The sun peaks through the curtains, its rays covering them like a warm blanket. Her strawberry blonde hair sparkles beneath the beams of light, making him want to run his fingers through her silky soft strands. He stows his itching fingers because he doesn’t want to break the spell that is this magical morning. Instead, he drinks in each second before she wakes, because he knows that once she does it will be back to reality. She will kiss him goodbye, say that she’ll see him soon, and he’ll go back to missing her. Missing her so much it feels like a piece of him is missing. It wasn’t until the last time she left that he realized that “missing piece” was his heart. She takes it with her every time she leaves to go back to her husband.
As much as he loves waking up to this little lady in his arms, he wishes he could rewind to last night and press the pause button. He knows he should be grateful that she’s given him two full days, but he wants more. More time. More kisses. More of her. More is a luxury that he knows he doesn’t have and that momentarily fills him with rage. A barrage of thoughts attack him all at once. Hold on there, cowboy. You knew what you were getting into when you asked her to dance. When you held her so close that not even air could fit between you. When you slipped your number in her back pocket. What did you think was going to happen?
Shame and guilt make their unwelcome appearance as he recalls the fight he had with his older brother when he asked him to make himself scarce for the weekend. Jake was his best friend and confidant, he would do anything for him, but he made sure to let Luke know that he did not approve of his “relationship” with Emma. “You know mama is probably rolling in her grave right now, right? She didn’t raise us to be cheaters. She’s married, Luke. Married. She belongs to another man. She’s making a fool of you. She’s never going to leave him,” he said as he grabbed his Stetson off the hook by the door. Before he turned to leave he glanced back and gave him that look. Even when Jake was disappointed in him he never could hide the love he felt for his little brother. However, it was the look of disappointment hiding behind that love that was like a kick to Luke’s gut. He wanted to yell that she wasn’t making a fool of him, he knew what he was doing. He wanted to tell his brother that he loved her. That she was the one. But he didn’t get the chance because Jake was out the door before Luke could form the words.
Luke recognized that his hesitation to defend himself and Emma was because deep down he knew Jake was right. He knew that everything about the current situation he found himself in was wrong, but damn it all to hell if he couldn’t help himself. From the moment he had laid eyes on her he knew he was a goner. He never could resist a damsel in distress. That was the cowboy in him. He blamed his mom for making him watch all those damned romance films she loved so much. He wished he could be a hard ass like his father and his brother, but he took more after his mother. She was a gentle soul with a capacity to love that was infinite.
Despite the fact that Emma was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on, her beauty wasn’t the first thing he noticed. She wore an aura of sadness and loneliness that no woman who was that beautiful should have hanging around her. He could tell by the way she walked into the bar that her confidence had taken a beating. In that moment the only thing he could think of was that he wanted her to see herself through his eyes. He wanted to mend the broken heart she so clearly wore on her sleeve. That didn’t change when she flashed her ring at him, even though it went against everything he believed in and all the values his parents had drilled into him. In that moment he ignored the voice in his head telling him to walk away — a voice that sounded way too much like his mama’s. Which brings him to the present. Six months later, spooning the love of his life. A woman he knows he can’t keep. A woman who belongs to another man. A woman who he knows he has to let go. That’s why he wished he had a remote that could freeze time. Today was the day he had to let her go.
Knowing that he could no longer delay the inevitable, he kissed the back of her head and ran his fingers through her hair. He sighed, thinking, this will probably be the last time I get to do this. His touch chased away the hold the Sandman had on her and she stirred. The sweet, little moan she made at his touch was like a knife to his heart. He was going to miss those sounds. He was going to miss everything about her. As panic started to climb its way from his toes to his chest, threatnening to steal the air from his lungs, she turned and faced him. She leaned in and placed a sweet kiss on his lips. “Good morning, handsome,” she said in her sexy, raspy morning voice. He was internally cataloging every little thing he loved about her. It was torture, but he didn’t want to forget a thing. He knew that he was never going to give his heart to another woman, so these little memories would have to be enough to keep him warm on those cold, lonely nights.
