Breathe Me Page 9

“What happened?”

“What happened to what?”

I lowered my voice and leaned toward him, hoping Cam wouldn’t hear me. “To his mother and you. Why aren’t you together? What happened there?”

His throat tightened; I could tell by his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down as his lips pressed together. I hadn’t thought it’d be that sensitive of a subject, and I immediately regretted asking him.

“She died.”

“Oh, okay.” I waited for him to elaborate, feeling my cheeks flush in embarrassment. Thank goodness he was driving and had to keep his eyes on the road. I flicked my eyes once more to Cam, who was busy tracing the window with a wet, licked finger. Ew.

“Leukemia, when Cam was two years old. It was pretty fast, treatment was useless.”

“I’m terribly sorry, didn’t mean to pry.” I rubbed my palms on my thighs, feeling really uncomfortable and sweaty.

“No, it’s perfectly fine. I wouldn’t introduce him to you and leave you wondering. It’s just not easy talking about it. We weren’t together when it happened. We’d been broken up over a year before, but I was there for her and Cam, of course.” He sighed and ran his fingers though his hair. He looked somewhat tired, if my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. The dark shadows under his eyes and five o’clock shadow along his jawline made me wonder just what he did all day long besides work. He obviously had obligations, which seemed to soften up something inside me, but what else was going on his life? I felt almost desperate to know more.

“Well, that’s admirable. I’m glad he has you. Must be hard to be, you know, a single dad.”

“Yeah.” Sasha threw me a smile, his fatigue immediately erasing from his face. “It’s really hard. They don’t tell you that in the parent’s manual, you know. I’m pretty much just flying by the seat of my pants.” His chuckle made me grin, and I wanted to give him a big hug right there. Holding it in felt like torture, so I avoided looking at him anymore.

“Here we are! Best Italian food in town.” He parked the car and hopped out so fast I barely realized he was at my door when he pulled it wide open. I took his hand, and he opened the back door to let Cameron out. The kid really was a quiet one, but his saucer eyes were drilling into me now, making me just a bit nervous.

“Hey, Cam, do you like Italian food?” I bent down to squat at his level. He searched my face, looking slightly petrified and relieved at the same time.

“Yes,” he whispered.

Definitely not one for words, I thought.

“Great! Me, too!” He smiled, and I offered him my hand. He accepted, slipping his tiny fingers through mine. Standing up, I found Sasha looking no less than shocked.

“He doesn’t really talk much,” he offered, following behind us.

“Neither do I, thank goodness!” I laughed, which brought a wider smile to Cam’s face. “Talking gets kind of noisy, doesn’t it?”

He nodded madly and skipped ahead, reaching the doors and shoving with all his little, bony body’s strength. He was a cute one, and I hoped he wouldn’t be too mad when I broke Sasha’s heart. That little fact made my stomach clench, but I tried to ignore it.

“I think he likes you.”

“Nah, he’s a kid, they love getting asked questions.”

“No, I mean, he never warms up to anyone. Ever.”

I peered curiously at Sasha as he opened the door for me. His words made me wonder what was going on with him.

“What do you mean?”

“His teachers, they say he never speaks in class, not even to his classmates. Sometimes I wonder, you know, if he remembers his mother and all that happened, and it somehow affected him.”

“Maybe. Kids are smart, they understand more than you know. Not that I would really know anything about that.” I bit my lip. Why was I offering advice to a parent when I wasn’t even one? I kicked myself mentally for opening my big fat mouth.

“I wonder sometimes,” Sasha said, unaffected. “She had an abusive boyfriend who’d yell at him a lot. I really tried to get custody faster, but then she got sick, her boyfriend left her and she was all alone with Cam. I did what I could to help and ended getting him a lot more of the time than I thought I would, almost full-time right away. I wasn’t prepared. She and I just weren’t a good couple, and she never wanted to try harder to make it work. At least we got along in the end, for his sake.” He paused at the hostess, who immediately directed us to an open booth.

