All she did was smile. “Like I said, I’ll wait. As long as it takes.”

She kissed me again, hard and fierce, and left me standing in that kitchen alone, wondering how it was possible that my world was turned upside down in less than ten minutes.

And I knew that if I didn’t leave, that I would give in. I wouldn’t be able to resist those images of us together. Everything unfolded with perfect clarity in front of me, and I felt it in my gut. I had to leave or I would ruin everything. Bruce would despise me, and he was the best friend that I’d ever had. And I wasn’t about to destroy their family because I couldn’t keep my dick in check. Lord knows I’ve seen enough of that happening in my life.

So I left. The next day. I was gone before anyone even knew. But now I’m back, because it didn’t work out. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think about Nicola, even though I never returned her calls. I saw how she matured from afar, and it only made me want her more. And one day, I finally had enough.

She said that she’d wait for me. I’m back to find out if she was telling the truth. I wasn’t ready before. I am now. And I’ve come back to make Nicola Thompson mine.

Obviously I can’t tell Bruce yet. Not until I know if she even still wants me. But he’ll know eventually. I can’t stay away from her now, and if she’s as serious as she claimed to be, he’s going to see it between us soon enough. I hope that our friendship can survive it.

Bruce pulls back and claps me on the shoulder. “It’s really good to see you, Tristan. About time you came back from wherever you were.”

I roll my eyes and smile. “You know where I went. It’s not like I was that far away. Only a few hours’ drive.”

We walk to the bar, and Bruce lifts his hand to the bartender to get us some beers. He shrugs. “You know how things are around here, man. A few hours may as well be oblivion.”

He’s right. It’s the way it’s always been down here in the south. You are where you are. Your life is where you live and you don’t travel unless you have to. It’s why I knew that I could escape without moving across the country. “Fair point.”

Bruce slides me a beer and offers me a cheer. “But you’re back now. For good, I hope?”

“That’s the plan,” I say. “I missed your ugly face too much to stay away forever. How are things going?” Bruce has been so busy it’s been a while since we’ve really talked. That’s something that I’m hoping to change now that I’m back.

“Things are amazing,” he says. “Brought Nicola on to be my new flavor creator, and business has never been better. Would have done it as soon as she graduated from culinary school if I realized what a genius for flavor she was. She’s going to be twenty-two in a couple days. Shit.” He takes a sip of his beer. “When did that happen? And you better be at that party. You know she and her mother won’t forgive you if you’re not.”

“I’ll be there,” I say. As for his statement, I know when it happened. While I was watching from afar and losing too much time. She grew into a woman even more beautiful than the one that told me how much she wanted me.

Bruce owns an ice cream company that’s considered the best in the region. And I’ve noticed in the past year they’ve been putting out new flavors like crazy, and they get a lot of press because the flavors are completely unique and addictive. I’ve tried all of them.

I’m not at all surprised that Nicola is the brains behind it. She’s always had a gift for food, and based on the passion with which she spoke about culinary school, I always knew that she would be successful. “That’s good to hear,” I tell Bruce.

“I thought the reason you might have called me so soon after getting into town for drinks was to ask me for a job,” he laughs.

It wasn’t the only reason. I was hoping that maybe we could broach the subject more naturally than this, though. Just something to help me get started in Leighton City again. But before I can explain myself, Bruce laughs and claps me on the shoulder again. “And you don’t even have to ask. I’ve got something for you. In fact, you’re pretty much the perfect person for the job.”

I almost choke on my beer. “Seriously?”

“Seriously. You’ve always been able to sell anything to anyone, and my head of marketing just went to my main competitor.” He rolls his eyes. “Nicola is coming up with these flavors faster than I can keep up with, and I need to expand our distribution in order to keep up. I’m thinking of doing regional lines and limited edition runs. And I think you might be the guy for the job. Plus, Nicola will be able to help you get settled in, so you won’t be thrown in with complete strangers. It’s perfect.”

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