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Travis: Chapter 33

Haven

The door to his house was wide open, an old-fashioned bike with a white woven basket featuring a daisy leaned against the porch. My heart stalled. Was there a woman here? I got out of my car slowly, closing the door and hesitantly headed toward the house I knew from the Pelion directory was Travis’s.

I knocked on the open door, leaning my head in. “Hello?” I called, walking inside, my heart rate increasing now, thumping in my ears. It smelled like fresh paint. “Travis?”

He appeared from around the corner, a box in his hands, his eyes wide with surprise. He set the box down slowly, his gaze held to mine as he straightened. “Haven?”

“Hi.” I walked inside, noting the other boxes piled here and there. “You’re moving?”

He looked around as though searching for the answer. “Uh. Yeah. Not for a couple of weeks but I’m getting a head start on packing.”

“Where?”

“Where?” he parroted.

“Where are you moving?”

He gave his head a slight shake. “Just . . . down the street a ways. The landlord’s cousin is moving in so I got kicked out.” He was standing so still, watching me carefully. “What are you doing here?”

I ran my finger along the chair rail, walking closer. I spotted Clawdia stretched out near a window, basking in a pool of yellow sunshine. I looked back at Travis, raising my eyebrows in question.

“I, uh, took her off Betty’s hands,” he said in explanation. “She dropped her off this morning. Said I was doing her a favor.” He glanced at the cat in question. “Clawdia gets skittish around so many moving feet. A B&B isn’t the ideal place for her.” His gaze flickered away, and Clawdia meowed from her patch of light, as if corroborating his obvious lie. Little accomplice.

My lip trembled. It turned out this big policeman was a cat lover.

But I’d already suspected as much.

I cleared my throat. “My brother came into some land.”

His eyes moved over my face. “Oh yeah?”

“He won it from a guy down at the firehouse last night. The firehouse where they’ve all but offered him a job.” I paused, giving Travis a sideways look. “The funny thing is, those guys asked Easton to go to a certain town meeting that I heard was . . . well, memorable.

He kept staring. “I . . . see,” he finally said.

I nodded, sucking on my bottom lip. “It’s as if they knew what was going to happen at that meeting. As if they’d been told in advance.”

“I . . . see,” he repeated.

“And then, shocker of all shockers, my brother won some money and a plot of land later that night from one of those same firemen.”

“Lucky,” he all but choked.

“You’d think, right?” I tapped my finger on my chin. “Only . . . we’ve never exactly been the lucky types. So I got to wondering . . .”

“Uh-oh.”

My lip quirked, but despite his joke, he still looked mildly ill and as though everywhere except his mouth might have suddenly turned to stone.

“I remembered you mentioned owning a plot of land. And I got to wondering what I’d find if I looked up the deed to the one Easton now owns. When might it have been transferred to that fireman so he could ‘lose’ it in that poker game? And by whom?”

He watched me silently, finally moving as he shoved his hands in his pockets but not before I noticed they were trembling. “Don’t do that,” he said.

“No? Why?”

“Because . . . I won’t take it back. I’m moving to a smaller house near the lake, right down the street from Archer, Bree, and the kids. The owner said she might be interested in selling at some point. Which will be great if I still have a job and can save up some money. It’s in Pelion. Close enough to the gym. But I’ve found I enjoy running on the shore more anyway.” He let out a whoosh of air as though saying so many words had winded him.

“What in the world will I do with that land?” My God, he looked like a statue, as though if he moved at all, he would shatter.

He squinted past me. “Seems like the perfect place to help others plant ten thousand gardens,” he said after a moment, meeting my eyes again. Oh.

It’s what my brother had suggested too. But how could I accept it? How? “That land was yours,” I said. “Why would you do that, Travis?”

He shrugged. “I can’t do anything with it anyway. See, I came across this amendment that clearly states the Pelion chief of police has to live within Pelion town limits, which I am. The chief of police, that is. For now. Anyway, Archer agreed with the bylaw. He filed it this morning. There’s no turning back now. I would have had to sell that land anyway.”

“But you would have gotten the money!”

“I don’t care about the money, Haven,” he said softly. “And I don’t think you do either. But if you’d prefer to sell it and settle somewhere else, that’s your decision to make. I hope you do though. Settle.”

I sighed. This man. He’d gifted us his land. His roots. The ones that went back hundreds of years. I was still reeling. About that. About so many things. “You sent Gage to me. Why?”

He paused. “I want you to be happy,” he said. “I want you to have the perfect life, everything you want.” He looked down. “Even if that’s not me.” The wince was slight. He almost hid it.

“Gage is pretty perfect. I concede.”

He looked to the side. “You deserve perfect.”

I moved closer. “He has the perfect family.”

Travis nodded. “He’s looking to settle down. If things . . . progressed, he’d be able to provide you security for life . . . a family . . .” God no one had ever looked more miserable than Travis Hale in that moment.

“I’m going to kill you.”

“Excuse me?”

“Why would things progress with Gage when I’m in love with you?”

Blatant hope bloomed across his handsome face. “You’re in love with me?”

“I am.” I put my hands on my hips, attempting to look stern. “I have some decisions to make though,” I said. “Considering the circumstances.”

“Oh.” He looked down, defeated.

