A Place Without You (Page 25)

“I want you to live.”

Tears fill my eyes, and I try so hard to will them away.

“I don’t want to be selfish,” I whisper.

“What does that mean?”

“It means if I ask the…” I draw in a shaky breath “…question I’m dying to ask, the one I should know the answer to, it will sound incredibly selfish.”

She rests her hand on my arm. “Say it.”

The words come out in a sob. The words come out like a building crumbling. The words rip open my chest. “Wh-why doesn’t he want me anymore?” My arms hug my waist, and my body buckles onto itself, trembling with emotion.

“Oh, Henna.” My mom pulls me into her arms, lowering both of us to the ground.

I know, I just know in my mind that Bodhi loves me. I know he’s doing what he feels is right for his dad and his career. I know all of this—in my head. But my heart doesn’t reason like that. My heart just feels, and right now it feels the worst kind of pain.



And lonely.

I’m so incredibly lonely without him.

“H-he was r-right there. And he j-just … walked away.” I choke on a sob.

Mom hugs me tighter, kissing the side of my head over and over. “Shh … I’m so sorry.”

I love Juni. She’s fun and cool. And she rarely judges me. But sometimes … I just need my mom.



“You look like shit. Ever heard of a razor?” My sister showers me with compliments before ever stepping foot into the house.

I move aside to let her in. “Nice to see you too, Bella.”

She tugs on my facial hair. “Scruffy.”

“Kids at school like it.”

“Pfft.” She drops her suitcase at the bottom of the stairs. “Where’s Dad?”

“Recliner. Sleeping.”

She turns, exhaling slowly like the trip from Kentucky to Colorado is the longest trip ever. “How’s he doing? What did the doctor say? Is he in pain?”

Scratching the back of my head, I chuckle. “For someone who makes the visit once, maybe twice a year, I find your concern a little dramatized.”

“Just because I have a busy life, doesn’t mean I don’t care.”

I sigh, feeling emotionally dead and raw with pain clear to my bones. “Let’s not fight. He’s doing fine. The doctors said the cancer is still slow growing, but they want to start treatment again after the holidays. Oh, and he’s still a pain in the ass, but I think that’s about it.”

Bella grins and rolls her eyes. “Sounds about right.” She rubs her arms. “Brr … you have any coffee made?”

I nod toward the kitchen.

“How’s your job?” She sits at the table while I pour her a cup of coffee and set it in front of her plate of Christmas cookies that Etta made.

“It’s good.” It’s fucking unbearable. I can’t walk in that building without thinking of Henna. I can’t breathe for the entire forty-five minutes of third period. I can’t understand why her parents let her drop out. And I can’t do a damn thing about it.

If Henna’s not a student, the school can’t fire me for being in a relationship with her. But I’m not stupid. Principal Rafferty will not like being made to look like a fool. She’ll know I lied, and she’ll find some reason to fire my ass and destroy my career before I even get a full year on my résumé.

“How’s the ranch doing?”

I shrug, taking a seat next to her. “It was a little slower this summer. The fires in the area didn’t help. At one point, I thought we were going to have to evacuate, but they got it under control.”

“Yeah, I worried about Dad when that was going on.”

Dad. She worried about Dad. No need to worry about her fuckup of a brother.

“He’s in good hands.”

She frowns.

I sip my coffee. “So … what’s new with you?”

“It was a rough fall. Castaway had a knee injury. Ted is being an ass about it. Thinks it’s my fault. Other than that. Nothing much.”

“Who’s Ted?”

“The owner’s brother. Doesn’t know shit about horses, but he sure likes to throw his weight around.”

“So is Ted next in line if Arnie dies?” Arnie is the billionaire who owns the horses she trains. He had a stroke last year, and Bella nearly had a heart attack when it happened. Arnie thinks the world of Bella. But no one else seems to agree with her style of training, which only matters if Arnie dies.

“Unfortunately, yes. And Ted just wants to cash it all in. So if you have a secret stash of money someplace, I might have a few good tips on some horses you could buy that will likely win some crowns.”

