Overruled (The Legal Briefs, #1)(9)

“We agreed to see other people,” I argue. “We said we’d be honest with each other. Mature.”

“Sayin’ and feelin’ are two different things, lover boy.” She picks at her manicure. “Look, you and Jenny are eighteen, y’all are babies . . . this was bound to happen. Only a matter of when.”

I can barely get the words past my constricted throat. “But . . . I love her.”

“And she loves you. That’s why it hurts so bad.”

There’s no way I’m giving up, no way I’m goin down—not like this. It’s the fear that pushes me to do something, say anything. To hold on like a man clinging to a boulder in a current.

I walk up the oak staircase to the room Jenn shares with our daughter and through the closed door that tells me I’m not welcome.

She’s on the bed, shoulders shaking, crying into her pillow. And the knife sinks deeper in my gut. I sit on the bed and touch her arm. Jenny has the smoothest skin—rose-petal soft. And I refuse for this to be the last time I get to touch her.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Don’t cry. Please don’t . . . hate me.”

She sits up and doesn’t bother to wipe the evidence of heartache off her face. “Do you love her?”

“No,” I tell her firmly. “No, it was one night. It didn’t mean anythin’.”

“Was she pretty?”

I answer like the lawyer I’m trying to become. “Not as pretty as you.”

“Dallas Henry asked me to go to the movies with him,” Jenny tells me quietly.

Any remorse I feel goes up in smoke and is replaced with blue flaming anger. Dallas Henry was a receiver on my high school football team—he was always a raging *. The kind of guy who made a play for the drunkest girls at the party—the kind who would’ve slipped something into their drinks to get them drunk faster.

“Are you shittin’ me?”

“I told him no.”

The fury cools a notch—but only just barely. My fist is still gonna have a nice long chat with Dallas f*cking Henry before I leave.

“Why didn’t you say no, Stanton?” she accuses quietly.

Her question brings the guilt back full force. Defensively, I get to my feet—pacing and tense. “I did say no! Plenty of times. Shit, Jenn . . . I thought . . . it wasn’t cheatin’! You can’t be mad at me for this. For doin’ what you said you wanted. That’s not fair.”

Every muscle in my body strains—waiting for her response. After what feels like forever, she nods. “You’re right.”

Her blue eyes look up at me and the sadness in them cuts me to the bone. “I just . . . I hate picturing what you did with her in my head. I wish I could go back to when . . . when I didn’t know. And I could pretend that it’s only ever been me.” She hiccups. “Is that . . . is that pathetic?”

“No,” I groan. “It’s not.” I drop to my knees in front of her—aware that I’m begging, but not having the will to care. “It has only ever been you—in every way that matters. What happens when we’re apart, only means somethin’ if we let it mean somethin’.”

My hands drift up her thighs, needing to touch her—to wipe this from her mind—wanting so badly for us to be us again.

“I’m home for the summer. Two and half months and all I want to do for every second of that time is love you. Can I, darlin’? Please just let me love you.”

Her lips are warm and puffy from crying. I brush at them gently at first, asking permission. Then firmer, spearing her mouth with my tongue, demanding compliance. It takes a moment, but then she’s kissing me back. Her small hands fist my shirt, gripping tight, pulling me to her.

Owning me. The way she always has.

Jenny falls back on the bed, taking me with her. I hover over her as her chest rises and falls—panting. “I don’t want to know ever again, Stanton. We don’t ask, we don’t tell—promise me.”

“I promise,” I rasp, willing to agree to just about anything at this moment.

“I start school in the fall,” she presses. “I’m gonna meet people too. I’m gonna go out—and you can’t get angry. Or jealous.”

I shake my head. “I won’t. I don’t want to fight. I don’t . . . I don’t want to hold you back.”

And that’s the crazy truth of it.

There’s a part of me that wants to keep Jenny all to myself, lock her away in this house, and know she’s doing nothing else but waiting for me to come back. But stronger than that is the dread that we’ll burn out, end up hating each other—blaming each other—for all the living we missed out on. For all the things we never got to do.

More than anything, I don’t want to wake up ten years from now and realize the reason my girl hates her life . . . is because of me.

So if that means sharing her for a little while, then I’ll suck it up—I swear I will.

My eyes burn into hers. “But when I’m home, you’re mine. Not Dallas f*cking Henry’s—no one else’s but mine.”

Her fingers trace my jaw. “Yes, yours. I’ll be who you come home to. They don’t get to keep you, Stanton. No other girl . . . gets to be who I am.”

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