Irresistible(Buchanans, Book 2)(28) by Susan Mallery
Mindy grinned. “But not doing ‘you know’ doesn’t mean you haven’t been thinking about it.”
She sighed. “I’ll admit it. I was getting to the point where I would have broken all my rules for one night of ‘you know.’”
“I met the man. I’m not surprised.”
“I am. I know better. Getting involved isn’t an option.”
“It isn’t now,” Mindy said.
Elissa sipped her wine. “I hate being afraid. I hate it. I thought I was done with that.”
“You’ll feel better in time,” her friend told her. “You have to look at the bright side. Who’d want to get involved with a guy with such a crazy grandmother?”
“Tell me about it. I found out, it’s over and no one is hurt.”
Elissa said the words as if she meant them and she was reasonably confident that in time they would be true. But right now, she missed Walker. She wanted to talk to him about what had happened and hear him tell her it would be all right.
He was gone, she told herself firmly. Gone for good. She’d gotten off cheap and had been taught, yet again, that men were only bad news for her.
“I’M SORRY,” the woman said as she handed back the picture. “I’m sure your friend was a very nice man, but I didn’t know him.”
“Thanks for taking the time,” Walker responded as yet another Ashley closed the door in his face.
He was running out of names. He had never considered that he might not find her, that he might not have someone to deliver the letter to.
He climbed into his SUV and reminded himself that failure was not an option. Ben deserved to have someone mourn him. He deserved to be a part of a family. He wasn’t going to give up.
He had a few more names, a few more chances. She had to be out there. She had to….
He leaned back in the leather seat and closed his eyes. He missed Elissa. He wasn’t supposed to. He wasn’t going to get involved, but he missed her. Somehow over the past few weeks, she’d found her way inside of him. He was used to hearing her laughter through the open windows, discussing various options for dinner, thinking up ways to make her life easier without her finding out it was him doing it. And now she was gone.
She hadn’t been back at her apartment in nearly five days. He’d driven to Eggs ’n’ Stuff to check on her. He hadn’t gone in, because if she wanted to talk to him, she knew where to find him. So he’d parked where he could see inside and she’d been at work. On the surface, everything had looked fine. So why was she avoiding both him and her home?
He was torn between demanding an answer and adhering to her wishes. Wishes that he knew made sense for both of them. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
If she wasn’t home tonight, he would call and leave a message. Ask her to get in touch with him, just so he could know that she was all right. He would make it clear that he respected her stance and wasn’t trying to change her mind.
Which was all bullshit, he thought. The longer she was gone, the more he missed her. When had he allowed himself to get so damn soft?
He pulled into the driveway. His gut tightened when he saw her car still missing, then the tension eased as Zoe opened the front door of her apartment and ran outside.
“Walker, Walker, we’re back. Did you miss us? We stayed with Mindy, who has this bed on the floor and I got to sleep there.”
Zoe’s blond ponytail flopped as she ran toward him. He stepped out of his SUV and smiled at her. “You’ve been gone, huh?”
She put her tiny hands on her skinny hips and pursed her lips. “You know you missed us.”
Her words hit home.
“We missed you, too,” she said, before he could think up a reply. “I didn’t have preschool today, so Mommy left me with Mrs. Ford. She’s still at work. And last night at Mindy’s she made me jeans. Come see.”
She grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the apartment. Or at least she tried. Walker stayed put.
“Your mom wouldn’t be comfortable having me in her house while she’s gone,” he said. She’d made that clear in her note.
Zoe continued to tug. “Mommy likes you. She cooks you dinner and she makes pie. Come see! Come see!”
Her hand is so small, he thought. She gripped him with a combination of determination and trust. He knew going inside was wrong, but he couldn’t figure out a way to explain the situation to a five-year-old. Especially one as determined as Zoe.
“Just for a minute,” he said, allowing her to drag him into the apartment.
Everything was as he remembered. The bright colors on the walls, the comfy, worn furniture, the library books scattered on the coffee table. The lingering scent of cooking was gone, replaced by musty disuse. The house had been closed up for nearly a week.
“Over here,” Zoe said, pulling him along to the simple worktable in the tiny alcove by the living room.
Next to a sewing machine were a tiny folded pair of jeans. Zoe let go of him long enough to hold them up for him to see. He looked closely.
A fabric butterfly had been sewn just above the knee on one side. There was a sewn trail leading down the leg to the hem. She turned the jeans over and there was another butterfly on one pocket.
“Look!” Zoe said, pointing to a small white T-shirt hanging on a hook. A matching butterfly decorated the bottom and one sleeve.
“Very nice,” he said, not sure what he was looking for.
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