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Steven mutters something but manages to fight his way to the curb.

I throw the door open, and Brance saunters over, a mischievous grin on his face. He hands Steven his bags and slides in.

“You look fabulous. I love your hair,” Lana gushes as they air kiss.

“You think it’s too light?” With his dark Columbian skin and his dark eyes, his light hair makes his face striking. Somehow my skinny pretty boy has grown up into a sexy lean man.

“Knock it off, Brance. You look like a model and you know it.” He winks at me, kissing my forehead.

“Christ, I won’t miss that flight. I think I have my father almost caving so that we can use one of his planes for the trip back. I’m so sick of commercial. Anything over five hours should always be in a private plane.” Stretching his long legs, he grins, no doubt knowing he sounds ridiculous.

Rolling my eyes, I say, “Whatever, Brance, are you hungry?”

“Famished.”

Lana claps her hands. “I know the perfect place.” Leaning between us, she tells the driver, not even waiting for our response.

Settling back, she clasps her fingers in her lap. “Now that Brance is here, he has something he needs to tell you.”

“Jesus, Lana, can’t we even get to the restaurant?” Brance grabs my hand and holds it. Looking from one to the other, I suddenly want to scream for Steven to pull over and let me out. The crowded streets would be better than whatever secret Brance has.

“What?” I dig my nails into his hand.

“Tess! It’s not that bad. Stop clawing me.” My eyes dart down to his tan hand, which I have indeed made bleed with my nails.

“Oh God, Brance, I’m so sorry.” I try to erase my craziness with my thumb.

“If it’s bad, I don’t want to hear it.” And I kind of mean that, my mind drifting off to all the work I’ve done on myself. Every morning, I run at least three miles. Graduated at the top of my class. Got myself into Columbia. And, I did all this without Reed. I didn’t collapse like I wanted to. I didn’t let him completely destroy me. He broke my heart, severed my soul, but I’m still fighting. Brance already told me about the prostitutes and drugs. How much worse can it be?

“Tess!” Lana is annoyingly waving a hand in my face.

“Stop it.” I slap it away.

“Well, you’re scaring me. You’re pale and your eyes are glazed over like you’re in another world.”

“Lana, back off. She’ll be fine. Maybe we should wait.” Brance looks at me then out the window.

“No, she needs to know. Maybe that will open her eyes.”

Turning so I can see Brance, his chocolate eyes search my face for answers. I curl my hands into a fist and try to breathe. Whatever is torturing him must be bad because his body is radiating nervous energy. I look away, unsure I want to put myself through anything else. I’ve managed to lock my feelings away. Do I honestly want them to escape?

The driver clears his throat forcing me to focus. “Excuse me, Ms. Volkov, we’re here. Do you want me to drop you off at the door, or do you want me to circle around again?”

She looks at me. “Are you going to make a scene?”

I straighten my shoulders. “Don’t be stupid, Lana. I’m fine. Nothing Brance can say can hurt me.” Well, that’s a lie, but she doesn’t need to know that I’m getting ready to snap. Plastering on my prettiest smile, I face Brance. “Is anyone dead?”

“No.”

“See… there you have it. Problem solved. Drop us off, Steven.”

He pulls over, and we exit. Walking up to the colorful restaurant, we see a red sign and green wooden windows welcoming us.

Lana’s phone goes off. I can tell she is talking to my father because her voice drops a notch.

I roll my eyes.

“Stop it,” Brance chastises me.

“What? Oh, you mean the eye roll at watching Lana humiliate herself for my father?” I want to say more but she hangs up flustered.

Exhaling, she says, “So, your father is going to join us. Let’s go in and get a table.”

The restaurant is busy for lunch, and we have to sit in the middle at a long thin table with pretty lilies set in the center. I can’t help but snicker, knowing my dad will hate this table. He can’t stand people invading his space. The kitchen is open, and it has a big wood-burning oven. White-jacketed chefs remove bubbling pizza and fresh-baked bread from it.

Lana is all business, and our eight-year age difference goes right out the window. She transforms into everything my father wishes her to be: a sophisticated woman emerges.

“I’m going to freshen up.” She eyes me like I should follow. I smile. “Fantastic. We’ll be waiting.”

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