Chapter Twelve

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"You fell in the lake!"

A little boy's laughter hooted over to Danielle the second she walked in the door. "Sort of, yeah," she confirmed when Archer ran over to her.

"You should take your clothes off next time. That's what my mom and Liam do when they think I'm not watching."

"Archer!" Emerson reprimanded with equal parts shock and humor as she made her way toward them. "Sorry," she told Danielle then put her hands on Archer's shoulders. "How about you go help Liam, pal? He's outside manning the grill."

As the boy zoomed off, she added, "No touching anything hot, sharp, or high off the ground!"

"I'm dripping wet, I'm sorry," Danielle started when Emerson turned back to her. "I tried to wring out my dress before I came in. And I hate asking, but do you have any spare clothes I could borrow by any chance?"

Assessing, Emerson motioned for Danielle to follow her down one of the domed stone hallways. "Come with me."

"This looks like a fun side party and I don't want to miss out," Abigail announced as she scooted up behind them. "You're all wet. You must have been outside with Beckett," she added, grinning.

But when Danielle shifted around, lifted her gaze to look at Abigail, Abigail rethought what she'd said. "Oh honey, this isn't a party at all, is it?"

They ducked into a room that Emerson led them into, and before the door shut, Kara slipped in. "I'm missing a good girl party, aren't I? Oh," she said, looking at Danielle. "Not a party. What happened?"

Sitting on a giant four-poster bed, surrounded by Emerson, Abigail, and Kara, Danielle let tears fall while she shared her heart. She'd never done such a thing with a group of women before—bare her thoughts and feelings. She'd had girlfriends, but never like this. Her few Yale friends debated and discussed world events, classes, existentialism, Russian Economics, and occasional bits of gossip about professors or fellow Yalies. Never had she let herself feel so emotionally naked with friends before. Of course, never had she felt such confusion or hurt before either.

The women surrounding her were all married or engaged, and because she still had a hard time considering what it meant to love a man like Beckett—or any man, really—she did what she'd done at school and sought out the expertise of those around her.

"How am I supposed to know I'm doing the right thing?" she asked the group, looking around at the beautiful faces that all watched, listened, and consoled her.

Instead of answering right away, they each looked at one another.

"You don't," Abigail offered finally. "You don't until you do."

"That's not very helpful," Danielle said on a soggy chuckle. "How did you know it was right with Declan?"

"I didn't. If he'd told me one day earlier than he did that he loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me, I would've laughed and shut the door in his face. Come to think of it," she added, "I did try to shut the door in his face. It just didn't work."

"Sounds about right," Emerson put in, rubbing a hand on her burgeoning belly. "I would've slammed the door in Liam's face if I hadn't been in his home. He tricked me into coming here," she explained. "I thought I was coming here for a meeting. Then...well...I stayed."

"Sneaky man," Kara said. "I didn't know my brother had done that."

"Oh yeah, he's very convincing when he wants something."

"That much I knew." Kara looked to Danielle. "For me I think I'd known it would be Ben when I first found my way into the pub. I just hadn't let myself really consider it because I wasn't ready."

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