The Best Goodbye(Rosemary Beach #13)(10) by Abbi Glines
She watched me too closely. If she connected my mood to Rose, things would get ugly. Yet another reason to distance myself from Rose.
You’re protecting her. Just like Addy.
The thought was there before I could push it away. It was the truth, of course. I was protecting Rose. Simply because her laugh reminded me of Addy. I could lie to myself and say I was intrigued by her because she was a single mom and a hard worker. But that wasn’t it. I knew it wasn’t.
“Closer we get to the opening, the more tense I get. Gonna have to deal with it,” I replied without emotion.
I could see Elle playing with her sandwich instead of eating it. She wanted more from me. I’d known the day would come when she would push for more. It always did. And I always sent them on their way. More wasn’t me.
“I wish you’d open up to me. I’m here to listen to you. I care about you. I thought we were getting closer. Just yesterday, in your office . . .”
“We fucked, Elle. That’s all it was. A fuck. I told you in the beginning, I just fuck, babe. You want closer, you’re with the wrong guy.”
My words were cold, but that was me. She needed to hear it.
“You’re not the hard, untouchable guy you want me to believe you are. I’ve seen you let your guard down. So is it just me? Is that it? You don’t want me?”
This was the moment. I could hurt her and lie, say yes, and send her on her way. But she was my head server. I didn’t love her, but I wasn’t going to be cruel, either.
“It’s not you,” I bit out. I wasn’t going to share a piece of myself or my past. However, she needed to understand that I was not the guy she was looking for. “Gave my heart away a long time ago.”
I heard her quick intake of breath. She hadn’t been expecting that.
Taking another bite of my sandwich, I reached for my beer and shoved off from the counter. I needed distance from Elle. From everyone.
“Are you saying you’re in love with someone else?”
It was more than that, but I just gave a nod and drank my beer.
“Who? Where is she?” Elle asked, her voice rising just enough to let me know she was pissed.
“Not talking about it.”
“You’re not talking about it?” she all but screamed behind me. “We’ve been fucking, as you call it, for weeks, and you left out the fact that you were in love with someone else? What are we doing, then? Huh?”
“Fucking,” I replied.
“You’re a . . . you’re a . . . ugh! I can’t believe I—” She stopped and let out a growl, then headed for the door. “I won’t be used,” she said, just as she was about to leave.
“Good,” was my only response. She shouldn’t allow herself to be used.
“That’s all you’re going to say? Seriously?”
I set my beer down and finally turned to look at her. The fury on her face was what I expected. This was the way it always ended. Even though I warned them in the beginning that I’d never want more. “Did I tell you from the start that there would ever be more than fucking from me?”
She glared at me but finally nodded.
“Correct. I didn’t. You were the one who wanted to change the rules.”
I could see the pain in her eyes, and I felt guilty for putting it there. I felt guilty every damn time.
Elle didn’t say more. She turned and left.
Finally, I was alone.
Franny was curled up on the sofa asleep when I got home. Mrs. Baylor was sitting in the recliner with a book in her lap. She smiled up from what she was reading to greet me with a whisper.
“I tried to persuade her to go to bed, but she wanted to wait up for you. She played hard today. We even made three dozen macadamia nut cookies. You need to take most of those to work with you tomorrow; we won’t be able to eat them all.”
Brad’s truck pulled up behind mine in the driveway, and I glanced back toward him. I hadn’t expected Franny to be asleep so early. Typically, she was a night owl. But I also wasn’t about to ask Mrs. Baylor to stay and watch her while I went out for pizza with a man.
“Thank you for today. I know she had fun,” I said, as I gazed at my daughter. She was my world. I would never be able to thank Mrs. Baylor enough for being so good to her.
Mrs. Baylor stood up and cleared her throat softly. “Well, it looks like you have company.” Her voice held an amused tone.
I turned back to see Brad stepping out of his truck. He looked uncertain about whether he should proceed.
“He’s a friend from work. I’ll just go explain that Franny is asleep and send him on his way.”
“Nonsense. You need to make some friends, and from where I’m standing, that friend is a fine sight.”
My face flushed red. “Franny waited up for me. I want to be here if she wakes up.”
“And you can be. But that doesn’t mean you can’t fix that young man a glass of wine and invite him to sit on your lovely porch. The stars are beautiful tonight.”
I doubted Brad drank wine. He seemed more like a beer drinker. And he was hungry. All I had was leftover chicken pot pie from the night before. I did have the makings for a pizza, though. Franny and I had pizza night once a week, so I always kept the kitchen stocked with what we needed.
Mrs. Baylor patted my arm as she walked past me. “You’ll figure it out.” Then she smiled over at Brad before walking across the yard and toward her house.