I stumble. I actually take a step backward, as if he’s shoved at me with the palm of his hand.

“What?” I finally say, even though I’m absolutely certain that I’ve heard him correctly.

“Damien’s my half-brother.” The words are flat, and it’s very obvious that he’s not particularly thrilled with his family tree.

I’m not really sure how to process that, and so I sit down on the edge of the fountain again. After a moment, Jackson sits beside me.

“Does Damien know?” I ask.

“No. I told you the truth about my dad. My family. I just didn’t tell you who.”

“You should have.” I try to organize my thoughts, but this news is out of left field. “All those times I asked you what your problem with Damien was, and you didn’t say a word.”

“I’m sorry. Maybe I should have. I don’t know.” I can see the anguish on his face, but I don’t try to comfort him. I’m too hurt. Too numb. “Don’t you get it? It’s a secret I’ve lived with my entire life. It wasn’t something I could just shout out.”

“No,” I say tightly. “I wouldn’t know a thing about difficult secrets.”

“Is that what this is? Tit for tat? You told me about Bob and because I didn’t immediately toss my emotional garbage into the mix you’re punishing me?”

“Bob?” I repeat. “That’s all you have to say? Just some half-assed mention before we get back to your daddy issues?” His words are like a stiletto through my heart, because goddammit, Bob is what started all of this. Robert Cabot Reed, the asshole producer who wants to make the movie about Jackson’s Santa Fe house. Bob, the guy who has his claws in both of our lives, and all Jackson can think about is how I’m pissed that he didn’t tell me about Damien right then?

I say none of that, but the force of my emotions drives me to my feet again, and I’m about to lay it all out for him in harsh, clipped tones.

But he’s looking at me with such genuine confusion that I hold my tongue.

And that’s when I realize—Jackson has no idea about Robert Cabot Reed. He only knows that I was looking for him outside. He has no idea why. No idea that my mood, my fears, my entire meltdown wasn’t entirely driven by his little confab with Jeremiah Stark.

Suddenly, I feel very tired.

“I need to go home.” Right then, I need my condo. My patio. I need to curl up on my lounger and sleep. And with any luck, I’m exhausted enough that the dreams won’t come.

“Come back to the boat with me. Please, Syl. We need to talk more. I don’t want this to be the thing that breaks us. My father’s taken too much from me already.”

“He wasn’t the one who kept secrets from me,” I whisper. “That was you.”

I see the way my words make him flinch, and I almost take them back. But they are true, and so I simply shake my head. “I’m sorry,” I say. “Maybe we do need to talk. But right now, I need to be alone.”

I don’t give him time to answer. Instead, I just walk away, even though doing so leaves a hole in my heart.

twenty-four

Exhaustion pulls me under, and I sleep through the rest of Saturday, and a good chunk of Sunday morning. The sun is high in the sky when I finally wake on the patio lounger, twisted up in the blanket that I’d pulled over myself.

I remember that there were nightmares, but I do not remember what they were. I only remember one, and in it I ran. Faster and faster, farther and farther. But I never escaped what was chasing me.

I don’t even know what I was running from. I can only assume it was everything.

I wrap the blanket around myself and stumble inside. I feel achy and old, as if my body doesn’t want to function anymore.

And I really don’t want to be alone.

I take a hot shower, and that relieves some of my aches, but not the one inside me.

The truth is that it’s Jackson I want, but I’m not ready for that.

And so I call the only other person I can.

“Can I stay with you?” I ask the moment Cass answers her phone.

“God, Syl, I should come over there and strangle you. Do you know how worried I’ve been? Why the hell didn’t you answer your phone?”

“I’m sorry. I had it on silent. I just needed time.”

I hear her sigh. “Sorry. I know. I get it. Shit. Listen, are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’ll survive. But I really don’t want to be alone.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen.”

“I can drive.”

“Are you a complete emotional wreck?”


Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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