“I’ve thought of you every day.” Even when he’d gone out with other women, she’d been there in his head. He’d compared each date to her, and each one had fallen short. “I fucked up in April. Can you give me another chance?”
Ella shook her head, and cold fingers closed around his neck.
“It won’t happen again, Ella.”
“Nothing’s changed. I’m still me. Obviously, you found something you didn’t like about me back then,” she said, her voice monotone. “There’s no point in getting back together when it’ll end the same way. I listened… now, can we go back inside?”
“You weren’t the problem.” He’d kept his hands on his lap since sitting down. But with his ten minutes rushing by, he took her hand. “Let me—”
“Then what was the problem?” Sarcasm dripped from every word, but he caught the pain as well as the hint of curiosity, too. All three were better than the emotionless voice from a moment ago. “You couldn’t manage going a few months without sex while I was away?”
He deserved her reaction even if he didn’t like it. “I’m a first-class dumbass. Ask Catrina. She’ll confirm for you.”
Ella’s lips twitched, but before a smile broke out she pressed them together and slipped her hand free from his. “I already know you’re a dumbass. Tell me something new, Striker. Like the truth. Can you do that? If not, let’s go back inside.”
The truth. Yeah, she deserved it. “I got scared. You know I never did serious before. Then you came along.” Unable to maintain eye contact, he glanced away and cleared his throat. “I started seeing white fences, minivans, and kids running around. Things I never considered. Responsibilities I didn’t want.” Admitting the truth made him feel more like a jerk than he already did. Something he’d figured impossible.
“And you’re not scared anymore?” She made quotation marks with her fingers when she said the word ‘scared.’
“No.” He reached for both her hands this time. “I love you. Give me a second chance and I’ll prove it to you.”
Months ago, the three words would’ve sent her to the moon. Even now, they caused her heart to skip a beat or two. Believing them, though? A different matter entirely. “Some people are better off as friends. We might be two of ’em.”
Not that they’d really been friends before… more like acquaintances. But as long as they both remained in town they’d bump into each other, so a friendship of some sort would make her life easier.
“Let’s go back inside.” She waited for him to release her hands. Instead, he slid closer to her on the bench. Her body picked up on the proximity and urged her to lean into him just one more time while she could.
“Not us, Ella. We belong together. You know it, too.”
“Don’t tell me what I know.” She glared at him. “Back in March, I would’ve agreed. Not anymore. Who says you won’t get freaked out again and then au revoir. You’re gone again.” She recognized it as childish and petty, but she wanted to hurt him as much as he’d hurt her. “And maybe I don’t care about you anymore. Did you ever consider that?”
“You wouldn’t still be sitting here if you didn’t care.”
“Maybe I’m being nice.” Merde, of course he knew she cared.
The jerk shook his head but didn’t call her out. Instead, he touched her cheek. “Please, Ella. Give me a month to prove I love you. When the month’s up, you can walk away if you want.” He rubbed her cheek; the calluses on his palm were rough, and the rest of her body remembered how it felt when he’d touched her.
“What’s a month?” He leaned close enough for her to see the brown flecks in his light hazel eyes.
Long enough to break my heart.
“You won’t regret it. Promise.”
The sincerity and tenderness in Striker’s voice had her mouth answering before her brain made a decision. “Okay. One month. But that’s it.” Please don’t let me regret this.
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