When Fall Fades (The Girl Next Door Series Book 1) (37 page)

BOOK: When Fall Fades (The Girl Next Door Series Book 1)
10.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Chapter 38

Archer Hayes

rcher was sure he’d be a nervous wreck, but looking into her beautiful eyes, the words were the sweetest surrender.

“That I love you. So much. That you make me unbelievably happy. That I don’t just want to be your boyfriend, I want more than anything to be the man entrusted to keep you. I want to—”

Sadie pushed through the space between them and cut off his words with her lips. They were unimaginably soft and perfectly persuasive. Her fingers caressed his face, tickled down his neck, and grabbed a fistful of his shirt to pull him close.

They’d done enough talking for a while, so he tipped her hat until it fell away, dragged her onto his lap, and kissed her back with every unspoken promise waiting to be said.

Her lips were a trigger, and it only took one second for his blood to turn to gunpowder and ignite from her spark. His heart lost control, swerved to the edge and began free-falling to some place that wasn’t at all safe but absolutely worth every risk. He slipped her hair band loose and ran his hands through a cascade of golden hair, relishing in the sweetness of her response.

He could kiss her forever. In fact, he fully intended to. One step at a time, side by side, they’d build a life together. A family. A home. As long as …

She trailed a soft line of kisses to his ear while he nuzzled her neck. “I love you, too.” She whispered breathlessly against his ear.

As long as she loved him back.
Relief poured through him. “You do?” Pulling back, he met her gaze. He felt his eyes fill, his voice choked with emotion as he trapped an errant lock of her hair, rubbed it between his fingers.

She nodded and brought her hand lovingly to his face. “So much.”

She loves me.

Archer lay wide awake for hours, feeling so grateful he was afraid to fall asleep for fear it was all a dream. His cheeks ached from the incorrigible grinning that continued to reduce him to a lovestruck schoolboy. But there was no remedy for that, nor did he want one.

Fantasies and plans of a life with Sadie unfolded in his mind and he couldn’t wait for tomorrow and the next day to start making them a reality.

When Sadie had been in his arms, her words buzzing from her lush lips against his skin, her laughter filling the inches between them with the sweetest melody on earth, he knew he’d finally found his place. He finally
got it
. And he would embrace this beautiful hope with everything he had.

Sometime after midnight Sadie had shared her story about Ryan, nestled against his chest, looking up from dewy lashes, pouring out her trust and her burden as if he were the very cure for her heartache. The tender moments of comfort turned into something more. A connection that forged the beginnings of the kind of friendship that turned lovers into soul mates.  Kissing and teasing, talking and laughing, it was incredibly intimate, and the most fun Archer had ever had in his life.

The moments looped in his mind until the sun threatened to peek through the shades. Following her home. Walking her to her door. Kissing her good night. And leaving it at that.

Sadie was a good girl.
good girl. It was one of the things he loved most about her. He’d get to savor every moment. Every
. Prove to be a good man worthy of such a prize. And he just knew, discovering every little facet of the woman he loved was going to be his greatest adventure.

They’d planned to have breakfast together at her place before work, so he was more than anxious to fall asleep and let time hasten to their reunion.

He closed his eyes and uttered his thanks. He’d had a hell of a journey to get to this place, but having emerged into the sunlight and looking back, he’d walk that dark, broken path all over again. Because although he was far from reaching the summit, there was hope on the horizon to guide him. And as for the rest of the journey, whatever lay ahead … he’d never have to go it alone.

Chapter 39

Sadie Carson


“What are you doing right now? There’s this outdoor movie night on campus by the coffee house, and I’m bored. Wanna go?”

“Are you kidding me? Ry, I asked you about that two weeks ago, and you said, and I quote, ‘Oh, boy! A chick flick, a latte, and a blanket, where do I sign up?’”

“Yeah, so ...”

Sadie could tell by the distracted tone Ryan was playing a video game while they were talking on the phone. “So, first of all
Stranger than Fiction
is not a chick flick.”

“It’s not?”

“No, it’s not. Besides, even if it was, I’ve watched so many guy movies with you, you owe me like a million chick flicks by now. And how do you not like coffee?”

“I dunno. I like the smell, I just don’t like the taste. Plus, you have Joss for all that girly crap.”

“It tastes exactly like it smells! You know what, never mind.” She cast her resignation to the age-old debate. “Ryan, I gotta go.”

“Wait. So you’re gonna meet me there or ...”

Sadie clamped down on her bottom lip and closed her eyes as the dilemma tooled around in her mind. “Nick asked me to go.” She hated speaking the words aloud, and when he didn’t respond, her regret burrowed deeper.

She softened her voice and pictured his face. “Ry, I wanted to go with you. And I asked you first, but you blew me off. You know Nick, he was in our A and P class last semester.”

Ryan cleared his throat. “Yeah, he uh, took you to the Fox Theatre a few weeks ago, right?”

She nodded as if he could see her. “Look, it’s not a big deal. Why don’t you come with us?”

