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Again, Carrie answered with a lift of her shoulders. “I’ve spent the better part of the last two days and nights going over a variety of scenarios. I have to believe Finn will have a change of heart.”

“You mean he’ll come back for you?”

“No … he won’t do that.” That wouldn’t be his way.

“I don’t understand,” Sophie said, speaking softly now.

“He’s going to regret the lie that he doesn’t care, doesn’t love me, and so he’ll make it up to me the only way he can.”

“And how’s that?”

“He’ll ask me to be the one to break the story on him.”

“Of course.” Sophie vaulted to her feet and clapped her hands. “Of course. It’s brilliant. And you’ll do it, and then …”

“No.”

Sophie froze. “No?”

“No,” Carrie repeated. “I’m going to refuse.”

“Stop.” Sophie planted her hands on top of her head. “This is like a chess game, and I’m losing track of the moves. If he wants you to write the piece, then why won’t you do it?”

“Because if I refuse it will force his hand.”

Sophie scratched the side of her head as though puzzled. “I don’t follow.”

“Finn wants me to publish something about him because it will salve his conscience. It’s the one way he has of apologizing, of letting me know he loves me. But I won’t do it, because it’s the only way I can think to let him know I love him. It’s the one thing I can do to tell him my feelings haven’t changed.”

Sophie sat back in the chair. “You’re losing me, girlfriend.”

It was a gamble for sure, Carrie realized. And until she got word from Finn, she would need to keep silent. There was a chance, of course, that she was completely wrong and she would never hear from him again. For now, it was a waiting game.

The first week of December passed. Long, torturous days in which there was complete silence from Finn. Somehow Carrie got through her and Sophie’s little Christmas gathering. She managed to smile and even laugh now and again. It was a great party, everyone said, and Carrie was grateful she was able to pull it off. The only person who seemed to notice that Carrie’s spirits were low was Sophie.

“I’m having a hard time dealing with this guilt,” her friend confessed. “I feel like I’m to blame. I look at you and I want to cry. You’re so miserable, and it’s all my fault.”

Carrie did her best to reassure her friend. “Don’t worry. These matters have a way of working out how they’re meant to be.” While she might have sounded confident, Carrie was anything but.

Another week of silence followed. Carrie lost weight. Sleep felt like a luxury.

On Friday a few days before Christmas, just before quitting time, the office threw a small party. Carrie was scheduled to fly back to Seattle in the morning, to be with her family, and she was getting ready to head home to pack when she got word that Nash wanted to speak to her in his office.

She knocked against his door and stepped inside. Without looking away from his computer screen, he motioned for her to take a seat.

Carrie complied.

“I just got off the phone with some New York publicity woman,” he said, frowning at her as if seeing her for the first time. “How is it that you know Finn Dalton?”

“Who says I know Finn?” she parried with a question of her own.

“You said you were determined to find him, as I recall.”

“So I did.” She folded her hands in her lap, afraid the trembling would give her away.

“Well, congratulations. It seems you looked under the right rock, because this PR person called to tell me Finn Dalton is ready to let someone interview him. The surprising part is that he requested you, and he claims you already know everything there is to know. He’s requested you write the piece.”

Carrie’s eyes drifted shut. This was exactly the news she’d been waiting to hear. She’d been right. Finn had offered her the assignment. A sense of release and joy rushed through her. He was as much as telling her that he loved her. She pressed her hand to her mouth, fearing she was about to break into sobs.

“I can see you’re pleased. I’d be crying with joy, too. I don’t know what you did, but congratulations. This is one of the biggest coups this newspaper has had in a long time. How soon can you write the piece? If possible, I’d like to have it for the weekend edition.”

“Sorry, Nash, Mr. Dalton’s publisher is going to need to find someone else.”

“What?” Nash nearly came out of his chair. “Is this a joke? If so, I’m not laughing.”

Now wasn’t the time to back down. Carrie had to remain strong. As badly as she ached to give in, she couldn’t do it. “I hate to disappoint you, but you’ll need to find someone else.”

Nash shook his head. “The publisher insists you have to be the one. No one else.”

It was exactly as she’d calculated. “Sorry.” She blinked back tears.

The hard-core newsman glared at her. “Your job is on the line, Ms. Slayton. This newspaper can’t afford to let this opportunity slip by. I’m giving you twenty-four hours to change your mind.”

Losing her job was an aspect of this decision that she hadn’t considered. Carrie swallowed hard and bit into her lower lip. “It won’t matter if it’s twenty-four hours or twenty-four days. I’m not going to change my mind.”

Disgusted, Nash shook his head.

