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I see his jaw tighten and he moves to grab my left hand. At the sight of my engagement ring his eyes narrow. “Then why didn’t he protect you?”
I look at him in disbelief. “Protect me from what? The mess that you made? How would River even know?”
With a cocky grin he says, “You don’t know—do you? He knew. Caleb chased the shooter out of our house the night before your attack. Then he told that prick you’ve been playing house with to watch out for you, but obviously he didn’t. Luckily, the FBI caught the shooter, the guy that attacked you, that same afternoon. I guess you weren’t told that, either. That’s how all of this transpired. My shooter was the key, once they caught him all the pieces fell into place and the cartel’s operation was brought down.”
I yank my hand away and yell one final time, “Enough! Just stop!”
“No Dahl, I won’t. You need to hear me out.”
I can’t hear anymore. Or think anymore. Right now I’m feeling only one thing—betrayed. Any residual pain from my injuries is completely subdued as this new pain courses through my body. Ben left me all alone, left me to mourn him, and he was never really dead. River knew who attacked me. Someone broke into my house again. And River didn’t tell me any of this. As this despair courses over my deepest wounds, the word trust rings in my ear. I trusted Ben—was I wrong? I trust River—am I wrong? I have an overwhelming urge to escape this madness.
So I gather my socks and shoes, knowing I have to get away from here, that I’ve heard enough. He pretended to die because of something he was doing to further his career, he kept information that put me in danger, and now he wants to protect me. Is he kidding me? I believed in him. Now I wonder if I ever really even knew him—the Ben I thought I knew would never have left me alone for any reason.
He reaches for me, but I twist away. “Stop! Don’t touch me!”
As I leave he calls after me, “Don’t walk out of my life. I know I don’t deserve you but not having you will . . .”
He doesn’t finish or maybe he does and I just don’t hear what he says because I’ve stopped listening. I’m too distracted by my own thoughts. I can’t believe what he told me is true. I try to focus on the water crashing against the rocks instead of feeling the heavy burden of betrayal. And as I walk back to the old weathered planks, any confusion I might have had about Ben when I arrived is gone. I have nothing left to say to him. But my confusion has shifted to River. Does he really know everything Ben said he does?
I cross the threshold from the beach to my safe haven and look over at Grace’s house. Now is the time to remove any shadow of doubt because River is there, standing in the driveway. He’s leaning against my car with his arms folded and head down. He raises it just as I pass his car. I’m a mere ten feet away from him when his eyes graze the length of my body and then snap back up to mine.
His jaw tight, he spits out, “How was your little chat? Did you find out everything you needed to know?”
I’m taken aback by his hostility so I freeze. Before we get into any discussion over my coming here I need to put Ben’s accusations to rest. With my heart racing, I ask, “Do you know the identity of the man who attacked me?”
His body straightens and his eyes are cautious. He swallows before nodding his head. At that moment something inside me erupts as my trust in him starts to erode and an anger fiercer than I have ever felt surfaces. My fists clench without conscious thought as I storm toward him. I slam my hand on the hood of my car and his eyes dart to mine. I get as close as I can to him and with a craziness I never knew I had in me I scream, “You knew! You knew who attacked me! And you didn’t tell me!”
Shock and alarm cross his face but he immediately composes himself. He grabs me and pulls me to him. Clutching my shoulders tightly, his eyes travel across my face. “Yes I knew, but . . .”
I twist around with all my strength to free myself from his grip. “There is no but. I trusted you to always be honest with me.”
His face pales, his jaw drops and his forehead wrinkles. “What I didn’t tell you has nothing to do with honesty and trust, but what you did by coming here—that does.”
Irritated, I step back into him, now only inches away. “Are you kidding me? You’re going to turn this back around on me? I don’t think so.”
“Dahlia, I think we need to talk about all of this. Let’s just leave your car here and go.”
“What exactly is ‘all of this’?”
