Imagine Me, page 1
Table of Contents
© 2017 by Fiona Cole
All rights reserved.
Cover Designer: Najla Qamber, Najla Qamber Designs, www.najlaqamberdesigns.com/
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Created with Vellum
To my husband. I imagined you being there, and you were. I love you.
Other books by Fiona Cole
Shame Me Not
The Scientist – Corinne Bailey Rae
The Shell – Rose Cousins
What Kind of Man – Florence + The Machine
Hardest of Hearts – Florence + The Machine
Happy With Me – HOLYCHILD
Strip Me – Natasha Bedingfield
Standing In Front of You – Kelly Clarkson
Drumming Song – Florence + The Machine
I Don’t Dance – Lee Brice
Wanted You More – Lady Antebellum
Wrecking Ball – Miley Cyrus
Road Less Traveled – Lauren Alaina
Happy – Leona Lewis
Tin Man – Miranda Lambert
Roll Away Your Stone – Mumford & Sons
Love Is Hard – James Morrison
Frist Day of My Life – Bright Eyes
Looking Out – Brandi Carlile
Pray – JRY (ft. Rooty)
…Ready For It – Taylor Swift
The Story of Us – Taylor Swift
Ask Me How I Know – Garth Brooks
“What if we got married?”
“Wha . . .” Shock prevented me from finishing the word.
“Marry me,” Hudson said again. This time he sounded more sincere and less like he was tossing out some ludicrous idea at random. “Then you can come back home and stop this charade in Cincinnati.”
My eyes widened as my confusion mixed with anger. Charade? “We haven’t been together in over a year.” My voice was shrill, and I struggled to keep it low as we stood among the throng of people trying to check their bags and head to their gates. “Besides, you don’t even have a ring.”
“Come on, Jules. We’ve been best friends forever.” Best friend was an exaggeration. “Our families are close and it makes sense that we’d end up together. We fit. I’d never imagined having anyone else by my side.”
“But you’ve seen other people since we separated. It’s not like you’ve been pining over me and trying to get me back.” It had seemed to me he had been almost relieved to get the chance to date other women since we’d split up. My nose scrunched. His surprise proposal had scattered all my thoughts.
“Yeah, but I always assumed we’d end up married. I figured you just needed some space so you can feel like you’ve lived a little before we settled down.”
Before I became the perfect Southern belle and married the man who was supposed to take over my father’s company? Hudson had never taken anyone else to one of my family’s charity fundraisers because it would’ve been insulting to take a date when it was assumed that I’d eventually be Mrs. Hudson Murphy.
My mouth hung open as I struggled to come up with words to make him understand. It turned out he didn’t need a response from me to keep on talking.
“I mean, what more do you want? Your parents let you go to college. They even let you go to grad school. And how do you repay them? By not coming home after you graduate. Think about it.”
A dull roar echoed inside my head. “They let me?” I asked incredulously. “I’m an adult.”
“You’re the baby of the family.”
“That doesn’t mean I deserve any less.” My face heated with frustration for having to defend my right to be my own person. “I thought you understood me. How many conversations did we have where I bared my secrets to you? How many times did I tell you I wanted more than to be a society wife?”
He shrugged as if I were simply being difficult. As if he weren’t actually insulting me. “I figured it was a phase. One you needed to explore on your own while you still had time in grad school. So, yes. I was supportive and didn’t say anything. Didn’t put up a fight and let you have your space because I loved you, and I wanted you to get it out of your system. I figured you had an itch you needed to explore, but to be honest, after your trip to Jamaica, it seemed to get worse.”
I ignored the comment about Jamaica, not wanting to explain the things that trip had made me want to explore. He had no idea I had met a man there who had lit a fire in me greater than any Hudson could have hoped to kindle. Instead, I focused on his silence when he could’ve told me how he felt a year ago.
Not that it would have made any difference.
“You didn’t say a word when I explained my plan to go to Cincinnati and stay with Jack. I thought you supported me.”
“I didn’t actually think you’d follow your brother to another state when your dad threatened to pull all financial support. I figured you’d come to your senses at some point.”
“Come to my senses,” I muttered heatedly.