Trying to change the subject, I scanned the room, feeling somewhat underdressed. “Why didn’t you tell me to wear something nicer? I didn’t know we were going out to eat.”

He laughed, making me feel even more self-conscious. “This is Vegas. Everyone is in shorts, tanks, bikinis and flip flops in the middle of July. You’d only be underdressed if you were in a bathing suit without a cover up.”

I frowned and picked up my menu. I felt a small finger tap my arm. “Can I sit by you, Miss Piper?” I turned to find Cam standing next to me and I nodded, shifting over to make room for him.

Picking the menu up again, I scanned it, unsure of what to eat.

“The Alfredo pasta is my favorite!” Cam exclaimed, as if reading my mind. It sounded more like “afado” when he said it, which brought a smile to my face. His own face was brilliant, just like Sasha’s, and it melted my insides.

“Really? That’s great because I didn’t know what was good here. I think I’ll get that, too.” I winked at him, and his face lit up even more. He grabbed the set of crayons and coloring menu placed before him, looking determined as he began scribbling.

“See? He likes you.” Sasha was grinning a thousand-watt smile that made me just have to reciprocate. Why did he have to be so intoxicating? It made me lose focus every friggin’ time!

“Thanks for inviting me to lunch.”

“I should be thanking you. It’s always nice to have such beautiful company.” His face was serious now, and I tried in vain to rip my eyes away from his. Those jeweled orbs sucked me in, and I wanted to melt into them right there and then. It made me think that maybe, just maybe, he knew what he was doing, and I was the one falling for his game plan all over again.

No. I looked away, acting like I was still studying the menu. He wouldn’t get to me again. It was just for fun now, I could do this. I could be the heartbreaker for once. I had to do it.

Glancing toward Cameron, I wasn’t so sure anymore. Every step I took in the direction I wanted to go kept leading me around to a place I never expected to be. Why did it have to be so hard? Why did I feel like I was being pulled along by some unseen force? Maybe I needed to let go. Maybe it was something I had to keep an eye on. Maybe I wasn’t as sure of myself as I’d thought I was. Whatever it was, it was confusing as hell.

Cam’s little blue eyes flicked up at me and crinkled with his wide grin. One pair of indigo eyes was bad enough, but two? That was just a fatal amount of blue. The fates were messing with me epically this time.

Lunch was pleasant if uneventful. Back at my apartment, I bade them goodbye and watched as Sasha led little Cam away. Toward the end of our meal, the little guy had been chatting my head off about his drawing, what color was his favorite and why while managing to get me to name five types of pasta. I couldn’t believe it, the kid was a little walking genius, still wet behind the ears. I was impressed, but I hadn’t had any time to talk with Sasha.

But he hadn’t seemed to upset about that; in fact I’d never seen him look so happy. I hoped that next time I’d have a little more time with him.

Watching the car pull away, I was pretty sure there would definitely be a next time.

Chapter Ten

Piper

“THIS IS YOUR house?” I asked, peeking around the foyer and taking in the expanse of staircase that made up the entire front entrance. It was enormous and looked like it was pulled right out of a plantation in Gone With the Wind. The banister was polished to a bright, reflective shine, and the travertine tiles extended in an ocean of stone from the foyer to deep into the house. It was a mini mansion, and I’d never stood in such a big house before. I felt underdressed, like I had just stepped into a movie star’s home. I peeked down at my shorts, tank top and plain flip flops and really felt like a bum. I’d only seen part of the house the day I’d spent the night, and it had been mostly the bedroom. I’d left through a side door off the kitchen which led to the driveway and hadn’t looked back as I drove away. Who knew the place was so big? I fought the urge to spin around and fly out of the house as fast as I could.

“Yep, had it custom built. Though I think it’s way too much house for just me and Cam.” Sasha walked back into the foyer and handed me a cocktail. I stared at it with a slight horror in my eyes. It was two in the afternoon. Way too early to get slammed.

“What’s this?”

