Authors: Cheryl Douglas
Book Three in the Vista Falls Series
Copyright © by Cheryl Douglas
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Letting Go © 2016 Cheryl Douglas
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Gabby told herself the only reason she was dancing with her ex was because she didn’t want to make a scene at her best friend’s wedding, which was exactly what she would have done if she’d blasted Colt for cutting in on her and her date.
“How’ve you been?” Colt murmured, brushing his lips over her temple.
“Why do you care?” she shot back. She clenched her teeth when his hand dipped lower, his thumb dancing across her spine.
“I’ve always cared about you, Gabby. You know that.”
“Really?” She tipped her head back, trying to hold her temper since they were surrounded by wedding guests. “Is that why you left town after we…?” She knew she didn’t need to remind him of the last time they’d slept together.
“I’m sorry about that.” He sighed, looking down at her. “I never should have left without talking to you first. It was a cowardly thing to do, and I don’t have an excuse—”
“Good, because I don’t want to hear any of your excuses.” She was so done with this man. Just because she’d been head-over-heels in love with him in high school didn’t mean she felt anything for him now. Okay, maybe she felt
. But that was only because he was still the sexiest man she’d ever met.
His dark hair was a little shorter than he usually wore it, probably in deference to the wedding. But he still had some scruff peppering his jaw, which she secretly loved. Despite his enormous success as co-owner of one of the largest outdoor retailers in the country, he was still a little rough around the edges, reminding her of the boy he used to be…
“What are you thinking about?” he whispered as though he could read her mind. “
“What? No!” She hadn’t thought of that night in… twenty-four hours. But she blamed that on her friends, who had demanded to know how she felt about seeing Colt again.
“Are you telling me that you haven’t thought about it?” he asked, his voice low and husky. “You just managed to put it right out of your mind?”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m involved with someone.”
might have been too strong a word for her relationship with Dave.
would have been more accurate, but he didn’t have to know that.
“Yeah, I heard about you and Reynolds. You sure about that? He doesn’t seem like your type.”
“What the hell do you know about my type?”
“I know that I’m your type.”
He sounded so smug that Gabby seriously considered wiping that sexy half smile right off his face with the palm of her hand, but she wouldn’t do anything to ruin Sage’s wedding. She had a feeling that slapping the groom’s best friend across the face in the middle of the dance floor might put a damper on the festivities.
“You go right on thinking that,” she said, smirking. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
“Speaking of sleep,” he said, drawing her obscenely close, “I haven’t been getting much lately.”
“Too bad. Tell your doctor, not me.”
“But you’re the reason I’ve been losing sleep.”
Colt had been the first and last guy to charm her out of her panties, but she sure as hell wouldn’t make the mistake of letting that happen again. No matter how sorry he claimed to be about leaving town without a single word after giving her the most unforgettable night of her life.
“You expect me to believe that?” she asked, rolling her eyes.
“You don’t think you were special to me?” His eyes narrowed, daring her to argue with him.
“I’m not having this conversation here,” she said, trying to divert her attention. No matter how angry she got with him, he’d always been able to melt her with those incredible gray eyes.
“Fine, you want me to stop by your place later?” He flashed her a grin, revealing deeply etched dimples.
“Don’t bother. I won’t be alone.”
His smile slipped, and she could feel tension radiating from his muscular body. “Is that your not-so-subtle way of telling me Reynolds will be spending the night with you?”
“That’s none of your business.” She hadn’t slept with Dave… mainly because she was trying to keep the relationship casual and she’d never been very good at casual sex.
“It is if I want you back.”
She stumbled, but his finesse on the dance floor meant they didn’t miss a beat. “What are you talking—”
“I’m moving back home.” He let his claim register before he whispered, “And you’re a big part of the reason.”
Her heart was beating so hard she was sure he could feel it against his chest. “You’re wasting your time on me. I’m done with you.”
“Is that right?” He brushed a tendril of hair away from her face, where it had caught on her eyelashes when she turned her head. “Because your body is telling a completely different story.” She held her breath as he whispered, “Your face is flushed.”
His eyes dipped to her cleavage, then she noticed her nipples were unabashedly beaded in her backless dress.
“And that’s not all, is it?” When she was sure he would offer a graphic description of what he was doing to her, complete with a deep inhalation to
her reaction, he said, “Your heart is beating as fast as mine is. I can feel it.”
She swallowed, trying to ignore the fact that their hearts were indeed beating as one. “That doesn’t prove anything.”
“It proves that you’re scared. So am I.”
She’d never known Colt Atkins to be scared of anything or anyone. Except maybe his feelings for her. But that was back in high school. She had been his first love when he was afraid his feelings for her would keep him chained to a town he hated and a father who treated him like dirt.
“I can’t,” she whispered.
“You can’t what?”
“Trust you. Be with you. Let myself…”
Love you again.
“Go there again. I know you won’t stick around. You never do.”
“I have reason to stick around now. You’re here. Wes is here. Our business is here.”
