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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.}

Eden was so distracted she almost drove past the gallery, barely registering that the lights were on. But movement behind the door’s window caught her attention and she pulled into a parking spot. Crooked.

She was still shaking when she got out of the car. She’d been angry with Jude for the last fifteen years. But she’d wanted to kiss him for the last twenty. It was a crazy thing, the way her body fought her mind over him. Her heart? Well, it had tapped out of the fight long ago. But now….

“You shouldn’t have done that, Eden. So fucking stupid,” she muttered as she peeked through the gallery’s window. Because now she knew what it was like. His breath in her lungs. His hands in her hair. His arms holding her like he’d never let her fall.

Well, fuck that. He had let her fall. Shit, he’d given them both a great big push and she still had the bruises. That was the thing about heartache. On the surface Eden looked fine. Healthy. Successful. On some days, even beautiful. But she knew better. Eden knew just how sick her soul was over the boy who’d become a man. And, Goddamn, if that man didn’t have her head spinning.

“Hello?” The gallery was unlocked and poking around seemed like a much better idea than returning to the hotel and reliving that kiss over and over while the airline kept her on hold as they tried to change her ticket.

“Eden?” A familiar voice answered from the back office. Seconds later a head peeked around the corner.

“Wes.”

Noah’s brother crossed the gallery in long strides and wrapped her in a huge hug.

“Uhh-” Eden was thrown off balance, but settled as he held tight.

“Sorry,” he murmured against her hair. “After you ran out of the office I wasn’t sure I’d see you again. Figured I better hug you while I still had the chance.”

Eden smiled against his chest. “Fair enough.”

Wes pulled back, his hands cupping her shoulders. “God, it’s so good to see you.”

“You too.” Eden glanced down at her feet, avoiding those brilliant green eyes. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here…before….”

Wes’s face fell, grief deepening the brackets around his strong mouth. “I know. We all do.”

“I would have been here,” she whispered. “I swear. If I’d known, I would have come.”

Wes answered with another hug, his strong arms pulling her flush against him.

Eden squirmed. It was too much. First Jude. Now Wes. She needed space to breathe.

“So,” she wiggled free and scanned the open room, ignoring the concern on his face. “Is this a new exhibit?”

Wes turned and focused on the large-format black and white photos that lined the walls. “Yes. His last.”

Eden could only nod, her attention drawn to a large landscape dominating a side wall. Leaving him, she went to get a closer look. It was big, as long as she was tall. The image was fuzzy on the ends, but the shades of gray sharpened into individual leaves and trees in the center of the photograph, a sun-speckled path cutting down the middle.

“It’s the trail to the lake.”

“Yes,” Wes confirmed, just behind her shoulder.

“It’s stunning.” It was. Even in black and white, Noah had captured the sensation of disappearing into a different world. It had been their escape. The place the three of them had loved the most. And for a split second, looking at that photo, Eden felt like she was on her way to the lake. Wide and quiet and free of everything that had happened since.

“I miss him,” she whispered. “So much.”

“Me too.” Wes wrapped his hand around hers. “You’re going to leave, aren’t you.” He didn’t make it a question.

“I can’t stay here.”

“You can, Eden. You have to try. That’s all he wanted, was for you to come back and stay. Even if it was just for a little while.”

“Is that why Noah gave me his half of the gallery?”

Wes’s eyes clouded. “I think so. He didn’t tell me why. Just asked me to handle the paperwork.”

“It’s a lot to ask,” Eden sighed. “After everything. It’s a lot to ask, even from him.”

“Eden.” Wes’s voice was sharp as he dropped her hand. “I know you got hurt. Badly. Everyone could see that. But it’s time you get it through your head that this isn’t just about you.”

Eden blinked, Wes’s anger catching her off guard. “I didn’t-”

“Honestly, I don’t care what you did or didn’t do, or think. I just lost my brother. My best friend. And he left the one thing that meant the most to him in the entire world to you. The friend who disappeared fifteen years ago and hasn’t been back since.”

“I did come back-” Eden tried to interrupt, but West cut her off.

“That doesn’t count and you know it.” He stared down at her, the sharp cut of his jaw tight. “Yes, Jude fucked it up. But so did you. Because you left without getting the whole story. Without talking to him. Or Noah. You vanished, flew half-way across the world, threw yourself into your work – which could get you killed at any moment, I might add – and didn’t give two shits about what it did to the rest of us.”

Eden couldn’t look at him. Wes was right. Noah had tried to tell her the same thing, in his calm, reasonable voice. She hadn’t listened. Now his big brother was doing it for him.

