Enjoy this exclusive excerpt from REVERSE by Kate Stewart, the second book in the Bittersweet Symphony Duet!
DRIVE, Book One of the Duet, is required reading before REVERSE, so be sure to grab a copy here — and it’s only 99 cents for a limited time)
For more romance novel excerpts, click here!
Song – “Someone Like You” – Adele
Glancing over my monitor to his office across the bustling newsroom, I see him typing a mile a minute. Rolling my chair closer to my desk, I duck out of his line of sight in an effort to shield my guilty conscience.
June 7, 2005, 2:23 AM
Salutations post countless beers,
I find it amusing that you work at a place called The Plate Bar. Did those idiot owners even research the name? I’m sitting on the patio at my best friend’s place, staring at the city lights, and I’m wondering where you are. I swore I wouldn’t bother you after beer one, and then decided on a formal email after beer three. But I still can’t afford you. It’s sad, really. So, the countdown begins, Miss Emerson. And though it’s just a few short months away, I find myself wanting to make one last effort to persuade you to go out with me (for research purposes of course). I have two tickets for the Ritz this Saturday.
GET. IN. MY. TAHOE.
Editor in Chief, Austin Speak
Sent via Blackberry
“Natalie, line four,” Elena, our office receptionist, chimes in as I damn near jump out of my skin. “It’s Jack with The Dallas Morning News.”
Nerves firing off as they have for the last half hour, I stand abruptly and think better of it, easing back into my chair. A closed door may pique Dad’s interest. I press the intercom to reception. “Tell him I’ll call him back, and Elena, I need an hour without interruption, okay?”
“Sure, hon,” she replies with the maternal tone she’s always used with me. I don’t take offense to it—even in this professional setting—because she watched me grow up at this paper. To her, I’ll always be the ginger-headed, twin-braid sporting little girl that considered the office furniture a part of my playground. Turning down the volume on my phone while my conscience screams at me, I glance around quickly before scanning the first few emails again.
June 7, 2005, 5:01 PM
It is my understanding that a drunken man extended a concert invitation to you last night. And while I do not condone that behavior, especially from a future employer to employee, I find it extremely rude that said invitation has not been acknowledged. Teamwork is key here at Austin Speak, Miss Emerson. I can only assume you take your position seriously and are against the feminist lyrics of Sheryl Crow. My apologies. Moving forward, I will refrain from extracurricular emails, but will settle for a second interview, in my office, by 6:00 p.m. today.
Editor in Chief, Austin Speak
Sent Via Blackberry
June 8, 2005, 11:11 AM
It occurred to me that you may not be receiving these emails, but I think we both know, Miss Emerson, that is not the case. And since I have no proof of this, I have no choice but to believe you remain steadfast in your decision not to mix business with research, however disconcerting that may be due to the nature of your profession. But for the sake of office morale, I may be so inclined to have a beer at our place around 6:00 p.m. this evening to discuss this issue.
Editor in Chief, Austin Speak
Sent via Blackberry
“Geez, Dad, laying it on thick,” I whisper with a budding grin, popping up once more from behind my screen before zeroing in.
June 10, 2005, 9:42 PM
Dear Mr. Butler,
I am flattered by your correspondence and excited about the chance of working with you. Due to my current situation, I am unable to receive emails in a timely manner because of connection issues. I will be remedying this situation within the coming weeks. While all invitations are appreciated, I prefer to do my research alone. I am happy to report that things are rapidly progressing with my articles, and they will be delivered to you in two months’ time.
Future Entertainment Columnist, Austin Speak
Sent via The Plate Bar
“Ewww, best wishes?” I wince. “Burn. You struck out hard.” I can’t help my laugh at her witty, dry humor, especially in her email signature ‘sent via The Plate Bar.’ The web wasn’t nearly as accessible back then as it is now. Thirty years ago, the world was just on the precipice of the digital age. I recently did a story about advanced technology versus the gadgets of the eighties, nineties, and even the early 2000s. Most born past the millennium—including me—couldn’t identify what many of them were, let alone figure out how to use them. At this stage, I can’t imagine what little to no access life was like.
These thirty-year-old emails are proof of just how advanced we’ve become. That life existed without one-touch convenience.
Fascinated but hesitant, I briefly battle the churning in my gut, a sure sign that what I’m doing is wrong in more ways than one. Unease bubbling, I consider closing out the window and returning to the task my father charged me with.
