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By Eliza Freed
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Once Charlotte O’Brien accepted she’d never be with the one person who filled her with more passion-and anger-than she’d ever felt before, her choice became clear: she would close the door on a life with Jason Leer and embrace her future with Noble Sinclair.
Luckily for Charlotte, Noble has proven time and again that he cherishes her in a way which heals her every gaping wound. But first love never dies. Apparently it moves home to torture Charlotte with daily reminders of what could have been. And while Charlotte may have quit Jason, Jason will never quit her. Suddenly, it’s becoming harder and harder for Charlotte to remember why marrying Noble was the right choice . . .
The stunning conclusion to Eliza Freed’s provocative Lost Souls series.
Noble and I carry our boat as we wade into the calm sea. The water is flat with barely a break at the edge. It’s more like a lake today than an ocean, and I welcome the peacefulness. Noble’s birthday seems fitting to take Mindless out for a sail, I think as I pull myself over the side of the boat. We drove down after dinner, avoiding the crowds, and it couldn’t be more perfect. Noble and I lie head to feet, rocking over the gentle waves in our boat as Noble sings “Happy Birthday” to himself, and the cloudless blue sky, and the sun hanging low to hear him better. His voice is soft and gentle and floats along the tamed surf.
The sun warms my skin and I throw some water on both of us from over the side.
“Hey! Do you mind? I’m trying to enjoy a relaxing evening on my boat.”
“This bathing suit is made to get wet, isn’t it?” I ask as I rub the hem of his board shorts. I mentally compare Noble’s bathing suit to Jason’s cutoff jeans, and it reminds me of Jason’s accusation that I’m taking the easy way out. Maybe I am only in love with Noble because it’s easy. We’ve always been more together than we are apart. Does that make it wrong, or just comfortable? I rub the scar on my cheek. Noble applied the SPF 75 he bought for it—twice. Right before he put my hat on my head.
“What are you thinking about?” he asks, interrupting my ridiculous thoughts.
“How much I love you,” I answer, forgoing the lack of a conclusion.
Noble rocks the boat as he sits up, but I keep my face toward the sun. “That’s perfect,” he says, “because I want to know if you’ll marry me.”
“Again with the begging, Noble?” I smile at our joke and look up at him. His face is void of amusement and on the end of his pinky finger sits a ring. “Noble?” I am breathless.
Jason jumps into my head, and what accepting this ring will do to him, and I silently chastise myself for letting him into Mindless. His invasions are still constant, even after the finality of our last meeting. It’s not fair to marry Noble and care what someone else will think. He absolutely deserves better.
“Charlotte,” Noble says, and I force myself to focus on him. His hair is wet and shaken off his face. His blue eyes are deeper than the ocean yet shallow enough to reach. The sun’s warmth is centered on him, only shining on me because I’m near him. He is glorious. “You are the most stubborn, frustrating girl I’ve ever known. The months between the snowstorm and the Harvest Dance were the longest of my entire life.”
I remember the look on his face when I told him I loved him that night.
“I believe you could literally drive me insane,” Noble continues confidently. His expression is the one he always has when he laughs at me. “You have a tendency to collect things in need, specifically misbehaving hound dogs and crotchety old men—and you insist on spoiling them both rotten. To my chagrin, you lack a basic understanding of the purpose of undergarments in everyday attire.” He raises his eyebrows, tilting his head in the most adorable way. “Your impact on the opposite sex is an enormous burden to manage, and I’ll spend the rest of my life fighting men off you.”
I listen to him, speechless.
“Your use of whiskey in recipes is questionable, and your driving? Harrowing.”
“Does this pick up?” I finally ask. The joking question is out of habit; the uncertainty in my voice is born of consternation.
“Yes, I’m getting there,” he says, grinning. “For months, I’ve watched in awe as you painstakingly reconstructed your life, and unbeknownst to me, each day I fell more in love with you. Charlotte, I always knew I wanted to farm my land. I never thought much further than that”—Noble looks down at the ring and back at me—“until the snowstorm in January.”
He smiles his wonderful, carefree smile and my heart warms.
“I don’t know what made you come into my room that night, but that one step through my door rearranged every element of my life forever. Since then, I see myself cooking Sunday dinners, and playing cards by the fire, and taking road trips and boat rides, and God help me, going to church.”
Noble laughs and I can’t take my eyes off him.
“And hauling in Christmas trees, and hiding Easter eggs, and reading bedtime stories.” His voice softens. “And, Charlotte, all of it I see with you.”
