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Jared working busily in the kitchen caught my eye, and I listened to the pan pop and sizzle with our breakfast. He placed omelets on the table along with a smal stack of mail.

“Anything interesting?” I asked as he thumbed through the envelopes.

Jared paused, eyes narrowing as he read over the handwritten address.


“It’s for you,” he said, sliding it toward me.

The top left corner explained Jared’s expression. It was from Ryan.

By Jared’s expression, I knew it wasn’t good news. “You already know, don’t you?” I said, pul ing out a single sheet of notebook paper.

“I have an idea.”

“Something you should have told me by now,” I accused, scanning the letter quickly.

Dear Ni gh, I w anted y ou to hear i t from me, but don’ t k now how to s ay i t, s o I’ m j us t goi ng to w ri te i t. I’ m not c omi ng bac k to B row n. I tal k ed i t ov er w i th an A rmy rec rui ter and I feel that i t’ s the bes t pl ac e for me at thi s poi nt. I k now y ou better than y ou thi nk I do, and ri ght now y ou’ re feel i ng gui l ty. W el l , don’ t. Y ou’ re happy and that’ s al l that matters to me, and that’ s the truth. I’ m s orry y ou hav e to fi nd out i n thi s s tupi d l etter, but ev ery thi ng happened k i nda fas t and I di dn’ t hav e ti me to c al l . Tak e c are of y ours el f, Ni gh. I’ l l thi nk about y ou ev ery day .

Ry an The letter slipped from my hands and fel to the floor, quiet and slow. The numbness was unexpected but welcome; I knew the guilt that would soon wash over me would be unbearable.

“He left.”

Jared touched my hand. “Claire call ed. He’s doing wel .”

“Claire’s gone? ” I wailed, standing up from my seat. Anger was always preferable to pain. Jared took a step toward me, but I stepped away from him. “You didn’t even let me say goodbye to her! To either of them!”

Jared’s eyebrows moved in. “He wanted to do this, Nina. You couldn’t have stopped him, anyway.”

“But you knew it was happening,” I said softly. “You should have told me.” The lack of sleep was already wearing on me, and my body felt heavy. I didn’t have the energy to be angry.

My eyes drifted to the letter on the floor. “This is my fault.”

“Nina, no.”

I nodded. “I did this. I broke his heart, and he couldn’t stay here,” I shook my head. “I should have left him alone. He’s going to die out there.”

“Ryan made his choice,” Jared said.

His dry tone was hardly convincing. He had a right to be angry, watching his fiancé anguish over the man she was meant to be with. To Jared, Ryan being Claire’s Taleh meant that I belonged to someone else, and I used that to drive Jared away when I thought being with him meant putting his family in danger. My bril iant plan had been enough to drive Ryan to join a war halfway across the world. No matter what Jared said, or how much he hated to see me upset, he wasn’t sorry to see Ryan go.

Angry as I was, the only one to blame was me, and we both knew it.

I shook my head. “I have to get going. I have to get those documents faxed by eight.”

Jared sighed. “If I had told you, what would you have done besides worry?”

I pul ed my purse over my shoulder. “I don’t know,” I said, pul ing out my cel phone. I scrol ed through the address book until I found Ryan’s number, and then held the phone to my ear. As I expected, his voice mail immediately answered.

The sound of his voice made my insides wrench, but when the beep cued me to speak, my temper kicked in.

“I need you to call me. call me right now, I mean it. I just got your letter and you can’t do this. You just can’t. You’ve got to call me so we can figure this out. Please.”

Jared took the phone from my hand and let it slowly close. “He’s not going to get that message, Sweetheart.”

“I had to try,” I said, opening my purse for him to drop the phone inside. “Someone had to.”

Jared touched my arm. “He’s the safest enlisted man in the Army, Nina. He has Claire.”

“And how is that going to work, exactly? Has Claire joined the Army?”

Jared smiled. “No. We’ve talked about this. She’s keeps an eye on Ryan the same way we were al owed to train. We have connections.”

“That’s not the point.”

“I know,” Jared said, opening the door.

I didn’t kiss him when I passed through the door, or when he opened the passenger side for me as he always did, or before he left me for the driver’s seat. He didn’t attempt to apologize, which he only did when he felt he was right. Knowing that infuriated me further.

“I’m sorry you’re angry,” he said.

I glared at him. “That’s lame and you know it. You didn’t tel me Ryan had enlisted in the first place! You didn’t let me say goodbye to Claire! Sorry I’m angry….” I muttered the last words and crossed my arms, settling into an unyielding foul mood. When Jared didn’t reply, I peeked at him from the corner of my eye. He was trying not to laugh.

“This is not funny, Jared!”

His mouth immediately flat-lined. “I didn’t say it was, you’re just,” he shook his head as he pul ed to the curb of Titan Mercantile, “trying to be angry, with a series of annoyed expressions on your beautiful face; it’s amusing—I’m sorry.”

“Stop being sorry, and start being…I don’t know! Sorry!”

A corner of Jared’s mouth rebel ed and turned up slightly before he straightened it again. “Have a good day.”

I slammed the door, beyond trying to have an argument with him. At times it was maddening how in love with me he was.

I took a few steps toward the building and then stop. I returned to the Escalade and sighed. Sheepish, I opened the door. “Are you coming in?”

“Not today,” he smiled.

Jared had spent endless hours at Titan Mercantile as a child, and it was his least favorite place to go with his father. It didn’t help that the other employees stared at him as if he were a zoo animal. They couldn’t figure our relationship out, although most of them knew that Jared was Gabe’s son, and my security.

Seeing Gabe shadow my father was just another day at the office when my father walked the hal s, but now that it was apparent that I needed protection, who also happened to be my fiancé, it began more than one string of rumors about my family.