Chapter no 7

It Ends with us

“Stop fidgeting,” Devin says. “I’m not fidgeting.”

He loops his arm through mine as he walks me toward the elevator. “Yes, you are. And if you pull that top up over your cleavage one more time, it’ll defeat the whole purpose of your little black dress.” He grabs my top and yanks it back down, and then proceeds to reach inside to adjust my bra.

“Devin!” I slap his hand away and he laughs.

“Relax, Lily. I’ve touched way better boobs than yours and I’m still gay.”

“Yeah, but I bet those boobs were attached to people you probably hang out with more than once every six months.”

Devin laughs. “True, but that’s half your fault. You’re the one who left us high and dry to play with flowers.”

Devin was one of my favorite people at the marketing firm I worked at, but we weren’t close enough to where we actively became friends outside of work. He stopped by the floral shop this afternoon and Allysa took to him almost immediately. She begged him to come to the party with me and since I didn’t really want to show up alone, I ended up begging him to come, too.

I smooth my hands over my hair and try to catch a glimpse of my reflection in the elevator walls.

“Why are you so nervous?” he asks.

“I’m not nervous. I just hate showing up to places where I don’t know anyone.”

Devin smirks knowingly and then says, “What’s his name?”

I release a pent-up breath. Am I that transparent? “Ryle. He’s a neurosurgeon. And he wants to have sex with me really, really bad.”

“How do you know he wants to have sex with you?”

“Because he literally got down on his knees and said, ‘Please, Lily.

Please have sex with me.’ ”

Devin raises an eyebrow. “He begged?”

I nod. “It wasn’t as pathetic as it sounds. He’s usually more composed.”

The elevator dings and the doors begin to open. I can hear music pouring from down the hallway. Devin takes both of my hands in his and says, “So what’s the plan? Do I need to make this guy jealous?”

“No,” I say, shaking my head. “That wouldn’t be right.” But . . . Ryle does make it a point every time he sees me to tell me he hopes he never sees me again. “Maybe just a little?” I say, scrunching up my nose. “A smidge?”

Devin pops his jaw and says, “Consider it done.” He puts his hand on my lower back as he walks me out of the elevator. There’s only one visible door in the hallway, so we make our way over and ring the doorbell.

“Why is there only one door?” he says. “She owns the whole top floor.”

He chuckles. “And she works for you? Damn, your life just keeps getting more and more interesting.”

The door begins to open, and I’m extremely relieved to see Allysa standing in front of me. There’s music and laughter pouring out of the apartment behind her. She’s holding a champagne glass in one hand and a riding crop in the other. She sees me staring at the riding crop with a confused look on my face, so she tosses it over her shoulder and grabs my hand. “It’s a long story,” she says, laughing. “Come in, come in!”

She pulls me in and I squeeze Devin’s hand and drag him behind me. She continues pulling us through a crowd of people until we reach the other side of the living room. “Hey!” she says, tugging on Marshall’s arm. He turns around and smiles at me, then pulls me in for a hug. I glance behind him, and around us, but there’s no sign of Ryle. Maybe I got lucky and he got called in to work tonight.

Marshall reaches out for Devin’s hand and shakes it. “Hey, man!

Good to meet you!”

Devin wraps an arm around my waist. “I’m Devin!” he yells over the music. “I’m Lily’s sexual partner!”

I laugh and elbow him, then lean in to his ear. “That’s Marshall.

Wrong guy, but nice effort.”

Allysa grabs my arm and starts to pull me away from Devin. Marshall begins speaking to him, and my hand is reaching out behind me as I’m being pulled in the opposite direction.

“You’ll be fine!” Devin yells.

I follow Allysa into the kitchen, where she shoves a glass of champagne in my hand. “Drink,” she says. “You deserve it!”

I take a sip of the champagne, but I can’t even appreciate it now that I’m getting a look at her industrial-sized kitchen with two full stovetops and a fridge bigger than my apartment. “Holy shit,” I whisper. “You actually live here?”

She giggles. “I know,” she says. “And to think, I didn’t even have

to marry him for money. Marshall had seven bucks and drove a Ford Pinto when I fell in love with him.”

“Doesn’t he still drive a Ford Pinto?”

She sighs. “Yeah, but we have a lot of good memories in that car.”


