💑EP TWENTY FIVE💑
I woke up cuddled in Travis’s arms. I opened my eyes lazily.“Good morning,” I said to him.
He leaned forward and gave me a soft kiss on the lips.“Come to the office with me today?” he asked.
I smiled. “Why? I can’t sit around while you’re working. Itwill distract you.”
He chuckled. “It will distract me all right. But I don’treally mind,” he said. “You can paint while I read somecontracts. I’ll work only until noon. Then maybe we can goto a hotel. It’s almost the weekend anyway.”
My face brightened. “Really?”
He nodded. “Really. I want to celebrate my birthday withyou alone, Mrs. Cross.”
I beamed at him. “Wait for me. I’ll go dress and packsome clothes.”
I had a big smile on my face as I packed our stuff for theweekend. I realized that somehow, I hadn’t thought muchabout Christian since I’d gotten engaged to Travis. Damn! Ihadn’t even thought about how I would hunt for Mr. Rightsince I’d married Travis. I realized that…now, my worldrevolved around him and our marriage.
I didn’t realize that a smile had crept to my face. I washappy! I didn’t think I’d been happier than this. And Ithought we gotten married only to buy me time to find Mr.Right. But at that moment…Travis felt so right!
If only…if only he hadn’t been in love with somebodyelse when he married me. I still wondered who she was.Maybe a former fling or a mistress, and maybe he realized at the last moment, before he married me, that she’d meantmore to him.
We were a couple that didn’t sleep with each other. Butsince we’d gotten married, it seems we did everything elsethat married couples did. We kissed, but we made sure wedidn’t step close to the line. I was not sure how he washaving his needs satiated, and frankly, I didn’t want to thinkabout it. I wondered if he still saw her, if he’d been with hersince he married me. He didn’t attempt to make love to me.
He always stopped before we got so close that we’d have tomake a choice again. I wondered if during the times hewasn’t with me, he actually made some effort to see her.I couldn’t really be jealous, could I? I was the one who’dtaken his life and his love away from him. I might have beenthe legal wife, but it was when he was with me that he wascheating. Because we both knew that his heart belonged to
And suddenly, this realization made me feel sad. So sadthat I felt almost heartbroken. Maybe I really believed thathe was happy with me. Everything he showed me wasgenuine, sincere. And every time he kissed me and held me,he made me feel that I was all that was on his mind. I hadno suspicion that he was ever thinking about somebodyelse. Damn! I didn’t even feel that he was having his needs
When Travis opened his office, his staff was there, andthey all cheered, “Happy Birthday!”
Travis was surprised. It seemed that many of hisemployees were uncomfortable…scared, even. Iremembered Karl telling me that the last time theysurprised Travis, he didn’t like it and told them never to do itagain.
I stared at Travis. I was afraid that he would shout ateverybody and tell them to get the hell out of his office.But instead, he raised his brow and asked, “No confetti?”His tone was light and teasing.
Finally, they were all able to breathe…in relief.
“We were afraid you wouldn’t like the mess, boss,” Karlsaid, and then he motioned for somebody to bring the cake.Suddenly, the whole room started singing HappyBirthday. I joined them. A big cake was brought in front of usand at the end of the song, and Karl said to Travis, “Make awish.”
Travis took a deep breath. He closed his eyes for threeseconds, and then he blew the candle. We all cheered after.
“Speech! Speech! Speech!”
“You guys are pushing your luck, huh!” Travis said, buthe was chuckling. Even I was amazed by thistransformation. I was ready to put my hand on his mouthjust in case he said something rude or insensitive to hisemployees, like he would normally do.
He took a deep breath. Then he said, “Thank you all forremembering. I guess I never really allowed you to in thepast…and I do apologize for that. But I really appreciateyour efforts…and the cake.” He turned to me. “I want tothank my lovely wife. It’s an amazing feeling not to wake upalone on your birthday as I always did in the past. I wish to
celebrate the rest of my birthdays with you by my side.”And he turned to his employees. “And you, too, of course.
