The meek shall inherit the earth, they say.
Bullshit. Look at me now. What do I have? Nothing.
I thought I wouldn't get past a second heartbreak. I was wrong. I never should've closed myself off in tears when Lucas told me he loved me. I should've had faith he wouldn't betray me.
Regaining his love will mean throwing away my pride, my armor and laying myself completely bare. I have to trust that he won't crush me at my most vulnerable.
The attempt will leave me bleeding. It might just kill me. But I definitely won't survive knowing that I didn't fight for what I wanted: my future.
A future with the only man I ever loved...a man more important than the very air I breathe...
You gotta put yourself out there to get what you want.
I bared my heart to Ava. I begged for her trust, her love.
Instead she shattered my soul.
She's circling me, her pretty eyes vulnerable. She won't fool me this time. I'll never give her another shot. I'll break her before she breaks me...
Note: The last book in Lucas and Ava's epic love story! No cliffhanger.
The quiet intensity of his gaze and voice ripples over me. It soothes the wounds of my soul, and I close my eyes to savor the warm, sweet moment.
“When I saw you for the first time at that restaurant, it was like seeing my fate. My future.”
I grin. “You liked my body. I remember you checking me out.” An understatement; he’d stripped me bare with his eyes.
“Nice bodies and pretty faces are dime a dozen. You were different.” He takes a bite of his lunch and lets the silence stretch for a moment.
“Then why did you act like you didn’t want me back? You never wanted to stay the night or take me to meet your family or friends. If they’d seen me before the accident, maybe things would’ve turned out differently.”
“You don’t want to talk about it,” I say finally.
His fingers twitch. “It’s not that. I’m trying to figure out how to say it so I can avoid looking like an idiot…” He sighs. “Okay, it was my fault. Even as I wanted you, I was fighting it. I felt like I didn’t deserve that kind of love.”
Then I know. “Your mother.”
“What do you mean?”
I shake my head. “Don’t do that. We promised to be honest with each other, and you’re not. It’s not fair.”
“You’re right, it’s not. I’m sorry. No, I don’t want to talk about her.”
“Okay.” He isn’t willing to open up yet, so I’m not going to push it. After all, we can’t continue to have mutual respect and honesty if we refuse to let the other person be. I’m afraid to push too hard and ruin what we have. “Then can you tell me about the deal between you and your father? What the tabloids said… It’s true, isn’t it?”
He nods, his shoulders relaxing a bit. “Basically. What they didn’t publish is that the whole thing came about because Dad was furious we missed his Wedding Number Six.”
“To some woman who isn’t even half his age.” I saw that part too on the Internet.
“I’d be surprised if she finished high school. She’s so young she could’ve been our sister.”
“He must love her, though.”
Lucas snorts a laugh. “He can’t stand his wives. His ego was hurt that we didn’t show. Blake, Ryder and Elizabeth opted to attend their cousin’s wedding—it was his first marriage, after all—and Elliot and I chose not to go because after a while, you don’t want to be part of your parents’ circus. But Dad wanted to make a point, and he knew he could use the portraits to get to us. There were some complications with Grandpa’s will, and the paintings went to my father, who thinks we’re all bunch of worthless losers, and that our grandfather was too soft on us.”
“That’s awful. He’s your father.”
“A reluctant father. I’m sure he regrets he didn’t ask his wives to get abortions.”
“We were just bargaining chips in the divorces, although it didn’t work out the way he wanted with me and Elliot.”
“Because our mother didn’t try to win custody. She preferred a fatter alimony.”
My image of Lucas as a child, growing up in abundance with everything a person could want, crumbles. Everything online portrayed an enviable life, and I accepted it all without question. “So what’s so special about the portraits?” I ask. “Everyone seemed to be focused on how much they’re worth, but that’s not it, is it?”
“Their monetary value isn’t even a consideration for us.” He jabs the air with his fork. “I’m not denying they’re each worth millions of bucks, but let’s face it. We don’t need the money. If we get them, none of us will ever sell them. The value—to us—is entirely sentimental. Our grandfather painted them when we turned eighteen, and they show the potential and greatness he saw in us.”
“They must be amazing. I wish I could see the one of you.”
Lucas shifts his weight, then reaches for his beer. “It’s pretty romanticized. Grandpa only saw the best in everyone.”
“I don’t see the best in everyone, but I think you’re incredible.” I finish the last of my fries. My mind is made up. “Let’s get married.”
He stares at me as though I’ve asked him to climb Everest in the nude. “Ava…we can’t.”
“What? Why not?”
“I didn’t go after you to get the painting.”
“I know, and that’s fine. I just think that now—”
“I won’t marry you. Now yet.”
Well, this is unexpected. I cast about for the right argument. “But that means your father’s going to win.”
“Don’t you want to win?”
I narrow my eyes. “You aren’t marrying anyone else, Lucas Reed!”
“Absolutely not. I told you already, you’re the only one for me. But I’m not marrying you either, not until the six months is up, because I’m not giving you any cause to doubt my love for you again.”
Now it becomes clear. “Lucas… I won’t.”
But he isn’t listening. “My brothers and sister will just have to get over it. I’ll find a way to make it up to them.”
“But you were going to marry Faye…”
“I didn’t love her, Ava. It’s not the same thing.”
“You’re right, it’s not. This way, you get both the painting and the woman you really do love. So what’s the problem?”
“If anything happens between us because of the damned deal…” He inhales roughly. “I can’t go through…everything…again.”
Currently, she shares a condo overlooking a small river and sakura trees in Japan with her husband and son. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading books by her favorite authors or planning another trip.
Stay in touch with her via her website, www.nadialee.net, or her blog www.nadialee.net/blog/