Strong Enough to Love - out March 1!
I haven’t talked much about this short story, because I’ve been so busy working on the next Jackson book, but I loved writing this so much. It’s Eve Hill’s story. (Grace’s boss from Close Enough to Touch.) I’ve known I wanted to write this since the moment Grace met her and caught that hint of sadness in her eyes. I hope you like it!
…Grace was making a beeline for her from across the room, and she would definitely say Eve was being too picky. They’d had plenty of discussions on the subject. Grace was of the decided opinion that Eve was single and successful and should be reaping the rewards of that the way a single and successful man would. Eve agreed in principle. In reality, the idea left her sadly cold.
“Hey, boss man,” Grace said. “Are you chatting up the hotties?”
Eve couldn’t help her smile. What the hell. She may as well embrace the situation. “Maybe.”
Grace’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Really?”
“I’m not completely hopeless, you know. I can pick up men and…do the hook ups, or whatever you call it.”
Grace threw back her head and laughed. “Oh, my God. You’re such a dweeb.”
“But you look hot.”
“Yeah, I took my hair out of its ponytail. Pretty sexy.”
“I’m serious,” Grace insisted. She ran her hand down Eve’s hair. “I’m glad you finally gave in to my coloring skills. You look brighter. Not just your hair, though. I’m glad you’re starting to relax a little.”
Yes, she was finally letting go. She’d fought her life for the past couple of years, white-knuckling it through a sorrow she hadn’t even earned. It wasn’t so hard anymore. It wasn’t so damn lonely. “I need to find Jenny.”
Grace pointed her in the right direction, and Eve set off to give Jenny a hug. She’d been here for thirty minutes. She’d agreed to a date. So she gave herself permission to escape as soon as she’d spoken to the birthday girl. She even gave Mitch a friendly wave as she left.
Maybe the chemistry wasn’t there, but when was it ever? She was thirty-six. She’d had two careers and lived in four states. And in all that time, there’d only been one man, one out of the hundreds she’d met as an adult, who’d wrenched her heart and set every nerve in her body vibrating.
Eve walked slowly down the dark street, shoving her hands into her pockets to pull her jacket closer against the cold.
She couldn’t keep looking for that, wanting that. Hell, maybe even that hadn’t been real. They’d never acted on it. Despite the countless nights she’d spent imagining his hands on her, nothing had ever happened, because he’d been too honorable, or they both had. So maybe all that chemistry would’ve evaporated the same way her mild attraction to Mitch had.
She nodded, lying to herself. It might’ve been awful with Brian. Sure. So why did tears spring to her eyes at the loss?
“Stop it, you idiot,” she muttered, blinking back the stupid emotions. “You gave that up.” She had. On New Year’s Eve, she’d vowed not to spend one more night crying for him. Not one more tear. She didn’t have a right to them.
Brian had been her boss. Her mentor. And her best friend. But what he’d been more than anything else was someone else’s husband.
And while she hated him for having the strength to walk away, she was so thankful for it that it made her stomach hurt. She’d never touched him, and that was her greatest regret and her best truth, all rolled into one.
“Fuck chemistry,” she whispered as she turned off the dark residential street and walked toward the cheerfully lit square that was the center of Jackson. Her studio was one street off the square, but still part of the lively tourist district, and she adored the little apartment overhead. If she hadn’t had that, she’d have holed up in some secluded cabin long ago and lost track of the outside world completely.
But here, even on this cool night in the middle of the off season, people still walked along the western boardwalks of the town, fading in and out of the light cast by old-fashioned lamps.
Even on her street, a man stood in front of the bright windows of her studio, absorbed in a wall-sized photo of the Tetons that she’d taken last year. She loved that picture, even though it wasn’t as vivid as the others behind it. She’d taken it in late fall, when all the color had already fallen from the trees. The whole expanse of land looked dead, but the mountains still rose up, solid and unmoving and dominating the world. She didn’t mind the browns and blacks and greys. She didn’t need the more flagrant shades of autumn to capture the beauty of the place. It stood on its own.
Apparently the man at the window liked it, too.
She was trying to decide if she should speak to him or just sneak past to the narrow staircase beyond when something about the line of his jaw caught her eye. The pace of her boots hitting hollow against the wood slowed. In that moment, she wished she’d worn quieter shoes, because she didn’t want him aware of her. She wanted to sneak past. She wanted time to get a good look at him and see—
“Everything is so different,” he said, then turned slowly, inevitably toward her. And just like that, after two years, Brian was back.
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