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Authors: Mira Lyn Kelly

Tags: #Romance

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BOOK: Now and Then
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She could barely breathe thinking about what that must have been like for him. Thinking about him being alone when those strangers showed up at his door. About how badly this man must have hurt.

“You want to know what that felt like, Brynn? It ripped a hole in me. It broke me down so low, I didn’t know how I was ever going to get up. But at least I had this one consolation. There wasn’t a single fucking thing I could have done to change it. To save them.” Bowing his head, he blew a harsh breath through his nose. Then, cutting a look back at her, he landed the hardest blow. “If something happened to you, it would have been a hundred times worse. Because I would have known, Brynn. I would have known I could have protected you. But
you wouldn’t let me.
You wouldn’t trust me.”

Throat raw, she said the only thing she could. “I’m sorry.”

He looked her in the eyes, and for one blink the walls lifted and she saw the man who loved her looking back.

But then he was gone. “I’m sorry, too.”

“Please, Ford. This can be our new beginning. Our fresh start without all the secrets, without the looming black clouds, without me wondering how long I get to keep you.
This is our chance.
Please,
I know I lied to you about my intentions. But as mad as you are, you have to know I was trying to do the right thing. That it was because I loved you that I was willing to leave.”

“See, that’s the problem right there, Brynn. Your default setting when things get tough is to leave. Cut ties. You don’t do it to be cruel, you do it because you believe it’s the
right thing.
” He blew out a breath and stared at the floor around his feet before once again meeting her eyes. “But it doesn’t change the end result. You’re still not there. And when I look at you, right now, telling me this is our chance—all I can think is, but what happens next time? Because even though I fixed this problem, sooner or later there will be something else. That’s how life works, Brynn. Shit happens. Maybe it’ll be your brother getting into trouble at his shop. Maybe O’Shea gets hit by a bus and suddenly your father is getting in deep with some new loan shark.”

He swallowed hard, closing his eyes as if pained. “Maybe you get sick, Brynn, with something I can’t fix….Are you going to want to protect me from that, too?”

Her breath caught at the pain in his eyes. “Ford.”

“All you want is a new beginning, but
all I’m seeing
is myself waking up however long from now to find out it’s already the end. That something spooked you and rather than stay with me and deal with it together, you’ll have done what you always do and leave. You’ll believe it’s the right thing or the only way or whatever else you tell yourself when you’re packing your bags and booking your flights. You’ll kiss me like you always do. Tell me you love me and make me feel like Superman for those last few minutes we’re together. I won’t see what’s coming. I won’t have a chance to stop it. And then you’ll be gone.
Because that’s what you do, Brynn
. You leave. And I can’t sign on for a lifetime of waiting for it to happen.”

This couldn’t be happening.

“It won’t be like that,” she promised, her tears spilling freely now.

He brushed his thumb beneath her eye and then pressed a kiss against her forehead. “No. It won’t.”

Chapter 22

“Geez, Ford, put a little effort into it, would you?” Ava groused from halfway down his chest where she was currently trying to bear-hug him to death. “It’s been forever since we hung out.”

Yeah, a few weeks anyway. But after the breakup, he’d been no kind of company for anyone. Not even himself.

That last night, he’d told Brynn the only thing he could think of when he looked at her was what it would be like the next time things got rough and she left. But now the only thing he could think of was her face when he’d said it. The tears and hurt in her eyes. The plea in her voice.

The way the door sounded when he’d closed it behind him. How his chest had felt like little more than a hollow husk. And then how he’d have given anything to have that hollow feeling back, because the pain that replaced it once the fear and anger wore off?
Shit.

Figuring some solitude was in order, he’d headed up north to the cabin, but within a few days there was no denying he’d fucked up. Monumentally. He’d pushed Brynn away because he’d been furious with her for lying to him. Leaving him again.
Blindsiding him.

That had been the worst of it—what made him snap.

The realization that he’d been played. The sickening knowledge that she might get hurt or worse—because she was too good at telling him what he wanted to hear and he was too blind a fool to see her lies for what they were. The cold terror in his heart at the thought of what she was going to do
without him.

And yeah, some of that fear and anger was justified. But to do what he’d done?

