Wherever he was, he’d had more than enough time to lick his wounds. She’d screwed up. She could own her mistakes. But for a man who claimed to love her, he owed her the courtesy of a civilized discussion, even if it meant he was going to end things between them.
“Time to play hardball,” she said, turning the knob on the kitchen door. It was left unlocked as usual and she stepped into the warmth of his home.
She heard the clack of nails on the hardwood floor and Winston came around the corner to see who’d disturbed his sleep. He gave her a look of such accusation she had no choice but to apologize.
“I’m sorry, Winston,” she said, kneeling down so he could get a quick rub. “I know I haven’t been around the last couple of weeks, but there were reasons that your ears are too young to hear. But I’m here now, and I’m cordially inviting you to a sleepover at my house. I have extra snacks in the pantry.”
Winston woofed softly and went to the hall closet where Duncan kept his jacket. Once she got him zipped up they left the house and she hefted him into the car.
“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but maybe you need to lay off the snacks,” she said.
She drove slowly, as she still wasn’t the best driver when it was snowing, and she made the turn onto Tribulation Pass. She was about to pull in the driveway when it finally registered that Duncan’s truck was in her driveway.
“Duncan,” she said. And Winston gave a soft woof of confirmation.
She and Winston went inside, and she put her things on the table and took off Winston’s jacket. He immediately made himself comfortable in the little bed she kept for him near the fireplace.
The house lights weren’t on, but she could see the fire pit burning on the back porch through the glass.
“Wish me luck, Winston,” she said, and opened the sliding glass door.
What she hadn’t been expecting was to see Duncan stretched out on the porch swing, dead to the world.
She took a step toward him and his eyes popped open, and then he came to his feet and stood unsteadily in front of her.
“It’s freezing out here,” she said. “Why didn’t you come inside?”
“It felt weird being here without you,” he said. “But I wouldn’t turn down the invite now. I guess I’ve been out here awhile.”
He passed by to come inside and the scent of him almost brought her to her knees—fresh soap, paint, and the slightest hint of turpentine. She’d missed him desperately. She put on a pot of coffee while he started a fire.
“Why is Winston here?” he asked, eyeing the dog.
“I went to your house after work tonight,” she finally said. “To talk to you. When you weren’t there I invited Winston for a sleepover. He came of his own free will. And I figured you’d come here looking for him sooner or later. And then we could talk.”
“You kidnapped my dog?”
Winston’s head popped up and he stared at her accusingly.
“Of course not,” she assured Winston. “Though I do owe you a snack.”
“Blackmail,” Duncan said. “That makes more sense.”
She went into the kitchen and got a treat from the canister she kept on the counter and Winston padded softly behind her.
“You’re a good boy,” Hattie said, giving Winston the treat. He took it delicately and went back to his bed.
“Traitor,” Duncan said.
Hattie wasn’t sure what to do next. She couldn’t stop staring at him. His cheekbones were more defined than the last time she’d seen him and he was in desperate need of a haircut.
“You’ve been working,” she said.
“Almost nonstop.” And then he grinned. “I must look a sight.”
“I’m so sorry I hurt you,” she blurted out. “I knew when we met I should have walked away. I knew there couldn’t be anything between us, and I should’ve walked away. But I didn’t, and I take responsibility for that. If I’d followed Atticus’s instructions, I should’ve come here and lain low—go to work, pay bills, and live like a normal person. Maybe even make a friend or two. And then I met you… And I thought, if I could just have this for a little while, it would be enough.”
“But it wasn’t enough,” he said.