Jenny laughs too. “My momma would smack the teeth out of my head if she heard me say that, but god help me, it’s true.”
Our giggles quiet and Jenny sighs. “A woman would have to be ten times a fool not to fall in love with that man.” She glances at me knowingly. “And you don’t look like a fool to me.”
After she turns away, I continue to stare. “How did you do it? How did you stop loving him?”
The last few days have been like torture. Every profession of his affection for her stung like the lash of a barbed whip. The yearning I’ve seen in those stunning green eyes, the tenderness they hold for her, burned like an electric shock, stealing my breath.
Sex with Stanton is exhilarating; working beside him is a privilege. But loving him . . . that just hurts.
Her mouth twitches. “I don’t think I ever did stop. It just . . . changed into somethin’ else. Somethin’ quieter, less crazed. When you’re young, you love fireworks ’cause they’re loud and bright and thrillin’. But then you grow up. And you see that candlelight isn’t so thrillin’, but it still makes everything better. You realize that the glow of a fireplace can be just as excitin’ as fireworks—the way it burns low, but lights your home and keeps you warm all night long. Stanton was my fireworks . . . JD’s my fireplace.”
“But Stanton’s in love with you.”
She glances at me sideways. “You really believe that?”
“It doesn’t matter what I believe. Only what he does.”
She shakes her head. “You should talk to him—tell him how you feel.”
It’s easy for her to say—she lives across the country from him. I’ll have to see him and work with him every day after this weekend. Right now, I have his friendship, his admiration. His respect.
I’m not sure I could live with his pity.
Jenny drives the truck behind Stanton’s parents’ house, up to the entrance of the barn. Before I get out, I turn to her. “It was really nice meeting you, Jenny. You have a beautiful daughter, and I hope . . . I really hope your wedding day is perfect.”
Her head tilts. “You won’t be around for the weddin’ tomorrow, will you?”
I confirm her suspicions with the shake of my head.
She nods, understanding. “I hope . . . well, I hope you come back here one day, Sofia, and when you do, I hope you’re smilin’.”
Then she wraps her arms around me and gives me a hug. It’s warm and kind, and above all—genuine.
• • •
Packing takes longer than I’d thought. Why, why did I bring so much? Three bags down, two to go. I grab the last of my T-shirts from the drawer and turn to place them in the open suitcase on the bed. But I freeze when I hear the hoarse, fraught voice from the doorway.
Did I actually think I’d be able to pack and leave town without facing him? Without having this conversation? Stupid Sofia.
I don’t look at him—if I do, I’ll disintegrate into a blubbery mass. I need time—distance.
“I have to go home. I’m so behind, a lot of work to catch up on . . .”
He moves in front of me. I stare at his chest, as it rises and falls beneath the soft cotton T-shirt. He takes the clothes from my hands. “You’re not goin’ anywhere, until you talk to me.”
I close my eyes, feeling my pulse throb frantically in my neck.
“What happened, Sofia?”
Against my will, my gaze rises, meeting his. It swims with concern, overflows with confusion . . . with affection and caring.
But it’s not enough.
“What happened? I fell in love with you.” The words come out in a whisper—everything I feel for him a sharp, rigid thorn lodged in my throat. And the pain that he doesn’t feel the same is a noose cinching tighter and tighter. “I love everything about you. I love watching you in court—the way you speak, the way you move. I love how you scrape your lip when you’re trying to think of what to say. I love your voice, I love your hands and the way they touch me. I love . . . the way you look at your daughter, I love how you say my name.” My voice shatters at the end, and my eyes close, releasing a flood.
“No, baby, don’t cry,” he begs.
His hands rise to my face, but I step back, afraid the contact will completely break me. The words rush out. “I know that isn’t what this is for you. And I tried to ignore it, to push it away. But it just hurt so much to see you with. . .”
His head is bowed from my pain. “Sofia, I’m sorry . . . just let me . . .”