“I know how stubborn you are, Jules.” He said it softly, like he was trying to remind me how well he knew me. Yet there he stood, baffled that I wasn’t tossing aside my future, my hopes and dreams, to fulfill the role expected of me by my parents. “If I’d have let you see how frustrated you were making me, you’d have dug your heels in further.”
Screaming would probably send the TSA running from all directions, yet that was exactly what I wanted to do. “I wasn’t some stubborn child, Hudson, throwing a fit.”
He cocked an eye
“And now you’re living in Cincinnati with an unsafe car. What other risks are you willing to take for this so-called independence?”
He used air quotes around independence and I wanted to slap his stupid fingers down. And how dare he insult Betsy, my old Honda Civic. She wasn’t always the most dependable, but she was all mine. I’d been proud of myself when I’d come home at Thanksgiving to share the news. My father had grumbled how I was putting myself in jeopardy, and Hudson had watched me with a clenched jaw.
His tone softened, but his words still let me know how little he cared about what I wanted. “You’re twenty-five, Jules. How much longer are you going to keep up this nonsense? Most women your age are already settled down with a husband and are thinking about kids.”
I couldn’t believe this was happening. “You don’t know me at all.” The frustration I felt had me practically growling.
“Juliana.” He sighed my name and ran a hand through his hair.
“And it’s not nonsense.” I jabbed a finger in his face, and with that parting reminder, I turned to storm away. I was immediately stopped by his strong fingers circling my thin wrist.
“Don’t leave like this,” he pleaded. He looked at me with truly soft eyes. “I’m sorry I threw that out there. It was wrong of me.”
He looked at me like the friend I grew up with. The one who understood me and never liked arguing with me. But I wasn’t ready to let him off the hook just yet. “Damn right it was.”
“You’re my friend, always have been.” He spoke softer and moved his hand down my wrist, wrapping it around my fingers. “Always will be.”
“Then what is this all about?” For the life of me, I couldn’t figure how we got from him walking me into the airport, to asking me to marry him right before I entered the TSA checkpoint.
He ran a hand through his dark hair and tugged. “I don’t know, Jules. I guess I didn’t expect you to leave. And then when you did, I assumed you’d decide to come back before too long. I figured maybe you were waiting for something to ground you here, and if I threw it out there, you could come home.”
“I’m not some rebellious teenager trying to stick it to my family. Like you said, I’m twenty-five. And rather than seeing it as a point to settle down, I see it as a time to live. To explore.” I stretched my arms wide and shook my head. “I get that I’m the baby, and a girl, but at some point, I have to be allowed to live my own life.”
He rolled his lips across his teeth, assessing me. “Have you even looked for an apartment yet? Or are you going to live with your brother and his wife indefinitely?” His tone was laced with skepticism.
“Yes, I’m looking,” I answered primly, chin held high.
He sighed and pinched his lips before asking his other question, the one he already knew the answer too. “And your car?”
“Betsy and I are just fine, thank you very much.”
“Hudson.” I dropped my arms to my sides and relaxed my stance. “I’m looking for an apartment, but I want to make it worth it. And I will get a better car once I have more in savings. I just started my job in September, so I need time to build a nest egg. My parents taught me well about managing money, and now I need to be able to apply it.” I needed to get to my gate soon, and I didn’t want to leave on a sour note. I made a joke like we always used to do before all this tension.
“I thank you for your extravagant proposal. You were so many of my firsts, so it only seems fair that you would be the first person to ask me to marry him.”
“Next time it will be better. With a ring.” His tone didn’t hold nearly as much humor as I expected. It sounded more like a promise. “I’m always here, Jules. And I’ll be waiting for when you’re ready to come home.”
“Don’t wait for me, Hudson.”
He didn’t answer, just gave me a sad smile and pulled me in for a hug. I wrapped my arms around his waist and breathed in his familiar spicy scent—Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue.
“Thanks for bringing me to the airport,” I mumbled into his chest. “I should be back for Easter.”
“Anytime. Let me know when you land.” With that he placed a soft kiss against my hair, pulled back, and waved goodbye before disappearing into the crowd.