“A Shirley Temple. You like those, don’t you?” He winked and downed his drink. From the smell of it, his was hard liquor. I wrinkled my nose at the realization that he’d given me a virgin drink, knowing how bad drinking was for me. It was a tough pill to swallow, but he was in the right. I was not a good drunk person.

“So why’d you get such a big house made, then? Seems like you’d get a smaller one if you really thought that.”

Sasha laughed, his smile revealing a small dimple in his right cheek. “It was more of the future I was looking at. I always wanted a bunch of family and friends at my house. But it’s just me and Cam for now. Doesn’t seem to be the way things are going so far.”

I finished off my drink and he promptly took it from me and hurried away. I followed and found myself at a bar next to an indoor swimming pool.

“Good golly, you have swimming pool?” My eyes widened at the expanse of blue before me. “You like swimming, I see.” God, I felt so dumb. Who’d have a swimming pool inside their house if they didn’t? Geez.

“Yeah, but I don’t get to jump in nearly as much as I’d like.” He handed me a fresh Shirley Temple and turned to stare at the glistening surface of the water.

“Honestly, Sasha, I didn’t peg you for a rich boy.” I leaned across the bar and watched him in my periphery. He was lost in his thoughts.

“I’m not a rich boy. I grew up poor, you know that. Lots of hard work and luck got me here.” He turned and studied my face, looking like he was searching for something. “I didn’t peg you as someone to settle for a job you don’t really like and give up on your dreams of traveling the world and having a family.”

I flinched at his accusation, though his eyes remained calm and studious. “You don’t know anything about me.” I slipped the second empty glass toward him on the counter, feeling glum at his observation. Maybe he was right, but I sure as heck didn’t want to admit it.

“I know more than you think I do. I know you don’t really care for dealing with sick people all the time. I know you used to tell me you dreamed you’d have a huge family one day, and I know you haven’t seen the world like you said you would, just part of the US. We dated, remember? You had dreams, you had aspirations. How’s that for knowing you or not? Why haven’t you seen the world, Piper? You don’t have any responsibilities or family to anchor you down. What’ve you been doing all this time?” He sipped his Scotch, watching me as I squirmed at the edge of the bar.

I hated to admit it, but he was so right about it all that it made me want to vomit. “I—I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Dreams don’t come true for me. That’s all. I just try not to get disappointed.”

He shook his head, a tsk, tsk sound slipping out from between his teeth. My own rage was starting to rise, but all I wanted to do was change the subject.

“Where’s Cam?” I interjected.

“He’s at his grandmother’s house for the week.”

“Oh. His mother’s mom, I assume.”

“Yep. She loves having him over, gives her something to do besides think about how things are. My ex was her only child, so now Cam is the focus of all her smothering. It’s good though, gives me some time to breathe.” He handed me another drink, but this time the smell of alcohol hit my nostrils as I sipped it. “That’s to calm your nerves,” he said. “Why are you wound up so tight?”

I glared back at him as I downed the rest of it so fast, the burn in my stomach made me regret it immediately. “Maybe if you wouldn’t point out things about me that I clearly haven’t figured out, I wouldn’t be.”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to.” He clinked his glass against mine before lifting it up to salute. “Here’s to the future, whatever it may be.” Winking, he chugged it, his eyes never leaving mine. The ice swirled in my glass as I watched it sweat. The water of the pool looked awfully refreshing; the heat outside was close to unbearable. Heat exhaustion was quite common in Vegas. It took but a little time to zap the energy right out of you in this obnoxious heat.

“Want to go for a swim?” Sasha asked. Before I could respond, he’d stripped off his shirt and tossed it to the side. He was already wearing board shorts, so he just dove right on in. I gripped my glass, knowing full well I wasn’t wearing a bathing suit underneath my outfit, but I could at least dip my legs in. Clothes would dry quickly in the Vegas sun, but that wasn’t what stopped me. I just didn’t want to swim… couldn’t do it.

“I don’t think so.”

“Oh, come on. What have you got to lose?”

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