The Goodbye Bride

By: Denise Hunter

Not with me.

The unsaid words hung in the air between them, cutting off her breath. She couldn’t imagine ever wanting to come back here or ever wanting to leave Zac.

But she knew enough to quit while she was ahead. “All right. Fair enough.”

She’d get back to Summer Harbor and figure out what went wrong. Then she’d fix it. Because she knew she’d never love anyone else the way she loved Zac Callahan.

Chapter 5

Zac turned onto Harbor Drive and followed the two-lane highway up the coastline. The headlights of his Silverado cut through the darkness, lighting the way, but he’d barely seen the road the entire drive back to Summer Harbor.

It was three thirty in the morning, and Lucy had succumbed to sleep long ago. She wore some ill-fitting clothes from the hospital’s lost and found. He’d shoved her wedding dress into the backseat.

Her slight weight had fallen against him as they’d passed through Ellsworth, and now her head rested on his arm. The familiar apple scent of her shampoo or perfume or whatever made her smell so fresh wove around him. The fragrance drew him right back to when they’d been together.

She turned her face into his arm, cuddling closer, and gave a deep sigh.

Come on, God. I’m only a man. What are You doing? Why’s she back in my life?

Twelve hours ago he’d been minding his own business, getting ready for a busy night at the Roadhouse. Now here he was, bringing his ex-fiancée home.

He rounded the last curve and applied the brakes as the Roadhouse came into view, his eyes swinging to his darkened second-floor apartment. He pulled into the parking lot and killed the engine.

Lucy didn’t budge. In the sudden quiet he could hear her gentle breaths. Feel the expansion of her lungs against his elbow. He looked down at her. The golden glow of lights washed over her face. Her long lashes swept the tops of her cheeks, and her long hair cascaded over her shoulders.

Lucy used to say she’d never rise above “cute” because of her dimples and compact size. But she was wrong. She was beautiful. His fingers itched to brush her hair back, to linger on the softness of her cheek. To glide across her generous lips. To pretend, just for a few minutes, that everything was the way it had been.

He ground his teeth together. Enough, Callahan.

He nudged her with his shoulder and she awoke, lifting her head. She looked around, seemingly lost for a moment. And he wondered if she’d miraculously regained her memory.

Then her eyes met his, and her face fell. “What time is it?”

“After three.”

“I thought—what about my apartment?”

She was still loopy from the drugs or concussion, and she looked so vulnerable. He steeled himself against the need to comfort her. Reminded himself of the way she’d left. Of her groom back in Portland.

“Your apartment’s long gone. You can use Riley’s old room for tonight.”

He got out of the truck and came around to help her in case she was still dizzy. His baby brother had rented out the room for a while. When Zac took over the Roadhouse, the room was full of storage. Riley fixed it up in exchange for cheap rent.

“He’s not here anymore?” she asked when he opened her door.

“He joined the marines. Easy does it,” he said when she wobbled on her feet. “You should take your meds before you turn in.”

He unlocked the door and led her through the darkened restaurant and down the short hall past his office and private bathroom. Beyond that was a small room with the bare necessities. He couldn’t remember the last time the sheets had been washed. The air was stale, so he cracked open the window.

He got her a glass of water and helped with her pills. Her eyes had that sleepy look, and her makeup was smudged underneath, making her look younger and helpless somehow. He’d fetched her a T-shirt from upstairs that would probably hang to her knees.

When she was settled, he turned at the door. “I’ll wake you in a few hours.”

She was sitting on the edge of the bed, the T-shirt clutched to her chest. She stared at him with those wide blue eyes he’d once been a fool for. “Thank you, Zac.”

He gave her a tight smile before pulling the door. He walked around for a while, busying himself with a few things in the restaurant. His thoughts were spinning, his nerves jacked up like he’d had a full carafe of coffee.

Around four thirty he forced himself to lie down on his office couch. His legs hung off the end of the lumpy sofa. He set his phone alarm for six to check on Lucy, but he was still wide awake when it went off. It was fair to say he wasn’t going to make it to church this morning.

He slipped into her room. Morning sounds filtered through the cracked window. Dawn glimmered through the sheer curtain, washing over the form of her quilt-covered body. She slept on her side, facing the door, her knees drawn up in fetal position.

For a moment he imagined that the past seven months hadn’t happened. That she’d never left Summer Harbor. That they’d married on November 17. She was lying in their bed, and she was his. His heart thrashed against his ribs.

Stop it. Just stop it. Jeez.

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