Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 26

She whimpered when I stood up, and when I opened the door a crack, she slunk into the front room.

Joe continued his tirade. “What the hell were you thinking by keeping something like this away from me? I looked like an idiot out there! I’ve never worked with such incompetent idiots in all my life!” he shouted, running his hands through his hair as his gaze spun around the room. His eyes finally landed on me, and he stopped as though a switch in his head had been flipped. Dropping his hand to his side, his face hardened. “Everybody out. Now.”

Their mouths dropped open as they turned their attention to me.

“You heard him.” Hilary slid off my stool at the potting table and wrapped her hand around Joe’s arm. “Joe needs a few moments alone to regroup.”

Joe shook off her hand. “That includes you, Hilary.”

She turned up her chin, her eyes darting hate toward me. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“So help me God, if you don’t—”

An angry glare made her look five years older. “If you think I’m leaving you alone with her—”

Joe pointed to the doorway, shouting, “Get the hell out of here now, or I’ll go out there and tell the press our engagement is off.”

“Don’t do anything stupid, Joe,” she hissed. “You know your father will be quizzing all your people tonight. He’ll know you saw her.”

The veins on his temple throbbed. “Get. Out!”

Hilary walked past me, bumping into my arm. I took a step backward, gasping at her rudeness.

“Lock the door,” Joe barked. “I don’t want to be interrupted.”

I spun around to see who he was talking to. When I realized I was the only person in the back room with him, my anger surged. “You may think it’s acceptable to talk to your staff that way, but I don’t work for you, Joe Simmons.”

He stomped past me and turned the lock, then pulled me into his arms, lowering his mouth to mine. His breath reeked of alcohol.

I turned my head to the side, his lips brushing my cheek. “Let go of me, Joe.”

“Are you saving yourself for Jonah Pruitt now?”

I shoved his chest to break his hold. “What in tarnation are you talking about?”

Anger filled his eyes. “I know about you and Jonah, and I have to say I’m surprised that you moved on so quickly. Especially with him.”

“Me move on?” I hissed in a low voice. I refused to provide this god-forsaken town with more gossip. “You’re the one who announced your engagement to your old girlfriend within two days of breaking up with me!”

“You know I don’t care about her!”

“And yet you’re still engaged to her.”

“Rose,” he ran his hand through his hair and sank onto my potting stool, where Hilary had been sitting just moments ago. “How could you sleep with Jonah Pruitt?”

Had he lost his mind? “You have no right to accuse me of that.”

He looked up, his eyes red and glassy. “I saw the pictures.”

“What pictures?”

“Of Jonah holding you and you two sitting close together, holding hands. Photos taken less than two weeks after we broke up. I know, Rose.”

“You have photos of me? You’re watching me?”

“My father.” His voice was tight.

Of course he was. I shook my head. “You think that you meant so little to me—that we did—that I could just move on with someone else in two weeks? How could you see us hugging and jump to the conclusion that we were sleeping together?” And then I knew why he would make that leap. “You’ve slept with Hilary. Your engagement isn’t pretend.”

Guilt flooded his face.

“Who are you?” Tears stung my eyes. “My Joe would never sleep with her.” But even as I said the words, I knew they weren’t true. How many times had he run back to her? Running back to Hilary was what he did. “Why am I back here, Joe? Why did you want to see me?”

He slid off the stool and moved toward me, taking my hand in his. “I miss you so much it hurts, Rose. I don’t know if I can live without you.”

A lump formed in my throat, and it took everything I had not to let my tears loose.

He slowly slid his hand around my lower back and pulled me to his chest. “You’re the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning and the last thing on my mind when I close my eyes.”

“I can tell from the way you and Hilary were kissing outside.”

“I don’t want to be with her, Rose. You have to know that.”

“And yet you are. I understand why you’re engaged to her. I get it. But it’s not a total sham and we both know it. You’re sleeping with her. You’ve been sleeping with her for weeks.”

“I…It’s just…”

“Thank you for not insulting me by denying it.” I closed my eyes, smelling his alcohol-laden breath. It wasn’t even two o’clock yet. I slowly pushed on his chest, but his hand covered mine.

“Rose, I love you. You are my reason for living. Without you, I have nothing. I am nothing.” His voice broke and tears filled his eyes.

My conscience fought a battle with my guilt. How much of his misery should I lay claim to? “I’m sorry, but we both have to accept that we’re done.”

“I can’t.”

“Joe, even if your father changed his mind, I couldn’t go back to you now. Not after this. All I can see is you with Hilary.”

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