What the hell just happened?
John glared out the window of the penthouse suite, as if he’d see the answer there and understand why. Just when he’d had her in the palm of his hand, Lacey had suddenly walked away. Again.
Outside, the city’s lights glittered coldly in the black night.
His hand tightened against the glass.
He didn’t understand. He’d made love to her. He’d felt her tremble with ecstasy in his arms. He’d been overwhelmed with joy when she’d said she’d marry him.
Then, she’d taken it all back. She’d left him without explanation. Just like before.
It’s over, she’d said. We’re over.
Maybe it’s better this way, he told himself harshly. When he’d realized that once they wed, she would possess him as much as he possessed her, he’d felt sick at the thought of being so vulnerable. It had unnerved him.
Jaw tight, he clawed his hand back through his dark hair. Lacey had made her priorities clear. She’d selfishly chosen her company’s needs over their family’s.
Maybe he’d had it right from the start. Lovers should never marry.
Instead, they’d share custody. They’d work out visitation. It would all be sensible. Far more sensible than for John to marry an exasperating woman who challenged him at every turn.
Who made him feel things he did not want to feel.
But that night, as John tried to sleep, his bed still smelled of wildflowers and vanilla. He tossed and turned. When he woke to the hazy pink light of dawn over New York, he felt worse, not better.
I never needed you to take care of me. As he took a shower, getting ready to leave, he couldn’t forget the heartbroken look in Lacey’s beautiful dark eyes. I just wanted… Well, it doesn’t matter.
What had she wanted?
It doesn’t matter, he told himself angrily. As he was climbing into the Rolls-Royce and his driver was putting his suitcase in the back, his phone rang. For an instant, his heart lifted. Lacey. But the caller was his vice president of acquisitions at the headquarters of Drakos International in Athens.
“There’s been a new development, Mr. Drakos,” the man said anxiously in Greek. “The potential acquisition found a white knight. The deal is falling apart. We need you.”
We need you.
Gripping the phone, John heard the echo of Lacey’s quiet voice.
I never needed you to take care of me, she’d said. And I proposed to you because I loved you.
He suddenly gripped the phone.
John had wanted to marry a humble, pliant woman. So he’d expected Lacey to change into one. How else to explain why he’d asked things of her, as his wife, that he wouldn’t have dreamed of asking her as his mistress? As soon as she’d agreed to be his bride, he’d demanded that she give up everything: her home, her company. Herself.
I’m just like you.
John’s lips parted as he stared out at the passing city in shock. She’d wanted him to love her. As she was. Without trying to change her.
Exactly the way she loved him.
I’m not a liar, he’d told her. But Lacey wasn’t either. Her only lie had been one of omission, not telling him about the baby, after he’d told her outright he wasn’t ready to be a father.
She hadn’t tried to change him. She hadn’t tried to convince him he should grow up and man up and be a father to their child, ready or not. She hadn’t insisted he give up his home in Greece or the billion-dollar company he’d inherited from his father.
All she’d done was love him, just as he was. And when he couldn’t love her back, she hadn’t tried to manipulate him. She hadn’t blamed him or been angry.
She’d loved him, so she’d set him free.
I can’t be with you. We are both too different, and too much the same.
All this time, John had been afraid to love anyone. Afraid it would make him helpless and weak.
Now he saw that love was only for the brave. Only the most courageous ever dared it.
All this time, Lacey had been far braver than he, and stronger. It was his tragedy that he only saw that now. Now that he’d lost her.
“Mr. Drakos?” His VP’s voice was anxious. “When will you arrive in Athens? If you’re not here today, we’ll lose everything we’ve worked for.”
“Everything?” John repeated, almost incredulous that he’d ever thought a hostile takeover of yet another company meant everything.
“Yes. When will you arrive?”
John shook his head, staring out at the passing city streets. There was only one merger he cared about now. One acquisition.
As the Rolls-Royce drove down the avenue, he stared up at all of the glass and gray skyscrapers of midtown, the symbols of wealth and power. And they left him cold.
For the last year, ever since he’d lost Lacey, he’d been miserable. And now he knew if he couldn’t have what he valued most—her—then nothing else mattered. No company. No fortune.
Lacey was his only true treasure.
“I’m not returning to Athens. Let the deal go,” he said abruptly and hung up.
John took a deep breath. He had to fight for her. At any cost. All he wanted to do was love her. His whole life depended on it.
But what if he was too late?
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