Craving Him Page 50



One Month Later

I knew I was getting on Ellie’s last nerve but I couldn’t help myself. I’d spent the entire month in sweatpants, moping around, moving from my bed to the couch and back again. I rarely ate a proper meal, preferring instead bowls of ice cream, sugary candy, soda, and chips. It was low-maintenance and easy to grab when I was sitting on my butt feeling sorry for myself. I refused to shower unless absolutely necessary and seldom went outside. It was nearly Christmas, and a beautiful white layer of fluffy snow blanketed the city, but all I wanted to do was hole up in my own private misery.

Ellie tried time and again to get me out for some fresh air and set my laptop on my lap to encourage me to look for a job, but I kept putting it off. I wasn’t ready to face that this was my life. I wasn’t ready to accept that I was no longer with Ben. Frustratingly enough, he continued to call my cell phone nonstop and had my regular pay direct-deposited into my bank account. And of course he still occupied my brain the majority of the time.

Each night before bed I fought the urge to break down and listen to the dozens of voice messages he’d left. But I couldn’t. That might lead to me dialing his number and calling him back. I was desperate to hear his deep, gravelly, sleep-laced voice. It haunted my dreams. Instead, I did the only thing I could do. I called my mom. I’d put off telling anyone about the breakup. It was as if even speaking it aloud would make it real. More final.

The second I heard her voice I broke down in tears like a blubbering baby.


“Emerson Jean, what is it?”

“Ben and I . . . we . . . broke up . . .” I sobbed.

“Oh, honey.” She did her best to soothe and comfort me without asking too many prying questions, and for that I was grateful.

“We’ve been through too much, Mom. I just don’t know if we’re meant to be.”

“Well that’s for you to decide, honey. I know you seemed awfully happy when you were here.”

“We were . . .”

“Let me tell you a little story,” she said. “Grandma and Grandpa Clarke were together sixty-seven years before he passed. They had a long and very happy marriage. But did you know they almost split up in the early years of their marriage?”

I shook my head. “I didn’t know that.” My grandparents were two of the most in-love people I’d ever known. They loved each other deeply, still held hands, laughed and kissed regularly right up until the end.

“Romance novels and movies paint a too-rosy picture. Real life has its ups and downs, honey. Ben has a past. So what? He’s a public figure and all those mistakes are going to be made public. That’s just how it goes. You have to decide what you want. What you can live with. Can you live with his past? Or can you live without him?”

I knew I couldn’t live without him. But I also wasn’t sure I was ready to forgive him just yet.

By morning, my swollen red eyes and ratty hair were a dead giveaway of the night I’d had. I dragged my granny’s quilt out to the couch and plopped down. I could hear Ellie in the kitchen and closed my eyes, silently praying she’d take pity on my poor soul and bring me a cup of coffee.

“All right. Enough.” Ellie ripped my ratty old quilt from my legs. “You’re getting off your ass today.”

I fought for my blanket back, but seeing it was no use I just curled my legs up under me on the couch, frowning at her. “It’s not that easy, Ells.”

She sat down in the armchair across from me. “I get that this is hard. Trust me. Men suck most of the time. But don’t let him own you. Don’t let him win.”

I chewed on my lip, digesting her meaning. It made sense. I nodded.

“Good. Because I kind of set you up on a lunch date for tomorrow.”

“What? Hell no. I’m not ready for that yet. Are you insane?”

She rolled her eyes. “Stop it. It’s one date. With Todd from my work. He’s harmless. You can do this. Getting back on the horse and all that shit.”

I knew the saying well. It was one my grandmother used with me often while I was growing up. And I appreciated the sentiment. When your world fell apart, it was imperative to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Of course that was easier said than done. I knew I needed to make an effort. Comb my hair, brush my damn teeth . . . but dating any other man besides Ben—that was the last thing on my mind. I wasn’t interested. I didn’t know if I’d ever be interested. “I’m not going, Ells. Call him and cancel.”

“If you don’t want Ben in your life, fine, I get it. But don’t stop living it.”

She was right. And though I was nowhere near ready to date, I nodded in agreement. Only to prove to myself that life could go on after Ben Shaw. “Fine. I’ll go.”

Ellie squealed. “That’s my girl. He’s nice. You’ll have fun, trust me.”

“He better not be an ass.”

“It’s just lunch. What could go wrong?”

• • •

What could go wrong? I thought of Ellie’s harmless statement over and over again as I sat across from Todd. He’d shown up twenty minutes late to the chain restaurant he’d chosen we meet at. I’d been about to leave when he’d come inside in a huff, complaining loudly to the hostess about the slow service of the valet parking. I’d crossed my fingers and said a silent prayer that the short, stocky man with gel-slicked hair was not my date. Sadly, he was.

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