Unplanned love a love in.., p.24

Unplanned Love: A Love In Spring novel, page 24

 

Unplanned Love: A Love In Spring novel
 


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  “He’s been quiet about it all, but you know it’s hard to keep secrets in Spring.”

  A whole party of boulders was now crushing her chest, making it hard for her to breathe. He’d moved on—and fast.

  “We saw him having lunch at the bakery, and Adam told me she used to be his girlfriend when they were in high school. Then she went to work for some kind of organization similar to Doctors Without Borders, and they broke up. She was his first serious girlfriend, and now that she’s back in town they sort of picked up where they left off.”

  Why was she so surprised? After all, he’d never kept it a secret that he wanted to put down roots and start a family of his own—if he found the right woman. Charli had known from the start she wasn’t that woman. She’d made it perfectly clear to him when they first started hanging out. He was all about the white picket fence, a modest life, three point five kids, and surely a dog or two—although he hadn’t mentioned that as a requirement for his perfect match.

  Charli, the career-oriented city girl who feared dogs and kids, couldn’t possibly be his perfect match.

  But those two and a half months she spent in Spring Harbor playing hairdresser with Sophie, with Meatball nuzzling her calves hoping for cuddles and treats, had somehow exorcised her fears. For only a moment, she’d caught herself fantasizing about sharing all that with Kean—at least until she got the job offer and left him.

  And now he was going to get his perfect small-town life with the girl of his dreams—his high-school sweetheart nonetheless. And all because she’d been too scared to try. All because she’d been too set on proving herself to her grandmother—the same woman who’d tried to break up Charli’s parents ever since they got together.

  She’d let go of the most wonderful man she’d ever met, the only one who’d ever made her heart race with just one stare, the first one who’d given her butterflies since the day she went to her first Bon Jovi show as a teenager. And what for? A lonely life in a city where nobody cared about her. She wasn’t even sure this was what she wanted anymore. She’d yearned for an important position and a thriving career, and now that she had it all, she longed for a less hectic life away from traffic and skyscrapers, and all the amenities that only a few weeks before had been so important—actually, essential—for a happy life. Now it didn’t matter anymore. Nothing really mattered if she couldn’t be with Kean.

  She cut the conversation short, after making sure Ellie was okay and her pregnancy was going well, and fell face down onto the mattress. And then, for the first time in forever, strong, tough, no-nonsense Charlotte Wingate cried for her broken heart.

  Chapter 22

  The day Charli walked out of his door, and his life, Kean made a promise to himself to get over the hurt and disappointment, and forget she’d ever been around. He was determined to get back to how his life had been before she’d come and turned it upside-down. Maybe one day he’d find a woman who shared his same love for small-town life, who wanted a family and the white picket fence, and he’d finally get his happy ending—just like Adam and Ellie. When Adam’s wife was killed, nobody thought he would ever love again—and a little more than three years later, he was married and had two kids on the way. Kean wanted to believe the right woman for him was out there too—but apparently, she wasn’t a feisty Tex-Mex beauty.

  His hopes built up when, a month later, he bumped into his first love at his mother’s bakery, and found himself wondering whether life was giving him a second chance—an opportunity to achieve his happily-ever-after ten years after that same girl had broken his heart.

  Ignoring Scott’s qualms about Kean jumping into an old relationship so soon after being scalded and trying to glue together the broken pieces of something that hadn’t worked the first time around, he shoved the memories of Charli into a bolted safe and hoped that someday they would wither and fade away.

  But two weeks into his relationship with Paige, as he was slouched on his couch with her lithe body snuggled into his as the opening credits of an action movie played on his flat screen, he was still forcing himself to not compare her skinny body to Charli’s luscious curves.

  His breath hitched in his throat when Paige’s hand snaked across his waist and settled on his hip.

  “I know we haven’t seen each other in a few years, but you don’t really have to play coy with me, since you were the first guy to see me naked.”

