Hard to Love Page 15

“It’s fine, Kenz.” I gripped her elbow, pulling her back from the scene she was about to create. “We’ll find another table.” Or we could just go home. After the second week of my moping, MacKenzie and Ty decided to host an intervention. It began with some pre-drinks at my apartment, and had moved on to some crowded bar.

“No. We need to find a table near the pool tables.”

I had no idea what was up with her insistence—none of us played pool. “Those people are leaving.” I pointed across the room.

“Sweet!” MacKenzie practically sprinted, elbowing people out of her way as she crossed the room.

Jeez. I didn’t know what had gotten into her, but Tyson and I dutifully followed. I climbed up on the stool and placed my purse on the tabletop. It felt good to give my feet a break. Why I’d decided to wear heels tonight was beyond me, especially when all I felt like doing was lying in bed in my pajamas. After ordering another round of drinks, Tyson let out a groan.

“What now?” I turned in the direction he was looking, but his hands gripped either side of my face, stopping me.

“No, Lex. Don’t look.”

What in the world?

I removed his hands from my face and spun in the direction he and MacKenzie were both staring.


Cade was here.

A mix of emotions rushed through me at the sight of him—everything from anger, to resentment, to desire. Damn traitorous body.

Cade and a male friend were racking a set of balls in the center of one of the pool tables and keeping up an easy banter between them.

I hated that his presence alone had the power stop my breathing and send my heart lurching in my chest, like my body knew we were sharing the same oxygen and was rebelling against the idea.

Cade was laughing, but when he looked up and caught my eyes his smile fell. I wondered if he’d come over and talk to me, and then wondered how I would feel if he didn’t. He said something to his friend, whose gaze cut to mine. He cracked the slightest smile, as if in understanding, and shoved Cade in my direction. Refusing to budge, Cade remained planted near the pool table, his eyes looking anywhere but at me.

MacKenzie, smiling confidently, straightened in her chair. “Now everyone, let’s not freak out. So Cade’s here. He happens to be at the same bar as us. It’s no big deal.”

“You little sneak! You didn’t!” MacKenzie’s utter lack of surprise at seeing Cade tipped me off. She’d set this up.

Tyson glanced anxiously between us, unaware of what he had missed.

“It wasn’t your place to interfere. God, did you tell him I wanted to see him?” I buried my face in my hands.

MacKenzie leaned closer, placing her hand on my arm. “Of course not. Listen, you need to man up. I just told him we’d be here tonight, and if he wanted to see you, if he still had any feelings for you at all, he should show up around nine in the billiards room.”

“You idiot, Kenz. It doesn’t work this way. I need my distance…” Hell, I needed to never think of him again, not that that was working.

Ty patted my back. I knew this was all MacKenzie’s doing, so I couldn’t be mad at him. “Fine. He’s here. Then I’m leaving.” I grabbed for my purse.

“No, Lex. If you leave, it’ll be like announcing that you can’t handle being around him.”

“I can’t. That’s the point.”

She gave my hand a squeeze. “He doesn’t need to know that. Don’t let him drive you away. Don’t let him win. You’re stronger than that.”

I sighed and set my purse back down. “Fine. Then I’m getting intoxicated.”

“Now that I can work with.” MacKenzie smiled and signaled the waitress for a round of shots to go with our other drinks.

After several rounds of drinks and watching Cade from the corner of my eye, I noticed he was approaching our table.

Oh crap. Act normal, act normal!

Ty fixed a hand on my forearm. “Don’t, Lex. Not again, not with him.” His eyes pleaded with me.

Cade sauntered up, offered a friendly nod to MacKenzie, narrowed his eyes at Tyson, then turned his gaze on me.

“Maybe we should give you guys a minute to talk,” MacKenzie squeaked, rising from her barstool and shooting Ty a let’s go look. “I’ll go keep your sexy friend company.” She glanced in the direction of Cade’s dark-haired, muscular-as-hell friend standing alone at the pool table, drinking a beer. “What’s his name?”

“Ian,” Cade answered, his eyes not wavering from mine. Once my friends had all but deserted me, Cade moved in a step closer. “How have you been?” He scrubbed a hand over the back of his neck.

That was a dumb question. But I wasn’t about to admit how I’d fallen apart over our split. “Fine. You?”

