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Jon scraped his palm against the stubble on his cheek. He didn’t even have to feel around to know she was gone. Pushing his hair out of his eyes, he slammed his hands down on the mattress. “Son of a bitch.”
Was last night all they had left inside of them? Powerful, amazing sex that lingered on the edges of love, buried under countless degrees of pain.
He swung his legs off the bed, digging his fingers into the base of his skull. He could smell her on his skin, in the room, in the sheets that pooled around his hips. The lush, yet light, scent haunted him like one of the thousand memories he’d dragged around with him the last few months. The lone pillow that lay on the bed sailed across the room before he even realized his intent. The resulting crash of pictures from the wall had him swearing.
His phone trilled into the silence of the room, dragging him from his thoughts. Looking around, he spotted his duffel sitting in the center of the oversized chair in the corner. He checked his phone, found a text from Richie and promptly ignored his request for a phone call.
He was in no shape to talk to anyone right now. Collecting his toiletries for a quick shower, he tried to breathe through the red haze over his eyes. By the time he tugged on a pair of cargo shorts and t-shirt a few minutes later, he could think again—barely.
Had she brought his bag up to him before she left? Is that why it was sitting there?
She wouldn’t have.
She couldn’t have left him again.
“Get it together.” He forced himself to walk, not run. The kitchen was empty, the bathroom, and the living room—Nothing.
He swallowed hard, closing his eyes until the roar of the ocean broke through the haze of panic. As if on auto-pilot he opened the door that had locked him away from her for most of the night. The water was there. The beach, with its ever evolving promise—and the woman that was full of promises broken.
Before he could think about it too clearly, he headed down the stairs until he reached the dunes along the house. His stride was purposeful, until he got closer. Rocks dotted the shoreline making a small peninsula. She was crouched down, her feet curled around the smooth, water-worn rocks. A baby blue, bikini tie peeked from her t-back white tanktop and a pair of black shorts bagged around her too slim hips. Spray dotted the front of her shirt, and salt water clung to her thighs as the foam teased her ankles.
He swallowed back most of the anger. Finding her still on the property was a point in her favor. She’d still run—he wouldn’t let her forget that, but at least she was still there. He walked to the water’s edge until the shifting sand pulled at his feet. “Hi.”
She picked around the rocks to the shells jammed between them. “I’m sorry I left you in the rain yesterday.”
Her tone was conversational—like she was talking about forgetting a prescription, not leaving him to rot on the deck. Determined to keep things as honest as possible, he swallowed back the need to scream at her—to shake her until she looked at him—listened to him. “You left long before that, Tess.”
“I know,” her voice was hoarse.
“Is that all you’re going to say?”
“Did you talk to Nichole?”
Trying to follow her tangent, he cleared his throat. “Yes, I went to see her a few weeks ago.”
The confusion and hurt in her voice sliced at him, but he kept his tone even. “That was the first time I caved in and went looking for you.” He wasn’t sure he wanted to tell her about the all night drive to Mary’s house though. Even he had a shred of pride left. “That’s when I found out you’d …” he trailed off. What? Taken a sabbatical? Disappeared? Escaped?
“We’ll go with time off,” she said with a wry smile. “I needed a bit of time to think,” she said over her shoulder.
He jammed his fingers into the sudden ache that flooded his bicep. The woman made him nuts. “Are you so determined to do everything alone?”
She sucked in a quick breath and stood up, hopping down to the sand. “Okay, I deserved that.” She flipped the wide, dark lenses up into her hair. Her eyes were clear in the sunshine—no shadows haunted her right now. Hesitantly, she reached out to him. Trailing her nails through the hair along his forearms, he tightened his fingers on his elbows, careful not to move.
How many times had he ached to have her do just that? The endless nights without her curled back against him—those same nails caressing him absently into sleep. He didn’t know how he would survive another night alone after having her again. “You didn’t deserve any of this.”
The openness in her eyes faded quickly as she withdrew. “Oh, I deserved it.”
His brows snapped together. “What?” He snatched her hand, encircling it with both of his. “You can’t believe that.”
She tugged her hand away. “I can’t?” The laugh that came out of her mouth didn’t match the sunshine and the pretty beach they stood on. It should have been a carefree laugh—not this dark one with secrets.
He stuffed his hands into his khakis, too frustrated to be sure he could stop himself from grabbing her and shaking her. “Talk to me, Tessa.” He reached one hand out, but jammed it back in his pocket when she took a step back.
She turned to face the ocean, her feet matching his in the foam. “You’ve wanted to grieve with me for our,” she swallowed hard, folding her arms over her stomach. “For our baby.” The silence between them was almost as awesome as the ocean air and the tide that seemed to breathe around them.
He watched the waves crash in on each other until she spoke again, her voice jarring after the long bout of silence.
“I couldn’t figure out why each time you mentioned it, I wanted to scream and bury every piece of the idea of that baby.” She closed her eyes. “Every time you wanted to talk about it, I hated you more.”
His chest constricted. He’d known that she’d been pulling back, but the thought of her hating him cut deep. He stared down at her, surprised to see tears dripping off her chin. “Ah, Tess.”
She held her hand up when he tried to lean in and drag her closer. “Don’t,” she whispered. “I don’t deserve any of it.” Her voice so thick with tears it ripped his guts out.
“Baby, please.” Anger was no match for her tears. They were so rare—so impossible to ignore. He’d waited—prayed—begged to any god he could think of for her tears before. Anything to know she was still alive inside that cold shell she’d become. Now that they were tracking down her cheeks, he just wanted them to stop.
She swiped at her cheeks, sniffling as she laughed that dark laugh again. “God, if you only knew. You’d never want to touch me again.”
“Tessa, just tell me.”
She shook her head. “Let it go—let me go, Jon.” She whirled, running up the beach.
“Son of a—“ he growled and took off after her. She was quick, he’d give her that. Her lighter frame gave her the advantage in the sifting sand, but he’d been running on the beach for more than half his life. His legs were longer, stronger and damn if his anger didn’t give him an extra push.
He wrapped his arm around her waist, dragging her back against him. “Stop it!” he ordered.
She struggled—clawing at his forearms, her feet kicking out when he lifted her off the ground. “Let me go!”
“No,” he growled into her ear. “Stop running away from me.” He pressed his cheek against her hot, wet one. “Just stop.”
She leaned back on him. “I can’t,” she sobbed then doubled over. “Oh God, I’m sorry. It’s my fault.” They both collapsed into the sand.
He held on tighter, trapping her between his legs and banding his arms around her until she sagged against him. “I’m soo sorry.” Her voice was a mere whisper, broken and so unlike the woman he knew.
“Baby, please. It’s not your fault.”
She shook her head. He held her tight as the horizon blurred in reaction to her torrent of emotions. The tears weren’t pretty, the anguish was so overwhelming he couldn’t do anything but rock her. It destroyed him by degrees to hold onto her and listen to all the pain.
“It doesn’t matter. Nothing can be this bad, I promise.” He turned her into his arms. His fingers were buried in her hair as she practically climbed into his skin. Her tears dripped down his neck and into the collar of his shirt. “Tell me,” he begged.
She pressed her cheek against his chest, the hiccupping sobs had receded into small shudders. “I never wanted it.”
He was trying to understand her cryptic statement, but no matter how he turned it around in his mind, he could only come up with one thing.
She hadn’t wanted his baby.