Page 68 of Coercion

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My mom covers her mouth to hide a sob, and I do the obvious thing.I don’t think about it.I just put my arms around her and pat her back and let her cry.

It feels right.It feels so right that it fills up my lungs and overwhelms everything in a way that I’m shocked to discover doesn’t hurt at all.

“We’ve been—” I’m not crying.Okay—I am, but only a little.“We’ve been having dinner together on Friday nights.”Twice in a row, at least.“Sin and Emerson and me.And Bristol and her siblings.You could come this Friday.Make up for lost time.”

“Will, I—” Her arms go around me and she squeezes me back.“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”



My favorite thingin the world is lounging by the beach.

Will bought me the cushiest possible beach chair, which is more comfortable than most of the recliners I can remember sitting in.One of the agents brings it out whenever I want to come to the beach on my vacation.

That’s my life this week.Sitting on this chair in the sun, reading a novel about a famous hero from ancient Greece.The rest of the world only knows the hero for his extreme talent as a soldier and fighter, but the man he loves knows all the soft, secret parts of him.It’s sad and romantic and lovely and I find it more than a little familiar.Best of all, I get to read it at a slow, leisurely pace and listen to the ocean roll on the shore.

It’s a good thing, too, because I couldn’t do more work in Will’s office without tearing up over the conversation he had with his mom.It was so clear that she was a woman in serious need of a hug, and once he’d seen those photos, it was all over.

Because Will is a man who wants to be able to fix things, not just fight them.He wants to be the man people need, not the man who makes things harder.

That hug fixed a lot for both of them.The dinner invitation, even more.

After Will’s mom had hugged him back with a softyou’re so tall, Will, when did you get so tall?she told him she had some errands that had to be done before five o’clock.

I let the book rest on my lap, close my eyes, and donotcry.

It was just such a sweet, obvious lie, and she was so happy to be able to tell it.Will’s face was an open question after he let go of her.If she’d asked him to let her sit in his office the rest of the day, I think he would’ve done it.

“Okay,” he said.“You should do that.But I need your number so we can make plans for Friday.It’ll probably be best to have the dinner at Emerson’s house.”Will looked at her with hope and caution and fierce protectiveness in his eyes, none of it hidden behind a scowl.“We need to decide on a plan, Mom.There can’t be any surprises.”

She reached out, tentative, and patted his hand.Her expression was serious.“I understand.We’ll make a plan, and I’ll stick to it.I’ll be there.I promise.”

Down in the lobby of the Hughes building, he pulled her in for another quick hug and lowered his voice.“Mom.Do you have a place to stay?Do you need money?”

“I’m okay, Willie.”She smiled at him, big and bright.Lie,a little voice in my head mentioned.Mia lies the same way.She throws herself into it with too much enthusiasm.“I’ve got leads on a couple jobs.Don’t worry about me.I’ll see you and your brothers on Friday.”

I’m excited for Friday.It’s going to be good.My mom’s voice pops into my head over the sound of the waves.Someday we’ll have everything.

“We had everything, Mom.I wish you could come to dinner, too.”

You go, and tell me all about it.

I open my eyes, wipe away my tears, and go back to my book.

It’s too chilly for a bikini.I tried earlier for just long enough to send Will a selfie.

Will:Nice goose bumps, sweetheart.I’ll lick them off when I get home.

Now I’m in leggings and a cozy crewneck that Will picked out for me with two throw blankets over my lap and a bag of tropical Jolly Ranchers in one cupholder of my ultra-fancy beach chair.In the other, I have a can of sparkling water.I started out the day with a bottled Frappuccino.There are twenty-three more waiting in the fridge, because Will Leblanc doesn’t do anything halfway.

I pop a fresh Jolly Rancher in my mouth.The tropical flavor bursts onto my tongue.This is thedream.Obviously, I love hanging out on the beach with Will and the twins.I’ll never get over the sheer joy of actuallyliving on the beach,steps away from the water, in the most beautiful house I’ve ever seen, with the man I love most in the world.

My second-favorite way to hang out by the beach is by myself, though.For most of my life, things have been stressful and unpredictable.There wasn’t much time to sit and think.I had to make most of the decisions for the twins, then make them again every time we had to move.There was no such thing as Will Leblanc chatting with school principals so he’d be informed enough to make a suggestion.

A place doesn’t have to be warm and tropical to be paradise.

The Jolly Rancher gets sweeter and smaller on my tongue.In a couple hours I’ll go with Evan to pick up the twins from school.Heather and Drew could bring them back, then rotate off their shift, or Evan could go alone, but I like being the one to meet them at the end of the day.Especially since Mia’s woken up the last two nights with nightmares.Not about our dad, though, or anything that happened in the warehouse.She says they’re about losing her copies of The Dark is Rising Sequence, which I have to agree would be devastating for Mia.