Her hands stilled. She looked at him with luminous eyes. "More than anything."
"Bullshit." He rubbed at his chest, trying to ease the ache that made it hard to breathe. "If that was true, you would've come with me. The fact is, you loved your family more. And this town, the shop – "
"I would have held you back even if I'd g-gone with you!" she cried, her voice breaking. "Your parents thought I was after your money. Hanging on to you would only have proven them right."
"As if I gave a shit what they thought. They would have come around eventually, and it wouldn't have mattered to me if they didn't."
"It mattered to me. You had years of college ahead of you – fraternities, sports, late night-studying… There was no place for me in that."
He pushed the beer away, feeling sick. "I would have made a place for you. Or we could have agreed to a long-distance relationship. Phone calls, visits, holiday breaks."
"All of which would have interrupted time with your father and curbed your freedom to network. You needed to create the contacts you could use in the future."
"I hate to break it to you, mi querida," he said coldly, "but I was fucking miserable all through college. I might have continued being miserable afterward, if I hadn't become numb to everything."
Faith inhaled sharply. A tear slid down her cheek, pissing him off. She had no right to cry over his pain, not when she'd caused it.
He turned, pushing out of the booth, unable to sit there and bleed over her tears, which he couldn't bear.
"Miguel." She stayed him with a hand on his arm. "Wait. We'll go together."
Catching her by the wrist, he yanked her toward him. "You once told me you'd love me forever. Was that a lie, too?"
"How can you ask me that, after tonight?" she whispered, tears streaming.
"Then, yes, we'll go together." He released her and stood. He dug into his pocket for his money clip and tossed cash on the table. "Back to New York. Where you should have been the last eleven years."
She wiped at her wet cheeks with both hands. "I can't."
He shot her a scathing look. "What's the excuse now? I've climbed the ladders I needed to. Now I've got everything I want, except for you."
"It's not you – "
"It's me? You're not seriously going to shovel that."
"It's - I…" She took another deep breath. "I have a son."
The ground dropped out from beneath his feet. He swore the room tilted. The overly loud music pounded through his skull. He stumbled away from the booth, nearly toppling a waitress balancing a full-tray of food. Apologizing over his shoulder, he made his way outside, desperate for air in his burning lungs.
They spoke not a word on the ride back. The only concession Miguel made was to carry the to-go bag she'd taken the time to order before they left the restaurant and to hold the door open for her when they got back to the bungalow.
He went into the bedroom, his body taut with a tension that told her to give him some time alone. She went to the kitchen and began unpacking the food, her hands shaking from the raw pain she'd seen on his face. She had been half-afraid she wouldn't find him waiting by the car when she exited the sports pub, but she'd known she would follow him if he called a cab.
This day of reckoning was long overdue.
Faith made two plates of steak and shrimp fajitas with all the fixin's, then set them on the small round dining table. She began to eat, ravenous in a way only a stress-eater could be.
She was nearly done by the time Miguel reappeared. He entered the living area dressed in striped silk pajama bottoms and nothing else. There was a new bottle of cognac on the table behind the couch and he went to it, opening it and pouring himself a glass. He glanced at her in silent inquiry, but she shook her head.
Now that he was in front of her – the beautiful boy she'd loved now a formidably gorgeous man – she was struck by how much she stood to lose. There was nothing to be done about it, not with as disparate as their lives were. They'd eventually make each other miserable. Resentment would grow in whichever one of them was forced to give up their lifestyle and livelihood for the other.
He lifted the tulip-shaped glass of amber liquid to his lips and drank, his eyes closing with a weariness that broke her heart.
"I didn't know you still cared," she said softly, pushing her plate away. "I thought you'd get to New York, meet some gorgeous supermodel, and realize you'd dodged a bullet with me."
"Shut up," he snapped. "I don't need to be insulted on top of everything else."
"I wasn't – " The look on his face made her recoil back into the chair.
"You martyred yourself for our love, but I'm so shallow any hot piece of ass would do?"
"That's not what I meant." She inhaled deeply, taking the hit because she deserved it. "I did it as much for me as for you. I did it for both of us, and no matter how pissed off you are – and I'm not saying you don't have the right to be – I still believe I made the right decision."
