The meek shall inherit the earth, they say.
Bullshit. Look at me now. What do I have? Nothing.
I thought I wouldn’t get past a second heartbreak. I was wrong. I never should’ve closed myself off in tears when Lucas told me he loved me. I should’ve had faith he wouldn’t betray me.
Regaining his love will mean throwing away my pride, my armor and laying myself completely bare. I have to trust that he won’t crush me at my most vulnerable.
The attempt will leave me bleeding. It might just kill me. But I definitely won’t survive knowing that I didn’t fight for what I wanted: my future.
A future with the only man I ever loved…a man more important than the very air I breathe…
You gotta put yourself out there to get what you want.
I bared my heart to Ava. I begged for her trust, her love.
Instead she shattered my soul.
She’s circling me, her pretty eyes vulnerable. She won’t fool me this time. I’ll never give her another shot. I’ll break her before she breaks me…
Note: The last book in Lucas and Ava’s epic love story! No cliffhanger.
“I was in love with you.”
The words come out in a barely audible whisper, but his entire demeanor hardens. The lines on his face are harsher, colder and more aloof. My mouth is so dry, my lips and tongue feel like dead leaves.
“Then why did you say it was over? Why did you call me toxic?” His voice has no inflection. Just a terrifying calm…and something else I can’t process at the moment.
“Because…” I’m jittery all over. I’ve never been this nervous in my life. “I never wanted to be in love with you. I was afraid.”
“Bullshit. I told you I loved you. I said it first.”
“I didn’t think you meant it.”
His hands clench into fists. “Why are you telling me this now?” His jaw flexes. “Is this some kind of game? Didn’t I give you enough money?”
“I never wanted your money!”
I’m shaking so hard I can’t think or speak. The right words all disappear from my mind when faced with his implacable façade. I blindly reach for something to steady myself and grasp the back of an armchair. My knuckles whiten, and I start to lose the feeling in my hand.
Start at the beginning. It’s always easier that way.
“I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing by being here. Maybe I’m making a mistake. I’ve been miserable without you, even though I told myself I was better off on my own. Then I saw you kiss Faye, and it was like somebody took a sledgehammer to my heart. It still feels that way every time I think about it. Then your sister told me I was the one at fault. Because I didn’t fight for you.” I close my eyes, hoping it’ll help me focus. It doesn’t work that well, but at least I can block out Lucas’s impassive face. “I never fought for what I wanted because I never found anything—or anyone—I wanted badly enough. Then when I found you, I couldn’t bring myself to fight because I was certain I’d never be allowed to keep the prize. You’re so perfect, so…everything. Why would you be with someone like me?”
Silence stretches, and I open my eyes, unable to bear the suspense. Lucas is studying me with the oddest expression on his face.
“Why not? What’s wrong with you?” he asks, his voice hushed.
My throat closes. I should’ve known he wasn’t going to let the past go so easily. I should’ve known I cut him too deeply, that he’d want to see me bleed. “I’ll go. Sorry I interrupted your day.”
I hardly take a step before his hand closes around my wrist. “No, you can’t leave like this. Answer the question—what is wrong with you?”
I yank on my arm, but he holds firm. “What’s wrong with me? Isn’t it obvious?”
“I’m a mess!” I fling my free arm. “I’m exactly the kind of girl people like you fuck on the side but don’t date, don’t introduce to your family, don’t think about long-term.”
“Look at me and look at you. I was raised by an uneducated single mom who didn’t know any better. She thought she could get my dad to marry her if she had me, but it wasn’t enough. He was happy to come by, play daddy when it suited him…and then leave—go back to his perfect upper-middle class family. Mom and I were just props so he could play at being some rough, blue-collar guy when he was bored with his suburban life.”
Realization dawns on his face, but I turn away.
“Let me go, Lucas.”
“Why did you come here?”
I shake my head. It’s too humiliating.
“I’m not letting you go until you tell me.” When I press my lips together, he shakes me. “Tell me, damn you. What did you think you could gain by coming here?”
“I don’t know.” Liar. Liar. Every cell in my body begs to leave. I can’t stay here anymore and endure the pain or humiliation. I should’ve accepted I lost. The time to fight was in Charlottesville, not now.
“Ava, tell me.”
His visible eye is narrowed, and his nostrils flare. I’m going to have to hit rock bottom, and then bring out a shovel, before he lets me go. “Because Elizabeth told me you’re going to marry Faye. Because I thought if I bared myself to you, things might change.”
“So you’re here to fight…for me?”
“Fight…” I sniffle, then shrug helplessly. “I don’t know how to fight. We can’t go back in time and erase all the harsh words between us.” I drop my gaze. “It was a mistake for me to come, and I’m sorry.”
“Is that all you’re feeling? Just regret?”
I close my eyes for a moment. I don’t want to tell him, but I owe him that much. After all, he bared everything to me before. “No. I feel…defeated. Hollow. You stole my heart twice. I could’ve survived the first time, but the second…” I swallow. “I’m never going to be whole. I’m in love with you. Always have been. You’re an impossible man to fall out of love with.” I exhale roughly, my entire being wrung out. “Will you let go now? Please?”
His palms cradle my face, and his mouth crashes down on mine. My thoughts fry, and I let go of everything except the incredible sensation his kiss elicits within me. I part my lips, brush my tongue against his and feel the groan vibrating from his chest. He tastes just like I remember—the sweetest and most amazing homecoming.
I dig my fingers into his hair, hold him tightly to me, afraid if I don’t, he’s going to slip away…just like in my dream. I’ll die if this is just a figment of my imagination.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Nadia Lee writes sexy, emotional contemporary romance. Born with a love for excellent food, travel and adventure, she has lived in four different countries, kissed stingrays, been bitten by a shark, ridden an elephant and petted tigers.
Currently, she shares a condo overlooking a small river and sakura trees in Japan with her husband and son. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading books by her favorite authors or planning another trip.
Stay in touch with her via her website, www.nadialee.net, or her blog www.nadialee.net/blog/