Page 28 of The End of Faking It

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‘I’m not shutting everybody out.’ She tried to shrug him off. ‘I like traveling, Carter. I’m happy.’

‘Like hell you are.’ His hands tightened.

‘I want to go someplace new.’ Doggedly she stuck to her line. It was her only option.

He drew breath, seeming to size her up. ‘Okay, then I’ve got an option for you. Move to Melbourne. Move in with me.’

It was good he still had his hands on her—if it weren’t for those digging fingertips, she might have fallen over. ‘What?’

‘Move to Melbourne with me.’

He couldn’t possibly be serious. What on earth was he thinking?

‘Penny, I’ve spent the last twelve hours out of my mind with worry for you. I don’t want more of that.’

And there was her answer. He wasn’t thinking. It was pity and responsibility he was feeling—and exhaustion. Not a real desire to be with her. He didn’t love her. She couldn’t possibly believe he did.

‘I didn’t mean to make you worry,’ she said quietly. It was the last thing she’d wanted to do to him. That was the problem with her family too. She’d made them worry so much. That was why she tried to email home the breezy-life-is-easy vibe.

Only clearly she’d failed at that because Carter had been talking to Matt. And they’d conspired together to sort her out somehow. But she wasn’t going to let compassion trick Carter into thinking he wanted to be with her. That was worse than anything his ex had deliberately tried to manipulate.

‘I don’t need you to rescue me, Carter,’ she said softly.

‘That’s not what I’m trying to do.’

‘Isn’t it?’

‘I want us to be together.’

‘Well—’ she took a deep breath ‘—I don’t.’

‘I know you’re lying.’ He leaned close. ‘You want me to prove it to you?’

She stepped back. No, she did not want that. She couldn’t bear it if he kissed her right now. She’d be ripped apart.

His smile flattened. ‘What are you going to do, put us all on your occasional email list and send details of your fictional life?’ His anger suddenly blew. ‘The minute you feel yourself putting down roots, you wrench yourself away again. It’s emotional suicide.’

She struck out—shoving him hard.

How dared he? How dared he say that to her?

‘It is, Penny.’ He squared up to her again. ‘You’re too scared to live a whole life.’

Her only defence was offence. ‘And you’re living a whole one?’

‘I want to. I want you.’

‘No, you don’t.’ He felt some stupid honourable responsibility.

‘So you just quit? Is that the lesson you learned from Dan—to give up?’

‘Don’t.’ She took another step back from him. ‘Just don’t. You can’t ever understand what it was like.’

‘Maybe not, but I can try—I would if you’d let me. Damn it, Penny, I don’t want to just have fun any more. I want to be happy. I want you to be happy. I want everything. And I want it with you.’ His words tumbled. ‘We could do so much together. We could do great things.’

The urge to ask was irresistible. ‘Like what?’

‘Like have a family.’

She caught her breath in a quick gasp, blinking rapidly as she shook her head. But he knew, didn’t he? He’d seen her flash of longing.

His fleeting smile twisted. ‘You just told me you were selfish back then. But don’t you think you’re being selfish now? Denying not just yourself, but me too?’

‘The last thing I need is more guilt, Carter.’

‘No, I’m strong, Penny,’ he answered roughly. ‘You can throw your worst at me and I’ll survive. You’ll survive too. I know you’ve found yourself a way to survive. But you’re too afraid to live.’

Her eyes burned, her throat burned, her heart burned.

‘Are you brave enough to fight for what you really want?’ Somehow he’d got right back in front of her, whispering, tempting. So beautiful that she couldn’t do anything but stare.

And then her heart tore.

For there was no point to this—what she wanted she didn’t deserve. And the person she wanted deserved so much more than what she could give him.

‘I don’t want to hurt anyone the way I hurt him,’ she breathed.