There should have been an encore after that. Butinstead, his employees were open-mouthed. They weresilent…and I was afraid they were in shock.
He stared back at their blank faces. “I must have beensuch an ogre in the past, huh,” he said to them.
Karl was first to recover. “Thank you, boss! And happybirthday again!”
I clapped my hands first, and everybody startedcheering after that.
When everybody left his office and we were alone, I wentto him with a big smile on my face. My eyes were prettyteary.
“Why?” he asked.
I shook my head. I gave him a hug. “I’m so proud of you,Travis. Did you really mean what you said?”
He hugged me back. “You must know that all theseyears, I lived in ruthlessness, insensitivity, brutal truth, andsarcasm. Do you think I would lie about what I feel now justto make other people feel good?”
“No. I don’t think you can,” I giggled. “You’re starting tosee things on the bright side now.”
“That’s because I have my sunshine with me,” hewhispered. He pulled away slightly to look me in the eyes.
“That’s you, love.”
I smiled at him. “It’s good to know I’m not the only onebenefitting from this marriage.”
“Who told you you were benefitting from this marriageat all?” he asked me with a mischievous grin on his face.
I laughed and raised my finger to him to show him myengagement ring. “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend!” Iteased.
He narrowed his eyes. “If diamonds are all it will take tomake you stay, then I won’t have a problem at all. But weboth know you don’t need or even want diamonds at all,Brianne.”
I pouted. “Sure I do. I especially love my engagementring.”
He smiled. “That was my grandmother’s,” he said. “Sheleft it for me a month before she died.” There was pain in Travis’s voice. “You know, my grandparents were the onlyones in my family who ever loved me at all. When they died,I was left with nannies and butlers. Then I met Tom and yourfamily. Then…there was only just you.”
“What about…” I took a deep breath. “Her?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Who?”
“The woman you said you love…the woman you…madelove to before you married me.”
A mix of emotion instantly returned to Travis’s face. Pain,guilt, remorse, anger. I think I read it all in a span of fiveseconds, and then he took hold of his emotions and his£xpression became steady again. He took a deep breathand held my face between his palms.
“There’s only just you,” he repeated.
“But Travis…” I insisted. “How can you ignore what youfeel? How can you…”
He stopped me by giving me one hard kiss on the lips.
“There’s only you, Brianne,” he whispered again. “My wife.”And he kissed me thoroughly.
A surge of happiness seeped through me. Travis wastrying to make this work. He was trying to make us work. Hewas trying to belong in this marriage…because that wouldmean he belonged to a family again now. And that was moreimportant to him than anything he felt before…or felt now…for any other woman.
I painted while Travis read through contracts. I caughthim staring at me several times. He would wink at me whenhe caught my eye, and I would smile and blush.
Noon came, and we had lunch in one of the office’sconference rooms with the rest of the staff of CrossIndustries. The atmosphere was fun and light.
Karl came up to me when Travis was on a phone call.
“You’re a miracle worker, Mrs. Cross,” he said. “And Ithought that man was hopeless.”
I laughed. “He’s making an effort to change. And I think Ilike him better.”
“His old man is starting to use different tactics now. Helearned that Travis got married,” Karl said. “The older Crosssaid he would only give up his shares of Cross Magnates toTravis if Travis could give him a grandson.”
I stared back at Karl. “And what did Travis say?”
Karl shrugged. “He told his father that if he had kids, hisfather would never be able to stand within a mile of them.”
Karl chuckled. “But when do you plan to have a baby? Thatwould be the fastest way to change the old man’s mind. Ithink he’s getting old and tired of the game. He just doesn’twant to admit to Travis that he’s losing. He doesn’t want tobe the first to make a move to reconcile with his son.”
“Why does he want a grandson?”
Karl shrugged. “He knows he may not be able to fix hisrelationship with his own son. He might soon retire. Heneeds somebody to give the fruits of his labor to. And heknows Travis would never accept them. So he thought he’dname Travis’s son his heir instead. Your kid is going to be aprince, sweetheart. He’s going to be richer than his father,”
Karl chuckled. “When do you intend to have kids, anyway?”