  Before he even opened his mouth, she was straddling him, her hands on his shoulders and her silver blue eyes staring straight at him with a twinkle of mischief. She leaned into him until their noses nearly brushed.

  “You smell good,” she whispered. His mind went back to the night of Adam and Ellie’s wedding, when Charli had sniffed him and said the same. He pushed the thought back into the recesses of his mind, where it belonged.

  Paige’s soft lips grazed his, foreign and at the same time familiar, and he couldn’t stop his body from reacting. His arms went up, skimming her sides until they settled on her neck.

  She’s so skinny.

  Charli’s luscious curves and the way he loved cupping her bottom, eliciting a giggle from her, flashed in his mind. Just a brief glimpse of her naked body in his bed that he promptly shoved away.

  Paige’s fingers raked through his hair and the kiss grew more urgent, her hands pulling his face closer to her as if she couldn’t get close enough. He moved his hands from her neck down to her bottom, that was tiny and firm compared to Charli’s. He pushed the thought away again. She pulled away from him for just the time it took her to pull her sweater over her head and then remove his sweatshirt.

  “You’ve built up some fine muscles,” she said appreciatively, as her fingers grazed his skin. He stared at her, wishing he could say something nice, but he couldn’t stop comparing her small breasts to Charli’s plump and round ones. He’d once thought Paige was perfect, that she was just the way he wanted his wife to be, but right now, he couldn’t stop thinking how much better Charli’s curves were.

  Before he could voice his stupid thoughts, Paige interrupted his comparison with a kiss that made the air around them sizzle, and his body responded even as his mind fought against it.

  Charli.

  Her soft skin.

  Her laughter.

  Her long, dark hair falling like a curtain against his body, like a blanket that would keep him warm through the longest, coldest nights.

  Her soft snores beside him.

  The way she tangled herself around him like a sexy octopus after they made love.

  Love.

  It hadn’t been just sex for him. He loved Charli. He had no idea when it had stopped being just some fun between the sheets—if it had ever really been just that—and become love.

  He loved Charli.

  His heart stopped. His body froze, as if it no longer cared that a half-naked woman was straddling him, kissing him as if this was their last day on earth.

  This is wrong.

  “Stop.” He pulled away so abruptly Paige let out a gasp, staring at him with a confused frown. “I’m sorry. I can’t do this,” he said, reaching for his sweatshirt on the armrest. When he put his arm through the sleeve, Paige seemed to shake herself from the confusion his one-eighty had caused. She reached for her sweater and slid off him, looking anywhere but at him.

  He shouldn’t have led her on. He loved another woman, and even though she hadn’t thought twice about packing up and moving to the opposite coast when opportunity had knocked, he couldn’t make his heart beat for someone else on command.

  He reached for Paige’s hand and tugged her down on the couch, next to him. He turned in his seat so he was facing her, and took her other hand too.

  “I didn’t mean to delude you. I thought I still cared about you enough to see if we could have a future.” He squeezed her hands and brought them to his lips. “But things have changed. I still want for you all that I wanted back then—I want you to be happy, to be loved and cherished the way you deserve—but I can’t b
e the one to do it. My heart belongs to someone else now, and even though she left and will probably never come back, I…” He shook his head and let go of Paige’s hands, and they fell into her lap with a muted thud. He felt like a jerk. “I didn’t realize how much she still means to me until now. I guess she took a piece of my heart with her and forgot to inform me.”

  Her stare turned soft then, as if she understood how he felt and had forgiven him for his brusque interruption. “She doesn’t know what she’s given up. You’re a wonderful man, Kean Cavanagh. A man I wish I hadn’t let go back then.”

  He smiled. “I’ll always be there for you, Paige. Whenever you need help, a friend or a shoulder to cry on. I just can’t be more—not for you or for anyone else right now. I’m sorry for ruining the night.”

  She shook her head as she stood. “You didn’t. It was fun spending time together again, after so many years. Even though it didn’t end the way I’d hoped, it was still nice.”

