Igniting the Wild Sparks, Book 3

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Chapter 24

Finn

“Finnigan, I’m giving you the ultimate dare. Will you really marry me?”

Holy fuck, Becks! No. She’s not doing this.

I can’t think. I can’t breathe. I can’t blink. My girlfriend, on bended knee, offers me a ring and asks me to marry her, and for me to actually do it. I’m so fucking torn. I’m the man. I should beg her to marry me, yet I won’t. Is this another ultimatum? Yes. I was going to propose to her at my mom’s, and I considered going to the altar with her, but my mom and stepdad’s divorce changed that. Now, if I were ever to propose, it’d just be an in-name-only kind, for now at least. And just like our fight in front of my apartment, I would’ve asked then, but making our relationship legal and binding before God, I’m not anywhere near ready for that.

How am I supposed to fucking respond to this and not fuck up our relationship? This is my fucking nightmare. Damn it, Becks!

“Sparks? Won’t you say anything?” I focus on Becks holding the black box, and I nearly spiral out of my mind all over again. With her frizzy braids from vigorously making love to me and her wearing an old sweatshirt, she looks so fucking beautiful. So… fucking hopeful.

I do want to be her husband. Shit! It’s ripping out my fucking heart!

What’s my biggest problem? I’m scared. I’m a fucking pussy like Pam and Morgan say. I’m not as valiant or daring as people think, but it’s not the commitment because I am already committed to her. Hadley Beckett owns my heart, body, and soul. I have a permanent reminder of my commitment to her over my heart. It’s more than any fucking wedding ring represents.

I live and would die for her love. I don’t know how I got through my life before her. I want to drop to my knees and kiss her while I tell her yes over and over. I’d wipe away her elated tears, as she’d have to wipe away mine, too. I’d then let her put the ring on my finger, listening to her tearfully giggle if she couldn’t get it on, and then kiss her again. After that, I’d sweep her up and happily yell to everyone still on the beach we’re engaged, and I’m her fiancé. We’d call everyone in our phone contacts, and both tell them together, not caring it’s midnight. We’d gaze at the ring and our physical pledge to get married soon. We’d make love again because I’d want to reaffirm our love. I’d then put the greatest spin on it by proposing to her days later with a ring of my own.

Maybe in an alternate universe where I was a worthy enough man to marry her. Becks was right at the tennis court. I’m a one-hundred percent, grade-A prick.

I huskily whisper, “Becks.” Her expression is anxious. But as much as I am committed to her, I can’t commit to the institution of marriage.

“Finn? Please say something.”

Snapping out of my trance, I study her sweet face. “I… I can’t believe you’re doing this.”

Her eyes flicker over me in puzzlement. “Why, really? You said we could get engaged.”

“Yeah, but your engaged means something entirely different than mine.”

“Yours is slightly askew.” I know it is, Becks. I’m so fucked up. “I gave you time.”

I can’t look into her eyes as I admit, “Not enough.”

I know I’m breaking her heart. It’s breaking mine, too. I want to be the man to give her everything she wants. I’m trying. I really am. I’ve given in to one of her desires. She already knows what I’ve been doing. I just don’t want to confirm it.

Becks jerks my attention back to her when she asks, “Are you turning down my dare? Are you saying no?”

I don’t know what to say. I pray that I find the courage to be honest with her, but I can’t even be honest with myself.

She impatiently demands, “Is this a no?” Can’t she see me losing it here?

I close my eyes to shut out everything. I don’t want to break her heart, but I can’t set her up for an even more massive disappointment by saying I’ll marry her, and then not follow through. That would be worse.

I open my eyes. I’m so sorry, baby. I love you. Please forgive me… again.

I need to give her the truth since I’ve lied enough.

Inhaling to gather breath and courage not to promise her something that I can’t guarantee, I say, “Yes, Becks. It’s a no.”

She rapidly blinks. I want to hold her and tell her I’m sorry. I want to explain why I can’t marry her, yet she already knows all of this. She just doesn’t know the depth of my fear. It’s keeping me from giving us both what we want more than anything.

Becks takes a sudden breath of air and looks down at the ring. That’s when I see it. The light is shadowy here, but it appears to be black with grooves, and with the light reflecting, the silver edges shine. Very cool and something I would’ve picked out myself. Shit. I bet she even engraved it with something significant. I hate my fucking self.

She shuts the box, and I hastily look away again, hearing it creak and snap. I stare at the sand because I can’t face her. I’m so sorry, Becks. I’m a sorry excuse for a boyfriend. Ricky will murder me. If Ricky had met Becks first, he would’ve married her by now.

“You’re really saying no?” she asks, and I hear the devastation in her voice. I can’t repeat my answer. I already told her once. I wish a bolt of lightning would hit me. Maybe it’d make me a normal guy who would jump at the chance to marry his girl.

“You said you wanted to be my husband.” I know what I said.

