Avery entered the brilliantly sunlit reception area of the police department in Brook Hollow, Massachusetts, and stuck her sunglasses on the top of her head. An officer looked up from the papers he was rummaging through on the reception desk, checked his watch, and gave her a bland smile. “Help you?”
“You’re Officer Downey.” It was a statement rather than a question since his name was clear on his tag. She held out her hand. “I’m Avery Kale, the agent from the Solar Oversight League.”
His expression brightened. “Oh, right! SOL. You’re here for Billy. I’ve got your transfer paperwork right here.” He slid a folder from a stand at the side of the desk and laid it on the counter for her, pointing out where to sign. “Didn’t expect you so early. Sun’s barely up.”
“Long drive. The earlier we get on the road, the better.” She scrawled her signature on the first page and flipped to the second.
“I’ll go get Billy-Boy.” Downey headed to the back of the station and she made quick work of the stack of papers, keeping her copies—and laughing at the carbon-free duplicates she didn’t think anyone used anymore.
He was back in moments, accompanying Avery’s prisoner. The petty thief sulked but didn’t resist, even as Downey tested the handcuffs binding his wrists behind his back.
“I don’t need the cuffs, thanks.” Avery nodded at them. “You can remove them.”
Downey scowled. “Agent Kale, I have to seriously caution you against transporting this prisoner unsecured. I know he isn’t much to look at, but—”
“It’s fine, Officer Downey. I’m very familiar with Mr. Wharton’s history.”
He rolled his eyes, which didn’t seem to reassure the officer.
“I don’t want to take your equipment.” To ease his mind, she slid her hand around Billy-Boy’s upper arm. He tensed, probably thinking she needed to touch him to take control. She didn’t, but there was no point in revealing that unless he tried to run. She gave an encouraging smile and nod to Downey, who reluctantly came forward. He glared at Billy, then circled around him to unlock and remove the cuffs. Avery thanked him and marched Billy out of the station to her car, a modified Prius.
He tried to stop short. “Aw, man. We hafta drive?”
She shoved him forward. “What, you think you rate a plane ticket?”
“Nah. I thought you’d fly us down yourself.”
She snorted and opened the back door.
“What? The legendary Agent Kale isn’t a windrider?”
She didn’t bother answering. She was no legend, despite her rare ability to detect solars and even rarer ability to suppress their powers, and besides the fact that she wasn’t a windrider, even those who were couldn’t go far or carry other people with them. Billy was just being a snot. She was used to it.
He grunted and climbed into the back seat, buckling himself in. Avery got into the front and made sure the rear locks were engaged and the cage was secured. She peered over her shoulder, through the grate that separated her from Billy.
“Make yourself comfortable. It’s a long drive.”
“Can I make a phone call?”
“No, I mean it.” His sneering tone had disappeared. “I need my wife to meet me there for processing.”
“I’ll have the office alert her.” This wasn’t Billy’s first transgression, and he wasn’t going to be processed and released like he would have been before. But he did have a right to have someone on site with him, and if he wanted it to be his wife, she had no reason to deny him. She sent the text and put the car in gear.
“Thanks,” Billy reluctantly grunted. Then he slumped to rest his head on the back of the seat. He folded his arms and closed his eyes, and within ten minutes Avery had to put up the soundproof divider to block his snoring.
Several hours later, she was just coming into Laurel, Maryland, a few miles from SOL on the edge of the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, when her phone rang.
“Hello, Agent Kale, this is Agent Kale.”
Every muscle in Avery’s body softened at the warm, rich tones of her husband’s voice. “Reed.” She glanced at the clock. It was hours before their regular call time. “Where are you?”
“Still in Indiana. This kid’s got powerful ability, but no control and a helluva lot of attitude. I’ll be here a while.”
A spurt of panic shot through her. “How long is a while? Solstice is—”
“I know,” he soothed. “I’ll be home. I’ve never missed it, Avery.”
“I know, but…” She didn’t bother to finish the sentence. Neither one of them had ever missed a solstice, the two most important days of the year. But for some reason, this year’s summer solstice felt more important. The vague sense had increased as it got closer.
“Don’t worry. Sorry I called so early—am I interrupting anything?”
She slowed for a light, then goosed the gas again when it went green. “No. I’m transporting a rogue to SOL. Routine stuff.”
“What’s this one do? Dangerous?”
