His Undeniable Secret

By: Shayla Black

March 13

Oliver Ryan was leaving me.

Tomorrow, I would resume my last semester of college after a much-needed spring break, and I looked forward to graduating in May. But for the first time in my life, I would be utterly alone. Yes, I was a grown woman—at least in theory. I was capable of making my own decisions. I’d been doing that since eighteen, when my mother decided to follow her heart—and her latest fling—to Italy. Of course I could live alone.

But I didn’t want to.

I watched Oliver lug another suitcase to the front door, shoulders bulging and arms straining through his tight gray T-shirt. I chewed my lip, fighting panic.

For the past three years, I’d had two anchors in my life: my brother, Shane, and his best friend, Oliver. They’d taken me under their wing after my mother had skipped the continent. They had been protective and supportive, in some ways more nurturing than Mom. Most special, they’d always been there for me. Vice versa, too.

Then, nearly four weeks ago, Shane had fallen asleep at the wheel after pulling double shifts at the hospital and hit an embankment. He’d died instantly, just shy of his twenty-ninth birthday. Since then, Oliver and I had been dealing with his funeral, his estate…and the never-ending nightmare of grief. I still couldn’t believe it. The three of us had enjoyed such a wonderful Valentine’s Day together. None of us had anyone special in our romantic lives, so we’d watched goofy movies and gorged on candy. Of course, I’d had to pretend I wasn’t ogling Oliver…

Two days later, my brother had been dead.

I’d thanked God every day since then that Shane hadn’t suffered and Oliver had been my shoulder to cry on, my hand to hold, my rock. I’d gotten by without completely falling apart because the stiff-upper-lip Brit I’d come to know and adore had been beside me.

An hour ago, he’d informed me he was moving back to London. He was leaving tonight.

Shock still pinged through my system.

I wanted to beg him to stay. But if returning home would make him happy, how could I be selfish? He’d more than done his duty after Shane’s death. Staying in the house where we’d all lived as a mismatched family of sorts must hurt Oliver the way it pained me. Shane’s absence felt like a black hole, sucking me under when I least expected it.

I had to let Oliver go, move on. Be happy…without me.

Shane had bequeathed me his house, which had been paid off in the event of his death. I’d also inherited my brother’s life insurance money, which would help me finish school debt free. I had a roof over my head and I’d never worry where my next meal was coming from. I was smart and I had been maintaining most of the household responsibilities for years. I’d survive alone.

But somehow, I knew my life would never be right again without Oliver Ryan. Maybe I’d lost Shane so recently that Oliver leaving now hit me with too much too fast. Or maybe I would miss him so much because in many ways he was my best friend, too.

“You’re really going tonight?” My voice trembled. “And you’re not coming back?”

He thrust long fingers through his short brown waves, then flicked his blue eyes in my direction. After a quick glance at my face and a discreet peek lower, he looked away with a terse nod.

I glanced down at myself. Crap, I was still wearing exactly what I’d slept in: tiny pink boy shorts and the matching pale tank top, almost transparent from years of washing. I winced. Oliver could probably see my nipples. And with the morning chill, the hard peaks poked the cotton. I’d had these pajamas since I was a kid. They were too tight, and I should trash them, but I loved the soft things. I could put on a robe. After all, me flashing Oliver obviously made him uncomfortable. No surprise since he probably saw me as his sister. He’d behaved like my second big brother for years. But after we’d settled Shane’s affairs, Oliver had begun pulling away. In the past week, he’d grown so distant that I worried he’d leave without a word if I dashed away, even for a minute, to find cover.

Secretly, I’d always wanted Oliver. I’d never thought of him like a brother. Yeah, what woman didn’t crave a tall, muscled, self-assured Brit? But Oliver was so much more.