Page 73

“We had games in Ottawa and Montreal. I made a quick jump over here to visit Oliver and his parents.”

“Oh,” I say, but not really understanding why that puts him on my front porch. I shove my hands in my pocket and drop my gaze, not a clue as to what to say.

My heart is beating fast, his proximity to me disconcerting. My brain whirls with possibility but refuses to believe even for a moment that he’s here to tell me he’s made a mistake. I know Hawke…once you shut the door on him, he doesn’t knock back on it.

“Can I come in?” he asks, and my head snaps up.

“What?” I immediately ask, and then realize that’s stupid. I back up and make room for him to pass. “Yes, sorry…of course, come in.”

Hawke steps past me and I catch a whiff of subtle, spicy cologne and fresh cold air he drags in with him. I close the door and turn to find him walking into the living room, Piper trotting alongside full of puppy curiosity.

“Hawke?” my dad asks in surprise as he returns from the kitchen and sees him.

“Hey, Dave,” Hawke says hesitantly, and I know he’s wondering how my father feels about him…the man that broke his daughter’s heart a second time.

My dad just stares, seemingly at a loss for words. I walk slowly into the living room, my hands tucked into my pockets again to hide the fact they’re slightly shaking.

“Those cookies look great,” Hawke says as he nods toward the plate in my dad’s hands.

“Want one?” my dad says, and then shoots a questioning glance my way. I just shrug my shoulders and hold on to my silence.

“Actually,” Hawke says as he turns to me, his gaze wary and needful all at the same time. “I need to talk to Vale.”

“Okay,” my dad says a little more exuberantly than needed. He sets the plate of cookies down on the table. “I think I’ll just head down to the pub for a beer with the boys. Give you two some privacy.”

I don’t say a word. Not even a friendly reminder to my dad that he can only have one beer. I just watch as he grabs his coat from the rack in the living room corner and shrugs it on. He steps up to me, kisses me on the cheek, and whispers, “Don’t be too tough on him. That boy is here to apologize.”

I blink in surprise but give him a soft smile of understanding. I’d like to say I’m angry at Hawke, and maybe I am just a little, but I have no desire to rail against him. I just don’t have it in me to compound the pain either one of us is feeling. Besides, Hawke carries enough of that for both of us.

Once my dad is gone, Hawke glances at the tree. “It’s nice.”

“Yeah,” I agree quietly. “Dad wanted to get it up early…celebrate, you know?”

Hawke nods and strokes his beard, cutting his eyes back over to me. “I saw Avery a bit ago.”

“Did she slap you?” I can’t help but asking, because that would be so Avery.

“Sort of,” he says, and I cock my head in curiosity, but he doesn’t make me wait for it. “She told me you tried to call me after we broke up. Sent an email. Felt like a slap.”

My jaw drops open and I narrow my eyes at him. “You sound like it was a revelation to you.”

“It was,” he agrees somberly. “And it had the force of a punch now that I think about it.”

“You didn’t know?” I ask incredulously. It’s not that I don’t believe him, it’s just that this now starts to make complete sense.

“I didn’t. Not until about fifteen minutes ago.”

“I don’t understand…how?”

“I had lost my phone; got a new one with a new number. I never checked my email. That shouldn’t surprise you. Got a new email, which I never checked either, but that’s moot…you didn’t have it so you couldn’t have reached out that way.”

Hawke never knew I tried to make things right?

More important, Hawke wasn’t purposely ignoring me. He wasn’t trying to hurt me back. He was just…ignorant of it all.

“No wonder you couldn’t let it go,” I muse in wonder as I look down at the carpet. Looking at him hurts a little too much. “I mean…I knew I’d hurt you badly, but now I get it. You really did think I cut you out completely. Shut the door and never looked back.”

“That’s what I thought,” he agrees, and takes a step toward me. His legs come into view and then I feel his hands on my shoulders.

“Vale,” he says softly, and I tilt my face up. “I didn’t know, but trust me…had I known, I would never have ignored you. Granted, I probably wouldn’t have seen the email, but had I got those voice messages…please believe me, I would have called back.”

“I believe you,” I say automatically, but take a step back from him. His hands drop and he winces as if the distance hurts. “But if you’re here to tell me that changes things—”

“It changes everything,” he whispers.

“No,” I say with a shake of my head and a surge of anger. “It only reinforces that my love survived hurt and betrayal but yours wasn’t strong enough.”

“It may not have been strong enough,” he says with determination, and his hands come back up to my shoulders. He grips me gently, pulling me a little closer. “It may have been buried…even shrouded so I couldn’t see it, but it was there.”

“No,” I say in denial, refusing to believe that it could be so.

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