Home > Only Love (One and Only #3)

Only Love (One and Only #3)
Author: Melanie Harlow

One

Stella

Worst. Birthday. Ever.

(But I didn’t know that yet.)

I arrived at the restaurant a little early. This was a big night—potentially the biggest night of my life—and not just because I was turning thirty-three. If my intuition was correct, there was a good chance I’d be walking out of there with a ring on my finger.

Nothing too flashy or ostentatious, of course. That wasn’t me. Something tasteful. Something classic. Something that said I am a woman with a family in my future.

That’s all I wanted.

“Hi, Stella,” greeted the usual Saturday night hostess with a smile. “Dining alone tonight?”

I smiled back. “No, Walter is coming from the other side of town. I’m a little early.”

“No problem. Would you like to be seated?

“Yes, thanks.” I followed her to a table set for two in a dark, cozy corner opposite the bar.

I sat down, and when the server came by, I ordered a glass of pinot noir. While I waited for it, I tried to relax but found myself nervous and fidgety. Out of habit, I started looking around the room, making up stories about the people I saw. I’ve always been kind of obsessed with what’s going on inside people’s heads—probably why I became a therapist—and I love trying to read body language and facial expressions.

That redhead at the bar with her back to me, the one with the nervous ankle twitch and pretty black dress? She’s secretly in love with the bartender, a handsome playboy with a crooked smile and a thousand notches on his bedpost. He’s got a crushing fear of intimacy because of his parents’ divorce, but all he really needs is someone to show him unconditional love. She’s dying for him to notice her, but also terrified of rejection because her last boyfriend broke her heart.

My wine arrived, and I took a sip, happy with the way my secret story was unfolding.

My other obsession? Books.

As a kid, I was too tall for my age, awkward around boys, and nervous about breaking rules, bones, and crosswalk regulations. (As the oldest child, I liked to think I was merely setting a good example for my two younger sisters when I chose to tell the truth about the missing cookies, go around instead of hopping the fence, and wait for the signal to turn green before carefully riding my bike across the street, helmet securely fastened.)

But books—books were amazing!

I could visit the pyramids, catch the thief, solve the mystery, go back in time and fall in love with a duke who’s pretending to be a peasant and let him plant his royal spade in the fertile soil of my humble lady garden all in the comfort of my own home. I didn’t even have to break curfew, let alone allow the dashing duke to see my gangly body without any clothes on.

After a little more wine, I returned to the drama at the bar.

Fear of Rejection has decided tonight’s the night. She’s wearing her new black lace underwear beneath that dress, and it’s making her feel sexy and confident. Fear of Intimacy has made eye contact and smiled three times already. The next time he comes by, she’s going to—

My story was interrupted by the buzz of my phone. It was my sister Emme. I’d made the mistake of mentioning to her I thought Walter might pop the question tonight, so she was probably calling to check in.

  “Hello?”

“Did he propose yet?”

“No,” I whispered, glancing around as if someone might have heard her. “He’s not even here yet. Our reservation isn’t until eight.”

“Eight! It’s barely seven-thirty. Why are you there so early?”

“I don’t know.” I peeked over at the bar. Fear of Intimacy was leaning forward on his elbows in front of Fear of Rejection, who was twirling a long, wavy strand of her hair. So far, so good.

“Are you nervous?” Emme asked.

“A little,” I admitted. “But like I said, I’m not positive he’s going to propose. It’s just a hunch because it’s my birthday, and he’s been acting a little weird lately.”

She snorted. “Weird for Buzz is relative.”

My sisters’ nickname for Walter stemmed from his intense fascination with bees. Admittedly, it wasn’t a passion we shared, but we had other things in common—he was a psych professor and I was a therapist, and we both enjoyed running marathons, eating at nice restaurants, visiting museums. I tolerated his endless concern for the sharp decline in managed honeybee colonies (also called Colony Collapse Disorder, if you were wondering) and he didn’t seem bothered by the fact that I wasn’t very physically affectionate. We were a good match.

