But she had to get over Cruz first and move on from what she went through. If I was going to give my heart to another woman I needed to know she wanted it. I could be patient and wait.

I let my hands rest on her thighs. “Okay. I can wait.”

She sighed in relief and hugged me. “Thank you. I’m so lucky to have you. Right now, I would be lost and alone. But you’re here and I . . . I’m really happy you are.”

AFTER DINNER, I took Eli on a walk through town. He’d heard a lot about this place from Bliss, and he wanted to see more of it. The evenings here were very family friendly. Kids riding bikes along the sidewalks, couples walking by with ice cream cones to enjoy after a hot day, laughter from teens as they walked in groups, and most of them still wearing their swimsuits. It was the tourists, and it was what kept the area thriving.

“It’s a vacation spot for the wealthy,” Eli said with an amused tone. “This isn’t like Sea Breeze. No condos just upscale coastal houses to rent. It draws a much different crowd. No drunk teens driving by yelling at each other through their sunroofs or rolled down windows. I like it.”

“There are condos . . . just not like your condos. These are small and in two story buildings. Like that one there,” I pointed to what I was talking about.

Eli laughed. “That’s not condos. You’ve seen the twenty story buildings in Sea Breeze I’m talking about.”

I agreed it was very different, and he wasn’t even on the elite side of Rosemary Beach. That was secluded from the tourist. Kerrington Club was the beginning of the private area. I didn’t want to take him there. Not yet.

“Lila Kate!” I heard my name and paused to glance around. Then I saw the red Mustang that Jace Montgomery had gotten for his high school graduation this year. I waved at him.

“Wrong side of town, babe. You lost?” I ignored the fact an eighteen-year-old called me “babe” simply because that was just Jace. He was kidding. He was always happy, and I’d known him since his birth. I’d gone to the hospital with my parents when he was born.

“I moved here,” I told him as he pulled his car to a stop beside us.

“You moved to the town center?” he asked incredulously.

I nodded. “Yep. Jace this is my friend, Eli Hardy. Eli, this is Jace Montgomery.”

Jace shot him a brilliant white smile. “Nice to meet you, Eli.”

Then Jace looked back at me. “You’re seriously living here?”

“Yes, Jace. Above the building where I will open my dance studio.”

Jace’s eyes went wide. “Damn that’s awesome. Last I heard, you’d skipped town and Cruz had gone after you. At least that was what Blaze said.”

He nodded. “Sorry about your grandmother. I wasn’t in town when it happened. That’s why I didn’t come with my folks.”

He smiled over at Eli again. “Keep this wild one straight. Y’all have a good night. I’ll leave you to it.”

“Bye, Jace,” I said. He spun his wheels in response and headed back to the other side of town.

“He’s eighteen. That’s the only excuse I have for him,” I told Eli when he was gone.

Eli laughed. “I figured that out pretty easily. I was eighteen once too.”

The evening air was still warm, but I felt a shiver despite that. Pausing my heart did a funny little flutter, and I recognized it. Most of my life it had been reacting that way when Cruz was near. I wanted to pretend that I didn’t feel it now. That it was gone. But I glanced over my shoulder because I needed to know if my body was still betraying me.

Sure enough, there he stood. His motorcycle parked outside my place. His arms crossed over his chest and his gaze locked on our backs as we walked away. He’d come to see me. The squeeze in my chest I felt because he was here to see me angered me. I wanted not to care. I wanted to be the strong independent woman who had moved on from him.

But I wasn’t. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to find out why he was there. Look at him and wish he was more. To wish he was the guy in a fairytale. To wish all kinds of pointless things that I’d never have. That would never be.

I didn’t though. I turned my attention back to Eli, where we were walking, the night sky, anything but Cruz. It wasn’t fair to leave Eli to talk to Cruz nor was I taking him back there with me. Cruz saw us. He knew Eli was here now. He also would know I chose Eli.

Each step we took further away from Cruz my heart ached. It was all I could do to not turn and run to him. To beg him to be different.

When Eli asked if I wanted an ice cream, I smiled up at him and said I did. Then I chanced a glance back. Cruz was still there.

He needed to leave. I needed him to go somewhere else now.

The Sugar Shack had a line out the door. It was the only ice cream place in town and it drew a crowd. We got in line and watched as kids begged for candy and other treats. Parents were on vacation and all smiles. The daily stress of the day gone. Many had a frozen adult beverage in their hands. I tried to focus on the scene around me and not look back.

“It’s the only place for ice cream in town.”

He looked surprised. “Someone needs to give them some competition.”

I laughed at that, but took my chance to glance back at Cruz again.

This time he was gone.

The heaviness in my chest was there. My appetite for ice cream turned nonexistent. But I smiled anyway. I let myself be a part of the happiness around me. The sun kissed skin of the kids who had no worries, no heartbreak. If only life were still that easy.

“Eli,” I said as I looked up at him.

“I think I’m a waste of your time.”

He looked sad for a moment, and then he put his thumb under my chin and cupped my face with his fingers. “You’ll never be a waste of anyone’s time.”

He gave me a small smirk. “Then I will have had an amazing memory of a girl who I was lucky enough to know.”

If only his words made me feel better.

Glancing back one more time, I looked for Cruz or any signs he would magically reappear.

EVERYTHING SEEMED BRIGHTER when you woke up to the smell of bacon. Last night hadn’t been what I had hoped it would be. Lila was hung up on Cruz Kerrington, and I did my best to ignore the fact she wasn’t completely with me last night. Her thoughts were somewhere else.

But I liked bacon. Stretching, I yawned and sat up to see Lila in a pair of pink pajamas and her hair in a ponytail standing in the kitchen cooking. That was a view I could spend the rest of my life enjoying. However, the more time I spent with her, the more I realized she was going to be the one that got away. The girl I talked about years and years from now when reminiscing about old times.

“Smells good,” I said my voice still thick from sleep.

She lifted her head from whatever she was stirring in a bowl and grinned. “Nothing special. Pancakes and bacon. But I do have fresh blueberries and blueberry syrup to put on them. Even some whip cream if you’re feeling adventurous.”

I chuckled and stood up. “I’m always feeling adventurous. Especially with pancakes.”