‘Stephanie?’

Oh, hell. She wiped her cheeks again and turned in her chair to face her brother.

He stood in the doorway, awkwardly leaning on his crutch.

‘I’m sorry I’ve been such a jerk.’ He cleared his throat. ‘But… uh… I guess I’m scared.’

Surprised, she stilled. ‘Of what?’

‘Everything. Even getting out through the front door. I just… feel scared of everything.’

‘I’m scared too,’ she whispered.

He looked at her. ‘Of what?’

‘Everything.’

He hopped into the room and sat on the end of her bed. ‘I thought you weren’t going to come back. That you were going to leave. Like Mum.’

‘I’d never do that,’ she whispered, horrified. ‘She left me too.’

‘She left you with me. Which is worse in a way.’

‘No, it’s not!’ She half laughed, half cried. ‘I love you, Dan.’

‘It’s not just because of me that you’re crying, is it?’

Her brother looked at her. The protective expression on his face melted the last of her anger with him.

‘It’s that guy. Mr Steroids-in-a-Suit.’

‘That was just business.’

Dan looked as if he didn’t believe her. ‘I heard what he said. About you using me to hide from life.’

She closed her eyes. ‘It isn’t true.’

‘I think it is. You’ve given up so much for me,’ Dan mumbled. ‘And I think I’ve been hiding too. Using you.’ He dropped his head. ‘You should have the best guy, Stephanie—only the best. And he should know how amazing you are. And if he doesn’t—’

‘If he doesn’t?’ she interrupted with a watery laugh.

‘I’ll punch him.’

Steph laughed. Her brother laughed too. They both laughed until they cried. And then they sobered.

‘I’m sorry.’ Her brother wrapped his good arm around her.

‘So am I.’ She leaned her head on his shoulder. ‘We can’t go on like this,’ she said softly. ‘We’re both scared. Both lonely. Both treading water—’

‘No. You’re not. Your blog is amazing.’

‘It’s stupid.’

‘No, it’s not.’

‘It’s fake.’

‘It’s you.’

‘It’s one very small bit of me. Not the real me.’

‘Then make it the real you,’ he said simply. ‘It used to be.’

Show the rest of the room? That was what Jack had said. But the filters were there to protect herself and her brother.

‘What do you want to do?’ she asked him.

He sighed. ‘I know you’re right. I need to do something. Study something. Travel, even. I can’t live staying scared like this. It’s more crippling than the loss of my leg. And I can’t keep you trapped either. You have to go too. We both have to walk on our own again.’

‘Dan…’ She sniffed. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘It wasn’t your fault, Steffi.’ He cuddled her closer. ‘It was just fate.’ He breathed out. ‘I don’t want you to leave,’ he muttered. ‘But I don’t want to hold you back either. So I’m going to find a residential programme.’

‘You don’t have to do that.’ A tear fell from her cheek.

‘I do have to,’ he said roughly. ‘If I don’t I’ll just get stuck here again, and you’ll stay with me because you’re loyal, and I’ll hold us both back. I won’t do that any more.’ His chest rose and fell quickly.

He was braver than her, she realised. Because now it came to it she was terrified. Jack had been right—she’d been using Dan as a safety blanket to keep her heart safe.

‘I’m going to miss you.’

‘We’ll see each other lots. It won’t be easy. I’m sure I’ll have grumpy moments.’

‘You’re going to do great.’ She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and drew in a huge breath. ‘We both are.’

Try as hard as he could, Jack couldn’t find a comfortable seat in the first-class lounge at the airport. His phone burned in his hand.

Finally he gave in—only he dialled the number second on the list.

‘Jack?’ His mother answered right away and sounded worried. ‘Where are you?’

‘LA. At the airport.’

He had been for the last couple of hours, while he waited for Stephanie to reply to his offer. He’d thought she’d be quick about it, given she was all but surgically attached to her phone. And while he was waiting he felt unable to board the plane for the next leg of the journey.


Tags: Natalie Anderson Billionaire Romance
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