Peaceful Pilgrims Series, Book 4: Hearts Ablaze by Karen Wiesner

Peaceful Pilgrims Series is set in Karen Wiesner’s fictional town of Peaceful, Wisconsin, a small community with old-fashioned values and friendly people you’ll want to get to know and visit often.


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Sometimes trying to have it all with no quarter given means losing what matters most…

Riley Levi works hard toward success as a flight attendant and longs for love to set her heart ablaze. In order to speed up the timetable of her career aspirations, she takes an ill-advised shortcut that could have lasting ramifications.

Riley’s husband, Liam “Blaze” Blazel, lives in their hometown of Peaceful, Wisconsin, serving as a police officer. Blaze and Riley married six months ago. He believes marriage means a husband and wife live together, sleep together every night, and eventually raise a family together.

The last thing Riley needs is to be in a committed relationship with a man who wants to ground her. Perhaps the most damning thing of all is that they love each other passionately. There’s simply no happy medium that could make this thing work…

GENRE: Christian Contemporary Romance      ISBN:  978-1-922548-52-8    ASIN: B0CP8D9J4P    Word Count: 69, 358

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Continue the Series:

Peaceful Pilgrims Series, Book 1: Home Continue the Series new cover Peaceful Pilgrims Series, Book 2: Destiny Continue the Series new coverPeaceful Pilgrims Series, Book 3: Once Upon a Cliche UpdatedPeaceful Pilgrims Series, Book 4: Hearts Ablaze continue the series 2023 updatedPeaceful Pilgrims Series, Book 5: A Perfect Match Continue the Series new cover


Chapter 1


 Christmas Eve

Her hands on the steering wheel felt frozen despite the comfortable temperature in the car. Riley Levi glanced down to the controls on the center console and eased the heater up a little higher, redirecting one of the vents so it pushed hot air in the direction of her hands.

The weather in Wisconsin was positively balmy compared to the bitter cold winters and white Christmases of yore–or at least the ones she remembered as a child growing up in the small town of Peaceful, which was in the prairie surrounded by bluffs and hills in the Driftless Region on the Mississippi River. The light mist raining down on the windshield didn’t include even a fleck of snow, and so little of the white stuff was on the ground surrounding both sides of the four-lane divided freeway she was on, she couldn’t help being disappointed both for the lack of a white holiday season and the distraction it could have provided.

I’m almost home, and, the closer I get, the more certain I am that I need to make a decision about whether I should see my husband today.

She’d spent a restless night, getting very little sleep, though the reason she’d waited was because she’d been exhausted from her last flight, going through multiple time zones. At five a.m., she’d finally given up trying to sleep and had got up. Waiting had caused an additional problem. She not only had to pack for going to Peaceful, but she had to stop and do most of her Christmas shopping for her family and Blaze’s before heading home. By then, holiday traffic had been so backed up, most of the day was gone before she got anywhere near her destination. She deliberately hadn’t told Blaze she was coming because she’d been absolutely certain they’d end up in a fight again. Maybe if she surprised him by showing up, they could avoid the inevitable argument.

With 45 minutes left of her drive, the lead that’d been in her stomach since her official vacation started became as heavy as a wrecking ball.

I wasted all of yesterday and most of this damn day that Blaze and I could have been spending together.

Riley took a deep breath, trying hard to focus on the loud duet of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” streaming through the car. She even sang a few lines before her agony claimed her again. Whenever she and Blaze had threatened each other with divorce in the past, they got within a hundred feet of each other and the idea of severance was unanimously off the table.

Despite that, everything had changed the last time they were supposed to get together. She couldn’t even deny she’d been stupid. With her new seniority as a flight attendant for Trouvaille Commercial Airlines, she could bid on her schedule, found herself getting choice flights she’d only dreamed of in the past, and, when the chance to go to Italy came around Thanksgiving, she hadn’t wanted to let it go…despite that it ran into Blaze’s visit to Minnesota. She supposed she could have asked him to reschedule, but she knew better. He couldn’t. Still, she’d convinced herself she could do both.

