Home > Damaged (Damaged #1)(15)

Damaged (Damaged #1)(15)
Author: H.M. Ward

He doesn’t owe me anything, but I want to hear his story. I want to know what’s wrong with him. I want to know what kind of guy doesn’t have sex with a girl that’s already in his lap. There’s something about Peter, something dark that’s always just beneath the surface. Maybe that’s why we get along so well. Maybe his life has sucked like mine.

Nodding slowly, I follow him out of the room.


We go back to the same the restaurant as the night we met. It’s fairly empty tonight. Between it being a weekday and the time, hardly anyone is here. The waiter seats us at the back of the room, on the far side of fireplace. I can’t see the rest of the room from my seat. It helps me relax a little bit. Millie would never let me hear the end of it if she knew where I was.

Peter settles into his chair and we both order drinks. Peter sips some of the amber liquid from his glass, then says, “About the night we met—”

I’m mid sip when he speaks. I shake my head and swallow my wine. “Peter, don’t. Really. That’s not why I came.” I don’t need to rehash that night.

“Then, why did you come?” Peter’s serious, as if he doesn’t know.

“Because I’m hungry…and maybe because I like you. I thought we already established this?” I smile at him, expecting Peter to go back to his light-hearted self.

Peter watches me as I raise the glass back to my lips. “You’re amazing.”

“I know, right?” I grin at him. “I can hold a wine glass. Wahoo!” I hold up the glass by the stem and twirl it between my thumb and finger. The liquid inside swirls, but doesn’t spill.

Peter smiles at me. The corners of his eyes crinkle when he does it, amused. “That’s not what I meant, but your glass holding technique is impeccable.”

I laugh. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about Peter, something that puts me at ease. It’s like I’ve known him forever, as if I could say anything and he’d understand. It makes no sense.

Our salads come out. The waiter puts them in front of us and then leaves. The food looks delicious.

Lifting my fork, I say, “I didn’t get to eat here last time. I sort of freaked out, and attacked the waiter.”

Peter holds a piece of lettuce on his fork and pauses. “No way.”

“Way. My date had happy hands. I was trying to tolerate it, but I freaked out. It resulted in me jumping out of the booth like the place was on fire. I collided with that guy over there.” The same waiter is standing on the other side of the room at the bar. “His tray fell over in slow motion. I’m pretty sure he’s spitting in my food as they make it.”

Peter’s smile fades. “Why were you trying to tolerate a guy touching you?”

I shrug and stab my salad. “Because I want to be normal. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of messed up.”

Peter gives me a somber look. “Actually, I did notice that you’re kind of abnormal. For one, you have abnormally large eyes. They sparkle way too much. And that mouth of yours—well, let’s just say that it’s obviously defective.” Peter smirks and picks up his fork.

“Shut up.” I smile at him and shake my head.

Peter grins at me and waves his fork around as he speaks. “Being normal is overrated. Normal gets you what—the dolt husband with the 2.5 kids and the house with the dog? You seriously want that? I mean, one of those kids is going to be really funny looking, by the way, all cut in half like that. Who wants half a kid?”

I smile, but it fades quickly. I’m talking to Peter as if I know him, as if I’ve always known him. I don’t worry about what he’ll think. He won my respect and most of my trust in the classroom earlier. He didn’t judge me. He didn’t blame me. I haven’t had a friend like that before, well, not a guy. Most of the time, I keep my mouth shut around guys. I don’t want them to know me or what happened. I don’t want to deal with it. Somehow Peter has helped me deal with it, and the emotions that were crippling me earlier have vanished. I don’t know how he does it.

“I don’t really know what I want anymore. I used to. But that wasn’t what I meant by normal. Ever since it happened,” I swallow hard and pause way too long. “Let’s just say I have issues. I can’t get close to anyone. I kind of thought that if I forced it, that things would get better.” I don’t look at him. I tried to force myself to have sex with him the night we met. He’s hot and nice to touch, but my heart wasn’t in it.

Peter’s face pinches together. He doesn’t understand. “You thought if you slept with someone that you didn’t really like that you’d get over what happened to you?”

I flick my eyes up. “Well, when you say it, it sounds stupid.”

Peter’s staring at me with his mouth hanging open. “It is stupid.”

“Wow, that was blunt.” I poke my salad and shove it into my mouth.

“Sometimes blunt is better. So tell me, after you let this guy defile you, what happens next? You let him do it again?”

I stare at him. Good question, although it makes me wiggle in my seat. I stare at my salad for too long, but I feel Peter’s eyes on me. His gaze is so intense. I shake it off. Peter starts eating again.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I thought it would help erase things. You know, push the memories that suck further back in my mind. There hasn’t been anyone since him. I thought it would help.”

