Ophelia glared at him through the lace curtain. Did the man never give up?
“Are we trapped in Groundhog Day?” she called out through the window. “Cause I’m still not letting you stay no matter how many times you show up on my doorstep.”
He lifted both hands in surrender. “I just need to talk to you. I promise it won’t take long.”
“Tell me through the window.”
He arched a brow. “Really? I once kissed and licked every naked inch of your body, heard your screams, gave you endless orgasms, and you won’t even give me five minutes?”
She gasped, jerking the door open. Her cheeks burned. “Damn you, don’t talk like that!” she whispered furiously. She grabbed his arm, looked around to see if anyone had heard, and yanked him inside.
Those gorgeous lips pressed tight as if to hold back his laughter. “Gee, thanks.” He shivered and stamped the snow from his boots. A leather laptop case was tucked under his arm. “Pretty cold out there. My body still hasn’t converted from California.”
“Are you crazy? What if Ethan or Mia or Harper was out there? Are you trying to blow up my life?”
“Sorry, but you gave me no other options.” His eyes flared as if he was remembering every detail of every dirty thing they’d done together. And damn him for the devil he was, because aching heat throbbed between her legs and itched at her skin. Like a drunk heading for a bender, her head spun from his nearness, and she suddenly craved things she hadn’t for a long time.
No. One sip would put her in the wet, stinky gutter of hell. She was stronger than her ID. She decided to go on the attack and distract herself.
“You sicced my own brother on me. And Mia! How did you get her to like you so fast?”
He grinned. “Close quarters for the past few nights. Plus, I made nice with Hei-Hei. Got me my in. Can I have some coffee?”
“Are you really a bed and breakfast owner or is this a façade? Your mother would be outraged. She’d offer coffee to the most hated criminals.”
A smile threatened because he was right. She despised giving in to his easy charm, but there was no reason to talk in the foyer. Ethan had already begged her to give him another chance and have a long discussion about their “fight.” She let out an impatient breath and motioned him in. “One cup.”
She led him to the rear dining room where it was more casual and adjacent to the kitchen. “Are those muffins?” he asked hopefully.
He chuckled. Even though it was her week off, she’d been playing with some different recipes and decided to try out the orange carrot. Mia liked veggies in her cake, and baking helped soothe her. God knows she hadn’t slept well since he’d arrived. She kept waiting for him to leave since Ethan’s bungalow wasn’t conductive to three people, but he was still here.
She grabbed a mug, automatically putting in two sugars for him, then grabbed one of the muffins. Might as well have him try them out first. Maybe they sucked.
“Thank you.” He glanced around at the empty room. “No guests today?”
She rolled her eyes and slid into the seat across from him. The more distance the better. “I have a couple coming this weekend, but right now I’m alone. I haven’t changed my mind.”
His large hands cupped the mug, and he pondered his coffee for a few moments before he spoke. “Do you hate me that much?” he asked softly.
She jerked in her seat. She didn’t want to do this. Once, he’d been her everything, but examining the past too intensely only led to more pain. “No. I could never hate you—it would be like hating part of myself. But I don’t want you around. I don’t want to be reminded of us ever again.”
He lifted his gaze. Those green depths burned like a forest fire. “We may have a problem, then. There’s something I came to tell you.”
Her nerves tingled with the warning. Immediately, she sensed everything would change. The trembling began deep and broke slowly apart; the words hovered on his carved lips and she almost told him to stop, that she didn’t want to know, that she wanted him to go away and keep his truth. Instead, she steeled herself, lifted her chin, and waited.
“We’re still married, Ophelia.”
The world tilted. She stared at him, shaking her head hard in an attempt to deny the statement that ripped her safe world to shreds. She fought down panic and tried to think. It was impossible. They were divorced. She’d gone with him to the lawyer. Signed papers. “You’re wrong,” she forced out. “How could you say that? We have papers from the lawyer.”
He reached down, opened his briefcase, and pushed a stack of papers in front of her. “Those are my copies for what we gave the lawyer and signed. But did you ever get an official dissolution of marriage in the mail? Legal documents stating the divorce was final?”
She desperately rifled through the papers and tried to think. “No, I assumed they were mailed to you at our address in California and you never sent me a copy. I never needed it. I never thought about it.”
He nodded. “Neither did I. In my mind, we had done the hard stuff. We paid the lawyer and signed contracts. But recently, I found out the lawyer we used was a fake. He was taking money from clients and never filed papers. It was just a big scam. When the story broke and I realized it was him, I dug a bit deeper and confirmed with the court we were still legally married.”
“This can’t be,” she whispered. “Isn’t there a recourse for the people he scammed?”
“Unfortunately, not. He’ll go to jail or claim bankruptcy and keep our money. But if we want to go through with this divorce, we have to start over. Because right now, I’m legally your husband.”
Her lungs seized and she scrambled desperately for calm. The way he said husband pummeled her back into past, swirling with memories of raw intimacy, giddy highs, searing pain, and her broken heart that had never fully healed. Her belly tumbled when she thought of still belonging to him all over again, and her traitorous body lit up with anticipation. Focus. She had to focus on the problem at hand, fix it, and move on. It was the only way to deal with the fall-out.