Avery smiled at his careful-yet-concerned tone. “Typical hijinks. He flashes sunlight into clerks’ eyes so he can rob convenience store registers.” The control of the sun’s light was the most basic of a solar’s powers. But most didn’t use their powers to break the law. The ones who did found Avery, or one of her team, on their doorstep sooner or later.
“So not as fun as the last one,” Reed observed.
She laughed. “No.” The last one had given her a sprained wrist after three weeks of chasing him down and two separate fights. Reed had wanted her to call in assistance, but she loved the challenge. At least she had control over something in her life.
“So what are you doing tonight that you had to call now?” She turned down the narrow road leading to the office and glanced in the rearview mirror at Billy, who was awake now and staring sullenly out the window at the forest.
“A sundown exercise. I’m not sure we’ll be done in time, and his mother wants me to come to dinner tonight. So…”
“I understand. I’m here, though.” She pulled into her parking spot to the side of the nondescript brick building and turned off the car. Billy straightened in the back seat, looking around the shadowy parking lot.
“Okay. Take it easy getting him into the building.” His voice deepened when he said, softly, “I miss you, Avery.”
“I miss you, too.” She blinked against the sting in her eyes. It had been four months since they were together at the winter solstice, and June twenty-first was still eight weeks away. Forever, despite her panic at Reed’s delay. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
She hung up and pushed out of the car, determined not to let emotion get the best of her. After four years they were solidly into her plan to keep them both alive, and it shouldn’t be such a battle. But it was, and she hated it.
“Is she here?” Billy demanded as soon as she opened the back door.
“I don’t know.” She didn’t bother taking his arm this time, without having to put on a show for anyone. Plus, she didn’t think he was going to try anything, distracted as he was.
“Didn’t they text you back?”
“I didn’t check. I was driving.”
They started across the pine-needle-strewn dirt lot toward the front of the building. The visitor’s lot was empty, and Billy slumped when he saw that. A few steps later, still a couple dozen yards from the entrance, he darted left, then whirled and threw out his hands toward Avery. Nothing happened. He frowned down at his hands, then up at the bright sky.
“That’s why I don’t need cuffs.” Avery waved him toward the building. “Now quit screwing around and get inside.”
He grumbled all the way through the double set of entry doors and scuffed his feet on the ceramic tile surrounding the mahogany front desk. She had just nudged him toward the locked half wall separating reception from the receiving area when the door opened behind them and a young woman rushed in.
A relieved breath gusted out of him and he grabbed her tight when she slammed against his chest, burying his face in her hair. “I’m sorry, babe.” Whatever he said next was too soft for Avery to hear. Tears pooled in the woman’s eyes. She didn’t look at Avery or the desk guard who stood at the locked entry gate but pulled Billy with her away from them, toward the corner. He cupped her face in his hands and dropped his forehead to hers, closing his eyes while she gripped his shoulders, talking earnestly but very low.
“I promise.” He bent to kiss her, and tears dripped down both of their cheeks. The woman eased back and put her hand against his jaw, smiling sadly when he turned to kiss her palm. Then she pressed that palm to her heart, lifted his hand, and kissed it. He echoed her gesture.
Well, hell. That had stabbed right through Avery’s notorious hard shell and pierced the heart some people claimed she didn’t have.
Avery turned to the grizzled man with close-cropped hair and a nearly gray beard, who was smiling at the couple. She raised one eyebrow, but he saw through her.
“Don’t even try to deny you’re not moved by that.” He unlocked the gate and opened it for her.
“Okay. Come on, Billy. Time’s up.”
He kissed his wife again and pulled away. Their hands slid down each other’s arms, fingertips clinging, and she watched from the doorway as Billy walked over.
“Thank you,” he told Avery.
She didn’t say anything. She respected the emotions between the couple, but he was responsible for their separation. He’d made bad choices. Other people didn’t have any choice at all. People like her and Reed.
“Gary,” she said. “Billy Wharton.”
“Got it. I’ll take him back.”
“Thanks.” She stopped at the main desk and accepted the clipboard handed to her by Simone Undermeyer, her best friend and the operations manager of SOL.
“You brought him in in record time,” Simone observed, watching Avery set the clipboard on the counter and start scribbling information on the processing form. “Easy catch?”
Avery snorted and checked off a few boxes. “Yeah, since the police got to him first.”
“How did that happen?” Simone asked with surprise.
