She had been there in his dreams, and just as he’d begun to wake her soft body had pressed tightly against his. He had felt her warmth, and relief had spread through his limbs. And then he had woken properly, and her absence had been like a crushing weight on his chest, so that he’d had to get up and move about.
He should be packing. But that would mean going into his bedroom, and he had been avoiding it for days, choosing instead to sleep in one of the spare rooms.
Downstairs, the house was silent and still, and he made his way into the kitchen, Nero padding lightly after him. It would all be over soon. Just this last day to get through and then she would be gone. In a week he would join the expedition at Svalbard and lose himself in the fathomless expanse of the Arctic.
His phone rang, the noise jolting him, and he felt a sudden rush of raw, unfiltered hope. But as he glanced down at the screen it swiftly drained away.
He hesitated, debating how to swipe, and then he made up his mind. ‘Davey. How are you?’
‘Oh, I’m fine. But apparently you have lost your mind.’
Arlo frowned. He could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he and Davey had fallen out, but on those rare occasions his cousin had always been placatory—apologetic, almost.
Now, though, his cousin’s voice was shaking with either anger or frustration or both.
‘What are you talking about?’ he asked.
But he didn’t need to ask the question. He already knew what—who—Davey was talking about.
‘I’m talking about Frankie.’
Arlo felt his heart twist. Hearing her name out loud hurt more than he would have thought possible. Hearing it out loud seemed to make her absence more vivid, more real. Too real.
Rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand, he said stiffly, ‘I don’t want to talk about Frankie—’
‘Well, I do.’ He heard Davey take a breath. ‘Serena called her. Just to find out if she wanted to ride before lunch on Saturday. Apparently, she’s going out to LA to see Johnny.’
Arlo swore silently. He’d forgotten all about lunch. ‘I should have called. I’m sorry—’
‘I don’t care about lunch. We don’t care about lunch. We care about you, and why you ended things with Frankie.’
‘I didn’t end anything,’ he said flatly. ‘It wasn’t that kind of relationship.’
‘What kind? You mean the kind where you can’t take your eyes off one another?’
Arlo bent his head, struggling against the truth of Davey’s words. ‘Exactly. It was a physical thing, and it burned out.’
He had never lied to his cousin before, and the lie tasted bitter in his mouth.
There was a long silence, and then Davey said quietly, ‘It didn’t burn out. You snuffed it out. Like you always do. Only it never mattered before. But Frankie’s different. She loves you—really loves you.’
‘I know—’ The words were torn from his mouth.
His heart contracted as he remembered the moment he’d given her the bracelet and how she’d been upset for giving him nothing in return.
She had given him something. She had given him her love and her trust. She was a gift—beautiful, unique, irreplaceable.
‘And you love her.’ The anger had faded from Davey’s voice. ‘I know you don’t want to admit it, and I know why.’
Picturing the moment when he’d rejected Frankie, Arlo felt a pain sharper than any physical injury he’d ever endured. He had told her he wanted to be honest and then he had lied to her face.
‘I can admit it, but it doesn’t change anything. I tried marriage, commitment, love—whatever you want to call it.’ His chest tightened, and remembered misery and panic reared up at him. ‘It was a disaster.’
‘Yes, it was. Because you were young and you were grieving and you made a mistake. And if you’d been like everyone else on the planet—like me and Johnny and Arthur—you would have known that was all it was.’
He heard Davey sigh.
‘But you hadn’t ever made a mistake. You were always so smart, and so in control, and you didn’t like how it felt. And when you got divorced you didn’t just walk away from Harriet. You walked away from love.’