I glowered at my husband.
Not only had he pissed me off, but he’d also refused to accept his birthday gift.
Well, screw it.
If he didn’t want to name this puppy, I would. I wasn’t giving him or his siblings and mother up. They needed me. Just like Q needed me even when he pretended he didn’t.
My thick winter boots stomped on the cobbles as I announced, “I’ve thought of what to call the puppy.” My gaze fell on the waddling fat form by my ankles. He slipped on the icy ground, pulling this way and that on a leash he had no experience with.
I wanted to pick him up, but he also needed to get used to it.
Everyone’s heads snapped toward me.
Q narrowed his eyes, blistering with dark intent. I smiled coldly at him, ignoring everyone else. “I’m going to name him Courage because he actually has the bravery to face scary things in life without tucking tail and running.”
Q’s face blackened. His body language slipped from wound up to lithe and lethal.
My muscles trembled; my core automatically grew wet for him. He’d trained me so well that whenever he got the possessive, dominating look in his eyes, it took all my willpower not to bow in the street and beg him to be my master. To hurt me if it made him feel better. To let me hurt him if it made him somehow return to our open, loving relationship.
How had this weekend turned into something so fraught with unspoken barriers?
Frederick grinned. “I get the underlying tones but actually think Courage is a great name. What’s the bitch called?”
Ripping my gaze from Q, I focused on Frederick. “Don’t call her that. I know it’s the technically correct term for a female dog, but she’s a mother, after all.” Doing my best to make the atmosphere light, after the swirling ferocity between Q and me, I laughed. “Let’s not disrespect her.”
“Oh, I know.” Suzette spun around, walking backward as Franco continued down the footpath to the wrought iron bridge over a babbling brook ahead. “Perhaps Sally? Short for Salvation.”
I cocked my head. It could work. We could have a theme of Salvation and Courage and Bravery and Screw You, Maître, for being a Wimp.
My heart pounded. “I kinda like it.”
Q huffed. “Sally? Really.” He rolled his eyes. “First, you bring a pack into my house, and then you name them ridiculous things.”
Slamming to a halt, I yanked too harshly on Courage’s lead. His fat body flew backward, sprawling by my feet.
I’d already hurt the poor thing, and I’d only had him a few days.
Keeping him secret since I’d been to the shelter, hadn’t been easy. Suzette had kept him in her quarters with Franco at night, and I’d kept the mother and puppies comfortable in the stable by day.
After waving Q and I off in the car at the start of the weekend, Suzette had bundled little Courage with her, and he’d hitched a ride in the helicopter before being looked after by the staff at Castelnaud-des-Fleurs.
If Q were so adamant about not having dogs at home, then I would find them new families. But I couldn’t deny my heart was already attached. Especially to this little guy.
“It’s not a ridiculous name.” I planted a hand on my hip, daring Q to take possession of his gift and fall in love like I had. “It fits. And unless you say otherwise, it’s sticking.”
His nostrils flared. I waited for him to jerk me close and whisper sinful commands into my ear. Instead, he rolled his shoulders, physically forcing himself to relax. The rage siphoned from his gaze, leaving his true thoughts locked to me.
I hated the distance.
The coldness left in his wake as he pulled away.
What was so bad that he couldn’t tell me? What was he so afraid of?
I’d stupidly hoped that Q would fall for his animal just like I had. That he would find whatever it was that he’d lost…or perhaps realised he would never have.
Maybe his past had finally caught up with him? The fact he’d dispatched his father, lost his sister and mother, and been alone for most of his days might’ve damaged him deeper than I knew. Had he not got over that and it tortured him still?
Kissing Courage’s head, I dropped my guard and looked at Q with everything bared.
Please…stop these games and talk to me.
I don’t like this distance between us.
But he didn’t do what I’d hoped.
Instead of tucking me in his powerful embrace and kissing me tenderly, he looked at the picturesque distance and shut me out.
If he wanted to sulk, then so be it.
When he was ready to discuss like a rational person, he would have to grovel.
And I wouldn’t make it easy for him.
* * * * *
That night, after our final dinner in the great hall and a few semi-awkward hours drinking by the fire and playing poker, Q and I retired to our room.
The angry standoff from this afternoon had mellowed to a sad chasm, and I didn’t know how to cross it.
And Q didn’t try.
He had a shower. On his own.
He slipped into his boxer-briefs. Behind closed doors.
He climbed into bed without ordering me onto my knees or any other depraved, delicious thing.
He’d turned inward, and I couldn’t reach him.
Even Courage, the French bulldog mix, couldn’t touch him. I knew I probably shouldn’t (forming bad habits so soon), but with Q’s emotional distance and the fear that I’d done something catastrophic with no idea how to fix it, I tucked the puppy into bed with me. I fell asleep holding the snoring black creature all because my husband wasn’t available.
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