Never Fade Page 109

“Look,” I began, “I get it. You don’t like me, but—”

“I don’t like you?”

He let out a low, flat laugh. One fell into the next, and it was awful—not at all him. He was half choking on them as he turned around, shaking his head. It almost sounded like a sob, the way his breath burst out of him.

“I don’t like you,” he repeated, his face bleak. “I don’t like you?”

“Liam—” I started, alarmed.

“I can’t—I can’t think about anything or anyone else,” he whispered. A hand drifted up, dragging back through his hair. “I can’t think straight when you’re around. I can’t sleep. It feels like I can’t breathe—I just—”

“Liam, please,” I begged. “You’re tired. You’re barely over being sick. Let’s just… Can we just go back to the others?”

“I love you.” He turned toward me, that agonized expression still on his face. “I love you every second of every day, and I don’t understand why, or how to make it stop—”

He looked wild with pain; it pinned me in place, even before what he had said registered in my mind.

“I know it’s wrong; I know it down to my damn bones. And I feel like I’m sick. I’m trying to be a good person, but I can’t. I can’t do it anymore.”

What is this? The look of open pain on his face was too much to process. My mind couldn’t work fast enough.

My hands fisted in the pockets of my coat. I felt myself backing away toward the door, trying to escape that look, trying to stop my heart from tearing out of my chest. He’s confused. Explain it to him. He’s only confused.

“Look at me.”

I couldn’t move; there was nowhere to go. He wasn’t hiding from me anymore. I felt his feelings unravel around him, a flood of warmth and a piercing pain that cut through the daze I felt when he stepped in close to me.

My hands stayed in my pockets; his were at his sides. We weren’t touching, not really. I had the sudden, sharp memory of the way his fingers had brushed against mine a few hours before. He bent his face down to my shoulder, his breath slipping through three layers of cloth to warm the skin there. One of his fingers hooked a belt loop on my jeans and inched me just that tiny bit closer. His nose skimmed up my throat, along my cheek, and I saw none of it. I squeezed my eyes shut as his forehead finally came to rest against mine.

“Look at me.”

“Don’t do this,” I whispered.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” he breathed out. “I feel like…I feel like I’m losing my damn mind, like your face has been carved into my heart, and I don’t remember when, and I don’t understand why, but the scar is there, and I can’t get it to heal. It won’t go. I can’t make it fade. And you won’t even look at me.”

My hands slipped out of the safety of my coat and gripped his jacket’s soft leather. He was still wearing Cole’s beneath it. “It’s okay,” I choked out. “We’ll figure it out.”

“I swear,” he whispered, his mouth hovering over mine. “I swear, I swear…I swear we were on that beach, and I saw you wearing this light green dress, and we talked for hours. I had a life, and so did you, and we lived them together. It doesn’t fit. That piece doesn’t fit. Claire was there, and Cole promised we’d never been. But then…I see your face in the firelight, and I remember different fires, different smiles, different everything. I remember you in the green dress, and then it becomes a green uniform, and it doesn’t make sense!”

Green dress—the beach? Virginia Beach?

One tear escaped my lashes, then another. It had happened so fast; I’d had to work so quickly in that sky blue room. What he was saying now—none of it had happened, not really, but the way he had told it then had felt real to me. We could have met that summer, on that beach, with nothing but a tiny stretch of sun and sand to keep us apart. I must have been thinking about it, even as I pulled myself out of his thoughts and memories. I must have missed that one tiny sliver of myself, or pushed it, or—

“I’m… It’s—it’s like torture.” His voice was strained, hardly even a whisper. “I think I’m losing it—I don’t know what’s happening, what happened, but I look at you, I look at you, and I love you so much. Not because of anything you’ve said, or done, or anything at all. I look at you, and I just love you, and it terrifies me. It terrifies me what I would do for you. Please…you have to tell me…tell me I’m not crazy. Please just look at me.”

My eyes drifted up to his, and it was over.

His lips caught mine in a hard kiss, driving them apart with the force of it. There was nothing gentle about it. I felt the door rattle against my back as he shifted, pressing me against it, taking my face between his hands. Every thought in my head exploded to a pure, pounding white, and I felt the dark curl of desire begin to twist inside me, bending all my rules, snapping that last trembling bit of restraint. I tried one last time to pull away.

“No,” he said, bringing my lips back to his. It was just like it had been before—I slid my hands under his jacket to press him closer. The low groan at the back of his throat, a small, pleading noise that set every inch of my skin on fire.

Then, it changed. I pulled back, gasping for a breath, and when I found him again, it was deeper, and softer, and sweeter. It was a kiss I remembered, the kind we used to have when it felt like we had all the time in the world, when the roads stretched out just for us.

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