The night washed over Kellen, wrapping him in a cocoon of nothingness. The occasional flashes of yellow in the distant clouds would soon be overhead, and he’d have to go inside. Although a powerful storm brewed over the Gulf of Mexico, he wasn’t ready to face that empty house. He’d just stay on the beach until resolve proved stronger than dread.
As the flickers above the horizon intensified, the wind picked up, whipping his long hair around his neck and face. He stared out at the endless water, fighting shivers as the damp bite of the salty sea air drew warmth from his body. His skin had become numb. He wished the Gulf breeze could numb the raw ache deep in his chest. Would the feeling that part of him was missing ever leave or was he destined to feel empty for the rest of his life? Sara’s loss was still as tangible to him as it had been five years ago when he’d stared at that f**king heart rate monitor, holding his breath, waiting for just one more blip. Just one more.
Just one more, Sara. I’ll do anything.
It had never come.
All the hope in the world—all the love he had to give—hadn’t amounted to anything in the end.
Beneath the angry clouds, the water looked like shifting obsidian—shiny, black glass with peaks and valleys. Random curves of white froth approached the damp sand at Kellen’s feet and then receded, a ceaseless pattern of surge and withdrawal. The surf toyed with him—slowly retreating as the tide went out. Waves churned beneath the power of the storm, sometimes washing over his bare feet and drawing the sand from beneath his soles, but those waves never claimed him. Never pulled him under. Kellen stepped forward, following the slowly ebbing water, knowing eventually the sea would push him back toward the shore as the tide returned. There was little a man could count on in life, but he could count on the tides. And Kellen could count on memories of Sara haunting him.
He glanced over his shoulder at the dark house behind him. It was painted a sunny yellow, but at night it looked gray. Cheerless. Not like the happy place he’d shared with her before she’d gotten sick.
Oh, look at this house, Kellen, Sara’s cheerful voice echoed through his memory. Wouldn’t it be fun to rent it for a week and pretend it’s ours? I’ve never seen the ocean. I want to see it for the first time with you.
Kellen had peered at the computer screen over Sara’s shoulder. She’d flipped through pictures of an enormous, sunny yellow vacation rental with open, airy rooms, inviting furnishings, and sprawling decks with beach views.
You want to go see the ocean, honey. We go, he’d said. How much is it?
She’d clicked on a reservation link and both their jaws had dropped when the weekly rental rate had been displayed. She’d closed the laptop and looked up at him, her big blue eyes drawing him in. Like a riptide, they’d always pulled him under.
I don’t need that, she’d said. I have you. And she’d kissed him the way only Sara could kiss. A kiss that stirred his body into a heated frenzy. A kiss that touched his heart and soul. Her kiss had always turned him inside out. That’s what love did to him. That’s why Kellen needed it and at the same time never wanted to find it again.
So Kellen had done what any fool in love with his perfect girl would do. He’d hocked his most prized possession—his late grandfather’s vintage Les Paul guitar—and surprised Sara with a week in her dream house. She hadn’t made him feel bad about giving up his guitar. She turned the sacrifice of his most cherished belonging into a week of his most cherished memories. The delight on her face as she’d stood in front of that obnoxiously large vacation rental with her hands clutched before her chest had been worth any cost.
I love you more than all the water in the ocean. All the grains of sand on the beaches. All the stars in the sky, she’d said as she’d flung herself into his waiting arms.
That’s a lot of love, he’d said, burying his nose in her sweet-smelling hair and taking a moment to just feel her. She was his everything. She would be his forever. He didn’t doubt it for an instant.
I love you more than that, Kellen. So much more.
Me too, honey.
Kellen swallowed hard and closed his eyes against the echoes of the past.
Memories of Sara continually tormented Kellen. They ripped his f**king heart out. Regardless, he sought things that reminded him of her. Losing her body and soul had been difficult enough. Losing those memories? He couldn’t take that too. He needed reminders of her. Constant reminders. That’s why, even though she was gone, he’d bought that huge f**king house on the Galveston shore as soon as he could afford it. Money had become a non-issue after Sole Regret’s second album had gone platinum and they sold out concert after concert on their first headlining tour. What would Sara think of his success? Would she be proud? Jealous? She’d never understood his need to make music.
He’d have given up every penny, every cheer, every fan for one more moment with her.
That empty house was why he was here, standing on the beach. He had no business being here. He should be on the tour bus with his band and on his way to Beaumont for their show tomorrow, but he hadn’t been able to stay away. Not when the band played in Houston. Not when he was so close to the place that had made Sara happy for a week in her short life. He wanted those joyous memories close. They were right on the other side of the sand dune behind him. In that house. That dark, empty dream house that had become another nightmare.
Now that he’d arrived, he couldn’t force himself to go inside. He couldn’t stand sipping a beer on the deck without her beside him. He couldn’t stand knowing that when he climbed into bed, her pillow would be empty. He couldn’t touch her, couldn’t listen to her breathe. He could only lie there, staring up at the whirling ceiling fan trying to remember what they’d had for breakfast that first morning and the way the sun had danced through the golden highlights in her hair as she’d watched the sandpipers skitter through the surf. He could almost hear her laughing. Almost see her spinning in the warm breeze with her arms extended. Almost feel the water splatter against his legs as she kicked at the waves. She’d been so alive that day. So f**king alive. In his memory, she would always be alive.
And that was something he would never give up.
Owen had tried to convince him not to visit the house tonight. Owen’s reasoning had been right—being here didn’t help. It hurt. But Kellen couldn’t stay away. And even though he knew it would be for the best, he just couldn’t let Sara go.