My hands trembled, and my knees felt like rubber. Bile rose thick in the back of my throat. Was I really going to do this? Could I really do this? Saying goodbye was so permanent.
Blowing out a shaky breath, I knocked on the door, which swung open immediately, almost like he knew I was out here gathering my courage.
The hope and joy on his face was a cruel joke because I wasn’t here to tell him I’d chosen him. I was here to say goodbye, to break his heart beyond repair. Maybe coming here had been a mistake.
“Chloe?” Relief flooded his voice as he stepped aside so I could enter.
Taking that single step over the threshold took every ounce of effort I possessed. He swung the door closed, and the sound of the latch clicking made me jump. He tapped on his cell phone, then set it on the dresser.
“Come here,” he said, reaching for me.
But I didn’t get anything else out before his lips were on mine. Whimpering, I allowed us to have this final moment together, knowing deep down in my soul that it would be our last. As always, when I kissed him, my body hummed to life, a steady staccato of physical need mixed with just the right amount of hesitation.
“I can’t believe you’re here.” He locked his hands behind my back, holding me close, and rested his forehead to mine.
Closing my eyes, I was powerless to stop the tears from falling. Was I strong enough to do what needed to be done? Could I really say goodbye and walk out of this room knowing I’d never see him again?
I had to.
“I love you,” I said before I chickened out. I swallowed the urge to vomit. Telling him I loved him in one breath and then telling him I didn’t want to be with him in the next was awful.
His eyes popped open, and he straightened. “I love you, too,” he said, but there was a hesitation in his tone, almost as if he didn’t believe me.
“When we were locked up together, you said you loved me, and I never said it back to you. I was too scared and confused. But now I know. I do love you, Jax.” I moved away from him and hugged myself. “Even before you bit me, I was having feelings for you. I didn’t know what they meant back then, and I tried so hard to ignore them, to pretend they didn’t exist.” I moved around the room, my thoughts as jerky and disjointed as my movements. “I know those feelings were real. They were all me, but now?” I shook my head.
“Now what?” He still stood in the same exact spot, arms by his sides, and I could tell he was starting to make sense of why I was here.
“I don’t know if the feelings I have for you now are real or all just because of this bond we have.” I stopped pacing and faced him.
“It’s not just the bond,” he said forcefully. “Think about it, Chloe. How could this bond even be possible if we didn’t already feel something for each other? An eternal bond like this doesn’t happen randomly.”
I froze, my mind trying to catch up with everything he’d just said. Was he right? Was the bond a manifestation of feelings we both had previously? Feelings I’d been trying so hard to fight? Maybe this was the universe’s way of telling me I was meant to be with Jax.
“Look, I know you have a lot more history with Trent than you do with me, and I know you love him. But you love me, too, Chloe. That means something. At least, it does to me,” he said.
I sighed. Why was this so hard?
“It means something to me, too, but…” I rubbed my hands up and down my arms. A chill had worked its way into my bones. “You have been so great to me, Jax. You make me laugh, and you tell me the truth even when I don’t want to hear it. You have never broken a promise to me.”
He cracked a small smile.
“And when you were lying on that bed, dying, you still kept your promise not to change me. I even begged you to do it, and you wouldn’t because you knew it wasn’t what I wanted.”
“Do you regret it?” He closed the distance between us and took my hands into his. “Letting me feed on you?” His eyes were dark and filled with too much pain.
I shook my head. “No. Even knowing what I know now, knowing it would bond us, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because I don’t want you to die.” Fresh tears spilled down my face. “Because you deserve to live, and”—I licked my lips—“you deserve to find someone who can love you the way I love Trent,” I whispered.
“Don’t do this,” he begged, his words thick with emotion. “Please.”
“I’m sorry.” My lips trembled, and I glanced up at him through tear stained eyes. “I never wanted to hurt you.”
“Then don’t,” he said more insistently. “We only had a couple of weeks, Chloe.” He tugged me closer, and I couldn’t resist. The need to comfort him overwhelmed me. “That’s not enough time to know how you really feel.”
He was probably right about that, but I couldn’t keep doing this. I needed to get my life in order, and that started here, by making this hard decision.
“You can’t tell me we didn’t have fun together,” he said.
“We did,” I said.
Should I tell him that all that fun came with crushing guilt and shame? No, that would only make him feel worse, and there was no need to do that. I was already breaking his heart.
“We can be great together, Chloe. You just need to give us a chance.” He swept his hands along either side of my neck, and the second his fingers touched the bite mark, heat spread like wildfire through me.
Instinctively, I leaned closer.
“Stop fighting this,” he whispered a moment before he brushed his lips over mine.
Despite my brain screaming at me not to, I welcomed his kiss. My body couldn’t deny him, no matter what my heart and mind said.
Jax deepened the kiss, and before I knew what was happening, he had my back pinned to the door, his body hard and demanding against mine. I groaned and ran my hands over his shoulders, up the back of his neck, and into his hair. I hooked my leg around his waist. He grabbed under my thigh and yanked me closer, his kiss becoming even harder. Everything in me said to stop, but I couldn’t. My body responded to him too well.
“You want me. I know you do.” His voice was raw and seductive. “Say it, Chloe. Tell me you want this just as much as I do.” The aching desperation in his words tore at my resolve.
