Read Breaking Even Online

Authors: Lily Bishop

Breaking Even

You Can't Go Home Again


For months, Lindsey had been looking forward to
graduate school. Now, the day before moving day, her thoughts whirled around
Calliope and Ricardo Salzana.

She had to unpack from her Calliope trip
before she could pack the rest of her things for Clemson. She pulled the new
Rainbow flip-flops out of her suitcase and blinked to get rid of the tears. He
had been so sweet to buy her these.

How could she leave him? Just that
morning, his strong arms had cocooned her in a hug and his lips had taken her
places she had never been. Why had he waited until the airport to kiss her? She
had her whole life mapped out, her education and career plotted for the next
ten years. How could she not leave him?

It had all started when Ric had put her
under house arrest for her own protection. Somewhere along the way, he had gone
from being her captor to her friend. If she were honest, she had hoped for
something more. Now she faced moving forward without him.

She shouldn’t mind so much. Lindsey and
her older sister Laura had no one else now. Their mother had died the summer
after Lindsey graduated from high school. Laura had only vague memories of
their father, who had died shortly after Lindsey was born. Their mother had
entertained a string of men over the years, but none of them had cared enough
to stay.

Lindsey took one look at Ric, and he had
flipped her world on its axis. He had said just that morning that he would call
her, but she had her doubts. Once he realized the difficulties in a
long-distance relationship, he would find someone else. Men like Ric didn’t
exist in her world, and if they did, they didn’t fall in love with plain, average
girls like her. A man like Ric dated beautiful models, not geeky math girls.

Lindsey heard her phone ringing, but at
first couldn’t find it. When she spotted it across the room, she dove over the
bed and stubbed her toe. The picture that popped up on her phone told her Ric
was calling, just as he said he would. Now she felt foolish for doubting him.

“Hello.” The word came out rushed and
breathless, not at all how she wanted to sound. She had finally gotten her wits
about her after banging her toe.

“Lindsey? You sound out of breath.”

Excitement pulsed through her at the sound
of Ric’s voice. She laughed. “I stubbed my toe trying to get to the phone.”

He laughed, and across all the miles, she
felt like he was beside her.

, I missed your voice,” he
said. “Your sister has recovered from the Taser incident?”

“She fussed the whole flight back about
you and your security guards, but she’ll be fine.” She hadn’t mentioned winning
the tournament to Laura, and she hadn't told her about Ric.

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“How can it only have been a few hours
since I saw you? I feel like it’s been days already.” Lindsey felt sappy, but
it was true. Since the plane had touched down in Miami, she couldn’t think
about anything but Ric.

Calliope ran on its own island time,
removed from everything. In one weekend, she had won enough money from the
blackjack tournament to pay for graduate school. When Ric's men arrested Vaughn
for playing with counterfeit chips, she expected the worst. Ric had assured her
she could keep the money. He had paid her tournament entrance fee, not Vaughn.

 “I’ve been in meetings all afternoon, but
I couldn’t stop thinking about you. Finally, I got a text from the pilot
telling me that you had landed safe.” Ric’s voice sounded like silk over sandpaper.

Lindsey blushed, pleased that he had been
thinking of her. “Well, good, because I’ve not gotten a thing done here.” She

“When are you supposed to leave?”

“We’re leaving early in the morning,
driving up over two days.” She realized as soon as she said “we” that she would
have to explain. She should have already told Ric that she would have a male
roommate in the fall, but the subject hadn’t come up. At the time, she hadn’t
expected to talk to Ric again. Now she struggled to explain.

“Who are you driving up with? Your sister?”
Ric asked.

Lindsey took a deep breath and plunged
ahead. “No, my new roommate, Ben. He’s a friend from Tallahassee who is also
moving to Clemson.”

Ric didn’t answer at first, but the air
between them crackled with his disapproval. When he spoke again, his anger bled
through. “You’re moving in with a man?”

“Not like that. We’re just friends,” she
rushed to reassure him.

“You never mentioned him before.” Ric kept
his voice even, but she could tell he was not happy.

“No, because it didn’t matter.”

“Most men can’t be just friends with
women. Sex gets in the way.”

Lindsey sighed. She could have written out
this entire conversation in advance. “I didn’t have sex with you, and we slept
in the same bed. Why do you think I would immediately have sex with him?”

“I trust you,
. I don’t
trust him.”

Lindsey grinned at his lapse into Spanish,
but she still felt like she should defend Ben. “You don’t even know him. He’s

“I don’t have to know him to not trust

“Ric, it’s sweet that you’re jealous, but
you don’t have anything to worry about. If I planned to get down and dirty with
anyone, it would be you.”

He laughed. “I guess that will have to be
enough. I miss you.”

“I miss you too. When I get everything
together in my new space, you’ll have to come up and see me.” Lindsey’s phone
beeped. “I have another call coming in. I’ll call you back later.” She hung up
and switched to the second line. “Hello?”

“Lindsey?” The man’s voice sounded
familiar, but she couldn’t place it. “Fox Thornton here.”

“What?” Lindsey recognized the name, but
at first couldn't place him. She had just met him the night before, on

“You might not remember me, but this is
Fox Thornton. I’m with Laura at the hospital.”

“What happened?” Lindsey could hear her
voice growing more and more frantic. Laura had always been the calm one.

“Long story. She will be fine, but you
might want to come over here.” He just managed to tell her the name of the
hospital before he ended the call so he could talk to the doctor. Lindsey
rushed down to her car without waiting for him to call back with more details.

She tried to call Ric back, but when he
didn't answer, she left a message about Laura being in the hospital. She
promised to call him back later that night.




