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“No. And here’s fair warning: that is not a topic of discussion. With you. Or anyone else.”


“Never thought I’d be happy to hear you say ‘no comment’ and mean it. Warms the cockles of my cold PR heart, McKay.”


“You’re a riot. What else?”


“The PBR is picking up your transportation expenses. You’re in New York now?”


“Yeah.”


“I can’t get you to Wichita directly—”


“Book me into Omaha. I left my truck there. I’ll drive to Wichita.”


“Done. What day you wanna leave?”


“Today. As soon as possible.”


Ava stared at him with shock.


“The event isn’t for another couple days.”


“I’m aware of that. But there are other things I need to take care of first.”


Elroy sighed. “Fine. Contact me when you get to Kansas. And I don’t gotta remind you no press unless you’re escorted by a PBR media liaison.”


“I get it. I’ll keep in touch.”


“Good.” Elroy hung up.


Chase returned to the bedroom and picked up his bag.


“You’re leaving? Just like that?”


“Yep.”


“No discussion. No yelling, no hashing it out?”


“What is there to hash out? You knew I’d be gone the second the PBR called me back. Getting my bull ridin’ mojo back was the only reason we were even traveling together.” Chase held out his bag. “This is my life, Ava. Not this.” He gestured to the fancy digs surrounding them.


“You told me there were more important things in life than being a bull rider.”


Chase looked her in the eye and said, “I lied.”


Although it pained him, he shouldered his equipment bag and walked out.


Chapter Twenty-Eight


Ava had been mindlessly staring out the window, crying and wallowing in self-recrimination, when her phone buzzed. Hoping it’d be Chase, she answered without checking the caller ID. “Hello.”


“Ava Cooper?”


“Yes. Who is this?”


“I’m calling on behalf of Nina Beal, senior VP of Montieth Associates. Nina is requesting an in-person meeting with you regarding a possible audition for a new sitcom slated to start production next week.”


Why were they calling her directly? “This request was approved through my agency?”


“Marnie Driscoll was contacted and gave us this number.”


This was Marnie’s way of giving Ava full responsibility for declining the audition. “What is the in-place date for the meeting?”


“Thursday. One o’clock. At the Burbank office.”


Looked like she’d be home sooner than she’d planned. “That will work.”


“Good. We look forward to seeing you then, Miss Cooper.”


A casting call. For a new sitcom. She could throw herself into familiar work for the next year and put this summer behind her. Chase had been right about one thing, they both needed to get back to their real lives. And for her, that mean a major overhaul of the way she’d been living. She intended to make changes across the board and start with a clean slate. In both her professional and personal life.


She blew her nose and hoped she didn’t sound as if she’d spent the last two hours bawling when she dialed her parent’s home number.


“And to what do I owe the pleasure of a phone call from my beautiful daughter?”


“Heya, Dad. I just wanted to talk. I know it seems like the only time I call you is when I want something.”


“Do you want something?”


“No. Well, maybe. I want to ask you a question.”


“Shoot.”


“Does it bug you that I don’t take an interest in Dumond Racing? That every time you’ve asked me in the past decade to come to a race or hang out at an event I’ve said no?”


Silence. Then, “I know you’re busy.”


“That’s not an answer. Be honest.”


“Okay, as long as you asked, yeah, it does bug the crap out of me. It’s almost like you’re embarrassed that your dad is a former grease monkey.”


“I’m not embarrassed. God, I’m embarrassed for myself for being so oblivious to anyone’s feelings but my own. You raised me better than that.”


“No kidding.” He paused again. “Ava, what is this really about?”


His voice was so soft and gentle, more tears fell. “I’ve had a lot of time to think over the past couple months. I’ve watched my…friend come to terms with family issues and I saw a lot of myself in him. I realized I haven’t been a good daughter, or a good sister, or even a halfway decent supporter of Dumond Racing. I’m so mired in my own stupid, petty problems that I’ve let important things slide. Important people.” She sniffled. “You are important to me Dad, and I love you. And I’m sorry for acting like such a brat. But I can change. I want to change.” She took a deep breath. “Can you forgive me?”