Maybe she could have, too, if her stupid friends hadn’t kidnapped her as soon as her return flight landed, preventing her from hurrying home to her waiting husband. They believed they were rescuing her from being married to what maybe she’d made sound like a severe misogynist who wanted to clip her wings. For the hours afterward, they’d tried to get her to see their reasons for the extreme intervention. They’d insisted she was making excuses for Blaze when she’d claimed they had the wrong idea about him. During the time they’d hijacked her phone and refused to allow her to leave Ainsley’s apartment, the diehard women’s libbers had even gone so far as to tie her up “to save her from herself”.

Riley had seen for herself then that these women cared nothing about true female empowerment. Men were the enemy in their version of the world, and, even if it meant kidnapping and militant reprogramming the women around them one by one, they intended to do “the right thing”…up until they finally let Riley go, gave her back her stuff, and she immediately said if they ever tried anything like it again, she’d call the police. When that had no effect, she actually did it, putting her phone on speaker. Ainsley had desisted finally at that point. Riley had walked out without another word, too furious to speak or even to think about what to do in response to their insane behavior.

 With no way to get word to her husband about what was going on, Riley wasn’t surprised Blaze had assumed she’d chosen her job over him yet again. Her truest friend, a colleague at Trouvaille and neighbor across the hall, Logan Ambrose, had tried to convince Blaze to wait for her. When he’d realized their other friends must have done the insane intervention they’d tried to get him to join them in undertaking, he’d begged Blaze to hold off on leaving and rushed to rescue Riley. By the time Riley and Logan finally got to her apartment, Blaze was long gone.

And I can’t even blame him for his fury. In the first place, I chose to take that flight, despite that it meant I’d only just get home at the time he was planning to show up and visit me for the holiday weekend. As for my “friends”, well, he could easily guess what I’d told them about him on the basis of their shocking behavior. If they were willing to abduct and tie me up just to keep me from being undermined by his presumed authoritarian control, they all assume he’s a backwards, old-fashioned barbarian. Why did I only ever complain about Blaze’s unhappiness with our living arrangements, implying he wanted me at home, barefoot, pregnant, and waiting on him hand and foot?

Blaze had taken her calls again a few days after the fiasco instead of ignoring her frantic communications. Nevertheless, based on their many fights in that time–the most recent one so big, she reeled each time she considered it–they hadn’t really recovered from the Thanksgiving trauma. Their cold conversation at the end of it told her he was nowhere near forgiving her and her apologies didn’t sound authentic enough to convince him, especially when she equivocated about coming home for Christmas. During the last blow-out argument that took place via video chat, her hot temper had flared and she’d said some stupid things, acted like a shrew and made everything between them so much worse. Only to herself could she admit she was the “dumb baby” Logan always affectionately scolded her for being.

Facing Blaze’s reproach for that situation a month ago and their nuclear quarrel would be hard by itself, and she’d foolishly been hoping to coast into his forgiveness simply by letting nature take its previous course once they were together in person.  

All that changed last night when Alexander had called, drunk and vicious, just after she’d finally fallen asleep for the first and last time. Her fear grew each time she remembered his threats. If only she hadn’t been half-asleep, maybe she would have realized sooner in the conversation that his initial question about how her new job was going had been sarcastic. He believed he’d gotten her the transfer and promotion, and she couldn’t even deny, if not for his intervention, perhaps she wouldn’t have moved up in the airline to Minnesota-St. Paul’s (MSP) much larger airport six months ago. Certainly, she wouldn’t be enjoying all the perks of newfound seniority.

Bottom line, though, Riley fully maintained she’d earned the jump in income, her cushy privileges regarding her ability to get first crack at choosing her schedule, as well as all the sky bucks–passenger rave reviews–that impressed her supervisor with her professional and exemplary service with each and every flight. During that conversation, Alexander, assistant to the Chief Human Resources Officer at Trouvaille Commercial Airlines in the Great Lakes Region, had told her exactly the lengths he’d gone to, ensuring her transfer and promotion, and she’d been shocked, insisting she’d never ask him to do unethical and illegal things for her.

“Didn’t you?” he’d asked bitterly. “Every time we saw each other since we first met at the office in Des Plaines, you moaned and wept about always being on reserve status. God, how did I convince myself you even liked me? You used me, and I was too stupid in love with you to realize it.”

“I told you from the start I only wanted friendship–!” she’d started to protest, like usual.

“If that’s the truth, Riley, do you act like that with all your so-called friends? Simpering and flirting like a whore?”

