Liam leans forward into his reflection in the mirror, inspecting himself for the millionth time as the door to his empty bachelor suite opens. The energy in the room changes so quickly that he doesn't even need to turn around to know who his mystery visitor is.
"Why do I feel like this scene is always on repeat?" he snickers, flashing his perfect teeth behind his shark like smile. When he hears no reaction he chuckles to himself and stands up to straighten out his tie.
"You never did appreciate my wit. So then, losing her wasn't enough, you thought what, you'd come back and twist the knife even deeper? Hmm? Hang from your rope a little longer?" Liam says with a laugh, keeping his eyes locked on his own reflection as Logan slowly approaches him.
Logan inhales loudly and bites at the lower part of his inner cheek.
"Something like that," he replies dryly to his twin.
Raising an eyebrow, Liam turns on his heel to face Logan, ignoring the way his very pulse starts to quicken; he isn't about to let his brother's surprise attendance influence his nerves.
"Something like what, Brother? Was our last duel at my apartment not enough for you?" Liam asks, his tone steady and barely amused.
Logan holds his siblings gaze for a moment before holding up a small box. Liam's brows jump sky high and a huge grin spreads across his face. He looks to the clock on the wall and begins to chuckle again.
"Back to the beginning, huh? Logan, my vows start in about fifteen minutes. You're too late."
In a swift move, Logan tosses the box to Liam.
"Come on, I can tell you're eager to play one last round with me. The very last bet between the two of us, and if you win, I'll give you what you want most."
Liam tilts his head to the side, intrigued, "And what would that be? The wedding bells are deafening; I think I already got what I wanted most, don't you?"
Logan clears his throat, ignoring his brother's last question, "We both know you don't want to be tied down. The doubt in your eyes is tangible. You look like you're going to be sick."
Liam's stance stiffens, "You're mistaken. Get to the point, as you know, my bride is waiting."
Logan steps closer, "If she says I do, if she really doesn't remember me and honest to God choses you up on that alter, I'll never set foot in your lives again. You can have your happily ever after and I'll never come back. Ever."
Liam pauses briefly, working through his brother's offer until he licks his lips with a pursed grin.
"You see, I'm not entirely sure I believe you. How do I know that you're a man of your word? Hmm? That the next time you start missing her you won't up and fly right back out here and try to fuck my life up again? I'm not sure I'm willing to go through with this crazy scheme for something too good to be true, especially one with a risk like this."
Logan's brow furrows together as his heart begins to ache at a very real, very harsh possible reality.
He swallows thickly, "because I'd of lost her for good, Liam. If she marries you, then the Charlotte I love is truly gone. Just like Jessica is for you." The lump that forms in his throat almost stops him from his next words, "There wouldn't be anything to come back to."
Liam's eyes swirl with a mass of emotion in the wake of his brother's painful confession. Liam extends his free hand with a forced, bright smile.
"Well then, what are you waiting for? Shake on it and suit up; it's your wedding day after all."
As the pastor speaks, I swear the room starts to spin like one of those spaceship carnival rides. My walk down the aisle is already a faded memory as my perfectly manicured nails dig deeper and deeper into Liam's hands as we stand before God and everyone we know. As the words 'unyielding love and commitment' fill the space between us, I try to find a single thing to focus on so that I can find a way to calm my racing heartbeat. This moment is supposed to be tender and breathtaking—but what's happening between the two of us is an offense to all other ceremonies. Liam's brow is tense and glistening in sweat, which is exactly what my entire freaking body is doing.
I wanted this. I wanted to commit myself to this man for the rest of my life, but instead, I'm a cluster of nerves and filled with guilt over the undeniable feelings I haven't been able to understand or rid myself of! What's worse is that Logan is sitting in the back of the church, watching this all unfold. The smug look on his face would piss me off if I wasn't so distracted by the raging nerves wracking my body! What the hell am I doing? This is all wrong. My gown begins to feel like a vice, suffocating the life out of me. A sense of wooziness seeps through my system as the preacher asks for the rings. He places Liam's wedding band in my damp, trembling palm and turns to face me, oblivious to the terrified looking woman in front of him.
"Charlotte, if you will repeat after me. I, Charlotte Elizabeth Reed, take you, Liam Maxwell Kelley, to be my beloved husband; to have and to hold, to cherish and honor, to be at your side in sorrow and in joy, to remember our blessings during the good times, and to strengthen one another during all of the bad. I vow to love you always and I promise you this from my heart, mind, body and soul, for all the days of my life."
The vows hit me like a bullet, shattering what's left of my fragile state—so much so that I even step back slightly, unable to verbalize anything. The weight of everyone's eyes upon me throws my anxieties into a downward spiral. A full blown panic attack floods my veins.