I grunt a laugh. “I’m certain you make way more money than I do. Dad told me you got ten percent of the purses last year, and he suspects you’re getting a percentage of breeding rights.”

She smirks. “That’s a lot of math for my brother who never liked math.”

“Mmm …” I give her a fake smile while rubbing my temple with my middle finger.

Her smile settles into something resembling regret. Our relationship has been ripped to shreds over the years, but it’s still raw, and every jab cuts open old wounds. I wonder if the day will ever come when we no longer need the boxing gloves.

“You seeing anyone?” Another jab, but I don’t think she means for it to be.

Twisting my lips to the side, I shake my head.

Bella traces the rim of her cup with her finger. “You … at least hooking up with anyone?”

Pushing a tiny laugh through my nose, I roll my eyes. I once let it slip to her that I occasionally find someone to hook up with using a “dating” website. It’s not like I’ve paid for sex, but some people—like Bella—seem to think it’s just as bad.

“Maybe. But at least it’s in my budget.”

“What? I’m just asking. Looking for small talk.”

“He’s too obsessed with babysitting me to have time to find a good woman.”

We look over at Dad wheeling himself into the kitchen.

“Hey, Daddy.” Bella gets up and gives him a hug. “Merry Christmas.”

“It’s Christmas Eve,” he says in his gruff, post-nap tone.

“Fine. Merry Christmas Eve.” She ambles to the stove and lifts the lid off the Crock-Pot. “Mmm … smells good, Bodhi. Beef stew?”

When Dad’s awake, we treat each other with a lot more respect—usually.


“Did you invite Duke and Etta?” Dad asks.

“Of course. She’s bringing dessert.” I glance at the time. “I’m going for a ride before it gets dark.”

“You guys have a ton of snow. I bet the trails are fun.” Bella smiles.

I nod. They’re an escape.

“Be careful,” Dad says.

“I will.”

After changing into my layers of riding gear and saddling up Snare, my favorite horse named after my favorite drum, I set out on the trail, walking through a glittering fresh blanket of snow. The air is crisp on my skin, the wind a soft whisper in my ears, and the sun a beacon of hope that I will survive this fucking life of mine.

Snare snorts, pulling to the right a bit. We slow down, anticipating another rider coming in the opposite direction. He snorts again.

“Easy …” I pull back on the reins a little more.

It’s not another rider. It’s someone snowshoeing toward us, trekking at a pretty good pace. We stop and wait for them to pass in their neon blue snow gear, wraparound sunglasses, and auburn hair cascading beneath it. I wait idle in the saddle for her to pass.

Is it her? No. Not her. Maybe a dream? Shit … what’s wrong with me? She slows up upon passing us. My head follows her and hers follows mine, both of us looking back over our shoulders. Then she stops.

I don’t have to see her whole face to know it’s her. I feel her. She releases one pole, letting it dangle from her wrist as she slides her sunglasses onto her head.

My heart feels like Snare’s standing on it. Those freckles along her rosy nose and cheeks, and those blue eyes so brilliant, framed with that wild red mane—it all hits me so hard I can’t breathe. Without her, I’m not sure I want to breathe.

Her gaze drops to the ground between us. After several blinks, she slips her glasses back on and continues in the opposite direction.

“Jesus …” I whisper, climbing off Snare. “That’s it? You’re just going to walk off?” I plod my way through the snow after her. “Stop!” I grab her arm.

She whips around with her pole, ready to decapitate me. I duck then lose my balance and stumble back onto my ass. Henna straddles me with her snow shoes on either side of my body, forcing my head back into the snow by shoving the point of her pole against my throat.

“Just to be. Very. Fucking. Clear.” Her voice drips rage like acid on my soul. “You are the one who walked off.”

I can’t see her eyes behind her glasses, but I don’t miss the tear trailing down her cheek, and there’s nothing I can do about it because I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be alive as the tip of her pole digs a little more into my skin, making me work harder for oxygen.