A knock sounded on his door. It had to be her. Heart thumping in his chest, he rushed to the door and opened it. There Nicole stood, not a vision but solid and real.
"You're back," he said touching her face. She said nothing but gave him a small smile. "You were supposed to be here hours ago."
She still said nothing but looked at him like she was drinking him in. Taking in every detail of his face as he did hers. He pulled her into his embrace, burying his face into her neck. He just needed to feel her against him, to make sure this wasn't an apparition. She was here, ready to start a life with him. It was all he ever dared to dream.
"You're here now. That's all the matters."
"How did things go with Brady?" he asked closing the door behind her.
He thought it best to rip off that band aid first. From the look on her face it went exactly the way he'd expected. He wished he had gone with her for support. It couldn't have been easy to admit the truth to Brady.
"Brady didn't take it all the well. He felt very hurt and betrayed."
He could see how it pained her. He took her hand and kissed it, hoping to soothe. "I'm sorry you had to go through that alone. It's all behind us now."
She pulled her hand away from him. She seemed distressed. Her confrontation with Brady must have really shaken her. He wanted to make whatever she was feeling all go away so he talked about other things.
"You know there's a little girl a couple houses away from us. Her name is Delia, she's around Holly's age."
A little smile tugged at the corner of her lips.
"Where is Holly?"
"I left her with Chloe."
He nodded. "Once Holly moves in, I hope Chloe can still see her."
Nicole's eyes shifted. "Holly isn't moving in."
His heart stalled for a moment. She had changed her mind about living at the farm. He'd known she wouldn't take to farm work. Another place would be fine. Just as long as they were together. "We can find a house in Salem if that's what you want."
What she said next threw his world into chaos. "I'm not moving in with you."
Tears pooled in her eyes, threatening to spill.
He asked the question he feared. "You're staying with Brady?"
"I'm not staying with Brady."
Relief flooded his system, then confusion took its place.
"You weren't there when I told him Eric." She ran a hand through her hair. "Brady looked as if I'd shot him."
She might as well be doing the same to him right now.
"I can't do this. I can't divide you two. Ruin your family. I've done enough damage."
Her voice shook as tears streamed down her face.
Eric shook his head. "You don't have to worry about that. I spoke with my mother and she supports my decision to be with you."
Nicole shook her head. "I can't be with you."
Fear erupted. "I can't lose you again! I won't!"
Life without her was an option he thought he could live with before. It was foolish to think he could. Without her, what life did he had?
"Stay. It was real." Their night together flashed before him. "That was love."
Something flickered in Nicole's eyes. Grief? Panic? He didn't know what to make of it.
"Last night was a terrible mistake."
Eric's vision blurred. The room seemed to sway. He could see Nicole right in front of him, but she seemed so far away. Her voice echoed pulling him back to reality.
"I was angry with Brady and I acted out because of it." Nicole's voice shook again but she forced herself to speak. "You… you took advantage of me."
Lies. It had to be.
Nicole swallowed before continuing. "I told you I loved you because I was caught up in the moment."
Eric shook his head in disbelief. A ball lodged in his throat. He had to get through to her. She was slipping through his fingers like sand. He had to reach her.
"We made love last night. We made love this morning." He stepped closer to her. She didn't step back. She was rooted to the spot. "Don't turn your back on that."
"Our night together was just sex and nothing more." She set her mouth in a hard line and looked him dead in the eye.
"It wasn't just sex. I think we both know the difference." Confessing her love, passion blazing in her eyes as she gave herself to him. It wasn't just sex.
When she dismissed him, he yelled. "We belong together! What did Brady do to you?"
"He didn't do-"
"Did he guilt you?"
"Did he threaten you?"
"Brady didn't threaten me!" She shouted back, her face contorted in anger. "Nobody forces me to do anything I don't want to do."
Eric didn't back down.
"We made love! You told you loved me. I said I loved you."
