Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (Summer Lake 2) - Page 41

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"Your brother." She wiped away a rogue tear. "I love your brother with all my heart."

"Liam?" Wesley ran a hand through his dark hair, leaving it standing on end. "You're in love with Liam?"

"You know me," she said sarcastically. "Always falling for those dark, mysterious types."

"No," he protested. "Liam's not like that. I mean, he is, but down deep inside he's not like those other guys you dated. He's a good man. One of the best I've ever known."

"You don't need to tell me how good he is. I know." So good that one day, when Liam could finally let himself love again, the woman, the children he loved, were never going to doubt his love for a single second.

How she envied them.

And how she longed to know that kind of love for herself. Just once.

There had been moments in his arms when she'd thought he was almost there, when he'd looked into her eyes and she'd seen clear into his soul, when he'd said, I love you.

But his love for her had never been whole. Because he wasn't whole.

"I should have known," Wesley was saying slowly, softly. "If anyone could reach my brother, it would be you."

"Wrong." She couldn't disguise the raw pain behind the one short word. "He doesn't love me back. Do you want to know why?" She didn't wait for him to reply. "Because I suck at keeping secrets. His." She paused, guilt knocking into her as she admitted, "Yours too."

Wesley paled. "I trusted you."

Now it was her turn to say, "I'm sorry. I tried to keep the truth from him, but he was so worried about you. He loves you so much that his fear for you was tearing him apart." Her words had fallen to a faint whisper. "And I loved him too much to keep any secrets from him at all."

She waited for Wesley to be angry with her, like Liam had been, for spilling his secret. Instead, he pinched his eyes closed with his fingertips. "Talk about screwing up. I should never have asked you to keep that secret, Christie. I know it's no defense, but when you found John and me, I flat out panicked."

The way he immediately owned up to the complications he'd caused softened Christie's response. "I know." Finally, she gave in to the instinct to throw her arms around him. "How are you feeling about everything now?"

He smiled down at her, that gentle, sweet smile that she'd always loved, from the first time she'd looked across the nude-drawing class and found a kindred spirit who thought the whole thing was goofy. "Better. So much better. I'm not going to hide anymore. I don't want my life to be a lie anymore. Not to myself or anyone else."

She found a smile for him. "Good. We all love you, Wesley. Everyone in your family. This town. And especially your best friend, who wishes you had confided in her a long, long time ago. Which is why you need to know--your mother overheard my conversation with Liam, the one where I told him your secret. So your parents both know. And they both love you and wish you hadn't run, that you'd trusted them with the truth."

Relief blanketed his face, and he covered her hand with his own. "Thank you, Christie. For everything. For being my friend all these years. For being my friend, even now that I've made things so difficult for you."

A baby cried in the distance. A cloud moved to cover the sun. And a wave of exhaustion hit her hard, sweeping through her from head to toe.

She saw Dorothy and Helen over his shoulder, knew they'd spotted him. Christie couldn't stand here while everyone in town exclaimed over his return. But she couldn't leave the festival either, not when the responsibility for its success--or failure--rested entirely on her shoulders.

"I'm happy you're home," she said. "And I'm even happier that you're happy. But I've got to do my rounds to make sure everything is still going smoothly." With that, she headed for the biggest group of strangers she could find and hoped--prayed--that they would need her help with something.

*

The inn's dock was strangely empty. Everyone was in the sugar bush at the festival. Liam was going to head back in a few minutes, couldn't live with himself if he let Christie shoulder the responsibility for the event all by herself. But he'd needed to get away just long enough to pull himself together.

He quickly uncovered and untied the nearest rowboat. The oars were cold and squeaky from a winter and spring of non-use. These past three weeks that he'd been home, the ice had melted from the surface of the water, with only small patches left floating here and there.

Liam's heart had been like this lake when he'd arrived for Wesley's wedding. Frozen solid, but for so much longer than one winter and the beginning of one spring. Christie's smile, her gentleness, her love, the heat of her kisses, the way she gave herself over to him so completely when they were making love--they had all been more warmth than his ice could combat.

He pushed away from the dock, the cold water enveloping the hull of the wooden rowboat as the town got smaller. But after fifteen minutes of hard rowing, he had to face facts.

This time around, he couldn't close himself off, wasn't having any luck making a decision about what he would and wouldn't feel and then simply following through on it. Everything that had worked for him in the past was failing him.

Because he loved Christie.

Secrets. Trust. He'd thought those were the most important things of all. But now he knew better.

Only love mattered.

And he'd just thrown it away.

*

Wesley stood at the foot of the dock and watched Liam row toward him. His big brother had always been larger than life. Wesley had always looked up to him.

When they were teenagers and Liam had changed after the car crash, Wesley had wished he could have back the brother who had been so happy, so much fun when they were kids. But Wesley had been holding too tightly to his own secrets to dare ask anyone else for theirs.

Rowing in with his back to shore, Liam didn't see him until he was at the dock and Wesley leaned over to pull him alongside and tie up the rowboat.

"Where the hell did you go, Wes?" Liam looked simultaneously relieved and irritated. "I've been trying to track you down for weeks."

"Sorry about that." And Wesley was, sorrier than his brother knew. Especially because he'd had a hand in tearing apart the love between his brother and his best friend. "Now that I'm back, I promise I'll tell you everything you want to know."

But Liam didn't look particularly happy about that vow. "You should have told me everything a long time ago."

"I know you're angry with me, but--"

Liam all but jumped out of the rowboat. "Do you think I would have cared that you're gay? Do you think that would have bothered me even the slightest bit? Don't you realize the only thing that could possibly bother me is that you kept something so important from me for so damn long, and I couldn't be there to support you?"

"Remember how Mom was after her brother died?" Wesley said instead of answering his brother's questions. "And then when they found out it was AIDS? She didn't get out of bed for da

ys, and she was so fragile for so long after that." Wesley tried to explain everything he'd been forcing himself to dissect for the past three weeks. "I was confused, and I didn't want to put you in the position of having to lie to Mom and Dad."

"I would have helped you figure things out," Liam told him. "Don't you know I've always been there for you? Don't you know that I still am, even now when I'm so angry with you that I can hardly see straight?"

"I'm not the only one who screwed up." Wesley loved his big brother enough to go out on a limb. The limb he should have gone out on a long, long time ago. "You've been making excuses and pushing all of us away for too long. I know you're angry with me for disappearing the way I did, but I'm mad too. You're upset that I didn't confide in you. But you didn't confide in me either! I know I wasn't brave enough to ask you for answers when we were kids, but neither of us is a kid anymore." He watched his brother carefully, knew that the time had come to find out the truth. "I've been gone for three weeks, Liam. But you've been gone for twenty years. What happened between you and Mom when we were teenagers?"

Finally, Liam told him.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

Susan found Henry in one of the smaller barns, hammering on the leg of a wooden table that had broken off under the weight of the tapping equipment.

"Henry." His name shook, fell from her lips.

And he knew. The time had come for the final secrets, the final lies, to be revealed.

"I had an affair. Twenty years ago, after my brother died. With Roy." His wife looked ragged. She was crying, but he could see that she'd been crying long before now.

"I know."

Her shocked gasp resonated through the room. "You knew? But you never...you never said anything to me." Her words came out barely above a whisper. Raw and ragged. "You never did anything that made me suspect."


Tags: Bella Andre Summer Lake Romance
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