  He stood too, and she wrapped her arms around him, taking him by surprise. He encircled her skinny body, careful not to squeeze too tight. It felt like hugging a sister, now.

  “I hope that crazy woman realizes her mistakes and comes crawling back to you. Make her squirm, if she does.”

  He smiled, although he doubted Charli would ever come back and beg for forgiveness. She was living her dream in a big city. She wasn’t going to give it all up for small-town life with a contractor.

  After one last hug, Paige walked out. He waited until her taillights disappeared into the night before closing the door and sliding down to the floor.

  The house was eerily silent.

  He longed to hear Charli’s laughter. He needed to know what she was doing, who she was with. Was she seeing someone in Miami? Was another man in her bed right now? Was he holding her and touching her, whispering sweet words in her ears? The thought drove him crazy. He slapped a palm over his eyes, wishing he could erase the image of another man with her.

  He couldn’t expect her not to meet other men, though. She would move on, perhaps she already had. Hadn’t he just nearly ended up in bed with his first girlfriend? Sure, he’d stopped just in time, but that didn’t make him any less of a hypocrite.

  He should consider bringing one of the dogs home with him. The house would feel less empty with a loyal furry friend who’d love him unconditionally, whether or not he lived in a big city. After all, Charli wasn’t here, she’d never share a house with him, so he shouldn’t worry about her crazy fear of dogs anymore. The thought was just another dagger stabbing his heart. No loving dog, no matter how loyal, would ever fill the void Charli had left. He’d be willing to build a fence all around his property to make sure no dogs ever trespassed, if Charli came back. He’d even dig a moat all around it to keep puppies away. He’d do anything for her. Too bad she didn’t care.

  Chapter 23

  This must not be my year, Kean thought as he opened the online banking and read the balance of his account. When Charli walked into his life, he’d had a feeling she would turn it upside-down and she did, in a good way at first, but all of a sudden things had snowballed at reckless speed. As if it hadn’t been enough that his baby brother’s promising career was probably going to be over, or that his parents would be forced to sell the house they loved because of him, the one woman he’d fallen head over heels in love with walked out of his life, leaving him broken and unable to feel anything for anyone else—his failed attempt at starting anew with Paige had been the proof. And now his business was going down the drain. Life had a sick sense of humor.

  The digits blinked at him from the computer screen. Ninety-nine dollars and fifty-five cents. Well, it was an improvement from last month’s seventy-two dollars and thirty cents, but it was a meager consolation. He’d thought things would get better, but work had been lagging, and even though he’d taken up a couple of projects just outside Gold Beach, they’d barely been enough to pay his two workers and the suppliers. He was lucky he ate at his mother’s for free every night, or he’d have to play his guitar for coins and one-dollar bills on the streets. It wasn’t that residents didn’t want to help him; it was because they all did when he’d just started his company that now they no longer needed repairs or renovations.

  Charli had been right—he should’ve aimed higher, he should’ve had bigger goals for his company, he shouldn’t have sat back and watched as word of mouth brought in clients. He needed a website just like she’d said. If he could reach people outside Spring, he knew his company would be safe. He didn’t want to call it quits, accept defeat and go back to work for someone—not until he’d done everything he could think of to resuscitate his business. And since he had no one waiting for him at home, he could take on projects from all over Oregon—even from other states. He hadn’t traveled much in his life, so this would be an opportunity to see his country while earning money.

  He closed the browser, switched off his laptop and picked up his guitar from the corner near the fireplace, where he’d placed it after Charli left. He hadn’t been able to play it, that specific guitar, because every time he picked it up, he remembered the night she’d shown up on his porch, and how she’d admitted, hours later when they were naked in his bed, that seeing him play turned her on. He still played with the guys on Saturday nights, but that was another guitar—it wasn’t Charli’s guitar, as he’d named it after she left. Everything in this house reminded him of her. He was afraid he’d have to sell it eventually, because he couldn’t keep living in a place where he saw her, smelled her, heard her wherever he went.