I’m supposed to be searching the paper’s archives for excerpts from articles for Speak’s thirtieth anniversary edition printing this fall. Years ago, Dad hired a tech team to transfer everything Austin Speak to our current mainframe, including every article circulated. Apparently, the transfer also extracted everything from his dinosaur laptop—including ancient Austin Speak email chains. He didn’t oversee the project himself. His priority was the stories of today rather than yesteryear. I’m not sure he’s aware his email chains were included in the transfer, tucked away in a marked file in the archives. A file I stumbled into minutes ago and haven’t been able to click out of, while morally warring with myself to move on. But it’s the subject line of the following email that has me prying further—an email dating back to November, twenty-nine years ago.
Subject: Trick? or Treat?
November 1, 2005, 10:00 AM
Did I dream last night? Images keep flitting through my mind of a dark-haired, curvy temptress rolling around my office to “Xanadu” in white roller skates.
Editor in Chief, Austin Speak
I pause, a dangerous inkling coursing through me while a bold line comes into clear view in my mind. Just as I acknowledge it, my curiosity blurs it, and I step over, unable to stop myself.
Subject: Trick? or Treat?
November 1, 2005, 10:01 AM
I’m going to keep your psychotic break in confidence as I need this job and the platform it provides me as a budding journalist. I assure you that I have no idea (buffs roller skates) about what you’re referring to. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a deadline and a very anal editor to report to. I can’t afford to entertain your delusions any further.
Xanadu Enthusiast, Austin Speak
Subject: Trick? or Treat?
November 1, 2005, 10:03 AM
In my office now, right girl, and lock the fucking door behind you.
Editor in Chief, Austin Speak
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” I exhale in a barely audible whisper as I briefly kick back in my seat.
They were involved.
Gaping at the revelation, I again glance up to see Dad still occupied in his chair.
My dad and Stella Emerson, now Stella Emerson Crowne, wife to one of the biggest rock legends in history, were involved romantically.
Shock vibrates through me as I scroll through endless emails between them. There are hundreds—if not thousands—of emails spanning over four years from my father to a woman who isn’t my mother. Years of emails from one of my heroes to another. Years of his life where he was clearly infatuated and crazy in love with Stella Emerson Crowne.
Not Addison Warner Hearst, my mother, his wife.
It’s no secret amongst us who work at Austin Speak that Stella was one of the foundational blocks who aided the paper in becoming a reputable and well-respected local news source. In fact, whenever Stella’s been mentioned, Dad’s been completely transparent about that aspect of her time here and her contributions. Thinking back, not once has he ever mentioned he was involved with her personally.
I would have remembered that, considering I’ve idolized her career as one to aspire to, along with any other ambitious journalist. But back when they were involved, the social media revolution hadn’t yet begun, and there were no online pictures, nor was there a digital footprint of the progression of their relationship. At that time, there was a considerable amount of control on what surfaced on the web, on access itself. Dad never had a Facebook for anything other than the paper, and apps like Insta didn’t exist yet. The two of them weren’t newsworthy then…but Reid Crowne was.
Even so, Dad has purposefully kept their involvement under wraps, but why? Dad and I share everything. He’s been an open book to me my whole life. Granted, relationships are different, but he’s been pretty candid about those, or at least I thought so. Thinking back now, I can’t really remember him referencing a specific ex.
Feeling a little betrayed—knowing I really don’t have much of a right to be due to the personal nature—I decide not to torture myself and respect his privacy enough to scroll to the last few emails. If anything, I need to know how and why it ended and, more specifically, who ended it. I skip forward nearly five years to read the last few.
Subject: I’m Here
September 11, 2010, 6:02 PM
I’m almost embarrassed to admit I’m scared, but I’ve never been able to hide the truth from you. Even if I didn’t admit it, you’d be able to read between these lines somehow. I’ve strayed halfway across the country from everything I’ve ever known and everyone who truly knows me.
But I guess the meaning of home is subjective now, isn’t it?
When the wheels touched down in Seattle, it sort of felt like walking into a warm embrace. Nothing was familiar, and yet being here feels like déjà vu. Like my life here, my chapters were already written, and the city was just waiting for me to begin to live them. Even the overgrown elm tree next to my apartment building is oddly recognizable. Or maybe I’m romanticizing myself in my new life here. I’m sure you’re thinking that right now as you read this, though I’m more the cosmic believer of the two of us. As crazy as it may seem to the rationalist you are, I can sense I’m starting the life I was meant to. Though I have to admit, certain parts of me are still trying to make peace with leaving.
