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Garnet Flats: Part 5 – Chapter 27


“Is Kadence asleep already?” Talia asked as she came downstairs, joining me in the kitchen, where I was finishing up the dishes from dinner. She was wearing one of my T-shirts, the hem hitting midthigh. Her hair was wet from the shower, and her face was clean, her cheeks flushed.

In all my life, I’d never seen a more beautiful woman. Never would.

“What?” She walked closer. “What’s that look?”

“Nothing.” I pulled her into my chest. “Yeah, she’s asleep.”

“Damn. I feel bad for getting home late.”

“She understands you were working.”

Talia rested her cheek against my chest, her arms winding around my waist. “Don’t let go.”

“Never.” I kissed the top of her hair.

I began swaying back and forth, not quite a slow dance, but enough that she moved with me.

Today had been Talia’s first day back at work since we’d come home from Vegas yesterday. In the days since the fight, we’d been inseparable, and when she’d gotten up to leave for work this morning, I’d tried not to let my disappointment show.

“I missed you today.”

She shifted, putting her chin on my sternum to meet my gaze. “I missed you too. But I’m glad we’re home.”

“Same here.”

Vegas was history. Our last days spent there had been a nice way to say goodbye.

Sunday after the fight, I’d had meetings and appointments, mostly for press. Talia and I had decided not to announce my retirement. We’d ride the wave of the win for a while, then quietly step away.

The two of us had spent Monday in our hotel room celebrating, ordering room service and spending the day in bed. Then Tuesday, we’d driven into the desert for a sunrise hike. That evening we’d gone out to dinner with my parents, then yesterday morning, we’d packed up and flown to Montana. Kadence was as happy to have us home as we were to be here.

“My agent emailed me today, asking about a new contract,” I told Talia.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing. I’m going to ignore him until next week.” Be the champion for a few more days. Enjoy this time at home.

Then take the next step.

“What happened at the hospital?” I’d expected her home around six but she’d texted and said something had come up, so she needed to stay late.

“It wasn’t bad, just busy,” she said. “A guy came into the ER right before I was supposed to leave. He’d burned his hand while he was trying to cook an anniversary dinner for his wife.”

“That’s an anniversary they won’t forget.”

“No, they won’t. His wife was really understanding about it and he just kept apologizing over and over again. It was sweet.”

“How was it with Rachel?”

“She wasn’t there.” Talia had confessed yesterday on the flight that she was anxious about going back to the hospital after the accident. She hadn’t seen Rachel since their encounter in the waiting room. “She actually took a leave of absence.”

“Really?” I stopped moving. “Maybe that’s for the best.”

“I feel awful for her. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose your son. No matter the problems he might have had, he was still her child.”

I shuddered, not wanting to think about that horror.

“The rumor with the nursing staff is that she won’t come back.”

For Talia’s sake, I hoped that was true. “Give it time.”

“I had a long talk with Dr. Anderson today.”


“Everything.” She pressed her cheek to my heart, my cue to resume swaying. “He called me in to talk. I guess while we were gone, another one of the nurses told him about Rachel. She’d overheard what Rachel told me in the waiting room and she thought the reason I wasn’t at work was because I’d quit, not because I was on vacation.”

“And how did it go?”

“Good.” She hugged me closer. “He told me that the budget cuts had nothing to do with my position. That the reason Rachel’s sister was let go was because she was bad at her job.”

That’s what I’d suspected. “Feel better?”

“A lot.” She looked up and smiled. A smile so full of light it illuminated the room. “He told me I was a good doctor.”

“Because you are.” I tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Sometimes it’s nice to be told,” she said. “We picked a date for my license exam. It’s going to get a little crazy with added study time but—”

“We’ll figure it out. Whatever you need.”

“He calls me Talia. Everyone calls me Talia.” She paused. “I was worried that it was because they didn’t think I was a good enough doctor. I’m sure no matter what, I’ll always have doubts, but I’ll give it my best.”

“Yeah, you will.” I leaned my cheek against the top of her head, swaying a little faster and spinning us in a slow circle.

“What happened in your day?”

I closed my eyes. “I got a call from Dex.”

Talia stiffened, pushing out of my hold. The smile was gone and that worried crease was between her eyebrows. “What? When? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I am telling you.” I chuckled and hauled her into my arms again, holding tight as she squirmed.

“Lead with that,” she said, poking me in the ribs.

“Noted. Though I think today was the last time I’ll be speaking to Dex.”

“What did he say?”

“ ‘Fuck you.’ ”

Her jaw dropped. “Seriously?”

“Yup.” I shook my head. “Over three million dollars and all I get is a fuck you.”

Before the fight, I’d made a hard call to Tony Sabbatini. He’d been a loose acquaintance of Arlo’s—filth tended to run with filth—and though I’d never met the man, I’d heard the rumors of his mafia ties.

Tony owned a handful of casinos around Vegas, all of them shady. Dex had truly fucked himself by getting involved with the Sabbatini family, but all I’d cared about was Vivienne’s safety. So before I’d ever stepped into the Octagon with Savage, I’d made a deal.

Three million plus what Dex would lose betting on my fight. I’d bought Dex’s debt outright. In exchange, Vivienne was to be forgotten.

Maybe Tony would still go after Dex. I didn’t give a fuck. If Dex’s ego was bruised because I’d bailed him out, he could rot in hell. I’d done it for Kadence.