“Okay. This is bad, but we can fix it. We’ll hire a lawyer to sort through the mess. We need to refile in California so when you get back you can start he process. It’s just paperwork. No need to panic.”
“I’m not panicking.”
Ophelia frowned, taking in his calm demeanor. He looked almost…glad. What was he up to? “Good, then we’re in agreement to move forward. Do you have someone you want to use? We can put in a phone call immediately and begin cleaning up this mess.”
He was staring at her with a strange intensity, seemingly at ease lounging in his chair with his coffee. But there was a predatory aura pulsing around him, as if she hadn’t heard the rest of his truth. “Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked, gaze narrowed in suspicion. “Is there something else you haven’t told me?”
“I think this was a sign, Ophelia. The story broke the same time I planned to come back home and see you. The book isn’t the only reason I want to stay here. Didn’t you ever wonder about us? If we were too young to really understand what we needed from each other? We’ve grown up and changed. We know who we really are now. And no matter how hard I’ve tried in the past decade, I haven’t been able to forget you.”
“Don’t.” Her voice broke, but then the anger hit and strength flooded back. “Don’t play games with me. You don’t waltz back to your first girlfriend ten years later and decide to try things out again just for the hell of it.”
“Wife. You’re my wife,” he said forcefully. “So, yeah, I’ve been thinking about second chances. Or at least, a chance for forgiveness. We spent our childhood together. Fell in love, got married, and tried to build a life. You want to throw away all of it just because it makes you uncomfortable thinking about what went wrong?”
She gripped the papers and practically hissed back. “Wrong? You think we could have fixed things by talking it through? I didn’t leave you, Kyle. You left months ago once you got a taste of the good life. The parties, and the schmoozing and the fakeness. You locked yourself away for days on end, only emerging to kiss your so-called friends’ asses.”
“I had the opportunity to work on a script that became a hit and changed my life. You didn’t give it time. You didn’t give me a chance, or the lifestyle, or your own career. And I think that’s what you’re really mad about, Ophelia. You gave up your singing—you’re one true dream. Why? What made you really run away?”
Emotion choked her. She never let herself remember. Only in short glimpses, sharp, rapid scenes that played behind her closed lids late at night, forcing her back. It had been so classic. They had been the perfect trope. Young lovers elope and try to conquer fame and fortune, only to be torn apart by the cruel world around them. Except, she’d figured out something that could never be fixed, no matter how hard they tried.
The man she loved had blossomed in the land of dreams.
She had crashed into a million pieces and when she looked over, she’d realized he wasn’t around to pick her back up. He’d already checked out long ago, confident they wanted the same things still.
She’d done the only thing left.
She’d come home.
When she answered, it was with the desolation of knowing how high they’d climbed together, and how completely their relationship had shattered way too soon. “I didn’t run. I finally saw the truth right in front of me. But you don’t see it, Kyle. You never did. And that’s why it will never work again.”
Frustration carved out his features. “You’re talking in riddles. The only thing you ever wanted was to be a singer. You were offered that reality show spot where you could reach millions. You had it all at your fingertips, but you turned it down because you were scared. But that fear destroyed us.”
Grief pounded at her like violent waves attacking a pier in a storm. How could she explain how her path had played out, allowing her to clearly see where she was headed? How many times she’d tried to talk to him, but he was caught up in his own world, until there was only silence left between them. “Singing wasn’t the only thing I wanted. It was just you.”
He flinched, but his lips set in that stubborn line she knew so well, even after all this time. “I want to get to know you again. I’ve come home to right some wrongs and make some changes. I need to stay here.”
“My answer is still no.” She got up from the table, weary to her bones from the conversation. She wanted to forget. She wanted him gone. She wanted—
“Give me my three months and I’ll give you the divorce.”
Slowly, the realization of his words hit her. In pure disbelief, she stared at him, not wanting to believe it. “Wait a minute. Are you saying if I don’t allow you to stay here you won’t give me a divorce?”
“I’m saying maybe I won’t be able to agree if I don’t find my closure.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Closure? Oh, you son-of-a-bitch, I’ll give you closure. You think you can blackmail me? You’re just as selfish as ever. You don’t want to stay here to spend time with me, or gain closure. You just want to finish your damn book so you can go back to your life back on top.”
He shook his head. “Not true. The moment I read those papers and realized you’re still my wife, something inside me shifted. I’m not ready to let you go yet, not until I know for sure it could never work again between us.”
She practically snarled at him. “Fine. I’ll get the divorce myself and sue you! I don’t need your permission or assent. Plenty of couples go through it.”
“Yeah, plenty do, but are you willing to risk it? Ethan or Harper or Mia could find out. The news could leak, and then where would that lead us?”
“You’re the devil,” she whispered. “No way would you tell. You’re bluffing. Ethan would kill you.”
“Maybe I’m tired of all the lies. Maybe if we had been honest from the start instead of some dirty, little secret, things would have been different. We would have had support.” Those eyes held a touch of weariness. “Maybe I want to begin making things right.”