During the flight, I drew upon memories that made Texas feel most like home. One of them was the day we spent at the farmer’s market beneath the sun, sharing food and smiles while switching papers. A day that remains one of my favorites. I already miss Texas, and I’m nervous about starting the job at Seattle Waves because I have a feeling that I’ll hate my new editor. My last one is irreplaceable. I miss him every single day. But I feel…safe here.
RE: Subject: I’m Here
September 12, 2010, 8:04 AM
Go with your gut; know it’s a good one to trust because it brought you where you are. If you get overwhelmed, just remember how far you’ve come from that day you waltzed in here wearing a Pulp Fiction, Samuel Jackson “Tasty Burger” T-shirt and demanding that I take you seriously. I was just at the market yesterday and thought of that day too. It’s definitely a Stella thing.
What have I told you about starting sentences with the word but?
I can’t be sure, but I feel your old editor really doesn’t miss your bullshit, or your defense of Stellisms, you know, the words you bent and tried to pass for English that don’t exist in the dictionary. Nor does he miss schooling you on proper news etiquette. Or maybe he does. One thing is certain.
Texas misses you.
I fucking miss you.
Editor in Chief, Austin Speak
Subject: Making Waves
October 3, 2010, 6:03 PM
Subject Line pun intended. I’m so proud of you. You’re turning that no-name paper into a fuel source for shaky subscribers. I have zero doubt Seattle Waves will be a reputable ‘rag’ in no time. While you were a force to be reckoned with here in Austin, you’re a fucking hurricane now, Stella. You outgrew this paper and Texas far before you left it. I regret not giving you more leeway. Please, don’t hold back now. Not for anything or anyone. As much as I hate admitting this, seeing your growth there makes it even more apparent you made the right decision to go. You’re thriving. I’m proud.
Editor in Chief, Austin Speak
RE: Subject: Making Waves
October 4, 2010, 4:34 PM
I haven’t been taken seriously as a journalist all damned day due to your email. It was the first thing I saw this morning, and coming from my harshest critic, you know how much it means to me. So, because of that, I’ve been smiling like a lunatic and getting odd looks. You would think I would be used to that by now. I’ll be honest, I’m more in love now with this place than ever because I feel I’m on the precipice of something I can’t explain. I don’t love how much the fit feels right for reasons you’re aware of. At the same time, I’m embracing Seattle. I’m hugging her back, hard. So much so that I’m about to start house hunting. I know, right? Can you fucking believe it? I’m laying roots for the first time ever, and ironically, I’m not scared. It’s like I can picture it, and I’m already there, but Texas is always with me.
Subject: I’m Sorry
November 9, 2010, 9:00 PM
I know why you didn’t answer. I’m so sorry for anything those headlines might have made you feel. Running into Reid was completely unexpected. I don’t know if you want a single detail. I know I wouldn’t, but please know it wasn’t planned. I’m sure you will tell me not to feel guilty, but I fucking do. It hurts me so much to know you were probably blindsided by that picture. Please believe I don’t want any tension or resentment between us, but the sinking feeling inside me tells me it’s unavoidable. Nate, this is the first time in my life that I hate my profession and journalism as a whole. I never wanted to become any part of a headline, let alone one that could damage the two of us.
I’m sorry. I miss hearing from you and wish you would or felt like you could still talk to me.
Scrambling, I look up the headlines for November 9, 2010, and see a candid picture of Stella and Reid, tucked away and kissing on a side street in Seattle—and it’s no PG kiss. Not even close. Obviously, they thought they were hidden from view. The article goes on to identify Stella and speculate what this could mean for The Dead Sergeants’ notoriously single drummer. My heart sinks as I read my father’s reply.
Re: Subject: I’m sorry
November 10, 2010, 3:00 AM
Don’t be. Texas is no longer your home, and it’s evident. You’re making another life. I think we’ve always known what that would eventually include. Please don’t let your worry for me overshadow your happiness.
Editor in Chief, Austin Speak
According to the signature, he replied to her at three a.m. from his office. A vision of my dad sitting alone behind his desk while staring at the picture pops into my head as a burn begins in my throat. I can only imagine what he must have felt as he tried to devise the right response for her. In the end, even though I’m sure he felt destroyed, he took the high road and, not only that, attempted to relieve her of the burden.
