“I run Ashwood Logging,” I say, taking a sip of beer.
“Ooh,” she says, her eyes sparkling and that dimple appearing on her cheek again. “So you’re a lumberjack.”
I snort, the corners of my mouth twitching. “I guess.”
“Then why,” she demands, pointing her fork at me, “aren’t you wearing a flannel?”
Usually I’d roll my eyes at the cliché, but coming from her, I find it cute. “You should look in my closet. Plenty of flannels in there.”
“You’ll have to let me borrow one sometime.”
The thought of her wearing my clothes makes some primal part of me raise its head. I can’t help but imagine her wearing one of my flannels. That, and nothing else.
I clear my throat. “Take your pick.”
“Thanks.” The smile fades from her face and she clears her throat. “Aren’t you going to ask me?”
“Ask you what?” I have a feeling I know what she’s talking about.
“Ask me what I ran away from,” she says with a strained smile.
I take another sip of beer, thinking. I can’t claim not to be curious, but I know what it’s like to have things you don’t want to talk about. “Do you want me to ask?”
She sighs, her delicate brows drawing together. “I don’t know. Maybe?”
“How about we clear the table, and then I’ll get both of us a beer. And then you can decide if you want to talk about it or not. Deal?”
She nods. “Deal.”
Burke hands me a can of beer, and I take a large sip, savoring the bitter liquid on my tongue. Do I want to tell him how I ended up here? I’m still not sure. But if that’s the case, why did I bring it up in the first place?
Because he’s trustworthy. I glance at Burke sitting in the armchair next to mine, and I realize it’s true. There’s something solid and steady about him that soothes me, that makes me feel I can trust him. And the fact that he left it to me to decide if I wanted to tell him or not… over the last few years, most of my choices were made for me, whether I liked it or not. Having the freedom to decide what to do is such a small thing, but to me, it feels huge.
I take in a deep breath. “I ran away from a bad relationship.”
Burke jerks his head away from the fireplace to look at me, and I can see the muscles in his jaw working.
“Not physically abusive or anything,” I hasten to add, surprised by the anger on his face.
“You ran away, so it must have been pretty bad. And I’m glad you did. You deserve better.”
I draw in a sharp breath, surprised at the emotions that well up inside of me at his words. You deserve better. It’s something I’ve always believed with my head, but with my heart… It feels good to hear someone else say it, and I feel some of the tightness in my chest leave.
“We were supposed to get married in two days, at the church in Everett.”
“That’s where you lived?”
I nod. “I knew it would be much harder to leave after that, so…” I bite down on my lower lip and let out a shaky breath. Earlier, I checked my phone, convinced I’d see tons of messages from Roger, commanding me to come back. But there was nothing.
“You’re right. I’m glad you’re such a brave woman.”
My eyes fly to his face. “Brave?” He doesn’t look like he’s making fun of me, but I can’t believe he could think of me as brave.
“Of course you’re brave. Leaving a bad relationship is hard as hell. Do you know how many women never make it out? But you made it. You’re out.”
You made it. You’re out. With a jolt, I realize he’s right. I left Roger behind in that little house that started out as a safe haven and ended up feeling like a cage. I sit up a little straighter. “You seem to know quite a bit about abusive relationships.”