Authors: E. L. Todd
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are fictitious or used fictitiously. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher or author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.
Copyright © 2014 by E. L. Todd
All Rights Reserved
Book One of the Southern Love Series
E. L. Todd
Paul took the bag from her hands and tossed it on the floor. “No.”
She kept calm. “The harder you fight this, the harder you’re going to make it for yourself.” She grabbed the bag again.
He kicked it away. “You aren’t leaving, Alex. I won’t let you.”
“Paul, this is going to happen whether you want it to or not. Now let me go.”
His eyes darkened. “Are you deaf? I said you aren’t leaving.”
Alex took a deep breath and controlled the emotion she felt. “We’re done. We’ve been done for over a week.”
He shook his head, his anger shining through. “I’m not letting you abandon this relationship. We can work on it.”
Alexandra snapped and pushed him. “This relationship is over. You threw it all away.”
He gripped his hair in frustration. “You’re the one who’s been completely out of touch. For the past month, you’ve been nothing but a zombie. When I talk, you don’t even listen. You don’t care about anyone or anything, including yourself. Now tell me what’s bothering you.”
Alexandra could never tell him her darkest secret. It consumed her mind every moment of every day. Life hadn’t been the same. She couldn’t find herself again. No matter what she did, she felt hollow and empty. She pushed Paul away, wanting to be alone. “Let me go, Paul.”
He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. “I love you, Alexandra. I fucking love you.”
“Fuck you.” She jerked away. “If you loved me, you wouldn’t have cheated on me.”
His eyes darkened. “Alexandra—”
“Get the fuck away from me.” She grabbed the bag and put it over her shoulder. Her tears were starting to bubble but she kept them back.
“This isn’t fair,” he snapped. “I tried to fix this relationship the entire time, but you didn’t give a shit. I reached out to you, I asked you to work on it with me, I was here every night trying to get you to talk to me. Every time I kissed you, you pushed me away. And we haven’t had sex in months.”
“So that makes it okay to sleep with someone else?”
Paul stared at her, his despair evident on his face. “I didn’t sleep with anyone.”
“You’re such a liar.”
“I’m not lying!”
Alexandra grabbed the duffel bag then moved to the hallway. The apartment had been furbished, so she didn’t own most of it. The couches in the living room would stay behind, as well as the TV and the kitchen table. Alexandra had nothing of her own, nothing to take with her.
Paul followed her to the door. “Alex, just talk to me.”
Alexandra was feeling the weight of her grief. She loved Paul, always had. When they first got together, she thought he was the one. They were supposed to get married and be happy together. But she was mistaken. She blinked her eyes to keep the tears back. “I’m done talking.And the fact you’re justifying what you did because I haven’t been in the best mood is even worse. You’re such a fucking pig.”
He pushed her against the wall, boxing her in. “You’re the love of my life, Alex. Do you understand me?”
She was pinned to the wall, unable to move. He was twice her size, and his large hands gripped her shoulders.
“I’ve never been happier than when I’ve been with you. Everything was perfect until you suddenly shut down. I have no idea what’s going on with you. Our relationship died the moment you pushed me away. I can’t keep saving a relationship if I’m the only one in it.” He stared her down. “I’ve had my problems too, but you weren’t there for me. So I found comfort in someone else.”
Her heart throbbed at his words. “I don’t even know you anymore.”
“Alexandra, I don’t want anyone else but you. But I’ve been depressed like hell. I have a girlfriend that won’t tell me what the fuck is wrong. You say I cheated but I haven’t. There hasn’t been a relationship to betray.”
She moved from his arms and headed toward the door. “Goodbye, Paul.”
“No.” He slammed the door closed.
“If our relationship is dead, why are chasing me?”
“Because I don’t want it to be dead,” he snapped. “You drive me fucking crazy but I’ll do anything to make this work. Please talk to me.”
“There’s nothing to discuss.”
Paul took a deep breath. “Alex, I love you.”
She averted her gaze.
“I said I love you.”
The word escaped from her mouth as a whisper. “I love you too.”
“Please don’t go,” he begged.
The tears were pounding behind her eyes, demanding to flow freely. “I can’t look at you the same.”
He sighed. “I didn’t sleep with her.”
“You still cheated on me,” she said. “I was falling apart and you were with someone else.”
“Don’t fucking pull that shit,” he snapped. “I tried to be there for you but you pushed me away. You can’t hold that against me. You were a shitty girlfriend and there’s no excuse for that. If you aren’t going to treat me the way I deserve, of course someone else will. I’m sorry I hurt you. I really am. But it never would have happened if you didn’t treat me that way.”
She shook her head, her heart stinging. “That’s no excuse.”
“It’s not an excuse. It’s a validation.”
“Alex, please don’t go. We can make this work. Let’s start over.”
He sighed, running his fingers through his hair. “Where are you going? To Jessica’s?”
Alexandra had no intention of staying in the city. But he didn’t need to know that. She opened the door and walked out.
Paul grabbed her by the arm. His eyes were red with forming tears. His breathing was deep and haggard. The firm grip on her arm told her how desperate he was to keep her by his side. The pain on his face was even more painful to watch. Alexandra hated hurting him.
He grabbed her face and kissed her, his lips expressing his love and pain. Alexandra tried to pull away but Paul wouldn’t let her. It was his last attempt and it couldn’t be thwarted.
