“Brittany asked me a favor again.”

I stroke her back, unsure what else to do. This is the third time she’s brought up her sister wanting her to do her a “favor.” The first time was at the lake, another time when we were driving around for hours, and now. She’s never told me what the favor is, and I haven’t pushed. Honestly, I think I already know, and I don’t want her to have to say it out loud.

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” I say softly, because I want to protect her from this—from the pain of losing her sister and the heartache of being asked to shoulder a burden no one should have to.

“It’s easy to say that, but she doesn’t see it that way.” Brinley swallows and snuggles closer. “She doesn’t want to keep fighting. This is her fourth round of chemo, and she gets sicker and weaker every time. She doesn’t want to fight anymore.”

I close my eyes and tighten my arms around her. “Has she told your parents?”

“Yes, but she’s a minor, so they get the final say.” She gives a shaky smile. “And my parents . . . She’s their baby, and they don’t understand that this is no way to live.”

I kiss the top of her head and sigh. “I’m so sorry, Brinley.”

“There’s a guy at school who sells narcotics and sleeping pills. She knows exactly how much she needs, but he knows why she wants them. He knows what she’s going to do and refuses to sell to her.”

“So, she wants you to do it?”

“I’m the only one she can ask, but I just . . . I don’t know if I could live with myself if I knew I was responsible for that.”

“It’s not fair of her to ask. That’s too much. She has to know you’d carry it with you forever.”

She turns her face into my chest. “I’ve spent the five years since her diagnosis completely helpless. I keep my grades up and do everything my parents ask of me so they don’t have to worry about me on top of everything else. I visit Brittany as often as she’ll let me, but none of that matters. None of it gives her a break from the grueling nausea, the infections that land her in the hospital, or the bone-deep exhaustion. None of it will give her her life back.”

“It’s not your job to do that—and you couldn’t anyway. You take this all on your shoulders because you love her, because you’re her big sister, but no one but the doctors can fix this, and even they have limits.”

“It’s just so heavy,” she whispers.

“I know. I wish I could help.”

She swallows hard and trails her fingers up my chest, across my shoulders and then down my arm. When she reaches my hand, she laces our fingers together. “You can. Kind of. Brittany told me we make our own family, and I realized you’re that for me. The good kind of family.”

I hold her tighter and say a silent prayer that I can always be that for her.

“Will you hold me like this while I sleep?”

My chest feels too heavy and too tight. Everyone looks at Brinley Knox and sees a spoiled rich girl with the perfect life. They have no idea how much she carries on her shoulders. “I’ll hold you as long as you want.”

Chapter Thirteen


Present day

I don’t look up from my computer when I hear Wren come in for our weekly meeting. “Just let me finish this,” I say, typing out the end of my email.

“Take your time.”

I do look up at the sound of Julian’s voice. We haven’t talked since he left my place last night. I tossed and turned thinking about our wedding and the way he misled me about Ms. Hilton. I stared at the ceiling as I thought about all the reasons I’d agreed to the marriage. All in all, my thoughts didn’t get me anywhere, and I’m not quite sure I’m ready to see him again. “What are you doing here?”

He places a cup of coffee on my desk before settling his messenger bag in Cami’s chair. “I missed you, and I hated that we argued last night.”

It’s more than that, and we both know it. He’s here because Marston’s here.

I push away from my desk and get up to close the door. Everyone around the spa—especially Marston, who’s in temporary residence in the office down the hall—is too invested in what happens with me and Julian, and I don’t need eavesdroppers on top of everything else right now.

When I turn back to Julian, he’s grinning. “I have good news.”

“Yeah?” Relief washes over me. Maybe he does have a reason for being here beyond jealousy. “What is it?”

“My administrative assistant is pregnant, and she’s decided not to come back after the baby’s born.”

Tags: Lexi Ryan Orchid Valley Romance
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