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The note on my desk, the torn strip of lined paper with the fuzzy edges and hand-scrawled words written in blue ballpoint pen, taunted me.
1200 NW Couch
I had already looked up the address and determined that there were no such businesses by the name New Horizons at 1200 NW Couch Street in Portland. In fact, that address no longer existed, as almost the entire block now belonged to a Whole Foods supermarket, opened in 2002.
The piece of paper didn’t haunt me because there was no phone number. I had already established that the company no longer existed in the Portland area. I had searched within a twenty-mile radius of this old address to see if the business had moved. I found three New Horizons: one wellness center, one dental office, and one homeowner’s association, none of which had an office in the Pearl District in 1992.
It wasn’t even the mystery of what kind of company New Horizons was that tormented me. I had already sifted through old property tax records online and found the name of the entity that owned the building in 1992. Soon, I would have the name of the company or individual who had leased 1200 NW Couch from them.
The note taunted me for one reason and one reason only, because of what it promised to be: a portal into a world I may not come back from.
The brown cardboard moving box in which I’d found the note sat innocently on the floor behind my desk chair. The manila file folders I’d found inside were piled neatly, as if they’d never been disturbed. Except for the seven empty bottles of Barley Legal IPA lined up on top of my desk, everything in my office looked the way it had before Laurel and I left for her mother’s house yesterday. There were no physical signs my world had been flipped upside down.
Turning my attention back to my iMac computer screen, I watched as my email inbox continued to fill up with unread messages asking where I was and why I hadn’t come in to work. It was barely four in the afternoon and my assistant Jade would probably call in a search party if I didn’t phone her back soon. But I had no desire to see or talk to anyone right now. Especially not when I was unshowered and drunk on a Thursday afternoon.
I was such a fucking cliché. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything other than crack open a bottle of beer every thirty minutes as I pored over the case evidence for the trillionth time. I couldn’t decide if I felt dead inside or if I was finally waking up and seeing how fucking shaky my marriage truly was.
What I did know was my blood was poisoned with hatred right now. If I left this house, I was liable to wind up in that fucker Isaac’s hospital room with my hands wrapped around his tattooed neck. He’d probably welcome it.
I closed my email client and opened up the terminal. I should probably get some work done. But as soon as I began typing in a command, the doorbell rang. As badly as I wanted to ignore it, I knew that was not a long-term strategy.
Reluctantly, I pushed up from the desk chair and headed out of my office. As I passed through the hallway, I averted my eyes from the framed photos of Jack Jr. on the walls. A tremor of rage rolled through me and I clenched my fists. How could I be expected to answer emails and phone calls when everything I loved had been taken from me?
Looking through the peephole in the door, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw my father standing on the porch.
I pulled the door open and stepped aside for him to come. “I’m assuming Jade called you?” I asked as he glared at me. “Come on in, Dad.”
My dad was wearing his usual golf shirt, cargo shorts, and the baseball cap that hid the bald spot on the crown of his head. It was a sunny sixty-two degrees outside in the end of October in Hood River, Oregon. Ever since he retired, my father, an East Coast native, never wore pants unless the temperature dipped below forty.
He shook his head in disappointment as he stepped into the foyer. “You reek of alcohol, you know that?”
I shrugged as I pushed the door closed. “Could be worse.”
My dad glanced down the hallway and around the corner into the kitchen before he turned to me. “Where’s Laurel?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
I shrugged as I headed into the kitchen. “I mean I don’t know where she is. She left for her mother’s house last night, so she might be there. I don’t know.”
My dad shook his head as he watched me grab a bottle of beer out of the fridge. “Are you two separated again?”
I opened the bottle with the opener I’d installed under one of the kitchen cabinets, then I tossed the cap into the trash can under the sink. “What do you mean again?”
“Don’t play dumb with me. I’ve been married to your mother almost forty years. I know you and Laurel were separated for at least a few weeks.”
I sighed as I leaned back against the counter. “We’re separated for good now.”
I laughed. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me, young man. I said bullshit,” he replied, looking as if someone had lit a fire under his ass. “There’s nothing you or Laurel could do that can’t be forgiven or fixed. That’s how it works when you’re married. You might not forget, but you always forgive. And no matter how hard it gets, you never stop fighting to make things right.” He snatched the beer out of my hands and poured it down the sink. “This is the problem with you kids these days, you think everything’s supposed to be easy or it’s not worth your time.”
“With all due respect, Dad, you’re hardly the first person I’d take marriage advice from.”
He nodded his head. “You’re right. I was a terrible husband for the first twenty years of my marriage. I gave your mother plenty of reasons to give up on me. The point is she didn’t. She knew why I did the things I did and, though she didn’t excuse my behavior, she tried her best to understand it, rather than punishing me and you and your siblings. Your mother didn’t stay with me because she was weak. She stayed with me because she was strong — stronger than any of us gave her credit for.”
I rolled my eyes as I fought the urge to get another beer. “You’re trying to tell me I’m weak for giving up on my marriage? You know nothing, Dad. You have no clue what Laurel did.”
He narrowed his eyes. “I never figured you for a quitter.” He pointed a thick finger at my face. “Don’t roll your eyes at me, kid. I’ve known you your whole life and I’ve never once seen you quit something just because it got tough.”
“I seem to remember not being allowed to quit.”