She shrugged. “He’s dumb? I don’t know, he tripped or something coming out from behind the store counter and hit his head. The clerk recovered enough from the temporary blinding to hit the panic button, and the cops were just around the corner. Small town.”
“Apparently.” Simone adjusted her headset and reached for the phone console. “You’ll have to tell me how you got him away from the cops. Good afternoon, Solar Oversight League.” She listened a moment. “One moment, please.” She pressed a series of buttons. “Jonas, Senator Franklin on line one.” Turning back to Avery, she quirked a well-groomed eyebrow and pushed her heavy fall of hair over her shoulder. “So?”
“The officer didn’t even blink when I mentioned SOL. I thought I’d have to pull out the FBI card, but he must know a solar.” She signed the form with a flourish and handed it back to Simone, along with the papers from Brook Hollow. “Wanna go out tonight?”
“God, yes.” With efficient movements, Simone filed the form and replaced the clipboard in a standing holder. “I’m dying for buffalo wings. Frandy’s?”
“Sure. I’ll be out in half an hour.”
Simone buzzed Avery into the interior of the building, and she followed the maze of hallways back toward her office. More of a cubbyhole, size-wise, it was her haven with a door she could close—a perk of her job as head of the Rogue Recovery Division.
She’d barely had time to sort through her messages before the parade started. First came David Alphens, chair of the registration committee.
“Avery, got a minute?” It was a standard question, and he was one of the few who waited in the doorway for her to nod before coming in. He didn’t close the door, so she knew it was a courtesy visit.
“What’s up?” She set aside the messages, none of which were urgent, and gave David her attention.
“You missed the staff meeting.” He sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk and flipped his loosened tie out of his way.
“I was picking up a rogue.”
“Yeah, an easy one, from what I heard. Why couldn’t one of your agents do it?”
She smiled. He was big on management delegation, but she liked the field and went out every chance she got. “They were all on assignment.” All being a misleading term, since the eastern division only had five other agents. Solars were rare in proportion to the general population, and rogue solars even more so.
“That’s happened more lately, hasn’t it?”
She released her smile. “I guess. I’m behind on my reports.”
David snorted. “What else is new?” He pulled a sheet of paper from one of the file folders in his hand. “I’m not. And take a look at this.”
The graph at the top of the page showed a steadily climbing line. Avery examined the chart below it and realized it depicted the number of new solars they’d registered to SOL over the last six months.
“Seriously?” There were only a few thousand known solars in the United States, so an increase like this was significant.
David nodded. “I checked the archives. There’s never been a spike like this before. If it is a spike, as opposed to a trend. Might explain why you’ve been busier, too.”
“You do any hiring?” A bigger, more efficient staff could explain a spike in registrations, as more paperwork was being processed faster, but probably not this big an increase.
“Nope. I may have to, soon, though. Simone’s been helping.”
“What else do you have?”
He held his hand out for the paper, then dropped a different folder on her desk. “Demographics. Where they’re coming from, ages, family backgrounds, etcetera. No specific groupings. That’s your copy.” He stood. “We’re still working on cataloging powers. I want to see if there are changes there, too. You’d expect some things to be more common with a spike like this, but I’m looking for new or unusual stuff.”
“Yeah, I’ll be interested in that data, too.” New powers could definitely impact her department. Thanks.”
“Just bringing you up to speed. I’m gonna talk to Jonah about exploring why. If there are more actual solars or just we’ve gotten better at public relations. You going to Frandy’s after work?”
“How do you always suss that out?” Avery grinned, and he grinned back.
“Buffalo wings, baby. Part of my talent.”
She laughed and waved him out, pulling his file of data toward her. His real talent was management and direction. His solar abilities were basic and universal, nothing extended. All solars had a connection to the sun and its cycles, a sensitivity to sunspot activity, mild ability to interact with anything the sun affected. They could redirect the wind, have empathy for animals and plants and, to a mild extent, people. The rare talents, like Avery and Simone, could do a variety of extra things.
Two of her agents came in to report, interrupting her reading of David’s information, and a third checked in by phone to say he had a lead on his rogue, a bastard who used his ability to start fires, mostly in unoccupied office buildings. They’d been chasing him all over the country for a month. After reassigning a central region agent to back him up, she tried to tackle the e-mail that had come in while she was gone. She’d barely started when the phone rang again. She was going to glue the damned thing to her ear.