“I want to know why you came here to see him without telling me, without bringing me—why you would sneak out when I was sleeping.”
I shake my head as his eyes narrow on me.
He grabs my hand. “Come on, we’re leaving.”
With so much pain and anger welling up inside me, I know I can’t have this conversation with him right now. Feeling strangled, out of breath, I take a step back and free my hand from his. I trusted him completely—and he kept this from me. I have to calm down and figure out what that means. At the same time I can’t help looking into his mesmerizing green eyes. I can’t handle seeing my own fear and anger reflected in his eyes any longer. His stare intensifies and he’s looking at me, and I mean really looking at me, as if willing our connection to fix all of this.
I swallow a few times before forcing myself to look away. “No River, I can’t talk to you when we’re like this. I know we will both say things we don’t mean. We need time to figure our anger out before we sit down and have a conversation.”
He tries to yank me flush to his body. His voice shakes with fury. “I don’t need time to figure anything out. I get it. You left me a note. You ran here the first chance you got to see him! Was it a happy reunion or were things just getting started?”
I have never heard this kind of furious tone from him before, and, without any control, I pull back and slap him. “I told you I’m not having this conversation right now. Listen to yourself!”
Stomping over to my door, I get in, turn the key, and start to shake uncontrollably. I watch him through the window as he stands there in shock with his hand on his face. I want to get out of the car and say I’m sorry. I want to throw my arms around his neck and kiss him. I want him to hold me forever, but I am stuck in the moment, suspended between right and wrong, what should be and shouldn’t be. I know he’s questioning things, questioning Ben’s reappearance, and how it will affect us.
We just need to calm down. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what’s happening. Ben is a stranger to me; he did things I never imagined my Ben would do. And River kept something huge from me. It’s not even what he kept secret that bothers me; it’s the simple fact that he kept anything from me in the first place.
When “Amazing Grace” suddenly plays on my phone, I look down startled that my phone is lying on the console, plugged into the charger, but not surprised. River must have put it in here when he got to Grace’s. I shut my eyes and exhale a deep breath. I am wishing this day could start over as I listen to the same ringtone that started me on the path to where I am right now. I look toward the house and Grace stands there, her phone in hand. I silence my phone, turn it off, and drive away.
I turn the radio on hoping to drown out my thoughts with music. When I hear Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” I blast it. I’ve never been one for confrontation and what just happened felt more like a war. I can’t face the truth right now—the truth that the two men I trusted most in my life, lied to me. Not knowing where to go, I drive toward the rising sun.
Yesterday didn’t go exactly as I had planned. I can’t believe how much I let that prick get under my skin. I have this feeling that I know him and I can’t seem to shake it. Sleep proved impossible so I headed to the beach, still thinking about what he said and what it meant. Just as I was about to walk over the old bridge, Dahlia pulled into the driveway. When I saw her I thought she was coming back to me—that she had missed me as much as I had missed her. I waited for her to get out of the car and come running to me, but instead she approached cautiously. I saw the trepidation in her eyes and I hoped she wasn’t scared. I wanted to take her in my arms and assure her it was me, tell her I was back for her, but I didn’t. She felt too distant, too far removed.
Even though I was stoked she was still wearing my bracelet, seeing someone else’s ring on her finger enraged me. My whole flight back home, all I could think about was putting my ring back on her finger, marrying her, and finally having a family together. I figured she must have taken my ring off when I heard from Caleb that she was with some jackass. My suspicions were confirmed when I asked Mom if she knew anything about my ring and she told me she had tucked it away. Fuck! That hurt. Dahl didn’t even keep it.
I could see she was afraid to let me touch her; maybe afraid of what she might feel. So maybe there’s a chance for us. I think we just need more time to get things back to how they used to be between us. I thought when I finally got to talk to her for real, not just in the journal I was keeping for her, she’d listen and be reasonable, but she went off on me instead. Her rage intensified with every f**king wrong word I said and she didn’t give me a chance to explain.
