New Release + Blog Tour + Excerpt + Giveaway: Raise Your Game by Cassia Leo

From New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo comes a sexy, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy of epic proportions. RAISE YOUR GAME is LIVE and available on all platforms!

Title: RAISE YOUR GAME
Author: Cassia Leo
Release: November 12th

About RAISE YOUR GAME

Logan Pierce, New York’s most notorious womanizer, has just offered me a raise and promotion…if I pretend to be his wife.

But neither of us anticipate his brother’s attempts to sabotage our fake marriage.

Now, Logan and I are a team, and it’s game on. This raise is going to cost me.

From New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo comes a sexy, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy of epic proportions.

Logan Pierce is our new CEO and he needs me as much as I need him.

Logan has thirty days to save Close-Up magazine from bankruptcy. And he needs me to pretend to be his wife at a couples’ retreat, where Logan and I will attempt to snag an exclusive celebrity scoop that will revive our readership. If I can help him save Close-Up, he’ll inherit his father’s publishing empire and I’ll get promoted to editor, with a very healthy raise.

Logan has thirty days to prove to his father that he’s not just a bad boy womanizer. And I have seven days to prove my investigative journalism skills to Logan at a couples’ retreat meant to revive the sex lives of dissatisfied married couples.

This raise is going to cost me.

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Enter the Facebook Giveaway

 

Check out an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

LOGAN

 

As I slide into the raven-haired CEO of Brunswick Publishing, I hear another squeak.

“Did you hear that? Do we have mice?” asks the muffled voice of a man, his question immediately followed by another squeak from my closet-companion.

I freeze mid-thrust. “Shh. We have to be quiet,” I remind Helen Brunswick as I press her too-thin-for-my-taste body against the back wall of the coat closet, where we are currently celebrating our new partnership.

Helen just agreed to sell the majority share in her failing publishing company to my father’s cutthroat investment firm, Angel Investments. We aren’t really angel investors, and we’re far from angels. My father, brother, and I are highly skilled in the art of hostile takeovers. Though, my technique is much less hostile.

What can I say? I’m a lover, not a fighter.

Helen giggles softly. “I’ll be quiet as a mouse,” the forty-three-year-old CEO says in a babyish voice.

Quiet as a mouse? Is this woman serious?

I shake my head as I thrust into her again. Squeak. Thrust. Squeak. Thrust. Squeak. Rolling my eyes, I realize I’m going to have to take a different approach with this squeaker toy before someone hears her and finds us in here.

No one can find us in here. I’ve been warned a million times by my father and the ethics committee at Angel Investments that I’m not allowed to use my cock to get women to sign on the dotted line. My father didn’t think it was funny when I mentioned that, unlike my older brother Everett, my dick isn’t pointy enough to sign anything.

Coiling my right arm around Helen’s waist, I pull her flush against my chest and whisper in her ear, “Do you like it rough?”

“Oh, yes,” she moans.

“How about we do a little roleplaying. I’m a dirty—but devastatingly handsome—pirate, and you’re a ripe, beautiful maiden. I’ve come to have my way with you before I pillage your town.”

The scenario wasn’t very far from the truth, but Helen didn’t seem to catch the symbolism.

She lets out a breathy chuckle. “You’re so naughty, Logan. I love it. I’ll be anything and anyone you want. Just don’t stop fucking me.”

I tighten my arm around her waist and gently clasp my other hand over her mouth as I whisper, “Aye, fair maiden. I’ll be taking what I want,” I say in an awful pirate accent, keeping one hand over her mouth as I slide my other hand between her thighs. “And what I want is your sweet, sweet nectar.”

And by nectar, I’m referring to the majority stake in your $322 million publishing company.

I rub her swollen bud as she breathes heavily against the palm of my hand. Then, I thrust into her harder, my eight-inch cock slamming into her cervix. She takes this as a cue to begin acting the part of fair maiden—a little too enthusiastically.

This time she doesn’t squeak. This time she screams. And her scream is so loud and high-pitched, I’ll have tinnitus for a month.

“Shit!” I whisper as I frantically pull out of her and attempt to tuck my throbbing erection into my pants.

“I’m so sorry!” Helen whispers as she bends over to reach for the pink G-string wrapped around her ankles.

But the coat closet in the employee break room at Brunswick Publishing is too small, and she can’t seem to bend over far enough. Every time she tries, she grinds her bare ass against the bulge in my pants.

“Hurry up! I hear voices coming,” I urge.

“I can’t reach my panties. You need to get out first!”

I reach for my zipper and pull it up, but it snags on my shirt tail. “Fuck!” I whisper as I try to unzip it, but it’s stuck.

I try yanking the fabric to rip it out of the zipper, but it won’t budge. Now, I’m not only standing in a closet with the bare-assed CEO, I’m also flushed and sweaty, with a waning erection in my pants.

I quickly button my pants and the top button on my suit jacket, but that’s clearly not enough to cover up the indecency below my waist. The fashion police will have to forgive me this once as I button the second button on my jacket, which works only slightly better to cover up the bulge and the bunny-ear of white fabric sticking out of my zipper.

I don’t hear any more voices outside the closet, so this is probably the right time to sneak out. But as I spin around and open the door, I get tangled in a red wool sweater. I try to pull it off me, but the metal hanger comes off the rod and hooks onto my collar, poking me in the back of the neck.

“Shit!” I whisper, contorting my body so I can reach back and remove the hanger from my collar. “Get it off me!”

“Get what off you? Hurry up!”

Somehow, the stupid sweater will not fall away. It’s sticking to my jacket like static cling. Finally, red-faced and feeling as if I’m about to combust with frustration, I throw open the closet door to escape the demon sweater. Standing in the middle of the employee break room is a group of at least a dozen people, all staring at me as I step out of the closet with a semi.

“That’s one way to come out of the closet,” says a male voice that sounds like it’s coming from the back of the group.

Some of them snicker. Some of the women look crestfallen. A silver-haired man I recognize as the head of acquisitions is staring at me with his mouth agape. One group of three guys near the coffee machine seem to be paying each other—probably making good on a wager of how long it would take me to get into Helen’s panties.

“What are you waiting for?” Helen whispers, clearly still facing the back of the closet. “Hurry up so I can get my underwear on.”

I smile as I softly close the door behind me. “She thought she heard a mouse in there, so I was just trying to help her find it.”

The three guys near the coffee machine chuckle as they continue settling their bets.

Helen emerges from the closet, her raven hair disheveled as she straightens her skirt. “This isn’t what it looks like. Mr. Pierce was merely helping me…reach something up…high…in the… He’s very tall. Very…big.”

