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It felt ungrateful to yearn for those simple Christmas memories when I was surrounded by such beauty and love. But it also felt wrong to enjoy all the beauty without grieving for the holidays I’d never have again.

One thing I knew for sure, though, was that I didn’t want to bring anyone else down the bitterness and negativity spiral with me.

I murmured an excuse to Mr. Flores and turned to Darius, wishing like hell I could keep the tears from coming until I was out of the tent.

“I’m so sorry,” I breathed. “I can’t stay here.”

Darius shoved back his chair. Clearly, he intended to come with me. I shook my head and tried to tell him with my eyes how sorry I was, but I needed to be alone. He seemed to understand right away, which only made me like him more.

“Go,” he said softly. “Do what you need to do. I am here for as much or as little of it as you want. If you need me, I’ll be here. Do you understand?”

I nodded and reached out to squeeze his hand before making my way out of the tent and into the starless night.



When Miller exited the tent, I looked toward his grandmother to see if she noticed. While I knew she was a big part of the reason he was so upset, I hadn’t been around long enough to understand the nuances of this family dynamic.

She watched him go with a narrowing of her eyes. Once he was out of sight, she turned to look at me. I lifted my eyebrows as if to say, What are you going to do about it?

She frowned and pushed her chair back before coming over to speak to me. “Where’s he going?”

“Away,” I said calmly even though I wanted to blame someone for his mood and she seemed the easiest target after everything he’d told me. “I think he needs some air. I’m sure being here is bittersweet for him after losing his mom.”

Tilly’s eyes shifted from me to the door of the large tent and back. I could tell she was worried, and I assumed she was trying to decide whether to go after him or not. I pulled out his empty chair and gestured for her to take a seat.

“Why don’t you give him a minute to catch his breath and calm down?”

She clasped her hands primly in her lap. The black velvet jacket she wore sported a lovely diamond-and-ruby pin in the shape of a candy cane, and her makeup was pristine. She looked like money and elegance rolled into one haughty package.

All except the slight tremble in her hands.

I’d been watching her. After seeing how worried Miller had been about her at the police station, I’d quickly realized how important she was to him, even if his affection for her was twisted up with resentment. He’d been truly worried about her even though it had seemed from everyone else’s reaction this type of prank behavior was commonplace for Tilly and her friends.

From what I’d observed, she was generally as steady as a steel warship plowing through deep waters. But after the run-in with Miller tonight, she was clearly upset.

She reached toward Miller’s plate and pushed it away from the edge of the table before straightening the silverware he hadn’t used yet. “He misses her,” she said absently.

“Very much,” I agreed.

Her eyes flicked to me before quickly returning to the place setting she was fussing with. “He blames me.”

I didn’t respond. Not only was it not my place to agree or disagree, it didn’t seem like she was expecting me to say anything.

She moved his wineglass half an inch to the right and then slid it back. “I don’t know how much he’s told you, but…” Her eyes met mine again for a split second. It was off-putting to see such a normally composed woman seem so unsure of herself. I noticed her husband glancing worriedly at her from down the table. “I got pregnant with his mother when I was a teenager.”

I nodded, and she waved her hand before continuing. “Of course, you knew that part from what he said earlier. But what you may not know is that I don’t regret giving her up.” She stiffened her jaw and met my eyes in a challenging glare. “Giving her up was the best thing for both of us.”

“I don’t think he blames you for giving her up when you were practically a child yourself,” I said.

“No,” she admitted, looking away again. Harold must have met her eye because she made the same hand flap gesture but directed it at him this time. He frowned, and she sighed. “Miller blames me for refusing to see her when he first told me she was sick.”

It was hard to hear her over the noise around the table. She spoke softly, almost to herself. I didn’t say anything. Her hands continued to tremble.