Chosen by a Stranger (Craved Series #5) (3 page)

BOOK: Chosen by a Stranger (Craved Series #5)
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5: Jack

I couldn't believe how bad it hurt to discover she couldn't return
my feelings.


I knew neither of us had seen my proposal coming, but once I asked
I honestly felt so much better. It was like admitting how serious my intentions
were actually lifted a huge weight off me.

And I'd never felt that way with a woman before. On the contrary,
the very idea of making a verbal commitment had always seemed reminiscent of being
at a theme park and agreeing to only go on one roller coaster.

But with Audrey, it was like I couldn't even see the other rides.
I was like a child blinded by a single toy leading up to Christmas, like it
didn't matter what else was under the tree as long as she was there.


Maybe that sounds extreme, but my instincts have always been the
thing I could trust most.


And when I looked down the different roads diverging in Robert
Frost's proverbial wood, it wasn't that Audrey was only at the end of one of
them. It was like she was standing in the middle of each one, enhancing every
single option I had.


And I know she wasn't saying no, but no was what I was hearing, and
it felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me.


I threw the covers off my legs, walked to the bathroom and closed
the door. I had to get out of there. I could feel my body coursing with all
kinds of irrational emotions, and I didn't want to say anything I'd regret.


Part of me knew she was only trying to be reasonable, but couldn't
she just fucking forget reason for two seconds and admit she was crazy about
me, too? Was I really asking that much?


I put the toilet seat up and took a piss, trying to ignore the
bathtub to my left where I'd washed her soft skin with my hands, where I'd made
her even wetter than she thought she could be. I tried to ignore the memory of
how nice the white wine tasted on her lips and how the soap looked dripping
down her neck, over her collarbone, and down her chest.


She knocked and I answered by flushing the toilet. Then I splashed
some cold water on my face, hoping with every clench of my jaw that asking her
hadn't been a huge mistake. Naturally, I was annoyed at the way she'd taken the
wind out of my sails so swiftly, but driving her away wasn't my intention.


On the contrary, it was the only thing I could imagine in that
moment that would actually make me feel worse than I already did.


"Jack?" she asked from the other side of the bathroom
door. "Are you okay?"


I opened the door naked and stood facing her squarely.


She was leaning against the door frame in her robe with her arms


"I'm fine," I said. "Why wouldn't I be?"


Her eyes drooped at the corners. "C'mon. Don't be like


"Like what?" I asked. "How should I be?"


She pursed her lips.


"Seriously, Audrey? What's the appropriate way to be in this


"I don't know but-"


"Yeah, well, I don't know either." I walked over to the
chair in the corner where my clothes were and sorted my pants from the pile.
"All I know is that I just asked the woman I love to marry me, and she
didn't exactly react in a way that filled me with joy." I was about to put
my pants on when I remembered that it's customary to put one's underwear on first
so I grabbed them instead. "So you'll have to excuse me."


"You love me?" she asked, taking a few steps across the
room and leaning against the end of the bed.

"What?" I looked at her wide eyes. "Of course I
fucking love you. What the hell do you think all this is? You think I just go
out of my way to go on dates that require plane rides and security

"No, but-"


"You think I would ask you to marry me if I didn't love

"No, but-"


"No but what?"


"You've never said it before."


I stepped into my pants and fastened them around my waist. Then I
took two steps toward her and dropped down on one knee.


"Audrey," I said, looking up at her.




"It would be naive of me to think that I was the first man to
ever recognize your beauty, your intelligence, and your innate kindness.
However, no woman has ever made me feel as inspired, full, and as optimistic as
you do.” I swallowed. “I love you not only with all of my heart I've been using
but with all of my heart that's been lying dormant in the hope that I might
meet someone like you someday."


Her eyes were watering at the bottom and she had one hand pressed
down on her chest over the opening of her robe.


"Please make me the luckiest man alive by marrying me, and I'll
spend the rest of my life trying to convince you that you're the lucky


She sighed, her chest sinking. "Oh Jack."


I didn't move.


She sunk down onto her knees across from me and gave me a hug. But
it wasn't the kind of hug where arms are thrown, and I sensed that something
wasn't quite right as I pulled her tightly to me.


For a while, we just stayed like that, hugging on our knees. But
with every second that passed where she didn't speak, I grew more anxious. A moment
later, I loosened my arms and put my hands on her shoulders so I could lean her
back and look at her face.


At least two silent tears had escaped her eyes and left a wet
trail over her cheeks.


"Please tell me those are tears of joy," I said.


"Of course they are," she said, wiping her eyes,


My stomach dropped to the floor.


She cast her eyes down between us.


I lowered my head so my eyes could meet hers. "But


"I still need more time."


I wanted to shake her. I wanted to say, “don't do this, Audrey. Don't
let me walk out of here feeling like this when you've found a guy that not only
would do anything for you, but actually could


But there wasn't enough breath in my lungs or energy in my body.
And I wasn't going to fucking beg for her love when she had never begged for
mine and I loved that about her.


So I dropped my arms and stood up. Then I turned and picked my
shirt up off the chair.


She looked up at me from the ground for a moment before rising to
her feet. "It's not a no, Jack. I just need more time to think about it."


"Well, I hope you need space then, too, because I can't hang
around here while you think about whether or not you're about to break my
heart." I started for the door.


"Jack, please," she said, coming after me. "Don't
leave like this. Let's get breakfast or something. Or just talk. Whatever you
want we’ll-"


"You know what I want," I said, pausing at the door.
"But now would be a good time to figure out what the hell you want."


"Time," she said. "I told you. That's all.
Please." She put a hand on my shoulder and lowered her voice. "If you
love me you'll understand."


I tried to memorize her face in that moment- the way her
cheekbones called my attention up to her eyes, the pink shade of her lips.


