She stared down at her dead phone, a horrible cold feeling seeping under her skin.
Jack tossed his phone into her lap. ‘You’d better call her.’
Her heart went from zero to three hundred in a split second. Her stomach roiled. But she picked up his phone and tapped in Tara’s number.
‘Steffi?’ Tara asked as soon as she answered.
‘What’s happened?’ Stephanie could barely speak her throat was so constricted. ‘Is he okay?’
‘I don’t know.’ Tara sounded near to tears. ‘I can’t get hold of him. He’s not answering the phone. Not answering the door… I’m here right now and he won’t answer. Shall I get the building caretaker to open up?’
‘When did you last see him?’
‘Lunchtime yesterday,’ Tara mumbled.
‘But when you texted last night you said he was fine.’ Stephanie couldn’t understand it. ‘Didn’t you see him?’
Dan hadn’t replied to a single one of the texts she’d sent him.
‘I thought it would do him some good to see how much he takes you for granted…’
‘You left him alone?’ Stephanie snapped. ‘You know he’s not… he’s not…’
He couldn’t cope with being alone. Not for that long.
‘He’s perfectly okay.’ Tara suddenly fought back. ‘He could manage a lot better than he does. He takes advantage of you—’
‘He’s my brother,’ Stephanie interrupted. ‘And I trusted you.’ Her emotions threatened to better her and she spoke more quickly. ‘I’m on my way. Just wait for me.’
She ended the call and stared straight ahead. She realised that somehow Jack knew the way to her home. That he must know much more than he’d let on. And she felt dreadful.
‘Not a cat, then, huh?’ Jack asked.
She’d lied to him. And he was mad about it. ‘I didn’t think it was something we needed to talk about…’ she muttered.
His laugh was short and a little bitter—and finite.
‘It was nothing to do with the blog,’ she tried to explain. ‘Or the deal—’
‘I get it,’ he interrupted shortly. ‘Don’t worry about it.’
But she was worried. She was worried every which way—for Dan, for Tara, for herself… and there was a hurt deep within her for Jack. She didn’t even know if it had gone okay with his father.
But he wasn’t in a talking mood.
And she shouldn’t be thinking of anyone but her brother and the hell he might be in right now.
She picked up Jack’s phone again and rang her home number. There was no answer. She left a message asking Dan to answer. Then she redialled. And redialled. And redialled.
Dan was all that mattered.
This thing with Jack had been a mistake. He was going back to America and he’d be gone from her life. It was ending now anyway. It would be like ripping off a plaster. Quick and painless.
Only it was never painless.
Her anxiety was painful to watch. Jack glanced sideways as he drove along the route Tara had given him.
Stephanie nibbled on her fingernails as she repeatedly dialled her home number. There was never any answer. He could sense her willing him to drive faster. He did—as safely and quickly as he could. And in silence he waited, giving her the chance to tell him something about it. Anything.
She didn’t take it.
She had never been truly interested.
He got it that she presented a façade to the blog world—that online she showed only part of herself: ‘Steffi Leigh’—but the thought that she’d maintained most of that façade with him, when he’d really thought she hadn’t… When he’d opened up to her… When he’d thought they’d shared something deeper, as if she’d felt the same kind of emotional connection that he had…
What a joke.
It was a relief when he pulled up to her apartment building. But painful when she turned to look at him.
‘I…’ Her voice trailed off as she glanced up at the building.
Her breath came quickly, panicked.
But she couldn’t look him in the eye. Didn’t know what to say. Clearly she didn’t want him to come in with her to ensure all was okay.
Too freaking bad.
As if he was going to leave her alone to face whatever hell was up there…
He got out of the car and marched round the front of it to open the passenger door for her.
She stepped out onto the footpath without a word. He saw her stand taller, squaring her shoulders.
‘Okay, then…’ She glanced back at him. ‘Thank—’
‘I’m coming up with you. Don’t think for a second that you’re going to stop me.’