His eyes narrowed, searching mine. I knew he could see right through my hollow answers, but I didn’t care. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of letting him know how much I missed him. “I’ve been better,” he admitted.

I shook my head, surprising myself by laughing. The giggle bubbled up from my throat and escaped, despite my intentions to play things cool. “You’re a piece of work, you know that? Sex means something to me. It might not to you, but…” I waved him away. “Just leave me alone. I don’t want to talk to you.”

He caught my wrist and held it. “Let me explain something to you, cupcake.” He’d never pronounced my nickname with such venom, and I hated to admit that it stung. He leaned in closer to my face, just inches away from me. “Sex for money has no emotion. It’s like being at work—it’s hard, you’re tired, sweaty, you just want to finish, but you can’t. You have to keep faking the whole fucking act until some asswipe director tells you to come. On command. You try doing that with lighting techs shining bright lights in your face, and a sound guy with beer belly holding a microphone over you while sporting a fucking erection—it’s not all that much fun. Believe me. I’m sure as shit not proud of it. But you know I’d do anything for that little girl.”

“Lily? What does that have to do with Lily? If you’re twisted enough turn this into some chivalrous act to protect your little sister, you’re more deranged than I thought.” He still had my wrist in his grip, and I pulled it away from him. “Let me go,” I ground out through gritted teeth. I slid from my stool and escaped to the bathroom.

Chapter 19


Damn, just the sight of her and my resolve was weakening. I was two seconds away from dragging her off caveman-style to make her tell me what was on her mind when she cut out on me.

Alexa’s genuine surprise at seeing me told me that MacKenzie had lied. Dammit. I couldn’t believe I’d fallen for that shit about Alexa being miserable without me. She didn’t look miserable, she looked gorgeous. So much so it was like a kick to the gut, ripping the air form my lungs. But hearing the bitterness in her words, seeing the glaring anger in her eyes was like a stark warning to stay the fuck away from her. Too bad I couldn’t.

Her absence left an aching hole in me and I wasn’t afraid to admit it. Now if I could just think of a way to convince her that I worth her time. But getting her to trust me again? The death glare she shot me in the bar told me I was going to have an uphill battle. But she was worth it. She was everything. Damn, I sounded like some lovesick fool.

As I watched her disappear into the restroom, my mind briefly registered that her jeans were low enough to expose a toned strip of lower back, and the fabric hugged the curves of her ass. Hell, lesser men would have buckled by now.

I stalked off to the restroom after her. I reminded myself that she’d been the one to storm off that morning—I doubted anything I could have said would have made a difference, but tonight she was running again and I had to try.

I pushed open the door to the ladies’ room to find it empty. But I could hear soft sobs coming from the stall at the end of the row.

“Lexa?” I tapped softly on the door. “Can we start over? Talk about that morning you left?”

She sniffed. “There’s nothing to talk about, Cade. The damage is done.”

My shoulders sagged. Could this thing between us really be damaged beyond repair? God, I hoped not.

A group of girls pushed their way inside the restroom, giggling and chattering. “Hey, you can’t be in here,” one of them called. “You have two seconds to get out.”

I knocked on Alexa’s door more insistently. “Come on, let me in.”


“Cupcake?” I pled, my voice softening.

The lock turned. I didn’t wait for her to open the door. I pushed it aside and was suddenly face-to-face with her in the tiny stall. The dark circles beneath her eyes told me she might not be faring as well as she was letting on. I traced a single fingertip over the hollow under her eye. “You sure you’ve been okay?”

She swallowed, stiffening under my touch. “I can’t do this again, I’m sorry.”

“I am too.” I cupped her jaw, leaning closer to place a soft kiss against her mouth.

She let out a tiny whimper, and a pulse of desire shot straight down my spine. God, why did I have to fuck up with her? She was perfect. She hadn’t yet pushed me away so I leaned in again and met her mouth, this time parting her lips to taste her. My tongue sought hers out, not satisfied until she returned my kiss. She might have been mad at me, but her body still responded like I remembered—sensual and needy. Fuck, I was already hard. I pushed my hips into hers, pinning her against the wall and brushed my erection up against her belly.

She brought her hands to my chest and pushed me back. “I can’t.” Her voice was weak, but her eyes were determined.

I wanted to push her, and knew I probably could. But she’d probably hate me even more in the morning if I did that. “What can I do?” I asked.

