Into the Deep Page 64

The question hurt like a mother and I stopped so I could glare up at him in disgust. “You don’t deserve an answer to that question.”

Jake stared down at me sadly. “No, I don’t. But I need it.”

I didn’t say anything for a while but slowly his anguished expression loosened the words until they fell onto my tongue and right out of my mouth. “Why do you think I started avoiding you? I need to move on from us, Jake, and I couldn’t do that and be around you … and Melissa. When I heard you broke up with her … that didn’t really change how I felt.”

He hung his head, his fingers scrunching into his hair. “You put up a good front. I used to be able to read you but you seemed fine. I kept looking for some indication, something …” He shrugged unhappily. “Then your dad’s attitude at the airport … I couldn’t get the questions out of my head. What did it mean? Why was he still pissed on your behalf? Did you want me still?” He breathed softly. “It caused another huge argument between me and Melissa. We broke up in a f**king taxi,” he sighed sadly.

Every word he said repeated in time with the hard thud of my heart. “Is she okay?”

He shook his head. “She wasn’t at the time. But it’s been almost a month so … I don’t know. I never meant to hurt her. Never. But I started to think maybe you weren’t fine. That you were just lying to protect yourself. Then your question on the train …” He looked up from under his eyelashes, studying me. “It gave me hope. Until you went back to avoiding me again.”

My body jerked at the unexpected comment. “Hope?”

Jake nodded, shoving his nervous hands into his pockets. “I wasn’t looking for anything from you. I never imagined you’d ever want me back. Not after what I did, how I acted.” He turned now, starting to walk again and I found myself hurrying to catch up, my breathing shallow as Jake’s confession became my whole world. “A few months after we moved back to Chicago, I still wasn’t doing well. I wouldn’t talk to my parents, my grades were slipping, I spent most of my time holed up in my room listening to crap music, and I was … pretty good at pretending to be numb.”

“What happened to Brett wasn’t your fault, Jake,” I reminded him quietly.

“I know that,” he nodded, “I know that now. But back then, I couldn’t get the what-ifs out of my head. For the most part, I did a good job of negatively associating you with it all.” Jake’s gaze was apologetic when he saw me flinch. “That didn’t last long. Three months after we left Lanton, I was up in my room and I still had a lot of moving boxes lying around. My parents paid for a company to pack most of our stuff and transport it back to Chicago, so when I opened one of my boxes, I wasn’t expecting to see you there. I’d forgotten about the tickets to Blind Side and that frame I had on my bedside table …”

I hugged my arms around myself, remembering the photograph that Lukas had taken of me and Jake leaning against Hendrix. He had his arms around me, I had my hand on his stomach, and I was smiling up into his face. Jake wasn’t smiling but the expression in his eyes told everyone who looked at that picture that he was in love with me.

I’d loved that photo. So had Jake.

Tears formed in the back of my eyes and I fought hard to restrain them.

“I pulled out that photograph and as I stared at it, it was just a floodtide. I remembered. I remembered how much I loved you. How happy you made me. How much you could surprise me. How hard you made me laugh. And what it felt like to feel you laughing against me. To hold you. To kiss you. To be inside you.” He shot me a dark look and my breath caught. “I remembered what I said to you. I remembered every tear on your face when I broke up with you, and I couldn’t believe I was the one who put them there. That’s when it hit me: there was no going back. When I threw you away, somewhere deep down I think I believed it would be okay because we were us. We were solid. But reality set in after the fact. After what I did? There was no way I could win you back.” He glanced warily at me. “I lost it. The blame, the guilt, the anger, the loss, it all just swallowed me whole. My parents heard me yelling and breaking things and by the time they got to my room, I’d trashed the place and I’d cut my hands on the picture frame glass.” He shrugged sadly. “That makes me sound psycho, I know … but think of it from my perspective. To me, in that moment, it was like you’d died too.

“My parents made me talk to someone and it helped with all the other stuff—Brett’s death, his dad’s campaign of hate, and my responsibility in it all, or lack thereof. I’ve accepted what happened wasn’t my fault. I won’t forget it, but I’ve gotten through it. You,” Jake’s smile was crooked, halfhearted, and rueful, “were harder to deal with. So I went back to my old ways instead.”

Meaning he slept around a lot. I ignored the unpleasant clench in my stomach at that thought. “Then you met Melissa.”

“You should know I applied to Edinburgh on the off chance you’d be here and I’d get to apologize, find some closure. Never, not once, did I ever believe I could get you back.”

“So you’d given up and you moved on.”

Jake stopped us again, his hand touching my elbow gently. “Baby, I don’t think I ever moved on.” He ducked his head, stepping forward into my space, his dark eyes mesmerizing as always. “And for the first time I’m allowing myself to hope that you haven’t moved on, either.”

My breath caught and I honestly felt my body teeter at his words. “Jake, I can’t.” I backed away from him.

Ignoring my silent plea for space, Jake moved so near, I had to tilt my head back. The smell of his cologne hit me and I had to rein myself in against the temptation to press my mouth to his strong throat. “These last few months have been torture, Charley. Getting to be close to you but not close enough. I will do anything to make this work.”

“You broke up with Melissa for me?”

Guilt sharpened his expression as he replied, “For you. For me. For her.”

My body remembered how beautiful it felt to be wrapped around Jake Caplin and it was pleading with me to throw caution to the wind.

“You want this as much as I do,” Jake said gruffly.

I saw no point in denying what was so obvious between us, but just because I remembered how beautiful it was to be in love with Jake and have him love me back didn’t mean I hadn’t forgotten how ugly it was to have him tell me he didn’t care anymore.

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