The Good Luck Charm Page 19

I think about how I would’ve felt had it been me in his shoes. Would I have been able to handle seeing him happy with someone else? I don’t know.

“I wanted you to live your life, go to school like you planned to, and become a doctor, and that would’ve been impossible if we’d stayed together. I didn’t want you to have to give up your dream so I could have mine.”

“Just so we’re clear, I love my job, and I made a choice not to be a doctor because I realized nursing was a better fit for me. But you never even asked me what I wanted. Why didn’t that matter?” This time Ethan lets me have my hand when I pull away.

He rubs the back of his neck. “I would’ve been all you had in LA. At least with you here I knew you had my family. I didn’t want you to be alone.”

“Who were you protecting, me or you?”

“Both of us? I convinced myself that as long as you were managing, it was better that I stay out of your life. I thought it was better for me to be the asshole who wasn’t in your life than one who would keep fucking things up.”

chapter eight




Perception is such a strange, illusive concept. Especially when perception is steeped in youth, inexperience, and heartache. So learning the reasons behind Ethan’s actions all those years ago creates a new ache in my chest.

In his own screwed-up way, he’d always been protecting me, even if it caused us both unnecessary pain.

“I’m so sorry I hurt you the way I did. I’m even more sorry that you felt abandoned and that I couldn’t manage my own emotions enough to stay in your life, even if it wasn’t the way I wanted.”

The soft brush of his thumbs under my eyes startles me. My tears are silent grief for lost years. When he starts to pull away, I lean my cheek into one of his palms and just allow myself to feel. I’ve missed him. Our connection has always been unique. Consuming in a way that sometimes felt overwhelming. His touch could calm and excite simultaneously. Like being given a sedative and a shot of caffeine at the same time.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this kind of intense draw to another person.

The tenderness of the moment is broken by the sound of the front door opening and Carmen’s voice booming through the intercom system. I jump up and rush over to see my sister on the little screen, calling our names as she drops her purse on the table in the entryway. I find the intercom button. “Carmen? Can you hear me?”

“Holy crap!” Her hand goes to her heart and she spins around. “Lilah? Where are you?”

I drop my head against the screen and exhale a relieved breath. “Thank God. We’re in the wine cellar.”

I can see her eyebrows raise and a smile quickly form, but it disappears when I continue. “We’re trapped in the panic room. Do you have any idea how to get out of it?”

Her hand goes to her mouth. “Oh God. I’ll be right down!” She disappears from one screen, passing through several on her way downstairs until she ends up on the other side of the door we’re locked behind.

“Can you still hear me?” She knocks, making a muffled tinny sound.

I press the intercom button. “Yes.”

“Okay, good. When you talk, you’re broadcast all over the house, so I can hear you anywhere, and I think it should be the same for me. I’m so sorry—I forgot to tell you about the panic room.” She’s scrolling through her phone frantically while she speaks. “The Hoffmans gave me the code in an email before they left for France. I just need to find it.”

“We need a code,” I murmur, maybe to myself, or Ethan, or as reassurance that I won’t be in this room much longer.

Carmen says something under her breath on the other side. “Found it! Okay, you have to punch in the code from the inside.” She purses her lips. “But I guess you already knew that.”

“Just give me the goddamn code so we can get the fuck out of here, Carm.”

“Right. Okay. It’s five-eight-six-seven-one.”

With a shaky hand, I punch in the numbers. Ethan meets my gaze as we wait a few shockingly long seconds before a series of metallic clicks reverberate through the room and the door begins to move. As soon as there’s enough space for my body, mashed boobs or not, I squeeze through and slam right into Carmen.

Her arms come around me. “I’m so sorry, DJ. I know how much you hate closed spaces.”

If I continue to let her console me, I’ll probably cry again, and that’s the last thing I want to do. I push away and rush for the door, stepping out into the basement. The bright light and high ceilings are disorienting. “I’m fine.” I beeline for the French doors leading to the backyard patio. Wrenching them open, I step outside, sucking in lungfuls of fresh air, working to regain some composure.

“How long were you stuck in there?” Carmen asks Ethan, her voice wavering.

“Awhile.” He’s quiet and reserved.

“I’m so sorry. They mentioned there being a glitch with the door sensors. I didn’t realize they meant it locked people in there.”

“Why the hell do they even have a panic room?” I yell from the patio.

I hear the jingle of her bracelets before I see her approaching. “Apparently George Hoffman was a bit eccentric and paranoid. He had it installed about a decade ago, before he passed away, and then his son moved in with his family and no one maintained it, because, well, no one needs a panic room in Forest Lake.”

I glare at her when she chuckles.

“I’m so sorry, Lilah. I didn’t even think to warn you about it. Do you want a few minutes? I can answer any questions Ethan has about the house.”

I need time to get my emotions under control, and not just because I was locked in a dark, windowless room. I’m reeling from our conversation. “Please. I’ll be up in a minute.” She squeezes my arm and goes back into the house, leaving me to collect myself.

“Lilah?” Ethan’s voice is full of worry.

“I’m fine. I need a minute.” I’m sure he’s aware I’m lying, but the kiss, the revelation, and the confined space are a lot to handle all at once.

“Okay. I’m sorry.”

When the words aren’t followed by the sound of his departure, I glance over my shoulder. It’s the worst possible thing I can do. He’s standing with his hands shoved into his pockets, huge shoulders hunched in what looks like defeat. But it’s the haunted regret that cuts through my heart. “Me, too. Carmen’s waiting for you. I’ll come up soon.”

He sighs but heads upstairs. I take a few steps farther out onto the patio, staring past the pool to the lake beyond. I don’t know what to do with everything he’s told me. With one conversation, Ethan has reframed the last eight years. My heart aches from the phantom pain made real again.

I pause at a bathroom on my way upstairs. My lipstick is gone and my hair is a bit wild, maybe from Ethan’s hands being in it when he kissed me.

I’m embarrassed my panic was the impetus. Still, it’s probably one of the most passionate kisses I’ve experienced since … him. Past and present are merging, and I don’t know how to separate them.

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