Reed Mitchell wasn’t having much luck making conversation with his wife Kaylee. Since picking her up, she’d barely spoken except when answering a direct question. If that’s how she was going to be, he could deal with it.
“Have you told Ava?”
Still staring out of the car window, she shook her head. “No, I assumed she had bigger problems with Wade Bryson breaking out of prison. Did you tell Logan?”
“No, I figured the same as you.”
A long silence. He ought to be used to it by now, but it still frustrated the hell out of him. How had they gotten to this point? Barely speaking to one another? Kaylee only tolerating his presence?
“I guess they’ll figure it out eventually.”
He didn’t want anyone to know that they’d separated. Because he still had hope that it was only temporary and that they’d work it out. She couldn’t stay like this forever. Could she?
“You don’t have to do this,” he said. “If no one knows that means we’re going to have to share a room. Act like we don’t hate each other.”
That got her attention. Quickly she turned from the scenery outside the window and looked at him. Finally. If only her green eyes weren’t so cold. He rarely saw true happiness in Kaylee anymore. It hadn’t been there in a long time. It was probably his fault. He’d tried but nothing ever seemed to make any difference.
Reed knew that Kaylee blamed herself. He didn’t know how to stop her.
“I don’t hate you.” Her voice was small, barely above a whisper. “I’ve never hated you.”
“You’re doing a hell of an impression then,” he said grimly, his jaw painfully tight. “This isn’t how you act around someone you like, honey.”
He’d done it again. Upset her. Her cheeks were pale and her lips pressed together in a thin line. “I’m sorry you don’t approve. I’ll try to do better. I’ll act like my life is rainbows and unicorns.”
At one point it had been. They’d been happy and in love. Then they’d taken it for granted, wanting too much apparently. They’d been greedy and look where it got them. Almost strangers.
Sighing, his fingers gripped the steering wheel, the knuckles white. “That’s not what I meant. I’m glad you’re here. Ava needs the support of her friends right now. I just wanted to warn you that it won’t be easy when we’re in front of other people. That is, if you don’t want to tell people that I’ve moved out.”
“I’m not ready to talk about it.”
She might never be ready. She sure as hell didn’t want to talk about the gigantic elephant in the room. The whole reason they were having problems.
“You can tell me anything, honey.”
Kaylee shook her head, tears glistening on her eyes. “I’ve tried. You don’t understand.”
Reed didn’t want to argue again. They’d argued too many times and they never made any real progress. They were simply running laps at this point.
“I want to understand but you can’t blame yourself–”
“I said I don’t want to talk about it. It doesn’t change anything.”
No, it didn’t change the issue at hand.
“It might change how you feel. I don’t care about having a baby. It’s not that important to me.”
A silvery tear slid down her creamy cheek. Now Reed felt like a total asshole. He’d made her cry mentioning the one thing that she didn’t want to talk about. She never wanted to talk about it again. She’d made that clear the day they’d walked out of that fertility specialist’s office.
“You’re lying. It was important. To both of us.”
“Our marriage is more important than a baby. We could always adopt.”
Scrubbing at her wet cheeks, she turned away again. “You just don’t get it.”
“And that shuts down the conversation, doesn’t it?” Reed’s voice had become louder and his heart beat faster in his chest. The ties that bound them together felt so fragile these days, as if they might snap at any moment. He was constantly reaching out to pull her closer but that just pushed her farther away. “Dumb old Reed doesn’t get it so you stop talking. Stop believing in our marriage. It’s all your way and I don’t get any say.”
“Nothing has been my way.”
The words were barely audible, but Reed still heard them. Dammit, he loved this woman. He’d die for her without any question. But he couldn’t make her happy. Shit, when was the last time he’d seen her smile? He couldn’t remember. All the joy that had been inside of his wife had leaked out, leaving a shell of a human being. She existed but barely. She worked and sometimes she’d eat. She rarely left the house and she hardly spoke to anyone especially him. It had been like living with a shadow. The day she’d asked him to leave he hadn’t even argued. He’d packed his bag and left, mostly out of self-preservation.
