“Keep fighting for her, though. She’s worth the battle.”

Chloe

“I’M SORRY I laid that on you today,” Rip said. “You didn’t deserve that.”

Not daring to look at him, I shrugged.

“Do you want to talk about it? Patches, I mean?”

My gaze lifted to meet his. “I don’t think so. Maybe. I’m not sure.”

Rip’s phone rang, and he reached into his pocket for it. “Excuse me, Chloe. I need to take this call.”

I focused my attention back on the cookies.

“This is Rip.”

I tried not to stare at him, but it was hard not to. My heart had been racing in my chest since I walked out of the cabin.

Rip loves me. Rip. Loves. Me.

I pressed my mouth into a tight line. How could he tell me now? Today of all days.

“Hey George, how is everything going?”

George? George Mathews from the bank?

“Yes. I recently started working in the accounting department at Frio Cattle Ranch. Did you need something from Steed for the closing?”

That caught my attention.

“The closing date is set already?”

He paused, waiting for a response.

“I understand that, sir, and yes, I have set money aside for contingencies. But the inspection said the house was in good shape. Anything that breaks down, I’m positive I can fix. They had it listed lower than I thought they would, so that will leave me some money to work with.”

Setting my mixing spoon down, I wiped my hands on the towel and looked at Rip. He turned around and caught me staring at him.

“Wednesday at three. I got it. I’ll be there. Thank you, George. I’m excited.” He ended the call and put his phone back into his pocket. Then he walked over and took the cookie scoop and started to put more dough on the sheet.

Okay, so he wasn’t going to share what that was about unless I asked. Well, I’m not going to ask.

Agitated, I said, “If you want to go join them in the other room for games, you can. I’m fine in here.”

“Nah, that’s okay. I’ll probably just take off.”

My breath caught in my throat, and I croaked out, “You’re leaving?”

With a half shrug, he replied, “Well, I feel like I’m in the way here.”

I chewed on my lip, tears building in my eyes once more. I had been angry with Rip but having him here with me really did make me feel better.

He took one look at me and added, “I mean, I’ll stay if you want me to stay.”

Our eyes locked, and I could almost see him silently pleading with me to tell him to stay.

“No, that’s fine. If you have things you need to do.”

“I don’t. I mean, I don’t have anything to do. I promised you I’d be here for you, Chloe. I don’t want to leave.”

This time I lost the battle and let a tear slip free. He dropped the scoop and cupped my face with his hands. I waited for him to wipe my tears away with his thumbs like he had so many times.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he leaned down and kissed my cheek softly, making my knees weaken. I closed my eyes tightly when he moved to the other side and kissed those tears away.

His hand moved softly along my face and his fingers slid into my hair. “I’m so sorry, Chloe.”

I opened my eyes and found him staring down at me. Was he sorry about Patches? Sorry for pushing me away four years ago? Sorry for telling me he loved me on one of the worst days of my life?

For a brief moment, I almost lifted up on my toes to kiss him.

Almost.

He let me go and backed away, his fingers running through his hair. “I didn’t want to tell you that way. Not today, not when you were already so upset.”

I wasn’t sure what he expected me to say. When he looked at me, I felt my heart race faster.

Pulling my gaze off of him, I faced the cookies again and took in a deep breath. “I need some time to figure everything out, Rip. To process it all. I guess I’m asking you for what you needed from me that day I confessed my feelings for you.”

He nodded and replied. “Okay.”

“I miss my best friend.”

He stood next to me, the silence between us like a brick wall.

Sniffling, I added, “I’ve missed you. I need my best friend back.”

“I’ve missed you too, Chloe Cat.”

Looking down, I slowly shook my head, fighting to keep my emotions in control. “Rip, I’m really confused and angry with you. I need some time to sort through all of this.”

“I’d wait for you forever, Chloe.”

I looked away. “I really wish you had told me that four years ago.”

“If I could go back and re-do that day, I would in a heartbeat. I would tell you how many times I wanted to kiss you, tell you I loved you. But I can’t, and that is something I am going to have to live with for the rest of my life. Knowing I let you down like I did. The one thing I never wanted to lose was your friendship, Chloe.”

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