My eyes move from Noble’s to the ring around his finger. It’s a round diamond surrounded by emeralds, each a half-moon shape. It’s like a flower and I’ve never seen anything like it, and like the man holding it, it’s perfect.
With a finger to my chin, Noble tilts my face and my eyes meet his again. “I want to spend every day of my life like this.” I look at the ocean around us. It is vast and calm and meets the quiet sky at an unbroken horizon. “With you.”
Noble should be giving this ring to someone who loves him, forsaking all others. “You are extraordinary, Charlotte, and you deserve an extraordinary life.”
What I deserve is to fall off this boat and drown.
“I love you, and no one’s ever going to take better care of you.” Noble takes my face in his hand and runs his thumb across the fresh scar on my cheek.
I close my eyes and lean into his hand. A heaviness washes over me and threatens to pull our entire boat to the bottom of the ocean. Why didn’t I see this coming? What did I think was going to happen? I know exactly what this will do to Jason because I’ve lived through it, every day imagining his life with someone else. I can’t inflict that kind of pain on him.
And yet, out here on the water, I belong with Noble.
If it weren’t for Noble, I wouldn’t be here in this boat, maybe not here at all. As inconceivable as my parents’ death is in relation to the grand plan for my life, Noble seems to fit it perfectly. He’s the only thing that really makes sense. But I learned long ago that life isn’t about making sense; it’s about survival. Noble kisses me; his lips pressing against mine force the guilt from my mind, reminding me that I deserve to live this life.
“If in your heart…you know this is how you should spend the rest of your life, then say yes and we’ll figure the rest out later. Trust in me, Charlotte.”
I open my eyes and see on Noble’s face what took me months to comprehend.
My lovely Noble cherishes me.
“Yes,” I say, and silently pray for Noble and me…and Jason.
Dear God, thank you for this beautiful day,
And this beautiful man in front of me.
Please watch over all three of us,
And protect us from ourselves and each other,
As we embark on a thousand tomorrows.
A Second Proposal
I pull my robe tight around my neck and sit at the head of the table. Right in front of the most glorious breakfast I’ve ever seen…or smelled. I am spoiled. I inhale the warm, sweet syrupy aroma that conjures every perfect memory still left in me and study Noble Sinclair. He might be the human equivalent of syrup—warm, sweet, and perfect.
“So what do you have to get done today?” I ask as he pours himself a cup of coffee. He slides the glass pitcher back in the coffeemaker and takes a sip from the steaming cup. He looks so young, shirtless and in his pajama pants, incapable of running this farm on his own. But he does. Noble can do anything. My eyes linger on his shoulders and I wish he never wore a shirt; it covers my favorite part of him.
“Plowing something? Planting something?” There’s an endless list of things to do now.
Noble keeps his back to me as he lingers at the counter. He rubs a ribbon between his fingers and looks out the window at the fields on the side of the house. The ribbon is blue with silver wired edges and is wrapped around five bridal magazines my friend Violet gave me when Noble proposed, almost a year ago. The fabric facing out is dusty and faded now.
Why didn’t I ever open them?
“I want you to go to the shore with me.” Noble breaks my contemplation. I’m surprised. He’s barely had time to sleep lately, let alone take the day off. We’ve both been busy.
“I would love to.” My eyes traipse across Noble’s chest. He and the shore are two of my favorite things. “Will you promise to keep your shirt off the whole day?”
“If you do the same,” he says. Always so naughty.
Noble sits on the table near the Belgian waffle he made me. He sips his coffee as I cut through the Jersey strawberries and let the syrup waterfall throughout the waffle. It’s as close to heaven as possible on a plate. Giving Noble a waffle maker last year for Christmas was a stroke of genius.
He notices the whipped cream and exchanges his coffee for the canister. Noble tilts the whipped cream can at my waffle and raises his eyebrows to me.
“Let me have it.”
He forms a perfect whipped cream heart and places the canister down next to my plate. My heart rate spikes as I grab his hand and hold his whip-cream-covered finger in front of my smiling face. I lick the tip and take his finger in my mouth. His whole finger. I slide my teeth down the side before sucking the tip as I run my tongue over it. Noble never takes his eyes off his hand and my mouth.
When I release his finger from my teeth, Noble stands and drops his pajama pants to the floor. He takes the whip cream and sprays some on his now-hard penis with the naughtiest look ever.
“You missed a little,” he says, and I wonder how we ever leave this house. The sight of his penis at eye level makes my mouth water.
