How He Really Feels (He Feels Trilogy) (23 page)

“I was upset, so I went out drinking. And don’t worry, nothing happened. Well, one girl kissed me. But my heart belongs to you.”

I felt stung. I felt like he cheated on me. And in my mixed up fog over dealing with riding the elevator with Nick that morning, my reaction seemed to mean one thing to me: If I felt jealous that Travis was looking at another woman, then obviously I wanted Travis as more than my friend. That had to mean
something.
Didn’t it?

Deep down, I think I knew that it was wrong. I think I knew that this could only end one way for Travis and me, and I think I knew that it would cause irreparable damage to the most stable relationship in my life.

But in that moment, all of those thoughts were pushed down as I had the sudden need for comfort. I needed a hug, I needed to be told that I was beautiful and I needed to feel that someone loved me. Even if it wasn’t Nick.

“Trav, are you free to meet me for lunch at my place?” I asked.

“Sure. Ten minutes,” he hung up.

I got home in a record six minutes, with just enough time to brush my teeth and fluff my hair. The bell rang and I buzzed up Travis. I opened the door and greeted him. He looked fantastic. He had shaved his scruff, looking cleaner cut than the day before. His hair was gelled
and adorable, and I knew that he wanted it to look like he didn’t put any work into it even though he obviously did. He didn’t smell like Nick, but he smelled good. I pulled him in and wrapped my arms around his waist, slamming the door behind him. I looked up into his eyes and raised myself on my tiptoes, bringing my lips to his for a kiss. It didn’t feel right, but I convinced myself that if I kept doing it, eventually it would. We made out for a few moments, until he broke away.

“What happened to ‘just friends’? What about ‘taking it slow’?” he asked, puzzled at my sudden change of heart.

I was confused, too, and still in a deep, dark place; but I put on a mask that I didn’t even know I owned and sold it like I wasn’t dealing with the biggest heartbreak of my life. “Trav, I’ve been an idiot. When you told me about the girl that kissed you last night, I felt so jealous. I know I have no reason to feel mad, but I was. I felt hurt and betrayed that someone else kissed you. I wanted you to wait for me, but now I realize you can’t wait forever. My heart is still in pieces, but I need you.” Apparently I needed his friendship any way I could get it, even though my broken heart was telling me that I needed him just to be my friend.

He smiled. “Hypocrite,” he laughed, taking me in his arms and kissing me again.

We made some sandwiches for lunch, and after we finished eating and we were saying goodbye, he asked, “So are we officially an item? Or just friends with benefits?”

I smiled at him, trying to mask the fact that the question caught me off guard. I still wasn’t ready for anything more than friendship, but his comfort felt good and reassuring. Deep down a thought ebbed away at me that the reason I was doing this was to get revenge on Nick. Was I? I hoped that wasn’t true. I hoped that the anguish I was feeling wasn’t making me act out of character, that it wasn’t making me use my best friend. I pushed those thoughts down before they made me feel guilt
y. “Officially? How about an item with benefits?”

He chuckled and kissed me again. He always tasted good, but he tasted like my best friend. He just wasn’t Nick. And someday, I hoped that I could just get used to that and stop making these comparisons between them. It was just too fresh a wound not to for now, though.

“Thanks for making my dream come true,” he whispered. I kissed him again.

“I’ve got to get back to work. You can stay if you want,” I said.

“Nah, I’ll go. I have to get to work, too. But let’s do dinner tonight, okay? We’ll celebrate.”

“You got it,” I pecked him one last time and left. I convinced myself that I had made a good decision. Maybe Travis and I could really have something together. Maybe in time I would heal and I would stop feeling the misery and the darkness of my broken heart. Maybe Travis could be the one who mended it whole again. And maybe someday it wouldn’t feel like I was kissing my best friend. Maybe the spark I felt with Nick would come back with someone else, someone like Travis, once I was able to get over him. Maybe the spark could grow between us. Even as the thought entered my mind, I knew that it was impossible to manufacture a spark, but I had to cling to the hope that someday I would get over Nick and feel something more for Travis than friendship.

