I was so lost in my own head that I didn’t notice when Cooper stepped into the room. In fact, I didn’t notice him at all until he stopped in front of me.
“Claire…” he said, his voice hushed.
I tried to smile, but after hearing his words the night before, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
“What do you want me to say? Claire’s a hot piece of ass. I’m sure I’m not the only guy who has looked at her and wanted to fuck her. But if you’re implying that I want to steal her from you, don’t hold your breath. Everything about her that makes you want her is what makes me want nothing to do with her. She’s nice to look at, but I’m not into needy, naive chicks. Have no fear, Father. I’m not trying to steal your newest toy. You can have her.”
“Cooper,” I finally said.
He sighed. “Claire, I—”
“Don’t.” I held up a hand. “I don’t want to fight with you today, Coop. It’s my wedding day, and I refuse to let anyone ruin it for me.”
His nostrils flared in anger. “Ruin it? No, we wouldn’t want that. It looks like you’ve found your happily ever after, haven’t you? Lucky girl.”
“Yes, it looks like I have.” I defiantly stared up at him.
“At least for now. Soon enough, I’m sure you’ll realize the error of your ways.”
It was my turn to be angry. “Just stop. I refuse to listen to anything else you have to say. Since the day I met you, all you’ve done is confuse and hurt me. You don’t give a damn about me, do you? The only reason you were nice to me was because you wanted me to trust you, and it almost worked, Cooper. You should be proud of yourself for fooling this stupid, naive little girl.”
“You think I’m the one trying to fool you? Seriously? You’re more of a fool than I thought. Everything I did, everything I told you, was to help you. You have no idea who my father is!”
I laughed. “Really? And I know who you are?”
“I’ve never lied to you, Claire. Never.”
“Bull!” I shouted. “Everything you told me was a lie. The way you touched me was a lie, too. You only wanted to hurt your father, and you tried to use me to do it.”
I yelped when he yanked me up by my arm. It didn’t hurt, but it was still shocking to be sitting one minute and standing inches away from Cooper the next.
“I tried to protect you, but you refused to listen to me. I do care about you, Claire, or I never would have tried to intervene.” He paused, trying to compose himself. “And when I touched you? That wasn’t a lie either. I’ve never wanted a woman the way I want you. You’re beautiful, inside and out, and I want you to be mine.”
I stared up at him in shock.
“There are things you don’t know about my father, things that would terrify you. All I wanted was to get you away from him. He will destroy you, Claire. He’ll break you until nothing is left.”
“You’re lying,” I said, but my voice held none of the anger from before.
Why is he doing this to me? How can he put doubt into my mind every time I look at him?
“Am I?” He raised an eyebrow. “I’m not a good man, and I’ve never claimed to be, but next to him, I’m a fucking saint.”
“Let me go, Cooper. Ellie will be here any minute,” I finally said.
He shook his head. “I’ve let you go enough times.”
He jerked me against him and kissed me like he was starving. I gasped in shock as I tried to push away from him. He held me tighter as his tongue surged into my mouth, igniting fire inside me. I finally stopped fighting and wrapped my arms around his neck. He groaned as his hands roamed over my body, finally stopping on my ass. He squeezed it, causing me to moan into his mouth. The kiss seemed to go on forever before he finally pulled away.
“Tell me that’s a lie, Claire. Tell me that you feel nothing when I kiss you.”
I looked away from him, shame covering me like a cloud.
“That’s what I thought. Leave with me right now. I’ll protect you, Claire. I swear, I will. Just please don’t marry him.”
“Ellie will be here any moment,” I finally said as I untangled myself from him. I sidestepped to escape him, and I headed for the door. My mind was a mess.
“So, that’s it?” he called out from behind me.
I stopped and turned to look at him again. It took everything in me not to run into his arms even though I did think he was crazy. No matter how much I disliked him for hurting me, the magnetism I felt toward Cooper would always be there.
“That’s it.” I continued on toward the door.
“My father had my mother killed,” he blurted.
His words chilled me to the bone.
I stopped dead and turned back to him. “What did you say?”
