She saw in his eyes just how tempted he was by the thought of staying in tonight, of canceling their dinner reservations and making a meal out of each other instead. But he still said, "You deserve more than just sex, Christie. So much more."
He was right. Only, dinner wasn't what she was after.
Love. That was what she really deserved.
But since all Liam was offering tonight was a nice meal out--and then mind-blowing sex afterward--she wasn't going to say no. She simply couldn't.
Thirty minutes later, they were in Wishing Lake, a pretty town that she hadn't had a chance to explore on her rare days off. It was a perfect Adirondack night. The sky was clear, the wind was still, and the air was sweet. She couldn't have set the stage any better for a romantic dinner...even if that romance was only ever meant to be temporary.
"This is a real treat," she told him as they settled into their seats and the wine was poured. "I love Summer Lake, but sometimes it feels like I never get a chance to leave town."
"The Adirondacks are definitely full of hidden jewels."
The way he'd phrased it had her asking, "Is that why we're at this lake? Are we hiding too?"
"I told you I'm not going to hide our relationship, Christie, and I meant it. I just thought it would be nice if our first date was for the two of us."
"You're right. If we'd gone to one of the restaurants in town, every eye would have been on us." Still, she couldn't help but feel that despite what he said, he might not actually be all that thrilled about being seen with her.
Her non-poker face must have given her away, because he said, "Tomorrow morning, how about we walk down Main Street holding hands?"
A surprised laugh left her throat. Did he have any idea how sweet he really was? "I don't know if we need to be quite that blatant. But thank you for offering."
"Once Wesley returns, once he isn't afraid to share who he is with the people who've known him his whole life, no one will think twice about you having dated both of us."
"I suppose you're right." Although, who knew when Wesley was actually going to come back? Not to mention when Liam would leave... "I meant to tell you last night about the man Wesley was with. But I got distracted."
Liam reached for her hand, his thumb stroking the inside of her palm in just the way to make her shiver with need. "Last night was about you and me. No one else."
Considering he had told her again and again that he wasn't right for her, that he wasn't going to stick around in the long term, he was surprisingly possessive about their time together. She shouldn't like it, should remember the lessons she'd learned from all her failed relationships, should make sure he understood that she wasn't his to possess.
But with Liam, she couldn't help but like it. Because she couldn't help but want to belong to him.
Just as she couldn't help but want him to belong to her too.
She needed to take a sip of her wine--a really big gulp, actually--before she could refocus her thoughts on what she'd been about to say. "John is someone Wesley and I have both known for a long time. He's a very nice person."
Liam's fingers stilled on the stem of his wine glass, and she could see his mind working. Processing. Considering. "Do you have John's phone number? Odds are, that's where Wesley is."
Christie knew Liam's heart was in the right place. He loved his brother. No one could doubt that for a second. But...
"Of course I'll give you John's number. And I know how deeply you care for Wesley. But please--" She paused, had to repeat it. "Please respect your brother's wishes. He asked us not to contact him. He told us he'd come back when he's ready."
"Wesley needs to know that I'm there for him. That we all are. We always have been."
"Deep in his heart, he knows that," she promised him. "And when he's less confused and overwhelmed, he'll remember the love that's waiting here for him."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because when Wesley and I called off the wedding, my family wanted so badly to protect me, to come and take me away from it all. But what I really needed was to figure things out for myself for once. I needed to do it away from the familiar comfort of people who would swoop in and take care of everything for me. I just needed to figure out how to love myself all by myself, for the first time. I needed to know that I was strong in my own right. That I'd been right when I saw Summer Lake for the first time and knew it was where I was meant to be."
So many times over the past week, Liam had wanted to get to know Christie better. Each time, however, he'd forced himself to push his personal questions away, if only to keep them from getting too close. But last night he'd been unable to resist his fascination with her body--and now he couldn't see how it made sense anymore to keep fighting his fascination with the rest of her.
"You long to travel, to see the world," he said. When she nodded, he asked, "What if it turns out that Paris or Rome or Egypt is really where you're meant to be?"
"I suppose the best answer I can give is that I hope I get the chance one day to see if that's the case."
"Why haven't you, Christie? I see the way you are with the inn's guests. You're not afraid of meeting new people. In fact, you thrive on it. And if money is an issue, I'm sure you know there are plenty of ways to travel cheap."
She lifted her eyes to his, and he hated seeing the defeat in them. "I'm afraid to fly."
Even as she confessed her secret to him, he knew he should let her be. Should stop pressing her. But it wasn't enough to know the taste of her skin, or the way flecks of gold appeared in her green eyes when she was crying out her pleasure in his arms.
He needed to know everything.
"Why?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I don't know."
"There has to be a reason."
Budding anger replaced the defeat in her eyes. He didn't like knowing he'd made her angry, but he was glad to see the resignation disappear. "Don't you think that if I knew the reason, I would get past it, get on an airplane, and go somewhere?"
"Maybe." He knew he was putting his opinions in where he shouldn't, but he couldn't stop himself. "Or maybe it's easier to stay stuck right where you are."
Her eyes flashed. "Says the man who clearly found it easier to leave than to stay and make things work."
He should have seen that coming. Her brain was not only incredibly quick, her heart was also dead on target. Every single time. "I had my reasons for leaving," he told her, leaving it at that, the way he always had before.
She stared at him for a long moment. "You and I slept together last night."
"Yes, I know," he replied, unable to keep from smiling now, despite the intensity of their conversation. "I was there, loving every second of it."
"We're probably going to sleep together tonight."
His grin grew even bigger. "I hope so."
"Me too." She paused again. "Here's the thing, though. I know you're not promising me love. You were really clear on that. But whatever it is that we're doing, for however long we're doing it, there has to be a foundation of honesty between us. I know this is our first official date, and on any normal first date, I'd be on my best behavior. But we're doing things a little backward." She paused, picked up her wine, and drank. "Wait a second." She took another large gulp. "Okay. Here goes." She pinned him with a serious gaze. One he couldn't escape. "Why did you leave Summer Lake, Liam? Especially when I can see how much you love it here. I can tell that of all the places you've been and seen, this is really your home."
He'd known that if he let himself get close to her, this question would come. But that didn't mean he was any better prepared for it. "Something happened with my mother."
"What did she do? What happened that hurt you both so much?"
He had never been so tempted to give away his mother's secret. But he couldn't bear to pass his burden on to Christie. Wouldn't put her in the position of having to face his father, or Wesley, with the knowledge of what his mother had done. "Right after Wesley left," h
e said softly, "when I asked if you knew the reason why, you told me you wished you could tell me. But you couldn't."
She shook her head, clearly remorseful over the decision she'd made. "You love him so much. I should have told you earlier."
"No, I can see why you didn't. Wesley had your trust. It's like that. I don't want to keep you in the dark, but this isn't my secret to tell."
"Neither was Wesley's, but I ended up telling you."
That was when he realized she didn't yet know what Susan had seen. "My mother was there. In the parking lot last night."
"She was...in the parking lot?" She looked horrified.
"When we were--" She scrunched her eyes shut for a moment. "--kissing?"
"She heard our discussion about Wesley too."
"Oh no." Her words were barely more than a breath. "What have I done?"
"None of this is your fault."
"But how can Wesley possibly see it that way? He asked me not to tell anyone why he left. And here I've ended up telling everyone."