“How dare you! I don’t and didn’t simper and flirt with you…ever.” The thought is horrifying.

Despite her unspoken thoughts, her cheeks had flushed, and she’d sat up, rigidly holding her blanket against her front defensively as rage filled her head. She felt stung by his words, precisely because she’d tried harder than she’d ever had to in the past not to lead him on.

From the first time she met him at the Human Resources Department in Illinois, where she’d gone to ask…no, beg…for a promotion and/or transfer within the airline (her supervisor in La Crosse had suggested the course of action because there was nothing he could do for her), she’d been certain she didn’t find Alexander even mildly attractive. Middle-aged, a lifelong bachelor, slightly overweight, he’d been such a heavy smoker, her nose had been twitching allergically within minutes of entering the room with him. That he found her wildly the opposite of her assessment of him couldn’t have been more obvious with his clumsy behavior and speech and how he’d bent over backwards, trying to help her that day. When his boss couldn’t keep his appointment with her because apparently he’d been ill that day, Alexander had met with her personally, reviewed her files, and spoke encouragingly about how admirable her employee record was. While he couldn’t deny there were other flight attendants who’d been on reserve status longer than she had with equally impressive histories within the airline, he’d promised to see what he could do for her.

Riley had left his office about an hour later and called her (at that time) roommate Phoebe, who’d worked in one of the shops at the La Crosse airport (LSE) to tell her what’d happened. Phoebe had suggested then that maybe Alexander could be persuaded to do more for her.

“What?” Riley had asked, laughing in disbelief. “Do you expect me to let him seduce me to get ahead in my career?”

“Why not? It’s not like you aren’t already the best damn flight attendant this airline has ever had. You probably won’t even need to go so far as to sleep with the guy. If you tell him from the start you just wanna be friends, he’ll ignore it and do backflips over you anyway. Even if he can’t do much to advance you, he might be able to do something. And then you’re just getting what you deserve. Right?”

Riley believed she’d done exemplary work for the airline. In her time with Trouvaille, she’d given her all, forfeiting what would have been an extremely active social life and decent income, just to make sure she was available whenever an opportunity came her way. When she actually took a flight, she received the highest reviews from everyone, co-workers and passengers alike.

Unfortunately, she was in one of the most competitive fields imaginable, one where seniority ruled. The only way to get the best positions was to move up the ladder one rung at a time. That required someone at the top moving up or moving out altogether. Once that happened, the most senior attendant took the position and everyone below was allowed to take a slow step upward. Riley had started for the airline at one of the smallest airports in the state she attended college, where there was already a full-time attendant with seniority–one who had no intention of leaving the industry or transferring. There, the airline didn’t need more than one full-time and one reserve attendant. By the time she got a transfer to a bigger city via the seniority track, she’d be old and gray. Without making herself known to the department in the company that hired, she didn’t see how she could ever advance.

While there was no way she would ever do the awful thing Phoebe suggested in seducing Alexander and manipulating him into finding a way to advance her career, she saw no harm in genuinely becoming friends with someone in the Human Resources department of the airline. In that way, she could stay abreast of any openings for moving up.

So, when Alexander called her within fifteen minutes of having left his office, she’d found himself agreeing to meet him not for drinks–which would send the wrong message–but for coffee as soon as he got off work. After sitting down at a table with him, she’d told him she wasn’t looking for anything more than platonic friendship. He’d tried to act okay about that instead of devastated, but she’d known he was crushed.

Nevertheless, they’d ended up talking for several hours, even going Dutch on dinner together, as they got to know one another. In the course of opening herself to the possibly of friendship, she’d told him everything about her passion for her job and her desire to transfer to a city with much more opportunity for advancement. His response had been slightly embarrassed as he’d reiterated what he’d left her with in his office.

As time went on and they saw each other more, he seemed to forget her words about keeping things on a platonic friendship course between them every time they got together, despite her frequent reminders. She’d put up with a lot to maintain their friendship, and whenever she asked he told her there were no positions anywhere in the company that weren’t reserve status flight attendants, where she’d been from the start of her career at LSE.

