Emily longed to race across the wooden floor and launch herself in his arms. She ached for him to lift her up high and twirl her about, making her feel diminutive and dainty. But instead, she froze. The pain of their decisions stilling her feet and making her heart race in her chest at his mere presence.
“Can I come in?” Ed ducked his head inside the doorframe and offered a half-smile.
“I… I think… Sure, yeah, come in,” she finally sputtered.
While he walked in, Ed winked at her.
“What are you doing here?” She crossed her arms over her chest and took a step back. “I thought you were still in Australia.”
Ed chuckled. “So when’s the last time you talked to my mom?”
Emily flushed. In truth, she’d been avoiding Ed’s mom Tawny since she’d decided to move in with Ryan. Suddenly, she remembered Ryan. She blushed, furious with herself for forgetting everything but Ed…the moment…he had knocked on her door.
“Ed, this is my boyfriend, Ryan,” she rushed to add, walking to stand next to her beau. Ryan put a protective arm around her shoulders, and to Emily’s eyes, he puffed out his chest a bit to make his own five ten stretch him a little taller and closer to Ed’s six five.
“Ryan, this is Ed. We pretty much grew up together,” Emily told him flatly, her eyes never leaving Ed’s, trying to glean even a hint of why he’d suddenly appeared after eight years
Ryan extended a hand and a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“It’s nice to meet you. I can’t say I’ve ever heard anything about you,” Ryan bit out.
“I actually have heard a lot about you,” Ed replied. “But not from her,” he pointed at Emily.
“I’m sorry, how did you say you knew each other?” Ryan asked, his face awash in bewilderment.
“We spent nearly every summer together, up here, as kids. Our moms were sorority sisters and best friends,” Emily supplied without emotion.
“Almost family,” Ed added with a smile, clearly relishing the impact of his shock appearance.
He’d always loved to wreck havoc in the middle of her carefully planned life. And when she’d finally had everything worked out, just as she’d begun to move on, he had shown up again. Emily bit her lip and shot him daggers. He had a lot of nerve.
“Ed, why are you here?” She prodded, lifting her chin to better stare him down.
“I bought the old mansion,” Ed beamed. “I’m going to turn it into a bed and breakfast like we always talked about.”
“What?” Emily asked, struggling to take in a full breath. They hadn’t always talked about it. She had. Buying and restoring that old building had been her childhood dream. She’d started the little coffee shop eight years ago as her stepping-stone to what she hoped would be a veritable hospitality empire in the North Woods. She’d told him that right before he left, when she wouldn’t leave with him. And now he’d come back to devastate her again. In less than thirty minutes, the two people who had meant the world to her, at least at one point in time, had completely wrecked her.
“Are you really closed? Or do you think I could get a coffee?” Ed asked still smiling, unaware of the emotional chaos he’d just created.
“Oh, yeah sure,” Emily said by rote.
She walked back behind the counter and put on a fresh pot of coffee. Accomplishing a task she knew by muscle memory helped clear her mind. She had no desire to put on an unnecessary emotional display in front of an already suspicious and bewildered Ryan and an oblivious former friend.
“Are you going to live in the mansion?” She heard Ryan ask.
“Eventually. Right now…Well, I have my work cut out for me. Luckily I have a little cottage on the property too.”
Emily could hear the smile in his voice. She didn’t have to look to know that his eyes sparkled with excitement. Ed loved a challenge and working hard. No doubt, getting the mansion into shape would prove to be both. She loved those things too.
“What about you?” Ed asked, attempting to be polite.
“We live over near the golf course, past the yacht club.”
Emily poured Ed a fresh cup of coffee and brought it over to him.
“Thanks,” he smiled.
She offered a weak smile in return and moved to stand next to Ryan. Instinctively, he put his arm around her waist. Emily had never had the opportunity to witness a jealous Ryan. His protectiveness surprised her; usually Ryan didn’t get worked up over anything. But it was welcome with the upsetting news Eric had shared.
“You live together?” Ed asked.
Emily shrugged but didn’t look up. Her stomach still churned. He’d stolen her dream.
Ed picked up a magazine off the counter and held the cover up. “And you’re getting married?”
“No, no, no,” Ryan rushed to correct before realizing whom he was addressing. “I mean,” Ryan cleared his throat and puffed out his chest again. “Not yet.”
“I’m helping out Jess,” Emily looked up to Ed, curious to see his reaction. “She’s getting married.”
The Cheshire cat grin slid off Ed’s face at that comment.
“You still talk to Jess?” He asked, his lips a flat line of disgust
Emily shrugged. “She’s my best friend.”
Ed gave her a questioning look, and for the first time since she’d seen him again, she understood how much time had passed. She didn’t know what he wanted to say or how he wanted her to act. Emily felt the sudden sting of disappointment that she’d lost some of her intuition about him. What else had she lost?
“Ed, it’s been great to see you again,” Emily hurried to add. “But I really do need to close up. I have a lot to do and the store keeps light hours in the off-season.”
Ed opened his mouth to reply but hesitated.
“It’s been great to meet you,” Ryan smiled and extended his hand.
“Yeah, you too,” Ed eyed Ryan’s hand dubiously but shook it all the same. “I’m sure I’ll see you around. You are the only coffee shop on the island, after all,” he winked.
“Funny how that works out,” Emily deadpanned.
Ed drained the mug and set it on the counter behind her. He brushed up against her arm in a totally unnecessary manner. Emily sucked in a breath and willed herself not to react. The tiny hairs on her neck stood on end as she fought off the shiver that proximity with Ed always produced. He stepped away and gave her a smile.
“Bye Ed,” she whispered.
Ed walked out the door and shut it behind him. Ryan followed after him to turn the key in the lock again.
“Is there anything I need to know about that guy?” Ryan asked.
“Nope, nothing,” she offered with a half-smile.
Ryan gave her a long assessing look before nodding his acceptance.
“Ready to go?” He asked.
“Okay,” she smiled.
She grabbed the magazines off the counter, jammed them back in the box, stuffed herself in her big down coat, and turned off the lights. Ryan playfully tugged on her hand until she let him pull her in for a kiss. Emily put her arms around his neck as his arms encircled her waist. He looked into her eyes and smiled before putting his lips to hers. Passion flared up suddenly, Emily rubbed up against him, needing to get closer. He unzipped the front of her coat, but didn’t take it off in the freezing air. Ryan teased her, rubbing his tongue along hers as his fingers traced her spine until she nearly moaned on her front stoop.
He pulled back unsteadily, affected by the kiss. He took in a deep, shaky breath, smoothed her hair and helped her back into her coat. When Ryan focused, he could make the earth shake under her feet.
When was the last time he really kissed me? Emily thought to herself, assessing him to see if he had been as affected as she. But Ryan had already stopped paying attention to her and had pulled his phone out of his pocket to check in with work. It was a vivid reminder that he’d let work distract him and had grown almost apathetic in their relationship.
“Tired?” Ryan asked, not even looking up to acknowledge her.
“Yeah, a bit. It’s tough in the winter…” Her lame excuse began, but she stopped herself before even thinking up an ending.
Ryan put his phone back in his pocket and turned to her again. But his eyes had already dimmed. The passion and excitement at being with her and the kiss they’d shared only seconds before had already been diminished by some problem or other.
“Let’s go home,” he told her, grabbing her now mittened hand and pulling it to his lips for a kiss.
Emily smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes. She bit her lip and followed his lead.