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Could Have Been Us
Series: Willow Creek Valley #2
Fifteen years ago, I fell for Jack O’Donnell.
I was just a girl, but I knew my brother’s best friend was the only man I’d ever love.
On my eighteenth birthday, when I asked him to kiss me, I never imagined it would change my life so completely.
I gave Jack everything that night.
In order to move on, we had to go our separate ways and pretend like nothing happened… as though it wasn’t the greatest moment of my life.
But even that wasn’t as heartbreaking as the secret we were forced to keep.
I’ve tried not to think about how much I still love him. How I long to be back in his strong arms or the way his hazel eyes make my heart race.
Until he kisses me again. And this time there’s no turning back. This time I know what it means.
We belong together and there’s no use denying it any longer.
But our feelings aren’t the only thing that won’t stay buried, our past resurfaces and threatens to destroy our second chance at happiness.
When our love is tested once again, will we be strong enough to stand together?
I walk over to the bar and grab a drink while I do my best to forget the last three minutes of my life. I’ve been handling things with Stella. I’ve learned that love isn’t for me. I don’t get the girl in the end, she’s not for me.
She’s meant for love and happiness and a family.
I toss back the drink the bartender set in front of me. Then, as fate would fucking have it, I feel her beside me.
“I thought weddings were supposed to be happy,” Stella says as she grabs a glass of wine.
She laughs once. “Neither of us looks very happy.”
“We both know the truth about it all.” I turn to her, my elbow resting on the bar.
“And what’s that?”
“That love and happiness don’t go hand in hand.”
Stella shakes her head. “And I thought I was the jaded one.” She brings the glass to her lips and takes a long sip. “That’s where you’re wrong. They are happy because they’re in love.”
“And what about the people who are in love but are miserable?”
She drains her glass and places it down. “Follow me and you can find out.”
There’s no pause before her exit, she just walks out of the tent.
I look around to see if anyone notices, but everyone is drinking, laughing, dancing, and smiling, not paying attention to Stella and me.
So, like a dog with a bone, I follow her. My feet are moving before my mind can think better of it. I trail along the path she took, and when I get to the tree line, she calls my name softly.
I move into the forest, finding her in a small clearing where the sun is coming through the leaves, making her look like an angel.
“What are we doing here?”
She lifts her head, a beam of light catching her dark brown hair and causing it to shimmer. “We’re breathing, Jack.”
“Don’t we pretty much do that each minute?” I ask, moving closer to her.
Like a magnet, she pulls me in.
Her eyes meet mine, and she smiles. “No, I don’t think either of us do. I think we fight it.” She steps toward me. “I think that if we didn’t, if we really inhaled, we’d find that it hurts.”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I tell her.
“Everything I do is to avoid that.”
Stella takes another step. Slowly, her hand lifts to rest on my cheek. “I know that too, but you avoiding me, Jack, it hurts. I’ve been in love with you for . . . God, fifteen years.”
The restraint I’m using to keep from grabbing her causes my arms to shake. I can’t move or I’ll fuck everything up. I’ll take her in my arms and kiss her until the only breath she knows is mine. I’ll . . . No. I can’t. I won’t.
“This is why love and happiness don’t exist,” I tell her.
“No, it’s because you’re afraid. Tell me you don’t want me right now. Tell me that, when I touch you, you don’t wish it would never end.” She moves closer, her chest brushes against mine, and I swear I’m going to fucking die. “Tell me that you don’t love me the way I love you.”
I have to lie because if I say the truth, then we will just be back where we started. Even if I tell her the truth, it won’t change our circumstances.
I take her wrist, pulling her palm away from my face. “I don’t feel that way.”
Anger flares in those brown eyes. She knows me too well. “So, you’re going to pretend? Like . . . it’s nothing?”
“It’s better this way,” I tell her.
My heart is pounding, and when I try to let her go, she grabs the lapels of my jacket. “We have to deal with this. We can’t . . . we can’t pretend anymore. You still have feelings for me, I know you do!”
Yes, I do. I fucking love her enough to stay away because we will never work.
Instead of telling her that, I dig deeper into the lie. “I don’t.”
She shakes her head, tears starting to fill her gaze. “Lies,” she whispers. “Tell me the truth for once.”
“I do . . . I can’t.”
Why can’t she fucking see it? If I let myself love her, then we won’t be able to go back. We’ll have to tell everyone the truth. The number of lies we’ve told over the years will unravel and it will destroy everything.
“You can’t pretend with me, Jack.” Her hands fall away, and I make a grave mistake.
I reach for her. She comes to me instantly, her hands on my chest as I hold her close, making one last attempt. One chance for her to see what I’m saying before I do everything I said I wouldn’t. “We can’t. God, Stella, we can’t.”
Her eyes flutter, and her lips part. And then, like the bastard I’ve always been, I stop fighting and kiss her.
“Get your fucking hands off my sister,” Grayson says from behind us.
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