“You heard me, Claire. I’ve spent the last year living with a man I hate because I have to. I have watched his every move, waiting for him to slip up. My mother was going to leave him, and he found out about it. She knew far too much about the things he’d done to get to where he was for him to let her go, so he had her killed.”
“And where’s your proof?” I asked, barely breathing. This was it—the thing he’d been trying to hide from me all this time.
He looked away. “I have nothing concrete. All I know is that two days before she died, he withdrew fifty-thousand dollars from one of his accounts. A month after her death, I received a letter from a lawyer in Virginia. My mother had hired him to represent her in the divorce. It was smart of her to contact someone from out of state since my dad had every lawyer in the area in his pocket. She gave the lawyer a letter to give to me in case anything ever happened to her. She said that if something happened to her, she’d want me to know why. She told me to get as far away from my father as I could because he’d hurt me, too, if he got the chance. But I couldn’t. I can’t just walk away when he’s still out there, living his life, while my mother is in the ground. That’s why I still have my private investigator on his tail. My father is bound to slip up at some point, and when he does, I’ll have all the proof I need.”
I stared at him, openmouthed. “You’re lying.”
“I wish I were. Do you really think I’d be here if I didn’t have to be? I hated him before, Claire, but after I found out the truth, I felt such a burning rage inside me that I wanted to literally kill him. It took everything in me to keep from taking his life. My father isn’t a good man. I tried to tell you that over and over, but you refused to listen. Now, you’re in as deep as I am in all of this. He won’t hesitate to hurt you, too, if you step out of line.”
My heart raced as I tried to process what he had told me. He thought Robert was a killer.
This is insane. Cooper is insane.
“Besides a letter and a bank withdrawal, you have no proof that Robert did anything wrong,” I mumbled. “You can’t really expect me to believe this.”
Cooper glared at me. “I wouldn’t lie about something like this, Claire!”
“Yes, you would! You’ve tried to come at me from all angles, hoping to tear my relationship with Robert apart. And now this? You’ve lost your mind, Cooper. Your hate for your father has driven you insane!”
He stalked across the room, and I shrank back, suddenly terrified of him. I had absolutely no idea what he was capable of at this point. I remembered my first assessment of him. With his tattoos, piercing, and nasty attitude, he’d screamed bad boy. Now, with him suddenly only a foot away from me, that thought came back tenfold. No, he wasn’t a bad boy. He was dangerous and insane.
“I’m trying to protect you, Claire. Goddamn it!” He ran his hands through his hair.
I’d never seen him like this. Cooper was always calm and in control, but now, he looked crazy.
“I don’t need your protection. Stay away from me,” I said as I crept backward. I reached behind me and found the doorknob.
“You know what? I don’t even fucking care anymore. Go and marry him, but don’t you dare expect me to help you when you see the monster lurking just under the surface. I’m tired of trying to save someone who can’t be helped.”
“I would never ask for your help,” I spit out.
He grinned, but it was cold and almost lifeless. “Run along then. Be Robert’s little whore.”
For the second time in my life, I slapped someone. It was ironic that it was the same person as before.
He jerked back, shocked at what I’d just done. I took the opportunity to throw open the door. I ran outside, not daring to look back. I saw Ellie’s car parked in the driveway, and I nearly cried in relief as I ran to it.
She gave me a bewildered look as I all but jumped into her car.
“Claire, what’s wrong?” she asked.
I shook my head. “Nothing. Just drive.”
I looked back one final time. Cooper was standing in the doorway, staring at the car. I fought tears as we drove away.
I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself as I felt the car driving toward the courthouse, to my wedding, and away from Cooper and his crazy thoughts. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was running from a hurricane and straight into the path of a tornado.
God help me, how did my life come to this?
My marriage to Robert had made the newspaper. I hadn’t believed Ellie, Robert’s housekeeper, until she texted me a photo of the news article. My mouth dropped open in shock.
One of Morgantown’s most influential lawyers finds love again after losing his wife to a car accident.
Under the caption was a photograph of Robert and me leaving the courthouse together after officially becoming man and wife. I couldn’t believe it.
At least we’re not front-page news. That was the only thing I could think of as I read the small article.
