Alex had everything when he was with Madison. But the darkness within him wouldn’t go away.
After two years apart, he returns to Pelican Bluffs and to the girl he never wanted to leave. Madison wants to give their love another chance, but Alex can’t fight fate.
He is what he is.
Ruined. Crazy like his mother. And Madison deserves so much more. When his secrets spill out into their small town, Alex has a choice to make. Hide away in the darkness forever, or let love in.
“Take it back. Please. Alex, I don’t want to break up.” Her eyes are wide, like clear, crystal pools.
“And I need you not to write to me,” I say.
“Why?” Now she claps both her hands over her nose and mouth as if to hold back pain or tears, or whatever it is shining from her gaze.
It takes every ounce of my control not to back down. I have to stop kidding myself and finish this. “Because, I don’t want to know the moment you move on. I just… I need you to give me space.”
“You’re going to Japan. That’s not enough space for you?”
“I’m sorry, all right.” I back away, stepping carefully on the rocky beach. “But it’s not like we were ever going to last.”
That, I should think, is obvious. Because the two of us together makes no sense. She’s beautiful and popular and has guys lining up around the block for a chance to be with her. I’m a high school dropout with a criminal record and no future. She should be embarrassed to be with me. Eventually we’ll both have to grow up. At least I’ll have the memories.
As I turn away, I hear her scrabble behind me, then the rapid beat of her boots against the stony ground. “Alex, wait.” Her tone is anguished.
I set my jaw against the pain, like I’ve stitched my own heart with a silk thread and am now yanking it hard enough to tear the organ. I keep walking.
She grabs my hand, her supple fingers wrapping around my palm. “Stop.”
I stop, but I don’t turn.
It doesn’t matter because she darts around in front of me and puts one arm around my waist. The other hand she slides up my back to grasp my shoulder. Her soft curves fit against my body. It’s how she always holds me, and I can’t endure it this time. I bow my head and just let the tears fall.
“Alex,” she whispers, touching her forehead to mine, that soft breath against my lips. “Don’t, okay? You promised you’d never hurt me.”
At that I let out a sob. Forget saving face. She knows me for who I am anyway and now she’s wiping away my tears. “Listen,” she says, “you need me not to distract you from your mission, fine. But I’ll always be here for you, and when you come back, I’ll be waiting.” She strokes my cheek with the backs of her fingers and leans up to press her lips against mine.
I don’t want to kiss back, but at the same time, I can’t resist. She runs her fingers through my hair and the kiss goes on and on until I’ve got both arms wrapped tight around her and I’m drinking in her essence, liquid fire that pools in my core. I have to stop this.
But when I do, she doesn’t let me pull back. She leans in and looks me straight in the eye. “I’ll wait for you. I don’t care if you don’t believe me. Let’s not end things with a fight, okay? Let’s end it on a good note for now.”
“Bye, Alex. For now.”
“I love you.” I don’t mean to say it, but it slips out, my whisper barely loud enough for me to hear it myself.
Madison’s chin snaps up. “What?”
I shake my head, willing her not to press me.
I start to pull away but she reels me back in, not by force, but with her gaze. Her eyes beg me not to leave. She puts one arm around my waist again and slides her other hand up my back. “It’ll be all right. Everything will be all right,” she says.
Emily Mah Tippetts writes romance as E.M. Tippetts and science fiction and fantasy as Emily Mah. She is a former attorney with degrees in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University and business law from UCLA. These days she lives in New Mexico – the place where she grew up – with her family.