Why, why, why, why?
“I hate that you hate me so much,” he says, his deep voice rumbling over me, making me turn and look at him.
“I don’t see why you care,” I toss, hating how shaky my voice is. I clear my throat, curling my arms around myself.
Pain flickers in his eyes. “I care more than you know.”
We stare at each other in silence and I’m dying to ask why. But I don’t. Right now, he’ll say anything to get in my good graces once more. I think of everything we shared while on Maui and wonder how much of it was a lie.
All of it?
We say nothing else for the remainder of the drive and I’m relieved to escape the car when we arrive at the restaurant Max chose. It’s more like a pub, the exterior a dark, rich wood, the interior much of the same, with rough-hewn brick walls and dim gold lighting. He speaks to the man who greets us as if he’s an old friend and the gentleman escorts us to a table tucked away in a back corner of the restaurant, pulling out my chair before he hands each of us a single-sided menu.
“Our lunch menu is rather simple, but I hope you find something you like, miss,” the man tells me, his gaze twinkling before he turns his attention to Max, giving him a look of—approval?—before he leaves us alone.
“You know him,” I state flatly once the man is gone.
“I knew his son,” he clarifies. “We served together in Afghanistan.”
“Oh.” I drop my gaze to the menu, uncomfortable with talking about his past. So he must have been telling the truth when he told me about his tattoo. “You said … knew.”
“Yeah.” Max keeps his eyes fixed on his menu as well. “He died in combat.”
That nice, friendly man has suffered the loss of his son. I can’t imagine what that must be like. And he’s so cheerful, so upbeat. “I assume the food is good?” I ask to change the subject.
“The best,” Max confirms. “Their hamburgers especially, though you probably wouldn’t eat one.”
“I would love one.” My stomach growls and I realize I’m starving. I never really ate that muffin from earlier and a breakfast of coffee isn’t filling. I set my menu onto the table. “With cheese. And fries.”
He lifts his surprised gaze to mine. “Their onion rings are amazing.”
But then I’d have onion breath … not that I’m going to kiss Max. I still think he’s an asshole. At least somewhat of an asshole. “I love onion rings,” I say with a smile.
“Me too.” He sets his menu onto the table, too, and studies me. I feel like we’re having some sort of standoff and it’s weird. “Burgers and onion rings it is.”
“And a Coke. With lots of ice,” I add, getting warmed up.
“No. Full-tilt.” I doubt I need all that sugar coursing through my frenzied veins but I don’t care. I’m feeling like I need to prove something to Max—what, I’m not sure, but here I am, all bravado and cheeseburgers, onion rings and sorrow over what I could have had with this man.
Sorrow for the man who lost his friend in battle, for the man who lost his son. Sadness for what I lost, too.
Max’s mouth curves into a faint smile. “I missed you, Lily.”
His words remind me of what he’s done and I sit up straighter, all the bravery and sadness fleeing me, replaced by anger. “What did you want to discuss, Max?”
The owner reappears and takes our orders, his mood jovial, even when Max asks him for privacy. He promises to bring our drinks but otherwise, won’t return until our lunch is ready.
The moment he’s gone I shoot Max a look, my eyebrows raised. I’m done with the bullshit and I definitely don’t want to take a stroll down memory lane. It’ll hurt too much.
“Where do you want me to start?” he asks, as if he can read my mind.
“At the beginning. When did Pilar come to you?” I want all the dirty details. So I can hate him even more? Possibly.
He blows out a harsh breath, smiling up at our new waiter who materializes out of nowhere, delivering our drinks before he vanishes as quickly as he appeared. “A couple of weeks ago. She said that she wanted me to tail someone, someone who took something from her. And she wanted it back.”
“So you thought the laptop belonged to her.”
“I’m not that stupid.” He sends me a look. “I figured out pretty quick that what she wanted didn’t belong to her. I started investigating, doing my research as I usually do, and then Pilar called me, letting me know you’d left. She wanted me to follow you to Maui, so I did.”
She hired Max within days, if not hours, after I sent her that email. The one from her own Fleur in-box to her personal account, when I taunted her that I knew what she’d done.
Closing my eyes, I grip the edge of the table, remembering what a fool I’d been. How arrogant. What did I think she’d do once she saw that email? Cave in and let me tell Daddy what exactly she’s been up to these last few months?
I’d only been referring to her dalliance with Zachary. The seemingly harmless email conversations with Felicity Winston from Jayne Cosmetics.
She called me, threatening me with bodily harm, accusing me of being a meddling, home-wrecking little slut. And that’s when I ran like a coward.
Opening my eyes, I stare unseeingly at Max as he talks and gestures. I release the edge of the table, reaching for my drink so I can take a calming sip. The ice-cold, sweet soda hits my tongue and I swallow hard, trying my best to listen to what Max is saying, but it’s as if my ears are stuffed with cotton.