Carrie actually felt sorry for her. “You are getting to be such a cynic, Sophie. How can you say these things?”
“How can you be sure he isn’t with you so that you won’t write the article?” Sophie asked. “Against all odds, you found him. You know too much.”
“Stop,” Carrie insisted. “I don’t want to hear it.” She was finished with this conversation. She tossed the dish towel down on the counter, jerked the Christmas apron loose from her waist, and stuffed it in a drawer. “I’m done listening to you,” she said.
Abruptly, she turned away from her friend, and to her shock she found Finn standing in the doorway.
Sophie cast her an apologetic glance, murmured, “Oops,” and then scooted past Finn. “Hey, Bruce, time for us to leave.”
“But the game …”
“You can watch it from my place.”
Carrie waited until she heard the front door click closed. “How much of that did you hear?” she asked.
Finn had his arms crossed over his muscular chest. His frown compressed his forehead. “I heard enough.”
“Don’t be offended by Sophie. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She certainly doesn’t know my heart.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
“You mean to say you never guessed what caused my change in attitude while we were in the cabin?”
“I …” She frowned. “No …”
“When you first arrived I was determined not to give you a single bit of information, and then you riled me to the point where I said far more than I ever intended. Very clever of you, by the way.”
“I didn’t mean … That wasn’t my intention.” He couldn’t honestly believe that the argument about his mother had been prompted by anything other than exactly what it was. She hadn’t been looking for a way to unearth his motivations so she could share them with the rest of the world. He couldn’t actually believe that, could he?
“Despite my best efforts to keep you in the dark, it was clear you had enough on me to write ten articles if that was what you wanted,” he continued.
Unwilling to trust his words, Carrie shook her head. “I don’t believe you any more than I do Sophie. Are you telling me this has all been a game … you don’t have any feelings for me?” She shook her head.
“Okay, sure. You’re attractive and fun, and for a while I actually thought there might be something between us, but these last few days have shown me nothing permanent will ever come of this relationship.” He looked almost apologetic. “I was perfectly content until you came into my life; I will be again, and so will you. We had a good run, but it’s time we were realistic enough to accept that this relationship isn’t good for either of us. It was always about the article.”
He couldn’t possibly mean what he was telling her. “Finn, please. You’re overreacting. Sophie’s like that. She makes assumptions she shouldn’t. I would never betray your trust. Never.”
He stared at her long and hard. “You’re dying to write the article, aren’t you? You as much as admitted it. An article on me would make your career.”
“I don’t care about that stupid article; what matters to me is you.”
“Then you’re lying.” He wiped his hand across his face.
“I am not lying.”
He exhaled slowly. “Carrie, I saw it on your laptop.”
“What?” She slowly shook her head. “But that was before—” Abruptly, she stopped and sucked in her breath. She’d never deleted the rough draft of the article she’d written while in Alaska. It remained on her computer, nearly forgotten. Finn had used her laptop to check availability with the airlines and his emails. He must have seen it then. “Okay, yes, there’s an article there, but did you look at the date? I wrote that while I was at the cabin before … before you asked me not to publish it.”
Finn shook his head. “We’re in over our heads. This isn’t going to work. Sophie’s comments should be a wake-up call to us both. She knows it, your mother knows it, and for that matter my mother, too. It’s time for us to be honest, Carrie. This relationship is doomed. It always has been.”
“Stop saying that. I’m not willing to give up on us. I love you, Finn.” She threw her heart out to him and waited breathlessly for him to respond.
For the longest time all he did was stare at her. His shoulders sagged, and he released his breath in a long, slow exhale. “I’m sorry, Carrie. I don’t love you.”
“Now who’s lying?” she asked, hiccupping on a half-sob. It felt as if the floor had started to pitch beneath her feet as though she were on board a ship, tossed about in a vicious storm at sea.
“Believe what you want.”
His words hit her with a nearly physical impact. It felt as though he’d reached out and shoved her backward. Despite herself, she stumbled back several steps.
Although she recognized that it would do little good to argue with him, she made the effort. “What about the toaster?” she whispered, hardly able to speak because of the tightness in her throat. She might be able to believe him if she didn’t know about the significance of the toaster. It meant far more to him than an antique. It’d been his way of telling her she was important to him. As important to him as his mother had been to his father.
“Ah, yes, the toaster. That was a rather brilliant move on my part. I didn’t know yet if you’d take my request seriously. I needed to do something that would have an effect on you, and I figured you’d ask my mother about it.”
Her knees suddenly felt like they were about to collapse on her. She needed to sit down, and quickly.
