What in blue hell was he thinking? She’d just tripped over herself to tell him she wanted to try. She’d run in the rain and poured her heart out to him that she was going to be all in and he brings up vows? Had he finally cracked?
They weren’t fixed. They were far from fixed. Okay, so it was pretty amazing that he still wanted her that much, but they’d never spoken about forevers. In fact, they’d made sure not to—painfully avoiding subjects that would include rings and tulle for God’s sake.
Instead of slowing, he sprinted up the stairs to the widow’s walk, the rain still slashing down. The widow’s walk where he’d kissed her senseless in the same kind of weather just a day ago…God, just a day?
He turned around on the spiral staircase, reaching his hand out to her. “C’mere.”
He grinned, a fat raindrop dripped from the tip of his nose. “Very. In fact,” he gripped her waist, his thumb smoothing back and forth over the textured material until it felt like a burn on her skin. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to build up some sort of resistance to him. “I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to think about anything but you in that particular shirt.”
She frowned, looking down at the heavy thermal with its waffle texture stuck to her skin. “What? It just makes me look even flatter and skinnier.”
He tsked, his grip so sure on her hip. “Don’t worry, we’ll put some meat back on you.”
“Jon, can’t we just go inside? We can take a shower—“
She blinked. His hair was matted to his head, slick with salt spray and his wicked hairline sticking up in every direction. The crinkles around his eyes were deep with something more than happiness, something more than humor. “Uh—“
He came down two stairs, tugging her closer, until their chests bumped. “I miss touching you, but I’ll wait.”
“You don’t fight fair.”
He leaned down and she stiffened. They so hadn’t fixed anything. He still had a family that she didn’t know, she was anything but sure about herself and their future. Instead of stopping, he kissed her. Sweetly, without heat, without anything but his lips and unimaginable patience, he kissed her until she was loose and sighing. “Jon.”
“I missed us.”
God, she missed them too. This was the easy part. The man knew just where to hit her. “I want to just be us, but do we even know what that is anymore?”
“How are we ever going to find us again if we’re constantly poking and prodding at just what made us want to be together to start with? Do you want to hear the details about how miserable I was without you? How I sat in a vat of guilt until I made everyone in my life miserable?”
Her lower lip trembled. No, she didn’t want to know, but she did need to know. She nodded. “I think I do.”
He walked her back a step and then another until she was flush with the wide rails of the balcony. The teasing glint of happiness was gone and the sparkle fizzled until the dark blue of his eyes matched the turbulent sky. “The night that you walked away from me, the night when my parents came and blew apart any semblance of a façade between us—that was my lowest point. I wanted to blame my mom for being a bitch like she always is, I wanted to blame my dad for bringing her, but the only blame I could finally settle on was my own.” He locked his knees so that she couldn’t move away. “And yours.”
She swallowed back the need to move away from him, to hide from his words. They were both to blame.
“I lost it—completely. I fucked up interviews, I didn’t sleep, I drank and smoked way too much. I hid myself away from life and from my feelings for you. I holed up at Richie’s place in California until he couldn’t stand to look at me any longer. We released the album and every day I had to talk about how hard it was to write, how cathartic it was, how hopeful I was. I lied. I lied again and again to every newspaper reporter, VJ, radio interviewer.”
She flinched each time he said, lie. She forced herself to watch him and take in the pain.
“Then I had to sing Memory over and over again. I had to sing the song that would forever be associated with you and losing you.”
She couldn’t escape that particular song, herself. No matter how many times she tried to turn it off when she heard the opening chords it stayed with her. The haunting voice was there in her silent room at night when she couldn’t sleep, it was there in her head when she saw something that reminded her of him. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“This is what you want to know, right? That my guts were on dispay every day and not a single soul knew it. They thought the pain was for Richie, for his loss, for his daily fight to stay sober. They didn’t know it was for me too. And I let it be for Richie. He took the brunt of the interview spots unless it couldn’t be avoided. I wallowed in my asshole status. Is this what you wanted to know? That you broke me…that I allowed it?”