Peter stops eating. His eyes are too wide. He looks at me strangely. His voice is low. “Is that what you were doing with me?” I don’t answer. Peter smiles at me and shakes his head. He pushes the salad away and leans back in his chair. “Okay, I’m going to level with you.” He presses his lips together into a thin line and then lets out a huff of air. His hands are on the table. His index finger is tapping the table top, nervously. “I was doing the same thing.”

I tilt my head and say, “Yeah, right.”

He smiles crookedly at me. “I’m not what they’d call balanced.”

“Who’s they?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “Everyone. My mom, dad, sister, cousins, and other people who know me. I accepted this job and took off. They think I’m going to fall apart, especially after what happened.” He lifts the amber liquid to his lips and drinks the rest in a single swig.

Peter sets the glass down. His eyes don’t focus on me or anything else. It’s like he’s lost in a memory. “We—me and Gina—were in New York, seeing the stuff for Christmas. We went to Radio City and then to dinner. Afterward, it was late. She was ready to leave, but I wanted to go to Rockefeller Center. I wanted to get down on one knee under the tree and ask her to marry me.”

He smiles. It nearly breaks my heart. I know that smile. It’s a memory that’s tainted, something that should have been happy but didn’t turn out that way. I feel the weight of his story, the way he can barely say the words. He coughs and his eyes flick to mine. “I talked her into going. I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to ask her. I didn’t want to come back the next day. I wanted to do it at night, when the tree was lit. Gina loved Christmastime. I knew she’d love it.

“So, we get there and the place is pretty empty. It’s late. While Gina was looking at the tree, I pulled out the ring. There were some people on the other side of the tree, but they couldn’t see us. I kneeled and held up the ring.” He breathes hard. The lines in his forehead crease. I can see the pain of this memory playing out across his face as if it’s happening now. I want him to stop. Saying the words sounds like it’s breaking him. I want to reach out and take his hand, but I’m frozen.

Peter looks up at me. His smile twists. “You’re better at this than me. I’ve had a year to deal with this, but I still can’t even say it.”

“Peter…” I say his name and touch his hand. I catch his eye. “This really hot guy just told me a great piece of advice—it’s stupid to rush things when you aren’t ready.”

He laughs once, hard. It makes his chest shake. Peter looks down at my hand. “That guy’s usually an ass, or so I hear.” He glances up at me from under dark lashes.

The corners of my mouth turn up slowly. “You heard right. He is an ass, a totally sweet, thoughtful ass. The best kind of ass really.” I’m laughing lightly as I say it.

“Ah, your attempt at flattery is wasted.”

I take my wine glass in my hand. “It’s not flattery if it’s true. You’re a good man. Healing takes time. It’s not the same for everyone. It doesn’t happen at the same rate.”

“Tell that to my family.”

“Screw your family. They don’t understand this—whatever happened to you guys. You do. You understand what happened and what it did to you. Talk about it when you’re ready. Move on when you’re ready.” I finish my wine and put my glass down.

“It’s easier to give advice than it is to take it, huh?” Peter watches me for a moment. His eyes sweep over my face, and rest on our hands. Mine palm is still on his. “So?”

I look where he’s gazing and flinch. “Sorry.” I try to pull my hand away, but Peter takes it and holds on.

“I’m not.” Peter holds my hand to his lips and brushes a light kiss across my skin. It makes me shiver. He looks up and smiles at me. “We’re trapped in the middle, you know. We’re not in the friend zone, but we can’t move forward.”

I slip my hand away and nod. “I know,” I say softly. “It’s a good spot to be. A better spot than I’ve been in for a long time.” I’m not out trying to bed some guy that I don’t know. I’m not out with someone, doing something I don’t want to do. For the moment, I feel perfect, unmarred. I feel like I might survive this with my mind intact. Hope floods my chest, and all my smiles are real. For the first time, in a long time, I think I’ll be okay.


At lunch a few days later, I grab a salad, some baked chicken, and sit down next to Tia. Millie hasn’t come in yet. “Hey. How are your abs of steel?”

She gives me a look. “Soggy. I tried to do that video again last night. I’m not as sore today, but it still sucks.” She plays with her fruit plate, poking the cottage cheese. “Screw this. I’m starving and that chicken looks good. I’ll be right back.” Tia’s face scrunches as she stands. Her hand flies to her stomach before she stomps away to get a plate of chicken.

For a second, I’m alone. I hear his voice before I see his face. “Hey, sweetheart,” Dusty says, and slides in next to me. “I heard something, and thought you’d want to know.” I glance at him, wondering what kind of crazy sauce he ate to sit down next to me in here. He leans in and lowers his voice. “There are some awfully dirty rumors floating around about you.” He looks delighted. His eyes sweep over me, lingering on my chest way too long.

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Sinclairs series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
Most Popular
» A Thousand Letters
» Wasted Words
» My Not So Perfect Life
» Caraval (Caraval #1)
» The Sun Is Also a Star
» Everything, Everything
» Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)
» Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)