“I realize that too.”

Neither one of them spoke of the obvious.

Her throat so tight it was painful, she said, “I’m in love with him.”

The expression on her face must have conveyed the massive ache in her heart, because her father didn’t look happy for her. He looked like he was sharing her pain but wasn’t sure what to do about it.

He took a hesitant step closer. “Carly...”

Letting the emotion wash through her, Carly crossed the last few feet, and he folded her awkwardly in his arms.

The hug was brief, but full of the familiar smell of the peppermints he loved, before he set her back. “I’m sorry he hurt you,” her father said gruffly.

Conscious of his discomfort—her father would never be the touchy-feely sort—she tried to smile. She couldn’t have her father thinking it was all Hunter’s fault. She cleared her throat, clogged with unshed tears. “He’s a good guy,” she said. “An honorable one.”

Too bad he couldn’t believe she had the ability to be honorable too.

Her father raised a bushy eyebrow. “What are you going to tell your boss?”

She lifted her chin. “The truth,” she said. And it was a good thing Hunter had pushed her to quit being stubborn about her dad, because she would need his support in the coming weeks. “I’m going to write the best damn profile piece I can on someone else and offer it as a replacement,” she said, steadily meeting her father’s gaze. “And then I’m going to go on Brian O’Connor’s show, meet Hunter face to face, and finish what I started.”

* * *

“Were you given a hard time when you backed out of tonight’s Brian O’Connor show?” Booker asked.

Jaw clenched, eyes on the three-foot-long punching bag hanging in the well-stocked gym of his home, Hunter swung with his right arm. His fist connected with a satisfying thwack. “Not really,” he said. He did his best to ignore the digital clock on the wall.

11:44 p.m.

A sickening feeling rose, burning his chest and his gut, as Hunter went on. “There isn’t anything left to debate.” Except maybe his sanity, considering he’d had to learn the same lesson all over again.

He landed another solid punch, forcing back the urge to pummel the bag in frustration, knowing Booker was waiting for him to say more. But Hunter was washed out, too tired from his workout—and the current state of his life—to engage in much conversation.

The week since he’d arrived home from Las Vegas had been busy, consumed by a job that at one time had seemed perfect. Hunter had managed to carve out some time to explore the idea he’d formulated after Carly had questioned his career priorities. But after all that had happened, dealing with Carly on live TV again went beyond his abilities. Surviving this evening, knowing she’d be on the air without him, was proving to be tough.

It would take a miracle to get through the next quarter of an hour without losing his mind, or his resolve not to watch the show. Hunter glanced at the clock.

11:45.

Hunter began to pummel the bag, the repeated thumps filling the silence until his friend spoke again.

“It’s on in fifteen minutes,” Booker said, as if every cell in Hunter’s body wasn’t acutely aware of that fact. “Are you gonna watch?”

Hunter’s abdomen clenched as if hit. His chest and arm muscles burned from his intense workout, but in a way the pain was an improvement. Since his argument with Carly he’d moved through his days in a trancelike state. Numb. Anesthetized. Trying hard to forget the maddening sight of Carly talking with Terry.

And the devastated look on her face as the elevator doors had closed...

With a hard jab, Hunter’s fist met the bag, jarring his left arm. But the sensation did nothing to ease the conflicting images in his head.

“Because I think you should tune in to see what she says,” Booker went on.

“No.” Hunter punctuated the word with a mighty slug. “I’m not watching the show.”

Public curiosity had swelled since he’d backed out forty-eight hours ago. True to form, Carly hadn’t canceled her commitment to appear. Whether she’d stuck with it for the publicity, or for some other reason, he wasn’t sure. But he’d seen the advertisement announcing the replacement topic: the debut of Carly Wolfe’s new series. A column spotlighting a different Miami resident every week. She’d finally reached her goal.

The question was, who had she chosen as her first subject?

The clock on the wall read 11:47, and bile rose in the back of his throat. His stomach churned at the thought of watching her discuss everything he’d vomited out in a fit of anger. Muscles coiled tight, he felt the dark potential twine its way around his limbs. He refused to watch as the woman he loved traded in all they’d shared to achieve the career goal she’d chased for three years.

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