She shook her head. She hadn’t meant for it be about that. Each word felt like a bullet, like a knife—like a renewal of the pain she’d felt those days on the beach alone. “How could I know?”
“I may not have shared you with my family, but I thought I shared all of me with you. I thought when I told you that I loved you that it meant something. I thought that when I touched you there couldn’t be a single doubt.”
She tipped her head back. “When you touch me, there’s never a doubt—the doubt starts when you keep me separate from your life. The doubt is there when you choose the easy way out with the children and your ex-wife. There’s the doubt.” She dashed at the tears that were leaking free again. Stupid tears.
“It doesn’t count that all of my friends knew about you, that my band knew, that the majority of my life knew?” His voice was dark and clipped. “I know I was wrong, but not to that level. Not enough to leave me when we were already so hurt. Not when we were supposed to be working together.”
She slapped a hand on his chest. “I’ve never been part of a together!” She shook her head. “Can’t you see that I was afraid? God! Everything you make me feel is so huge. There’s no halfway.”
He cupped her jaw, forcing her to meet his eyes. “There’s not supposed to be!” He stepped closer until they were thigh to thigh, bringing his other hand up to frame her face. “It’s not supposed to be easy to leave. And when you walked away like it was…”
She gripped both wrists. “It wasn’t.” Her voice was so hoarse it barely registered on the whipping wind around them. “Knowing I wasn’t enough, that I killed our baby just because I never—“
He shook her. “You did not kill that baby!” His chest heaved as he squeezed her upper arms. “That baby just wasn’t meant to be. Neither one of us is to blame for that. If I have to tell you every day, I will.”
He still spoke of forevers. She didn’t have anything to give him. “Even when I walked away, even when I hurt you—“
“Even when you ripped my heart out, I couldn’t let it go. I had to try again—if I didn’t, I’d have always wondered. I’d never have let this rest, Tessa. You have to know that about me.”
She did know that. “How could I think I was enough?”
His eyebrows snapped together. “What?”
She pushed at him. God, no—too much. She didn’t mean to put that on him. It was her problem that she’d never been able to make anyone stick around. That no one had ever wanted to make a connection with her. It had been sweet and amazing for the time that she’d had it.
She shook her head, shoving him back a step. “I—“
“I live in a world where there’s people crawling all over me at all times. Someone always wants a piece of me, someone always wants a bit of my time, but I always felt alone. Until you. Red hair, witchy green eyes and someone that fits me, knows me, loves me. I’ve got all the unconditional love a father can have, but no one that’s ever fit me like you do. Body,” he hauled her close, until her heart thundered in her ears. “And mind.”
She needed him so much. It frightened her how fast he’d become the other half of her. She’d never had anyone, outside of Nichole’s family, mean quite so much.
“I need you to need me.”
Her eyes shot to his. “What?” Surely he hadn’t said it. She just wanted him to say it.
His jaw was chiseled granite and his eyes as fierce as she’d ever seen them. “Let me know, right here and now. I can do it—I’ll hate it, but I can walk away if you’re not all in. I need everything, Tessa. No halfway this time. All or nothing.” His chin lifted. Proud and strong, even with the wind and the rain battering at them, he was obviously the stronger element here.
She lifted her hand to his cheek, cool with the rain and the dip in the temperature. She ran her thumb along his lower lip. Rain and tears mingled, even as her hand went rock steady. “I never thought I’d be enough. All I have is me. No family, no hope for a family—just me.”
“You do have family, Tessa. You’re not alone, but even if you were, that would be fine by me. All I want is you. I can be your family.”
Just like that night when they’d trimmed his Christmas tree. He’d said it then and she hadn’t listened—hadn’t dared to believe that just the two of them could be enough. She slid her fingers into his hair, up and around his neck, then shoulders, until she could hold him close. Until she could touch her mouth to his.
Until his taste and his words meant the same.