I take my tongue to the cream and raise my eyes to Noble as I lick the tip and then my lips. I take him in my mouth completely, and he closes his eyes and raises his face to the ceiling. The sight of his pleasure spreads heat through my body and I shift in my seat, wanting him in me.
I hold Noble’s balls in one hand as I stroke him with the other. My mouth finds him again and with only a few minutes of attention, I finish my love off.
“Aaah. You have no idea how good that feels.”
“Oh, I think I do,” I say, trying to ignore the throbbing between my legs.
In one swoop, Noble lifts me to my feet and pulls my shirt over my head. He shamelessly caresses my breasts with his eyes. They rise under his stare, wanting his familiar touch. “Yes, that’s exactly how you should ride to the shore with me.”
“We’ll get arrested.”
“It’ll be worth it. I’ll spend my days rotting in the cell, imagining you topless.”
Noble kisses me, gently at first. He’s in control, as usual. I, however, am not. I wrap my leg around his waist and grind against the front of him. I pull myself up him and want him inside of me. Immediately.
“What am I going to do with you, Charlotte? You’re insatiable,” he whispers in my ear as if it’s our little secret. I cannot get enough of Noble Sinclair.
He bends slightly and hoists me over his shoulder. He practically runs up the stairs, jolting me with each step, my arms holding on to the back of him, the sound of my giggle echoing along the old staircase. Noble carries me to the bedroom we’ve been sharing and throws me on the bed. The devotion in his stare, always filled with the same promise—my home is with him—sends heat to every fraction of my body and I acknowledge the depth to which I need him. It’s still profound. I rise up to my knees and wrap my arms around his neck and pull him closer to me. I grab him and try to quiet the throbbing between my legs with him in my hand. I kiss him, my tongue telling him I won’t wait any longer, and when I’m sure he’s gotten the message, I lean back and pull Noble down with me. I want him on top of me. I need the weight of his love to settle me, now and forever.
He wraps each arm under my shoulders as he pulls me toward him. Noble finds me more than ready as he buries his lips on my neck and slowly enters me. He lowers his naked chest to mine and we are one. He is touching me everywhere. I wrap my legs around his waist and hook my ankles behind his back, pulling him closer still. Again, and again, and again I take Noble, wanting more of him. More than I ever knew existed. He is controlled, deliberately driving me to my breaking point. It’s his rhythm that is his gift. My fingernails dig into his back as I acknowledge that Noble has many gifts.
I tilt my pelvis and let him stroke me as he comes into me and I try to breathe. I thread my fingers through his hair and bury my face in his shoulder and release every thought from my mind except the touch of Noble Sinclair. My notched breathing conveys my diminishing hold, and I can feel Noble smiling on my neck.
“Come for me, Charlotte,” he whispers, and I oblige, crumbling around him. He doesn’t stop, though; he’s in me again and I close my eyes as he gives himself away and I pull him to me once more.
He anchors me. I hold Noble close, not a chance of something getting between us. Sometimes it feels as if he’ll never be close enough.
* * *
By the time we climb into Noble’s truck, it’s after lunch. Lazy days are few and far between. It reminds me of Rutgers and waking up after a long night with Noble and the rest of our friends passed out around the house. But now it’s just Noble and me, and his farm, and my job in New York.
The farm is in full swing this time of year, and work in New York hasn’t let up since Bruce promoted me. I apparently thrive on the added responsibility. I work late every day while I wait for Noble to finish in the fields. We eat together, laughing as we share our days. We make love in Noble’s bed and fall asleep as if the world could never hurt us.
The sky is clear this afternoon, not a cloud in it. The endless blue bores me and I turn to Noble, who instead of watching the road has his eyes fixed on me. There’s something different about him today. A conversation of some kind is coming. Noble turns back toward the road and lays his hand out on the seat between us, palm up, waiting for me to take it in my own. I unbuckle my seat belt and slide across the seat next to him. I rebuckle as a smiling Noble puts his arm around me and I lay my head on his strong shoulder. This is my home now. No parents to love me, but I have Noble Sinclair. And he is enough. He is home personified. My thankfulness travels through my body and I close my eyes, safe and sound with my lovely Noble.
* * *
“Charlotte,” he says, and nudges me with his shoulder. I squint my eyes, still not ready to face the blinding light. “Charlotte, wake up. We’re here.” The shore…
“I slept the whole way?”
“The whole way. My arm fell asleep around Tuckahoe, but you wouldn’t let go. I think you were holding on for dear life,” Noble says, half laughing, and I know he’s not mad.
