By J.L. Berg
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Now the truth is out and August remembers everything. As his long-buried memories come flooding back, he begins to understand why Everly would want to move on with her life. Why she would give her heart to another man. And why August should try to forget her once and for all.
But he can’t give up on the only woman he’s ever loved. Even if he has to reopen old wounds–and face the darkest demons of his past–August will do whatever it takes for a second chance with Everly. He let her slip away once. He’s not about to spend the rest of his life remembering Everly when he could be holding her in his arms forever . . .
Guilt, regret, dread.
Three simple words that had the power to strip a man bare.
To make him feel powerless in the most primitive of ways.
That was what my life had been reduced to. Surrounded by money, unlimited wealth, and affluence, and yet I couldn’t protect her.
I couldn’t keep her safe. It’s all I’d ever wanted—to give her more…everything, protect her from the evil in the world. And yet, somehow, I’d managed to bring it right to our doorstep.
“Why aren’t we taking a hired car?” Everly’s voice cut through my spiraling thoughts as I turned to see her sitting next to me in the passenger seat, looking speculative and slightly suspicious. She was a vision tonight—the way the indigo blue of her dress contrasted against the fiery crimson of her hair. She’d worn the beaded emerald necklace I’d given her so many years ago—maybe as a peace offering, hoping to bridge the gap of silence that had grown between us.
Because of me, and all of my many failures.
“I thought it might be nice, if it were just the two of us tonight,” I answered, sliding my hand across the center console to reach for hers. She didn’t seek mine out, but she didn’t resist my touch either. The thought of my embrace didn’t make her draw back in fear. There was still hope in her eyes that I hadn’t become the monster she feared.
If only she knew.
“I thought we were going to the art gala,” she said in obvious disappointment.
“We were. But I know how much you hate those types of events, so I canceled and decided an evening alone would be much nicer.”
Every word I uttered was total bullshit. I was still expected at that gala and when I didn’t show…
Passing the small restaurant I’d picked out—the one that wouldn’t require reservations on a Saturday night—I searched around the block for parking, to no avail.
Sometimes I really hated this city.
Three blocks up, I finally found a tight spot on a steep hill. Climbing out of the car, I ran around to the other side to help Everly out, taking note once again of how beautiful she looked. Her legs seemed to go on forever as she stepped out onto the dirty street, the deep blue fabric of her dress brushing over her lush thighs as she rose to meet me.
“Looks like we have a bit of a walk,” I said, offering my hand.
She looked around, taking in the location. “Where are we? I don’t think I’ve ever been to this part of town.”
I shrugged, playing it off as best I could as we took a step onto the sidewalk side by side. “A guy at work said he’d taken his wife to this place last week and she still hasn’t stopped talking about it. I thought it might be worth a try.”
She glanced at me suspiciously as I tried not to let the stray graffiti and random bits of trash fluttering in the breeze distract me. I’d once sworn to myself I would always give her nothing but the best—nothing less, and here I was taking her to a ratty part of town, to a restaurant I’d never heard of, just so I could get her out of the house for the evening.
All because I needed to explain.
And it needed to be done on neutral territory, without the threat of being interrupted or discovered. God only knew who was listening.
Soon, she would understand.
Soon, she would know why.
We continued to walk together in silence, until she stopped suddenly. I turned to see tears welling in her eyes as the dim streetlights cast a halo on her bright red hair.
“Why are you crying?” I asked hesitantly, stepping forward to offer my hand.
She pulled back, her expression wide with fright as she took in her surroundings. I hadn’t been the only one to notice the less than stellar neighborhood.
“What’s going on, August?” she asked, her tone filled with panic.
“What do you mean?” I said, trying to remain calm as I held my hands up in a gesture of peace.
“Canceling the art gala…taking me to a place like this? It’s not like you. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Frustrated, I ran a hand through my hair, knowing she was right. None of it made sense, but it was the best I could do and I was hoping she would just go along for the ride. She used to trust me without thought, without reason, but somewhere along this crazy journey we’d created together, we’d somehow lost our way. I’d lost that precious connection with her.
