It’s the only way I can help him. So I take a deep breath and close the door behind me.

14

Robert

When I wake up, my body knows something is wrong. Anna isn’t next to me, and the bed feels cold without her.

I stretch, and listen for the sounds of her getting ready. Sounds I’ve grown used to. I don’t hear the shower running. She must be in the kitchen—maybe cooking breakfast. Maybe she’ll be wearing nothing but one of my shirts. I think it’s my favorite thing to see her in, ass barely showing beneath the shirt, just waiting for me to haul it up and see what’s underneath. And damn, I love what’s underneath. Yes, love.

It hit me like a ton of bricks the other day, that this little lawyer crashed into my life and stole the one thing I’d never thought I’d actually give away. My heart.

I’m a cliché.

I pull on a pair of pants and head down the stairs, but I don’t hear any of the telltale sounds of cooking. The entire cabin is quiet. Not quiet, silent. Anna isn’t in the kitchen, and I know she’s not in the bedroom. The hairs on my arms raise and I head to the back door to look. But she’s not there. Something in my gut knew that I wouldn’t find her there. There’s an absence of her presence in the air, like she’s completely gone.

Sudden, pure fear rolls through me and I feel nauseous. I look at the calendar and I feel sick. Today was the day. The final day of our deal. I’d been so engrossed in her, so in love with her and the little life we’d carved out that I’d forgotten that it was so soon. Pushing open the door to the cabin, I see what I already know that in my gut: Anna’s truck is gone. She went back to the city. And I know she didn’t go back to suck up to my father. Not after everything we learned about each other.

Another wave of sickness rolls through me. She went back to tell him she couldn’t find me. To tell him that it’s over. She’s giving me the freedom that I took. Because Anna has the biggest heart of anyone I know, she knew I wouldn’t let her go alone. That I’d insist she complete the deal and get what she’s owed. So she left. I’m already climbing the stairs and changing my clothes before I’ve even made the decision to go. But of course I’m going, because I love her, and I’m not going to let my father destroy her. She belongs with me, here, and if she doesn’t want that she at least deserves to get back the life she lost. I’m not going to stand in the way of that.

I grab my keys and hop in my truck. There’s only two hours between me and the woman I love, and that’s two hours too many.

I hoped I’d never have to see my father’s office building again, but here I am. Nobody even questions the fact that I walk through security without a pass, they know who I am. They probably know that my father is looking for me. And I worked here enough years to be recognized. Anna is already here—I saw her name in the visitor log. She only checked in a half-hour ago. If I’m lucky, my father is busy today and hasn’t even had a chance to see her yet.

But I’m not lucky. She’s not in the waiting area, and I ignore my father’s secretary and her shocked face as I push past her and down the hall. There’s anger boiling in my gut now, because I can already hear the yelling.

“You’re telling me that you saw him? That you had him and you’re not bringing him in? You stupid bitch, what do you think I’m paying for? Where is he?”

I can’t hear what Anna says, but it’s not the right thing.

“Tell me where he is,” my father bellows, “or I promise, it’s the last thing you’ll ever do in this town.”

Yanking open the door to his office, I step inside. “No need to shout, Dad, I’m right here.” I’m doing my best to keep my anger under the surface, but it’s not working. Anna whips around in the chair she’s sitting in, shocked to see me.

My father freezes, stunned into silence. But he recovers after a second. “Well, it’s about time. I’m sure Miss Collins told you how long I’ve been looking for you.”

“Why?”

“Why?” My father sneers. “Because you’re my son, and I need you here.”

I have to tighten my hands into fists to keep from rolling my eyes. “Dad, I’ve never shown interest in helping you run this business. And despite the fact that I’ve told you this—repeatedly—you’re not getting it. How does it not sink in that if I go to the trouble of completely removing myself from the grid just to get away from you that I want nothing to do with you or this business?”

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