Chapter Twenty-Two – A Lonely Future
by Laura Breck
Mitch stood with one foot on the ground and one on the bottom step, hanging on to Major’s collar. The disloyal dog wanted to go after Candy. Hell, he wanted to go after her, but something held him dangling between advance and retreat.
No one knew his inner pain. Other than the therapist he saw ten years ago, no one understood why he’d run away to Georgia.
Candy disappeared around a bend in the path. Gone. He looked down at Major, who stared at him with censure in his gaze. “In the house, boy.” Major walked inside, his head held low.
Mitch stared down the path. He wasn’t ready to spill his weaknesses all over the kitchen table for Candy to see. For Candy to judge. The way his father had judged ten years ago.
The fear that Candy would respond the same way held him back. It wasn’t the girl he’d known years ago, or the woman he’d gotten to know the last few days. It was the Candy he’d met at the gas station that made him leery. The hard-driving, demanding city girl who’d looked him up and down and jumped to categorize him.
It was too late, anyway. She was gone now, or would be as soon as…
“Shit.” He tugged his phone out of his pocket and dialed Jeb.
His neighbor answered on the second ring. “Brother, what's happening over in Romanceville?”
“Candy left me. She’s on her way to your place.”
Silence. “She’s dumping you for me?” His voice held a chuckle.
“She wants to get away from me. Do you have time to drive her to Atlanta?”
“You’re serious.” Jeb huffed out a long sigh. “All I’ve got is time. But I’d rather hand you my truck keys and let you drive her.”
If Mitch couldn’t talk to her in his own home, there was no way he’d be able to break loose in Jeb’s truck. “Just make sure you get her there safe, okay?”
“Yeah, she’ll be safe.” He paused. “When I get back, if you need a drink…”
“Thanks. I owe you one.” He clicked the off button. No amount of alcohol would wash away this mess. His lungs wouldn’t fill. As if something inside him was missing.
A rare nocturnal cardinal landed on a bare tree branch where Mitch had hung a feeder full of sunflower seeds. The yard light spotlighted the bright spot of color against the dull landscape. Kind of like Candy… No. Not going to make up metaphors about her.
He turned and walked into the house, the smell of the simmering stew hitting him in the stomach. It wasn’t hunger. It tasted like guilt. He covered the pot and turned off the stove.
In his stocking feet, he padded into the bedroom and found Major lying with his head on Candy's sweater. “That’s not yours. Off,” he chided, and the dog raised his head.
Mitch picked up the piece of fluff and fought the urge to press it to his nostrils and suck in her scent. It probably smelled like dog anyway. Should he wash it and dry it before he shipped it back to her with the rest of her stuff?
No, this had to be expensive and dry-clean only. He knew of a half-dozen drycleaners, but all of them were in New York City. Different lives. Folding the sweater carefully, he shook his head. Different worlds.
He opened her suitcase. It sat on top of his dresser, serving as a reminder of the certainty that this relationship was over. He’d been counting on a few more days, though.
Setting her sweater in the suitcase, his fingers brushed a silky scrap of panty. He jerked his hand back. She’d been so soft, so passionate in his arms. Adventurous one hour and slowly seductive the next. The perfect lover.
Mitch rubbed the heels of his hands over his closed eyes, needing to erase those memories. He’d never hold her again. Never carry her to his bed and press himself along her satiny length. Never kiss her, or taste her sweetness.
Fisting his hands, he punched them toward the ceiling and dropped his head back, letting out an animal howl of pain. Major jumped onto the bed, barking and circling.
He picked up a pair of her jeans, rolled them into a ball, and threw it into the suitcase. “I’m so damned messed up…” Picking up her robe, he threw it into the suitcase. “I let her go…” He hurled her boots in on top of her clothes. “The most amazing woman…” Mitch picked up her bra, then dropped it.
He collapsed on the bed, and Major instantly lay next to him, his head on his chest, his canine eyes full of worry. Petting his best friend with soothing strokes, Mitch murmured, “The one I let get away.”