Tell her goodbye when she was finally free to love him completely? When she was standing there crying, telling him this was their chance?
Fuck.
He’d been a chickenshit without the balls to take it. He’d been so hung up on her leaving him, on the fear that leaving was all she’d ever do, that he hadn’t even considered the fact that Brynn might have had a damned good reason for running. No one in her life had ever come through for her. No one had given her a reason to believe they would do what they said—follow through with their good intentions. Brynn hadn’t been able to trust in him because all she knew was having her trust abused. She hadn’t been able to stand by him because no one had ever stood by her.

And when, finally, she had a reason to believe—when he’d
convinced
her to give him her trust—what had he done? Broken it. Just like everyone else she’d been unlucky enough to love. But at least with them, she’d seen it coming.

With him, though? Hell, talk about blindsiding.

He’d never forgive himself. He’d been ready to crawl on his belly for her forgiveness, only he hadn’t been able to see past his own bullshit until it was too late.

Until she’d already moved on.

Now he didn’t just have to live with knowing he’d lost Brynn. He had to live with knowing he’d thrown her away.

Ford tightened his hold around his little sister, but eventually she just huffed in that Ava way of hers and let him go.

“You’re like hugging Herman Munster, except stiffer.” She walked over to the coffee table and grabbed a pretzel chip to point at him. “And grumpier. I’ve never seen you like this over a girl.”

Tony rounded the corner, wiping his hands on his jeans. “What girl? Is she hot? Did you call dibs or is this a girl who’s still up for grabs? She’s legal, right?”

Ava’s only response was to roll her eyes and then lock them back with Ford’s. “I still can’t believe I didn’t get to meet her.”

“Yeah, well it doesn’t make much difference now. It’s over.”

Christ, how was it the words still felt like sandpaper in his throat and like a lead blanket on his shoulders?

“So does that mean she’s available?” Tony asked around a mouthful of chips.

Ford’s eyes cut to his and Tony’s face paled, his hands coming up. He swallowed and then, pushing up from the couch he’d just sat down on, mumbled something about getting a beer and headed back down the hall.

Shit.

Tony was just being Tony. A little rough around the edges, but a harmless, good guy. A
friend.
He ought to go after him and apologize, but the way Ford was wound right then, he’d probably just end up making it worse.

He should have stayed back up at the cabin.

“Wow, Ford. That was lame like I haven’t seen from you in, in…” Ava stopped and stared at him, the lawyer in her obviously thinking back for a specific, accurate instance of assholery to cite.

He waved her off, saving her the trouble. “I know. I’m being a dick. I don’t mean to, but honest to God, I just can’t stop. I missed you guys while I was up at the cabin, and I wanted to see you today, but as soon as I get around anyone—”

“All you can think of is her?” she asked, understanding there in her big brown eyes.

Now that Sam and Ava were married, sometimes he forgot just exactly how much his little sister knew about nursing a broken heart. “Yeah, pretty much.”

“Ford, are you sure it’s really over? I know you aren’t going to tell me what happened between you—which is uncool, by the way. But even without the details, I can see how messed up you are over this. I mean, maybe she’s as miserable as you, and the two of you just need to—”

“She’s gone.”

He dropped into the deep cushions of the couch and rubbed at the back of his neck, thinking about her vacant apartment a few blocks down. His manager’s message again that morning, asking if it was okay to sign a new tenant. The message he hadn’t returned.

He could feel Ava’s eyes burning into the top of his head.

“Um, gone, like, how gone?”

“Gone, like she took a job covering the Boston Celtics’ home games. And two days after we broke up she moved out of her apartment.”

Ava gasped, no doubt remembering what it had been like when she’d been ready to make that kind of commitment to change her life.

“Were you able to talk to her before she left?”

He shook his head, concentrating on pulling and pushing the air from lungs that didn’t want to work.

Quietly she whispered, “I’m sorry, Ford.”

Not as sorry as he was.

He’d thought about calling her. Telling her how badly he’d fucked up. How sorry he was. Hell, tracking her phone again and hunting her down out east so his caveman could throw her over his shoulder and carry her back home. But where the hell did he get off thinking he had the right to do any of that? He’d justified tracking her phone the first time because he’d considered it a matter of life and death. But that wasn’t a violation of privacy he could revisit just for kicks.

