His little liar.
‘I didn’t send that message,’ she said.
Raising her arms, he laced them around his neck and pulled her to him, into his hardness.
‘I will seduce you right here and now as an incentive to tell the truth,’ he proclaimed.
He would kiss her until her bones melted. Until she didn’t know where she started and he began.
‘I am telling the truth!’
Her words shook him out of his angry haze and he exhaled fully, leaving his chest empty. He was drained. Mentally. Physically.
What was she doing to him? To his control?
‘You left me alone to explain myself to your father,’ he accused, all too aware of the memory of how he’d stood his ground for both of them. For Charlotte. Until she’d texted him with the truth. Her own words—typed by her own fingers. ‘You couldn’t be bothered to face me yourself and tell me you weren’t coming with me. You left your drunken excuse of a father and a text to do your dirty work.’
‘But I... You never came...’
He ignored her. ‘Do you know what he called me?’
‘What did he call you?’ Her voice was so quiet...so timid.
‘He called me a monster for wanting you by my side.’ Damien Hegarty had called him much worse, but he would not repeat those words—he would not hear them again. He’d been called many things throughout his childhood: withdrawn, unwanted, a bastard. But a monster? And the other sickening words he’d called him? Only once.
What about your Father, Akeem? He called you much worse.
This wasn’t about his father.
He pushed the voice aside. No, it was firmly about her.
‘I was newly eighteen,’ he continued. ‘You were sixteen. He said he’d told you about men like me who use young girls and then throw them away. Rotten men. Broken men. He was glad you had used me for your own enjoyment.’
He couldn’t stop, even though everything in him told him to calm down. To breathe. To let it go. But he hadn’t been able to let it go—let her go—for nine years, and it had brought him nothing but chaos.
‘He said you were not as naïve as you’d made out. That you’d wanted a good time and used me to achieve it. You’d prearranged my meeting with your dad to make sure I got the message that you never wanted to see me again. And then my mobile phone pinged with a text to confirm everything he’d told me.’
‘And you believed him?’ she husked, her chest rising and falling as rapidly as his heart was pumping. ‘After everything?’ She paled. ‘You believed everything my father told you?’
Her voice was quiet, but every word boomed through him like a bass drum.
Pinching the bridge of her nose, she pushed out a slow, deep breath. ‘After everything we’d shared, you walked away because you believed I’d tricked you? Because my dad said so?’ She released the bridge of her nose and turned her attention to him. ‘Then you didn’t really know me at all.’
‘I believed the message that came from your phone and told me you weren’t coming.’
And he had believed it. Why wouldn’t he when it had been from her phone? Why wouldn’t he believe she’d written it when throughout his life his caregivers had all written little notes in their brown manila files, explaining why yet again he couldn’t remain with the family he’d been housed with?
‘Told me you had no intention of coming with me.’
Her intense, stony stare held him captive. ‘It wasn’t me.’
‘He betrayed you?’ The question was out before he could digest it.
‘My dad...’ She gave a half-hearted shrug. ‘He was a villain, wasn’t he?’ A weak smile tormented her lips. ‘He used our own vulnerabilities against us. He trapped me into thinking he was all I had, and he convinced you I didn’t want you any more.’
‘It’s not true,’ he whispered—because it couldn’t be. Damien had not cheated him.
‘I didn’t have my phone. My dad knew you were coming and he sent me out of the house,’ she recapped, her breathing quickening into short little rasps. ‘It is the truth. I see that now. Don’t you?’
His heart forgot to beat. His lungs forgot to inhale. He’d held on to his bitterness—his need to get even—for nine years.
His veins pulsed and twitched in his cheek. ‘It seems I do.’
He was so angry.
Angry with her, angry with her dad, angry with himself and with the past he had no control over. Damien Hegarty had manipulated him into believing Charlotte didn’t want him, and her dad had convinced her that he hadn’t shown up. They’d both been tricked—catapulted away from their destinies.
And you have no control over your present either, do you? Your father made sure of that.
He pushed the voice down, because he could control this. He ached. Throbbed with the need to lose himself in anything but the past and how wrong he’d been. How naïve he’d allowed himself to be. How fragile he’d allowed her rejection to make him. He’d lumped her rejection in with all the others he’d experienced since he was a child.
Since the rejection of his father.
Yes, his father had claimed him eventually—but only because he was the only one available. He’d wanted him for his blood. Not for himself alone. He’d knocked that boy out of him. Moulded him into what he’d wanted.
He’d been wrong.
Her hand moved, her fingertips rising to his cheek. ‘Akeem...’
His name sounded as if it had been torn from her lips. A breathless question. A plea?
They were both reeling from the revelation of her father’s trickery. She was asking him to give her somewhere to hide—someone to hide in. Wasn’t she? And just for a moment he would let her hide in him. In the intensity crackling between them as hot and wild as it had when he was between her thighs.
For one last time he would surrender to it. To the pull. To her.