Karl didn’t know that nothing was happening betweenTravis and me, and the chances of having a kid werebetween nil and zero. So I just shrugged and gave him asmile.
“He loves you very much, you know,” Karl said.
I didn’t say anything. I knew that was true. Travis didlove me a lot. But he was not in love with me. Not the way Ithought I was starting to be.
That realization crept up on me like a thief behind myback. I turned red, and suddenly I felt dizzy…nauseatedeven. I looked at Travis, who was speaking on the phone inone corner, and I realized that…I was falling in love withhim…if I wasn’t already!
I no longer had the will or the intention to find my Mr.Right while I was married to Travis. It had seemed since our honeymoon that there was only him in my world…and mylife had taken a different route.
Suddenly, I felt like everything I had eaten was startingto work its way back up my throat.
“Excuse me,” I said to Karl.
Immediately, I went to the ladies’ room. I got there intime to reach the sink and throw up everything I ate thatday.I gargled with water then I washed my face. I stared atmyself in the mirror.
Could it be true? Could I really be in love with Travis?
Whenever I thought of the other woman in Travis’s past,I felt a stabbing pain of jealousy. I didn’t even want toentertain thoughts of him sharing a bed with her, or withany other woman for that matter…even though we were notsleeping with each other…even though I hadn’t satisfied hisneeds in that department since prom night.
Whenever he stared at me, I could feel my blood heat upand my heart pound wildly in my chest. I had this achingpain to hold him and kiss him constantly.
For a while now, my objective had been to make himhappy with me so he would forget about her. I realized why Iwas doing it. It wasn’t out of guilt. I was doing it for my ownpersonal reasons. I wanted him to get over her…so he couldfinally fall in love with me, too!
I married Travis because he was my safety guy. BecauseI needed time to find that one guy who would make mehappy. But I’d lost that will now because…I was happy! Very happy. With Travis. With this marriage. He was right. Thismarriage was bliss. The only thing missing between us wasa deep physical intimacy, which God knows I wanted somuch, too, but I was afraid it would make me lose him
But if Travis felt the same way I felt now…making lovewould not destroy us…it would strengthen us! But only if!
But sadly, I remembered the emotions he wasn’t able tohide when I brought her up. There was pain. There was guilt.There was remorse. There was anger. So, even though hetold me that there was only just me now, I knew that thewoman in his heart was still her.
That made me throw up again. I held on to the sink for awhile to steady myself, keep my balance.
An old woman came out from one of the stalls. I smiledat her in the mirror. She was beaming at me. I realized thatshe was too old to be one of the employees. She must havebeen a guest in the building.
“Congratulations, dear!” she said as she walked pastme.
It took me a moment to realize that she thought I washaving morning sickness. But she was gone before I couldcorrect her. I stared at myself in the mirror again, and then Ilaughed.
It would probably be the end of my world if Christian hadleft me a souvenir and I’d found out about it too late. If ithappened that my ex-boyfriend had impregnated me and Iwas already married to Travis, my family would not only beashamed of me, they would disown me altogether!
But that was the least of my worries. I may have askedTravis to marry me out of desperation, but I wouldn’t askhim to be a father to my ex-boyfriend’s baby! Especially notnow, when I realized that I loved him…more than I lovedhim before. I didn’t love him as a brother, or as a best friendanymore.
Luckily, I remembered having my periods in Manhattan.So I knew I was not pregnant after I broke up with Christian.It’d been months since we last slept together. I would havebeen halfway through the pregnancy by now, and that wasimpossible since I had still packed a pair of two-piece stringbikinis in my bag.
I gargled with water again, and then I fished mouthspray out of my purse. I combed my hair and put on a bit of powder before I went out of the ladies’ room.
Travis was leaning on the wall, his arms crossed as heanxiously watched the ladies’ room door. His face lit up atthe sight of me.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
He pulled me into his arms and gave me a tight hug.“You had me worried.”
I felt good. Especially now that I knew that I was in lovewith him, his hugs gave me an entirely different feeling.They made me feel whole. They made me feel home. Irealized that Travis was the only guy who could completeme. He always had been anyway.
