Chapter Nineteen

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The conversation with Meghan weighed heavily on Cassidy's mind. She made a point of leaving early the following morning to avoid her mother. It wasn't the most mature course of action; they should have taken the time to discuss their feelings like adults. Both had said things they surely regretted, but nothing had been untrue. Moving home was never going to be easy. Cassidy had thought she might be able to squash down all the resentment she'd felt as an angry teenager and live happily with her mother now she was an adult. Despite all her best efforts, the ill feelings had continued to bubble and fester in her gut until they'd spilled over.

There was no doubting that they loved each other. If they hadn't cared, they wouldn't have argued. It was because Meghan worried that she had tried to steer her daughter onto a path she thought would make her happy. Cassidy couldn't say that she wouldn't do the same for her own child were their positions reversed. The only problem was that she was no longer a child. She might have run back to her mother seeking shelter, but she hadn't wanted her advice or guidance when it came to her love life. Besides, Meghan had played a part in the past Cassidy was so desperate to hide. It was hypocritical of her to tell Cassidy to be honest with Oliver when she'd been the one to suggest that they keep the events between themselves.

The distraction and uneasiness she felt didn't go unnoticed by those around her. At work, Cassidy was careless and mixed up customer orders to such an extent that it appeared as if Abigail was the more competent of the pair; a fact she was quick to point out to her grandfather while seeking his praises and forgiveness for her behaviour. Mitch, too, commented on her demeanour when she offered him a milkshake instead of the water he'd asked for, and had eaten the pastry he'd brought so slowly that it was stolen by a passing seagull.

After four nights of dates during which Cassidy hardly spoke and returned home after offering Oliver little more than a kiss on the cheek, he couldn't hold back any longer. There was no anger to be found in him – no frustration or accusations of other men – but he was worried. Cassidy was a quick-witted woman who seldom let things get to her to such an extent that she would let her mind drift so far from a conversation that she forgot she was even in company.

At last, over dinner, Oliver reached for her hand to rouse her from her stupor. 'Cassie, what's going on?'

'Hm?' she asked, her fingers toying with a lock of her hair, her eyes on the dark view through the restaurant window.

In a bid to raise her spirits, Oliver had taken her to a high-end hotel in the nearest city. They had a view of the twinkling skyline which was adorned with the lights from towering buildings so high they became one with the stars. He'd bought her a dress and shoes so that they could take in a show at a local theatre, enjoy champagne, and spend the night feeling pampered. It was a break from the norm, and he'd thought it might be enough to bring her back to him.

'You're distracted.'

'Oh,' she said as though she thought he wouldn't notice. 'Sorry. What were you saying?'

Oliver sighed. 'If you didn't want to go out with me tonight, then –'

'No,' she interrupted. 'I mean – I did – I do. I'm sorry,' she said again before she groaned into her hands. Cassidy squeezed his fingers. 'I had an argument with Meg, that's all. It's been stressing me out.'

'Must have been a big one for it to get to you this much.'

'You have no idea.'

'I might if you'd tell me about it,' he coaxed. 'I can help. I mean, I can try to help.'

Cassidy wished it was that easy – that she could tell him every second of her history and that he could make it disappear – but she couldn't bear to see the hurt on his face when she told him everything she'd kept from him. He'd never believe that she'd made choices to spare him pain, or to see that he made the most of his life without her hanging onto him and dragging him down. All Oliver would see was a woman who'd acted on her own selfish whims without consulting him or giving him a chance to act.

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