There’s no rest for my heart, though. It’s still pounding as hard as it was mid-orgasm, still ricocheting off the glands of my throat. I told him. I said it out loud that I’ve always been his and now the dam is open. Closing it would be physically painful and…God, how many times did he say—out loud—that I’m his? Do I have anything to lose? He has to feel the same. He has to or I wouldn’t be floating up near the ceiling right now.

Still breathing heavily, Elijah plants a kiss on my shoulder and buckles up his pants behind me. He doesn’t move away, though, his heat still warming my back, his gaze sliding along the curve of my neck. I can feel it there.

I reach down and pull my panties back into place, letting my dress drop from where it has been rucked up around my waist. And when I turn around, Elijah smiles at me, his eyes searching mine…

“I love you,” I whisper in a shaky voice. “Elijah, I love you.”

Until that moment, I don’t realize I’ve been living with tension in my neck, my back, my chest, but the bolts loosen as soon as the truth slips free. I could fly.

“I saw you standing in the front of the church—a-and I had to leave, because I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand to watch you marry someone else. We hadn’t even met.” I lay my palms on my flaming cheeks. “When you got into my car, everything made sense, though. Not loving you would have been crazier than loving you at first sight. You’re my best friend…and I love you. I always have. Before I knew you and…so much more after. More every day.” I swipe at my damp eyes. “It has been really hard not to tell you.”

I’ve been so caught up in finally releasing my feelings out into the light, it hasn’t occurred to me until a heavy silence falls that Elijah hasn’t responded. Those chocolate eyes that only a moment ago scrutinized me, looking for lingering signs of our fight? They’re confused. Dark and troubled. Shocked. “Addison…”

Shocked?

Denial begins to creep into my stomach, but I beat it back. “Yes?”

His mouth opens and closes. He shoves a hand through his hair. “I want to say it back.” Dark eyebrows draw together, like he’s trying to puzzle something out. “I want to, but…”

All the world’s color melts away, sliding down the walls, leaving everything black and white. Leaving me stripped of my skin and trying not to wheeze. “Oh.”

He reaches for me, but I have the presence of mind to step back. Away from the man who is devastating me. Clipping the veins leading to my heart, one by one. “You and me…we make each other happy. I need you.” His hand drops, his big chest starting to lift and fall, fastfastfast. “Why can’t things stay exactly as they are? You say those words and now…”

“Now what?”

“Now I’m expected to say them back. And then we’re expected to do a million other things until we lose sight of us. Just us.”

Oh my God.

Oh my God. I’ve just bled myself dry in front of this man, told him I loved him…and he’s not going to say it back. He’s not. Going to say it back. Because he doesn’t feel that way about me. Here it is. Confirmation of my deepest, most awful fear. Oh my God.

I’m forcing him to let me down with these patented excuses, because he’s a good man. But we both know the truth. It’s lying on the floor between us like a hunted deer. He’s not over the past. He’s not over his ex, just as I’ve always suspected but apparently never accepted.

What happened with the wedding, Goose…I don’t know if I ever got over it, you know? When you’re always trying to do the right thing and something huge like that blows up in your face…I don’t know if I can explain it. Except to say, I haven’t worked my way through it yet. I’m trying.

Not hard enough, I guess. Or maybe he did try and I was just too impatient. Or their love is still too fresh. My knees wobble, trying to drop me to the floor, but I reach deep for the strength to stay standing. I reach further and find the willpower to swallow the scream. To lift my chin. What now? What now?

The plan.

When a person is adrift, they’ll cling to any life preserver, even if it’s half deflated and they’d rather just sink to the bottom of the ocean. But I’m a survivor, so I hold tight to the only route I can take, now that I’ve had my heart crushed on the rocks of a cliff.

My entire body jolts when Elijah frames my face with his hands. “Addison.”

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