I’d royally screwed up. Old habits die hard and my need to help Ash and protect her was a very old habit. Last night when Beau had left me with her, asking me to take care of her while he went to get the pain meds, I’d taken one look at her pale face and panicked. I’d needed to be the one to ease her pain. It just flipped a switch in me.
When Beau had returned and she’d curled up in his arms as he rocked her and soothed her, the reality of the situation washed over me. I’d been a stand-in. She’d not clung to me that way. She never would again. She was Beau’s.
Opening the tent and seeing Lana curled up as far away from my sleeping bag as she could get told me all I needed to know. She’d seen what I hadn’t last night until it was too late. Only twenty-four hours before I’d been touching and kissing her body in places that had given us both our first real experience with pleasure. I’d been so tempted to reach for her and pull her against me as she slept but I knew my touch wouldn’t be welcome. I’d been abrupt and rude to her when she’d inquired about Ashton. Looking back, I knew I’d not wanted her to see me taking care of Ashton. I wanted her to go away so she wouldn’t see me treating Ash with a tenderness no one else had ever brought out in me. This was my secret moment with Ash. My step back in time when she’d turned into my arms. Lana being there had caused things in me to stir I didn’t understand. With Lana standing there wide-eyed and hurt it made what was happening wrong. It screwed with my head.
She’d been gone from the tent when I woke up and she’d ignored me ever since. I didn’t know what to say to her. How did I explain last night? How did I make that better? Since we started our hike this morning she had been leading the group like a woman intent on getting away. I didn’t catch up to her. She’d refused to make eye contact with me over breakfast and I was too much of a chickenshit to force her to acknowledge me.
“Why couldn’t I have stayed back at the campsite with Ash and Beau?” Heidi whined behind me.
“Because Ash is recovering from her migraine last night and Beau is taking care of her. Trust me, they want privacy. At least, I know Beau does,” Jake chuckled.
“She’s sick, Jake. She isn’t going to screw Beau on the hard ground in a tent,” Heidi hissed.
“Who said she was gonna be the one on the ground?” Jake replied.
Listening to talk about Beau and Ash’s sex life wasn’t something I was in the mood for. I quickened my pace until I was only steps behind Lana. The little shorts she was wearing cupped her ass tightly as she took each long stride.
I’d had my hand on that sweet little bottom just the other night. I was having my doubts that I’d ever get that chance again. The idea bothered me. No, I wasn’t okay with that. I wasn’t ready to let her go. August wasn’t here yet. I wasn’t ready to walk away from her.
“Are you going to ever speak to me again?” I asked. She paused before continuing her uphill trek.
“Sure. What do you want to talk about?” she replied in a bored voice.
“Lana, please slow down and talk to me,” I pleaded.
She didn’t slow down. If anything, she picked up her speed. If she kept this up, she was going to have to break into a run.
“Nothing to talk about Sawyer. I’d rather just walk.”
Reaching out I grabbed her hand and stopped her. She tried snatching it back and I held firm.
“Let go of me,” she snarled, finally lifting those bright green eyes to meet mine. The hurt in them made my knees weak. Ah, damn. What the hell had I done?
“Please, Lana, please talk to me,” I begged, closing the distance between us.
“Keep walking folks. Nothing to see. Let Sawyer attempt to clean up the mess he’s made,” Jake announced as the others walked past us.
Once they’d gotten far enough ahead, I let Lana pull her hand free of my grasp.
“Fine. Talk,” she said, crossing her arms protectively over her chest.
“Last night…” I began trying to think of how I could explain this to her without making it worse.
“I’ll help you since you seem to have lost your words. Last night Ashton got sick and you had an excuse to hold her and take care of her. You went into protect-and-comfort-Ashton mode. Nothing or no one else mattered because you love her. She needed you and you were right there for her without question. You wouldn’t let me help her because you couldn’t stand the thought of missing the chance to hold her.”
“That’s not it. Being tuned into helping Ashton is a habit. I’ve been doing it for most of my life. That kind of habit is hard to break.”
Lana let out a hard laugh, “Really? Well, isn’t that a cute little tidy way to wrap up everything I just said.” Lana took a step toward me, pointed a finger at my chest and jabbed me with it. “I’m tired of being second choice or third choice. I’ve got enough of that in my life. Last night, I needed someone too. I needed someone to listen to me. Too bad no one wants to be Lana’s shoulder to cry on. No one cares that Lana needs someone to give a crap about her.”
Her eyes glistened with unshed tears and my chest got so tight I felt like it was about to crack open.
“This is over. Leave it alone. I’m done.” Lana spat, then turned around and began to walk away. Acting quickly, I reached out and wrapped my hand around her arm.
“What happened last night? Why did you need me?”
Her shoulders heaved and I pulled her back against my chest and held her whether she wanted me to or not.
“Let me go, Sawyer,” her voice broke.
“No. Now tell me what you meant by all that.”
Another sob broke free and she shook her head angrily. “NO. You don’t get to demand answers. I don’t tell people much. I keep my emotions inside. But last night, I wanted to tell you,” she let out a short sad laugh. “I thought I might have someone who wanted to listen. Someone who would care. But I was wrong.”
“No, you weren’t. I do care. I want you to talk to me.”
“Too late,” she growled, pulling against the hold I had on her.
“I was wrong last night Lana. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. Please, please forgive me. It’ll never happen again,” I paused, unsure if I was ready to bare my soul to her.
