I pulled over at the service station where I’d met Woods only four months ago. It had been the start to my journey. How ironic that the directions Tripp had given me led me right back here. I wasn’t even sure whether Woods lived in this town. He’d taken me a town over to eat and find a hotel. Maybe he’d just been driving through that day too. Or maybe I might see him again.
What if he’s married?
No, I wasn’t going to think that. I wasn’t going to judge all men by Jeffery. That was unfair. Take Tripp for example. He was nothing like Jeffery. He had given me the keys to his condo to stay in free of charge as long as I kept it clean. He’d also gotten me a job.
I glanced down at the paper in my hand. Tripp had given me Jace’s phone number and told me to call him once I was settled in. He’d get me an appointment with Mr. Kerrington.
I pulled back out onto the road and followed the last two turns before pulling up to a condo unit that faced the ocean. I glanced down to check the address Tripp had given me. Surely this wasn’t his condo. This town was high end and these condos had to all cost a fortune. How did Tripp own one?
The nagging suspicion that Tripp didn’t belong working as a bartender and driving a Harley-Davidson came back to me. He was something more than he was letting people in Dallas know.
I pulled my cell phone out of my purse and dialed Tripp’s number. No answer.
I then dialed Jace’s number. It rang three times and a girl answered.
“Hello,” she drawled.
“Um, yes, I’m, uh, Della Sloane. A friend of—”
“Tripp’s!” she squealed into the phone. “We’ve been expecting you. I’m so glad you made it safely. Are you settled into Tripp’s apartment yet?”
I was pretty sure he had said Jace was a guy.
“Um, no, not exactly. I just arrived and this place is really nice. I’m afraid I’m at the wrong condo.”
The girl laughed into the phone. “No, you’re at the right place. I’m assuming you don’t know that much about Tripp. Trust me honey, he can afford that place and more. Oh, I’m Bethy by the way. Jace’s girlfriend. He’s outside.”
I liked her. She was super friendly.
“If you’re sure I’m at the right place I’ll go find his unit and unpack my bags. I need Jace to contact Mr. Kerrington about meeting me.”“Oh there’s no reason to call him. He told Jace to send you to him as soon as you’re ready. He needs some new servers. Do you have a pen and paper handy? You need to jot down these directions.”This was quite possibly the nicest place I’d ever stayed. Tripp made it sound run down like he needed me to come stay here and fix things up. Someone obviously cleaned this place regularly. It was in pristine condition. I unpacked my bags and then went to stand out on the balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. It was beautiful out here. Tripp had been right. This was an experience I needed. I could work and enjoy staying here in his condo. It would be the beach vacation I’d never gotten growing up. I’d always watched television and wondered if the sand was that white and the water was that blue.It was.Smiling, I sank down onto the lounge chair and stretched my legs out in front of me. This was nice. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and dialed Braden’s number.“It’s about time! Where are you? Still in Dallas?” Braden’s chipper voice made me miss home a little. Maybe I just missed her. It wasn’t like I’d left a lot behind there. Except for people who would always whisper about me and wonder.“Nope. Not in Dallas anymore. Turns out Jeffery is married.”I heard her sharp intake of air as she let that sink in. “Oh, no,” she breathed. “Della that’s awful! I’m so sorry. Where are you now? Do you want me to come get you? You’re doing okay, aren’t you? Not having strange thoughts…” Her voice trailed off at the last bit. I knew she hated to ask me that but honestly, if Braden couldn’t check on me that way then who could? She knew it all or most of it. No one knew all of it. I just couldn’t share everything with the world. Some things were meant to be kept a secret.“I’m fine. I’m actually back in Florida staying in a condo that belongs to Tripp, he’s the weekend bartender I told you about. Anyway he hooked me up with a job in his hometown and gave me a place to stay. It’s gulf front. I’m sitting on the balcony looking at the pretty white beach now.”“Ooooooh! That sounds wonderful. Lucky you! I would love to visit the gulf again sometime. And this Tripp guy sounds really nice. Maybe once you’ve gotten the traveling bug again you could head back to Dallas and thank him,” she teased.“Tripp is just a friend. Not happening. I mean I’ll thank him but I’ll be sending a card and some money or something via the mail.”“You’re right. I pushed you to start dating and look what happened. This is your chance to live life. No reason to get attached to one guy. You have the world to explore.”“That’s right. And I intend to do that right after I enjoy the sunshine and sand for a little while.”“What’s the new job like?”“I’m not sure yet. I need to go meet the boss. He’s expecting me. It’s at a country club so that should be a fun experience. Much different from the bar,” I told her.“Very. Go get that job then call me and tell me all about it. I can’t wait.”We said our goodbyes and ended the call. Braden was always my way of touching base. Remembering things. Everything I had been through and everything I had overcome.The night I met Braden had changed my life. The only person I’d ever known was my mom. She wouldn’t let me answer the door to receive packages or our groceries. I’d had to hide in my closet and be quiet until the person at the door was gone. Braden had been as fascinated with me as I was with her. She’d asked me questions that I hadn’t been able to answer for a long time. I couldn’t tell anyone about my mom. Even as a kid I understood that.Shaking away memories I didn’t want to think about right now I stood up and headed for the bedroom I’d claimed as mine. There were two bedrooms but one had a king size canopy bed and a fabulous hot tub. I took that room. I pulled out my newest skirt. A short pink chevron print and a white sleeveless knit top I’d bought to go with it. After brushing my hair and applying some makeup, I slipped into a pair of backless pink heels and headed for the door. I had a job to claim.