I returned to my office building, once again at the same time as Nick.
Great,
I thought.
Nice coincidence.
Why was it that every time I made a breakthrough, as miniscule as it was, I was immediately reminded of him? I contemplated taking the stairs again, but I didn’t want to be the girl who changed her entire schedule because of one stupid man. One stupid, incredibly sexy man. One stupid man who still made my heart beat faster, who was still a beacon in the storm even after what he had put me through. Why did he have this effect on me? I wanted to hate him for hurting me, but I physically couldn’t. I was drawn to him, and it brought on another wave of sadness that we couldn’t be together. I still couldn’t comprehend how he possibly didn’t feel that passion for me when my passion for him was so strong. I had never felt that way about any man before him. Sure, I loved Travis; but my love for Travis would never match the love I felt for Nick. And even though I had just left Travis, the second Nick was in front of me, I questioned everything. If I already knew that I would never feel the same way about Travis as I had about Nick, I couldn’t possibly start a relationship with him. Yet somehow I had.

Nick and I got onto the elevator together. I glared in his general direction, refusing to meet his eyes even though I glanced just once at his lips.
God, those lips. I remembered how they felt on my skin, on my neck, against my own lips. In the quick glance I allowed myself, I could see that even he still looked totally sexy, his face was drawn and gaunt, and his eyes looked exceptionally tired and haunted with deep, dark bags under them and deeply ingrained lines. I could feel the tension in that elevator radiating between us.

Neither of us spoke during the interminable ride, but when the elevator slowed at our floor, Nick spoke just before the doors opened.

His voice was edgy, hoarse, and soft. “Julianne, can I speak with you in my office?”

Something in his tone told me that this was very serious. I nodded once curtly, unable to find my voice, scared as hell about what he was about to say to me as I followed him off the elevator and to his office. He told Christine not to allow any interruptions as we walked into his office. He shut the door behind me and gestured to a chair facing his desk. He leaned against the edge of his desk so we were facing each other. I felt extremely nervous as my palms began to sweat, and I looked down at the floor instead of at him. As I felt his eyes on me, I could sense his emotional state. He was particularly anxious and nervous – more so than me, even.

He stood silently for a moment. I finally broke my staring contest with the floor and looked up at him, and he was standing there with his eyes shut, the fingers of his left hand massaging his forehead while his right hand was grasping the edge of the desk. He inhaled a deep breath. He opened his eyes to exhale, and his eyes locked on mine. Looking into his eyes again took my breath away.

He ran a nervous hand through his hair.

“Julianne, I can’t stand this.” He looked so apprehensive, so earnest, and especially so serious. The atmosphere was intense. All I could do was listen. “These past few days have been the worst of my life.”

My heart stopped for a moment.
The worst of my life
?
Did I hear that right?

He looked panicked as he paused for a moment. Then he took another deep breath, rubbed the back of his head, and continued. “I need to explain something.” He paused. I had never seen him look so nervous before.

“Tom Davidson found out about us.” My heart leapt into my throat as Nick continued. “He talked to me on Friday right before I left for your place. He told me that I either had to break it off with you or lose my job.”

I was utterly speechless.

“Julianne, I love you,” he said. He ran his fingers through his hair again. His nervous movements contrasted with the sudden firm resolve in his voice.
I love you
, his words resonated in my head. “I love you more than I knew I could love someone. I turned in my resignation today. What you and I have means more to me than some fucking job.”

Thrills shot down my spine, sending chills through my body as I heard those three words out of Nick’s mouth for the very first time.
I love you.
I couldn’t find my voice. Nick started toward me and pulled me out of my chair, hauling me up into his arms. My heart raced in my chest as the long dormant electric tingles of being in his arms ignited again. In a split second, a million thoughts ran through my head. First I remembered what it was like to kiss him. Oh, those lips. Those amazing, perfect lips.

