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Between Never and Forever: Part 2 – Chapter 43


“It’s perfect,” I whispered, probably a bit too lost in the picture of Dex and I surrounded by lilacs in my parents’ backyard. The sunlight poured on us and glinted off the new gold gate Dex had replaced.

On our wedding day, Dex had even given me a shiny key that opened that gate and a tiny music box. When I unlocked the music box, it slowly opened and played the melody of the song my mother and I always sang together. For the woman who is Kee to my heart was engraved on it.

That had only been a few weeks ago, but now I felt the tears streaming down my face and remembered the smell of that fragrant flower as I walked down the grassy aisle on that perfect day.

“Good. Then, they’re printing it,” Dex said like there was no room for negotiation. He’d been sitting at his new desk within my office at Trinity Enterprises while Olive, Pink, and I sat on the ground, stressing over final approvals for one of the biggest magazines in the world.

He hadn’t said a single thing until now. “You want to add your opinion now? We’ve been talking about this for nearly an hour.” I glared at him.

He glanced up from his laptop and gave me his dimples as he smiled. “I have no idea what you all have been talking about for the past hour, but it hasn’t only been that. Anyway, I’m hungry for lunch with my wife. You like that one.” He nodded at the photograph in front of me. “I can tell. So, go with it.”

So easily now, the man trusted my judgment and told me to follow my gut. I did most of the time too because I’d been learning to trust myself.

“He’s right. That’s the one.” I pointed down at the photo.

He nodded and then looked at his watch. “Also, you have a meeting with a new artist in an hour and a half. So what do you want for lunch?”

Olive pushed at the flowers in her hair before she nodded and then stood up from the ground to stretch. “Well, that was easy. Also, you’re not doing any appearances for the next month. So, I’m guessing you’ll have some time off?”

I nodded softly, not wanting to tell her she wasn’t needed.

“Means you’re free for a whole month, I guess.” Dimitri walked into the office and blurted out what I didn’t want to.

“Free? I have a dissertation to write,” Olive immediately snarled at him. “My professor has been quite interested in what I’ve come up with.”

“That the same professor who called you the other night?”

“The other night?” I questioned, wondering what evening they were even talking about.

“Yes, Olive.” Dimitri smiled. “Why don’t you tell Kee about the other night?”

“I … You … Why are you here?” she stuttered out.

He smirked. “I came to discuss the night in question.”

“What happened the other night?” I finally asked, because neither Olive nor Dimitri had shared anything with me.

Olive’s eyes widened before she grabbed Dimitri’s arm. “Let’s go.”

And before I could ask, they both hustled out of the office.

Pink got up and walked toward the door too. “Pretty sure they’re sleeping together.”

“Wait … what?” There was no way. Dimitri or Olive would have said something to me.

“I literally can feel the tension when he walks into the room. You see him too much as a friend, but that man could melt her clothes off with his hot stare.” She waggled her eyebrows.

“Oh, Jesus Christ, Pink. Are you meeting up with Bane? Me and my wife are having lunch.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She waved off Dex’s death stare and then pointed to the photos on the ground. “You’re making the right decision.”

I stared down at my wedding pictures, admiring how we both had so much love in our eyes, how Dex held me close around the waist, and how the breeze pushed my hair back just right. The photographer had captured us perfectly, but the train of the dress was showing. With the spots I could see.

“No one can see what you’re worried about.” Pink sighed. “I think it’s badass anyway.”

I shouldn’t have worn the dress with Ezekiel’s blood on it. The move had been bold, reckless, and freeing. My shoulders relaxed into the feeling. “I know it’s the right decision. I’ll let the magazine know.”

The magazine’s focus wasn’t at all about Ezekiel. It was about our marriage, our success, and the triumphs throughout our lives. They talked about how love could conquer all. They quoted me saying, “He’d always been the boy who saved me. And I wasn’t about to leave behind the man who saved me too.” And they quoted Dex saying, “She broke my heart once. I had to make sure she wouldn’t again.” The magazine got our exclusive interview after Dex and I agreed to only this one.

We’d waited months after Ezekiel’s kidnapping to actually go through with the wedding because there was too much trauma, too much healing to be done, too much of everything.

“I won’t rush when I have you forever anyway,” Dex had told me. So, we waited.

I finished out my residency in Vegas with special guests flying in to sing with me. They sang my songs, my words, my heart. They made me realize once and for all it’s what I wanted to do, that I could make someone shine in the limelight while still enjoying my life out of it.

Owning Trinity allowed for me to do that. Dex and his family buying Trinity allowed that. So, this past month, I’d worked tirelessly to prove to them all I’d exponentially grow the label. I restructured management, leaving Mitchell out of it, and I’d brought on artists that thrived in the limelight. I worked alongside Dex most of the time, because he followed me everywhere—hence him being in my office now.

“So, stamp of approval on that and my work is done here for the week.” Pink winked at Dex as she backed out of the office. Right before the door closed, she yelled, “Don’t tell Bane I left!”

Dex nestled into my neck as he said, “Why do you always have a million people in your office?”

I chuckled. “Because I’m trying to make Trinity thrive.”

Dex’s family had been there for me every step of the way, and I would be there for them, by making sure this label wouldn’t go under.

