Oh hell to the no.
I faced her. “Why do you want to see him?”
Nicole blinked, obviously surprised by my question. “I don’t mean to be rude, but that’s really none of your business.”
“Actually, it is, Nicole.”
Her eyes widened this time. “How do you…?”
“I know who you are.” My pulse was pounding so fast I thought I might be sick. “You’re Colton’s ex-fiancée.”
Her slim brows furrowed. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know you. You’re not seeing Jax or Colton’s brother.”
“I’m not.” I paused and then I smiled. “That’s because I’m seeing Colton.”
Any other time I might’ve laughed at her reaction. Her jaw seemed to come unhinged. She gaped like a fish out of water. My lips pursed as her eyes doubled in size. Was it really that hard to believe? Geez.
“I d-didn’t know,” she said after she recovered. “He hasn’t said anything.”
My stomach joined her jaw, falling somewhere on the floor.
“I mean, I haven’t really talked to him,” she quickly added, lowering her gaze as she shook her head. “I’ve messaged him a couple of times—called him, but he hasn’t answered.”
Relief poured through me, and I didn’t even feel terrible for that.
Nicole cleared her throat. “I…God, this is so embarrassing.” She laughed, but it was hoarse and thick sounding. “I honestly wasn’t planning to come here, and I know I probably look like a stalker, but my friend lives nearby, and when I drove past and saw his truck I thought I…”
I had no idea what to say. “I’m sorry?”
God, that was pretty lame.
She laughed again and the sound was worse this time. Her gaze lifted to mine. “Do you really care about him? Because I know if he’s with you, he really cares about you. He doesn’t date idly.”
“I know,” I whispered, and in that moment, I really did know. With my hand still on the door, I exhaled softly. “I’ve dreamed of him—of someone like him—for a long time. I’m in love with him. I don’t know if he feels the same way, but I know…I know how I feel.”
Nicole’s eyes closed briefly. “Make sure you tell him that,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “Make sure you show him. I…I never really did, you know? I was stupid. Don’t be stupid like me.” She stepped back, her throat working. “Can you do me a favor?”
“Yes,” I heard myself whisper. For some reason I wanted to cry.
She smiled weakly. “Please don’t tell him I was here. I’m not going to try to get in touch with him again. Not when he’s with someone. Okay?”
Pressing my lips together, I nodded.
“Thank you,” she said, and then she turned around. I watched her leave and then closed the door.
In a daze, I gathered up the bottles and walked outside. Everyone was huddled around the table, scooping up heaps of potato salad and putting together their buns.
Colton looked up, the look in his eyes soft, and my heart squeezed. “I was starting to get worried about you.”
“Yeah, who was at the door?” Jax asked.
“No one,” I answered, putting the bottles on the table as I took a deep breath. “I mean, it was someone trying to sell candles. It took me a while to close the door.”
Roxy snatched up the ketchup bottle. “If it had been Girl Scout cookies, I hope you would’ve let them in.”
I smiled as I moved over to where Colton stood, Nicole’s words echoing in my head as I wrapped my arms around his waist. “If it was them, I would’ve rolled out the damn red carpet.”
* * * *
Later that night, I laid in Colton’s bed, the fine sheen of sweat cooling on our bodies as our hearts slowed. It had taken some major effort on Colton’s part to pull the sheet up to our waists.
He lay on his back and I was on my side beside him. His hand trailed up and down my spine, an idle and tender caress I wasn’t even sure he was aware of.
In the silence of his dark bedroom, the conversation I had with Nicole replayed in my head. It had several times while at the cookout. I hated not telling Colton about her, but I also couldn’t find it in myself to break the promise I made to her.
I didn’t think Nicole was going to be a problem. If anything, her unexpected visit had been eye opening. I needed to tell Colton how I felt. It could be risky. Hell, it could scare him off, but the words were burning the tip of my tongue and twisting up my heart.
And I wasn’t a coward.
Worst-case scenario, it was too soon and Colton ran for the hills, but if he didn’t feel the same way now, would it really change later? It wasn’t like people couldn’t grow to love one another, but I was a firm believer that you knew pretty quickly if love was in the cards.
I drew in a deep breath. “Colton?”
“Hmm?” he murmured.
“You’re still awake, right?”
His chuckle rumbled through me. “Yes.”
“Good. I need to tell you something.”
Colton’s hand stilled along the center of my back. “You have my attention.”
I closed the hand that rested on his chest because it was starting to shake. “I…I really loved Kevin. He was more than my husband. He was my closest friend too, and when he died, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever feel that way about someone else. I wanted to, but I…I just wasn’t sure.”
He didn’t move. There was a good chance he wasn’t breathing.
“Even though I was with Kevin in high school, I still noticed you and I still…God forgive me, had a crush on you.” I squeezed my eyes shut. “And well, what I’m trying to tell you is that I…I love you.”
He still didn’t move. Or breathe.
My eyes opened and I added in a rush, “And I know it’s soon and it’s probably too soon for me to be saying that to you, but I wanted you to know that I do. I do love you, and I know you probably are seconds from freaking and—”
“I am freaking out.”
Colton rolled onto his side and suddenly we were eye to eye. “I’m freaking out in a good way.”
“Oh,” I whispered.
His hand curled around my cheek. “It’s not too soon. Or if it is, we’re both feeling it too soon.”
My breath caught. “You…you love me?”