"This is who I am, who I need to be to like myself. I've made the sacrifices, Nash. I'm the one who loses every time. If you can't accept this much, then we can never be together."
She swept past him, picked up her suitcase and walked out of his life.
Nash stared at the empty kitchen, then dropped his head and closed his eyes.
His chest burned so badly he could feel his heart breaking.
Kate and Kim sat on the sofa and stared blankly at the TV, their eyes red from crying. They wouldn't speak to Nash. They blamed him for Hayley leaving and he couldn't fault them.
They glared at him.
He sighed and grabbed his hat, striding toward the door when he heard Kate say, "She forgot about my tooth."
The hurt in his daughter's voice brought him back into the room. "What?"
"Miss Hayley said the tooth fairy would come twice. Since I live here but lost it at Grandma's."
Nash took a risk and said, "Did you look?"
Kate lifted her gaze.
Nash's heart shattered again at the hurt in her eyes, her curled-down lip so like her sister's. She shook her head. He arched a brow, and when she took off for her room, stomping up the stairs, Nash swore he didn't move a muscle till she came back down. She showed him the silver dollar, and something twisted inside Nash.
Leave it to Hayley not to forget anyone else but herself, he thought.
"I'm never going to spend it."
Nash sighed and knelt, aware of his mother and Mrs. Winslow standing in the dining-room doorway. "Honey, Hayley is a doctor and she has to do this for three years."
"Did you make her go, Daddy?"
His throat closed. "I wanted her to stay, honey, but she had to leave. You knew that from the start." And so did he, he realized.
Kim walked up beside her sister. "Do something, Daddy. Make her come back." Her blue eyes filled with tears.
"I can't." He hugged them and they sobbed in his arms. Nash picked them up and sat down on the couch with them. He cursed Hayley and her stubborn pride, and cursed himself for not seeing a way to fix this.
The girls, having cried through the night, fell asleep, and he covered them and stood, walking into the kitchen. Mrs. Winslow stepped into the laundry room, closing the door behind her as Nash lifted his gaze to his mother.
"I thought I raised a smarter son."
"What do you want me to do, Mom? Leave the ranch to Jake and go live in Savannah?"
"Hayley is so far in debt, Nash, she can't even think of stopping for anything, even love. She needs you more now."
"I need her."
"Then do something about it, for pity's sake."
"Get her home."
Nash dug the heels of his palms into his eyes and sighed. "Don't you think I've tried? I did everything but lay a red carpet before her."
"Money isn't everything. Telling her what you can offer her is different from making it happen. And you're a fool to think she should put her residency on hold, especially when she's still paying for that tuition. She's honor bound to those obligations first. And your time with Michelle ought to tell you that honor and duty can make a person do some stupid things."
His features tightened.
"She's sacrificed more than you and I could ever imagine to get where she is. A life together isn't always fifty-fifty. You need to give a little more."
I've made the sacrifices, Nash, she'd said. I'm the one who loses every time.
Nash stared without really seeing, then grabbed his hat, jamming it on as he strode out the front door.
Grace raced after him. "What are going to do?"
"Bring my woman home," he said, and climbed into his truck.
Grace smiled. "That's my boy," she whispered as he drove away in a cloud of dust.
Nash found her on the maternity ward, wearing blue scrubs and looking every inch the doctor she was. A nurse stood near, waiting for her to finish writing on a chart.
"Hayley." Her head jerked up, her gaze slamming into his. The chart faltered in her grip.
"Nash." She swallowed, absently handing the chart to the nurse. "What are you doing here?"
He glanced at the people lingering, then walked to her. He stopped a few feet from her, his arms fairly throbbing to hold her. "Can we talk?"
Hayley gazed up at him, the pain of being apart filling with her love for him. She nodded and gestured to the empty waiting room. Then she faced him.
"You don't look so hot," he said. She looked sad and exhausted, dark circles beneath her eyes, and she was thinner.
"Neither do you." She was about to sweep his hair off his brow, then decided it was best not to touch him. But, oh, how she missed him.
He took a step closer and tossed his hat on a chair. When he spoke his voice was low and raspy. "I can't go on like this."