“Just tell me this—what would you have done if I’d tried to stop you?” Sean asked.
Archer conceded gracefully. “Probably taken out a few of your front teeth.” He backed up a step, hands in the air, signaling that Sean should carry on as he planned.
So Sean once again headed toward Lotti. He’d made his life about freedom and no complications. But he’d been fighting a restlessness, an aching loneliness for a while now. He hadn’t known what to do about it, but he knew now.
He walked up to Lotti and the rancher just in time to hear the guy ask her to dance. “Can I cut in?” Sean asked, not that he was going to take no for an answer.
The rancher’s gaze slid first to Lotti, who was still just staring up at Sean, before nodding curtly and stepping away from her.
Sean took Lotti’s hand and brought her to the dance floor. Her eyes were guarded and she felt a little stiff in his arms as he pulled her in close for the slow song.
“You had all night to ask me to dance,” she said. “Why did you pick that very moment?”
“Why are you already distancing yourself from me?” he asked instead of responding to the question for which he didn’t have any good answer to give. “I haven’t even left yet.”
“But you’re going to,” she said.
Yeah. She had him there. He pulled her in close, drinking in her familiar scent, molding his body to hers so that he felt the exact second she melted into him. When she sighed, he knew he wasn’t alone in this, no matter what she wanted him to believe. They had something, something deep and meaningful and everlasting. Running a hand down the length of her back, he closed his eyes to savor the feel of her bare skin beneath his fingers.
He opened his eyes and realized every gaze in the room was on them. He slid them all a hard look that said mind your own fucking business for once and led Lotti over to a more secluded part of the room, on the other side of the huge Christmas tree, where he could continue to hold on to her without their avid audience.
“So about the distance thing,” he said.
“We’re not going there,” she said. “You’re leaving. The end.”
He looked into her eyes. “Are you saying you have no interest in letting me be a part of your life?”
“But see, that’s just it. You’re not a part of my life,” she said. “You’re a fantasy. One that’s about to go poof and vanish.”
“It doesn’t have to be like that, Lotti.”
She gave him a get real look. “Yeah. I’ve heard that before.”
Okay, he deserved her disbelief and probably a lot more. But he knew this wasn’t about him, or even her feelings for him. “You’ve got cold feet again,” he said. “And no one would blame you for that, Lotti. No one. But—”
“I’ve always rushed too fast,” she said. “Rushed to my happily ever after, and it’s never worked out for me.”
“It only takes one,” he said.
She stared at him like he’d lost his mind. “Stop doing this.”
“Stop doing what? Wanting you? Wanting you to want me?”
“It was just a weekend.”
He looked into her eyes and saw old hurts and new fears. Fears that he might hurt her . . . again. Legitimate. He leaned in and touched his mouth to the shell of her ear. “It feels like a lot more than a weekend,” he confessed.
She didn’t say anything to this but she did settle in against him eventually relaxing in his arms. After that he let the beat of the music carry them. He felt ridiculous when he started to dread the end of the song. He didn’t want to lose the physical contact, and as if maybe she felt the same, her hands tightened around his neck and she pressed her face into his throat.
“I’m sorry, Lotti,” he said. “So damned sorry for what I did to you.”
“No, I was messed up, thinking that my first lover was The One. No sixteen-year-old boy could’ve lived up to my expectations. Hell, even now, no one could. In fact . . .” She shook her head. “I make sure they can’t. My fiancé . . .”
“I know,” he said. “He was an ass too. Leaving you a week before your wedding—”
“It was my fault, Sean.”
“No. No way.”
“Yes way,” she said. She grimaced and shook her head. “I kept changing the date of the wedding, pushing it back. It was my way of sabotaging. It’s what I do, I push people away. And I’m good at it, Sean.” She stepped back, and he could see in her eyes it was more than the song ending.
They were ending before they’d even gotten started. “Wait,” he said. “What happened to eating the cookies, to reading books for pleasure, to singing in the rain and jumping into the puddles?” He paused until she met his gaze. “What happened to falling in love with a blast from your past?”
“I . . . I never said that last part. Sean—”
He could see in her eyes what she was about to say. “Lotti, don’t—”
“I promised myself I’d start learning from the mistakes of my past instead of repeating them.” And then she stepped out of his arms and walked away.
Just as he’d once done to her.
The next morning dawned gray and dark, but nothing was falling out of the sky at least. Sean reached for his phone and checked the weather and roads.
The worst of the storm had passed. The roads were a mess, many still impassable but they were starting to slowly let people through. They could get out.
And sure enough, an hour later, Sean stood watching as his friends loaded up the van. He had his bag packed, but he wasn’t ready to leave.
He wasn’t ever going to be ready to leave.
Determined to tell Lotti that very thing, he turned to go find her—but she was right there, a nervous smile curving her mouth. “Can I talk to you for a sec?” she asked.
“You can talk to me for as long as you want.” Forever, he thought. Talk to me forever so I don’t have to leave.
She swallowed hard and looked down at her clipboard. “Well, I’ve been thinking.”
“Which explains the smoke coming out of your ears.”
She let out a low laugh. “Yeah. I do tend to overthink things. I like to obsess over every decision until it’s nearly impossible to make. Which is why I’m changing things up.” She met his gaze. “I overthought this weekend.”
Unable to help himself, he closed the distance between them and cupped her jaw. “There’s nothing to overthink. What we shared here was a second chance, and I don’t intend to let it pass us by.” He leaned in and kissed her. “I want to see you again, Lotti. As soon as you’ll let me. I’m going to call. Text. Email. FaceTime. Whatever it takes to show you I’m serious. We’re only forty minutes away from each other. That’s nothing. Nothing,” he repeated, setting a finger over her lips when she opened her mouth. “And I know you have no reason at all to believe me, to believe in me, but it’s okay. All I need is some time to show you.”
She took a gentle nip out of his finger. “I want to see you again too.”
His heart leapt. “Yeah?”
“Yeah and . . . well, I sort of I have a confession.” She pulled a piece of paper from her clipboard. Her Cabo itinerary. “I thought we could rebook my flights,” she said. “And add a plus one because I was hoping you’d come with. I mean, I know your brother just got married so you’re undoubtedly in charge of the pub when you get back, so we can time it so that it works out for everyone. If you’re interested . . .”