During their conversation last night, she hadn’t recovered from her mute fury at his insinuation that she’d ever flirted with him by the time Alexander went on with a snort of disgust, “Do you know how easy it’d be for me to get you fired, Riley? I could go into your employee records and unearth the truth about the false credentials created in order to increase your seniority in the airline industry. I could make it all look so authentic, no one could possibly dispute that you lied about your prior experience with another airline on your resume–“

“What?” Riley had demanded in shock, as the truth became clear to her. Alexander must have made up some past employment she’d had at a competing airline, implying she’d had the highest seniority there, in order to get her the transfer to MSP.

Alexander continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “The chief didn’t follow up on your checking your references before you were transferred to MSP. He’s on antidepressants, and I cover for him so often when he’s too stressed out to come to the office. Not only could I get you fired and blacklisted from the aviation industry altogether, but I could find myself in the position of becoming Chief of HR, as I should have been promoted to long ago. There’s not a reason in the world I shouldn’t do that.”

“Why…? What did I do to make you so angry with me–?” she’d started, wondering where his rancor had come from. But 30 seconds of recall brought the justification to the forefront of her mind. She’d texted Alexander only a few weeks before that, when she’d finally gotten herself to admit to him she was married. Doing it that way had been cowardly, but she couldn’t have imagined saying it in person or even just by phone. She’d been that afraid of his reaction.

While she’d done everything in her power to make it clear to him she only wanted friendship, spurning his flirtations whenever he’d made attempts, the few times she’d actually had dates with random men she barely remembered and had mentioned them, he’d reacted in a way that made it clear he was jealous. Yet when she’d suggested friendship wasn’t possible between them, he’d insisted he could handle a nonphysical relationship with her. More and more, she’d realized she needed to end it, and so telling him about Blaze had become harder and harder.

Her attempts to dissuade Alexander even from friendship had failed. He’d continued to keep contact even while she’d avoided him. Luckily, her new job was so busy, she hadn’t communicated with him much at all in the last few months, other than a few vague texts here and there on her old phone the rare times she was home, saying how busy she was, flying all the time now.

During that sporadic back and forth texting, she’d attempted to force the issue of ending their friendship by admitting she and Blaze had had a whirlwind courtship in June of that year, married within days of getting together, and were on their honeymoon at the time Alexander had surprised her with the good news that she’d gotten the promotion and transfer to MSP. Though she hadn’t admitted her recent nuptials to him at that time and, in fact, put off telling him at all in the months since (she hadn’t changed her last name though all the recent paperwork for her advancement had been right there for him to peruse if he’d ever opened her employment file), she confessed she’d had no choice but to leave her honeymoon in Hawaii early in order to report to the training center in time.

At his drunken threats last night, suddenly the marriage proposal from Alexander himself took on disturbing new perspective. Just before she went home, met up with Blaze in June and married him, Alexander had slapped his own proposal on her without warning. That day he’d proposed in the restaurant, he’d barely been able to stay five minutes after he’d uttered the words to her and she’d rejected him as gently as she could in a room full of other diners and staff he’d foolishly allowed to overhear his request for marriage (and her humiliating turndown).

Last night she didn’t have to wonder where his need for revenge was coming from. She easily recalled how demolished he’d been following that cringing proposal when she’d asked him in genuine surprise at what point he’d forgotten she only wanted platonic friendship with him. She’d never changed her mind about that even once during their relationship.

Texting him a few weeks ago that she was married had resulted in him asking when–when had she gotten married? Before or after he proposed? In hindsight, she wished she’d lied. But, instead, she’d tried to do the right thing, in part figuring he’d find out if he looked at her records anyway. She admitted Blaze proposed after Alexander had. In fact, Blaze had proposed within days of Alexander’s request. She’d been on her honeymoon when Alexander called and told her she got the promotion.

She’d realized then that Alexander must have been so devastated by her rejecting his proposal, he went to work and undertook crazy, illegal acrobatics to get her the promotion, maybe hoping she’d change her mind once she saw how committed he was to her.

Ultimately, Alexander was like so many other men she’d known in her life. He saw what he wanted to see, assumed her behavior around him was what he wished it could be even when it never had been. She’d never flirted with him, never led him on. She’d been abundantly clear she was only interested in nonsexual friendship with him from start to finish of their relationship.

