One Day and Counting

This next excerpt is from the end of the book. Meg has walked away from Bret and left Echo Falls for the summer. Her absence forces him to confront his past and a lonely future without her.

Excerpt #3

Meg woke, feeling groggy and unsettled. And she was in her clothes. Why in the world had she gone to bed with her clothes on? For that matter, she didn’t remember going to bed.
And it smelled like bacon in the house. In fact, it sounded like bacon sizzling on a frying pan. Another sniff and she detected coffee. Maybe her grandmother had used her key and was cooking her breakfast. Now wouldn’t that be sweet?
She shoved back the sheet, made a stop in the bathroom, and rushed to the kitchen, excited to see her. She pulled up short in the doorway and stared.
Bret stood at the kitchen stove, sans t-shirt and shoes, a pair of athletic shorts barely covering his nice butt.
Tears filled her eyes. God! She had missed him so much. The emotion sat balled in her throat for two seconds, then anger came to the rescue.
“What are you doing in my kitchen?”
He smiled, that lazy, sexy smile that made her knees weak. Disgusted with herself and not wanting to allow herself to fall for it again, she went on the offensive, deciding to be blunt. Crossing her arms, she tapped her foot.
“It’s over.”
Bret stayed silent for moment, looking her over. “No. It’s not.”
“It was just sex.”
“No. It wasn’t.
“Yes. It was. You insisted. I promised. End of story. Get out.”
She’d spent weeks forcing her love for Bret back into the little box inside her where it had existed for four years. It hadn’t been easy. There was more to cram in than ever before. She’d cried herself to sleep more nights than not. Depression had been her constant companion. The box bulged, constantly threatening to open, but she’d been determined.
But one look at him, his bare feet, his sleepy eyes, his presence in her kitchen made that box threatening to burst like a piƱata whacked with a big stick. How in the world could she live without him? She needed to be home, needed her family, the familiarity of her town, her students – but seeing him every day would burn like a forest fire in the middle of August.
“I’m waiting for you to leave.” She edged further into the room. “And where did all those groceries come from? My refrigerator was empty.”
His eyes lingering on her face, her breasts, her legs. “I come bearing gifts.”
“You look like you spent the night.” Her temper simmered, but her heart was pounding like two cymbals getting banged together. Her emotions bubbled like a witch’s cauldron on Halloween.
He looked uncomfortable for a moment. “I did spend the night. I’m the one who put you to bed.”
The toast popped in the toaster and he reached for the pieces, buttered them. He poured her a cup of coffee, fixing it the way she liked it.
Damn the man, what in the world was he up to?
She’d been magnanimous, tearing her own heart out by the roots, leaving her home and family to give them both time to adjust to being apart, and what did he do? What exactly was he doing?
“Why are you here? We said . . .”
“No, you said. As I recall, I was too stunned to say much of anything.” He took a plate from the cupboard and dished up hash browns, eggs, and bacon. She had a moment to wonder how in the world he knew where everything was in her kitchen, but it passed when he came to her and took her elbow. Overwhelmed with the male scent of him, all she could do was gape.
“Come and eat, drink your coffee, and I’ll explain.” Bret coaxed her to the table and set a plate in front of her with her coffee. He went back to dish up his own plate. She looked at the flowers in the vase on the table, the blooms having opened up wider, splashing color like a paint can run amok. She saw the card that she’d missed the night before.
“Open it.” His husky voice made her look up, straight into eyes that held so much emotion, she had to look away. “Open it,” he repeated.
She lifted the flat on the small white envelope and removed the single sheet of paper, quickly scanning the note.
How do I love thee, let me count the ways. Bret.
Love her? She looked up at him.
He blew out a breath. “I love you.”
Her heart ripped open. “You don’t.”
He stilled. “I do.”
She gazed at him, trying to assess his sincerity. “So what? Does that matter? You still don’t want forever.”
“Who says?”
Meg’s heart stalled. “You did. Repeatedly.”
“Well, I’ve changed my mind.” He didn’t smile, didn’t try to coax her. It was a plain statement of fact. Confused, she tried to read him and couldn’t.
“I don’t believe you.” Couldn’t believe him. He’d been so adamant. And if he’d changed his mind, the last few weeks were for naught. Plus, if he walked away from her later, she’d have to close herself off to everyone to survive the devastation.
“I know. But you will.” His vow made goose bumps run down her spine.

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