“That really sounds ... awful, but thanks anyway!” His sarcasm faded into a loaded pause. “So, is this thing with Nick getting serious?”

“What do you mean? We’ve gone out like twice.” First he turns her down, and now he’s acting territorial. Typical. Shaking her head, she fought back a sardonic laugh.
Oh, Ryan, will you ever make up your mind?

“Well, I’ve heard he’s a decent guy, I just wanted to make sure he’s being ...

Now Sadie did laugh.

“What? It’s a valid concern.” His tone remained perfectly serious.

“All right Ry, what’s on your mind?”

He hesitated. “You’re one in a billion, Sadie. I just want you to be happy. That’s all.”

Sadie swallowed hard, not quite knowing what to do. Does she ditch Nick because she’d rather hang out with her irritatingly indecisive best friend?

And what does that say about how she really feels about Nick?

“Listen, it’s just a movie. We’re not eloping, I promise.” She heard a knock at her door. “I gotta go. Let’s do something tomorrow, okay?”

His resigned sigh landed like a blow to her heart. “Yeah, sounds good. Listen, Sadie, I’m sorry I blew you off. I don’t know why I did that. Have a good time, you deserve it.”

“Thanks, Ry.” Although she wasn’t entirely sure where that last thought came from, she signed off and headed out on her date.

That sounded like knocking
. Sadie yawned, rolled over, and flattened the puff of down comforter obstructing her view of the alarm clock.

Shoot! She jumped out of bed, ran down the hall, and flung open the door, simply staring at the most devastatingly handsome man she’d ever laid eyes on—blinking hard to be sure she wasn’t still dreaming.

“Morning gorgeous, did I wake you?” Archer’s grin could melt bone. She should know, her knees were now made of rubber.

She smoothed her hand over her disheveled bed head. “I can’t believe I overslept. I guess it was partially because I couldn’t fall asleep after last night.” Her cheeks heated remembering the intimacies they’d shared.

“I know what you mean.” His gaze swept over her and lingered. “You’re wearing my favorite pajamas.” Oh, her man had mastered the art of the smolder. One look and she was hot all over.

“Your leering is making me blush.” She grabbed his tie and tugged him into her house. “I’m hungry. Can you behave yourself until after breakfast?” Her fingers released the silk, and she propped her hands on her hips.

“I can try.” Kicking the door closed behind him, he wrapped his arms around her low back, pulled her impossibly close, and dropped a tender kiss on her lips.

Her senses scattered. “I’m gonna go change, just to be safe. Then I’ll fix up some breakfast.” She turned to go, but he caught her hand, pulling her back.

“I missed you.” He bent down, tucked his face against her neck, and just breathed.

Combing her fingers through his hair, she held him close. “I missed you too. Crazy, isn’t it?”

“Certifiable. In the best possible way.” With one quick smooch and a swat on her bottom, she ran off to get dressed, brushed her teeth, and removed the crust from her eyes.

A few minutes later she sauntered, or possibly floated, into the kitchen wearing a Ramones T-shirt and yoga pants, and started pulling ingredients for omelets out of the fridge. Archer followed her in and proved quite distracting as they playfully practiced the domestic ritual of making breakfast together—a glimpse down the road to a lifetime of shared breakfasts to come.

It was weird she’d dreamt about Ryan last night after everything that happened. She hadn’t ever thought about that conversation. But in a way it was the perfect start to a life with Archer—a reminder of Ryan’s selfless heart for her, and the gift of his blessing to finally allow herself to be happy. To be free of the past. To have some kind of closure.

It felt right.

Even more right when Archer lifted her up onto the counter and devoured her as if she were the main course.

When they’d finished polishing off their actual breakfast, things got a little sudsy and a lot out of hand while doing the dishes. Goodness, who would’ve thought dish soap could be so fun and flirty?

don’t want to, but I’ve gotta get to work.” He lifted a wet tendril of hair from her neck and kissed the spot. “And unless I want to give Sal more ammunition,” another kiss and another mind-numbing stroke of his tongue on her skin, “… I’ll need to run back home and change my suit first.”

Sadie smiled as he continued his ministrations. Her fingers tracing the grooves of his abs. His wet shirt still hanging loose and open. “Fine. I guess I can’t keep you captive here all day.”

He lifted his head, those molten chocolate eyes on full heat. “Don’t tempt me. How about we go out tonight?” He started buttoning his shirt, but she nudged his hands away to take over the task herself. “Like our first real date. You know, aside from the cheap motel.”

She nodded her head with enthusiasm, yes. Then pulled him in for another searing kiss. “Good times.” She mumbled against his lips.

“Mmm, no doubt.” He mumbled right back, and they forgot themselves again for a long while. When they finally broke apart for air, they were panting. “
Good night
, woman, you keep kissing me like that I’m gonna charge you with reckless endangerment of my already flailing self-control. I’ll be forced to lock you up with me to, you know, investigate the matter more thoroughly.”

“Will there be handcuffs involved?” She teased.