‘No, you don’t want to be hurt. And that’s okay. I won’t hurt you.’ His eyes shone that brilliant green-blue—clearer than a mountain stream. ‘I’m offering everything I have. Everything I never wanted to give is yours—you just have to take it.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Why not?’

Because she’d never believe that he really meant this. And he was wrong about how strong she was. She wouldn’t survive it when he realised the huge mistake he’d made.

‘I just can’t.’

Carter stood on the path and watched her walk further and further away. Slowly ripping his heart out with every step. He hadn’t meant to lay it all out like that—not when he was angry and she was angry. He knew she’d need time. But she’d blindsided him with the speed of her resignation and intention to run. And her rejection. It hurt. So he’d thrown all his chips down, gambled everything—too much, too soon. And he’d blown it.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

PICK a destination. Any destination. Anywhere had to be better than here.

Penny stared at the departures board but the only place her eyes seemed willing to see was Melbourne.

Melbourne, Melbourne, Melbourne.

She could go to Perth—lots of sun in Perth. But there was art and champion sport in Melbourne. How about Darwin or Alice Springs—maybe a punishing climate was what she deserved. But Melbourne had a superb café culture and fabulous shopping.

She slumped into the nearest seat.

Carter would be flying out there soon. If he hadn’t already.

Yeah, that was the draw. Melbourne had Carter.

She really ought to go to the international terminal and go halfway round the globe. Instead she sat in the chair, tears falling. Not sobbing, just steady tears that leaked from her eyes and dribbled down her cheeks and onto her top. People were looking sideways but she didn’t care. It was normal for people to cry at airports. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite so normal to sit for over an hour staring at the destination board with only a small suitcase and not having bought a ticket yet. Not having even chosen where to go, let alone what to do once she got there.

She regretted the decision. But it was the only decision she’d been able to make and it had hurt. So much. There was no going back. She could never go back. She could never have what her heart wanted the most.

But it whispered. It constantly whispered—beating hope.

He’d said she was strong. She wasn’t at all. He’d been more right when he’d said she was afraid. That was totally true. She hadn’t laid herself on the line. And he had. What if he’d really meant it? Could she honestly live the rest of her life always wondering what if? And even if he hadn’t meant it, even if he might change his mind, wasn’t it time for her to be honest about her own emotions anyway?

He

deserved her honesty. It was the one thing he’d asked from her but she’d lied to him at the most crucial moment and that was so unfair. Even to the last she’d held back. He’d been right. She did torpedo her relationships when people got too close. She was a huge coward.

No more. Even if nothing else happened, she needed to prove to herself that she could be more than that. She needed to express her feelings openly. It was beyond time she faced up to them. To her family. To everything.

Carter had shown her how beautifully her body could work if she let go, maybe his other gift was to help her grow true courage.

She went up to the counter. It took less than three minutes to purchase a ticket. The departure lounge wasn’t far. She sat and waited for the boarding call. Beyond that she couldn’t think.

Finally the call was made. She reached down to pick up her pack, about to stand to join the queuing passengers. But right by her pack was a pair of big black boots, topped by black jeans. Someone was standing in front of her.

She looked up at the tall figure with the hair so tousled it stood on end, the creased tee and jeans, the unnaturally bright blue-green eyes.

‘I’ve been sitting in that café over there,’ he said. ‘Watching, waiting, wanting to know what you were going to do. Where you were going to go. I’ve had four long blacks. It’s been almost two hours.’ He sat in the seat next to hers. ‘So, where are you going?’

Surely he knew already—they’d just announced the flight. Emotion swelled inside her, becoming so huge she had to let it out. It was bigger than her, and she was only hurting herself more by trying to deny or control it or hide it. She held up the boarding pass for him to read: Melbourne.

As he stared at the card the colour washed out of his face, leaving him as pale as he’d been the night before. Then he looked at her again, she stared back. Her eyes filled with tears but she couldn’t blink, couldn’t break the contact with him. Wordlessly wanting him to know, to believe beyond any doubt just how much he meant to her.


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