An older woman in an ivory pantsuit stares at my crotch and scrunches her nose in disgust. “Have you no shame?”

I cock an eyebrow as I flash the old woman my best seductive smile. “Wanna find out?”

* * *

“To say I’m disappointed with you right now would be an understatement and completely useless,” my father begins as he pours two glasses of bourbon from a crystal decanter in his corner office at Angel Investments. Keeping one drink for himself, he hands the other to my brother Everett. “It is blatantly clear you have no regard for how your actions reflect on the company, and you’ve once again left me with the task of cleaning up your mess.”

“I can fix this,” I say, pouring myself a drink.

“How?” my father demands, unbuttoning his jacket before taking a seat at his desk. “Helen has already been warned by her board of directors that any deal with our name on it will be rejected. And might I remind you, there are a plethora of investors eager to buy them out. Not to mention Ronald just informed me the ethics committee will be reviewing your work on this acquisition.”

Everett takes a seat in the chair across from my father, leaning back with a smug grin on his face. “Yeah, how are you going to fix this, Logan? Going to offer to go down on old Helen this time?”

I chuckle at his barb. “For your information, brother, forty-year-old women are great in bed. They’re just not very easy to bribe.”

Everett rolls his eyes at my reference to the fact that the ethics committee has had to investigate—and cover up—at least four of his acquisitions for suspected bribery.

“All right. That’s quite enough,” my father interrupts, setting his tumbler of bourbon on the desk and expelling a heavy sigh. “You’ve both been caught with your pants down more times than I can count.”

“I’ve never slept with a client,” Everett insists.

“I was speaking metaphorically. I know you’re more like your mother, Everett, about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the head, but do try to keep up.”

I stifle a laugh. “With all due respect, Dad, I hardly think having sex is on par with bribery. One of those is clearly illegal.”

My father narrows his eyes at me. “Some people might think sleeping with someone to get ahead in business is a form of prostitution.”

“And those people have no understanding of the law,” I reply.

My father shakes his head, probably regretting that he forced me to get a law degree. “I’ve given you both more than enough chances to turn away from these unscrupulous tactics. It’s time I do something about it. Something drastic.”

“Cue the ultimatum,” I remark, taking a seat in the chair next to Everett.

My father’s distinguished air of discontent unravels into a devilish grin. “I think you’ll like this ultimatum, son. In fact,” he continues, shooting a glance in Everett’s direction, “I think you’ll both be very pleased. Provided you follow the rules, one of you stands to make spectacular gains.”

Everett cocks an eyebrow. “Could we dispense with the cryptic allusions and discuss this ultimatum you speak of?”

My father chuckles. “Everett, I realize patience was never your strong suit. I understood this the moment you bribed a classmate to be your friend in primary school. You’ve never had the patience to cultivate relationships. You’ve always seen money as the only tool in your box.”

I brace myself as my father turns to me. “Go ahead. Hit me with your best shot.”

“You’re also impatient, Logan,” he continues. “You think your good looks are your key to success. Taking women straight to bed instead of courting them is your only approach. It’s no surprise to me you’re still single at your age.”

I chuckle with disbelief. “I’m twenty-eight. I’m in my prime. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life before you settle down. If we’re going to talk about singlehood reaching its expiration date, you’ve been divorced for seven years. When are you going to get back in the saddle, old boy?”

My father nods and smiles. “Funny you should mention that. I’ve met someone new, and I’ve decided to retire.”

“What?” Everett blurts out.

“What Everett means is…what the hell, Dad?” I exclaim. “We haven’t even met her and you’re suddenly going to retire just so you can be with her? Are you two engaged? Is it… It is a woman, right?”

My father rolls his eyes. “Prissy is most definitely a woman. And not that it’s any of your business, but, yes, we are engaged. As for you two meeting her, I’ve already scheduled a dinner for noon on Sunday.” He pauses to appreciate our slack-jawed expressions for a moment, then continues. “As for the ultimatum… Now that I’m retiring, I’ll need one of you to take the majority share in the company, as I won’t have much time for board meetings once Prissy and I are traveling.”

Everett laughs, setting his tumbler on the desk and combing his fingers through his dark hair as he leans back in the chair. “I accept. Rest assured the company will be in good hands.”

I roll my eyes. “A little quick on the draw there, Everett. You might want to button the snap on the old bribery holster and let him finish. Besides, Father knows I’m clearly the better brother for the job.”

“Better at what?” Everett bellows.

“Oh, I think we know what you’re better at, Logan. All of New York knows what you’re better at,” my father continues, his nostrils flaring with exasperation. “As I was saying, I just struck a deal with Kensington Publishing. I have your uncle working on their fitness magazine division, but I want you to work on putting together a business revitalization plan for their nature magazine, Open Sky,” he says to Everett. “And you, Logan, will be making a plan for their celebrity gossip magazine, Close-Up.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. That rag has dumped on me for years, and now I’m supposed to save them from bankruptcy?” I protest, my voice jumping at least two octaves like a child protesting chores.

Close-Up magazine used to be the most popular celebrity gossip rag on the shelf, until some antiquated marketing tactics and bad management failed to deliver them into the digital age. Now they’ve apparently sold out to my father in a last ditch effort to save themselves from bankruptcy. That means it’s our responsibility to do what their upper management should have done years ago and hope it’s not too late.

Our company doesn’t usually buy out another company with the intention of revamping them. Sure, we will usually pitch that as a good possibility. But most of the time, we break up the company, lay off scores of employees to cut costs, and liquidate all assets before moving on.

But trying to save a company is no small feat. And trying to save a celebrity lifestyle magazine like Close-Up… Well, let’s just say this is not my father’s usual modus operandi. This Prissy woman must be making him soft.

“I’m aware both of these companies will present many obstacles for you two. But I’m certain you’ll rise to the challenge. Whoever’s plan has the most positive effect on the bottom line at the end of thirty days will be awarded the majority share in Angel Investments.”

“Thirty days?” Everett exclaims. “Surely, you must be joking. We can’t do this in thirty days.”

My father drains the rest of the bourbon in his glass then leans back in his tufted mahogany leather chair. “I have faith in you both. Just keep your bribes to yourself, Everett. And you,” he says, glaring at me. “Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t let me down.”

* * *

I enter my office and immediately make a call to beckon my assistant Nora. “Close the door,” I say as soon as she arrives.

She shuts the door softly and turns to face me, her auburn hair framing her eager face as she holds her mobile phone behind her back. “What can I help you with, sir?”

Nora is a great assistant. She wears her hair down to hide the custom-fitted Bluetooth earpiece-slash-microphone in her ear. It records every command I give her, so she can replay our conversations in the event she forgets what she was told to do. I don’t want this conversation recorded.

