Breathe Me Page 3

She was chatting it up with a group of girls. I didn’t know any of them, but were groupies of some of the guys in the house. Some of them were already blasted while others were off in dark corners with some of the guys, lost in deep, passionate embraces as they nearly consumed each other. All I could think about was Piper, the way she laughed, the way her dark brown hair fell into her face and how she was constantly but uselessly shoving it behind her ears. No one here was like her. No one had my heart but this one woman. And I was about to break hers into a thousand tiny little shards.

My visa had expired, and as soon as I graduated, I’d have to leave the US and try to return one way or another. They’d refused to grant me another since I still hadn’t gotten a job. I needed a job to stay, but it was madness how they ran things at the Immigration department. They’d been less than helpful. Once I left, I wasn’t sure how long it’d be before they’d let me return.

Eyeing her pink lips as they moved to whatever she was adding to the conversation, I wanted to rush across the room, sweep her up and make love to her one more time before smashing her heart to bits. It’d be better this way, at least that’s what I’d told myself. If I told her the truth about leaving, she’d want to go with me and not finish her college degree. I couldn’t let that happen, she had so much going for her. I couldn’t be the one to hold her back like that, even if I was madly in love with her.

“Hey, you.” Piper slipped her arms around my waist. I had been so lost in my thoughts, I hadn’t realized she had made her way across the room toward me. “You’re looking mighty glum for being at a party.” Her lips found their way across my neck, and I felt the edges of her teeth nip my earlobe. It sent an electrifying jolt through me, and I had to hold up my hands and step back slightly. The hurt in her eyes killed me.

“Piper, I….”

“What’s wrong?”

I gulped. I had to do it. I had to.

“I don’t want to stay together anymore.”

She stared at me, stunned and unable to even form words. I felt like was going to hell for doing this. It was so wrong, so wrong.

“What are you doing?” She managed to choke out after a moment.

“I want to see other people.”

A lie.

“What? How can you say that?”

“I… I’m not feeling this anymore.”

Lies, lies.

“Excuse me?” Her face was flushing scarlet, but the pain shot from her eyes like daggers. “Are you f**king with me?” I flinched at her words, knowing full well she really wanted to not believe me.

“No, Piper. I’m not.”

“Are you… seeing someone else already?” Her voice cracked, and the knot in my throat grew.

“Yes.”

Lies, lies, lies!

She said nothing further, but her face changed to a deadly serious mask. “Who?”

“What?” I was confused.

“Prove it. Who is she? Go get her and kiss her. Kiss her like you kiss me. Prove to me you don’t love me.” Her challenge turned her features icy cold, and I began sweating under the heat of all the bodies gyrating around us.

“Piper, I don’t think that’s necessary.”

“Liar.”

“I’m not lying.”

Lies, lies, lies, lies!

She closed the gap between us, her lips hovering a mere centimeter from my own. It made me hold my breath. To breathe her scent in was to admit I was a liar.

“Kiss me, then.” She leaned forward, closing the gap between us. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t show her I still cared. I stepped back.

“Piper.”

Her rage returned and tears spilled from her shiny eyes. “Fuck you, Sasha! You want to throw it all away, just like that? At least show me it was worth it. Kiss her.”

I was disgusted by her challenge, but I knew full well she was right. If I didn’t prove it to her, she’d know I was lying and interrogate me until I broke and fessed up. I couldn’t let that happen, it’d ruin my plan.

“Fine, but don’t come crying to me when it’s all said and done.” My face turned still as stone as I tried to tuck away every little feeling I had for her and walked away. Who could I kiss to convince her that our love was over with?

Caroline’s laugh echoed across the hall toward me, and I breathed out a sigh of relief. She was nuts about me, and she’d definitely let me kiss her. I’d seen the way her desire burned in her eyes every time I’d pass her in the halls. She’d be an easy hit, soft like putty to meld. I was sure that if I asked her out, she’d jump at the chance without hesitation.

