“Hey, Dad.”

“We have news.”

“You’re kissing Mom. I think I know the news.”

Her dad smiled. “More than that. We’re moving back to the city.”

“San Francisco?”

“Yes,” her mom said with a broad smile. “San Francisco.”

“Together?” Harley asked.

Her mom leaned back into Harley’s dad, and they exchanged soft smiles. “Yes. Surprised?”


Her mom smiled and hugged Harley. “I’m happy, Harley.”

Well, that was good. Happy was good. Harley wished she could find the State of Happy herself, but she hadn’t been there since TJ had been deep inside her body, his name tumbling from her lips as he’d-


She forced a smile and gestured to the loud crowd in the living room. “So this is what, a good-bye party?”

“Pete wants us to work for his catering business,” her mom said. “You remember Pete.”

“We went to school together,” her dad reminded Harley. “He wants us to run the shop. Your mom will be cooking.”

“I’m so excited,” her mom said. “There’s a lovely apartment over the catering shop. Lots of windows. It’s part of the agreement, which makes it free. We just told Skye, and she’s talking about coming, too, maybe transferring to a school down there.”

“It means no rent,” her father said quietly, his eyes meeting Harley’s, making her breath catch.

They were leaving the place they loved, for her. So she wouldn’t have to help them anymore, so she could get on with her own life. Her throat tightened. “Dad-”

Her father covered her hand with one of his. It was big, warm, and callused from years of hard work. He gently squeezed her fingers. “It’s a good thing, Harl. For all of us.”

Her mom’s smile was warm, her eyes wet. “You’ll come visit. We’ll have room for you. And for Skye. We’ll be able to meet our own bills every month.”

“Mom. Dad.” She looked into their faces, needing to see a sign that it is what they really wanted, not something they felt they had to do. “I’ve never minded helping you. I don’t want you to leave just because-”

“Not just because.” Her father hugged her. “It’s not just about us being a burden to you. It’s that it’ll give us back our lives. And more importantly, give you yours. You’ll be able to finish your internship.”

“Then you’ll go off to Colorado,” her mom said, beaming, “and become that big, fancy research biologist. You’ll be the first Stephens to have a real job, an important job. But most importantly, you’ll be free to do as you want.”

Harley swallowed hard. Right. Freedom to do something she loved. She’d lined it up, and it was in sight. The job. The big move. The life she’d dreamed of.


She squeezed her eyes shut and voiced the thought that had been haunting her for days. “What if I’m no longer sure?”

“Oh, honey.” Her mom stroked her hair. “If there’s one thing you’ve always been, it’s strong as hell; mind, body and spirit. You’re sure what you want. All you have to do is admit it.”

Harley thought about those last words as she wandered through the party. Did she know what she wanted? Did she really know?

She headed for the food spread out on a huge table in the living room, figuring that might help. She was trying to balance a full plate and a full drink when a hand reached out to help her.


Though she’d worked at his garage twice in the past few days, he hadn’t been there either time, having been at a business conference in South Shore. They hadn’t spoken since she’d tried to kiss him and failed miserably. “Hey,” she said softly.

“Hey right back at you.” He lightly tugged at a strand of hair. “You caught me all up at the garage. Thanks.”

She hadn’t been sure he’d even want her there. “I didn’t know if you-if I-” She let out a breath. “If you don’t want me there anymore, I’ll understand. I-”


She forced herself to stop talking and breathe.

“The job is yours as long as you want it,” he said.

Relief and guilt swirled in her gut, and she set her plate down, suddenly not hungry. “I don’t know how to do this, Nolan.”

“How to be friends? That’s easy enough. We call and say hi just because. We go out to lunch. We talk, smile…” He touched the corner of her serious mouth.

She blew out a breath. “You’re going to make this easy on me.”

“On both of us,” he agreed. He took her drink and set it down. “Now come on. This is my favorite song. Maybe we’re not going to be kissing, but we sure as hell can be dancing.”

They danced for three songs, and when Harley spun off the makeshift dance floor and grabbed a soda, still smiling, she nearly plowed right into TJ.

He was wearing jeans and a soft, black sweater with the sleeves shoved up his forearms, looking big and bad and sexy as ever, and…

And she wished that she’d waited a few more days before taking a stand to protect her heart. She could have been with him, could have spent a few long, very hot nights together, and it would have given her memories for a lifetime.

But it was too late for regrets. They’d both made choices that were taking them away from there and from each other. His choices were far more temporary than hers, and he’d probably always be back, but never to stay.