“I want to believe you.”

Because Colin had information. Why wouldn’t he? Meri would tell Betina where she was going and Betina would tell Colin.

“I have to find her,” Jack said hoarsely. “I love her.”

“What if that’s too little too late?”

“I’ll convince her.”

There was an excruciating minute of silence.

“I kind of believe you,” Colin said. “Okay. When your month is up there, I’ll tell you where she is.”

“What?” Jack roared. “You’ll tell me now.”

“Sorry. No. You have to stay. It’s a lot of money on the line.”

“I’ll pay them the difference myself.”

“Okay, yeah. You’re probably good for it. But leaving now violates the spirit of what Hunter was trying to do. You really think Meri will be happy about that?”

“You think she’s happy thinking I don’t care about her?”

“Good point, but I’m not going to tell you. Not until the time is up.”

The call ended. Jack picked up the coffee table and threw it through the sliding glass door. The glass shattered with a satisfyingly destructive sound.

“Dammit all to hell,” he yelled into the subsequent silence.

And no one answered.


Meri was thinking maybe she should get a dog. One of those small ones she could travel with. From her corner room at the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena she could see down into a beautiful grassy area, with plants and paths where people walked their small dogs several times a day. At least then there would be something else alive in the room with her.

She glanced at her watch, then sighed. Her team wouldn’t arrive for another half hour, which meant time to kill. Maybe it was just her, but the days had gotten much longer in the past few weeks. The things she loved no longer made her as happy as they once had. She found it more difficult to laugh and sleep and be really excited about Colin and Betina’s announcement that they were getting married.

Not that she wasn’t thrilled for her friends. There was nothing she wanted more than their happiness. It was just…

She missed Jack. Yes, that was crazy and made her an idiot, but there it was. She missed him-his voice, his touch, his laugh. The way he took charge and wasn’t the least bit intimidated by her. She’d loved him most of her life. How was she supposed to stop loving him?

“Therapy,” she murmured as she continued to stare out the window. It had helped her before-to figure out what normal was. Maybe talking with a paid professional could help her get over Jack. Maybe she could find a really cute male therapist and do a little emotional transference, because getting over anyone else had to be so much easier than getting over Jack.

She closed her eyes against the pain. He would be gone by now. His month at Hunter’s house had ended at midnight. Had he already started back to Texas or was he just getting on the road? What was he thinking of her? Would she ever be the one who got away or was that just wishful thinking on her part? She knew he would come back for the reunion, but for now, he was gone.

There was a knock at the door. Housekeeping, she thought. Okay. That was fine. They could clean while she walked the grounds and made friends with the little dogs. Maybe an owner or two could give her some advice on which kind to get.

Jack would be a big-dog kind of guy, she thought absently. Of course, if she had his feelings to consider, she wouldn’t need a dog in the first place. She would have a husband and a family, although a dog would be nice, too. Maybe one of-

She opened the door and stood staring. “You’re not housekeeping.”

Jack pushed past her into the room and shrugged. “I can go get you more towels if you need them.”

“I don’t need towels.”

She stared at him, unable to believe he was here. He looked good-tired and maybe thinner but still powerful and sexy and the man of her dreams.

“You’re supposed to be heading home,” she said. “Your four weeks are up.”

He looked at her. “Is that what you think? That I’d put in my time, then walk away?”


“Because it’s what I’ve always done. Put in my time, kept my distance, not gotten involved.”

Her stomach flipped over a couple of times. Okay, physically it couldn’t turn, but the churning caused by anxiety did a really great imitation.

She wanted to throw herself into his arms. She wanted him to hold her and tell her it was going to be all right. Only he wouldn’t, because nothing in her life had ever been that easy. She had no idea why he was here. Maybe to offer her some advice or something. She would smile politely, listen, push him out the door, then have a private breakdown. She was getting good at those.

“How did you find me?” she asked.

“Colin told me.”

“What? He didn’t.”

“Oh, yeah. But he did it in a way you can totally respect. He tortured me first. He called right after you left and said he knew where you were but he wasn’t going to tell me until my month was up. Something about a donation and that damn house.”

Colin had called Jack? She wasn’t sure if she should be happy or planning to return the engagement present she’d already bought.

“You were looking for me?” she asked cautiously.

Jack touched her face. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know.”

“You must have had an idea. You went to a lot of trouble to stay hidden.”

“I don’t want your pity,” she admitted. “I don’t want you watching over me anymore. I don’t want to be a project or Hunter’s little sister.”

His eyes were dark and unreadable. Something flashed through them.

“Would you settle for being the woman I love?”

She heard the words. The vibration of sound worked its way through her ears and was transmitted through her brain via-

“What?” she asked, suddenly not caring about the hows and whys of her body. “What?”

“I love you, Meri. I have for a long time. I always thought…” He shrugged. “I thought there was something between us back then. But you were young and I was young and then Hunter got sick. I couldn’t deal, so I ran. You know all this. I ran, but I couldn’t let go. I took the coward’s way out. I spied on you. You were right to call it that. I kept track from a distance, where it was safe. Where I was safe.”

She had to sit down. Her legs felt weak and the room was spinning. Instead she reached for him, and he caught her and held her as if he might never let go.

“I missed you,” he murmured, speaking into her hair. “I missed you so much. Not just the past three weeks, although they were hell, but for the past eleven years. I’m sorry I didn’t know before. I love you, Meri. I want to be with you. I want to make this right.”

He grabbed her by her upper arms and held her in front of him. “Can you forgive me? Can you tell me what to do to make it right? Can you ever care about me?”

She began to laugh and cry and went back into his arms, where he held her so tight she couldn’t breathe.

It felt good. It felt right.

“Of course I love you,” she said, her voice shaking. “What did you think all this was about?”

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