fuck.
Alex sighs into the phone. “That’s why I’ve been trying to talk to her, to apologize.”
God, we could all do a round of apologizing. Right now it’s not the time for it, though. I can’t talk about it with Alex over the phone. He’s impulsive and immature, but he’s my kid and I don’t want him hurt. I also wonder if he really cared for Riley. “Listen, I’m sure she’s good. She just needs some time away from you. I’d advise you to leave her the fuck alone. If she wants to contact you, she will.”
He sighs again. “Okay. I guess you’re right.”
“Son, sometimes people just need… time,” I say, and steal another glance to the terrace. “Time to figure things out. To heal and move on. You’ll be okay, you’ll see. And so will she.” I clear my throat, before I get too emotional on this call. “I have to go… but we’ll talk soon.”
I hang up, and set the phone on the counter. I have all these different emotions—guilt, frustration, confusion racing through my head. I march out to the terrace. She’s reading a book on her phone, her attention rapt. I sit on the chaise next to hers, still a mess. “Tell me something.”
Her gaze swings from the screen to me. “Yeah?”
I inhale. “When did you plan on telling me Alex was your ex?”
Shivers run down my spine.
Shit. I knew this moment would come, but I was a coward not to tell Rhett the whole truth. A selfish coward, not wanting to burst my happiness bubble. And now, chills flutter in my stomach. My heartrate is rampant. “How did you find out?” I ask, the famous question most people ask to buy time when they’re caught red-handed.Oh, Riley, when will you learn?
“He told me.” He rubs his forehead, the few lines around his eyes creasing.
Knots twist in my stomach. I come to a sitting position and take off my sunglasses. It’s lighter around me, not just because of the stubborn sun even in the afternoon. I’ve been exposed, and this clarity is blinding me. I look Rhett square in the eye. “I’m sorry.”
He narrows his eyes. There’s a darkness in his expression, the way his shoulders are so stiff, stretching the fabric of his cotton shirt. “Sorry for what? Using me to get back at him?”
I shake my head violently, pulse skyrocketing. “No. I never… Sure, when I got started, I was thinking about screwing him over, but when I realized that could cost losing your trust… that’s why I talked to you after what you said in the kitchen, and decided to go.”
“And during this time you didn’t find any other opportunity to tell me?”
I bite my inner cheek. I could say that it’s not like it’s been weeks. It’s been days. And yesterday we had sex. Hell, I changed my flight back this morning, and rescheduled to return with him instead. There was plenty of time.
I should have told him before. Regret fills my chest. I hope this won’t cost whatever we’ve been building. I’m not ready to say goodbye to Rhett. “I own up to it. I could have told you, I should have. But I was so happy when you finally came around last night, I didn’t want you to get mad at me when I finally got what I wanted. Not sleep with Alex’s dad. But sleep with you. Rhett.”
He stands, and walks around in a small circle, his gaze scanning the gorgeous landscape, the pool, and the beach not too far from us. He’s looking everywhere but me. Then, he turns to me, and the smallest of curves pulls at the corner of his lips. “You’re the most enterprising, cunning, lying virgin that I’ve ever seen.”
A pang of hope reverberates through me. I don’t hear bitterness in his voice. That has to count in my favor. I shift on the chaise, unsure. My palms are clammy, my nerves a mess. I’m teetering between anxiety and hope. “Why do I feel like this is a compliment? God, please, tell me it is.”
I surge to my feet, even if my knees are about to buckle.Be strong, Riley. You created this hot mess.“Because I don’t want to lose you.”
Challenge flickers in his eyes. “Why?”
“Because I’m falling for you. And maybe you don’t feel the same and that’s okay, but I don’t want you to have this idea of me that I don’t care for you. That I never did.” Also, a semi-lie. Him not loving me is not okay, but I can’t make him, so I have to hope for it someday. But what I need right now is to have this chance.
He takes a step back, and stares at me like it’s the first time we met. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I can’t break the visual contact. “You have a lot of courage. You know, bringing that up while we’re overseas and this could lead to an awkward flight back in two days.”