December 13, 2010, 7:00 PM
We’re engaged, and it’s going to print tomorrow. I didn’t want you to hear it from anyone else but me. I wish things were different. I wish I still felt like I have the right to know you—and a large part of me is breaking right now knowing I’ve lost that right. I’m still going to make the case that I loathe that it’s happening and always will.
RE: Subject: Headlines
December 14, 2010, 1:02 AM
Have you forgotten all I’ve taught you? Any worthy newsman is aware of a national headline before the ink is laid. All I’ve ever wanted or will ever want for you is your happiness. Your engagement is already scheduled to print on page one in Austin Speak tomorrow. Congratulations.
Out of respect for your choice and for myself, this is goodbye, Stella.
Editor in Chief, Austin Speak
Eyes misting, I catch sight of my father pacing his office, his phone to his ear. A million questions flit through my mind as I resist the urge to go back and probe into his past to quench my growing curiosity.
A few years before I was born, Stella Emerson Crowne left Texas and, from what I’ve gathered thus far, broke my father’s heart in the process. Mere months later, she married a rock star in a very publicized winter wedding, leaving my dad a casualty of her happiness. A casualty who’s been my rock throughout the whole of my life. A man who’s shaped me into the woman and writer I’ve become.
As a journalist himself, Dad not only had to endure reading the headlines but had a duty to report them as well. I have no doubt he assigned someone to cover her wedding day, owing to her association with the paper. Dragging my mouse over the file, I dig through the archives to see that’s the truth of it. A reporter named JJ, who left Speak years ago, covered the fairytale wedding in its entirety.
He had an obligation to his readers to report the stories they wanted, and because Stella held a desk at Speak, it cemented his fate as both spectator and reporter.
“Daddy,” I whisper hoarsely as my heart breaks for him trying to imagine how he was forced to endure that aspect of it.
Is that why he’s kept this hidden?
Was it humiliating for him?
My eyes remained fixed on him as he bends from where he stands and taps a few keys, squinting as he does so. I can’t even muster a smile as he practically presses his nose to the screen in an effort to read the words. Mom’s been on him for years to use his readers and even bought them in bulk and put them within reach in every imaginable space he occupies.
He’s as stubborn as they come, an inherited trait passed down to me.
Annoyed by whatever task he’s working on, Dad collapses into his chair, squeezing his worn stress ball. I scan for any more correspondence between him and Stella after his goodbye email—and I come up empty.
Was that the last time they spoke? Saw each other?
More questions flit through my mind as I grapple with the heaviness circulating through me. How long had they been broken up before she left for Seattle? How long after did he meet Mom? Pulling up my cell phone, I shoot off a text.
When exactly did you and Daddy start dating?
Her reply comes less than a minute later.
Mom: A hundred years ago.
What was the exact date?
Mom: February 2011. We met at a media party, and you know this. Don’t ask me when we got serious. He’s still my longest one-night stand.
They met mere months after Stella and Dad stopped communicating, but how long after they broke up?
I look up Stella’s last article for Austin Speak and see it was printed almost eight months before she left Austin, which indicates she must have quit the paper when they broke up. My phone buzzes again.
Mom: Why? Afraid you’re illegitimate? (tongue emoji)
Mom: What is this about exactly?
Mom: I’m at the store. Can you grill me later? If you come home tonight, I’ll cook.
Feeling oddly displaced, my current headspace won’t allow me to face either parent right now. My curiosity is fueling my need for more answers.
I can’t tonight. Tomorrow ok?
Mom: Sure. Love you. If I’m off the cooking hook, please tell your father to pick up Chinese on the way home.
Will do. X
I message her again as amplifying guilt continues to surround my heart.
I love you, Mom.
Mom: Love you too. By the way, if you’re curious, you were well worth the hellacious sixteen-hour labor but it’s also the reason why you’re an only child.
My heart warms as I recall the story of Mom’s nightmare in delivering me, her finish to the story the best part. As many times as I’ve heard and memorized what she refers to every year as “our day,” I’m not as versed in the story of my parents’ coupling. I’ve never really paid much attention in the adult way. Whenever it was brought up in the past, I always did the typical fake gag routine. Now I wish I had paid closer attention. As it is now, any outsider within a few feet of them can see they love and respect each other, deeply. It’s obvious.
