Trekking across campus, my stomach roiled as if I were riding fifty-foot waves. I didn’t know why I was nervous. I was surprising the love of my existence, Lacey Robinson, the most beautiful girl I’d ever met and the one woman that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. She was finally graduating college. The last four years had been hell, living approximately one hundred eighty-five miles from her.
Each and every time I’d come up to Maine to see her, it was the longest fucking drive in history. But the nerve-racking drive was mild compared to the lonely nights where I had to sleep alone, dreaming, thinking, and going out of my mind with her not at my side.
I swore my hair would be gray like my dad’s by the time she graduated. Not only did I miss the fuck out of her, but I’d been frightened that her PTSD would get the best of her and that I wouldn’t be around to help like I had when we were teenagers.
I hadn’t even wanted to drum up our senior year in high school. Nor did I want to remember that night her car had broken down just after I’d met her. I’d given her a ride home, and as soon as I’d pulled into her driveway, she’d jumped out of my truck and thrown herself at her garage door before blacking out. Then there was the time she had been trying out for the boys’ high school baseball team and had fallen flat on her face mid pitch and blacked out.
After high school graduation, I hadn’t wanted her to leave for college. I’d wanted her to stay in Ashford. I’d wanted her with me. But I couldn’t suffocate her and didn’t want to, either. Regardless, when she’d made her decision to attend Colby College in Maine, I swore she’d torn my heart out of my chest.
“I need to prove I can live on my own. You and my dad won’t be far. We can visit on weekends,” she’d said in her sexy voice that had been embedded in my psyche since the day I’d met her.
A chill hung in the morning air as the sun crept up the skyline. Students hurried in all directions with backpacks on their shoulders, phones in their hands, and barely a smile on their faces.
I, on the other hand, grinned as wide as I could at the notion that I was about to have my girl back in my arms forever.
Her graduation was scheduled for the next day, and I was about to do something I’d been dying to do since I’d met her—propose. I’d wanted to wait until I had enough money to buy the ring. I’d scrimped and saved every penny I could after paying for rent and other living expenses. Mr. Robinson paid me a decent salary for managing his club, Rumors, in Boston. But with the cost of living high in the New England area, money didn’t go far, which was why I’d moved back home and into the boathouse after Kody had moved in with his girlfriend, Jessie. I’d also convinced Mr. Robinson to let me manage his new club in Ashford, although I hadn’t needed to twist his arm since he’d opened up a new record label in Boston and didn’t have time to oversee the Cave.
Nevertheless, my heart beat like a bucking bronco. I couldn’t wait to wrap my arms around my girl, bring her home, make passionate love to her, and tell her over and over again—morning, noon, and night—how much I loved the crap out of her.
A humungous oak tree sat in front of Lacey’s dorm, masking part of the stone facade that reminded me of something from medieval times. I was about to take a right down the winding path, when my vision blurred. I came to an abrupt halt and blinked several times before an excruciating pain gripped the back of my head. Fucking migraine was about to start. I took in a large breath, when a guy wearing thick, purple-framed glasses came toward me. At least I thought it was a dude.
“Kade, is that you? Are you okay?” the girl asked, settling in front of me.
I blinked again to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Sometimes with my migraines, my brain didn’t fire on all cylinders. I inhaled the sweet scent of flowering blooms that wafted in the June air, briefly closed my eyes, then oriented my vision.
The he was definitely a she, and one of Lacey’s friends that I barely remembered meeting over the years.
Her brown eyes sparkled as she smiled up at me. “You look like you’re about to pass out. Can I call Lacey for you?”
Hell no. Lacey was the last person that needed to know I had a migraine, only because I didn’t want to ruin the moment. “I’m good. Thank you.” I stared at her, trying to remember her name.
As though she knew my struggle, she said, “I’m Jennifer. We met several months back.”
Then it clicked. Lacey had talked about Jennifer and two of her other friends that she always hung out with after classes or when she had time.
I didn’t want to be rude, but making small talk, or talking at all, seemed like a feat in itself with my head throbbing. So I smiled at her.
She lightly touched my arm. “Are you sure you don’t need me to call Lacey?”
I staved off a wince from the throbbing in my head. “I’m good.” Total lie.
Nodding, she bounced off to wherever she was going.
I took in a large breath then let it out before I rubbed the back of my head. My migraines had been few and far between over the years. As of late though, the headaches seemed to be returning more frequently. I chalked them up to my worry over proposing to Lacey. Is the ring designed perfectly? Would she like it? Fuck. Would she say yes? She wanted to play baseball more than anything in the world. She’d hoped that one day a major league team would sign her. In my book, seeing a female play in the major leagues would be so freaking cool. I wanted that female to be Lacey, yet I didn’t. She would always be on the road. It would be hard to start a family. I doubted that she could pitch while she was pregnant, which meant that having kids might not be an option in the near future.
Then again, I was getting ahead of myself. Lacey hadn’t mentioned anything about any team being interested in her. Regardless, whether a team was or not, I could still propose. We could still get married.
With the migraine intensifying, I started once again for Lacey’s dorm. The headache wasn’t going to stop me from the reason I’d shown up a day early. I’d thought about how, when, and where I would get down on one knee and ask her to be my bride. I’d thought about popping the big question to her on a baseball field, but I didn’t want to associate her love of baseball for the love we had for each other. Sure, the place would be special to her, but not necessarily to me. The way I saw us, was just that—us. I’d decided two nights ago that simple was best—no fancy restaurant and no frills.
