From Ex to Eternity(58)

By: Kat Cantrell

* * *

Keith cleared his dry throat. He was oversharing again. He felt it in the chaste, emotionless kiss to the cheek she’d bestowed on him, could feel it in her posture, in the atmosphere.

It had started the moment he began talking. She’d slowly withdrawn, as if she wasn’t really on board with staying overnight and wished he’d shut up so she could leave, even though she’d agreed this morning to stay.

Why had she said yes if she didn’t want to? Disappointment lodged in his esophagus and he couldn’t swallow it away. He’d been looking forward to seeing her all day. They’d have some downtime, just the two of them, when he could really savor the professional coup he’d scored today.

He’d been entertaining the notion of asking her if she’d come with him. Just to the next assignment. Just for a couple of days. A week, tops. She could sew some dresses during the day and be waiting when he returned to their room at night. No anxiety-filled, interminably long minutes as he waited for her to respond—or not—to his text message at the end of a stressful day. She’d just be there.

A sharp pull in his chest was bittersweet and he feared he’d fallen into a hole he’d never climb out of. The way he felt about wasn’t going to go away. It wasn’t a slight sense of affection as he’d had the first time. This was something else, something powerful. It might be this elusive thing called love that neither of them could define.

Whatever it was, he was screwing it up.

Stupid to think she’d magically gotten over feeling pressured. The only way that would happen was if he stopped pressuring her.

“So why does it sound like you’re the opposite of happy?” Way to drop it, Mitchell. Obviously he couldn’t let it ride.

“I’m...tired. That’s all.”

So tired she couldn’t muster the energy to be a little more inventive with her excuses? “Is it really so difficult to spend time with me that you’d rather be anywhere else but here?”

Her gaze snapped to his. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be.”

Frustrated, he vised his pounding temples between his thumb and middle finger. There was no set procedure for this conversation, but he wanted to get the best results. So he kept trying. “Then what’s wrong? This contract is a big deal to me. I hoped you’d be a little more...congratulatory.”

“Congratulations, Keith. It’s an amazing accomplishment.” She said it so sincerely, he did a double take.

“Uh, thanks. Why does it feel like I’m in the middle of a fight and you forgot to show up?”

She laughed but it rang a little hollow, ratcheting up the tension. “Because this is not a fight. We’re not a couple. Therefore there’s nothing to get upset over.”

Fine lines around her taut mouth betrayed it as the lie he knew it was. Because he was upset too but he had no idea why. He’d like to chalk it up to stress over the expo, but it was bigger than that. They were having some kind of relationship. One that had evolved into something he barely knew what to do with, but that didn’t make it any less real.

“What am I missing here, Cara? Saying we’re not a couple is equivalent to reeling in a sea bass and then claiming you weren’t fishing. Why is your line in the water if you’re not trying to catch a fish?”

“God Almighty. Seriously?” Finally, she seemed to have a little more going on under the surface than she’d let on. “My line is in the water all right and it has been since we met. I’ve never made any secret out of the fact that I want to get married and it’s also not a mystery why I’d never walk down the aisle again with you. Since you like fishing metaphors so much, here’s mine. I’m throwing you back, sugar. Swim away and watch out for those hooks next time.”

“Is this still about you not trusting me?” He rolled to his stomach, suddenly feeling exposed. “What else do I have to do? I’ve apologized. I’ve listened. I’ve put my mouth on your—”

“Don’t be crass. This is not about trust. You can’t have it both ways, Keith. Either you’re in this to marry me or it’s temporary. Which is it?”

A weight dropped onto his shoulders, pushing him down further with each passing moment. Who was pressuring whom here? “Who said it had to be one or the other? I thought we were having a grown-up relationship, where we enjoyed each other’s company and focused on our careers.”

He was losing his grip, losing his mind. Why had he tried to do this when he was so ill-equipped?

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