All or Nothing at All
SEVEN YEARS AGO . . .
The darkness masked everything that was wrong and allowed her to bare not only her body but her very soul.
Her hands slid over sleek muscles and dampened skin. She arched under the heat of his mouth, at first demanding and rough, then gentling to an aching tenderness that broke her apart piece by piece. His name whispered from her lips in a prayer and a chant, wanting him, needing him . . .
He parted her thighs and slid home. She cried out at the burning fullness crowding all the empty spaces inside until there was only him, his beloved face inches from hers, tight with tension and a raw possession that thrilled her.
“Give me everything.”
She couldn’t fight his words or his body. His hands gripped her hips. His amber eyes glinted with masculine demand as he pushed her higher, wringing agonizing pleasure with each step toward climax, and she gave up, gave in, and let him catch her as she shattered with release.
He followed her over, groaning her name, and she clung to him with a vulnerable need she tried desperately to hide in the light of day. He rolled to the side, and for a few precious moments, he held her. She breathed in the delicious scent of sweat, sex, and musk, cuddling into his powerful strength.
Tears stung her eyes. God, how she loved him. When he held her like this, the confusion and fear calmed, and she was able to reach an inner peace. But he was slipping further away with each passing day, and she didn’t know how to stop the slide.
Maybe when he knew about the baby, things would change.
They’d get better. They’d make a commitment and move forward, and it would be like this all the time.
As if he caught her thought, he suddenly released her, turning away to sit up in the bed amid the tangled sheets.
The fragile hope was crushed like new spring grass under a booted heel.
“I have to tell you something, Syd.”
She gathered her courage. “I have to tell you something, too,” she said quietly.
He stood up. The moonlight trickled through the window and drenched him in a silvery glow. He pulled on his jeans with a quick precision that told her he wouldn’t be staying the night. Again.
Shock hit her like a sharp slap. She propped herself up on her elbow and stared. Panic stirred. “What are you talking about?”
He turned. His face looked like it was set in stone, as
if he hadn’t been buried inside her a few minutes ago. “I’m done with this family. Done with this town. My asshole father just informed me he refuses to let me buy the real estate I wanted to flip. He wants me to be like Cal. To take his orders and build his cookie-cutter houses for the rest of my life. My own brother took his side, and we just had a blowout.”
Heart beating wildly, she tried to find a solution. The family construction business, Pierce Brothers, was legendary in Harrington, but Christian Pierce ran his empire with a fierce hand and an even fiercer tongue. As the middle sibling, Tristan had been struggling to find his place for years and to show his father what he could bring to the company. “Your dad has a temper. If you keep showing him how you can help Pierce Brothers, I’m sure he’ll come around.”
He spit out a curse and shook his head. “Would you stop defending my father, Syd? He fucking hates me. God, I could take that if he respected me, but he thinks I’m a joke. Dalton is already leaving for California, my mother is dead, and I refuse to spend the rest of my life being a lackey. I’m going to New York City and doing real estate.”
She winced, her heart twisting with pain. His mother, Diane, had been the heart of the family. The car crash that took her life a few months earlier ripped everyone apart, including Sydney. Diane had been like her own mother, and she was still reeling with grief. She struggled to put her thoughts into words. “Right now? Why don’t you give it a little more time? Go over all your options. It’s been hard for everyone.”
“There are no other options here! Don’t you understand nothing is ever going to change? I’m trapped. Trapped by my
damn family and responsibilities and—” He broke off, shoving his fingers through his hair. “I can’t wait any longer. I’m leaving this week.”
Her breath backed up in her lungs. No. This was going all wrong. He couldn’t just leave after the past few months together. Could he? Yes, he’d been in pain after losing his mother and constantly fighting with his two brothers. They all were struggling to put the pieces back together. But she’d thought he was leaning on her to help him through it. Not running away to some new place with new people.
Not running away from her.
He felt trapped. Is that the way he felt about her? When she’d turned nineteen, her dream had finally come true. After all these years, he’d finally seen her. Wanted her. Stopped looking at her as a child and saw her all grown up. They’d shared something extraordinary, but now he looked at her like she was holding him back, comparing her to his family.
“What about—what about me?” She hated the weak whine to her voice. Why couldn’t she be strong and fierce? A woman confident in their relationship? She always reverted to that young girl who used to follow him around like a lost puppy, begging for attention. Shame filled her at the question, but she couldn’t look away. She needed his answer.
“Come with me.”
They were the words she craved to hear. She could accept them and run away like in her youthful fantasies. Leave her home and follow him to New York. They’d be together and be happy. Right?
The inner voice rose from her core and whispered in her ear.
What about the baby?
Trapped. His baby would make him feel like he was being strangled. Like she did. He’d never wanted her to go, or she wouldn’t have had to ask. It was his guilt over leaving her behind. There was a shiny new life calling to him, and she wasn’t a part of it. No, she was a part of his past, a part he wanted to forget. Their brief affair hadn’t been as life changing for him. He didn’t love her the way she so desperately needed him to.
Still, sheer stubbornness and habit kept her hoping.
“My grandmother is sick,” she said. “She’s been in and out of the hospital, and I need to take care of her.”
“My father can help out. You can visit her. I’m sure she’d want you to go.”
Once again, there was no passion or urgency in his voice. It was as if he was stating facts, giving rational reasons why she could join him. Her hands floated around to land on her flat tummy.
Trapped . . .
She’d go to New York and have his baby, and he’d be miserable. Or he’d decide to stay to be a father and be miserable. She’d be a mistake, along with his child. Could she live with that? She’d been one of those kids, with her junkie mother and a father who took off, leaving her in the care of her grandparents. Always feeling unwanted. Was this what she dreamed for her future?
Coldness lodged in her gut. No. She couldn’t do that to any of them. Even if she had to lose the man she loved in the process.
“I don’t want to go to New York, Tristan. This is my home.
I like my job at Pierce Brothers, and I can’t leave my grandmother. She took care of me my whole life, and I owe her. I want to enroll in business school and get my degree. I can’t start all over in the city.”
“Of course, you can! Don’t you want more for yourself, Syd? More from your life?” Frustration clung to his aura. He clenched his fists and faced her down. “Is this it for you? Working for my father and settling in the same town you were born in? You can be anything in New York. I thought you weren’t going to be that scared little girl anymore. Just take the chance, and let’s do this. Let’s leave together.”
If he’d told her he loved her, she’d probably fly off the bed and follow him to Siberia. If he’d given her any indication emotion ruled his speech, she’d tell him about the baby and take a leap of faith.
Instead, she looked deep into those gorgeous amber eyes and saw . . .
The numbness took over. She knew the pain would come much later. Right now, she needed to do this and set him free. He didn’t love her the way she did him. There was something bigger out there for him. His dreams weren’t about her. And damned if she’d spend the rest of her life trying to be someone who always doubted she was enough. Someone who trapped him into a life of what-ifs and regret.
“I can’t leave, Tristan. I’m sorry. This is my home. I need to stay. And to be honest, I don’t think you really want me to go.”
He spun away from her. Anger beat from him in waves she could almost touch. “Are you kidding me? I ask you to go
away with me, and you say you don’t believe me? Are we playing these ridiculous games again, Sydney? ’Cause I’m tired. You can do anything you want, and nothing is keeping you here except yourself. But I’m not about to beg.”
He grabbed his shirt, quickly dressed, and walked to the door. “Just remember you made your choice. I tried. I’m leaving on Friday, and I’m not looking back.”
The door shut behind him.
She wrapped the sheets tight around her and bowed her head. Body shaking, she let the surge of pain and fear wash over her and wondered if she’d made the biggest mistake of her life.