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Only Love (One and Only #3)
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A gorgeous former Marine with a tortured soul.
From USA Today Bestselling Author Melanie Harlow comes an all new standalone romance that will make you believe in the redemptive power of love.
I was expecting a proposal on my birthday, and I got dumped instead.
How could I have been so clueless?
Grams knew exactly how to distract me.
The “cute boy next door” who’s been helping her with yard work clearly needs a little therapy. Who better to call than her newly single therapist granddaughter?
She even fakes dementia to get me to visit, and now that I’m here she’s doing everything in her power to throw us together.
Not that I’m complaining. Ryan is the sexiest man I’ve ever met–I mean the full package, from the chiseled jaw to the massive shoulders to the rippling abs. (And yes, his package is full, and he knows exactly how to deliver it.) He makes me want to get out of my head and follow my heart. He makes me want to take chances I never thought I’d take.
He also makes me want to take my clothes off. A lot.
But he’s moody and challenging–one minute he’s an open book, and the next he’s completely closed off. He holds me like he’ll never let go, but insists he wants to be alone.
Some wounds are so deep, only love can heal them.
How can I convince him to let me try?
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Worst. Birthday. Ever.
(But I didn’t know that yet.)
I arrived at the restaurant a little early. This was a big night—potentially the biggest night of my life—and not just because I was turning thirty-three. If my intuition was correct, there was a good chance I’d be walking out of there with a ring on my finger.
Nothing too flashy or ostentatious, of course. That wasn’t me. Something tasteful. Something classic. Something that said I am a woman with a family in my future.
That’s all I wanted.
“Hi, Stella,” greeted the usual Saturday night hostess with a smile. “Dining alone tonight?”
I smiled back. “No, Walter is coming from the other side of town. I’m a little early.”
“No problem. Would you like to be seated?
“Yes, thanks.” I followed her to a table set for two in a dark, cozy corner opposite the bar.
I sat down, and when the server came by, I ordered a glass of pinot noir. While I waited for it, I tried to relax but found myself nervous and fidgety. Out of habit, I started looking around the room, making up stories about the people I saw. I’ve always been kind of obsessed with what’s going on inside people’s heads—probably why I became a therapist—and I love trying to read body language and facial expressions.
That redhead at the bar with her back to me, the one with the nervous ankle twitch and pretty black dress? She’s secretly in love with the bartender, a handsome playboy with a crooked smile and a thousand notches on his bedpost. He’s got a crushing fear of intimacy because of his parents’ divorce, but all he really needs is someone to show him unconditional love. She’s dying for him to notice her, but also terrified of rejection because her last boyfriend broke her heart.
My wine arrived, and I took a sip, happy with the way my secret story was unfolding.
My other obsession? Books.
As a kid, I was too tall for my age, awkward around boys, and nervous about breaking rules, bones, and crosswalk regulations. (As the oldest child, I liked to think I was merely setting a good example for my two younger sisters when I chose to tell the truth about the missing cookies, go around instead of hopping the fence, and wait for the signal to turn green before carefully riding my bike across the street, helmet securely fastened.)
But books—books were amazing!
I could visit the pyramids, catch the thief, solve the mystery, go back in time and fall in love with a duke who’s pretending to be a peasant and let him plant his royal spade in the fertile soil of my humble lady garden all in the comfort of my own home. I didn’t even have to break curfew, let alone allow the dashing duke to see my gangly body without any clothes on.
After a little more wine, I returned to the drama at the bar.
Fear of Rejection has decided tonight’s the night. She’s wearing her new black lace underwear beneath that dress, and it’s making her feel sexy and confident. Fear of Intimacy has made eye contact and smiled three times already. The next time he comes by, she’s going to—
My story was interrupted by the buzz of my phone. It was my sister Emme. I’d made the mistake of mentioning to her I thought Walter might pop the question tonight, so she was probably calling to check in.
“Did he propose yet?”
“No,” I whispered, glancing around as if someone might have heard her. “He’s not even here yet. Our reservation isn’t until eight.”
“Eight! It’s barely seven-thirty. Why are you there so early?”
“I don’t know.” I peeked over at the bar. Fear of Intimacy was leaning forward on his elbows in front of Fear of Rejection, who was twirling a long, wavy strand of her hair. So far, so good.
“Are you nervous?” Emme asked.
“A little,” I admitted. “But like I said, I’m not positive he’s going to propose. It’s just a hunch because it’s my birthday, and he’s been acting a little weird lately.”
She snorted. “Weird for Buzz is relative.”
My sisters’ nickname for Walter stemmed from his intense fascination with bees. Admittedly, it wasn’t a passion we shared, but we had other things in common—he was a psych professor and I was a therapist, and we both enjoyed running marathons, eating at nice restaurants, visiting museums. I tolerated his endless concern for the sharp decline in managed honeybee colonies (also called Colony Collapse Disorder, if you were wondering) and he didn’t seem bothered by the fact that I wasn’t very physically affectionate. We were a good match.
“If you called to insult my future fiancé, I’m hanging up.”
Emme gasped. “You said fiancé! You really do think this is happening!”
I took another sip of wine as my nerves jangled like a pocketful of coins. “Kind of. I mean, something is definitely up with him.”