"I, I, I," I stutter, finally looking up into Liam's bright blue eyes as tears cascade down my flushed cheeks, likely ruining my pristine makeup. How am I going to tell him that I don't think I can go through with this? That—that there are things—these feelings for—for his brother?
Liam suddenly clears his throat.
"How about I start?" Liam says softly, a sweet smile forming on his face. Something in his eyes pulls me in, finally giving me something solid to hold onto.
I nod slowly, his hand squeezes mine firmly, yet gently in his as he takes a deep breath. I mimic him, sucking in an uneven gulp of air. At least I'm breathing.
"I hope you don't mind, but I wrote my own vows," he begins, his eyes suddenly pierce mine in a way that unexpectedly unsettles my all too brief grasp on the moment.
"I read somewhere that expectation is the root of all disappointment, and in case you ever wondered, Charlotte, I never expected you. Life can take us down so many paths. Ones that seem so dark and inescapable, and then there are some paths that start off so different from any other's you've ever taken, and you're not sure where you're going, but suddenly, it's like you're finally on your way home. When I found that blindingly beautiful path that lead me to you, it made one thing crystal clear; I was born to love you, and I will spend every single day of my life being eternally grateful for just that. You are the love of my life, Princess, and I am forever yours."
You know that moment in the movies when there's about to be a massive explosion? When there's that brief instance right before impact where the whole world goes quiet as it holds its breathe and everything goes still? I can't tell you how long I've been stuck in that place, barely hanging on by a thread, just waiting for the blast. When his words fill the space around me, the explosion I've been waiting for finally detonates and it shatters everything.
My mind tumbles through a sea of swirling darkness, and just when I think I'm lost forever, long forgotten images begin to crackle like lightening before me. Pictures of Logan burn brightly while familiar conversations begin to rise up from the depths. When it feels like I can't fall any further, the whirlwind just stops. It leaves me completely tranquil as everything comes back to me as though it had never left. The club, the kiss, the fighting, the truth, the pain, the anger, the trip home, the twins, the fighting, the accident- just clicked back on, almost effortlessly. The battles raging on within my subconscious sort of fade away on their own as their importance dissipates. I could beat myself up for years over mistakes, choices, and anger, but where would it get me? The sad truth is that I've always known what I wanted. Tears begin to slip down my face as I stare up into blue eyes.
False blue eyes. Of course he would find a way to be up here, God help me I don't know how he did it, but he was going to fight to the end for me.
Logan. The Tarzan I love to hate. The guy that makes my skin crawl and my teeth sweat. The man that stole my heart and ruined it for anyone else, and the only person I could picture myself standing up here with.
He was right all along. It was never about facts and what I could see with my own two eyes. It was always about trusting my instincts, my body, my heart, my feelings. Love doesn't follow logic—it doesn't bow to reason. If it did, I wouldn't be standing on the alter with the right man, disguised as the wrong man, which only makes me love him more, but equally infuriates me! See, absolutely no sense at all! Someone loudly clearing their throat jerks me back into the present, and as I look back up at Logan, I know that what I want might not be the smartest choice, but it doesn't have to be. For the first time, I'm not scared to follow my heart.
I smile shyly and shake my head, "Sorry," I whisper, "butterflies!" The pastor buys the excuse and gently touches my shoulder.
"Do you need a moment, Dear?" He asks kindly.
I shake my head, but reply, "No, I'll be fine. Do you mind if I say my own vows?"
He smiles again and bows his head so that I can begin. I take a deep breath and look back up into the nervous face of my favorite jackass.
"I thought I had everything figured out. My entire life mapped out and the happiness would just follow instantaneously. A,B,C. you know, the logical flow that life takes us. But I crave the unexpected, and never really knew it—not until you came along," my lips tremble as my throat constricts, my emotions surfacing.
Logan's hands tighten around mine, his body growing more tense with each word.
"You've been the answer to every question, even the ones I didn't think to ask because I just couldn't stop looking in all of the wrong places. Sometimes mixing things up is where all of the good stuff is, and if you just connect the dots your whole life, you miss all of that. I didn't see that before you. The truth is, it only makes me love you more," and as soon as I say the words, he looks like he just took a bullet to the heart, so I jump in with both feet and finally take what I want.
"So, Logan Kelley, I forgive you. I forgive you for everything. Because for the first time, I'm not looking for answers with my eyes. I'm trusting every unexpected feeling I-" but before I can finish, Logan lets out a giant rush of air and smiles from ear to ear.
He leans in so fast, taking my face in his hands, "It took you long enough, Princess." I lean in for a kiss that I've been waiting way too long for. Chaos erupts around us as our friends and family start to gasp and chatter, but it can wait a moment longer. I've been waiting for this for what seems like years. When we pull away, he looks down and me and rests his forehead against mine, wanting to say everything, but not needing to. I let out a breathy laugh and close my eyes as he takes my hands in his again. Our brief moment is short lived as the noise around us starts to take over the room.