He swore under his breath and fumbled in his pockets. “I’m gonna call and make a reservation for dinner. Someplace very well lit. Very public. Where we
will have to behave.” Patting down his suit, he lifted his jacket off the hook by the door and checked those pockets, too. “Where is it this time?” He griped.

“You and that phone have some serious issues to work out.” She giggled while she worked on his very wet tie. He had her giggling again, but she couldn’t help but be amused by his forgetfulness. And by their mutual teasing. All of it. She was so happy she could burst. “You know what you need?”

“I could think of a few things.” Still coming up empty on the phone front, he refocused his attention and laced his fingers behind the small of her back.

She hit his chest and smirked, abandoning the wet silk to slide her arms around his neck and press into him. “I’m serious. You need to upgrade to an iPhone. Something in the phone tracks every place you go and stores it up for a year. It’s more specific than tracing a signal to the nearest tower like you guys do at the FBI. It’s like being lo-jacked. Without an app. Talk about big brother looking over your shoulder, but with that kind of GPS you could know exactly where it is at all times,
where you’ve been with it.”

Those gorgeous eyes of his went wide, and the expression on his slack-jawed face portrayed a sort of ‘Aha’ moment. “That’s it!
, my love, are a genius!” Planting a quick parting kiss on her lips, he threw open the door and leapt down the porch steps in one long-legged stride.

“I am?” She stood in the open doorway, staring out at the retreating, and ultra-fine, backside of her man jogging to his car. After excruciating minutes of him sitting behind the wheel of the parked Suburban, radio covering his mouth, she grew antsy. Stepping out onto the porch, the concrete slab nipped at her bare feet, her wet clothes chilled, and something in the air flagged her senses to high alert.

As if on cue, Evan’s new Mercedes followed by a midnight blue Lexus sedan caravanned into the lot. Evan and John Westwick emerged from their respective cars and headed toward Charlie’s door with folded moving boxes in tow.

John nodded a succinct hello in Sadie’s direction, and Evan’s eyes slithered over her clinging shirt with avid appreciation.

Dream on.

John was fumbling with the keys. Sadie continued to stand bewildered by Archer’s hasty retreat.

Waiting for what must have been the longest, most anticlimactic moment to follow Archer’s exuberant outburst, she saw him replace the radio receiver, slip from his vehicle, and approach the two men standing on Charlie’s doorstep.

“What, are you our law enforcement babysitter for today?” Evan sneered.

Sadie watched with baited breath.

And then Archer reached behind his back. “Evan Westwick, you are under arrest for the murder of Charles Westwick.”

“What?” Evan snorted his disbelief. Splotchy patches of red spread on his face and neck as Archer read Evan his rights and slapped cuffs on him.

Sadie and John stood nearby, glued to the unfolding scene like rubberneckers passing a wreck.

A Town and Country Police cruiser pulled in for back up. All the while Evan wailed and screeched like a toddler in tantrum as Archer escorted him to his car. She heard self-incriminating phrases like “It was an accident.” “A matter of life and death.” And “Why should she get what rightfully belongs to me?” They were all a good sign. Familiar-looking black leather gloves the police officer pulled from Evan’s glove box could prove helpful, as well. And when Archer slammed the door halfway through Evan’s panicked request for a plea bargain, she knew. It might have been a long shot, but they got him.

Sadie exhaled slowly, finally releasing the last ounce of tension from the investigation.

Who would have thought that the girl next door would help crack the case and solve a murder? And that the self-important brat’s beloved phone would literally place him at the scene of the crime. It was actually a pretty exciting story for the safe, quiet suburb of St. Louis.

Mystery, danger, romance.
And the greatest of these is love
. Sadie bit her lip to restrain another annoying giggle.
Eh, why not?

She looked up mid-giggle and met Archer’s gaze as he walked around to the driver’s side. He winked and mouthed “I love you” just before slipping behind the wheel.

The last piece seemed to slip into place and her heart came alive in her chest. And just then, the ever feisty wind kicked up. Leaves lifted from the ground in a funnel of confetti, and her long, wild hair caught that first true gust of a cool autumn breeze, marking and celebrating the beginning of a new season. And this time, when fall faded to winter, she’d have more than memories to keep her warm.

It really was amazing how things worked out. How new life could be found through something as tragic as murder. How something uniquely beautiful could be fashioned from the broken remains of the past and the most jagged pieces of the human heart. And how when the light shines through those stained fractures we might have discarded—those pieces so painstakingly reconstructed with the most extravagant love—they often produce something far more radiant to behold than that of a pane of unblemished glass.

Sadie looked to heaven and grinned, knowing Charlie would be overjoyed that she finally found her fish … or bug. And with a little faith, the
fish resuscitated her lost dreams and her broken heart.

Finn was right, she decided, although she’d never admit it to him. Sometimes things don’t turn out like you planned, but somehow that makes life even better than you can imagine.

BOOK: When Fall Fades (The Girl Next Door Series Book 1)
10.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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