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Years ago she promised me her hand in marriage. Now I’m here to collect.
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It feels like it’s been a decade since I’ve set foot in this bar, even though it hasn’t even been half that long. Almost four years to the day since I put all of my shit in my car and drove out of Leighton City without looking back.
I honestly didn’t think that I’d ever be back here. The guilt and the temptation were too much, and I wasn’t going to be the kind of man that ruined a family. Ever.
But these four years have taught me a lot, and life away from Leighton City never really panned out the way I hoped. I never lost touch with most of my friends, and all of them—especially Mark—never understood why I left in the first place. I never told them. I made up a story about needing to get out of town and having a good job offer and a million other little lies that made them ask fewer questions. But they probably all knew that it was bullshit. I’m glad they never found out the real reason that I left, even if it’s still going to cause me problems now.
A little cliché, but I can’t do anything about that. I left town because of a girl.
I hear my name called from behind me. It’s Bruce himself, in the flesh. The hug I give my best friend is absolutely genuine. It’s been at least a couple years since I’ve seen him. Texts aren’t quite the same, and I’ve felt…strange acting like everything is the same. Because of Nicola.
As Bruce embraces me, I’m pulled into the memory I’ve lived a thousand times over. The New Year’s party at Bruce’s house. A bonfire. Something we’d done a hundred times before, but I never knew how much it would change things. Nicola’s birthday is January first, but we always celebrated the night before.
Nicola Thompson, Bruce’s daughter. That night was her eighteenth birthday.
The familiar stab of guilt rests deep in my gut. I was a little drunk, and I went inside to get another drink. The kitchen was dark, and I found Nicola there. I hadn’t been looking for her, but it turns out that she had been looking for me.
I’m not an idiot. I’d seen the way she looked at me when she thought I wouldn’t notice. The heat and yearning in her gaze. And I would be lying if I said I hadn’t noticed how beautiful she was. But I ignored it. Falling for Nicola—even thinking about her when she was underage and my best friend’s daughter—was never something that I was willing to do. I’ve seen what twenty year gaps can do to relationships and to a family, and I swore that I would never be a part of something like that.
But that night was different.
“Tristan,” she said, her voice soft.
“Nicola, are you all right?”
She was illuminated by the light of the refrigerator as I opened it to grab another beer. The cooler outside was empty. “If you’re all right, then why are you hiding in here with all the lights out?”
She laughed softly. “I’m not hiding. Just waiting.”
“For what?” I asked. It was deliberate because I had a suspicion, but I wanted to make her say it.
I shook my head. “Nicola, I’m sorry—”
“Before you say that we can’t, let me tell you some things,” she whispered, taking a step closer. “It’s midnight now. I’m eighteen and I’ve been waiting to say them.”
It was then that I noticed what she was wearing—a dress. But not just any dress. It’s the same dress that she had been wearing earlier in the day before the sun set, and for the whole party. A little silver number that clung to her skin and curves in a way that could drive a man mad. It was clear there was nothing under it, and I had to avert my eyes from her body for fear that my mind would spin away from me in a way that I couldn’t control. We had talked about music and her plans for after the summer, the conversation casual and easy, aside from the fact that I had to avert my eyes.
Then, with her only a foot away, there was nowhere else to look. Her body was perfect, curved in all the right places and covered in skin-tight cloth that left nothing to the imagination. In the semi-darkness of the kitchen, it appeared far dirtier. Something designed to tease and arouse. Something barely there. She did it on purpose, and it was working.
Anyone would have had to be a madman not to have been turned on by the sight, and I am not a madman. My cock was harder than it’s ever been in my life, my brain suddenly recognizing that she was a woman. Legal. Someone I could look at as an equal, and fuck, both my body and my mind were interested in that.