The weekend was a blur. She’d done nothing but lie in bed, covers up to her chin. In between bouts of crying. She hadn’t eaten, hadn’t slept. She’d barely managed the feat of dragging herself to the bathroom to take care of the essentials.

Then her mind had sprung into recovery mode. She couldn’t hide in her house forever. People got their hearts broken every day. She wasn’t special in that regard. Life went on. The question was whether she was going to move on or be like she’d always been in the past. Timid. Afraid. Stick her head back in the sand, adopting the mantra of “ignorance is bliss.”

She knew two things. One, she couldn’t continue working for Dash and Jensen. And two, she needed to move. It was an idea she’d entertained in the past, but she’d never wanted to expend the energy to do it.

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Now the letter was typed, and she had the phone number of a local real estate company. It was time to act and to stop being so passive when it came to her life.

Her muscles protested as she hauled herself to her feet. But she pushed back the discomfort, picked up the letter and went back inside the house to get dressed and grab her keys to the office.

Thirty minutes later, she placed the letter on Dash’s desk along with today’s to-do list. She felt a brief moment of guilt for doing this to Dash. He’d never been anything but patient and understanding with her. He was a dream to work for. And quitting abruptly when they hadn’t yet found her replacement wasn’t fair to him. But she couldn’t come in to work where Jensen would be and pretend her heart hadn’t just been destroyed.

She then walked into her office and began packing up her belongings and personal effects.

When she was done, she turned, taking one last glance at the business her brother had built. The place she’d worked ever since graduating college. Yes, she was good at her job. She would have made a damn good partner too. But there were other jobs out there. It was time to cut ties and let go and move on.

Carson was gone. He wasn’t ever coming back. She wouldn’t be anyone’s burden any longer.

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With a sigh, she trudged toward the elevator. In the lobby, she waved at the night guard who looked at her curiously as she hoisted the box she was holding higher so she wouldn’t drop it.

When she got home, she left the box in her car, uncaring if it came in or not. All she wanted was to go back to bed and stay there for a week. Maybe she would. Or at least until word spread about what happened and Chessy and Joss hunted her down.

She should call them. Tell them herself. But she couldn’t make herself do it. There was nothing her friends could do anyway, other than give her a shoulder to cry on and tell her it was okay and that there were other fish in the sea.

Yeah, whatever.

She might not have a ton of experience in love and relationships, but even she knew that she’d never find another love like Jensen.

She walked past the things Jensen had carried back into her house and into the kitchen. She glanced at the bottle of wine on the counter and shrugged. Why not?

She poured herself a generous glass and started for the bedroom when she turned back and grabbed the bottle. It would save her a trip back later, and once she got into her bed, she wasn’t coming back out for anyone.

TWENTY-EIGHT

“YOU mind telling me what the hell this is about?” Dash bellowed.

Jensen looked up tiredly as Dash waved a piece of paper in front of his nose. Jensen was in no mood for guessing games. He hadn’t slept since Friday night. He had a hangover from hell, after doing something he never did. He’d gotten rip-roaring drunk, and he’d stayed that way the entire weekend.

Just more evidence that he was more like his father than he thought. Apparently the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

“Christ, you look like shit,” Dash said in disgust.

“Fuck off,” Jensen growled.

“She quit,” Dash bit out as he put his hands on Jensen’s desk and leaned forward.

He shoved the letter of resignation where Jensen couldn’t help but see it.

Despair blanketed Jensen, suffocating him. Blackness swirled, drowning him in sorrow.

“Don’t let her,” Jensen said bleakly. “I’ll go. I’d never do anything to make her go. I can work out of another office and leave the two of you here.”

“Joss went by her house today, worried sick when I told her Kylie had resigned. Kylie wasn’t home. No one knows where the f**k she is. And she’s put her goddamn house up for sale,” Dash roared. “What the f**k did you do to her?”

Jensen closed his eyes. Tears burned his eyelids like acid.

