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{You can read the entire story as I write it here; I’ll add a chapter each week, after I post to Instagram.}

CHAPTER THREE

Noah’s brother watched her from across the room. Eden met Wes’s gaze and tried to smile but her mouth wouldn’t cooperate. Her lips trembled as she found the envelope’s flap with her fingers.

Eden stepped down the hall, leaving the trio in the conference room behind.

Hands shaking, she pulled a stack of papers out of the envelope. She’d expected a note. A farewell, maybe even an explanation scrawled out in Noah’s sloppy writing.

The papers she unfolded contained no note. Nothing handwritten at all. Eden squinted, focusing, as she flipped through the pages, skimming the tiny font.

It was full of legalese. Bullets and sub-bullets she didn’t understand. Not right away.

It wasn’t until Eden got to the final page and saw the signatures that something clicked. Eden returned to the first page and re-read the words typed out in black and white.

Indisputable proof.

“Holy shit.” Eden swallowed, hard. Her eyes were stinging as she blinked back tears. She wasn’t going to fall apart where they could see her, where they’d hear the remaining chunks of her heart split open and shatter on the floor.

So she did the one thing she was so good at. Eden ran.

She could hear them calling. Wes and her mom. Someone was following her, large, heavy steps pounding behind her as she escaped.

Jude.

Eden caught a glimpse of his dark form just feet away as she slammed her car door and tore out of the parking lot.

Her phone was vibrating madly. One call would end and seconds later another would begin. Eden grabbed her purse and threw it – phone, envelope, and all – into the backseat with a curse.

This time when the tears came, Eden didn’t try to stop them. Silently, they ran down her cheeks, tripped over her jaw, and fell to her lap, soaking through to her legs, the wet heat scalding her numb skin.

In death, Noah had achieved the one thing he’d never been able to in life. He’d brought Eden back. And he’d figured out a way to make her stay.

***

Seven years ago.

“Eden, can you hear me?”

“Noah?” Eden was shouting into the phone, one finger jammed into her other ear. Even five stories up, the car horns were deafening.

“I’m here.” Noah’s voice crackled. “But you’re breaking up.”

“Hold on.” Eden crossed to the other corner of her room and leaned against the window. “Is that better?”

“Yes,” Noah laughed and Eden could immediately picture his face, eyes soft, mouth parted as he smiled at her from thousands and thousands of miles away.

“God, it’s good to hear your voice.”

“You could hear it every day if you wanted to.”

“Oh,” Eden pressed her head against the glass and looked down at the chaos below. “You finally coming to visit?”

“You know the answer would be yes if you were still in London. In fact, I’d be packing my bag as we speak.”

“I see,” Eden laughed. “You don’t actually want to see me, just the cities I stay in.”

“Not all cities,” Noah teased. “I have no desire to visit Islamabad, for example. Regardless of whether you’re there or not.”

“Shit, Noah, that hurts.”

“Stop,” he chuckled. “Besides, if you wanted to see me so damn bad you’d come home.”

“You know I can’t. I’m on assignment.”

“Your assignment is over in a week.”

“How–”

“You told me so yourself.”

Fuck. Eden squeezed her eyes shut. She had. “I have a new one. Have to fly to Moscow as soon as I’m done here.”

The line went quiet and Eden looked at her screen, checking to see if the call had dropped. “Noah?”

Another beat of silence, then, “Just say it.”

“Say what?” Eden tried to keep her voice light, even as her stomach twisted tight.

“You won’t come back. Not even for me.”

“That’s not fair, Noah.”

“Fair or not, it’s the truth.”

“Noah…,” Eden trailed off, knowing no excuse would be enough. No apology, either.

“I miss you. Amy misses you. We all do.”

“I miss you too,” she whispered, not sure if he’d hear her.

“Come home.”

“I can’t. Not yet.”

“He isn’t here, Eden.”

Eden’s head jerked back from the glass, a muscle in her neck protesting the sudden movement. “What?”

“He’s in the city. Moved there. If you come back for my opening you won’t see him, I promise.”

“He’s gone?” Eden heard it in her voice, the hope and agony twisted together. Goddamn him and his ability to rub raw every nerve she possessed. Just the idea of him had her fingers tingling where she pressed them to the glass.