“Why are you so tired?”
“I haven’t been sleeping well. I have strange dreams.” Noble’s face is wrought with concern, and I know he’s worried it’s Jason Leer I’m dreaming of. “It’s probably nothing,” I attempt, and kiss his cheek.
“You did kick me last night.” My playful Noble returns.
“That wasn’t me dreaming, though; that was me getting you back for the deer head you put in the refrigerator last winter,” I say, and the memory of the head repulses me again. Noble had closed one of its eyes, like it was winking at me.
Noble parks on the point in Strathmere and we walk to the beach with a few beach towels and a blanket in our arms. Noble travels light; there’s little he needs in this world. He needs me and his farm and the rest is all a bonus. We work together to spread out the blanket and when I lie on it, Noble sprays my back with sunscreen. He stops as I arch my back and wince at the frigid invasion. As I exhale, Noble runs his fingers down the center of my back, warming me with his touch.
“It’s okay. I’ll get you back in a second,” I say, and Noble shakes his head. We finish and lie with our faces to the sun, our toes pointing toward the water. Fully rested, my eyes don’t want to close. I lean on my elbows and watch the jet skiers race just past the wave break. The heavy breeze blows my hair across my face and I toss my head to clear it. I see Noble out of the corner of my eye watching me. He has a lot on his mind, or maybe it’s just me on his mind. God knows that’s a lot.
I sit up completely and contemplate how many miles it is to the horizon. I always wonder the same thing. How many miles can a person see to the horizon? A light shining in my eye releases the pending question as sun catches my engagement ring and it sparkles, reminding me again that I’m engaged. I hold out my hand and marvel at how perfect the ring is. Noble sits up next to me and seems pleased with my admiration. It’s perfect, like him.
“Noble, what made you pick this ring?”
Noble takes my hand and examines the ring. He turns my hand over and kisses my palm and his warmth spreads through me. My eyes never leave his lips as he kisses my fingertips.
“It wasn’t easy. I knew you were only ever going to receive one.” Noble turns my hand over again and grins as he studies the ring. “Sam and I shopped around, but none of the rings were you. Well, Sam thought almost all of them were you, but they weren’t.”
“Poor Sam,” I say. There is a limit to how many jewelry stores a guy’s best friend can endure.
“I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I knew it wasn’t any we saw.” Noble turns the ring with his finger so the diamond is facing him.
“All the others were common. They were fine for someone else, but I needed something different. When I found this one, I knew it was exactly what I wanted,” Noble says, and the look in his eyes makes me question whether we’re still talking about the ring. I turn my hand. It is me, but I’ve never seen anything like it before.
“It’s vintage, art deco actually. I thought you’d like something with a history of its own.”
I narrow my eyes, questioning his assessment. I’ve never thought about it, and I’ve definitely never thought about engagement rings. Do I hold on to the past too long?
“You cherish things others throw away, Charlotte,” he says, and shrugs as if it’s obvious. “When I saw the emeralds were each the shape of a half-moon, I knew it had to be yours. No one notices the sky as much as you do.”
I lean over and kiss him, kindly and sweetly, being careful with my gentle giant.
“It’s a one of a kind, like you, Charlotte O’Brien.” His voice is that of a man. When did we grow up? Time spent with Noble makes me forget life is moving on.
“I love it when you say my name,” I say, and blush at my childhood friend.
“Will your name be Charlotte Sinclair after we’re married?” Noble is hesitant with his question. I haven’t thought about that either—my name or being married.
“I guess it will be,” I say, liking the idea. “I’ll be Charlotte Sinclair. Had you told me that in kindergarten, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
“Had you told me in college, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Noble says, and I fight hard to not let his reference to college damage my mood. He wouldn’t have believed it because I was completely in love with Jason Leer, planning to spend the rest of my life with him. “Let’s go in the ocean,” Noble says hurriedly, and I think I’ve failed.
We swim, Noble throwing me over his shoulder into the giant waves. On the third throw I hit the water face-first. I surface, coughing up seawater, and he pulls me into his arms, his eyes searching my face for reassurance. I wrap my legs around his waist and my arms around his neck and we float over the waves connected. Someday we’ll be connected forever. I kiss Noble to remind him he is the rest of my life now.
I release him and swim butterfly a few yards. It feels good to swim an actual stroke again. My muscle memory engages as I dolphin in and out of the water, but after a short distance I’m tired, unable to keep up with my pace from six years ago. I swim back to Noble and rest on his back.
