Faking It For Mr. Right, page 12
Not until Melanie. With her, I realized I could make this whole charade work… Because with her, I finally realized what I’d want a marriage to look like. What someone I could commit to looked like.
My heart skips in my chest, and it’s painful and thrilling, all at once.
I have to find her. I have to tell her the truth. Not just about my feelings for her, but about everything. No matter how terrifying it is.
I pull out my phone to call Andrew again. This time, thank god, it doesn’t go to voicemail. He answers after the first ring, and his tone is more brusque than usual, as if he’d guessed I would call. “Boss?” he asks.
It’s possibly the first time he’s ever called me that. It’s my first hint of many that he’s pissed at me. But he doesn’t need to tell me. Hell, I’m pissed at myself, too. I get it. “Where is she?” I ask.
“You’re not going to like the answer,” he responds softly, which sends my stomach sinking down to my knees.
I blink back tears and shift on the bench, studying the flight board one more time. I still haven’t gone up to the counter yet. I’ve got time. There’s only one more flight leaving for my destination tonight, and it doesn’t depart for another three hours. Three hours of crying my eyes out in the middle of JFK. Followed by the return flight home, and then the long car ride home with Devan afterward.
I called her the second Andrew left. Somehow, she already knew what had happened. “I’m so sorry,” she said the second she answered the phone.
Andrew must have texted her. Given her a heads up that I’d be coming back tonight. The rest she could deduce herself, I’m sure.
He’s a good guy, I think about Andrew, which only sours my expression as I think all over again about Xander. His callous words. Don’t worry. I should be able to convince him to keep his side of the bargain. You’ll be home soon. Like all of our time together meant nothing. Like I was nothing more than a pawn in his game.
But I knew that. It was what I signed up for. Could I really be mad at him just because I developed feelings, after we both agreed we wouldn’t? Whose fault is that?
I grimace and bury my head in my hands. In my fingertips, I clutch Xander’s credit card. I don’t have any of my stuff with me, except for my own wallet. I was too embarrassed to go back to the apartment and pick it up. Not to mention too worried that I might run into Xander there. And what could I say?
No. Better to just leave. Ask him to send me anything I left of value in the mail. It’s not like any of my clothing is worth real money. After seeing how Xander lives, it only makes me surer that I’m doing the right thing. After all, I can pretend to fit into his life for a week or two, but I never truly would. I didn’t come from money. I don’t understand high fashion, and I’d never stop gawking at all his and his friends’ possessions like some astonished country girl.
It’s better off this way. At least, that’s what I try to convince myself.
The baby churning in my belly, however, tells a different story.
What the fuck am I going to do? At some point, even if I leave now, I’ll need to tell Xander about the pregnancy. About the fact that I’m carrying his baby. I hang my head in my hands and breathe in deep, sharp breaths to try to combat another rush of tears.
First things first, Melanie, you’re going to march up to the counter and buy an airline ticket home. It’s what Devan would tell me to do if she were here. Smart, sensible Devan. Devan, who warned me that this whole situation was a bad idea. Devan, who always tries to protect me from my own worst impulses.
Well, I’m sorry I didn’t listen to her.
I stand on quivering legs and start to make my way across the airport toward the ticketing counter. I’m almost there when I hear someone call my name.
I freeze, my breath hitching in my chest. I’m torn between my brain, which screams at me that I don’t want to see him right now, and my heart, which leaps with joy just at the sound of my name on his lips.
“Melanie.” He repeats it, louder, even though he’s jogged close enough now that I catch the scent of his cologne, so familiar even after just so short a time together.
I turn, slowly, as if in a dream. And there he is.
Xander stands in front of me, his hands wrung out in front of him like he’s praying. “I didn’t know if I’d catch you before you left,” he blurts. “I probably just earned about twenty fucking speeding tickets, but I don’t care.”
“How did you find me?” My voice comes out a broken whisper.
Xander’s expression turns sheepish. “Andrew told me which terminal he dropped you off in.”
My cheeks flush bright red. “Ah.” So much for Andrew being a genuinely nice guy.
Xander shakes his head. “Don’t blame him. I may or may not have threatened him for the information.” Xander takes a slow step toward me. Then another.
“Here.” I hold out his credit card, before he completes the circuit. “I should give this back to you, before I go.”
He blinks, taken aback.
I tilt my head to one side. “What? It’s what you came for, isn’t it?”
Now his eyes go wide, his expression serious. “Of course not, Melanie. I don’t care about that. I came for you.”
My breath catches in my throat. I don’t understand. Not until he takes another step closer, and reaches up, slowly, carefully, wrapping his arms around my shoulders and drawing me toward him. I sink into the hug, reluctant and yet loving it at the same time. I always feel so safe wrapped up tightly in his arms. Even if it’s a beautiful lie, just like the rest of our relationship.
“I swear, I never meant to hurt you,” he whispers against my hair. Then he drops in front of me to one knee, holding my hands and gazing up at me.