“I just felt a little dizzy,” I said.
“Do you want to cancel our plans?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No. Of course not.”
He smiled. “Come, let’s go,” he said. “I can’t wait for usto be alone.”
I giggled. “Why?”
“It’s my birthday,” he said. “My three wishes. Peace.Quiet. Brianne.”
My heart swelled when I heard that. How could Travissay all those things to me and yet be in love with somebodyelse? Or was he over her now?
“Are you sure…you don’t want to be somewhere else?” Iasked quietly. “It’s your birthday, Travis. You can ask meanything you want.”
He stopped walking. He stared at me for a long moment,and his eyes were unfathomable. I was afraid I’d offendedhim.
I bit my lip. I knew he was angry.
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Brianne,” he saidin a cold voice. “I just might take you up on that offer.”
I raised my chin to him. This is it! He will finally admitthat he wants one chance…at least one day to be with her!Damn, it hurt, but I knew I would allow that!
“I mean it,” I said brokenly.
He narrowed his eyes at me. He gave me a bitter butdevilish smile, as if an evil plan had just hatched in his head.Then he took my hand and walked toward the building exit.
“Travis… wait!” I said. “Where are we going?”
“Where we planned to go,” he replied coldly.
“Why? I thought you wanted…”
“You don’t know what I want, Brianne!” he snapped.
We reached his car. He opened the passenger door forme. I refused to get in. “What the hell is going on? Whereare you taking me?”
“It doesn’t matter! I can take you home, or at the hotel,or I can haul you back to my office. Either way, I’m going tomake sure you don’t break your promise. Now, do you needhelp getting in the car?”
I glared at him and then I got inside his car. Travis didn’tsay a word during the entire drive. He’d made arrangementsfor us to spend the weekend at the Four Seasons. He wasdriving fast, and I could tell how furious he was.
When we got to the hotel, we were immediately assistedby the hotel staff. Travis took my hand firmly, and weimmediately went to our suite through a private-accesselevator.
The room he rented was very luxurious. The architecturewas very dramatic and posh. But I was too afraid of Travis toactually enjoy looking at the suite.
Once we were alone, Travis finally looked at me. He gaveme one hard look. His eyes were dark with fury. He camecloser to me.
“What did you say to me, Brianne?” he asked. “You said Icould ask you anything I want?”
I took a deep breath. “Travis…” I whispered. “I only saidthat…because I thought…”
“You thought what?” he asked angrily.
“I thought you wanted to be with her…that woman yousaid you fell in love with…I thought I was being selfish. That I was taking too much of your time…”
“You have no idea what I really want, Brianne!” he saidalmost angrily. “But if you meant what you said, I will let youknow!”
I had to be strong, and brave. This man in front of mewas furious… cold and ruthless again! But I was not afraid ofhim. I knew that no matter how mad he was, he wouldn’thurt me! I was just afraid of what he would say to me…afraid that he would tell me that what he really wanted washer.
I raised my chin to him in pure defiance. “I mean it.”
He smiled at me crookedly. There was a hint of mischiefin that smile, and a hint of evil.His face descended toward mine and he gave me onehard kiss. He devoured my lips as if he had been hungry for
a decade. He invaded my mouth as if it were his solemission to conquer me.
Then he nuzzled my neck, and I let out a m0an in a voiceI could barely recognize. My knees felt weak instantly and Ilost my balance. Travis caught me in his arms. He gave meone hard look and then he picked me up and carried me tobed.
“Travis…” I whispered.
He took off his jacket and his shirt, his perfect abs£xposed before my eyes. He got on top of me, and he kissedme again. The world stopped and then it spun ten timesfaster.
He kissed me savagely, as if he was going to take whathe had deprived of himself of for a long time. He wasbruising my lips.
“Travis…stop,” I whispered.
“This is what I want, Brianne!” he whispered hoarsely.
“Are you willing to give it to me?” And suddenly, I realizedthat his voice was no longer angry, or cold…it was almost…desperate…begging.
