Series: Cherry Grove, Book 2
Author: Cole Lepley
Genre: Second Chance Romance (standalone)
Always being the best meant never needing to do better.
I had everything. Popularity, money, charm—I could list my qualities for days.
But it wasn’t enough.
Five years ago, the only girl I ever loved walked away from me.
I’ve tried so hard to move on, but I can’t.
The life I built feels empty. Hollow.
Now she’s back and I’m not letting her leave again until she knows the truth.
Always coming in second was hard.
I had everything. Popularity, friends, family—all I ever wanted.
But it wasn’t enough.
He let me down when I needed him the most.
I’ve moved on. Built a new life.
Now, living across the street from him, old heartaches are surfacing.
I can’t ever tell him the truth.
Ollie isn’t wearing a shirt. I’m not surprised, but it makes it difficult to concentrate with all those perfectly sculpted muscles glistening in the sunlight. I squint up at the ladder from my spot on the front porch. He came over right after work, just like he said he would, and has been fastening the old trellis back onto the side of the house.
I’m impressed with how nice it looks. It’s so perfect that I’m not convinced he didn’t go down to the lumber yard and buy a new one. He catches my gaze and smirks down at me.
“Does it look good?”
I swallow hard. He has no idea.
When I don’t respond right away, he nods at the trellis. “Is it straight?”
“Yep,” I say quickly, and then avert my eyes.
I dip the paintbrush back into the can and swirl my brush around. It doesn’t take long before I hear the clanging sounds of Ollie descending the ladder. He steps onto the porch and stops above me.
“You need help with that?”
I shake my head, but don’t look up at him. With an angry scrape to the side of the can with my brush, I go back to fixing the patches on the railing. “Nope. I’m almost done.”
He kneels down beside me, the muscles in his stomach flexing as he squats. I take another breath when he his mouth is a little too close to mine.
“It would go faster if we did it together,” he says, and I can practically taste the mint from the gum he’s chewing. My mouth becomes dry.
“I only have one brush.”
He nods toward his house. “I have plenty of them in the shed. I’ll go grab one.”
Before he can stand up, I reach out and grab his wrist. He looks at me with a smile. “I don’t mind, seriously.”
“No, that’s not it,” I say, as I release my hold on him. I set my paintbrush next to the can and sit down on the nearest step. “I don’t want to do this with you.”
His eyebrows rise and he takes a seat beside me. “Do what?”
I laugh once. “Sit here and pretend like everything is okay between us. It may seem cute to act all normal and stuff, but it’s not. That doesn’t work for me anymore.”
He gets quiet, a solemnness clouding his features. He rests his elbows on his knees and looks straight out into the front yard. “I know, but I don’t know how to say what I need to say right now.”
“You don’t need to say anything—”
“Yeah, I do,” he says firmly, cutting me off. He releases a long breath. “Maybe you’ve found some kind of closure over the years, but I sure as fuck haven’t.”
It still breaks my heart to see him experience pain in any way. It’s obvious on his face. Regret is written all over it.
I sigh. “Look,” I say, folding my hands in my lap and turning my head to face him. “I’m sure a lot has changed since then. We’re different people, we have our own lives. There’s no need to rehash every painful thing from our past. We can’t change it.”
“Maybe we can change it enough that you don’t hate me anymore.”
“I don’t hate you,” I whisper.
Ollie searches my face for a moment, his own expression so painfully sad. “Then why do you look at me like that?”
“Like you wish you never met me.”I want to tell him he’s wrong, but I’m not sure I can. It would be easier if I never knew what it was like to know him. To be consumed by him. I can try to forget all I want—but I’m not sure my heart ever will.
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