Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (Summer Lake 2) - Page 42

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"You might not remember the past very clearly, but I do." His voice shook now from the force of the emotions pushing up from his gut, his chest, through his windpipe. "Your twin brother had died, and you went from being the strong, capable, loving woman I'd married to a brittle shell. I did everything I could to try to help you, but you were lost to me. To your sons. To everyone who cared about you."

"I never meant--" A sob choked her words short. "Roy didn't mean anything to me."

"I know that. Just as I knew it then. Being with people who loved you hurt too much. So you jumped into the arms of a man who didn't care about anything more than his next affair." It hadn't been hard for Henry to piece two and two together--and to get the other man to confess. "And I know it never went beyond that one time. I forgave you for that a long time ago."

In all the ways he'd thought this conversation would play out over the years, he'd never imagined that he'd tell her she was forgiven and she'd break down and cry harder.

"Liam..."

He could barely make out his son's name. "What about Liam? Is something wrong?"

"He saw me. I made him promise not to tell you."

Thirty-five years ago, Henry had taken one look at Susan and known he would love her forever. Only, no one could have told him forever wasn't nearly as long as he'd assumed it would be.

He'd loved her--so damned much--that he'd tried to convince himself it was enough. For nearly twenty years, he'd told himself one version or another of that lie. But his love could never be enough. He saw that now. Just as he finally let in all the anger, the frustration, the hurt that he'd forced himself to push away for two decades.

"I loved you." He heard the past tense at the same time she did. "How could you, Susan?"

She flinched at the way he said her name. His heart broke looking at her, but he wouldn't let himself go and pull her into his arms.

"I thought I could look the other way when you came back to me," he continued. "But that was when I thought it was just between us." He looked down at her hand, her diamond ring still gone. She'd taken it off when they were sanding the floor. Watching her take off that ring three weeks ago had felt like a prophecy of doom. But now he knew that everything had broken a long time ago, when she'd made all the wrong choices with their son. All to save herself.

"I wanted to tell you so many times, but I couldn't risk losing you."

"I know why you cheated, Susan. I even told myself I understood. But I'll never understand how you could ask a fourteen-year-old boy to keep a secret like that." He took a step closer to her. "I'm his father, for God's sake! You forced him to lie to me. You made it so he couldn't look me in the eye." His voice boomed at her, his breath blowing her hair back from her face. He'd always thought she was the most beautiful person he'd ever seen. But he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to see her beauty again. "The affair was forgivable. What you did to our son isn't."

And then he walked out of the barn, leaving his wife behind.

*

"Sweet girl, come here."

For hours, Christie had been on autopilot, running the festival. Her grief, her exhaustion, must be making her hear things. But the arms pulling her close were warm. And real.

"Mom."

She breathed in her mother's familiar scent and closed her eyes as she let herself be held by someone who would never desert her. And when she looked up from her mother's shoulder, she saw her father and four sisters and their husbands and kids. Her family had come, after all.

They'd waited weeks for her to clean up her messes, just as she'd asked them to. And yet, here she was, more of a mess than she'd ever been.

She knew what they were going to say. They were going to tell her to come home with them. To let them all take care of her. And oh, how big a temptation it was to give up every stride she'd taken to become a strong person over the past months.

She forced herself to pull out of her mother's arms and smile at the people she loved so dearly. "I'm so glad you're all here. You guys are going to love tapping a maple. Come with me and I'll show you how."

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

Liam's brother had dozens of questions--about their mother, about what had happened at the inn, about what had happened between him and Christie. But only Christie mattered now.

"Man the inn," he told Wesley. "I need to go and beg Christie to take me back."

He thought he saw his brother smile, but he was already heading up the dock toward the forest. Toward the woman he loved.

He quickly spotted her working to help a family with small children get situated behind the maple syrup tapping equipment. A little boy fell, and she knelt beside him, brushing the dirt off his pants, talking animatedly to him until he stopped crying. The child's parents looked at her gratefully, but she was wholly focused on the little boy's welfare and happiness.

Just as she'd been wholly focused on his own.

