“Damn it. That’s what I get for promising you the moon.”

                       Nineteen


 The following morning when Lucy woke up, she didn’t know where she was. And then it all came back to her in a rush of memories from the night before. She and Jeff Hartley had done naughty things in this huge bed. Naughty, wonderful things.

 During the night, he had insisted on holding her close as they slept, though in truth, sleep had been far down the list of their favorite activities. Actually, ranking right below mind-blowing sex were the strawberries and champagne they had ordered from room service at 3:00 a.m.

 Jeff was still asleep. She studied him unashamedly, feeling her heart swell with hope and then contract with fear. Loving him once had nearly destroyed her. Could she let herself love him again?

 She flinched in surprise when the naked man beneath the covers moved and spoke. “I am not a peep show for your private entertainment,” he mumbled.

 Reaching beneath the sheet, she took him in her hand. “Are you sure?”

 What followed was a very pleasant start to their morning. When they were both rumpled and limp with satisfaction, she poked his arm. “Time to put on some clothes and check out. I want to get this over with.”

 An hour later, they were on the highway, headed back to Royal. Lucy sat rigid in her seat, her hands clenched in her lap. Layers of dread filled her stomach with each passing mile.

 When they reached the fringes of Royal proper, Jeff pulled off on the side of the road and turned to face her. “There’s something else I need to tell you.”

 She blanched. “Oh?”

 “Nothing bad,” he said hastily, correctly reading her state of mind. “I want you to know that I had my bank transfer twenty thousand dollars to Kenny’s account before you and I ever made it to Midland. I wanted you and me to be intimate, but only if you wanted it, too.”

 Lucy shook her head. “Thank you for that.” But even as she said the words, she wondered if his generosity might be a ploy to win her trust...to play the knight in shining armor.

 Of course, Jeff knew where Kirsten lived. The party where Jeff and Lucy first connected had been down the street from Kirsten’s house. When Jeff parked at the curb, Lucy took a deep breath. “This is it, I guess.”

 Jeff was at her side as they made their way up the walk. Lucy rang the bell. Kirsten herself opened the door...and upon seeing Lucy and Jeff together, immediately turned the color of milk, her expression distraught. She didn’t invite them in. They stood in an awkward trio with the noonday sun beaming down.

 Lucy squared her shoulders. “It’s been painful having you treat me so coldly these last two years, Kirsten. But I have to know the truth. If Jeff kissed you and you were seduced into responding, I need to hear you admit it.”

 Kirsten scowled. “What does the sainted Jeff Hartley have to say about the whole mess? I suppose he’s told you what a bitch I am...what a terrible friend.”

 “Actually, he hasn’t said much of anything. The man I knew two years ago wouldn’t have cheated on me. But the only other explanation is that my best friend deliberately ruined my wedding.”

 Kirsten wrapped her arms around her waist, her expression hunted. “Why would I do that?”

 “I don’t know. But I’ve run out of scenarios, and I’m damned tired of wondering.” Kirsten sneered. “Men are pigs. They want what they can’t have. Jeff put the moves on me. He cheated on you.”

 Suddenly, the pain was as fresh as if the incident had happened yesterday. Seeing Kirsten in Jeff’s arms had nearly killed Lucy. But now she had to take one of them on faith. Either her childhood friend or her lover.

 She stared at Kirsten. “Did he cheat on me? Or did you?”

 It was a standoff two years in the making. No matter what the answer turned out to be, Lucy lost someone she cared about, someone she loved.

 Jeff remained silent during the long, dreadful seconds that elapsed. Time settled into slow motion...

 At last, Kirsten’s face crumpled. Her eyes flashed with a combination of guilt and anger. “If you’d had more faith in him, nothing I did would have mattered.”

 Lucy gasped, struck by the truth in the accusation. But her own behavior wasn’t on trial at the moment. Shock paralyzed her, despite the part of her that must have accepted the truth somewhere deep down inside. “So it’s true?” Lucy spared one glance at Jeff, but he was stone-faced.

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