And she’d moved.
Even after the threat of her father and Timothy had been eliminated, she’d still made the choice to go. And that said more than words ever could.

It said she was
moving on.

And as much as it was killing him, he was trying to let her.

He looked up at his little sister. “How’d you do it, Ava? You loved Sam for so long, and through all those years you were still able be a functional part of society. You smiled. You laughed. You didn’t give your friends death stares because they mentioned him.”

Ava hopped onto the couch beside him and, resting her head against his arm, answered, “
Practice
. A lot of practice.”


Brynn sat cross-legged on her bed scowling down at her laptop screen, one click away from putting herself on the map of social media. A place she’d been avoiding for as long as she could remember.

Only now things were different.

She wasn’t working to stay off anyone’s radar. She wasn’t hoping to avoid people figuring out who her friends were or where she liked to hang out. She wasn’t trying to cut ties with anyone. She didn’t need to.

No, this was about
connecting.

Just a little.

She swallowed, felt the pounding of her heart, and then the contact of her finger against the mouse pad.

And welcome to Facebook, Brynn.

The breath she hadn’t totally realized she’d been holding burst free and she sat back, waiting for the panic to come. Waited some more.

But there was none. She wasn’t afraid. Because she didn’t have anyone to be afraid of.

It was exhilarating, and all she wanted to do was call the man who had made it possible.

Tell him what she’d done. Laugh with him about how big a deal such a little thing was for her and
know
that he understood.

Closing her eyes, she could practically feel his arms around her. His breath ruffling through her hair as he held her close.

The euphoric sense of bliss evaporated and her next sigh left her feeling that same emptiness she hadn’t been able to escape since Ford said goodbye.

“Shi—oot.” No more tears.

She’d shed enough in the past few weeks to turn the United Center into a saltwater swimming pool. Fortunately for her and Chicago’s fans, work was the one place she mostly held it together.

So okay, there were those few moments when even with the on-court action mounting, Ford had managed to make his way into her thoughts. When all the regrets and justifications and soul-deep loss threatened to overwhelm her. But then some loose ball would come flying or the crowd would erupt around her and she’d snap out of it.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t count on that kind of intervention at thirty thousand feet when she was en route to whatever game she was shooting, or when she walked the aisles of the supermarket, or worst of all, in the small hours of the morning, when her new roommates were sound asleep and the world around her was so silent and still that there was nothing to save her from the memories of what it had been like between them for those few precious weeks. When her last conscious thoughts before falling asleep were of Ford’s arms tightening around her, his breath in her hair, and then waking to the steady drum of his heart beneath her cheek. Hearing that deep, rumbling laughter when they talked and talked and talked. The smile that touched his eyes before his mouth caught up. And the way her heart ached in that amazing, full way when she saw it.

How right it had felt to be with him. Like nothing had ever felt right before.

She would lie in her bed alone, staring out the window that faced a brick wall, and know she could have had it all forever. That happiness and joy and love had been within her grasp—and she’d let it slip away.

She could blame her father. Her life. But in the quiet and still…there was no hiding from the truth. It was her choices that cost her the forever she’d only barely begun to believe in. Those choices she’d stood so staunchly behind, but she now found herself questioning more with every day that passed. Her thoughts looping around and back again to Ford learning about his parents’ death, to when he asked what would happen if she got sick, to something worse.

What if their roles had been reversed?

What if it had been Ford slowly drowning in problems he couldn’t see his way clear of—problems he wanted to protect her from? What if he were the one who got sick? What if there was a car accident and in the blink of an eye he was gone? And she couldn’t even take solace in knowing it was her door the officers came to, because when she and Ford had had their chance, they didn’t take it.

Great.
She wiped at her cheek with the back of her wrist and shook her head. She wasn’t going to do this again. Not now.

Ford had given her a gift like she’d never thought to have in her entire life. A life she wasn’t going to waste burning through the North American supply of tissues.

No, she was going to take her gift and live it.

She owed that much to Ford. She owed it to the both of them.

BOOK: Now and Then
11.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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