Hard to Love Page 16


My first Saturday back from Aspen, Peter had arranged for us to see a matinee performance of The Nutcracker and was due any minute to pick me up.

I dressed in a merlot-colored sweater dress, heather-gray tights and my brown knee-high boots, leaving my hair down around my shoulders. I watched from the front window for Peter’s car. I usually jogged out to meet him at the curb, since I preferred not to have him alone in my apartment. Though I liked spending time with him, I wasn’t ready to go anywhere near the physical side of things again, with him or anyone. But so far, Peter had been very patient, settling for quick goodnight pecks in his car when he dropped me off.

I slid into his Lexus, and he leaned across the console and gave my cheek a quick kiss. “You look nice. How was Aspen?”

“It was nice. Lots of time on the slopes with my dad and lots of spa time with my mom.” I left it at that. It felt a little strange to talk to Peter about my parents since he worked for my dad, but he didn’t press for details. He was dressed in a chunky knit sweater, and I couldn’t help but snicker. It wasn’t the kind of thing a man would pick out and had to be a Christmas gift from his mom. I settled back in my seat and tried to relax, to just enjoy the day for what it was. I still hadn’t gotten used to his car’s new-car smell. It overwhelmed my senses, like he was pumping it in through the vents.

We drove in silence toward the theatre, and I found myself yawning. The sleepless nights over the past few weeks had caught up with me. “Do you mind if we stop for a coffee before the show?”

He glanced at the clock on his dash. “If we make it quick, it should be fine.”

A few minutes later, I pointed out the green sign of the coffee chain coming up at the next exit.

Peter pulled off the highway and into the parking lot, navigating to the drive-thru lane, which was backed up by a traffic jam of coffee seekers.

I counted the cars ahead of us. Seven. “Shoot.”

Peter slid the gearshift into park and let out a sigh.

I slipped off my seatbelt. “I’ll just run inside. It’ll be faster.”

“Alexa, we’re already in line.” He glanced in the rearview mirror. “And now I’m blocked in.”

“Don’t worry, it’ll be like a race. You wait here and I’ll go inside.”

“A race, huh?” He grinned.

I nodded, and hopped out of the car. “Yes. And I’ll win. Be right back.”

Once inside, I noticed there were only two people ahead of me at the counter. Piece of cake. I contemplated my order, remembering that Peter liked hot chocolate with whipped cream, when the sound of rich, male laughter met my ears from across the room. There was something strikingly familiar about it and panic rose in my stomach. I reluctantly turned and spotted Cade seated at a small round table across from a woman.

I wished I could hide, that the floor would open and swallow me whole, but of course that didn’t happen. He hadn’t yet noticed me. There was still a chance I could get away without being seen, but I couldn’t resist one more glance. Cade was exactly as I remembered, all hard muscle and masculine features, a shadow of beard growth dusting his jaw. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table, listening intently to the woman. I could only see her profile, but she looked familiar and my mind worked to place her. Was she one of the babysitters he used? Something about the auburn hair hanging down her back had my mind working overtime. It didn’t matter. I needed to get out of here.

I took a step back and knocked right into a tower of reindeer mugs, rattling the display.

Cade chose that exact moment to look up. His eyes settled on mine and a line creased his brow. “Alexa?” He was on his feet and heading toward me before I could even contemplate escaping. “What are you doing here?”

“Cade,” I mumbled incoherently, meeting his concerned gaze.

“Yeah. It’s Cade.” He pressed a palm to my cheek. “You okay? You look a little flushed.”

My eyes darted back across the room to the redhead at his table. She had turned to watch us, and her seeing her full on, I instantly knew who she was. My knees trembled and a wave of nausea crashed through me. Cade was on a date with the girl from his first film shoot. Desiree I think. I reminded myself to breathe, but little good it did me. My head was swimming with this discovery. Was she the reason he chose his work over me? How long had they been seeing each other outside of work?

Cade glanced back at the woman, and bit out a clipped apology. “Sorry. Let me introduce you to Sara.” He motioned her over.

