The One Real Thing Page 53

“It is,” Cooper said.

“Good.” She gave a shaky smile. “I’m glad I’m not wrong about that because it’s a huge part of the appeal of living here . . .” She looked down into the coffee in her hand. “I can’t even explain it, Cooper, I just feel . . . I feel connected to things here. I’ve never felt connected to anywhere before.”

“And that’s why you’re staying?” He wanted her to say yes; because the truth was, as good as he felt about her staying, Cooper had been worried all night that she’d made this huge decision based on him. He liked the doc too much for her to throw away what she’d already built for the possibility of what was between them. He would have been happy to try a relationship with a commute while they were still testing this thing out.

“Yes,” she said, and he felt the relief sweep through him. “This is all about what I want. Don’t get me wrong—the people here are obviously a factor. Everyone is warm and friendly and accepting . . . Well . . .” She laughed. “Of me. Not everyone, I guess.”

“You thinking of Vaughn?”

“Andrew actually. But I guess Vaughn, too.”

“That was because of the hotel. The council approved planning before Jaclyn became mayor. She became mayor in the middle of the hotel’s construction and with the help of Bailey, who was especially pissed off by Vaughn’s arrival, tried to put a stop to it. Legally they couldn’t do anything, but their public disapproval of his hotel has left some negativity around him. He’s not a bad guy, though, as far as I can see.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Anyway, you were saying . . .”

“Oh. Right. I was saying that I’ve never connected with strangers the way I’ve connected with the people here. Bailey, Emery . . . you. I already had this all going on in my head and then suddenly Andrew turned up.”

Cooper scowled. The moment he’d met him at the bandstand Cooper could practically smell the arrogance on him. When he’d put his arm around the doc, Cooper had wanted to punch something. He’d also wondered how the hell she could see something in him when this surgeon guy was the kind of man she was used to dating.

In fact, that still bothered him a little.

“I didn’t invite him,” she said. “I was shocked when Bailey told me he was here. He and I . . .” She shook her head, looking annoyed. “We were never in a relationship and I won’t go into it—”

“I’d appreciate that.”

She smirked. “All I will tell you is that I respected him and even admired him professionally. He’s a great surgeon. But—and this sounds awful—I have never actually liked him very much.”

It didn’t sound awful. It filled him with a sense of relief, in fact. “So why have anything to do with him?”

Jess shifted uncomfortably. “I didn’t want a relationship with anyone . . . at least I didn’t think so. But I’m still a woman.”

As relieved as he felt that she wasn’t the kind of woman who’d fall for a guy like that arrogant prick, Cooper also wasn’t particularly happy talking about her getting her needs met by the asshole, either.

“Gotcha,” he bit out.

“Anyway, when he showed up here suddenly announcing that he missed me and how we were too old to mess around and we needed to start getting serious about one another . . . I was stunned.” She scrunched up her nose in irritation. “Typical Andrew, making decisions for the both of us. It got me really thinking about what I wanted and I called an old friend for advice. That, plus Andrew’s behavior in here tonight, made me realize what I didn’t want. And what I didn’t want was him—and the really scary part . . .” She looked up at Cooper with big round eyes, dark with true uncertainty that made him want to reach over and comfort her. “I don’t know if I want to be a doctor anymore.”

Surprise stopped him from reaching for her like he’d intended.

He didn’t know what to say at that point.

Her profession . . . well . . . Cooper saw that as being a part of who she was. He knew that was strange since he’d never actually seen her practice medicine, but he still sensed that her calling to heal was a big part of her character.

“I’m not sure I’m following.”

“I’m not sure I am, either.” She gave a huff of sad laughter. “It’s just that . . . there is a possibility I went into this career for the wrong reasons.”

“What wrong reasons?”

Jess looked down. “I can’t fully explain it. Just . . . maybe I was trying to make up for something, and maybe that isn’t a good enough reason to be a doctor.”

The silence fell between them.

He didn’t want her to hide anything from him because, hell, he felt like he could tell her anything. But it was still new between them and there were certain things about him that he would wait to tell her. That went both ways.

He didn’t need to know what the doc wasn’t telling him. Not yet.

He remembered something she had told him, though. “What about what you told me? About making your mark?”

Cooper’s reminder of their conversation pulled Jess’s gaze back to his. “I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s all mixed up with something else.” She sighed. “I know I’m not explaining myself very well.”

They were quiet awhile as they drank their coffee. Cooper thought over her dilemma. It concerned him. Clearly, Jessica was in a mixed-up place in her life—she wasn’t the wholly self-assured woman he’d thought she was when she first walked into his bar. He’d been attracted to that aspect of her personality. But knowing differently didn’t make him any less attracted to her. It made her less than perfect, it made her more real, someone who might need him after all, and to his surprise, Cooper liked that. He liked that a fuck of a lot. He wanted to help her find what it was she was looking for.

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