The Soul Mate Page 30

“You don’t mean that. After the island and—”

“What are you going to do? Charter a trip every time we’re reminded of our real life circumstances? We’d never leave the place,” I said. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go.”

He tried to grab for my arm, but I pulled away and strode toward the revolving doors, not bothering to turn when he called after me. I’d made myself clear and—most important of all—I knew if I turned and saw his face, I would never be able to leave again.

But leaving was the right thing to do. Mason wanted children. I’d known it since the first moment I’d told him I might be pregnant, and even more so when we’d both been so let down when I wasn’t.

And if I couldn’t have them? Then what kind of monster would I be for leading him on and denying him the one thing he wanted most of all?

Biting back another swell of panic, I got in my car and drove to the one place I knew I’d be able to think through my options. The zoo was closed today as part of some conservationist holiday, but I knew that I’d be able to get in regardless.

When I got there, the parking lot was empty save for one bright orange Fiat. Mandy’s car.

Jangling my keys as I walked, I let myself in and headed to my friend’s office. It was empty.


When she saw my car, there was no doubt she’d call, but for now I wanted to be alone anyway. Holding my breath, I made my way to the cheetah enclosure and stepped inside Cocoa and Nibs’s shelter. Except rather than a great lumbering dog and its friendly cheetah companion, I found Mandy with a cheetah on her lap as she stroked him.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

The cheetah didn’t bother looking up at me, but Mandy pursed her lips, never stopping her soft strokes on the animal’s head.

“Nibs died this morning,” she murmured, her throat clogged with unshed tears.

I blinked, the breath leaving me in a whoosh. “What? No, he was in perfect health.”

Mandy shook her head. “It was sudden. Looks like he had leukemia and we didn’t see it.”

My heart froze. “Poor Cocoa.”

Mandy nodded. “We’re going to try and bring in a new dog, but…”

She didn’t have to say the rest. We all knew what usually became of the cheetahs who lived without their dogs and the dogs who lived without their cheetahs. The depression could set in, making it harder for them to eat or function. And eventually? It was that depression that could kill them.

I’d never felt more connected to one of the animals in the zoo in all my life. I had barely dodged this bullet with Mason myself and now, seeing this animal in so much pain, it was a much needed reminder that love fucking hurt.

Who needed that in their life?

Carefully I took a step toward Cocoa, and when she didn’t move, I began to stroke her in time with Mandy.

“What brings you here on a holiday?” she asked. “I haven’t told anyone about Nibs yet.”

“No, I just came to visit them. I had a couple of things I wanted to think over and I thought this might be a nice place to do it.”

Mandy nodded. “So the doctor’s visit didn’t go well?”

I sighed. “Not exactly.”

“But they can’t tell you anything until they run the tests. So now you wait and wonder, right?”

I nodded. “How’d you know?”

She offered me a small, sad smile. “Because I’ve been there.”

“You…?” I asked and she nodded.

“A year after I got married, we decided we wanted to start a family, but…” She shrugged. “Well, things didn’t happen like we thought they would. It took us seven years and several miscarriages to conceive. It was awful at the time, obviously. I felt like I’d let my husband down.”

 “I’m so sorry, Mandy. I can’t believe you never told me,” I said.

She shrugged. “It was a hard string of years, but it all worked out for us in the end.”

I took a deep breath, held it, then let it out slowly. “Mason just wants a baby so damn bad.”

“Is that what he said when you told him?”

“No.” I didn’t meet her eyes, because deep down, I knew I was just using my questionable fertility to wall myself off from something that terrified me. Love. A future. “I didn’t tell him. I didn’t want to see his expression. Don’t want his pity.”

“What about the sympathy?” Mandy asked.

“Is there a difference?”

“Only one way to find out,” Mandy said, then led Cocoa onto my lap and dusted herself off. “Look, I’ve got to get going. Make sure you lock up when you leave, all right?”

I nodded, watching her go, but then she turned around again and said, “You can’t live your life in fear, kid.”

“What if it’s the only thing distracting me from how my heart is breaking?” I asked, and her eyes turned soft.

“Sometimes, you have to let it break. That’s the only way it’s going to heal. Like a hangnail. Rip it off and let the skin grow back.”

I laughed, a hollow sound. “That’s a terrible metaphor.”

“They don’t pay me to be a wordsmith.” She backed out of the enclosure, and I stared down at the cheetah in my lap for another long moment, stroking her fur as she mewled sadly.

First I’d lost my father. Now I might have lost the chance to become a mother myself—the chance to ever have a family of my own that would be full and happy and complete.

The impulse to languish and dissolve into my predicament, just like my mother had done, was strong, almost overwhelming. But then, my mother had allowed herself to dive into her grief, and what had it done for her? Even now, years later, she was letting life drift past her, unlived.

Grieving was a process, not a life sentence and, no matter what the doctor said, I was going to have to face the facts of my father’s death and my own ability to be a mother.

But I didn’t have to do it alone.

Not for the first time, I thought of Mason that day in the sand, my hand in his as he asked me to be his wife. He’d booked a trip just for me. He’d gone out of his way over and over again for my sake.

And what had I done for him? Nothing. I hadn’t even done him the courtesy of letting him know how I felt.

That was something I could change, though.

And for the first time in my life? I wanted to talk about it.

Chapter Twenty-Four


This was it. The end of the line.

After everything we’d been through—all the ways I’d thought fate had led her to me—Bren had walked away like I’d been nothing to her. Slowly, like the weight of the world was on my shoulders, I walked back into my office and asked my assistant to hold my calls until further notice.

Then, when I was sure I was completely and totally alone, I slid open the top drawer of my desk and pulled out the ring box I’d gotten just this morning. Inside, the diamond solitaire sparkled up at me and I studied the intricate silver filigree of the band, all while trying my hardest not to toss the damn thing across the room. My stomach cramped and I let out a snarl.

How could I have been so stupid?

She’d given me every indication she wasn’t ready, throwing up flags in every shade of red on the color wheel. And I’d chosen to ignore them all. Gritting my teeth, I shoved the ring back in my desk and stalked toward the door. I couldn’t see patients today, not like this, and there was only one place I knew I could go to calm down.

“Cancel my appointments. I’m not feeling well today,” I said to my assistant, then headed out the door and toward my car without looking a single person in the eye.

Revving the engine, I pulled onto the interstate, following the familiar highway exits until I pulled up in front of the brick building I knew so well. The trees in front of the place swayed in the wind, and I glanced at them briefly. Then I made my way to the door and used the knocker.

First once, then again, I raised the heavy gold handle and let it drop, waiting to hear footfalls on the other side of the door. On the third try, I finally heard the light pitter-patter of someone’s feet on the wood floor, so I took a step back and waited for my mother to open the door.

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