“Becks.” I wish I could make her understand, but I don’t understand myself, either.

“What? I guess that was another one of your lies?”

Not having a rational answer that she’d accept, I miserably reply, “No.” That’s not a lie. I’m merely a fucking asshole.

She grimly laughs. “You’re so good at saying that word.” I hear her shuffling in the sand, and I look up to see her tucking the box back into her jeans pocket and grabbing her shoes.

“Where are you going?” Becks, don’t leave.

“Anywhere, but here.”

I leap, grabbing her arm in time. “Wait.”

Becks tries desperately not to cry, and it slays me because I’m the reason she’s crying. She says, “I’ve waited long enough. I’m tired of waiting for you to grow up.” Oh, fuck. This is an ultimatum.

“You knew how I felt. Why did you put yourself in this position?”

Spinning around, she angrily glares at me. “And you knew how I felt! How could you not move from yours?” She stops to regain her composure, but doesn’t. “Why do I have to give up everything? I’ve changed so much in my life for you, but you won’t do me any favors! I went off the Pill for you! I agreed to move in with you without marriage! I gave up waiting for you to propose to me and mean it! I gave up having your kids because that’s not what you want! What are you giving up, Finn? A ball and chain? Dirty diapers?” She cries, “Oh, those aren’t ever happening! So, nothing! You’re giving up nothing for me!”

Nothing? My hand falls from her arm. She doesn’t realize what I’ve sacrificed for her or what I’m actively trying to give her!

Putting my hand on my hip, and before I stop myself, I divulge, “I’m giving up a better-paying job in a bigger market to stay in Richmond with you!” She is surprised at first, but then she scrunches up her face and covers her mouth with her hand. Son of a bitch. My fucking mouth.

“I never said you had to!” Her other hand goes to her stomach. Her bruise has been bothering her for weeks now. Maybe it’s because I can’t keep from hammering my cock into her every time we’re alone.

She goes to leave, and I bound in front of her, clutching her arms to stop her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t—” mean to be a raving jerk.

“You said I wasn’t holding you back! And before that, you rejected my proposal!” Her shoulders slump and her head falls as she loses the battle not to lose it. Through her sobs, she asks, “Where does that leave us now?” No. We’re not over.

“Becks, don’t—” She looks up, and her distraught gaze takes on a glint of surprise. Why?

She states, “Morgan’s right.” What is Morgan right about? Did she tell Becks what she saw?

I cautiously ask, “About?” I would kill Morgan if she told Becks. She said she’d give me a month.

“She said you’ll only break my heart!” She hides her face in her hands. “I’m such a fucking dumbass!”

Holding her arms, I adamantly shake my head. “No, no, you’re not. It’s me, baby.”

Becks looks up at me. “Oh, so it is you and not me?”

I nod. “It’s all me.” Everyone will tell you that.

“You’re so fucking confusing. You make my damn head spin.”

Becks tries to escape, but I hold onto her. I beg, “Stay here.”

“Why? I just proposed with a ring, and you rejected me. I’m such a moron to think you would change your mind.” She closes her eyes and turns her head. She can’t break up with me. Is marriage a requirement now? Is my mother right? Fucking hell.

I angle my head and step closer to her, on the brink of hysteria. “You’re not. I want so fucking much to say yes to you, but I can’t.”

She glares at me. “So again, you’re turning me down. Nice.” She tries to wriggle out of my grip, but can’t, and she mournfully implores, “Let me go, Finn.”

I tensely say, “No, because I never want to let you go.”

“At least you got laid one last time!” Panting heavily, she falls to the ground, and since I won’t let go of her, I go down with her. Last time?

My heart roars in my chest. “Becks, no! No! That’s not true. Don’t let it be.”

Becks cowers beneath me with her knees close to her chest, and I bind my arms around her so she can’t escape. My mouth is next to her ear, and I whisper, “Baby, we’ll work through this. I promise I’ll get there. I just won’t promise you that I’ll marry you soon when I can’t.” I kiss the side of her head and rest my forehead on her shoulder, hoping she heard what I said since she’s crying so hard. I rub my hands over her long-sleeved arms as I hold onto her. I lift my head and softly say, “I love you so much. To the stars. I need you in my life, baby. I’m trying to give you what you want, but I need more time. We’ll be stronger. I can’t live without you. You’re my Becks. I’m so in love with you, and I’ll never love anyone else. You’re my best friend, sweetheart.”

She doesn’t respond. Is it too late? No. It’ll never be too late. It can’t be…

Becks stops crying, and I listen to her steadying breaths. Kissing her temple, I again beg, “Baby, talk to me. Yell at me. Knock me on my ass. Just don’t go. Becks, you’re my life. Without you, I’m nothing. We have to be okay. Please tell me you still love me.”

Becks unexpectedly pushes herself up, and my arms fall. I sit back in the sand, staring up at her. Should I try to stop her again? Do I stay down here and propose to her? Though, I don’t think she’s in any mood to hear that question from me at present. Without a single doubt, she’d kick me in the balls.