I made my way toward her long, dirty-blonde locks as she flicked her mane back. Her overly loud laugh let me know she’d already had a few drinks and would be as loose as an oiled gear in my hands. My stomach clenched as I reached her, slid my hands around her skinny waist, pulled her hair to the side and kissed her soft neck. She stiffened but turned, and a high-voltage smile formed on her lips. She was ecstatic, and I leaned forward, finding her pretty mouth and devouring it like there was no tomorrow. Closing my eyes, it was easy to pretend she was Piper, even with a completely different perfume. She matched my rhythm and threw her arms around my neck, grinding her body against mine.

As I slowly turned my head, she continued lavishing kisses on my neck and earlobe. Her hands made their way down my chest and over my rear, slipping her fingers into my pockets. I found Piper across the room, tears running down her cheeks. Her chest heaved as she tried to wrangle in her breathing, and I was pretty sure an anxiety attack would overtake her soon.

It was the worst thing I’d ever had to do, and my eyes never left her, even as she shoved her way through the crowd, all oblivious to her turmoil, and flew out the front door. I wanted to run after her, tell her I was so sorry and that she was right. I was an ass, a stupid, lying fool.

But I didn’t, and I let Caroline drown me in her overpowering scent. I still had my beer in my hand, and I brought it to my lips, downing it with but a couple gulps. I was going to need way more than just one cup of beer to get through the night, not to mention the rest of the week.

How was I going to live without her? How? If I knew back then what it had really cost me, I would’ve never done it and would’ve held onto her with every ounce of strength.

It was worse than dying. I’d lost her and shattered the one true thing I’d ever had.

Chapter Four

Piper

Present Day

THE SUNSET BLED through my eyelids, shining so intensely I needed to squeeze them tighter to blot its light away. Flicking them open, I let the golden-red colors splash across my skin. The warmth of it made the slight chill I had crawling inside my bones whisk away. Sitting on my porch chairs, I let the heat penetrate my skin to stifle the cold. Seeing Sasha at the fair had jolted my world off its axis in a way I had never expected. It left me lingering in my memories, like some horrid picture show replaying over and over in my head.

How could I let him back in, especially when the reinforced steel walls I had carefully built up around my fragile heart since I’d been with him remained sturdy and bolted into place? No one got over someone like Sasha. No one was ever the same after a whirlwind love affair like that. I’d dedicated myself to that love until he’d thrown me out into the freezing.

Sitting up, I gasped. A sharp, rigid pain jolted me out of my misery. Like my heart was breaking inside its metal cage, I felt it flutter in a panic. I slid back inside my apartment and down into a fluffy green couch I’d just recently bought.

Breathe. Just Breathe.

Rubbing the fatigue away from my eyes, I sunk down into the cushions, pulling one of the throw pillows into my lap, grasping it tightly as I curled my arms around it. I hadn’t even known him again for twenty-four hours, and he was already affecting me so. Paralyzed by his unknown intentions, I’d failed miserably at keeping him far, far away from me, like I’d sworn long ago that I would. This oblivion I was swimming in was driving me nuts.

I flung the pillow across the room, suddenly filled with rage at Sasha. He’d been the one to break my heart. He’d been the one afraid of commitment and true love, not me. What was I supposed to do when he traipsed right back into my life without missing a beat? No matter how many nights I had prayed that he had paid a high price for hurting me, nothing had prepared me for this.

Who did he think he was? He was nothing to me, nothing. I decided that I should just tell him to f**k off and be on his merry way. Too little, too late, get lost!

Sucking in a deep breath, I paused, feeling a slight, soothing rift open inside. This was my chance, though. I could make him suffer, I could make him feel the exact same way I’d felt when he’d unceremoniously dumped me in front of his drunk, shallow friends. Maybe that was the reason why this was all happening. It was my chance, my one moment for payback I’d longed for all this time.

Yes, that’s what it was.

Jumping up from the sofa, I rushed to my room, grabbed my cell phone and stared down at the message that had prompted my self-loathing.

Hi! It’s Sasha. Up for some sorbet? My treat. :-)

Yeah, he was classy. Sorbet on a hot Vegas night. I was game for that. It was a perfect little get-together to kick start the plan forming in my brain.

Definitely, the heat’s a killer! I texted back.