“Good morning, darlin’,” he drawled, “Sleep well?”
“I always do with you.”
“You hungry? I could make us some breakfast,” he offered, wanting to stretch out this morning as long as he possibly could. His heart sank when she shook her head no.
“I really should be going. Brad is expecting me home this morning.”
Brad. God how he hated that name. He doubted that he’d be expecting her. That was more wishful thinking on her part, than truth. He barely paid her any attention. He didn’t understand what she saw in him. He swore that if he’d ever laid eyes on him that he’d lay him out. He hated the fact that Brad didn’t appreciate what he had. He took her for granted every single day. Made her feel invisible. If Emma was his, he’d tell her every chance he got how much she meant to him. If he had the chance, he would make it his life’s mission to make sure she never felt invisible ever again. But she wasn’t his, not really. Not in the way he wanted her to be.
He watched her as she got out of bed, taking the sheet with her. She picked her clothes up off the floor and then disappeared behind the bathroom door. He heard the shower start and it took all of his willpower not to get up and join her. Instead, he propped his hands behind his neck and stared up at the ceiling. He prayed for strength. Strength to find the words that wouldn’t hurt her. Strength to do what he knew he had to. Twenty minutes later she came walking out of the bathroom, smelling like jasmine and vanilla and Emma. It was his new favorite scent and he was going to miss it. A lump formed in his throat as she sat on the bed next to him and leaned in for a kiss. Our last kiss. He couldn’t stop the rogue tear that escaped him.
“So, I’ll call you in a few days, okay?
He took her hands in his and it was then that she noticed his tears.
He just stared at her, unable to speak.
“No. No. Please, no. You can’t say it’s over. I need you.”
“Do you? If you really needed me, the way I need you, then you’d tell him that you’ve fallen in love with another man. I’m so sorry, Emma. I can’t keep doing this. Each time we’re together it gets harder and harder to say goodbye. I knew what I was getting into when I started this, but I didn’t know how hard I’d fall in love with you. I can’t be the other guy any more. It hurts too much. As much as I hate sending you back to a man who doesn’t appreciate what he has, I have to. This isn’t fair to him. It isn’t fair to any of us.”
“So you just woke up this morning and discovered you had a conscience?”
His silence seemed to confirm her fears and she lashed out, “Oh, I get it. You knew this whole weekend that you were going to call it quits, didn’t you? You figured you’d get one more roll in the hay before you sent me packing, is that it?”
“You know that’s not it. I’ve told you how I feel about you. I’m in love with you! Head over heels in love with you! I tried to convince myself that the time we have, the brief stolen moments, would be enough but they’re not. I want you all to myself. I want you to be mine, forever. I want to build a life with you, but I refuse to build a life that I have to share with another man. You have ruined me for any other woman. I’m saying goodbye to you knowing that I’m going to spend the rest of my life regretting it. Letting you go knowing that I will spend the rest of my life alone.”
The look on her face nearly broke him as he pulled her into his chest. He held her as she sobbed. This time he let his tears flow freely, probably because she couldn’t see him. He hated to appear anything but strong in her eyes. After what seemed like an eternity her sobs softened and she spoke. “I’m so sorry. I never thought that I’d be in love with two men. I hate myself for hurting you. I wish it was as simple as just following my heart. How do you do that when your heart belongs to two men? I don’t know what to do. Tell me. Tell me to choose you and I will.”
“You don’t know how much I wish I could, but we both know that’s a decision you need to make. As much as I want to, I can’t make it for you.”
“I wish I could say what I know you want to hear, but I can’t right now.”
“I know. That’s why I’m going to make it easy for you and be the one to say goodbye. Just promise me one thing first. Promise me that if you decide to stay with him that you’ll make him see your worth. You deserve to be seen and appreciated for the amazing woman you are. If you find that he can’t, or won’t, then promise me you’ll tell him goodbye and come back to me.”
He chokes back a sob and leans in, one last time, and kisses her like his life depends on it. He cups her face with his strong hands and leans his forehead against hers. “I must be crazy for letting you go. Goodbye, darlin’.”