“I want to know who’s funding it.”

Swal owing, he frowns. “Look, Ms…?”

“Cantrel . Dori Cantrel .”

His eyes widen and understanding dawns. “Oh. You’re her sister, I assume?”

I nod and he purses his lips, laying a hand on my arm.

“While I can certainly appreciate your wanting to know that information, I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say.” I glance towards the house. Reid is inside, assisting with the kitchen demolition. Has he told his attorney not to tel me anything? And if so, why? “How can that be? I’m her family. I have a right to know.”

His look is placating, which makes me want to scream. “I understand your feelings, Ms. Cantrel , I assure you. And there are copious details of the trust that I can divulge, if you’d like. In fact, I’d encourage you to come by my office you’d like. In fact, I’d encourage you to come by my office sometime next week perhaps so we can discuss those details—but the identity of the donor is restricted information.”

“How is that possible?” I know I’m not going to get anything from him, and my frustration mounts higher with every composed rebuff he offers.

“Our client wishes to remain anonymous.”

“But… why?”

“I’m afraid I can’t answer that.”


Reid exits the back door, glances around and catches sight of us speaking. “Can’t, or won’t?” I ask while staring at Reid, who hasn’t moved. Chad fol ows my gaze and sighs, compressing his lips again—a perfect analogy for the fact that I won’t get anything further out of him.

I don’t know what game this is, including the questionable twist of fate that put Reid on my Habitat project again. His eyes shift from his attorney to me and he remains frozen at the door. Did he think I wouldn’t research that trust, wonder where it came from and who was behind it? I’m torn between intense gratitude for what he’s done for Deb and crushing terror of how easily it could end. And then I do the only thing I can do with this jumble of information.

I turn and leave.

Chapter 49


Wearing the same bewildered expression she wore this morning when she turned and I was there, and with the same tone of voice, she says, “Reid?” from the opposite side of the stil -closed screen door, making no move to open it. Her dog stands next to her, staring at me with—I swear—its eyebrows knit in aggravation. “What are you doing here?”

I want to be exasperated with her, angry even, but I can’t.

What comes out is the thing that built and ran through my head al day, but without the fire. Like al that’s left of me are these smoky whispered words before I dissipate and blow away. “I’ve come to ask how you do it. How you feel what I know you’re feeling and then walk away like that.”

“How do you know what I feel?” she returns, but she can’t be angry either. There’s surrender in her tone, and I focus on nothing but the hum of it, threading through her armored words to find me.

“Open the door, Dori.”

She shakes her head slightly.

“Are you alone?” I ask and she nods, and I tel her again,

“Open the door.”

She reaches towards the inner handle and pauses. “Did you do it? The private room for Deb?” I nod once. “Why?” My hands bracket the doorframe and it’s al I can do not to fal to my knees, standing here looking at her and knowing that this is it, this is my one shot and there may not be another. She’s strong and she’s stubborn, and if I can’t get her to admit how she feels, she’l be lost to me. “Dori, open the door. Please. And I’l explain whatever you want me to.”

Her fingers brush over the lock and it clicks, but she doesn’t move to push the screen door open, so I do. I step inside and let it close behind me, and our eyes link as I reach back and blindly shut the solid door, too, and turn the bolt. “Come here,” I say, reaching for her, and she sways towards me, bracing her smal hands on my chest. Keeping me at arm’s length, in the most literal sense.

“Why? Why?” she asks, and I’m struggling to comprehend how this could threaten her.

“Why did I do it? Because I love you. There’s no other motive—I real y am that simple.”

Holy shit. I just told her I love her. There’s no going back.

Nothing to do but own it. But there’s the crux of the matter—

I want to own it.

Her eyes are ful and her mouth trembles. “What do you mean, you love me? And what about when you stop? What then? What happens to my sister then?”

My hands are at her shoulders, tracing her arms and cupping her elbows as they bend to my need for her. “I think love is a fairly self-explanatory emotion. And I don’t plan to stop. But there’s no stipulation. The trust Chad set up for your sister is life-long and has nothing to do with what I feel, or what you do—or don’t do. It can’t be annul ed, if that’s what worries you.”

She starts to cry, tears running slowly down her face.

“Everything worries me. How can you love me? I’m—I’m nobody.”

“How could I not love you?” I insist. “No one has ever affected me like you do. When you told me goodbye last month, I tried to let you go. I told myself it was the best thing for you because you wanted it. But you’re wrong, Dori. I’m good for you even if you don’t know it yet. I know because I’ve never been good for anyone before.” I fight to keep the pressure of my hands on her relaxed and control ed. “You al but lost your sister, and fought through a loss of faith that would destroy most people, and you didn’t fal to pieces.

