But to be with Willa, he was most definitely up for the challenge. He started to tell her just that but a car came toward them, the lights shining through the downpour as it slowed and then stopped in front of the house.
Willa started down the steps but Keane caught her. “Willa—”
“I’m leaving, Keane. I called an Uber.”
His other hand came up, holding her still as he stared down at her, his heart pounding uncomfortably. “Why?”
“You know why,” she whispered. “This isn’t going to work.”
The Uber driver honked and Willa started to move but Keane held on to her, lifting a finger to the driver to signal they needed a minute. “Okay,” he said, attempting to find his equilibrium here, not able to will his hands to let loose of her. “I fucked up but—”
“No, that’s the thing,” she said. “This isn’t on you. It’s all on me for thinking we could do this. The guy who doesn’t need anyone or anything, and the girl who secretly dreams about love but doesn’t know how to hold on to it.” She put a hand to her chest like it hurt. “The mistake’s mine, Keane. I let myself fall for the fantasy. Hell,” she said on a short laugh. “I let myself fall period, even when I knew better.”
The driver honked again and she turned that way but Keane blocked her. “I never meant to hurt you,” he said, swiping a lone tear from her cheek with his thumb. “You believe in second chances, remember? Well give me one.”
“It’s not about second chances, Keane. It’s that, as it turns out, we’re both pretty damn good at being temporary specialists and leaving ourselves an escape clause.”
Her shimmery smile broke his heart and he laughed mirthlessly. “I certainly didn’t plan for an escape clause when I fell in love with you.”
She stilled and stared up at him. “Wait—what?”
Jesus, had he really just said that, just opened a vein here when she had one foot out the door?
Yep, he’d said it. Later he’d think it was like getting a brain freeze after gulping down a Slurpee too fast. There was nothing but the burn for a long beat as his mind went into a free fall. He loved her. Holy shit, he loved her.
But by the time he managed to gulp some air into his deprived lungs and kick-start himself again, Willa had given up on him and climbed into the Uber, leaving him alone in the cold, dark night.
Willa walked through the courtyard, soggy footsteps muted as she crossed to the fountain. It was as empty as her heart.
The water hitting the copper base was a familiar soothing sound and she stopped, hugging herself. She wished she’d kept Keane’s sweatshirt, but his body heat had lingered in it along with his scent, and she was a junkie.
Time to go cold turkey.
“Hey,” Rory said, coming around the fountain toward her.
“Hey. What are you doing out here this late, it’s freezing.”
“I’m fine,” Rory said. “Just making a wish. World peace and all that.”
Willa smiled. “When did you become the grown-up in our little twosome?”
“Since you dragged me into adulthood kicking and screaming.” With a small smile, Rory pulled a little wrapped box from her pocket and held it out to Willa. “Merry Christmas.”
Willa shook her head. “Oh, honey, you didn’t have to—”
“You took me in off the streets. You gave me a job and force-fed me morals and honesty and trust.” Rory’s eyes went misty. “So yes, I’m giving you a present, small as it is.”
Willa pulled her in for a hard hug. “I love you, you know.”
Rory gave a small, embarrassed laugh. “Well, jeez, you haven’t even opened it yet. Maybe you’ll hate it.”
Willa pulled off the paper and then let out a half laugh, half sob at the sight of the cute little key chain with a bunch of charms, each with a pic of some of her favorite customers’ pets. “I love it.”
“I’m going home,” Rory said softly. “I’m nervous as hell and I might throw up if I think about it too long, but thanks for getting me the ride. Archer called me and said I’m leaving in half an hour. Should be in Tahoe by dawn.”
“You’ll call me, tell me how it goes?”
Willa gave her a long look.
“Okay, no, I won’t call,” Rory said. “I hate talking on the phone. But I’ll text.”
Good enough. Willa hugged her tight. “Still love you.”
“Well, if you’re going to get mushy . . .” Rory squeezed her back, clinging for a moment. “Then I suppose I love you too.” She pulled back and swiped her nose. “Thought you’d be with Keane tonight.”
“Right. Because you’re not a thing.”
“Okay, fine, I might have been wrong about that before but we’re back to not being a thing now. For good.”
Rory rolled her eyes so hard that Willa was surprised they didn’t fall out of her head. “Because while you love me, you looo-oooo-ooove him.”
Willa didn’t have the heart to tell her that sometimes love wasn’t enough. “I’m not sure it’s going to work out.”
“It’s . . . complicated,” Willa said.
“Complicated as in you got scared that he’s not a dog or a cat or a wayward teen that needs taking care until it finds its final home?”
Willa blew out a breath. “Well why don’t you tell me what you really think?”
“Sorry.” Rory smiled gently. “But he’s a good guy, Willa, we all think so. If you can’t trust yourself, then maybe you can trust the collective certainty of the people who love and care about you. Don’t find him a different permanent home than with you, Willa.”
She choked out a laugh. “He’s not a dog!”
“Exactly.” And with that, Rory kissed her on the cheek and walked away.
Willa turned to the fountain. For months now she’d recklessly tossed coins into this very water, wishing for love. And then, apparently, she’d proceeded to panic when she’d actually gotten what she’d wished for.