Against her will, she relaxed and smiled, pushing her chair back to recline. “Alec. What are you doing, calling me during work hours? Don’t tell me you got fired again.”
“Hell, no. I’m working nights now. It’s a good job.”
Judging by his tone, she didn’t want to know what it was. “What do you need?”
“I don’t call you just when I need something.” For a lot of little brothers, that statement would be untrue and said with false hurt feelings. But Alec was hardly a screw-up, even if he did change jobs frequently. His intolerance for injustice got in the way of gainful employment when it meant the customer wasn’t right.
“Okay, sorry. How’s everything?”
“Everything’s cool. Mom and Dad are in Bolivia right now.”
“I know, I talked to Mom a few days ago. Are you house-sitting?”
“Nah, it’s too far from work. I got an apartment in Georgetown.”
Avery whistled. “That’s pricy. I guess your job is a good one.”
“Yeah, I don’t even need a roommate. So Mom’s friend Alice is house-sitting. She wanted to get away from her kids.”
“Kids? They’re both back home?”
“Did we have any doubt they would be?”
They chatted a little longer about inconsequential things, Avery waiting the whole time for the point of her brother’s call. But it never came.
“Well, I’ll let you go. Just wanted to check in, catch up. We should do lunch next week or something.”
“Sure.” She paused, considered his wrath, and went for it anyway. He wasn’t very powerful. His punishment wouldn’t hurt that much. “Are you sure that’s the only reason you called? You don’t need anything?” His silence told her she was right. “Come on, Alec.”
“All right, fine. I wanted to chat. But I wanted to chat because we’re over halfway between solstices.”
“What?” That was the last thing she expected him to say. “What’s that got to do with anything?” Anything with him, she meant. Her whole life revolved around those two dates.
“You just get a little down around now. I was checking on you.”
Avery melted. “Sweetie, you are the best little brother anyone ever had.”
“Baby brother, not little brother. I’m six inches taller than you.”
She laughed, thanked him, and after assuring him she was doing okay, was able to get back to her paperwork with a slightly lighter heart.
Simone came in at six, startling Avery.
“Yeah. Sorry. I got engrossed.” She dropped her feet from the top of her desk and checked her watch. “Damn it, it’s an hour past when I said.” At least she’d managed to keep her mind on her work and not her husband, even after watching Billy’s tender moment with his wife. She usually didn’t let those kinds of things get to her. So they could get close without risk. Most people could, and wallowing in self-pity because of that was top of the list of Things to Avoid if This Marriage Was Going to Work. But lately, it was getting harder to ignore the pain and longing.
“It’s all right, Wilson just got here. His wife got stuck in traffic on her way home.” Simone and Wilson were nulls, having the ability to dampen all solar talent within the building. When there were rogues on site, one of them had to be here at all times. Avery felt better.
“David wants to join us, if that’s all—”
She froze at the sight of her burly boss leaning through the doorway, his big hands braced on either side of the door frame.
“Glad I caught you. My office, Monday morning, nine sharp.”
“Sure. Can I ask what for?”
“New assignment.” Her boss’s voice was so much like the angry sergeant of buddy cop movies that she always expected him to start yelling. But he never raised his voice, in fact had a reputation of being a pussycat, though there were rumors and theories about how that could change when he was pushed too far. Apparently, Avery had never crossed that line.
“Ah, sure. I’ll be there.” She gave a tiny shrug at Simone, who gave Avery a “what the hell?” look. Jonas’s job was complicated, requiring sensitive communication with government on one side and local authorities on the other, people who sometimes had little if any awareness of the existence of solars in the general population. He rarely got into the day-to-day activities of SOL.
“Good. Have a good evening.” He disappeared down the hall.
Simone jumped to close the door. “What’s that about?” she whispered eagerly. “When did he last give you an assignment?”
“When he promoted me to this office.” Avery pulled her purse out of her bottom drawer and pressed the “out of office” button on her phone. “I don’t know any more than you do, so let’s go.”
“But aren’t you curious? I mean, it’s got to be something big.”
She pushed her friend out the door and down the hall. “You’re way too professional for unfounded speculation, Sim. Grab David and I’ll meet you out front.” She continued out the front door, halting only when she reached the open clearing around the building. Simone’s nullification dulled Avery’s senses just like they dulled everyone else’s. She managed to ignore it while she was inside, that feeling that she moved within a tight, airless bubble. But once she decided to leave, her body was like a horse sensing home, craving the outdoors, the reconnection with the sun, wherever it might be in relation to her.
