“Come on, man. She fucked you over. She’s a piece of shit. Dump her for good and move on. She’s not worth your time.”
Nathan looked down at his hands. They were clasped tight and he felt the stirrings of anger. Nathan being mad at Mia was one thing. Hearing Jamal talk shit about her didn’t sit right with him. “She did it because she cares about me.”
Jamal’s lips curved. “So you love her.”
Then it dawned on him. “You were testing me. Fucker.”
Jamal laughed. “Hey, it worked, didn’t it? You don’t want things to be over with her, do you? If you were really done with her, you’d have joined in the trash talk. Instead, you defended her.”
“So, she made a mistake and your ego got bruised. Man, I’ve been there. It’s hard to admit to ourselves when that happens. Hell, wasn’t that long ago Wendy and I had a big-ass blowup. She walked out and I swore we were done.”
“So what happened?”
“I cooled down and we talked and we both realized we were two stubborn people who liked things our own way. But we talked to each other, man. We figured it out. That’s what you and Mia have to do.”
Nathan dragged in a deep breath. “You’re right. Thanks, Jamal.”
“Hey, that’s what friends are for. You know I’m always here for you.”
He didn’t know what he’d do without his best friend.
Now he had to go and get his other best friend back.
MIA WAS SHOCKED TO HER TOES WHEN SHE GOT THE text message from Nathan while she was at work.
Can you come over to my place tonight?
She didn’t know what it meant, but she was more than open to it. She quickly sent back a reply.
He replied with: How about 6:30?
There was nothing in his message to indicate whether he wanted to yell at her some more or whether he was in a good mood. But she wanted to be prepared either way. After work, she stopped and bought something for him. Then she took a shower, dried her hair and put on makeup, then slipped into a black-and-white sundress and her sandals. She wanted to keep it casual, but she wanted to look good, too.
She drove over to his place and took out the bag and carried it to his door, her heart pounding the entire time. She rang the bell, hoping she didn’t pass out from the stress while she waited.
Nathan pulled the door open. He was wearing relaxed jeans and a tight dark T-shirt. His hair was thick and long and if they’d still been friends she would have teased him about needing a haircut.
But she didn’t have that right anymore.
He looked so good and all she wanted to do was smother him with kisses and wrap herself around him and never let him go.
“Hi,” he said. “Come on in.”
She walked in and he shut the door behind her. She felt awkward and nervous and hated every second of how she felt around him.
She really missed her best friend.
“I have wine. Would you like a glass?”
She’d like about four glasses.
“Yes. Thank you.”
He sounded just as nervous and awkward as she was. That made her feel a little better.
“I’ll be right back.” He stopped and turned around. “Uh, you can sit down if you’d like. I also have snacks. You hungry?”
“Not right now.”
She took a seat on his sofa and looked around. His place was still as she remembered. Very chrome and black and gray. Nicely furnished, but . . . stark.
He came back in with a glass of white wine and handed it to her.
She noticed he took a seat on the chair, not on the sofa with her.
“Nice dress,” he said.
She was going to die if they continued to talk to each other like they were acquaintances instead of friends. Lovers.
“My mom was here visiting last week. I got the dress when I was out shopping with her.”
His brows raised. “Your mom came to visit?”
“Oh, yeah?” He frowned. “Everything okay? With your parents? Your brothers?”
“Yes. Everything’s fine.” She wasn’t about to tell him her mother came because she’d utterly fallen apart after their last encounter. “Just an impromptu visit.”
“I’m sure that was nice.”
“My parents were here with Sam after the game last weekend.”
“Oh, great. I’m sure you had a wonderful time visiting with them. And with Sam.”
“Yeah, it was good.”
“And your game was exceptional.”
He took a swallow of beer and set it down on the table. “Mia, I—”
“I love you, Nathan.”
He stared at her. She couldn’t believe she’d just blurted it out.
“I realized I’d never said it to you. And I’m sorry. I should have said it before. And I meant to. It was my main motivation for—for what I did. Because I loved you. I mean, not past tense. It’s not like I don’t love you now, because I do.” She set her wineglass on the table. “God, I’m screwing this up.”
He slanted a look at her, one that spoke of the same confusion she felt. “We’re weird around each other now. It sucks.”
She inhaled deeply, then blew it out. “Yes. I hate it. We’ve never been weird around each other and I hate that we are now. And it’s all my fault and I’m sorry about that. I made such a mistake, Nathan. I was trying to do the right thing for you and I ended up screwing up. I screwed us up right when things were going so well.”
“Yeah, you did. But I didn’t help things by not coming out and asking you what was going on. You know how pushy I am. But my pride got in the way.”
“None of this is your fault. It’s entirely mine.”
“And I loved you, too. Love you, too. Still, present tense.”
She blinked. “You still love me?”
“You’re kind of hard to fall out of love with, Mia. God knows I’ve tried. But I can’t. I think I’ve loved you since college. I’ll probably love you forever.”
Tears pricked her eyes. “I love you, too. So, so much. I’ve cried buckets over you the past few weeks, Nathan Riley. And I have never once cried over a guy. I cried so much it forced my mother to get on a plane and come out here to babysit me.”
“Oh, so that’s why she was here.”
Tears streamed down her face. “Yes. Days and buckets of tears. I was wrecked over losing you. And I don’t cry. You know this about me. And if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.”
He gave her a half smile. “So loving me makes you cry?”
She got off the sofa and came over to him, dropping to her knees in front of him. “No, Nathan. Losing you made me cry. You’ve been my best friend forever. And then I fell in love with you and I did something so stupid that I lost you. And I knew I’d never get over losing you. That’s what made me cry. Please forgive me.”
He swept his hand over her hair. “I love you, Mia. As long as you trust me with your heart, you’ll always have mine.”
“I love you, too. You have my heart, and my trust. Always and forever.”
He took her hands and helped her up, then put her on his lap. And then he kissed her, and her heart swelled with such joy she thought it might explode. Just feeling his body against hers again made the tears spring forth. But when Nathan swiped his thumb over her cheek and murmured, “No more tears,” against her lips, she shuddered.
He was right. It was time to celebrate. Because she thought for sure this day would never come. Though she should know better, because she was in love with a man who had the most generous, most forgiving heart.
“Oh, I got you something,” she said.
She slid off his lap and went to get the bag she’d brought. She came back and sat on his lap again and handed him the bag.