Chapter Sixteen

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A/N: Not gonna lie...I have been completely lacking focus where this story is concerned. My apologies for continued tardiness as well as for any typos. 

"Mary Grace, Baby, we're here." Les whispered, gently nudging her shoulder.

Slowly she opened her eyes. The lights from his Land Rover bounced off the trees and shone through the windows of their stately home. All the outside floods were lit, welcoming her back with their soft, inviting glow.

"Oh my gosh." She yawned. "How long was I out?"

"Almost two and a half hours."

"I am so sorry." She apologized.

"For what?"

"For forcing you to ride home in silence. And we were gonna stop for dinner at that new little tapas place."

"It's fine. I know you're worn out. We'll order in."

"Pepperoni with mushroom and black olives from Ned's?" She suggested hopefully.

"Anything you like." He reassured her with a smile.

The heavy rain that fell outside Newark had thankfully not followed them all the way home. He made sure she was settled safely inside before retrieving her luggage. Alone in their bedroom, she rifled through her suitcase, shocked to discover an unexpected stowaway. Lovingly she nestled the soft, stuffed shark against her chest. She pulled her phone from her purse and checked it covertly, anxious for a message from Nolan. She found two texts...both from her mother.

Are you home? Hope you're not in too much pain.

Hope your ankle is okay too.

She bit her lip. Of course she knew her mother's words were made in jest, but they hit entirely too close and reminded her of Gwen's parting words.

With a quick glance over her shoulder, she typed a short reply before sending a similar message to Nolan.

Finally home. Exhausted. Let me know when you can talk.

She'd texted him just minutes before she and Gwen boarded in Athens. He'd yet to respond. She tried not to read too much into it, but shadows of doubt were beginning to settle. He'd planned on landing in Nashville around the same time she made it home. He's traveled all day and he's tired too. Stop worrying.

"A bottle of red? A bottle of white?" Les hollered from the kitchen.

"It all depends upon your appetite." She responded, quoting Billy Joel's lyrics back to him. He didn't call back and she remained silent, continuing to type.

Found a friend in my suitcase. That Gwen is a sneaky one. When you talk to Joss, let him know that Kenny is safe and sound.

She jumped a minute later when she felt his hands on her shoulders.

"You scared me." She tossed her cell on their bed as nonchalantly as possible and turned toward him.

"Who was that?" He asked, eyeing her phone.

"Mother. Just letting her know I made it home in one piece."

"And who is this?" He reached for the stuffed animal.

"That would be Kenny, the globe-trotting shark." She couldn't hold back a smile, thinking of the magnitude of the boy's sweet gesture. "He belongs to Joss, but somehow made his way into my bag."

"I called Ned's. They're pretty busy. Could be forty-five minutes, maybe longer. Think you'll last that long?" He dropped the toy into her open suitcase without comment.

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