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“Did you sleep?” I asked Bex, who was bouncing to a tune in his head.

“Yeah,” he call ed. “I was al prepared to tend to your early morning psychotic episodes Jared keeps talkin’ about. I’m disappointed.”

“Wel , I’m not,” I said, retreating to the shower.

A night without the dream didn’t make sense. We had been by the office; I had even spoken briefly to Kim about the dreams, and…nothing.

Whatever it was, I had to believe the nightmares were over. Sleeping al night in Jared’s arms without waking up screaming and soaking the sheets with my own sweat was definitely something to look forward to. I was even more excited for him to come home.

“Did he call ?” I asked, tightening my belt as I descended the stairs.

“No, but Cynthia did.”

“Oh? Did she say why?”

“I don’t know, Nina. Maybe because you haven’t spoken to her in three weeks? She starts noticing when she runs out of charity events to keep her busy.”

“Okay, okay,” I said, picking up my phone.

“Good morning, Darling,” Cynthia said before the first ring finished.

“How are you?”

“Busy, busy. Why don’t you come over for dinner tonight? I haven’t seen you in…you know I don’t remember? How ridiculous. Come to dinner. Six o’clock.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“See you then, Dear.”

“That was quick,” Bex said, sliding two eggs from the spatula onto my plate.

“Thank you. And it always is. She’s not one for lengthy phone conversations.”

Bex replied with a nod. He was becoming so much like Jared—not one for many words, but it was obvious what he was thinking just by the slightest change in his eyes. Not that a child of Lil ian’s would be any different, but I was so proud of the man Bex was quickly turning into. He made me feel just as safe as Jared or Claire, and he was one of the kindest people I knew.

Bex was a constant reminder of the night Shax’s henchmen tried to capture me in Lil ian's home, and the subsequent months I spent without Jared. Every time Bex was around, each time someone mentioned his name, the sound of Harry Crenshaw's vertebrae snapping resonated in my mind. Bex kil ing anyone seemed so impossible, but I knew better than anyone that impossible didn’t exist.

The ride to Brown was long. Each passing minute of each class was an eternity. Even lunch seemed to drag on. The clock demanded my attention within minutes of the last time I had looked at it. Normal y the irritation surrounding me would be unbearable, but catching up on lost sleep seemed to help.

“Is that a no?” Beth asked, nudging me.

“Huh? I said, realizing I had missed a large chunk of the table conversation. We sat in our usual spot at the Ratty, with one chair remaining empty in honor of Ryan’s absence. It was then I noticed a second chair was also empty.

“I said have you heard from Kim? She wasn’t in American Public’s class. She’s not here. I tried her cel , but got her voice mail.”

“No, I haven’t,” I said, glancing around the Ratty. “Not since this morning.”

Beth frowned, leaning against Chad, as she always did when she was unsettled. “She never misses class.”

Our lunch table was relatively quiet after that, making the minutes pass even more slowly, if that were possible.

The afternoon seemed like an eternity, and by the time Bex dropped me off at the front entrance of Titan, I was crawling out of my skin.

Sasha seemed the likely target to vent my frustration, but she wasn’t in. Annoyed, I rode the elevator to the third floor, settling on Grant as a second choice.

“Afternoon, Peanut,” Grant call ed from his office.

“Piss off.”

Instantly, I felt better.

“If you didn’t own the company, I would fire you for insubordination,” he said with an amused grin.

“Insubordination requires disregard of a command. I simply responded to your greeting,” I said, stopping abruptly at my office door.

“Is that what you had in mind?” Grant asked, shoving his hands in his pockets, oozing with pride.

“I….” I stumbled over the words, reading the letters once more.

Nina Grey Acting CEO Jack Grey CEO “It’s barely dry,” Grant said, teetering back and forth.

I looked out the closest window, and anywhere else in the room other than the door to hide my expression.

“It’s fine,” I said, pushing past him, and shutting the door before he could speak again.

Taking a deep breath, I let my body melt into the door. The office stil smell ed of mahogany, wood polish and the slightest hint of tobacco. It was as if the room had frozen in time the second he died. I could almost hear him talking loud and authoritative on the telephone.

I walked across the room slowly, noting the pictures of him with members of Congress, plaques, a coat of arms, and degrees adorned the wal s.

To my disgust, the large painting of my mother and me stil hung between the two large windows over-looking Fleet Rink.

“That’s going to have to go,” I said, col apsing into Jack's large, black leather chair.

The stack of unopened envelopes was my first order of business, and then I read my company emails. Bored as I was, at least it kept my mind from Jared and the time. Just as the sun began to set, my cel phone chirped.

“Hey Bex,” I said through a yawn, “almost done.”

“Wel that’s good news, Sweetheart,” Jared said.

“Hi!” I said, my voice far too high to feign anything but elation. In reaction, I leaned over to look out the window to the street. No black Escalade.

“You’re not coming home tonight, are you?” I said, deflated.

“On the contrary. I wil be home at ten. Is that too late for dinner?”

The road noise should have given it away, but I had expected to be disappointed. “Where are you?”

“On the road,” he said.

I sighed. “Do I need security clearance for that answer?”

Jared laughed. “I’ll tel you al about it when I get home. Bex tel s me you had a good night’s sleep last night. Is this true?”

“It is. No bad dreams.”

“I look forward to watching you sleep the whole night through, then.”

“See you soon,” I smiled.