Sweet little lies, p.32
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       Sweet Little Lies, p.32

         Part #1 of Heartbreaker Bay series by Jill Shalvis
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  “That’s completely bullshit. This isn’t about my ego.”

  “Your stupid pride then,” Archer said. “I was with you when your dad died, don’t forget. I know how your life changed. And I realize we’re talking about a soul here and I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but you and I both know the truth. Yours and Sean’s life changed for the better when your father was dead and buried.”

  Finn let his head fall back and he stared at the ceiling.

  “You know what I think happened?”

  “No,” Finn said tiredly, “but I bet you’re about to tell me.”

  Archer smiled grimly, and true to his nature, didn’t hold back. “I think you fell and fell hard, and then you got scared. You needed an out and she gave it to you. Hell, she handed it to you on a silver platter. Well, congrats, man, you got what you wanted.”

  At his silence, Archer shook his head and headed for the door. “Hope you enjoy it.”

  Finn sat there stewing in his own frustration, both bad temper and regrets choking him. Enjoy it? He couldn’t imagine enjoying anything, ever again. He looked around him. In the past, this place had been his home away from home.

  But that feeling had migrated to Pru’s place two floors up.

  Just as his emotions had migrated to the same place, over softball, darts, hikes, and long conversations about what they wanted out of their hopes and dreams, often chased by the best sex he’d ever had.

  He hadn’t realized just how far gone he was when it came to her. Or how lost in her he’d allowed himself to become.

  But he was. Completely lost in her, and lost without her.

  He hadn’t seen that coming. He’d assumed they’d continue doing what they’d been doing. Being together. Hell, it’d been so easy it’d snuck up on him.

  And he’d fallen, hard.

  That wasn’t the surprise. No, that honor went to the fact that in spite of what she’d done, he was still in love with her.

  And, he suspected, always would be.

  Chapter 33

  #LifeIsABowlOfCrazy

  Pru was up on the roof with Thor, watching the fog roll in when she felt someone watching her. “I’m not going to jump, if that’s what you’re worried about,” she said.

  Archer stepped into her line of sight and crouched at her side. “Of course you’re not, you’re stronger than that.”

  She felt a ghost of a smile cross her lips. “You sure about that?”

  “Very.”

  She turned her head and met his gaze, and saw that he knew everything. She sighed. “For what it’s worth, I realize that I should’ve told him from day one, but I thought if he knew, he wouldn’t give me the time of day and I wanted to help him.”

  “He doesn’t like help.”

  “No kidding.”

  Archer smiled. “Finn’s got the world in black or white. Like . . . the Giants or Dodgers. Home grown or imported. Us or them. For me, and for you too, I suspect, it’s not so simple. He’s a smart guy, though, Pru. He figures things out. He always does, in his own time.”

  She shook her head, kissed the top of Thor’s, and rose. “That’s sweet of you to say, but he won’t. And I don’t expect him to. I made a mistake, a really big one. And sometimes we don’t get second chances.”

  “You should,” Archer said.

  “He’s right.” This was from Willa, who appeared from the fire escape and came over to them. “Everyone deserves a second chance.”

  “Where’s Elle?” Archer asked.

  “She couldn’t climb the fire escape in her heels and she refused to leave them behind. She’s taking the elevator.”

  Spence showed up next. He came from the fire escape like Willa and held Pru’s gaze for a long beat before nodding and stepping out of the way, making room for the person hitting the rooftop right behind him.

  Finn.

  He climbed over with agility and ease and dropped down, coming straight for Pru without a glance at any of his closest friends.

  Pru’s heart stopped. Everything stopped including her ability to think. She took a step back, needing out of here. She wasn’t ready to face him and pretend to be okay with the fact that they were nothing to each other now.

  “Wait,” Finn said, reaching for her hand. “Don’t go.”

  God, that voice. She’d missed him so very much. Feeling lost, she looked at the others, who’d backed off to the other side of the rooftop to give them some privacy. “I need to go,” she whispered to Finn.

  “Can I say something first?” he asked quietly. “Please?”

  When she nodded, he gently squeezed her hand in his. “You told me you made a mistake and that you wanted to explain,” he said. “And I didn’t let you. That was my mistake, Pru. I was wrong. We each made mistakes, not just you. And I get that we can’t pretend that the mistakes didn’t happen, but maybe we can use them to cancel each other out.”

  Her heart was a jackhammer behind her ribs, pounding too fast for her veins to keep up with the increased blood flow. “What are you saying?”

