"Person I'm with?" he repeated, brows furrowing. "But I'm not... We never... I thought she wanted..." He was babbling, confused again. Unless something had happened that he wasn't aware of, they hadn't decided to date exclusively, and the truth was he hadn't been with anyone since he'd met her. Oh, there had been a little harmless flirtation in the inn, but nothing had come of it. "You're Liv, not Lucy." He was starting to put two and two together. "You wear glasses? It was the hospital, wasn't it? That nurse. God, I was half drugged out of my mind, and she was coming on to me like jam on toast."
She nodded, still awkward, still uncomfortable, her cheeks dull red with shame and embarrassment and the prospect of explaining all this to her sister when she got home. It wasn't going to be a fun conversation. "I think so, yes," she said quietly. "Lucy thought you were making a fool of her. She's a bit ... ruthless sometimes, when she wants to make a point."
"I see." He frowned, lowering himself onto the park bench. So, she hadn't liked him after all. It had all been a ruse to teach him a lesson. Well, the joke was sure on him, wasn't it? "It's okay. You don't have to tell her, Olivia. Just tell her... just tell her I decided it wasn't gonna work. Tell her I broke it off. She doesn't have to know I know." He averted his gaze, feeling the old loneliness settling heavily on his heart, like a lead weight. If only things had been different. If he hadn't flirted with that nurse. If he'd met Olivia first. If he wasn't what he was.
Liv felt her heart sink again as Johnny slumped onto the bench. As much as she wanted to escape the sense of guilt and heavy burden that had settled on her, she knew she wouldn't be able to if she left him all alone with his misery now. After a long moment of fidgeting uncertainly, she reversed her course, sitting down beside him in quiet solidarity, her arm pressing to his. There was a moment more of silence, and she spoke, very quietly.
"I haven't lied to you except when I was talking about my sister Olivia. And even then, those weren't lies, they were just twisted." She sighed softly, wondering what was wrong with her. There was no way he would ever look at her the way he had when he'd thought she was Lucy. "If it helps at all, I think Lucy's going to rip all my hair out and use it as a duster."
What was she trying to say? She'd said she liked him, but she'd been pretending to be Lucy then. Had that been part of the ruse or not? Oh, what a tangled web we weave and all that crap. His temperature was a little cooler than usual, still warm, but not radiating as much heat as he normally did. "It's not your fault. Just tell her I figured it out on my own. If she loves you, she'll forgive you. She probably thinks I'm too stupid to figure it out. God, I'm such an idiot. I should have seen it sooner. You two are total opposites." He wanted to whack his head against the picnic table, knock some sense into himself. Even if he wanted to date the gentler twin, he couldn't now. Not without her sister hating them both.
"It is my fault," Liv insisted glumly, her hands tucking deep into her pockets as she watched her toes scuff against the grass next to his feet. "I should never have agreed to it in the first place. She's so full of it, she'll just laugh and go looking for a sex friend anyway." She shook her head again, tipping her head back to stare up at the sky. "I wouldn't have gotten involved if I hadn't been so pleased to see her again. Serves me right for assuming that I'd be able to stay neutral, I suppose. How was I supposed to know I'd fancy you more than she did? Is that fair?"
"You?" he asked, turning to face her, both brows lifting curiously. "What do you mean?" Lucy had alluded to wanting a sex friend, as Liv had so bluntly put it. Had he been foolish to want more? To want something more meaningful than just a few nights of pleasure? And here was this girl - this sweet, shy, honest, beautiful girl. What did she want, he wondered.
"Oh God ..." Liv's eyes closed as her face lit up once again with a vivid blush, too shy of her own confession to look at him, much less acknowledge that he was looking at her. "I, um, well, you know ... I like you, I said I did. You don't have to believe me. Or like me. I mean, I know Lucy's the pretty one, she's always got guys interested in her. Not that I'm, you know, unbroken or anything, I've had boyfriends. Well, when I say boyfriends, I mean one, a while back. I say a while, about six years. Oh God, I'm babbling, I'm going to shut up and hope you don't laugh too loudly."
He just watched her, listening while she rambled on, taking it all in, like he had with her sister when she'd cracked herself open a little. Now that he could compare the two, he found himself wondering why Olivia considered herself to be the less desirable of the two. He tentatively reached out to touch her cheek. "You're just as pretty, Olivia. You don't give yourself enough credit."
He found them both attractive, both desirable in their own way. Lucy being fiercely independent and sure of what she wanted, flirtatious, sexy, assertive. Liv was the opposite but in no way less desirable. She was shy, sweet, almost innocent in a way, timid, gentle as a flower.
A gentle jump betrayed how unexpected she found the tentative touch of his hot hand to her burning cheek, her eyes opening to meet his gaze with a shy smile. "Oh, I guess I am now," she admitted with a shrug of one shoulder. "When I wear my contacts. I was one of those buck-toothed freaks at school - it sort of stuck with me." There was a pause as she looked at him awkwardly. "You don't need to pretend, you know. You like Lucy, it's obvious. I'm sure she likes you as well. I'll just stay out of the way."
"Liv, I hardly know her." It was the truth. He hardly knew either of them, and they hardly knew him, but he hadn't been lying when he'd berated himself earlier. He still worried he'd screw it up one way or another, or someone would get hurt, more than likely her. "I wish I'd met you first," he told her quietly, leaning a little bit closer, not wanting to toy with her heart the way her sister was toying with his, but drawn to her, nonetheless.
She smiled very faintly, shy but flattered by his quiet confession. "You wouldn't have looked twice at me," she told him with a certain amount of confidence. "I'm not brave enough to shout at anyone who tries to knock me down with their motorbike." An almost playful light touched her eyes as she met his gaze briefly, proving that at least Lucy had told her how it had all begun accurately.
"I didn't try to knock her down," he contradicted, his own blue eyes dancing a little as he smiled. "I was blinded by her beauty, which is a lot like yours." Okay, he was admittedly flirting now, but he was also being honest in his assessment. "What would you have done? Run away?" It would have been easy to kiss her, too easy. Instead, he let his hand drop, not wanting to push his luck too far. Her heart was one that he sensed was easily broken, and he didn't want that on his conscience.
Eyeing him with wary disbelief, her smile was touched with shy laughter at his suggestion that her looks were in any way blinding in a good way. "Probably," she admitted, lowering her gaze to her knees as her smile deepened. "Or fainted. Or cried. I'm a bit of a wimp, you might have noticed already."
"You're not a wimp. You're sweet." He glanced at the picnic basket and the blanket that was still spread out on the ground. The blanket he had thought he and Lucy might end up at least snuggling together on. He sighed. "This date has turned into a disaster. I at least owe you lunch or something."
"Um ..." She swallowed awkwardly, unconscious of the way she had begun to lean against his side as they talked, apparently innocent of anything artless in the motion. "I think you need to talk to Lucy before you decide if you want to spend time with me. It's only fair, right?"
"Yeah, I guess." He wasn't sure what he wanted anymore. He was aware of her beside him, but made no attempt to discourage her from leaning close. She wasn't Lucy, no. She was Olivia. And as much as he tried not to think about it, he felt heartsore knowing Lucy had played with his heart the way she had, whether intentionally or unintentionally. He glanced away again, wondering not for the first time why he was here, so far from home. A stranger in a strange land. "I guess I'll take you home."