At first, she looked confused, then her cheeks flamed red. Her hands fluttered at her waist, as if she didn’t know what to do with them. Brent cursed under his breath, knowing at the moment she was only capable of seeing this as rejection, when he was really doing it for her. She stumbled a little and he reached out to catch her, but she shoved his hands away. “Get out.”


“Just get out.”

He stared at her a moment, wanting to say more, but rationalizing that she might not even remember what he had to say. She wouldn’t want to hear it, either. Having no choice, he turned and left her there, looking stricken. Each step to his car felt more painful than the last.

Chapter Ten

Hayden woke with a scream on Saturday morning when her mattress dipped and shook. She shot up in bed and searched wildly around the dimly lit room for the intruder. I ought to at least be given the courtesy of seeing my murderer’s face before I leave for the sweet hereafter, right? When she saw Story at the foot of her bed, she deflated with relief.

She pushed her sleep-mussed hair out of her face. “What is the meaning of this? Ryan Gosling was about to go full frontal in my dream.” A total lie, by the way. Someone had been about to go full frontal, but it hadn’t been Gosling. Much to her supreme irritation, Brent continued to make appearances in her subconscious no matter how much she tried to banish him from her mind.

“Bah. Dreams never deliver on that kind of thing.” Story eased a hip onto the bed. “He would have pulled down his pants and there would have been a cantaloupe in place of his peen.”

“Hmmm. Either way, its low-hanging fruit.”

“Ooh, funny even before coffee. She’s the total package.”

“Tell it to Gosling.”

“I will.” She waggled her eyebrows. “If he happens to be in Atlantic City this weekend. Which is where we’re going. As in, now! Road trip, motherfu—”

“Get out of my room.” Hayden pointed at the door. “I venture into New Jersey for no man. Or woman. Even you, blondie.”

“I’m not taking no for an answer.” Hayden noticed for the first time that Story was immaculately dressed. Before 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday? Unacceptable. “I miss the ocean. The good weather is going to be gone soon and I’m in the mood for some fun.”

“Then go screw your hot boyfriend.”

“Presently. Oh, I need to tell you about this new thing he did. I had my leg back like this—”

“Oh fine! I’m getting up, you fuck monkey.”

“Works every time.” Story bounded to her feet and fist-pumped. Hayden couldn’t help but smile, excitement starting to wiggle its way through her system. Maybe a weekend out of Manhattan was exactly what she needed to clear her head. She hadn’t given her mother her decision about Stuart yet, had been putting it off as long as possible. If she decided to follow her marching orders down the aisle, one last weekend of freedom seemed strongly in order.

“So what’s the plan? Are we driving or taking the bus from Port Authority?”

“Daniel is driving. If we pack light, all of us should have no problem fitting.”

Hayden froze in the process of putting her hair in a ponytail. “Who is ‘all of us’?” She’d obviously been at a disadvantage waking up to the news and agreeing before the sleep cobwebs cleared completely, because if she’d actually thought about it for two seconds, she would have assumed Daniel was coming to Atlantic City. No way would he let Story out of his sight overnight in a strange place, especially after their little foray into Brooklyn. But his car only held four passengers. Who was occupying that fourth seat? She said a quick prayer it wouldn’t be the one person she wanted to avoid.

In an attempt to take her mind off her thwarted attempt to drunkenly seduce Brent, she’d worked herself to the bone all day Friday and into the wee hours of the morning. Pounding the pavement, arranging meetings with potential donors for her youth charities by day, drawing up proposals by night. If her father’s company, whose name was all over her nonprofit organizations, did tank, money wouldn’t come quite so easily and the kids would ultimately suffer. Hayden wanted the coffers flush to avoid any loss of income or skittish donors at all costs.

Story dragged her from her worry. “It’s just Brent coming.” She winced at Hayden’s expression. “Sorry. Matt’s on shift, and I tried to get Ruby and Troy along as buffers, but Troy surprised her with tickets to Chicago last night to meet his parents.” They both shared a holy-shit chuckle, knowing Ruby would be in all-out panic mode. Probably why Troy, knowing Ruby well, had waited until the last second. “Anyway, we’re going to swing through Queens to pick up Brent on the way.”

