As for her, well if she was having doubts about leaving, she’d face those without letting him complicate things.

He held out an envelope.

Her paycheck for the kayak trip, which was just about double what she’d expected. She gaped at the total. “TJ, it’s too much.”

“No, it’s not.” His warm but fathomless gaze met hers. “It’s your cut of what we made. Your disk with all the pictures was a huge success. I have no idea why none of us ever thought of having a photographer around sooner. You made that trip a success, Harley. I wish you’d go on more. I think you know that.” His smile held things that only made her cracked heart ache all the more. Her resolve about handling it the way she had took a further hit when he tilted his head toward the door, silently asking if she wanted to go outside.

He opened the door for her and lightly touched her back as he guided her down the porch steps. By silent, tacit agreement, they walked around the side of the house to stand at the top of the bluff at the end of the yard. They were surrounded by a 360-degree vista of sharp, rugged mountain peaks that Harley never got tired of looking at. The moon was high, casting the landscape in that iridescent pale blue glow she loved so much.

They stood there and just watched the night. Or she did. She was looking at the silhouette of the mountains and he was looking at her. “You’re staring,” she finally said.

“Yeah. You’re so goddamn beautiful you make it hard to breathe.”


“Don’t what?”

“Don’t…make my knees wobble.” She pressed her fingers to her eyes, then dropped her hands and turned to him. “I realize my change of heart must seem sudden and ridiculous given the mixed…sexual messages I’ve sent you over the past few weeks, first at Desolation, and then in my house. And then, um, on the river as well.” For two nights running, thank you very much.

He arched a brow at the list of places where they’d gotten quite intimately acquainted with each other’s body parts. “You forgot the closet.”

“Right, the closet.” As if she’d really forgotten. She’d never forget any of it. Chances were those memories were going to highlight her sexual fantasies for years to come. “My point is…”

“You’re done. You’re over it.”

“It’s not that.” As if she could be over it, over him. “It’s that I can’t play anymore.”

“What does that mean?”

She stared up at the inky black sky, littered with stars sparkling like diamonds as far as she could see. All her life this wide, huge, gorgeous sky had given her escape and peace, and she wondered where she’d find that escape and peace once she left there. Wondered if Colorado would fulfill her the same way. “I should have stuck with my instincts, that I’m not cut out for this. If I’m going to leave here, I have to go with my head and heart clear.” Although it was probably already too late for that.

“I know,” he said very quietly. “You can’t let an old crush get in the way of your dream.”

She felt her throat tighten. “You’re more than some old crush, TJ.”

His eyes looked dark, so very dark.

“You are,” she whispered. For so many years, she’d thought of him as big and bad and impenetrable. Invulnerable. But in fact, he wasn’t a superhero. He could be hurt. She’d managed that. She hadn’t expected to be able to, and the ache in her chest spread. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have started something I couldn’t finish.”

“There were two of us in this,” he said. “And I’m a big boy. I knew what I was getting into. And let’s be very clear. I wanted to get into it.”

She met his steady gaze, saw the truth in it, and so much more that her throat nearly closed up. She knew he deserved more of an explanation. But could she admit that she was falling and falling hard? What good would that do either of them? She’d get over him. She had once before. She’d find her happy.

She would. Somehow. “I hope you have a great trip, TJ.” She knew her eyes were suspiciously bright, that her voice was shaky. “I hope it’s a good one, and that you find-” She’d been about to say happiness. After all, the mountain fueled him, made him feel alive.

But he’d told her he thought maybe she did that for him.

Truth was, he did it for her, too. She swallowed hard, and knew by the flash of emotion in his gaze that she’d given away her own feelings in hers.

“Harley,” he said softly. “Don’t do this.”

“I have to. If I don’t, then…then I won’t be able to go.”

He just looked at her for a long moment, and she couldn’t maintain, just plain couldn’t hold it in, and a lone tear escaped.

At the sight of it, a small sound of frustration came from deep in his throat as he gently rubbed his thumb over her cheek. “Doing as you want shouldn’t make you cry, Harley.”

She sucked in a breath, which made it sound like a sob, but she shook her head and forced a smile. “It won’t…I’m fine. I just…” God. “I’ll miss it here, you know?”

He didn’t say anything to that, just looked at her as his thumb made another swipe.

“My parents are leaving. And Skye, too. She wants to transfer. So…”

“So nothing holds you here,” he said softly.