“And it sure seems to have worked up until now,” he challenged me.
On the outside I was seething, but inside I was smiling a little. My dad had lived in Portland for forty years, but when he was really angry, you could just barely hear a hint of his old New England accent. My siblings, Jessica and John, and I would sometimes try to get in trouble just to hear it come out of him.
I pushed off the counter and headed for the French doors leading out onto the back patio with my dad right on my heels. “You don’t understand. You couldn’t possibly understand because you’re the one who always messed up with Mom. I know I haven’t been the most attentive husband since Junior died, but I’ve had good reason for my distractions,” I said, taking a seat on the black and cream outdoor sofa and putting my feet up on the glass-top coffee table, which Laurel had wiped clean recently. “While I was trying to find out who murdered my son, she was trying to deny he was even dead. But I still did what she wanted. I went to that fucking therapist. I did everything except get on my knees and grovel, and she still went behind my back and did God knows what with her fucking neighbor.”
“What neighbor? What are you talking about?”
“See? You don’t know everything.”
He cocked one of his silver eyebrows. “Enough gloating and tell me what the hell’s going on with this neighbor.”
I removed my feet from the table and leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees. “There was some conflict at Laurel’s mom’s house yesterday. One of my guys — Laurel’s bodyguard — had a confrontation with the next-door neighbor and it got…ugly. The guy ended up with a bullet in the leg and I still had trouble restraining him until the ambulance got there. Fucker was out of his mind.”
“What do you mean? Like, out of his mind on drugs or something? I told you guys not to move to Portland. It’s overrun with homeless and junkies now.”
I shook my head. “No, it’s not. And I don’t think he was on drugs. Actually, I don’t know. All I know is Laurel went absolutely fucking berserk when she saw me holding him in a headlock. I mean, the guy was shot in the leg, he’d already wrestled the gun from my bodyguard and shot him in the arm, and he was still trying to fight us off. What the fuck was I supposed to do? Let him go Rambo on all of us?”
My father was quiet for a moment before he responded. “So, you were just holding onto him until the ambulance got there? You didn’t… kill him, right?”
I looked back at him over my shoulder. “Are you serious, Dad? Do you think I’d be sitting here if the guy was dead?”
He waved away my response. “Okay, okay. Continue.”
I rolled my eyes at his impatience, which I had inherited. “No, I didn’t kill him. I was just holding him still. When the paramedics got there, they shot him up with some kind of sedative and he calmed down pretty quick, but it didn’t help Laurel. She tried to climb into the back of the fucking ambulance. And when they wouldn’t let her, they had to sedate her, too.”
This time, my father’s silence felt like a bad omen.
“Jack, you realize what was happening, right?”
I looked back again and narrowed my eyes at him. “Yeah, something’s been going on between her and her neighbor and I just found out in the worst fucking way.”
He let out a heavy sigh. “No, son. Laurel was reliving the night Junior died. There is nothing else to it. And I can’t believe you don’t understand that.”
I shook my head adamantly. “No, I would know if that was it.”
He leaned forward so he could look me straight in the eye. “If you think what you saw that night didn’t profoundly change the two of you, you’re an idiot. If you think you’ve seen the worst of what that night did to your marriage, you’re wrong, pal. The pain will never go away, and even if they catch that bastard and put him away for the rest of his life, you’ll never have all the answers.” He tapped my knee as I turned away from him. “Look at me and listen good. If you let Laurel go, you’re letting that son-of-a-bitch win. Because even if you find him and serve him the justice he deserves, you’ll still be left empty-handed. No son. No wife. And no hope. And what kind of life is that?”
I shook my head, too angry to speak.
“It sure as hell isn’t the kind of life you fight for,” he said, answering his own question. “You know what you have to do.”
I clenched my jaw as I tried to think of a reason why my father might be wrong, but I couldn’t. He was infuriatingly right. After a long pause, I nodded in agreement.
“Nope, you’re not getting off that easy, kid. I want you to look me in the eye and say the words, so I know you mean it.”
I let out a heavy sigh as I turned to face him. I’d inherited my blue eyes from my mother. Looking at my father reminded me of how much I loved Laurel’s brown eyes. Every quality she had became my favorite quality in a person.
Her silky blonde hair, round brown eyes, the way her top lip was fuller than her bottom lip. The way she snored softly when she’d had too much to drink. The way she coiled those long, gorgeous limbs around me when I was buried deep inside her. I could never find someone to replace her, because there was only one Laurel in this world. And she was everything I’d ever wanted and everything I would ever want.
I sat up straight as I looked my father in the eye. “I have to fight for my wife.”
***end of excerpt***
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ABOUT THE BOOK
The explosive continuation of the Evergreen Series from New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo.
The seeds of doubt have been planted.
Two to six weeks. That’s how long it takes, on average, to get a divorce in Oregon.
With Jack convinced I betrayed him, I expect to be served divorce papers within hours of moving out. But weeks pass without word from Jack, and the papers never arrive. Though my heart isn’t ready to give up on him, I can’t shake the feeling that we may be better off apart. And Isaac is more than happy to help me move on.
But just as I begin to build some semblance of a life and career, a new and improved Jack arrives on my doorstep. Divorce papers are the furthest thing from his mind as he delivers news that both shatters me and restores my faith in the love we shared. But is it too late for us?