As if through a fog, Maggie heard Finn say good-night before he turned on his heel and walked off into the Alaskan evening. She steeled herself against the painful feelings ricocheting through her. She blinked away the tears and steadied herself to go back inside the Moose Café.
Eyes on the prize. Finn was Alaskan eye
candy, but he wasn’t the marrying kind. Or the settling-down kind. He could make her laugh like nobody’s business, but he didn’t want to assume the role and responsibilities of a husband and father. If nothing else, Sam had taught her to doubt love everlasting. She had promised herself a long time ago that she wasn’t going to allow a man into her life. Been there, done that. Her goal had been to create a stable life for Oliver. He was her world. But then Finn had crept his way into her heart.
He’d given it to her straight. Finn didn’t want entanglements. Maggie was trying to be brave, but tears burned her eyes as his words washed over her. We want different things. He hadn’t meant to be cruel. It was just the way things were. For a little while she had forgotten her own resolve to not allow her head to rule her heart. With a few little words Finn had reminded her that she didn’t need a man in her life. God had given her the best gift of all by allowing her to be a mother. She didn’t need any more than that in this life. Oliver was enough!
Maggie headed back inside, plastering a smile on her face so she didn’t upset Oliver. He was sitting at a table acting like the life of the party with his school friends. She might be nursing a bruised heart, but at least her son was happy. She took deep little breaths and counted to ten before joining some of her friends at a nearby table. Maggie had no intention of letting anyone see her wounds.
Life had taught Maggie well. Finn might have hurt her, but she was used to love making a fool out of her. All she could do now was hold her head up high and carry on. Not just for herself, but for Oliver as well.
Finn couldn’t remember a time when he had felt so poorly. He’d left Keepsakes early today, not wanting either Maggie or Oliver to catch whatever was ailing him. His body ached and he felt feverish. He was fairly certain he was coming down with something. Maybe the flu. Or some random stomach bug. He let out a groan, wishing he could be taken out of his misery.
A part of him knew he wasn’t really sick. Or at least he wasn’t ill with a virus. He was aching from the reality of his situation with Maggie. For one brief moment he’d nurtured a hope about being the type of guy who could be in a normal relationship. Maggie had inspired him to feel that way. He had clung to her goodness as a way of convincing himself it was possible. Then everything had blown up in his face. Reality had come crashing down on him. It was one thing to tell yourself you weren’t worthy of a loving relationship and quite another to deal with the impact of it.
Although Maggie had tried to hide it, Finn knew he’d hurt her. And it pained him to realize he’d wounded a person he deeply cared about. Maggie didn’t deserve it.
The door to his house crashed open. Finn jumped up from his couch at the jarring sound. Break-ins were unheard-of in Love. He hoped a tree branch hadn’t fallen on his home.
Declan came charging toward him, his striking features etched in anger.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he barked. “Why did you give up on you and Maggie? According to Hazel, you stopped things before they even got started.”
Finn let out a groan. “Excuse you. You can’t just come barging in to my house.”
“Gimme a break, Finn. Stop trying to divert my attention. I saw the two of you at the winter carnival. It was obvious there were feelings brewing between you. You looked like a couple. Why did you bail on Maggie?”
Finn let out a groan. “I didn’t bail on anyone. Not that it’s any of your business, but things between Maggie and me got complicated. We’re better off as friends. I’m actually doing her a favor.”
Declan let out a snort. “Women are complicated, Finn. It’s not rocket science.”
“I’m not cut out for relationships. There! Are you happy now?”
“You love her, Finn. It’s written all over your face. You show it every time you glance in her direction. Ever since Maggie’s been back in Love I’ve seen a different side of you. One I thought was gone forever. You’re happier. Your soul is lighter. You laugh more. That’s because of her.” Tears pooled in Declan’s eyes. “I know how much it hurt you when Mom died. It was agonizing. You’ve always tried to hide your hurts, but I saw your pain. You haven’t been the same since then.”
“What do you want me to say, Declan?” He let out a groan. “Yes, I love her. But I’m not cut out—” Finn stopped midsentence and shook his head. The words were stuck in his throat. How could he explain himself without revealing the truth about the night their mother died? And if he did, Declan might hate him for the rest of his life. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing his brother. He’d already lost so many people in his life. Losing him would gut Finn.
“Don’t run away from what you’re feeling for Maggie. Stay. For once in your life stick around and face things.”
Finn shrugged. “Who says I’m running? Maybe I’m just walking away.”
“From the woman you love? Why would you do that?” Declan asked.
“Because I don’t deserve her or Oliver or a nice house with a white picket fence. I don’t want to hurt them.”
Declan winced. “Why would you say something like that? You deserve it all, Finn.”
“No, I don’t. Don’t you get it? It was all my fault. All of it. Every loss our family endured. It was all because of me. And I’m scared to death I’m going to do something to hurt Maggie and Oliver.”
“What are you talking about?” Declan asked, his voice sounding raw and wounded. Finn knew he was hurting Declan and it killed him.
Finn swiped away tears with the back of his hand. “I can’t do this. Please. Just leave it alone.”
“No way. You can’t say something like that and then backtrack.”
Finn heaved in a ragged breath. He’d avoided this conversation for two decades. Finn felt tired. He was so incredibly weary. For so long he had carried this heavy weight on his shoulders. He was close to the breaking point.