The tears that already filled my eyes all night spring back to life, even thicker this time, my throat tightening at the sight. “What are you—”
“Melanie, listen to me.” His grip on my hands tightens. “The past two weeks have been about more than just this bargain for me. I didn’t realize it until now, because I was so focused on finally getting what I needed from my father. But you… you make me so happy. I feel content when I’m with you, centered and calm. And I realized, I never tried to do this before, the whole engagement thing.” He tugs on my left hand, and draws an uncertain, weak laugh from my throat. It almost sounds more like a sob when it emerges. “I never did this with anyone else, because I’d never met another girl I could picture the rest of my life with. Not until you.” His eyes shine, too.
I can hardly breathe. It takes all my concentration just to stay upright. But I manage to lock my knees tight and suck air deep into my lungs. “But… you lie to your family, to your father. For what?” My voice cracks.
He shuts his eyes, and his throat works with a tight swallow. “For the deed to my mother’s bookstore.”
Whatever I expected him to say, it isn’t this. I blink, confused. “What?”
When he opens his eyes again, they shine with real tears this time. “When I was growing up, my mother used to bring me to work with her, every day. It was a passion project, of course—nobody in this family really needs to work if they don’t want to. But my mother loved that bookstore. She poured her heart and soul into it. She stocked all of her favorite books, and she took great pride in always being able to suggest the perfect title to anyone who wandered in looking for recommendations. I loved it there, too. She used to read to me every morning, and in the afternoons, I’d explore the stacks…” He shuts his eyes. “When she died, I took over the place. Became the proprietor. But I never left the store. I didn’t want to face the outside world. I… wasn’t healthy, Melanie. I shut the store, didn’t let anyone else in. It became a tomb, more than a place of love.”
His throat works tightly around a hard swallow. “Finally, my father forced me out. After that, he gave me an ultimatum. I had to get my life together, or he’d sell the store. It was technically in his nam
My lips part, understanding creeping over me. “He wanted you to have a wife and family before he gave it back to you…”
“So he knew I’d have something else to live for. So the store wouldn’t consume me, like it did the first time.”
My tears sting once more. “I didn’t know.” I reach down, try to draw Xander to his feet, but he remains on his knees in front of me, bent double, nearly broken. “Xander, I didn’t realize it was about something like this. I thought…” I shake my head. “I don’t know, I thought you were lying to your father because you wanted money, or some kind of inheritance. Something heartless.” My throat goes tight with feeling. “That’s why I felt like such a pawn. When your father seemed so nice and genuine…”
“He is.” Xander shakes his head. “He was right to take the store from me, the first time. But that was years ago. I’m better now, healthier. Wife or no, he would have seen that soon, I think.” Xander’s gaze flashes up to mine. “But Melanie… you were never a pawn. If anything, you’re the one who opened my eyes. Who made me realize how much of life I really am missing out on. In some ways, I’m still that young boy who just lost his mother, hiding out in the one place he felt comfortable. I was stuck in my comfort zone… but you pushed me out of it. Shoved me, in fact.” The corner of his mouth shifts into a grin.
I laugh softly. His hands slide up the backs of my calves to my knees. I can feel every inch of his hands against my skin, white-hot below the hem of my skirt. It makes me want to abandon the airport right now. To let him take me back home, spread me down across his bed and touch me more, harder, everywhere.
But there’s still something else between us. Another weight that Xander doesn’t even know about.
Oblivious to my sudden distress, he’s still talking. “Melanie, I took you for granted, and I’m sorry. I didn’t stop to think about what I was really feeling, because being with you, it never felt like a lie. It was so easy, so natural. As natural as breathing. And I didn’t think about what would happen when it ended, or how hurt you might be expecting it to end soon. Hell, I didn’t even consider how devastated I would have been, watching you walk away, because I never even thought about that as a real possibility. I was living in the moment, enjoying our life together… but now, I realize, I don’t want it to end. I don’t want to let you get on this plane.”
He tightens his grip around my legs, and I have to reach down to steady myself by twining my hands through his hair.
“Melanie… I love—”
“Xander, wait.” I let my hands fall from his hair. “There’s something I need to tell you, before you say anything else. Something I should have told you days ago, but I couldn’t find the right time, the right moment… Is there ever a right moment, really, for something that could change everything? That will change everything?”
He stares at me, confusion written all over his face. But he doesn’t interrupt. He just waits for me to go on. To explain what I mean.
I take a deep, steadying breath. “Xander… I’m pregnant.”
He sits back on his heels, and his face goes slack with surprise. His gaze drops from mine, almost instinctively, to find my belly instead. It tightens when he looks at me, and even though I know I’m not showing yet, I feel like a giant neon sign is pointing at my stomach. Announcing this change, this shift in gravity, to the whole wide world.
Without thinking, I raise my hands to cross them over my belly, almost defensively. “I know, I should have told you sooner,” I whisper. “And I’m sorry.” I take a step backward. Or at least, I try to.
But Xander sits back up and wraps both arms around my thighs, drawing me against him. Clinging to me. He kisses my thighs through the fabric of my dress, then leans up to press his mouth to my belly. I frown with confusion, even as I feel him start to shake against me. Laughing, I realize.
When he pulls back, tears shine in his eyes. But they aren’t the same tears I saw before, of fear and doubt. These are tears of… joy. “Are you sure? You’re having a baby? We’re having a baby?”
