She should’ve felt good. Her editor was happy. Her agent was happy. Her staff, her family . . . all happy.

But she wasn’t. Because her brothers and Jackson had been right. She needed to find it for herself. And she had. She’d just left it three thousand miles behind.

God, she missed San Francisco. She missed the people in it. She missed the Pacific Pier Building. She missed the courtyard and the fountain and writing in front of it, listening to the water falling to the copper base. She missed sex. She missed Spence.

She missed sex with Spence.

She really had fallen in love with him. The truth was, she’d never really thought about love before—the heart-pounding, can’t-live-without-you kind of love that grows in the pit of the stomach and spreads outward until you’re warm all over. The kind of love you know is real because you’ve got not one single teeny, tiny doubt that he’d be there for you, no matter what.

Maybe she’d never given thought to love for herself because she’d never seen her mom in that kind of relationship. Or maybe it was because she wasn’t really sure she believed in that kind of relationship.

But something had changed, shifted inside her, because suddenly she did believe in love. And more than that, she wanted it for herself. She wanted what she’d had with Spence. Only she didn’t want it just for a vacation from her life.

She wanted it for her life.

“I shouldn’t have run,” she said.

“You can’t help it,” her mom said, coming into the room. “It’s in your blood.”

Colbie looked up. “Hey, Mom.”

Her mom smiled and hugged Colbie. “I thought I was dreaming when I heard your voice!” She tightened her grip and Colbie patted her on the back, trying to drag air into her lungs. “Can’t. Breathe.”

“I know.” Her mom loosened her grip only very slightly. “But you came! It’s a Christmas miracle!” Stepping back from Colbie, her eyes filled with huge tears.

“Oh, Mom. It’s okay, don’t cry.”

Her mom cupped Colbie’s face. “Thank you. Really. Thank you for coming when we called. You didn’t have to, and we shouldn’t have asked, but it’s really great to see you—no matter why you’re really here.”

“What does that mean?”

“I had my cards read and was told that you’ve fallen deeply in love but that you ran from it.”

“Mom.” Colbie shook her head. “I told you to stop spending your money on that stuff. You don’t need to have your cards read to live your life.”

“Maybe not, but how else will I hear about your life? You don’t talk to me. So is it true, then? Did you run away from love? I mean, it would make sense, given that you’re here so quickly without any fuss.”

Colbie sighed.

“Oh no, Colbie. Really? I didn’t want to be right on this one, although I admit, it does make me feel better that you’re running away from your man rather than racing home to deal with us, who don’t deserve you.”

“Mom, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Huh. Shock. But maybe you’ll listen instead. Follow me.” They went to the living room, where her mom pointed to what she’d been doing before Colbie had come home.

Looking at old photo albums, like she did every Christmas. They were from the years before Colbie’s birth and right after. The old leather one on top was opened to a page that held an eight-by-ten picture taken on her parents’ wedding day.

They were smiling and looked happy.

And young.

“Mom,” Colbie said gently. “Why are you doing this to yourself? He left us. He doesn’t deserve your regrets and sadness.”

“Yeah, about that . . .” Her mom paused. “He didn’t leave us, Colbie.”

Colbie met her gaze. “I don’t understand.”

Her mom sighed. “Sit. Sit,” she said again, patting the seat of the chair next to her. “We met at a frat party.”

“I thought you didn’t go to college.”

“I didn’t,” her mom said. “But my friends and I were looking for our MRS degree. Do you know what that means?”

“That you were looking for husbands,” Colbie said, not liking where this was going.

“I met your dad at the first frat party I ever went to. He was trouble, of course, I could see it in his eyes, but I didn’t care.”

“And by trouble,” Colbie said, “you mean . . .”

“He had no interest in marriage or a family. Absolutely zero. But when I got pregnant that night, he actually stood by me. Married me to give you a name.” Her mom’s eyes overfilled and a few tears escaped. “We did our best, but you know how I am. I self-destruct my happiness, always have. I did the same with us. By the time I got pregnant again, we weren’t doing well. I knew it was over, that I had to leave. I told myself I was doing all of us a favor. I was leaving him before he could leave us, that’s all. Still, it was wrong. I know that now, and if he’d ever tried to see you kids, even once, I’d have swallowed my pride and let him be a part of your lives. But he never did.”

Colbie just stared at her in shock. “You left him.”

“Yes. And I know. Believe me, I know what a shitty mom I was to ever let you think otherwise. I was a shitty mom in other ways too. I didn’t teach you to enjoy life. Instead I had you always looking ahead for problems, letting you fix everything. But that’s not life. Life is in the little things, you see?”

“No,” Colbie said flatly and stood up.

Her mom caught her hand. “You gotta catch the moments, the precious, good, amazing moments of life. You gotta go after them and hold on for all you’re worth. And when someone comes along who loves you for you—and not because of what you do or because you’re lonely, but because they love you—you hold on, Colbie. You hold on like you’ve never held on before. Not because you need it for your life, but because it complements your life.” She stood up. She was a good head shorter than Colbie but she put her hands on her hips and managed to glare up at her daughter. “Now, I can see why you’d ignore any advice I might have to offer because your stubbornness is second only to mine, but if you trust me on only one thing, trust this. I’ve been there, done that, and stole the T-shirt, and it wasn’t all that much fun.”

“Mom —”

“So don’t walk away from what’s right for you,” her mom said, her voice more serious than Colbie had ever heard. “Although you ran more than walked.”

Colbie sighed.

“Baby, if you only listen to me once in your entire life, please, God, let it be this one time.” She swallowed hard. “Don’t make my mistakes. Okay? Don’t let happiness take a backseat. Happiness makes the world go around.” She held Colbie’s gaze, her own fierce and suspiciously shiny. “Don’t be a runner.” And then she gave one jerky nod and walked away.

“I’m not a runner,” Colbie said to the room.

But she was. And she didn’t like what that said about her. Maybe she’d known Spence for only a short amount of time but some things happened in an instant.

Things like . . . standing in a fountain, water dripping off your face as you fell in love with the man standing there with you . . .

Her phone vibrated with a text. Spence.

My life doesn’t work without you in it.

She stared at the words until they blurred. “I have to go back to San Francisco,” she whispered.

Her mom stuck her head back in, tears in her eyes as she nodded. “Yes! You have to go back.”

Chapter 29

#FishAndChips

Spence tried to bury himself in work but there was a heaviness to his daily grind that he knew from experience was grief.

Only on a whole new level.

He’d finally learned how to balance his life and then half of that life had walked away, leaving him out of whack all over again.

The gang tried to cheer him up, inviting him places, bringing him his favorite junk food . . . The guys even took him fishing, and though it’d been fucking freezing and Joe had gone accidentally swimming and nearly lost his nuts, it hadn’t distracted Spence.

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