Not that any of them truly seemed to care about the success. When Izzy and Lilah called, it was to talk about my mother and how I was adjusting to the shift in my career. They wanted to talk a lot. Clara and Evie did too. They’d become the family I never knew I needed, and maybe in a way, the Hardys had always been that. I just needed to come to terms with it.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the sun when you’ve been standing in the dark for so long. Dex and I were each other’s light to find our way back to it. Now, our home was each other, although Dex whispered in my ear, “Do you plan to look at the blueprints of our home soon?”

He was having Dom draw up plans for a perfect ranch in our hometown on land near our parents. Ideally, I wanted to be closer to my mother when I could, but it was clear we’d both be traveling for work for years to come.

I also think Dex might have needed to heal from what had happened so long ago. We’d been home for the wedding, and Gabriella had seen us in a grocery store. I hadn’t talked to her much after the accident. I don’t think either of us could get past it back then. Our conversations had been stilted as she learned to walk again, and then we simply hadn’t called one another much after. I knew she’d gone to college, got married, had kids and was living back in our hometown.

And she waltzed up to us with a trepid smile on her face that day to say, “You’re both back!”

She pulled me in for a hug right away and then stared at Dex, worrying her hands even as he nodded and smiled softly toward her. Then he said, “Nice to see you, Gabriella.”

She sighed and smoothed the collared polo she was wearing. “I don’t think you mean that, Dex.”

He frowned. “Of course I do.”

She sighed and glanced around fast before she bit her lip. “My husband is walking around somewhere with the kids, but I just have to say … I’m sorry for the gossip I started after the accident.”

“Wait. I’m a confused.” I narrowed my eyes at her and put some sauce in my cart. “What are you talking about?” My eyes ping-ponged between them. I saw the shock and then the recognition on Dex’s face and the shame on hers.

She took a deep breath. “I egged on reporters and …” She glanced at Dex before she looked down in embarrassment. “I shouldn’t have let people run with the story that you were the bad influence. The town painted him to be a villain, and I ran with the story. I was so mad at my luck, at having to relearn to walk, at knowing Dex saved you …”

I started to tell her she had every right to feel angry at her luck, but at Dex? Not at him. Yet, he cut me off. “No worries, Gabriella.”

“No worries?” I looked at him with wide eyes.

“I got what I wanted, Kee. I got you in the end. Right?” He smirked at me. The man was ridiculous, I swear.

“Right, and honestly, I know no one could have saved me now. I was young and stupid. We all were. I’ll never forgive myself for how cold I was to you when you came to visit. I know you tried to find me in the water.”

“It’s fine.”

Dex tried to stop her, but she shook her head. “No. It’s not. You told me you would have given your life for Kee and for me and for Kyle if you could have. I wasn’t forgiving then. I’m not really now, either, because there’s nothing to forgive.”

Dex cleared his throat, but I saw how his eyes sparkled, how he stood so still. His soul needed to hear those words, and I was so thankful Gabriella had been strong enough to say them.

“Also”—she leaned close as she wiped away a lone tear and laughed—“please stop sending checks to me. My husband is starting to think something’s going on.”

She rushed over to her husband then, who’d just walked past the aisle, and I stared up at Dex. “You can’t save everyone, Dex.”

“I can try.” He shrugged.

I don’t think he ever would stop trying either. He helped me reintroduce myself to my mother, albeit our relationship was much different, but it was still a relationship I wanted. He helped me take my dad to rehab and visited him with me. And now he was here, holding me close in my office, trying his best to help me with my workday.

“Let’s look over the blueprints together?” I murmured. “What do you want for lunch?”

“You, Kee.” I felt his length against my back.

“My office is not the place for that.” I laughed as his tongue dragged across my neck.

“Of course it is. You own the damn place. Let’s make use of it.”

I couldn’t help myself as I rotated my hips so I could get closer to him. “And why is it again, Mr. Hardy, that I own this place?”

“Because you worked your ass off for it.”

I smiled at how good he was to me. “Right, but also when the interviewer pressed you on the topic, tell me again what you said?” He lifted a brow. “Go on. I like hearing you say it,” I told him, because it gave me butterflies reading it.

“That interviewer was an asshole. He shouldn’t have asked why I invested in the company in the first place.”

Dex was right. It was the interview that stopped all other interviews, because the man had eyed me up more than once, and Dex had seen him. Then, on national television, he’d insinuated Dex was buying me.

“Isn’t it true you made your family invest?”

“I don’t make my family do anything.” Dex’s jaw flexed and right then I knew the man was going off script.

“My good friend, Mitchell, a former manager at Trinity, tells me you weren’t very into music. Why buy Trinity Enterprises when it’s not the best financial decision? You’ve been touted as a great investor and one who is pragmatic in all you do. The world-renowned magazine Financial World actually is quoted as saying, ‘Dex Hardy is structured and ruthless in his categorization of most everything in his life.’ So why this company? Your wife really that good, or is she just good in—”

“I recommend you don’t finish that sentence about my wife.” Dex’s words came out in a growl before he’d leaned back and stared at the host. It was a stare so dark and vicious that it took over memes across the world. I loved that stare, but more so, I loved what he said after.

“Tell me again what you said.”

He chuckled against my neck as his hand slid up my thigh. “When he asked me why I bought your label, I agreed that I’m pragmatic in all I do and said, ‘Pragmatically, no one stands in the way of my wife’s happiness. She wanted it, so I bought it. There’s no other explanation needed.’”

And that’s how I’d chosen to live with him from then on.

Without explanations. Without apologies. Without fear.

But with confidence. With love. And with my Dex.


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