“Be my wife.”
It wasn’t a question. He slid the ring on my finger. My breath caught in my lungs as I watched in horror. I was suffocating as I stared at the diamond sparkling on my left hand. It looked enormous on my petite finger, as though it was swallowing me.
Overcome with emotion, he pulled me into him for a passionate kiss. My lips responded to his automatically. Force of habit, nothing more. Or so I told myself. Here in this moment, it felt good to have someone want me. Even if it wasn’t my first choice. I pushed down the guilt that washed over me as he held me at arm’s length to admire his latest acquisition. Clearly, he had taken my nonverbal cues as acceptance of his offer.
I opened my mouth to say something, anything, but no words would come. My legs threatened to buckle underneath me. My whole body shook, wanting to scream out that this wasn’t right. The walls began to blur and the building began to spin. I felt Eric grab my wrists to support me. I looked up in hopes of meeting his eyes to try to ground myself, but was instantly aware that he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking past me.
In slow motion, I turned.
Instead of seeing the wall behind me as I fully expected, I stared straight into the most beautiful pair of ocean blue eyes I had ever seen. Reflected in their depths was pain and torment like I had never witnessed. Matthew had been watching our whole exchange.
My heart seized as I attempted to pull away from Eric. His grip on me tightened, making me fight harder. I freed one arm, reaching out to Matthew in a wordless attempt to make him stay. I needed him to understand; needed him to believe me that this whole thing wasn’t my idea. Eric had again stolen the upper hand, somehow knowing that Matthew had followed me here even though I had had no clue. This hallway exchange had been orchestrated entirely for his benefit. I doubted if I walked inside the condo that his cleaning lady was even there.
The anger that flowed through my veins was strong enough to assist me in breaking away from my now fiancé’s grasp. Though if I took his words as gospel, since I didn’t answer him this time either, technically it still didn’t count. I could rip the offending ring off of my finger and toss it back at him, and we could all pretend that none of this had ever happened.
Except the expression on Matthew’s face told me he would never forget what he had seen.
He practically hovered behind me, suspended in his own disbelief, frozen in place. His lower lip trembled and he appeared to be having trouble breathing. I called out to him but he couldn’t hear me. His eyes were transfixed upon that gigantic diamond that graced my hand.
Even in his anguish, he was still the most beautiful person I had ever seen. My subconscious had dressed this version of him completely in white; the symbolism of that wasn’t lost on me. He was my angel in every sense of the word – he encompassed everything that was good and right with my life. Up until mere hours ago, he had been my protector, the one person I could count on to make me feel better.
Now he shook his head at me and turned to go.
I screamed his name, propelling myself forward to grab onto his arm, his shoulder, anything to keep him there. I should have been able to reach him easily, but the distance between us grew exponentially until it felt like we were miles apart. When I finally caught up to him, my hand passed straight through him and his image disappeared.
I fell, hard, to my knees where Matthew had just been. My body shook with sobs as I curled up into a ball on the floor. From his position above me, Eric laughed.
“Smoke and mirrors, Lauren,” he pronounced, “that’s all he ever was. That’s all those types of guys are.”
I glared up at him.
“He’s a jock; what did you expect? That guy has probably bedded so many girls with his lines and his fake sensitivity. Think about it. The criminal history only adds to the allure. Everyone wants to fix him, you included. You fell for his game hook, line and sinker.”
I wiped my eyes with my arm. “No, it’s not like that,” I said in weak protest, fearing he had hit the nail squarely on the head.
Eric laughed again. “Not so sure now, are we?”
I bit my lip as his hand extended downward to help me off of the carpet. Reluctantly, I offered my hand. He grabbed my wrist and pulled me to a standing position. Once I was upright his hand slid to the small of my back, clutching me possessively to him.
“You’re a bastard,” I stated under my breath. Of course he heard me.
“I’ve never pretended not to be.”
Well, he had me there.
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