Hayden processed that. She’d not only be spending the weekend in Brent’s un-ignorable presence, she would be seeing where he lived. Then sitting in a backseat with him for hours. She wanted to back out, but she already felt too much guilt over leaving her best friend in the dark about Brent. Plus, who knew when she’d have another chance to hang out with the group? Apart from her antagonistic relationship with Brent, they always had a great time together. If she didn’t go, she’d regret it.

“Great. I can be ready in an hour.”

“Hey hey, what’s this?”

“Hmm?” Hayden turned to find Story peering underneath her bed. When she stood, she held up a gigantic men’s dress sock. Brent’s gigantic dress sock, to be precise, obviously left over from Tuesday night. Licking suddenly dry lips, she shrugged casually. “I don’t know. Must have gotten into my laundry by mistake.”

Story snorted. “Nice try, dude. You been keeping company of the male persuasion and not dishing the details?” She examined the sock. “I mean, this thing could sail a boat. The owner must be one big dude.”

Danger zone! Hayden released a high-pitched laugh and snatched the sock away. “Yeah, must be. I wonder if he got one of my pink Hello Kitty socks in exchange.”

Her friend looked at her funny for a second, then shrugged and left the room. “I’m putting on coffee,” she called over her shoulder. “Pack your bags. Atlantic City isn’t going to know what hit her.”

Hayden sank down onto the bed. If she’d been going to tell Story about Brent and Stuart, her perfect opportunity had just passed. Now if she ever found out, Story would be hurt that she hadn’t confided in her. She debated about barging into the kitchen and spilling everything, but decided against it. No sense in ruining their spontaneous weekend with her personal drama.

Later that morning as they turned the corner of Brent’s block, Hayden shifted nervously in the backseat of Daniel’s car, watching suburbia pass by in a blur outside her window. As it turned out, Brent lived in a very nice neighborhood. Mothers pushed babies in strollers, children played baseball in the streets. So far removed from her world of imposing brownstones and roof decks, she liked it nonetheless. Could see Brent walking down the street in this neighborhood with a family of his own one day. Why that thought brought on a wave of melancholy, she refused to examine.

They pulled to a stop in front of a brick colonial house with a porch, manicured lawn spanning the front yard. A woman knelt by some potted plants on the steps, holding a watering can. When she saw Daniel exit the car, the woman waved, a huge smile spreading across her face. She looked Brent’s age and clearly she was right at home in his house. Hayden sat very still in the backseat until Story pulled her door open and nudged her with a flip-flopped foot.

“Who is that?” she asked quietly.

Story followed her line of vision. “Hmm? Oh, that’s Laurie. Brent’s sister-in-law.” She frowned when Hayden released a pent-up breath. “His brother is army. While he’s overseas, Brent helps Laurie with the kids.” As if on cue, two towheaded girls ran screaming out onto the lawn. Brent, wearing worn jeans and a Mets hat, chased after them, roaring like a monster. He grabbed both girls around the waist and spun them in the air while they squealed. One of the girls said something that made Brent throw his head back and laugh out loud. The very picture of domes

tic bliss spread out before her like a panorama of perfection. One she’d always assumed was a myth. One she’d definitely never associated with Brent. When she’d pictured his living situation, she’d imagined him passed out among beer cans with the latest copy of Maxim forgotten on his chest.

Each squealing towhead took a turn laying a kiss on Brent’s cheeks, looking up at him with unabashed hero worship. Hayden’s ovaries stood up and delivered a thundering standing ovation. Whoa. Whoa. Where had that come from? A loud buzzer went off in her head. The kind you hear in movies before a submarine launches a missile. First of all, nice to meet you, ovaries. I’ve heard so much about you. Second of all, fuck right off. You’re not welcome here.

This momentary bout of wistfulness had to be a by-product of her monumental upcoming decision. She’d come to the realization that if she married Stuart, it wouldn’t be the marriage she’d always secretly dreamed of. Coffee and conversation in bed. Holding hands while their child performed in some hokey school play dressed as a carrot. Lazy Sunday morning sex. None of it would be coming true. So now, presented with this Norman Rockwell mind-fuck of a vision, the oversensitive woman inside her, the one stuck at the bottom of the well Hayden had pushed her down, was crying out for help. And she wanted to be rescued by the smiling giant who hadn’t bothered shaving this morning. The one who’d just caught sight of her across the lawn, and was looking at her with a decidedly odd expression that she couldn’t afford to interpret.

At least her ovaries’ intervention had been useful in one manner. She could waste no time putting Brent back where he belonged in her mind. Talk about a timely wake-up call.