Misadventures with the Boss (Page 28)

I had to leave this city and my fresh start behind me for an even newer, fresher start. I had to go home to be with my parents. They wouldn’t understand—hell, they probably wouldn’t support me, either—but they’d raised two kids, which made them perfect candidates for helping me with this new chapter of my life.

I would feel like a loser, coming back home unmarried, jobless, and pregnant, but my baby would have a soft place to fall.

And right now? That was all that mattered.

With another rush of nausea, I crumpled on the cold bus stop seat and waved off the driver of the bus that was pulling to a stop in front of me.

I still needed this. Some time alone without the reality of my apartment or my job or my future. There was so much to do, so much to plan, and I wasn’t so sure all my organizational systems would come to the rescue this time.

After all, no matter how regimented my planning was, I couldn’t magically come up with money for a crib and diapers and baby toys. And before that, maternity clothes and doctor’s visits and a million other things I probably didn’t know about yet.

Closing my eyes, I forced myself to breathe deep in through my nose and out through my mouth until my heartbeat steadied again.

I just had to look at today as the start of a new chapter. A new book, even.

Jackson would close out the end of my old life. When my baby asked about his father… Well, that was another chapter’s problem.

For today, I’d have to think of what I needed to do.

With a shaking hand, I grasped my phone and dialed the number I’d been dreading almost as much as Jackson’s.

The phone rang once, twice, and then the clipped, cool tones I knew so well greeted me.

“Piper,” my mother said.

“Mom.” My voice shook. I couldn’t help it.

“What’s wrong?”

My heart is breaking.

My life is over.

I’m totally overwhelmed.

The answers spun through my mind, and finally I landed on my truth.

“Everything.” I choked out the word as a sob rose up my throat. “Everything is wrong. I need to come home.”

Chapter Nineteen

Jackson

The next morning, as soon as I got in to work, I stared at my door, waiting for Piper to finally arrive. She may have gotten away from me yesterday, but today I was going to have the answers I’d been looking for that had kept me up half the f*****g night.

I’d messaged her. I’d called her. And nothing. Which left me sitting at home remembering the worn, weary look in her eyes as she’d surveyed my email. Her guarded, tense tone.

Something must have happened that she wasn’t telling me about, and I was going to find out what.

So, when the clock struck nine and the elevator doors opened with their soft, metallic ping, I was already waiting with my hands folded on my desk for Piper to enter and pour me my morning cup of coffee.

But she didn’t.

Instead, another fifteen minutes went by. Then another. And then it was nine thirty and I had no coffee, no assistant, and no clue.

Snatching my phone from the surface of my desk, I checked for some sort of notice that Piper might be in late today, but no messages awaited.

Frowning, I opened a new conversation window and started typing, but just before I hit Send, I heard the click of my door as it opened. I looked up to find an ashen-faced Piper staring at me, her knuckles white as she clutched the doorknob.

“You’re late,” I said.

She nodded. “Yes. And I’m sorry about that. Do you have time to talk?”

I glanced at my calendar, pretending I hadn’t already cleared my morning to speak with her, because I was in a foul mood and was an a*****e like that.

“I can find some time,” I said. “Sit down.”

“That won’t be necessary. I won’t be long.”

I raised my eyebrows, and then my gaze fell to her clothes. Unlike her usual business attire, she was wearing jeans and a button-down blouse. Her purse was still slung over one shoulder, and she hitched it higher as she finally released the door and closed it behind her.

“I’m hoping you came in here with some answers,” I said.

She frowned. “Look, Jackson, I don’t know what—”

“You came in here yesterday looking like you’d seen a ghost, and then you left without explanation. You didn’t answer my messages,” I said, my concern and fear bubbling up into anger on a dime again.

“I was busy.” She wrung her hands in front of her before crossing her arms protectively over her chest.

“Doing what?” I demanded.

“Look, that’s not what I want to talk about,” she said.

“If only you were in a situation where you were the boss. Since you’re not—”

“I quit,” she cut in, her words clipped and to the point.

Her words hung in the air between us, and I could barely get my head around them. She didn’t sound angry. If anything, I might have thought she was on the verge of tears, but she took a steadying breath and clasped her hands in front of her again.

“I’m sorry it has to be so sudden, but I have to quit.”

“Did you find a better job? I don’t understand,” I said, my mind reeling.

How could she go from redesigning an entire department, taking on more responsibility, and revolutionizing a company to leaving it in one fell swoop? I started again, trying to make heads or tails of what she’d said. “You know I value your input here. If I asked too much of you during the merger…”

She shook her head. “It has nothing to do with you or the merger, I promise.”

I raised my eyebrows, thinking through my options as the thought of her leaving hit me like a two-by-four to the skull. “Well then if it has nothing to do with me, the rest of our arrangement—”

“Will also have to end,” she finished, her tone choked now. “I’m leaving the city.”

It was like a sucker punch to the solar plexus, and I sucked in a breath. “Piper, I don’t understand. If you got a new job, you know I would pay you more. What is it you need? Name your price.”

She shook her head, her bottom lip quivering now. “This isn’t about a price. And it’s not you either, I swear. I just need to be with my family for a while. I’m homesick.”

“Then I’ll fly you to see them. Don’t be so drastic. This can still work.”

She took a shaky breath. “It’s not something a quick visit can fix.”

“And how can you be so sure?”

“Because…” She swallowed hard. “Because there’s an emergency. With my sister. I have to be with her, and I have to focus on doing what’s right for my family right now.”

I blinked. “Is there something I can do to help? Does she need a specialist? Is this why you had to go to the doctor? Does she have some genetic disease you needed to be tested for?”

“Jackson, I can’t talk about it. Please, for once, don’t try to micromanage the situation, okay? I need to leave, and you need to let me. End of story.”

This was nonsense. No matter where she was, I could find a way to be with her. If only she’d just let me in and tell me what was going on.

She blew out a trembling sigh, and for a second, the Piper I knew reared her head. I could see the affection in her eyes and the sadness too. “We both know you’re not the long-distance type. We had fun together. Why can’t you just let that be enough?”

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