She unbuttons my shirt and tells me to sit up so she can pull it off. I do as she says and then I fall back onto the bed again. Her hands slide up and down my chest. "I'm glad I stumbled upon you. You are super-hot."
Her mouth starts at my upper chest and makes its way down to my stomach. She tugs to open the button of my trousers and then pulls the zipper down. I'm drunk as fuck, but I somehow manage to get it up. "Well, well. It could be a happy birthday for me after all." She tugs until all my clothes are a rumpled memory on the floor. After she finishes, she pushes her knickers down and kicks them to where her dress is lying in a puddle.
She climbs back on top of me and produces a condom from somewhere. I assume from her own supply since she hasn't asked me where mine is. I hear her tear it open and then feel her hands rolling it down over me. I reach up to rub my closed eyes because all I can see is Laurelyn in the pitch black behind my lids. Dammit! I want to forget her and I know this is the way, so why is it not working? Why am I still seeing her? Missing her? Loving her?
I feel the blonde's hand around me and know she's going to slide onto my cock any second if I don't stop her, so I jerk up in the bed and shove her off. "I'm sorry. I can't do this with you."
I get up and start dressing as she stares at me. She says nothing and when I'm fully clothed, I don't glance in her direction. "The room is paid for. You can stay if you want."
When I'm outside the door, I take my mobile from my pocket but it isn't Daniel I call. I want to talk to my brother; I need him. "Evan, I need you to come get me."
"Do you know what time it is?" he grumbles.
"No, and I don't give a shit. Come pick me up at the Langford."
I get into the passenger side of my brother's kiddie-hauling SUV. He takes one look at me and shakes his head as he begins laughing. "You look like shit."
Just what I need to hear. "Fuck you."
He looks me over. "What the hell have you been doing?"
I stare out the window. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Well, then why did you call me to come get you at this time of night if you didn't want to talk? It's not like you don't have Daniel on salary to drive your drunk arse home."
I'm starting to regret calling him. I don't know what I was thinking. "Maybe I should have."
"Yeah, that's right. Maybe you should have." He pulls out onto the street in the direction of my apartment. "When did you get back into town?"
"Mum's going nuts trying to get you. She's dying to know what happened with Laurelyn." I don't reply. "That's what all of this is about, isn't it? You asked her to stay and she told you no."
It hurts to say it. "She left without telling me goodbye."
"Don't call her that," I warn my brother. "You don't know anything about the way it went down."
"Does it matter if she fucked off without telling you so much as kiss my arse?"
"Yeah, it sort of does matter. It makes all the difference in the world. We had a complicated relationship topped off with a stupid misunderstanding."
"How complicated could it be? She was here for three months. You hung out, had a good time, and she went home."
I can't believe I'm about to tell him the truth. Maybe it's because I'm drunk. I don't know. "It was much more than that. We had an agreement. She didn't know my real name. I didn't know hers. She was supposed to be my companion for three months until she went home. I insisted, and she agreed, we'd never have contact again once she was gone. But things didn't go according to plan. I found out her first name. She found out my whole name. She told me she loved me but I was too stubborn to hear her because I'm a fucking idiot. She couldn't tell me goodbye and I let her get away without telling her how I felt."
"So, you find her and tell her."
He thinks it's so easy. "That's sort of hard to do when you don't know the full name of who you're searching for."
"Bro, that is messed up. Why would you do that?"
Evan doesn't get what my life is like. He walked away from the vineyards and chose a simple life with a nine-to-five job so he could have Emma. "Because women love rich men. I grew tired of being used. I've been doing this for years and it's always worked out fine. Until Laurelyn."
"She didn't know who you were or that you had a shitload of money?"
"Not until I brought her home with me after Dad got sick."
"Mum is going to be so pissed off. She was already planning your wedding and naming your kids."
He didn't have to remind me. "I know. She fell as much in love with Laurelyn as I did."
"So did my wife and kids. Celia still talks about her. Mila probably would if she could talk."
I can't believe I'm about to ask him this. "How did you know Emma was the one?"
