Remembering Everly (Lost & Found #2)

By: J. L. Berg

Prologue



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 affluences, 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 this 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.

Everything.

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 street lights 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 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.

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