“You’re sorry?” Ethan reared his head back, the anguish in his face tearing me apart.
“Yes, of course I am,” I said desperately. This was a good time to spit out the truth. That I couldn’t be with him, and it had nothing to do with Chase at all. Ethan was Prince Charming, but in someone else’s story. Not mine. He wasn’t the one I went to sleep thinking about.
He isn’t the one who keeps me awake in the first place.
“Do you regret it?” Ethan shifted from one foot to the other. I nodded. I did. I regretted hurting him.
I regretted not ending it sooner, when I’d known we had no future.
I did not regret kissing Chase. And that was a problem.
I opened my mouth to say something more, but Ethan beat me to it, pressing his lips against mine on the threshold to the bathroom. My arms flailed behind my body, like they were sewn artificially to my shoulders. It wasn’t the first time I’d been kissed by Ethan, but this time, it felt especially wrong. I had to stop this. I started leaning back, breaking away from the kiss, my mouth ashen.
“You must have what they call an open relationship, if that’s your fiancée’s idea of ‘good friends.’” I heard Julian’s entertained voice from my right. I jerked back, spinning to find Julian and Chase.
Julian smiled smugly, his arms crossed over his chest. Chase . . . Chase didn’t look at me at all. He stared at Ethan like he was about to hammer him to the ground, then stomp on his body until he set it on fire. His jaw worked. His eyes were two shades darker than their usual icy blue gray.
“What a mess.” Julian shook his head, chuckling.
“Step away from her,” Chase told Ethan. Julian didn’t even register in his universe. I wasn’t sure he’d heard him at all. Ethan did as he was told but looked between us, waiting for me to scold Chase for telling him what to do. I usually did. Chase was the only person I somehow found myself always arguing with.
Chase took a step forward. He was toe to toe with Ethan now, looming over him with his height and frame and Chaseness. My chest tightened. I realized I was scared.
“Whatever you’re about to do,” Ethan said, his voice steady but quiet enough that Julian couldn’t hear him, “I wouldn’t do it if I were you. We both know this story is far from over. The last chapter hasn’t been written yet.”
That was what broke me. The truth of his words. How they made Chase take a step back like he’d been hit. I’d never seen him like this. So . . . emotionally exposed.
“Right. I think we have much to discuss, brousin.” Julian clapped Chase’s back. “A quiet word in the library? It is our favorite place.”
I watched their backs as they walked away. How Chase was shrinking while Julian swelled and filled more of the hallway.
I looked on as I realized, for the first time, that I’d killed something with kindness.
Namely, my heart.
“Let’s cut to the chase, shall we, Chase?” Julian lit a cigar, puffing away, stinking up the entire library. Punny shit. I’d be into word games, too, if my archnemesis’s cover-up story got blown into the sky and I had a front-row seat.
I sat back, crossing my legs at the ankles on the desk to make sure he knew how little of a crap I gave about his whole Don Corleone act. Problem was, it was difficult to sit in the library and listen to Julian’s bullshit when I had bigger fish to fry. Specifically, Ethan Goddamn Goodman, ironically the worst thing to happen to yours truly. His very existence offended me on a personal level. I officially recognized that I had an Ethan situation, which required immediate attention.
My pulse drummed everywhere. My neck. The inside of my wrist. My fucking eyelids. I wasn’t a violent guy, but watching Mad kiss that tool had made me want to do things I was pretty sure were so radical there was no maximum prison time for them.
“Spare me the bullshit and just get it over with.” I knotted my fingers behind my head, yawning. “And please, try not to come in the process. Your face is giving me preorgasm vibes I never cared to see on my brother’s face.”
That was the part I hated the most. That he was still my brother to me. Not brousin, brother. A fucked-up one, for sure, and yet.
“I very much doubt you are used to seeing people coming on a regular basis. You’re too self-centered to give pleasure,” Julian noted, puffing on his cigar.
“Saw it enough times on your wife’s face.” I rolled my tongue across my top teeth.
His smile dropped. At least now I knew it wasn’t permanently stitched to his smug face. “You’re an asshole.”
“Well, I was taught by the best.”
“I showed you how to be ruthless, not a bastard,” Julian argued.
“I couldn’t pick and choose which personality traits to mimic. Went for the whole package.” I shrugged. It was the truth. Every single jerk move I had, I’d learned from Jul. He was the one who’d come back from college telling me about sleeping around, trying drugs, acting crassly. “Now get to the point,” I urged him.
“I think we both know you’re going to run this company into the ground if you take the CEO seat. I understand Ronan feels obligated to you. You’re his biological son. But I paid my dues—”
“Lay off the biological-son bullshit, Jul. You’re CIO. Chief information officer. You’re a glorified PR girl without the tight skirt. What makes you think you can do this job better than me?”
“The fact that I have something on you.” Julian frowned, as if it were obvious. “You made the entire thing with Maddie Goldbloom up. You’re not engaged. You’re not even dating. Your little cover-up girl is dating my daughter’s pediatrician and can barely look at you. Why shouldn’t I tell Ronan the truth?”
“Because you don’t want to break his heart,” I gritted out. “Because he fucking raised you.”
“He deserves to know the truth.” Julian shook his head. “I’ll be doing him a public service, giving him the full picture. Why shouldn’t he know who his son really is? A lying, cheating bastard. Hand over the CEO title now, publicly, and nobody gets hurt. Checkmate.”
I blinked at him like he was insane.
“You’re giving me an ultimatum?” I wanted to be completely sure before I laughed.