But I couldn’t read them. I wanted to stay mad. It was safer to stay mad. But considering the way the absence of the letters made me feel, there was no way I could actually read their contents and stay strong.

The following week, though, I realized he hadn’t stopped writing the letters—he’d just been waiting. I walked through the school courtyard on Monday, and saw a group of my kids gathered outside the doors, Carlos in the middle.

He was handing something out, and when I got closer, they all switched to whispers and not-so-subtly stared at me as I passed. When the students took their seats that morning, every desk in the room had an envelope, all for me.

I was angry and relieved, and a giant mess of wants.

I trekked home that day with my arms full of envelopes and a head full of frustration.

I thought about doing something to prove a point. I could throw all the letters out where he would find them. I could burn them. I could tear them up.

Or I could open them.

Maybe if I showed that I had opened them, he would stop.

So, I plucked one out of the pile, my skin suddenly buzzing. I tried to swallow, but something knotted in my throat.

It’s just a letter. Just words. Probably words that you’ve already heard.

The shaking spread from my fingers to the rest of my body as I tore open the letter.


A sketch tumbled out first.

Even without having been there, I knew it was Venice. There was a gondola passing by a home that seemed to sit directly on the water. There were balconies with roses, and it looked so impossible and beautiful that I felt myself tearing up.

The letter with this one was short.

I can’t go anywhere beautiful without thinking of you. Hell, who am I kidding, I can’t go anywhere period without thinking of you. I wanted to take you here. I know there’s no excuse for what I did. I could explain the ways I reasoned with myself. I could explain that I needed the money, the job. I could explain that I waited because I was worried about you. But the real truth is that I just didn’t want it to end. I knew you’d leave when you found out. And I just kept telling myself . . . one more day. But if there’s anything I learned with you, it’s that one more day was never enough.

I sunk down to the floor at the edge of my bed, a noise pulling from my chest that I couldn’t even put a word to. It wasn’t crying. It was something deeper. It unraveled from my lungs, low and keening and hollow. If I had to guess . . . I’d say it was what it sounds like to miss someone. To feel their absence like a second skin.

I picked up another letter.

This time, the sketch wasn’t of a beautiful sight or a grand city. It was four men in military fatigues. Their faces were detailed, realistic, alive. So either he sketched them from a picture or they were burned into his memory.

I remembered what he’d told me about his unit, and how he’d lost them, and I gave up trying to wipe away the tears that rolled down my cheeks.

I’m sorry I didn’t tell you more about me. That I didn’t open up. It’s just . . . I thought I lost all the parts of me that meant something when I lost these guys. They were family. That’s why I liked to jump off bridges and climb cliffs and do whatever other crazy stunt that could make me feel something. But even that had stopped working . . . until I met you. You made me feel more with a look than I felt jumping out of a plane. I felt more adrenaline from your touch than when I was moving into enemy territory or taking fire. I know how crazy I sound. I know how crazy this all is. And I’m probably doing it all wrong. But my only excuse is that I’m crazy about you. And life is not living unless I’m with you. You’re my adventure. The only one I want to have. So, if this doesn’t work, I’ll try something else. If the military taught me anything, it was to be persistent. To weather the storms. So, that’s what I’ll do.

I opened every letter.

My bedroom was a sea of paper, words with the depth of an ocean and sketches with all the power of the tide. When I had read them all, when the words had filled the empty spaces he’d left behind, I wrote a letter of my own and put it outside my door.


I sat on the swing, my heart hurdling back and forth even though I was still. What if he didn’t come? The letter disappeared while I was at work, so unless there was a mail thief in the neighborhood, he’d gotten it.

I’d given him directions to get here, but what if they weren’t good enough? Or what if I’d waited too long?

I squeezed the chain links of the swing until they imprinted on my palms. I ducked my head, and closed my eyes, trying to stay calm. This situation was mine to control. Nothing had to happen unless I said so. This was my choice.

“I’m glad you gave me directions. I’m afraid the picture wasn’t very . . . ah, informative.”

My head popped up, and Hunt was there, his tall frame blocking out the sun and casting me in shadow. It took a few long moments for me to focus, for me to do anything other than stare at him.

It sounds cliché, but I’d forgotten how gorgeous he was. I’d forgotten the way that smile was magnetic enough to pull the sun across the sky.

He was holding one of the pages from my letter, my attempt to sketch the playground where I’d set for us to meet.

I shrugged, the weight on my shoulders almost too heavy to lift.

“I’m not an artist,” I said. “Stick figures and squiggles were about the best I could do.”

His smiled widened, and his eyes skipped across my face like he couldn’t quite believe I was there.

“I like the stick figures. I’m guessing the tall one is me?”

God, he couldn’t even tell which one was the girl. How embarrassing.

I didn’t know what to say. I’d called this meeting. I should be the one to say something, the one to take control. But when I looked at him, my mind was full with all the things that had happened and all the things that hadn’t. And he looked at me like a man that had been starved. Of food and light and attention and everything.