“I’m leaving in the morning for Seattle to see my family.” It seemed her Christmas break would now be spent seeking another job. It was a steep price to pay to prove her love to Finn, but she wouldn’t back down.

“Go have Christmas with your family,” Nash said, motioning for her to leave his office. “But take this time to think about what I said. I’m serious, Carrie. Write the article and keep your job. Otherwise, you can clear out your desk when you return.”

“And if I write the article, what about your promise to me?”

“What promise?”

“Any assignment I want, any department.” He hadn’t said it quite like that; still, it wouldn’t do any harm to press her point.

Nash hesitated and then sighed. “It’s negotiable.”

Sophie was waiting for her at Carrie’s desk when she returned. Her friend had glittery silver tinsel wrapped around her neck like a Hawaiian lei. “So, what did Nash want?”

When she told her about the call from the New York publicist, Sophie leaped up and gave a loud cheer. “This is exactly what you said would happen.”

“This is the way I hoped it would play out.”

“So?” Sophie said eagerly, shifting her arms back and forth, “what’s the next move?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? I thought you had this all planned out.”

How Carrie wished that were true. She knew what she had to do, but the rest was up to Finn.

The next day Carrie sat at the O’Hare Airport gate, waiting to board her flight to Seattle, when her cell chirped. She didn’t recognize the number but saw that it was an Alaska prefix.

“Hello,” she answered hesitatingly.

“Carrie, this is Sawyer O’Halloran.”

“Sawyer?” She couldn’t imagine why he would be calling her, unless something had happened to Finn. She gripped hold of the phone with both hands, instantly alarmed. “Is everything all right? Has Finn been hurt?”

“Yes … He isn’t in the hospital or anything, if that’s what you’re wondering. What happened between the two of you, anyway?”

Carrie relaxed a bit. “You’ll need to ask him about that.”

“You’re joking, right? He hasn’t been himself since he returned from Chicago. I’ve never seen him like this. He disappeared for a couple of days, showed up drunk as a coyote, which is surprising, because he isn’t much of a drinker. He isn’t talking to anyone—well, other than me, but it’s difficult to understand what he’s saying. Furthermore, he isn’t eating or sleeping.”

Carrie exhaled and whispered into the small receiver. “Frankly, I’m not doing much better myself.”

“You two had a falling out?”

“You could say that.”

“Listen, before we go any further, Finn doesn’t know I’m contacting you. If he finds out about this, he’ll have my head.”

“How’d you get my personal phone number?”

“Easy. I waited until he passed out and then checked his cell.”

“He was that drunk?” This didn’t sound anything like Finn. It didn’t make her feel any better knowing that he was miserable. All Carrie wanted was for this foolishness to be over.

“No, he wasn’t drunk, but practically dead on his feet. I don’t know the last time he slept. He kept mumbling something about giving you a shot at what you wanted, and you rejecting that. Don’t know what that’s about, but I figure you must.”

Carrie simply shook her head. “If he wants to talk to me, all he needs to do is call.”

“I’m not telling him that.”

At this point, Carrie suspected Finn wasn’t listening to advice from anyone.

“I have a feeling this all goes back to that article you wanted to publish. The one Finn asked you not to write.”

“I’m afraid so. At first he was adamant I not write the piece, and now it seems he’s had a change of heart. He’s giving me what he thinks I want, but it isn’t. What I want is him.”

The line went silent. “I’m confused. He’s giving you this opportunity because he loves you and you’re turning it down because you love him? Have I got that right?”

“You do.” Her flight was announced, and the boarding process had already started. “Listen, Sawyer, I need to get off the phone, but I want you to tell Finn something for me, if you would.”

“I’m not letting him know we had this conversation. I value my head, which he’d bite off if he got so much as an inkling that I’ve contacted you.”

“Fine, I understand, but if the opportunity comes up and he finds out we chatted, tell him that before I will agree to write a single word, he will need to sit down with me face-to-face; otherwise, it’s no deal.”

“That’s your final answer?” Sawyer wanted to know.

“Yes.”

Carrie disconnected the call and felt better than she had in almost three weeks.

Chapter Fourteen

Carrie’s flight from Chicago landed at Sea-Tac Airport on time. It would be good to be with family over the Christmas holiday. She needed the comfort of their acceptance and love. Not a moment passed when Finn wasn’t in the forefront of her mind.

She exited the plane and automatically reached for her cell, turning it on. Either her mother or father would be waiting in the cell-phone waiting area for her text message. As soon as it powered up, she typed in the information that she’d landed safely, and then headed toward the exit signs. She would go directly to baggage claim and meet them at the curb for pickup.

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