She very nearly slapped him. Because she had let him in.
‘Right.’ She nodded. ‘Whereas you spend your life running away from your problems. Escaping.’ Scathingly she used his favourite word. ‘Using work as your excuse not to give anyone—family, friend, lover—more than two days of your precious time.’
He jerked as if she had slapped him.
‘Right,’ he nodded, mimicking her smart tone. ‘I’ll get going, then, and fulfil your low expectations of me.’
But as he walked away her heart lurched. She remembered just what he’d been through. ‘What about—?’
‘The blog?’ he interrupted, turning his head, his sharp eyes stabbing. ‘It’s all about personality,’ he said curtly. ‘Things on the internet always are. Personality can’t be replicated. You are your blog. And, as you once said, you’re not on the table. You cannot be bought.’
‘That’s right,’ she said softly. ‘I can’t.’
He was right about everything.
She had been afraid to let him in. And she couldn’t let herself take from him now. She couldn’t let herself rely on him. Because then she’d give him everything. And do anything he asked of her. And she refused to be that weak.
She hadn’t been going to ask about the blog just then. She’d been going to ask about his father. But why would he want to talk to her about that now? He just wanted to escape again. And fair enough.
‘Okay, then,’ she said icily as he continued to glare at her. But there was still that last shred of dignity, of politeness, within her. She held the door and as he finally walked through it murmured, ‘Thank—’
‘Bye.’ He cut her off and walked away.
She slammed the door. Bolted it. Then closed her eyes to hold back the tears.
It was five minutes before she was under enough control to walk back to her brother in the lounge. He’d moved from sprawling to actually sitting, but she couldn’t bring herself to sit down next to him.
‘What were you thinking?’ she asked him. ‘Why didn’t you just answer the damn phone?’
He looked mutinous.
‘You wanted me to feel guilty? You wanted me to pay?’ Her eyes filled. ‘For how long do I have to pay, Dan?’ Because right now it felt as if she was going to have to pay for ever. ‘It wasn’t my fault.’ As guilty as she felt, she knew that it hadn’t been.
‘I know that,’ he snapped, goaded. ‘But you’re always so busy.’
‘I’m always here,’ she argued.
‘Staring at your computer screen.’
‘Because I’m trying to make us some money. Because we have to eat.’
‘You’ll never understand what it’s like for me!’ he shouted suddenly.
‘No.’ She paused, counting to ten, trying so hard not to shout back. Or to cry. ‘I probably won’t. And you know what? I can’t fix it for you either. I’ve tried for so long. I’ve tried everything I can think of to make it better. And I can’t.’
She lost the battle against her tears.
‘You have to rebuild your life, Dan. I can help you, support you, but this has to come from you. There’s nothing more I can say. Or do. I don’t know how to reach you. How to help you. I’ve tried and I’ve failed.’ She shook her head and turned away from him. ‘I’m done.’
She walked into her bedroom and closed the door. She looked at the ‘Steffi Leigh’ corner. Its bright and stylish decor mocked her—its perfect façade so far removed from reality. A fake—a failure, in every way.
She fell onto the bed face-down, pressing her eyes into the pillow so she wouldn’t have to see any of it.
‘The airport, please.’ Jack instructed the taxi driver, avoiding the urge to go back to her and grovel out an apology.
The other urge riding him was stronger—to get the hell on the road.
Keep moving. Keep working. Keep safe.
He needed to be alone. He always had. And it would be better for Stephanie. She had trouble enough without having to deal with the current emotional mess that he was.
She didn’t want his help—she couldn’t have made that clearer. She’d cut him off. Pushed him away with words and her manner alone.
And he’d retaliated in kind. He knew how to put up walls and end a conversation. Because the last thing he’d wanted to hear was her gratitude—pure platitude that it was.
He boarded a jet that afternoon and on the long flight back to the States watched six movies. He couldn’t remember the titles of any the second he disembarked from the plane.
Los Angeles—city of dreams and destiny for some.