He hesitates and I wonder if he's going to tell me. I can't say I'd blame him if he refused. "You can't use anything I tell you against me. I mean it. No throwing this shit up in my face later because you think it's funny."
"No, man. You have my word."
"We'd dated for several months but had broken up over something stupid. I saw her out with another guy. I don't know how to describe the way it felt. Hurt. Sick. Pissed off. Desperate. And that's just the short list. All he had to do was look at her and I wanted to choke the shit out of him with my bare hands."
I think of how I'd been out of my mind with jealousy the past three months. I wanted to beat the hell out of Ben Donavon, Swinger Chris, and Blake Phillips. "Yeah, that sounds more than a little bit familiar."
"Jack, you don't always know the true worth of a woman's love until it becomes a memory." That's pretty deep stuff coming from my little brother. "Nothing speaks louder than your heart. Listen to what it's telling you. You don't need me to tell you how you'll know if she's the one."
"My heart's not telling me anything. It's screaming in desperation to find Laurelyn and tell her how much I love her."
"Bro, you're a rich fucker. Call out the bloodhounds and go get your girl. She can be found for the right amount of money."
Evan's right. Laurelyn can be located for a price, and I know just the guy for the job.
It's late, but I don't care. I take my mobile out and dial the familiar number. "Callaghan Investigations."
"Jim, it's Jack McLachlan. I have a job for you, and it's a big one. Do you have a current passport?"
The doorbell rings and I open my eyes, cursing the sunlight that mocks me through the window. I reach my hand out as I've done every morning for the last week and find the spot next to me empty. Even after a full week, I'm still not used to finding her gone.
My head pounds after getting so smashed last night, and the zealous ringing of the doorbell isn't helping matters. I want to yell for the person to stop and go away but I know raising my voice will only make things worse. The nightstand clock glows 7:18. Granted, this is sleeping in for me, but who the hell would be at my apartment this early on a Saturday morning? No one knows I'm in Sydney except Evan, so it can only mean one thing. He told Mum, and now she's here to jump my shit because he still thinks it's funny as hell to get me in trouble with her. That's what I get for calling that little fucker.
I open the front door and Margaret McLachlan storms past me. Oh, fuck! This isn't going to go well. "Please come in, Mum."
"Don't give me your smart-arse mouth. I've been trying to reach you all week and you've avoided my calls. It's a shame I had to hunt you down like this just to find out what happened."
"It's harvest time. I don't have to tell you how busy things can get."
"It's been days since Laurelyn was scheduled to leave and I haven't heard from you. I've been about to lose my mind wanting to know what's gone on, but since you've been avoiding me, I'm fairly certain I can guess. You screwed it up with her, didn't you?"
And here we go. "Yes. I messed up."
She puts her hands on her hips and looks up toward the ceiling as she sighs loudly. "She told you that she loved you?"
How could she know that? Is she guessing? "Yes."
"And what did you tell her in return?" She's giving me that look like she's going to strangle me if I don't give her the answer she wants. I hope my neck is prepared for the wringing it's about to receive.
"I didn't tell her anything." And then I fucked her.
She seems surprised by my lack of response for Laurelyn's confession of love. "Oh. Then it seems I owe you an apology. I went to see her a few weeks ago at Avalon. She told me she loved you—and I thought you felt the same—so I encouraged her to tell you. I wouldn't have done that if I'd known you didn't have feelings for her."
"But I do, Mum. I love Laurelyn very much."
I see the confusion on her face. "Then I don't understand. Why did you not tell her and ask her to stay? It would've been the perfect opportunity."
I doubt she's going to take this well. "I don't date women who say those kinds of things so I was caught off guard. I thought about it night and day for a week and I was finally able to admit to myself how I felt. I was on my way to tell her about my feelings, to ask her if she'd stay, when I discovered she was gone without a goodbye. Mum, she left without knowing that I love her."
Her expression tells me she isn't pleased. "I don't understand. It's been a week. Why have you not gone after her? Or at least called to declare your love?"
This is it. I can't lie my way out of what happened with Laurelyn. More importantly, I don't want to anymore. I despise lies and pretending; they cost me the woman I love.