She wiggles her eyebrows. “So . . . Devin is cute.” “And probably more into Marshall than me.”

“Ah, man,” she says. “That’s a bummer. I thought I was playing matchmaker when I invited him to the party tonight.”

The kitchen door opens and Devin walks in. “Your husband is looking for you,” he says to Allysa. She twirls her way out of the kitchen, giggling the whole time. “I really like her,” Devin says.

“She’s great, huh?”

He leans against the island and says, “So. I think I just met The Beggar.”

My heart flutters down my chest. I think The Neurosurgeon has a better ring to it. I take another sip of my champagne. “How do you know it was him? Did he introduce himself?”

He shakes his head. “Nah, but he overheard Marshall introducing me to someone as ‘Lily’s date.’ I thought the look he gave me was going to set me on fire. That’s why I came in here. I like you, but I’m not willing to die for you.”

I laugh. “Don’t worry, I’m sure that death glare he gave you was really his smile. They’re superimposed most of the time.”

The door swings open again and I immediately stiffen, but it’s only a caterer. I sigh with relief. Devin says, “Lily,” like my name is a disappointment.


“You look like you’re about to puke,” he says, accusingly. “You really like him.”

I roll my eyes. But then I let my shoulders drop and I fake cry. “I do, Devin. I do, I just don’t want to.”

He takes my glass of champagne and downs the remainder of it,

then locks his arm in mine again. “Let’s go mingle,” he says, pulling me out of the kitchen against my will.

The room is even more crowded now. There have to be more than a hundred people here. I’m not even sure I know that many people.

We walk around and work the room. I stand back while Devin does most of the talking. He knows someone in common with every person he’s met so far, and after about half an hour of following him around, I’m convinced he’s made it a personal game to find someone in common with everyone here. The whole time I mingle with him, my attention is half on him and half on the room, searching for traces of Ryle. I don’t see him anywhere and I begin to wonder if the guy Devin saw was even Ryle to begin with.

“Well, that’s odd,” a woman says. “What do you suppose it is?”

I look up and see that she’s staring at a piece of art on the wall. It looks like a photograph blown up on canvas. I tilt my head to inspect it. The woman turns her nose up and says, “I don’t know why anyone would bother turning that photograph into wall art. It’s awful. It’s so blurry, you can’t even tell what it is.” She walks away in a huff, and I’m relieved. I mean . . . it’s a bit weird, but who am I to judge Allysa’s taste?

“What do you think?”

His voice is low, deep, and right behind me. I close my eyes briefly and inhale a steadying breath before quietly exhaling, hoping he doesn’t notice his voice has any effect on me whatsoever. “I like it. I’m not quite sure what it is, but it’s interesting. Your sister has good taste.”

He steps around me so that he’s at my side, facing me. He takes a step closer until he’s so close, he brushes my arm. “You brought a


He’s asking it like it’s a casual question, but I know it isn’t. When I fail to respond, he leans in until he’s whispering in my ear. He repeats himself, but this time it isn’t a question. “You brought a date.”

I find the courage to look over at him and instantly wish I

hadn’t. He’s in a black suit that makes the scrubs look like child’s play. First I swallow the unexpected lump in my throat and then I say, “Is it a problem that I brought a date?” I look away from him and back at the photograph hanging on the wall. “I was trying to make things easier on you. You know. Just trying to make it stop.”

He smirks and then downs the rest of his wine. “How thoughtful

of you, Lily.” He tosses his empty wineglass toward a trash can in the corner of the room. He makes the shot, but the glass shatters when it hits the bottom of the empty container. I glance around me, but no one saw what just happened. When I look back at Ryle, he’s halfway down a hallway. He disappears into a room and I stand here, looking at the picture again.

That’s when I see it.

The picture is blurred, so it was hard to make out at first. But I can recognize that hair from anywhere. That’s my hair. It’s hard to miss, along with the marine-grade polymer lounge chair I’m lying on. This is the picture he took on the rooftop the first night we met. He must have had it blown up and distorted so no one would notice what it was. I bring my hand to my neck, because my blood feels like it’s bubbling. It’s really warm in here.

Allysa appears at my side. “It’s weird, huh?” she says, looking at the picture.

I scratch at my chest. “It’s really hot in here,” I say. “Don’t you think?”