“Maybe you don’t know me as well as you think,” I bit back, hating myself the instant I said it.
I just needed her to trust me once again. But trust was something that had to be earned and over the last few years, I’d slowly chipped away at that hard-earned treasure I’d once cherished more than anything. Now, when she looked at me, there was little left but doubt.
Doubt and fear.
A sob tore through her and I watched her turn and run down a dark alley.
“Fuck!” I cursed under my breath, chasing after her. The clicking of her heels echoed through the narrow passage, until the sound ceased altogether and I found her wrapped tightly around herself near a side entrance to a sandwich shop. The flickering light above gave me a glimpse of just how much damage I’d done to this poor woman.
The woman I’d loved for so long.
Mascara ran down her swollen red cheeks, puffy from the tears she’d shed over the hurtful words I’d uttered. How many tears had she cried over me?
A few buckets’ worth, probably.
I wasn’t worth it. But I would be. Starting tonight.
“Why don’t you love me?” she asked, her gaze blank as she stared at the grimy wall beyond.
“I love you, Everly. I love you so much,” I pleaded, taking her hand. It felt lifeless in mine, like everything had just been sucked out of her and she was just an empty shell standing before me.
Maybe she had been this way for a long time, and I’d been too stupid to notice.
“You don’t,” she replied, finally turning to look at me. “You haven’t for a long time, and I’ve just been too afraid to see it.”
“No, you don’t understand—let me explain. But just not here,” I said, looking around us. “We have to go. We’re not safe here,” I insisted.
“No, I’m not safe with you!” she yelled, struggling out of my grasp. I tried to catch her as she moved erratically in my tight hold, but the slippery fabric of her dress fell out of my grasp and I lost my balance, sending us both flying. Her fist collided with my skull, and I felt myself falling…reaching…
Green stones fell around me like rain as I tumbled to the ground, and the last thing I saw was her tortured features as I tumbled into oblivion.
I could see it all written on her face: horror, pain, fear…but most of all—relief.
Complete and utter relief.
They had the ability to destroy lives, obliterate relationships and sabotage even the strongest partnerships. Big or small…it didn’t matter. Even the tiniest white lie had the power to corrode—to shatter and dismantle everything you loved.
I’d carried a secret so big, for so long that sometimes I felt physically weak from its weight. I had thought I could carry its burden to my grave—that eventually its truth would die along with me.
But secrets never die.
They live on far longer than we do, and they always find their way to the surface.
Mine certainly did.
Sitting alone in the apartment I shared with my fiancé, I gently rolled the smooth green stone between my thumb and forefinger, over and over, remembering the day it was returned to me.
In all our years together, I’d never seen August so cold. So lifeless.
It frightened me to my core.
But I still hadn’t told anyone. It had been three days and I had yet to tell my fiancé or best friend about the events that had taken place in that bridal shop. As far as Ryan and Sarah knew, August had rudely interrupted my bridal appointment to tell me he had his memories back—that was all.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Why hadn’t I elaborated? I didn’t want to admit my shame. I couldn’t share this secret, my darkest lie. What would they think of me? I was the reason August had been in that hospital bed for two years. And the worst part? I’d lied about it—to everyone.
Even those closest to me. Even August.
I was the worst kind of human.
I knew Ryan would tell me the opposite. He would comfort me as I told him the truth, holding me as I shared my story about the awful truth from that night.
There was no mugger.
There was only me.
* * *
“911 Dispatch, what is your emergency?” The words rang clear through the speaker of my cell phone as I held it with both hands, looking down through blurry, tear-soaked eyes at August’s lifeless body sprawled on the ground.
Oh God, what had I done?
“Is anyone there?” the woman asked again.
“Yes,” I managed to say. “Please send help. My boyfriend has been injured.” My voice cracked as the words fell from my lips, becoming reality.
“What happened? Was there an accident? Were you attacked?”
Glancing around at the dark alley, I felt my head nodding in agreement before I even said the words. “Yes, we were attacked. Please, come quickly.”
