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Wicked White (Wicked White Series Book 1) by Michelle A. Valentine (21)

ACE

I clear my throat as the phone rings three times before a familiar voice on the other side of the country answers. “Hello?”

“Adele, it’s Ace,” I reply, letting her know who it is so she doesn’t instantly hang up on me.

“Boy . . . where have you been? I thought you were a smart one. Why are you screwing up so bad?”

I shake my head. In the little time that I got to know Adele, I quickly learned that she isn’t one to beat around the bush, so I’ve learned to be the same way with her in return. “I know, but I’m ready to fix it. I’ve got all my issues sorted now, and I think I’m able to handle seeing her without the media circus following behind me. We need to talk without a million eyes watching us. Will you tell me where to find her?”

“Psssssh. I shouldn’t tell you, seeing as how Iris went on national television to reach out to you. The girl poured her heart out. You should’ve called her, even if it was to tell her it was over between the two of you.”

It’s like Adele to just shoot an arrow into the center of my chest, making me feel like the biggest fucking asshole in existence, but I had my reasons. “Iris was the one who told me to leave. She was the one who said that she didn’t want me anymore—that she was afraid of me. Leaving and cutting all contact with her was the wrong thing to do, I know that now. I should’ve stayed. I should’ve made her see that I would do anything to protect her, but I needed to give what happened between us space.”

“I think she might’ve been worried that you couldn’t control your temper, but you could’ve proved to her that you could. I mean, hell, she fell in love with you, didn’t she? She must’ve seen the caring side of you too, and I’m sure that far outweighs everything else. She told you to leave to protect you. I suppose all she was trying to do was save you from getting discovered. Why didn’t you call her and let her explain all that, then you all could’ve worked everything else out?”

There are so many things I wish I could’ve handled differently. Sometimes I think if I would’ve just stayed put and refused to leave her side, things between us would be so much better right now. I could’ve proved myself to her—made her comfortable with me—but running again has only screwed things up more.

I jam a hand into my hair and drop my head into my hand as I hold the phone to my ear. “I was scared that she didn’t love me anymore. I wasn’t sure if what she said on television was true or not, and it fucked with my head. At the time I had a lot of shit that I still needed to deal with. I was still running from everything, including Iris, but since the day I left, I’ve done nothing but think of her. It’s been hell without her, but I had to get clearheaded before I was ready to see her. I need to see her—hear what she has to say, even if it’s not the things I want to hear. Over the phone won’t work because I can’t look into her eyes while she answers if she still loves me. I have to be able to see her face in order to know if we can work all this out.”

Adele sighs into the phone. “And you say you’ve gotten yourself all straightened out now?”

“Yes,” I answer without any reservation.

“If I give you her information and you hurt her again, boy, I’ll take my first trip out of this state in thirty years to come to California and whip your butt. So promise me that you’ll do right by her, and I’ll give it to you.”

“You have nothing to worry about, Adele. I swear to you that I won’t break her heart again if she’ll give me a chance to win it back.”

“Don’t make me regret this,” she says before she fires off Iris’s address in New York.

Two days later I find myself sitting in a parked Lincoln Town Car outside the address Adele gave me for Iris in New York. I’m not sure how long I’ve sat here—three hours, maybe—and I’m sure the driver is fed up with my refusal to leave this spot, but I have to see her. It’s been over five weeks since I’ve seen her, and I don’t think I can wait much longer.

Adele told me Iris had an audition today, so I’ve been camped out here waiting for her to return, watching every single person that’s come or gone into the building.

The anticipation is killing me.

Just as I’m ready to lay my head back and give my eyes a break from constant people watching, I spot her.

I jump out of the car, leaving the door wide open in my haste to get to her, but halt in my tracks when I notice that she’s not getting out of the cab alone.

My breath catches when my eyes land on Iris standing there, talking with a man in a suit that she obviously knows somehow. They speak intimately, and my pulse throbs under every inch of my skin like I’m about to explode because of seeing her with another man. But my worst fear of Iris no longer wanting me raises its ugly head the moment she lays her hand on his forearm and he leans in and kisses her cheek. My entire fucking world stops as I clutch my chest while my heart crumbles into a million pieces.

Maybe I am too late. I was a fucking idiot to ever believe that someone as amazing as Iris would be just sitting around pining for me while I got my shit together and ignored her every attempt to reach me. She hasn’t called my number in weeks. I couldn’t bring myself to answer her. I was scared, and that’s a shitty excuse, but I wasn’t sure how much damage I’d done to us by ignoring her the way I did.

A tear slips down my cheek as I realize it might be best if I just leave her alone.

She waves good-bye to the man in the cab, and instantly I know without a doubt this man means something to her. Is he her boyfriend? Did he profess his love to her? Does he touch her—caress her? It’s not fucking fair, because that should’ve been me, not that suit-wearing douche bag she was just with. There’s no way he’s as passionate about her as I am.

I shove my hand into my hair as my shoulders slump and I drop my head. It’s over. I can’t fucking believe it’s over. I’ve been holding on to hope that she was waiting for me even though I’ve been a huge asshole and not reached out. The possibility has weighed on my mind that she might move on if I didn’t come to her someday soon—but I didn’t think she’d be with another guy already. Am I that fucking easy to get over?

I scrub my hands down my face, wiping away the moisture from my eyes in the process, before I allow myself one last look at her before I go. She’s just as beautiful as I remembered, with her dark hair spilling down her back while her cheeks flush a rosy red. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get over Iris Easton, but it’s clear to me now that I’ll have to find a way to move on, because she clearly has.

I grip the handle of the door as I slip back into the car and close myself inside.

“Driver, please head back to JFK Airport,” I order and close my eyes as the car passes her by, but I dare not take another look, because I don’t think my heart can take it.