***

When Sophie and I crawl into bed that night, we're both suntanned and lethargic from the afternoon spent entertaining.

"I'm glad our families met," she says around a yawn.

"Me too."

"What did you and my dad talk about?"

I guess she noticed that I commandeered him all afternoon.

"Mostly we talked about my work. A little bit about my family. Nothing too exciting. Just small talk," I lie.

I won't tell Sophie, but I'd told her father that I'm madly in love with her. She's it for me. I asked for his blessing and told him I planned to spend the rest of my life loving her. He stood there with a serious expression as though he was sizing up not just me as a man, but also my intentions. After a tense moment, he smiled and shook my hand and then welcomed me into the family. Our mid-day fuck was actually a celebratory fuck, she just didn’t know that.

"Let's get some sleep, baby." I tighten my arms around her, hoping to stop any further questions.

Chapter Twelve

Colton

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The following Tuesday at work, I get a series of phone calls from Kylie, then Marta and then finally Beth. I let them all go to voicemail and wonder if all of the women in my life have suddenly gone crazy. I'm meeting with my senior staff today, having a strategy session about trying to turn around the third quarter before the earnings report comes out next month.

When my phone flashes again, I glance down at the screen. The text from Kylie causes me to drop the stack of reports I'm reviewing.

Colton, answer your damn phone! Where are you?!

At the office, what's up? I type out, annoyed.

You need to come get Sophie. Her sister passed away.

Staring at the words on the screen, I try and fail to comprehend their meaning. We'd just spent the weekend with Sophie's family. Becca was fine. She was thin and complained of being tired, but she'd been fine. No. This had to be some type of mistake.

Excusing myself from the boardroom, I tap out a text to Kylie, confirming that I was on my way. I call Marta on my cell while racing down the stairs. There's no time to wait for the elevator, not while my girl needs me.

"Colt, where have you been? I've been trying to…"

"I know. Kylie just told me."

"Oh God, Colton, it's horrible."

***

I drive like a rocket all the way to Kylie's. When I reach her house, I don't bother knocking, I charge my way inside, my eyes seeking Sophie.

Instead I find Kylie in the front room, her expression distraught. "Thank God you're here."

"Where is she?" I bark.

Kylie points to the back of the house. I rush down the hall and find Sophie sitting at the kitchen table looking down at her hands, a now cold mug of tea sitting beside her along with a half dozen used tissues.

The room is silent and lifeless. I fucking hate it.

"Sweetness…" I murmur against the hum of the refrigerator.

Sophie's head lifts and her expression is one I've never seen her wear and one I hope to never see again as long as we live.

Her skin is pale, her mouth is drawn into a tight line, but her eyes are the worst. They are blank and unresponsive – two haunted pools of blue that, despite her silence, scream of pain and trauma so deep my stomach lurches as I fear she'll never be whole again. Becca wasn’t just her sister, wasn’t just her best friend. She was Sophie's twin. It's a loss that I can't even begin to understand.

"Come here, baby." I pull her into my arms and she rises easily, letting me pull her to my chest.

She buries her face in my throat and sobs.

I clutch her tighter, hating that she's in pain and I can't do a fucking thing about it. "I'm so sorry." The words feel hollow and so inadequate, I want to swallow them back down the second they leave my mouth. I want to ask what happened, but I know now is not the right time. So instead, I let her cry, holding her tightly against me and muffling the sounds of her crying with my suit jacket.

A few minutes later, her sobs quiet and I smooth her hair back away from her face. "Can I take you home?"

She nods and lets me take her hand and lead her out to the car while Kylie watches from the doorway with a sad, wistful look.

When we arrive home, I dismiss the household staff. Vacuuming and polishing crystal vases suddenly seems far less important. I lay Sophie down in my bed, where she curls into a little ball, hugging my pillow against her. I take her cell phone from her purse and call her father.

"Mr. Evans?" My voice breaks and he makes the sound of a muffled sob on the other end.

"Colton, how is she?"

"She's in bed right now. Hasn't spoken a word yet." I wish I had better news to report, but it's the reality of the situation. "I'll take care of her, sir."

"I know you will."

"What happened? Becca seemed fine when she was here…"

I learn that when Becca returned home Sunday, she complained of mild swelling and pain at the site of her port catheter. Within hours, a fever had spiked and they rushed her to the ER. The doctors began antibiotics for an infection that was roaring, unchecked through her system. Within hours of being admitted to the hospital, she'd slipped into a coma as the aggressive infection took full advantage of her weakened immune system.

Her reduced health had contributed to the problem – and the deadly infection had a direct line of access to a vein in her chest, courtesy of the port installed to make her cancer treatments easier.