I grabbed my bag off the conveyor belt almost thirty minutes earlier than scheduled. I’d messaged Evie, my sister-in-law’s best friend, and she’d let me know she’d be there. My brother was supposed to have picked me up, but he’d bailed and sent Evie in his place. As long as I didn’t have to pay for a long Uber ride home, I was fine.
The doors slid open and a cold blast of air hit me, so different from the Texas heat that never seemed to lessen. I scanned down the row of cars looking for my Evie’s little red MINI Cooper.
But before I could find it, my attention was diverted to a mess of dark curls swirling in the wind attached to a petite body. I almost decided the cost of an Uber would be worth it when I read the sign Evie waved at me.
Welcome home from jail.
“Juliana MacCabe, I’ve missed you so much.” She shouted from ten feet away. “You look so good. That prison food must be better than I assumed.”
People turned to stare, and I wished I was shorter than my five-foot-ten self so I could hide among the crowd. Heat burned up my cheeks and I marched toward her, if for no other reason than to make her stop yelling.
“What?” She smiled innocently, glancing at the sign. “You do look like a model with your sharp cheekbones and runway-ready body. And you’ve mentioned how being home with your parents can sometimes feel like jail. I don’t see what’s so wrong with the sign.”
She was so honest about it, I just had to laugh. She bobbed her eyebrows and smirked, knowing she’d won.
“Where’s your car? I’m ready to go home. And what happened to Jack?”
“He said something came up.” She shrugged and popped her trunk.
I loaded my suitcase and we got on our way. Evie glanced over at me.
“Rough trip home?”
I breathed a laugh at how much of an understatement that was. It’s not like it was a bad trip. Jack and Luella had been there for a couple of days, which helped distract my parents, but the rest of the time, they looked at me like I was an errant teenager on the verge of mental breakdown. I got it, I was the baby. I arrived ten years after Jack, blessing in disguise, and they coddled me from day one. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family fiercely, but I needed space to grow and find out who I was.
My hastened desire to leave Texas and rush to Cincinnati had nothing to do with the passionate night I’d had in Jamaica. It had nothing to do with my brother’s friend, Shane, sparking a need in me I hadn’t known existed. One I doubted I would ever find again if I stayed in Texas. It had nothing to do with the fact that Shane lived in Cincinnati and I imagined the possibility of hooking up with him again.
Nope. Not. At. All.
“Can I ask you something?” I asked, sidestepping her question. At her nod, I continued. “You used to be independent, right?”
Evie scoffed. “Bitch, I’m still independent. I just now have a sexy as sin man by my side.”
“Fair enough.” I raised my hands in defeat. Taking a deep breath, I decided to share what had happened with Evie. “My ex-boyfriend asked me to marry him before I took off.”
Her eyebrows shot upward and her eyes shifted to look at my hand. “And? I don’t see a ring on your finger.”
“He would’ve had to have a ring for that to happen.”
“The man proposed without a damn ring? Hell no.” She shook her head and pursed her lips in disappointment.
“He proposed without a plan. I’m pretty sure without even thinking it through.”
“Ha.” I barked out a laugh. “I don’t know. We dated for a long time, and we’ve known each other forever, but I broke up with him a little over a year ago because I needed to explore. Once I was in grad school, I knew I wasn’t planning on staying in Texas. I wanted to be able to leave without having him waiting for me. I wanted to find out who I am on my own. He’s always been my friend, and I’d assumed he’d supported me. Turns out he’s been in line with my parents in thinking I should come home.” I stopped picking at my nails and twisted my fingers on my lap. “But I want to live, Evie. I don’t want to only be known as some rich man’s wife. I want to explore. Explore the world, myself, my sexuality.”
She remained quiet, and I worried that I’d said too much and made her uncomfortable. It felt impossible to do with Evie, but you never know.
“First things first. You do you. Period. And to do that, you need to move out of your brother’s house. Because he’s still there and we all know how protective Jack can be when it comes to you. There will be no drunken nights of stupid ideas and one night stands around him.”
“I’m surprised he doesn’t have an ankle tracker on me.” We both laughed at how true that statement was. Jack ran his own security company, and had plenty of access to all those gadgets to keep me from exploring too far. He knew I hadn’t wanted the life my parents expected of me. He’d been understanding of that, but it hadn’t stopped him from forever seeing me as a baby who constantly needed protecting.
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