She might have left me on the beach, begging her to not walk out of my life, but I don’t care. Yeah, she walked away from me, but in the end, despite the shitty conversation, I’m glad she came to see me—and she came alone. Although as soon as I told her the prick knew about her attack, she not only mentally checked out, she left.
I’ll keep trying. I’ve needed her since the day I left. I wished I’d have told her that. I actually wish I had taken her with me. Maybe that was what she needed to hear. I did run after her but stopped when I reached the end of the bridge. He was there looking all kinds of smug and arrogant. Who the f**k wears jeans and boots to the beach?
But Dahl, she was pissed. She stormed right up to him and, fuck, did she go off. From the looks of it there are cracks in their relationship. Things he doesn’t know or understand about her like I do. He didn’t tell her what he knew. I know better. She’s pissed as f**k at him and getting her to forgive him isn’t going to be easy. That’s exactly what I need—for them to be apart. Time for her to remember us and forget them.
If she breaks up with him like she did with me that one time, I’ll have plenty of time to get her back. Fuck, she may never get back together with him. She broke up with me for what she thought was only the start of something with someone else, and I let her believe that. I had to. I couldn’t tell her the truth. I knew if she had found out we’d be over forever. She would never forgive me; fuck, I still can’t forgive myself. I made one slip in judgment, but I would never do that to her again. Not even if it’s served right in front of me. The one time ate away at me.
Each time I thought about it I hated myself for being weak, but in all honesty I enjoyed every minute while it happened. For some reason that copper-haired girl got my blood pumping. I didn’t want to know anything about her. I didn’t even know her last name. In fact, every time she came on to me, I ran away. How f**king pathetic. Why couldn’t I just tell her to back off? For some reason I couldn’t. And I didn’t the night I was shitfaced and she cornered me at the after-party. She did her usual come-on and I did my usual and hightailed it away from her but she followed. Trevor hadn’t come back to school yet and the room was empty so I headed there. I went into the bathroom and splashed water on my face. When I looked in the mirror—there she was taking her clothes off. Yeah, her body was amazing and the way she offered it to me was f**king hot, but there was more. It was something in her eyes that drew me in. I felt like she got me. I couldn’t stop myself, but I know I should never have f**ked her. It could have destroyed my relationship with Dahl. Almost did.
We stayed locked up in Trevor’s empty suite and I didn’t just screw her once—but over and over again, all night long. She was kinky as f**k and we kept at it until dawn. I knew it was wrong.
Why am I even still thinking about her? Maybe it was her eyes? Maybe it was the way she blew me? Maybe it was the mind-blowing sex? I have no f**king idea . . .
But later when that girl e-mailed me asking to meet, I was determined to stay away. Fuck, I thought maybe she was going to tell Dahl or tell me she had VD. Eventually I agreed when she said it was really important. In the end I never met her because Dahl came home early. That was the last I heard from her so I figured she was just trying to get my attention and finally gave up—until she started calling again months later. By then Dahl had seen the e-mail and I knew better than to even talk to her. I wasn’t taking any chances.
I still, to this day, can’t believe I strayed from my girl. I’d like to blame it on being young and immature because, really, of all the things that I was—I wasn’t a cheater. Or at least I wasn’t until that one night. Hell, I was used to being pursued. I shouldn’t have let her break me. Women have chased me my whole life—some relentlessly, but I never cared, not once before her and not once after her. Shit, back then I lived in a frat house and there was never a shortage of girls offering to have a good time. I always refused. I loved my girl and wasn’t taking the chance of losing her.
It’s still early in the morning when I find myself at the beach. I park a few miles from the house I used to share with Ben and remove my Converse so I can feel the grainy sand that usually comforts me, but once again it doesn’t. As I walk along the shore, the tide rolls in and splashes of cold water prickle my skin. So many thoughts are running through my head. First and foremost: What the hell just happened?