February 26, 2019
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“I’m not going anywhere. You need anything, and it’s yours. You need help? You’ve got it.”
She let loose a mocking laugh as she descended the steps.
“I don’t want or need you here, Mr.…” She opened the door to her SUV and pulled out a paper. “Mr. Gentry.”
“Beckett,” I answered, desperate to hear her say it. My real name.
“Okay, Mr. Gentry. Enjoy your vacation and then head home, because like I said, I’m not in need of a babysitter or anyone’s charity. I’ve been taking care of myself since Ryan ran off and joined the army after our parents died.”
I wanted to grab her, to hold her against my chest and block anything that wanted to harm her. My hands ached to sweep down the line of her back, to take away any of her suffering that she’d let me. I’d known this would be hard, but seeing her wasn’t anything I could have prepared myself for.
“It doesn’t matter if you want me, because I’m not here on your wishes. I’m here on Mac’s. This is all he asked of me, so unless you’re going to kick me off your property, I’m going to keep the promise I made.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Okay. Anything I need?”
“When Ryan died—”
No. Anything but this.
“—he was on an op, right?”
Could she see the blood drain from my face? Because I sure as hell felt it. I heard the rotors. Saw the blood. Reached for his hand as it limply fell off the stretcher.
“Yes. It’s classified.”
Her hand gripped the open doorframe.
“So I’ve heard. I need…” She sighed, looking everywhere but at me for a second before straightening her shoulders and meeting my eyes. “I need to know what happened to Chaos. Was he there? When Ryan died? You were in the same unit, right?” Her throat moved as she swallowed, and her eyes took on a desperate plea.
Damn it. She deserved to know everything. That I wasn’t the man I wanted to be, that she needed. That I was the piece of shit who made it back with a beating heart while her brother came home draped in a flag. I needed her to know that I’d chosen to stop answering her letters because I knew that the only thing I could bring her in this life would be more pain.
I needed her to know that it was only Ryan’s letter that got me here, and the knowledge that it was the least I could do for my best friend. That I never meant to hurt her, never had the intention of smashing into her life like the wrecking ball I was—not when she lived under such breakable glass.
“Well? Was he?”
But what I needed didn’t matter.
I’ve never been able to give second chances when it comes to hurting the people I love. Letter number six.
If I told her those things, she’d shut me out, and I would fail Mac for a second time. I could tell myself that it was her choice, but really, it would be mine. I was the guy people looked for an excuse to get rid of, and truth was a gift-wrapped reason to kick me to the curb. There were two distinct paths ahead of me: the first, where I told her who I was and what had happened, and she promptly walked out of my life, and the second…where I did everything I could to help her, no matter what the cost.
Path number two it is.
“He was there,” I answered honestly.
Her lower lip trembled, and she bit onto it, like any sign of weakness had to be quashed. “And? What happened?”
“That’s classified.” I was a bastard, but an honest one.
“Classified. You’re all the same, you know that? Loyal as anything to one another and nothing left for anyone else. Just tell me if he’s dead. I deserve to know.”
“Knowing what happened to Mac…to Chaos…none of that would do you any good. It would hurt a hell of a lot more than it already does. Trust me.”
She scoffed, shaking her head as she rubbed the bridge of her nose. When she looked back up, the fake smile was in place, and those blue eyes had gone glacial.
“Welcome to Telluride, Mr. Gentry. I hope you enjoy your stay.”
She climbed into the SUV and slammed the door, throwing the vehicle into reverse to get out of the drive.
I watched until she disappeared into the thick forest of trees.
Havoc brushed against my leg. I looked down at her, and she stared back up at me, no doubt knowing that I was an imbecile for what I’d just let happen.
“Yeah, that didn’t go so well.” I looked up at the cloudless Colorado sky. “We did a number on her, Mac. So if you’ve got any pointers on how to win over your sister, I’m all ears.”
I opened the tailgate of my truck and started to unload my stuff.
It might be temporary, but I was here for as long as Ella would let me stay. Because somewhere between letter number one and letter number twenty-four, I’d fallen in love with her. Fallen for her words, her strength, her insight and kindness, her grace under impossible circumstances, her love for her children, and her determination to stand on her own. I could list a thousand reasons that woman owned whatever heart I had.
But none of them mattered because, even though she was the woman I loved, to her, I was just a stranger. An unwelcome one at that.
Which was more than I deserved.