Lina sucked in a breath and ordered her feet to remain still. She’d never run from anything before—leaving Temptation didn’t count, because it was a good career move. If she’d also been getting away from those pesky physical feelings toward Carver that had started poking at her, that was nobody’s business.
“I’m not going to do anything you don’t want me to do,” he whispered. “But I’m not going to go back to Temptation without telling you how I feel about you, how I’ve always felt.”
She should tell him to keep the words, that she didn’t want to hear them. That they wouldn’t make any difference; she’d already chosen work as her priority. “I didn’t keep in touch,” she whispered, knowing that wasn’t what he expected her to say.
She didn’t know what else to do with her fingers, so she clasped them in front of her and tilted her chin up to hold his gaze. “Because I knew this conversation was coming.”
It was true. After he’d held her in his arms during that dance, with the lyrics to Maxwell’s “Pretty Wings” echoing throughout the gymnasium decorated in purple, pink and white streamers, there’d been no doubt in her mind that the moment she was dreading had finally come.
“You felt it, too,” he said with a heavy sigh. “I knew it. I could tell whenever we studied at the library together and my arm brushed against yours. The quick jolt of awareness I felt was mirrored in your eyes.”
“And when you took me home after prom, you hugged me.” She shook her head. “How many times had we hugged before? Thousands. You consoling me after disagreements I’d had with my parents or me consoling you that night your grandmother died. Touching each other had never been a problem, until it was like flicking on a lightbulb that was just too bright for me to see.”
She took a step back then, because it suddenly felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. “If I couldn’t see, Carver, I couldn’t get to my future. I knew that if I allowed myself to accept all those new feelings for you, everything I wanted would change. Because you’d become the priority.” He was staring at her intently, and her body warmed with awareness. “You were my everything, too.”
This time he reached out to take her hand. She accepted the touch, knowing that by doing so she was also accepting so much more.
“We’re not kids anymore, Lina. You’ve achieved your goals, and I’ve…” He huffed. “I tried to achieve some of my own by getting married.”
Her heart thudded, and she blinked to clear the instant blurriness that filled her sight. “What? You’re married?”
“No. I mean, yeah, I was, but it was a mistake. Evita thought I was going to be something I never wanted to be, and I think I wanted her to be someone she could never be.”
That only partially made sense. She was still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that Carver—her Carver—had been married.
“You married Evita Booth, the girl who tossed black paint on my locker because she didn’t make the cheer squad.” Lina and Evita had never been friendly growing up. The girl had had a serious dislike for Lina. Now it all made sense.
“She was there when you left,” he said with a shrug.
“And she’d been waiting to have you to herself.” Lina gave a stilted chuckle and slid her hand from his grasp. “None of this matters now. Like you said, we’re adults. You did your thing, and I did mine. I’m moving up the ladder at RGF, and soon I’ll be an executive, managing my own accounts for the company, taking on even more responsibility. I’ll be traveling, and I’ll need to focus solely on work.”
“And what about love? What about personal fulfillment? You’re still willing to toss that aside for your career?”
“Aren’t you?” she asked. “Don’t you want something other than what you’re doing in Temptation? Don’t you want a better life?”
Lina knew the minute the words were out that they were wrong. The hurt on Carver’s face proved that.
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