I tap my ear and say, “Give it to me.”

She doesn’t hesitate as she removes the gel earpiece and places it on my desk in front of me.

“And the phone.”

She places her iPhone next to it.

I quickly snatch it up and power off the phone before I begin. “I have a special project for you, but no one can know about this. Do you understand?”

She mimes pulling a zipper across her lips. “My lips are sealed.”

“Good,” I say, motioning to the chair across from me. “Have a seat.”
 

About Cassia Leo

New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she’s not binge watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

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New Release + Release Blitz + Giveaway: Raise Your Game by Cassia Leo

From New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo comes a sexy, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy of epic proportions. RAISE YOUR GAME is LIVE and available on all platforms!

Title: RAISE YOUR GAME
Author: Cassia Leo
Release: November 12th

About RAISE YOUR GAME

Logan Pierce, New York’s most notorious womanizer, has just offered me a raise and promotion…if I pretend to be his wife.

But neither of us anticipate his brother’s attempts to sabotage our fake marriage.

Now, Logan and I are a team, and it’s game on. This raise is going to cost me.

From New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo comes a sexy, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy of epic proportions.

Logan Pierce is our new CEO and he needs me as much as I need him.

Logan has thirty days to save Close-Up magazine from bankruptcy. And he needs me to pretend to be his wife at a couples’ retreat, where Logan and I will attempt to snag an exclusive celebrity scoop that will revive our readership. If I can help him save Close-Up, he’ll inherit his father’s publishing empire and I’ll get promoted to editor, with a very healthy raise.

Logan has thirty days to prove to his father that he’s not just a bad boy womanizer. And I have seven days to prove my investigative journalism skills to Logan at a couples’ retreat meant to revive the sex lives of dissatisfied married couples.

This raise is going to cost me.

BUY NOW

Amazon | Apple Books | Nook | Kobo | Google Play

Order the Paperback

Enter the Facebook Giveaway

About Cassia Leo

New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she’s not binge watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

Find her on…

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Join Club Cassia

 

New Release + Release Blitz: Temperance by Cassia Leo

 

From New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo comes a scorching hot novella about forbidden passion from the Cards of Love Collection, TEMPERANCE.

Title: Cards of Love: TEMPERANCE
Author: Cassia Leo
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release: November 2nd

About Cards of Love: TEMPERANCE

From New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo comes a scorching hot novella about forbidden passion from the Cards of Love Collection.

tem·per·ance (ˈtemp(ə)rəns/submit) – noun
abstinence, moderation, or self-restraint.

Dr. Leah Grayson is fantasizing about a patient she’s never seen.

Leah has been counseling high-profile addicts for almost a decade, so she’s accustomed to the need for discretion. But her latest client, who goes by the name Mr. C, demands total anonymity. She’s never seen his face, but his deep, rich voice occupies her naughtiest dreams and fantasies.

Mr. C’s sex addiction is threatening to take over his life. The only thing keeping it from consuming him is his twice-weekly one-hour video chat session with Dr. Grayson. Though his webcam is pointed at a nondescript area of his study, her webcam is always pointed at those succulent lips and her long, lithe legs, which he can’t stop fantasizing about. He must have her.
Will Leah and Mr. C submit to their forbidden passion? Or will they practice temperance when a dinner party they both attend presents them with the ultimate temptation?

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About Cassia Leo

New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she’s not binge watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

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Cover Reveal: Cash by Cassia Leo

Today we have the cover reveal for CASH by New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo. CASH is a scorching hot romance about overwhelming passion, dangerous bets, and family loyalty. Preorder your copy now!

About CASH

From New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo comes a scorching hot romance about overwhelming passion, dangerous bets, and family loyalty.

When the board of directors at the Billionaire Club gives Cash Westbrook one last chance to clean up his act, he takes a hard gamble on Kara Langley, the blackjack-dealer-slash-card-counter who rocks his world with a fiery one-night-stand. All he has to do is get her to agree to a little bet.

Okay, a big bet.

If Kara pretends to be Cash’s fiancée and spends the weekend with him at a corporate retreat, successfully convincing the board he’s ready to settle down, he will give Kara one million dollars.

Kara can’t believe her luck. She’s spent the past year, since her father’s diagnosis, struggling to pay his bookies and medical bills. The last thing she needs is to get involved with another gambler. Especially one who runs the hottest casino in Vegas and has a reputation as bad as Cash Westbrook.

If her father’s bookies catch her with Cash, they might accuse Kara of holding out on them. If she wins the bet with Cash, she can pay her father’s debts, pack their bags, and head to Texas for an experimental treatment that may be her father’s last hope.
But she doesn’t expect to find herself falling for Cash. And when it comes to love, all bets are off.

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About Cassia Leo

New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she’s not binge watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

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Join Club Cassia

 

Cover Reveal: Raise Your Game by Cassia Leo

From New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo comes a sexy, laugh-out-loud romance of epic proportions. Check out the cover reveal for RAISE YOUR GAME below!

 

Title: RAISE YOUR GAME
Author: Cassia Leo
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Release Date: November 12

About RAISE YOUR GAME

He rejects her application for a promotion.

She copes by having drunken wall-sex at the company party…with him.

Now he has her right where he wants her.

And he’s going to make her an offer she can’t refuse.

From New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo comes a sexy, laugh-out-loud romance of epic proportions.

Logan Pierce is our new CEO and he needs me as much as I need him.

Logan has thirty days to save Close-Up magazine from bankruptcy. And he needs me to pretend to be his wife at a couples’ retreat, where Logan and I will attempt to snag an exclusive celebrity interview that will revive our readership. If I can help him save Close-Up, he’ll inherit his father’s publishing empire and I’ll get promoted to editor, with a very healthy raise.

Logan has thirty days to prove to his father that he’s not just a bad boy womanizer. And I have seven days to prove my investigative journalism skills to Logan at a couples’ retreat meant to revive the sex lives of dissatisfied married couples.

This raise is going to cost me.

Sign Up for the Release Alert

Pre-order on iBooks

 

About Cassia Leo

New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she’s not binge watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

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Join Club Cassia

 

Cover Reveal + Pre-Order + Giveaway: Break by Cassia Leo

Today we have the cover reveal for a brand new standalone by New York Times Bestselling Author, Cassia Leo. Check out BREAK and pre-order now!

 

Synopsis

A humorous and heartbreaking second-chance stand-alone romance from the New York Times bestselling author of the Shattered Hearts Series.