“Please take me back. Please forgive me for being so stupid and letting you go.”

My heart jumped at the thought as a shiver ran down the length of my body. I thought of how perfect what we had was. I thought about the feelings, the passion I had, that feeling that he was my soul mate. I knew how much I loved him, and now it was confirmed that he felt the same way about me. I thought about how much I wanted him to kiss me at that very moment. I took in that familiar scent, the scent that intoxicated me, the scent that I was addicted to. I felt his arms encircled about me, and I knew that I was in the place where I was meant to be. I was caught up in him and dizzy with his warmth so close to me.

And then reality set it.

I thought of the pain of the past few days, how Nick not only broke my heart, but smashed it unrecognizably into a million pieces. And then there was my best friend, my new boyfriend of an hour. I didn’t want to hurt him. He was such an important part of my life, and I treasured him dearly. But he didn’t make my palms sweat, not the way that Nick did. He didn’t make my knees shake, and the pure smell of him didn’t send me into other galaxies. My soul wasn’t connected to his in some inexplicable way the way it was to Nick’s.

Meanwhile, as these thoughts raced through my mind, Nick was holding me. I inhaled deeply his scent. He stared into my eyes, as if he would find some answers deep in there. I stared back into his, a mixture of emotions running through me.
Love, hate, ecstasy, pain, joy, sorrow, exhilaration.

“So?” he anxiously asked, arms tightening around me.

“Huh?” I finally found my voice.

“Take me back.”

I pulled back out of his arms, lost in thought.

I had only one question. “Nick, if Tom found out about us, why didn’t you just tell me? Why did you have to break my heart?”

He looked down at the floor, shame in his eyes. “I feel like a fucking asshole for what I did to you. I am so sorry.” His gaze landed back on my eyes. He fidgeted with his hair again. “I was so torn. It all happened so quickly; Tom spoke to me about it literally on my way out the door on Friday. I didn’t want to hurt you, but I didn’t want to lose my job, either. I didn’t know what to do, but I had to make a snap decision. I made the wrong decision. The reason I said what I did was so that you would hate me. I wanted you to just think I was a jerk so that you move on with your life and not miss having me in it. I swear I did it for you. I didn’t do it because I was trying to hurt you. I did it so you would move on and forget about me.”

I stared at him, dumbfounded. I believed him; I believed every word of it. But now I had Travis to consider, too. And as much as I wanted Nick to hold me in his arms and never let me go, I needed time to think. I needed to sort out what I was feeling. I still didn’t get why he didn’t just tell me, and I was scared that he would do it again. And I couldn’t believe that he thought that I would ever be able to just forget about him.

Then the words finally came. “Nick, I don’t know what to say. Your first instinct was to choose your job over me, and that hurts. You completely shattered me. So much has happened in these past few days…hours, even…and I’m just not ready for all of this. I honestly don’t have an answer for you.”

His face fell as I spoke. “Julianne, I did all of this for you,” his gorgeous forehead wrinkled as he motioned to the packed boxes by his desk that had gone unnoticed by me until that very moment. “I’m willing to give up the future of my career for a future with you.”

I
really
wasn’t prepared for that. I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. As painful as it was, I couldn’t give in to what I really wanted: Nick. “Nick, you just don’t understand. A lot has changed,” I said.

“Then let’s talk about it. We will work it out.” His gaze was earnest, longing.

“I don’t know if we can,” I said. “I’ve got to go.”

“Julianne, don’t go, not yet,” he said, grabbing my arm, pulling me into his arms and crushing his lips against mine before I had the chance to protest. I didn’t try to resist because I didn’t want to. I melted into him like I had so many times before, my mouth opening to his. I felt safe, loved, and most of all, treasured like I
was the most important person in his world. I was back where I belonged.

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