“There’s nothing you can do.” She stepped around me and left the stall, leaving me rock hard and sorely disappointed at the sight of her walking away from me yet again.


Why my bed suddenly felt so cold and empty without Alexa was beyond me. I normally had no trouble sleeping, typically falling exhausted into bed each night and sleeping soundly until morning. Now I lay in bed, watching the blades of my ceiling fan turn, wondering if I’d done the right thing letting her walk away. I didn’t know if she would have listened if I’d tried to stop her. And hell, putting myself in her shoes, I would not be okay with her shooting porn.

Since Alexa had been gone, food had lost its flavor. Days blended into weeks. And it felt like I couldn’t do a single thing right when it came to Lily anymore. I had no idea what was so difficult about making meatballs, but Lily made sure to point out I was doing it wrong—that this wasn’t how Lexa did it—with that, and with other things too.

My one attempt at letting Alexa know I was still thinking of her was met with silence. The idea struck me when I’d passed by that bakery she and Lily liked. I’d bought a single white cupcake topped with a thick layer of pink frosting and I’d had it gift wrapped and delivered to her. The card had simply read I miss you, cupcake.

My house felt empty and cold without her in it. Lily noticed it too, I know she did, but we both forged on, despite the crushing weight of Alexa’s loss. I alternated my time between work and the gym, needing an escape from my own house after Lily went to bed. The memories of sitting with Alexa after putting Lily to bed were too much. I could barely look at my damn couch without remembering all the naughty things I’d done to her in that very spot.

The mindless activity of pushing my muscles to the limit dispelled the swirling thoughts of her, if only for a little while. As soon as I was alone in the quiet shower after my workout, she was right back there with me in my mind. The sweet scent of her, her big blue eyes, her mischievous crooked smile. My cupcake.

I let the hard spray of water beat down my back, and grabbed the bar of soap. I washed my chest, under my arms, and my stomach, before my hands trailed lower. With thoughts of Alexa occupying my brain, my cock jumped to life. Don’t do it, man, I warned. I didn’t want to jerk myself off to the memory of her slipping down on her knees and flicking her wicked little tongue out to taste me before sucking me deep into the cavern of her warm mouth. The memory was too much. But I couldn’t help it. I pictured her sweet face, that full mouth and the way she whimpered whenever I uttered a dirty endearment to her. My soapy hand found my shaft and began pumping. Hard and fast, needing release from the haunting memories of her. I leaned one hand against the shower wall, the spray of water pounding against my spine, and closed my eyes. “Lex,” I whispered as the hot jets erupted from me and fell to the tiled floor.

Chapter 20


The fall passed by quickly and by the first snowfall in December, my heart had begun to heal, though I knew I’d never forget Cade. Or Lily, for that matter. I still missed them both terribly, but my pride wouldn’t let me contact him. He’d made his choice. In some aspects, it was the same pattern as how I grew up. My dad chose work over me and my mom too many times to count. Only with Cade’s job, the betrayal was that much more devastating.

Over the past few weeks, I’d somehow fallen into the routine of actively dating Peter. Maybe it was because he was easy to be around and alleviated the feeling of being alone, or maybe because it made my mother so ridiculously happy, but whatever the reason, I was now going out with him several times a week. He’d taken me horseback riding and out for casual brunches and fancier dinners. He’d even come to a Sunday dinner at the club at my mother’s insistence.

I spent the Christmas holiday in Aspen with my parents, skiing, eating too much and visiting the spa. It was a nice holiday, but of course, even there—halfway across the country—I couldn’t keep my thoughts from Cade and Lily. Especially after he sent me a cupcake along with a note that stated he missed me only a few days before I left. I spent the first several days in Aspen glued to my cell phone, sure he was going to call. But the call never came. Perhaps the holidays and first snowfall of the year had made him sentimental, that was all. Yet I found myself lying in bed awake at night, wondering if I should have sent Lily a gift for Christmas, or if Cade cooked them Christmas dinner. For some reason, it depressed me to think of the two of them sitting around his small kitchen table with a meal of scrambled eggs and chicken wings. I wondered if they liked lobster, which was what my parents and I had. It didn’t matter. I needed to get them out of my head. When I returned from Aspen, I would throw myself back into my regular routine, including seeing Peter again.

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