Title: LOVELY TRIGGER (BOOK #3)
Author: R.K. LILLEY
THE EXPLOSIVE CONCLUSION OF
DANIKA AND TRISTAN'S STORY
His name was Milton Sagar. He was an NFL quarterback who’d just been drafted to play for San Diego. I met him at a gallery showing in L.A. on a Friday night. He came to visit me in the Vegas gallery on the following Monday.
He was charming, intelligent, good-looking, and very, very interested, and for the first time in a long time, I found that I was genuinely interested back.
Not good on paper interested. Heart-rate accelerating interested. That hadn’t happened to me since Tristan. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or horrified by the development. He was very persistent. I turned him down twice. He had huge arms, gorgeous black hair, kind blue eyes. He even had dimples. He probably flirted in his sleep. He was just the type of guy I should avoid. The third time he very charmingly asked me out, I said yes to having lunch with him in Vegas, on my break at work. He flew in just to see me. I had no intention of letting it go one step further than that.
“So you live in Vegas, but you work in L.A a lot?” he asked me over appetizers.
I shook my head. “Just the opposite. I live in L.A, but I’m in Vegas quite a bit at the moment. I’m managing both galleries until I can train someone here.”
“L.A isn’t too far from San Diego.” He smiled.
I smiled back, admiring his dimples. I told myself I was utterly whacked in the head.
His smile faded just a tad. “I have the strangest question for you. I hope you don’t mind my bringing this up, but a buddy of mine told me something that’s been...bothering me. I guess he knows your ex-husband.”
I was taking a drink of wine and nearly choked on it. “My ex-husband?!” I asked, trying hard to sound casual. “This friend of yours has the wrong girl.”
Only a few people on the planet knew I’d been married for one hot, dysfunctional minute.
He looked surprised but not displeased. “Oh yeah? Well, that’s good. Obviously I can defend myself, but he had me spooked.”
I couldn’t leave it at that. It was just too bizarre. “What’s the name of this friend of yours?”
“Tristan Vega. I’m sure you’ve seen him around. He does the magic show here. It’s really good.”
I felt myself pale. Very carefully, I set down my glass, placing both hands carefully into my lap where I could clench them as hard as I needed to without looking crazy. “What exactly did Tristan tell you?”
“Oh, so you do know him? Not much. He just kind of...warned me off, in a vague sort of way. He said you had an ex-husband that was liable to stab me in my sleep if I laid a hand on you. He said he was huge, and insanely violent when it came to you, or rather, who you date. He basically told me that your ex would go to jail for murder before he’d let you go out with a guy like me.”
The sheer gall of that, the utter hypocritical nerve of it made me want to scream.
I smiled tightly. “Tristan has a twisted sense of humor. He was just messing with you. I was never married.”
We did, unfortunately, run into each other occasionally, but that night was the first time I’d sought Tristan out deliberately since the accident.
Working at the hotel got me backstage before his show, and eventually, his dressing room. It was very handy to be on a first name basis with every security guard on the property.
He met me, his jaw clenched, at the door.
I barged in, fuming. I waited to speak until he closed the door, giving us privacy.
“How dare you?!” I hissed, shaking. It felt surreal to be alone in a room with him. The only thing that made it bearable was my unadulterated rage.
“I know why you’re here,” he said calmly. “I can explain.” “Oh please do. I would love to hear it.” He took a few steps toward me, but I backed just as many steps away,
keeping my distance. “Don’t you dare try to touch me.” He looked down, taking a deep breath. “Of course, Danika. I know how you feel about that. I take it this is about Milton?” I nodded, biting back several sarcastic things that came to mind. “Of course it is. Why else would I be here?” I wanted to say so much more, about how my love life wasn’t his business, about how he didn’t get to kiss my sister and God only knew what else and then try to interfere in my life, but I held my tongue. It was a herculean effort, but I did it. I would not give him the satisfaction of knowing how much that bothered me, how it had kept me up at night, the doubt, the uncertainty. Had I ever even known him at all?
“Why else indeed? Listen, I told him that because-“ “I can’t believe you told him I was divorced!” He met my eyes. His were steady, his jaw so stubborn that I didn’t know if I wanted to slap it or kiss it. “You are divorced.” His tone was chastising. “That marriage was a joke. It didn’t even count.” He flinched, not even trying to hide it, one hand shooting up to rub at a twitching temple. “I told him that because he is not the guy for you.”
“How cute. You think you know what’s good for me?” “He’s a womanizer.” I laughed. It was so bitter that I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t change it, couldn’t keep it in. “Look who’s talking.” “And a liar.” I began to look around, and when I realized that I was trying to find something to throw, I knew, with absolute certainty, that I needed to leave. Every second that we stayed within each other’s vicinity was bad for my peace of mind. This little scene would haunt me for months. Just seeing him up close like this, and breathing him in, it would mess me up, set me back.