So why is this revelation affecting me so profoundly?
Why did my instincts tell me to lie to her—other than the fact it’s not a subject to broach via text message.
Even so, why am I so afraid to outright ask my father, who just so happens to be the best source?
As I try to reason with myself, I’m terrified of what my gut is saying—my dad wouldn’t have kept their relationship hidden unless he wanted it that way.
It’s one thing to have an ex. It’s another thing entirely to have an ex who went on to marry a world-famous rock star.
Mom has to know. She has to. There’s no way they didn’t have the ex-talk. All couples do at some point, right?
Dad is painfully frank, which some may consider a character flaw, but one which I proudly inherited. Regardless of that, every part of the journalist he cultivated in me is dying to walk across the hall for answers. But this isn’t someone else’s story. It’s fact-checking his personal past that has me chickening out.
Not to mention the fact that the ancient emails have me questioning the authenticity of my parents’ start so soon after his heartbreak and scrutinizing the timeline.
By my quick calculation, my parents married a year after they met. Just a few months ago, they celebrated their twenty-third anniversary. The question of my legitimacy is asinine because I came into the picture months after they wed, a souvenir they created on their month-long honeymoon.
The alarming part is that I deeply felt Stella and my father’s connection while reading. I’m positive if I read more—especially during the thick of their relationship—I would feel it on an even more visceral level. I fear it may haunt me if I don’t get the full story.
Just ask him, Natalie. He’s feet away!
But something about the lingering ache I feel as a spectator after simply reading a dozen or so emails keeps me from doing so.
I just inadvertently opened Pandora’s box—a box that doesn’t belong to me, a box I had no right to open.
Far too tempted to go back in, I drag my finger along the screen with the file and linger over the trash, flicking my focus back to Dad as I do so. Confusion, anger for him, and curiosity war in my head as I drag the file away from the trash and opt to hide the email chain in a desktop file before closing out the window.
Nervous energy coursing through me, stomach roiling, I glance around the bustling and recently renovated warehouse Dad converted into a newsroom when he started the paper. A u-shape of executive offices outlines the floor of the small warehouse, one of which I’ve occupied since graduating last spring.
In the center of the floor that Dad nicknamed ‘the pit’ sits rows upon rows of columnists’ desks. Scanning the desks, my eyes land on Herb, an Austin Speak staple who was one of Dad’s first hires. Herb is in his late sixties now and comes in on a part-time basis. At this point, it’s safe to say he’s more of a fixture than an integral part of the paper. Though that’s the case now, he was present then and undoubtedly laid witness to Stella and my father’s relationship.
Standing abruptly—without a clue as to how I’ll approach it—I take a step toward my office door when my dad pauses across the pit, sensing my movement in his peripheral. He glances over at me, his lips lifting and forming his signature smile. Unable to school myself in time, his brows draw when he reads my expression.
Stay cool, Natalie.
Doing my best to ease the conflict inside, I muster a reassuring smile, but I can already tell it’s too late. Dad’s features etch in concern as he mouths an “Okay?”
Nodding repeatedly, I wave my hand dismissively before grabbing my coffee cup and making a beeline for the breakroom. Acting plays a small part in being a journalist, if only as an exercise in composure. People are less inclined to give you what you need if you seem too eager. At the same time, too much confidence can cause a similar issue—dissuading trust.
It’s a balance and consistent exercise in composure until you reach the level where your name is more valuable and you have enough accolades as a journalist to be sought after, like Oprah, Diane Sawyer, or Stella Emerson Crowne.
Leaving college wet behind the ears as the daughter of one of the most highly respected editors in journalism, I have a lot to prove to myself and those in my field. Even though I write under my mother’s maiden name as Natalie Hearst, my work for anyone in the field will always be synonymous with Nate Butler and his well-established and credible paper. I have so much to live up to, considering my father took the magazine from an ad-dependent paper to a next-level publication. And when he retires, which he insists will be sooner rather than later, it’s up to me to help maintain its integrity.
Though I grew up in the newsroom, Dad’s never pressured me to take it on but is responsible for so much of my love for the written word. Like Dad, my favorite news to report consists mainly of human-interest stories. His own writing journey began with a touching story during a timestamp no one ever forgets—9/11.