I’d paid to ensure my daughter didn’t lose her mother.

“Why would Dex even call if not to say thank you?” Talia asked.

“To say fuck you.”

She frowned. “Sorry.”

I shrugged. “He’s out of our lives.”

“And Vivienne’s?”

“She told Kadence tonight that she was almost done packing. Kaddie asked if Dex was coming too and Vivi told her that they broke up.”

“Then it’s over.” Talia blew out a long breath. “Did you talk to Vivienne?”

“No. Just listened while she FaceTimed with Kadence.”

Conversation with Vivienne was just as tense now as it had been before the fight. Other than trading logistics for Kadence, communication was short. She’d hurt me. And though she’d apologized profusely, we shouldn’t have landed here.

Vivienne had stayed in Quincy while Talia and I had been in Vegas. When we’d gotten home, we’d traded the airplane and she’d flown back to the city to begin packing.

As of this morning, our house was on the market. So was Angel’s.

Those had been conditions of mine. If I was going to pay Dex’s debt, Vivienne was going to get her ass out of Vegas.

After the fight, when Talia and I had made it back to the hotel suite, I’d called Vivienne. She’d answered in tears, thinking Dex’s life was over, until I’d told her that I’d paid his debt. When I told her that I expected her to move and soon, she’d agreed immediately.

Progress. We’d even scored some Quincy real estate.

Eloise had overheard a tip at the hotel. An older couple in town was moving to Missoula to be closer to their grandchildren and would be listing their house for sale. Bless that local phone book. Talia had looked up their number and given them a call. An hour later, my realtor had been drafting the buy-sell agreement.

I was paying cash plus fifteen thousand dollars to expedite their move. It would be tight, but if the timing worked perfectly, the home would be empty when Vivienne’s own moving truck arrived.

The house was five blocks away. Kadence would be trading houses but at least those houses would be close.

“What do you think will happen with Dex?” Talia asked.

“I don’t know. There’s a chance they’ll go after him. But the fact that he called me today . . .” The fact that he was still alive. “I just don’t know.”

“Do you think we’ll be okay?”

There was fear in her voice, so I held her tighter. “We’ll be fine.”

Thanks to Arlo. That conniving bastard had been helpful after all.

Arlo had kept a book. It was no bigger than a notepad and he’d tucked it away in the safe at Angel’s. I doubted Vivienne knew about it. I wouldn’t be sharing it with Talia either. The less either of them knew about his connections, the better.

In that little black book, he’d kept names and numbers. Information about the underground fighting circuit. Details about the big players and bookies in Vegas.

After years and years, that book had become Arlo’s insurance policy.

He’d told me about the book once, and only once. On a night I was sure he didn’t remember. A night when he’d been gifted a bottle of scotch, and instead of taking it home, he’d opened it at the gym. The guys had cleared out, leaving only the two of us behind.

And he’d had that book open on his desk.

Every bet he’d made, every contact he’d known, was listed in his small, neat script. He’d filled over three pages with information about Tony Sabbatini’s crew.

Arlo had told me that if anything ever happened to him, anything suspicious, that the book was to be sent to the federal authorities.

The information could have been outdated. I didn’t care. I’d told Tony that Arlo had a list of names. He’d asked me to name a few, so I’d rattled off those I could remember. After Arlo’s death, I’d taken that book and kept it hidden. It had made the journey to Montana too.

Apparently the names I’d recited had been enough. Tony’s lawyer had forwarded me a dummy investment contract for a business I was sure only existed on paper. And along with my multimillion-dollar wire transfer, this morning, I’d dropped Arlo’s book in the mail to Tony himself as a good faith gesture that I wanted nothing to do with his world.

With any luck, that was the end of it.

Maybe it was foolish to believe it was over. But I was hedging my own bets now. I was banking on the fact that I was out of Las Vegas, and soon, I’d be just another forgotten, retired UFC fighter.

“That was a lot of money,” Talia said.

“It’s just money.” There were more important things. “Besides, what do I need it for? I’m going to marry a doctor.”

She arched her eyebrows. “Marry?”

“If she ever decides to wear her ring.”

“Wait.” Talia’s eyes widened. “Are you asking me to marry you?”

“Something like that.” I grinned, letting her go to dig in my pocket for the velvet pouch. “This has been in my pocket for months. I can put it back. Do a fancy proposal with flowers and candles and fireworks. Or I can put it on your finger and we can dance around the kitchen. I’ll probably step on your feet a few times. Then I’ll tell you how much I love you and carry you upstairs to our bed.”

“You’ve kept it in your pocket all this time?” she whispered.

“Until you felt like wearing it.”

“Tonight.” She lifted her hand, her fingers shaking. “No fancy proposal.”

“Thank fuck.” I struggled to get the bag open. The ring was warm from being in my pocket all day. I fumbled it once before I finally slid it onto her finger.

Where it had always been meant to be.

“Oh my God.” The diamond sparkled in the muted light as she held it up, that blinding smile on her face again. Then she rose up on her toes, her lips brushing mine. “I love you, baby.”

“I love you, Tally.” I fused my mouth to hers, my tongue sweeping past her lower lip. My hand skimmed under the hem of my shirt, gliding across the smooth skin of her hip. Then I hoisted her into my arms, skipped the dance entirely and carried her upstairs as promised.



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