“I hurt her,” he whispered. “I swore I never would.”

Dash sent him a puzzled look. “Hurt as in how?”

Jensen shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you not let her do this. Tell her I’m cleared out. Do whatever you have to. I’ll clean out my desk today. She can have my office or remain in hers.”

“Jesus Christ, am I even going to have a business after all this?” Dash demanded.

“I don’t give a f**k about the goddamn business,” Jensen growled. “All I care about is Kylie.”

Dash shook his head. “For someone who says he hurt her, I’d say you still care an awful lot about what she does.”

“Of course I care,” Jensen raged. “I love her. I’ll never goddamn love anyone else.”

“Then why the f**k are you here and not over there at her feet begging for forgiveness?” Dash roared back.

Jensen surged to his feet, planting his palms down on the desk. He leaned forward so he was eye to eye with Dash.

“Because some things are unforgivable,” Jensen choked out. “Some things can’t be taken back, can’t be redone. No matter if she forgives me—she likely would. I can’t forgive myself. Do you understand that?”

Dash sighed. “Yeah, man. I get that. But Jensen? Here’s a clue for you. You said you hurt her. What the hell do you think you’re doing now?”

Jensen sank back into his chair and ran a hand through his hair. God, he was so tired. He wanted one night where he wasn’t swallowed by the demons of his past. When he wasn’t seeing his hands around Kylie’s throat or hearing her calling his name.

He just wanted . . . peace. Was it too much to ask for?

But then how could he ever truly be at peace when the woman he loved was gone from his arms?

“Don’t let her quit, Dash,” Jensen said, his weariness evident in his every word. “Whatever you have to do in order to convince her. Do it. I’ll be out by the end of the day.”

TWENTY-NINE

KYLIE patiently sat and listened to the dozen voice mail messages from Chessy, Joss and Dash. She sipped the strong coffee as she sat in the small café in the neighborhood she was house hunting in.

Amazing how much more productive she was when she wasn’t shitfaced drunk from all the wine she’d consumed this week.

The lightbulb had gone on when she discovered she was completely out of wine. Then she’d surveyed the bottles littering her kitchen in disgust. Enough of that already. A week was long enough to wallow in her misery. It was time to get on with the rest of her life.

She cringed when she listened to Dash’s message. Jensen had cleared out his office and would be working out of another. Dash wanted Kylie to get her ass back to work and to call Joss before she lost her mind.

Guilt crept over her. She’d avoided her friends—everyone—for the entire week. She’d listened to the incessant ringing of the doorbell and the pounding. She bet the pounding came from Chessy. She was rather persistent when she put her mind to something. But the alcohol haze had made it impossible for her to do anything more than lie sprawled on her bed staring up at the ceiling, praying Joss and Chessy would give up and go away.

Though her house had gone on the market Monday, it wouldn’t start showing until the following Monday. That—and the realization of how much wine she’d consumed—had given her sufficient motivation to sober up and get her ass out of the house.

She listened to the rest of the messages but winced when she heard Joss begging her to call. There were tears in Joss’s voice. Dash would kill Kylie for upsetting Joss this way. And she couldn’t blame him.

She had to face them at some point. She couldn’t hide forever. Jensen wasn’t an integral component of her circle of friends. He’d mainly become a part through Kylie. So it wasn’t as if she had to worry about running across Jensen when she visited with her friends. She may have lost him, but she’d be damned if she lost her friends too.

Her head ached vilely, the result of all the wine she’d drunk. She could barely even remember the last five days.

What she wanted to do was run by the store, stock up on more wine and then retreat to her house and drink. A lot.

But what she needed to do was text Joss and Chessy and get it over with.

Sighing, she typed in a quick message to both.

I’m ready to come over and spill. Any chance wine could be involved?

She hit Send and set her phone back on the small table. She knew she looked like hell. She’d received more than one cursory stare by the other customers in the café. How was she supposed to look when she’d been dumped by the man she loved and then spent the rest of the week in an alcoholic stupor?

