I come to the bed but stop to run my hand down the large post. I love this bed.
“Are you going to give me a private dance on one of these poles tonight?”
Even after all this time together, his forwardness is shocking—he wants to get frisky in his childhood home with his family across the hall? “No way, not in your parents’ house. It would be disrespectful.”
He gets out of bed and catches me before I climb in. He reaches around me from behind and puts my hands around the bedpost. He locks his hands on top of mine to hold them in place so I can’t move. His breath is warm on the back of my neck and chills erupt all over my body. He doesn’t play fair. “You’re telling me no?”
“I would be mortified if your family heard us.”
His mouth is on my earlobe and he sucks it into his mouth before nipping it with his teeth. “I don’t care. Let them hear us.”
“No.” It comes out more like a weak plea than the stern command I intended.
He groans against my ear. “I don’t like it when you tell me no.”
He’s whining but it’s adorable. “I know you don’t hear it often, but ‘no’ can be a very good answer for you to hear from time to time.”
“Tell me one time when it’s good.”
“Okay.” I look at him over my shoulder, “Ask me if I’m pregnant.”
His body becomes rigid before he backs away from me. He releases my hands and I turn around to look at him. “Ask me.”
“Are you pregnant?” It comes out as a whisper.
I lift a brow at him. “Do you want my answer to be yes or no?”
I smile, waiting for him to catch on to the point I’m making, but he stares blankly at me. “Are you?”
I smile as I answer. “No. See? Perfect example of when ‘no’ is exactly what you need to hear.”
He runs his hands through his dark hair and fists it. “Don’t ever fuck with me like that, Laurelyn!” he yells. “Never!”
I flinch, startled by the loud outburst I’m certain his family must have heard. Shit, he’s mad—like, really mad. “I’m sorry. I thought you knew I was only making a point.”
I’m afraid I’ve screwed up big time. I feel the pooling in my eyes and I look toward the ceiling, pleading with my sockets to drink the tears. I hold my breath and cup my hands over my mouth to hold back the sob in my chest.
In my confusion over what has just happened, I go for the wrong door in an attempt to get away from him. “That’s the closet.”
Shit if I care. I walk into the small pitch-black room where Lachlan’s clothes hang and close the door behind me. I’m sure there’s a light switch in here somewhere, but I don’t try to find it. I’m too numb.
Several minutes pass and I hear a few light taps on the door, but I don’t say anything. I need to absorb all these emotions swirling around in my head right now. I try to put a name to the shock I’m feeling, but there’s not a single word that will fit. I’m hurt and belittled because he yelled at me and maybe even a little frightened by the fury in his voice.
I’m sure his family heard the commotion and it mortifies me to think of facing them. The worst part is the shame I feel. How can I be sleeping with a man who would become so furious by a possible pregnancy?
You know what? Fuck him.
I hear the light raps again. “I sort of know you’re in there unless there’s a hidden passage to a dungeon I don’t know about.” He’s trying to be humorous, but nothing in the world could be funny to me right now.
He opens the door and comes inside to stand with me in the dark. I feel him reach for me, but I step away. I can’t bear the touch that once set me on fire because in this moment, it only makes me feel cheap.
“No.” And there it is again. The word that started all of this. Now I hate it and don’t want to hear it, either.
I’m mad as hell, but I can’t control the sob in my chest. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“Baby, please, don’t say that. I need to explain.”
I’m overcome by the what-if. What if I got pregnant? He’d hate me. “No. Every time we have sex, we risk making a baby together even if we use birth control. Unplanned pregnancies happen to real people every day. Look at me—I’m the result of one and see how shitty that ended up for everyone involved.”
“It is and I can’t do this anymore. I won’t risk making a baby with someone who would react the way you did just now. I couldn’t bear to ever see you look at me like that again.”
I feel him reaching for me in the dark and I try to push him away. His arms entwine me and he squeezes, almost too tight. “I’m so sorry, Laurelyn. I thought you were playing a trick on me about a baby because you thought it was funny. I should’ve known that wasn’t what you were doing. I’m so sorry.” I feel his hands move to my face. “I would never be angry because you were pregnant.”