She glances around the room. “Is it? I hadn’t noticed, but I’m a little drunk. I’ll tell Marshall to turn on the air.”

She disappears again, and the more I stare at the picture, the angrier I get. The man has a picture of me hanging in the apartment. He bought me flowers. He’s giving me attitude because I brought a date to his sister’s party. He’s acting like there’s actually something between us, and we’ve never even kissed!

It all hits me at once. The anger . . . the irritation . . . the half glass of champagne I had in the kitchen. I’m so mad, I can’t even think straight. If the guy wants to have sex with me so bad . . . he shouldn’t have fallen asleep! If he doesn’t want me to swoon, he shouldn’t buy me flowers! He shouldn’t hang cryptic pictures of me where he lives!

All I want is fresh air. I need fresh air. Luckily, I know just where to find it.

Moments later, I burst through the door to the rooftop. There are stragglers from the party up here. Three of them, seated on the patio furniture. I ignore them and walk to the ledge with the good view and lean over it. I suck in several deep breaths and try to calm myself down. I want to go downstairs and tell him to make up his damn mind, but I know I need to have a clear head before I do that.

The air is cold, and for some reason, I blame that on Ryle. Everything is his fault tonight. All of it. Wars, famine, gun violence

—it all somehow links back to Ryle.

“Can we have a few minutes alone?”

I spin around, and Ryle is standing near the other guests. Immediately, all three of them nod and begin to stand up to give us privacy. I hold up my hands and say, “Wait,” but none of them look at me. “It’s not necessary. Really, you don’t have to leave.”

Ryle stands stoically with his hands in his pockets while one of the guests mutters, “It’s fine, we don’t mind.” They begin to file back down the stairwell. I roll my eyes and spin back toward the ledge once I’m alone with him.

“Does everyone always do what you say?” I ask, irritated.

He doesn’t respond. His footsteps are slow and deliberate as he closes in on me. My heart begins to beat like it’s on a speed-date, and I start scratching at my chest again.

“Lily,” he says from behind me.

I turn around and grip the ledge behind me with both hands. His eyes journey down to my cleavage. As soon as they do, I yank at the top of my dress so he can’t see it, and then I grip the ledge again. He laughs and takes another step closer. We’re almost touching now, and my brain is mush. It’s pathetic. I’m pathetic.

“I feel like you have a lot to say,” he says. “So I’d like to give you the opportunity to speak your naked truth.”

“Hah!” I say with a laugh. “Are you sure about that?”

He nods, so I prepare to let him have it. I push against his chest and make my way around him so that he’s the one leaning against the ledge now.

“I can’t tell what you want, Ryle! And every time I get to the point where I start to not give a shit, you show up again out of the blue! You show up at my work, you show up at my apartment door, you show up at parties, you . . .”

“I live here,” he says, excusing the last one. That pisses me off even more. I clench my fists.

“Ugh! You’re driving me crazy! Do you want me or do you not?”

He stands up straight and takes a step toward me. “Oh, I want you, Lily. Make no mistake about that. I just don’t want to want you.”

My whole body sighs at that comment. Partly out of frustration and partly because everything he says makes me shiver and I hate that I allow him to make me feel like this.

I shake my head. “You don’t get it, do you?” I say, softening my voice. I feel too defeated right now to keep yelling at him. “I like you, Ryle. And knowing that you only want me for one night makes me really, really sad. And maybe if this were a few months ago, we could have had sex and it would have been fine. You would have walked away and I could have easily moved on with my life. But it’s not a few months ago. You waited too long, and too many pieces of me are invested in you now, so please. Stop flirting with me. Stop hanging pictures of me in your apartment. And stop sending me flowers. Because when you do those things, it doesn’t feel good, Ryle. It actually kind of hurts.”

I feel deflated and exhausted and I’m ready to leave. He regards me silently, and I respectfully give him time to make his rebuttal. But he doesn’t. He just turns around, leans over the ledge, and stares down at the street like he didn’t hear a single word I said.

I walk across the roof and open the door, half expecting him to call out my name or ask me not to leave. I get all the way back to the apartment before I finally lose all hope of that happening. I push through the crowd and make it through three different

rooms before I spot Devin. When he sees the look on my face, he just nods and begins to make his way across the room toward me.