I anxiously ask, “Becks, where are you going?”

“I’m leaving.”

“Me?” Please, Becks. Give me more time to get my shit together.

Her barbed eyes cut me and make my eyes water. “I don’t know.” I reach up to her, but she yanks her arm away from me and runs toward the hotel. I want to chase after her, but I’ll give her a minute. I’ll only make it worse.

I blink to clear my eyes, and I blow out a hard sigh. Hanging my arm over my knee, I twist to stare out at the dark water.

That kiss. Cara had no right to do that, but she did… And I kissed her back. I don’t know why I did. It was like a knee-jerk reaction. The kiss only lasted. It meant nothing. Her lips didn’t even feel right. After the kiss, I immediately told her I was taking her back to work. On the way there, I set her straight.

“Cara, that can’t happen again.”

“I think you wanted it to. You kissed me back, Finn.”

“I didn’t mean to. You know I have a girlfriend.”

“Every time I see you, you’ve had a fight with her.”

“We have our problems. Who doesn’t? We’re working on them. I’m in love with Hadley.”

“I don’t think she loves you as much. You haven’t seen the way she acts when you’re not around.”

“Stop! I love her. This can’t get back to her, so please, don’t tell her. If I feel the need to, I will.”

“Finn, I won’t say anything, but I think you need to re-evaluate things with her. Obviously, you’re not happy.”

“I am happy.”

The incident should’ve ended there, but it didn’t. When I was at a red light, I checked my texts and saw one from Morgan. She wanted me to meet her in her office ASAP regarding Becks. So, I dropped Cara off and headed over to the law firm. That irritated me. Why couldn’t she just call me if it was so important?

When I got to the building, security let me go upstairs. I didn’t have to persuade them this time. However, they eagerly asked me several questions about my upcoming BASE jump in October. I answered some, but then told them I had a meeting. I had never been to Becks’s office, and when I got to her floor, I stopped at the reception desk, where Rhonda greeted me, chatting for a minute before she called Morgan. She then directed me to Morgan’s office. I looked at the doors as I walked down the hall to see if Becks’s name was on any of them, but it wasn’t. As soon as I appeared in her doorway, it was evident she wasn’t happy to see me.

“Shut the door, Finn.”

“Have you heard from Hadley?”

“Yes.”

“Did she say something to you I should know? What’s this about?”

“I was in the coffee shop, Finn. I saw you and Cara kissing.”

“What? I didn’t see you.”

“Of course, you didn’t because then you wouldn’t have kissed that bitch.”

“Morgan, she kissed me.”

“I saw you kiss her, Wilder! Now you’re lying to me? No way! Don’t give me that bullshit!”

“Look. It was a huge mistake. I kissed her for two seconds. It was a mindless reflex. I swear to God it was.”

“You do this in addition to what you did yesterday, which was a royal fuck- up. How could you announce that you’re jumping that goddamn bridge on live TV?”

“She knows?”

“Fuck, yes! I saw your declaration, and I told her to watch it online. She’s fucking shattered! Why haven’t you talked to her since then?”

“I’ve been—”

“Fucking Cara?”

“No! It was just that kiss, and it was a damn mistake! I’m not doing anything else with her!”

“You kissed another woman! Cara of all people! That bitch has you in her sights!”

“No, she doesn’t. We’re just friends.”

“Are you really that stupid? I wouldn’t kiss Greg Rodwell like that for a billion. She wants to fuck you. Finn, if you think you’re fucking Cara on the side while fucking Hadley over, you’re off your damn rocker!”

“I’m not fucking Cara! I don’t want her!”

“Yeah, but you are fucking Hadley, so that’s why it matters. A month ago, I warned you about breaking Hadley’s heart, but I’ll take your word for it this time and give you one final chance. However, there’s a catch.”

“What?”

“You have a month to propose to her.”

“Fine! I’ll do it!”

“Oh, no, no, no, coach. I know what you’re thinking. You’ll ask her and then drag her around forever. You need to propose an actual engagement and follow through with the marriage. No fucking around with her. Once you propose, the second clock starts ticking. If she complains once that you’re stalling, the deal’s off, and I’ll her about the kiss.”

“Don’t you think she’ll be mad at you for keeping it from her?”

“Don’t you think she’ll be even madder for you kissing that skank and lying about it? I’m giving you a fucking month to grow some balls.”

“I can’t—”

“You’re seriously arguing with me when you should be grateful I’m not running to her with this?”

“I’ll just tell her the truth.”

“That’s noble of you, but you’re already on thin ice for the bridge stunt you pulled yesterday. I think this one last omission might be in your best interest. She won’t forgive you for kissing Cara.”

“I think she would. I didn’t mean to kiss her.”

“Hadley’s a very forgiving soul, but how much shit can one person take? You need to stop dicking around and put a ring on her finger!”