Challenged with dyslexia, he pressed on and figured out a way to work around it and carry out his dream to run a newspaper—which is more than admirable. My father is my hero and has been since I was young enough to recognize it. So it was only natural I spent my childhood sitting next to his desk, imitating his every move, typing on one of his old laptops before I could speak. Thanks to Mom, Dad has a dozen or so pride-filled videos of me doing just that to prove it.
My character traits and love for journalism aren’t the only things I inherited from him. My strawberry blonde hair and indigo-colored eyes make our relationship unmistakable when we’re within feet of each other and even when we’re not.
Additionally, Dad has shared so much of himself with me that I know I could recite the milestones in his life in chronological order without much thought. Maybe that’s why I’m so rattled because apparently, there are gaps in his history I was purposely not made privy to. The sudden shift of viewing my dad as a twenty-plus man in love rather than my Little League coach has me reeling.
Of course, my parents had histories before they met and married. Of course, there are parts of their lives they don’t share with their daughter—secrets they plan on taking to their graves—but there’s just something about this particular secret that isn’t settling well with me. At all.
“Natalie?” Alex, our sports columnist prompts, staring up at me from his desk. Empty coffee cup in hand, I gape back at him, confused as to how I ended up lurking above him. “Can I help you with something?”
“J-just wanted to see if you wanted some coffee?” I mumble in shit excuse, lifting my mug as though he’s never seen one.
“It’s after two,” he says curtly, just as confused by the gesture as I am. “I don’t drink coffee after two.”
“Okay.” I bob my head, eyes again on the office now feet away, just as Dad hangs up the phone and starts to make his way toward us. Guilt and panic mix, prompting me to flee before he can reach me with his probing eyes. By the time flight kicks in, he’s already striding toward me, seemingly as confused as Alex.
“What’s up?” Dad asks as he joins me at Alex’s desk.
“Kid was just asking me if I wanted some coffee.”
“You can fetch your own, asshole,” Dad snarks, giving me a wink.
“Well, as everyone knows,” Alex fires back, “I don’t drink coffee after two.”
“No one knows, Alex,” Dad taunts dryly, “nor cares.”
“I want no special treatment,” I remind him. “I have no issue getting coffee.”
“Well, you don’t have to play gopher or clean toilets. You’ve paid those dues already. This is a family-owned business, so there should be advantages to being a Butler, even if you write under Hearst.”
I nod, not in agreement, but because I’m staring at him with an altered perception while trying to forget what I just read, the gnawing in my gut constant.
He loved Stella. He really loved her. It was so evident.
An image of my smiling mother, riding next to me on Daisy, her favorite Haflinger, flashes through my mind as new pain sears through my chest.
“Well?” Dad chuckles.
“Well, what?” I ask.
“Your coffee,” he nods toward my forgotten cup.
“Right. Want some?”
“No thanks, baby, I’m good.”
“Oh!” I say loudly, startling him. “Mom wants you to pick up Chinese on the way home.”
“’K,” he nods before frowning. “You aren’t coming over?”
“Tomorrow,” I back away slowly, my eyes plastered to his. “I’m going to go get coffee.” I toss a thumb over my shoulder, turn, and practically sprint to the breakroom to fill my cup. Mid-brew, I begin panicking about the fact I might have left a window open on my desktop. Discarding my cup in the sink, I haul ass back toward my office to see Dad’s still standing at Alex’s desk, making small talk. It’s when he sees me empty-handed that he follows me into my office.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
“Okay, time to tell me what’s going on.”
Relief washes over me briefly as he takes a seat opposite my desk before I round it to see I did close it all out.
“Nothing, I’m just thinking. I got a line on something, but I don’t know if the source is credible.”
He dips his chin in understanding. “Okay, so what are the rules?”
“According to my expensive education, or my dad?”
“Dad,” he smirks. “Better choice.”
“Don’t run it unless it’s concrete.”
“There you go,” he says with a grin. “Or?”
“Find a better source.”
“That’s my girl.” He stands as I look him over. He’s well into his fifties but doesn’t look a day over forty-five. Women have been fawning over him my whole life, especially my teachers when I attended grade school. It was embarrassing.
He tosses a glance over his shoulder as he heads toward the door. “You sure that’s all?”
“How many times have you been in love, Daddy?” I ask, as casually as I can manage.
“Ah, so this is about a guy? That explains it.” He frowns. “You didn’t tell me you were dating again.”
