I’d slept in since I’d been up all night worrying about Alex.
Hoping to feel him next to me, I patted the bed but found he’d already left.
This made my heart leap, and I bolted upright. After the shape he was in last night, I had no clue what he might do.
Taking my cell out, I called him but it went straight to voicemail. “Shit,” I whispered.
Then I noticed a sheet of paper on my desk. Heart already speeding up, I read words I wished I’d never have to face:
I’m sorry. I just can’t do this anymore. I can’t stay.
I almost killed you, my team, even myself because there’s something wrong with me. I don’t know what it is but until I find out, I have to go.
It’s not your fault. Don’t blame anything on what you did or didn’t do. It’s all mine. You deserve a better man than me. A person who can make you happy. I know he’s out there. You don’t need someone this screwed up.
Don’t try to find me because you won’t.
I'll always love you,
Hands shaking, I read the fucking thing over and over again. Crumpling it in my hands, my knees gave out, and I fell to the floor. “No, Alex,” I shuddered. “You can’t leave me.”
“If that’s all you have for me, Pops, I’ll be going now,” Knight said.
He looked so sad, my heart ached for him. Ever since Alex left him four years ago, he’s never been the same.
I thought he’d start dating years ago, but he didn’t. Throwing himself into his work, his corporations grew much to my husband’s delight, but Knight himself wasn’t doing well.
Hoping to cheer him up, I said, “Hey, Knight, why don’t you come out with us tonight? We’re going to a new premiere of the latest action movie. You might meet a movie star. I hear Matt Somer is single. Maybe by chance you two might hit it off and...”
“Yes, Knight,” Antonio agreed. “Come with us. We’ve got extra tickets. It’s time you got out once in a while.”
Raising his hands, he half smiled, “I appreciate the offer, Jianna. I really do, but I happen to be busy tonight.”
My husband shot him a look. “Doing what? Watching football on tv?”
He sighed. “If you’ve got to know, Marco’s wife took pity on me and set me up on a blind date, okay? Now if you’ll stop worrying for five seconds, I need to get changed or I’ll be late.”
This was welcome news! Finally, Knight was going to stop pining away for Alex and live. “That’s wonderful! Have fun then and don’t forget to tell me all the details later!”
He rolled his eyes and said, “Don’t get your hopes up, Jianna. It’s one date.”
“Hey, that’s one more than you’ve had in years. I’m rooting for you!”
Shaking his head, Knight shuffled out of our living room.
Once he’d left, Antonio took my hand and said, “Darling, have I ever told you I love you?”
I raised my eyebrows. “All the time.” Rubbing his cheek, I thought about how I loved every moment since we’d found each other. Thinking about poor Knight’s situation, I said, “I just wish Knight could be as happy as we are. I wonder what ever happened to Alex.”
Just then, an impish twinkle flashed in Antonio’s eyes. He knew something.
Inching closer to his face, I said in a tone that a mother uses when she’s caught her child stealing treats, “Antonio Richardson...you know something.”
“Whatever would give you that idea, sweetheart?”
I chuckled. “You know you can’t hide anything from me. I can read you better than all the books I publish. Now spill or you’ll be sorry.”
Antonio gave me a luscious kiss that sent shivers down my body. He always knew how to manipulate me, but as long as I was onto him, he didn’t hold much power.
Arching an eyebrow, I said, “Kissing me won’t change the subject. I’m waiting.”
“Darling, I’ve always known you were way too smart for my own good. Well, I guess it won’t hurt to tell you now that it looks as if Knight has moved on.”
I backed up. “Wait, so you know where Alex is?”
He grinned, mischievously. “I not only know. I’m the one who hid him.”
“What?” I jumped up, trying to stop the anger rising in my chest. “How could you do that to poor Knight? How could you break them apart?”
Antonio got up and searched for his cigars behind the couch. “Darling, it wasn’t my fault, so you can stop getting angry with me.”
I crossed my arms. “What do you mean?”
Coming around, he kissed my hand. “What will you give me if I tell you?”
In the huskiest voice I could muster, I said, “It’s what I won’t give you if you don’t.”
“Ah...touché. You drive a hard bargain, darling, but that’s what I love so much about you.”
Nervous gnats jumped around in my stomach making me queasy. I really didn’t want to be there. Blind dates never worked out in all the days I’d dated women, and I hadn’t ever been with another man besides Alex, so I had no clue what to expect. Marco suggested we go to my restaurant just so I could feel comfortable. But when we got together, and I saw the man they set me up with, I wanted to bolt.
“Honey, didn’t you make reservations?” Marco asked. “You know this place fills up fast.”
“What do you mean?” his wife, Ella, countered. “Knight is the owner. Why do we need reservations?”
Their familiar banter only sent me into thinking how it could have been with Alex. We could have been here with them on a double date, and Alex and I could have been bickering over insignificant things, too. Sadness blanketed me as I looked on. Frickin jealous of what they had.
And the guy with me was not my type. Not by a long shot. I just wanted to get through the night without embarrassing myself. Ella was really hoping things would work out since this guy was a brother of her best friend. She was so nice. Marco really got him a great one.
“Come on, Marco, why are you giving Ella a hard time?” I said, trying to help Ella out. “You know we can always get the top floor.”
“But I wanted us to be in the center with the pianist. We never get to enjoy live music here.”
I patted him on the shoulder and smiled. “Herve Linchard isn’t that great and besides. The view is spectacular in my personal room. I hate crowds anyway.”
He shrugged and Ella stuck her tongue out at him playfully.
Telling the host that we’d like the upper room, I waved for everyone to follow me.
As we settled in our seats, Liam—my date, started talking at length about himself. “I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant like this. Since I own a chain of motorcycle companies, I bet something like a 60’s pizza place might go along with my company’s theme. I could name it Shrooms and Zooms.” He laughed at his creativity. “That’s awesome, don’t you think?”
I didn’t know what to say. The guy was so enamored with himself I didn’t think he needed my praise. “Uh, yeah, sure.”
This was followed by a dissertation of how he’d run a restaurant differently than I did. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I didn’t run this one. I owned it, and made sure my VP’s hired good people to manage it. There were many steps between me and the supervisors here, but he never let me get a word in edgewise.
While he was blabbing on and on, my mind spun back to the time Alex and I had our first date. I’d never forget his shocked face when he’d looked at the prices on the menu. And how he chastised me for dragging him to such an expensive place.
I couldn’t help but smile at the memory.
Liam mistook that grin in response to whatever he was saying. “So you agree. I knew we’d get along.”
Instantly, I wiped the smile off my face. I was not about to encourage the guy. The sooner he got the message the better. I was also pissed at myself for reminiscing about Alex. I hadn’t thought about him much really in the past year. Work helped keep my mind off of him, but now that I was on a date, I couldn’t help comparing and that would be the kiss of death to my dating life.
No one could measure up to Alex.
Ella must have picked up my vibe because she nervously laughed and said, “Knight, did you know Liam owns the motorcycle shop in town? I’m sure he’d give you a ride on one sometime.”
I raised the side of my mouth. She had no clue he’d almost told me his net income to this motorcycle company he owned along with every brand name and even some famous people who came to his shop exclusively.
Liam interjected, “Of course, Knight. I’d love to give you a ride on some of my most expensive bikes. Anytime.”
I faked a smile and snapped my fingers, trying to get the server’s attention. I couldn’t get this dinner over with soon enough.