Then I walked out.


Because I couldn't spend another second with her. Not if she
couldn't agree to be mine. It was too painful, especially now that I knew how
bad I wanted her.


And if she loved me, she would understand.

6: Audrey


I stared at the door for ages after he left, the same door he came
through just twenty-four hours earlier. It was like he couldn't pass through it
without giving me a shock.


But all I could do was stand there because there were so many
emotions running through my body I didn't know which one I should grab hold of.


I wanted to get swept up in his proposal. Clearly that would’ve
been the most fun emotion to cling to. And I couldn't believe he'd dropped
shirtless to my bedroom floor and asked me again like that. It was the last
thing I was expecting.


And to say he loved me like that? With everything?! It still
hadn't even sunken in. And despite the fact that I didn't believe he could
possibly feel that way about me so soon and be sane, I wanted to believe him.


Besides, maybe sanity was overrated.


After all, I knew from experience that sanity was a lot like
unicorns, extremely subjective and likely an entirely fictional concept.


Plus, logical reasoning is why I was standing here alone when two
seconds ago I was in bed with the man of my dreams and a potentially life
changing offer on the table.


And I had to think about it?


I mean, I still felt like I'd done the right thing, but I couldn't
remember why I felt like it was a good decision. And the fact that Jack left
the way he did- after saying things that made me feel higher than I'd ever felt
before- was causing me to second guess myself.


In other words, my stomach felt like a clothes dryer full of

At the same time, I was pissed. Where on Earth did he get the
nerve to storm out like that? If anyone was being completely out of line in the
situation, surely it was him.


Which was bittersweet.


Because on the one hand, I was angry that he didn't get a grip on
himself enough to stick around and discuss what the hell was going on.


On the other, I was tickled by his reaction because it made what
we had feel more like a real relationship than anything that had happened


Cause we'd had our first fight! Maybe we did have something here!
Maybe we were a couple! Either that or I was just deranged to make that


But I knew it wasn't the presence of quarreling that made a
relationship real, it was how a couple came out the other side.


And it was too soon to tell whether that was going to happen. But
I wanted it, too. I think. Or at least that's how I felt when I realized both
the angel and the devil on my shoulder felt like I'd made a big mistake by
letting Jack walk out like that.




I turned away from the door because staring at it wasn't giving me
any clarity on the situation. Perhaps a cup of tea would do the trick. Or at
least it would give me an excuse to sit down and put my head in my hands which seemed
like the only thing to do.


On my way down the hall, I saw my motorcycle helmet on the ground.
I hadn't even noticed Jack pick his up, but he'd left mine where it lay. I bent
over and picked it up, staring at my puffy face in the visor.


There was only one reason for me to have a motorcycle helmet, and
that was if I had a boyfriend with a motorcycle.


I sighed.


I hoped I hadn't blown it. I mean, the first time he asked it just
sort of spilled out of him with the enthusiasm of someone who thinks they've
come up with a life changing invention.


But the second time wasn't like that. Sure, I hadn't seen it
coming either, but it was obvious that he was choosing his words carefully and
that he meant every one of them.


He even made me believe in what he was saying for a moment, made
me believe that I was the amazing woman he was describing. And maybe I was a
fool for not jumping at the chance to commit to a man who thought I was all


But it was too late.


Instead of taking a leap of faith, I said I needed more time
without ever knowing if a third proposal was in the cards. Maybe that was
asking too much. I mean, who did I think I was that Jack Quinn should have to
ask me more than once to marry him?!


But even if he didn't understand, I knew it wasn't because I was
playing hard to get. On the contrary, he of all people should know how easy I
was to get. He was so far ahead of the pack when it came to sweeping me off my
feet he didn’t even have any competition.


I just wasn't ready.


After all, I spent years thinking I was ripe for the picking and
that someone would come along and woo me right off my feet, but it didn't
happen. So eventually, I lost hope, lowered my expectations, and prepared
myself for a less extravagant suitor to come around and be- if not handsome and
rich and funny- decent company, preferably with a valid driver's license and
health insurance.


So excuse me for being skeptical when the most impressive man I've
ever met makes me shake with pleasure all day before asking me if I would be
willing to let him be responsible for every subsequent orgasm I’d ever have.


Come on! How could I not pinch myself and think it was a trap?


I filled the kettle and flicked the switch before pulling out a
kitchen chair.


Of course, I'd be lying if I said I wished he hadn't asked. His
words were by far the sweetest anyone had ever said to me, and I would always
remember the serious look on his face as he told me he loved me before dropping
down to say it slowly, taking his time to make sure I heard every word.


And I did.


And I was still hearing them.


In fact, I was hearing them over the sound of the boiling kettle
for who knows how long. I stood up and poured myself a cup of tea, dropping a
green tea bag in the cup and watching as the flavor escaped from the small


I wondered how long Jack would wait. A day? A few weeks? Months? Would
he even wait at all?


Clearly I hadn't given him the answer he was hoping for, and that
seemed to have blinded him to the thought of asking any follow up questions.


Like how the hell long do you need?!


Or maybe he just knew better than to ask that.


And it's just as well because I had no idea. I didn't even know
how I was going to tell him when I'd come up with my answer. Or if he'd even
want to hear it by then.


My heart sank as I remembered the look on his face as he walked
out the door. I wish he'd said something else.


Like the

offer's on the table

or “here's
where you can reach me” or even

thanks for a great night.” Something to
let me know that he was okay and that he was looking forward to hearing from
me- or seeing me again- soon.


But at the same time, I knew it wasn't his fault that things ended
so awkwardly.


It was mine.


Because I'd failed to say the thing that might've made him stay.


I'd failed to say, "I love you, too."

BOOK: Chosen by a Stranger (Craved Series #5)
3.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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