Title: The Long Way Home
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Re-release Date: 9-14-17
Broken. Shattered. Destroyed.
Healing seems impossible.
I can’t let go of the past. The overwhelming guilt won’t let me. I fight the pain every single day but it’s not getting any easier to carry, and there are days when I wonder if I will ever find happiness.
Or if I even deserve it.
Determined to endure my misery alone, I’ve pushed everyone out of my life, including my best friend, Linc. Now he’s back and he won’t leave without a fight. He’s tearing down my walls and forcing me to face what I’ve kept buried for so long. Because of him, I feel like I can finally breathe again, and there’s a sliver of hope weaving its way into my heart.
Will it be enough to save me from the darkness that threatens to drown me?
Love isn’t always easy.
But it’s always worth it.
Author’s note: The Long Way Home is a new edition of the previously published book titled Sylvie. With the exception of a new cover, blurb, title, and added bonus material all other content remains the same.
The light in the bathroom is bright, revealing the dark shadows coloring the skin beneath my eyes. Even good makeup can’t conceal what I’m trying to hide, the pain that is locked away with the mountain of regret. My worst enemy is my memory, reminding me every single day of the chances I didn’t take and the decisions I waited too long to make.
The knot in my throat is tight, and I just can’t seem to swallow past it today.
God, will I ever be able to go a day without crying?
Turning away from the mirror I press my back to the wall, trying to stifle a runaway sob. But they rack my body in relentless waves of grief and despair. I ride it out, until I feel a little bit of the weight ease from my shoulders.
But it’s only temporary. The heaviness is back with a vengeance when I look in the mirror once more. I can’t escape it. No matter how hard I try.
Wiping my nose, I dry my eyes. Grateful my small breakdown hadn’t been worse.
Usually once I start, it’s nearly impossible to stop.
I stand facing the mirror as I release my blonde hair from a ponytail then pull it neatly back in place, a meager attempt to conceal the evidence of my consuming misery.
It’s a wasted effort.
I’m still a mess.
Feeling only slightly better, I make my way back out front, refill several glasses and serve another table before noting the hostess has seated a new customer in my section.
I retrieve my pen and pad from my apron as I make my way over. “Hey there, what can I…” I blink, my brain and heart still trying to play catch-up while a flock of butterflies take flight in my belly.
Am I dreaming?
A smile I haven’t seen in a long, long time, and it’s such a welcome sight. Tears burn behind my eyes, and I swear my heart damn near stops altogether when he stands from the table.
My name is like a solemn vow, wholesome and pure, tugging at the strings of my stumbling heart. Without hesitation, he pulls me into his strong arms, and I immediately sag against him, soaking up his warmth.
It feels like it’s been a lifetime since I could breathe without it hurting.
I steal a moment of comfort in his arms and his familiar scent has me struggling to let go.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, forcing myself to release him.
Guilt gnaws at my stomach, remembering the hateful words I’d said to him the last time we saw each other. Linc and I were once best friends. We told each other everything. But we haven’t spoken in over a year and even though there was still so much left unsaid, it was as if he never really left.
His brown hair is a little longer but it looks good on him. A light dusting of scruff covers his sharp jaw, making him appear rugged and hard, but his soft green eyes remind me of his kind heart and kindred spirit.
His warm smile slowly fades, and that’s when I notice the pain in his eyes. “Mama has cancer,” he says softly.
I fall to the chair next me, my knees unsteady from the blow of this devastating news. “Oh God, I’m so sorry, Linc.”
He takes the seat across from me. “Doc says her chances are really good. They caught it early, but her treatment will be aggressive, so she’s got a long road ahead.”
I cover his hand with my own, a sharp pang piercing my chest. He lost his father when he was seventeen. His mother is all he’s ever had; it would kill him if he lost her, too. “Please let me know what I can do to help. I had no idea she was sick. I…I haven’t seen Gwynn in a while. I should go visit.”
He smiles again, but this time it’s weak, sad. “She’d love that,” he says. “She misses you and Caroline.”
I miss you, too.
He doesn’t say the words out loud but he doesn’t have to. Those eyes of his tell me more than I care to know. We’ve always had a way of communicating without speaking.
He knows me in ways no man does. Or ever will. There’s a heavy amount of comfort in that but there’s also an incredible amount of guilt.
I stand, eager to put some distance between us. “What can I get you to drink?”
He clears his throat. “Sweet tea.”
“Comin’ right up.”
I feel his eyes on me as I move through the tables. I cash out one of my customers and refill a few glasses before eventually pouring his glass of tea.
My skin prickles all over as I approach. “Have you decided what you want yet?” I pull my order pad from the pocket of my apron.
Linc pins me with his sharp, unforgiving eyes. “Yeah, I know what I want, Sylvie.”
