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“Thank you, Josie. That means a lot to me.”

“Anytime. I know how lonely this road we walk can get, and with everything else going on with you…” Her words faded, and she grinned. “I just want you to know if you need a friend, you got one in me.”

I took in her words and held them tight. I needed a friend more than anything lately.

Home is healing.

“I’m so sorry,” I stated, nodding in the direction of her tattoo. “For your three hearts.”

“Thank you. That means a lot to me. How many for you?”

I took my next breath slowly. “Seven.”

“Oh, honey…” Her hands landed against her heart because she knew. Any woman who’d ever lost a child knew of the hollowness that remained within the soul. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay. I’m fine.”

She frowned. “You’re tired.”

“Yes,” I whispered, taking my next breath even slower. “I’m tired.”

She pulled me into a hug. A tight one that I couldn’t break away from even if I wanted to let her go. I fell into the comfort she brought me, and I held her back for her three hearts as she honored my seven.

The simple feeling of not being alone washed over me as I held Josie tightly.

As she embraced me, she softly spoke. “Ellis.” She pulled away from me and wiped her own tears as she smiled and signed my way, “I would’ve named the last one Ellis.”

“And they would’ve been beautiful.”

“God. I bet they would’ve had Harry’s eyes,” she said, laughing slightly as she shook her head, thinking of her husband.

“And your smile,” I signed.

She grinned, and that made me happy.

“It’s just hard, that’s all. Autumn was able to give Finn the one thing he always wanted, the one thing I couldn’t, without even trying,” I explained. “It’s like they are living my fairy tale. They are getting my happily ever after.”

“Yeah well, there’s one major issue with their storyline.”

“And what’s that?”

“She’s not you. She’ll never be you, and they cannot steal your happily ever after. It’s yours, after all. Just because it didn’t come to you the way you thought it would doesn’t mean that it’s not on its way.”

I heard her words, but believing that I’d find a happy ending when I was trapped inside my own horror story was almost impossible to do.

We sat on that bench until the sun and whiskey had faded away.

When she offered to walk me home, I declined, knowing it was out of her way. As I walked through town, I noticed Jackson leaving The Silent Bookshop, and his eyes locked with mine. He was giving me that same frown from earlier with his hands stuffed deep into his pockets.

I gave him a smile, and he shook his head. Deep breaths. I gave him a tiny frown, and he slowly nodded. Yes, yes, that feels right.

He didn’t want my fake expression, but the true one. The one that I never allowed myself to express in public.

He took a step in my direction, and I shook my head slowly, making him stop.

I couldn’t have him near me because he made it seem like it was all right for me to be broken regardless of who was watching. If he came near me, I’d fall apart, and he’d catch me. Then I’d cry. Even though a big part of me wanted that, to feel unleashed, I knew I couldn’t have his comfort. I knew I couldn’t be sad on the streets of Chester with Jackson Emery’s arms wrapped around me.

Too many people would wonder.

Too many people would care.

He lowered his head and turned away from me. He walked off into the direction of his cabin, straight into the shadows of the night.

A chill raced over me, and I knew it was due to him.

Even though we didn’t truly know one another, his heaviness felt so familiar.

Out of everyone in town, I knew my heart most closely resembled the monster who I’d been told was nothing but darkness.

That was what I craved.

I wanted to sit in the dark and be okay with my feelings.

I wanted to bathe in the darkness and let go of the light.

I wanted to be free to feel whatever I wanted to feel without the fear of others’ judgments being placed upon me.

I wanted to be free.

If only for one night…



Mama set me up.

When she called me to say she wanted to apologize for everything that happened at the church service, I should’ve known something was up. She wasn’t one to apologize—she was more one to request apologies.

When I arrived at her house a few days after finding out about Autumn’s pregnancy, and I saw the bright smile on Mama’s face, I knew something was off. I should’ve just stayed at The Silent Bookshop and avoided humans at all costs.

Especially Mama because her loyalty seemed to lay elsewhere.