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She sighed, then reluctantly stepped inside the gazebo and took a seat on the edge of the chair, ready to bolt at any second. What would this woman see? Did she want to know?

“Okay…what do you see?” she asked as calmly as possible despite her racing pulse. She clenched her hands on her lap and stared politely into the ball as the woman waved her hands over it in a dramatic display.

Whitney waited, but the ball went completely dark, and the woman’s eyes held a real look of fear when she reopened them. Her gaze met Whitney’s, and a shiver ran through her. She stood abruptly, knocking over the chair in the process, and stepped down from the gazebo.

“Hey, wait,” Trent called after her as she headed toward the parking lot.

“I’m sure it was just a loose cable or something,” Marissa said, crawling under the table to check the plugs.

“It’s fine. We should get going. The real guests are all coming through now,” Whitney said, trying to sound unfazed, but her heart was pounding and her palms were sweaty.

There’d been no future in that crystal ball…at least not one she wanted to know about.

The haunted house had definitely freaked her out.

Whitney was still quiet as Trent pulled the Jeep into their driveway half an hour later. She wasn’t a fan of the scariness of the season, the gore and terror, he knew that, but the fortune-teller and the crystal ball malfunction had really frightened her.

He touched her hand gently as he turned off the vehicle. “Hey, it was just a bad wire connection.” Marissa had managed to get it fixed again as they’d left the garden, but Whitney had had enough for one night.

She nodded. “I know. I’m fine.”

She didn’t seem fine, but he knew not to press the issue when she was already on edge. He opened the door, climbed out, then took her hand as they made their way up the walk and into the house.

He flicked on the interior lights and hung his keys on the hook near the door. “You hungry? Did you want me to make something? Coffee?” It was after eight, but he suspected she’d be staying up to work.

But he was surprised when she shook her head and started to climb the stairs. “I’m tired. I think I’m going to call it a night.”

“Oh…okay.” He stood there awkwardly, finding himself in unfamiliar territory. She was obviously upset about something, and for the first time in almost a year, she wasn’t heading straight to her laptop to work. She was going to bed. Did she want him to go to bed, too? Or did she want to be alone?

Damn, this shouldn’t be such a riddle. They were engaged. They’d been together for seven years. He shouldn’t have to question what his fiancée needed or wanted from him. He hated this feeling of walking on eggshells around her. He never knew what to say or do, fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing.

He swallowed hard and cleared his throat. “Would you like company or…”

She paused on the stairs, and her expression was more tired than she usually let him see. The dark circles under her eyes were evident, and she looked pale and even thinner. He wished he could protect her and keep her safe, fix whatever she was struggling with…if only she’d let him in.

“I know it’s early, but do you mind?” she asked.

His heart soared a little despite the concern he had for her. “Don’t mind at all,” he said, joining her on the staircase.

When she reached for his hand, unexpected emotions strangled him as he held hers tight and they headed upstairs. This rare moment of her displaying any bit of vulnerability had him conflicted, but all he knew was that she was reaching out to him and he’d be there for her in whatever capacity she needed. If she wanted to talk, he was there to listen.

In the bedroom, she sat on the bed and bent to remove her boots, but he stopped her. He knelt on the floor in front of her and removed them.

She didn’t protest the help, sending him a silent, grateful look as she allowed him to continue undressing her. He removed her sweater, lifting it over her head. Next, he unclasped her bra and slid it down her arms and away from her body. He took her hands and helped her to her feet, then removed her jeans and socks.

Opening his dresser drawer, he retrieved his oversize, faded football T-shirt that he knew was her favorite and slipped it on over her head.

He pulled back the blankets, and she climbed into bed, tucking her feet under the covers.

He undressed and slid in next to her and opened his arms. She moved in closer, and he wrapped his arms around her and held her close. He kissed the top of her forehead and lay awake until the sound of her breathing grew deeper, the muscles in her body softened and relaxed…and she was asleep.

Chapter Thirteen


The evening before had served as an epiphany.

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