You manned up when your parents needed you. But just because you’re strong and resilient doesn’t mean you never need someone to be there for you, to take care of you.” I grip her elbows. “You needed me that night at the club.”

She swal ows. “I did. I did need you. But I can’t be that helpless somebody-save-me type of girl—”

“You’re not helpless. In fact you’re the most maddeningly self-reliant girl I’ve ever known—”

“How is that maddening?” she cries, pul ing her elbows from my grip and wrapping her arms around herself.

“Because you won’t let yourself need me,” I say, the words echoing in my ears like the battle-cry of the co-dependent. “Both of us are so good at resisting being control ed, or having any control over someone else, that we don’t know how to need and be needed. Last summer, I let myself believe I could get past what I felt for you, not because what I felt was insignificant, but because I always have. I don’t linger over relationships. Hel , I don’t have relationships. I didn’t realize until I saw you in that club that I was no closer to getting over you than I’d been the last time I’d seen you, three months before.”

I lower my voice and step closer, narrowing the gap between us. “I’ve changed since I’ve known you. Not because you made me into someone else—but because you showed me a path I’d never paid attention to, and I chose to fol ow it. And yes, I’ve asked myself over and over can it be that easy to just choose to be a better man? Can it be that fucking easy? ”

She flinches and I take her hands from where they have her opposite elbows in a death grip, pry them loose gently until our fingers intertwine. “I’l be more careful with that word. I’m not trivializing this.” She raises her eyes, wide and dark and wet. “I know exactly what I’m saying. I’l wait, if I have to wait. I’l do whatever it takes. But I want you, and wil continue to want you, and I should warn you—I don’t see it ending. I’m al in, Dori. And I won’t be holding back this time.”

I’ve laid my heart in front of her like an offering. I’ve made my case and rested it. There’s nothing more to say. We stare at each other, both so silent that I hear her dog’s nails tap arthritical y across the floor to a large oval cushion where it flops down and regards us both with a sigh. Our hands are locked between us, and hope is there between us, too, because she isn’t pul ing away.

Pushing up onto her toes, she presses her lips to my chin and along my jaw. I release her hands to grab her up, wrapping my arms around her while her arms twist around my neck and her fingers shove into my hair. “Reid,” she gasps, her dark eyes on mine. “I do… want you.” My hands slide over her hips and when I lift her, she wraps her legs around my waist and fuses her lips to mine. I moan into her mouth and she responds in kind.

I stride to the stairs and go up, releasing the bottled up need in one long, breathless kiss. I can’t get enough of her.

“Where?” I say when we get to the top. She points down the hal , and I obey, no sounds but the greedy hum from her throat and mine, our mouths working in perfect concert, and the thump of my decisive steps on the ancient floor.

I lurch into her room—watery blue wal s and fish swimming in a school across the ceiling and nothing out of place. Kicking the door shut behind me, I move to her bed and press her down on it. There’s no contemplation or circumspection because she’s pul ing at my shirt and kissing me harder than she ever has and we’re frantic, like it’s been years since we touched each other. Yanking buttons through buttonholes and stretching fabrics and unzipping zippers is al done in the few seconds in between kisses when we come up for air, because al I want to do in this moment is worship her with my eyes, hands and mouth.

Trailing her nails down my back, she arches into me, stil ing the breath in my lungs. She protests when I pul back, but grows mesmerized as my fingers slip over and around and under and through, and I fol ow the path with my lips and tongue. I kiss her stomach, flick the bel y ring with the nail of my index finger, and she gasps.

“Please,” she whispers, and because of what has just occurred to me I’m thinking godfuckingdammit but have enough sense not to say this aloud.

“Dori… as much as I seemed like a man on a mission when I showed up here, I didn’t plan for… I didn’t think…” I rest my forehead against her ribcage. “I don’t have a condom,” I confess.

“There are some in my bag,” she says, so quietly that I barely hear her. I glance up in surprise and her ears go pink. She’s lying alongside me wearing nothing but her cotton panties and she’s mortified that she has condoms in her purse?

“Oh?” I say, reaching to unloop the strap of her huge, familiar bag from the headboard where it’s hooked over the smooth post cap.

“Aimee and Kayla—the quack shack on campus was handing them out last week. They grabbed like a year’s supply and insisted I take some.”

I thrust my hand into her bag and root around amongst al manner of odds and ends, hearing the crinkle of square cel ophane packets when my fingers brush them. I grin, arching a brow. “There’ve got to be at least a dozen in here.” I drop a handful onto her bedside table, watching as the blush spreads to her face and descends down her neck. Her heart hammering beneath my palm, I kiss her.

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