Blue-Eyed Devil Page 53

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"Here are your options: you can give him a chance to cowboy up, or you can walk away without ever finding out. And then you'll have to face this same deal with the next guy you're attracted to."

"Or . . . "

"Or what?"

I moistened my lips nervously. "I could practice with you first."

I had never seen Todd at a loss for words before. But his eyes widened, and his mouth opened and closed, fishlike, for at least ten seconds. "You're asking me to go to bed with you?" he finally managed to ask.

I nodded. "If I'm going to freak out or throw up in the middle of it, I'd rather it be with you. And if I can manage to get through it with you, I'll know I can do it with Hardy."

"Oh, shit." Todd started to laugh helplessly, grabbing my hand and kissing the palm. "Sweetheart. Haven. No." He kept my hand, laying his cheek gently against my palm. "I would love to help you through this, little friend, and I'm totally honored that you asked.

But right now you don't want a f**k-buddy. You want a hell of a lot more than that. And somewhere, not far from here, there's a big, blue-eyed roughneck who's dying to show you a good time in bed. If I were you, I'd give him a try." I felt his smile press against the edge of my hand as he added, "If you can get past him being so ugly and scrawny, that is."

When he released my hand, I closed my fingers around my palm as if his kiss were a lucky penny. "Todd, when you danced with Liberty . . . did she say anything about Hardy?"

He nodded. "She told me in spite of that thing that went down with Gage's business deal, she doesn't see any danger in you and Hardy being interested in each other. Based on what she knows about him from the time they both lived in that little craphole town — "

"Welcome."

"Yeah, whatever." Todd was not a fan of small-town living. "Based on that, Liberty doesn't think he'd hurt you. She said Hardy had always gone out of his way to keep from leading her on, and he'd done what he could to help her. In fact, she thinks the two of you might even do each other some good."

"I can't imagine how," I said glumly, "when I can't manage to be around his erection without freaking."

Todd smiled. "A relationship is about more than just an erection. Although, if you ask me . . . wondering what to do with one is a nice problem to have."

After Todd had left I took a long bath, pulled on a pair of flannel pajamas, and poured myself a glass of wine. I wondered where Hardy was at that moment, if he had stayed at the theater after I'd left.

The temptation to call him was nearly overwhelming, but I wasn't certain what I wanted to say, how much I could bring myself to explain.

I resumed my place in the corner of the sofa, staring at the phone in its cradle. I wanted to hear Hardy's voice. I thought of those fevered minutes in the stairwell before I'd gotten afraid, when his hands and mouth had been all over me, slow and searching and tender . . . so good. So unbelievably good —

The phone rang.

Jolted, I set aside the wine, almost spilling it in my haste. I snatched up the phone and answered in breathless relief. "Hello?" But the voice was not Hardy's. "Hi, Marie."

CHAPTER ELEVEN

"Nick." I felt as if ice crystals had formed in my veins. "How did you get my number? What do you want?""Just to know how you're doing."

His voice was so familiar. The sound of it vaporized the past several months as if they had all been a dream. If I closed my eyes, I could almost believe I was back in the Dallas apartment and he would be coming back from work soon.

So I kept my eyes open, as if one blink would result in death. I stared at the weave of the cream sofa slipcover until each individual thread came into distinct focus. "I'm great," I said. "How about you? "

"Not great." A lengthy pause. "Still trying to make myself believe it's really over. I miss you, Marie."

He sounded contemplative. Something in his voice drew out a dark, seeping guilt from my heart.

"It's Haven," I said. "I don't answer to Marie anymore."

I thought that would provoke him, but he stunned me by saying, "Okay, Haven."

"Why are you calling?" I asked abruptly. "What do you want?"

"Just to talk for a minute." Nick sounded resigned and a little wry. "Are we still allowed to talk?" I guess so.

"I've had a lot of time to think. I want you to understand something . . . I never meant for things to get out of hand the way they did."

I gripped the phone so hard I was vaguely surprised the plastic didn't crack. I believed him. I had never thought Nick had wanted or planned to be the way he was. There were things in his background, his childhood, that had made him a damaged person. A victim, as surely as I had been.

But that didn't mean he was off the hook for the harm he'd done me.

I was filled with regret for what we'd lost . . . and what we'd never had. I felt sick and weary.

"Do you hate me, Haven?" Nick asked softly. "No. I hate what you did."

"I hate what I did too." He sighed. "I keep thinking . . . if we'd had more time together, if we could have been allowed to work out our problems instead of having your brother come in and push that divorce through so f**king fast . . . "

"You hurt me, Nick," was all I could say.

"You hurt me too. You lied to me all the time, about little things, big things . . . you always shut me out."

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