“What’ll it be?” I ask, my voice just as shaky as my hands.
It’s nearly dark when I wander out onto the porch and find Linc packing up his tools and loading up his truck.
“I won’t be here tomorrow so make sure you bring water and your lunch.”
He chuckles, the sound soothing and warm. “I will.”
Slamming the tailgate of his truck, he walks to the foot of the steps. The porch light illuminates his face as a smile teases the corners of his lips.
I fold my arms across my chest.
I’ve never had to fight so hard at it. When Dean was here it was easier to mask. But now that he’s gone, it’s taking everything I have to cover it up.
He props a booted foot onto the bottom step. “We’ll be finished tomorrow.”
“Doesn’t mean I’m finished with you though.”
“Told ya I ain’t goin’ nowhere.” Linc plants his feet on the porch, standing directly in front of me, eyes gleaming with affection. The green irises set my body on fire and build an inferno of heat, raging in my heart and between my legs.
“What’s for dinner?”
I smile because, damn it all to hell, when it comes to him, I can’t help myself. “Fish sticks and macaroni and cheese.”
He smirks. “You know that’s my favorite.”
One minute I’m standing on my front porch, trying desperately to resist him. And the next minute, I’m in his arms…
His lips claim mine, soft yet hard paired with unmistakable determination. His warm tongue tangles with mine, tasting of deep longing and strong desire.
The kiss of that desperate boy long ago pales in comparison to that of this unyielding man.
I throw my arms around his shoulders as he backs me into the door. “I’ve waited a fucking lifetime for this?” he whispers across my lips before seizing them once more, renewing his passion.
I’ve dreamed of this moment for so long, to feel his touch, to taste his lips once more. The possessive manner in which his fingers brand my skin, the way his tongue greedily slides against mine.
Linc begins to slow the kiss but I’m not ready for it to end, so I dig deeper and pull tighter, in my vain attempt to soar higher.
I don’t want to let this moment go.
His hands cup my face and I can sense him trying to pull away, so I let him, because otherwise I’ll beg him to take me right here and now. His forehead rests against mine, and I take this opportunity to breathe him in.
“God, I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you, too,” I say, still trying to grasp the reality of what is happening. “I still can’t believe you’re here.”
His eyes meet mine as confusion settles on his face. “Why?”
“Because of everything that’s happened between us. Because of everything I said to you. I thought you would hate me forever. It’s what I wanted.”
“I could never hate you.”
“I would hate me,” I whisper.
His hands move to my back, pulling me into his chest. “Know what I hate? I hate what he’s done to you. I hate what he took away from us, and most of all, I hate that you’re still letting him.”
God, I hate it, too.
“I know.” I agree, because even though I don’t deserve him, I need him in order to survive this.
When we pull to a stop, I let the engine run. It’s already ten forty-five. I have to be home by midnight. We can’t stay long. My sweaty palms grip the steering wheel while blood rushes my ears, anxious to know what will happen next.
The alternative rock station we’re listening to switches songs and “All I Need” by Radiohead pours from the speakers, the dark sound setting the tone as he catches my eye, turning it up.
“Love this song,” he says.
“It’s one of my favorites, too.”
He continues to smoke his cigarette casually and damn it all to hell if he doesn’t look hot doing it. Then he swings his eyes to mine once more as the dark lyrics fill the space between us, his gaze bringing me down to a level of need I don’t understand.
But the need is not within me.
It’s in him.
With a sense of resolve, he drops out of the truck and rounds the front, flicking what is left of his cigarette into the night before opening my door.
Reaching for my hand, he pulls me out. “Dance with me.”
There, on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, with nothing more than the low beam headlights guiding our way, we dance. His arms wrap around me and so does his scent, intoxicating and new.
He pulls me closer, our cheeks touching, breaths meeting warm skin while my heart races in my chest. I want him to kiss me. He’s probably kissed tons of girls, good-looking as he is.
Girls who know how to kiss.
Girls who know how to do lots of things I don’t.
He is a man, after all. And I’ve never kissed a man before. I’ve only kissed two boys and their sloppy tongues and groping hands were nothing to write home about.
His fingers press into my lower back before his warm mouth whispers in my ear and my body tingles.
“I’m going to kiss you now, Sylvie.” A rough thumb works back and forth across my fevered skin as he pulls back to gaze down at me, my heart thunders so hard in my chest I think I might pass out. His face is but a shadow in the still of the night, however, there is no mistaking the want in his eyes.
It tugs at something inside of me, calls to me in a way that I cannot fathom.
Then his mouth descends on mine, paralyzing me. I’m not sure what to do with my hands so I let them hang loosely by my side, but the moment he backs me into the front of the truck they gain purchase, fisting in the sides of his shirt.
