Moment Too Late by Rachael Brownell

Title: A Moment Too Late Author: Rachel Brownell

second-chance romance

Falling in love can happen in the blink of an eye.

  Falling in love can happen in the blink of an eye. I fell for Jay the moment I laid eyes on him. Was drawn to him in a way I’d never been drawn to a man before. He was everything I wanted. The man I dreamed about at night and looked for everywhere I turned just for a glimpse of his perfection. But I couldn’t have him. It was against the rules. Forbidden. He was my best friend’s boyfriend. I would never do that to her. Then she died. Looking at him became painful, bringing back memories of the reason we couldn’t be together. The reason I never pursued him. I had to move on and vowed never to look back in an attempt to escape him and the devastation in my heart. Yet here I stand, five years later, staring into the eyes of the man I still want. In the place I swore I’d never return to. With memories assaulting me from every angle. He’s still the picture of perfection in my eyes, making our attraction even more dangerous than it once was. The only difference… No one is standing in our way this time.

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My phone has vibrated in the pocket of my dress no less than ten times since class started thirty minutes ago. If I were in a lecture hall with five hundred other people, I’d risk checking to see who was calling at this early hour, but this professor is an asshole. The sight of my phone will set him off. On the first day of class, he made his stance on phones perfectly clear. If he sees one, we all suffer. In our second class, we found out exactly what suffering meant when someone walked in texting. The class hadn’t even started. We weren’t on his time yet. Still, he issued a ten-page paper and only gave us three days to do it. Not a single person has been seen on their phone since. Message received. Loud and clear. My phone starts up again, and instantly the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, a chill running down my spine. Whoever keeps calling, it must be important which worries me. All my friends know all about this professor. I’ve complained about him on more than one occasion, so they know never to call during class. Not to mention they’re probably sound asleep. I’m the only idiot who signed up for classes that start before noon in my final semester of college. I didn’t have much of a choice. This class is required to graduate, and this was the only time it was offered. Sighing, I brush off my concerns and attempt to concentrate on the lecture my professor is droning on about. I’m barely able to keep my eyes open as I listen to his monotone voice go on and on about our final project, due in less than four weeks. I didn’t get back in town until after ten last night, then I overslept, having to forgo stopping for coffee on the way to class so I wasn’t late. Another one of the professor’s pet peeves. Graduation is just around the corner, though. No more early classes. No more asshole professors. Four years of hard work and dedication all come down to the next few weeks. This semester has been mentally challenging. Both on a personal and professional level if you count being a college student by day and waitress by night a profession. My days are long, the nights even longer. The much-needed rest and relaxation I was hoping for while vacationing last week never happened. Sleep eluded me most of spring break. I should have been sunbathing and sipping fruity drinks with little umbrellas in them. I was in paradise with no responsibilities. My days were my own, but they were lonely. That’s not a new concept it seems. I could be in a room surrounded by all my favorite people and I’d still feel lonely these days. I spent the first day crying my eyes out behind large, black sunglasses while my parents went on a day excursion. It was beautiful outside, the water was clear, the light breeze keeping me from overheating. The view was breathtaking. I should have been enjoying it with a smile on my face. Or at the very least, taking a nap and working on my tan. What did I do instead? Once I knew my parents were gone, I went back to my room and curled up under the covers. My eyes were puffy and red. It hurt to keep them open. I was exhausted from my early flight, but aside from being physically tired, I was emotionally drained. My heart was splintering in my chest. Every time I thought about that night, I felt a new fault line appear. It wouldn’t be long before it shattered and there would be nothing left. Because I gave him my heart two years ago. Willingly. Without asking for anything in return. I expected him to treat it with care. To guard it. To keep it safe. What did he do with it? Nothing. That was only my first mistake, though. My second? I didn’t ask if he wanted it. Nope. I ripped it from my chest, shoved it in his hands, and smiled. It happened so fast I didn’t give it a second thought. There was no time to overthink what I was doing because it was over before I knew it even happened. Why was I so reckless? Because there was something there. The moment I saw him I felt it, the connection. It was magnetic, the pull I felt toward him. The way he held me in his arms was heavenly, as if I was meant to be held by him and only him. Love at first sight. I was crazy, right? That never happens in real life. Sure, you read about it in romance novels, but I’ve never heard about it happening to anyone I know. Hell, my mother said it took her two years to get my dad to open his eyes. He says he was just waiting to see if she was worth the effort. Great role models, right? But after twenty-five years of marriage, two petitions for divorce that were eventually withdrawn, and one affair on my father’s part, they seem to be doing okay. That’s a lie. My parents tolerate each other at best. Neither of them are getting any younger, and I think they’re afraid of dying alone. My father turns sixty-one this year, and my mother will be sixty. At that age, who wants to start over? I’d be scared, too. Hell, I’m scared right now. Of the way I feel for him. Of the power he has over me. The power to destroy my heart. Power I gave him without a second though. You’re an idiot, Andrea. Yup. Even my subconscious knows what a big mistake I made. Four more weeks. Then I can leave here and start over. I’ll take what’s left of my heart and pray there’s someone out there who can mend the broken pieces. Someone who’s meant just for me. Shaking away the thoughts, I turn my attention back to my professor. He’s walking my way, his eyes locked on mine. Either I’ve been busted