It only hurt me a little to answer that. “Whenever you want.”
He nodded, and I could hear the deep breath he took before he turned and lowered his gaze to me. I was five foot eight, but he was still a lot taller than I was.
Not that it mattered. I didn’t know shit about tackling, but I had a purple belt in jiu-jitsu. I had learned a long time ago not to be intimidated by people bigger than me. I wasn’t about to start now. To be fair, his expression as he looked at me was probably almost as intense as the one I’d given him when he first showed up, but I didn’t even think about getting all meek or anything.
He didn’t either apparently. “We need to talk.”
I didn’t want to talk to him, but I nodded. If he was committing, that was one thing. It didn’t change the fact we were going to have to figure out the details of making this work as we went along.
“Have lunch with me tomorrow.”
But for my girl, I would, so I nodded.
“What time are you available?”
I shrugged and heard the distance in my voice. “Whenever.”
His eyes moved back toward the living room, where my grandfather was sitting, more than likely shooting daggers dipped in poison at him with his eyeballs. To give him credit, after Mo had smiled at him, Jonah Collins had shaken Peter’s hand and officially introduced himself. Peter had been polite, but I could tell it was just manners and compromising. For us.
He’d taken one look at the hand that Jonah had extended toward him and didn’t move an inch to take it, despite the blatant-ass cough that Peter had aimed at him. Jonah had tucked his hand back in after realizing he wasn’t going to get a handshake and still told him it was nice to meet him with a nod. Grandpa didn’t say a fucking word.
All in all, for my gramps, that hadn’t been so bad.
“Thank you for letting me see her,” Jonah Collins said, still watching me with those clear light brown eyes that were so striking on his tanned face.
I wanted to dislike him, I really did. I wanted to think he was full of shit, but honestly, I didn’t know what to think about his reactions all day. Maybe he was telling the truth or maybe he wasn’t. I was willing to put it aside and just steep in that in private. But at the same time… fuck him. Obviously he didn’t feel that guilty over shit, so why should I spend the rest of my life bitter over someone who hadn’t cared about my feelings in the first place?
Once I thought about it like that… well, since when did I give anybody that kind of power? I was going to live my best life for me, not for somebody else. It made me mad just to think that I’d do otherwise.
I was not going to waste my life being pissed off at someone. I had better shit to do. People didn’t give enough credit to what not giving a fuck could do for you. It was freedom.
“Uh-huh.” I bit the inside of my cheek. “I’m off tomorrow. If you aren’t here by one, I’m not going to wait to eat.”
He nodded tightly.
We made it to the door before he called out over his shoulder, “Lenny.”
“What?” I asked, reaching around his hip to undo the lock and ignoring the side of the tight, high butt inches from my forearm as I did it.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
My hand froze for a second before I brought it back to my side. “Okay.”
He turned around then, aiming that annoyingly intense face at me, looking down in a way that had me wishing for maybe the first time in my life that I was taller. That he didn’t have the ability to have that tiny advantage over me. Once upon a time, I had liked how jacked he was.
But that had been once upon a time.
And I remembered now that I had never been crazy about fairy tales in the first place.
And even with those thoughts, I still wasn’t prepared for all that size and mass focused solely on me as he said in a voice that had lost all traces of uncertainty and choking emotion, “I didn’t mean to leave like that. I swear. I didn’t know.”
I didn’t say a word. I wasn’t going to brush this off and make it seem like him leaving or not knowing was not a big deal. But I didn’t need to bring it up every three seconds either, I realized. You didn’t help an injury by aggravating it constantly. And it wasn’t like I was ever going to forget what happened.
Maybe he knew that… maybe he knew it was the best thing to let me keep my silence… because he opened the door then and stepped out. It wasn’t until he turned around and reached inside to grab the handle while I stood there that he said it again, “I’m not leaving, Lenny.”
I wasn’t holding my breath, and I was pretty sure he knew that.
“You are genuinely pissing me off now. I made it back to Houston, not that you give a shit, but I still need to talk to you. (pause) It’s Lenny.”
I woke up the way I hated the most: jolting myself awake.
One minute, I’d been totally out, and the next second, bam! I was wide awake, staring straight up at the ceiling and listening.
Based on how much sun was coming in through the windows, it had to be at least nine in the morning. Three hours later than I usually woke up. Well, it was more accurate to say it was three hours later than General Mo, the Hungriest Baby in the World, woke me up to feed her. Rolling my head to the side, I peeked at the baby monitor that lived on my nightstand, even though I didn’t need it. Mo might not cry often, but when she was hungry, she was hangry.
She got it from me.
There was no ignoring her or mistaking her usual kitten cries for you better feed me now, lady.
But the baby monitor wasn’t on the nightstand where I knew without a doubt I had left it. That in itself wasn’t weird. Peter and my gramps would creep into my room while I was sleeping to take it sometimes. I never slept with my door closed anymore. Neither did they, at least not all night.
It didn’t take me long to go to the bathroom, do my business, and then drag myself down the stairs, passing by the empty bedrooms in the pajama shirt I had been able to start wearing again since Mo wasn’t breastfeeding anymore and I didn’t have to whip out a boob on call. As comfortable as nursing bras were, I’d been wearing sports bras for so long that nothing else compared to the comfort they brought me. I’d missed them. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom of the stairs with a giant yawn that I knew something was different.
There were noises coming from the living room, which on Sunday was totally normal. Sunday breakfast was the only time we all managed to eat together in the morning. Peter was usually at Maio House by six, and Grandpa tried to sleep in while I got Mo ready for the day and spent some solo time with her. He usually didn’t crawl out of his coffin until after seven.
But it was the familiar but unfamiliar voice I could hear speaking in the living room that had me pausing.
I didn’t have to look at my phone to know it was nine-fifteen in the morning, and I didn’t need a DNA test to know the voice I could hear belonged to the fuckface.
What the hell was he doing here?
We’d agreed to lunch, but I figured that would be around noon.
Four steps later, I stopped at the edge of the wide opening that led into the living room and peeked.