“You’re right. It won’t happen again. Because I’m done with trying to make people care about me. I shouldn’t have to work so hard to get those that I love to love me back. No one else has to try so damn hard. No one. Just me. Just Lana McDaniel. I’ve had it. If I am so difficult to want then I don’t need anyone. I’ve managed alone this far. I’m a freaking pro!”
If it was possible for someone else’s pain to break your heart then Lana’s pain had just shattered mine. Emotion burned my throat as I tightened my hold on her. I’d wanted inside her head. She was so closed off and I’d wondered why. Now I knew. She didn’t trust anyone enough to let them in—until last night. She’d decided she could let me in, and what had I done? I’d thrown her trust in her face. God, I was the world’s biggest idiot.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, pressing a kiss to her temple. “Can you forgive me? Can you trust me to put you first? I swear what happened last night will never happen again. It was the first time I’d had to deal with something like that since the break-up. When Beau came back and Ashton scrambled into his lap and arms with desperation to be near him. It didn’t hurt the way I thought it would. It just slapped some sense into me. She didn’t need me anymore. She wasn’t mine to protect. I could move on. It was time. Last night was a closure I needed.” I stopped and grabbed Lana’s shoulders and turned her around to face me. Her red swollen eyes just about sent me to my knees.
“This is new for me. I’m learning how to have a relationship with someone other than Ashton. I made a horrible mistake. It was like a relapse. But you,” I reached up and tucked the tear dampened hair that had worked its way loose behind her ear. “You touch a place inside of me that Ashton never did. I feel things with you I never felt for her. I loved her for a very long time. I can’t help the fact I still want to be there if she needs me. Next time there is a choice to make it will be you I choose first. I can promise you that.”
Lana searched my face as if she was waiting for more. I wasn’t sure what else I could say.
“It isn’t easy always being second best. Soon, I’ll be third best with my dad. I keep getting pushed down the list with him. Maybe that makes me selfish but I just need there to be someone who I can run to. Last night I was running to you,” she paused and swallowed. “You would think after the rejection I’ve been dealt in my life that I’d be used to it. But it doesn’t get easier. Not really. It makes you cautious. It makes you careful not to get your hopes up. I got my hopes up with you. It’ll be hard for me to hand that kind of trust over again. This doesn’t mean we can’t still see each other this summer. It just means we need to take a few steps back. We sped forward the other night in the tent. Now, we need to back up.”
She was forgiving me. I could earn her trust again. She’d open up to me again and I’d be ready for it. I would be there when she needed me.
“Fair enough,” I replied. I slipped a finger under her chin and tilted her head back. “I need to kiss you now.”
“Okay,” she whispered as my lips touched hers.
Beau had the camp packed up and strapped down on top of the Suburban when we arrived back at the campsite. He said Ashton needed to sleep in a decent bed tonight and we were all going to go to a hotel then head home in the morning. No one argued with him. I think we all were ready for a real bed anyway. I almost sighed in relief.
I told Jake to sit up front with Sawyer and said I’d sit in the back beside Ashton. I just wasn’t ready to spend any more time with Sawyer right now. I’d forgiven him but my heart was still wounded. Ashton had understood and she’d reached down and held my hand as I slid in beside her. It had been a quiet trip.
We were at the closest affordable hotel and the guys were getting our rooms. I wasn’t sure if I was sharing a room with Sawyer or if I was expected to get my own. I had enough to get my own if I needed to. No reason to save up for my college dreams. My dad had shot that hope down.
Sitting in the lobby of the hotel, I waited with the other girls. I was still dirty from our day outdoors and I wanted a shower. Not to mention I was exhausted physically and emotionally.
Sawyer walked toward me with his backpack and mine slung over his shoulders. “You need to get anything out of that duffle bag you and Ash are sharing?”
“Um… yeah. I guess. Are we sharing a room?”
Sawyer looked concerned as he closed the short distance between us. “I thought we were okay. You didn’t sit beside me but I figured you wanted to check on Ash.”
“That’s fine. I was just wondering. I can get my own room if needed.”
Sawyer reached out and slipped his hand in mine. I let him thread his fingers through mine. “I want you with me.”
I nodded and forced a smile. He bent down and kissed me on the forehead. “I’m going to fix this. I promise you. You’ll trust me again,” he whispered before straightening back up and leading me toward the elevator.
We all managed to get rooms on the same floor. Sawyer slipped the key card into the door to room 314 and opened it up. He held out his hand for me to enter first. The room was roomier than most hotels I’d stayed at but then he’d been determined that we were staying at the Marriott instead of the mom and pop motel across the street. A king sized bed sat in the center of everything.
“One bed,” I said, glancing back at him.
“They didn’t have any doubles available. Is this okay?”
“Sure,” I replied and reached for my backpack still on his shoulder. “Can I take a shower first?”
He slid it down his arm and handed it to me. “Of course. Take your time. I’ll order us some dinner.”
“Okay, thank you.”
I turned to walk into the bathroom.
“Lana?” His voice sounded sad. I hated making him sad but I didn’t have the energy to do anything about it. I was drained.
“Yes?” I asked and turned to look back at him. He reminded me of a lost little boy. His perfect face was troubled.
“Being an idiot,” he replied.
“I’ve already forgiven you, Sawyer.”
He looked defeated. “Have you really?”
“My forgiving you doesn’t make my heart hurt less. It takes awhile to heal.”
I didn’t wait for his response. I closed the door behind me and turned on the shower.