For six years, she was the only one. My best friend. My kitten. My world. Then, I broke us by getting caught in a web of lies.

Hard to believe, after everything we’d been through, I could do what I did to her… in front of 600,000 people. I doubt she’ll ever believe I did it because I love her.

Three years later, my music career is booming. I have a movie deal in the next comic book reboot. And now the only parent I have left has been given a death sentence. I have to go home, but going home means facing what I did to her.

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Release Alert

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About Cassia Leo

New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she’s not binge watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

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Join Club Cassia

 

New Release + Release Blitz + Excerpt: Bloom by Cassia Leo

The final installment of The Evergreen Series, BLOOM by Cassia Leo, is finally Live! Get it now on all platforms before it goes into Kindle Unlimted May 5th! Scroll down to the bottom to read the first chapter now!

Title: BLOOM
Series: Evergreen
Author: Cassia Leo
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release: May 4th

About BLOOM

The heart-pounding, emotional conclusion to the Evergreen Series from New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo.

Where flowers bloom, love grows.

With Jack determined to correct his past mistakes, and to help me cope with the news about Junior’s murderer, I find myself hardly able to function, my soul weighed down by renewed grief and crippling guilt.

When I confess my sins to Jack, watching the light in his blue eyes go dim with every word I speak, I know I will not soon be forgiven. Maybe I don’t deserve forgiveness.

When I confess my new predicament to Isaac, I’m met with words of comfort and an apology that leaves me reeling with regret.

I am truly my own worst enemy.

But I refuse to give up. With a renewed sense of purpose, I am determined to weed out my destructive habits and bloom into the person and the mother I was meant to be.

 

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Excerpt

Chapter 1
Laurel

Twenty-four years ago

The sun made all the flowers in Mommy’s garden look like they were glowing. I sat down on the grass and dug my fingers into the warm dirt at the bottom of the rose bush. Mommy loves roses. I should pick some for her.
Daddy said Mommy would be coming home today. She’s been gone forever! It feels like she’s been gone for years. Daddy said she’s only been gone a few weeks. But when I asked him how many weeks is a few, he said it was more than I could count and I would learn that later. I can’t wait to start first grade so I can know how many weeks Mommy was gone.
Daddy said she was visiting Grandma and Grandpa in Iowa, but we couldn’t go with her because she’s too busy. She’s taking care of Grandpa. He’s sick.
Mommy takes care of me when I’m sick, too. She makes me chicken soup and gives me yucky medicine and takes my temperature.
I miss my mommy.
But when I reach for the rose to pick one for Mommy, something bites my hand. I scream loudly and start to cry when I see a giant monster tooth stuck in my thumb. Daddy calls my name as he runs outside and picks me up.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” He grabbed my hand and I tried to pull it away, so he just grabbed my arm. “Oh, no. Let me take it out.”
“No! It hurts!”
Daddy put me down on the grass and kissed my hand as he pushed my hair out of my eyes. “I know, pumpkin. That’s why I have to take it out. Can you hold still? I promise I’ll do it really fast. Okay?”

***
Beth

As the taxi pulled up in front of the house, my stomach went rigid at the sight of my coral-pink roses in full bloom behind the garden fence. I trimmed the blooms shortly before I left Portland. In a moment of desperation, I asked Mark if he could trim the roses after the next re-bloom. He was still so angry, he couldn’t even acknowledge I’d asked a question.
I expected to come home to dead roses, which would be a depressing parallel to the state of my marriage. Yet somehow, while I was at a friend’s house, serving my sentence for betraying Mark, he had found it in his heart to care for my garden the way I knew he would take care of Laurel in my absence. I didn’t know if this made me feel more relieved or ashamed.
I reached into my maroon leather handbag and handed the taxi driver a couple of twenty-dollar bills. “I don’t need any change. Thank you.”
He took the money and quickly shifted the car into PARK. “Oh, thank you very much. Let me get your bags.”
As the driver and I exited the car, Mark seemed to pop up out of the garden as if he’d been hiding behind the fence. Our eyes met for a split second, before he bent over and scooped up Laurel. The delicate skin on her cheeks and eyelids were flushed pink, as if she’d been crying, and just the sight of it brought tears to my eyes. Mark whispered something in her ear and she spun her head around, her blonde hair whipping his face.
“Mommy!”
Mark set her down gently and opened the garden gate so she could run to me. I dropped my handbag on the sidewalk and fell to my knees as I pulled my baby girl into my arms.
“Oh, sweetie. I missed you so much. Did you miss me?”
“Mommy, you’re squeezing me too tight,” she complained in that silvery voice that reminded me of wind chimes.
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” I said, loosening my hold on her so I could reach up and brush a glistening tear track from her pink cheek. “Mommy is just really happy to see you. Were you crying?”
She held up her hand, sticking her thumb out to show me a prick of blood. “The roses bit me.”
I chuckled softly, keeping my gaze focused on her hand as Mark stepped past me to grab the suitcases the taxi driver had left on the curb. “Roses don’t bite, Laurel. Roses don’t have teeth. They have thorns. You were pricked by a thorn. It hurts, doesn’t it?”
She nodded her head. “Why did it hurt me?”
My heart raced as Mark stopped just inside the gate, presumably awaiting my answer. “Because, sweetie, roses have thorns to make it harder for other animals and people to hurt them. It’s a defense mechanism.”
She scrunched her wispy blonde eyebrows together. “The rose hurts me so I can’t hurt the rose?”
Mark let out a deep sigh and continued carrying the suitcases up the path toward the front porch.
I laid a soft kiss on the pad of Laurel’s tender thumb. “Exactly.”

