The One Real Thing Page 96

Instead, I dropped my gaze and hurried away from her.

The sight of Emery standing on Vaughn’s porch gave me the first moments of lightness I’d felt in a few days.

I had not been surprised to find that Vaughn’s home was on an isolated patch of land right on the waterfront. It was down the coast from the boardwalk, out of sight, and private. Architecturally it was like most homes in Hartwell but on a larger scale. White cladding, wraparound porches on the first and second floors, pretty garden. But inside it was anything but traditional.

It had a huge chef’s kitchen with high-end appliances, glossy floors, and contemporary furniture, all black, chrome, and white with splashes of color in the artwork and minimal soft furnishings.

It was beautiful but cold.

It was a bachelor’s house.

But it was my safe haven until George got into town.

No one had called. And only Emery had texted me to see if I was okay. Glad for a friendly face, I’d asked her to come out to Vaughn’s to see me.

“You came,” I said, opening the door for her.

“Of course.” She gave me that quiet smile of hers and walked in, her gaze moving around the open-plan space. “Wow.”

“I know.”

“It was very kind of Mr. Tremaine to let you stay here.”

“Yes.” It was. And I wouldn’t forget it. “He’s never here.”

Tension I didn’t even know Emery was carrying seemed to melt out of her. “Oh.”

Damn, but I wished I’d be sticking around to help her get over her timidity with men.

I wished I’d be sticking around, period.

Suddenly I found myself under Emery’s scrutiny. Her face fell. “You’ve been crying.”

Every damn day. I shrugged, feeling silly. “I can’t seem to stop.”

Then, to my surprise, she hugged me.

I immediately hugged her back, my face crumpling as she set off more tears with her kindness.

She held me until my crying subsided. “Let’s make some tea.”

Thankfully, Vaughn had partially stocked the kitchen, but I was running out of food, and I was getting sick of takeout. At some point I was going to have to make a run to the grocery store in town.

Once we had our mugs of tea, we settled on the porch.

“Wow,” Emery said again. “He’s right on the water.”

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Why doesn’t he stay here more often?”

“No clue.” If it were my house I’d stay there all the damn time. Of course, I’d have to redecorate.

We were silent awhile as we sipped our tea and enjoyed the view.

But I was only half enjoying the view. I needed to know—“Is Cooper okay?”

She gave me a strained smile. “I spoke to Iris this morning.”

“And?”

Emery winced. “She’s quite mad at you.”

“I know.” I tried to ignore the ache in my chest, remembering the way she’d looked at me the other morning. “Did she mention Cooper?”

My friend nodded. “He put someone in charge of the bar . . . he went on a fishing trip.”

“Fishing trip.” I was confused. “Cooper doesn’t fish.”

“I think he just needed to get away for a few days. Small town. Gossip—”

“Not wanting to run into me until I’m gone,” I whispered hoarsely.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, sweetie. It’s my own fault.”

“Bailey came to see me.”

The thought of my friend caused another deep ache inside me. “And?”

“She’s worried about you, Jessica, but she doesn’t feel like she can reach out to you without being shut out. Perhaps you should call her.”

“No.” I shook my head stubbornly. “It’s better this way.”

My phone started ringing inside the house and for a second we looked at each other before I was up on my feet and hurrying inside for it.

The anticipation I’d felt disappeared at the sight of the caller ID.

Matthew calling.

I had no intention of answering. If I answered, he’d know something was wrong, and when I told him what, he’d only be mad at me and try to convince me I was insane.

“Not Cooper?” Emery said softly from behind me.

I turned slowly around and gave her a sad shrug. “I don’t even know why I want it to be him. It’s not like it’ll change my mind.”

She sighed and gave me a look that made me tense.

“What?”

“Well . . . there are rumors . . .”

Fear shot through my blood. Had that bastard Devlin gotten his revenge on me for breaking up with Cooper instead of doing his bidding? “What . . . what kind of rumors?”

“Rumors . . . rumors that . . . rumors that you were cheating on Cooper with Vaughn.”

Oh. My. God.

“Are you kidding?” I growled.

“No. I’m sorry.”

“Because I’m staying here? They . . . idiots!” I threw up my hands in disbelief. And then something worse than the town of Hartwell’s stupidity occurred to me. “Does Cooper believe this?”

“No. Bailey said no. And she doesn’t, either.”

How can they still have faith in me after what I’ve done?

“So . . .” Emery shrugged. “What are your plans?”

Thankfully distracted by the question, I slumped down on the nearest chair. “I contacted an old professor of mine and he thinks there might be a position for me at a teaching hospital in Illinois. It’s not definite, but I think I’ll head out that way anyway. I know Chicago well. It’s as much a home to me as anywhere.”

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