Yet guilt had settled over her, despite her belief that she’d been aboveboard in her dealings with him. She remembered her conversation with Phoebe just after meeting Alexander and wondered if she had used him. Did it look like she’d just been playing at friendship with him to get him to help her better her situation at the airline? She couldn’t deny it looked exactly like that. She wouldn’t have called him a best friend, no. Not remotely. But she’d genuinely believed they were friends.

“What would your husband think about how you used me for career advancement? Maybe he needs to find out,” Alexander had asked, his voice disturbingly silky with the threat. “Or maybe you’re using him, too, just so you didn’t have to accept my marriage proposal? Was that the dirty work you needed him to perform for you, you manipulative little c*ktease?”




Riley shivered, her cheeks burning up, as she jerked herself out of her thoughts. Cars were whipping by her in the left lane fast enough to slap the mist of rain hard against her windshield. She hit her wipers to increase clearing the front windows, then turned down the heat she’d cranked up too high a few moments before.

In her husband’s current state, so mad at her for the fiasco that took place last time he visited her in Minnesota, would Blaze believe she’d only married him to escape Alexander? Being able to answer that with an immediate, definitive “No” wasn’t possible. Blaze was pissed enough to believe anything. Maybe she hadn’t been able to deny there was something to her choosing her job over her time with him when he’d finally consented to talk to her after kicking the dust from his heels on his way out of Minnesota last time he’d come to visit her, but this…

Dammit, I married Blaze against all reason because I wanted to, he wanted to, and his suggestion that we throw caution to the wind, fly to Vegas and tie the knot, sounded like paradise to me.

She and Blaze had actually met long years ago–eight years to be exact. At that time, he was 33, she 23. He’d still worked at the Sheriff’s Office, but he’d been at the Peaceful Police Station that day they met the first time to talk to her brother Shaun about becoming his deputy. Close to graduating college in La Crosse, she’d already been on reserve status at the airline there, certain she wanted to be a flight attendant full-time when she graduated. He’d been in the middle of a divorce from a woman he’d only been with for two years at that time.

As much as Riley didn’t like to think about what it said about her, if he hadn’t resisted her flirtations, she would have been all over him then, damn his noble restraint. Even knowing he wasn’t free to be with her or anyone had done nothing to turn her aside from wanting him. But, the next time they ran into each other last summer, he had been available. He’d admitted to her then that he couldn’t stop thinking about her the last time and considered calling her after his divorce was final. But her protective brother had been his boss at that time, and he hadn’t wanted to do anything to get on Shaun’s bad side. Besides, he hadn’t been sure he wanted to risk they’d become a rebound thing. At that point, he claimed he’d already known he’d fall for her hard and never want it to end.

The second time they met, she’d finally come home to Peaceful when her mom kept harping on how infrequently she visited her brother there. Their parents had moved to Florida, their other six siblings having scattered around the United States in various large cities that, with her job, Riley could easily visit often. But the second she saw Blaze at the police department…well, she and Shaun hadn’t spent longer than the minute it’d taken him to officially introduce Blaze, not realizing they’d met once before, together during that visit. Without restraint, Riley and Blaze both plunged headfirst into the relationship they’d fantasized about maybe more than either of them should have previously.

There’d been no time for more than that either, with their honeymoon called on account of her career aspirations finally coming to fruition. Her new status led to her life becoming nearly perfect, everything she’d always wanted for herself–other than her marriage. Finding a time and place to see each other had proved complicated to the extreme. Working in such a small town, Shaun and Blaze were the only two cops on duty full-time, so finding time for vacations was always a little tricky. All Blaze could do was take his weekends off to drive over to Minnesota or wait for her to come to him. But her schedule was nightmare-erratic. While she could bid on the flights she wanted, there was no guarantee she’d get them and certainly not at an ideal time that fit in with Blaze’s much more regular schedule. Peaceful was 45 minutes to an hour from La Crosse–the nearest airport. When she did have time off and it was her turn to do the traveling, she either had to arrange her flight to get in to LSE then rent a car to get to Peaceful, or she drove from her apartment in Minnesota near MSP to Peaceful.

