“Nothing, man,” Tanner said.
“Let it go,” Sam said.
Cole nodded. But then he shook his head because he wasn’t much good at letting anything go, and now didn’t seem like the time to start. Hell no. Plus the room was spinning just a little bit.
Or a lot.
As he looked around the interior of the boat he loved nearly as much as he did Sam and Tanner, the effects of the alcohol made it seem as if they were on the high seas. Except maybe it was him moving. “Susan told Gil, and he told you two.”
Another look passed between his supposed best friends. He stood up and pointed at Sam and Tanner. “Someone better fucking start talking.”
“Let it go,” Sam repeated, standing up too.
Cole narrowed his eyes and got up in Sam’s space. “And what exactly am I letting go?”
Sam’s jaw bunched. “You’re pissed. I get that. But you want to back the fuck up.”
“No, I don’t.”
Tanner sighed and stood up, too, pushing his way between them. “We’re fucking up the celebration of Gil’s life.”
Staring at the two guys he’d loved for so long he couldn’t remember being without them, Cole shook his head. “I can’t believe it. Susan told Gil she’d turned me down.” He shook his head again. “But I’m getting the feeling you both already knew that, too. Yeah?”
Sam’s gaze never left Cole’s.
“Yeah,” Cole said. “I’m right.” He stared at them both. “Jesus.” He shoved his fingers into his hair. “For two years I’ve sucked that bullshit down like a serving of cut glass. Thought that was the worst of it. Guess I was wrong there, huh? You two knowing all along and not telling me? That’s worse by far.”
Tanner had the good grace to grimace.
“How long have you known?” Sam asked Cole.
“I found out at the funeral. When she fell to a thousand pieces in my arms over the real love of her life being dead,” Cole said. “I think the real question here is, how long have you known?”
The looks on their faces had him closing his eyes and dropping his head into his hands. “Longer than me,” he muttered. “Doesn’t matter how or when, you’ve known longer than me.” He lifted his head again. “And you kept it from me. Jesus, was there some sort of memo on how to fuck me over?” He grabbed his bottle. “I need another drink. I need…” To throw up. “I need to get the fuck out of here.”
Sam reached for him but he shoved free and also nearly planted his fist in Sam’s face. When both friends started to follow him, Cole pointed at them. “Don’t.”
Sam opened his mouth.
“Don’t talk, either. Don’t…“ He turned away. “Don’t anything.”
“Come on, man,” Tanner said. “Don’t leave. Not like this. It’s not what you think—”
“It’s exactly what I think,” he said, and left. He was only halfway up the dock when Tanner’s first text hit.
Get your moody bitch-ass back here.
He was at the warehouse when Sam’s text arrived.
We thought you were over her. We didn’t want to stir it up. Come back.
Cole stopped in the lot, momentarily stymied. Definitely too toasted to drive. He could hitch a ride home—if he’d remembered to grab his house keys from the boat.
Since going back wasn’t an option, he hit the beach and started walking. His heart was pounding and so was his head.
We thought you were over her.
He was. He’d also thought he was past the fact that his woman and his best friend had sneaked around behind his back.
He’d really thought that. After all, Gil was dead, Susan had moved on. There was no reason to harbor the resentment and bad blood.
So he hadn’t.
He’d been a grown-up and done as Susan had. He’d moved on. And in the brilliance of twenty-twenty hindsight, he’d come to realize that he and Susan wouldn’t have made a good pair anyway.
He hadn’t been the one for her.
He’d taken that unforeseen blow to his heart and soul, to his ability to love and trust in a woman, blah blah. And he’d gone on, choosing to believe that there was someone else out there for him, someone better suited.
Not that he’d gone looking. No, he hadn’t been all that eager to possibly get screwed up again. He’d figured if it was meant to be, it would happen. Someone would walk into his life, past his walls, and right into his heart.
Her face came into his head. Her dark, deep eyes always held just a little bit of pain, no matter whether she was laughing or working or just standing still.
A kindred spirit, she’d walked right past his barriers. Not willingly. No, she was just as reluctant as he was to let herself feel.
And somehow that made her even more trustworthy.
His phone buzzed again, a call this time. From Sam, one of the two people he’d trusted to have his back no matter what.
And he, like Tanner, had known about Susan and Gil, and hadn’t told him.
What if Cole had never found out? What if he and Susan had stayed together?
Would Sam and Tanner have let Cole continue to love someone who didn’t, couldn’t, love him back? Ignore.
Again his cell buzzed.
Tanner this time.
Cole resisted the urge to chuck his phone into the churning water and turned it off instead. He shoved his hands into his pockets. Hunching his shoulders against the chill, he kept walking.