He tastes of smoke, fire, and desperation. It’s overwhelming, frightening, and addictive—his need for me.
The kiss begins to slow but my blood rushes faster, eager for more.
“Sylvie,” he breathes against my lips.
My panting heart grows sluggish and weak as he brushes his thumb across my swollen lips. His forehead drops to mine, his shoulders tense and tight beneath my hands. Something flickers in his eyes, something dark and mystifying, luring me in.
“You’re going to make me fall in love with you, aren’t you?” Warmth sings in my blood while resolution settles in his eyes. He breathes the words against my lips, a whisper of possibility that has me flying across the star-covered sky.
After we get back from Gwynn’s we settle on the living room couch. Me with a bottle of wine and Linc with his Lumberjacks. We spend hours talking. Sharing memory after memory until we gorge ourselves on the past. There’s something to be said about someone who knows everything about you. All of your embarrassing moments, your dark secrets, every undeniable truth.
The tension crackling between us is so potent I think I might burst into flames, seduced by every smile and word that falls from his lips.
“Remember when we were fifteen and we rolled Mr. Whitehead’s yard with toilet paper.” Linc chuckles, his green eyes sparkling with mischief.
“He was so pissed when he walked outside.”
“We almost got caught because of you,” he says.
“Because of me?”
“Yeah, you squealed like a girl when he flipped on the porch light. If I hadn’t covered your mouth and dragged you to the woods, we would’ve been busted for sure.”
“It would’ve been worth it. Mr. Whitehead was such an asshole.”
He was our high school history teacher, and I swear he had it out for Linc and me. We couldn’t even look at each other without getting into trouble.
We spent a good part of our sophomore year in the hallway.
“That was the first time I ever wanted to kiss you.”
My lips part as he slips the wine glass from my hand and sets his empty beer bottle on the coffee table next to it. He scoots in closer, bringing a new wave of heat with him. His closeness is more intoxicating than ever, more potent.
“When we were crouched down, hidden behind the trees, my heart was racing.” He gently picks my hand up from my lap and places it on his chest, feeling the thundering beat of his heart as he holds it in place. Then he brings his fingers to my cheek, grazing my skin with his knuckles. “Not because I was afraid of gettin’ caught, but because you were so scared. And all I could think about was kissing you, so you wouldn’t be afraid.”
My heart beats harder. “Why didn’t you? Kiss me, I mean?”
“I don’t know, but I regret it every goddamn day of my life.”
He drags a finger beneath my bottom lip, leaving a trail of fire in its wake.
His eyes dart to my mouth, and I watch in fascination as his body grows tense and his breathing picks up.
Beneath my hand I feel his heart gain speed, leaping with abandon toward mine.
“No more regrets, Sylvie,” he whispers just before his lips cover mine.
His kiss is full of promise and strength, unlike anything I’ve ever known. His kisses before were breathtaking, heart stopping.But they all pale in comparison to this one.
This one is built of longing and desire.
Salvation and love.
Moving one hand to the back of my head, he lowers me to the couch where he positions himself on one side. His other hand roams the outer lines of my body, skimming over the parts I desperately want him to touch. His tongue dances with mine, in a tango of heat so hot I’m certain I’ll burn up from it.
“Jesus Christ, is this really happening?”
“Yes,” I breathe.
His hand moves to my neck, angling it so he can kiss me deeper. My hands clutch his shirt as I pull one foot to dig into the couch. I feel like if I don’t ground myself I’ll float away.
“Linc,” I plead. “Touch me.”
He grins against my lips before nipping the bottom one. “I’m touchin’ you.”
I groan. “Please.”
Smiling, he pulls back to look into my eyes. “I don’t know where to start. Part of me wants to take my time, so we don’t miss a damn thing, but the other part wants to ravage you, rip your clothes off, and show you once and for all who you have always belonged to.”
“Yes, I want all of that.”
I barely get the words out of my mouth before he’s doing just that. His hands drop to the hem of my dress, pulling it up and over my head before tossing it onto the floor.
He caresses each breast, giving them a hard squeeze while placing a worshiping kiss on each swell. Dropping hot kisses down the center of my belly, my hands skate through his hair, gripping the strands to encourage his journey. His fingers hook the sides of my panties and his lips follow them all the way down my trembling legs. It’s hard to concentrate on everything at once.
Because all I can think about is how each brush of his lips and touch of his hands fills my soul with redemption.
“Breathe,” he whispers the command softly.
I release his hair along with an imprisoned breath. He rests back on his haunches, pulling his t-shirt over his head, his green eyes roaming up and down my body appreciatively. I squirm beneath his heated stare.
Now that the moment is here, I thought I would be more nervous, more…apprehensive.
But I’m not.
Nothing has ever felt more right.