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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, stop!”

Jude grabbed her hand just before she stepped off the curb. Her cool fingers fluttered before settling against his.

“Thanks for dinner,” she muttered, not looking up.

“No. You can’t just drop that bomb and run away.” Jude tugged, pulling her shoulder against his chest. Her warmth and the subtle spice of her perfume made his chest ache.

“Sorry.”

Eden sounded defeated and Jude wanted to kiss away the sadness dampening her voice. He cupped her jaw, tilting her eyes to meet his.

“Did you mean it?” Jude felt every muscle in Eden’s body still before a shiver tumbled through her.

“What?”

“What you said, about wishing Maddie had been ours? About thinking what it’d be like to have a child together?”

“Jude….” Eden was trying to pull away and he could barely think over the pounding of his blood.

“I feel like I’m fucking drowning here, Eden,” he whispered. “I know this was my idea, that I wanted to talk about everything we’ve missed the past fifteen years. All the things we should’ve told each other but didn’t. But you can not confess something like that and expect me to drop it. Not when it gives me so much goddamn hope I feel like my heart is about to explode.”

Eden’s watery gaze fell from his eyes to his lips and lingered. Jude was leaning in, his fingers slipping beneath the fall of her hair, his breath heated puffs against her skin, when she said, “I was engaged.”

Jude almost swallowed his tongue. “What? When?” His hand went lax and Eden stepped back.

“About, uh, eight years ago.”

He shook his head, trying to clear the fog away. “Okay.” He didn’t know this. He hadn’t heard a single fucking word about it. Eden had almost gotten married…. “Who? Who were you engaged to?”

Eden nibbled her bottom lip, her eyes drifting across the street. Jude immediately wanted them – all of her – back again.

“Jonathan,” she answered.

“Wh-why aren’t you married? To Jonathan?”

Eden winced. “Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this here.”

“No!” Jude banded her hands in his, anchoring her in front of him. They were in the middle of the sidewalk in the center of town and in sight of evening shoppers and restaurant goers and Jude was about to crawl out of his skin and he didn’t care who saw as long as Eden kept talking. “No,” he repeated. “Tell me.”

Eden’s expression was guarded when she finally continued. “Our engagement fell apart when he figured out why I’d wanted to get married in the first place.”

It didn’t matter how close he held her, Eden refused to meet his eyes. He forced himself to ask the question. “Why did you want to get married?”

She answered his question with one of her own, her voice a slip of sound in the twilight. “What happened eight years ago?”

Jude ripped through his memory. What year was it now? What year was she talking about? There were so many details to shift through and his brain wasn’t working right. It took longer than it should have. And then Jude felt ill.

“The baby,” he whispered, his voice catching.

“Yes.” Eden drew in a shaky breath. “When Noah told me that Allie had gotten pregnant, that you guys were going to have another baby….” Her voice trailed off, her sightless stare fixed far away. “I was so angry. I couldn’t even think about it without wanting to scream. I was so angry, so jealous. So heartbroken.”

Eden’s throat worked, swallowing back tears. Jude wondered if they burned as badly as his.

“It doesn’t even make sense,” she continued. “You already had Maddie. You were a family. Another baby shouldn’t have made a difference. I tried to be happy for you, Jude, I swear. I wanted to be happy for you and Allie. But I couldn’t. Because I knew, then, it was over. There was no chance. Not for us.”

Her voice dropped to a distant echo, swallowed by years of misunderstanding and silence. “I knew, at that moment, you were theirs. And you’d never be mine. So I tried to do what I should’ve done from the start. I tried to move on. With Jonathan.”

Jude buried his face in her hair, desperate for the contact. And comfort. “But you didn’t,” he murmured.

With his eyes closed he could only feel Eden shake her head. But he couldn’t stop the sigh that tore through him when she squeezed his hands, the pressure warm and solid where he’d gone numb.

“I’m so sorry, Jude. About the miscarriage. I was gutted when I heard. The rest of it…it didn’t matter, not then. Noah told me how devastated you guys were. So awful, so unexpected in the second trimester. I’m so, so sorry.”

Jude squeezed his eyes shut, wondering if Eden could feel where her hair was getting wet. His baby. Adelaide.

She’d been their hope, his and Allie’s. Their last chance at making their bizarre, fraying marriage work. Their last chance at keeping them all together as a family. A family for Maddie. A family with Adelaide.

In the end, losing her had finally broken them. As much as Maddie was his daughter in every way that mattered, in his heart and his soul, Jude hadn’t been prepared for the debilitating pain he’d felt when the doctor had confirmed they’d lost their child. His child. His chance to bring his own flesh and blood into the world.

Jude’s heartbreak had been clean, and severe. A vicious blow that had gone straight through the tender organ and ricocheted across his ribs and down his spine. Allie had seen it. So had Maddie. And Jude had felt like a traitor to the woman he’d tried so hard to help and the child he loved more than life. Because they’d seen a part of him that they’d always considered theirs die right before their eyes and he hadn’t been able to stop it.

Allie had moved out only a few weeks later. They’d been divorced within the year.

“Jude?”

He felt his chest jump against hers, the rhythm of his lungs off. Shit, he really was losing it, right there in the middle of the fucking street.

“Hey, shhhhh,” she whispered, catching his face in her hands, her thumbs soothing dampness across his stubbled skin. Her lips followed, warm and gentle against his cheek.

Jude felt himself melt into her embrace. No, he didn’t care where they were or who saw. He suddenly didn’t care about much of anything, as long as his heart was still beating and Eden was still touching him.

“I’m glad you didn’t marry him,” he managed to say, voice scratchy.

Eden’s laugh was startled, nervous. And divine against his neck. “Yeah, me too.”

“This isn’t how I saw the night ending.”

Eden’s head found the curve of his shoulder. “Me neither. I’m sorry for dragging all of this up for you. God,” she said, rueful, “maybe I should just get ‘I’m sorry’ tattooed on my forehead. It would make all of these conversations a lot more straightforward.”

“Certainly less painful.”

Eden frowned, her teeth punishing her bottom lip. Jude slipped it free and soothed the silky, slightly damp surface with his thumb. “Not your fault, Eden. It would have come up at some point. Besides, I want you to know. I want to be able to talk to you about it. About her.” Jude watched his thumb slide across her lip and felt his voice roughen against his esophagus. “About everything.”

Eden’s eyes had gone wide, the edges inky. And Jude knew that he wasn’t done staring into them. Not by a long shot. “Come home with me.”

“I–”

“Or take me home with you. I don’t care, Eden.” He found the palm of her hand with his mouth and kissed. Lips open, and not so gentle. “I want to be with you, Eden. I’m so fucking tired of not being with you. I’m so fucking tired of being alone. We can keep our clothes on, we can just talk. But, please, be with me tonight. Please just say yes.”

***

#ChooseYourOwnRomance returns with Chapter 13 on Thursday, Jan 4th.

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