“I was always here,” she said, trying to hide the hurt in her voice. “But that wasn’t enough, was it?”
“You’ve always been more than enough for me.”
There was a time when she’d been stupid and naïve enough to believe that. But not anymore. If being married and divorced had taught her one thing, it was that people would say or do almost anything in the heat of battle.
“Okay, Atkins,” Dave said, slapping Colt on the back. “I’ve let you monopolize my girl long enough. I want her back.”
“You’re not the only one,” Colt muttered, only loud enough for Gabby to hear.
Gabby stepped into Dave’s arms, pasting on a smile to hide the awkwardness. Colt walked away with a scowl on his face and without a word to her date.
“Seemed like things were getting pretty intense,” Dave said, glancing over his shoulder at Colt, who’d made a beeline for the bar. “I thought you might need saving.”
She did need saving… from herself. Because her feelings for that man were going to destroy her. “Your timing was perfect.”
“Did he say something to upset you?” Dave asked, frowning.
“No, he, uh, just mentioned that he was moving back home.” Since Dave would find that out soon enough, she thought it would be better coming from her.
“Oh.” He looked dejected. “I guess I don’t have to ask how you feel about that, do I?”
They’d talked about past relationships during one of their previous dates, and she’d admitted that Colt was one of only two men she’d ever loved.
“What Colt and I had was a long time ago,” she said, hoping she wouldn’t ruin a potentially good thing because her head and heart were stuck in the past. “I’m over it.” If only that were true.
“You sure about that?”
Gabby couldn’t look Dave in the eye and lie to him. He didn’t deserve that. “Do I still have feelings for Colt?” She sighed. “I guess I do. But that doesn’t mean I want to be with him anymore.”
“I can’t trust him.”
“He cheated on you?” Dave asked, frowning. “I don’t remember you telling me that.”
“No, nothing like that.” Though if he had, she suspected getting over him would have been a lot easier. “I just can’t count on him to stick around. He’s made no secret of the fact he hates Vista Falls. He did when we were kids, and he still does, so while he may claim that he’s back for good, I don’t believe him.”
“And if he was back for good?” Dave asked, stepping back as he released her. “Would you want to be with him?”
“No. I don’t know.” She rubbed her forehead. “It doesn’t matter—”
“It matters to me.” He shook his head, looking sad. “I don’t want to be any woman’s second choice, Gabby.”
“Wait,” she said, grabbing his arm when he turned away. “What does that mean?”
“It means we probably shouldn’t see each other until you sort out your feelings for your ex.”
“I hope you’re happy now!”
No, he was miserable. But he wouldn’t give Gabby the satisfaction of admitting that. “What the hell did I do?” He held up his empty glass. “I’ve just been sitting here minding my own business.”
And maybe getting hammered because I can’t stand the sight of another man’s hands on you.
“Come with me.” She grabbed his hand and dragged him through the inn, which was no small feat since he had eight inches and eighty pounds on her.
He followed her outside, surprised when she led him to a row of four chairs facing the water. Not that he minded having her all to himself. “Uh, what are we doing down here?”
“You’re ruining my life again.” She sniffled. “I want to know why.”
His gut clenched when he realized she may be crying, but it was too dark to tell. “Sit down with me for a minute,” he said, sitting in one of the chairs and tugging on her hand. “Tell me what’s got you so upset. Is it me coming back or—”
“Dave just broke up with me.” She sniffled again, wiping her cheeks and making it impossible for him to go on pretending that she wasn’t crying.
He should have apologized, but he couldn’t. He wasn’t sorry her boyfriend had dumped her. He was thrilled. “And that’s my fault?”
She glared at him. “Yes, it’s your fault. Why did you have to cut in when we were dancing? If he hadn’t seen us together—”
“You could have gone on pretending there’s nothing between us?” Colt knew any sighted person could see the incredible chemistry between them. One look at Gabby and he was good to go, and experience told him the same was true for her… whether she’d admit it or not.
“I never lied to him. I told him that we dated in high school.”
“Oh yeah? Did you tell him you made love to me the last time I was in town?” He hadn’t been able to get that night out of his head. Because as much as the eighteen-year-old version of Gabby had taunted him, the thirty-four-year-old version had rocked his world, making it impossible for him to let her go.
“We did not make love. We had sex.”
“Four times, from what I recall.” He smirked, knowing he was being an ass for bringing up how many times they’d had sex when clearly a whole lot more was going on between them than the fun they’d had between the sheets.
“I hate you.”
If she’d said it with any malice, he might have been able to believe her, but the sadness in her voice hurt him more than it worried him. It was obvious how much his actions had hurt her.
“I messed up, okay? I should never have bailed on you. I should have stayed and… I don’t know. Tried.”
“Tried what?” She leaned forward, dropping her head into her hands. “Tried to love me? Tried to be my boyfriend? Tried not to break my heart again? What exactly would you have tried to do if you’d stayed, Colt?”