Arthur’s idea of giving me time to think is not leaving my side for the entire week. He’s been bringing me to his home where we remain in bed for hours. I can see it in his eyes; the fear that I will run away again. That the scenario from three years ago would repeat.
Even if I wanted to leave, I can’t. My father needs me. Which brings me to those blind dates. I can’t even pretend to do them anymore. Arthur ruined me for any other man years ago. I won’t start considering them now.
My gaze drifts to his side profile. He interlinks my fingers in his as we take a walk in the back garden of his family’s estate. The scent of freshly cut grass and exotic flowers, blooming in the distance, surrounds us. We’re approaching the entrance of the Eastern Wing where he resides. A black jaguar statue rests at the base of a knight statue. Its jewelled dark eyes resemble Arthur’s. His family owns real jaguars locked at the far end of this vast estate. They’re a family heirloom and the reason his ancestors earned the title hundreds of centuries ago.
The Rhodes’ title is only the beginning of what they are. Power and old money runs in their blood. They rule the noble community – in which my father is only a small fish.
Each generation’s leader grows the Rhodes family legacy. It’s like suppressing the previous generations is a competition of power that every duke has to undergo. Arthur will be the worst at that. He’s so utterly competitive that even his own father doesn’t get a pass. That’s how the current duke raised his son.
Calculative. Cold. Comtemplative.
In short: he’s The Devil in a suit.
At least to the outside world.
Arthur’s thumb caresses the back of my hand as he tells me about his day at work. These details, work life and the struggles, were always a secret before. But ever since that night at the hotel, Arthur’s been opening up as best as he could. He wants me close, and he figured out that the best way to keep me by his side is to divulge everything.
He figured right.
I always wanted to be closer to him than anyone. The closest. He’s finally making my wish come true.
My eyes roam over the white shirt stretching over his well-defined muscles. Dark blue trousers put his height to perfection. He’s just so beautiful and irresistible. Always has been.
After the time we spent together, the idea of leaving is dimming to nearly impossible.
“Eva,” he rasps, dark eyes gleaming as they rake over me. The way he calls my name always has my knickers in a bunch.
“Have you been listening?”
“Of course.” Unless being distracted by his presence counts.
“No, you weren’t.” His lips lift in a half smile. “I was saying that I’m investing in your father’s company.”
I come to a screeching halt in front of a pine tree’s shadow. “How did you know about my father’s company?”
“He’s a family friend.”
I release my hand from his, shame gnawing at my insides. “I don’t need your charity, Arthur.”
“Who said anything about a charity?” His brows furrow, and he clasps my hand in his again as if he’s pissed off I let him go. “I’m a businessman, and your father’s company would be useful for one of our subsidiaries.”
“You mean to tell me you would’ve invested even if I weren’t involved?”
His expression remains sincere. “Of course.”
“Yes.” A dark shadow falls on his face. “Besides, you won’t have to go on those blind dates again.”
“Oh, there it is.” I roll my eyes. “The real reason behind all this.”
“What did you expect?” His tone hardens. “Do you want me to see you with other men? I’ve already watched from afar all these years, Eva. I can’t do it again.”
“Y-you watched me?”
“I had a few guards watching over your safety.” He says it as if it’s a given. “I gave you the space you needed, but I couldn’t let you go.”
“You… never thought about talking to me?”
“A million times.” He brushes a strand of hair behind my ear. “But you needed the space, so I stayed away.”
I stare into those eyes that never left me once. They visited in my daydreams, my dreams, and even in my nightmares. “What if I still need space?”
His hand drops from my face, and I mourn the loss. A line forms between his eyebrows. “I would give it to you, but I can’t wait anymore.”
His words are clear. If I run away again, everything will end.
I mull Arthur’s words over as I get ready for the banquet that will take place in Rose’s house. Now that my father’s company and his health aren’t in danger, I have no reason to stay. I can return to Manhattan and resume my monotonous life.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Arthur decided to invest in the first place. He didn’t want me to stay because I was forced to, but because I wanted to.
As I fix my makeup, I think about my life in New York. The buzz, the endless movement, and the humming energy. It helped me to focus on work and to stop thinking about myself or the life I left behind. However, when I went back to my lonely flat at night, all I could think about while drinking a glass of wine was those dark eyes coming for me.
Deep down, I wanted Arthur to chase me, to hug me, take me back, and tell me I’m not leaving his side again. It hurt that he never came.
He was watching, though. He was there the entire time, and I never noticed.
Instead of the sleepless life in Manhattan, all that comes to mind is the peacefulness in the Rhodes’ estate. The strolls Arthur and I take while talking about everything and anything. I want that. The simplicity. The quiet. The happiness.
His mother and sister don’t like me, though, so I don’t have flowery dreams that everything will be peaceful.
Ariel, his sister, is messed up and always threatened me to stay away from Arthur because, according to her, I’m ruining him. She said all that with a jaguar on her toll and a shotgun on her shoulder — she’s that type of crazy. Arthur never let her get to me, but even if he weren’t involved, Ariel doesn’t scare me.
Maybe she should. She’s a huntress and extremely antisocial, and always has this murderous look on her petite dark features. But I have Arthur, I won’t let her or her snobbish mother tell me what to do.
Besides, Arthur’s father and Alexander are good to me, so I’m sure it will go well.
Sometimes, I wonder if things will change when his father passes away and he will take the reins of the family. But I don’t think about that. As long as I’m there for him, I’m sure all his demons will eventually vanish.
Arthur was right. I’ve seen the darkness and the ugliness. I witnessed how his anger shouldn’t be reckoned with and how harsh he can be when ruling his business or his family. But I also saw how a single touch from my hand made him melt in my embrace like a child.
Even when he used to push me away, he only found solace in my arms. And now, he’s opening up like never before.
I look into the mirror and smile so wide, my cheeks hurt.
Perhaps I’m done running after all.