“Travis…” I whispered. “I told you before you could haveyour needs fulfilled as per usual…”
Travis’s forehead was resting against my shoulder. Hiseyes were closed. He had taken a couple of deep breathsbefore he spoke again.
“I haven’t touched a woman since…since we gotmarried, Brianne,” he whispered.
This confession surprised me, but more than anything, itmade me happy. “Why?”
He sighed again. “Because…because I don’t want tocheat on you. And because…” He raised his head so hecould look at me. I looked into his eyes. They were like liquidsapphires, almost shining with tears. “Because I don’t wantanybody else…but you. I know that nobody could soothethis pain I have…could satiate this need I have…just you,Brianne.”
“You said I could ask you for anything,” he said. “NowI’m looking at the person I want the most, Brianne. The onething I want…the one thing I know I cannot have!”
I took a deep breath. God knows I wanted him, too! Butthe difference between the two of us was… Travis justwanted me. He was not in love with me…the way that I wasso in love with him.
“But didn’t you promise Tom…”
“I promised Tom I will look out for you for the rest of mylife. I promised him I would always make sure you are safe. Ithink…I am doing a good job keeping those promises. Inever promised him I wouldn’t touch you…or want you.”
“Travis…” I whispered. In truth, my heart was welling upwith happiness. But I was also scared. Because I knew I wasa few seconds away from giving in to what Travis was askingof me…but I knew that I couldn’t share him with anybodyelse…even if she was the one he loved, I would not allowhim to touch her again.
There was too much gamble, too much risk. My heartwas at stake already, and now he wanted to put ourfriendship on the table. And that friendship was my rock…my pillar. It was what kept me alive and kept me going overall those years.
Travis took a deep breath. Then he pulled away from meand stood up from the bed. I immediately felt empty,heartbroken and deeply sad. He refused to look at me again.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I need some air.”
“Why are you so mad at me now, Travis?” I asked, tryingto keep my voice steady. “What exactly pissed you off?”
He didn’t answer. He put his shirt back on and then heheaded for the door. Before he left he said, “The way youdon’t believe it’s you I’m thinking about all the time…theway you think I’m thinking about somebody else, when Idesperately want only you. The way I bare my soul when Ikiss you, hold you in my arms…and yet you still believe I
want somebody else.” He sighed. “I don’t often show thismuch emotion for another human being, Brianne. You mustknow because you know me the best. It’s frustrating thateven you…do not believe me.”
He exited the room and I lay back in bed feelingconfused and upset. But I knew he was right. Throughoutthis entire marriage, he had been trying to make thingswork between us. But I had still kept thinking about theother woman. I had kept thinking that he was not yet over
her, and every emotion he’d ever shown me, he would havebeen happier to show someone else. Maybe he really wasover her. And there was just me in his life now.
Amidst the tears and the anguish, I fell asleep. In mydreams, I saw Travis…the way I’d dreamt about him manynights before.
He touched me the way I wanted to be touched, the wayI needed to be touched. He was reluctant to touch me,because he was honor-bound not to. But I begged him to. Iasked him to make love to me. He kissed me in ways that made me forget who he was…who I was. He held me inways that kept me safe and warm. I screamed his name as Ireached my peak. I felt like jumping off a cliff and then
feeling Travis catch me in his arms. And then I told him Iloved him. He gave me a smile of triumph, and then hisbody shook as he reached his own heaven with me in hisarms.
And I woke up. I was panting alone in bed. I knew thatmy dreams of lovemaking with Travis were so potent, sovivid because I wanted them to come true with so muchdesperation. It was him I wanted the most, too!
I realized what I needed to do. It was time to stop fearingwhat could be…and go after the one thing I wanted themost in my life now. Yes, I might get heartbroken after this.
Yes, I might lose my friendship with Travis. But what if hefelt the same way for me? Then I had nothing to lose andeverything to gain. But I would never know until I took achance. I believed in Travis. I knew…whatever happened…he wouldn’t hurt me.
Maybe now…it was time to put all my bets on the tableand raise the stakes very, very high!