“I’m sorry for how I acted earlier after meeting Niko. We’ve been apart for months, but in my heart, you’re still my lady. It’s hard to adjust to being just your friend.”

“It is a big change, but also a necessary one.”

Neither of them realized it, but even bigger changes were just down the road.

Chapter 16

The weekend was over. It was Monday morning, and Monique was in bed. She felt horrible, and a low-grade fever, sore throat and pounding headache were only part of the reason. The other ailment was Rob and the fight they’d had that had sent him packing—literally.

For his birthday on Saturday, they’d spent the day hiking, then had a catered dinner with Margo and some of her friends. Everyone had laughed and had a good time. Yesterday, the morning had started off great, as well. They’d gone for a power walk and then to the Cove Café for breakfast. She’d taken him to her office and shown him around town, driven him over to the burned-out school. But while sitting on the couch and watching a movie, Rob had once again tried to get romantic.

She’d opened her mouth before thinking. Truth spilled out. “Will you please stop? We’ve been through this a dozen times. I don’t want to be intimate with you, ever, okay?”

The hurt in his eyes brought instant regret. “I didn’t mean to say it that way. I—”

“It’s him, isn’t it?” Rob had sneered. “I bet you find Niko attractive.”

“Rob, I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Too late for that.”

“You’re a good man…”

“But I’m not Niko Drake.”

“He has nothing to do with this conversation.”

“He has everything to do with it!” When she didn’t respond, he said, “Look me in the eye and tell me that you don’t have feelings for him. Don’t lie. Be honest.”

Five seconds went by. And then five more.

He crossed his arms. “I’m waiting.”

She sighed. “It doesn’t matter how I feel about him, Rob. He and I are opponents in a political race. Nothing can happen between us.”

“But you want it to.”

“It doesn’t matter what I want.”

“I have my answer.”

He’d swept by her then, snatched his carry-on from the closet, slammed it on the bed and began throwing his clothes inside.

She’d followed him. “Please, Rob. Don’t leave angry. We’ve been friends for so many years.”

“I thought I could handle it. But the truth of the matter is I don’t want to be just another friend.” He stomped into the bathroom and removed his toiletry bag. Tossing it on top of the clothes, he shut the case, zipped it and placed it on the ground. “I wanted to be your husband. I wanted to see your eyes light up when you saw me the way they did when you saw Niko.” She would have objected but he put up his hand. “Don’t deny it,” he said, his voice soft, all fight gone. “I know what I saw. Men like him are always the ones desired. And women like you who desire them always get hurt.”

“What does that mean?” He left the room. She trailed after him as he walked to the door.

When he reached it he turned to her. “You’ll find out.”

She’d called and left messages. They weren’t returned. In hurt and anger was not how she’d wanted Rob to leave her life.

Her phone rang. She pushed the speakerphone button. “Good morning.”

“Is it really?” Lance asked. “You sound horrible.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“We don’t have any appearances or meetings today. Why don’t you take advantage of the light schedule and get some rest?”

“I think I will. Send over any emails that are important. I’m going to work from home.”

Monique pulled herself out of bed, grabbed her robe and the laptop and headed downstairs. She put on water for tea and fired up her computer. There was only one problem. She didn’t feel like working.

“What do people do when stuck at home?” she mumbled to the empty room. Eyeing the remote, she picked it up and turned on the TV. She flipped past a couple of major networks before settling on the community station, which featured news of Paradise Cove. After less than two minutes, a familiar face came on the screen: Niko’s. A voiceover spoke while various images of him flashed: handling business, talking to farmers, laughing with a group of women, riding a horse.

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