Ally sat in front of her computer, waiting for Jack to get back from Carter’s place. One more glance at the clock told her it was taking way longer than it should have for him to pack his things, make his flight reservations and come back.
He’d said he’d come back. He’d better come back. Even if just to say goodbye. Unless Carter had somehow said something...
Jack’s loyalty to his friends was one of his most endearing traits, but now he had to see Carter was pond scum. It was sad...because they had been such good friends. They’d shared so much, and even though Carter must have had some doubts back when Brittany’d been pregnant, he had supported Jack through all that. It was such a shame.
Her insides still a writhing mass of nerves at the thought of Jack leaving, she tried to focus on her work. But it wasn’t happening.
Her life was a joke. She was stuck on her book, her fluffy magazine pieces disgusted her. She wanted to do something real.
She was not going to let it happen again. Jack had left her once before. She’d been so lost, she’d turned to Carter, pretty much her biggest mistake ever.
So if Jack was leaving, she was going with him.
It was crazy, but not so crazy. It made sense. What would she be leaving here? Nothing at all. She had a few close friends she could keep in touch with; otherwise her life was empty. She could write anywhere, and maybe she’d actually find something inspiring to write about.
Her heart leaped in her chest and adrenaline slid through her veins, making her restless, stomach tight, impatient to see Jack and tell him.
Agitated, suddenly anxious and impatient, Ally gazed around her office. She could pack right now. She could be on that plane with him, when he left. Where was her suitcase? She jumped out of her chair.
Then she stopped. Reality stuck a pin in her bubble of excitement.
She couldn’t just leave her condo. She’d have to make some kind of arrangements...she sank back down. What would she do? Sell the place? Ask her friends to keep an eye on it? How would she pay the bills? Suddenly the enormity of what she was about to do overwhelmed her.
Okay. Okay. It was do-able. Just maybe not immediately. But she’d talk to Jack. Maybe he’d wait for her. If not, she’d follow him. She put her hand over her mouth. Yeah.
Then the sound of her door opening had her head whipping round.
Jack stood there in the foyer, his hair mussed, his t-shirt untucked over the most faded, shabbiest jeans she’d ever seen.
She noticed his bags sitting on the tile floor behind him. All packed and ready to go. Her heart lodged painfully in her throat.
“You’re back,” she said softly.
She frowned. “Why are you looking so happy, goddammit?” she snapped at him.
“I don’t know.” And he laughed.
She drew in a shaky breath.
“I’m scared as hell and pissed off and...I don’t know why I’m so happy," he said.
His grin annoyed her. She scowled. “Okay, here’s the deal. I’m coming with you.”
His jaw dropped. “What?”
She plowed on. “I’m coming with you to Iraq. You left me once, and I’m not letting you do it again. So, the only problem is...” she hesitated, bit her lip. “I can’t be ready to go, in like...when does your flight leave?”
“It doesn’t.” Amusement sparkled in his blue eyes.
Her jaw dropped. “What?”
“I cancelled it.”
“You...cancelled it. Why?”
“I’m not leaving.”
She blinked, shook her head. “Like...for how long?”
Once again, her eyes widened to an eyeball-popping width.
“I...I don’t...” She looked around for something to sit on, afraid her legs were going to give out. She stumbled into her living room and collapsed onto the couch. “I don’t understand.”
“I want you to see something.” Jack followed her with the case holding his laptop, opened it and booted up the computer. He slid a flash drive into the port and in a moment, Ally’s face was on the screen.
“Whoa,” Ally breathed. “When did you take that?” She put her fingers to her mouth. The photograph was utterly sensual, portraying a woman’s raw sexual yearning, a photographer’s adoration.
Jack told her how he he’d been feeling that night he’d taken their graduation photos, seeing something in her, not sure what it was, but wanting to find out. Carter interrupting them. Carter and him, looking at the photographs of Ally, seeing the tender, hungry longing in her eyes, her sexuality that had always been there but which was brought out by the obvious worship the photographer had for his subject.
“It’s...beautiful, Jack,” she said slowly. “I don’t usually like pictures of myself, but that’s amazing.”
“Yeah. Fucking amazing.”
Startled at the bitterness in his voice, she turned her gaze to him.
“He knew,” he ground out. “The son of a bitch knew how I felt. He could see it.”
“Are you talking about Carter?”
“Yes, goddammit.” He slammed a hand down on Carter’s coffee table. “He knew. And he went after you deliberately.”
“What...what are you saying?”
“Carter came to you right after that, didn’t he?”
“Um...God, I can’t remember.” She closed her eyes, thinking back. “Yeah. It was right after that. We went out for pizza.” Silent, she cast her mind back in time. “It was different. He was paying so much attention to me. When I said something about you, he said you probably had plans with some girl you were seeing, which was news to me.”
Jack growled again. “I wasn’t seeing anyone then.”
Ally nodded, met Jack’s eyes. “Then we went back to my room and that’s when...he kissed me. And then you came in.”
“He knew I was coming over to bring the prints. Fuck!”
“Are you saying that he only did that because he thought you and I...what are you saying?”
“We were looking at the photos on the computer and we were both blown away by them. He realized I was nuts about you. So he deliberately went and put the moves on you, just to keep me from having you. And God help me, it worked. I ran like a fucking wounded dog, tail between my legs, because I wouldn’t fight him for you. I was so fucking loyal to him. What an idiot.”
“You are not an idiot,” she said, putting her hands on his chest, staring into his eyes. “Carter was a good friend to both of us. We thought. Your loyalty is what makes you so...you. I love that about you.”
Whoops. That kind of slipped out.
He grimaced, thrust a hand through his hair, not even picking up on her words. “He’d slept with my girlfriend in high school, which I didn’t know about. He let me take the heat for getting her pregnant when it was him, pretending all the while to stand by me like a great friend.” His voice was bitter. “But that wasn’t the worst, because, even though I cared about Brittany, she wasn’t...the one.”
Ally stared at him, heart thudding in slow painful beats.
“The one girl who was the love of my life...he fucking stole her away from me, deliberately. And then he kept us apart for five years.”
“Oh, Jack,” she whispered. “Do you really believe that?”
“I know it,” he said harshly. He met her eyes, held them. “I know he did, Ally. It all makes sense now. All of it.”
She swallowed. Then she whispered, “Am I the love of your life, Jack?”
Extreme Close Up Chapter 31