“Do you think you’re ever going to swim again?” he asks. He swims forward, dragging me with him.
“Maybe. Chris Black mentioned training for open-water swims. I like to swim with the fishies,” I say, and Noble takes us both underwater. When we surface, I ask, “Why? Do you want to train with me for a race?”
“No. I’m pretty sure you could kick my ass in swimming.” Noble stands, keeping me on his back. “It used to make you happy, though.”
I stare back out to the horizon.
“That was a lifetime ago.” Two lifetimes, in fact. My mother’s and my father’s.
“Not everything changed, Charlotte,” Noble says, and I realize he is one of the constants. We are still more together than we are apart.
* * *
We lie on the soft sand until the sun dips to the west and our bathing suits dry. He rolls over and rests his head on his hand and stares at me.
“Yes, my friend?”
“Shouldn’t you call me your lover?” Noble asks.
“Can’t my lover be my friend? You are one of my best friends, you know.”
“I know,” he says, and stands up without warning. “Let’s get some dinner.”
I lumber to my feet, not wanting to leave the shore. I pull my sundress over my head and discreetly take off my bikini and roll it up in my towel.
“Must be nice,” Noble says as he appraises my quick change. I shake out my hair, which is chock-full of sand, and I love the feel. I could live at the shore, possibly right on the beach. It’s amazing how close I came to being so far away from it.
I will not think of Jason Leer.
We walk to the back bay and Noble opens the door to Twisties for me. It’s filling already, and Noble and I sit at the bar, facing the bay as the bartender puts two menus down in front of us.
“Can I get you something to drink?” the bartender asks, and Noble defers to me.
What do I want? “I’ll take a Stella.”
“Make that two.” Noble appears satisfied with my decision.
He watches me as I read the menu, the same tense stare from this morning. I peer at him over the menu and return my eyes to the selections as our Stellas are delivered and the bartender grabs a tablet for our order.
“I’ll have the shrimp tacos.” I want everything on the menu. “Will you have one?” I ask Noble, and he nods. “And the mussels in red sauce.” I return the menu to the bartender. “Oh, and can I have an order of Strathmere Bay fries?” The bartender writes a note and focuses on Noble.
“I’ll have the mussels in white and eat most of her food,” he says, and he and the bartender share a knowing grin.
The tide is going out. It’s 6:00 p.m. Judging by the depth of the water, low tide is probably sometime around seven, maybe seven-thirty. The bay is full of boats enjoying the last few hours of daylight. Some have stopped, waiting to watch the sunset from the water.
“You know, if we’re actually going to get married, we’ll need to plan a wedding,” Noble says, and I turn to him. This is what has been weighing on him all day. It’s now time for the conversation.
“Is that how it works?” I eek out, wishing for any other topic.
“Should I be concerned that you haven’t run out to shop for dresses or dragged me to reception halls? Because that’s how I remember my sisters’ weddings.” Noble turns my body so my knees are between his on his barstool and I am squarely facing him. Nowhere to run. He is serious, and I know it’s because he’s worried. “Are you having second thoughts?” Worried about Jason; it’s always about Jason. I take a deep breath.
“No,” I say, and look down, wanting to avoid this conversation completely. Aren’t things perfect the way they are? With a finger to my chin, Noble raises my eyes to his. “It’s just…I don’t think I want a traditional wedding without my mom and dad here.” Noble doesn’t take his eyes off me. “No one to go dress shopping with, no one to walk me down the aisle, no father-daughter dance,” I say, and the longing pours out of me. I bow my head, but before I’m hidden, Noble’s lips are on mine. I’m on the verge of tears, I feel ridiculous, and I’m sure I am blushing.
“I should have thought of that,” Noble says, angry with himself but relieved at the same time. “How about you take a few days and think about what you want this wedding to be like and that’s exactly how it will be.”
“But don’t you want a traditional wedding? A big party?”
Noble holds my face in his hands and runs his thumb across my lips. “No.” He shakes his head. “I want to marry you. What that day’s like is completely up to you. We can do it in the backyard, in a church, at city hall, on an island…whatever will make you happy. I don’t care if we’re alone or with five hundred people as long as you’re standing next to me.” He kisses me again, this time slightly inappropriately for our barstools, but I can’t deny him.
“I know one thing I want.”
“Anything,” he says, completely at ease now.
“I want you to wear a suit. No one wears a suit the way you do,” I say with every naughty thought I’ve ever had of him shining through my eyes.
- On Sale
- Mar 3, 2015
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Forever Yours