When I cleared the oak tree, I almost lost my lunch. I blinked hard, trying to make sure that the six-foot dude pressing his body up against my girl wasn’t real. Talk about a fucking distraction. I couldn’t move an inch down the path, nor did I see anyone or anything in my peripheral vision.
I slipped a hand into my right jeans pocket and gripped the small box that contained the precious stone. My headache grew to enormous proportions. I didn’t want to think the worst, but I did, especially when the blond dude rubbed her back, playing with my girl’s long hair that spilled down to her ass—the same ass I’d had my hands on last weekend and every weekend for the last month.
The dude gripped the sides of her arms then whispered something in her ear. From where I stood, it looked as though he was nibbling on her earlobe. My body went ramrod straight. Kill the fucker was on repeat in my head. I closed my hands into fists, my nails digging into my skin.
In slow motion, Lacey turned. Shock jumped off her as she locked eyes with me. For several beats, none of us moved. I sifted through my memory to recall if she’d given me any signs that she was seeing someone else. I came up empty—zilch, nothing. Our relationship had never been tighter. Our lovemaking was off the charts and better than ever. She’d always been elated to see me if we’d gone a minute without seeing each other. Hell, one day without seeing each other, and we were like two horny rabbits. But at that moment, she wasn’t running into my arms like she usually did. She wasn’t smiling or beaming at me with love in those green eyes that always reminded me of a lush meadow on a spring day.
My heart fell to my feet. I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. But that was me. I always thought the worst. I always fought then asked questions later. I wouldn’t have been freaking the fuck out if she’d smiled or run into my arms. Maybe then I wouldn’t have been thinking that the dude who was again whispering something in her ear was having his way with my girl.
Lacey rolled back her shoulders and said something to Blondie. He nodded then ambled away with a satisfied grin on his face.
Biting her lip, she walked toward me in what seemed like slow motion. I knew her tells inside and out, and that lip biting screamed that she was guilty and worried.
Her throat bobbed as she lifted up on her toes to kiss me. “I thought you were coming up tonight.” Her voice was low and reserved.
I edged back before her lips touched mine. “Who’s the dude?” I flicked my chin at the retreating backside of the blond guy.
She huffed as she took one step back. “Randy. He’s a friend and a classmate.” She poked me in the chest. “Before you get even more jealous, nothing is going on. He was wishing me luck.”
I cocked an eyebrow. She’d never mentioned her friend Randy. Sure, she had talked about Jennifer and, I thought, a Diane or Peggy or Heather or all of them. Honestly, I hardly paid much attention to conversation when Lacey and I got together after not seeing each other for weeks on end. “Luck for what?”
A girl called to Lacey. “Are you coming to the party tonight?”
Lacey glimpsed Jennifer, who was approaching.
When Jennifer sidled up to Lacey, she asked me, “How are you feeling?”
Lacey angled her head at me. “Feeling?”
Jennifer flicked her short brown hair from her face. Now that I could see clearer, I did recall meeting Jennifer a time or two when I’d come up to visit Lacey.
A crease formed on Lacey’s forehead. “What’s Jennifer talking about?”
“Nothing,” I said in a clipped tone. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell her about my migraine. I wanted to know more about what she was hiding, and she was hiding something.
Jennifer hiked her bag over her shoulder. “He looked pale when I saw him a few minutes ago just before he turned down to your dorm. Anyway, I forgot something in my dorm room. Lacey, try to make it tonight and bring your hunk of a man.” She winked at me then giggled as she rushed down to the three-story building.
Lacey stuck her hands on her hips. “You still look a little pale. Are you here to give me bad news? Did something happen to my dad? Your family?”
Oh, fuck. The conversation and the reason I was there were all going to shit.
I shook my head vigorously. “I didn’t come with bad news. I came to surprise my girl.” Instead she was the one surprising me. The pain in the back of my head intensified, and as much as I needed to sit down, I wanted to get to the heart of why Randy was snuggling with her. “If Randy was wishing you luck, then why was he rubbing your back like he was in love with you or consoling you?”
She checked her watch. “I have to meet my coach. I haven’t told you yet, but Coach got news yesterday that a major league team is interested in me.” Her eyes widened. “Can you believe it?”
My eyebrows shot up to my hairline. I should be swinging her around and kissing her. But with my migraine, Randy, and the guilt that had settled in her eyes, I needed to know what she was hiding. Besides, she didn’t sound all that happy, and for that, I had to pause. This was Lacey Robinson, the girl I loved, who lived and breathed baseball.
“Why don’t you sound excited?” I asked.
She studied me for the longest minute. “Let me meet with my coach. You can come with. Then we can talk.”
Acid settled in my stomach. I didn’t like her tone. It was as though she was about to tell me she wanted to break up with me. Or maybe my migraine was clouding my senses.
I snaked my arm around her waist and drew her to me. Immediately, my body reacted in all the right places. I lowered my head until our lips were a hair apart. “Go talk to your coach. Then meet me at the bed and breakfast. I’m in the same room I always stay in.” I didn’t have many choices of hotels in the small town. It was either the bed and breakfast or the motel, and Lacey liked the bed and breakfast.
She brushed her lips over mine. “I love you. I’m not cheating.”
A slight breeze picked up, sending a chill down my arms.
I searched her eyes for answers. All I found was love. “I know.” Even though that nagging, doubtful voice in my head made me question things, I did believe her. She wouldn’t throw away what we had, which was the deepest love any two humans could have for each other. “I don’t like his hands on you.” I almost growled out that statement. “Still, you’re hiding something.”
She pushed her tongue through my lips, kissing me as though she was trying to wash away the guilt. Whatever her reasons, I returned the kiss, needing to taste what was mine. And she was mine.
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