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He placed a chaste kiss on her lips. “Are you sure you’re okay? Are you sure you’re ready?”

Liz bit her lip and closed her eyes. No. She wasn’t sure of anything. Even her sanity was questionable at this point.

Was it so wrong to want to forget? She didn’t understand why it all had to be so difficult. Brady had moved on. Why was she still struggling through this? It didn’t make sense and she wanted it to stop. She just wanted it all to stop.

Tears streamed down her cheeks before she could keep them from coming. Her whole body shook uncontrollably. She crossed her arms over her chest, feeling even more exposed than ever before. Hayden shouldn’t have to see her like this. He shouldn’t have to see her break down over something she could never even tell him about. It wasn’t fair to him. He was a good man. Perfect.

And she would never be perfect. She was just a woman still holding on to a man she had to give up, to a life she had to let go of, to a feeling that never seemed to leave her. Hayden deserved better than that. He deserved better than someone who had to hold back the truth just to keep going through her day. He deserved someone as perfect as himself.

He would never find that in Liz. He would only find a hollow vessel that had once given everything she had and then was left empty. He could fill in the cracks when she broke apart, but now, when she was completely wrecked, there was nothing he could do to fill the hole.

Then his arms came around her and pulled her sobbing body against his. He didn’t ask a single question. He didn’t try to tease out what was wrong with her. He just did the best possible thing he could do.

Hayden held her until her tears ran their course, and she fell into an exhausted slumber wrapped in his arms.

Chapter 8


Liz woke to an empty bed.

She stretched her fingers in all directions, a groan sticking in her throat as her body came to life. She was stiff everywhere from her cramped position in the bed, and her eyes burned from her tears.

But now that the tears were dried up, she felt . . . alive. Not healed. No, it was too early for that, but better. More like the wound had scabbed over; it was still tender, but she could go about her daily life again.

With a big sigh, she pushed the covers back and stepped out of the bed. Liz fumbled around in the dark for a lamp and then flicked it on. She dragged off her jeans from last night. When she found a pair of Hayden’s sweatpants, she quickly shimmied into them and then pulled a track hoodie over her head.

She padded out of the bedroom, but stopped at the first window. Her jaw dropped open. It was a winter wonderland. The ground, the driveway, the trees, the bushes—everything in sight was covered in perfectly white snow. The sun was rising high on the horizon, making the world shine brightly before her eyes. Liz wondered if the temperatures would let the snow hang on or if it would melt away by the afternoon.

She found Hayden stoking a fire to life in the living room fireplace. He had his back to her, so he couldn’t see the smile that appeared on her face when she found him still in track pants and a Dri-Fit long-sleeved T-shirt. His hair was damp, whether from the snow or from his early morning run, she wasn’t sure. But her heart contracted at the sight of him.

How had she gotten so lucky? She had someone sitting right before her eyes who cared for her so deeply. He just wanted her to be happy, because she was the one who made him happy. It was as clear to her then as if a film had been removed from her vision.

She was ashamed of her actions from last night. It was wrong for her to push Hayden into something based on her own f**ked-up feelings. Last night had not been the right time, and she was glad Hayden had stopped her, because she knew that she would have regretted it.

“Hey,” she whispered, her voice slightly hoarse.

Hayden replaced the poker and closed the screen before turning around. “Hey. Are you feeling better?” He looked cautious and she hated that.

“Much. Thank you for letting me sleep in.”

“No problem. I needed to go for a run anyway.”

To clear his head. That much was obvious.

“About last night . . .” she began awkwardly.

She knew she needed to say something to clear the air. She didn’t want him to be angry or confused, but she wasn’t sure what she could say that would help besides the truth about Brady, and actually she was pretty sure that would make it worse. The joking about “their politician” aside, Hayden had never liked Brady. He had always agreed with her early assessment of him, even after she changed her mind.

“It’s all right. You don’t have to say anything.”

She didn’t? “Oh.”

Hayden looked down at his hands and back up at her. “I’m not sure what happened last night. I wanted what you were offering . . . I still do, but I don’t want you to do it because you felt pressured by anything. I’m happy just to hold you every night. All I know is that I never want to see you cry like that again over something like this.”

He thought that she had been crying because she had felt pressured to move forward. Her mouth was hanging agape and she quickly closed it. Of course, the frustration of not having had sex with Hayden yet had been some of the drive, but most of it had been Brady f**king Maxwell. It was kind of ironic to think that thoughts of Brady had pressured her into sex with Hayden.

“Hayden,” she said, shaking her head. God, it wasn’t his fault. He shouldn’t share the blame in this. “It’s really my fault. Absolutely nothing to do with you. I was emotional last night and thought that sex was the right answer. I . . . God, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

She wanted to cry at the absurdity of the whole thing, but her tears had been used up last night. She needed to be strong for Hayden where she wasn’t before. She needed to realize how valuable he really was.

“It was stupid. I was stupid,” Liz said, splaying her hands flat before her.

She didn’t deserve him. It was something she knew in her gut, but she didn’t care. It might be selfish, but she wasn’t giving him up. This was the right relationship, the right direction for her life, and she had been so long looking over her shoulder that she hadn’t seen what was right in front of her.

“You’re not stupid.” Hayden walked forward and placed his hands firmly on her arms. “Look at me.” She did. “I would never date someone who was stupid. You’re brilliant and funny and headstrong and unbelievably gorgeous. Certainly not stupid,” he said soothingly.