Country Love - Page 26

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I drained the last of my beer as the weight of my words hung in the air.

She took a deep breath. "So that's it then."

"That's what?" I squirmed to face her and was nearly knocked backwards by the sorrow on her face. "Monique, you're scaring me here. What is it?"

"Tanner...."

Panic rose in my throat. "No...."

She looked me full in the face, eyes glittering. "No," I repeated, but she held up her hand.

"Tanner, I can't do this to you. You think I'm hurting you, but I'm doing this to myself. I'm doing the only right thing there is to do. I love you," her voice broke, "and that's why I'm leaving."

Chapter Thirty Eight

Monique

The hollow thump of my suitcases hitting the hallway floor reverberated through my empty apartment.

I looked around, trying and failing to find any relief at being back "home." The air in here smelled strange. Stale and stagnant from being shut up for nearly a month. This place had never really felt like home, and it felt even less so now that I had returned.

I looked down and saw that my hand was resting protectively over my still flat belly and yanked it away. Only a few days had gone by, but it was already a habit I couldn't seem to break.

Like I was going to feel something in there,

So far, all I felt was nausea.

And heartbreak.

Leo had driven me silently to the airport after all of the guys had said their subdued goodbyes. Jimmy looked like he might burst into tears. Blake refused to look me in the eye.

Tanner hadn't come. He had locked himself in the hotel room with a bottle of bourbon and refused to answer my knocks when I tried to say goodbye. I had never felt lower than I did at that moment, standing there on the other side of the door from Tanner Brock, listening to him growl and slosh his bottle.

But now I was here and I could put it behind me. Like I had put Holcum behind me the night my daddy was arrested. The past is the past and you just shake it off and move on, reinvent yourself however you see fit. Falling in love with Tanner Brock was just one more strange, impermanent thing in my strange, impermanent life.

My hand flitted to my belly again. This, on the other hand, would be pretty permanent…

I closed my eyes and counted to ten.

I can pretend like it never happened. It’ll just be you and me. I’ll keep you safe.

Chapter Thirty Nine

Tanner

"Brock, where you at?"

Blake's voice cut through my aching head like a knife. I squeezed my eyes shut and rolled over, groaning.

"Found you," he called from the doorway. Then he made a strangled gasping noise, "Jesus, how much have you had? It smells like a fucking distillery in here!"

He was too damn loud and wearing too many damn colors. The bile rose in my stomach and I clenched the sheet in my fist, forcing myself to swallow it back down.

"How long are you going to be like this, man?" Blake didn't sound quite as disgusted with me as I was with myself. "Yeah, we get it, it sucks Mo left, but can't you try putting down the bottle for a second? You've got work to do."

"Don't give a fuck about the tour," I snarled. "Keith can go to hell."

Blake shifted and sat down on the bed. The motion nearly made me vomit again. "I know that. He's having ten heart attacks a day about it, but between you and me, I think the guys are grateful for the time off. I know I am."

As if on cue, a wail went up from downstairs. "Did you bring the baby?" I asked incredulously.

"Shit, sorry man, I had to. LeeAnne's at the dentist. She finally had time to go now that I'm home." He disappeared from the room and returned with a car seat dangling off of his arm. "Shush shush, baby girl. You're supposed to be napping."

Maddie let out an even stronger wail of protest and Blake swore softly. "I guess she's up. I just wanted to check up on you, is all." He set the car seat down and fiddled with the straps. "Here little one, here, here, Daddy's got you."

I rubbed my head and blearily sat up. Through the fog of bourbon and heartbreak, a faint picture was emerging. I woozily stood up and wobbled over to Blake.

Maddie's little face was the only clear thing I could see. But in my mind's eye, I could perfectly picture Monique's face the last time I held this baby.

How she looked like she desperately wanted to tell me something.

How she had been dizzy and nauseous...sick all morning, in fact.

How she had randomly thrown up that night.

And then how she had left me by saying she "wasn't going to do this to me."

"Shit," I swore, leaning hard against the doorway.

"Hey, watch your fucking mouth around my kid," Blake smiled. Then he paused, "you okay man? You look a little green. Well, more green than you just did anyway."

"I know why she left, Blake." I shook my head slowly. "Holy shit, I know why she left."

My friend looked confused as I suddenly starting throwing clothes into a duffel bag. "What are you doing?"

"I'm going to get her back."

Chapter Forty

Monique

I sat down in the middle of the open suitcases and took a deep breath. With all the experience I had starting over, you'd think I'd know how to pack up my life efficiently by now.

My text alert buzzed furiously - again - but I ignored it. Gil had been calling and texting all morning. He accepted my resignation with the grace I would have expected from him. Which is to say, his voice skyrocketed into the heavens and I literally had to cover my ears.

"I'm sorry," I told him. "But it's time for me to move on."

I left the offices of Auteur with my head held high, ignoring the stares of my co-workers. I had never known them, any of them, and they certainly didn't know me. The legend of angry Monique would probably live on though.

Let it. I was done with pretending to be something I'm not.

I flicked the lock screen off my phone and deleted Gil's angry texts. Then I dialed Chanel's number. I swallowed hard, determined to keep my voice light.

"Hey girl," she answered breezily.

"Hey babe, you busy?"

"Not really, what's up?"

I pressed my lips together for a moment. "Well, I just wanted to let you know that I'm moving."

"Yeah? Where to?"

I let out a short laugh. "Holcum, Texas."

She snorted. "You're joking!"

"Not really, no."

"Huh," Chanel paused. "Thought you said you took the country out of the girl."

My fingers fluttered over my belly and I grinned a private smile. "Seems like I've got a little country in me after all."

There was a long, drawn out silence. Then I heard her exhale. "Well Mo, I'm happy if you're happy. But I'm kind of sad too. For me."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." I could hear her swallow and tears came to my eyes, though I wasn't quite sure why. "Seems like we could have been really good friends. I wish we could have gotten to know each other better."

The weird flutter in my chest made my voice crack when I said, "Yeah, me too."

"Good luck. Maybe I'll visit you?"

"I'll make sure to get you some overalls," I smiled, and then sniffed. "It'll be fun."

"I'll bring the girls. We can bale hay together or whatever the fuck it is you'll be doing out there."

I paused. That was the part I wasn't entirely sure of. I was upending my life on a hunch, a hope and a promise Tanner made that I was too stubborn to understand until now. "Hay baling parties are a little hardcore," I joked. "We can start you small, maybe shear a sheep or something."

"Looking forward to it. Good luck, Mo."


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