She breathed out a laugh. “How is that going?”
“Well, actually. Well … one fuck-up. How’s Sanya?”
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve been in Bali the last three weeks.”
“Beautiful. I’m coming back to the States to see you.”
I panicked. “I miss you, Fin, but I’m traveling a lot with this job. I’m following around the interagency hotshots, and we’re all over the place until early October.”
I was going to miss this Finley, the one who was never shocked, and who always let my misdeeds slide off her shoulders. Finley always made excuses for me; she led me around life holding my hand, and bossed me around without a second thought because that was what older sisters did.
No matter how much I wanted to prevent it, there would come a time when we would be sisters but no longer friends. Even if Finley forgave me, she would forever feel the pain of my betrayal and never know if she could trust me again.
I chugged one of two bottled waters in the room, wishing it were something stronger, and then paced a few laps before deciding to go back downstairs. My reflection in the mirror by the door caught my attention, and I stared into the round, icy-blue eyes staring blankly back at me. My reflection wasn’t kind. Dark strands of wavy hair hung from my messy bun. I was sober, and working, doing everything normal people did … was I happy?
A part of me hated Tyler for having to ask myself that question. If I couldn’t be happy doing something I loved, sleeping next to a patient man trying to care for me the only way he knew how, did I deserve to be? I was autonomous, making my own money and my own decisions—but staring at Ellie two-point-oh in the mirror, the sadness in her eyes was hard to ignore. It was infuriating.
The heavy door slammed behind me as I made my way down the hall. The elevator took me to the lobby, which I was surprised to find nearly empty.
“Hi,” I said to the desk clerk.
She smiled, pushing away the doodle she was working on.
“That’s pretty good,” I said, taking a second look.
“Thanks,” she said. “What can I do for you?”
I placed my credit card on the front desk. “Can I change the card on my room?”
“Sure,” she said, taking the silver rectangle from the desk. She used her mouse, clicking a few times, and then slid the card through the scanner. “For incidentals, too?”
“Got it,” she said, handing it back to me. “Just sign here.”
“Thanks—” I looked at her name badge “—Darby.”
I walked over to the bar and sat on the stool, alone except for the man behind the counter washing dishes. He had smooth, swarthy skin, and he was too young for his full head of silver hair and sideburns.
“Afternoon,” he said. He stuffed his cloth-covered fist into a glass tumbler, twisting quickly before picking up another glass from the sink. His dark eyes made him seem to be staring at me with much more intensity than he meant to.
“On the rocks?” he teased. His smile faded, and he got to work, realizing I wasn’t in the mood for jokes.
He filled a tall glass, sliding it in front of me. His eyes sparked when someone sat on the stool to my right. It wasn’t hard to guess once he spoke.
“You’re going to drink the first day on the job?” I asked. “Don’t you have a meeting in fifteen minutes?”
I tore at the edges of my napkin, a million things bouncing off the edges of my mind.
“So how did you end up with this outfit?” Liam asked.
“I started at the magazine answering phones, and ended up taking some pictures that impressed the owner. He sent me out with Tyler, and my pictures got some local attention. So, here I am, shooting a series.”
“Worked your way up. I like that,” Liam said, drinking his soda as if it were a pint. He even tipped his plastic cup to greet other firefighters as they walked by.
“I hadn’t been at the magazine long when I was sent on my first assignment.”
“Not really.” I shook my head and looked down.
“What did you do before?”
“Nothing. I went to college, barely graduated, and then traveled for a while. My parents have a house in Estes Park, so that’s how I ended up there.”
“Oh. What do you Americans call it? You’re a trust fund baby.”
“The longer I talk to you, the more interesting you are. It’s usually the opposite.”
I looked over at Liam, studying his features. He was such a stereotypical Australian man, with the strong chin, broad shoulders, and massive frame. His jaw was covered in light brown stubble, and his emerald irises were beautiful, albeit barely noticeable because of his narrow eyes. My first instinct was to invite him up to my room and forget about my fight with Tyler for an hour or two, but if the past five months had taught me anything, it was that I couldn’t screw, drink, or smoke away my problems. They would still be there in the morning, even worse than before.
Liam took another gulp of his soda, finishing it off. I’d barely touched mine.
“Starting over can be a bit depressing,” he said. “No one tells you that. You think you’re supposed to instantly feel better, and not knowing why you don’t can be bloody rough.”
“Don’t tell me you’re a trust fund baby,” I said, dubious.
“No. Working clears my head, but even that wasn’t helping anymore. I needed some distance.”
He looked around, over each shoulder, like whatever he had left behind might have followed him.
“I’ll let you know when it happens,” Liam said, standing.
Tyler rounded the corner but stopped when he recognized Liam and me sitting at the bar together.
“Best be off to the meeting,” Liam said.
Liam clinked his empty glass to mine, and then left for the conference room.
Tyler paused for just a few seconds before making his way over to me. “What are you drinking?”
He shook his head, scanning the lobby. “I’m a Cherry Coke guy.”
“Not here. Not yet, anyway. He called me earlier. He met a girl.”
He shrugged. “He didn’t have a lot of time to talk. I guess she’s a waitress or something.”
“Interesting. Oh, fuck. Tyler,” I said, seeing Agent Trexler stop at the front desk. He flirted with Darby the desk clerk for a few seconds before heading toward the automatic doors, noticing Tyler as he passed through. When he didn’t stop, I exhaled a sigh of relief.