***

Present Day

As I recalled the months my mother spent in “Iowa” with my father’s parents, when I was five years old, Jack’s words echoed in my consciousness.
Beth put the baby boy up for adoption… She stayed with a friend during the last few months of her pregnancy… The baby was born on June 16th, and Beth declined to have a sample of his blood drawn for a paternity test… Brandon was adopted by Byron and Dottie Huxley, who moved to Boise shortly after his birth… Brandon had behavioral problems, which were only made worse when Dottie was murdered.
“Laurel, are you okay?”
Jack’s voice sounded distant as I stared at the rustic iron chandelier hanging above the dining table. The sparkling lights ricocheted off the crystal pendants, twinkling in my vision, lulling me into a trance as images of destruction and horror flared in my mind. All the physical and emotional wreckage I’d been running from; all the visceral, paralyzing agony that had rendered me incapable of performing even the most basic tasks; all the destructive coping mechanisms that led to the sickening moment I betrayed Jack; it all stemmed from one repulsive act of evil committed by my own flesh and blood.
I needed to get those morning-after pills. I couldn’t bring a child into a world where that kind of cruelty existed.
Earlier today, as I drove my Tesla SUV back to our home in Hood River from my mother’s house in Southeast Portland, I had thought of taking any of the dozens of freeway exits to stop at a drugstore. But Jack was so worried about my hangover, he drove right behind me the whole way home. He’d taken the time to buy me a couple bottles of water and watched me swallow an anti-emetic tablet for the nausea before we left.
I wiped tears from my face as I stood from the dining chair, trying to ignore the weakness in my limbs brought on by the hangover and only exacerbated by the Dramamine and the news Jack had just delivered. There was no time to sit down and digest this new information properly, not while there was even the slimmest possibility that I could be pregnant with Isaac’s child.
“Laurel, are you okay?” Jack asked again as he followed me toward the laundry room. “Where are you going?”
“I just need to go to Walgreen’s for some tampons. I forgot them in Portland.”
He grabbed my hand to stop me from entering the laundry room. “You’re not on your period. And you’re not even feeling well. If you need some, I’m sure there’s still some left in the bathroom. It’s not like I cleared the place out while you were gone.”
I stood at the threshold, my hand gripping the cold steel door handle. “But I’m…” I couldn’t think of a single believable lie. I was either too dehydrated or emotionally overwhelmed for my synapses to fire properly. Or maybe I was just a terrible liar. Probably all of the above. “I’m tired,” I replied, looking up at Jack, my stomach clenching at the skepticism in his narrowed eyes. “And thirsty. I think I’m a little delirious. I should lie down.”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
As Jack’s eyes softened and he took my hand in his to lead me toward the bedroom, I felt the small reserve of stamina at the core of my being spill out and drain from my limbs. I didn’t have the energy to lie. How could I muster the strength to tell the truth?
I could barely hold my eyelids open as Jack turned down the covers and the sheets for me to climb in bed. As he helped me out of my Burberry rain boots, leaving my wool socks in place, I reached for his face. His scruff scraped the pads of my fingers, a familiar sensation that sent a chill over my skin. I took his face in my hands, closing my eyes to savor the warmth of his skin against my palms.
Then a terrible thought flashed in my mind: What happened with Isaac would never have happened if Jack had set aside the hunt for Brandon and come back to me sooner.
I crossed my arms over my belly and curled inward on myself as I tried not to let the idea take root. It was a poisonous thought, which would only lead to more resentment and more anger and more fighting. All those things were the old way. The old way didn’t work. That much we had established.
Jack cupped my face in his hands and tilted it up to look in my eyes. “Baby, are you okay? You’re scaring the fuck out of me. Do you need to go to the hospital?”
Maybe that was the answer. Maybe I could tell Jack I needed to go to the emergency room. Then I could tell the ER staff that I was severely hungover and possibly dehydrated. And as soon as Jack left my side to use the restroom or get a coffee, I would ask someone for emergency contraceptives. They were required to keep that information confidential, weren’t they?
Oh, God. I didn’t know.
I had to accept that I had two options and two options only. I had to tell the truth or wait. In a few days, I’d be able to take an at-home pregnancy test. Until then, I’d just have to live with this secret and know that I deserved to let it slowly eat away at my insides.
“I’m fine,” I whispered. “I’m just so tired of all the bad news.”
“But it’s good news that they got him,” he replied.
Part of me wanted to argue with him. How could learning that my biological brother murdered my son and my mother — then killed himself — be good news? But to Jack, it was good news because justice had been served. For Jack, it was always about justice. Justice came before everything. Even me.
I forced a smile to stop the seeds of doubt from growing tendrils. “I’m a little nauseous. I just need to sleep. I’ll be fine tomorrow.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” he replied, laying a tender kiss on my temple.
I lay back as he pulled the covers over me. “Thank you.”
He brushed my hair away from my face as I curled up on my side. “I’m going to take a quick shower. Do you need anything?”
I shook my head and pulled the covers tightly under my chin. But as he walked away toward the master bathroom, a nearly slapped myself when I was hit with a sudden idea. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner. I could call Drea and ask her to bring me the emergency contraceptives.
As soon as I heard the sound of the shower turning on, I quietly slipped out of bed and retrieved my phone from where I’d left it on the dining room table. I called Drea and sighed with relief when she answered after just one ring.
“Drea! Oh, my God. I need your help.”
“Laurel? What—what’s going on? Are you okay, love?” she replied.
I could hear one of her boys chattering in the background, probably Thom considering the high-pitched tone of his voice. Thom was an adorable four years old and Drea’s eldest, Colin, was eight years old, and growing so fast it made my chest ache just thinking about it.
“I’m fine. I just—” I cut myself off as Drea shushed Thom. “Actually, I’m not fine. I need you to do me a huge favor.”
“Anything, darling. What do you need?” she replied.
“I need you to go to Walgreen’s or CVS and get me a pack of Plan-B morning-after pills.”
She was silent for a moment before she responded. “Why? Please don’t tell me you slept with Isaac.” When I didn’t reply immediately, her voice became tinged with panic. “Laurel?”
“I didn’t mean to,” I whispered, attempting to keep half of my attention on the distant sound of the running shower. “I was drunk after you left last night. I think I might have fallen outside or something because I woke up in my bed thinking that Jack was lying next to me. I initiated sex and… Well, I realized too late that it was Isaac. Then—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. You had sex with Isaac? You cheated on Jack?”
I opened my mouth a few times, but I was unable to speak, having been stunned into silence by the word “cheated.”
“Laurel, did you cheat on Jack?” she whispered urgently.
“No! I mean… Oh, God.” I clutched my hair as I wracked my brain for a better explanation for what I’d done, but it didn’t take long for my reaction to flip from panic to anger. “Are you judging me?”
She let out a soft chuckle. “Are you admitting you cheated on him? Laurel, you can’t possibly be angry at me.”
I gasped at the physical pain in my chest. “How could you? Of all the people, I thought at least you would understand. I didn’t have sex with Isaac because I wanted to. I did it because I was blitzed out of my fucking mind. I thought it was Jack!” I clapped my hand over my mouth as I realized I could no longer hear the shower running. “Forget it,” I whispered before I ended the call.
I got myself a glass of water and took my phone and the water back to the bedroom just in time to see Jack coming out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist.
“Thirsty,” I said, holding up my glass before he could comment.
I set the water and phone down on the nightstand and quickly slid between the sheets, pulling the covers over my head. It seemed I was back to “plan A” — waiting a few days to take a pregnancy test — since I didn’t have any way to get PlanB tonight. Tomorrow being Sunday, I highly doubted I’d be able to sneak away from Jack to get the pills.
I hated myself.
“Pixie, are you crying?”
Jack’s voice snapped me out of my self-flagellation. Surprisingly, I found myself sobbing and clenching my fists so tightly, I had to slowly pry my fingernails out of the palms of my hands. Raising the covers a bit to let in some light, I wasn’t surprised to see six screaming red nail marks, two of them with tiny droplets of blood bubbling up out of the broken skin.
I quickly threw off the covers and ran to the bathroom as sweat sprouted over my brow and upper lip and my mouth pooled with saliva. I vomited the water I’d drank over the last few hours. Sour liquid gushed from my mouth in hot streams as my eyes bulged with the strain. Jack held back my hair and murmured soothing words as I spewed my guts into the porcelain bowl, imagining each drop of liquid amounting to one sin. Soon, I would be clean.
When the retching stopped, I resisted the urge to stuff my fingers down my throat to make certain every last drop was squeezed out. Instead, I fell sideways for a split second before Jack caught me to keep my head from hitting the wall.
He reached up and laid his hand over my sweaty forehead. “You’re pretty cold, so I don’t think you have a fever. But maybe we should take you to the urgent care.”
“No,” I breathed, reaching for the toilet paper to wipe my mouth. “I just need to rest and drink some water. Can you help me up?”
He lifted me up easily, cradling me in his arms, which were still warm and moist from the shower. Setting me down on the bed, he kneeled next to me and brushed my hair from my damp brow.
“I’ll go get an empty cup and some mouthwash so you can rinse. I’ll get some crackers and some more Dramamine, too.”
I reached out with both hands and grabbed his neck before he could stand up. “I love you,” I whispered, pulling him toward me. Not to kiss him. Not even to feel him in my arms. I suddenly feared that if he left this room he’d never come back. “I love you so much.”
He chuckled as he wrapped his arms around me, seizing the opportunity to slide my body toward the center of the bed. “I’ll be right back, baby,” he assured me, as if he could read the fear in my desperate clutch, as if he could read me like an open book. “I promise I’ll be right back.”
Reluctantly, I released my hold on him and he slowly pulled away, looking down at me with suspicion in his eyes again. But neither of us spoke. And as the seconds ticked by with neither of us turning away, I swore I could see my sins reflected in the glimmer of his eyes. Then, he swallowed hard, the gulping sound echoing in my ears. And I was certain I’d just witnessed the moment when he consciously stifled his suspicions in favor of a peaceful reunion.
He smiled tentatively. “I’ll be right back.”
As he left, I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering back to the night of the murders. Replaying the events on a loop, I tried to think of things I’d missed that would make sense now that we almost certainly knew the identity of the murderer. My brain fast-forwarded past the moment I said goodbye to my mother, as Jack and I left her to care for Junior while we celebrated our anniversary. I slid past the memories of the meal and wine we shared at the restaurant, my mind skidding to a stop at the recollection of having sex with Jack on the waterfront.

