Misadventures with the Boss (Page 29)

“Because it’s not,” I argued. “It’s not enough for me. I’m not willing to let you just walk away with barely an explanation about what I can do or how I can help.”

“That’s because there is nothing you can do. The best thing you can do for me is let me start my life over somewhere new. To let me leave you here, where you belong.” She sniffled and then swiped a hand over her face. “And to promise me you won’t come looking for me.”

“No,” I said solemnly. “I deserve more than just this pathetic explanation, Piper.”

“And I’m not willing to give that to you,” she said, her voice cold and stony for the first time since she’d begun to speak. “Goodbye, Jackson.”

She strode toward the door for the second time in as many days, leaving me broken in her wake.

Chapter Twenty

Jackson

No.

This wasn’t happening.

I wasn’t going to allow it to happen.

I gripped the edge of my desk and propelled myself from my chair and crossed the room in three easy strides before flinging my door open again. The people in the cubicles nearest my office all turned to look, but I ignored them, scanning the aisles instead for the pretty dark-red wave of hair I knew so well.

When I found her, though, she was turning, facing the metal doors of the elevator as they slid closed in front of her.

“Damn it,” I muttered, closing my hands into fists as I stalked toward the stairwell, but even I knew better than to race the elevator.

I could go to her apartment and head her off, but that still didn’t guarantee me the answers I was looking for. She clearly wasn’t going to give me what I needed. She wasn’t ready to talk.

Which left me with no other choice.

Tightening my jaw, I made my way to Human Resources and stopped short in front of Clara’s desk.

She looked up at me, her gray eyebrows tilting in curiosity.

“I need the keys to the file room,” I said.

“Right away,” she croaked. She opened a metal drawer beside her and grabbed a little ring of keys.

“Which ones go to the personnel files?”

“The personnel files?” she parroted back to me.

“Yes,” I snapped. I didn’t have time for this. I needed answers, and I needed them now. There was only the slightest chance my plan would work, and I had to get it in motion as quickly as I could muster.

“The blue one,” Clara said. “It’ll be the stack closest to the door.”

“Thank you,” I murmured and then paced the length of the floor until I got to the file room, all too aware of the way each of my employee’s eyes followed me as I went. I wanted to snap at them to get back to their business, but I couldn’t bring myself to slow down enough to bother—not when I had something more important on the line.

I shut the door behind me, pulled the ancient rope that turned on the file room’s dim light, and stuck the blue key into the nearest filing cabinet.

Quickly, I riffled through the alphabetical lettering until I reached the name I needed and snatched up Piper’s file, my heart pounding in my chest.

This was it. The moment of truth.

I flipped open the file and thumbed past the insurance and social security information until I found her emergency contact form. The first person listed was her mother. The second?

Her sister, Hailey.

Boom.

My heart leapt into my throat, and I pulled my phone from my pocket, quickly dialing her number with shaking, anxious fingers. The phone rang once, twice, and then a dial tone sounded.

The number I reached had been disconnected.

“Damn it,” I swore again. She must have gotten a new phone. But how likely was it that she had gotten a new address?

I glanced at the information, weighing the options again in my mind.

Piper had walked away and asked me to stay out of it, but I knew for a fact that her family couldn’t possibly have the resources I had available to me. If something was wrong with Hailey—and if that something was bothering Piper—who better than I to fix it? I had to help.

By rights, Piper didn’t even need to know it was me behind it. I could just go talk to Hailey in person, find out what was wrong, and fix everything, with Piper being none the wiser.

Nodding to myself, I copied Hailey’s address onto the notepad on my phone and then strode back to my office and booked a flight. In the morning I would have my answers. And just maybe I could find a way to win Piper back too.

* * *

When my plane landed in Chicago two days later, I made quick work of grabbing my luggage and renting a car. I hadn’t bothered to book a hotel room—I couldn’t imagine I would be in town long enough for that, but as I drove into the township where Piper had grown up, I couldn’t help but envy her a little.

Sprawling trees lined the suburban streets, and the playground of the elementary school was packed with laughing, screaming children. It seemed like the kind of place where kids could wander off and have adventures. The kind of place to have a happy, safe childhood.

I could picture her here, growing up and becoming the person I had come to care for. The woman I now realized I’d fallen for.

Swallowing that thought, I turned on a few streets until I reached a little development of cottages and slowed, trying to find the number I’d memorized on the plane ride.

But I didn’t need to bother.

I knew the house instantly.

Not from the number or the woman who looked just like Piper but from the car parked in the driveway.

Piper’s car.

My heart plummeted into my stomach, and I considered driving away and coming back when I could have Hailey’s attention to myself. Piper, whether I liked it or not, didn’t want to see me, and I knew forcing this issue was wrong. Still, once I knew she was there, I couldn’t seem to stop myself. It was like my brain went offline and my heart was working on autopilot. It was a feeling that was entirely f*****g new to me.

I parked behind Piper’s car, walking carefully up the long drive while the early afternoon sun warmed my skin.

Distantly, I could hear voices from the open window.

“You really didn’t need to do this. It’s too much,” Piper was saying softly.

A second, higher-pitched voice responded. “Oh, it was the least I could do. I figured you have enough to worry about right now. One less expense is always a good thing.”

“Not just that, sis,” Piper said. “All of this.” There was a long pause, and I slowed, my stomach dropping into my feet as her voice sounded tear-filled. “Taking me, us, in. It’s more than I could have ever expected.”

I frowned, the words not computing. But then, as I rounded the shrubs, I understood her meaning, and it rocked me to my core.

Through the wide bay window, I could see the mostly assembled crib in the center of the room. Piper was standing beside it, one hand on the railing as she glanced at the mobile, the other resting low on her flat belly.

One less expense…

Taking us in…

Cold realization sank deep in my chest, freezing my heart and pausing its beat.

Piper was pregnant. With my baby.

I was frozen to the spot, staring at her through the glass as her gaze slowly centered on mine.

Chapter Twenty-One

Piper

The moment I saw him, the world whooshed around me in a blur of color and light and sound. Distantly, I heard my sister asking me what was wrong, but then she followed my gaze out the wide bay window to spy the tall, handsome man standing on her garden path.

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