She knew what it was like to feel unwanted.
At an early age Eliza Anderson learned a very hard lesson. Sometimes the people who are supposed to love you the most are the ones that cause you the most pain. She learned to guard herself, hesitating to let anyone close for fear of feeling that rejection all over again. Then Ethan came into her life, and what had started as a simple childhood crush morphed into a friendship she eventually came to cherish above all else. He was her safe place. Her rock. A shoulder she could lean on. Until he ripped it all away.
He knew what it was like to feel like an outsider.
Ethan Prewitt grew up learning that you couldn’t always trust the people you loved the most to be there. That sense of security he craved had always alluded him, leaving him to feel like an interloper in his own home. He dreamed of escaping the small town of Pembrooke and building a life where he didn’t have to depend on anyone but himself. What he never expected was for his friendship with Eliza to grow into something that meant everything to him.
Mistakes were made. Hearts were broken. But now Ethan’s home and he’s determined to make it right. It was time for their relationship to come full circle.
Because what they had was once in a lifetime.
***This is Book 2 in the Pembrooke series, a spin-off of Wildflower. They are interconnected standalones.***
“If you’re done with your meal, please feel free to pay your tab, tip the waitress, and leave.” Her tone might have sounded polite, but the way she said it meant it wasn’t so much a suggestion as a demand.
“Shit, Eliza. I’m sorry,” I breathed, running a hand through my hair.
“You know, you’ve been saying that a lot lately.”
“Because I mean it!” I bit back.
“Then stop saying it and start showing it, Ethan. What have you actually <em>done</em> to prove to me or anybody in this town that you’re sorry for being a shitty friend or a shitty brother for the past six years?”
Jesus Christ, she hadn’t been kidding when she said she’d changed. The Eliza I knew was always headstrong, but she’d never been one to make a scene or give someone a verbal ass kicking, even when they deserved it. Clearly, with age came a sharp tongue where Eliza Anderson was concerned. And fuck if it wasn’t sexy as hell to see her reacting with so much passion.
Before I had a chance to apologize again, or maybe do something stupid like tell her just how gorgeous I found her in that very moment another presence interrupted our standoff. And, unlike Quinn’s appearance, that particular blast from the past was unwanted, and very unwelcomed.
“Hi, Ethan. I thought that was you.”
Even if the feminine voice wasn’t familiar to me — in that nails-on-a-chalkboard kind of way — the way Eliza’s entire body went rigid and her face blanked would have told me exactly who was standing behind her.
I knew good and well that Eliza couldn’t stand my on-again-off-again ex-girlfriend Shannon, and she had every right. I’d started dating her my freshman year of high school. She was a year ahead of me in school, sixteen years old, and more than willing to put out with one of the guys from the varsity football team. And seeing as I was a dumbass kid who was only thinking with his dick, I thought she’d walked on water, and throughout the next four years, we broke up and got back together more times than I could count on either hand. She cheated, had a nasty jealous streak, was a spoiled, entitled little brat, and my sister never liked her. Those red flags should have been enough for me to realize that not only wasn’t she a good girlfriend, but she pretty much sucked as a human being all together.
Over the years, one of Shannon’s hot buttons was my relationship with Eliza. Because she didn’t understand what our friendship was like back then, and she felt that she was the only person without a dick I should have been allowed to talk to, she took a distinct dislike to Eliza. And let it show.
She treated Eliza like shit whenever she thought I wouldn’t find out about it, bullying her and being as cruel and nasty as a bitch like her could possibly be, thinking her pussy was enough to keep me on a leash while she secretly treated my best friend like shit. We fought about it constantly, because if I wasn’t there to see it myself, someone else always managed to tell me what evil Shannon was up to when I wasn’t around. Because Eliza was so young and quiet, she most certainly wouldn’t have told me herself.
It wasn’t until I pulled my head out of my ass and finally noticed just how closed off Eliza became whenever Shannon was around that I finally pulled the cord, ending things for good.
But Shannon, being the worst kind of bitch, didn’t use our breakup as a reason to stop her torment of Eliza. She’d never been one to apply herself to much of anything, so while I was in college, she was still in Pembrooke, trying to hold on to her old glory days from high school. I could remember multiple occasions where I’d have to drive my ass all the way from Laramie just so I could hold Eliza while she cried after Shannon had done something particularly mean. I hated not being in the same town to stop my jealous ex, but Eliza swore up and down she didn’t need my protection.
