...When Joey introduced Jeff the cameras zoomed in on the new man. “Meet Jeff Elliott, Jackie’s high school sweetheart, the man she almost married, and the man who never got over her.”
Jeff closed the gap between them and enveloped her in a giant, crushing bear hug. He whirled her about and kissed her senseless. Finally, when she couldn’t breathe, her head spinning, he set her on unsteady feet.
“Hi,” she whispered, not sure what to think. They’d broken up so long ago it was hard to remember why. But it’d had something to do with Debbie Dean and a flash of renewed anger washed over her.
::He was never good enough for you. I was so much better.::
::What happened to forgive and forget?::
::You can forgive him then forget him. Problem solved.::
She swallowed a sigh. There was no speaking to Vance. ::You’re impossible. I’m here to give them all a chance.::
Joey interrupted the chaos in her mind. “And meet Doug Applebaum, Jackie’s best friend now and since her husband died. He’s her rock, her mainstay, and the man who’s secretly, madly in love with her.”
A cacophony of emotions collided and exploded inside her. Tingles shot down her spine and her knees buckled. Her ears rang with a dizziness she couldn’t quell. Joy warred with fury and doubts. She clutched at the railing. When Doug moved as if to hug her, her eyes widened and she took a step back away from him. “Is this true?”
::Whoa! You didn’t tell me this was a soap opera.::
Doug nodded, his eyes darkening with an intensity that threatened her sanity. “Yes. I thought I’d have time to court you and make you fall in love with me. Then you went on this damned show.”
“Keep it PG, guys.” Joey shook his finger in Doug’s face. “This is a family show.”
Pulling Doug to the bow, she lowered her voice. It didn’t help her mood when the cameras dogged them. “Why didn’t you tell me? You’ve hardly come around in months. You never call anymore. How was I supposed to have an inkling you love me?”
Doug hung his head. Before he could take his next breath, the sea breeze whipped up, blowing his hair across his face. He reached up and tucked it behind his ears. “I didn’t want to push you. I thought you needed more time.”
Incredulous, she wanted to throw up her hands. “More time to be lonely? To miss you? To…”
Amazement and hope flashed across his eyes. “You missed me?”
::You missed him?:: Vance echoed. ::I should have known. It’s always the best friend.::
Feeling like a scratched CD, she repeated, ::Butt out.::
Remembering how abandoned she’d felt, she nodded and veiled her eyes. She felt as dark and deserted as the sea looked tonight. “Oh yeah. And very unloved, unwanted, and lonely.”
She turned her accusing gaze back to him. “I want—no, make that need—a man who will be there for me. A man who will romance me, spend time with me, and cherish me and my kids.” She dragged in a ragged sigh. “I don’t need another cold relationship and especially not another dead marriage.”
“I’ll be there for you and the kids. I swear it.” Doug took her hands in his, his gaze imploring and hopeful.
Sparks zapped her and she snatched back her hands and hid them behind her. Physical electricity wouldn’t be enough this time around. “Words won’t do. You’ll have to prove yourself.” On a choked sob, she ran past him and almost knocked over the cameraman. “If you can...”