“Ready to go?” he asks, looping his arm through mine. I nod. “Yes. So ready.”

We find Allysa in the main living room. I tell her and Marshall

goodnight, using the excuse that I’m just exhausted from opening week and I’d like to get some sleep before work tomorrow. Allysa gives me a hug and walks us to the front door.

“I’ll be back on Monday,” she says to me, kissing me on the cheek.

“Happy birthday,” I say to her. Devin opens the door, but right before we step into the hallway, I hear someone yell my name.

I turn around and Ryle is pushing through the crowd on the other side of the room. “Lily, wait!” he yells, still trying to make his way over to me. My heart is erratic. He’s walking quickly, stepping around people, growing more frustrated with every person in his way. He finally reaches a break in the crowd and makes eye contact with me again. He holds my gaze as he marches toward me. He doesn’t slow down. Allysa has to step out of his way as he walks straight up to me. At first, I think he might kiss me, or at least give a rebuttal to everything I said to him upstairs. But instead, he does something I’m not at all prepared for. He scoops me up into his arms.

“Ryle!” I yell, gripping him around the neck, afraid he might drop me. “Put me down!” He has an arm wrapped under my legs and one under my back.

“I need to borrow Lily for the night,” he says to Devin. “That okay?”

I look at Devin and shake my head, wide-eyed. Devin just smirks and says, “Be my guest.”


Ryle starts to turn and walk back toward the living room. I look at Allysa as I pass her. Her eyes are wide with confusion. “I’m going to kill your brother!” I yell at her.

Everyone in the entire room is staring now. I’m so embarrassed, I just press my face against Ryle’s chest as he walks me down the hallway and into his bedroom. Once the door is shut behind us, he slowly lowers my feet back to the floor. I immediately start to yell at

him and try to push him out of the way of the bedroom door, but he spins me and shoves me against the door, grabbing both of my wrists. He presses them against the wall above my head and says, “Lily?”

He’s looking at me so intently, I stop trying to fight him off of me and I hold my breath. His chest is pressing against mine, my back is pressed to the door. And then his mouth is on mine. Warm pressure against my lips.

Despite the strength behind them, his lips are like silk. I’m shocked at the moan that rushes through me, and even more shocked when I part my lips and want more. His tongue slides against mine and he releases my wrists to grab my face. His kiss grows deeper and I grasp at his hair, pulling him closer, feeling the kiss in my entire body.

Both of us become a medley of moans and gasps as the kiss brings us over the edge, our bodies wanting more than our mouths can deliver. I feel his hands as he reaches down and grabs my legs, lifting me up and hooking them around his waist.

My God, this man can kiss. It’s as if he takes kissing as seriously as he takes his profession. He begins to pull me away from the door when I’m hit with the realization that yes, his mouth is capable of a lot. But what his mouth has failed to do is respond to everything I told him upstairs.

For all I know, I’ve just given in. I’m giving him what he wants: a one-night stand. And that’s the last thing he deserves right now.

I pull my mouth from his and push on his shoulders. “Put me down.”

He keeps walking toward his bed, so I say it again. “Ryle, put me down right now.”

He stops walking and lowers me to the floor. I have to back away and face the other direction to gather my thoughts. Looking at him while I still feel his lips on mine is more than I can deal with right now.

I feel his arms go around my waist, and he rests his head on my shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. He turns me around and brings a hand up to my face and brushes his thumb across my cheek. “It’s my turn now, okay?”

I don’t respond to his touch. I keep my arms folded across my chest and wait to hear what he has to say before I allow myself to respond to his touch.

“I had that picture made the day after I took it,” he says. “It’s been in my apartment for months now, because you were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and I wanted to look at it every single day.”


“And that night I showed up at your door? I went searching for you because no one in the history of my life has ever crawled under my skin and refused to leave like you did. I didn’t know how to handle it. And the reason I sent you flowers this week is because I am really, really proud of you for following your dream. But if I sent you flowers every time I’ve had the urge to send you flowers, you wouldn’t even be able to fit inside your apartment. Because that’s how much I think about you. And yes, Lily. You’re right. I’m hurting you, but I’m hurting, too. And until tonight . . . I didn’t know why.”

I have no idea how I even possibly find the strength to speak after that. “Why are you hurting?”