Our wedding ceremony had taken less than twenty minutes. We had stood before the judge with only Ellie as our witness. I’d never truly given a lot of thought to my wedding day, but as I’d stood in the courthouse and taken Robert’s last name, I’d allowed myself a moment to be sad. I would never wear a real wedding dress. I’d never ask any of my friends to be bridesmaids. I’d never have memories of dancing with Robert for the first time as our friends looked on. I would have nothing but the memory of the courthouse. I’d also always tie my wedding day to the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach after my fight with Cooper, Robert’s son.
I winced at the mere thought of the words he’d said.
My new husband was a lot of things but not a killer. The simple fact that Cooper could even entertain the idea of his father hurting his mother told me that he was unhinged.
Cooper had toyed with me for months, making me want sinful things. He’d used words and his body to tempt me. He’d made me think he wanted me. It had all been nothing more than a ploy to get me away from his father. He didn’t care about me. He only wanted to hurt Robert. And I’d fallen for it. I’d started to care for Cooper. Luckily, I’d realized just how cruel Cooper was before it was too late. Every touch, every kiss, every whisper had been nothing more than a lie.
He’d been desperate the morning of my wedding. He’d had to be. That was the only reason he had tried to convince me that my future husband and his father was a coldblooded killer. He’d tried one last time to convince me of how horrible Robert was. Cooper had failed. The only thing he’d convinced me of was the fact that he was unstable, maybe even dangerous. His hate for his father had driven him mad.
I shook my head to clear it. I didn’t want to think about Cooper right now. I didn’t want to think about him ever again.
“Everything all right?”
I looked over to see Robert watching me before turning his attention back to the road. We were only twenty minutes away from Morgantown. I couldn’t believe that we were already returning back to our normal lives after a week of pure bliss.
“Fine. Just tired, I suppose. Our honeymoon wore me out. I think I need a vacation to recover,” I joked.
He laughed. “We certainly put a lot of activities in this past week. I think I’ll be able to rest up once I go back to work.”
He wasn’t kidding. The moment we’d left the courthouse, Robert had taken me to The Greenbrier—a resort that was famous in not just West Virginia, but across the country as well. From the second we’d arrived, Robert had had every second planned. We’d spent our week doing so many different things.
When we had walked into our suite, I’d been greeted with a bed covered in rose petals. The sight had stolen my breath and solidified everything in my mind. Robert was my husband. Kind and caring Robert, who’d both infuriated and touched me with his absolute refusal to let me take care of myself, was mine. The bed full of rose petals was just another way he’d tried to make me happy.
The next day, we’d started our honeymoon in the casino, spending more money than should be legal. Each new day had come with a new treat—a history tour; an evening spent at 42 Below, an exclusive club at The Greenbrier; a day on the golf course, which had been a total disaster for me. I couldn’t play golf if my life depended on it.
We’d spent an entire day at the spa, being pampered to death. The evenings had been filled with romantic dinners and carriage rides. We’d walked the trails and gone biking.
Everything had been perfect. Robert had given me his undivided attention, lavishing me with gifts and sweet kisses. He’d made me feel like a queen, his queen. I’d been so wrapped up in my happiness with him that I barely thought about all the turmoil awaiting me at home.
Now that we would be walking back into our home in mere minutes, all the anger and wariness seemed to flood me at once. I had no idea what I would say or do when I saw Cooper again. And I knew I would see him. He lived in the same house with Robert and me.
What do you say to someone who showed his crazy side without holding back?
I’d considered Cooper a friend for so long, and now, I was terrified of him.
I stared out the window as Robert took the exit and drove us through Morgantown. I rested my head against the glass. I wished that we had stayed far away from this town. In my short eighteen years, Morgantown had done little for me. This was the place where my mother had died, where I’d been shuffled from one abusive foster home to another, where I’d suffered at a malicious boy’s hands, where I’d met Cooper. Morgantown was stained with past memories.
“Do you ever wish you could just start over someplace new?” I asked before I could stop myself.
“What do you mean?” Robert asked.
“Morgantown has so many bad memories for me. Sometimes, I just wish I could leave and never look back.”