Lindsey didn
’t know how to
find the hospital, so she downloaded the directions to her phone. When traffic stopped
on the main road, she tapped the steering wheel in frustration.

Laura’s too bossy for anything serious to
be wrong. She wished she knew more, but Fox had been abrupt on the phone. She
refused to think about the alternative. Fox would have told her if he thought
it was serious. As much as Lindsey clashed wills with Laura, she couldn’t
imagine a life without her bossy sister.

In the emergency room, a nurse directed
her to Laura’s treatment room. Lindsey started through the open door, but she
hesitated when she saw her sister. Laura’s face was so pale she almost
disappeared in the pillows.

Lindsey touched Laura’s shoulder and Laura
looked up at her, but her eyes didn’t focus. “Oh my God, what happened? I was
so worried!”

Lindsey saw movement in the corner and
noticed Fox sitting in a straight-back chair. He came over to where she stood.
“Lindsey? I thought you had blonde hair?”

“That was a wig. Long story. What happened
to Laura?”

Laura started to speak, but Fox waved her
silent. “The FBI raided the office to arrest Lloyd. After a scuffle, Lloyd
tried to flee and he fell on top of Laura, hurting her arm.”

Lindsey stood there, looking from Laura to
Fox and back again. None of this made any sense. She would have to get more
detail later.

“We know she has a sprained wrist, but
we’re waiting for the test results to rule out internal bleeding. There was
some concern that she lost consciousness,” Fox explained.

Laura waved Fox's concerns away. "My
wrist hurts, and I want to go home.”

“Where are your clothes?” For the first
time, Lindsey noticed Laura wearing a hospital gown.

“I don’t know. The nurse said she would
find me some scrubs to wear home.”

Fox explained. “She’s a little bit out of
it. Lloyd fell on her, and some of his blood splattered on her clothes. The
nurse cut off her clothes looking for injuries.”

“How did you know to call me?” Lindsey
asked Fox.

“Laura told me your number before she went
back to X-ray.”

Lindsey pulled up the second straight
plastic chair and sat down beside the bed. “After everything this week, now

What had she been thinking, going so far
away to school when her only family was in Miami? And she should start her move
tomorrow. “How can I leave and go to Clemson now?”

Laura opened her eyes at that. “The same
way you were going to leave before. This doesn’t change a thing. You go finish

Laura leaned back and closed her eyes.
Lindsey could tell she was still in pain.

“I can’t just leave you here.” Lindsey
struggled to find a solution. Maybe she could delay her departure a few days.
She didn’t have to go up there right now.

Lindsey checked on her sister, who had
zoned out. “Be right back,” she mouthed to Fox as she stepped out of the
emergency room treatment area. She went outside so she could use her phone.

Lindsey took a deep breath, willing her
heart rate to slow down. Too much had happened for one day, and she was nowhere
near done. She tried to call Ben to suggest they wait a few days to make the
drive to Clemson.

By the time she reached him, he was
already at his sister Kayla’s apartment in Coral Gables. They wanted Lindsey to
meet them for dinner.

“Tonight’s not a good night. I’m at the
hospital with my sister—”

“I’m sorry to hear that, but she will be
okay, right?” Ben asked.

“I guess, but I don’t want to leave her.”
Lindsey paced the sidewalk outside the Emergency Room.

“Oh, please, Lindsey, you have to. It’s
Kayla. Dad isn’t exactly supportive of me moving to South Carolina. Kayla can
calm him down about it, but she won’t talk to him if I don’t play her game. She
has some sort of weird power trip going on. We won’t stay out long, I promise.
Just meet us for dinner.”

Lindsey didn’t understand his issue. “So
you’re helping your uncle with his bar. I still don’t see why your dad wouldn’t
support that.”

“It’s complicated. He doesn’t like my
mom’s brother. Kayla says that she hasn’t seen you much at all this summer. You
have to come out with us tonight. Otherwise she’s going to think you’re trying
to avoid her.”

“We’ve all been busy.” Lindsey didn’t tell
him that Kayla had avoided her. He forgot that Lindsey and Kayla didn't know
each other that well.

When Ben wouldn’t back down, Lindsey
agreed to meet them for a short dinner. She warned him that she couldn’t stay
long. She still had packing to do and clothes to wash. They agreed to meet at a
bar and grill not far from Laura’s condo.

Back in the treatment room, Laura didn’t
look any better. Lindsey was about to speak when Fox jumped in. “If you have
things you need to do, don’t worry about it. I’ll give Laura a ride home.”

Laura sat up. “I’m fine. Fox is here, and
I’m leaving as soon as they run a couple of more tests,” Laura reassured her.

When Laura took Fox’s hand, Lindsey clued
in. Her sister didn't want her there. “Oh, well, if that’s the case, I need to
finish packing. My friend Ben is coming from Tallahassee to help me move, and
he will be here later today. I’ll see you at home.”

She gave Laura a quick hug, and then, sure
that Laura was in good hands with Fox, she headed back to the condo to pack.




Lindsey hated
moving so much she had left most of her clothes and books in boxes all summer.
She planned to buy furniture when she got to South Carolina.

With Laura gone, at least Lindsey didn’t
have to listen to her thoughts on what to take with her. She could finally
decorate this new place how she wanted and start her own nest. She had loved
the dorms, but hated that she had to leave for two weeks during the holidays.

She lifted the pink princess lamp, a gift
from her mother for her tenth birthday. At the time, all her friends were into
princesses. Her mom had been so excited by the present that Lindsey pretended
she liked it. Now, over a decade later, she couldn't part with it because it
reminded her of her mother.

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