Honestly, Reed needed to keep his head in the game and not be distracted by his own personal issues. He’d hoped when Kaylee had said she was coming to help out that the time together might give him a chance to heal his marriage, but they both had to want that. Right now, he was alone in wanting to make this work. The days to come weren’t going to be easy. In fact, being this close to her and not pulling her into his arms was a particularly cruel form of torture. He still loved his wife desperately. Sometimes he thought she still loved him, too.
The safe house was located on the outskirts of Billings. Close enough to law enforcement but far enough away that they had some privacy. It was state of the art technologically and administered by the Marshal service. Their friend Evan Davis had once been a US Marshal, so he was the liaison with the service who was looking for Wade, but they were also helping protect Ava, Logan, and the kids.
They were all helping. Tanner, Seth, Griffin, Jared, Jason, and Dare. They were banded together now, a team. No one was going to get to Logan and his family.
No one. If only he could somehow protect his wife from the world.
“Are you happy, honey?”
“I don’t know. Are you?”
“We could be. It doesn’t have to be like this.”
Reed pulled up to the front of the house and parked the car. In a few seconds, they would be onstage. They might not be a couple, but they had to act like it. Kaylee gathered her purse and backpack, pushing open the car door.
“The difference between the two of us, Reed, is that I don’t expect to be happy.”
If he couldn’t get Kaylee back… Neither did he.
* * * *
The safe house where Logan, Ava, and the kids were staying was lovely and spacious with soaring ceilings and shiny maple floors. It looked comfortable but a little cold and unlived in, more like a showroom than a home.
But Ava had a wide smile on her face and open arms which Kaylee flew into gratefully, hugging her best friend hard. It had been far too long since they’d seen each other in person. Skype sessions were fine, but they simply weren’t the same. Already the tension that had built during the car ride was draining away.
“I’ve missed you,” Ava gushed, giving Kaylee a second hug. “I’m so glad that you’re here but you didn’t have to come.”
“I wanted to come. I thought you might need a hand with the twins, keeping them occupied.”
Rolling her eyes, Ava gestured toward the back of the house. “Logan has them in the backyard right now and they’re all getting dirty playing kickball. We’re trying to keep them outside as much as possible to wear them out. So far it seems to be working.”
“Do they know…?”
Ava shook her head. “They think we’re on an extended vacation. They don’t question having Uncle Reed or Uncle Tanner around. They’re not too sure about the marshals but we just told them that they’re family friends. If this goes on much longer, however, they’re going to know something is up. They’re getting older and far too smart to be fooled. Now that you’re here I think we’ve bought at least a week. They didn’t understand why Uncle Reed was here but Aunt Kaylee wasn’t.”
Kayla felt a pang in her heart at Ava’s words. Reed was here but she hadn’t been. A common state these days, although she wasn’t sure she’d ever get used to it. The being alone part was painful.
“I’m here now,” Kaylee replied, forcing a smile to her face. It was strange and uncomfortable but being here with Ava was the closest feeling to happiness that she’d had in a long time. “We’ll come up with some great games. Are we allowed to leave the compound?”
There had been gates and a long driveway to the main house. On the way, they’d passed a guest house where Reed had said the marshals were staying.
“We can but we’re trying not to, if you know what I mean. The two marshals have an opinion on just about everything we do and if it were up to them we’d be hunkered down in the house twenty-four seven with the curtains drawn. Luckily, we have the final say. Logan and I discussed this and then talked about it with Jared and we all agree that we can’t keep the children prisoners in this house. Logan knows Wade the best and he doesn’t think that he’d go after the twins.”
“What about you?”
Shrugging as if she didn’t care, Ava sniffed at the question. “He might regret that. I’m not inclined to go quietly, if you know what I mean.”
Ava would put up a hell of a fight and Wade wouldn’t know what hit him.
“Seriously,” Ava’s expression grew sober. “This is sort of dangerous. You didn’t have to come, and I’d understand if you decided to go home.”
Ava had no idea. The most dangerous thing about being here was being so close to Reed.