“I can understand why you might want that, but for me, it’s impossible. I’ve spent my entire adult life making a name for myself in this city. I can’t just leave.”
“But if you could, would you?”
Robert didn’t speak for a moment. “When Marie died, I was a mess. Every detail of my home screamed her name. Every time I would drive past certain places, all I could think of was her. I wanted to leave this place behind. But it does no good to run from your past, Claire. You must embrace it and meet it head-on. Running will do you no good, especially when things are hard.”
“I suppose,” I said as we reached our driveway.
Robert punched the code in, and the gates opened.
I was officially home.
I looked up as I walked into the house.
Ellie ran to greet me. She grabbed me and pulled me into a hug. “I’ve missed you!”
I hugged her back, grinning. “I missed you, too, Ellie.”
Since moving in with Robert, Ellie and I had become close. She had become a mother figure to me, something I’d never thought I’d find.
She smiled as she pulled away. “How was your honeymoon?”
“Wonderful. It was nice to just get away for a while and enjoy time with just Robert.”
She waggled her eyebrows, making me laugh and blush at the same time. “I bet it was.”
Robert stepped inside. He saw Ellie standing with me and smiled. “Thanks for watching the house while we were away.”
She waved him off. “It was no problem. It was strange to be here all by myself again. I’m used to having Claire around.”
“By yourself? But where is Cooper?” I asked before I could stop myself.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. He was gone when I came back from the courthouse. One of his bags and some of his clothes are gone. I’m assuming he went off on another one of those trips of his before he starts school in a few weeks.”
“I’m sure he’ll be back soon.” Robert stepped over next to me and threw his arm around me.
“Yes, he always returns,” Ellie said as she looked at both of us. “Well, now that you’re back, I think I’ll head home. I’ll see you both tomorrow.” She grabbed her purse and headed for the door.
“Have a good evening, Ellie,” Robert said.
Once she was gone, Robert turned to me. “Come on, let’s go to bed. I’m exhausted. We can get our things out of my car tomorrow.”
I let him lead me up the stairs and down the hall to our room. I stripped out of my clothes and found a pair of pajamas in the dresser. After pulling them on, I walked to the bed and lay down. Robert joined me, pulling me tight against his side.
“Our first night in our own bed as man and wife,” he said.
“It still feels strange when I think about the fact that we’re married. I’m your wife. I never thought my life would turn out like this.”
“How did you expect it to turn out?” Robert asked.
“I thought I’d spend my entire life barely surviving. I never thought I’d live in a house like this, married to a man like you.”
“I saved you, Claire. I saved you from hell.”
“You did,” I agreed.
“Life will never be easy, Claire. When you’re angry with me, remember what I’ve done for you.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, rolling so that I could see him.
“Life with me will be full of ups and downs. I’ll make decisions for you. I’ll guide you to the right choices. I’ll ask a lot from you. Some days, you might feel like you hate me. But remember that you’d have nothing if it weren’t for me.” His tone was cool, condescending even.
I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I remained silent.
Robert cleared his throat. “I won’t be around much for the next week or two. Our week away put me far behind at work.”
“Okay,” I said, my mind still on what he’d said.
“What will you do while I’m at work?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I’ll follow Ellie around the house like a lost puppy. Maybe I’ll spend some time with Shelly. I could take her shopping for school supplies and clothes.”
“That’s fine. It’ll keep you busy.”
“For a while. But then what? I don’t want to stay home all the time, Robert. I no longer have a job to go to. I’m going to get bored fast.”
“We’ll figure something out, Claire. For now, get some sleep.” His tone made it clear that our conversation was finished.
I frowned. The Robert I’d spent the week with—the kind, loving Robert—was nowhere to be seen since we’d arrived home. He’d been replaced with a stubborn, arrogant man. It seemed our honeymoon stage had just ended—abruptly.
I bit my tongue. I wanted to tell him that I needed to find another job. Before we’d left for our honeymoon, I’d spent my days being bored out of my mind. I knew I’d feel the exact same way again in a matter of days.
I would make him hear me out—soon. But tonight wasn’t the right time.