She closed her eyes and inhaled, realizing as she did that it had rained while she was inside. The light was dim for this time of day, and the air smelled moist and clean, cooler than when she first arrived. She lifted her arms. The trees, the ferns in the underbrush, even the small animals seemed to connect to her with a click, though she couldn’t sense them individually the way she could with people. The way she could when Simone and David crept out of the building silently, moving up behind her. She waited until they were inches away before she spoke.
“About time. I’m starving.”
“Dammit.” Simone stamped her four-inch heel and pouted. “I’m a null. You’re not supposed to sense me.”
“I wouldn’t if you didn’t shut it off as soon as you left the building.” Avery headed toward her car. “You want to ride with me?”
“It’s habit.” Simone sighed. “And yes, please. Mike dropped me off this morning. David?”
“I’ll meet you there.” He headed for the parking lot in the back of the building.
“So why does Mike have your car?” Avery asked as she started hers.
“His is shot. It needs a new radiator or something, and it’s not worth the cost, but he hasn’t had time to shop for a new one. His partner’s been picking him up every day, but he couldn’t today so he drove me in here early.” She adjusted her seat belt and sighed. Her husband, not a solar, was a detective with the DC police. “He’ll meet us at Frandy’s. What about Reed? Stupid, never mind, I can’t believe I said that.” She shook her head. “It just popped out, like it was automatic, but it hasn’t been in years.”
Avery managed a tight smile and kept her eyes on the road. If she looked at Simone she’d see compassion and sorrow on her face, and that would spring the tears free, and dammit, she didn’t cry over this! Not anymore.
“It’s okay. The four of us have done Frandy’s plenty of times.” But not for nearly four years. Not since Avery had come close to killing the man she loved more than anything. Odd, though, for Simone to say that today, when Avery was feeling especially raw about their distance. Maybe she was picking up on her mood.
At the main road, she signaled a left turn and headed for their favorite restaurant/bar. The owner, Peg, was a windrider who ran her place like a biker bar despite the clientele being mostly white-collar desk job types. Tonight, as they walked inside and she surveyed the Friday-night crowd made up of more couples than anything else, it made her feel lonelier than ever.
She had her friends—great friends—and their meals here went a long way toward filling out her life. It kept her from being all about work, overly focused and dedicated. Which kept her from stressing. But there was a gigantic hole that couldn’t be filled by anyone but her husband, and he could only do it twice a year.
By your decree. It had seemed the only way to protect him—protect both of them—without leaving each other completely. And it worked. She didn’t understand why it chafed at her so much now.
“This summer makes four years,” she told Simone after they’d greeted half a dozen people they knew, grabbed a table for four, and put in their drink orders.
“Four years for what?”
Simone frowned at her. “What—oh. Why are you suddenly calling it the rift?”
Avery lifted a shoulder. “How do you label being allergic to your own spouse?” God, she sounded morose. It was stupid. They’d lived with this reality for almost a decade, even though they hadn’t known it to be potentially fatal until four years ago. That discovery had ripped a chasm between them, something she’d have sworn from the first day they met wasn’t possible. They’d overcome it, found a way for their marriage to work despite having to keep their distance. And by many accounts, it worked better than a lot of normal marriages.
“Forget it. I’ve been feeling sorry for myself.” She held up a hand as David entered the pub. He spotted them and smiled, stopping to slap a few shoulders as he made his way toward them.
She said it so matter-of-factly that Avery sighed. “You’re the second person today to tell me that. But it feels worse this time.”
“Maybe you need to plan a nice anniversary surprise,” Simone suggested. “Give you something to do between now and then. What are you planning so far?”
David swung a chair around backwards and straddled it. He’d removed his tie in the car and now wore his shirt with the collar open, a black leather bomber-style jacket over it. His hair was damp, and Avery guessed it had started raining again.
“They’ll do the same thing they always do,” he offered, scooping up a handful of honey-roasted peanuts from the bowl on the table. “Have bring-down-the-ceiling sex for three hours, eat, then start on bringing down the walls.”
“Shut up.” Avery blushed, but didn’t deny it.
“Of course they bring down the house.” Simone skimmed the menu, then slapped it onto the wood-plank table. “You would, too, if you could only touch twice a year.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Avery said, but of course that fell on deaf ears.