I nod, feeling tears sting at the back of my own eyes. Mostly from sheer shock at his reaction. I expected him to be upset, maybe even freaked out. Not… happy. Excited. “I’m sure. It’s happening.”
“And you want this. You want to be with me.” The way he says it, so hesitant, almost like he can’t believe it either, almost makes me laugh. Because it’s exactly how I feel. Like this can’t possibly be real life.
“Of course I do,” I respond, struggling to suppress my smile.
That’s when I notice him reaching for his pocket. All at once, in a blink, I’m back in the dressing room where he first did this, in the gown I wore to meet his siblings, as he pinned me back against the mirror. But this time, there’s no fancy gown, and we aren’t in some rich boutique. I’m still standing in the middle of the airport, with people glancing at us strangely from all sides now, probably because Xander’s been kneeling at my feet for minutes now.
I don’t care. Let them look. My gaze fixes back on him as he withdraws a familiar box from his pocket.
When he opens the lid, my breath catches. The ring. He must have found it where I tossed it out in front of his father’s house a few hours ago.
“I want you for real this time, Melanie,” he murmurs. “No more tricks or lies. No games. I love you.” His eyes bore into mine as he says the words I haven’t even dared to hope I might hear from him one day.
My heart beats so fast it feels like it could punch its way out of my chest. But I swallow it back, press my right hand over my chest like I’m holding it in place, as I extend my left hand to him.
“I love you,” he repeats, softer now, with feeling. “And I’ll love our baby, too. Will you marry me, Melanie?”
I can’t make myself speak. I don’t trust my voice right now. My throat feels so thick it’s a wonder even oxygen can make it through. So I just bob my head, feeling the stinging tears from earlier now slip down over my cheeks. But these are happy tears. Tears of genuine joy.
Xander takes my left hand and slides the ring over it once more. Just like before, it fits perfectly, nestled against my skin, the metal warming at my touch. Then, finally, he lets me grab his hands and drag him upright, until he’s on his feet.
“I love you,” I say, flinging my arms around his neck. His arms go around my waist, holding me up, bracing me. Just like I know he’ll hold me up through all the years to come, through whatever we have to face.
“You are the best lie I ever told,” he whispers, grinning, right before his lips find mine. I sink into the kiss, my arms wrapped tight around his neck, my hands buried in his thick, full hair, as he draws me up and against him, our bodies pressed so close together that I can feel every inch of his strong, muscular body.
Applause breaks out somewhere. I don’t even really register it until we break from our kiss, breathless and laughing. Only then do I glance around and realize that all of the staring people from earlier are cheering now, whistling and shouting their congratulations.
I burst into laughter, which gets even harder as Xander grasps my wrist and hoists my left hand into the air like he’s cheering me on.
“She said yes!” Xander calls, and the cheering intensifies, makes me nearly double over. He leans in to kiss my cheek, his eyes twinkling with mirth. “I could get used to this,” he murmurs, his voice low and sultry beside my ear. “Making sure everyone in the world knows you’re mine…”
I flash him a sly grin. “And just what do you plan to do with your lovely future bride, now that you have her in hand?” I whisper in response, my eyes sparkling.
His light up with desire, and his hand slides a little lower, from my waist to my hip, before he grips my ass just once, tightly. “Oh, I have a few ideas… but we’ll need to
I suppress a smirk and pretend to consider the idea for a moment. Beside me, Xander tenses, nervous at being denied what I’m sure he wants just as much as I do. But finally, I shake my head, a smirk playing on my lips. I can text Devan from the car, let her know what happened. I’m sure she’ll understand. Besides, it’s not like I’ll be needing my old job at Bob’s back anymore. Not now that I’ve got my whole life here ahead of me.
Not now that I have Xander.
“I’m pretty sure my old life can wait a while longer.” I flash him a wink. “I’ve got a date with my new fiancé, first.”
We barely make it through my apartment door. The whole car ride from JFK, Andrew strategically swerved in and out of traffic every time we got a little too hot and heavy. Probably as retribution for the fact that we made him drive all the way out to the airport twice already in one night. I can’t blame him—even if it is frustrating as hell to be sitting next to the most gorgeous woman in the world, a woman with my engagement ring on her finger, who has promised to be mine for the rest of our lives, and being unable to properly show her what I’m feeling.
All that changes when we reach home, though.
The elevator doors glide open, and I lift her into my arms, ignoring her burst of laughter and the faint protests as she swats at my chest. I carry her across the threshold of the penthouse, before I deposit her on the leather sofa and lean down across her, my lips finding her neck, her collarbone, the dip between her breasts.
“God, you’re gorgeous. Have I mentioned that?” I tilt my chin up to glance at her.
She suppresses a smile. “Maybe once or twice…”
My grin sharpens, turns hungry. “Good. Because I should be telling you every… damn… day.” With each word, I kiss my way lower, peeling her shirt up and tossing it over the side of the couch beside us, before my lips return to her searing hot skin, my hands unable to remain off her body for longer than a few seconds. I cannot imagine ever getting my fill of this woman. She’s everything I could ever want and more.