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Tears prick my eyes as I cover my mouth.

“Sweetie, are you still there?”

“P-passed out or …”

“Still breathing, just unresponsive.”

“Okay … um, I’ll be there as soon as I can get there. Call me when you know more.”

“We will. Safe travels. We’re praying for him.”

My phone drops from my shaky hands. I grab it and swat away more tears while bringing up Abigail Hamilton’s number on my phone.

“Hello?”

“Abigail …” I clear my throat and swallow back the flood of emotions. “It’s Ellen. I need a huge favor.”

“What is it, dear?”

“They’re taking my dad to the hospital.” I shake with silent sobs.

“I’m sorry. What happened?”

“I don’t know. The neighbor found him unconscious in the yard. I need to get on a plane.”

“Oh … do you want me to book you a flight?”

I pinch the bridge of my nose. “No, I … I need you to give me something to be able to get on the plane.”

“I don’t under—oh dear, are you afraid of flying?”

I bite my quivering lips together and nod.

“Ellen?”

“Yes,” I whisper past the knot in my throat. “My mom…” this hurts so bad “…she um … died in a plane crash.”

“Ellen, I didn’t know. I’m … I’ll … where are you?”

“At my office. My car is here.”

“Stay there. We’ll come get you. I don’t even want you trying to drive home. Just stay put. Okay.”

I nod, unable to find another word before pressing End.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Flint

“My back hurts just watching you.” Martin Hamilton laughs, leaning on the fence between our yards.

When I returned from my disaster of a date, I changed into old clothes and got to work cutting back my plants for winter. Anything to avoid the questions I know Harrison will have once he pulls his head away from his phone long enough to really register that I’m home. I wasn’t even gone a full hour. It has to be a new record for the shortest date ever.

“I don’t mind it yet. I suppose I might in a few years.”

“Nah, you’re still a young guy. I’m sure you’ve got more than a few years of back-breaking work left in ya.”

“Martin?” Abigail yells while jogging toward the fence.

“Oh lord …” He grumbles. “I must be in trouble for something.”

“Martin, I need you to drive me to Flint’s office building.”

I sit back on my heels, brushing the dirt off my legs. “No one is there on Sunday,” I say, narrowing my eyes a bit in confusion.

She shakes her head. “Ellen is there. I don’t want her driving home. Her dad’s in the hospital. I need to see if I can help her get on a plane.”

“Get her a flight booked? I can do that, I’ve got—” Martin starts to say.

“No.” Abigail shakes her head, a slight cringe of pain to her expression. “Her mom died in a plane crash. I’m going to have to give her something really strong to even get her on the plane.”

Fuck. Me.

I tug off my gloves.

“Abby, you can’t sedate her and put her on a commercial flight by herself. Are you going with her?” Martin says.

“I’m on call. I’ll figure something out for her, but for now, I need to go get her.”

“I’ll handle it.” I stand.

Martin and Abigail stare at me.

“You’ll handle what?” Abigail asks.

“Everything.” I turn and head toward the house.

They don’t say another word because they know from personal experience that when I say I’ll handle something, it gets handled. No questions. No hesitation.

“Boss,” Amanda answers her phone on the first ring.

“I need two days. And I need you to come get Harry. I’ll tell him to pack.”

“What’s—”

“And I need you to not ask any questions.”

“I’ll be there within the hour.”

On my way to the stairs, I snatch Harrison’s phone from him.

“Hey!” He chases me up the stairs.

“I need sixty seconds of your undivided attention.” I continue to my bedroom to throw some clothes into a bag.

“Fine. What?” He plops down on my bed.

“Ellen’s dad is in the hospital. I’m taking her to see him. I will be gone for two days. Amanda is coming to get you. Pack enough for two days. Don’t forget clean underwear.”

He knows the drill. She’s watched him for me several times before when I’ve had other emergencies to handle.

“Is he going to die?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why are you taking her?”