“I don’t know.” David munched some more peanuts. “You’d think they’d do more than have sex. Talk. Cuddle. Shower together. Do housework.”
“They talk every day.” Simone waved impatiently at the server, who was collecting their drinks onto a tray at the bar. “Cuddling is overrated. They have a housekeeper, and they do shower together.” She winked at Avery. “That’s when they shatter the floor.”
“Enough about my sex life, please.”
“Yeah, it’s making me horny,” David complained. “And unlike you two, I have no significant other, which means I don’t get any at all.”
Simone slapped his arm with the back of her hand. “Have some sensitivity. Twice a year isn’t exactly frequent. You hook up more than that.”
“More often, yeah, but they still have more sex.” He twisted to look over his shoulder at the people lining the bar, probably assessing his prospects.
Avery was relieved when the server finally made it to their table. They abandoned the topic to order hot wings—arguing, as always, over exactly how hot—chili cheese fries, and fried zucchini, their one concession to something “healthy.” Mike arrived just as the server moved away, but Simone had ordered his Manhattan-neat and told him he’d have to suffer through their meal choices.
“That’s fine.” He kissed her tiredly and shucked his jacket. “Hey, Ave. David.” The recessed lighting glinted off the badge on his belt as he dropped into a chair. “Where’s Reed tonight?”
He nodded and pulled Simone’s chair around the corner of the table, closer to his. “When’s he comin’ back?”
“He didn’t know.”
“Miss him. It’s been a while.”
“I know.” They shared a smile, acknowledging Avery’s loneliness in a different manner from Simone and David’s banter. Avery knew that if she was out of town and Reed was in, he would be the one here.
And she was sick of dwelling on it. What was wrong with her today?
“You seem pretty worn out,” she observed. Mike nodded and sipped his drink.
“Rough case. She tell you about it?” He put his hand on his wife’s back, then slid it up to wind in her hair.
“No.” Simone arched her neck like a sleepy cat, caught Avery watching them, and stopped. “I wasn’t sure I was supposed to, and she’s been out of town for two days, anyway.”
“It’s no big secret. Ever hear of Paul Adranian?”
David shook his head, but Avery remembered reading about him in the Washington Post and latched onto the distraction from the big bruise her heart seemed to have become. “Entrepreneur, right? Venture capitalist?”
“Stuff like that, yeah, legitimate. Lots of charisma, well loved by the charitable community ’cause he gives a lot of money. But we think he’s into something more. He runs a group of high-class revue joints. You know, where couples can go watch male and female dancers take off their clothes.”
“Yeah, we think. The joints are legitimate by themselves, but there’s something goin’ on there. We’ve got three potential missing persons associated with the clubs.”
“Not all of them.” He sat back while the server set two platters of wings and a heaping plate of chili fries on the table.
“I’ll be right back with your zucchini,” she said, and Avery noticed a bit more sway in her hips as she walked away, like she knew David was watching her. He turned back around, caught Avery’s look, and grinned unrepentantly from under the shock of blond hair that didn’t fall over his eyes when he was in the office, but somehow always came loose when they were out.
“Think she’ll go home with me?”
Avery rolled her eyes and turned back to Mike. “So you can’t pin anything on Adranian.”
“Not even close. One of the women worked for a temp agency that staffed the kitchen when they were short. One was a dancer. The third one has a sister who dances at the oldest of the clubs and she’d applied for a job, too, but hadn’t been hired. It’s the only thing we’ve found in common among them.”
“And let me guess.” Avery forked up some fries and paused. “The media got hold of it today.”
Mike lifted his drink to her. “Got it in one.”
They spent some time bashing the media, who made everyone’s jobs harder, and ordered potato skins and shrimp cocktail as the conversation turned to other things. A couple of hours later, Avery said goodbye to her friends and drove home to her apartment in Wheaton.
Vert, their fluffy white-and-gray cat, greeted Avery at the door, purring as she wound around her legs. She bent to stroke her back as she glanced at the antique clock on the wall, then her phone on the counter before she remembered she talked to Reed early today. Early, and for far too short a time. She wondered how late he’d be at the farm and if he’d call when he was done. Probably not. He’d assume she’d gone to bed. She was definitely a morning person.
She fed the cat, washed and moisturized her face, and skimmed the shows recorded by the DVR before turning off the light and wondering why her bed felt so damned empty when that was how it always was.