“I’m working on it!”

“A wedding ring, Finn. You’re torturing her! She wants to be married to you. I’ve tried steering her away from you, but she’s stubborn. She loves you! Don’t fuck it up! Make her happy! And while you’re at it, knock her up for Christ’s sake!”

“That’s between my girlfriend and me. Not you.”

I look over my shoulder at the hotel. Was my answer to her proposal a knee-jerk reaction, too? Possibly. Maybe it would’ve been in my best interest to tell her yes, so Morgan doesn’t run her mouth to Becks sooner. Shit. Since I panicked, I wasn’t thinking about Morgan when Becks was on her knee.

Morgan had to have known Becks was doing this, and she still gave me a month. Would Becks even accept my proposal? I doubt it. Will I be ready in three weeks to propose? No, and I’m not marrying the love of my life with a damn gun to my head, as it seems. Fuck. I need to tell Becks about the kiss before Morgan. Now. I don’t want to start another fight with Becks after what just happened, but she needs to hear it from me. It’s imperative that I’m truthful. I want to be truthful. The kiss meant shit to me. I love Becks, not Cara.

Having given Becks enough time to herself, I put my shoes on and head for our room.

Stepping off the elevator, I go to room seven thirteen, but when I enter, it’s quiet. Too quiet. I go past the bathroom and notice the counter is empty of her things. I move to the other bedroom, and her suitcase is gone. Looking at the coffee table, I see her key card. Shit! I shove my hands into my hair and spin around, searching the room as if she’s fucking hiding.

Numbly, I gather the few things I unpacked and throw them into my suitcase. I check out in a rush and call Becks on my way to the parking lot. No answer. I make the two-hour drive to Montrose. The traffic is light, but my accelerator foot isn’t, so I get there earlier.

I go straight to Becks’s apartment, but her car isn’t there. It’s 2:14 in the morning. Where in the hell could she have gone? She wouldn’t have gone to my place, that’s for sure. Did she stay in Virginia Beach, just not at our hotel? Fuck. I call her again, but still no answer. I keep calling and leaving messages, but she doesn’t call me back. Her phone better not be fucking with me, too.

I go into her room and lie down on her bed, where her scent surrounds me. All at once, the fear of losing her is a dense fog settling into my blood, bones, psyche, soul, and my heart. Is this it for us? I won’t live without her. She has to come back to me.

I awake to bright, but cloudy, light spilling in through the window. Blinking, I realize I fell asleep, wearing my damn contacts. Since I did that and didn’t get much sleep, my eyes will be bloodshot, and I’ll have a headache all day. I pick up my phone and squinting, I notice I’ve only slept for two hours and twenty minutes. I check my phone for messages, but none from Becks. Where in the fuck is she? I can’t call Morgan. She’ll ask me about last night if she doesn’t already know. Same with Rodwell.

After I get a quick shower, I spend most of the day sitting on Becks’s couch, blankly staring at ESPN. She’ll have to come home since she works tomorrow.

My phone rings and I answer it in record time, not even looking to see who it is. “Becks?”

“Not Becks, man. How was the wedding?”

“It was great,” I reply drearily, not wanting to talk to Ricky yet.

“Did it end up being a double wedding? Are you Mr. Hadley Beckett?” He laughs and then warns, “That shit better not have happened because that would seriously piss me off I wasn’t there.”

“No, but um, something else happened.” I heavily sigh and lean forward, putting an elbow on my knee and my forehead into my hand.

“Oh, no. Did you screw the bride?” He cackles, and I wait for him to finish. “That’ll be awkward at the office Christmas parties.” Ricky again laughs as he continues with his fucking laugh-a-thon. “Please tell me you at least got it on with that one bridesmaid. Remember, I heard you two getting to know each other at your mom’s, so she’d play with your pecker. That was more awkward than the time you and I fucked those girls—”

“Will you shut up?”

When he senses my despair, he instantly stops laughing and clears his throat. “Yeah. Sorry. Did you and Hadley talk? Is everything okay now? Has she forgiven you yet?”

Not able to sit still, I adjust my glasses and sit back. “We talked some. We were great.”

“Were?”

“Yeah. I surprised her at the reception. We danced, and I caught the garter and put it on her. Later, we went up to her room.”

“Garter? How high did you put it on her? Did she forgive your brains out?” He laughs again. What the hell did he drink? He’s wound up at the wrong damn time.

I instinctively smile as I remember Saturday night before I walked the plank. I proclaim to Ricky, “It was the best sex of my life.” And, by far, the loudest—all the yelling, the loud moaning, our fierce orgasms... I loved it. It was so powerful. I can still feel her body and her love pulsating over me. I just pray to God it wasn’t my last time making love to Hadley Beckett.

I swallow. “Everything was right with us. We then walked on the beach, and she… she proposed to me.”

“She what?”