Alexandra felt a tear roll down his face and touch her lip. It was wet and warm, salty. She pulled away and didn’t look at him, unable to see the immense pain on his face. She walked out the door without looking back, leaving him standing in the apartment.
When she made it to the street, the tears finally fell freely. They rolled down her face, moving to her lips and her tongue. She waved down a cab, ignoring all the people who passed her on the sidewalk. No one looked at her, no one noticed. New Yorkers always cared more about their destination than their journey.
When she arrived at the airport, she checked in and got onto the plane. She took the seat by the window, looking at the city one last time. She moved there for college but now she couldn’t stand the sight of the place. The tall skyscrapers blocked out most of the city, casting shadows and darkness.
She thought of her friends, who would be devastated when they found out she moved from the city, not telling a soul where she went. It was a weak move, but Alexandra had never felt more down than she did now. She could never tell anyone what happened. It was a secret she’d take to the grave.
Leaving Paul was harder than she thought it would be. When they met a NYU, she thought he was the last guy she would ever date. He was perfect, exactly what she wanted in another person. He was handsome, smart, funny, and easy to be around. But when he would disregard her feelings in light of his own, flirt with other girls when he thought Alexandra would never know, and spent most of his nights drinking until he couldn’t remember anything, everything started to change. Rumors of him with other girls would come back to her. Paul always denied them, but Alexandra wasn’t sure if she could believe him. And since there was no trust, there was no relationship. And after the incidence at the hospital, Alexandra was even more reclusive. She didn’t want him in her life any longer. If he wasn’t in it for the long haul, she couldn’t waste any more of her time. And the only way to move on was to do it in a new place, which was why she was on a plane to Savannah, Georgia.
She hadn’t been to Savannah in so long, she forgot the smell. It had an odor of grass mixed with the salt of the sea. She was a few miles away from the coast, but she knew it was nearby.
It was evening when she arrived at the airport. Taxis were hard to come by, so she had to call for one. She gave the driver her aunt’s address, away from the inner city. She sat in the backseat, silent as a mime.
When the small country house came into view, the wrap-around porch visible in the glow from the house, she felt her heart race. Flashes of memories came into her mind. She used to sit in that rocking chair when she was a little girl, licking an ice cream cone her aunt gave her. She was so short, her legs wouldn’t touch the ground. Her aunt had to rock the chair for her, bouncing it back and forth.
Alexandra paid the cab driver then approached the front door. The crickets were loud, singing their midnight song. She carried her bags forward and listened to the cab drive back to the main road.
The sound of barking made her flinch. Two Rottweilers sprinted across the yard, barking and snarling as they approached her. Alexandra stiffened as they growled at her, ready to rip her leg off.
“Hey boys,” she said in a gentle voice. “It’s me.” She extended her hand. Both dogs smelled it. After a few minutes, they seemed assuaged. They jumped on their hind legs then pawed her thighs. Alexandra laughed. “I missed you too.”
The front door opened, and her aunt stood there, holding a shotgun.
Alexandra’s eyes widened. “It’s just me,” she said quickly. “Alex.”
Her aunt sighed in relief then put the gun down.
“Why do you have a gun?” Alexandra hissed.
“For protection,” she said as she put her hands on her hips.
“Isn’t that what your dogs are for?”
Her Aunt Martha stared them down. “Well, they aren’t very good at keeping trespassers out, obviously.”
They both let their tongues hang out, the drool dripping down.
Alexandra smiled. “I apologize for scaring you.”
“I’m sorry I almost shot your head off.” She hugged Alexandra tightly. “But a warning of your arrival would have been appreciated.”
“I’m sorry. I just forgot to call.”
“Come inside,” she said, grabbing her bags.
The living room was exactly how Alexandra remembered it. A large rocking chair sat in the middle of the room, the form of a man still molded into the fabric. Statues of porcelain chickens were dispersed on shelves and tables.
“I’ll show you to the spare bedroom,” Martha said as she carried the bags down the hall.
Alexandra followed her aunt until they were inside. The queen size bed still looked unused. The dark wooden furniture hadn’t changed in the years since she’d been there. It even had the same smell.
Martha looked at her. “What brings you here?”
Alexandra shrugged. “I just wanted to visit.”
“How long are you staying?”
Alexandra wasn’t sure what to say.
“Not that I’m rushing you,” Martha said with a laugh. “I’m just curious.”
“I haven’t decided.”
Her aunt narrowed her eyes. The thick eyebrows of her face looked even darker when they were furrowed. She crossed her arms over her chest, looking suspicious. “Is there something I should know about?”
Alexandra hated lying. She was never any good at it. “I just needed a break.”
“You aren’t pregnant, are you?”
Alexandra glared at her.
“Hey, I had to ask.”
“I’m not,” Alexandra said firmly.
“Then what’s going on?”
“Can you grill me in the morning?” Alexandra asked. She ran her fingers through her hair then yawned.
“I’m being a rude hostess, aren’t I?”
“Just a tad.”
“I’ll let you get some sleep, kid.”
Martha kissed Alexandra on the forehead. “I’m happy you’re here, whatever the reason.”
Her aunt shut the door. The creak of the floorboards was heard as she moved down the hall. Alexandra sat in the darkness for a long time, listening to the crickets outside. The sound of her own breathing was loud on her ears. The pain and despair she felt moved up her throat but she kept the tears back. It was pointless to worry about the past, letting it eat you away. She moved there for a reason, to move on. And that’s what she was going to do.