The Last Letter (Page 59)
“We figured. So we have chicken, and rice, and saltines, if you need them, Maisie. Come on, you have to see the house!” Maisie jumped down, more agile than I’d seen her these last two weeks, and the two were off like a shot.
“Well, I guess that settles that,” I mumbled to myself. The urge struck to check my hair and makeup, and I shook it off. There was no need to impress Beckett. Funny, I’d used to think the same thing, because he’d loved me. Now it was because I wasn’t supposed to care what he thought.
I threw a glance in the mirror and fixed my hair with a couple of quick tugs…because I did care. Damn it.
“Don’t be a chicken,” I lectured myself as I got out of the Tahoe. I left him, not the other way around. So why did it hurt this much? Why was my heart galloping? Why did I crave the sight of him almost as much as I avoided it?
I was twenty-six years old with my first real broken heart. When Jeff left, the twins and my own stubbornness had eased the ache and distracted me. But Beckett? There was no distraction for Beckett. He was in my thoughts, my dreams, my voicemails that I refused to delete, and the letters I wouldn’t throw away. He was freaking everywhere.
My steps were slow as I made my way into the house. The inside was just as beautiful, with dark hardwood floors and high ceilings. It was exactly the house I would have designed for myself. But it wasn’t mine, and neither was he.
Wait. Where was the furniture? There were no pictures on the walls, no signs that he’d even really moved in. Was he leaving after all?
“Hey,” he said, coming around the corner.
Crap, he looked really good. Jeans and a long-sleeve baseball tee with Colt’s soccer team logo on it were bad enough, but his hair was a little longer and perfectly mussed, and he’d had the nerve to grow a really sexy layer of scruff.
“Hi.” Of all the words we needed to say to each other, that was all that came out.
“The kids are off exploring.” His eyes drifted toward the ceiling as the sound of running feet came through. “Look, Colt wanted to make you dinner. I told him it probably wasn’t a good idea, but he was adamant, and I figured you could just take it with you if you didn’t want to stay.”
“You live on the back twenty-five of Solitude that I sold two years ago.”
“Yes.” He said it so easily.
“This is where you went?”
“After we broke up?” he clarified.
I nodded slowly. “When you checked out, and Colt told me your stuff was gone, I asked Hailey if you’d left any forwarding information.”
“I know. That’s when I assumed you’d gone back to the army.” Like two of the other men I’d loved.
“I didn’t leave any forwarding information because I figured you’d call the station. It never occurred to me you’d think I’d actually leave you and the kids after I promised you I wouldn’t.” He sighed, rubbing his face. “Then again, I did lie about who I was, so…”
He was right. We both knew it.
“I didn’t like the way we’d ended things. I’d ended things,” I amended.
“Neither did I,” he answered softly.
“You didn’t call.”
“I tried that first week, but you didn’t answer. I figured you meant it when you told me you didn’t want to see me again.”
“I’m sorry. I never should have said that. I tend to…overreact when it comes to lies, and…”
“And build a fortress around the kids,” he finished my thoughts, reciting my own words from our letters. “I understood, and I deserved it. It’s not like you didn’t warn me in your first letter, right?”
God, the man knew me so well, and I hated the feeling that I didn’t know him.
“You don’t have any furniture.”
His eyebrows rose at my change of subject. “Just in the bedroom and the kitchen. Not that I mean to imply anything. I just needed a bed. For sleeping. Just sleeping.” His shoulders rose, and he tucked his thumbs into his jeans. “And the kitchen, of course. For eating. Because it’s a kitchen.”
The way we both awkwardly navigated the conversation would have been funny if seeing him didn’t feel like he’d just ripped my heart out and watched the final beats.
“Why? Why don’t you have furniture?”
“Yeah. I think we have enough lies between us, don’t you?” I winced. “That wasn’t called for. I’m sorry.”
“Feel free, I deserve whatever you want to dish out.”
“The furniture?” I reminded him to get the heck off that topic.
“I bought what I needed. I’d always planned on letting you pick out the rest, and afterward…well, I didn’t really care. I should probably get a living room set before football season, though. It’s a little awkward to eat all those snacks in bed.”