“Have you been here before?” he asked.

I cleared my throat. “Not the playground, but I come to the park sometimes. It’s nice. Relaxing.”

Silence settled again, loud and uncomfortable.

I said, “I read your letters,” at the same time that he said, “I’m sorry.”

“You did?” he said. “I’m sorry if I went overboard. In my defense, the whole classroom thing was Carlos’s idea.”

Of course. Carlos wasn’t just a messenger. My favorite student was a co-conspirator.

“No.” I cleared my throat again. My mouth was dry, and words kept tangling on my tongue. “The letters were . . . good. I mean, excessive, yes. But they were good.”

His hands were shoved into his pockets, and I could see the way his firsts were clenched tight beneath the fabric.

“You hurt me,” I said.

His expression contorted, pain and shame written in his features.

“I know.” His voice was thick, deep. “The biggest mistake I’ve ever made. And I’ve made a lot.”

I didn’t know what the right answer was here. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.

My heart and every romantic comedy ever made told me I was supposed to leap into his arms and forget it all ever happened.

My head told me to run. To close myself off. To never let him close, never let anyone close.

And me . . . the me that was neither my head, nor my heart, but something else . . . it told me that there was no right answer. Forgiving him would be hard and painful, but so would living without him. I didn’t know if I could ever trust him again. But I knew I wanted to.

I wanted to be able to leap into his arms, and believe that he would catch me. I wanted the confidence I’d had when we toppled over the side of that bridge in Prague.

I said, “What I felt for you”—he stood up straighter, and I watched his mouth purse and straighten, riddled with tension—“it’s never been like that. Not with anyone. But you have to understand, my whole life was built on lies. And I’d felt that way for you because you were the one thing that felt true. Real.”

I didn’t know how to make it work, how to make it hurt less. All I knew was that I was done living out of fear. Afraid of everything. Of growing up and growing old. Of living and of love.

I was happy here in Madrid. It was a different kind of happy than what I’d been with Hunt, less incendiary, but it was stable. It didn’t burn me up, but it filled some of the empty spaces.

I looked into his gray eyes. I could forget a hundred things looking into his eyes, but could I forget this? He must have seen my walls weakening, because slowly, he approached me. He knelt before me on the swing, and ever so slowly, his hand touched my cheek.

“Every day. I will prove every day how much you mean to me. How real this is. You told me once that history matters, but it’s frozen, set in stone. This is part of our history. I can’t change it or undo it. But it doesn’t have to dictate our future.”

Our future.

Those two simple words hooked into my heart, and it felt almost like we’d never been apart. Like I’d just been sleeping.

I’d known I wanted to see him when I came here today, and I had thought about the possibility of us being together, but I hadn’t honestly known if I could handle it.

But now, I was making the decision. I could.

Because every time, every single time, I would choose our future over my future. Because in my wildest imagination, I couldn’t imagine how the best future without him could even compare to the worst future with him. Because even though the life I’d made here in Madrid filled the empty spaces, I didn’t burn without him. Of all the things I’d wanted in life—the places I wanted to see and the things I want to accomplish—the thing I’d always wanted most was to be the kind of person that burned.

I leaned into his hand, and said, “Jackson?”

His breaths were shallow, and I could imagine the way his heart was beating. As fast as mine, I guessed.


“Do I have another dare left?”

His lips pulled into a smile, the faintest dimple showing in one cheek.

“You can have as many dares as you want.”

“Good. I dare you to kiss—”

I didn’t even finish the sentence before his mouth was on mine. He stood bent over me, his hands cradling my face, and he worshiped my lips like it was the first time we’d touched in a thousand years.

His tongue swept across my lip, and my belly tightened just at the memory of how he tasted. His lips pushed harder, and on the second sweep of his tongue, I opened to him. Our tongues touched, and he groaned, his fingers pushing back into my hair.

I shivered, and released the death grip I had on the swing to reach for him. With him standing and me sitting, I couldn’t wrap my arms around him the way I wanted. Before I could order my legs to stand, he took hold of the swing chains, and pushed me back and up, like he was about to set me swinging. Instead, he pushed me just high enough that my mouth was level with his and nudged my knees apart to settle between them.

It was my turn to moan into his mouth, as his body was brought in line with mine. His hands slid from the chains to my back, and he tugged until my chest smashed against his. I wrapped my arms around him, and the familiar feel of his muscles beneath my fingertips made me ache with want.

“God, I’ve missed you,” he murmured against my lips.

Missed didn’t even begin to describe the feeling that simmered through my bloodstream. With his lips on mine, and his hips pressing intimately against my center, I couldn’t even understand how I’d lasted as long as I had.

He leaned harder into me, pushing back against the swing. His hardness pressed against the zipper of my jeans, and I saw stars just from the friction.

I whimpered. “Maybe we should move this off the playground.”

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