* * *
It had all been so easy. No one had ever doubted me. And I never gave them reason to. I was a broken, sobbing mess as they took August away in the ambulance, and stood by him for weeks until they broke the news that he might never wake from his coma.
The coma I’d put him in. I’d sit with him in that lonely white room, watching him become increasingly frail as the days seemed to pass without end. His doctor mistook my guilt for grief and suggested I try to move on with my life. I was young. August would want me to carry on without him.
I remembered him rubbing my back as he delivered the ultimate truth.
“It would take a miracle for him to wake up at this point,” he’d said with utmost care. I’d nodded, thanking him for his candor as I looked down at August, wondering whether I wanted a miracle.
Would he be the same? Or different?
I’d decided in that moment that I couldn’t wait around to find out—it hurt too much. So I’d taken the doctor’s advice and moved on, finding my own apartment and job. And eventually…Ryan.
Ryan would tell me that horrible night had been just an accident and I’d panicked—an intense moment of weakness. He’d soothe my tears and insist none of it was my fault. Everything would be forgotten and swept under the rug and life would go on as usual.
But I didn’t want it to. I didn’t deserve his kindness or empathy. I needed someone to scream and yell at me for all the suffering I’d caused. I needed to pay for the life I’d stolen.
Because when it came down to it, I’d taken a life.
And I’d walked away, allowing everyone to believe I was the victim of this story when in actuality, I was the criminal. The perpetrator.
The real monster.
“Hey, I was wondering where you were.” Ryan’s warm familiar voice filtered through the room as I closed my hand over the stone and slowly slid it beneath the blankets, meeting his friendly gaze.
“Hey,” I answered, feigning sleepiness. I stretched my neck back and forth, making an elaborate show of my yawn for effect as the tiny green stone burned hot and bright in my hand. “I was just trying to take a nap.”
“No luck?” he asked, leaning against the door frame, crossing his arms over his broad chest as he took me in.
“No. I don’t know why I bothered. I can never sleep during the day. But I haven’t been sleeping well since—” I stopped myself, regretting the words instantly.
“Since the bridal shop. I know. I feel you tossing and turning in the night,” he said as his eyes lingered on me.
Nodding, I felt the silence settle between us, unsure of what to say next.
He pushed off from the door frame and walked toward me, taking the empty spot on the bed beside me. I felt the mattress dip as his large body crawled on top. It felt comforting, having his weight there next to mine.
Safe and real.
He took his time gathering his thoughts, and I could almost see the wheels turning in his head as he chose each word carefully.
“Do you regret your decision in choosing me? Now that he has his memories…does it change your answer?”
And there it was.
The seed of doubt that had sprouted and blossomed buds and blooms since I’d been away with August. Ryan had walked away—sent me into the arms of another man, and even though I’d come back willingly, he didn’t always seem to feel confident in my choice. Would I ever be able to uproot the existence of this uncertainty or had the damage already been done?
Were we doomed from the start?
“No—God no,” I answered, backpedaling. “That is not what I’m thinking at all,” I explained, sitting up in bed to face him fully. “It startled me, yes. I’m still processing it—still trying to figure out what it means to us. But it doesn’t change anything. I chose you. I chose this life. That hasn’t changed, and it never will.”
I’m really quite surprised how quickly Ryan welcomed you back with such open arms, considering how quickly you ran from them when given the chance to fall into mine.
My voice quivered as I spoke, betrayed by my raw emotions. Ryan saw this and mistook my still overwhelming feelings for passion. His lips met mine, a tender whisper of a kiss with a dangling question mark at the end, begging for more. Knowing he needed the reassurance only I could give, I answered with a kiss of my own, returning his tenderness with passion and fire as we fell back onto the mattress and forgot all about memories and choices and only thought about one thing.
* * *
“Two months?” Sarah squeaked loudly in response to my surprising answer. “Two months?” she repeated as I just nodded, keeping my eyes straight ahead as I followed the signs to the first place on the list.
“You’re not pregnant, are you?” she asked, and then before I had a chance to answer, lowered her voice and said, “Oh my God, you’re not pregnant with…August’s child, are you?”