for zoning out or he’s just having a bad day. The scowl on his face gives nothing away. It’s the same expression he’s worn since day one. “You have ten minutes to decide your topic. Please turn them in to Ms. Morris.” He motions to me, and I wave enthusiastically. It’s more for show than anything. Maybe if I smile and pretend to be excited he’ll think I was paying attention after all. “She’ll bring them to my office after class.” Or not. He’s definitely aware I zoned out. This is my punishment. I get to run across campus to drop off topics to him and sprint back in less than fifteen minutes for my next class. It won’t be easy, especially considering I chose to wear a dress and heeled sandals today, but I’ll make it work. At least my next professor isn’t a dick. He probably won’t even notice if I slip in late. Taking the large, manila envelope he’s extended in my direction, I nod in understanding and avert my eyes quickly. I still have to come up with my own topic, and I’ve spent the last forty minutes mentally beating myself up. Didn’t I just do that for the last seven days? Sure did, and it ruined what should have been a perfect vacation in paradise. It’s about time I stop. That’s the thing about guilt. It refuses to let go of the grip it has on your soul. It wraps itself around you and holds on for the ride, laughing the entire time. Look at the wrong person, guilt smacks you across the face. Think about them, guilt’s there to remind you why you shouldn’t. Get close enough to smell their woodsy scent? Throat punch. Guilt is a bitch. The only way to get rid of it is to clear your conscience. Like you have the balls to do that. She’s right. I don’t. Because telling my truth would destroy more lives than my own. And if I’m going to hell, I don’t find it necessary to bring company. Four more weeks. I can survive that long. I’ll just lock myself in my apartment. I’ve been doing it all semester, what’s a few more weeks? Everything is going to be fine. I’ll suffer so she doesn’t have to. I’ll pretend I’m not miserable, that my heart’s not broken, the way I have been the last two years. My heart for hers. By keeping what happened a secret, I’m saving her from the heartbreak. That’s what friends do. They jump in front of a moving car to push you out of the way. They sacrifice themselves, their own happiness, so you can find yours. As soon as the professor is out the door, students crowd my desk, thrusting papers in my face. I slide them all in the envelope one by one and stare down at my blank form. I’m the last one left. Alone. Again. You would think I’d be used to the silence by now. I live alone. Spend my nights locked in my apartment. I’ve pushed my friends away and barely answer my phone. I’m the reason I’m isolated. I’m the one responsible for feeling lonely. I’ve done this to myself and I have no one else to blame. Well, I could start pointing fingers, but at this point, why bother? It won’t change what happened two years ago or three months ago. No one can erase the past. We either learn from it, try to be better, overcome the obstacles, and grow as a person. Or we wallow, allowing ourselves to suffer in silence. It feels like I’m constantly teetering somewhere in the middle. I’d love to say I’ve learned my lesson, but I find myself wallowing more often than not. Attempting to focus, I’m feverishly scribbling when another chill washes over me, this one more pronounced than the last. Goosebumps pebble my exposed legs, a shiver making it’s way up my spine. I’m rubbing them with my free hand when I hear the soft click of the door, followed by the vibration of my phone again. Finally removing it from the confines of my pocket, I find Summer’s face smiling at me. My second mom. The one who adopted me into her family the first day I met her. Who’s shown me more love in the two years I’ve known her than my parents have in my twenty-two years of life. Sliding my finger across the screen to answer, I greet her warmly, a huge smile on my face. I missed seeing her this morning at the Java Bean. Not only did I need the caffeine, but her hugs make everything better. Not feeling well? Get a hug from Summer. Fail an exam? Summer’s hug will make you forget about it. There is no limit to the power of her hugs. Summer’s heart is so big you can feel her love when she hugs you. The way she says my name has alarm bells sounding in my head. I can almost hear the tears streaming down her cheeks, her big, beautiful heart breaking in her chest. And when she finally tells me why she’s calling, I feel the remnants of my already fragile heart shatter. Her words bring tears to my eyes, clouding my vision, my smile fading as the phone falls from my hands. The screen cracks as it hits the floor, but I barely register the sound. Suddenly I’m being pulled out of my chair, my legs wobbling slightly, and into his warm embrace. He’s fresh from a shower, the woodsy scent enveloping me, causing my heart to studder. Home. That’s what it feels like to be wrapped in his arms. But right now, not even he can calm the frantic beat of my heart as it pounds against my rib cage. The thump, thump, thump rattling in my ears is the only indication I’m not dreaming. This can’t be happening. “I’ve got you,” he whispers as his hand runs up and down my back. My fists are tightly gripping the front of his soft T-shirt. I can feel the rapid beating of his heart beneath my hands, whereas mine suddenly feels like it’s come to a complete stop. When my legs give out, he scoops me up and sits with me in his lap. I can’t even bring myself to fight him. Tension and guilt are swirling around me, taunting me, but it’s no match for the devastation that’s pressing on my chest. “Breathe, Drea,” I hear him say as he tucks a piece of stray hair behind my ear. “Just breathe.” In. Out. In. Out. Easy, right? Yet I can’t seem to catch my breath. I’ve never been able to with him this close. “I have to go,” I say, scrambling off his lap, gathering all my things and shoving them in my messenger bag. I’m out the door, his protests cut off when it closes behind me. Four weeks. I can survive four more weeks. Then I’m gone. I’ll leave this place behind me and never look back. There’s nothing left here for me now anyway.  

Rachael Brownell is an award-winning author of contemporary, New Adult, and YA romance. Rachael lives in Michigan with her husband, son, cuddly dog, and hateful cat. She published her first book in 2013 and has since released more than 30 additional titles. Her books have been known to take you on a rollercoaster ride – from sweet to dark and everything in between.

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