A chill ran through Mia, waking her up to an empty bed.

She pulled on her robe and wandered out to the living room, finding Wyatt perched on the windowsill in nothing but his slacks, cold night air ruffling through his unruly golden mane.

“Are you alright, mon Bête?” she asked as she made her way to him, accepting his silent invitation to sit in his lap when he stretched out his legs to make room for her.

“Oui, ma Figue de Barbarie,” he answered, sporting that infuriatingly smug grin. It took Mia a few seconds to figure out why he was so pleased when it dawned on her that she had called him mon bête. Mine.

It should have been a disturbing slip of the tongue, but Mia couldn’t help but revel at how right it sounded.

Wyatt’s thumbs lightly stroked the skin of her thigh. “I couldn’t sleep, too many thoughts.”

“What’s bothering you?” she asked, shuddering when a cool breeze blew over her bare skin.

“Tes yeux.” Wyatt pulled Mia closer, sharing his body warmth.

Mia rested her head on his chest, listening to his steady heartbeat. “Why are my eyes bothering you?”

“You looked so sad when I asked you about your family,” Wyatt said, looking down at her with intense russet eyes.

Mia turned her face down, wrapping her arms around her middle. “Maybe if I had a family like yours, I’d be talking about them too.”

“We aren’t perfect, Mia,” Wyatt said with a sigh. “Come on, you wouldn’t even be here if you hadn’t caught me with that girl in a club storage room. You want to know why I used to prefer random hookups?”

“Because you’re a pig?”

“You’ve got a mouth on you, Prickly Pear.” He kneaded her ass and Mia winced. “It’s how you ended up with a red behind.”

Mia smiled and looked up at Wyatt. “I’m not sorry, but please continue.”

“I used to be a romantic through and through, it’s hard not to be when your role models for relationships have these great love stories.” Wyatt seemed to get lost in his thoughts before looking back at Mia. “Unfortunately, I seemed to continuously attract opportunistic women and, being a starry-eyed idiot, I let them use me.”

“How do you mean?” Mia asked, sitting up straight to get a better view of Wyatt’s face as he spoke.

“My father attracts… attention. Commands it, even. He doesn’t mean to, it’s just the way he is.”

“Sounds familiar,” Mia said with a raised eyebrow, palm smoothing to Wyatt’s neck.

“Yes, well, it took me time to grow into it, and even then, I was never a match for the great Brian Jenkins.” Wyatt’s expression became bitter. “From high school through college, they’d always use me to get closer to him. The opportunists I could handle, they were after my mom’s attention as much as my dad’s. We’ve always been told that some people will seek our proximity to advance their career or because of money, I was ready for that.”

“Then what was the issue?” Mia had an inkling as to the answer, but part of her still refused to believe it was possible.

“The girls that tried to get him into bed.” Wyatt seemed somewhere between furious and revolted. “He never did anything, I know I can’t be mad at him for being him, but sometimes I wish he was less, you know?” His gaze darkened the more he confided in her. “What finally broke me was the last girl, four years ago, we dated for over four months and I really liked her. Two days after she met my parents, she started asking to go there all the time, asking about my dad and his relationship with my mom. I recognized the signs but convinced myself not to read too much into it, told myself she was just curious about my family and that it was a good sign. Then I caught her trying to get into my phone to send herself my dad’s number.”

“That’s terrible, you must have been so hurt.” Mia could feel Wyatt’s pain. She understood the girls wanting to advance their careers through Wyatt’s world-renowned fashion photographer mother or Nobel prize winning scientist father. She didn’t condone it, but she could make sense of it.

Seducing a married man twice your age while dating his son, on the other hand, was beyond her comprehension on every possible level, not to mention that the mere idea irked her. She couldn’t fathom how awful Wyatt felt.

“I felt so stupid.” Wyatt gritted his teeth, looking away from her. “This kept happening, I was letting myself be used, over and over again. No matter how hard I tried, not a single woman was interested in me. So, I decided–no more emotional attachments.”

“That sounds very lonely,” Mia said, stroking a thumb over his smooth jawline.

“Kind of boring after a while as well.” Wyatt shrugged, leaning into her touch. “Nothing about you is boring, though.”

Mia considered his words, the way he had been with her over the past few months. They had a tumultuous relationship, especially at start, but if there was one thing she was positive about when it came to Wyatt, was his sincerity when he talked about his emotions, especially regarding his family.

“My mother is a self-centered bitch,” Mia said. Wyatt’s head snapped up, his back pressing against the windowsill as his widened eyes searched her face. “She’s only ever cared about herself, about her parties, and lovers and social status. She was never around since the day I was born, but my father was amazing until I turned ten, then he just became cold and cruel.”

“What do you mean by cruel?” Anger flashed through Wyatt’s eyes and Mia shook her head.

“Not like that. He stopped treating me like his child, would barely speak to me, stopped hugging me, stopped…” The tears welled up in her eyes as memories she’d worked so hard to subdue surfaced to the forefront of her mind. “Stopped loving me.”

“No parent just stopsloving their child.” Mia released a bitter laugh at Wyatt’s on point observation.

“He died when I was sixteen, and at his Will reading I found out that he wasn’t my biological father. My mother had an affair with the pool boy one summer, fifteen years her junior, how cliché.”

“That’s not an excuse,” Wyatt said in determination, wiping a tear rolling down Mia’s cheek.

“Not everyone is as lucky as your father, Wyatt,” Mia whispered. “Not everyone is as lucky as you.”

“Mia…” Her name was a shuddery and hushed exhale, followed by a trembling kiss that stole her breath away. “What happened after the reading?”

“I wanted to find the pool boy, but my mother blew me off, said he was a seasonal worker that moved on and never came back, she thinks his name was Anton, though she doesn’t understand why I even care.” Mia rolled her eyes in dismay. “My father left me this house and enough money so I can live comfortably while focusing on my academics, under the provision I live in London. My mother hates this city, he knew if I were here, she’d never see me, I assume it was his way to revenge her infidelities.”

“Or look out for you by distancing you from her,” Wyatt said, his eyes full of warmth rather than the pity Mia was expecting.

“Maybe.” Mia dropped her head back onto Wyatt’s chest, trying to push down the feeling of comfort that washed over her under Wyatt’s soft and caring gaze. “It hasn’t stopped her from sending eligible suitors my way over the years, trying to guilt me back to Paris and marry me into a titled family.”

“Has she met you?” Wyatt asked, and Mia swatted his chest. “I’m serious, you’re barely duchess material, Prickly Pear.”

Mia planted her palms on Wyatt’s chest and pushed herself up to glare at him in amusement. “Well, lucky for me, you aren’t exactly a duke, now are you?”

“No.” He laughed, a warm and deep rumble that ignited a bubbling joy in Mia’s chest. “I am definitely not a Duke, I’m a Jenkins through and through.” Then he leaned forward, planting a soft kiss on Mia’s lips before whispering in a voice full of sincere gratitude. “Thank you for telling me all that.”

“Thank you for listening,” Mia said against his lips, pulling him closer, deepening the kiss.

Wyatt’s palm smoothed up her back until he was cupping her nape, their eyes meeting and, for a brief moment, something unspoken passed between them.

And just like that, Mia realized that she no longer hated Wyatt Jenkins and that she hadn’t hated him for some time.