“What else is important to you, Willa?”
My laughter is a little too unnatural. “Why do you care?”
“I told you, I don’t like being wrong.”
Shane stays silent, dragging white teeth over his full bottom lip. In his own way, he’s answering me, but I can’t fully interpret his meaning. He asked me what I consider important, though, and I have a hard time letting an opportunity pass to talk about my sister. It feels wrong to omit her importance in my life, and right now when I’m so far away and haven’t seen her in weeks, talking about Ginger makes her seem closer. It’s not because Shane makes me simultaneously want to let my guard down and reinforce it. It’s not.
“Ginger. My sister. She’s important to me,” I whisper, unsure why letting my guard down keeps winning the battle.
“I can see that.” He scrutinizes me a moment, as if debating whether to push for more. It confuses me. I don’t understand why he has taken a sudden fascination in my personal life when up until now he’s been so adamant about not giving a shit.
“If you think this little display of interest is going to get me into bed, you’re wrong.”
Shane laughs under his breath. “I’m not going to pretend I don’t want you beneath me.”
He says it without missing a beat, the confidence radiating from him heating me from across the room, as if we were standing in the Sahara instead of damp, chilly Ireland. I’m torn between affront and respect. He has a lot of goddamn nerve. But then, so do I. My hand presses shakily to my belly. Damn him, his honesty is appealing to me on some untapped level and he knows it. “I told you, it’s not going to happen.” It sounds less convincing every time I say it.
Shane nods. “Because you’re still in love with your Evan.”
“He’s not my Evan anymore.”
“Whose decision was that?”
He shrugs his wide shoulders, forcing a resigned sigh past my lips. There’s a part of me that needs to talk about it, I realize. As an added bonus, maybe if I explain the f**ked-up reasons for my breakup, he’ll realize how important it is to keep his distance from me, just in case failure is contagious.
“Mine,” I say. “I broke up with him. But only because he was too nice to cut me loose himself.” Saying the words out loud hurts, but I won’t lie. I feel an immediate lessening of pressure in my chest, just releasing what I’ve been holding inside. Giving it over to the universe.
“You dated a nice guy,” Shane muses with a too-tight smile.
“The nicest.” I swallow hard, refusing to look away. One of my resolutions in coming here was to resuscitate the old Willa. She wouldn’t have minded her flaws being visible. Those flaws were what kept people from getting too close. Look at them, my throat aches with the need to scream. “He got the bum deal.”
I search for the right words on the ceiling. Unsurprisingly, they’re not there. I think back to the way Evan smuggled me into his circle of friends and put me on display. Look at her! Talk to her! Treat her like she’s one of us! They tried, too. He’d promised to scale my Mount Everest of issues and swing me Tarzan-style down the other side, beaming like a hero. Evan rarely failed at anything, and it visibly frustrated him when I didn’t seamlessly fit in. Captain of the basketball team and loved among his peers, he’d been determined to keep his streak alive with me. I’d watched him flounder from the sidelines, trying to understand why I couldn’t leave my deep-seated childhood trauma locked away where it wouldn’t offend or make anyone uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, uncomfortable is kind of my thing. I do uncomfortable like a squeaky, plastic couch cover. It’s not intentional. But when you spend your childhood nights locked in your bedroom, hiding from your mother’s johns while your sister tries to drown the animalistic grunts with loud country music and a pillow over your ears, Evan’s kind of normal ceases to be a possibility.
Shane’s stare drags me back to the here and now. “He belonged with someone more like Faith.” When I hear myself say it, I realize the thought has been germinating for a while. Oddly, I don’t feel an ounce of resentment over it. More like, wistfulness. Not a typical emotion for me at all, which is probably why I missed it. “He couldn’t make me into a Faith. I didn’t fit the mold. And I tried.” I take a deep breath. “I did.”
“No.” Shane pushes off the wall and comes toward me. Every inch of my skin breaks out into goose bumps, but I’m rooted to the floor. His gaze is fixed so firmly on me, for a fleeting second I wonder if it’s a tangible thing, keeping me from moving an inch in either direction. He stops right in front of me. “You didn’t try at all.”
“If someone like you tries, you don’t fail. Deep down you didn’t really want to change.”
His words are like a battering ram to the chest, emptying my lungs of oxygen. I can’t swallow around the golf ball in my throat. I’ve been wondering where the whopping case of guilt came from, and I’m sickened by the realization this could be it. Was I only pretending to try the whole time? God, am I that selfish? “How f**king profound,” I manage, feeling light-headed.
Shane reaches out with one rough hand and slips his fingers through my hair, cradling the back of my head. I want to flinch away, but seconds ago I felt untethered and now his touch is anchoring me. I can’t help leaning back into his hand, letting my neck loosen. “No, I have a suspicion that you don’t fit any mold but your own, Willa.”
A corner of his mouth quirks up, but he grows serious almost immediately. “You’re leaving in a matter of weeks. It won’t be long after before I sell this place and return to racing. If its commitment you’re scared of, you’ve nothing to worry about here.”
“Is this your way of asking for a fling?” My gaze drops to his lips as they move to hover over mine. I’m positively frozen, waiting to see what he’ll do. “If so, I told you I’m not interested.”
“This inn is sorely lacking in hospitality,” I respond lamely. “I’ve been accused of fibbing already this morning.”
“That should tell you something.” He wets his lips slowly, pupils dilating. My heartbeat is so deafening in my ears, I wonder if he can hear it. “It’s inevitable, Willa. We are inevitable. When you stop fooling yourself, come and find me.” Imperceptibly, his fingers tighten in my hair, just enough to straighten my spine with awareness. “In the meantime, no more talk of other men. That was an end to it.” When all I do it stare, buffering between indignation and awe at his balls of steel, he drags his lips across mine. My belly begins to ache, not in a bad way. In a hot, melting way that makes my thighs feel ticklish. “Nod if you understand me.”
After a long pause, I nod. I can’t believe it. I f**king nod.
Shane releases me and steps back, his every move appearing reluctant. I’m reluctant for him to let me go, too. That kiss is now something I want badly, at least in this moment where my walls are down. But I was right, he’s not going to take advantage of the situation. Between that and his kind treatment of Kitty, I’m starting to wonder if maybe I was wrong about Shane, too. He looks like he wants to say more, but instead he leaves me standing there and walks to the door.