I follow him as he walks us through the foyer and past the kitchen, but when we make it to the living room, my heart lurches in my chest.
Set up in the middle of the floor, in front of large floor-to-ceiling windows that face the river, is a giant picnic blanket.
I step closer, eyes wide with disbelief.
“What is this?” I ask.
“You said you love picnics.” His voice is low as if he is gauging my reaction. He isn’t sure if I love it or hate it.
“I-I,” I stutter. And I can feel wetness fill my eyes.
“You hate it?” he asks, and suddenly, he sounds like a little boy, unsure.
I shake my head back and forth. “No. I love it.” A lone tear trails down my cheek.
He steps up closer, his finger swiping at the tear. “Then why are you crying?”
“Because no one but my mother has ever done anything like this for me.” Tears come faster now.
And I don’t deserve it, I want to shout.
I don’t deserve this man’s care. Because everything out of my mouth has been a lie. And he deserves to know the truth, and I have to tell him. I open my mouth, but I can’t find my words. His hand is still on my face, his fingers brushing gently against my skin. I feel dizzy under the ministrations.
All rational thoughts leave my mind as I lift onto my tiptoes and bring my mouth to his.
His lips are softer than I imagined in my dreams, and when he opens them and sweeps his tongue with mine, I think I might die. Combust for sure.
He opens my mouth with his, pulling me tighter into his body as he guides the kiss.
I’m lost, like a passenger on a boat drifting off to sea, but he is the anchor, bringing me back.
Making me present with his touch.
The kiss doesn’t last much longer, and soon, he is pulling back to gauge me with his eyes, to see if I wanted him to do that.
This is why I have fallen for Jaxson Price.
And this is why I need to tell him the truth.
I take a step back and bracket my arms around my body for protection.
I’m sure I heard her wrong.
There is no way she just said she’s married. My mouth opens and closes, yet no sound passes through my lips.
Is that her secret?
This whole time I’ve been falling for a girl who’s married.
How could I have been so blind?
“What in the actual fuck?” I say, taking a step back and distancing myself from her. I shake my head back and forth, trying to understand what she just said.
She lifts her hand up, almost as if to soothe the news she just dropped on me.
“It’s not what you think.” Her hand reaches out. My first instinct is to push it away because the betrayal I feel is thick in the air.
I take another step back, but she takes another step forward.
“Let me explain.” Her words sound broken, a small hiccup in her speech. That’s when I finally look down and meet her eyes.
What is there breaks my heart.
She looks broken. Desperate. It looks like a world of pain hides in the depths of her blue eyes.
Pain I’d never be able to understand.
I nod and point at the couch.
The abandoned picnic looks forgotten beneath the weight of this confession.
When I sit, she follows suit. But instead of sitting beside me, she sits on the couch adjacent to mine.
She needs her distance, and truth be told, depending on what she says . . .
I need mine.
The air around us is quiet, heavy with tension. I watch as she leans forward and cradles her head in her hands, a tear falling from her eyes.
“I-I,” she stutters. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but I’m married in name only,” she states.
I shake my head in confusion.
“It’s hard to be married to a man who wants you dead,” she whispers, and when she says the word, I feel like I’m punched in the stomach.
There is only truth in her eyes.
No lies. No deception. She truly believes this, and then like a puzzle that’s been thrown on the floor, the pieces start to resemble an image that finally makes sense.
“Talk to me, Willow,” I say. I keep my voice low so as not to startle her. She looks like a wounded bird and I don’t want her to fly away.
“My real name is Willomena. Willomena Craft.” She takes a deep breath and time stands still as I wait for the other shoe to drop. “And my husband is trying to kill me.”
Thump. Thump. Thump.
It feels like my world has stopped on its axis as I listen. As I soak up each bread crumb, I’ve been waiting to hear this whole time.
Her husband is trying to kill her.