He drops his forehead to mine and says, “Because. I have no idea what I’m doing. You make me want to be a different person, but what if I don’t know how to be what you need? This is all new to me and I want to prove to you that I want you for so much more than just one night.”

He looks so vulnerable right now. I want to believe the genuine look in his eye, but he’s been so adamant since the day that I met him that he wants the exact opposite of what I want. And it terrifies me that I’ll give in to him and he’ll walk away.

“How do I prove myself to you, Lily? Tell me and I’ll do it.”

I don’t know. I barely know the guy. I know him enough to know that sex with him won’t be enough for me, though. But how do I know sex won’t be the only thing he wants?

My eyes instantly lock with his. “Don’t have sex with me.”

He stares at me for a moment, completely unreadable. But then he starts to nod his head like he’s finally getting it. “Okay,” he says, still nodding. “Okay. I will not have sex with you, Lily Bloom.”

He walks around me to his bedroom door and he locks it. He flips off the light, leaving only a lamp on, and then takes off his shirt as he walks toward me.

“What are you doing?”

He tosses his shirt on a chair and then slips off his shoes. “We’re going to sleep.”

I glance at his bed. Then at him. “Right now?”

He nods and walks over to me. In one swift movement, he lifts my dress up and over my head, until I’m standing in the middle of his bedroom floor in my bra and panties. I cover myself, but he doesn’t even look twice. He pulls me toward the bed and lifts the covers for me to crawl in. As he’s walking over to his side of the bed he says, “It’s not like we haven’t slept together before without having sex. Piece of cake.”

I laugh. He reaches his dresser and plugs his phone in to a charger. I take a moment to skim his bedroom. This certainly isn’t the type of spare bedroom I’m used to. Three of my bedrooms could fit in here. There’s a couch against the other wall, a chair facing a television and a full office off the bedroom that looks complete with a floor-to-ceiling library. I’m still trying to see everything around me when the lamp goes off.

“Your sister is really rich,” I say as I feel him pull the covers over both of us. “What the hell does she do with the ten bucks an hour I pay her? Wipe her ass with it?”

He laughs and grabs my hand, sliding his fingers through mine. “She probably doesn’t even cash the checks,” he says. “Have you ever checked?”

I haven’t. Now I’m curious. “Goodnight, Lily,” he says.

I can’t stop smiling, because this is kind of ridiculous. And so great.

“Goodnight, Ryle.”

• • •

I think I might be lost.

Everything is so white and so clean, it’s blinding. I shuffle through one of the living rooms and try to find my way to the kitchen. I have no idea where my dress ended up last night, so I

pulled on one of Ryle’s shirts. It falls past my knees, and I wonder if he has to buy shirts that are too big for him just so they’ll fit his arms.

There are too many windows and way too much sun, so I’m forced to shield my eyes as I go in search of coffee.

I push through the kitchen doors and find a coffeemaker. Thank you, Jesus.

I set it to brew and then go in search for a mug when the

kitchen door opens behind me. I spin around and I’m relieved to see that Allysa isn’t always a perfect concoction of makeup and jewelry. Her hair is in a messy topknot and mascara is smeared down her cheeks. She points at the coffeemaker. “I’m gonna need me some of that,” she says. She pulls herself up on the island and then slouches forward.

“Can I ask you a question?” I say. She barely has the energy to nod.

I wave my hand around the kitchen. “How did this happen? How in the hell did your entire house become spotless between the party last night and me waking up just now? Did you stay up and clean?”

She laughs. “We have people for that,” she says. “People?”

She nods. “Yep. There are people for everything,” she says. “You’d be surprised. Think of something. Anything. We probably have people for it.”

“Groceries?” “People,” she says. “Christmas décor?”

She nods. “People for that, too.”

“What about birthday gifts? Like for family members?”

She grins. “Yep. People. Everyone in my family receives a gift and a card for every occasion and I never have to lift a finger.”

I shake my head. “Wow. How long have you been this rich?” “Three years,” she says. “Marshall sold a few apps he developed

to Apple for a lot of money. Every six months, he creates updates and sells those, too.”

The coffee transitions into a slow drip, so I grab a mug and fill it up. “You want anything in yours?” I ask. “Or do you have people for


She laughs. “Yes. I have you, and I’d like sugar, please.”

