Dirty Together (The Dirty Billionaire Trilogy #3)(13)

by Meghan March

“I told you about my mama. We bounced from trailer to trailer in Rusty Meadows, which is a couple miles from here, across the river. It’s called Happy Meadows, but no one actually calls it that.”

“Was it an okay place?”

She shrugs against me. “The people were generally pretty nice, with the exception of the times the guy she’d shacked us up with would toss us out. Sometimes I’d come home from school and find my clothes in the dirt because Mama did something to piss the guy off. Usually messing around with someone else and getting ready to jump ship. She called it lining up her next opportunity. Everyone else called it being a cheating whore. The thing that sucks worst about living in a small town is that everyone assumed I was just like her.”

I recall an offhand comment she made a couple of weeks ago about some boy offering her money for a blow job.

“But you set them straight.”

“I just became an introvert. I didn’t talk to anyone. Didn’t date boys; didn’t talk to boys. I didn’t want to be like my mama. Didn’t even have a boyfriend until I was a senior in high school. But she was gone for years by then. People started to forget about her, at least a little.”

“Where’d she go?”

“She hitched her wagon to a man who could afford to keep her in style. He bought her a Cadillac Eldorado and they took off. I didn’t see her again until Country Dreams happened, and now she just shows up when she needs money, which I don’t really have.”

“Until you married me and I sent her off on a fully paid vacation, and made myself into an easy target.”

Holly sighs. “But you made her go away, and that’s all I wanted.”

I press a kiss to her forehead. “Are you going to take me to Rusty Meadows while we’re here?” I’m not even really sure why I ask the question.

Holly shifts, and I think she’s shaking her head. “No. It’s not something I like to remember. This house,” she jerks her chin toward the ceiling, “is the only home in this town I want to remember.”

“Fair enough. And you were how old when you moved in?”

“Fourteen. Best thing that ever happened to me. Gran was friends with Ben and he gave me a job, which led to me singing karaoke and falling in love with being onstage, and the rest is history and would make a great country song.” She pauses. “Speaking of which, I should totally write that one. I need a few more for the big-box exclusive tracks before I get back to Nashville.”

She settles down on my chest again, and I can feel the tension drain out of her. Which is somewhat surprising, because now the subject of geography has come up. It’s something that’s been weighing on my mind, but it’s not impossible. It’ll just take some finesse.

I lean up on my elbow so I can see her face. “When do you need to be back in Nashville this time?”

“I need to be in the studio two weeks from tomorrow to cut the tracks, and I need to hammer the last few songs out with Vale once I’ve got ideas and practice them with the band. So probably . . . five or six days? Maybe sooner?” She glances up at me. “Is that going to be a problem?”

“No. We’ll figure it out. You know there are recording studios in Manhattan, right?”

Her expression falls. “I . . . I just don’t feel comfortable there. It’s intimidating. Everyone’s so focused and intense, and I feel like I’m just wandering around, hoping to hell I don’t get lost. I don’t mind feeling small in the grand scheme of things, but something about New York just makes me feel . . . inadequate. I know it’s your place, and I’m not saying I won’t go back and try to learn to like it, but I don’t think I’m ever going to like it enough to want to live there permanently.”

I can’t say that her words don’t disappoint me, because they do. I hate that she doesn’t feel comfortable in the city that I love, but the fact that she’s willing to try is a good sign. I’m not going to force her into something that clearly makes her so uneasy, but still, I think there’s hope.

I press another kiss to her temple. “Next time, I’ll show you a New Yorker’s New York. The city has enough to offer that I think even you’ll find something to enjoy. And I know it doesn’t help to tell you that you belong there just as much as anyone else, but you do. Maybe more than anyone else, because you’re mine. So if you’re willing to give it another chance, I promise I’ll give the entire city to you on a platter.”

“Okay,” she whispers.

I pull her against me tighter. “Thank you.”

She snuggles against me, and I can’t help but realize that this is the first time I’ve ever actually cuddled with a woman. It’s nice. But I have a feeling it’s only nice because it’s Holly. She’s turned my entire fucking world upside down, and it’s the best goddamn thing that has ever happened to me.

My self-congratulatory thoughts falter when she asks, “Will you tell me about what it was like for you growing up? Since we’re doing the sharing thing?”

My heart stutters as pangs of loss and grief stab through it. I swallow against the pain of old wounds never fully healed. Because do you ever fully recover from the loss of your parents? Especially when they’re ripped from your life without warning?

I pause for the length of a few breaths before finally speaking. “Up until the age of ten, my childhood was simple. My parents were dedicated to serving others. They were missionaries. When I was six, we moved to Papua New Guinea. We lived there for four years. I don’t remember a lot before that, to be honest. Everything there was so vivid and alive. Simple. Amazing. I ran wild with the other missionaries’ kids, and the mothers took turns homeschooling us. It was basically the best childhood a kid could ask for. My sister was born there, about a year before . . . everything changed.”

Holly’s palm begins stroking up and down my chest, and I wonder if she knows she’s soothing me. It’s a very wifely gesture, and it gives me a shot of steadiness to continue. I haven’t told this story in years, not since I told Cannon. Like I did then, I just have to recite the facts or I’ll never get through it.

“Sometimes I feel bad that Greer was too young to remember any of those good days, but then again, she also doesn’t remember any of the bad. Including the day trip I took with another missionary family, because my best friend James and I were dead set on seeing the tree kangaroos. His dad promised us that he’d find them for us, and he did. We came back late in the evening to the village, and found that fifteen people were slaughtered by a vigilante mob, including my parents, who tried to stop them. The mob was hunting down people accused of witchcraft. It seems insane in this day and age, like something out of the Salem witch trials, but it still happens there, even today.”