  “I’m saying that I forgive you, Pru. And in fact, there was never anything to forgive. Can you forgive me?”

  The jackhammer had turned into a solid lump, blocking her air passage. “It’s . . .” She shook her head and tried desperately to keep hope from running away with her goose sense. “It can’t be that easy,” she whispered.

  “Why not?” He reached for her other hand, taking advantage of her being stunned into immobility to tug her into him. Toe to toe now, he cupped her jaw. “Our last night together, you said something to me when I was drifting off.” His gaze warmed. “You said it and then I felt your sheer panic, so I let it go. Or that’s what I told myself. But the truth is that I was just being a coward.”

  She had to close her eyes at his gentle touch because just the callused pads of his fingers on her felt so right she wanted to cry.

  “I love you, Pru,” he said quietly but with utter steel.

  Her eyes flew open and her breath snagged in her lungs. She hadn’t realized how badly she’d needed to hear those words but . . . “Love doesn’t fix everything,” she said on a hitched breath. “There are rules and expectations in a relationship. And there are some things you can’t take back. What I did was one of those things.”

  He shook his head. “Life doesn’t follow rules or expectations. It’s messy and unpredictable. And it turns out love is a lot like life—it doesn’t follow rules or expectations either.”

  “Yes, but—”

  “Did you mean what you said?” he asked. “Do you love me, Pru?”

  She stared up at him and swallowed hard, but her heart remained in her throat, stuck there with that burgeoning hope she hadn’t been successful at beating back. “Yes,” she whispered. “I love you. But—”

  “But nothing,” he said fiercely, eyes lit with relief, affection. Love. “Nothing else matters compared to the fact that I managed to get the most amazing woman I’ve ever met to fall in love with me.”

  She slowly shook her head. “I’m not sure you’re taking my concerns seriously.”

  “On the contrary,” he said. “I’m taking you and your concerns very seriously. What you did was try to bring something to the life of two guys you didn’t even know. You set aside your own happiness out of guilt and regret, when you had nothing to feel guilt and regret for. You lost a lot that day too, Pru. You lost more than anyone else. And there was no one to help you. No one to try to make things better for you.”

  Her throat closed. Just snapped shut. “Don’t,” she managed to whisper. “We can’t go back.”

  “Not back, then. Forward.” He gently squeezed her fingers in his. “I was wrong to walk away, so fucking wrong, Pru. What we had was exactly right and I’m sorry I ever made you doubt it.”

  Eyes still closed, she shook her head, afraid to hope. Afraid to breathe. He brought their entwined hands to his heart so that she could feel its strong, steady beat, as if he was willing his calm confidence about
his feelings for her to soak in.

  She let it, along with his warmth, appreciating more than she could say what his words meant to her. She hadn’t realized how much she’d needed to hear him say he didn’t blame her, that she had nothing to feel guilty for . . . It was as if he’d swept up all her broken pieces and painstakingly glued them back together, making her whole again. “Finn—”

  “Can you live without me?” he asked.

  Her eyes flew open. “What?”

  “It’s a simple question,” he said. “Can you live without me?”

  She stared past him at the others. Elle had arrived and maybe they were on the other side of the rooftop, but they were making absolutely zero attempt to hide the fact that they were hanging on every word.

  “Pru,” he said quietly.

  She met his gaze again, chewing on her lower lip.

  “Not talking?” he asked. “Fair enough. I’ll go first. I can’t live without you. Hell, I can’t even breathe when I think about you not being in my life.”

  “You can’t?”

  “No.” He gently squeezed her. “I live pretty simply, always have. I’ve got these interfering idiots—” He gestured to his friends behind them.

  “Hey,” Spence said.

  “He’s right,” Willa said. “Now shh, I think we’re getting to the good stuff.”

  Finn shook his head and turned back to Pru. “I thought they were all I needed and I felt lucky to have them. But then you came into my life and suddenly I had something I didn’t even realize was missing. Do you know what that was?”

  She shook her head.

  “It’s you, Pru. And I want you back. I want to be with you. I want you to be mine, because I’m absolutely yours. Have been since you first walked into my life and became my fun whisperer. And you can’t tell me it’s too soon for a relationship because we’ve been in one since the moment we met. We’re together, we’re supposed to be together. Like peanut butter and jelly. Like French fries and ketchup. Like peaches and cream.”

  “Like titties and beer,” Spence offered.

  Archer wrapped his arm around Spence’s neck and covered the guy’s mouth with his hand.

