Braden threw open the door and wrapped her arms around me in one swift movement. I dropped the bag I was carrying and hugged her back just as fiercely.
“You’re here! I missed you,” Braden said as she squeezed me one more time, then pulled back and glanced over at Tripp. I didn’t miss the appreciative gleam in Tripp’s eyes as he took in my best friend. Braden had big, round, cornflower-blue eyes and long, dark curly lashes. Her brown curls were completely natural. I had been coveting them for years.
“Braden, this is my friend Tripp. Tripp, this is my best friend, Braden Fredrick.”
“And I’m her husband, Kent,” Kent said as he walked up behind Braden. I smiled over at him. I felt like I should apologize for Tripp and I was suddenly glad he was going to stay in a hotel. Braden loved her husband but when Tripp wanted to be a charmer he had it down to a science.
“It’s nice to meet both of you,” Tripp said with a knowing smile. I should probably have pinched him.
“Y’all come on in,” Braden said, stepping back.
“I have plans this evening so I need to head on out. I’ll be back when you’re ready to leave, Della,” he said, and winked at me. He was being cute on purpose.
“Okay. Go drink beer. I think you need it,” I told him, and he laughed before turning and going back to his bike.
“He drives a Harley?” Braden asked, peering at him as he walked away.
“Stop it before Kent goes out there and tries to beat him up,” I whispered, and stepped inside, letting the door close behind me.
“What? Kent knows I love him. I was just looking. I’m curious about who you’ve been riding all over the place with these past two weeks.”
“Sure you are,” Kent drawled, grabbing her ass before pressing a kiss to her mouth. “I’ll go make some coffee,” he said, then walked toward the kitchen.
When Kent was out of hearing distance, Braden grabbed my arm and pulled me into the living room. “Okay, how are you? How are your night terrors? Are you and Tripp getting along okay?”
“As good as can be expected, the same, and yes.”
Braden frowned. “I need more info than that.”
I sighed and sat down on her sofa. “I miss him. I miss him so much. But he’s better without me. Even he knows he’s better without me.”
“How does he know he’s better without you? Have you talked to him?”
“No. But he hasn’t tried to find me. You said yourself he hasn’t called you. He hasn’t called Tripp. Nothing. I did what he wanted. Deep down he wanted this and he got it. So, I have to figure out how to live. That was my ultimate goal, anyway.”
Braden pulled her legs underneath her as she sat down beside me. “You have a really hot biker dude helping you out,” she said.
“I heard that,” Kent called from the hallway.
Braden giggled and rolled her eyes. “Seriously. He seems nice. You aren’t bonding with him? I mean, you’re with him every day and night.”
“I gave my soul to Woods. He’ll always have it.”
Braden sighed and nodded her head. “Yeah, I understand that.”
“Glad I got your soul, Braden, because I’m not sure I can beat that biker dude’s ass. He’s thin but tall, and that type’s always hiding muscles under his clothes that you don’t see coming,” Kent said as he walked into the room holding two mugs of coffee.
Braden laughed and I managed a smile. I could attest to Tripp’s muscles. I spent my days with my chest pressed to his back and my arms wrapped around him. He had muscles all right. Lots of them. He also had tattoos, which had surprised me. I could see the wealthy, elite Rosemary in him at times, but he tried too hard to cover it with tats and swagger.
“Stop being jealous. Nothing is sexier than you in a suit and tie. That short blond hair and tanned skin. I know what I got and I’m not looking for another,” Braden said as Kent bent down to kiss her and give her one of the mugs.
I didn’t want to witness this kind of affection right now. At least with Tripp I knew it was cheap sex he was getting. The romance was a little too much.
Braden read my mind. She was good at that. “Go on and let us girls talk. We need time,” she told him, giving him a look that I knew he’d understand. I didn’t say anything. I needed him to go. No more touchy-feely.
“Sorry about that. I wasn’t thinking,” she said as he left the room.
“It’s okay. I will have to learn to deal with that the rest of my life. Might as well get used to it now. Couples are everywhere.”
Braden reached over and grabbed my hand. “You will find your happiness. I think you’re wrong about Woods but I’ve told you that. He loves you. I know he does. I remember the madman who came chasing after you just a few months ago. He adores you. I hate to see you let that go.”
How could I keep it? “I couldn’t stay. He was tired of my craziness. I heard him say it. He doesn’t know I heard him, but I did. He was talking to Jace about how hard it was to deal with me. He was tired of it.”
“What! I don’t believe that. You must’ve misunderstood him. I can’t see Woods ever saying that. And let me tell you, if he did I will cut him. Cut. Him. You hear me?” She was already getting worked up. I should have kept that to myself. I knew that would send her into a blind rage.
“What did he say exactly?” she asked, setting her cup down and studying me for any sign of a lie.
“It was a conversation, really. I can’t remember exactly.”
“Bullshit. It is etched into that brain of yours and you know exactly what was said, word for word. Spill it.”
She wouldn’t give in until I told her.
“I was at the club and I was looking for Woods. I decided to take the stairs instead of the elevator, so I stepped into the stairwell and I heard him talking. I didn’t want to eavesdrop but I heard Jace saying that he didn’t know how Woods had dealt with the crazy as long as he had.”
“And what did Woods do? Please tell me he shoved his fist up his nose.”
I shook my head and let the numbness ease me. I couldn’t think about what I was saying. “He said it was what he had to do. That he couldn’t let me be alone but it was affecting his work.” I stopped and swallowed, then looked down at my hands. Anywhere but at Braden. “He said that at least when Angelina was there, she helped.” That part hurt the worst. Hearing him say that someone like her was easier. That she was what he needed. Not someone like me. The crazy one.
“Maybe he wasn’t talking about you. Isn’t his momma a loony bitch?”
“No. She’s just mean,” I explained. There was more. Jace had said more. “Jace said that Woods needed to get his ass away from the insane shit. He had a corporation to run. He then said . . . that Woods dropping what he was doing to deal with my batshit crazy episodes wasn’t fair. That he needed to fix the problem.”
“Woods better have beat his ass then,” Braden said, her face turning red.
I should’ve changed the subject so I could calm her down. But I needed her to understand that I had left Woods for him. This was what he wanted. He just didn’t know how to ask for it. “Woods said he couldn’t. Then he asked how he would do that.”
Braden shook her head, her eyes wide with disbelief. “That just doesn’t sound right. That isn’t the same man I talked to . . . that I talked to back when he came to get you a few months ago.”
“No. It’s the man who had the responsibility of a country club and his mother laid on his shoulders overnight. He has real problems and concerns. I’m more than he can handle now.”
Braden kept shaking her head. It would take her a while to process all of this. I hadn’t told Tripp about that conversation. I hadn’t wanted to talk about it. He hadn’t pressed me the way Braden had, either.
“You’re not crazy. You’re not insane.”
“I know you believe that. But it’s in my blood, Braden.”
She gave me a sad smile. “No. It’s not. There’s something I need to show you and a lot I need to tell you. While you’ve been riding on the back of a hot stud’s bike for two weeks, I’ve been doing some research.”
“What? What do you mean ‘research’? On what?”
“Della Sloane, you were adopted.”