Joshua couldn’t believe his eyes. She’s here. He stared into the stunning gray gaze of his past, and they turned him into that eighteen-year-old boy again. His body went rigid; his hands itched to touch her skin, to see her eyes glow as she looked at him like silver fire. Except the love that used to shine in them had turned to pure hate.
He didn’t blame her for the waves of anger rolling off of her. She walked in on him and Brooke, and took off before he could say anything. It looked bad—hell it looked awful, and she believed the worst of it. The worst of me.
Running into her was fate giving him a second chance to do right by her and explain. Explain why he never tracked her down. Explain why he let ten years go by. Judging by the look on her face he might have better luck challenging a bear in its den.
She drained her glass, slammed in on the scarred oak bar top and grabbed for her coat with such force that the barstool she had hung it on began to topple backwards. Joshua hurried to catch it before it hit the floor. This gave her enough time to put space between them. He took a step toward her, but she retreated with her hands up, stopping the words searing his soul.
He froze and the woman who had his heart walked away from him. Again. His muscles seized up, but he fought the reaction. It seemed like an eternity before he got his feet moving. If she made it out that door, she would be gone.
Racing after her, he blocked her path. “Lilly, wait. Please don’t leave. I need to explain.”
She swept a hostile gaze over him, and sidestepped without slowing. The door swung open and she disappeared into the night.
No. Not this time. He could tell by the way she swayed she’d had too much to drink and she shouldn’t be driving. The good and bad news was that she was parked fairly close to the bars front doors. He took advantage of the time she fiddled around in her purse for her keys to close the space between them. Catching her shoulder, he turned her around. A faint breeze was his only warning. Her fist landed against his jaw, and knocked him on his ass.
Admiration underscored the pain. She had to have put her full weight behind that swing. “For fuck’s sake, Lilly, it’s been ten years. Give me a chance to talk.”
She straightened her spine, pulling herself up to her full five foot six and towered over him, hands firmly planted on her hips. Challenge burned in her eyes, a silent promise that if he rose too quickly he would just end up on his ass again. When the hell did she get so strong?
“Ten years isn’t long enough to forget what you did, much less forgive. You had your chance, and you blew it. What the hell were you thinking Josh? Was one night with her worth losing me? Why did you lie to me and tell me that I was the only girl you could ever see yourself with and then turn around and do what you did?” Her breath steamed hot in the cold night air. Fueled by the years and the tequila riding her veins, her anger boiled over him.
He didn’t have the right words to answer her. She didn’t want his answer, she just wanted to lash out at him.
“Answer me, damn it! Was it worth it?” Her hate scorched him. Snorting, she backed away and dug into her purse for her keys. The cool air and frustration alleviating the effects of the alcohol and he was out of time to explain.
“Lilly, stop. Stop for one minute.” He rose slowly. “Just one minute and listen to me. That night—it wasn’t what you thought. Nothing happened…”
“No.” She cut him off mid-sentence. “If that were true…you’d have tried to reach me. You didn’t. You didn’t even try to find me. I waited every damn day for a call or for you to show up at my door. And all I got was some damn Dear John letters? I am exhausted and I am so done with you.” Her eyes went a little wild. Her chest rose and fell, like an avenging angel. “This time…this time I won’t sit and wait on you to call. I’ve moved on. I have a life without you, without Brooke, without this town. So let it go…I have.”
She waited for me…that’s something.
* * *
The lie burned on its way out. She had waited and she knew that she would have waited forever if it wasn’t for the distance between them. It had provided a buffer for her pain, not seeing him or the reminders of their time together. And this time would be no different. Her tears already fought to pour out of her. No amount of time or distance could repair the hurt inside of her…hadn’t the last ten years proved it?
Joshua reached out to her, but she already had the door open and climbed in the car. Every instinct in her body told her to flee. If she stayed to listen to him, lost herself in the blue of his eyes…he would take her apart from the inside out. He’d always had a way of making her forget about everything around them. She couldn’t afford to be sucked back down that particular rabbit hole.
He stopped the door from closing, and she glared at him. “Get your fucking hands off of me and my car, now!”
Jerking back, he looked like he’d been burned. “Lilly, I’m sorry, I know that I can’t say it enough and that I can never help you understand the reasons why I did what I did, but I want you to know that you’re not the only one whose heart shattered that night.”
He stood a second longer and finally retreated, walking over to the building and leaning his head against the brick wall. It was hard as hell not to jump out of the car and try and soothe him, tell him it was okay and that everything was forgiven. The need to touch him killed her.
Time to get the hell out of dodge.
One night in Clearwater threatened to destroy her all over again. She knew, deep down, she should have let it go—that Joshua had been just a high school kid who had jumped at the chance to sow his wild oats with the town tramp, but Lilly couldn’t let go of the what-ifs and what-might-have-beens. Thanks to that one night, her happily-ever-after never happened.
The key in her hand felt like a lead weight reminding her that she had an escape route. She would say goodbye to her mom in the morning and go home. She turned the ignition and put the car in reverse. Her buzz was all but gone. Don’t look at him.
Accelerating out of the parking lot, she kept her eyes on the road, determined not to look in the rearview mirror. She left him and her storybook ending turned nightmare behind in a trail of dust and tears.