I did want him, just once, maybe, to see what it was like. “Jax,” I whimpered.
He jerked me away from the door, and then I was on the bed. Every inch of him was hard and insistent, and I was quickly losing control. I could feel my insides unraveling. Fog blurred my thoughts. He left my mouth and trailed kisses along my jaw, exactly like Trent always did.
God, what was I doing? Panic and fear stole my ability to think, blocking out all but one thought that shrieked through my brain—I couldn’t be trusted around Jax, not as long as I wore his mark and was bonded to him. Trent was absolutely right about that.
I shoved against Jax’s chest. “Stop,” I gasped.
Jax stopped without hesitation and dragged his hand through his hair. Then, slowly, he climbed off the bed. “There’s nothing I can say to change your mind, is there?”
I smoothed my hands over my hair, fighting to regain my composure. “I’m sorry.”
“You really love him so much that you’re willing to go insane for him? Because that’s what’s going to happen. You’ll go crazy trying to fight this bond.” There was an edge to Jax’s tone, desperation and anger.
That wasn’t going to be my fate, though. I refused to let my life be dictated by this bond—I would break it eventually. And when I did, I was going to let Trent change me.
I got off the bed, my legs shaky and my breaths ragged. “Yes,” I finally said. “I love him that much.”
Jax’s expression fell, and what little hope he’d been holding onto disappeared from his eyes. I’d officially broken him. Fresh tears fell hard, and I couldn’t wipe them away fast enough.
Hesitantly, I approached, praying I had enough strength left to finish this and get out of here in one piece. “This has to be goodbye.” My breath hitched, and I sniffled. “I’m so sorry, Jax.”
I planted a lingering kiss on his cheek, savoring the scent of him one last time, reveling in how strong and comforting his mere presence made me feel, memorizing the way his skin felt. And then I turned and raced out the door before I lost my nerve.
As soon as I was outside, I clutched my stomach and doubled over, gut wrenching sobs shaking my entire body. Thunder rumbled in the distance, the angry noise a perfect backdrop for my mood. I half expected Jax to chase me, to yank me into his arms and kiss me, but he didn’t.
I took several deep breaths in an attempt to calm myself, but all I managed to do was make myself dizzy. I needed to get out of here and go find Trent.
Inhaling deeply and wiping my tears, I headed toward Whitney’s car. I kept my head down, not wanting anyone to see me like this—mascara tracks down my face, eyeliner smudged around my red, puffy eyes.
Jax’s words echoed in my head. You’ll go crazy trying to fight this bond. Even now I was having second thoughts about what I’d done. My steps faltered, and I momentarily considered turning around. Jax was the easier choice, and I did love him.
But he wasn’t Trent.
I cupped my hand over my mouth and sobbed. Only then did I notice the familiar white pickup truck parked next to Whitney’s car and the guy leaning against the front bumper, hands shoved in his pockets.
“Trent?” My knees buckled.
“Whoa.” Trent caught me before I hit the ground. “It’s okay. I’ve got you,” he whispered, holding me to him.
I had no idea what he was doing here, or how he even knew where I was, and I didn’t care. I buried my face against his chest and cried. He rubbed my back and held me.
“I-I told him…” I hiccupped. “I said—” My words were cut off with another sob.
“I know,” Trent said. He gently cradled my face in his hands, forcing me to look at him, and wiped my tears with his thumbs. “I heard everything.”
I blinked against more tears, trying to process his words. “How did you know…? I mean…”
“Jax texted me as soon as you showed up here.” He wiped away more of my tears. “I came over so I could talk you out of choosing him.” Trent frowned. “But then I heard you two talking, so I waited.” He moved his hands from my face and rested them on my waist.
Thunder rumbled, closer than before, and a streak of lightning lit up the sky.
“You’ve been here the whole time?” I asked, both shocked and relieved.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I needed to know what you were going to do. If you didn’t leave his room tonight, then I would know. But if you walked out that door…” His voice cracked with all the emotion he was trying to contain. “Are you absolutely sure about this, Chloe? It’s not going to be easy.” He brushed strands of hair from my forehead, the back of his hand trailing down the side of my face.
Thunder and lightning raged a war in the sky, and then rain poured down in a deluge, soaking us within moments. “Yes,” I shouted over the storm. “I love you, Trent. I want you. I’ve always wanted you.”
He crushed his mouth over mine and kissed me like it was our first and last time all wrapped into one. I could taste his fear and desperation and relief. Jealousy flowed from him in thick, choking waves. So did love, pure and untouched by all we’d been through.
He kissed me as if he’d forgotten all about my indiscretions with Jax, like nothing mattered but us and this moment. A fresh start. Was that truly possible? Could we put all of this behind us and go back to when things were simpler?
Rain continued to drench us, but he didn’t release my lips. Shivers violently shook my body, though I didn’t know if it was from the rain or the onslaught of emotions wreaking havoc on my insides.
“Will you come somewhere with me?” he asked.
I nodded, my teeth chattering.
He carried me to his truck and deposited me in the passenger seat before rummaging around in the back. A moment later, he draped a blanket around my shoulders and cranked the heat. All of that still wasn’t enough to stop the shivers. I scooted across the seat and rested my head on his shoulder. I had no idea where he was taking me, and for the first time ever, I didn’t care. I was exactly where I was meant to be.