Without hesitation he pulled her to him, grabbing her lips with his own. Desperation gripped him, hoping against hope that he could make her see reason. A rush flowed through him, as he grabbed her head, his fingers tangled in her hair. Her lips were fierce and warm against his.
She resisted at first, struggling with herself than with him, but then she melted into him. For one glorious, shining moment, they were one again, their bodies melded together. This was love. How could she deny it when it was flowing through them like an inferno, ready to consume them both. But then the spell was broken when she pressed her hands against his chest and pushed him away. She was breathing heavily.
"You see! You love me!"
"I don't love you," she said gutting him. "You just have to accept it." She let out a soft cry and ran out the door.
"Nicole," he called out brokenly. The door slammed behind her.
"Nicole!" She didn't come running back. The silence of her departure was deafening. He screamed out her name.
The door remained closed. She wasn't coming back. She was really leaving him. Eric sunk to his knees, unable to withstand the weight of her rejection. It was supposed to be different this time. After all the obstacles they had endured to get to this point…
Nicole told him she had wanted him, she had wanted them forever.
He slammed both fists against the hardened floor, a howl of pain escaping his lips. He sobbed. He had been so close, so close to finally having what he wanted. A life with the woman he loved and cherished.
As if to mock him, rain started to fall. Tap tap, it went on his roof. It conjured up memories of last night. Nicole soaked to the bone, at his door. Had it all been a dream? Some cruel trick God decided to play on him? She came to him. Begging him to return to Salem and then finally telling him that she loved him. He could still feel how his heart sang when he heard those words uttered from her lips the first time.
Eric you're the one I love. You're the one I want. You're the one I need.
She'd meant it. She'd meant every word.
How could she walk away from that? How could he let her?
He got up and rushed to the door. Yanking it open, he ran out into the rain, which had him drenched in seconds.
He teared down through the path which had become a slippery river of mud. Low lying branches from trees reached out and whipped him. The wind was cold and blustery, nipping at his face.
Please God, let me reach her in time. Please.
He looked up ahead and there it was. Her car. It was still here. It was a shiny red beacon in this grey blistery storm. He panicked when heard the unmistakable sound of the engine. The headlights emitting cylinders of light.
He pumped up and his legs and bolted, just as the car started to move. He skidded on the mud and landed both hands on the hood. The car jerked and then stopped.
Rain slathered down her windshield. Behind a blurry image, he could see her. Right into her eyes, her mouth opened in shock. He almost laughed but now was not the time for that.
Before she could react, he was on her car door.
"What are you doing?" There she sat, soaking wet in the driver's seat, hands still gripped tight on the wheel. Her hair was a wet cap on her face. His eyes roamed lower, taking in her breasts which heaved up and down slowly.
"You can't leave."
His words came out harsher than he'd intended.
She had a way of saying his name that made him weak.
"Don't do this. I've made my decision."
"You can't expect me to believe that Nicole." In one quick swoop, he took her keys.
"Hey!" Nicole scrambled for them, but Eric held them in a tight grip. She tried to wrestle out of his hand, but that only brought their bodies in closer proximity.
In the cold freezing rain, heat swirled around them. Nicole stepped back, bumping against her car.
"I can't do this. I can't be with you. We're done. You need to accept that."
She said it with such finality. Her face was a blank mask. He noticed something. The sparkle in her eyes was missing.
His gut twisted into small knots. "Nicole."
"You have to let me go Eric." The plea in her voice reached out to him and told him to surrender. He couldn't hold her. His hand fell listlessly to his side. She clasped his hand gently and took the keys from him.
She sat in her car, getting ready to leave him forever. This was her wish and he couldn't force her to stay. He wouldn't do that to her. But he was unable to move. All he could do was watch as she turned the key in the ignition.
The engine surged, and then sputtered like an old man on his last breath. Troubled, Nicole started it up again but to no avail. The engine was dead.
Silence ensued except for the bullets of rain bouncing off his head and unto shoulders. Dismayed, Nicole looked up at him, straight into his eyes which answered her silent question.
"Looks like you aren't going anywhere."