Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons Page 59

“So?”

“Well, Rose…she’s…”

Joe grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the chair. “Come on, Rose. We’re leaving.”

My breath caught in my throat.

Joe pushed me around the table, but I dug my heels in. I had to know the truth.

“Let me get this straight. First you thought Joe wasn’t good enough for me. Now you think I’m not good enough for him?”

Joe shook his head and tried to pull me out of the room. “Don’t do this, Rose.”

Mike stood next to his chair. “Violet, I’m warnin’ you.”

Violet bit her lip, her love for me filling her eyes. “It’s not that, Rose. It’s just that you…”

“Rose,” Joe pleaded.

“No,” I choked out. “I want to hear this from her.”

“Honey, his family is society. They have money. How are you goin’ to fit in with that? I just don’t want you to get hurt.” The sincerity in her eyes told me that she meant every word she said.

Joe looked angry enough to hit her. Instead, he held his breath, then said, “Rose, get Muffy.”

I remained frozen in horror.

He lifted my chin and looked into my eyes. His face softened. “I love you, Rose. Don’t you ever doubt that for a single minute. But I need a word with your sister, so go get Muffy and we’ll head home. Okay?”

I nodded, the lump in my throat too big to speak through.

Muffy was in the backyard and I opened the back door, wondering how things had gotten to this state. Joe’s angry voice carried through the glass. I should be in there with him, not hiding on the patio.

The door opened behind me and Ashley slipped out and wrapped her arms around my legs. “Why’s everybody yellin’?”

Closing my eyes, I silently berated myself for yelling at Violet in front of Ashley and Mikey. “Grownups do that sometimes.”

Muffy ran over and I knelt down to scoop her up. I grabbed Ashley’s arm and tugged her closer, staring into her confused face. “People fight and they get over it. It’s goin’ to be okay.” I kissed her forehead and stood, wishing I believed what I’d said.

Sucking in a deep breath, I walked into the house, Joe’s voice echoing from the other room. “The only person hurting her is you, Violet.”

Joe swung to face me when I entered the room, fear in his eyes before he pushed it away. “I’ve said my piece. Let’s go.”

I nodded.

“Rose!” Violet shouted as we left the room.

Joe wrapped his arm around my back, holding me tight as we walked out the front door.

She stood on the porch, watching Joe push me into the car. “Rose, honey. I love you. I only want what’s best for you.”

I bit my lip to keep from crying. Joe hurried around to the driver’s side and drove off, Violet still on the porch shouting at me.

Neither of us said anything all the way home. I was too shocked and hurt. But as soon as we walked into the kitchen, I buried my face into Joe’s chest, sobbing.

He led me into the living room and sat on the sofa, pulling me onto his lap. “It’s not true. Don’t listen to her, darlin’.” Gripping my cheeks his hands, his eyes bored into mine. “I love you for you and you’re a hundred times better than someone from my parents’ world.” His hand smoothed my damp hair off my face and he kissed me. “I want you. If I wanted the type of woman my parents would choose, I’d be with Hilary.”

My eyes widened in horror and I gasped.

Joe frantically shook his head. “No, it’s not what you think.”

But it was exactly what I thought. Joe said they’d known each other as kids. Hilary was from money too. They’d dated and lived together before Joe broke up with her. Hilary was who his parents wanted him to marry and she knew it. I was gonna be sick.

I shook my head, my tears catching my breath.

“Damn it!” he shouted, leaning his head back against the sofa. “This is all my fault.” His eyes found mine. “I’m sorry. I should have told you, but I know how you think and I knew you’d feel this way. I just couldn’t bear to see that look of horror in your eyes. Please, Rose. It’s me. I’m just Joe. I hardly ever see my family. Their world isn’t mine.”

“I don’t…”

He pulled me into an embrace and buried his face into my hair. “I love you and I need you. I don’t want to live without you. Don’t hold my family against me. Rose, please say something.”

No matter when he told me about his family, I would have reacted the same way. Violet’s words echoed in my head. “She’s right.”

“Who?” He leaned me back, anger filling his eyes. “Violet? The hell she is. You were right when you said you thought she was jealous. Sure, on the surface I think she’s deluded herself into believing she has your best interests in mind, but she can’t stand the thought of you being happy. Or even worse, better than her.”

“But…”

“Rose. I speak to my family two or three times a year. I go home for Christmas. I don’t even spend the night.” His eyes burned with pain. “I am my father’s greatest disappointment. I’m his only son and he wanted me to join the family business and I refused. I refused to go to my father’s alma mater, Vanderbilt. I refused to practice law. I wanted to make my own life, free from my father’s shadow. I’ve never felt as free as when I was Joe McAllister. Being with you is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”

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