The Good Luck Charm Page 25

I shake my head. “Compete? It wasn’t—”

“I thought with time you’d get over him, that I could love you enough to make up for him leaving, but that never happened.”

“That’s not why we didn’t work.” As I say it, I have to question if it’s true.

He sighs. “You never let him go, Delilah. Not him, not his family.”

“They were my family, too. They were there for me when mine fell apart.”

“I would’ve been there, if you would’ve let me.” Avery rubs his chin on a sigh. “You don’t need to defend your relationship with Jeannie and Martin, who I’m very sorry about, by the way. I know how important they are to you and that they always have been. But they took precedence over me. It was hard not to be jealous of that. And it was impossible to compete with a memory. So for now I need something simple. Angelica doesn’t have the baggage we do. She’s happy to make me the center of her world, and that’s what I want to be. I hope this time around you won’t hold back with Ethan the way you always held back with me.”

“Avery, I—”

“I’m not saying this to be hurtful. Just try to allow yourself to be loved the way I wanted to love you.”

I see so clearly, as I look at this man I spent all those years with, how I broke his heart. Maybe the same way Ethan broke mine. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’m not blaming you. I just wanted you to be happy. I wanted to be able to give that to you, and I was caught up in trying to find a way to hold on to your heart, even though it was never going to be mine. It took me longer than it should’ve to figure that out.” He swallows thickly and blows out a breath. “Anyway. I shouldn’t keep Angelica waiting. Take care of yourself.”

“You, too, Avery.”

He gives my arm a gentle squeeze, and I grip his forearm, giving him pause.

“I’m sorry.”

“Me, too.”

I release his arm, watching him walk away. My knees feel weak as I sink into the driver’s seat. I take several deep breaths, still reeling from his frankness and his honesty. More than that, I’m saddened by the clarity of his truths.

He’s right, though, about everything. When we first started dating, I was so taken by how enamored he was with me. I’d been validated by his need for me and it had given me purpose again. But I still held back. I never gave him my heart, because it wasn’t free to give. It was tied up in someone else, in a love I’d lost and couldn’t let go of.

I have another chance. I can allow Ethan to dance around the periphery of my heart—the one he left a hole in all those years ago, or I can let him in and give him a chance to fill that void.

It’s terrifying, the thought of opening myself to his love again. But I’ll regret it if I don’t.

chapter eleven




I show up at Lilah’s doorstep five minutes early with treats for Merk and a bag from the local bakery containing breakfast for tomorrow. Before I can lift my hand to knock, Merk comes rushing to the door, tail wagging, barking happily.

“Come on in!” Lilah shouts from somewhere in the house.

As soon as I let myself in Merk runs around in a circle, then drops his butt on my foot and nudges my hand with his nose, looking for pets. “You need help getting dressed?” I call out and open my palm so Merk can get his treat. He takes it gently and runs off to his bed in the living room to enjoy it.

I’ve been well behaved since our talk, not pushing for anything physical even though it’s damn well killing me. I don’t think I’ve gone through so much lotion and so many boxes of tissues since I was in high school. It’s almost embarrassing.

“I’ll be down in a minute!” Lilah calls back.

I haven’t been up to her bedroom yet. In fact, most of the time when I come by her place we don’t stick around long. I think being alone with me makes her nervous. When it’s just us, it’s hard to ignore the sexual tension, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to resist doing something to alleviate it. But I’m determined to be patient. I don’t want to ruin this new start with her, not when I’ve been without her for so many years.

I look up at the sound of heels on the stairs. I let out a low whistle when Lilah comes into view, taking in the strappy sandals, skimming my gaze over her tanned, toned calves to where the hem of her sundress stops a few inches above her knees. It’s pale yellow, buttery and warm like sunshine, with thin straps that tie behind her neck.

“You look delicious.” A flash of gold catches my attention. A thin bangle with a hockey charm circles her wrist—I gave it to her a month after we started dating. I’d used all the money I’d saved to buy it for her. “You still have th—” My smile drops and my question dies when I meet her gaze, though, because as gorgeous as she may be, something’s wrong. It’s in the slight waver of her smile, the barely noticeable quiver in her chin, the way she clutches the banister, and the soft glassiness in her eyes.

“Baby? What’s wrong?”

She lifts a shaky hand to her lips and turns her head to the side. A tiny laugh turns into what sounds a lot like a stifled sob. I set the bag of baked goods on the side table and take the stairs three at a time to reach her. Even on the step below her I’m half a head taller, but at least we’re close to eye level.

I cup her face in my palms. “What happened?”

She covers my hands with hers, lids lowered as she takes a few deep breaths. “He was right.”

“Who was? What’re you talking about?” My stomach knots at the mention of another guy.

Her lids drift open. “How did you know something was wrong?”

“Seriously, Lilah? I spent more time with you than anyone else for over a decade. No amount of time changes the fact that I know you. Who is he? What was he right about?”

She searches my face for a few moments before she finally answers. “I saw Avery.”

“What? When?” She’s already signed the divorce papers—he can’t have her now. I take a step back and almost lose my footing, having forgotten we’re standing on the stairs.

I grab the banister to prevent us both from taking a header.

“When I was leaving the grocery store. He was with his new girlfriend.”

I watch her face carefully. I’m familiar with the subtle nuances of her emotions—changes in breathing, the way she bites her lip, touches her face, shifts her weight, fiddles with her hair—but I’m uncertain how to gauge her sadness and whether it’s in direct relation to her ex having someone new in his life. “And how did that go?”

“It was fine.” She pauses, maybe reconsidering her answer, because it’s not quite the truth based on the threat of tears. “Awkward. He introduced me as his ex-wife. I felt bad for her. She’s young.”

“Was that hard for you?”

“To see him with someone who’s barely able to vote?”

I’d like to think the sarcasm means she’s not that upset, but I’m aware that sometimes it’s a defense mechanism. “To see him with someone else period. Was that hard?”

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