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“I didn’t want to go home to Mama and give her reason to think the marriage was goin’ south so soon. It was summertime and so I went to my favorite fishing spot. Brought a sleeping bag. Planned to spend the whole night out there. Shocked the shit outta me when Bob showed up at ten o’clock. He’d been all over the place, trying to find me. The man didn’t know what he’d done to upset me; he just knew that he’d done something and he needed to make it right. We’ve had our fair share of rows since that day thirty-some-odd years ago and we’ve always worked it out.” She patted Celia’s knee. “Does Kyle know there’s a problem?”

Celia shook her head.

“I’m sure you don’t wanna go to your brothers’ places or to Harper’s?”

“No. I need some time to think. I’m not being a brat hoping he’ll track me down either.”

Bernice patted her knee again. “I understand. Why don’t you stay here tonight? There’s a TV and a cot in my office. I’ll grab you some grub from the diner.”

“Thanks, Bernice.”

“You’re welcome. But I do have a condition for you staying here. If Kyle does track you down, you listen to him. You talk to him. No hiding, all right?”

Celia had no intention of telling Kyle where she was. “All right.”

Bernice stood. “Be back with your food.”

While Celia ate, Bernice got rid of all the cigarette butts and almost empty cigarette packs to keep Celia from temptation. She texted Kyle that she was babysitting overnight for Hank and Lainie, reminding him to feed the horses tonight and in the morning.

As soon as Bernice locked her in, Celia shut off her cell phone. She stretched out on the cot and watched mindless TV without seeing any of it.

Kyle received Celia’s text message after he pulled into the driveway. He’d been delayed in town later than he’d liked, and something about her message seemed…off.

He unloaded his supplies. Checked cattle. Fed the horses. The house was dark and gave him a weird feeling that this would be his life if Celia wasn’t in it.

Kyle fixed a plate of leftovers and ate over the kitchen sink, just like he’d done in his bachelor days. He checked for more text messages before he got in the shower. He checked for more text messages after he’d plopped on the couch to watch TV.

About halfway through the episode of Top Chef, he noticed a blue light glowing in the hallway. He checked the office and saw Celia had left the computer on. Weird. She always shut it off.

He nudged the mouse and the State of Nevada’s marriage license information Web site showed up on the screen.

He was pretty sure his heart stopped. His gaze took in the papers spread across the desk. Celia had been looking for something and he didn’t need a magnifying glass and a tweed hat to know what she’d been searching for.

And she hadn’t found it because it didn’t exist.

Kyle scrubbed his hands over his jaw. What the f**k was he supposed to do now? Panic like he’d never felt knocked him to his knees. She’d left him. And he’d bet a hundred bucks she wasn’t at Hank’s. He dialed their home phone while he paced in the office.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Lainie.”

“Kyle! What’s going on?”

“Not much. Just wondered what you guys were up to tonight.”

Silence.

Maybe he’d been wrong. Please. Let me be wrong.

“Sorry. Brianna just threw her spoon at her father. She’s teething and being a total pain. She can’t go to bed soon enough for us. We are plain exhausted from dealing with monster child.”

His hopes plummeted.

“So you’re not hiring a babysitter and slipping on your dancin’ shoes once the monster is down for the count?”

Lainie snorted. “I’m in my sweats covered in spaghetti. So…no.”

“I won’t bug you. No big reason for the call. I just wanted to touch base with Hank. He can give me a ring tomorrow.”

“I’ll tell him. Give our love to Celia.”

I’d give her my love too if I knew where the hell she was.

Next he called Abe. Shot the shit. Asked a random question about ATV maintenance. As he said good-bye Abe told him to say hey to Celia.

Strike two. And if Harper was harboring Celia she wouldn’t tell him, so he didn’t bother to call her.

Where the devil could she be?

Kyle checked the bathroom. Her toothbrush was gone. She’d only told him to feed the horses tonight and tomorrow, which hopefully meant she planned to be home tomorrow. He called her and the call went straight to her voice mail.

Not taking his calls. Big surprise.

He wandered back to the office and stacked the papers strewn across the desk. On a whim, he clicked on the history tab to see what online sites Celia had visited. Nevada State government sites today. Ranch supply sites yesterday. Nothing unusual for the last three weeks. Not needing to see anything else, he shut down the computer.

Angry, frustrated, worried, heartsick. Scared. Holy shit was he scared she’d walk away.

Yeah? What are her options? You’re not legally bound to give her anything since she’s not your wife. She doesn’t have enough money to get back on the circuit full-time. She doesn’t have a place to live. After the blowup with her brothers she’d never ask them for anything. Maybe she’ll hit the road with Tanna? Or move to Texas permanently?

The f**k that was happening.

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