I wanted nothing more than to continue to kiss Roland, the tangle of wrongs inside of me be damned, but it was too sweet for me to deserve it. I had to pull away or risk losing everything. I couldn’t do this to him. I couldn’t betray the love that was rearing its head inside of me.
“I should go,” I said, laying my hand on his cheek, my heart dying a little when he almost flinched away from my palm on his scar but forced himself to stay still. Why did he trust me so much? Couldn’t he see what was happening? This was going too far. The feelings I had for him were real, but so was the betrayal. Now that we knew we loved each other, nothing could be the same. Each time I reported back to Dan would be even worse than before.
“I wish that you would stay,” Roland said uncertainly. “But I know why you think you need to go.”
How many more pieces could fracture off of my heart before I didn’t have one anymore, just a bunch of broken shards stabbing me from the inside out?
“If this is real,” I said slowly, “then we’ll know it.”
“It’s real,” he whispered.
“Then let’s take our time about it,” I said, forcing my trembling lips into a smile. “We’re not going anywhere. There isn’t any hurry, is there?”
“I guess there’s not,” Roland said softly, pushing a strand of my hair behind my ear, caressing my earlobe. “I just…I supposed I’m afraid you’re going to go to sleep tonight and wake up and have second thoughts. Which is fine…it’s fine, if that happens. I just…I just hope it doesn’t.”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” I told him, stepping back a little. “Not for me anyway.”
“You think I’m going to wake up and feel any differently?” he asked, scoffing. “Okay, maybe I’ll wake up and find I love you a little bit more. That would be the only change I could foresee.”
No, he might wake up and realize that I was the reason he almost lost business in Nigeria. That was what I was afraid of; both afraid of and wishing it would happen at the same time. If Roland realized the truth, he could end all of this before it went too far. It was already too far. However, if he arrived at the truth himself, and soon, it would be better for both of us.
I just wasn’t strong enough to give it to him.
“Good night,” I said, smiling at him. “Thank you again for the wonderful dinner.”
“You’re cooking next time,” he reminded me.
“Wrong. The crockpot is cooking next time.”
Roland laughed, and I realized it was my favorite sound in the world. It was my favorite sound, and I was in a sweet, living hell of my own making.
The next few days were a true struggle, and worse than ever before. They were wonderful where Roland was concerned—wonderful edged with terrible. His morning coffee and newspaper now came with a lingering kiss that made me tingle for a whole hour afterward. I felt as light as air working just outside his door, struggling to focus on the tasks at hand while knowing full well that he was probably watching me through the camera positioned above my desk.
I liked the idea of his murky blue eyes on me.
It was during one of these distracted afternoons when I was trying to catch up on my digitizing—the task I let go first if I was falling behind in other areas—and made a stunning discovery that allowed a few of the puzzle pieces still rotating in my head to fall into place.
It was a string of memos I was scanning into the system, which wasn’t atypical, of course, except for the names on the memos: Sam and Dan. Some digging in the box I was working through turned up several more, and after a quick perusal, I realized she’d been Dan’s assistant at one point in time.
That was interesting. With as much as she liked to talk, I was surprised that Sam hadn’t brought it up before.
I set aside the memos and walked across the office, stopping to lean on her desk at the front of the room.
“Doing anything for lunch?” I asked. “I’m in the mood for something greasy from downstairs if you are.”
“Poor thing, hungover again?” she asked, smiling salaciously. “You’d been good for a while, always bringing your lunch and working at your desk.”
The truth was, I’d been spending most of my lunches with Roland, inside his office, talking about both business and social topics, but I was glad the office gossip didn’t know that.
“I’ve really got to back off of the drinking,” I laughed, shrugging. “Hangovers now aren’t those painless things I had back in college. These are real.”