I waited for his response, trying to squelch my eagerness to put his fire out. Running to my closet, I flipped through my vast array of dresses, tanks, blouses and then some. I finally choose an alluring ruffled camisole-like top and a snug fitted shirt. It was good enough for the nightlife if we went to a club. For ice cream, it was a sure fit.

Pick u up @ 6, what’s ur addy?

I cringed at the text speak, all shortened and so impersonal. Sighing, I texted him back my address and tossed the cell onto my comforter. I pulled out my black heels, glad they had a low heel, and hoped we wouldn’t be walking too much. The Strip was gorgeous on hot summer nights, but walking the hard concrete sidewalks could turn into torture pretty fast.

Sweeping some make up over my face, I made sure to add enough to look striking but not overdone. I wanted to make him grovel. He’d be sorry he’d let me go all those years ago, more so than he’d admitted on the Ferris wheel. I’d given him my number, once again, when we’d parted at the fair. Joss had had more to do with that than me. She’d totally thrown me a curve ball by chatting it up with Sasha, making me give him my number before we left, even with me protesting the whole time. I’d groaned and tried not to yell at her after we’d parted ways.

Oh, well. Maybe it was a good thing. Sasha wouldn’t know what hit him soon enough. Now all I had to do was play the part. Piece of cake.

“WOW! YOU LOOK amazing.”

I grinned, letting him into my apartment while I got my purse. I could feel his eyes watching me walk away, and it made a smirk grow across my face. I was pretty sure he was enjoying the view. Grabbing my purse, I spun around and threw on the highest-wattage smile I could produce.

“Nice apartment.” He ripped his eyes away from me to observe the surroundings with great interest, making me wonder what he was really up to. “So, Piper, what have you been up to all these years? What do you work in?”

Smoothing down my skirt, I took him in, fluttering my lashes in a flirtatious way. He noticed, his gaze meeting mine as we stood there in silence. He was wearing a light blue, short-sleeve button-down shirt along with a pair of black slacks. Dressed to the nines for the Vegas nightlife. I wondered if we were just going for sorbet or not. Maybe he was trying to impress me.

“I’m an administrator at a hospital. I arrange aftercare for patients, make sure they have all the medical equipment and nursing care they’ll need before heading home. I’m a liaison with the case workers.”

“Wow, they must keep you busy. Not very good medical care in Vegas.” His Eastern European accent turned thicker, maybe because he might actually be nervous or just really relaxed. I suspected he was nervous, which boosted my confidence in my plan.

“Yeah, pretty busy. How about you? The county fair, huh? Does it pay well nowadays?” I bit back a snicker. Couldn’t have him feeling inferior quite yet.

We remained standing in the middle of the living room, and I was starting to feel a bit awkward. I shifted on my heels and hoped he would get a move on.

“Oh, nah, I volunteered at the fair for my cousin, Stan. He owns it and constantly needs help. I like to help him out when he’s in a bind for workers. It’s hot as hell out there, and the hours are long but, hey, it’s for family.” He peeked out the balcony doors, taking in the fading sunset and the gorgeous Vegas skyline. It was a million-dollar view and I loved it just for that. “Besides that, I own a couple of coffee shops across town, you know, kind of like Starbucks knockoffs, but with a more relaxed atmosphere.”

I nodded. “That’s cool. What’s the chain called?”

“Cup O’Dream Coffee Shoppe.”

Biting my lip, I held back another snarky remark. He just made it too easy. “Nice. You said you have a couple of them? Successful I assume then, right?”

He turned away from the window and walked up to me, his deep indigo eyes shining. “Yes, it’s worked out better than I could’ve ever hoped. The free Wi-Fi draws them in as well as the pastries. Made fresh, my mother’s recipes.” He held out his hand to me and I looked down apprehensively at it before I took it. “Shall we?”

“Yes, of course.”

He opened the door, leading us out. Locking my door behind us, I followed behind him down the hall to the elevator. The entire time, my heart had been fluttering, especially now, with the heat from his hand. It sent a thrill up my arm and made me want to shake it off like a buzzing bee. It wasn’t supposed to feel good. Well, maybe it was, but I didn’t want it to.

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