Chapter Four

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Danielle breathed deep as Beckett set her back down on her feet.

"Say something?" he prompted. "I'm out of my league here. Way outside of it. In fact, I don't even know if this sport has leagues," he continued when she didn't respond. "Say something, anything."

She began pacing in front of him, the balloons following her like a four-headed sidekick, then she stopped, fisted her hands at her hips. "You wait until now to say this to me? You wait until this moment?"

"Uh, well..." he started, a little baffled, "technically I don't wait for moments. Don't usually have the patience for it." He shrugged, smiled. "It sort of just happened."

"It sort of just happened?" She lifted to her toes as her voice rose. "Do you know how hard I've worked to get this kind of job offer? It's not just a job offer, it's a career offer that took years of planning, studying, focusing."

He started to speak but she plowed over him before he could, so he closed his mouth and watched her cheeks turn red with heat.

"No, of course you don't. You don't work toward anything."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"When was the last time you tried for something, Beckett? Every time something happens in your life, something else amazing comes along. Your mom disappeared, and Abigail took over providing a home and a life for you. You need a job to make money? You're handed part ownership in a pub. You decide you want some company, and women swoon at everything you say and fall into embarrassingly mushy goo at your feet. Have you ever even applied yourself toward anything? Have you ever wanted something you had to work for that didn't just happen?"

She kicked at a stray dirty sock, sending it soaring under the bed, and continued her trek back and forth. "Speaking of baseball, you didn't even try out for the team in school. You told me that the coach offered you a spot because of Ben. The coach said that if you were even half as good as Ben, you would still be better than most and shortstop was yours if you wanted it. No try-outs for Beckett Roberts, for Christ's sake." She kicked again, this time at a tennis shoe.

"You're mad at me because I didn't have to try out for little league?"

When she just glared at him, he shoved his hands in his pockets, realizing that the more he spoke, the deeper into the hole he went. And he hadn't the faintest idea how he'd gotten into that hole to begin with.

"I'm the first person to graduate from college in my family. Did you know that?" A tense burst of emotion filled her face, quivered her voice. "I was just offered a position that has a higher starting salary than my parents have brought in over the past two years. No," she calculated, considering. "Three years. Do you know what this means for me?"

His dark brows creased as he attempted to put together the puzzle pieces. "So this is about money?" he asked hesitantly, ready for his mouth to say the wrong thing at any moment.

"No," she said so firmly it grated against the walls. "It has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with the fact that I worked hard to get to this point, I worked a job every weekend through school, I kicked my own ass day in, day out to maintain a B average because that's what my scholarship demanded of me. I worked hard, ridiculously hard, toward something I want. When was the last time you worked hard toward anything? Everything comes to you because you're lucky and charming and good looking."

His arms opened in a gesture of helplessness. "What does any of that have to do with being in love with you?"

She whipped around on her heel and the balloon strings tangled with her nose so she batted them away. "I work hard with my whole being and now I should just give all that up because on a whim you decide to tell me you love me? Well no, Beckett. That's not how life works."

Heat, confusion, hurt, it all erupted inside of him like lava though his veins. He'd been backed into a corner and he didn't care for it. Regardless of whether or not she was right about that luck, he'd let his guard down and in return he'd been sucker-punched. "I told you I loved you because you asked me to be honest with you, and I honored that. I realize I don't know a damn thing about love—never have and probably never really will if this conversation is any indication. But I do know one thing, it doesn't work on a timer or according to some organized chart that you seem to depend on."

His hard, concentrated breath fanned the blue-tipped flames that lashed in his chest. "I work on instinct, that's how I live, it's who I am, and that's not going to change. You're neat and organized and I'm sorry if my heart doesn't fit into whatever grand plan you have in that highly educated head of yours, but that's not how my life works and it never will.

"You and I are just two different people." He shook his head, hearing the echo of his words break his shiny, happy day into a million pieces. "It's good you're leaving. You should go."

When had things gotten so complicated? Complicated didn't work for him, it had never worked for him, so why had he thought it would now?

Danielle grabbed her purse, shoved her feet into sandals, and went for the door, skirting around Beckett, then slamming the door behind her. Then reopened it again to pull through the balloons that had gotten caught inside the door during her departure.

At the final slam, he scanned his empty, messy bed, the box of sad cupcakes with melted candles topping each one, the collection of coffee cups on the ground. Everything was a mess—not a comfortable, lived-in kind of mess, either. A real life cluster-fuck.

He should've known better. He shouldn't have crossed the line. She'd been in the casual, outer circle for years and that was a good place for most people in his life. The only people he let close enough to hurt him were his brother and sister, and that worked for him. He loved them and would do anything for them. He'd sacrifice his own desires until the end of time, just to help Abigail and Ben with whatever they needed. They'd been like parents to him, and that had meant more than some stupidly random desire to go sit in an office all damn day in some city where he didn't know anyone.

But if that's what Danielle wanted, then so be it.

For a glitch of a moment, for a quick hiccup, he'd thought he'd been in love. And maybe he had been. But if this was what love was, he wanted no part in it.

He'd told her he loved her, and she'd left. It was a simple fact that stung deeper than he wanted to let it.

And without warning, a punch from the past sneaked up and slugged him, hitting hard in the same place Danielle had.

It had been a warm night, unseasonably warm, when he was thirteen. He'd been out prowling around town, looking for any kind of trouble to get into. And on that night, he'd wandered by himself, all of his buddies tucked into their homes with their families. And when he'd finally found his way back to his shambled house made mostly of splintered wood and duct tape, he'd climbed in the window and tumbled over his mom who'd waited for him in the dark.

He'd told her he loved her. He could almost hear his voice speaking through that moonless night. He had loved her, of course, but he'd said the words because there'd been nothing else to say—he wasn't sorry he'd sneaked out, and he would probably do it again so there was no point in saying otherwise.

And in return, his mom had said those words back. She'd told him she loved him, and that had been the end of the conversation.

And the next day, she'd disappeared from his life.    

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