I make it to the sidewalk in front of my apartment, thinking of little else but following Lia. She is as essential to me as the air I breathe. My reasons for never opening up about Cassie with her now seem pointless. I acknowledge that the real fear all along was that my actions during the last days of my relationship with Cassie might lead Lia to believe I’m no longer a man she can trust with her heart. Having to admit to someone you love that a severe lack of judgment on your part set into motion a chain of events that would forever change lives is a terrifying prospect.
“Luc, did we get our wires crossed?” I jerk around to find my aunt walking toward me, looking confused. “I waited almost an hour for you at Lou’s before I finally gave up. Cindy told me you left the office in a hurry. Is everything okay?”
“Ah, hell.” I sag back against the building as I attempt to regroup. I’d asked my aunt earlier to meet me for coffee to discuss a treatment plan for my—problem. At the time, it had seemed like a positive step forward in my future with Lia. A future that now seems more uncertain than ever before. I’ve hurt the woman I love and I fucking hate myself for it.
I feel a hand on my arm as my aunt asks in concern, “What’s happened? Is it Lia?” She knows well that few things rattle me to the level I am right now.
Turning bleak, pain-filled eyes toward her, I say, “She left me.” Just those words are enough to cause bile to rise in my throat.
“What—why?” my aunt asks. She had been more than surprised at my relationship with Lia in the beginning, but it seems even she is stunned by this turn of events.
“Just the usual shit—keeping secrets. It appears the women in my life aren’t very fond of that particular habit of mine, no?”
My aunt gives me a look of understanding, correctly deducing that I’m talking about Cassie, or at least in part. Of course, she has no idea about Lia’s long-lost father. Motioning to the door I walked through just moments before, she says, “Let’s go back to your apartment and talk.”
My gut coils as I think of returning home knowing Lia’s not there. “I can’t. I need to go after her.”
“Do you have any idea where she’s gone?”
“She said that she was going to stay with Rose.”
“Luc, you need to get yourself together before you go charging after her. Call Rose and make sure Lia arrived safely then you and I are going to go somewhere and have that talk.”
A refusal is on the tip of my tongue, but she gives me a look that makes me feel like I’m ten years old again. As much as I want to run after Lia, maybe it would be a better idea to think of what I’m going to say first instead of making another mistake. I pull my phone from my pocket and pull up Rose’s number. She answers with, “Yes, she’s here.”
I release a sigh of relief before asking, “Is she all right?”
Rose is quiet for a moment before I hear a door shut. “She’s in the kitchen getting something to drink. I didn’t want her to hear me talking to you. What in the hell happened between you two? She hasn’t told me anything yet. Just some bullshit about needing space.”
“She was blindsided by something pretty big today. I didn’t tell her ahead of time and I should have. I’m sorry, but that’s all I can say. I’m sure she’ll tell you the specifics. I’ll be there in a few hours to talk to her, but in the meantime, could you please take care of my girl?”
She huffs in disgust when she realizes she’s not going to get any more information from me. “Well, hell. I’m always the last to know everything. I guess you need the address of my new apartment, right?” When she offers to text it to me, I accept gratefully. I’d completely forgotten that she’d moved after Lia’s attack. Neither woman could face living in the building where Lia’s stepfather had attempted to rape her. Hell, I’d gladly buy the place just to burn it down if St. Claire’s University would allow it. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t part with one of their dormitories. In a syrupy sweet voice, Rose adds, “Oh, and Lucian, my daddy just bought me a new Ruger SR9. Do you know what that is?”
“A 9mm pistol,” I answer warily. Sam is somewhat of a gun collector and Ruger is one of his favorite brands of handguns. He usually opts for a shooting range, whereas Rose seems to be more of a loose cannon with her hobby.
“That’s right,” she answers smoothly. “And if you’ve pulled a Jake on my friend, you’ll be on the receiving end of it.” Most people would laugh at that type of threat from a woman who tended to dress like a suppressed socialite in pearls and cashmere, but I knew better. The police had picked her up on several occasions recently for terrorizing her cheating ex-boyfriend. I was pretty sure by this point, she wasn’t all talk.
“That’s not it, but duly noted,” I reply quickly before ending the call. Turning to my aunt, I wave my hand to the Starbucks across the street and we walk there in silence. It wouldn’t have been my first pick for a private conversation, but at this time of the day, it’s fairly deserted. We both order a plain coffee and when they are ready, take them to a table in the far corner.
Looking mildly curious, my aunt asks, “Do I even want to know why you were discussing guns with Lia’s friend?”
Shaking my head, I say, “No. Trust me, you don’t. Suffice to say, Lia has a very protective friend.”
My aunt takes a sip of her coffee, eyeing me thoughtfully. “So, let’s start with the reason you wanted to meet this morning. I’m always happy to hear from you, but I gathered this was to be more than a social call.”
The smile on her face shows she notices me shifting sheepishly in my chair. It’s the feeling many adult children have when reminded by a parent that they don’t stay in touch enough. I love my aunt and would do anything for her, but until Lia, I’d always been more of a loner. I have friends who I consider family, but I prefer to keep them at a safe distance. People I love don’t seem to fare well. “Point taken, Fae,” I note dryly. I have no idea how to delicately state my reason for needing to see her, so I get to the point. “I’ve been using cocaine for years and I need to stop.” I brace myself for the shock and disappointment I expect to see on her face, but instead, it remains blank. There is no flicker of surprise. I find that instead of her, I’m the one at a loss for words now.