Feisty Francesca

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#21 Honesty is the best policy

I’m in high spirits when I get to James’ apartment. I ended up going in for work for half an hour because Annabel’s test results came back, and it looks like she’ll be a match for Theodore. I may have mixed feelings about Aston and Annabel, but I know exactly how I feel about Theo. He’s an amazing guy and even though he’s not Aston’s biological dad, he raised two great sons. I ran into Brittany who was waiting for Jaxon in the cafeteria and we chatted for a while, getting to know each other better. She’s a really sweet girl.

And now I’m ready for my fourth date with James, because weird morning or not, this is still a date. I’ve got an overnight bag in the back of my trunk just in case. I don’t want him to get any ideas and I want to have the choice of going back home for the night, but if I do decide on sleeping over, I’ll need my stuff. I’ve got work early in the morning, and I’m not a morning person like he is.

Turns out James lives really close. I didn’t need my car at all. He lives even closer to the hospital than I do, and I could have walked over there in less than ten minutes.

“Hey honey,” he says through the intercom when he buzzes me in. “It’s the second floor.”

I take the stairs two at a time, more eager to see him than I though I’d be. He’s leaning against his doorframe in jeans and a simple black T-shirt with a wide V-neck, showing off his tattoos. I throw my arms around him and kiss him hard, running my hands over his chest and under his shirt, enjoying how strong he feels.

“That’s one hell of a greeting,” he breathes when we break apart. “I honestly don’t think I deserve that after this morning.”

I shrug. I’ve had such a nice day that I just let go of my anger and worry without consciously deciding to do so. Surely he’s got a good explanation for acting the way he did. “I’m just happy to see you.” I kiss him again, kicking the door shut behind us while we keep making out in the hallway.

“Okay,” James says, stepping away before we can get too carried away. “If we don’t stop now, we’re never going to make it further than the bedroom.” He gestures to the door to his left. “And I really think we should talk. And order pizza, because I’m starving.”

My stomach rumbles, making both of us grin. I guess I’m hungry too. He shows me into his living room and I walk around, looking at his stuff while he orders us two pizzas on his phone. He’s got a lot of books, most of them biographies about politicians. From the looks of it, he’s a democrat. Good. That earns him extra brownie points. The place looks like a bachelor pad, really, with black leather furniture and barely any decorations. There is only one picture on the white walls, one of him with his three sisters and his parents. They all look alike, with the same bright blue eyes and dark straight hair. His sisters are tall like him, and it’s obvious they get that from their father, since the older woman in the picture is the smallest by far. She’s got green eyes and blonde hair, so it seems her genes didn’t have much affect on the four kids she conceived.

“That’s Desi,” he says, pointing at the girl who has an arm around him. “Desirée, I mean, my oldest sister. This is the last family picture we have with all of us in it. That’s Sophie, and the one sticking out her tongue is Georgina. They all work in the hospital two towns over.”

“Did you grow up there?” I ask, turning to look at him.

“Yeah, I moved two years after Desi passed. I couldn’t take the looks of pity I got from everyone on the force, my family, my friends… It got to be too much, so I applied here and moved. My parents weren’t happy about that.” He shrugs. “I like it here. Some friends of mine already lived here, so it wasn’t like I was alone in the city or anything.”

“And you moved so close to the hospital because that’s where the cute nurses are?” I tease.

“Exactly. What can I get you to drink?”

“A beer, please.”

He looks a little surprised at that, but he grabs one from the fridge and pours himself a glass of expensive red wine. I feel a little immature sitting next to him with my beer, drinking it out of the bottle, but who cares. That’s just who I am. When I hang out with Shaughna, Dshawn and Aston, we usually have pizza and beer. That’s kind of our thing.

“Time for that heavy talk,” I decide, putting my beer on the coffee table.

“Could you use a coaster?” James asks, sounding a little embarrassed about ask me. “That’s a brand-new table.”

“Oh.” I seriously never had anyone ask me that aside from my mother. I grab one and put it underneath my beer bottle, giving him an apologetic smile.

“Okay, the talk,” he says, taking a sip of wine. “Like I said, my last girlfriend cheated on me. We were together for two years and we were living together, I bought an engagement ring, the whole shebang, but then she started acting weird, so I held off on proposing because things were feeling a little off.”

“You were going to propose?” I ask. Wow, he’s way more adult than I am. I’ve never even had a real relationship.

“Yeah, I was.” He smiles wryly. “Had to take the damn thing back to the store four months later because I was no longer even in a relationship. Worst year of my life. Well, except for losing Desi, obviously.”

“What happened? She was cheating on you, right?”

He nods. “Yeah. She was. She was a nurse in the same hospital you work at. Maybe you know her.”