My silk rose-patterned skirt fluttered in the soft evening breeze on the waterfront. Jack squeezed my hand as I tilted my head back and inhaled the earthy scent of the gorge. In previous years, when it got too hot during the summer, the decaying plant life in the river gave off a more musty scent. But it was the middle of August and a refreshing fifty-eight degrees tonight, as the weather began its downward descent toward autumn.
“Do you remember the first time I took you windsurfing at The Hook?” Jack asked as we stopped in the middle of the trail that curved around the semi-circular sandbar of Waterfront Park.
He sat down facing the water on the low stone wall, which separated the concrete footpath from the sand and sea. In one direction, the trail curved back toward Portway Avenue, where we’d come from Solstice bar and restaurant. In the other direction, the trail followed the waterfront around various water basins and the fork, where Hood River flowed into the Columbia River Gorge. It was one of the most popular tourist destinations in Oregon for good reason.
The scenery was stunning, the moss and foliage an emerald green so deep and lush it was arresting, a color chosen by a violently imaginative god. The towering waterfalls gentle enough to bathe in, yet powerful enough you could feel the mist they expelled from hundreds of feet away. A guy in one of my classes at Oregon State called the gorge heartbreakingly beautiful because he knew he’d be heartbroken when he graduated and had to return to the Nevada desert.
I slid my pumps off and set them on the wall next to Jack, smiling as my toes sunk into the cool sand. “How could I forget my first windsurfing lesson and the abject humiliation of falling in the water and screaming like a banshee when something very alive and very slimy brushed against my leg?” I replied as Jack pulled me onto his lap so I was seated sideways with my legs dangling over his right thigh.
He chuckled as his hand slid under the hem of my skirt. “Well, you’re not supposed to try to carve on your first time out.”
I shook my head. “You told me there were no fish in the cove. You totally lied to me!”
He laughed in my ear as his hand crawled farther up, until his fingers bumped against the softness of my abdomen. “No panties?”
I tried not to feel self-conscious about how my skin had remained stretched after the pregnancy, but I couldn’t stop myself from trying to push Jack’s hand away from my belly.
He brushed his lips over my earlobe and whispered, “What’s wrong?”
My breathing quickened as the sensation of his breath in my ear raised goose bumps on my cool skin. “I don’t like my body right now. Can we do this without you touching my stomach?”
He let out a soft grunt and laid his hand over my abdomen, pressing the heel of his palm into the soft flesh. “You’re crazy if you think this doesn’t make you even more gorgeous than you were before. This is proof that you’ll always be mine. This,” he whispered, lightly brushing his fingertips over my skin, “is the sexiest fucking thing I’ve ever felt.”
The sound of footsteps stopped me from savoring his compliment. I immediately tightened my arms around his shoulders as if to convince any possible passerby we were just cuddling. Nothing naughty going on over here. Glancing toward the sound, I smiled at the elderly woman walking her yellow Labrador retriever at 11:30 p.m. She nodded at me and continued about her way, probably fully aware of what Jack and I were up to.
“She’s probably going to call the cops on us for indecent exposure,” I said, reaching down to undo Jack’s belt and unbutton his pants. “We have to hurry up before she comes back.”
“You dirty girl,” he said, sliding a finger inside me as I set his erection free. “You’re as wet as the river.”
“And you’re as engorged as this gorge,” I teased him.
Grabbing my waist, he lifted me off his lap so I could yank my skirt out from underneath my ass. Then, he slowly lowered me onto his cock.
I gasped at the shock of pain. “Don’t stop,” I begged as he began to lift me again.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I know,” I said, clutching his face in my hands and planting a soft kiss on his lips. “I know. Don’t stop. Please.”
He lowered me farther down, his girth filling me, stretching me. I flinched slightly when he met the resistance of my cervix.
I whimpered as I held his face and pressed my forehead into his. “Oh, Jack,” I breathed.
“Does it hurt?”
“No,” I whispered, sliding my hands to the back of his neck to hold myself steady on his lap. “Fuck me, Jack. Fuck me harder.”
As he used his sheer strength to slide me up and down on his cock, I suddenly had the distinct feeling of being watched. I turned my head slightly to the left, glancing over Jack’s shoulder toward the restaurants on Portway Avenue, where we’d come from. Two men stood across the street in the shadowy parking lot between STOKED Coffeehouse and pFreim Brewery.
My body froze as I buried my face in Jack’s neck, which was now damp with sweat. “Stop. Someone’s watching us.”
Jack paused and I slowly slid farther down on his erection as he turned to look behind him. “Where? I don’t see anyone.”
I snuck a peak toward the parking lot and it was empty. “Oh. It must have been shadows. Never mind. Don’t stop. I’m almost there.”
Jack chuckled as I hooked my arm around his neck, leaning my forehead against his for extra stability as I slid my other hand down the front of my skirt. As we breathed into each other, he continued lifting me up and down on him, like a lonely buoy bobbing on a dark and stormy sea. I dug my fingernails into Jack’s neck as our bodies trembled. He held me still and let go inside me, burying his face in my hair as his hot breath roared in my ear.
As I slid my hand out of my skirt, Jack grabbed it gently and laid a soft trail of kisses from my palm to the tip of my middle finger. He draped my arm over his shoulder and leaned in to kiss me. It was a slow kiss that stole my breath and made the ache between my legs return. He was still inside me. His erection gone, but still twitching with signs of life every time I made the slightest movement.
He pulled away slowly and placed a tender kiss on the tip of my nose. “I love you, pixie.”
I smiled and tightened my arms around his neck as I gazed into his eyes. “That’s my favorite.”
“Your favorite nickname?”
I nodded enthusiastically, accidentally head-butting him in the process. “Ow!”
He laughed as he rubbed his forehead. “We’d better get home before we get arrested. Though, I have no doubt you’d look extremely hot in prison stripes.”

