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Excerpt: Fractured

Excerpt: Fractured

Book 2: Not Quite A Billionaire

You could say my mood had changed. You could say that.

Hope jumped up from the table. “Do you want another cup of tea?”

I grabbed her hand and pulled her to sit beside me again. “No, I don’t want a cup of tea. I want you to sit here and tell me what’s wrong, so we can fix it. When I asked you last night, you seemed keen. What happened?”

“Keen? I seemed keen?”

“Happy. Excited. This isn’t a bloody vocabulary lesson. It’s our lives. And Karen’s.” Right, so I wasn’t playing fair. “Fair” was for some other bloke who didn’t need it this much.

Hope looked down at her slim hands, clasped together at the edge of the table. Her absolutely unadorned hands. “I wasn’t thinking it would be so soon.”

“That’s what I asked you, though. If you wanted to get married here. Now. And you said yes.”

She flinched at the tone of my voice. The color was rising in her cheeks, and she rubbed her hands over the wood until I grabbed one of them again, because I had to hold her. Somehow.

“I don’t think I was listening too well,” she said.

I sat and tried to breathe, then finally said, “Well, listen now. I don’t care what the problem is, I’ll fix it. If it’s that you don’t have your friends here, we’ll bring them over. If you’ve got some family you haven’t told me about, tell me that. Whatever it is, tell me now.”

“No,” she said. “I don’t have anybody else. And that’s . . . that’s part of the problem. You’ve got this. Your family, your place. All this . . .” She gestured wildly, though I couldn’t have said what she was pointing to. Koro’s house wasn’t exactly the Taj Mahal. I’d offered to buy him a better one, of course. And he’d said no, of course.

Just like Hope was saying now, “This is going too fast. It doesn’t give you a chance to think it over.”

“I thought it over already,” I told her. “I’m done thinking. You mean it doesn’t give you a chance. You’ve never been scared with me. Why now?”

She stared at me. “I’ve never been scared? Whose life have you been looking at? It sure hasn’t been mine.”

I tried to step out of myself and study her, the way I would in a tough negotiation, but I couldn’t get past my own emotion, and it was frustrating the hell out of me. “All right,” I said. “You’ve been scared. It’s never stopped you from telling me what you thought, or from doing what you had to do. So why now? Unless you’ve changed your mind.” The thought was freezing my blood, but I’d never run away from the truth, and now would be the worst time to start.

I tried to remember what she’d said, what she’d done when I’d made our announcement, and couldn’t. All I’d thought about was how I felt. “That’s it, isn’t it,” I said slowly, not wanting the words out there, and knowing they needed to be. “You’ve changed your mind. You’ve had a night to sleep on it, and you’ve decided you can’t. I thought you just wanted to be quiet this morning, but it’s more than that.”

Her eyes had widened as I spoke, and now, she put a hand on my arm. “Hemi, no. It’s not that. I’m not— I’m—it’s what Karen said about college. Everything. How does this change things? We need to work all that out first. We need to know. We need to figure out what we’re doing.”

“No,” I said. “We don’t. We need to get married, and everything else will take care of itself.”

“Will it?” Her hand was still there, tight around my forearm, like she was hanging on, when that was the last thing she was doing. When she was cutting me loose. “How?”

“What d’you mean, how? I’ll tell you how. I’ll take care of you, and I’ll take care of Karen. And whatever else needs to be done, I’ll do it.”

I waited, but she didn’t say anything, just sat there. “Well?” I demanded.

“There’s so much wrong with that,” she said, “I can’t even tell you. That’s a one-way street.”

I would have said something. What, I don’t know. But Karen came back into the kitchen then. “Sorry, guys,” she said. “I just have to get a jacket. It’s starting to rain.”

“Right.” I stood up and pulled Hope with me. “We’re out of here.”

“What?” she said.

“Going to a hotel for the day—and the night as well,” I decided. “We’re going to fix this. Go get dressed and pack a bag. Right now.”

She wasn’t moving. She was folding her arms across her chest. “You are ordering me,” she told me through her teeth.

If she’d been scared before, she wasn’t scared now. And she ought to be, because I was furious.

“Well, yeh,” I said. “I’m ordering you. I’m saying, pack a bag so we can go work this out until we’re done. If you don’t want to change and don’t want a bag, I’ll take you as you are.” I knew she was naked under the dressing gown, and having her naked during our “negotiations” would work for me. “I’ll carry you out to the car if I have to, but we are leaving. Now.”

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