“I told you I didn’t want to play a game. You’re set on keeping me in this box of f**k-buddy, which would be fine if you were just honest about it.”
“I have been!”
“No, you keep telling me and trying to convince yourself that all I am is just a one-nighter to you.”
“Jesus, are you always so emotional when it comes to sex?”
“I just like to call it what it is,” he said.
“And what is that? What is between us that you think requires a different word than just f**king?”
Those gray eyes ate me up in one penetrating gaze and he said, “Intense.” He shook his head. “I’d be stupid not to want that, not to want you. But until you can be honest with yourself, I’m not taking advantage of you.”
“Taking advantage? Is that what you think?”
My heart leapt at the same time it sank. He felt it too. The intensity between us. That connection I was trying to get back without having to admit that was what I was going for.
At least if Rhys wasn’t on to the fact that I craved him, maybe I could salvage some of my pride. But he was on to me, damn it. The last thing I wanted was to confuse what this was with emotions. There was not only a clock on our time together, but there were miles of differences. His world didn’t have a place for me and my world currently didn’t have a foundation.
“People do things out of fear,” he said. “That night you came to my room, you were scared, but you were honest. You wanted me in spite of the situation. Not because of it.”
Shit. Every single thought and feeling was warring in my head. I knew I was a bad liar, that Rhys seemed to know my reaction to him, and it once again gave him the upper hand.
Street Emma would be so pissed at me right now. Rhys seemed to be one step ahead of me, calling things out and making me feel things I didn’t know how to handle.
I wanted that night back. Wanted to feel that kind of soul-shattering fire he unleashed over my body. But I wanted it without strings.
“I love how you think you’re some kind of mind reader.”
“I read people, Emma.”
“And how did you learn to do that?”
His eyes did that haunted thing I’d seen once before. “Training.”
I put my hands on the counter and leaned in. “You know all this stuff about me. All the unflattering past crap. Tell me something about you, Rhys. You seem to have a grip on why I am the way I am and have no issue pointing it out. Why are you the way you are?”
His face was like stone. Challenging. But I didn’t look away.
“What did you do for the military?” I asked.
“My unit was stationed in Afghanistan working with locals to gain intel on the Taliban.”
Now I felt like the one with a face made a stone, but for a totally different reason. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t begin to even think right. I wasn’t expecting that kind of answer. He was sharing something true about himself with me. By choice. It made me feel . . . special.
“So you were like GI Joe?” I asked.
“Sort of. These people were looking for a way out. Many of them just trying to survive, keep their families alive while their town was being overrun by the Taliban. It took a while to gain their trust, but eventually we started making progress. They’d gather information, let us know where the newest attack was going and tell us so we could go in before they planted any more IEDs.”
“Jesus,” I whispered.
Rhys had said he’d been there a long time. Must have made friends with some of these people. One thing I’d be wanting to ask about, that stood out, was the shrapnel scars. But before I could, he rose and put his cup in the sink.
“Now you know a bit about me and you’re right, we’re even.” He walked past the table and toward the bathroom. “I’m going to shower,” he said, shutting the door and shutting off from the conversation as if it never happened.
I looked down at my food, feeling more lost than ever before. Maybe it was time to try a different approach. What I was currently doing involved a hell of a lot of denial and fibbing, mostly to Rhys and myself, about certain feelings I was having. I was trying to keep things surface or at least pretend I didn’t like Rhys the way I did. But he had just opened up and let me see a part of himself. Of his past. A difficult past, it would seem. If he could be honest, maybe it was time I tried it too.
Placing my hands on the table, I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to relax. Megan had tried to get me to meditate back when I first moved in. The woman was obsessed with breathing and attacking things logically. Guess it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.
Deep breath . . .
I cleared all my thoughts away. Thoughts of the past, of all the issues that currently surrounded me. Tried to even erase the fact that Rhys and I were brought up so differently. My eyes shot open.
Though the path to adulthood was light years apart, maybe the final product of us being adults wasn’t so different. I had caught a glimpse of how we dealt with things similarly at the diner. This whole time I’d been asking myself how Rhys was able to read me the way he did? Why did I respond to him in a way I never responded to another? Why was there a connection between us and why was I drawn to him?
Though he didn’t dish details about being overseas, the look on his face and tone of his voice spoke volumes. Rhys had seen some things, likely done some things, that changed a person. He obviously understood loss, fear, fighting against things unseen. Fighting to stay alive. Just fighting to keep your sanity in the hope that one day things will be better. Maybe that’s what we related to in each other.
I closed my eyes once more and focused on my breathing. If Megan could see me now . . . I could almost hear her saying, “When you focus on breathing and empty your mind, you can see things you missed before.”
Desperation must be setting in if I was finally giving in to this.
I tried to watch it melt away. My past. Rhys’s past. All the unanswered questions. Where we were and why. I pictured him and me in a white room. Just us. Looking up at him, seeing only his thundering eyes, I asked myself a simple question: Do I want this man?
The answer came quickly and was as simple as the question. I stood up, and marched toward the bathroom.
“Yes!” I said loudly throwing open the door.
“What?” Rhys asked from beneath the spray of the shower.
“I said . . .” I tugged the curtain open, which surprised him a little, stepped into the stall, not caring that I was fully clothed and faced him. “Yes.”