The One Real Thing Page 103

Jack was warning me.

He was gone before I could say anything else.

“Jessica, are you okay?” George said upon his return.

I shook my head. “No. I have to get to Cooper.”

You know that scene in the movies where someone who has done another someone wrong walks into a room and everyone in it goes quiet and glares at the first someone?

No? Yes?

Well, anyway, that was exactly what happened to me when George and I walked into Cooper’s bar twenty minutes later.

Every regular, every townie in the place, stopped talking and glowered at me.

I stared back, stunned.

Until I felt George nudge me forward and my eyes flew to the bar, where Cooper was staring at me, looking as frozen and shell-shocked as I felt.

I wanted to run at him.

I wanted to launch myself over the bar at him.

I did neither of those things.

“Come on, Jessica,” George said in encouragement, “you can do this.”

With his hand pressed to my lower back, George led me over to the bar. My eyes were locked with Cooper’s the whole time, his head moving as I made my way closer to him. Until finally I was standing across the bar from him.

Neither of us said a word, just drank the other in like it had been years, not days.

“Jessica,” George urged.

“We need to talk,” I blurted out.

Cooper didn’t give me much. “About?”

“Two things.”

“Being?”

I swallowed hard at his flat tone. “Devlin.”

His eyes narrowed.

“And the truth.”

“And what if I don’t care anymore?”

My insides twisted at the thought, but I pushed through, thinking of George and how hurt and angry he’d been with Sarah at first, and how that anger had ruined any small chance he’d had of getting her away from Ron.

And then I remembered how lost in me Cooper had been the other night when he’d turned up for his “one last time” with me. “I don’t believe that.”

Something shifted in him and that was when I saw it.

I saw the pain he’d tried to hide behind lust at Vaughn’s place. But he couldn’t hide it from me.

I wanted to do everything I could to fix it, and tried to convey that with my eyes.

Finally he nodded. “Riley, watch the bar.”

“Sure thing, boss,” she said quietly.

Relief mingled with terror shook through me as Cooper strode out from behind the bar.

George squeezed my hand. “You can do this.”

I gave him a grateful, shaky smile, and then made myself move toward Cooper. I followed him out of the bar. We were silent as he led us to the parking lot at the back. I got into his truck without saying a word, then endured a very tense five-minute drive to his place.

He threw his keys in the bowl on his side table as we walked into his house and I was suddenly flooded by memories of our time together in here.

Such a short amount of time.

But it was filled with so much.

I didn’t want it to end.

I wanted to be brave with him.

“Devlin first,” Cooper said as he walked into his kitchen to pull a beer out of the fridge. He offered it to me, but I shook my head. In answer he twisted off the cap and took a slug before staring at me, waiting.

“Okay.” I took a few tentative steps toward him. “I was out with George at Germaine’s. Jack was there.”

“And?” he bit out.

“Two things. One: apparently Dana tried to encourage him to seduce me while you and I were still together.”

Something sharpened in Cooper’s eyes. “Why did he tell you that?”

“I thought at first he was just being an ass until . . . he told me the second thing.”

I was silent for a minute, lost in studying him. I’d missed him so much.

Cooper huffed, “Well, don’t keep me in suspense.”

“He brought up the subject of his father and he said three words to me before he left. ‘Cooper’s liquor license.’”

Cooper frowned. “What does that mean?”

“It was a warning. Devlin is going after your liquor license. If you can’t get your license renewed, you’re out of business.”

His eyes narrowed and then he turned and dumped the beer bottle in his sink with a clatter. “Son of a bitch,” he muttered harshly.

I wished we were in a place where I could just wrap my arms around him to soothe him. “Cooper—”

“He came to me.” His eyes blazed hell fury as he turned back to me. “He fucking threatened me and this is what it was about.”

“He can’t get away with it. We won’t let him.”

Just like that Cooper stilled, his voice still icy as he said, “We?”

My stomach roiled.

Do not upchuck.

Do. Not. Upchuck.

Be brave, Jessica.

“That is . . . if you . . . I need to tell you the truth about why I broke up with you.”

I waited until he snapped impatiently, “Well?”

I almost laughed nervously but managed to stifle it. “It’s not an easy story to tell. I just . . . It never occurred to me that I had to until you mentioned kids. I knew then . . . I knew I couldn’t tie you to me like that forever without telling you, but I was so scared that if you knew the truth you wouldn’t want anything to do with me. I thought it would be better to walk away than have your feelings for me go away.”

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