Home > Only You (One and Only #1)(2)

Only You (One and Only #1)(2)
Author: Melanie Harlow

Lifting the bottle to my lips again, I considered my options. I could show up at their stupid wedding and cause some kind of disturbance, but that would be a little bit public, and I prefer to keep my crazy hidden whenever possible. So that was no good. But maybe I could send the RSVP card back with a little message from me. Like I could cross out regretfully and pencil in a more accurate word, like disgustedly. Or revoltingly. That might be satisfying.

I set the bottle aside, pulled a thick black Sharpie marker from a drawer, and stuck the cap between my teeth. But instead of merely adding a word, I decided to add my own response.

There. That was better.

But it still wasn’t enough.

Maybe it would have been enough if I hadn’t told him I loved him. If I hadn’t thought he might be the one. If I hadn’t confided all this in Lucy, who’d probably been sleeping with him at the time.

No, I couldn’t send this back. I didn’t want them to think they had broken me in some way, or shaken my faith in love. They’d shaken my faith in humanity, perhaps, but I still believed in love. I still believed in soul mates. I still wished on stars and blew the fluff off dandelions and read my horoscope every morning, hoping for romance on the horizon.

I just wasn’t sure I believed in myself.

I mean, I must be doing something wrong to be single at thirty when I didn’t want to be. And this wedding invitation felt like a kick in the gut, a reminder that I was the butt of the joke, a giant signpost from the universe that said YOU CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.

It had to be destroyed.

It was while I was opening a second bottle of wine, a Firesteed pinot noir, that it came to me—fire.

Fire was the answer.

It was symbolic!

I would burn that invitation, ignite one little corner and watch the flames eat away at their fancy paper and their pretentious words and their choice of chicken or steak. I’d turn their love to ashes, exactly like they’d done to my pride. Then I would truly be over the betrayal, and I’d let it go. I’d move on. I’d rise from the embers like a phoenix, triumphant and strong!

I put the RSVP card back into the envelope and opened the kitchen drawer again. My hands shook as I pulled out a utility lighter. It ignited with a gratifying click. I picked up the invitation in the other hand, my lower lip caught between my teeth. Then I carefully set it ablaze, my heart racing as the flames crept toward my fingers, much quicker than I’d expected. In fact, the thing was burning so fast that it startled me, and I dropped it.

This probably would have been okay except for the fact that I had this Easter bunny decoration sitting on my counter that turned out to be highly flammable. It was cute—at least, it had been before I barbecued it—a white rabbit standing on its hind legs with big floppy ears, faux fur, and a straw pack on its back with colored eggs in it that said HOPPY EASTER.

Before I knew it, there was a raging rabbit inferno right in front of me. I totally panicked, screaming at the top of my lungs and frantically looking around for something to put out the fire with. The only thing at hand was the bottle of wine, but thankfully I at least had the good sense not to pour that on the flames.

In hindsight, of course, there were any number of things I could have done. Aimed the faucet nozzle at the blaze and drowned the bunny. Smothered the bunny with the kitchen rug. Recalled that there was a fire extinguisher right below the sink.

I did none of those things.

Instead, I stood there freaking out, flailing my arms and continuing to shriek, imagining the headlines: BITTER OLD MAID BURNS DOWN HISTORIC BUILDING IN JEALOUS RAGE. I wondered if I should dial 911 or run into the hall and pull the fire alarm. It seemed like I might save more lives if I got everyone out of the building, so I bolted for the door. I was halfway there when I remembered the lesson from visiting the firehouse in kindergarten—you were supposed to crawl if your house was on fire so you wouldn’t breathe in the smoke! Immediately I dropped to my hands and knees and kept moving.

Right at that moment, the door to my apartment swung open and my neighbor from across the hall burst in. He wore a suit and tie and a worried expression.

I looked up at him from my hands and knees. “Nate! Help!”

“Emme, what the hell? Why are you screaming?”

“Fire! In the kitchen!”

He moved past me with long, quick strides. Scrambling to my feet, I followed behind. The rabbit was still engulfed in flames on the counter. Without a word, Nate went straight for the extinguisher under the sink and sprayed the poor creature with huge clouds of white. When the fire was out, the two of us stood next to each other, staring at the mess on the counter.

“Jesus, Em. What did the bunny ever do to you?”

I flattened a palm over my chest. My heart was beating way too fast. “I think I’m having a heart attack.”

“You’re not having a heart attack. Do I even want to know how this happened?” Nate gave me a sidelong look.

Closing my eyes, I took a deep, slow breath and exhaled. “Probably not.”

“And yet I’m oddly curious.” Nate, maddeningly calm as usual, returned the fire extinguisher to the cabinet and closed the door. “Fire is one calamity from which I haven’t had to rescue you. And there aren’t many of those left.” He straightened and leaned back against the sink, crossing his arms over his chest. Not a speck of dust on his black suit. Not a hair out of place.

Smoothing back the wayward strands that had escaped my bun, I opened my mouth to defend myself, but wasn’t sure how to do it. Rescue seemed too strong a word for the way Nate occasionally helped me out, but I will admit to calling him whenever I saw a big spider in my apartment or heard a strange noise in the night or locked myself out. And he always answered the call, even if he had to come home from work to resc—

Ahem. To help me out. I wasn’t the kind of girl who needed or wanted to be rescued.

“It was an accident,” I said, brushing dust off my skirt.

“I assumed that much. You’re a little crazy, but not that kind of crazy.” His smile widened and he cocked his head. “And why, exactly, were you crawling on the floor?”

My face got hot, but I lifted my chin and defended my knowledge of kindergarten fire safety. “You’re supposed to crawl when your house is on fire. Everybody knows that.”

He burst out laughing. “I see. And where were you planning to crawl?”

“Into the hallway to pull the fire alarm,” I said, like it was obvious. “So I could save everyone, including you, I might add.”

That made him laugh even harder, which made me feel even smaller next to his six-foot frame. “Thank you for that. Can I ask why you didn’t simply use the fire extinguisher?”

“I don’t know. I couldn’t think, okay? I forgot it was there.”

“Ah. Well, next time you play with matches, try to remember it.”

“I wasn’t playing with matches,” I said irritably. “I was trying to burn something, and set the rabbit on fire by mistake.”

“What were you trying to burn?”

I ignored the question and went to the upper cabinet where I kept my wine glasses. Taking two out, I set them on the island and reached for the bottle of wine on the counter behind Nate. He didn’t move out of my way, and I came close enough to smell him.

Nate always smelled good, even when he’d just come from the gym. It was totally unfair—if the universe was going to give a man the kind of good looks it had bestowed upon Nate Pearson, the chiseled jaw, blue-eyed movie star kind that melted hearts, willpower, and panties with a single glance, then it could have at least given him overactive sweat glands or something. But no. As far as the male species went, he was about as perfect a specimen as you could imagine, at least physically. Yet another example of how the universe favors some people more than others.

Not that I had anything against Nate, other than the fact that he was a divorce attorney and thought it was insane that people spent a fortune on their weddings—including my fee—when half of those marriages were going to fail. Needless to say, we disagreed on things like marriage, love, soul mates, and wishing on stars. Actually, we disagreed on almost everything. But I’d never been one to shy away from conflict, and both of us liked a good argument.

   
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