Her phone chimed and she hesitantly reached for it.

Get your ass to my house stat. And yes, wine will be here. Can you come now?

That was from Joss. Before she could respond, Chessy chimed in.

I’m coming right over! Give me fifteen at the most. Joss, you got enough wine or you want me to bring some?

Kylie smiled, some of the weight shifting from her heart.

I’ve got it covered. Just get over here!

She punched in her response and hit Send.

I’m on my way. Twenty minutes, depending on traffic.

She grabbed her keys, downed the last of her coffee and then headed for the door.

She was terrified. She wouldn’t lie to herself about that. The idea of pouring out all of her despair to anyone made her stomach tighten. But she had to remember her promise to herself about being more open with her friends. Her best friends. They weren’t just anyone. They were special.

She drove in tense silence. She’d nearly put her fist through the dash when one of those sappy breakup songs started playing on her satellite radio. Silence, however unbearable, was still preferable to listening to her problems being sung in real time.

Twenty-two interminable minutes later, Kylie pulled into Joss’s driveway and sat there a long moment, mustering the courage to go in. If she didn’t get out soon, Chessy and Joss would both come out and drag her in by her hair.

She made herself get out of the car and walk to the door. She was almost there when the door flew open. Dash. Double ugh. Facing the girls was bad enough. Facing her boss too? Why hadn’t she made it clear to Joss that this was a girls-only event?

Dash’s stare was fixed on her and as she drew closer, he paled.

“He said he hurt you but I thought he meant emotionally,” Dash said through clenched teeth. “What the f**k did he do to you, Kylie? I’ll kill him for this.”

Her hand fluttered upward in an effort to hide the bruising on her throat. But it was too late. Dash had seen the marks on her pale skin.

Joss flew around Dash and plowed into Kylie just as she reached the top step. She wrapped her arms around Kylie and hugged her for dear life.

Kylie glanced up at Dash over Joss’s shoulder to see him smoldering with rage.

“It’s not what you think,” she said in a low voice.

“And just what is it then?” Dash asked in an icy tone.

“Leave her alone, Dash. She’ll tell me and Chessy and then if anyone needs their ass kicked we’ll sic you on it,” Joss said.

Kylie nearly wilted in relief. God she loved her friends. Why had she avoided them all week? She could have been here days ago, wrapped in the love and support of her best friends instead of being at home drunk off her ass, alone and miserable.

Joss took Kylie by the hand and dragged her past Dash and into the house. Dash didn’t look pleased, but he bit back any response and allowed Joss to have her way. Thank God.

“Stay out of our hair for a while, darling,” Joss called back to Dash. “This is girls’ night and the girls’ code is ‘what happens in the circle stays in the circle’ and ‘no men allowed.’”

Dash rolled his eyes. “I’ll be in the bedroom watching TV. But I expect a report later. I’m not letting it drop, Joss. If that son of a bitch put his hands on her, I’ll take him apart.”

“I love it when he gets all alpha,” Joss whispered to Kylie. “It makes me want to go jump his bones right now.”

Kylie groaned. “Seriously, Joss? I just got dumped and you’re taunting me with Dash’s alpha maleness. So not fair.”

Joss’s face wrinkled in sympathy. “He ended it?”

“Hey, no talking until y’all get in here so I can hear,” Chessy complained as the two women entered the living room.

Chessy rose from her perch on the couch and ran over, throwing her arms around Kylie.

“Don’t you ever scare us like that again,” Chessy said. “Joss and I were so worried, Kylie. What happened, sweetie? You look terrible!”

Then she backed away, her gaze drifting over Kylie’s face and neck. Joss and Chessy both gasped.

“Did he do that to you?” Chessy choked out.

Kylie sighed. “It’s a really long story, guys. Can we sit down and open a bottle—or three—of wine? I’m going to need it for this.”

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