Jack entered the bedroom with the rustic wooden tray we used whenever we had breakfast in bed. I sat up and he set the tray down on my lap, revealing a pack of saltine crackers, a bottle of Dramamine, a glass of water, an empty coffee mug, and a bottle of mouthwash. I hastily rinsed my mouth out and spit out the minty liquid into the empty cup. Then I downed another Dramamine with the entire glass of water.
“You should eat some crackers,” he insisted, grabbing the pack of saltines and pulling it open.
“I remembered something,” I said, pushing the tray to the foot of the bed so I could hug my knees to my chest.
“What are you talking about?” he replied, holding out a couple of crackers for me to take.
I shook my head. “From that night. Do you remember when I thought someone was watching us?”
He scrunched his eyebrows together and shook his head. “Do you mean someone was watching us in the house? What are you talking about?”
I was silent for a beat as I tried to recall what I’d seen, but the memory was so fuzzy. “When we were at the waterfront. I thought I saw a couple of men watching us from the parking lot between the coffeehouse and pFreim.”
He set the crackers down on the tray and narrowed his eyes as he sat on the edge of the bed. “That sounds so vaguely familiar.”
“I know what I saw. I mean… I don’t remember it very clearly, but I don’t think it’s my mind playing tricks on me. Someone was watching us. Should we tell that Boise detective? Or—or that private investigator?”
He shook his head again, then fixed me with a fierce gaze. “What did they look like?”
“I—I don’t know. I… I barely got a glimpse of them before I looked away, and when I turned back they were gone. I figured it was probably just shadows. I thought nothing of it.”
“How could you forget something so important?”
My jaw dropped at the insinuation. “It didn’t seem important enough at the time. I thought it was a trick of the light. I didn’t know I needed to burn the memory into my mind. And I wasn’t exactly in the right state of mind after we got back that night to put two and two together.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that,” he said, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his thighs. His hands were clasped together, his forehead propped up on his thumbs as he appeared to be concentrating on something. “I’m just… I’m really fucking blindsided by this. I need to think.”
I pinched my bottom lip hard between my thumb and index finger, savoring the feeling of the pain as it kept my mind off the sense of dread building in the pit of my belly, the first sign of an impending panic attack. “I messed up,” I whispered, squeezing my eyes shut against the gory images in my mind. “I totally screwed this up, didn’t I?”
Jack’s arm wrapped around my back as the other slid under my knees to pull me into his lap. “None of this is your fault. You did nothing wrong.”
I rested my forehead on his clavicle and tried to breathe normally. “Of course I did nothing wrong, but that’s only because I did nothing at all. Sometimes doing nothing is worse than doing the wrong thing.”
As the words came out of my mouth, I thought of how utterly guilty I was. I’d done nothing to save my mother and son from being killed. And last night, when presented with the opportunity to do nothing with Isaac, I chose to do the wrong thing instead.
Jack tilted my chin up to look me in the eye. “I hate to be the one to remind you of this, but the coroner’s report specified that Beth and Junior were most likely killed very shortly after we left at seven p.m. Your mom hadn’t even set the alarm yet. We went to the waterfront at 11:30. If what you saw was the perpetrator or perpetrators, it would have been too late to save them.”
I covered my face with my hands. “This is like a nightmare that never ends. It never ends.”
Jack held me close, crushing me against his solid chest and stroking my hair.
“Please make it end,” I begged as each breath grew more shallow than the last. “Please. I don’t want to feel this way anymore. Please make it end.”
He kissed the top of my head. “I wish I could, pixie. I’d rip the sky in half if it would make the pain go away.”
We sat like this for a while, I curled up in his lap, head tucked into the warm crook of Jack’s neck. His hold on me slowly loosened as my breathing returned to normal. I didn’t know how much time passed, but when I woke in Jack’s arms, both of us lying in the bed, the tray resting safely on the rug, I knew I couldn’t tell him about Isaac yet.
I needed to give him time to get his bearings before I dropped yet another bombshell on him. Part of me knew this was selfish. I should confess now instead of waiting until the earth had solidified beneath him. But another part of me knew if I told him now, after everything he’d learned in Boise and after what I just told him, that would without a doubt be the end of us.
I knew now, after everything we’d survived, that Jack and I would never be as good apart as we were together. I needed to give us a chance. We deserved another chance to get this right.

