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She had to be another mirage. Evan had caught glimpses of her at least a hundred times over the past eight years. Walking across the street, perusing the aisles of the grocery store, even eating at their favorite restaurants.
Except he hadn't. Not really. The minute he did a double take or looked back, he discovered another woman with a similar body type or hairstyle. It'd been hell on him over the years. Each incident brought a web of emotions back to the front of his mind. It'd been at least a year since his last sighting. There were rumors she was back in town, but he'd assumed that was all it was. The town had a way of coming up with ridiculous stories that no one ever bothered to fact-check.
This time was different. Even after he looked down, mentally shook himself, then looked back up, she was still there. Walking toward him. Ciara Knowles, the girl who'd driven a semi over his heart, backed up, then run over it again.
"Evan Marshall. I never took you for the local festival type." She spoke. The apparitions never spoke. Well, except for the few times some angry woman had told him off for staring.
"Trust me, I'm not." He squinted a little, thinking that the pinkish hue of twilight was playing tricks on him. After all, it'd been a long time since he'd seen her in the flesh.
It'd been so long that he was probably doing it againmistaking some other woman for her. In a minute she'd be berating him for not remembering who she actually was. A high school classmate he'd spoken to twice but who expected to still be fresh in his mind, or the lady from the flower shop who'd helped him last week. Except he knew that wasn't true. The minute he'd caught sight of her, his entire body had recognized her. She could have had a nose job, bleached her hair and started wearing giant sunglasses, and he still could have picked her out of a lineup without breaking a sweat.
"And yet, here you are." She had a point. One he would like to refute with a long list of reasons why he hadn't been able to flee the town with the rest of the residents before the tourists took over for the weekend, but not a single one seemed good enough at the moment.
"So are you." The realization hit him like an anvil. He'd been back to Crook Bay for enough holidays to know that she hadn't. Not once had she walked into the local bar the day after Christmas to join in the informal high school reunion that always took place. His parents never mentioned running into her while out shopping, and his mother would have been sure to at least send him a text about it. Hell, she probably would've taken an ad out in the paper. His family always referred to Ciara as the one who got away. He swore they still expected her to follow him through the door when he came home.
"This is true." She shifted her weight and dug into the sidewalk with her heel. As she glanced around, she twisted the ring on her right index finger. It was the same one she'd owned back in high school, though she'd worn it on her left hand then. The action reminded him of the first time he'd asked her out. Back behind the middle school, both of them quiet and awkward. She'd been playing with the piece of jewelry then too. Studying it as though she'd never seen it before.