Finn started for the door, briefly hesitated, and turned the knob.
“Take the Christmas present with you,” she called after him, anger coming to rescue her pride in those final seconds.
“Keep it,” he said on his way out the door, as if it meant nothing.
As if she meant nothing.
Carrie didn’t even bother to go to bed that night or the next, sleeping in fits and starts, a few minutes at a time. She sat up on her sofa with a quilt her mother had lovingly crafted for her while she was in college. With its thick warmth wrapped around her shoulders, she tried to digest what had happened between her and Finn, and what would happen next—if anything. Try as she might, she couldn’t make herself believe that the things he said had even the smallest semblance of truth.
At seven Monday morning she tossed aside the quilt, and although she was bone tired, she readied for work. Staring at her reflection, Carrie did her best to disguise the dark circles beneath her eyes, but with little success.
Sophie, who usually rushed into the office five minutes late, was already at her cubicle when Carrie arrived at her normal time. Her friend had left several messages, but Carrie hadn’t answered her phone or responded to text messages.
Sophie didn’t wait for Carrie to remove her hat and coat before she pounced on her, seeking information.
“What happened Saturday night after Bruce and I left?” she demanded. “Why didn’t you answer any of my phone messages or texts?”
Carrie stared back blankly.
Sophie lowered her voice. “I feel terrible that Finn heard the things I said.”
Fearing that if she said one word she would give in to the emotion that threatened to overwhelm her, Carrie simply shook her head.
“You have to tell me,” Sophie pleaded. “Me and my big mouth. I’ll never forgive myself. How could I be so stupid?”
Carrie swallowed against the tightening knot in her throat and gave an offhand shrug. “Apparently, you were right.”
“Right?” Sophie’s jaw dropped several inches. “Right about what?”
Bending over to turn on her computer, Carrie did her best to sound nonchalant and disengaged. “You might as well say ‘I told you so.’ Finn and I are over.”
Sophie’s look of disbelief slowly evolved into a frown. “You’re kidding, right?”
How Carrie wished she was. In answer, she shook her head. “Finn wanted to end it; he basically said the same thing you did, that we could never make it work, blah, blah, blah.”
“Finn said that and you believed him? Listen, Carrie, I was wrong. Before I left I saw the way he looked at you. If a man ever looked at me like that, I’d be willing to give up chocolate and bear his children.”
With all her heart, Carrie wanted to believe that was true, but she wasn’t sure it even mattered. Finn was gone. Nevertheless, she was hanging on to that slender thread called hope, only in her case it was ragged hope.
Sophie pulled out a chair and sat down. “Anyone with two functioning brain cells could see he’s nuts over you.”
“I’d like to believe you, I really would, but he left shortly after you did, and I haven’t heard from him since. Frankly I doubt that I will.”
Sophie stiffened. “Fine, then write that article. He can’t treat you like that.”
Why was it everything went back to that stupid article?
“You’re going to do it, aren’t you? You’d be a fool not to.”
Carrie didn’t need to think about it. Undoubtedly, it was what Finn expected of her. “I don’t want to talk about it.” Instead, she reached for her mouse and clicked on an email.
“You’ve got to write it,” Sophie insisted.
“No, I don’t.”
“Are you off your rocker?” Sophie stood and did a complete three-hundred-and-sixty-degree turn. “Someone call a medic; Carrie’s losing her mind.”
Carrie stopped her friend from making fools of them both. “Don’t you understand that’s exactly what Finn expects me to do?”
“Then give him what he wants,” Sophie suggested. “That way you can both have what you want. Don’t be an idiot, Carrie. This opportunity is one that comes along once or maybe twice in a career. This is your chance to prove yourself to Nash.”
“Because Finn loves me.” It was the only scenario that made sense to Carrie. He had vehemently denied it, but Carrie refused to accept that. For two nights she’d mulled over his words, and ultimately she chose not to believe them. She couldn’t feel the things she did if it’d all been a lie.
“Where is Finn now?” Sophie asked. “Let me talk some sense into him.”
“Sophie—” Carrie really didn’t feel like discussing this now.
“Is he still in Chicago?” Sophie asked, cutting her off.
Carrie shook her head. “He’s gone.”
“Back to Alaska?”
Carrie didn’t know, and so she shrugged. It didn’t matter. She was confident that no matter where he was, Alaska or Timbuktu, he was as miserable as she.
“What happens now?” Sophie asked, showing signs of sympathy. “This is dreadful, just dreadful. I don’t think I can bear it.”