“That’s insane.” She turned around, hands shaking, ready to scream. She was trapped in a nightmare. She couldn’t let her family know she’d married him in Vegas at some chapel at nineteen, or that she was still legally hitched. She couldn’t handle the complications of fighting him for a divorce when she was in New York and he was across the country. She didn’t even know if she’d trust him at this point.
Three months. One room. Then he’d be officially out of her life.
He wanted to finish his book. She could structure a daily agenda to make sure she stayed away from him, especially if he was writing all the time. He tended to immerse himself in a project and disappear. If that still held true, these weeks may fly by painlessly. Plus, he’d spend time with Ethan. And she had guests to be her buffer in case her body did something stupid like get all melty and hot for some good old fashioned, ex-lover sex.
Was she really considering doing this?
Three months. One room. Then gone.
“You’re a real bastard.” She whipped back around. “You want to play these games? Fine. I’ll give you what you want but there will be rules.”
He nodded, then smiled so sweetly her breath hitched. She’d always loved his smile. With his burnished hair tumbling over his brow, dimple, and green eyes lit, he reminded her of a fallen angel. Too bad she confirmed he was the true devil.
“I understand. Tell me what you need in order to make this work?”
“I need you to keep away from me. You can go ahead and wax poetic on wanting a second chance with me, but we both know your goal is the book. I can live with that. You’re out on April 1st. That’s when my spring season begins and I’ll need every room to spare.”
“You get breakfast every morning but you’re on your own the rest of the day. Don’t come sniffing around expecting me to cook you dinner or cater to you on the days I have off. I also don’t want you wandering around at all hours making yourself at home in my kitchen and private rooms. You stay in your room or the public dining room or porch.”
“Of course. Would you let me take you out to dinner now and then?”
“No. I’d appreciate you not getting involved with any of my guests.”
He quirked a brow. “Why?”
“Cause I said so.”
His lips twitched. “Got it. Anything else?”
“Yes.” This one was serious. She placed her palms flat on the table and leaned over. Their gazes crashed together. “No touching. No flirting. No trying to seduce me.”
His eyes flared with heat. The energy in the room tightened. An excruciating awareness pulsed between them. “What if you’d like it?” he asked softly.
His voice dropped to a sexy growl. “That was a challenge if I ever heard one. You always liked when I touched you. In fact, you craved it. Used to purr like a kitten when I’d stroke your hair or your back. Remember?”
Yes. She remembered every detail. The way his hot, rough palm would slide over her skin to trace her freckles, his tongue following in a sexy game of connect the dots. Remembered the way he’d push her hair back to bare her nape, sinking his teeth into the vulnerable curve where her neck met shoulder and hold her when she shivered uncontrollably.
Oh, she already knew she’d like it. Would like everything he wanted to do to her. But her goal was simple: get through the next three months unscathed.
That would mean no anything.
“That was a long time ago,” she said stiffly. “There have been others in between to take your place…and the memories.”
Temper ignited his face. A raw possessiveness flamed from him. “Are you seeing someone right now?” he asked, his features tight.
Oh, how she wanted to lie but it wouldn’t help. “Not right now,” she said. “My rule is non-negotiable. I’m not looking to ignite something that’s better left alone. You may not believe it, but I happen to love the way my life is right now and have no intention to change anything.”
He regarded her with intensity. He always had a unique ability to dive deep inside a person and linger. Maybe it was the creative soul within, but he enjoyed knowing a person, and was a bigger listener than talker. It had been another thing the showbusiness industry had managed to change in him. Every time she desperately begged him to listen, he’d talk over her, telling her how great everything was, leaving her with a kiss on the forehead and alone in a room, with an aching emptiness.
But right now, the old Kyle was back. He seemed to be content to study her body language, and linger before speaking. “You don’t miss singing?” he asked.
“Not like you think. And I do sing.”
“When you’re alone. With no one around. I asked Ethan about it, you know.”
“Asked him what?”
“If you sang. If you performed locally anywhere or had created a demo. Hell, nowadays you could post something on Youtube and with you, it may go viral. You have a gift. But Ethan said he hasn’t heard your voice since he’s been back.”
“I don’t need to make money from my gift like you do.”
Slowly, he nodded, but it was already too late. He’d looked deep enough to spot the shred of regret that still lingered. “Fair enough. I’ll agree to your rule. I will not touch or seduce you unwillingly.”
She glared at that clever twist of words but took it. She’d never ask for anything from him anyway. “Then I guess your blackmail plan worked quite well. Congratulations. You’ve scored a room.”
His grin was totally masculine and devastatingly handsome. “I always enjoyed your sarcasm. So much better than that yogic guru side you seem to favor lately. I’ll get my stuff from Ethan’s and get settled.”
He rose from the chair with his usual masculine grace and disappeared.
Ophelia leaned against the wall and tried to catch her breath. She had to make sure she was focused. Cool. Calm. Everything the old Ophelia wasn’t. She’d put up a wall of ice so thick and so deep, not even a Game of Thrones dragon could destroy it.