Sara? I supposed Desiree was her stage name.

When she rose from the table, her hand moved to cradle her swollen round belly and realization struck. She was several months pregnant. My legs went out from under me.

When I came to, I was lying on the floor. Cade was holding my head in his lap, sweeping his fingers across my forehead. My hazy eyes met his concerned ones.

“Cupcake?” he asked.

I moved to sit up, but his large hands on my shoulders held me in place. “Stay put. You took quite a spill. You hit your head on the floor before I could catch you.” He rubbed the back of my head, massaging the swollen lump beneath my hair.

“Ouch.” I winced at the contact.

“That’s what I thought.”

When I remembered what had sent me crashing to the floor in the first place—seeing Sara’s pregnant belly—a sob broke free from the back of my throat and I struggled to free myself from Cade’s grasp. I didn’t want him holding me, trying to comfort me right now. Not to mention, I could see that I was causing quite the commotion in the coffee shop, sprawled out across the floor the way I was. Cade waved away a barista who was headed in our direction, her expression one of concern. “I’ve got her.”

“Cade, let me up.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but the determination in my eyes had to have convinced him. He helped me up from the floor and sat me down in a leather chair in front of the fireplace. I wiped fresh tears from both cheeks, but the effort was futile. The tears refused to stop.

Sara was hovering by his side, and I heard Cade ask her to go get some tissues for me. She scurried off for the restrooms.

Peter came strolling into the coffee shop. “Alexa, come on, we’re going to be la—” He stopped in front me, looking down at my tear-streaked face. “Alexa?”

Shit. I’d completely forgotten about Peter. I took the tissues from Sara and pressed them to my cheeks. So much for putting on mascara today. Cade knelt down beside my chair, taking the tissues from me to help mop up the tears.

“Alexa…? What’s wrong? And who is this guy?” Peter asked.

“I’m sorry, Peter,” I managed. “This is Cade.”

Peter’s eyes went to Cade’s kneeling form and a look of disbelief overtook his face. “This guy?”

Peter didn’t know much about Cade, just that he was the guy I’d been seeing before him, and that he was the reason I didn’t want anything to do with a relationship right now because of the rocky way things had ended between us. I could see Peter’s surprise that I’d dated a guy like Cade at all—scruffy, worn jeans, work boots and a fitted long-sleeve pullover that emphasized his over-muscled chest made him the polar opposite of Peter’s gelled hair, tweed blazers and Italian-leather loafers. I blew my nose, knowing I looked like a mess and long past caring. I felt like I’d been hit by a train.

Cade looked between Peter and I. “I’m taking her home,” he informed us both.

I squeaked out a protest, and Peter took a step closer. But Cade rose to his feet, towering over us both. He turned to Sara, placed a hand on her belly, and leaned in toward her to whisper something in her ear.

A pain stabbed at my chest.

Peter placed his hand on my shoulder, but turned to address Cade. “You’re not taking her anywhere. First of all, we’re on a date. Second of all, I’m pretty sure you’re the reason she’s crying right now.”

Sara kissed Cade’s cheek and headed for the door. I didn’t blame her for disappearing. That sounded pretty appealing right about now.

“We don’t have to go, Peter.” The last thing I wanted to do at this very moment was watch a ballet that included a sweet little love story.

“I, ah, didn’t tell you before, Alexa, but I got these tickets from my uncle. We’re joining him and his wife at the play.”

He’d tricked me into some weird family get-together? There was no way I was meeting his aunt and uncle right now—or ever.

“I just want to go home,” I murmured.

They both looked down at me.

“I’m taking her home,” Cade repeated.

Peter sighed. “Fine. I’ve got to go or I’m going to be late. Are you sure you’re okay with him taking you home?”

It wasn’t like I had much of a choice—Peter was practically stranding me, miles away from home. “It’s fine. Just go, Peter.”

He leaned down and kissed the top of my head. “I’ll call you later.”

Don’t bother, I uttered to myself.

