“Thanks for staying with me today,” I told Eli. I had needed someone. Support. Everyone had been here. They all knew I’d been on Cruz Kerrington’s bike and they all saw him completely ignore me. But my grandfather’s grief had been more important than my obvious snub from Cruz. I’d gotten what I asked for playing with fire.

“I’m glad I came. Almost didn’t. Nate thought I should. I’ll have to thank him for that.”

Nate had expected this. He knew Cruz as well as I did. We had been a pack once. I needed to thank Nate for bringing Eli. Not that I was going to use Eli as a rebound. But he’d become a good friend. After today, I hoped we would stay in touch. I enjoyed his company. He was strong. Dependable. Kind. The type of man I knew my parents hoped I would find one day.

When my heart finally healed and I moved on, I hoped I would find a fairytale with a guy like Eli. I knew it wouldn’t be Eli because his heart was already unavailable. I sympathized with him. Loving someone you will never have is painful.

At least he hadn’t suffered humiliation because of it. He’d kept his feelings a secret. Never made the mistake of throwing caution to the wind and hoping it worked.

“Let’s go,” I said as others began to leave. I knew my grandfather would be here for a while and I wanted him to have his alone time with her.

Eli continued to hold my hand as we walked away. I knew the Kerrington’s were to my left. I could see Woods and Della from the corner of my eye. But I didn’t turn to them. I just couldn’t bring myself to. I walked on with my head down. Eli led me to the limo that was waiting for the family.

“Where are you going?” I asked him.

He nodded toward the limo behind this one. “To Dean’s with Nate and Bliss.”

Being with Nate and Bliss wasn’t easy on him. I knew that without asking. “Come with me,” I said.

He smiled like he understood why and could read my thoughts. “Thanks.”

I moved all the way down to the last seat. “You saved me today. I should be thanking you.”

He moved in behind me and sat with his thigh pressing mine. The warmth from his body, the smell of his cologne all made me feel soothed. Like I wasn’t alone. I remembered this from our one night together. I knew the difference now, between good drunk sex with no strings and sex with a man your heart wants. It’s on two different playing fields.

“You were beautiful today. He’s an idiot, and from the way he watched your every move he knows it.”

I jerked my head around and looked up at Eli. “What?”

He gave me a half smile. “Cruz Kerrington. He couldn’t keep his eyes off you. I never met him nor was I introduced, but I know guys like him. I can spot them. He was also completely obvious. No one else there glared at me like they’d enjoy ripping my limbs off my body.”

That didn’t make sense. I shook my head. “You misunderstood. He was forced to come here. I know his parents. He was glaring because he was angry this took away from his play time.” The disgust was obvious in my voice. So was the hurt.

“I may not be an asshole. But I am a man. I know what they’re thinking. I can read one. And that guy was not happy about you being with me. He also wanted to get you alone and get his hands on you. Honestly, Lila, you are beautiful. Today you were stunning. I had a hard time keeping my eyes off you.”

It felt nice. No, it felt more than nice to hear a good-looking man say that to me. I didn’t feel beautiful or stunning. “Thank you,” I said unsure of how else to respond. Then I said what I was thinking. “I wish . . . I wish I’d met you at another time. A time when our hearts weren’t so confused. Maybe we would have had a chance.”

His hand slipped over mine, and he kept it there. “When you left I realized something. My heart isn’t where I thought it was. Bliss had become a habit. All I knew. No one had made enough of an impact on me to move her from my heart. But you . . . you made me forget. Showed me that there was more. That I could feel something for someone else,” he paused then his fingers slid around mine. “My heart’s ready, Lila. I’ll just be patient until yours is.”

Wow . . . that was not something I’d expected to hear. “Our last night together you were upset over being the best man,” I reminded him.

He shrugged. “A habit. A habit that shook me up and showed me how my heart had changed. I realized I’d moved on when I found out you were gone. That . . . that shook me more than the damn wedding shit. I was over it and completely focused on you. I don’t even get a twinge when I see them kiss now. You got me over it. I wish I could do the same for you.”

Here was this wonderful man telling me he wanted more. He was ready to move on with me. He wanted to be with me. He made himself available. And as beautiful as it all sounded, my heart was still aching over Cruz. I was either the stupidest female on planet Earth or the unluckiest. Possibly both.

“I need time,” I said to him because I wanted a fairy tale. I believed that Eli was that kind of guy. He was secure, solid, beautiful. All the things my father was, Rush Finlay was, my Uncle Mase and Uncle Cope were. I wanted a man like them.

Even the tone of his voice was soothing. It didn’t make my heart flip or butterflies take flight in my stomach, but it made me feel safe. I rested my head on his shoulder. His arm went around me and we sat there like that in silence while we waited on the rest of the family.

“DID YOU FUCK her?” Blaze, my nineteen-year-old brother asked dropping down onto the other end of the sectional sofa in the den that my mom referred to as “the boys’ den.” It was on the bottom floor of our three-story home and had everything teenage boys could possibly need. Even a mini gym with weights. I had come down here as soon as we got home to avoid the rest of the family.

“I’m ignoring that,” I replied not taking my attention from the baseball game I was watching.

Fury crawled all over me. “If you want to live you’ll shut the hell up,” I warned him. I didn’t want anyone knowing about what we had done, but I also didn’t want my brother thinking about Lila Kate and sex in the same damn thought.

“What’s your deal? Jesus, relax. Lila Kate is smoking hot. I’d give my left nut to fuck her.”

I moved then. Fast. Without thought. I pinned Blaze to the sofa with my hand around his throat. He was an inch, maybe two taller than me but he was lankier. His muscles were slenderer. I outweighed him. I was also two years older. “Shut your motherfucking mouth. Do you understand me you stupid little dipshit?”

He nodded unable to breathe so I eased my hold on his neck. Then glared at him one last time before moving off him and taking my spot back. “Go away,” I told him as I settled back again.

I could see him rubbing his neck. Damn dramatic. He finally stood up, and I was so relieved I almost sighed. I just wanted to be alone.

“If you love her then you aren’t doing a good job of showing her. That’s all I’m saying.” After the words had left his mouth, he turned and ran from the room and back up the stairs.

“I don’t love her,” I said to no one. But I needed to say it. Get it out. “I don’t love anyone. Love isn’t for me.” I kept talking to the empty room.