“A lot of things scare me. A lot of things completely terrify me, but being held by you isn’t one of them anymore.”

My mouth parted as he traced my bottom lip with his finger. He softly lifted my chin up so he could kiss me slowly and gently. “I adore you,” he whispered against my lips.

“I adore you,” I replied.

His fingers rested on my chest, and he felt my heartbeats. I placed my hands over his chest, feeling his. “I like this,” he whispered against my lips.

“I like this too,” I replied.

His eyes dilated, and he breathed me in. I breathed him in too, becoming slightly addicted to his entire being. He smelled like the wind that pushed through the most beautiful pine trees in the forest: refreshing, comforting, peaceful. Like home. It had been so long since I had felt like I was home.

We took in each other’s breaths, silently begging for a little bit more. We headed to my bedroom, where our clothes fell off and our lips came together.

“Everyone in town thinks this is wrong. Everyone thinks we are a ticking time bomb set to explode any second,” I explained. “And I am completely positive that I’m going to somehow manage to mess this up. Then everyone will say, ‘I told you so.’”

“For a second let’s pretend that they are right. Let’s pretend that at the end of this, we don’t end up happy.” He sighed against my skin, his lips rolling over my bare stomach. “But as long as air moves in and out of my lungs,”—his tongue danced against the edge of my panties—“as long as I breathe, I will fight for you. I will fight for us.”

Chapter Thirty-Three


I fell in love with the idea of him first. I fell in love with the idea of a man who could someday make me laugh, smile, and cry all at once. I fell in love with the idea of him loving me for my brokenness, for my pained heart. I fell in love with the idea of his kisses, his touch, his warmth.

And then, one chilly morning, I walked onto my front porch with a steaming coffee mug in my hand. He was lying in the snow-covered grass, making snow angels and looking up at the clouds with Emma beside him. They fought all the time, but in the silliest of ways. That morning, they were arguing about what animal they saw. Tristan saw a giraffe cloud, while Emma swore it was a penguin, so after a while, he pretended to see the penguin too.

Emma’s lips spread into a grin, and the two grew silent as they moved their legs and arms to perfect their snow angels.

It was in that silence that I knew. I loved him. I loved him so, so much. It wasn’t a dream anymore, nor was it the simple idea of loving him.

It was real.

It was true.

He was love.

He made me smile. He made me happy. He made me laugh in a world that was determined to make me cry.

Tears formed in my eyes, and I tried to understand how—how could it be that I was allowed to love such a man who also loved me?

It was such a special feeling to love and be loved in return. To find a man who not only loved you, but cherished the best part of you—your baby girl. I was blessed more than words could ever say.

Emma and I loved Tristan completely, and he loved us the same. Maybe he loved our scars the most. Maybe the truest form of love grew from the deepest kinds of pain.

It was funny how everything came to be. We first lied to one another, using each other to hold on to the past, and then we accidentally fell in love.

I knew I had to tell him about the accident. I knew I had to let him know, but I couldn’t that morning. That morning, I needed him to know one thing and one thing only.

The two stood up from the grass. Emma hurried into the house for breakfast, and I stayed on the porch, leaning against the railing with a smile that was crafted just for Tristan. His hands were stuffed into his jeans, and he had a few grass clippings clinging to his shirt and his damp hair. I was certain Emma had thrown the grass at him. As his foot hit the top step, he kept smiling my way and walked past me to enter the house.

“I love you,” I said.

He turned to me and smiled even wider.

Because he already knew.

Chapter Thirty-Four


Late one night, I stood in my closet, staring at all of Steven’s clothes. Inhaling deeply, I began to take them all off the hangers. I removed everything from the dressers. I took everything out of the drawers.

Exhaling slowly, I boxed them up to give away.

Next, I moved to my bed, and I turned my sheets down.

I was ready to fully let Tristan into my life, and I knew that meant I had to start letting go of Steven. In order to truly begin to move on, I knew I had to tell Tristan about the accident. He deserved to know, and needed to know. If he truly meant the words he spoke about fighting for me—for us—then no matter what, we would be okay.

At least that was what I hoped. Yet a large part of me knew we wouldn’t have been okay after this. Our ticking time bomb was growing louder each day.

“We need to talk,” I said to Tristan as we stood on my porch. “About when Tanner came over before the wedding.”

“Did he hurt you?” Tristan asked. His hand brushed against my cheek, and he stepped into the foyer of the house, close to me. I stepped back. “What did he say?”

The words were on the tip of my tongue, right there, but I knew if I told him, those small touches would leave me forever. My lips parted to try to make him understand, but I knew if I told him what Tanner had found, I would lose him. I wasn’t ready to let go of the dream we’d been dreaming.

“Baby… Why are you crying?” he asked. I hadn’t even noticed the tears falling against my cheeks. More tears began to form in my eyes, and he stepped closer to me. “Lizzie, what’s wrong?”