Jeff wasn’t going to argue his point. He’d told her the truth, and it was up to her whether she believed it or not.
She sank into the nearby chair and buried her face in her hands. “Oh, God.”
“I was trying to protect you by not telling you.” All those years he hadn’t told her. Had he done more harm than good? He didn’t know if he’d do anything differently if he had the chance to do it again.
“You and my dad are so similar. You always think you know what’s best for me. One of these days you’re going to have to let me stand on my own.” She stood up, wiping her cheeks and brushing the hair back from her face. “I need to go think.”
She was calmer when they talked later that evening. After spending the afternoon thinking things through, she realized she could have no future with Jeff until she confronted her father. Jeff said he understood, but the easy camaraderie they had enjoyed days before was gone.
Dena decided to head back home before Jeff did. Jeff called Nathaniel, and he volunteered to send his jet for her to fly home on. And of course, he said, their house was always open and she could stay with them until Jeff got home.
It was late when she arrived at the Wests’ estate, and she mumbled a quick “hello” to Nathaniel and Abby before heading to the guest room and crashing. The toll of Colorado’s emotional highs and lows finally caught up with her, and she was asleep within seconds of falling into bed.
She awoke disoriented, and it took her several minutes to remember where she was. According to the alarm clock on the nightstand, it was after nine; it’d been years since she’d slept that late. Her fingers fumbled putting on a robe, and she headed down the stairs.
After making a cup of coffee in the kitchen, she found Abby in the library. Her hair was pulled up on top of her head, and she was intently focused on the laptop screen in front of her. At Dena’s arrival, she broke into a smile.
“There you are. I was starting to think I should make sure you were breathing.”
“Hard week,” Dena said. “Mind if I join you?”
“No, not at all.” Abby picked up her own coffee mug and joined her on a leather couch.
“I love this room. It’s so warm and welcoming.” Her father’s house had a library, but she’d never felt comfortable in it. Even as an adult, she was afraid to touch anything.
“It’s my favorite, too. Nathaniel actually gave it to me shortly after we met. He wanted me to have a space that was completely my own.”
“He gave you a room?”
“It was probably more symbolic than anything.” Abby sighed and looked at the piano. “There are a lot of memories here.”
Jeff’s words about his memories of his childhood home came back to her. But what different reactions to memories. Abby looked blissfully happy. Jeff had been miserable.
“Memories,” Dena said. “I battled memories the entire time I was in Colorado. My own. Jeff’s. Why do we carry the past around like a weight?”
“Because we’re afraid of losing it. Or we think if we don’t carry it around we’ll forget who we are.”
“I learned so much about who Jeff is from being with him in Colorado. He had a horrible childhood.”
“You didn’t know that before?” Abby asked.
“Not so many details. He’d always avoided talking about it when we were together before,” Dena said. “But being in that house and coming back to this.” She swept her arm around. “I can feel the difference and see part of why he was always caught up in the fact that I come from money.”
“It’s a legitimate issue. It took me a while to get used to Nathaniel’s wealth.”“We were together for years.”
“You also have to remember Jeff’s a man, and it’s harder for them to deal with their partner being better off.”
Dena hadn’t thought of that. “Because he’s supposed to be the breadwinner, according to society?”
“Yes, and he feels he needs to provide you with the lifestyle to which you’re accustomed.”
“But I have plenty of money. I don’t need his.”
“Exactly the problem. Men want to feel needed.”
Dena sighed and leaned back into the couch. “Sometimes men are hardheaded. Seriously? Who cares who has the money?”
“I agree. It shouldn’t be an issue. And you think men are stubborn sometimes?” Abby laughed “How about most of the time?”
“True.” Dena took another sip of coffee. “He also had a run-in with my father a few years ago he didn’t tell me about.”
“You have to understand my dad. Scratch that. There’s no understanding him.”
“I take it Jeff and your father don’t get along?”
Dena snorted. “That’s putting it mildly. My dad has always had a plan for my life: where I should go to school, what job I should have, whom to marry. That sort of thing. If he could find a way to arrange my marriage, he would.”
“Sounds like a tyrant.”
“He is. I went to law school at Harvard because that’s where he went, though the truth is I wanted to go there. But after I graduated, I did my own thing, and that’s always made him mad.” She sighed. “Apparently, when Jeff and I were together before, my dad threatened him if he didn’t leave me alone.”
Abby gave a low whistle. “That’s pretty bad.”
“I know. I can’t believe my dad did that, and I can’t believe Jeff didn’t tell me.”
“I take it you’ve discussed your feelings with Jeff. Are you going to discuss them with your dad?”
She had thought about that on the trip back from Colorado. Would it do any good? Her dad wouldn’t really hurt Jeff, would he? What was the best way to approach him?
“I need to,” she finally answered.
“I agree, especially if Jeff’s going to be a more permanent part of your life.” There was a question in Abby’s eyes.
“I certainly hope so.”
Her phone buzzed with an incoming text, and she smiled when she saw it was from Jeff.
Coming home in two days. Miss you.
She ran her finger over the words on the display as if touching them brought her somehow closer to him. She sent a simple reply.