Falling for the Guy Next Door(63)

By: Claire Robyns

It wasn’t the staying that ended up hurting people; it was the leaving. He’d never forgiven his parents for leaving him. And Frank, he’d lost his wife and a brother. Both had consumed the man.

If he left now, Jack knew with absolute certainty, the void in his heart would be permanent.

Megan refused to cry. Her feet pounded the forest floor as she pushed herself to the limit. The pain in her heart was staggering, but the breaths straining her lungs and the blood accelerating through her veins was the proof she needed to cling to.

Hearts didn’t physically break.

Her jogging speeded up into a sprint, all the way to the end of the bluff ridge and halfway back, until her muscles shook and threatened to collapse. Panting, clutching the stitch in her side, she limped the last stretch home.

Jack was sitting on the top step of her porch.

His head came up, watching her straggled approach.

She stopped dead, closed her eyes, and wondered if she had another lap in her. The gap between her and the porch, between her and Jack, seemed infinitely longer than the path through the forest.

“You do deserve better than me,” came his gruff voice. “But if you allow me, I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to correct that.”

She blinked her eyes open to see him coming down the steps.

“I thought the best way to love you was to leave.” His gaze caressed her as his slow strides brought him closer and closer, until they were standing toe to toe. “I have no excuse. I was a stubborn idiot, hiding in the past and too afraid to offer a fraction of what you gave me. In my own screwed-up manner, Megan, I loved you. I do love you with all my heart.”

Megan’s pulse stuttered with each word he spoke. In that moment, she acknowledged the truth. She’d always known he loved her. She’d never needed the words, she’d never needed him to stay. It had been there in his every glance, in his touch, in his grin, in the confidences and laughter they’d shared, in every day they breathed the same air no matter how many continents separated them.

But she finally had the answer she’d been looking for. “Love isn’t enough, Jack.” She glanced up into his eyes. “I need more. I can’t love this way.”

“You once told me that I always come back.”

“You denied it.”

“I proved myself wrong.” His knuckles grazed beneath her chin. “You have my all. Every day, every minute, I will love you and I will always be here for you. If you’ll have me.”

She’d been willing to leap over the cliff when Jack had offered her nothing, and here he was, offering her everything. Her heart didn’t stand a chance. She went up onto her toes and brushed her lips over his. “I love you with all my heart.”

His mouth claimed hers in a possessive kiss that lasted until they were starved for air. When he came up, his gaze was filled with love and a grin scrambled the contours of his jaw. “Even after everything I’ve done?” he asked softly, gently teasing, but the sincerity of that question lurked in the depth of his eyes.

“Because of everything you’ve done,” she said. “People are flawed, but you’ve always turned my flaws on their head and made me feel better about them. Love is flawed, but I want to make all those mistakes with you. I want to thrill in the disappointments, because I know you’ll be there for the successes. It doesn’t have to make sense, Jack.” She wrapped her arms around him, pressing her cheek to his chest. She inhaled his scent and, as his arms came around her, she knew this was where she belonged and that she was here to stay. “That would be downright boring.”

“Like engineering the perfect shot?”

A smile formed low in her stomach and pushed through to her lips, warming a delicious path as it went. “Precisely, although I still think Bunny Island should have been the exception.”

“I love you,” he murmured. “This, right here, right now, is the perfect shot I’ve been waiting for my entire life.”

She strained back from his chest to look into his eyes and she knew her heart was safe. That he’d never leave her was a certainty grafted to her bones and anything else, everything else, they’d deal with together.

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