God, how he loved her. Since that first moment he'd seen her at Sarah and Calvin's wedding with tears streaming down her face and her hand over her heart. And every moment since.

He could still hear her words echoing not only in his head, but also deep inside his heart. Sometimes loving someone means breaking a promise that will only hurt them if it's kept. His beautiful Christie. So sweet. So wise.

And so much stronger than anyone ever gave her credit for. Especially him.

He'd give anything to share her life, to be strong for her and let her be strong right back. Here he'd thought he wasn't afraid of anything, when all along, she was the truly brave one. The dragon slayer who would face down the hottest flames, the biggest dangers, to protect the people she loved.

He wanted to call her name, wanted to beg her to forgive him, to take him back, right then and there. But as she turned to take care of yet another family who needed her help, he realized that right now, she needed his support far more than she needed his pleas for forgiveness.

As he attended to various issues that cropped up at the festival throughout the rest of the afternoon, she gave no outward sign that she saw him. But she made sure that they were on opposite sides of the festival, moving away from him whenever he came too close. He kept seeing her with the same large group of people and eventually realized that they must be her family based on resemblance and how effortless and comfortable she was with them all. He wanted so badly to meet them, to thank her mother and father for raising such an incredible woman. But he knew better than to do it just then.

Christie was hurt. Angry. And she had every right to be. He'd gotten everything wrong.

Everything.

As night began to fall, he made sure every last festivalgoer got back to their car all right in the dark. Then, in case it rained, he wanted to make sure the tapping equipment was put away and covered for the rental company to come pick up Monday morning. But Christie was already there, kneeling beside one of the tappers, wiping it down with a wet rag.

He couldn't stop himself from watching her. And from wishing he'd understood what love was really about before he threw it all away.

Her hand stilled on the equipment as she realized he was standing behind her. The moon was bright enough that he could watch her slowly pull air into her lungs and then let it out before she said, "Thank you for your help today."

He'd gone and stomped on her heart and she was thanking him for helping with the festival? He didn't even come close to deserving this woman. "You don't need to thank me for anything, sweet--" The endearment was halfway out before he saw Christie flinch. The tiny movement pierced straight through his heart.

He knew she wanted him to leave her alone. But how could he bring himself to leave her? And how could he ever let her go, if that was what she really wanted from him now?

He tried again. "I saw that your family came."

Her mouth almost tipped up into a smile. "They wanted to surprise me."

"I'm glad they were here for you, Christie."

For the first time, she met his gaze. Her chin was li

fted, her shoulders back. Here was the stunningly strong woman who had fought the Preservation Council, who had believed in herself and her festival. The woman who had always been such a big part of his brother's life. The woman everyone in town cared for and wanted to see happy.

The woman he would never stop loving.

"I am too," she said. "I've missed them." She looked pale. And tired. But still so beautiful he could hardly believe his eyes.

"Have you eaten today?"

She covered the tapper, then stood and wiped her hands on her jeans. "I appreciate your concern, but you don't have to take care of me," she said softly. "I already know how to take care of myself. I've always known. But before now, I haven't wanted to make the hard decisions about when to stay. And when to go."

It killed Liam to stand there and let her walk away. He couldn't do it. "Christie, I--"

She stopped him with nothing more than a look over her shoulder. "Have you and your mother spoken?"

"She came and found me and tried to talk about things."

She studied his face, looking deep, the way she always did. "But nothing has changed between the two of you, has it?"

He knew his answer wasn't the one she wanted, but he had to give it to her anyway. Because it was the truth. "No, it hasn't."

She didn't look surprised. "Wesley is going to cover for me for a few days. I've got some things to take care of."

All he wanted was to run after her as she walked away, to beg her forgiveness. But he knew now that wouldn't be enough. Christie wasn't leaving because their broken relationship was beyond repair. She was leaving because of problems that had nothing to with her and him--and everything to do with the way he had dealt with his family for so long.

She wasn't the only one who hadn't wanted to make the hard decisions about when to stay and when to go. He'd done exactly the same thing.


Tags: Bella Andre Summer Lake Romance
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