“What kind of person do you take me for?” I questioned as I switched lanes, taking the exit the brochure had instructed. “I know my life may seem like a soap opera lately, but damn…it hasn’t gotten that bad!” I laughed, feeling a little wounded that my best friend really had asked that question. I knew my life had been a little turbulent and I hadn’t exactly made some of the best decisions in the last few months, but I did still remember how to prevent pregnancy.
“You haven’t answered the question,” she pointed out, crossing her arms over her chest.
“For fuck’s sake! I’m not pregnant! With anyone’s child! I just want to get married!” I hollered over the radio, shaking my head.
“In two months? Why so soon?” she asked, still pestering as she began looking around at the affluent neighborhood as we came to a red light. Mature old trees and meticulous landscaping stretched out as far as the eye could see. It was the kind of place you could picture raising a family—someday.
“Why not so soon?” I said, shaking the picket fence dream from my mind. I had a wedding to plan. “I’ve made my decision—and yes, I made a mess of it all—but now it’s made and I want to start living my life, so I don’t see any reason to wait.”
Her eyes met mine a moment before I hit the gas to pass through the green light, and I saw her smirk and give a quick nod.
“Okay then. Let’s get this thing planned. Good thing I had you shopping off the sales rack last week at the bridal shop.” She giggled.
“You knew this would happen?”
“I figured you would either drag your heels or race to the altar. I was really hoping for some sprinting—it’s a hell of a lot more fun.”
I let out a gentle laugh as we pulled into the small parking lot of the first venue option, killing the engine and turning to her with a smile. Looking up at the beautiful white church, I smiled.
“Well, let’s get this thing started.”
* * *
“I need caffeine!” I whined, nearly falling into the quaint coffee shop that had served as my employer for nearly three years. The familiar scent that greeted me felt as if a warm, snug blanket was being wrapped around my senses. This place was, at times, tiring, and the hours sometimes sucked, but it had always felt like home.
“I need new legs!” Sarah cried out. “You’re a slave driver!” She staggered into the nearest chair, her head falling to the table with a thud. “So tired,” she mumbled against the hard wood.
“I didn’t mention we were planning everything today?” I said with a wink as I walked up to the counter to greet my coworker Trudy.
“No—you definitely did not. If you had, I would have worn different shoes.” To make her point, she held out her foot, displaying her very adorable, incredibly high-heeled wedged sandals. They were tan, with accents of lime green that perfectly matched the bright hues of her flowered sundress.
And she’d bought them on sale—a fact she’d told me with great pride this morning on the way to our first appointment.
But thanks to me and my ambitious schedule, she now hated them—with a passion.
Everything in the world was currently my fault, according to Sarah. But I’d had a plan when we’d left the house today, and I didn’t want it ruined by her overachiever brain. So I’d left a few key items out of the agenda. Like the florist appointment…and the bakery appointment…and every other bridal-type duty you would need to accomplish before a wedding.
I’d finally decided to pick a wedding date—to get married and start my life. I’d been a runner for as long as I could remember, darting as soon as life got rough. When Ryan and I fought, I needed air. When things got too real with August, I made excuses and fled. It was why my own fiancé had been the one who helped me come to terms with my feelings for August.
It was wrong. So wrong. And it needed to stop.
From now on, I would have my feet firmly planted on the ground. No more running, starting with this wedding. To make sure I stayed where I was supposed to be, I’d plan the entire thing from start to finish, so help me God.
However, I wasn’t stupid. I realized I would eventually need Sarah’s assistance and expertise. There’s a reason I work in a coffee shop. The work attire required jeans and T-shirts every day of the year, and I barely had to wear makeup. I was a low-maintenance girl. But usually, when I asked for Sarah’s assistance, it came in overwhelming waves. So, I’d fibbed a little and told her we were meeting up today only to look at one or two venue options.
Okay, I’d lied a lot.
Did I feel bad? Looking at her hunched over the table, mumbling about her pretty, pretty shoes…
Maybe a little.
“Two of the usual?” Trudy asked, with a wink in Sarah’s direction.