They both loved their jobs and were unwilling to leave them, let alone move to another state. She was required to live close to the airport she flew out of, for one thing, and obviously a small-town Wisconsin cop couldn’t work in Wisconsin and live in Minnesota, nor did Blaze have any desire to transfer to the larger city. If only facts could make them both sure their marriage had been a mistake. If only I didn’t love him. Even when it all seems unequivocal–divorce is the only thing that makes sense to solve this problem–I can’t get myself to go through with it. And neither can he.

When they’d last spoken, their words had been almost too careful, even chilly. He’d told her he worked Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. She knew he meant he’d work part of them–unless there was cause for either Shaun or him to stick around. Peaceful tended to live up to its name, even on holidays, when people could get stupid. Riley and Shaun’s whole family gathered at his house–once their family home–for Christmas. Blaze’s parents, his sister and her family also got together both days.

Since their wedding, they hadn’t gotten around to meeting each other’s families in person. Being alone together had always been too crucial to allow it. Blaze had met most of her family via video chats, Shaun initiating them. Riley had found herself intimidated by the thought that Blaze’s ultra-traditional family would hate her because she dared to have a job. She didn’t want to be the one to broach the subject, nor had Blaze’s mother or sister, both of whom she’d exchanged text messages with, expressing mainly eagerness to meet. Neither had commented beyond displaying sadness that Riley worked so much.

Regardless of what he says to the contrary, I’m certain they must hate me, seeing only that I put my career first, given how old-fashioned they are about wives putting family first. Jobs aren’t allowed to get in the way of that, and the rules don’t apply to men, who can put their careers first. The fact that they haven’t mentioned it either means they’re waiting to blast me in person, or they’re withholding judgment until I prove myself.

Riley had considered telling Blaze she had the holiday off, but something had stopped her from admitting the truth when they’d talked last. She hadn’t even admitted the truth to her family, preferring to leave her appearance a surprise in case something changed to prevent her from joining (and disappointing) them. Her family would forgive her if she came and spent the whole time with her husband, would heartily approve, despite their sure scolding. Blaze wouldn’t understand or forgive if she spent all the time with her family–not that she could imagine even doing that. Not when he was so close.

If he believes I’m not coming, he’ll go to his parents’ house as soon as he’s off work today. I can’t go to Shaun’s on the sly because that’ll get back to Blaze too easily. And I can’t go to his folks’. I have no idea where we stand. Past experience also tells me the conflagration between us the instant we see each other–either screaming at the top of our lungs or tearing off each other’s clothes–should be as private as we can get it. So where the hell do I go?

She swallowed after glancing at the GPS estimated arrival time and accepted that she needed to make a decision soon. Biting her lip, she acknowledged for the first time that she hadn’t come to ask Blaze for a divorce. She’d come here for one reason alone: Because she was terrified Alexander would get to him first and somehow convince him their marriage was a farce, undertaken for her own selfish reasons. Wanting Blaze more than her next breath had been her sole motivation that day they met up again for the second time. But would he believe that after hearing what Alexander had to tell him?

As soon as she punched off the music that was doing nothing to make her foul mood merry or bright, she decided it would be a good time to top off her tank, go to the bathroom, and get a hot beverage to ward off her fatigue. She did all of those things, parking her attention-getting car off to the side of the station once done and pulling out her cell phone. Despite knowing her best friend Logan was probably already making his way toward the airport for his preflight duties, she called him.

He picked up before the first ring finished and shouted, “Just call him, Rye. Tell him the truth about everything, you little Dumbelina!”

Riley regretted telling him her childish wish to be Thumbelina, now that he was turning it into an insult. Regardless, Logan’s tone was about as fierce as a newborn kitten’s mewl.

He’d spent hours before she left today trying to talk sense into her. She’d held nothing back from him, as usual. Their lives were open books to each other. Logan was her champion, a true believer in fairy-tale love and happily-ever-afters written in the stars. “You love him. He loves you,” Logan had said then. “It’s True Love in the highest form. It’s the kind that poets and authors and filmmakers embrace and glorify.”

“We barely know each other,” she’d insisted, a fact that couldn’t actually be disputed.

“Okay, so end it. Without flinching. Or let Alexander tell him everything from his very skewered, jilted POV.”

Humbled at the mere thought, Riley had murmured, “You met Blaze, but you don’t know him either.”

“Doesn’t change anything. I could see you were the life and death of that man, girlfriend. I’ll never doubt it. And I know you feel exactly the same way about him.”

