“Are you going to join me?” he asked.
I shook my head. “I think I’ll just watch.”
He gave me another quick kiss and then he was jogging to the water, board in hand.
I sat down in one of the chairs on our patio, looking out at the incredible view that had become our backyard. Our place wasn’t fancy; it was small and had needed a ton of cleaning and work, but the view was incomparable. Plus, it had the added bonus of not having neighbors nearby, affording us the kind of privacy we needed to feel comfortable. After a lot of manual labor, we’d made it into a home we loved.
We’d bought a little fishing boat and spent a ton of our time on the water. Sometimes we ate what we caught, and we even had a little garden where we grew some of our own vegetables. It was so different from the life I’d lived in D.C., but it fit us well. There were still moments when we looked over our shoulders, times when I’d be in the market and someone would push too close or I’d hear a noise, and suddenly, I’d think that this was it. That we needed to run. That they’d found us.
But every time, it was just a false alarm. A vendor hawking their wares, another shopper eager to get the best price on some seafood.
This felt like home now, but even as it did, we were both prepared to move on, for the time when our pasts would catch up with us. We kept packed bags with cash and a set of travel documents in our bedroom. Somehow that had become our normal, living off of the money Matt had saved in the years we’d been apart taking jobs from which he now carried scars. We lived day-to-day, settling into a rhythm that worked for now. I didn’t know what the future held, if we’d have the kids we’d always envisioned, if we’d ever truly put down roots, but for now we were happy. There wasn’t a day when I regretted my decision, when I even thought about what my life would have been like if I’d stayed in D.C. In the years when I’d thought Matt was dead, I’d learned that home wasn’t a place and family wasn’t a last name. All that mattered were the people that loved you. I walked through life with Matt by my side and carried my sisters in my heart.
I drank my coffee and watched Matt surf for a while, his powerful body riding the waves, and then I stared down at my cell, calculating the time difference between Bali and D.C. It was late at night there, on a very special day.
I pulled up the link for Capital Confessions, smiling when I saw the top headline. One of the terms of my agreement with Sean had been that he wanted an exclusive of Jackie’s wedding—a term she’d easily agreed to in order to get him to print the stories about our father.
The headline read:
Exclusive! Jackie Gardner and William Andrew Clayton Marry in Lavish Ceremony
Beneath the headline was a picture of Jackie clad in the gown she’d picked out with me and Blair, an enormous smile on her face, Will’s arm wrapped tightly around her, an equally impressive grin on his.
Next came a picture of her and Blair together, my heart clenching a bit at the sight of my sisters and the fact that I’d missed this special day.
I read on:
Political consultant Jackie Gardner married William Andrew Clayton in a private ceremony this evening at the racing farm of the groom’s maternal grandfather, former Vice President Harrington, in Upperville, Virginia. The bride was attended by her sister, Blair Reynolds, and the groom’s three sisters, Monica, Sophie, and Isabella Clayton. The bride was escorted down the aisle by the groom’s former campaign manager and her employer, Mitch Anders.
My phone beeped, signaling an incoming text from a phone number I didn’t recognize. One of the many often-replaced burner phones we used to keep in touch.
Missed you today. Thought of you often. Love you. J.
I grinned as I read the text from Jackie. We didn’t talk often, but we managed to communicate every few weeks. It wasn’t as good as living in the same town and doing sister brunch on the weekends, but it helped me to still feel connected to them.
My phone went off again, a different phone number this time.
I caught the bouquet. Next we’ll all be old married ladies. Love you. Miss you. Be safe. B.
My smile widened as I envisioned that and thought of how happy I was to see them both settled. Blair had been right. The Reynolds sisters—all three of us—had done well.
My phone beeped again, another message from Blair, this time a link to a video.
I pulled it up, feeling a pang in my stomach as I saw my father step into the view of the camera, my mother next to him behind the podium.
I listened as he gave up his Senate seat and retired from political life, citing his need to “spend more time with his family,” which was the ultimate joke considering he’d lost all of his daughters.
In the past few months, more details had emerged and while I knew my father was both smart enough and slippery enough to avoid any actual prosecution, his allies had begun distancing themselves from him, he’d become a punch line on evening talk shows, and his approval ratings were even more abysmally low than what was standard in his profession. There had been an investigation into Intech’s actions in Afghanistan, and somehow my father had pulled enough strings behind the scenes to pin the brunt of it on James Ryan. But even with a dead man as a scapegoat, the connection between them had been too close for my father to come out of it looking anything other than guilty. There hadn’t been enough evidence to prosecute him, but in the court of public opinion he’d been condemned, and for a politician, that dealt a killing blow.
My mother looked completely unruffled by the events, her chin tilted, that same look in her eyes that she’d always had, as though no matter how low they’d been brought, she’d still forever be looking down on the world. My father didn’t look defeated or broken; he sold the story in a way that nearly had me believing that he was stepping down to spend time with his family.
But because I was his daughter, and like it or not, I had just enough ruthlessness in me to understand, I saw the anger hiding in his eyes behind the faux love for his family, and knew that this was in its own way, justice. He’d lost his power; he’d lost everything.
I stopped the video midway through and took a moment to breathe in the salt air, to revel in our victory, and then I responded to my sisters’ texts. When I’d finished, I set my phone down and looked out at the water, at the sight of Matt surrounded by all that blue, a speck in the giant ocean.
I walked down to the beach to join him with a smile on my face and the peace of knowing that all was right in my world and that of those I loved, leaving my past behind me and stepping into my future.
Thanks to the awesome team at Berkley and InterMix—especially my fabulous editor, Kate Seaver, and publicist extraordinaire, Ryanne Probst. Thanks to my wonderful agent, Kevan Lyon, for her advice and support. Big thanks to my amazing husband and my family and friends for their love and encouragement. And thank you SO much to all of the bloggers and reviewers who have taken an interest in my work and, to you, the reader, for reading my books and making my dreams come true. I couldn’t do it without you!
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