That didn’t stop me from hauling my ass over to Shannon’s house on multiple occasions and ripping the woman a new asshole. Unfortunately it never helped.
Suddenly discovering that venomous woman was still living in the same town as my sweet, mild-mannered (or at least she used to be) best friend made every muscle in my body lock, ready to battle.
“Shannon,” I spoke through clenched teeth, refusing to take my eyes off Eliza as the other woman bumped against her shoulder in an effort to get closer to me.
“I heard you were back,” she said in a low voice that I was sure men who didn’t realize what a blood-sucking shrew she was would find seductive. I wasn’t one of them. Reaching across the table, she ran a painted nail along the back of my hands as she continued with that ridiculous fucking voice. “It’s been a long time. I was hoping we could catch up.”
“Hasn’t been long enough, and as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing to catch up on. I’m just here, catching up with an old friend and trying to enjoy my meal. So…” Anyone else would have taken the hint and taken off before they did something to embarrass themselves. But not her. Because heartless skanks had no shame.
“Well I’ll join you,” she said cheerfully, shoving Eliza out of the way in order to claim the bench across from me.
My mouth opened to object, but my girl got there first, shocking the hell out of me while filling my chest with pride all at the same time. “Sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” she said in a syrupy sweet voice.
Shannon looked at her with a hateful glare. “What? Why?”
“There’s a sign clearly posted outside that states ‘no shoes, no shirt, no service’ and seeing as half your shirt looks like it was ripped off by a mountain lion or something before you walked in here, your clothing choices aren’t meeting the standards of this particular establishment.” And just to add insult to injury, she added, sweetly, “Maybe try the Denny’s on the other side of town? I just hope their <em>no dogs allowed</em> policy won’t count for you.”
“Who the hell do you think you are, you stupid, frumpy bitch?!” Shannon started to stand, but I shot from my seat and stood in front of Eliza faster. After that display I had no doubt she could do more than just hold her own, but she’d said her piece. If Shannon was stupid enough not to get that she wasn’t wanted, I was going to clear things up. There was no reason for Eliza to be forced to engage any further than she already had.
“No one invited you to sit here,” I told her, the tone of my voice causing her eyes to grow wide.
I cut her off, not feeling bad in the slightest. “I didn’t ask you to join me for lunch, and I sure as fuck don’t want you sitting across from me while I’m trying to keep my food down. So since Eliza doesn’t want you here, and <em>I </em>sure as shit don’t want you here, there’s no reason for you to stay.”
“Babe, just let me—”
“We have nothing to catch up on seeing as the last words I ever spoke to you were that if I ever found out you so much as <em>looked</em> at Eliza wrong, I’d make your life miserable. You clearly didn’t listen, so it looks like I’ll have to make good on my promise.”
I could hear the muffled voices and movement from the people straining to hear, but other than Shannon’s spiteful words, they hadn’t been able to hear the full exchange, which did nothing but make her look like an even bigger fool since most of the town had always thought Eliza to be the sweetest.
“You’re still standing here,” a sarcastic voice spoke up from behind me. I barely suppressed an eye roll when I turned to look over my shoulder to give Eliza a <em>really? Could you not right now </em>look.
She shrugged, but had the grace to look properly scolded.
It was the pure hate in Shannon’s voice that forced my head to turn back around as she spoke, “You always chose her over me.” She spit as her eyes shot fire in my direction. “That twisted, weird little relationship you guys had back them was creepy and it’s still fucking creepy today.”
I shrugged. “Rather be in a relationship only <em>you </em>would consider creepy than stuck with a heartless bitch like you.”
She moved to slap me, a motion I would have had no problem blocking had a particular little ball of fire not jumped in front of me and grabbed Shannon’s wrist before I could. “You slap him and, so help me God, I’ll rip your hair out at the roots. Now get the hell out of <em>my </em>building before I have someone call the cops and escort your ass out.”
We both watched in silence as a red-faced, clearly embarrassed Shannon spun on her hooker heels and stomped out of the café.
“Well…” I breathed, gaining Eliza’s attention. “That was fun.”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head as she turned and headed back for the kitchen, but not before I saw the corners of her mouth twitching with a suppressed smile.
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A Mom to a teenager, Wife, Veteran and full-time employed. Currently owned by our Catahoula and English Bulldog.