I laughed. “I was so mad at her. Looking back, I think they were trying to force us together.”

“Yeah, I’m sure they were. It was so damn hard to keep my hands off of you that night.”

This time I knew my cheeks were red. “I laid there almost all night wishing you would touch me.”

Rip looked my way, a hint of sadness in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Chloe Cat.”

I shrugged. “How many times do you think we both wanted to do something and never did?”

“Something like touch each other?”

“Yeah, or kiss. Hug like we were more than friends. Wish that we could simply be willing to take the risk for something more?”

“Too many times on my part.”

“Me, too.”

“Do you remember when Justin was going to ask you to the senior prom, and I grabbed you and jumped into the river?”

“That was naughty of you.”

“It was bullshit of him to ask. Anyway, when we were sitting on that rock, I almost told you how I felt about you. It was right there on the tip of my tongue. If Mike hadn’t called us, I think I might have kissed you and finally confessed.”

I smiled and looked down at my hands.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t take the leap when you told me how you felt. I was so fucking afraid of losing you, Chloe. I didn’t stop to think about how I would lose by not being with you.”

With a sigh, I replied, “I’m sorry I wouldn’t let you talk to me after it happened. We’ve both been stupid, but that’s all in the past. I only want to think about our future, Rip. You and me and being together with no expectations.”

He reached for my hand and brought it up to his mouth, placing a soft kiss on it. “I’m going to spend the rest of my life showing you how much you mean to me. I swear I will always be honest with you and never hold back.”

I believed him.

“I promise you the same thing. I think if we are ever feeling anything we need to talk to one another. Not hold it in.”


“One thing I don’t want to talk about, though, is past relationships. I don’t want to know how many women you were with before me.”

Rip looked at me. “How many women I’ve been with? You make it sound like I’ve slept around.”

I shrugged. “I just figured that a guy as handsome as you probably had luck. I know you dated that girl Morgan.”

Rip pulled onto the shoulder and brought the truck to a stop and put it in park. He drew in a deep breath, raked his fingers through his hair, then looked at me. “I’m not going to lie to you and say I don’t want to ask questions about Easton. Deep down, that jealous asshole who was too afraid to tell you how he felt wants to know. But this guy right here in front of you wants to make up for all the lost time and hurt I caused you. As far as other women, Chloe, there weren’t very many. Morgan? She was a mistake I made when I first came back to Oaks Springs.”

“Just one time?” I heard myself asking.

“Yes. And there have only been two other girls.”


I nodded.

“It’s only been two for me. Will and Easton.”

My jaw clenched tight, and he looked at me intently.

“Ask me, Rip. Let’s just get this all out there.”

I closed my eyes. “Will you tell me one thing that’s been bugging the hell out of me? Why did you agree to marry him?”

Glancing at my hands, I pulled in a deep breath. “When he asked me, a million memories flashed through my mind. All of them were about you.”

“Me?” he asked, clearly taken aback.

“Yes. When we were little. Our senior prom. That day on the rock when I’m pretty sure we were both about to tell each other how we felt. All the times I longed to hear you tell me you loved me. The times I wanted to tell you but was too afraid. Then I remembered that day I told you I loved you, and I think the anger and hurt from your rejection fueled my answer. I thought if I said yes, I could forget the future I had dreamed about with you and move on with my life. Deep down, I knew I would never marry him. Even moments after he asked me I was crying, but they weren’t the happy tears that he thought they were. They were all for you and for the future I was throwing to the side.

“I didn’t want to leave Oak Springs. My future is here. Working with Daddy on the ranch. Being near family. Being near you. It all meant more to me than Easton. Once I came back, I was too stubborn to admit I had made a mistake. The more Easton talked about our future, the more I knew he wasn’t the one I wanted my future to be with. I think he knew it too, but was pretending it would all be okay once we were hitched and living in the same city. It all hit me the day I was trying on wedding dresses, and I remembered you and me in our tree. I couldn’t pretend anymore that I was happy with Easton.

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