One More Time (Paradise Bay Book 2)(9)

By: Ella Linden


But this morning’s routine wasn’t relaxing him. It wasn’t making him feel peaceful or accomplished or any of that. Instead, thoughts of Iris haunted his steps, filled his mind. Talking to her had brought back a whole lot of memories, and he’d barely slept a wink the night before.

Iris.

Even just thinking her name had him on edge. Talking to her last night had been a mistake. He’d been doing okay. Sometimes, he swore he was close to forgetting the scent of her skin, the way it felt to hold her as they fell asleep at night. Yeah, he was fooling himself, but he was getting pretty good at that, too.

But being around her the night before, talking to her, hearing her laugh like that, had messed him up. It was like losing her all over again, like a bandage had been ripped off and he was discovering that the hole she’d left when she walked out on him had never actually healed at all.

And now he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He was used to seeing her around. They had all the same friends, pretty much. He’d seen her at the brewery, at a couple of the roller derby bouts Scott had dragged him to. But he and Iris had both done their level best to act like the other didn’t exist. It was the only way he knew to stay sane when she was right there and he couldn’t touch her, couldn’t kiss her, couldn’t look into her eyes and feel like everything was all right with the world.

Last night had been different. It reminded him too clearly about how much he’d lost. As if he needed the reminder, but, again, he was getting good at pretending he didn’t miss her.

But she hadn’t been happy. He drove her nuts, and not in a positive way. He was quiet and introverted and just liked to take life as it came. He worked in an industry where any planning could be destroyed in about three seconds by Mother Nature or a bad brew. He had his house and his fields, and, for a while, he’d had a woman who’d seemed okay with his quiet. He could understand it. Iris was very driven. Very active. She hardly ever sat still, and she had her life planned down to the half hour.

That wasn’t an exaggeration. He’d watched her every night, surrounded by her Filofax and multicolored pens as she planned the next day. She planned her meals, her household chores, where she wanted to be, exactly, at seven-fifteen next Thursday night. And he’d been bemused by it all, but if it made her happy, then that was what he wanted for her, too.

But after a while, it just didn’t work. That whole opposites attract thing had been thoroughly tested by him and Iris, and it was bullshit. Or, rather, they attract just fine. But over time, they’ll grate on one another so much they destroy anything good between them.

In the end, she’d just gotten fed up and walked out. And she hadn’t looked back.

His first instinct had been to chase her down, to beg her to come back. But he’d seen it. She wasn’t happy. And having her with him, but not happy, wasn’t something he wanted, either. So he’d left her alone.

And, yeah. Maybe he’d been trying to save face, too. He’d been pissed, and he rarely got mad. At first, there was that. But then, he’d thought about it and gone over all of the times she’d been angry, upset, or just despondent in the months and weeks before. And he’d done that. He hadn’t meant to, but there it was. Letting her go had been the best thing for her.

For him? Not so much.

She’d started living again, being her sociable self, getting involved. And he’d just kind of kept to himself, probably even more than he had before.

His brother had been an enormous pain in the ass, dragging him out and insisting he at least show up at the brewery sometimes. And then Nathan had made it his own personal mission to start giving him pep talks.

Nathan, who’d been burned so bad by his last girlfriend a couple years back that he’d decided he was better off alone.

Of course, Nathan’s issue was bitterness. That wasn’t Carter’s thing. He didn’t blame her for leaving. Not really. It obviously wasn’t working, and she’d made a clean break. He’d tried to respect her wishes in that way, and had resisted calling or texting her, or, worse, showing up where he knew she’d be for months after the breakup.

A clean break was better. No anger, no hysterics. No more bad memories to foul up the good ones they’d made.

And despite everything, there had been good ones. Plenty of them. In the end, it just hadn’t been enough.

After turning the sprinklers on in the small vegetable garden he kept for him and Scott, he headed back to the hops field. He’d noticed yet more powdery mildew on some of the vines on the northern side of the field, so he’d be spending the day pruning those back and trying to keep that mess from spreading.