Clearing his throat, Reed made his presence known. Before he was happy to let the women have their reunion. “I told her that, Ava, but she was determined to come and support you.”
“I trust that you’re well protected,” Kaylee said, keeping her gaze on her friend and not on her husband. She could feel him close though, the heat from his body radiating out. He’d always been like that – a walking heater. At night, she’d wake up covered in sweat because they’d cuddled, their legs and arms tangled together like two puppies. “I’m not worried about my safety.”
Ava glanced over her shoulder. “You’ll probably want to go upstairs and unpack. Then why don’t you come outside and say hello to Logan and the twins? I can take you for a little tour of the place too and introduce you to the marshals.”
“What are they like?”
Kaylee had visions of bossy people that were heavily armed. She’d watched far too many movies.
“Nice. Professional. They keep their distance for the most part, but they seem okay. It’s their job to keep Wade off of the property. So far, so good. Assuming he’s even coming for Logan. It’s just a theory.”
A decent one, though. It made sense and they were right to be cautious.
Reed picked up Kaylee’s suitcase. “Are you ready? I can show you our room.”
Our room. Our room. Our room.
The words flitted around her brain, almost making her dizzy. A huge part of her wanted to turn and run out of the house. She’d made a big mistake coming here and thinking she could do this. Another part of her wanted to be here for her best friend and a little voice in her ear assured her that she could indeed do this. She could spend time with Reed and it wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Those little voices were full of shit.
That tension back in full force, Kaylee silently followed her estranged husband up a staircase and down a long hallway to what would be their bedroom. She hadn’t shared a bed with Reed in months and this wasn’t going to be easy. Every single second she wanted to throw herself into his arms and sob, beg him to tell her that everything was going to be okay.
Then she’d remind herself that nothing was the same anymore. She’d seen the look on his face when that doctor had told them that her chances of ever getting pregnant were slim to none. His pain and…yes, disappointment.
With her. He’d been disappointed in her. And from experience she knew what that meant. What had she said to Reed when they’d first met?
When the going gets tough, men get gone.
This was certainly the toughest thing that had ever happened to her.
Kaylee’s body had let her down and she’d let her husband down. At that moment the frustration and self-loathing that had been building for so long had exploded. She’d turned to the man she loved for comfort and reassurance and found a cold shoulder to cry on. There had been no soft landing, no hugs and cuddles with sweet words of love and adoration. Reed had said no words on the way home, barely acknowledging her existence. Once in the house he’d disappeared into the garage and not come back out until dinner. He’d acted normally after that, but she couldn’t forget his first reaction.
His true reaction.
Now she was here with him again and he said that he wanted to understand. She was just so tired of talking with him. They went over the same ground again and again and they didn’t seem to get anywhere. He couldn’t comprehend her devastation and he hadn’t tried. He kept saying that she should be fine, but she didn’t feel fine, and he didn’t seem to have any patience for that.
Reed set her suitcase on the queen-sized bed. The bedroom was decorated in blue and grey with small touches of green. It had an impersonal air about it, no photos or clutter except for Reed’s tennis shoes tucked beside a chair. He’d always been a stickler for neatness while she was rather more slapdash and casual.
“There’s plenty of room in the closet and the dresser. I didn’t bring all that much with me.”
Reed could always be counted on to pack light. She, on the other hand, brought thirty outfits when six or seven would suffice. She used to think that their opposite habits were cute but now…
She wanted to be alone, if only for a few minutes. She needed to breathe, and she couldn’t do it when Reed was standing next to her.
“I’ll be down as soon as I finish unpacking and freshening up. It won’t take long.”
“I’ll pour you a glass of iced tea. I think there’s cookies too to tide you over until lunch.”
Her stomach lurched at the thought of food. It was the last thing she wanted.
Without another word, Reed turned on his heel and left the room, closing the door softly behind him. Kayla sank onto the mattress and buried her head in her hands, tears beginning to well in her eyes. Blinking several times, she forcefully held them back. She’d become adept at hiding her pain and she’d need that skill while she was here.
Because Reed reminded her of all that she wasn’t and never would be.