“She got down on her knee with a ring in her hand and asked me to marry her.” I close my eyes to escape the words, but my brain replays my refusal in a high definition loop reel.

“Wow!” he exclaims with genuine happiness, which only lasts for six seconds. “Wait a fucking minute. Holy shit, Wilder… You didn’t…?”

I blandly say, “She shocked the hell out of me. I can’t believe she did that.”

“Finn, seriously. Tell me I’m wrong.”

“I didn’t want to hurt her.” I can’t even give Ricky a straight answer. I’m beyond appalled at myself.

“Man, are you shitting me? You told her no?”

I put my head back into my hand. “Yeah. I did.”

“You actually told her no?” he disbelievingly repeats. “What the fucking hell?”

“Ricky, I already feel bad enough.”

“Bad? You feel bad? How do you think Hadley feels? What did she say?”

“It upset her. She took off from the hotel, and I don’t know where she is. I’m at her apartment.”

“I hope she’s okay. I’ll make some phone calls.” I hear him moving around. I don’t even know if he’s at work.

Rubbing my forehead, I reluctantly admit, “There’s something else I haven’t told you. You’re right about Cara. She, uh, she kissed me.”

“Oh, fuck. When?”

“Last Friday.”

“Where were you? What did you do?”

“It was at a coffee shop. We were sitting together, and she kissed me.”

“Did you tell her to fuck off?” When I don’t answer, Ricky says, “Fuck. You didn’t kiss her back, did you?”

I open my eyes and sigh. “Yeah, but it was a reflex.”

“Shit, Finn! You’re cheating?”

“No!” I adamantly insist, restlessly running my hand over my mouth. “I’m not, but Morgan saw us. She’s blackmailing me. She’s giving me a month to either tell Becks about the kiss or to propose to her. If I don’t do either, she’ll tell her.”

He loudly sighs and mumbles something before he says, “What are you going to do?”

“I have to tell her.”

“Why don’t you just get engaged?”

“Because I want to be honest with her after everything that happened, and because I’d have to marry her. And soon. That’s the other part of the deal.”

“Come on already, man. You love her. Marry your girl. You both want it.”

“Ricky.”

“How do you think Hadley will take it, especially since you turned down her proposal?”

“It won’t be good.”

“Just so you know, you’re a fucking dumbass.” Yeah. I’ve heard that before.

I hang my head. “I know.”

“You’ll lose her.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of, if I haven’t already.”

“Cara’s off the team. I don’t give a fuck what you say. She’s done. I don’t want her around you two, or even me.”

“Agreed. I’ll talk to her tomorrow.”

“Make sure that’s all you do, Wilder. Fuck, you’re an asshole.”

I can’t even argue with that.

Becks didn’t come home on Sunday or call me. I reluctantly texted Rodwell, who hadn’t heard from her, either. He then asked how Saturday went, but I only texted back it was okay. I didn’t elaborate, and he didn’t push. Morgan still hasn’t called me. If she doesn’t know yet, that buys me a little time to talk to Becks. On the other hand, Becks may have told her, and Morgan blabbed to her. I have no fucking idea.

By Monday morning, Becks still hasn’t called me or come home, having stayed at her apartment until I had to leave for work. When I got there, rather than calling Val, I emailed her, so I didn’t have to answer her questions on the spot. She responded that Becks left a message, saying she’s taking the day off, but she didn’t say why. Val also asked me how Saturday went, and again, I replied it was okay.

“What’s up?” Cara asks, walking into my office.

Not tearing my eyes from the beige wall in front of my desk, I crabbily retort, “Nothing.”

“You always say that, and there’s always something. Is it Hadley again?”

I sigh and dismally move my bleak gaze to my keyboard. “Yeah. I don’t know where she is.”

“Did you have a fight?”

“You can say that.”

“Another one? Was it about…?”

I immediately glance up at Cara, giving her a sharp look. Her tits are practically in my face. “No. It was something else.” Suddenly feeling uneasy, I shift my focus to the wall. “Um, look. About you on the softball team, I can’t have you around me there. I don’t want her picking up on something.”

“Okay. I get it. Oh, can I hang out with you for a bit at your place after work? My roommate works until 8:00, and I locked my keys in my car, so I can’t go anywhere or get into my apartment until she brings me my spare set.”

“You don’t have anyone else who can pick you up?”

“No. All my other friends are working.”

“Uh, well, I might go to Montrose after my broadcast, and if so, I plan to stay the night.” If Becks will let me. I’ll sleep on the sofa or in my car if necessary.

“Okay. Just give me a shout when you know.”

I indifferently say, “Yep.” Cara leaves, and I try calling Becks again. Nothing. How long will she avoid my damn calls? I can’t even concentrate. I’m going fucking crazy.

After my early afternoon meeting, I return to my office and see Becks called. Like I’m on fire, I take off for my car, so I have some privacy to call her back, nearly knocking over the janitor and a confused mailman.

“Becks! I’ve been calling you for two damn days! Where are you?”