When we finally turn from one another, reality slaps us hard and fast, but the only person I look for is Liam. While most are standing, he's still sitting in his seat with a thoughtful smile. He stands and nods towards me, his eyes never leaving our shared gaze. In a swift move, he spins on his heel and exits the room.
I look back and forth between the brothers; something within tugs at me to finish cleaning up the rest of the mess I just made, when Logan finally speaks.
"Go. I'll handle this."
I give him a sideways smile, kissing him one more time as I kick off my shoes and make a run for it.
I find him in the Bachelor suite, having a drink. His eyes go wide when I enter the room and shut the door behind me. After a few moments of silence between us, he speaks.
"You remember," he exhales, the statement more or less sealing our fate.
I nod slowly, knowing that he probably doesn't know the extent of my remembered knowledge.
He shuts his eyes and exhales roughly, "I should have realized a long time ago that you weren't blind. Hell, it's clearer now that you're smarter than I ever was." His eyes wander off, but circle back to me with a sort of reverence that's never really been there before, "I never really thought about the bigger picture until I heard those vows come out of his mouth."
I actually trip over my own breath. For the first time ever, sincerity is pouring out of Liam like a waterfall.
"Beloved. Cherish and honor. And just like that, it wasn't about me anymore. It wasn't about Logan. I care about you, Charlotte, as sick as it may be after everything I did to you, but I do. I truly care about you."
"But you don't love me," I breathe, finishing his thought for him.
The pain that follows on his face is etched deeply, and it immediately rings a bell. Jessica.
I must have said her name aloud because his entire demeanor changes from shock, to confusion, to pure sadness. He simply nods, not even putting in the effort to question as to how I know this detail.
"I wanted him to lose you forever, the way I lost her. I won't lie about that. Hell, I still get off on the idea of chapping his ass, but not you. I should never have done any of this to you."
I swear to God it actually sounds like Liam is apologizing.
In fact, I pinch my arm just to be sure I'm not dreaming.
I sniffle and tuck a stray piece of hair behind my ear.
"After I found out about everything, I truly thought I'd be angry at you forever. But damn if you don't flip shit around on me again!" I state with a broken laugh, my eyes starting to water. He sucks in his bottom lip and matches my sad excuse for a chuckle.
God help us.
"I felt like such a fool. Part of me always will, but I honestly feel like most of this is my fault," I confess, picking my gaze from the floor and lending it to his eyes.
His eyebrows arch in question almost immediately.
I can't blame him, even I'm struck by surprise by my own words.
"Part of me always knew that you weren't really the man I fell in love with. It's like I found every excuse in the book to ignore every change I ever saw in you. I mean, who could go so long without noticing something like that? Without doing something or saying something? I did. I noticed everything and did nothing. What does that say about me?"
He sighs and tips his head, "Well it's not like you could of known what we did to you, Charlotte. For Christ's sakes it was cruel. I was cruel."
I nod, "I know. And I'm not making excuses for what happened either. You did a lot of horrible things, Liam—but I forgive you."
His face falls again, "You shouldn't, Charlotte."
I purse my lips together, "No, I probably shouldn't. But despite being an arrogant liar, don't you get it, Liam? Most people never even touch love; they never even feel what it's capable of. Some are lucky enough to walk through life with their soul mate, while others," I swallow thickly and hold his watery gaze, "have it taken in the blink of an eye. My heart aches for you, but at least you got to hold something real even if only for a moment. Some people search their whole lives for that."
By this time, tears are falling freely from his eyes and my own.
"I don't want to blink Logan away. I don't want him to slip through my fingers again."
I take his hand in mine and press that ice rink of a ring that was never really meant for me into his palm and curl his fingers around it.
His mouth quirks up just enough to show off a single dimple as he leans in and presses a kiss to my forehead.
"Then you'd better get out of here," he breathes with more love in his voice than I've ever heard before.
My lips purse, lifting up into a smile as I throw my arms around his neck, kiss his cheek, and then as I go to walk out of the room, Liam calls out to me, "Oh, and Charlotte?"
My brows furrow as I turn back to his usual cocky grin.
"Give him hell."
I laugh out loud and nod in his direction, "Every day."
As I shut the door behind me, I know that this twisted mess if far from over, but this is the path I'm choosing—messy, chaotic, and completely unexpected.
And when Logan comes around the corner into view, I grin and take off down the hall, as fast as my bruised body and healing heart will take me, and leap into his arms.
Oh I'll give him hell, alright!
And as he kisses me fiercely, I know he's ready for it.