“Of course. And I will let you make it up to me in two weeks when you attend the Dumond Racing Team trials at Breakwater Speedway. I’ll warn ya. Lots of media. Oh, and your brother is in charge.”


“I can handle it. I’m looking forward to it.”


“Good. Although, in all fairness, I’ve gotta point out that you ignore your mother’s business just as much as you do mine.”


Ava laughed. “Well, she’s next on the apology chain.”


“I’m right here, sweetie, so there’s no need to go through this twice.”


“Am I on conference call?”


“Of course. I’m tired of hearing about your life third or fourth hand,” her mother chastised.


“Yeah, so why don’t you tell us firsthand how in the devil you hooked up with a bull rider?” her father prompted.


She tried to keep things light lest she start bawling again. “I take offense to your term ‘hook up’ Dad.”


“You know what I meant. Start talking.”


“I met Chase McKay in Wyoming through Ginger Paulson. I traveled with him on the rodeo circuit for a few weeks and he came to New York with me.”


“Bull riding is a damn dangerous job.”


You don’t know the half of it.


“What’s he like?” her mother asked. “Because I’m sure the pictures in the papers don’t do him justice. He looks buff. Mysterious.”


“Oh, for the love of God, Eileen, really? This is the direction you’re taking this conversation?” he demanded.


“If your father is offended by the graphic details you want to share with your mama about that hot cowboy’s attributes, we’ll kick him off the line.”


Her dad snorted. “As glad as I am you called, Daughter, this is where I hang up.” Click.


Her mother snickered. “Too easy. Now. Spill your guts because this Chase guy. He’s the one, isn’t he? That’s the reason you’re keeping him to yourself.”


Just like that, Ava broke down. She wished she could crawl through the phone line onto her mother’s lap. “I never thought I’d find someone like him. He’s the best friend I’ve ever had and he drives me crazy. He’s bossy and so sweet that I melt whenever he touches me even when I want to scream at him. I’m so in love with him it’s scary. And funny. And pathetic. And what the hell am I gonna do?”


“Does he feel the same way?”


“He says he did, until… I don’t know how to explain because it still doesn’t feel wrong to me. I think he’s overreacting, but he’s pissed off. And he just left.”


“Tell me what happened.” After she finished, her mother said, “Hmm,” not in a good way.


“What?” Ava blew her nose. “Am I a spoiled brat who doesn’t think of anyone but myself?”


“Sometimes. But as human beings, we’re all like that. I understand why he’s upset. You took something very personal and intend to turn it into something public without consulting him. So he’s questioning your motives, and he probably fears you’ve been acting with him this entire time.”


Ava felt like she could throw up because Chase had said that very thing. “I wasn’t. I love him. I told him I love him. And he took off anyway.”


“Isn’t that callback from the PBR what he’d been waiting for?”


“Yes, but—”


“This is his career, Ava. You, of all people, should understand that. If the situation were reversed? If your agent had called during the fight? What would you have done? Taken off, the same thing Chase did.”


“Don’t be so sure about that.”


Silence. “Really? Well, that’s new. Tell me about it.”


Ava talked about what she’d seen and experienced over the last few weeks and how it’d changed her, not only personally but career-wise. It felt good to bounce ideas off her mom, because she defined savvy businesswoman.


“I’m proud of you, Ava. I’ve always been proud of you even when I didn’t understand your love of show business. But I’m happy to hear you’ve figured out you’re more than an actress and want to try other things within the industry. I’d be happier yet if you asked to come to work for me.”


Ava laughed and sniffled. “No way. We’d kill each other.”


“Probably. Anyway, I’m also happy that you found your other half.” Her mom got quiet for a second. “My life would be hollow without your father in it. Having a successful career is great, but being in a loving relationship is even better. So back to the Chase issue…”


“What should I do?”


“Give him time. Don’t call him, don’t text him, don’t IM him, don’t email him.”


“Mom. I don’t think playing games will work.”


“Oh, this isn’t a game. This is a way to show him what a big hole his life will have without you in it. You’ve been joined at the hip for almost two months. Let him miss you, sweetie. Let yourself know what it’s like to really miss him.”

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