***

Four days later

“I’m going to the yoga studio. Do you need me to pick anything up on the way back?” I asked Jack as I pulled my plum-colored GORE-TEX jacket off the hanger in the coat closet.
I was going to yoga, but not with Drea. My best friend and I still hadn’t made up after her refusal to help me lie to Jack. I understood why she refused, but that didn’t dull the sting of being rejected and possibly judged by her, even if I did deserve her judgment.
I was also going to make a stop at the drugstore on the way home from yoga, to pick up an at-home pregnancy test. Using an online calculator, I learned that yesterday would be the first day I could expect to get an accurate result. To err on the safe side and prevent any misunderstandings, I decided I would wait one more day.
My day of reckoning was here.
Jack sat on the edge of the soft gray sofa in the living room, leaning forward as he hunched over his laptop, which was perched on the industrial style coffee table. “I’m good, baby. Thanks for asking.”
I grabbed my yoga bag off the hook in the coat closet and slung it across my chest. But as I made my way toward the front door, that nagging sense of dread returned. I slid the bag off and dropped it on the floor. Jack looked up just in time to see me walking toward him. He opened his mouth to say something, but I quickly grabbed his face and silenced him with a deep kiss as I climbed onto his lap.
He chuckled as he leaned back on the sofa. “Is this your idea of yoga with Drea?”
I smiled as I look down at him, not correcting his assumption that I was meeting Drea. If I was pregnant, was Jack the type of man who would stick by me even if the baby wasn’t his? Or was Jack more like my father? Would he force me to choose between him and the baby? And if I chose Jack, was I perpetuating the cycle of abandonment issues and violence that eventually took Junior’s life?
“What are you thinking?” Jack murmured as he slid his warm hands under the back of my athletic tank top.
I planted a lingering kiss on his forehead, breathing in the scent of the lavender-mint shampoo we shared, which he claimed made him smell “like a girl,” but he didn’t care because it also made his hair “shinier than a masochist’s ass.”
“Gee, your hair smells terrific,” I replied.
It was a reference to an old shampoo commercial from the 80s my mom had told us about, one of her many colorful stories about “the good ol’ days.” Knowing the origin of the phrase, Jack didn’t laugh. Nor did he say a word. He laid a soft kiss on my chest and tightened his arms around my waist.
I lay my head on his shoulder and we sat like this for a while. No words between us. No anger between us. No pain, just love.
I sat up slowly and planted a kiss on his scruff. “I should get going. I’ll be back in a couple hours.”
Jack grabbed my waist before I could stand up. “I’m supposed to get a call from Detective Robinson today. She said they recovered Brandon’s cell phone from his trailer and they were going to check his cell phone records to see if he had the phone with him the night of the murders. If he did, and his phone was turned on, it may have pinged some local cell towers. They’ll also be able to see if he called anyone around the time of the murders.”
I nodded and stood up. “I hope I’m wrong this time,” I said, zipping up my athletic jacket.
“You’d think you’d be used to that by now,” he teased me.
I rolled my eyes and waved at him. “Bye, jerk.”
He flashed me a sexy smile. “Love you, pixie.”
I blew him a kiss. “I love you more.”

***

As I left the yoga studio, I reached into my bag to retrieve my cell phone, then tossed the bag onto the passenger seat. Sliding into the driver’s seat, I closed the door and glanced at the screen. There was a text from Jack, which had come in about ten minutes ago.

Jack:
Going to the gym. I’ll be back in an hour or so.

I narrowed my eyes as I stared at the message. Jack went to the gym at least five days a week and almost always went before six a.m. Sometimes, he got his workout in before I even woke. But I couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone to the gym in the afternoon.
Dread crept up from the pit of my belly as I realized I was having suspicious thoughts of Jack because I was projecting my own guilt onto him. Shaking my head, I gripped the steering wheel and took deep breaths as I repeated the mantra I’d been reciting in my mind for the last four days: It’s almost over. Everything will be okay. It’s almost over. Everything will be okay. It’s almost over. Everything will be okay.
I exhaled slowly then turned on the car and headed for the drugstore. I chose a store I’d never been to before, because it was two miles farther away from our house than the one I normally went to. Despite the November gloom and pouring rain, I wore sunglasses into the store. I also kept the hood of my jacket up as I picked out four different tests, and found myself glancing down every aisle and over my shoulder like a paranoid lunatic.
Jack and I were very recognizable to the peaceful citizens of Hood River. Our faces had been plastered on local and national media. The story of the murders had even been picked up by some tech reporters in other countries who called Jack’s office requesting interviews.
The first year was a media frenzy. But after I refused to go to the candlelight vigil on the one-year anniversary, and Jack stayed home with me in a rare moment of solidarity, the media madness quickly died down. People assumed our absence meant we no longer cared. The truth was quite the opposite. We cared so much it was shredding us apart from the inside out.
Jack’s truck was gone when I pulled into the garage and closed it behind me. With hands trembling, I left my yoga bag in the SUV and grabbed the plastic bag containing the pregnancy tests. As I pushed the car door open, I realized my entire body was shaking. Sweat sprouted on my brow, my chest tightened, and I closed my eyes to take several shallow breaths. I couldn’t have a panic attack now.
I coughed a few times, to clear the tightness in my chest, and took a couple of rapid, deep breaths to flood my lungs with much-needed oxygen. Within seconds, the tightness slowly began to dissipate. Opening my eyes, I quickly exited the SUV and headed straight inside and directly to the master bathroom. Jack would be back from the gym in about thirty minutes — if that was indeed where he’d gone. I had to do this fast.
My hands still trembled as I locked the bathroom door behind me. The shaking made opening the packaging and reading the instructions almost impossible. I splashed water in my face in an attempt to wash away the anxiety. But I could hardly hold myself up.
I shook my head and lined up the tests on top of the plastic bag I’d laid out on the counter next to the toilet. As quickly as I could, I urinated on each test stick for a couple of seconds, holding in my urine as I changed tests. When all four tests were lined up on top of the plastic bag, I wiped and flushed, then set the five-minute timer on my phone.
I waited with my head resting in my trembling hands. I tried to focus on my breathing as my fingers and toes began to tingle, a sure sign that my body was being flooded with adrenaline and stress hormones. The blood was rushing away from my limbs toward my racing heart. I really hoped those pregnancy tests were negative. If they weren’t, I was fairly certain I would pass out.
Massaging my temples and taking shallow breaths, the tingling in my fingers slowly went away just seconds before the timer went off. The sharp beeping sound sent my heart galloping. I clenched and unclenched my fists, wiggling my fingers to encourage the blood flow. The sound of the garage door opening came to me like a distant sound at the far end of a tunnel as I peeked at the tests.
Four tests. All four positive.

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About Cassia Leo

New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she’s not binge watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

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