“What? You saw love through his raging fury at me? Do you recall that the second you left my apartment to rescue me from Ainsley and the others, Blaze took off like a bat out of hell, and he wouldn’t talk to me at all until the weekend was indisputably over?”

“I recall. And I stand by my claims.”

“Shut up.”

“Your name is listed first in the dictionary definition of ‘stubborn’,” Logan had said, throwing his hands up.

She’d resisted all his good advice because she didn’t believe he understood the complications. He was too black and white. Sometimes she thought he actually believed in the romantic fairy tale that if love was real, all problems ceased to exist.

“Why do you insist on being dense, Rye?”

Leaning against the driver’s side door of her car, she sighed. “For the same reason you insist on being a hopeless romantic. Besides, you don’t even know what I called to say,” she pointed out drily, stung nevertheless.

“Let me guess exactly what you’re thinking,” Logan said avidly. “You don’t know where to go. Blaze is at work. When he gets off, he’ll go to his parents’, if you don’t reveal you’re in town. You also assume he’ll believe Alexander if he’s gotten to your husband first.”

Riley could also hear Logan’s head shaking. She didn’t bother to interrupt him.

“Why didn’t you go to Blaze as soon as you finished your shift yesterday? You could have avoided the call from Alexander altogether if you had–you realize that, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she said snottily. She’d thought that at least ten billion times since she’d woken in the middle of the night to hear her old cell phone going off in her nightstand drawer with the distinctive ringtone she’d assigned to warn her of Alexander’s communications. “But you know what it’s like after flying through multiple time zones during a flight. I was exhausted. I couldn’t stand up or think straight, let alone doing all the stuff I needed to to get ready to go.” She sighed again, looking around anxiously. “Maybe I should just go home–“

“Don’t you dare.” Logan enunciated each word as if it was his only and they resounded. “You’re doing this, Rye. I’m not seeing my own family this Christmas because you needed this. Swapping was the only way you could get home to Blaze ASAP and head Alexander off.”

“Just tell me what to do, Logan.”

“What have I been doing all along? You haven’t done anything I suggested since I started. Why would you now?”

Wearily, she claimed, “I’ll do whatever you tell me to.”

“Fine. Here goes it again, de nuevo, novo, aris, ancora–“

Riley clenched her teeth on the recitation of the word “again” in multiple languages they both spoke, however brokenly. It was one of their ways of dealing with frustration between them when their conversations started going around in circles or when they wanted to point out that the other was being dimwitted. She cut him off this time, asking in frustration, “So? What am I doing, Logan?”

“You’re about to wreck Christmas for the both of you. So first go see your family. Let Blaze go to his family’s after work. Then meet him at his apartment afterward. That way you both get to see loved ones during this time. Then you can devote yourself to scrapping and screwing to your heart’s content.”

Riley’s cheeks flared. But he was right. Damn that Logan was always right!

“And then you tell Blaze about Alexander. Do it early. Don’t wait until the last minute, like we both know you want to.”

“If I see my family, Shaun will call Blaze. There’s no way that’s not happening. Then there’s no chance of anything else.”

“So call your brother and tell him about your plan. He’ll agree it’s for the best. Trust me.”

Logan’s never even met Shaun, and he’s got him pegged, too. One of his many gifts. “I think you missed your calling in life, Sage Ambrose.”

“When you get back here, you better have this resolved,” he said before she could respond. “Seriously. You’re going schizoid and driving me that way.”

His voice was too soft, so she could hear his affection for her tempering his rough words. “I’m scared for you, honey. This Alexander guy strikes me as a real nut job. He’s the type who won’t be happy until he gets some satisfaction.”

Tears flooded Riley’s eyes. He always loved her when she least expected, let alone deserved it…kind of like Blaze. If only her husband would do the same this time and not jump to the wrong conclusion.

“I’m sorry I’m putting you through the wringer right alongside me,” she said quietly. “I love you.”

“So you are capable of honesty?”

She couldn’t help chuckling through a wry grimace.

“I love you, too, Rye. Now do what you know is best. Follow my most sage advice. You know you and Blaze can’t go on the way you have been much, if any, longer.”

Of that, she couldn’t kid herself. Alexander had forced her into a time limit with his threats. Was it already too late to change the outcome?

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