Eight Years Earlier…
WITH THE NOTE from Principal Stewart crumpled in my fist, I stalked away from his office, away from the words I knew would haunt me forever.
“I’m sorry, Jackson. Your father is quite…insistent you return to Connecticut immediately.”
Immediately…immediately… With every echo of that word through my mind, my heart battered my chest, the ache to rip itself free of my body a plea I was helpless to honor.
There was only one reason he would’ve demanded I leave South Haven before the end of classes next week. My father had been adamant I receive the best education his money afforded, choosing to ship me down to south Georgia to attend the most prestigious all-boys academy in the country. I’d done him proud, rising to the top of my class, and I’d been practicing my salutatorian speech for days. Skipping out on graduation and the pomp and circumstance and recognition that came with it? Out of the question. Which could only mean one thing.
He knew. Somehow he knew.
That was the only explanation for the letter in my hand, for the abrupt dismissal this late in the evening and this close to the end of the school year. My father hadn’t gotten to where he was by being stupid or blind, and I’d seriously underestimated how many eyes and ears had been watching me during my four years. Although it would’ve only been the whispers over the last few months that piqued his interest, only the last eight that he would’ve had any reason to give me a second thought.
And that reason wasn’t a what—it was a who.
The halls of the St. John’s dormitory were silent when I entered, all the students down at the mess hall for dinner, followed by the final bonfire of the year. So there wouldn’t be anyone around to see me sneak down the hall to where I knew I shouldn’t be going but couldn’t help myself. My feet seemed to move of their own accord, the countdown to my utter devastation causing me to pick up the pace. The private plane would arrive in a handful of hours, giving me just enough time to pack my things, but there was no way I could leave without a goodbye. Not going to happen.
I wasn’t ready. I was supposed to have more time. As a cold sweat of panic seized me, I balled the letter tighter in my fist and chucked it into one of the trash bins as I passed.
Screw my father. Screw the life he’d set out for me, the one I was destined to live and hate with every fiber of my being. I wanted to bottle up every one of his expectations and throw the blasted thing out at an angry sea to swallow up and tear apart instead.
I wished it could be as easy as that. I’d been able to fool myself into a sense of freedom, but the cell door was about to smash shut on every dream I’d let myself have these past few months.
His private dorm was at the end of the long hall, last one on the right, and I rapped on it twice fast, waited a moment, and then repeated the pattern that we used for each other. A few seconds later, the door swung open, and seeing the sole object of my daily and nightly thoughts standing there in front of me with a mixture of surprise and delight in his eyes made me think that coming here had been a mistake. It was only going to sink the dagger in farther.
“Hey…I thought we were meeting la—” Lucas’s words cut off and the smile curling his lips fell as he got a good look at my face. “What’s wrong?”
You should tell him. Tell him what’s going on and that it isn’t your fault. Look him in the eye when you tell him you can never see him again.
A shooting pain tore through my chest as I realized what this goodbye actually meant. I wasn’t saying I wouldn’t be seeing him for the next couple of days or weeks. When I left South Haven’s campus in the early hours of the morning, I wouldn’t be seeing him again…ever.
God, can I do this? Break his heart as well as mine?
No…no, I couldn’t tell him. He’d look for me, find me, and there was no telling what my father would do if that happened. The letter had been my old man’s warning. Disobeying his orders would mean consequences neither of us were prepared for.
“Jackson?” Lucas’s voice dropped low, and then he looked past me out into the deserted hall. When he didn’t see anyone to blame on my current state, he frowned and waited for an answer.
The words didn’t come, though, so I stood there staring at him, taking a mental snapshot that I’d store away in a place no one could find and destroy. His black hair was casually tousled, and I knew him well enough to know he’d worried his hands through it, maybe wondering if I wouldn’t follow through on our plans tonight. He wore a simple grey t-shirt and low-slung jeans on his long and lean frame, and the swirl of black tattoos he’d recently inked on his tanned skin could be seen peeking around his right bicep before disappearing from view behind the thin material of his shirt. He was striking, both in looks and personality, and to say I hadn’t been expecting the force that was Lucas Sullivan when he’d transferred to the academy eight months ago was an understatement.
Quite simply, I’d been lost to him the first time I laid eyes on him.
Forcing myself to shake off my dread, I said, “I’m okay,” and tried to believe it for his sake.
“Well, you look like hell.” He leaned against the doorway, one of those charming half-grins cocking up one side of his lips. “Hell on wheels, anyway. What’d you do, run all the way here?”
Not too far off there. I didn’t even remember crossing campus to get to his dorm until I was in front of the building.
When I didn’t laugh at his teasing, Lucas’s expression fell again and his brows pulled down, a crease forming between them as his eyes, the color of a stormy sky, gave me a thorough once-over, looking for the source of my pain. He was silent for a long moment, but he must’ve seen something he didn’t like, because he stiffened and his jaw clenched. Then he took a deep breath and let it out in a rush.
“Tell you what?” I asked.
Lucas shook his head, his arms going over his chest. “I’m not helping you out here. If you came here for a reason, get out with it.”
Did he know? He couldn’t. I’d only just found out myself, and… No. There was no way. “It’s…complicated.”
Lucas gave a humorless chuckle. “Jackson Davenport, I knew you were scared, but I never took you for a coward. If you don’t want to do this, you can man the hell up and tell me to my face.”
“What are you… I’m not…” I ran my hand over my face, struggling to understand the conclusion he’d come to for why I was standing at his door. My lack of a poker face had put him on the defensive. He thought I was here to reject him. An idea so completely unfathomable to me that it made my stomach turn thinking about it. “Lucas…you’ve got this all wrong.”
“Yes. I’m not here to—“ I almost said “end things with you,” but I didn’t want to lie to him. I never had and I never would. Instead, I said, “Fight with you. I don’t want to fight.”
“Then why are you here, Jackson?” he asked, and my gaze fell to his lips. I’d tasted those lips only a few times, not nearly enough to quench a starving man’s hunger. All these months I’d wasted, warring with myself in my head, never letting myself have the thing I wanted most. And now I was down to a matter of hours. It wasn’t enough, not nearly enough. But it was all I had, and I wasn’t wasting another second.
If I couldn’t tell Lucas how I felt about him, then I’d show him.
And starting now.
What if you had everything in the world you wanted…except the man you’d left behind?
Jackson Davenport, the charismatic, strait-laced heir to the Davenport fortune, has a secret. One he’s been hiding since he graduated from South Haven all-boys academy—and that secret’s name is Lucas.
When a work trip takes Jackson back to his old stomping grounds, memories of the year he shared with Lucas come crashing to the surface. With growing pressure from his father to settle down and take over the family business, Jackson knows he’s on borrowed time, and sets out to find the free-spirited daredevil he once knew.
But Lucas isn’t the same man he was eight years ago.
One night. A shattered heart. And an endless parade of nameless faces. Lucas Sullivan is South Haven’s ultimate playboy, a reputation he’s honed since the only boy he ever loved left without a trace. To the world, he’s brash and confident, an in-demand artist who spends his days designing one-of-a-kind pieces and his nights as king of the downtown scene.
Many have tried and failed to get past the barrier he’s carefully constructed, but it’s the shy, studious boy he once coaxed out of his shell who still haunts him.
Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe it was lust. Or maybe…it was a little bit like love.
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