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Empire of Desire: Chapter 39


The day Nate came back, I could feel it.

I got out of bed early on a Saturday for no reason at all and made lots of cupcakes that I won’t be eating, then I told Dad to go jog without me.

I sat on the edge of the pool clutching a vanilla milkshake, removed my sneakers, and dipped my feet in the water.

Sometimes, it’s calming because I remember when Nate and I had hot sex here. But other times, all I can think about is when Dad tried to drown him.

I shake that image away and grab the milkshake, then stare at it in the sun. “What’s wrong with you, buddy? Why are you tasteless?”

“Are you really talking to a milkshake?”

Ever since I got up this morning, I had a feeling, but having that feeling and the actual reality is entirely different.

Because the sound of his voice after such a long time is like a shockwave and it’s now spreading through me, lighting up all my nerves.

God. His voice, that rich depth in it, clutches me in a tight noose.

His face blocks the sun as he stares down at me. If hearing his voice put me in a loop, seeing his strong features nearly sets me on fire—the entire pool wouldn’t be able to put it out.

It’s only been a couple of weeks since I last saw him, but it feels like years. Maybe decades, even.

My eyes take in his entire face—the lines in it, the handsomeness of it. His stubble has grown thicker and his shoulders are broader somehow. So broad that they hide the sun and the world beyond them. They block everything except for him.

The man who once stomped all over my vanilla heart but still made it feel loved and appreciated anyway.

The man without whom I can’t sleep, because he’s the peace that makes my brain stop shouting.

“You’re here.”

“Looks like it.”

“Why… Where did you go?”

“To the cabin for a mandatory vacation ordered by King.”

The fact that he’s back, that he’s really here and I’m not dreaming, sends a jolt of excitement through my bones. I want to jump up and hug and kiss him until I can no longer breathe.

I don’t, though.

The volcano that’s been turned to ashes by his disappearance bursts back to life and the fire nearly consumes me.

And him.

I jerk up to a standing position, leaving my milkshake on the side of the pool. “And you couldn’t tell me that? How could you just leave?”

“King wouldn’t let me say anything. He was testing me.”

“Then why are you here now?”

“Because he finally approves.”


Oh, God. Is that why he smiled at me and hugged me before he went out this morning? Because he knew Nate was here and he approves?

I know I should be happy, and I am, but it’s shadowed by the bitterness that’s exploding at the back of my throat. “What if he’d never approved? Would you have stayed away for years?”

“Fuck no. I was just letting him cool down for a while by putting some distance between us.”

“I don’t like that word. Distance. I hate the letter D.”

He cups my cheeks with his hands. “I would never leave you willingly, Gwyneth. You’re the person I never thought I needed, but ever since you got close, my life feels incomplete without you.”

“Because I’m a little crazy?”

“Because you’re special. And also because you understand me more than anyone ever has. I meant what I said. I don’t do feelings, never believed in them, not when my own parents didn’t want me. Like you, I despise my birthdays because they remind me that my existence doesn’t matter. But what I didn’t say is that my perceptions have changed ever since you went on your tiptoes and kissed me on your eighteenth birthday. I wanted to grab you by the fucking waist and kiss you back, and I don’t even do kissing.”

My heart jolts and my eyes grow in size, not believing my ears. Not believing what Nate just said. “You wanted to kiss me?”

“More than I’ve ever wanted fucking anything, but I couldn’t, because all I could think about was that you’re King’s daughter. That’s why I avoided you these past couple of years. I wanted to push you away, but you just wouldn’t budge.”

“Yeah, Dad taught me to never give up. Especially on those I care about.”

“Then I should be thankful to him.”

“For teaching me not to give up?”

“And for being a drunk idiot and having you when he was so young.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“I’m a lucky bastard to have found you.”

“Even though I’m empty sometimes?”

“I’m empty sometimes, too.”

“That’s okay.” I reach a hand out and glide it over his stubble. “We can fill each other up, because that’s what love is, Nate. There are bad days and good days. Yes, the bad days can be hard and have a lot of empty bursts, red markers, and negative feelings. But that’s okay, too, because we’re there to catch each other when we fall. We’re there to turn the bad days into good ones because we can. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but you and I can totally do it. Do you know why?”

He grabs my hand that’s on his cheek and strokes his thumb on the back of it, eliciting tiny shudders from me. “Why?”

“Because we’re a team, Nate. Just you and I.”

“You’re a fucking gem, did you know that?”

“No, so you’ll have to tell me that every day.”

“I fucking will. Remember when you were trying to find me a hobby?”


“You don’t have to look anymore. I already found it.”

“Really? What is it? Oh, is it board games?”


“Then what is it?”



“Why do you think I kept agreeing to do all of the things you planned?”

“I thought you were only placating me.”

“I’m not that unselfish. I did it to spend more time with you, and the longer I did, the deeper you drew me into you.”

“I’m glad I was persistent.”

“I’m glad, too.” He brings my hand to his mouth and kisses the palm so delicately, I melt. “I know we agreed to divorce when you’re twenty-one, but I can’t bear the thought of being away from you. The last couple of weeks have been enough torture for a lifetime.”

“I can’t stay away from you either, even if Dad is against it.”

“So you’ll stay my wife?”

I bite my lower lip. “People will talk.”

“Fuck them.”

“Does that mean I get to call you my husband in public?”

“Always.” He breathes heavily, the shirt of his suit stretching with the depth of his inhales and exhales. “I love you, baby girl. I’m in love with your colorfulness as much as your emptiness.”

“I love you, too, Nate. I think I’ve been in love with you for years.”

“I think I’ve loved you ever since you kissed me, and I’ll show you how much I love you for the rest of our lives.”

“Oh, Nate.” I get on my tiptoes and just like that day two years ago when he fell in love with me, my lips find his.


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