“Yeah, that’d be great. Maybe a small brownie, too,” I added, biting my lip in indecision. Sweets were always a risk when Sarah was moody. With the strict stage diet she always followed when she was performing, and her lingering issues due to years of eating disorders, I always knew to tread lightly when it came to food. But I decided that for today, the chocolate was definitely needed, and today, I needed all the help I could get.
With coffee and chocolate in hand, I walked back to the table and placed the cups down on the table. The aroma immediately brought her face skyward, as she eyed the coffee first and then the brownie with a frown.
“That whole thing is mine. You don’t get a single bite,” she snarled, kicking her sandals loose underneath the table.
I grinned, nodding. “Deal.”
“So, why didn’t you tell me we were planning your entire wedding in a day?”
I shrugged. “I guess I wanted to be in charge of it.”
“And you thought I wouldn’t let you if I knew?” she asked, taking a long sip of coffee before breaking off a piece of the decadent brownie.
“I don’t know. Part of me feels bad for the way I acted before. I never got involved—never played the happy bride.”
“And so now you’re overcompensating? Are you sure this isn’t compensation for something else?” Her eyes met mine as our conversation took a turn toward the serious.
“What do you mean?” I asked, clutching my favorite ceramic coffee cup for warmth. It was the same cup I used on all my shifts. It had a cheesy one-liner that said “Meh.” My customers loved it.
“Look, I know you are firm in this decision and I see you’re happy, but no one is forcing you into marriage. You don’t have to marry Ryan to prove you’re over August.”
“I know that,” I answered defensively.
“I just want to make sure you’re getting married for the right reasons.”
Looking down at my coffee, I watched the steam rise from the cup, like a memory caught in time.
* * *
The last bit of coffee brewed, gurgling and steaming until the last drop was done. I quickly turned to grab the sugar and milk and returned ready to fix everything up.
Only to realize I had no idea how he took his coffee anymore.
Looking up at him, I opened my mouth to ask, but saw him smiling. “Just black,” he answered.
I only nodded as I pivoted back toward the refrigerator to return the milk. I’d grabbed everything on impulse, ready to dump two spoonfuls of sugar and a splash of milk into a cup of coffee just like I always had.
How easily I’d fallen back into an old routine.
“I take it that’s different?” He spoke up.
“Yes,” I answered, “but a good different. Now you’re a purist like me.”
* * *
“It’s for the right reasons,” I answered quickly with an encouraging smile.
“As long as you’re happy. You know that’s all I ever want for you.”
“I am. I really am.”
“Good. Now about those flower arrangements…”
Oh God, here we go.
- "Perfect for fans of Colleen Hoover." iBooks Best Books of April—iBooks Best Books of April
- "...I think I've fallen in love! The story is so well written, you feel like you're there with the characters and experience their feelings. I can't wait to read more from this amazing author!"—Devlishly Delicious Book Reviews on Within These Walls
- "Angst, drama, twists, and turns--Forgetting August has it all. It proves that true love is unforgettable."—Melissa Collins, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
- "This was an addictive series that I really enjoyed! August and Everly's story had me madly turning pages as I desperately tried to find out how they'd ever be able to find their way back together. I loved how different this story was. I knew from the first time I read the blurb that this would be a series I'd want to read and now that I've finished it, I can say that I'm so glad I did!"—Aestas Book Blog on the Last & Found series
- "J.L. Berg is the go to author for gut wrenching romance. To read a J.L. Berg book is to feel to the deepest parts of your soul."—Rachel Van Dyken, #1 New York Times bestselling author
"I can't even begin to describe how this story made me feel, but you will feel. Every emotion. Happiness, joy, sadness, heartbreak, loss, love, but most of all you will feel how precious life is and that when you find love, you grab on with everything you have, fight for it, and don't let go. Take this amazing journey with Logan and Clare. It's an absolute must read and one you definitely don't want to miss.
P.S. have tissue handy, you will need it. Give this a try!! 4.5 Beautifully written stars "—Book Crush on When You're Ready
- On Sale
- Jul 5, 2016
- Page Count
- 384 pages