“Dammit,” she whispered. “Everyone’s right.”
“Well, of course we are, darlin’.”
She nearly jumped out of her skin as she turned and faced Eddie, wearing board shorts and a really ugly Christmas sweater.
He smiled. “So what are we right about?”
“Sometimes I’m too stubborn and obstinate to see reason.”
She huffed out a sigh.
He grimaced at the look on her face. “Okay, now see, this is why I never managed to stay married. There’s all these landmine discussions and I kept stepping on them and blowing myself up.”
“It’s not your fault. It’s mine.” Because of it, she’d walked away from Keane—not because he’d not told her about his house or Petunia, but because she was scared of everything she thought she wanted. Everything that had for once truly been within her grasp and standing right in front of her. “Oh my God.” She looked at Eddie. “I’ve made a terrible mistake. I need a ride.”
“Dudette,” he said with a slow head shake. “I’d do anything for you, you know that, but they took my license away twenty years ago now.”
“They” being the state of California, probably having something to do with the medical marijuana card he had laminated and hanging around his neck.
“It’s okay.” She slipped him all the cash she had in her pocket—twenty bucks—and a quick hug. “Merry Christmas,” she said before running to the stairs. She dashed into her apartment and grabbed her bag. Then she two-timed it back to the pub and banged on the door.
Sean answered and she pushed past him, rushing to the stage where her best friends in the world were currently fighting over who’d won a bonus round of karaoke—hip-hop style.
Archer was adamant that his rendition of “Ice Ice Baby” beat Spence and Finn’s version of “Baby Got Back.” Finn was laughing so hard he was on the floor. Elle was sitting on the bar filing her nails listening to something Pru was telling her and nodding in agreement.
They stopped and stared at her, making her realize that she was drenched from the rain and a complete and utter mess.
Inside and out.
“So it turns out that I really am too stubborn and obstinate to see reason. And also, I screwed everything up,” she added breathlessly. “I need a ride.”
They all kept staring at her.
“Now,” she said. And then she whirled to the door, knowing she didn’t have to wait. They had her back too. Just like she should’ve known that Keane would have her back. Pushing open the pub door she got to the street and then turned around to see who’d come to drive her so she would know which car or truck to go for.
They were all right there, every last one of them, pulling on jackets as they rushed out the door after her and her heart just about burst out of her chest. “Thanks,” she whispered.
Spence pulled her in for a hard hug. “Anything for you,” he said against her temple. “You know that.”
“Even if I’ve been really stupid?”
“Especially if,” Archer said and tugged on a wet strand of her hair. “Let’s go.”
“All of us?” For the first time she hesitated. “I’m not sure I need an audience for this.”
“Tough,” Elle said. “You’re family. And family sticks together on Christmas.”
Willa’s eyes filled. “It’s not Christmas yet,” she managed.
Spence looked at his phone for the time. “Eleven thirty,” he said. “Close enough.”
They all piled into Archer’s truck because he was the only actual sober one. “Where to?” he asked her.
He smiled. “No shit. I meant I need an address.”
Right. She started to rattle it off and then sat straight up. “We have to go to a tree lot first! He doesn’t have a tree, I want to bring him a tree!”
Spence groaned, but Archer didn’t blink an eye. And ten minutes later they were all standing in a tree lot, staring at the two trees that were left.
“That one,” Pru said, pointing to a very short tree with three branches.
“No, this one,” Elle said about a taller but equally sparse tree.
Archer looked at Willa. Then he turned to the guy running the lot. “You got anything else?”
The guy shrugged. “There’s one in my trailer. It’s slightly used, but it’s the best tree on this lot.”
“You don’t want it?” Willa asked him.
The guy flashed a smile. “Got a hot date with the missus tonight. I’d rather have the fifty bucks.”
“Forty,” Archer said and paid the guy.
The tree went into the back of his truck and in ten more minutes they were at Keane’s house.
Willa still had no idea exactly what she was going to say, only knowing that she had to say something, anything, to fix this.
Because she was done running.
When Archer pulled over in front of the house, they all looked at her.
She stared at the house, garnering courage. Thankfully her friends gave her the silence she so desperately needed. When she finally thought maybe she could get out of the truck and not have her legs collapse in anxiety, she opened the door. Turning back, she found the people she loved more than anything all squished in tight together, practically on top of each other, watching her with varying degrees of concern and worry. “I’m okay,” she told them, struck anew by how lucky she was to have them in her life. To know she was loved. To believe in herself because they believed in her.
Keane hadn’t had any of that and yet he was still one of the most incredible men she’d ever met. He’d never learned to love and yet he was able to feel it enough to tell her.
And she hadn’t said anything back. In fact, she’d let him believe he didn’t deserve a second chance, when everyone deserved a second chance. And God, even though she didn’t deserve it, she really, really hoped a second chance applied to her too. “Thanks for the ride. I’ll talk to you guys tomorrow.”
“Oh, we’re not going anywhere,” Elle said. “We’re going to sit here quietly and well behaved—” She broke off to give the guys a long look. “And there will be no fart wars while we wait or someone will die.”