Into the Deep Page 76

“I’m meaner now. A lesson I learned from you.”

Shit! Shit! Shit! Controlling his self-directed anger, Jake leaned closer, hoping she could see the sincerity in his eyes as he told her, “I was a dick to you. I can’t take that back. But I can apologize. I can try to explain.”

The slight nod she gave him unlocked the tension in his muscles.

“I was lost somewhere else inside my head when it happened, Charley. I couldn’t see past that to anything or anyone. I was angry that it got that out of control and I blamed myself. You got caught up in it.”

Still cool, seeming nothing more than curious, Charley replied, “I never turned my back on you, though. I don’t understand why you blamed me.”

Unable to admit the truth—that he had irrationally blamed her for what happened because he needed to be angry at someone other than himself—Jake fought through the surprising pain he felt at rehashing history with her. “I didn’t blame you. I said things I didn’t even mean. All I wanted was to get out of there and put the whole thing behind me. By the time I looked back, it was too late. I couldn’t change what I’d done to you. I couldn’t change what I’d destroyed. I thought it was better to just let you move on. We were just kids, Charley.” He said it because he thought that’s what she’d want to hear.

But it wasn’t true. Not to Jake. Their age had nothing to do with it. They’d loved each other. And waking up out of his fog three months after leaving Lanton to realize he’d lost her forever had, along with the day of Brett’s death, been the worst of his life. Luckily, he had parents who understood and helped him through it. A long time ago, his dad had let his work take over his life, neglecting his wife and young family. Jake’s mom had left him. It scared the living crap out of Logan Caplin and he’d desperately fought to win her back. It meant Logan understood and he did his damnedest to get his son through it.

Jake was glad his dad had gotten his happy ending.

At least one of them had.

Watching Charley as she processed his apology, Jake studied every inch of her face. At first glance, someone might say she wasn’t a knockout like her friend Claudia, but she was very pretty with delicate features. But when you looked again, there was something about Charley that took her beyond pretty, beyond beautiful. She was perfect to him, even when she wasn’t.

Her brows puckered together as she asked quietly, “Move on from me? Or from there?”

Thoughts moving in the entirely wrong direction, Jake decided to answer honestly this time. “From there. From you too. You were a part of it, as much as I didn’t want you to be.”

For the first time since she’d sat down, Jake detected a hint of annoyance in her tone as she replied, “Then it’s a good thing you didn’t come back, if that’s the way you still see it.”

As much as he was glad to observe some emotional reaction from her, it was quickly becoming clear to him that he wanted to see her again and he couldn’t see her again if he pissed her off. He guessed she’d only want to see him again if she still felt a modicum of something, anything, toward him.

At Denver’s party her reaction had implied she wasn’t unmoved by their situation, but her attitude the night before at Teviot and now again sitting across from him suggested she was. Confused, Jake hedged his words carefully to see if he could get her to admit one way or another how she felt. She definitely had been a lot easier to read when they were together. “Charley, all I remember now about you is the good stuff. I let all that other shit go. You were the best friend I ever had. I miss you. I’ve always missed you and regretted how I left it. But at the party … the way you looked at me … that was hard. I’d somehow convinced myself that you would be indifferent about it all. You quickly dissuaded me of that.”

To his relief, Charley relaxed against her seat. “I know it wasn’t easy for you and your family, Jake. I know that’s the biggest understatement of the century … I tried, though, I tried to understand, and as much as I want to, I can’t excuse what you did to me because of what happened. That doesn’t mean your apology doesn’t help. It does. Thank you.”

Tenderness toward her rose in him and he found himself smiling at her. For all her cockiness and smart-assery, Charley had always been one of the kindest people he’d ever met. She’d tried to be there for him so much after Brett died. God, she’d tried to be there for him when it was happening, and he’d been so proud of how she’d handled it. Even trying to save Brett’s life. She was the one person in the world who hadn’t deserved the shit he’d given her. Nothing could change what he’d done, or take away how badly he felt about it. However, he had the chance now to try to make it up to her as much as he could, to be a friend and prove to her that he wasn’t the bad guy she thought he’d turned out to be.

He was still Jake.

Before he could stop himself or think of the consequences, he said abruptly, “I want us to be friends.”


Instead of using her disbelief at his suggestion to back out of something he knew Melissa would definitely have a hard time dealing with, Jake continued on in hope of persuading his ex to give him time to prove himself. “We’re both here for the year. We were great friends once …”

His hope was quickly dashed as Charley stood and threw money for her coffee on the table. “Look, Jake, I’m sorry I reacted that way to you at the party, and I promise that from now on, if I see you around I’ll be polite. You don’t deserve any more shit in your life. But it’s been a while. We’re different people now. Let’s just leave it at that.”

Before he could get another word out, she turned and strode away from him, unconsciously beautiful and consciously out of reach.

A fist of pure, unadulterated pain twisted in his chest and Jake sat back feeling breathless. Leaning his elbows on the table, his head in his hands, he fought to catch his breath.


He was still in love with her.

Hands shaking, Jake reached for the last of his coffee to soothe his suddenly parched throat.

He was still in love with her.

I’m still in love with her.

His insides felt suffocated. Jake didn’t know how else to describe it.

It was a good thing she didn’t want anything to do with him. Feeling this way about her wasn’t fair to Melissa and in the end, it did neither of them any good.

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