  He plucked a string, played a chord and winced at the out-of-tune sound. He walked out onto the porch, the warm mid-June air enveloping him like an embrace. He sat on the rocker where he’d been sitting that night, tuned the guitar and started playing the exact same song he’d played that night, hoping that, like in the most sickeningly romantic movie, Charli would show up in his driveway, wobbling on her sexy stilettos and smiling brightly at him.

  A moment later, the sound of tires crunching on gravel made his heart race. His head whipped up, his fingers freezing on the fretboard, but when a dark blue Porsche approached his house instead of a convertible silver Beetle, his hopes shrank just like his heart.

  Dude, she’s not coming back. Deal with it.

  He stood up and placed the guitar on the rocker, then went down the steps to meet the man who was getting out of the car. Kean did a double take when the last person he would have expected, or wanted, to show up on his doorstep stood in front of him, moving his head left and right as if to stretch out the kinks of a long drive. Rupert Galloway wasn’t a welcome guest, not since he’d cost Kean his career and twenty-thousand bucks he still owed his parents.

  Surprise was his first reaction, but it soon gave way to anger as old feelings washed over him.

  “What are you doing here?”

  “It’s good to see you too, Kean.” Rupert’s voice held that smooth tone he used whenever he wanted to win a client over. Coupled with the million-dollar smile, it was clear the man had something in mind.

  “I doubt after four years you’ve come all the way from Portland just because you missed me. So I’ll ask again: what are you doing here?”

  Rupert chuckled, shaking his head. “Fair enough. Guess I deserved that.” He straightened his tie that didn’t need straightening and cleared his throat—two things he used to do when he was ready to get down to business. Usually, it was just before he sank his teeth into his victim; just before he moved in for the kill.

  “An old client came to the office for a new project and asked about you. Remember Mr. Kowalski? The luxury estate complex just outside Portland?”

  Kean nodded. Hard to forget one of his best projects, as well as the client who’d made him earn in one go what he now earned in a year, and who’d basically paid off half of his college loan.

  “Turns out he’s just bought a new piece of land and wants us to build some kind of high-end hotel. Or rather, he wants yo
u to do it.”

  Well, wow. He wasn’t expecting this. Mr. Kowalski was one of the richest businessmen in Oregon, like a modern Midas with an eye for good investments. The fact that he’d asked Rupert to find Kean for this new project flattered him—and thrilled him at the same time. Sure, he loved working on small projects, and he was grateful for whatever job came up, but he was an architect at the end of the day. He liked designing stuff—the bigger and more complicated, the better.

  But going back to the high-rise modern building in Portland and working for the man who’d destroyed his life wasn’t exactly Kean’s biggest dream.

  “I don’t want to work in an office all day. And I definitely don’t want to work for you again, Rupert,” he said, ignoring the voice screaming inside his head, reminding him how badly he needed the money.

  Rupert shrugged. “Fine, you can take this up as a freelance gig, no commitment. You can show up at the office whenever you need to, and I’ll pay you a commission. It would still be a high five-figure payment that will be transferred into your account upon completion of the job. We could negotiate the exact amount.”

  Five figures. How long had it been since his bank account had shown five figures? Probably not since the loan he’d gotten to start his company had been credited.

  “Let me think about it,” Kean said, with a confidence he didn’t feel. It was true that beggars couldn’t be choosers, but this man had destroyed his life, and even though he needed the money, he didn’t want to give in too easily. He should play hard to get, see if his ex boss would increase the commission just to make sure his company wouldn’t lose the deal. If he had to endure the sight of Rupert, the least he could do was make an awful lot of money from it—so he could save his parents’ house and his company.

  “Okay, well. Here’s my card. Don’t take too long, though—Kowalski doesn’t like waiting.” He handed Kean a fancy card, which made him realize he didn’t have one he could give to potential clients—another stupid mistake he was sure Charli would reprimand him about if she knew. He shoved away the thought of her. She no longer deserved to have a place in his mind.

 
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