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Heartbreak at Roosevelt Ranch by Elise Faber (1)

1

I straightened from putting the last plate into the dishwasher and stretched for a towel to wipe my hands. I was exhausted after twenty-four straight hours with the kids, and Rob still wasn’t home. Not to mention, I needed to make cupcakes for Max’s school—and somehow do it without sugar.

So the ensuing crash upstairs was not welcome.

Dropping the towel, I whisper-sprinted up to the second floor—running on tiptoes while hopping, leaping, and skipping over every toy obstacle, creaky floorboard, and rogue crayon along the way.

The light was on in Max’s room, and considering that I had made this trek a half dozen times in the last hour, I was out of patience.

“You need to go to sleep,” I growled, throwing open the door, my fierce mom glare already in place.

Except the devil child was asleep.

He’d fallen out of bed, crashed onto an entire village of Legos—scattering them to hell and back—and was dead asleep.

My heart gave a little squeeze even as the logical part of me recognized the giant mess I’d be picking up tomorrow.

It was just that face.

A cupid’s bow of bright pink lips, slightly parted, rosy cheeks, and mussed hair. The boy was cute, and it was hard to believe he was part of me, that he’d come from my body.

I clucked my tongue at myself, knowing I was being ridiculous and romantic and Melissa-like because I’d spent the day with Kelly and her toddler, Abby.

My baby sister had a baby. And a man. And was all grown up—

Oh God. There I went with the tears again.

Swiping a finger under each eye, I navigated the minefield of toys as I made my way over to Max. I gave an internal grunt as I lifted the little—or not so little, anymore—monkey and tucked him back into bed.

One hastily constructed barrier of pillows and blankets and stuffed Minecraft toys later, and I was heading back out of the room.

I flicked the light off, started to leave—

“Too dark, Mommy,” he murmured.

A sigh. Back on it went. “Good night, sweetheart.”

“Night.”

This time I made it to the top of the stairs before a sound stopped me.

It wasn’t the kids. No. This was more like . . . buzzing?

I cocked my head and listened, then made my way to my bedroom, a growing pile of toys in my arms as I went.

The door was open, and I walked inside, dumping the pile on the coverlet before stopping to pinpoint the sound.

I felt my pockets for my cell. Not even two days before, I’d scoured the house for my phone, it somehow having fallen out of my pocket, ending up under the dresser. It had taken darn near fifty calls and a search of the entire house before I’d found it.

Those locating apps were all well and good, but they couldn’t tell a person which room in a house their phone was. Which meant the app, for my day-to-day exploits, was pretty much useless.

I hardly left home at all except for the kids’ activities and school pickup or drop off.

Or if Rob needed something down at the station.

And that was fine. My place was at home. The kids needed me, Rob needed me. It was just that sometimes . . .

No. Don’t get sidetracked.

My phone was in my pocket. The sound wasn’t coming from beneath the dresser.

It was coming from the bed.

I peered under, saw nothing, and I was reaching for Rob’s flashlight in his nightstand when I realized where exactly the noise was originating from.

My hand slid between the mattress and box spring, jumping a little when the object buzzed against my fingers.

“What—?” I pulled it out, saw it was an older-looking iPhone. Why was there—

Then I saw the texts. An entire screen worth of them.

And my heart froze solid.

I’m heading to the hotel.

Where are you?

Don’t keep me waiting, honey.

I need you.

The question wasn’t why Rob had hidden a phone under his side of the mattress. It was why someone named Celeste was calling him honey and telling my husband that she needed him.

Downstairs, I heard the garage door rumble open and close, the clink of Rob’s keys on the kitchen counter. “Miss?” he called softly up the stairs.

My voice was gone, my throat tight. My eyes burned, and still, I held the phone. It wasn’t until I heard him walking down the hall to the bedroom that I sprang into motion.

I shoved the phone back under the mattress and scooped up the toys.

Rob stopped short in the doorway. “Oh.” He smiled. “I called you.”

“Sorry, I was cleaning.”

He touched my cheek, slid past me. “You don’t have to do that.”

“It’s my job,” I said brightly, and if it was too bright then what did it matter anyway?

My husband was moving toward the bathroom, already unbuttoning his shirt. “Is there a plate for me?”

I turned, saw he’d paused, and forced a smile. “Yup. I’ll heat it up for you.”

“Thanks, love.”

“Of course.” I walked out of the bedroom but didn’t go downstairs.

Instead, I hesitated in the hall, silent and waiting.

And my gut tied itself into knots when I heard Rob’s footfalls across the carpet, the slide of his hand beneath the mattress as he pulled out the phone.

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