I met his steady stare, trying not to snarl. “That is beside the point. None of this is your business. Nothing in my life is your business. Are we clear?”
“Please, Danika, stay clear of him. I know you have a right to do as you please, but understand that I wouldn’t have interfered if I wasn’t concerned. This guy is bad news. He’ll break your heart, and when he does, I may well break his neck.”
My mouth was trembling. With rage. With pain. The notion that he was watching over me like a big brother, that he thought of himself that way...it stung.
It cut It wounded. And I was wounded enough. I pointed at him. “You stop it. Quit acting like you give a damn, and stay the fuck out of my life. You and I...we are nothing to each other. Less than strangers.”
He shook his head, and that set me off. I had to restrain myself from attacking him, but in my head I was shoving, hitting, slapping. Grabbing his shirt in both fists.
In reality, in that pregnant, futile moment, we only stared at each other.
We were both panting. I clenched and unclenched my fists, and watched his hands copying the motion.
“Please,” he mouthed. I left, and thank God he didn’t stop me. I went to a very public gala with Milton the next weekend. There was a red carpet with photographers. I smiled like I was having the best night of my life for those cameras, and tried not to think about the fact that I had said yes to this mostly out of spite. Tristan would see these pictures, and he would know just how much of a say he had in my life.
I let Milton kiss me goodnight when he dropped me back off at my apartment, but I didn’t invite him in. It was a good kiss. The man knew what he was doing. I knew I’d let him do it again.
He met me for lunch the following Monday in a posh café near the L.A gallery.
He had a black eye, and a badly swollen cheek that he claimed was from football practice. His story didn’t change, even when I tried to pry further.
Still, I couldn’t get the bizarre notion that Tristan had done it out of my head. I had no proof, just a strong gut feeling.
I cooked lasagna for him at my place the following weekend, and then I let him kiss me again. I even let him get to second base, and was half tempted to let him get to third.
Though I didn’t, it was nice to feel tempted. I’d half feared that part of me was permanently broken.
Perhaps I still had some shot at a love life.
He was easy to talk to, and we chatted on the phone nearly every day for three weeks. I wasn’t quite letting myself think of him as my boyfriend, or ready to even want something like that, but it certainly seemed to be heading in that direction.
I wasn’t sure how to feel about it all, but I was enjoying myself. He didn’t give me butterflies exactly, but at least I felt something, some shadow of the fervor that I’d tasted for a brief time.
It was nothing like the inferno of passion I’d felt for Tristan, but even so, it was a relief to find that I could still be lit at all, even if it was just a tiny flame.
It was the three week mark almost exactly when I got a call from his number, only it wasn’t him on the other end this time. We’d made plans to meet that night for dinner, and I hadn’t been expecting a call from him, so my tone was a bit of a question as I answered, “Hello?”
“Is this Danika?” a woman on the other end asked. She sounded like she’d been crying.
“Yes. Who is this?” “This is Belinda.” “Hello, Belinda. How may I help you?” Her shaky voice sent me into auto-pilot, which for me was a sort of detached professionalism. “I am Milton’s girlfriend,” she proclaimed, her shaky voice turning hard with anger. “Excuse me?” I asked, completely caught off guard. How had I missed this? “He and I have been together for nine years. I live with him. He doesn’t know that I know about you, but when he gets out of the shower, I’ll hand him the phone, and he can tell you all about me.”
I didn’t have a clue what to say to that, so we shared an awkward silence for a good two minutes before I came out with, “I had no idea-“
“Well, now you do, so what are you going to do about it?” Her tone was animated, but there was something so off about the entire thing, like she wasn’t at all surprised. How many times had Milton pulled this on her? I wondered, feeling a little disconnected from the entire thing.
Finally, Milton came on the line, his tone an apology, an apology for me, which I heard quickly set Belinda off on the other end.
“Danika, I can explain.”
I rolled my eyes, feeling more stupid than hurt. He’d only said four words, but all of the pieces of him clicked into place with those words, the way he shaped each syllable like he’d said it a thousand times, the perfect inflection in his cajoling tone as he launched the beginning salvo that led to the lies.
I heard the liar in him, the line he was about to tell. I had his number now. There was no undoing it. “Don’t bother. Just erase me from your contact list, please.” It said a lot that my mind focused mostly on Tristan, and the fact that he’d been right about Milton. If I had listened to him, I’d have saved myself that embarrassment.
That pissed me off more than any other part of the entire sordid thing.
R.K. Lilley lives in Colorado with her husband and their two beautiful sons. She's had a lot of interesting jobs, from being a first class flight attendant, to being a stablehand, but swears she never knew what hard work was until she had children. She's been addicted to both reading and writing fiction since she can remember. She loves to travel, read, hike, paint, game, watch anime, and make the most of every single day. She is the author of the erotic romance novels In Flight, Mile High, Grounded, and the novella, Lana.