Miguel tossed back his drink and poured another one.
"You should eat something," she said.
His quelling glance didn't scare her. And in the end, he set the refilled glass down and walked away from it. "How old is your son?"
Faith's stomach flipped. She didn't want to lie to him. As it was, it was killing her to keep Michael away from his father, but she knew what would happen if Miguel knew. He would take over, force her to go with him to keep her son. But the life she was giving Michael now was the best for him. Later, when he was older, she expected to lose her son to his father just as she'd lost Miguel. He would want to emulate his father and grandfather, follow in their footsteps. He would go to Princeton on the trust Mrs. Santos had created for him and he would eventually live in New York and join his father's world, she was certain of it. But first she wanted to give him a loving, stable home. She wanted him to learn the value of hard work, and to know what it felt like to covet something and not be able to afford it.
She exhaled softly, steeling her resolve. "He's still a boy," she hedged. "Thank God. I'm not ready to parent a teenager."
Miguel's arms crossed. "Is Michael's father active in his life? Is he active in yours?"
"No. We went our separate ways some time ago."
"Then I don't see a problem." His eyes were dark and brilliant as he stared at her. "He's your son, Faith. I'll take you both."
Faith was glad to be sitting because her knees went weak. "My god…"
Approaching the table, Miguel sat and dug into the food she'd plated for him. His gaze was determined and challenging. So like him. Romance was in his blood. At heart, he believed love conquered all.
She was breathless with the need to cry. He was a warrior prince, set upon a quest to save his fair princess from a life of toil. He wanted to spirit her away to his tower, where he would drape her in jewels and see that her every whim was met.
If only she wanted to be rescued.
Miguel wiped his mouth with a napkin, then drank from one of the bottles of water that had been artfully arranged in the center of the table. Pushing away from her place setting, Faith stood and went to him. He slid his chair back, making room for her.
Lifting her skirt, she straddled him, cupping his face in her hands and trusting him to support her back with his tender grip. Her fingers brushed his hair from his forehead. His eyes closed as if her touch soothed him, but she knew it invariably caused him pain.
"You're so angry," she whispered, brushing her lips over his brow, dying inside because she wished she could always be there to comfort him. She wanted that so much, she couldn't help but doubt her refusal to try… To take the risk…
"I was," he agreed, pulling her closer. "For a moment, I regretted ever meeting you. It pissed me off to think that way. The years we were together were the happiest of my life. I would never change them."
"And I've been so scared that you would regret it. That there was no way to avoid us falling apart."
His fingers kneaded into her hips. "I thought you grew out of being insecure about us."
"I did. The comment about the supermodel… it wasn't to say I was forgettable, just that first loves fade for most people." She wrinkled her nose at his arched brow. "Well, they do. But really, I wasn't worried about you being the problem. I was worried about me. I was worried that I'd screw it all up by being miserable."
Miguel's head tilted to the side, his gaze narrowing. "As if I would ever allow you to be."
She smiled at his arrogant assumption that nothing could go wrong if he said it couldn't. Placing her hand over his heart, she felt its strong and steady beat against her palm. A heart that beat for her alone, just as hers had been in his keeping for more than half her life. "Do you know why I work at the shop?"
"It supports your entire family and you're damned good at fixing cars."
"Yes, thank God, because I don't know how to do anything else. I'm lucky that I enjoy it. I go to work every day knowing that my brothers are going to make me laugh, my mom is going to bring something delicious in for lunch, and I'll get to fuss over my dad. I honestly have no idea what I'd do with myself if I didn't work, and I couldn't see how it would be possible for me to do so while you're making multimillion dollar deals. I'm not sure I'd even enjoy wrenching if my family wasn't around while I did it. And part of the magic might be that I work on the cars of people I know and grew up around. I don't know. I just knew that imagining working in a cramped shop off a busy New York street with a bunch of guys I don't know and cars belonging to people I might not see again… it made me unhappy just thinking about it."
His hand began to stroke up and down her back, gentling her, which made her realize she was trembling. "I'm listening."READ MORE >>