To Wanda Summers, for being a survivor, just like Kes.
How many times do you gamble on love? When love has knocked you down, should you give it another chance? When does optimism become stupidity?
And what happens when the man you’re in love with is never still, always moving, always traveling? Do you say goodbye, or do you leave behind everything that you’ve worked for, everything that you’ve ever known? Can a traveling carnival be my home? Can one person be my home?
Oh. You thought I had the answers. No, sorry. No answers, just a lot of questions—and a heart that wants to rule my head.
I woke up in tears. The pain was a sharp ache inside my chest, cooling to a dull throb as I sat up slowly.
A whole month without Kes, without the man I loved. But instead of getting easier, each day seemed longer and emptier than the one before.
It had been my decision to leave, and Kes, my Kes, had begged me to stay. He’d opened his heart, and I still left. So whatever pain I was feeling, I couldn’t help thinking it was at least partly deserved. Well, more than partly. But not wholly, not really.
On paper, I’d made the right decision. My work, my career, was here in New Hampshire—I’d made a home for myself. I had close friends and my own apartment. I was a good teacher, a respected member of the Walker Elementary School faculty. I had a purpose, I had a life.
Responsible, predictable, reliable Aimee: I was beginning to hate that version of myself.
The drive to school passed in a blur, the wide, tree-lined streets that I found beautiful, today making no impact. In my mind, I was 3,000 miles and a lifetime away.
I pulled into the staff parking lot and climbed out of my battered Honda. Gregg was waiting for me.
“I don’t want to have this conversation again, Gregg,” I said wearily.
“Why are you being so stubborn?”
“We’re finished. I’ve moved on.”
He stared at me appraisingly. “You don’t look very happy for someone who’s moved on.”
He was right about that.
“Goodbye, Gregg,” I said, pulling my purse over my shoulder and heading for my classroom.
I sighed with frustration—Gregg would not get the message. I closed my eyes and shook my head, but the moment I shut my eyes, a torrent of images rushed forward, playing out silently behind my eyelids. I remembered the intense feelings of Kes’s hands on me, his eyes, his mouth . . .
I opened my eyes quickly. School was not the place to have those thoughts.
I touched the tiny gold Ferris wheel I still wore around my neck and had to fight back tears.
With the arrival of my students, I forced a smile. You love being a teacher, I reminded myself. Then why do I feel so empty?
At the end of the day, Gregg cornered me again.
“I could walk you to your car if you’re almost finished?”
I’d been so lost in my thoughts that his words made me jump. I jerked my head and a bolt of pain shot through my neck, bringing with it a rush of irritation after weeks of little sleep.
“What do you want, Gregg?”
“I didn’t think my suggestion was particularly confusing,” he grinned at me. “I’d like to walk you to your car.”
I gazed at him levelly. “Why?”
“We’re still friends, aren’t we, Aimee?”
I stared at him in amazement.
“And I’d like us to try again.”
He spoke with such confidence that my mouth popped open and an incredulous smile broke out across my face. Which he completely misinterpreted.
Gregg stepped into my classroom and closed the door behind him.
“We were always good together, Aimee. How about we go out tonight? There’s a new place that opened in Manchester and they make delicious clams. I know you love clams.”
Nope, I hated clams. Gregg was the one who liked them. And even if I had liked clams, I felt nothing for the man standing in front of me, only a vague shadow of indifference.
“So I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said, moving closer.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said quickly.
“Oh come on, don’t be like that. I know you missed me.”
I shook my head. “I’m not interested, Gregg,” I said firmly.
A small frown of annoyance marred his smooth forehead.
“I’ve apologized for the misunderstanding,” he pressed. “Let’s move forwards,” and he reached out to take my hand.
“Let’s not!” I said, moving out of reach. “And anyway, you didn’t apologize for fucking Lulu, but whatever. Read my lips—I’m not interested.”
I slung the strap of my purse over my shoulder and marched out of the door. Gregg followed, his voice becoming wheedling.
“Aimee, you’ve got it all wrong. That day you saw her in my car, I was simply giving a colleague a ride.”
“Oh, I know you were giving her a ride!”
“Don’t be childish!”
“Don’t be irritating, Gregg. I’m not getting back together with you. EVER.”
He huffed behind me. “I know you don’t mean that.”
I shouldered my way through the front doors, hoping they hit him in the face.
I stopped suddenly and Gregg all but ran me over, knocking my purse from my arm and making me stumble.
“Really, I can explain about Lulu,” he babbled, but I wasn’t listening to him.
I was staring at the man on the other side of the parking lot, his silver-gray eyes fixed intently on me.
“Kes,” I breathed, my heart starting to gallop.
I squeezed my eyes shut, wondering briefly if I’d fallen over the edge of sanity and conjured him up, imagined that he’d come for me. But when I looked again, his eyes were still watching me, full of fire.
Gratitude, hope, love, shock—so many emotions twisted inside me.
He was leaning against an electric-blue motorcycle and a plain black helmet dangled from one hand. A leather jacket hung from his broad shoulders, his long legs encased in dark denim and ending in heavy black biker boots. He looked dangerous, and when he pushed his free hand through his dark hair and straightened up, his heated eyes never left mine.
He was here. Really here. For me.
My body hungered for his and my arms longed to reach out for him. The words ‘I love you’ burned on my tongue, but I bit them back.
He was here, but I needed to know what it meant. So I locked my heart away. Kes still had secrets.