“I’m moving to Atlanta.”
A.J. gave her a sympathetic nod. “I understand you think you’re moving, but it’s not going to happen.”
Vic stared at him as if he’d just mistakenly been released from the nearest mental ward. Baptiste, you don’t have the sense God gave baby geese. Have you totally lost your mind?
Ignoring the jab, he eyed her intently. “Why can’t you accept the fact that we’re going to be together?”
“I swear, man, you’re U.S. certifiable, Grade-A,” she paused, searching for the right word, then shouted out, “incorrigible.”
He lifted his brow. “You really think so?”
Dear God, help me,” Vic muttered softly and dropped her head.
She silently counted to ten and looked back into the mirror. “Baptiste, there’s not one good reason you can give me why I shouldn’t move.”
Observing their reflections, he shook his head in disagreement. “You’re wrong, Honey. I can give you two. Number one, I love you. And number two, I intend to marry you.”
“I’m not gonna marry you, Baptiste.”
“You’re wrong, Honey.”
“Why can’t we just enjoy the feelings we have for each other without any commitments?”
“No,” he countered quickly, “I’m not going to settle for a casual affair.”
“Because you’re worthy of more, and we deserve better.”
Momentarily speechless, Vic took in a deep breath. Whatever response she’d expected, the one she’d just heard wasn’t it. “Baptiste, I’ve always been honest with you. I’ve told you a thousand times, I don’t do the love boat.”
Reaching out, he turned her around to face him. “Is that why you’re moving to Atlanta, because you’ve convinced yourself not to fall in love with me?”
“I’m not going to let it rest until you answer me.”
“Baptiste, I told you shortly after we met, that I wasn’t going to let history repeat itself with you or any other man.”
“What did Ron do to hurt you so badly that you can’t learn to love again?”
Oblivious to where she stood, Vic recoiled, her hips colliding with the sink. For eight years, she’d been asked that very question more times than she cared to remember. Yet hearing it come from the man who stood in front of her packed the same force as a two hundred mile-per-hour hurricane making landfall.
“I-I don’t want to talk about it,” Vic finally managed to say in a strangled voice.
At that moment, A.J. saw such profound pain surface in her eyes that he felt it, too. The question he’d just posed was the one he’d avoided asking for months. What could a man possibly do to cause a hurt so deep? He reached out and caressed her shoulders. “Honey, whatever Ron did, he was a fool.”
“Y-You don’t understand, Baptiste,” she cried out, lowering her head to hide her tears.
With his index finger, he tilted her chin up. “Baby, if you tell me, perhaps I would.”
“I-I can’t tell you,” she whispered, her words catching on a strangled sob.
“And I can’t help you if you don’t,” he whispered back.
She wiped the tears from her face with both hands and glanced up at him. Maybe, just maybe if he knew, he’d understand there was no way they could ever be together. “You can’t tell…”
“Tell what, baby?” He stroked his thumb along her brow, coaxing her into finishing her sentence. “Honey, I’m a lot of things, but I’d never share with anyone what you tell me in confidence. Understand?”
“H-He cheated on me…”
Finally, after ten, long agonizing months, he knew the cause of her hurt. He pulled her gently against his chest. “Honey, I’m sorry,” he uttered softly, cajoling her face into the space between his neck and shoulder. “Whoever the other woman was, she doesn’t measure up to you.”
Vic’s spine went rigid and she retreated to a private place inside where loneliness and pain resided, the place she never allowed anyone to enter.
The depth of the agony she’d borne alone made her pull back. She stared up blankly at him. Before her brain had time to consult with her mouth, she blurted out the rest of the secret she’d kept hidden for eight long years.
“It was a man.”
With that, she bolted from the room.