“I don’t know,” Carly said. Which was true. She didn’t know anything anymore.

“Well...” The doubt on her friend’s face was hardly encouraging. “He decked that guy for the comment he made about you.” Her overly bright smile looked forced, and it was painful to watch. “That has to mean something.”

“It means he found an excuse to do what he’s probably wanted to do for years, using my supposed honor as an excuse.” Carly rolled onto her stomach and buried her face in her arms. Her voice was muffled, which made going on easier—because the next set of words were the hardest she’d ever formed. “Except he doesn’t see me as honorable.”

“You love him,” Abby said softly.

Spoken out loud, the words doubled Carly’s misery, and the weight of the monstrous entity was a burden that threatened to drown her.

Carly turned her head on her arms, looking up at Abby. “You said it yourself. These things rarely work out.”

“Sometimes they do,” Abby said. “You just have to believe that they will.”

With monumental effort, Carly briefly pushed aside her pain and stared up at her friend. She wasn’t sure which was harder: enduring the expected pessimism while lost in a mire of hopeless misery, or the bud of hope that was now emanating from her friend’s face. “Since when have you been a love convert?”

Guilt flickered through Abby’s eyes. “Since I got married.”

The words lingered in the air and gradually seeped into Carly’s consciousness, her eyelids slowly stretching wide as the news settled deeper. It took a moment for the rest of her body to respond. When it did, she shot up, kneeling on the bed. “Married?”

“Pete and I visited a chapel on the strip yesterday,” she said with a smile. “Elvis officiated.”

Blinking hard, Carly tried to reconcile the pessimistic, down-on-relationships woman she knew with the glowing, almost upbeat woman in front of her. Happiness for her deserving friend and sadness for herself combined to overwhelm her, and she leaned forward, gathering Abby in a fierce hug. “I’m so pleased for you,” she said, her throat clogged with emotion. Carly closed her eyes, resisting the urge to burst into tears. This would hardly be the I’m-happy-for-you moment her friend must have envisioned.

Abby held her tight. “One day I’ll return the sentiment.”

Carly didn’t have the heart to rain on her friend’s new-found joy, so she said nothing. The words that wanted to form were all negative. She had no clue how to tell her boss the truth about Hunter without losing her job. She had no idea how to heal the rift with her father, especially now that she’d screwed up again. And, worse, she was sure she’d never recover from loving Hunter. Though the word “recover” was probably better suited to catastrophic events.

Well, as far as Carly was concerned, love ranked right up there with floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Abby pulled back, holding Carly’s arms. “What are you going to do now?”

Carly knew her colleague was referring to more than just Hunter, and she pressed her lips together, potential answers swirling in her brain. Run away? Leave everything behind and start all over again? It was tempting, but it hadn’t helped her three years ago when she’d come limping back home. And it hardly seemed the best solution now.

Gathering her resolve, she met her newly married friend’s gaze with as much confidence as she could muster. “I’m going back to fix what I can.” She blew out a shaky breath. “Starting with my dad.”

* * *

Carly turned into the long, oak-tree-lined driveway of her childhood home, half wishing it would extend forever and she could avoid what waited for her at the end. She could just drive on indefinitely, enjoying the sunshine and the song on the radio, pretending her life was okay. Moving toward the moment of truth, or one of them anyway, but without having to actually face her father.

Nice try, Carly.

She was exhausted from the trip home and missing Hunter like she’d never thought possible. No easy-breezy forty-eight hour recovery this time. Honestly, she wasn’t sure forty-eight years would lessen the pain. But it was time to tell her father what had happened. She hadn’t just screwed up again—would probably get fired again—this time she’d also lost the one man she’d ever loved in the process. So...not only had she managed to repeat past mistakes, she’d gone and topped her previous efforts.

What father wouldn’t be proud of such an accomplishment?

Carly’s lips twisted at the grim irony as she parked in the drive and stared up at the massive colonial house, hoping to find a little courage in the view. It hadn’t always been associated with unpleasant memories. Her childhood had been as happy as it could be, given she’d been minus a mother and her tiny two-person family was all she’d ever known. They’d muddled through contentedly enough until she’d hit puberty. But she could no longer afford to be the resentful adolescent who’d felt inadequate and misunderstood, and it was time to let the hurt go. Time for her to stop stubbornly waiting for her father to apologize and take the first step toward reconciliation.

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