This conversation is too much for me. I don’t want to talk about how a baby would make him feel because then I might be forced to think about how it would make me feel. “Can we agree that this was a misunderstanding and talk about something else?” I ask.
He hugs me in the darkness and kisses my head. “I think that’s a great idea, but can we leave the closet?”
I laugh. “You know I thought I was going into the bathroom, right?”
We leave the closet and climb into bed. I scoot close so I can put my head on his chest. I’m reeling from tonight’s events. I told him I wanted to end things with him and now, two seconds later, I’m curled around him like a kitten desperate for his touch. Yeah, I really showed him who’s boss.
Was I really going to walk away from him? I think I was, but there’s no use in speculating. He didn’t let me go.
This game has changed. The rules are no longer the same, but I don’t have the manual. He does, and I need guidance on where to go from here.
He caresses my arm. “What are you thinking about?”
I decide to go for it because I need to know where his head is. “I’m wondering where we go from here.”
His fingertips continue to glide up and down my arm as he answers. “Tonight changed everything for us, didn’t it?”
The word change seems like such an understatement for what has happened between us. “Yeah, just a little.”
“If I’m being honest with you, I don’t really know where we go from here. I don’t know how to do this new us.”
He has lines and I don’t dare cross them. “What do you need from me to make this work?”
“I think the new us needs to start with a first kiss.” He’s playful, not panicked, about this new place we are venturing. This feels like my Lachlan Henry, only better.
He sits up, rolling me to my back. His mouth comes down on mine and he pushes his tongue inside. Every motion is deliberate. He’s slow and gentle. This is a new kind of kiss for the couple we are becoming.
When he stops kissing me, I search his face and see a deep wrinkle across his brow. I’ve seen it before. It’s only there when he’s in deep concentration about something, and it frightens me. I’m afraid he’s thinking this isn’t going to work. Or maybe he doesn’t want to try.
I reach up and place my thumb on top of the contracted muscle to smooth it. “I only see this when you’re thinking hard about something. What’s on your mind?”
I’m scared of what he’s going to say, but he gives me a crooked grin and I’m relieved before the first word leaves his mouth. “Say my name.”
I don’t know which one to go with. He hasn’t asked me to call him anything but Lachlan and I don’t want to overstep his boundaries. “Lachlan.”
He shakes his head as if to say tsk tsk, wrong answer. “Say my real name.”
His face becomes serious. “Both of them.”
My heart is pounding. This is huge, according to his mother. He would only ask me to do this if he loved me. “Jack Henry.”
He closes his eyes as though he’s savoring the sound of it coming from my mouth. “Say it again, Laurelyn.”
I hesitate and he opens his eyes to look at me. That’s when I choose to say it again, at the moment his eyes meet mine. “Jack Henry.”
He kisses me and I feel his mouth move into the shape of a smile. “That’s who I am to you from now on. No more Lachlan. No more pretending.”
I’ve shut the door on Lachlan Henry forever. He no longer exists. Only Jack Henry McLachlan resides here, and I like it. For the first time in more than four years, it feels good to be me with a woman. And not just any woman. Laurelyn.
“Now that I know your real name, which I think you’ll agree is the single-most important piece of identifying information, do I get to know everything else?”
She wants the rest of my story.
“You know my name. You’ve met my family. What else would you want to know?”
“We’re as close as two people can be, so I want to know everything.”
Things feel really good between us the way they are. Am I ready to tell her more?
“You don’t have to worry, Jack Henry. I’m not going to stalk you the way Audrey does.”
I hear her say my name and I’m a goner. I’ll tell her anything she wants to know. “I have a condo here in Sydney. It’s home when I’m not traveling, which isn’t very often, because I own too many vineyards to stay home for long.”
She takes a minute to process this information. “You own them all?”
She wasn’t expecting that. “How many total?”
“Too damn many.” And that was the truth. I was stretched too thin across New South Wales and New Zealand. I was following in my father’s footsteps and also making steps of my own. I shouldn’t have purchased Avalon. I don’t have the time it requires to make it successful, but I can’t regret it. It’s what led me to Laurelyn.