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She was freaking. I didn’t think comforting her would help, so I went the opposite.

I might’ve chosen wrong.

After my words, she couldn’t function. I thought she would crumple, but she just swayed and replied to my questions with one or two words. She mumbled everything. By my fifth bite, I knew nothing could salvage the evening, so I asked for the bill, and we took the leftovers home.

My phone had been buzzing at a regular rate throughout dinner, and after a quick glance, I left them unread. Logan and Mason were waiting like they said they would. The texts were from Graham, and I guessed the rest of his family members, judging by the first few words I glimpsed in each text. There’d been a call by a number I didn’t recognize, and whoever it was had left a message.

I also wasn’t dealing with that at that moment.

We walked inside, and Quincey went off to relieve Emily.

She had taken a car service here, so I ordered another car to take her home.

Me: Seeing the nanny home, then I can call.

Logan: Sounds good. I’m still beating Taylor at video games. Could do this shit all night long.

Mason: We don’t want to hear about your foreplay. Sounds good, Nate. I’m watching tapes.

Hearing a soft tread coming from the back, I put my phone away. Emily came out, her coat already on, and she gave me a sleepy smile. “I fell asleep putting Nova to bed. It’s been a great shift. I almost feel bad being paid for tonight.”

“I ordered you an Uber.”

“Thank you.” She was rubbing at her eyes. “Oh.” Her hands dropped. “Quincey just asked me for my hours. I thought she knew you were paying me now?”

Another thing we needed to have a discussion about. It hadn’t been something I intentionally forgot to mention to Quincey, but now after her little outburst, I was thinking it could simply return to the back burner. No point in adding fuel to this situation’s fire.

“Just tell her that you need to tally them up. I’ll handle it.”

“Okay. I can do that.”

A set of headlights turned down our road, and both of us were guessing it was the car I ordered. She moved to the front door, and I followed her to make sure. When she was off, and the car was gone, I checked on Nova first. She was sleeping soundly and looked like an angel.

Quincey left her bedroom door open, so I moved through Nova’s room to look in on her, too.

She was in her bathroom.

I heard the water running and considered waiting for a moment. But what for?

She was angry. She was sad. She was a mess.

I was being honest.

She also wasn’t the only one with a tragic life, so I didn’t know what else to say to her?

My mounting frustration meant I had an urge to head to the gym instead of my office for a phone call. I would do both because any conversation about Duke would make me want to punch someone. I went back to my room, changed into some workout pants and a tank, and headed downstairs to the gym.

I plugged my phone into the speaker system and made the call.

They each answered just as I threw my first punch at the weight bag.

“What are you doing?” Mason asked.

“I’m working out as we do this call.”

“Nice! Mase, you hear that? We got the alpha asshole Nate on the phone. I love the alpha asshole Nate.”

“Don’t rile him up, or you’ll be flying there to bail him out of jail.”

My grin was faint, but it was there. They were joking, but if Duke had been in the gym, their statement wouldn’t have been too far off.

I sighed before throwing a jab. “Logan. Tell us what happened.”

He started, and I kept throwing punches the rest of the night.

My knuckles were swollen by the time we were done. The skin tore over three of them, and I left that gym with bloodied hands. What a fucking metaphor for the shit that I was living through.



I had an emotional hangover.

I’d been a bitch the night before—the biggest—and Nate was right. He’d been so right. Melodramatic? Plaster my face in the dictionary next to that word.

He even told me he’d gone through things in his own life, and there I was, wailing about my own. I had one controlling father. I didn’t even know all that Nate had gone through in his.

Nate had asked about dancing, and the agent conversation last night. He was right about that, too.

I was getting tired of how right he was all the time. Like, screw him and the saintly horse he rode in on? Then I looked around, and I was on his bed, in one of his bedrooms, in his house, and yeah.

Melodramatic and hypocrite could both be my new labels.

I glanced over and saw it was nearing five in the morning. Nova might already be awake, or she might sleep till seven. I was almost hoping for seven, but I knew that was a long shot. Nate had been up late. I heard him when he came back from the gym.

Or I might’ve seen him because I’d been sitting in the living room, in the dark, spying on him.

After I took a shower, I came out to apologize. Nate hadn’t been around, so I went in search of him until I heard him in the basement gym, and he’d been on a call with his friends.

I recognized their voices by now.

I couldn’t make out all the words, and I began to feel guilty for eavesdropping, so I moved to the living room by the basement door. I kept the lights off, telling myself that I was really just trying to fall asleep.

I was lying, though.

I wanted to see Nate walk by, all sweaty and hot from the gym. He did, and he walked through a ray of moonlight, and I almost slid to the floor in a heap of hormones.

I was all over the place. Sad. Mad. Self-loathing, but I rounded back to my hormones. It was how I started the night, so I was now telling myself that at least I was a well-rounded human being. The meaning of that phrase didn’t fit my personal meaning, but I was still going to cut myself some slack.

Which was something I was proud of because cutting myself slack was not something I’d ever done. Ever. Seriously. Such a perfectionist. Always a perfectionist.

Getting up, I washed up.

I was feeling lazy today, so I slipped on some flowy yoga pants, a tank. Yoga shoes. Padding quietly into Nova’s room, I found her still sleeping. She was curled over, her penguin by her head and a blanket covering one toe. I pulled it off and laid it over her before heading for the kitchen.

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