I eyed him. It wasn’t exactly right to draw out his pain. After all, I had hurt him too. But it wasn’t exactly wrong either. He’d hurt me in a room full of strangers. “I’m either going to walk out that door because honestly, Travis Hale, I’m not sure you have much in the way of material possessions to offer me. It seems you’ve lost it all.”

“It’s true. I did. Every last bit.”

Or, I’m going to come over there and kiss you silly because as it turns out, your heart is made of gold, even if it’s a bit tarnished. Which one do you think I’ll choose?” The corner of my lip shook as I resisted a smile.

“The one that means I can take a full breath again?”

I laughed, rushing to him. He took me in his arms, murmuring sounds of love and relief, planting his face in my hair, his shaking hands running down my back. “I am so sorry,” he said. “So, so sorry. You are wanted. You are so wanted by me.”

I leaned back, bringing my hand to his cheek. “I know. I watched the video of the meeting.”

He stilled again, but only momentarily. “So you know the extent of it. I might not have a job. There’s a town meeting next week to decide whether to circulate a recall petition. It seems page fifty-three of my shame manifesto is the sticking point.”

Shame manifesto.

I smiled softly. I wasn’t worried for him. Like I’d just said, I’d watched the video.

And I had no desire to know what was on page fifty-three.

Ever.

“I also don’t have a vehicle. My engine blew. Bree let me borrow her old bike. Clawdia enjoys riding in the basket.”

“You’re kidding?” I couldn’t help the laugh that threatened as I pictured this strapping man riding around town on an old-fashioned bike with a cat in its basket.

He shook his head. Well. No house, likely no savings after that pile of checks I’d seen him distributing on the video, no truck, possibly no job, and no land because he’d gifted it to me. I leaned in and kissed him, luxuriating in his mouth, his taste, him, for many minutes. “I’ve been scared,” I admitted. “Scared of the connection I felt to you right from the beginning.” I paused, gathering my words. I wanted to say this right. “It scared me. No, it terrified me because I had this sense that if I let you in, I wouldn’t be able to let you go. And I thought . . . if I could just put you in a box, things would be okay. But it didn’t work. I just kept falling deeper. You just kept busting out of every box I tried to put you in. And I panicked. I ran in the only way I could. I threw Gage up between us. I convinced myself you were still in love with someone else. And at first that was a relief, but then, then it became a torment.” I halted, forced to suck in a breath.

Travis was looking at me with something like awe. “I understand that fear, Haven. I do. And I want to talk about all of it. I want to reassure you, not just with words, but with actions. But right now, I think I need to hear you say it again,” he said, his voice gritty with emotion. “Please say it again.”

I knew what it was. He didn’t have to clarify. “I love you, Travis Hale. I want you to know me. I want to tell you about my past, my life, the things that have hurt and all that I was running from. Not to wallow in it, but because it’s part of who I am, and I’m proud that I survived it.”

“You should be. You should be proud.” His gaze washed over my face. “There’s a lot I’m not proud of. But if you watched the video, you already know.” His expression was searching. “That reinventing you spoke of that night on the porch . . . maybe we can both help each other figure out what that looks like. Together.”

I nodded shakily. “Yes. I want that. But most of all, I want a future with you. I just couldn’t let my mind go there, because it hurt, and I feared it, and when I did, when I do, it starts unraveling out of control to a wedding in a meadow, and children, and all sorts of things you don’t want to know about.” I bit my lip, vulnerability washing through me. If we were going to be blatantly honest . . .

His eyes danced as he picked up a curl and attempted to push it back, unsuccessfully. “You don’t deal in half measures, do you?”

“No. That’s the problem. It’s why I’ve kept moving. Because when I stop—’

“Haven, I’m kidding.” He smiled softly. “I love you too. I’m in love with you. For the first time in my life. I had to lose everything to figure out what’s important . . . what I want.” His lips tipped, eyes gentled. “What I’ve had all along, and what’s still mine, even when it seems like I have nothing. What I hope to share with you if you’ll let me.”

My heart soared and I leaned in, kissing him on his beautiful mouth. I was ready. Ready to grasp happiness, moments at least, and whole seasons if I was able and life allowed. I wanted my life to count, not just be an endless cycle of struggle and survival. I was ready to risk, to trust, to stay in one place, to glory in the warmth of summer, to feel the subtle shift as fall arrived, to snuggle into winter, and watch with bated breath for the new green of spring breaking through the cold and the hard.

“You want children?” he asked, breaking from my lips, as if those words had just registered.

“A whole brood of them. I want roots. Noise. Chaos,” I admitted, because in for a penny, in for a pound, and the way he was looking at me, made me believe he’d move heaven and earth to make all my dreams come true.

“Define brood,” he said on a grin.

“Ten. Twelve.”

Travis laughed, the sound filled with joy. “We better get started then. No time to waste.”

I grinned back. “But before that, you have some dating to do.” Because as much as I loved the idea of noise, and roots, and broods of whiskey-eyed Hale boys, I first wanted more blueberry festivals, and antique fairs, and moonlit lake rendezvous with the gorgeous man looking at me with love. I wanted morning upon morning where I woke first and marveled at his slumbering beauty in the still light of dawn. And I was determined to do it without that knot of fear in my belly.

“Oh, I’ll date you, Haven from California. I’m going to date the hell out of you. No one will have been dated harder in the history—’

I planted my lips on his and he laughed against my mouth as he swooped me up in his arms.

And in my mind, the future appeared, and it was incredibly, brilliantly bright.


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