“Hot-wax dude,” she replies knowingly.

“Yeah, well… his name is Benjamin. You can call him that now instead of ‘hot-wax dude’. But anyway, he’s the one who was at your birthday party.”

“I’m confused.” And I knew this would take some explaining, but I try to let her work out as much as she can. “I thought you met him at The Wicked Horse.”

“I did, but he was coincidentally at your party.”

“And you didn’t bother to tell me this why?” she demands hotly, although I know she’s not angry. Just a little miffed I’ve withheld.

Sighing, I hold my phone between my shoulder and my ear so I can take stock of the contents of my purse to make sure I don’t need anything else. “I’m sorry. I just sort of wanted to keep him to myself for a while. He’s a little mysterious, intense, and, well, different from anyone I’ve ever known.”

“You could have told me,” she sniffs.

“I’m telling you now. I need your help because I’m worried. He sort of went off the grid. Stood me up Friday night, and I haven’t heard from him since.”

“And you’ve tried to call him?”

I roll my eyes, knowing she can’t see it, so I make sure she hears it in my tone. “Of course I called him. A few times. Texted, too, but he hasn’t responded. I was wondering if Walsh has any insight he can offer. I have no clue how close their friendship is, but I thought maybe fairly close since he was at your party. I’m operating in the dark here, and I just can’t let it go.”

“Elena,” Jorie says softly, dropping her voice an octave. “Are you sure you haven’t been dumped in a fantastically assholish manner?”

That’s a legit concern. As my bestie, I’d expect her to consider these things and make sure I am, too. “Ordinarily, I’d say yes. But, in this instance, my gut is saying it’s something else. I just need to know.”

“Okay, then.” Her tone is decisive, and she’s fully in. “Let me go get him.”

It’s silent for a few moments. I use the time to grab my keys and head for the door.

I’m just locking it closed behind me when she comes back on. “I’ve got Walsh on speakerphone. I’ve filled him in a bit.”

“So you’re dating Benjamin Hewitt, huh?” Walsh says, and I don’t like the tone of his voice. I thought he’d tease me first, but he sounds worried.

“I’m not sure dating is the word,” I reply hesitantly. “It’s sort of a Wicked Horse kind of thing, but there was a real connection there. I’m worried because he just sort of dropped off the face of the earth. I’m hoping you can give me some insight.”

“You know about the accident, right?” Walsh asks.

My brow furrows at this odd question. “The one that injured his leg?”

“It was a bit more than that,” he says in a sad voice, and my stomach clenches. “His wife and daughter were killed. He was seriously injured. Spent a really long time in the hospital.”

“What?” I rasp, feeling incredibly dizzy by this revelation. I had no clue, and I feel like reality slapped me with a cold, wet washcloth or something.

“A drunk driver crossed the center line and hit their car head-on.”

“He had a wife and daughter?” I murmur, voice barely audible.

“It fucked him up in the head. I mean, he’s no longer the guy I used to know. Frankly, had I known you were seeing him, I would have discouraged it.”

There’s censure in his tone. I imagine he’s giving Jorie the side-eye right now for keeping this secret, but he has no clue she didn’t know. I’ll fix that later.

Walsh isn’t finished making his point. “He’s not a nice guy, Elena. Can’t say we were the best of friends before his accident, but we hung out. Golfed together a lot. Some poker nights. He came out of that accident completely changed. Closed himself off from everyone.”

The information is overwhelming, but it doesn’t discourage me. If anything, I feel more of a pressing need to make sure he’s okay. “Do you know where he lives?”

His tone is apologetic. “I don’t.”

“It’s okay,” I reply glumly as I move to my car.

“What are you going to do?” Jorie asks, her question laced with equal amounts of curiosity and worry. She knows me well enough to know I’m not going to do nothing.

“Call him again after church,” I reply on a sigh. “Probably head to The Wicked Horse tonight to see if he shows up.”

“Just be careful,” Walsh advises.

“Wait!” Jorie exclaims with mild panic. “Is this guy dangerous or something? If so, you cannot go to The Wicked Horse to see him. Stupid idea. You probably need to let this go.”

I can hear Walsh chuckling, and I imagine his arm going around Jorie. “Ease up there, mama bear. I don’t mean for Elena to be careful because Benjamin is dangerous or anything. I just mean he’s got a lot of baggage. Does she really want to get caught up in all that?”

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