She quietly says, “I’m okay.” I wait for her to say more, but she doesn’t. “I want to be alone.” I wonder if she’s at her dad’s in Annapolis. Shit. Adam. He hates me now, for sure. He’s such a cool guy, too. And her brother, Jared. Fuck. I’m sure I’ll hear from that dick. His recent life decision reversal only made my life worse.

“Baby, come home.”

“I’ll be home soon.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Why haven’t you called me?”

“Because there’s nothing left to say.”

“Yes, there is. We need to talk.”

“You’ve said plenty.”

“No. I have more to say.”

“Great,” she answers gloomily.

“No. That’s not what I meant.”

She dejectedly sighs. “You’re off the hook again.”

“From what?”

“Me.” She sniffs, and the phone rustles like she’s moving it away from her face. “You don’t have to put up with me anymore.”

“What?”

Her voice takes a dive. “I’ve nagged you to do something you don’t want to do, and you gave me your ultimate answer. You can be single and not worry about marriage looming over you.”

I shake my head at the windshield. “That’s not what I want! I’ll fix this.”

“Finn, you can’t. I’ve tried not to want what I want, and so have you.”

I squeeze the steering wheel until my knuckles almost snap. “Becks, don’t do this. We’ll work it out.” I close my eyes and lean my head back against the seat. To the ceiling, I say, “I’ll change. I’ll give you anything you want. Just don’t do this.”

“But that’s it. I don’t want you to be someone you’re not, just to make me happy. I did that to you with the bridge and now with this job. You’ll resent me even more. I know I’m holding you back. You can go to Baltimore now.” I hear her cry away from the phone, and I raise my head. I’m an asshole for telling her. I’ll choose Hadley Beckett over anything.

“Forget Baltimore! I want you!”

“You’re screwing up your career because of me! I want you to take the job!”

“I’m not going alone!”

“Yes, you will. I want you to be happy.”

“I won’t be happy without you.” Wincing, I shake my head. “I love you, Hadley!”

Becks cries harder but says, “I love you, too, Finn. I’ll never stop loving you.” She quickly inhales before shouting, “That’s why this hurts so much!”

Taking some rapid, deep breaths, I watch the mail truck leave the lot and see Pam coming back from lunch. I’m sure anyone in the lot can hear me yelling in my car. Calmer, I gently implore, “Becks, come home. Please. We need to talk.”

“Finn, you’ll be so much better off without me pestering you. We can still be… friends.” Her voice breaks on the last word, as well as breaks me.

Returning to the edge of losing my fucking mind, I punch my door with the side of my fist. “Friends? Becks, no! Fuck the bridge and the job! You’re all I want!” Pulling at my hair, I’m helpless.

Now panicking, I aimlessly look to the parking lot from my seat. “We’ll talk about what you want! I’ll do anything!”

“My proposal is off the table. Hope shouldn’t hurt this much.”

“It’s not just hope. I’ll make it right.”

“You can’t. I need to go. I’ll…”

“Come to my apartment tomorrow. We’ll talk. Please give me that much.”

She whispers, “I can’t.”

“Yes, you can. Fuck. Please don’t do this to me, Becks.” I gasp from the sharp pain surging through me at the thought of losing her because of my fucking stupidity. “Please don’t break up with me on the phone,” I plead. “At least do it in person.” So I can desperately beg you on my knees not to.

“Finn...” She’s trying not to cry more, but tearfully says, “I’ll always love you beyond, Sparks.” She hangs up, and I roughly bounce my head against the headrest. I’m her Sparks. She’s my Becks. She can’t fucking do this.

On her knees, she gave me an ultimatum of the worst kind. Marry me or lose me.

And I kicked her in the stomach, leaving her to bleed.

Throughout the rest of the workday, I run through the gamut of moods, except for happiness. That one’s lost on me. By the time I’m on camera, I’m lethargic from the sips of the Jim I hide in my desk in a water bottle. Fortunately, I’m not interviewing or doing The Wild Side because I’m totally not here.

I want to call Becks’s dad, but he would never in a million years confirm she’s there. He’ll protect his little girl from me. Too bad he didn’t do that in the emergency room.

As I hand Cara my mic, she asks, “You still heading to Montrose?”

I curtly say, “No.” Thanks for reminding me.

“So, it’s okay if I come with you?”

I’m in no mood for company, but I can’t be a complete asshole to everyone. Just Becks. Fuck me.

I shrug and head to my office with her following me. “Whatever.”

Unlocking my desk drawer, I check my phone. No messages.

I testily glance up at Cara. She grins and says, “I’ll make you smile.”

“Not likely.”

“I’ll find a way.”

As we leave the office, I roll my eyes behind her. All I want to do is drink the new bottle of Jack on my kitchen counter, drinking until I forget who I am, and what I’ve done.