“What unit?”

“Teddy worked in Internal Medicine until she got engaged and stopped working.”

“Wait – what?” I blink a few times. Surely I heard that wrong. “Did you say… Teddy?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Do you know her?”

“That depends… did she get married to Leonard Schwartz?”

“Yes, that is the guy she was cheating on me with,” he confirms.

“Well fuck,” I curse, grabbing my beer to down half of it. This talk is not going the way I thought it would. “I guess we’ve got even more in common than we thought. I used to date Leonard.”

James’ mouth falls open. “You did?”

“In fact, he used me to cheat on Teddy before they got engaged. Dated me without ever telling me he already had a girlfriend.”

“Shit,” James says, shaking his head. “That’s fucked up. How long did you date him?”

“A few months. He’s the reason I work in the ER now. I didn’t want to stay in the ICU with him after what he did.”

“That’s horrible.” James grabs my hand a squeezes it.

“Anyway, get on with your story,” I say, a little out of it now. What are the odds of me dating the guy who used to be with Teddy?

“Right,” he says, taking a deep breath. “So… I asked Teddy a few times what was wrong, but she kept insisting that it was all in my head. I’ve been told by my two girlfriends before her that I can be a little possessive and intense, like I told you from the start, so I figured I just needed to work on myself. So I did. I went to therapy, thinking that I was the problem, even when she came home smelling like someone else’s cologne. She always had excuses. The day I finally decided to believe her and propose, she told me she was getting engaged to someone else and moving in with him.”

“Wow,” I breathe. And here I thought Leonard was bad. Turns out he and Teddy are made for each other. An asshole and a bitch. Poor baby though, with parents like that.

“So… yeah. I was a little fucked up for a while over what happened, and even though I stayed in therapy for another few months, I don’t think you can ever just shake off something like that. I’m trying not to be all weird and suspicious when I meet someone new, but I’ve already scared off two girls the past year.” He grunts. “And I didn’t like either of them half as much as I like you. I’m trying really hard to be all cool as a cucumber, but truth is I’m really scared I will get screwed over again.”

“I’d never do that to you,” I tell him earnestly. “I mean, we’re just dating now, we’re not exclusive or anything, but if we get to the point where we’re actually boyfriend and girlfriend, I can promise you I’d never cheat on you.”

“Have you ever cheated on anyone before?”

I shake my head. “No, but full disclosure… I’ve ever really had a boyfriend.”

“What?” he exclaims, looking shocked. “You’re joking, right? A girl like you? How the hell did you stay single for 26 years?”

I shrug. “No one seems to like me enough to commit to me. I’ve only ever been in love once. Guys usually stick around long enough for me to fall for them.”

“Then let me be the one to change that,” James says, pulling me closer to him. “Okay, sorry, that sounded intense again. I don’t mean that I’m in love with you or anything. Even I don’t move that fast. But I think you’re amazing, and if you can look past what happened this morning, I will work really hard to be more trusting and not let what Teddy did to me affect what we have.”

“Good.” I kiss him softly. “I have to warn you, though… I’m friends with a lot of guys. Thomas, Joshua, Aston, Dshawn… I’m not just going to stop hanging out with them because you’re uncomfortable.”

He nods. “I get that. Did you… did you sleep with any of them, besides Thomas?”

“Erm… yeah. Aston.” Here we go. “He’s actually… erm… the only guy I’ve ever been in love with.” There’s no use in keeping that to myself. If James and I keep dating, he will meet Aston eventually and I’d rather have James hear it from me than from Aston or anyone else. “He’s got himself a girlfriend now, though, and they’re really serious, so you’ve got nothing to fear from him.”

“So basically, you slept with half your male friends,” James says, trying to not sound annoyed, but failing. “That’s… I don’t mean this to sound horrible or anything, but that’s going to take a moment for me to be okay with. I don’t expect you to stop hanging out with them, but you’ve got to realize that it will take me a while to feel completely comfortable with you spending time with them.”

“You’ll have to, if you want to be with me.” I need to make sure he gets that. I don’t have a lot of friends, and I’m not going to cut two of them out of my life just because the guy I’m dating has issues.

“I will try,” James promises. “No, I will do more than try. I will just have to be okay with it, because I’m not going to fuck this up by being a jealous douche. I’m done with that. It’d be great if you could cut me some slack if I mess up sometimes, but I get it if you don’t. This is my problem, not yours. I am going to need honesty from you, though, or I will go insane.”

“Fair enough.” Honesty is important in any relationship.

“When did you last…?” James looks away and picks up his glass to drink some more wine. “I mean… How long ago…?”

Oh no. Kill me now.

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