Chapter Six

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Like an old wound that had been scraped raw all over again, revealing layers of hurt that bled beyond the shallow surface, the past appeared in the tattered present, ready for a fight. Beckett cursed that it had been his own damn fault, and like a kid standing in the principal's office, he swore he hadn't meant to start that fight. In fact, he wasn't sure he was armed well enough for such a battle. Instead, he just wanted to flee, to get out fast, to run away.

Thank God—and Liam Wyatt—for the helicopter that would soon pick him up at the private airport where he waited.

Because the wound had opened, as he stood in the wide, overgrown field beside the short landing strip of pavement, he wondered if this was how his mom had felt when she'd left. That intense yearning to run, to break free of both bind and burden. To escape the sticky web of possibility that he could hurt another, or be hurt. Or both.

He'd known that of the three siblings, he was the most like their mother. They both preferred the absurd over the everyday, neither had ever—to his knowledge—had a steady, reliable relationship, and they both craved freedom.

If he was so much like his mom, he wondered, then what business was it of his to love anybody that he could potentially hurt the heart of?

The last person he wanted to hurt was Danielle.

She was wholesome and hardworking, filled with sunny dreams about a bright future. He, on the other hand, was splintered and well aware that there were inevitably thick, dark clouds that loomed, regardless of how sunny the day or dream. But even as a kid, he'd figured that wasn't any good reason not to enjoy life. He'd seen the dark side and played wild and free anyway.

Danielle, by comparison, was one to strive for a better, brighter place, to plan her life according to the maps and charts and forecasted patterns of life's weather. If anyone could competently navigate life, and follow a plan through to completion, it was Danielle.

She was hopeful, and he had no business ruining that for her. It was better that she was leaving. Better that she didn't care whether or not he loved her.

He was almost proud of her for it.

So when he heard his name and whipped toward the voice he knew was hers, he cringed, caught between wanting what was best for her, and wanting the ache in his chest to be soothed. He wanted her to say goodbye almost as much as he wanted to hear her say that she would stay with him, that she loved him too.

He was a damn mess.

She yelled out to him again as she stomped through the knee-high swaying weeds and smattering of bold purple and soft white wildflowers that surrounded the private airstrip.

"You shouldn't be here," he told her, lifting his sunglasses to rest on his head. In case this was the last time he saw her, he wanted it to be live and in full color, not through a shaded lens.

"I should be here because you invited me weeks ago, but that's beside the point. I have some things I need to know." She stopped, stared. "You cut your hair."

"I did."

He didn't want to wonder what she thought of it, but he did. He'd come to rely on and enjoy hearing her perspective. But it was time to get over that, to get her out of his head. "You should go, Danielle. It's for the best. We both know that."

"That's quite possible," she told him slowly as if thinking through every word so as to not misstep. "But I don't have enough of an understanding to know that for sure."

The sweet smell of the surrounding weeds was almost as suffocating as the afternoon heat he usually loved. But it clung to him now, squeezing tight, holding him in place when his every instinct ordered him to flee. "What more is there to say?"

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