We take the elevator to the lobby and walk out to my car. Cara babbles on about some vacation she’s taking. The only woman whose whereabouts I care about is shredding my heart from one-hundred and fifty-three miles away, if I’m right and she’s at her dad’s.

The ride to my apartment is quiet. Cara texts her roommate to give her my address so she can pick her up later. I could be a nice guy and offer to take her back to the station to meet her roommate, but I’m not feeling that charitable tonight.

I unlock my door and throw my keys on the counter. She asks, “Are you okay? You seem worse than this morning.”

Not giving an answer to her question, I deflect as I take off my gray suit jacket. “Do you want a drink?”

“I’ll take a beer if you have one.”

“Yep.” I toss my jacket onto a chair and go to the fridge as she leans against the bar.

Popping the top off, I hand her the bottle. “So, you really do like all kinds of sports,” she observes, looking into my living room.

I take a swig of my beer and say, “Yeah. There’s some I don’t care for, but most of them I enjoy.”

“What’s your favorite?”

I walk to the couch as I loosen my tie, and she follows me. “I like the outdoors. Baseball, soccer, skydiving, snowboarding, and riding my dirt bike are the big ones.”

“Skydiving? You like doing that?”

I mumble, “I love it.” Though it’s a touchy subject for me at the moment.

“Does it scare you?”

“No. Ricky does it, too. We do most shit together.” I cross my ankle over my knee and take a drink, while she looks at the pictures hanging on the walls or sitting on shelves.

“I’ve gathered that from all these pictures in here of the two of you.” She doesn’t comment on the pictures of me with someone else. “Hmm. Snowboarding? Are you any good?”

I shrug. “Not that great since I’ve broken a wrist, an ankle and two ribs from doing it. Ricky’s better at it than me.”

“So, it’s a lot of fun?”

“Well, yeah. I have pictures from our last trip. They’re on my laptop. I’ll get it.”

“Okay.”

I set my beer down and go to my bedroom, since I used my computer in there last, sliding my tie off as I go. I need a distraction. I don’t need Cara to see me lose it. The last time I came close to crying in front of someone was when I was with Ricky, and that was in the dark in the back of his cruiser, but I stopped before I was full-on blubbering like a damn baby. Nobody will ever see me doing that shit.

I pick up my computer from the chair in the corner, and when I turn around, Cara is in the doorway. Annoyed that she’s in my room, I irritably gripe, “I was bringing it out to you.”

“Oh. We can sit in here if that’s okay.” She looks at my room as she walks over to my bed. “I see how much you love baseball and soccer now.”

“Um, yeah.”

She sits on my bed, and I stand next to it, uncomfortable and more irritated. As crazy or cheesy—like Becks called me—as it sounds, by being in here, Cara infringes on the sanctity of Becks’s and my love. In this bed, only Becks and I exist as one.

She pats my blue comforter. “Sit.”

My gaze falls behind her where Becks and I made love countless times—her caramel hair falling over me while her hands rummaged through mine. With her tight warmth surrounding me while we confessed our love, our mouths fought for domination, and our bodies sent us to another place. Her remark at the beach suddenly slams into me. At least you got laid one last time!

“Finn, you’re not okay. What happened?”

I haul my eyes away from the memories to look at the woman, who is not my Becks, sitting on our bed. I grit my teeth until my jaw crackles. “I can’t, Cara.”

“Can’t what?”

“I can’t talk about it.” My eyes fall to her green, low-cut blouse, and then back up to her smile.

“You need to talk. Come on.” She nods her head to the mattress. “Sit down.”

In no mood to argue with anyone, I set my laptop at the end of the bed and sit. I lean forward with my elbows on my thighs, clasping my hands. “She’s breaking up with me.”

“She is? Where is she? You talked to her?”

To the carpet, I say, “Yeah. I think she’s at her dad’s in Annapolis.”

“I’m sorry she’s doing this to you.”

“It’s all my fault.”

“No, it’s not.” Cara shifts closer to me. “Could Greg Rodwell have something to do with it? I think they’re more than friends.”

“She promised me they’re not having an affair.”

“You don’t think he’s the reason she’s breaking up with you?”

“No. It’s nothing to do with him. I hurt her.”

“She’s hurting you, too, and she doesn’t seem to care.” I briefly glance up at her, and she waves her hand at me. “Look at you. You’re a fucking mess.”

I revert to staring at the carpet. “I deserve it.”

Cara grabs my jaw and forces me to look at her. “No, you don’t. I see the pain in your eyes. She broke your heart.”

She drops her hand, and I concede, “Yes, she did. She only wants me if we get married. She gave me an ultimatum.”

She frowns. “I’m here for you, Finn. Whatever you need me to do to help you.” Her hand goes to my inner leg. “What can I do?”

Looking back to the floor, I move my leg away, but her hand remains. “You can’t do anything.”

“I’ll help you if you let me.”

I shake my head. “You can’t.”

“If Hadley’s having an affair with Greg, don’t you want to hurt her in return?”