“Time to stop running, Eden. You’re a strong woman. You have to be, to see what you see and survive. So be strong now, and stay.”

Eden just nodded, shame making her silent. You knew you couldn’t run forever. 

“Is that a yes?”

She nodded again, daring to look up at him. Some of Wes’s anger faded at that second nod, but his mouth was still tight.

“Good,” he said after a pause. “Because we have work to do. And it starts here.”

***

Jude had done a bunch of stupid shit in his life. The list was longer than he cared to remember, but he was pretty sure kissing Eden was at the top of it.

She’d barely slammed the door in his face when he’d yanked it open, keys in hand, running to his car to follow her.

She couldn’t leave. Not again. He’d been worried she wouldn’t come back before. Now, Jude knew if Eden left she’d be gone for good. Just like he knew he wouldn’t survive it. Not a second time.

Jude slowed when he saw it. That funny little car she’d rented. It was badly parked in front of the gallery, the taillight sticking out into the street. Her parallel parking skills were as crap as ever. It was good to know that at least one thing hadn’t changed.

Jude parked a few spots behind her. He could see Eden in the gallery, Wes Parker engulfing her in a hug. A low sound broke out of his chest that Jude didn’t recognize. No fucking way. There was no fucking way she was going to kiss him one minute, and fall into Wes’s arms the next. Especially since Wes knew the one thing that would guarantee Eden wouldn’t have anything to do with him ever again.

Jude was out of his car and across the street in a heartbeat. His was at the gallery door when a chirping sound from his pocket stopped him short.

She’d set the ringtone during her last visit, so he’d always know when she was calling.

“Hi, honey.”

“Hi, Dad.” Maddie’s voice was chipper. It always made Jude smile, even then.

“What’s up?”

“Did you get the form?”

Jude quickly thought back, trying to figure out what she was talking about. Ah, yes. The permission form.

“Yup. Sure did.”

“But you haven’t signed it yet, have you?”

Shit, he hadn’t. “Sorry, honey. Things have been crazy. I’ll do it today. Promise.”

“Please don’t forget,” she begged, the faintest hint of his little girl buried beneath the voice of a teenager. “It’s really important. I really, really want to go.”

“Maddie, don’t stress. I won’t forget. I’ll sign it today and email it back. You’ll get to go.”

“Promise?”

“Cross my heart.” Then, softer, “I’m really proud of you kiddo.” And he was, so much his chest burned.

“Thanks, Dad. You’re the best.”

“Ditto, cutie.”

“Oh, hey. Mom wants to talk to you.”

Jude held back his groan. Of course she did. Allison knew he ignored her calls, but never Maddie’s. “Sure. Put her on.”

“Cool. Love you, Dad.”

“Love you too.”

“Oh, how sweet,” Allison’s sharper voice filled the phone.

Jude rolled his eyes. “I was talking to our daughter.”

“You mean the daughter who won’t be able to go to Europe if you don’t return the form she sent you ages ago?”

“I’m on it, Allie. No need to tell me I almost fucked it all up. I know that refrain by heart.”

“Sorry,” she said, her voice slightly softer. “I know things have been stressful. I talked to Mom.”

“I’m sure that was enlightening.”

“Conversations with Amy usually are.” Allie paused, her deep breath audible on the other end. “She said my sister finally came home.”

“Step-sister,” Jude shot back.

“Seems like an unnecessary distinction to make at this point.”

“It’s always worth pointing out. Trust me.”

“If you say so.” Jude could practically see Allie shrug on the other end.  “I’d tell you to say hi for me, but-”

“Yeah, not going to happen.” Jude watched Eden and Wes move away from the window and further into the gallery. He couldn’t see if Wes was still touching her. “Is there anything else?”

“Nope, just the form. Please don’t forget.”

“I said I won’t,” Jude bit out. God, he was about to lose it. He pushed a breath through his teeth. “Sorry, Allie. It’s just been a really fucked up week.”

“Don’t doubt it.”

“I gotta go.” Jude was done with their conversation. He was at the gallery door, Eden and Wes visible in the sliver between the curtain and the edge of the large front window. Wes had Eden’s hand locked in his, his head bent as she tilted her beautiful face up.

“And, Jude?” Allie’s voice barely made a dent in his growing agitation.

“Yeah?”

“Good luck with Eden.”

“Thanks.” He’d take it, even from his ex-wife. Fuck, he’d take any luck he could get. Cause he sure as hell was going to need it.

***

READERS, you decide (vote in comments below):

–> Wes only wants to be friends, NO love triangle

OR

–> Wes wants to get involved with Eden; YES love triangle

***

CHAPTER SIX: Thursday, Nov. 2

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