Between his doctor’s appointments, the restaurant, and school, the week had just flown by. But he was determined to make time to talk to Valerie. He figured, as upset as she’d been, it’d be better if he gave her time to cool off anyway. It hadn’t stopped him from thinking of her. Every time he did, he would send her another text or try calling her. Of course, each time had been to no avail.

His mind was made up though. He wasn’t giving up on Valerie this easily. He’d already warned her that if she didn’t answer his calls or respond to his texts he’d be headed to her place. If he had to, he’d camp out on her front porch until she gave him a chance to explain. He’d f**ked up, but his heart wouldn’t accept that it was over. It couldn’t be.

It was a struggle, but he managed to wobble his way out of the restaurant back office and out the back door again. It’d be so much easier if he just called Valerie in the comfort of the office. But he didn’t want to risk the miniscule chance he had of Valerie answering his call. He had some serious begging to do, and he wasn’t about to do it in front of any of his employees or even Sofie or Angel. And he especially didn’t want Sarah hearing. She’d already given him the cold shoulder all week. He knew what she was thinking. While he might be willing to explain to Valerie about his sneaking around with the tutor, he didn’t need the whole world in on his business.

Because of Angel, he already knew Sarah knew about the tutor being at his place. He also knew that, like Valerie, Sarah thought he was full of shit. They all did. Angel had even laughed at his cockamamie excuse. “You couldn’t think of anything better, dude?”

Alex hadn’t bothered explaining, so he knew Sarah was thinking the worst. As sweet as his brother’s little girlfriend could be, she had one mean stink eye. He’d seen it more than once that week.

Finally comfortable leaning against his truck, he tried Valerie again and waited to hear that sweet voice on her voice mail. Her answering was such a surprise he nearly fell over when he tried to straighten up abruptly. He cursed inwardly when one of his crutches fell and his foot hit the ground for an instant, sending the shocking pain up his ankle. He managed to hold himself up with the other crutch.

“Valerie, babe—”

“The only reason I’m even answering your call, Alex, is because I don’t want you coming over to my place. I don’t want to see you ever—”

“Valerie, please,” he said, gripping the phone. “Please, let me explain, baby. That’s all I’m asking.”

“I’ve moved on, Alex. You should too.”

That stunned him silent for a moment. She had to be kidding. It’d only been a week—okay a week and four days since they’d last been together—but she couldn’t be serious.

“Moved on? What do you mean? It’s only been—”

“It’s why I’m answering, Alex. I have a new career now. It’s a different world. I’m meeting new people every day now. Men.” The emphasized word punched him violently in the gut. “Grown-up men who aren’t into games like—”

“Wait, wait,” he said, his insides already warming but fully aware that she thought he’d had a girl at his house just a week ago. He knew she thought he’d been spending all those days he’d been away from her with Gwyneth, and while that was partially true, it wasn’t how she and everyone else were thinking. Damn it. She was just mad and trying to sock it to him. He shook away the image of the smug ass**le at the sushi bar who looked at Valerie in a way that normally would’ve had Alex in his face. Instead, he took a deep breath. “I know you’re not saying that you—”

“I am,” she said with a conviction he’d only ever heard from her when she was absolutely serious.

The fear that had been mounting all week spiked. The fear that maybe he really f**ked things up so badly this time and she was really walking away, suffocated him. Then she continued to pummel away at his heart.

“I shouldn’t have to explain anything to you.” She stopped to clear her throat then took a moment before she spoke again. “But I know you, so I’m just warning you. I don’t wanna have to call the cops if you think you can just storm back into my life the way you always have.”

“You know I will,” he said, squeezing his eyes shut but not nearly with as much conviction as she’d made her statements.

“No, you won’t,” she said, and for an instant, he thought he heard a weakness in her voice, but she cleared her throat and went on. “I’m telling you now so that there’s no doubt. I’ve moved on. If you show up here, there’s a very good chance that I’ll be entertaining someone else. So save yourself the trip because you’ll be the only one asked to leave. I’ll call the cops if I have to, Alex. It’s over. Accept it. I have.”

Accept it?

Accept it?

Was she being serious? He’d been so staggered it took him a second to catch his breath, but before he could respond, the line clicked and she was gone. He immediately dialed her back, but it went straight to voice mail. He tried again and he got the same thing.

Figuring she must’ve turned her phone off, he knew she wouldn’t see a text from him either, but he had to respond to that last comment even if she didn’t see it until later. So he typed his text out furiously.

You can’t be serious, Z. You have to let me explain.