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Double Brother Trouble by Katerina Cole (1)

Claire

There was no place like home.

With all the traveling I did, sometimes I forgot just how sweet being at home could be. Being a freelance reporter wasn’t easy, but I finally had my dream job.

I fumbled with the keys until I managed to get the lock to twist open. Jetlagged, I stumbled into my Chicago apartment, half-carrying and half-dragging my luggage.

It was always disorienting to return to the Windy City after being in some exotic setting, like the Aruba resort I had just visited. No matter how much time I spent away, I was always happy to come back.

Stepping inside the apartment and locking the door behind me, I barely made it to the couch before I collapsed, taking a moment to breathe. I kicked off my shoes, brushed back my long blond hair, and sighed in content. As I glanced around, I saw that everything was just as I had left it—comfy and cluttered.

I leaned back against the couch and closed my eyes until the blare of my cell phone interrupted my few seconds of peace. I cracked my eyes open and peered at the name flashing across the phone’s screen.

It was my boss.

“Hello, Francis,” I answered, stifling a yawn.

“Back from Aruba? How was it?” she asked.

“It was excellent. You’ll read all about it,” I replied. I had put the final touches on the article on my flight home.

“Looking forward to it. How would you feel about checking out another location for me tomorrow? I realize that’s a quick turnaround for you.”

“I’m all ears.” Although, I was vaguely aware I was already starting to drift off. “Where am I going this time?”

Francis explained the assignment. I picked out the words Montana and ranch, as my boss rattled off details about the next trip.

“So what do you think?” Francis asked.

“Sounds good,” I responded, trying not to yawn again.

It didn’t matter if I hadn’t exactly caught every detail. As far as I was concerned, it was simply another gig, and the more work I had lined up, the better. To this day, I hadn’t turned down a job for the magazine, and I had never once regretted it, no matter how tired I was.

Keep it moving. That was my motto. There was always another adventure.

“Fantastic. I knew I could count on you. My assistant Cecile made the plans for you. I had a feeling you’d be up for this one. Your plane for Montana leaves in the morning. Check your inbox for the travel file and your flight arrangements.”

“All right. I’ll do that soon.” First, I was going to sleep, but my boss didn’t need to know that.

“Thank you. Maybe we can do lunch when you return.”

“Maybe.” I stretched out on her sofa. I wasn’t going anywhere until I got some sleep. “That would be nice to catch up.”

“Have a safe trip and I’ll let you know what assignment comes in next.”

I nodded sleepily and turned off my phone. I didn’t know how long it took. Maybe minutes. Maybe seconds, but I was in a deep sleep on my couch before dinner. Too exhausted to move or even turn off the lights, I tucked the soft blanket to my chin and curled on my side.

Oh shit!

It was morning.

This couldn’t be happening.

The sunlight streamed in from the blinds. I scrambled from the cushions, realizing I was still wearing my travel clothes from yesterday. I panicked.

What time was it? How long had I slept on the couch?

I glanced at the clock and sighed. I calculated I had just enough time for a quick shower, to grab a granola bar, and to dump out the dirty laundry in my suitcases in exchange for some clean clothes hanging in the closet.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

There was no worse way to start a trip than feeling as if I had already missed my flight.

I threw my favorite sweater and a pair of jeans in my suitcase, while I hopped on one leg trying to get dressed. I raced through the apartment, locked the door, and waited for my Uber by the curb.

The mini-van pulled up to the curb and the driver helped me with my suitcase while buckled in the backseat and pulled out my phone. I had at least one call to make.

“You better have a good excuse for calling me this early in the morning.” Val’s voice was scratchy.

We had been friends since fourth grade and sometimes it felt as if she was all the family I had.

I laughed. “I’ve missed you too.”

“Hey, I didn’t say I didn’t miss you, but it’s earlier than my gym time. Are you back? Do you want to go to spin class with me?” She paused. “In another four hours?”

“I know it’s early I’m sorry. I am back from Aruba, but I’m flying out again,” I explained.

“What? Leaving again already? Are you serious? When did you get in?”

“Last night. And yep, I’m leaving again this morning. As soon as I got back to my apartment, Francis called to give me another assignment. She wants me to go to Montana, so she called to tell me my flight was already booked.”

“What in the world? And what if it just so happened that you didn’t want to go? How can your boss just demand you leave town on a whim?”

“First of all, my job is to travel. And second, Francis knows me pretty well by now. She knew I wasn’t going to turn down the offer.”

“You haven’t turned down an offer to date, have you?” she pressed.

“Nope.”

Val groaned. “You know, you’re going to burn yourself out one of these days.”

“This is my career. My life.”

“I know. I know. Anyway, where are you now? What time is your flight? Can I at least meet you for breakfast before you head out?”

“Maybe next time.” The driver pulled up to the departures terminal. “I’m already at the airport. I just wanted to call to let you know what’s going on. I would have called last night, but I was too tired. I fell asleep on the couch almost as soon as I got home. Didn’t even manage to put on my pajamas or unpack.”

“I can’t believe you’re leaving already. We haven’t seen each other in forever,” my best friend whined.

“I know. I promise we’ll do something together soon.”

Val sighed. “Well, in that case, your early-morning call is excused.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. But your schedule sucks.

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.”

“I swear, Claire—you’re all work, and no play.”

“That’s not true. I get to visit beautiful resorts while working, so my work pretty much is my play.” It was how I justified my busy lifestyle.

“I can see that. So, what do you have planned in Montana?”

I tried to remember the conversation I had with Francis last night, but my mind drew a blank. “Probably some kind of spa resort, like usual.”

“I’m so jealous,” Val moaned. “I’ve heard so much about the ranch-spa craze lately. They sound like pure heaven. Have I ever told you how lucky you are? You know, you really should ask your boss if you can bring a friend along sometimes.”

I giggled. “That’s actually a good idea. I can interview you about your experience. Deal?”

“Deal. Have a good trip, and call me as soon as you’re back, all right?”

“I will. Talk to you later.”

“Bye.”

I hung up the phone and checked the time. My flight would be leaving soon.

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