Lila’s gaze traveled down my bare chest, so I took my time reaching for the shirt I’d discarded last night. Let her take her fill. I knew my chest was impressive. I worked hard to keep my body in shape. I watched her, and when she realized she’d been caught checking me out she looked away and blushed adorably. I considered staying shirtless but decided that was desperate.
Tugging my shirt over my head, I walked over to the kitchen area and pulled out a stool across from where she was working. “I’d offer to help but you seem to have it under control and it looks like you’re almost finished.”
“I am. Want some coffee?”
I preferred tea, but I nodded. “Yeah, I’ll get it though.”
She turned and grabbed a cup. “I got it. Stay seated.”
I watched her fix my cup. “Cream or sugar?”
She handed it to me. “There you go.”
I started to say more when banging on the door downstairs made us both pause. Lila frowned and we waited then. Soon after, it happened again. She moved the skillet off the eye of the stove. “I think someone is at the door.”
“I’ll check,” I said standing up. “You’re in the middle of all that.”
“Okay thank you,” she replied and went back to finishing the bacon.
I was almost down the stairs when I realized who I was about to greet at the door. It was a gut thing. I should have expected him to return after last night. Lila had been so busy looking back at Cruz that she hadn’t realized I checked to see what had her attention. The guy stayed there awhile. Her not going to him was a bold move but I still thought she was weak. Him coming here this morning wasn’t good.
But this wasn’t my decision to make.
When I crossed the studio and got to the double doors of the entrance, there he was. Exactly who I expected. Looking like he’d drank a fifth of whiskey and hadn’t slept a wink.
I wanted to leave his ass out there. Safely away from Lila. From hurting her even more. But then she could have a reason to be mad at me. I wasn’t here to protect her. At least not from this.
“Cruz,” I said as I opened the door.
He pushed by me and headed for the back door that led to the apartment. I’d been right about the whiskey—he reeked of it. This wasn’t what she needed. He didn’t seem to give a shit though.
“Are you trying to crush her?” I asked still standing at the door wishing he’d walk back out of it. He stopped and waited a beat before glaring back at me.
“You don’t know shit. She doesn’t love you. You’re the fucking bandage.” The hate in his tone was a bit alarming.
I shrugged. I wasn’t affected by his hate and I wasn’t scared of him. He was built. Tall. But he was hung over, and I had the upper hand. “I know she’s hurting. She’s trying to heal. But you won’t let her. You keep ripping her open again and again.”
He stared at me. Like he would like to murder me with his bare hands. I didn’t move. I didn’t want to fight the guy. Lila wouldn’t be happy about it.
“I’m not good enough for her. Why can’t she see that?” He sounded pained. Less anger more regret.
“I think she can. But can you?”
His hate flared back to life. “I love her. I would die for her. Take a fucking bullet for her. Can you say that? You barely know her. I’ve known her all my life. Loved her most of it. I just didn’t want to.” As he said the words, I could see the shock in his eyes. He surprised himself. I doubted he’d ever admitted that out loud.
“You have a funny way of showing love,” I told him.
He ran his hands through his hair and the wild look in his eyes was a man that was wrecked. “She’s destroyed me. I am fucking ruined. I need her. I’m so damn addicted to her I can’t function. I can’t stand her being with you. That you or someone like you will be the right one. Good enough. That she’ll belong to another man. I can’t fucking stand it!” he ended that with a roar and pulled at his hair like a man possessed.
“You’ve had too much to drink. Go home. Sleep it off. Think this through and if you still want to come back.”
He shook his head. “I can’t leave. Not with you up there with her.”
This was worse than I thought. She was in love with a psycho. Why was no one in her life concerned about this? The guy needed some mental help.
“If you love her then be the man she deserves. This,” I said waving my hand at him. “Is not that man. You’re a fucking mess.”
He glared at me and started toward me. His fists were clenched at his sides, so I prepare to defend myself. I hated to hit a drunk man, but I wasn’t going to let him kick my ass either.
“Cruz!” Lila’s voice stopped him. I looked over his shoulder to see her standing there. So innocent and sweet. This madman she was in love with didn’t match up well at all.
He paused then turned to her. “Lila.”
The tears in her eyes weren’t falling yet, but they were there. Unshed.
“What are you doing?” she asked sounding like a teacher put out with an unruly student.
They stood there staring at each other. I walked around them and back upstairs to get my things. I didn’t belong here. Not now.
FIGHTING THIS WAS impossible. I’d tried. I had tried so damn hard. But I couldn’t. Was I good enough for Lila Kate? No. Did she know all my dark secrets? No. Would she love me if she knew? Probably not. She’d hate me. I didn’t want her to hate me.
She turned and grabbed Eli’s arm as he came back downstairs with his bag. His staying the night here had been the last straw. I’d cracked. My chest exploding would have hurt less than seeing her with him last night. Eating fucking ice cream, walking around town like a couple. I couldn’t stomach it. I knew after that I had to do something.
“Just let me talk to him. You don’t have to go,” she said to Eli.
She frowned at me. “No, he doesn’t.”
“Yes, I do,” he said saving me from having to argue with her. Because his ass needed to go back to fucking Alabama and stay there. “This,” he said pointing between Lila Kate and me. “This needs resolving. I’m in the way, and honestly, I don’t want to watch any more of the train wreck.”
I took a step toward him my hands balling into fists. Lila Kate was in front of me before I could take two steps. Both her hands on my chest. “Cruz. Don’t. Just go upstairs. Please.”
Her big beautiful eyes were telling me to go upstairs . . . to her apartment. That meant I wasn’t the one leaving. So I backed away and nodded.
“Thank you,” she whispered as if he couldn’t hear her.
“Don’t touch her,” I warned him making sure he understood I’d find his ass. I’d track him down and make sure neither of his hands worked again.
I turned and walked to the back door only glancing back once.
“I’m sorry about all this,” she told him. “I never expected him to come here.”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation.