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Authors: Colleen Hoover

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BOOK: Reminders of Him
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CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

K
ENNA

It starts raining on our drive home. The rain hitting the windshield is the only sound right now, because neither of us is speaking. We haven’t said a word to each other since we were in the alley earlier tonight.

I wonder if he’s mad that I put in my notice. I don’t know why he would be; he’s the one who brought it up. But he’s so quiet it’s making things uncomfortable.

I can’t continue to work for him, though. How do we plan for my potential departure when we’re starting to crave each other’s company? I thought this was messy before, but it’s bound to get even messier if I let it continue.

There’s an unresolved energy moving between us in the truck when he pulls into the parking lot. Sometimes when he drops me off, he doesn’t even turn off the engine of his truck. But tonight he does, and he removes the keys, and his seat belt, and he grabs an umbrella and gets
out
of the truck.

It only takes him a few seconds to make it to the passenger side, but in that few seconds, I’ve decided I don’t want him to walk me
up. I can walk myself up. It’s better that way. I don’t trust myself with him.

He opens my door and I reach for the umbrella, but he pulls it back.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

“Give me the umbrella. I can walk myself up.”

He takes a step back so I can get out of his truck. “No. I’m walking you up.”

“I don’t know if you should.”

“I definitely shouldn’t,” he says. But he keeps walking. Keeps holding the umbrella over my head.

My breaths start to catch in my chest before we even reach the top of the stairs. I fish my keys out of my purse, unsure if he’s expecting to come inside or if he just plans to tell me good night. Either choice makes me nervous. Either one is too much. Either one will do.

He closes the umbrella when we reach my door and waits for me to unlock it. Before I open it, I turn to face him as if he’s going to let me say good night without inviting him inside.

He points at my door but says nothing.

I quietly inhale and then push open the door to my apartment. He follows me inside and closes the door behind him.

He’s acting so assured right now. The complete opposite of what I’m feeling. I scoop Ivy up and take her to the bathroom so she can’t get out in case Ledger opens the door to leave.

When I close the bathroom door and turn around, Ledger is standing at the counter, running a finger across the stack of letters I printed out.

I don’t want him to read them, so I walk over and flip them over and shove them aside.

“Are those the letters?” he asks.

“Most of them. But I have digital copies too. I typed them all up a couple of months ago and put them into Google Drive. I was afraid to lose them.”

“Will you read one of them to me?”

I shake my head. Those letters are personal to me. This is the second time he’s asked if I’d read one, and the answer is still no. “You asking me to read you one of those letters would be like me asking you to play a tape of one of your therapy sessions.”

“I don’t go to therapy,” Ledger says.

“Maybe you should.”

He chews his lip with a contemplative nod. “Maybe I will.”

I walk around him and open the refrigerator. I’ve slowly been stocking it, so I actually have more than Lunchables this time. “You want something to drink? I have water, tea, milk.” I grab an almost-empty container of juice. “A swig of apple juice.”

“I’m not thirsty.”

I’m not, either, but I drink the rest of the apple juice straight from the container as a preventive measure, because I feel like I’m about to be parched with him standing in my apartment like this. Just his presence here is enough to make my throat run dry.

It’s different when we’re at work. There are other people around to keep my mind from moving in the direction it’s moving right now.

But when it’s just the two of us alone in my apartment, all I can think about is our proximity to one another and how many heartbeats will pass in the time it takes him to close the gap and kiss me.

I set the empty container of apple juice on the bar and wipe my mouth.

“Is that why you always taste like apples?”

I look right at him when he says that. It’s an intimate thing to say. Admitting out loud that you know what someone else tastes like. I feel like a dazzled, inexperienced teenager under his gaze, so I look down at my feet because not looking at him is less draining.

“What do you want, Ledger?”

He calmly leans against the counter. We’re just a couple of feet apart when he says, “I want to get to know you better.”

I wasn’t expecting him to say that, so of course I look over at him and then immediately regret it because he’s standing so close to me. “What do you want to know?”

“More about you. Your likes, your dislikes, your goals. What do you want to do with your life?”

I can’t help but laugh. I expected him to ask about Scotty, or something related to Diem, or my current situation. But he’s just making casual conversation, and I have no idea what to do with it. “I’ve always wanted to be a locksmith.”

That makes Ledger laugh. “A locksmith?”

I nod.

“Why a locksmith?”

“Because no one can be mad at a locksmith. They show up to help when people are in a crisis. I think it would be a rewarding job to make people’s shitty days a little bit better.”

Ledger nods appreciatively. “I can’t say I’ve ever met anyone who wanted to be a locksmith.”

“Well. Now you have. Next question.”

“Why did you choose the name Diem?”

I turn his question around on him before answering it. “Why did the Landrys choose not to change the name I gave her?”

He works his jaw back and forth. “They were worried that maybe you and Scotty had discussed what to name her, and Diem was a name Scotty chose.”

“Scotty never even knew I was pregnant.”

“Did
you
know you were pregnant?” he asks. “Before Scotty died?”

I shake my head. My voice is a whisper when I say, “No. I never would have pleaded guilty if I knew I was pregnant with Diem.”

He concentrates on that reply. “Why
did
you plead guilty?”

I hug myself. My eyes start to sting, so I take a moment to breathe through the memory before answering him. “I wasn’t in a good headspace,” I admit. I don’t elaborate, though. I can’t.

Ledger doesn’t come back with another question right away. He lets silence fill the room, and then he empties it by saying, “Where would we be right now if I didn’t know Scotty?”

“What do you mean?”

His eyes fall briefly to my mouth. It’s a flicker of a gaze, but I see it. I feel it. “The night we met at the bar. You said you didn’t know who I was. What if I was just some random guy who didn’t know Diem or Scotty or you? What do you think would have happened between us that night?”

“A lot more than what did happen,” I admit.

He rolls his throat as if he swallowed that answer. He stares at me and I stare back, waiting anxiously for his next question or thought or move.

“I sometimes wonder if we’d even be talking right now if I didn’t know Diem.”

“Why does it matter?” I ask.

“Because it would be the difference between you wanting to be with me for me, or wanting to be with me so you could use me for my connections.”

My jaw tenses. I have to break our gaze and look at something besides him, because that comment makes me angry. “If I wanted to use you for your connections, I’d have fucked you by now.” I push off the counter. “You should go.” I start to walk toward the door, but Ledger grabs my wrist and pulls me back.

I spin around, but before I can yell at him, I see the look in his eye. It’s apologetic. Sad. He pulls me to his chest and wraps his arms around me in a comforting embrace. I’m stiff against him, unsure of what to do
with my lingering anger. He slides his hands to my arms and lifts them, wrapping them around his waist.

“I wasn’t insulting you,” he says, his breath grazing my cheek. “I was just working through some thoughts out loud.” He presses the side of his head to mine, and I squeeze my eyes shut because he feels so good. I forgot what it felt like for someone else to need me. Want me.
Like
me.

Ledger keeps us wrapped tightly together when he says, “In a matter of a few weeks, I went from hating you to liking you to wanting the world for you, so forgive me if those feelings sometimes overlap.”

I relate to that more than he knows. I sometimes want to scream at him for having been a wall between me and my daughter, but at the same time, I want to kiss him for loving her enough to
be
a wall of protection for her.

His finger meets my chin, and he tilts my focus up to his. “I wish I could take back what I said to you when I told you Diem wouldn’t benefit from you being in her life.” He slides his hands into my hair and looks at me with sincerity. “She would be lucky to have a woman like you in her life. You’re selfless and you’re kind and you’re strong. You’re everything I want Diem to be someday.” He wipes away a tear that falls down my cheek. “And I don’t know how I can change their minds, but I’m going to try. I want to fight for you because I know that’s what Scotty would want me to do.”

I have no idea what to do with all the feelings his words just brought out.

Ledger doesn’t kiss me, but that’s only because I kiss him first. I press my mouth to his because nothing I could say would convey how much I appreciate the validation he just gave to me. It’s one thing for him to admit he wants me to meet her, but he took it a million steps further by saying he wants her to be like me.

It’s the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me.

His tongue slides against mine, and the heat from his mouth seems to pulse into me. I pull him closer until our chests meet, but it’s still not close enough. I had no idea that was the only thing holding me back from Ledger. I just needed to know he believed in me. Now that I know he does, I can’t find a single part of me that doesn’t want every part of him.

Ledger lifts me and walks me across the room to the couch without breaking our kiss.

The weight of his body feels so good pressed against mine. I start to pull off his shirt because I want to be against his skin, but he pushes my hand away. “Wait,” he says, pulling back. “Wait, wait, wait.”

I drop my head to the couch and groan. I can’t take much more of this back-and-forth. I’m finally in a headspace to let him do whatever he wants to me, and now
he’s
the one pulling away.

He kisses my chin. “I might be getting ahead of myself, but if we’re about to have sex, I need to go down to my truck and grab a condom before you undress me. Unless you have a condom up here.”

I’m so relieved that’s why he stopped. I push him away. “Hurry. Go get one.”

He’s off the couch and out the door in seconds. I use the spare minute to check my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Ivy is asleep in her little bed that I’ve set next to the tub.

I take a small dab of toothpaste and brush it across my teeth and tongue.

I wish I could write a quick letter to Scotty. I feel like I need to warn him of what’s about to happen, which is stupid because he’s dead and it’s been five years and I can have sex with whoever I want, but he was the last person I’ve ever had sex with, so this feels like a really big moment.

Not to mention, it’s with his best friend.

“I am so sorry, Scotty,” I whisper. “But not sorry enough to stop it.”

I hear my front door open, so I leave the bathroom and find Ledger locking the door. When he turns to face me, I laugh because he’s soaking wet from the rain. His hair is dripping water into his eyes, so he pushes it back. “I probably should have used the umbrella, but I didn’t want to waste any time.”

I walk over to him and help him out of his shirt. He returns the favor and helps me out of mine. I’m wearing my good bra. I wear it every time I work a shift at his bar because I’ve wanted to be prepared in case this happened.

I’ve been trying to convince myself it wouldn’t, but deep down, I’ve been hoping it would.

Ledger leans forward and kisses me on the mouth with his rain-soaked lips. He’s cold because he’s wet, but his tongue is a scorching contrast to his frigid lips.

My stomach swirls with heat when he wraps his other hand in my hair and tilts my face back so he can kiss me even deeper. I lower my hands to his jeans and unbutton them, anxious to get him out of them. Determined to feel him against me. Fearful that I won’t remember how to do this.

It’s been so long since I’ve had sex I feel like I should warn him. He starts to walk me backward toward the inflatable mattress. He lowers me onto it and starts to remove the rest of my clothes. As he’s working my jeans down my legs, I say, “I haven’t been with anyone since Scotty.”

His eyes meet mine after he pulls off my jeans, and there’s a calming reassurance in his expression. He lowers himself on top of me and presses a soft kiss to my mouth. “It’s okay to change your mind.”

I shake my head. “I’m not. I just wanted you to know it’s been a while. In case I’m not very . . .”

He cuts me off with another kiss; then he says, “You’ve already exceeded my expectations, Kenna.” He moves his mouth to my neck, and I feel his tongue drag up my throat.

My eyes fall shut.

He removes my panties and my bra and his jeans while his tongue explores every inch of me between my neck and my stomach. When he crawls back up me to kiss me on the mouth, I feel him hard between my legs, and it fills me with anticipation. I give him a deep, long, meaningful kiss while he reaches between us and puts on the condom.

He positions himself against me, but he doesn’t enter me. Instead, he slides his finger up the center of me, and it’s so unexpected I arch my back and moan.

My moan is drowned out by the thunder outside. It’s raining even harder now, but I like that the thunderstorm is our background noise. It somehow makes this even more sensual.

Ledger continues to work his finger over me, and then inside of me, and the sensation is so intense I can’t even kiss him back. My lips are parted and I’m moaning in between gasps of air. Ledger keeps his lips rested against mine when he begins to push into me.

BOOK: Reminders of Him
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