“He’s gone, Eden,” Noah repeated. “Come home. Come see me, see your mom. Come home for my show at the gallery.” Noah paused and when he spoke next his voice was thicker, barely audible. “It would really mean a lot. To me.”

Eden swallowed around the panic clogging her throat. She almost laughed. Her work took her to war-torn countries and places devastated by everything nature and man could devise and never, once, did she feel the same dread that gripped her when she thought of returning to the place she’d left behind.

“I’ll try,” she finally managed. “For you, Noah, I’ll try.”

***

Present.

Eden glared at the front door before climbing the porch steps. Bad idea or not, she needed answers and this was the only place to get them.

She’d spent the past few hours driving blindly, navigating the roads she’d memorized the summer she’d gotten her license.

Eden had hoped the twists and turns would calm her as they once had, but they were narrower, new buildings pushing against the asphalt, traffic

lights where there had never been stop signs. The things that had once been so familiar were now foreign and it had only made her cry harder.

She’d finally stopped long enough to call her mom. But Amy had only one answer for her. An answer that had her standing on Jude Cavanuagh’s porch.

Eden knocked. He must have been expecting her. Warned by her mother. Jude opened the door and looked at her without a hint of surprise.

Which made Eden even angrier.

“What the fuck is this about?” She shoved the now-wrinkled papers into his chest and pushed past him into the house, not waiting for an answer.

“If you’d stayed for the meeting, you wouldn’t have to ask.”

“But I didn’t and I do. So cut the shit and explain.”

“It’s simple, Eden. We own the gallery. You and me. Fifty-fifty.”

“I don’t understand.” She shook her head, her hair forming a knotted red cloud around her shoulders. “My mom owns the gallery. With Noah. Not you, not me. How the hell did this happen?” Eden pushed the papers against him again, her fingers digging into his broad muscles.

Jude moved fast, catching her off guard. His hand pinned hers and he took a step forward, his chest brushing her coat, Eden’s head tilting back, her neck straining as her breath came out in angry pants.

“How can you not know this?” His question grated, weighed down by hurt and anger. “Did you really not care? All this time, did you never once ask? Did we mean so little to you?”

“Jude–”

He took another step forward, throwing her off balance, cutting her off as he backed her against the door. His dark brown eyes had gone almost black. With pain. And a longing so deep Eden almost gasped.

“Noah,” Jude choked on the name, his Adam’s apple catching. “Noah,” he started again, “bought the gallery from your mom years ago. But recently he needed a partner. I stepped in.”

“And me?” Eden’s voice was thin, unsteady, and Jude’s eyes fell to her mouth.

“You….” Jude moved so slowly Eden thought she was imagining it, his hand coming up to brush her hair off her shoulder, his fingers skimming the exposed curve of her neck. “Noah gave you his half of the gallery. That is what this-” Jude pressed her hand – and the papers beneath it – tighter to his chest “-is about.”

Eden stared at the man in front of her, the man she’d spent years hating. The man she hated still. The same man who was thrumming with

life beneath her palm, who was feathering her throat with the whisper of a touch.

“He made us partners,” she whispered.

“Yes,” Jude nodded.

“But I hate you. He knew that.”

“Yes.” Jude nodded again, his lips pinched, deep creases bracketing his beautiful mouth.

“He knew we hate each other.”

Jude’s frown deepened, his forehead falling to rest against hers.

“No, Eden.” Jude rocked his head, his nose skimming the tip of hers, his hand coming to cradle the base of her skull.

They were so close Eden could almost taste him. The scent of the boy he’d once been, the friend she’d given up, had cut from her heart and left behind all those years ago, the piece of herself she’d always missed. Eden recognized it instantly, sweet and full of promise. There was only a hint of it now, tickling the back of her throat. But it was enough to have her chest tightening, pleading for air. Eden dragged in a breath. And realized her mistake.

The boy she’d loved and abandoned was gone. There was nothing sweet about man who filled her lungs. He was jagged edges and lost hope and years of heartbreak packaged in knotted muscle and long limbs and lips that hovered so close hers burned.

Lips she watched part, the tongue behind them curling as Jude whispered, “He knew I never hated you.”

***

Readers were asked: should they KISS or NOT KISS.

Find out what happens in Chapter Four on Thursday, October 19.

One thought on “#ChooseYourOwnRomance: Chapter Three

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