“I think…” I replied.

Graham scooped Talon into his arms, and I swore his excitement lit up the whole house. “She just took her first steps!” he exclaimed, swirling Talon in his arms as she giggled at the kisses he was giving to her cheeks. “You just took your first steps!”

We both began jumping up and down, cheering Talon on, who just kept giggling and clapping her hands together. We spent the rest of the evening on the floor, trying to get Talon to take more steps. Every time she did, we cheered as if she were an Olympic Gold Medalist. In our eyes, she was exactly that.

It was the best night of my life, watching the man who loved me love his baby girl so freely. When Talon finally fell asleep that night, Graham and I headed to his bedroom and held each other before sleep overtook us.

“Lucille?” he whispered against my neck as I snuggled myself closer to his warmth.


“I don’t want it to be true, but I want to prepare you. There’s going to come a time that I let you down. I don’t want to, but I think when people love each other, they sometimes let each other down.”

“Yes,” I nodded, knowingly. “But I am strong enough to lift myself back up. There will be a day that I let you down, too.”

“Yes,” he yawned before pulling my body closer to his. “But I’m certain on those days I’ll somehow love you more.”

The next morning, I was still on my high from Graham and Talon. That was until I went into work. Mari sat in the office at Monet’s Gardens with her fingers laced together as she examined the bookkeeping binders. Normally she handled the paperwork side of the business while I handled the front of the house. She was good at what she did, too, but when I walked into the office that afternoon, I could almost see the heavy cloud sitting over her.

I knew exactly what Mama would’ve said if she saw her baby girl in that moment.

Overthinking, again, my Mari Joy?

“What is it?” I asked, leaning against the doorframe.

She looked up at me, her brow knitted, and leaned back in her chair.

“Those are pretty much the most words you’ve said to me since I—”

“Moved back in with your ex?”

“My husband,” she corrected.

We hadn’t really spoken since the Parker situation exploded and she moved back in with him. I avoided all conversation about it, because I knew she’d made a choice. That was one thing about Mari—she overthought everything, but when she made her final decision, she followed through. There was nothing I could say to make her leave the monster she was currently sharing a bed with.

All I could do was patiently wait to piece her heart back together when he destroyed her—again.

“What is it?” I asked, nodding toward the paperwork.

She shook her head. “Nothing. I’m just trying to figure out numbers.”

“It’s not nothing,” I disagreed, walking over to the desk and sitting across from her. “You have that look about you.”

“That look?” she asked.

“You know, your worried look.”

“What are you talking about? I don’t have a worried look.”

I gave her an are-you-seriously-trying-to-say-you-don’t-have-a-worried-look look.

She sighed. “I don’t think we can keep Chrissy on staff.”

“What? She’s great. She’s actually way too good—better than both of us. We need her. I was actually going to talk to you about giving her a raise.”

“That’s the thing, Lucy, we don’t have the money to give her a raise. We hardly have enough to keep her here. I think it’s best if we let her go.”

I narrowed my eyes, confused by her words and certain they had been tainted. “Is this you or Parker talking?”

“I’m my own person, Lucy, with a college degree. This is me.”

“She loves her job,” I told her.

Mari slightly shrugged. “I like her, too, but this is business, nothing personal.”

“Now you sound like Lyric,” I huffed. “All business, no heart.”

“She has heart, Lucy. The two of you together just never really worked.”

I cocked an eyebrow, flabbergasted by Mari backing up Lyric. “She left her child, Mari.”

“We all make mistakes.”

“Yes.” I nodded slowly, still confused. “But a mistake is spilling milk, burning a pizza, missing an anniversary. Walking out on your newborn child who was in the NICU for weeks? Staying gone when the child is fully okay? That’s not a mistake—that’s a choice.”

She grimaced. “I just think it’s odd how involved you are with it all. I mean, you didn’t even know Graham, and it’s clear that you and Lyric have your issues. Why make things worse? It just doesn’t make sense. It’s not normal.”

“You could get to know her more too, you know. She’s your niece, our niece. We are throwing her a first birthday party next weekend…maybe if you come, you’ll understand.”

“We are throwing her a party? We? Don’t you see how that’s weird? Lucy, she’s not your daughter.”

“I know that. I’m just helping Graham—”

“You’re living with him.”

“You kicked me out!”

She shook her head. “I didn’t kick you out exactly, and I definitely didn’t push you into his home. Your heart did that.”

“Stop,” I said, my voice growing low as a knot formed in my stomach.

Mari gave me her knowing stare. “Lucy, I know you’re falling for him.”

I blinked away some tears that were trying to fall. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You have no clue what you’re talking about.”

“You’re making a mistake. He was with Lyric. She’s your sister,” Mari exclaimed. “I know you live by your emotions, but this isn’t right.”

I bit my bottom lip, feeling my anger building. “Oh, right, because you are the world’s most knowledgeable on what a relationship should look like.”

“A relationship?” she hissed. “Lucy, you’re not in a relationship with Graham Russell. I know this will hurt to hear, but I get Lyric when it comes to you. You’re too much like Mama. You’re too free, and freedom can be suffocating. If you settle down, don’t settle for him. He’s not yours to love.”

I didn’t know what to do. The burning in my chest was so painful. I parted my lips to speak, but no sound came out. I couldn’t think of the words I needed to say, so I turned around and left.

It didn’t take long for me to find myself in nature. I headed to my favorite running trail, took a deep breath in, and let a heavy breath out before I started to run. I ran through the trees, allowing the air to slap against my skin as I ran faster and faster, trying to rid myself of the hurt and confusion.

Part of me hated Mari for the words she spoke, but another part wondered how right she was.