  “No,” Pru said.

  Finn stared at her. “What?”

  “No, titties and beer don’t go together,” she said. “But also no, I can’t live without you either.”

  Finn stared at her for a beat, his eyes dark and serious and full of so much emotion she didn’t know how to process it all. And then suddenly he smiled the most beautiful smile she’d ever seen. He took her hand, brought it to his mouth and brushed a kiss over her fingers before hauling her up against him.

  “You ready for this?” His voice was rough, telling her how important this was. How important she was.

  “For you?” she whispered against his jaw. “Always.”

  Epilogue

  #YouHadMeAtHello

  Two months later . . .

  Finn let out a long breath as he parked. Santa Cruz was south of San Francisco and thanks to traffic, it’d taken them over an hour to get here. He got out of the car and came around for Pru.

  “Keep the blindfold on,” he said, as he’d been saying the entire drive.

  Her fingers brushed over the makeshift blindfold—a silk handkerchief that they’d played with in bed the night before—and smiled. “I’m hoping we’re heading toward a big cake.”

  “I told you to aim higher for your birthday.”

  “Okay,” she said. “A nice dinner first and then a big cake.”

  “Higher,” he said.

  She let their bodies bump and she rubbed her hips suggestively to his. “Dinner, cake, and . . . that weekend away you promised me?” she asked hopefully.

  “Getting warmer.” He gripped her hips, holding her close enough that she could feel exactly what she did to him.

  She smiled warmly, sexily, gorgeous . . . his everything. “Can I peek yet?”

  His gut tightened as he turned her so that she faced the small Santa Cruz beach cottage in front of them. “Okay,” he said. “You can look.”

  Pru tore off the blindfold and blinked open her big eyes, which immediately widened as she gasped. She stared at the place in front of her and then turned her head and stared at him for a beat before swiveling back to the house. “Oh my God,” she breathed and put a hand to her chest. “This is—was—my parents’ house. Where I grew up.”

  “I know,” he said quietly.

  Pru stared at the tiny place like it was a sight for sore eyes, like it was Christmas and Easter and every other holiday all in one. “I haven’t been here in so long . . .” She looked at him again. “It’s ours for the weekend?”

  He took both of her hands in his so that she faced him. “The owners had it in a beach rental program.” He slipped a key into her right hand.

  “You rented it for me?” she breathed.

  “Yes.” He paused. “Except I didn’t rent it. I bought it. It’s in your name now, Pru.”

  Her mouth fell open. “What?”

  “The owners live on the other side of the country. They instructed the management program to sell it if the opportunity arose.” His heart was pounding and he hoped like hell he’d done the right thing here, that she would take it in the spirit he intended. “The opportunity arose.”

  Looking shaky, she took the few steps and unlocked the front door. Then she stepped inside. He followed, slowly, wanting to give her time if she needed it.

  The place was furnished. Shabby beach chic. Tiny kitchen, two tiny bedrooms, one bathroom. He already knew this from his previous visit to scope everything out, but he followed as Pru walked through, quiet, eyes shuttered.

  The postage-stamp-size living room made up for its tininess with the view of the Pacific Ocean about three hundred feet down a grassy bluff.

  Pru walked to the floor-to-ceiling windows and looked out.

  Finn waited, willing to give her all the time she needed. He was prepared for her to be mad at him for overstepping, but when she turned to him, her eyes didn’t hold temper.

  They held emotion, overfilling, spilling down her cheeks.

  “Pru.” He stepped toward her but she held up a hand.

  “Finn, I can’t accept this. We’re just dating, it’s not right—”

  “Yeah, about that just dating thing.” He tugged her into him—where he liked her best. Cupping her jaw, he tilted her face to his. “I don’t want to just date anymore.”

  She blinked. “You bought me a house and now you’re dumping me?”

  “I bought you a house and now I’m asking you to take us to the next level.”

  She just stared into his eyes in shock and he realized something with his own shock. “You expected me to change my mind about you,” he said.

  She shook her head. “More that I’m afraid to want more from you. I don’t want to be greedy.”

  Finn cupped her face, keeping her chin tilted so that she had to look at him. He needed her to see how serious he was. “Pru, don’t you get it yet? I’m yours until the end of time.”

  She relaxed against him with a small smile. “Okay, that’s good,” she said a little shakily. “Seeing as I want whatever of you that you’re willing to give me.”

  He let out a low laugh. “Everything. I want to give you everything, Pru.”

 
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