The kids raced down the wide steps that curved to the second story. “Isn’t it great, Mom?” Maisie asked as she flew by with Colt on her heels. Man, that girl rebounded so fast. Havoc stopped by for a quick pet and then chased after them.
“Wait until you see the rec room!” Colt told her, and they were off down another hallway.
“Did she even say hi to you?” I asked with a small laugh.
“Yeah, I got a huge hug before Colt took her upstairs to see the bedrooms.”
“How many are there?” Not that I needed to know.
“Six. Five here, and a suite above the garage.”
“Wow. Big.” I shook my head. “Please don’t make a that’s-what-she-said joke.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” His smile was breathtaking and heartbreaking.
As usual, everything with him was so effortless and easy, but now it was excruciatingly difficult, too.
“Okay, it’s none of my business, but you built this? You own the land I sold?” I’d seen it being built and kicked myself for selling the property every time I’d spied the construction crew. Luckily, the island hid it when I was home, so I’d been able to ignore it.
“I had it built over the last seven months or so. For you.”
I forced my lungs to draw air when they were obviously averse to the idea. “For me.”
“You said no lies.” He threw a grin over his shoulder. “And it was the biggest choice I’ve ever made.”
“You bought the back twenty-five two years ago? I thought it was an investment company.”
“It was. Ryan asked if I’d be interested in an investment property. I agreed and gave it to my finance guy to handle, since we were overseas at the time. He’d been after me to diversify, so I did. Well, he did. I just signed the papers once we got back after that tour. I didn’t realize they were your acres until I was already here.”
“And you didn’t tell me. Don’t you see a pattern?”
“Nope. There are secrets, and there are surprises.”
“You own the back twenty-five acres of my property!”
“Actually, only the back four acres. Go ahead and check with the county. I deeded all the land except four acres for the house over to you. Oh, and there’s an easement for the road. Hope you don’t mind.”
“You gave it back?”
“Except the house. I mean, yeah, I built it for you, but for me, too. And it’s cool if you want the house, but I come with it. Now come get some of this food. I can put it on plates and wrap it up if you don’t want to stay. There’s no pressure.”
He turned around and started walking, so I followed him. The house really was spectacular. He led me to a large, modern kitchen that did, indeed, have a table and chairs. It opened onto a giant patio through a sliding glass door.
Freaking perfect house.
“You can’t build me a house.”
“Already did,” he answered, walking around the island to where the food rested.
“It’s not normal to build a house for a woman and not tell her.” I came into the kitchen and leaned back against the dark granite counters. Good counter space, too. Perfect for— Shut that thought down now.
“Yeah, well, I had this stupid, romantic notion that I’d build it and prove to you that I wasn’t leaving. And then when Maisie was cured, and everything leveled out, maybe you’d want to live here. With me. But I also know you love living on property, so I wasn’t going to pressure you, and we really weren’t ready for the move-in conversation.” He piled food onto plates. “And we both know I’m not exactly good at the whole relationship thing. I’m probably fourteen for all the experience I have in that area.” He gave me a teasing shrug.
“Is this really so easy for you?” Oh, that had come out really harsh.
The plates clicked against the granite as he set them down, then slowly turned toward me.
“No. It’s not. It’s impossible to see you, to be in the same room as you, and not want to drop to my knees and beg your forgiveness. It’s all I can do to keep my hands off you, not to kiss you, touch you, remind you how good we are together and how much I love you. It’s killing me not to take you upstairs and show you the bedroom I built just for you, if for no other reason than to get to sleep next to you. Every aspect of this feels like a knife is twisting in my gut, and the worst happened yesterday when Colt told me that I didn’t love him. That he’d thought I was going to be his dad and instead went and forgot about him, and then said I was a coward for not fixing us. And you know what? He’s right about the coward part. I can lie and say I know you don’t want me to fight for you, that I’m not even worthy of a second chance, but the truth is that I’m too scared to do anything but breathe for fear I’ll make it worse. I didn’t lose just you, Ella, I lost them, too. There is nothing easy about this, and I’m doing my best to keep it light. So do you want these damn peas? Because the website I read said they’re good to eat after radiation.”
“Peas are good.” It came out as a whisper.
“Excellent. There’s whole grain rice, too. And lean chicken, since that’s easier for her to digest.” He plated the peas. “Do I get to know what comes next? Or just wait for the insurance statements?”