"Good play," he conceded, just as a piercing crash sounded from the kitchen.
Alex was out of his chair before the noise died down, but Des was faster.
"Don't worry about it," he said to Alex. "I'll go." He owed Meg an apology. What better way than to clean up her mess while apologizing for his own?
Alex hesitated. His gaze darted to the kitchen.
"You sure 'bout that?" Alex asked.
"Absolutely." Meg may be Alex's girlfriend, but she was Des's best friend. Of that he was damn sure. "Don't wait for me. Go ahead and play the next few hands." Des walked into the kitchen.
Meg was crouched on the floor of the modern, white kitchen, holding her left hand in her right and sucking her index finger. Hundreds of tiny pieces of glass littered the ground.
Des dropped down beside her. "You okay, Meggy?"
She eyed him irritably before pulling the finger out of her mouth. "Fine. I dropped a glass is all. Cut my finger in the process."
A drop of red dotted the tip of her finger. Des grabbed a piece of paper towel, tore a strip off, wet it and wrapped it around the cut. He cradled her hand in his, refusing to let go when she tried to pull her arm away. The silk of her flesh burned through his skin, and he gritted his teeth against the exquisite agony.
"You're an asshole." Meg didn't pull any punches. She never had.
"How dare you brush me off like that?"
He didn't answer, didn't know how. Instead he removed the tissue and inspected her finger. Still bleeding. "Is it sore?"
She glared at him. "Yes."
He wrapped the wound again, holding the tissue around her finger. "I'm sorry."
Her mouth tightened. "It's not your fault the glass broke."
His heart squeezed in his chest. When had he ever felt this awkward around her? "I'm not sorry about the glass." Given the blood staining the tissue paper pink, his words sounded ridiculous. "I mean I am sorry you cut yourself, but I'm more sorry for what I said out there."
Her angry gaze met his. None of the warmth she usually held for him lurked in her eyes. "I've left you four messages. Four. Were you ever planning on returning my calls?"
The answer stuck in his chest. How could he explain he'd been waiting for a time when he wasn't so jealous, or so raw, to get back to her? A time when he wouldn't ache at hearing her voice? He'd figured after a few weeks it wouldn't hurt so bad. He'd figured wrong. The pain got worse with every day that passed. "Of course I was."
Meg recognized his answer for the lie it was. This time when she yanked her arm away, he let her go and instantly missed the heat from her skin.
She stood, leaving him crouched on the floor like an idiot. "Desmond Reed, if you have a problem with me, say so. Don't you dare shut me out or ignore me."
He stood reluctantly and took a step towards her. Glass crunched beneath his shoe. "I'm not ignoring you." As if he could. The woman was on his mind twenty-four hours a day.
"Oh, really?" She lifted a disbelieving eyebrow. "Working too hard to make one lousy phone call?" Meg turned her back on him, opened a long, thin cupboard, and withdrew a broom. "Your accountant? Please, give me a break."
He held out his hand to take the broom from her, but she shook her head. "Don't bother. I'll do it."
Shit. Stubborn woman. He pulled out a chrome and white leather kitchen stool from the breakfast nook, took hold of Meg's shoulders and bodily forced her to sit. Then he helped himself to the broom and went to work on the shattered glass. Shards lay everywhere, and the task took all his attention.
Her gaze burned a hole through his back as he swept.
"You going to explain yourself anytime soon?" Meg asked when he'd swept the glass into a neat mound.
He gripped the edge of the broom handle and rested his chin on his hands, eyeing her uneasily. Did he open up and tell her he'd fallen crazy in love with her and was consumed by a jealousy that ate away at him?
Yeah, that would go down about as well as a mouthful of the splintered glass.
He took a minute to consider his options, not once dropping her gaze. He might need time to think, but he wouldn't let her believe he was still ignoring her.
"Remember when you discovered your mother had cancer?" he asked at last.
She frowned. "As if I could ever forget."
"Remember how long it took you to talk about it?" Every day he'd asked if she was okay, and every day she'd pulled further away from him, refusing to tell him what was going on or why she looked like hell and hadn't eaten in a week.
"Uh-huh." Her cheek twitched.
"Instead of telling me she was sick, you asked me to give you a little space."
Her cheek twitched again, a telltale sign she was distressed. "Is your mother sick?"
He shook his head. "No, she's fine."
She narrowed her eyes. "W-what about you?"
Crap, she'd gotten the wrong idea. "I'm fine too. We all are. It's not about anyone being sick."
Her shoulders relaxed. "Then why are we discussing my mother?"
"We're not." How the fuck to explain? "We're talking about me. I just, uh, I'm going through something. I need a little space is all."
Meg stared at him. She blinked once, then again, her long, thick lashes sweeping over her expressive green eyes. A million questions crowded them, framing her distress, but she said nothing.
Silence spread through the kitchen, the quiet made even more obvious by the echo of laughter on the other side of the door.
He couldn't stand looking at her a second longer. The need to throw down the broom and sweep her into his arms was so powerful his hands shook. With measured movements, he headed for the same cupboard she'd just opened and found a dustpan and brush.
Thank fuck. Something to do. He crouched down and swept the shards into the pan.
"I don't know what to say." Her words broke the silence.
He shrugged. "Nothing to say. Just give me the space I need and we'll be cool."
"I'm not allowed to ask what you're going through?" Her voice held more than a hint of worry.
He shook his head without looking at her. What else could he do?
"You're asking the impossible, Des. If you're having trouble, I want to help. I need to help."
"I know you do. But you can't, not this time." Not unless she was willing to dump Alex and spend the rest of her life in his arms. Preferably naked.
"What about my shoulder? Can I at least offer that to you?"
Only if it came unclothed and attached to the rest of her nude body. "You can offer..."
"But you won't be taking me up on it anytime soon," she finished for him.
The floor was clean. No more shards anywhere to use as a distraction. He opened the bin and tossed the broken remnants of the glass inside. Finally, when there was no other option left, he turned to face her. "I'm sorry if I acted like an asshole. You know I'd never intentionally hurt you."
"I'm sorry you're dealing with shit." The warmth was back in her eyes. The warmth she reserved only for him. It heated him all the way through to his bones.
Then she smiled at him. It caught him in the gut and yanked hard at his dick, forcing him to remember all over again just why the fuck he needed time away from her.
Jumping his best friend in her boyfriend's sleek, designer kitchen was not something either Meg or Alex would take kindly to.
"I'll get over it," he told her. He probably would. When he was dead.