“She’s not cheating on me.” I believe her.

“Do you know that for sure? She spent days in another state with him. Who knows what they were doing. I wonder where she slept.”

Clenching my teeth, I glare at her. “Stop.” Cara’s hand creeps up my leg, and though it annoys me, I don’t push her away.

“I think everyone on the team suspects them. They’re all coworkers. I’ve heard murmurings about Hadley’s and Rod’s behavior. They all feel bad for how weak it makes you look.”

“I’m not weak.”

“No, you’re not. You’re strong. She doesn’t deserve you.” Her fingers brush over my zipper. I glance down at her hand and then up to her face, my mounting anger falling by the wayside as bafflement pervades me.

“What are you doing?” I’m pretty sure I know, but I can’t grasp her tenacity.

“I want to make you feel better. I want to help Finn Wilder exact his revenge.”

I shove her hand off me. “I’m not cheating on my girlfriend.”

“How can you cheat on her if she broke up with you?”

I swallow through the agony suffocating me, and whisper, “I don’t know.”

“I don’t care what she told you about Rod. I think something happened between them.”

I accused Becks of fucking Greg Rodwell, and she said she’s not. Oh, shit. Am I stupid to think she wouldn’t lie to me when I lied to her about the skydiving?

Looking at Cara, the horror slithers in. On my nightstand are pictures of Becks and me. We were happy and so deeply in love. I thought we were. At least I was. Is she cheating on me while throwing tantrums about me lying to her? I hid the skydiving, but having an affair doesn’t justify that.

Swallowing sobs I won’t share with Cara, I say, “No. She wouldn’t do that to me.”

“Even if she isn’t, she’s still throwing you away, Finn. She broke up with you because she wants you to be someone you’re not. To do something you don’t want. To give up your life for her. She doesn’t want to give you anything in return, and she’s not getting her way, so she’s dumping you. I think you’re perfect the way you are. She doesn’t appreciate that.” Cara leans against me, and her hands move to the belt buckle of my gray pants.

My hands clamp onto her wrists. “No. I love her.”

Slanting her head, she looks up at me. “She doesn’t love the real you. She wants to fulfill her own desires, forgetting about yours. She only wants you on her own terms. She doesn’t give a fuck what you want. She wants to trap you in a marriage, and since you don’t want it, she’s getting rid of you like you’re yesterday’s sports scores. Fuck that. Let me take care of you. Let me help you get over her.”

I stare at Cara, letting go of her wrists. Becks left me. She pitched our love into the fucking trash because I’m not giving in, only wanting me if I marry her. Anything less is unacceptable. She’ll only love me if I’m her husband. I wanted to marry her… someday. But she doesn’t need to be my wife. Legal or not, I’ll eternally love her no matter what. Though I guess in her eyes, our love has an expiration date.

Becks, how can you destroy my heart like this? My life?

“I’ll help you relax. You’ll think clearer tomorrow.” Cara pushes on my chest, and I involuntarily recline back, not having the strength to protest any longer. I’m a damn zombie. All I can think about is how Becks doesn’t want me anymore. My Becks. She asked me to marry her, and I told her no. Now, she wants to end our love like these past three years have meant not a fucking thing to her. I broke her heart, but she broke mine. Her love is conditional only if I become her husband. She won’t love me as her boyfriend or even if she can call me her fiancé. She thinks I’m nothing but a waffling asshole that refuses to grow up because I won’t sign a piece of paper and say I do in front of a shit ton of people I don’t know. That’s what my brain tells me.

My heart wants to fight for her until I’m bruised and bloody. Until my last breath. I should beg her to marry me, but she’d just laugh in my face, as she should. At any rate, I know she’s better off without me.

When she disembowels me, will it be Mortal Kombat, and I instantaneously die in a heap of bones as Becks cheers over me in victory?

As Cara works my fly, I look up at the ceiling. My body belongs to Becks… it did. I want to stop Cara, but my arms won’t move, and my voice is gone. I can’t even breathe. I shouldn’t let her do this, but Becks doesn’t want me now.

Becks, I love you so much. Baby, I need you. I always will. Always…

Imagining it’s Becks’s touch, my vision blurs, so I close my eyes. Becks… She’s all I see and feel, and she’s forever in my heart.

Becks, make me your first and last.

Suck me, baby.

Shit, Hadley.

Fuck, Becks, that was so daring of you, and one of the sexiest things you’ve done for me.

Becks’s tongue, lips, hand all over my cock. Only her, and the more I think of her, my numb body slowly responds, unfaithful amidst my unending devotion to Hadley Beckett. I don’t want to do this with Cara, but I can’t endure the excruciating misery, incinerating me alive in my chest. I’m dying. I need to forget for now because tomorrow, it’ll hit me like a speeding bullet.

I am weak.

God, help me. Forgive me.

My Becks…

I love you.

I can’t do this.

Fuck.

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