“Yeah. You didn’t go straight to bed, did you?”
“You fucked up. Believe me, I’m not excusing what you did. But Daddy has been getting a lot of calls about your feature. I bet the Forestry Service is, too.” She opened the door, and I followed her inside, pausing until she switched on all the lights.
“Chief was right to make me go home. I wasn’t of any use there, and I made him look bad. I wouldn’t blame him if he banned me from ever shadowing them again.”
I walked into my office and Jojo followed, leaning her platinum locks against the doorjamb. “Me neither. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t. When are they due back?”
“It’s a political fire. A lot of news stations covering it. They’ll be out the full fourteen days.”
She stood. “If there are a lot of stations covering, maybe I should go down there.”
Anger and jealousy ignited every vein in my body. Jojo had a family … She needed to stay the fuck away from mine. “They wouldn’t let me up there, Jojo, and I’m seasoned. I know their procedures and a little bit about fire behavior. No offense, but they’re not going to let you on the mountain.”
She winked at me. “When have I ever taken no for an answer?”
I forced a smile, glaring at the space she stood in before she rounded the corner to her desk. Just minutes later, I could hear her on the phone, squaring away the details of her coverage of the Alpine crew.
My eyes burned, but I willed away the tears, refusing to cry in front of Jojo. I typed in my password, feeling like the day I’d updated it was a lifetime ago—so full of hope that I was capable of change.
Jojo’s phone slammed, and she peeked around the doorway again. “Can you hold down the fort this week? I’m going south.”
“Are they going to let you cover the Alpines?”
She smirked. “They don’t know it yet, but yes. The Colorado Springs hotel, right?”
I nodded, holding a brave face until Jojo waved and the back door slammed shut. My face crumbled, and I covered my face with my hands, sucking in deep breaths.
It wasn’t so surprising that I had fucked up, but that I had ruined something for myself that I loved. That thought led me to Tyler, and I knew I was ruining that, too. There was a dark part of me that just couldn’t let myself be happy, and sabotaged anything good before I could lose it.
The phone warbled, and I sat up, cleared my throat, and picked up the receiver. “The MountainEar,” I said, my voice breaking a bit.
“How’s your first day back?” Tyler said. His deep, smooth voice made everything else disappear.
I wiped my wet cheeks, clearing my throat again. “It’s great. Home sweet home.”
“Did you go there?” he asked. I could almost see the look of disbelief on his face.
“Yeah. Yeah, I went there. You do have sheets on your bed, and they’re clean.”
“No, you don’t know. I miss you like crazy. Being on the mountain, wreaking of smoke, exhausted and covered in dirt is my favorite place to be, but it’s not the same without you. Something’s missing now.”
He breathed out a laugh. “I’m serious. I wrote you a letter. All the guys are giving me so much hell.”
“Taylor most of all, I’m sure.”
“The fire’s so close, we’re taking shifts and staying at the hotel.”
“Nope. Taylor’s been taking off into town somewhere. I think there’s a girl.”
“Not one intriguing enough to hang around during the few hours we have off from a fire.”
“You probably haven’t heard yet, but you will. Jojo’s on her way to cover the Alpines.”
“Jojo?” Tyler said her name with disdain. “Why?”
“I told her about all of the news outlets covering the fire. She thought the magazine should have someone there.”
He sighed. “Fuck, Ellie, I’m sorry. I know that has to hurt.”
My chest felt heavy, and my eyes began to burn again. “I did it to myself.”
He was quiet for a moment. “I wish I was there.”
“Twelve days, Ellison. I’m coming for you in twelve days.”
“I’ve been thinking about drinking. A lot.” When he didn’t respond, I continued, “I don’t think this is going to be as easy as I thought it would be.”
“Who is that woman who kicked you out of your house?”
My cheeks flushed just thinking about her. “Sally.”
“Yeah. Her. You should call her. You have her number, don’t you?”
I rubbed my temple with my index and middle fingers. “She doesn’t work for my parents anymore.”
“I’m not asking her for help, Tyler. I loathe her. I refuse to give her the satisfaction.”
“You’re saying it’s wrong for her to feel satisfied about helping you? I think that’s the nature of her job.”
“Satisfied in the way a scheming, smug, rat-faced cunt would be satisfied, not a life coach.”
“Well … maybe you can just try to stay busy. Keep your mind off it until I get there.”
I considered his suggestion, one project immediately coming to mind. “Your apartment needs some work.”
“I’m serious. That will take me at least twelve days. Can I unpack for you?”
“Please? It will look like a real apartment when you get back.”
“Why not? Are you afraid of what I’ll come across in those boxes? What? Is there like … skin suits or shrunken heads or something? Don’t tell me you’re ashamed of your porn.”
He chuckled. “No, I just don’t feel right letting you do that.”
“You’re letting me stay in your apartment. I’d say it’s a fair exchange.”
The line was quiet for a few seconds, and then Tyler sighed. “You don’t have to, but if you want to, and it’ll keep your mind off things, be my guest.”
“What the fuck, Ellie? I didn’t fuck Jojo when I had the chance a year ago. I’m definitely not going to now.”
“You’ve never been with Jojo? I thought…”
“Yeah, she’s still offended … but no. Never.”
“So what are you trying to say?” he asked.
“Nothing. I just don’t want you making things awkward with my boss.”
“Right,” he said, self-satisfied. “I’m telling all the guys we’re exclusive. I’m telling Liam first.”