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Wicked Paradise: An Alpha Billionaire Romance by Tia Lewis (42)


She was waiting for me on the front steps at the diner on Sunday morning. Only a handful of hours had passed since I stormed out of the house. I was already regretting it, too. From the look on her face and the very fact that she was there, I could see I wasn’t alone.

She stood when I got out of the truck. “I don’t have a lot of time to talk right now,” I explained. “Not because I’m mad, but because we open in an hour.”

“Yeah, I know. I just…I had to see you.”

I nodded shortly and walked around her. “Come in.” I unlocked the door, and she followed me inside, then locked it behind us. “Here. Follow me.” I flipped the lights on, lighting up the dining room, then went to the kitchen and did the same. She watched while I powered up the grills and oven.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked in a small voice.

I couldn’t help snorting. “No. It’s okay. We sort of have a system in place.”

“Gotcha.” She rubbed her arms and looked around. I could tell at a glance that she hadn’t slept all night. Well, that made two of us. It was going to be a long day.

“So what brings you here at this time of morning? I know the coffee’s not that good.” That reminded me to get it started up, so I pushed through the swinging doors leading to the dining room and turned on the machines, then went through the process of getting them brewing.

“There’s a lot of work to be done here,” she murmured.

“Is that what you came here for at five in the morning? To tell me what I already know?”

“You know that’s not it.” She sounded hurt and disappointed. Not angry. Maybe she was too tired.

“So what is it?” I leaned against the counter as I turned to her. “What’s the situation? Why are you here?”

“I’m here to try to clear up what happened last night, and you know it. Why are you making it so hard for me to do this?”

When tears filled her eyes, I felt like the world’s biggest asshole. “You’re right. Sorry. I’m being a dick.”

“It’s just… You misunderstood me last night, and it felt like you ignored me on purpose. That wasn’t fair. And I’ve had a lot of…I don’t know, conflict…going on inside, and I would’ve liked to talk it out with you. But you shut me down because you keep assuming what I mean.”

I wanted to tell her she was wrong, but the more I thought about it, the more I saw she was right. If I hadn’t blown up, the whole night could’ve gone in a different direction. “I apologize. What is it that’s bothering you so much?”

She looked around. “Now? I mean, do you have the time?”

“If you talk fast,” I said with a slight smile.

She nodded. “Okay. I remember asking you why Craig came back when we had other plans. And you were annoyed because you thought I was talking about you, too. It had nothing to do with you. I need to understand…for me.”

I frowned. “For you?”

“Yeah. I needed to understand why he changed his mind, because…” She shrugged and looked away. “Sometimes I guess I wonder if I should’ve changed my mind. I was wondering what his breaking point was because I think I might’ve reached mine.”

That wasn’t what I had expected at all. I opened my mouth to ask what she meant, but a knock at the back door interrupted me. “Hold that thought.” I opened the door for the cooks, then took my time getting back to her. I wasn’t sure what to think.

When I returned, she was sitting on a stool at the counter. “You want a cup?” I asked, pointing to the machine. She nodded gratefully and rubbed her eyes. I slid the coffee over to her and said, “So you wonder if you should’ve changed your mind. About what? Living in New York?”

“I guess. I don’t know. I just wonder why he decided he was wrong about what he thought he wanted. I wish he would’ve told me, but he never did. I always assumed it was because he was ashamed of his choice or something.”

“He always seemed happy here,” I reminded her.

“I know, I know. That’s what’s so confusing. It was easier, I guess, to assume I had made the right decision and he had let himself down. But then you tell me that he wanted to get back to a place where things make sense, and I think, of course, he did. I should’ve made it so he could’ve told me that. Instead, there I was, feeling proud of myself for sticking to my guns.” She snickered. “How pathetic is that?”

“It’s not pathetic, so long as you were sticking to those guns because you were happy—not because you were trying to prove a point.”

“You know?” She looked up from her coffee cup. “I don’t even know anymore. Like I said, I had nothing else going for me.” Her words struck a chord in me, because I was what she was talking about. Tell her why, my inner voice urged. Tell her it wasn’t her fault.

Debbie came in then, with Bailey and a new trainee named Lisa behind her. I couldn’t open up with them running around—and knowing Bailey, she’d do her best to listen in.

Amanda sat there with her hands around the cup, and I noticed Debbie giving us a sly look that I decided to ignore. When we were relatively alone, I said, “I’m sorry I blew everything out of proportion last night. It was ridiculous. There was no reason to do it.”

She nodded. “We just keep misunderstanding each other.”

“I guess so. It’s been a long time, and there’s a lot of stuff between us.”

“Do you think we could maybe just try to enjoy the time we have together and not worry so much about the time that’s passed?”

I nodded gratefully. “Yeah. Let’s do that. I don’t feel like playing catch-up.”

“So let’s not. Let’s just be together now.” She looked around to make sure nobody was watching before taking my hand.

I grinned. “Ashamed to be holding hands with me?” I asked.

She tilted her head to the side, eyes narrowed. “I thought it might be a pain for you if they saw.”

“Yeah. Don’t wanna be breaking any hearts today.”

“Not when those girls have a crush on you.”

“Enough about that.” I kissed the backs of her knuckles, then let go of her hand. She was right—we didn’t have much time together, and I wanted to enjoy what we had. After being with her just that one time I knew I’d have to have her again. Fighting would only get in the way of that.

She stood. “I have the junk collectors coming tomorrow. Do you think you could cut out of here in the mid-afternoon and help me clear out the junk room?”

“Junk room?” I asked with a grimace.

“Yeah. The spare bedroom. It’s pretty much all junk, with maybe a few things to donate. A lot of lifting and carrying and stuff.”

I nodded. “You need a big, strong man to help you.”

“Something like that. Can you?”

“Only if you promise to pay me back after.”

She smirked. “Maybe we can work something out.”