The One Real Thing Page 51

He gave me a coaxing smile.

“No.”

“Yes.”

“No.”

“No?”

How could I do this without being mean? “Um . . .” I didn’t think there was really a way to be not a little mean unless it meant being dishonest, and really at this point I didn’t think anything else but honesty would convince him. “I don’t want to be in a relationship . . . with you.”

“But you just said—”

“I said I’ve come to want more than to be someone’s casual sex partner. But that doesn’t mean that I want more with you.”

He let this sink in and then his eyes narrowed. “That Neanderthal bartender you were making moon eyes at this afternoon? You want him over me?”

Hot anger fired my blood. “He owns the bar.”

“Oh, well, that makes it so much better.”

Arrogant asshole!

“It’s not even about him,” I said and that was the truth. “It’s about me. I like it here.”

“With the shirtless bartender?” He guffawed.

“Ugh, you actually think you’re better than him.”

“I know I’m better than him.”

“You know what, Andrew, here’s the truth. I liked having sex with you, but I have never liked you. I respected you because you’re a great surgeon and you save lives and I found that hot. But that’s all it was. Because as wonderful as it is that you do all that . . . you are quite possibly the most selfish, inconsiderate, arrogant asshole I have ever met.”

His lips parted in shock at my brutal honesty.

And somehow I still couldn’t shut up! “Cooper is not selfish. Not arrogant. He’s just a good man. And you are so far up your own superior ass that you can’t see what’s important anymore.”

“You know all this about a man you’ve known two seconds?” He completely ignored the part about him, not wanting to hear it and so pretending he hadn’t.

“I know this because of the way the people here are around him. They all respect him. They genuinely care about him. That says more about him than anything else does.”

Andrew shook his head and heaved a sigh. “Oh, Jessica . . .” He stared out at the water. “I’m going to forgive everything you just said because”—he turned back to me—“I’m worried about you. I think you’re going through something. That’s alright. But when you get out of whatever midlife crisis this is, you will realize that you’ve just thrown away me and your career. You might get your career back. But I won’t be waiting.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at his pomposity.

“I don’t want you to wait, Andrew.”

His expression turned cold as he studied me for what felt like forever. Finally he gave me a clipped nod. “Good luck, Jessica.”

I watched him walk away, disappearing out of sight, and felt nothing but relief. I took a few minutes in the fresh night air to gather myself to go back into the bar.

I didn’t know what my sudden decision to stay meant for me and Cooper or if there was even a chance for me and Cooper. Somehow he had the power to make me want to give up the autonomy I’d enjoyed for so long, and that scared the shit out of me. Because I was terrified that somewhere down the line he’d find out something about me he didn’t like and I’d lose him.

But I realized right then that I was equally afraid that he wouldn’t even want to give me a second chance to explore what was between us. I knew if I walked back into that bar and he turned away from me, I would regret my actions from the other night for the rest of my life.

Because what Cooper had said to me that night was true. I’d never felt anything like this before.

Gathering my courage, I strode back inside and headed straight for where he stood at the bar. He was pouring a draft and he looked up from between his lashes as I came to a stop across from him.

Quickly he looked back down at what he was doing, but his tone gave him away when he asked, “Where’s the surgeon?”

I perched on the stool and leaned over a little closer to say, “I told him to leave. I also told him it was over between him and me.”

He stopped what he was doing and put the draft on the bar without looking at me.

“I also told him I wasn’t leaving Hartwell anytime soon.”

His head jerked up at that and he stared at me in surprise.

“You were right.” I shrugged. “I wasn’t happy.”

Cooper just continued to stare.

Uncertainty moved through me. “Do you think I’m crazy? Was it a bad call?”

His answer was to wrap his hand around the nape of my neck and pull me across the bar into his kiss.

It wasn’t any ordinary kiss.

It was hot and hungry.

I immediately melted into it, just like I had the night before.

I’d never met a man whose kiss could make me burn for so much more.

Whoops and catcalls suddenly met my ears and Cooper pulled back just enough to murmur against my mouth, “Good call, Doc.”

THIRTEEN

Cooper

The energy in the bar went up a level after he impulsively kissed her in front of everyone. The tourists had no idea what was going on, but his regulars did. Even if they didn’t know the doc too well, they knew him. He wasn’t one for kissing random women in public.

They understood there was something different about Jessica, and because his regulars were good people he knew they were happy for him.

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