I broke up with my college ex, Carson, just after graduating from UT last May. Carson took a job in New York, knowing I wouldn’t leave Texas. He made his decision—and it wasn’t me. It’s been surprisingly easy to live with. Dating afterward felt like a chore, so I’ve been opting out and concentrating on the paper instead.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
One side of his mouth quirks up as he squeezes the stress ball forever attached to his hand. “First and foremost, a journalist.”
“Always. So, really, Dad, how many times have you been in love?”
I study his expression carefully, his relaxed posture as he answers easily.
“A few times.”
“So, more than once?”
His grin grows. “Yes, a few generally constitutes more than one.”
“Was…did you…” I bite my lip, “were any of them…I-I—”
“Okay, is this something you want to talk to me about? Because it doesn’t seem like it.”
“Maybe another time.” I match his smile, genuinely thankful for the out I so obviously need. “After a few beers. Sorry, I’m just in my head today.”
He pauses before he rounds the desk and presses a kiss to my temple. “All right then, rain check. But for you, I’m an open book. You know that, so just ask.”
Ask him, Natalie, or it will eat you alive.
I open my mouth to speak and curse the coward within refusing to speak up. “Some other time.”
“Deal. Love you,” he whispers.
“Love you too, Daddy,” I croak, hearing the shake in my voice. A shake he doesn’t miss.
He pauses at the doorway. “Natalie, you do know you can tell me anything, right?”
Tears threaten as I gaze on at him. Biased as I might be, Nate Butler is the greatest man I’ve ever known. No man has ever held a candle to him, and I doubt one ever will. It’s not just who he is as a journalist or his accomplishments, but it’s how he is personally as well. His warmth, his instilled empathy, and the way he treats people, namely me and my mother.
How could Stella walk away from him?
From their emails, it’s clear it was her choice to leave Texas—to leave my father—only to marry Reid mere months after they ran into each other in Seattle. There’s a story there, but I’m not sure I can stomach any more, yet everything inside me refuses to let it go.
Was Reid a choice? Was the choice made easier for Stella because Reid is a rock star? As the thought occurs, some of my hero worship for Stella Emerson Crowne dims.
I should be thankful she did what she did. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t exist.
“Would you believe I’m oddly sentimental today?” I lie to my father a second time—a rarity—knowing that the anxiety etched on his face is because visible signs of emotion are an anomaly for me.
Though his expression calls bullshit, he heads toward my office door anyway, giving me the space I need to come to him, if and when I’m ready. That’s our relationship. He stops at the threshold and glances over his shoulder one last time. “Give it some more time, if you need it.”
He thinks I’m still mourning my breakup with Carson when, oddly, I’m mourning his.
“Heals all wounds, right?” I prod as subtly as I can manage.
The crease between his brows deepens. “Right.”
“But in your experience, does it really?”
He pauses briefly and grins. “The only truth about time is that it flies. Just yesterday, you were bitching about the way I was braiding your hair because you,” he lifts his fingers in air quotes, “‘want them to be as pretty as Macey Mc Callister’s.’”
“Was I that much of a brat?”
“You were and are the perfect child. That’s why you’re an only.” He taps the frame of the door. “I’m taking off. See you tomorrow.”
Taking his leave, he walks over to his office, grabs his jacket from the back of his chair, and turns out the light. The second he disappears into the lobby, I divert my attention back to the screen housing the pinned folder that holds more details of my father’s personal past.
The battle begins as unanswered questions begin rotating in my head.
What the hell happened between my father and Stella Emerson Crowne?
My gut tells me that even if I did ask him outright, he still wouldn’t be the credible source in finding the whole of the story. If I want the whole truth, I’ll have to open the file and further invade his privacy or find another source.
Twenty minutes later, I stop the debate and reopen the archives, dangerously assuring myself before I do. “Just a few more.”
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date published : July 17, 2022
pages : 628
Thirty years ago, my father became the other half of a broken love story.
A relationship he’s kept hidden for decades.
Upon unearthing his secret through a series of emails in our paper’s archives, I began my search for the truth. Haunted by my father’s love story, and in my quest for answers, I never imagined I would discover a love of my own. Or that my love for Easton Crowne would be key in discovering the reason behind what split our parents up.
Doomed from the start and knowing the havoc our relationship would inevitably wreak on our families, I could never have prepared for the toll it would take or the cost of the truth.
But in order to find our ending, we had to go back to their beginning.
My name is Natalie Butler, and this is my star-crossed love story.
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