“Because I’m connected and she needs some special help getting there.” I hand him his phone, palm the back of his neck, and kiss his forehead. “Be good. I love you.”

*

Ellen

Lori calls me back. The hospital wouldn’t tell her anything because she’s not family, so I call them. It was a stroke. They’re still trying to figure out the cause, and they don’t know yet if he’ll need surgery.

I feel numb everywhere except my stomach. There, I just feel painfully nauseous.

How did I go from having everything to having nothing? I had two parents who loved me—who loved each other. I had a husband who adored me. We had a tight circle of friends. We were adventurous. I lived a dream more grand than most ever dare to dream. In twenty-four months, I lost it all—except my dad.

After two years that nearly broke me as a person, a wife, and a friend, I gave Alex his divorce, loaded up a moving truck, and drove to Minnesota over three days.

No friends.

No family.

Just a job offer at a hospital.

It’s fine. I didn’t think I needed anyone until today when life kicked me on my ass, and I realized the best I could find was a colleague who could write me a prescription.

The elevator door dings. I wipe my swollen eyes, grab my purse, and sling it over my shoulder. I jolt to a halt when Flint appears at my door.

I glance at my phone. Where is she?

Keeping my head down so he doesn’t have to stare at my bloodshot eyes, I murmur, “I thought you were Abigail.”

Please leave. Please leave. Please. Please. Please.

His shoes come into view a few inches from mine.

“She sent you,” I whisper.

“No. I sent me.”

“Why?” I want to look at him, but I can’t.

“Because you need to get to Massachusetts quickly and I can do that for you.”

“I don’t need a hero.” I brush past him, taking the stairs to the main level with him right behind me. The tears come in unrelenting waves as I run toward the front doors. I don’t know what I’m running from.

Flint?

Fear of getting on a plane?

Fear of losing my dad before I get to see him again?

As I push through the front door, a strangled sob breaks free, followed by two arms around my waist. Flint turns me toward him. My knees buckle, and he lifts me up like a child. I wrap my arms around his neck and drown in grief and fear.

In long, controlled strides he carries me away. I don’t let go, not even when he lifts me into the back of a vehicle. It starts to move, but he’s still holding me. I don’t know who’s driving. I don’t care.

“Open your mouth,” he says.

I hiccup on my sobs as I open my eyes that are already swollen to the point of pain. “Why?”

Before I can object, he shoves a dropper into my mouth.

“Yuck!”

He pulls my head into his neck and rubs my back.

Flint force feeds me this nasty liquid three more times before the vehicle stops. I’m tired … or dead. I don’t know but I feel even more numb than I did before—and lifeless, yet I can hear voices, I just don’t register what they’re saying. When I blink open my eyes, I see a few people, and wide open space and … a small plane. Panic tries to overtake my body, but everything feels slow to react.

Just when I start to wiggle in protest, Flint shoves more nasty shit down my throat and something like earmuffs press to my ears. Muffled echoes and … Chopin’s Nocturne No. 2 in E-Flat Major is all I hear. I close my eyes. My fingers feel the ivory beneath them. It’s so beautiful … like I’m dancing … weightless … and that’s when I see my dad. A measuring tape draped over his neck.

“Elle, bring me my pins, please.”

I hand him the blue cushion and spin in circles with my red hair flowing behind me as Chopin plays from the turntable. The gentleman being fitted for a suit grins at me in the mirror.

“She’s going to break all the boys’ hearts,” he says to my dad.

“That she is … just like her mama.”

“I’m going to marry my prince, Daddy.”

“Only if I deem him worthy, my little princess.”

I twirl around some more. “I’m going to play music, Daddy.”

“I know, darling.”

I stop and watch my daddy shift the man’s suit a little this way, making a mark in one place, pinning material in another place. I love watching my daddy, and I love watching the men in the mirror grin at me and smile in admiration of the suits my daddy makes for them.

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