I’d never been inside Cade’s truck before. The cab was in need of a good cleaning, and there were water bottles littering the floor and a Cinderella coloring book on the seat between us. It smelled like a mix of his subtle cologne and the spicy scent of a man after a hard day’s work.

He didn’t say anything as we drove. He just stared straight ahead and rested one hand on top of the wheel.

When he pulled into my condo complex, I realized I hadn’t provided my address, nor had he asked for directions. He parked next to my car and turned off the ignition.

We sat in silence for a few moments. Thankfully, my sobs had quieted into little hiccups. “Thanks for bringing me home.” I pushed against the truck door, and climbed down carefully, realizing the ground was farther away than I thought.

He met me at the side of the truck and took my hand, stopping me. “Wait. Let me explain.”

I don’t know what possessed me, whether it was the closure I was craving, or my own morbid curiosity about his expectant girlfriend, but I nodded. I wrapped my arms around my middle, bracing myself for his explanation.

“Not here. Invite me inside, Lex.”

I nodded my consent and led him inside. I tossed my purse and keys onto the entryway table and made my way to the couch, not knowing how much longer my shaky legs would hold my weight. I collapsed and immediately curled myself into a ball. I expected Cade to be right behind me, but strangely, I heard him rummaging around inside my kitchen.

I lifted my head and watched him walk toward me carrying a glass of orange juice, a box of Kleenex and a bottle of pain reliever. He held out the glass of juice for me while he opened the bottle of pills. Only once I had swallowed a dose did he sit down beside me. His news had to be even worse than I imagined, since he was being so kind to me. Maybe Sara was pregnant with twins, or they were engaged. Crap, why hadn’t I checked her left hand? Not that it mattered, I reminded myself.

I took a deep breath. “So when is she due?”

His face twisted in confusion. “Who, Sara?”

Obviously. I nodded.

“Ah, end of April, I think.”

“Well, I’m sorry about my reaction…it just took me by surprise.” I’d apologize for my public anxiety attack, but I drew the line at offering up my congratulations or breaking out the champagne.

Cade studied my features wearily and scrubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “Damn, cupcake, the baby’s not mine.”

Chapter 21


The little sobs that were still wracking her chest made me feel like a complete asshole. Alexa had broken down at the mere sight of me. But thinking I’d gotten one of my co-stars pregnant on top of that? Damn, I was just fucking up left and right. I needed to explain this to her, to get this right once and for all.

I took her hand in mine. “Sara’s boyfriend is the father. I only met up with her because she wanted my opinion about how I left the adult film business. Despite the fact that she’s pregnant, Rick’s still been harassing her about working for him.”

“Wait.” She pulled her hand away suddenly, her face scrunching up. “The baby’s not yours?”

“No. Not mine.” Thank fucking God. I knew I wasn’t ready to bring a kid into this world. I had my hands full enough with Lil already. But the idea of watching Alexa’s belly grow bigger with my baby… Well, that was a different story. I pushed the thought away.

“Oh.” Her shoulders sagged in relief. “And…you left the business?”

“Yes. I never intended to be a porn star, Lex. I just had thousands of dollars in medical bills for Lily that I had no way of paying. I needed to make some fast money.” I wanted to tell her that was my plan all along and if she’d just let me explain myself that morning… but I bit my tongue. I hadn’t even tried to stop her the morning that she left. And I’d regretted that every damn day since.

She closed her eyes and drew in a shaky breath. “Oh,” she said again.

Though I knew I shouldn’t, that it was none of my fucking business, I couldn’t get that prick she’d been on a date with out of my head. “Lex…” I inched closer to her on the couch, dropping my voice lower, “that guy…Peter…has he touched you?”

Her eyes snapped open and met mine. “Do you know what you’re saying?” A tense silence hung in the air around us. “We’re dating, as in me and him. Not me and you. You don’t get a say in who touches me.”

All right then. I guess that cleared that up. I’d fucked up royally with her. But the thought of someone else’s hand on her made me want to hit something. Hard. “For what it’s worth, I am sorry about everything. Well, not everything. I wouldn’t take back that night with you,” I admitted.

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