“If you called to insult my future fiancé, I’m hanging up.”

Emme gasped. “You said fiancé! You really do think this is happening!”

I took another sip of wine as my nerves jangled like a pocketful of coins. “Kind of. I mean, something is definitely up with him.”

“Glad to hear it. I didn’t think Buzz ever got it up.”

“Goodbye, Emme.”

“Kidding, kidding,” she said. “I know, ‘different relationships work for different reasons.’ I don’t need the lecture again.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I have it memorized.” She cleared her throat and parroted my voice. “Sex isn’t everything. It’s not love or intimacy or even going to last.”

I had to smile at the perfect imitation. “Exactly. Trust me, Emme, after years of counseling couples, I truly believe that the most enduring relationships are those built on more than physical attraction. It has to start with your head and lead to your heart.”

But over at the bar, Fear of Rejection’s legs were crossed seductively and one high heel was dangling from her toes. Too bad that bartender couldn’t see it.

“But what about your body?” Emme pressed. “What about desire?”

I finished my wine and straightened up in my chair. “Desire, while thrilling, is unstable, unpredictable, and uncontrollable—a leftover biological impulse from our caveman days to remind us to propagate the species.”

“Jesus. Only you could make sex sound so unsexy. Are we even related?”

“Sometimes I wonder.” Although my sisters and I all had our mother’s blond hair and blue eyes and our dad’s cleft chin, we had very different personalities. I was the shy, analytical bookworm; Emme was the heart-on-her-sleeve romantic; and our youngest sister Maren was the soulful flower child. It was amazing we got along as well as we did.

“Maybe you’ve never had good sex,” Emme suggested.

“I’ve had good sex,” I snapped, a little too loudly judging from the looks I got from surrounding tables. I lowered my voice. “I just don’t think it’s the most important indicator of compatibility.”

The truth was, I had my best sex with the trusty LELO rabbit I kept locked in a box beneath my bed (LELO and I were very compatible). I found it too hard to relax with a man. I had difficulty getting out of my head and letting myself enjoy it.

In fact, I’d never had an orgasm during sex—I’d never even faked one.

But I didn’t want to get into that with Emme, who had zero sexual insecurities whatsoever. “Look, I have to go. I don’t want to be on the phone with you when he gets here, especially talking about this.”

“Fair enough,” she said. “Enjoy your birthday dinner, and call me as soon as you can. Are we still on for brunch in the morning at Mimi’s? I have your birthday present.”

“Sure.” Every Sunday for the last couple years, my sisters and I had brunch together. Maren had moved to Portland with her fiancé in August, but Emme and I had kept up the tradition.

“Good. I need help with the seating chart for the reception.”

I suppressed a groan. Emme was three months pregnant and getting married next month, and lately our brunches had been totally consumed with wedding and baby stuff. Since she was a wedding planner herself, she was obsessive about the details. But working on the seating chart was preferable to arguing about the importance of sex. And maybe I’d have something romantic to celebrate too, for once. “No problem. See you at ten.”

Hot Series
» Vampire Academy Series read online
» Crossfire Series read online
» Fifty Shades trilogy read online
» Kate Daniels Series read online
» Black Dagger Brotherhood Series read online
» Cassandra Palmer Series read online
» Rosemary Beach Series read online
» Sea Breeze Series read online
» Too Far Series read online
» Shatter Me Series read online
» Thoughtless Series read online
» Marriage to a Billionaire Series read online
Most Popular
» Every Breath
» Magic Triumphs (Kate Daniels #10)
» Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant #1)
» Diamond Fire (Hidden Legacy #3.5)
» Leah on the Offbeat (Creekwood #2)
» War Storm (Red Queen #4)
» Queen of Air and Darkness (The Dark Artific
» Small Town Rumors
» Still Me (Me Before You #3)
» Maybe Now (Maybe #2)
» Verity
» All Your Perfects