I stir some sugar into her cup and walk it over to her, then pour myself a cup. It grows quiet for a while as I mix in creamer, waiting for her to say something about me and Ryle. The conversation is inevitable.

“Can we just get the awkwardness out of the way?” she says.

I sigh, relieved. “Please. I hate this.” I face her and take a sip of my coffee. She sets hers down beside her and then grips the countertop.

“How did that even happen?”

I shake my head, trying my best not to smile like I’m love-struck. I don’t want her to think I’m weak, or a fool for giving in to him. “We met before I knew you.”

She tilts her head. “Wait,” she says. “Before we got to know each other better or before we knew each other at all?”

“At all,” I say. “We had a moment one night, about six months

before I met you.”

“A moment?” she says. “As in . . . a one-night stand?”

“No,” I say. “No, we never even kissed until last night. I don’t know, I can’t explain it. We just had this sort of flirtation thing going on for a really long time and it finally came to a head last night. That’s all.”

She picks up her coffee again and takes a slow drink from it. She stares down at the floor for a while and I can’t help but notice she looks a little sad.

“Allysa? You’re not mad at me, are you?”

She immediately shakes her head. “No, Lily. I just . . .” She sets down her coffee cup again. “I just know my brother. And I love him. I really do. But . . .”

“But what?”

Allysa and I both look in the direction of the voice. Ryle is standing in the doorway with his arms folded across his chest. He’s wearing a pair of gray jogging pants that are barely hanging on to his hips. No shirt. I’ll be adding this outfit to all the other ones I’ve catalogued in my head.

Ryle pushes off the door and makes his way into the kitchen. He

walks over to me and takes my cup of coffee out of my hands. He

leans in and kisses me on the forehead, then takes a drink as he leans against the counter.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” he says to Allysa. “By all means, continue your conversation.”

Allysa rolls her eyes and says, “Stop.”

He hands me back my cup of coffee and turns around to grab his own mug. He begins to pour from the pot. “It sounded to me like you were about to give Lily a warning. I’m just curious as to what you have to say.”

Allysa hops off the counter and carries her mug to the sink. “She’s my friend, Ryle. You don’t have the best track record when it comes to relationships.” She washes out the mug and then leans her hip into the sink, facing us. “As her friend, I have the right to give her my opinion when it comes to the guys she dates. That’s what friends do.”

I’m suddenly feeling uncomfortable as the tension grows thicker

between the two of them. Ryle doesn’t even take a drink of his coffee. He walks toward Allysa and pours it out in the sink. He’s standing right in front of her, but she won’t even look at him. “Well, as your brother, I would hope you had a little more faith in me than you do. That’s what siblings do.”

He walks out of the kitchen, shoving the door open. When he’s

gone, Allysa takes a deep breath. She shakes her head and pulls her hands up to her face. “Sorry about that,” she says, forcing a smile. “I need to shower.”

“You don’t have people for that?”

She laughs as she exits the kitchen. I wash my mug in the sink and head back to Ryle’s bedroom. When I open the door, he’s sitting on the couch, scrolling through his phone. He doesn’t look up at me when I walk in and for a second, I think he might be mad at me, too. But then he tosses his phone aside and leans back into the couch.

“Come here,” he says.

He grabs my hand and pulls me down on top of him so that I’m straddling him. He brings my mouth to his and kisses me so hard, it makes me wonder if he’s trying to prove his sister wrong.

Ryle pulls away from my mouth and slowly rakes his eyes down my body. “I like you in my clothes.”

I smile. “Well I have to get to work, so unfortunately, I can’t keep them on.”

He brushes the hair from my face and says, “I have a really important surgery coming up that I need to prepare for. Which means I probably won’t see you for a few days.”

I try to hide my disappointment, but I have to get used to it if he really wants to try and make something work between us. He’s already warned me that he works too much. “I’m busy, too. Grand opening is on Friday.”

He says, “Oh, I’ll see you before Friday. Promise.” I don’t hide my grin this time. “Okay.”

He kisses me again, this time for a solid minute. He starts to lower me to the couch, but then he shoves away from me and says. “Nope. I like you too much to make out with you.”

I lie down on the couch and watch him get dressed for work. To my enjoyment, he puts on scrubs.

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