52. Mea Culpas

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I wanted to jump back out the window and go after Jake, but Daniel kept rancher's hours and was already rustling about downstairs

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I wanted to jump back out the window and go after Jake, but Daniel kept rancher's hours and was already rustling about downstairs.

This sudden loss of freedom was going to take some getting used to.

At six in the morning, I ran out of the house and straight to Jake's, but he wasn't home. I couldn't find him at the ranch either.

Bummed, I got an early start on my duties, keeping my eyes peeled for any sign of him.

At eight o'clock, I saw him in the break room, talking to a bunch of guys. Our eyes met and held for a second, but then he turned his back on me.

Yup, that was a cut direct, just like in regency romance novels. Feeling lower than a snake's belly, I slunk out of there.

But I waited outside, leaning up against the wall, drawing half moons around my feet with my toe.

He came out about ten minutes later, ropes in hand. 

"Jake, can we talk?"

"Can't, busy."

He didn't stop so I hurried after him. "I just wanted to apologize-"

"Layla, I gotta go. We're heading out." He nodded to the ranch hands mounting horses behind him.

Well, at least he wasn't lying. "Will you come over later?"


I guess that was the best I could ask for. I smiled at him. He frowned at me, then turned at left.


When Alice hadn't shown up by ten o'clock, I called her.

"I'm sorry Layla, it completely slipped my mind to call you. I won't be able to come today. Things are... well, I think it's best if I don't pester Peyton for a ride."

Oh God, Peyton, what did you do?

"Is everything okay?"

It took her a while to answer. "Mmm... yes. Or no. Well, I don't really know, I uh, I haven't left my room. I think I'm just going to stay in here today."

"What did Peyton do?" I whispered, clutching the phone hard enough to make my fingers ache.

"I... well..."

"Alice, I know about Charlotte. What happened?"

"I don't know the details, only that there was... an altercation this morning and it was bad."

An altercation? What the heck was that supposed to mean?

"He got very upset with her after the fair too, you know, for locking you in that closet. He took away all her privileges- credit cards, curfew, everything."

"Uh... can he do that?" I mean, I didn't have any, but I couldn't imagine anyone letting a sibling boss them around like that.

"He can now since he got legal custody of her on his eighteenth birthday. Layla, please don't say anything about any of this to anyone. No one told me, I just picked it up from being around."

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