Prologue

The Big One

New Year’s Eve, 1999

 

It became known as the turn-of-the-century earthquake. For years afterward, no one within a hundred-mile radius of Monarch, a speck of a town along the Central California coast, could last two minutes when first meeting someone without asking, “Where were you when the big one hit?” To them, the earthquake was what they’d come to remember about that New Year’s Eve, but to Jordan Lee, it marked the last day she ever saw Sophie.

 

“Meet me at our tree in fifteen minutes.” Jordan gripped her cell phone and pressed it hard against her ear.

“Where are you!? I’ve been trying to reach you for days.” Fear tinged Sophie’s voice.

“Please. Just meet me in fifteen minutes.” Jordan disconnected before Sophie could protest. She threw the phone into the passenger seat and rested her forehead against the steering wheel. This was by far the hardest thing she’d ever have to do. A lump formed in her throat as tears threatened. She couldn’t start crying now. She’d never stop.

Jordan grabbed a flashlight from the glove compartment and headed down the trail along a sixty-foot cliff overlooking the ocean. She and Sophie walked this path often on their way to the butterfly grove. A full moon shone brightly in the indigo sky when Jordan stopped at the edge of the bluff. The beautiful night was almost too perfect, given the circumstances. The sound of crashing waves and squawking seagulls filled the air. She breathed in the scent of sea salt and stared at the moon’s reflection in the dark-teal waters below. If Sophie were there she’d say, “When you whisper a wish to a butterfly under a full moon, the great Native American spirit is sure to grant it.”

If only that were true.

Jordan peeled her gaze away and quickened her pace down a side trail that led from the bluff to the eucalyptus forest. She wanted to see something before Sophie arrived. Three butterflies circled her head before flying in front, as though leading the way. Jordan followed until she reached a towering tree, which stood in the center of the grove. Thousands of orange-and-black monarchs huddled on the branches, making it look more like an orange blossom than a eucalyptus. She squatted beside the tree and traced her fingertips over the initials SOS. Sophie Opal Sanders. After days of pleading, Sophie had finally agreed to carve their initials into the tree. She said it was like slapping Mother Nature in the face and they’d probably go to hell for it, but she did like the idea of immortalizing their friendship in her favorite tree. So she’d compromised and said they could do it on the bottom of the trunk, where no one would notice. That was three years earlier, when they were fifteen.

Jordan sat on the ground with her back against the smooth bark, her face buried in her raised knees.

“Are you okay?” A melodic voice prompted Jordan to lift her head to a shining face looking down at her. She’d always teased Sophie that she looked like a Disney Princess, with golden hair, expressive blue eyes, and heart-shaped face. Jordan wouldn’t have been surprised if squirrels and birds carried on a conversation with her, just like in a fairy tale. When Sophie squatted and rested her hand on Jordan’s arm, warm tingles cascaded through her body. Abruptly, Jordan stood and took several steps back. She couldn’t be that close to Sophie and say what needed to be said. Sophie stood as well, concern etched on her face.

“I need to tell you something.” Jordan winced at the quiver in her voice. She cleared her throat and willed a commanding tone. “I’m leaving. Tonight.”

“What are you talking about? Where are you going?”

“I’m going to live with my mother in New York.”

“What?! That’s crazy. We’re graduating in four months. You haven’t seen your mother since you were ten.”

“Try to understand. And please, please don’t ask me why.” Jordan stared at the ground, unable to look in Sophie’s eyes.

“This is insane. What does your father―”

Thousands of flapping butterfly wings interrupted as the sky filled with orange and black. A sharp jolt shook the earth and knocked them both to the ground. Jordan covered Sophie’s body as the land violently trembled and rolled. Falling branches scraped her face, and a heavy object pounded her back. She resisted the urge to cover her head with her hands. It was more important that Sophie be safe. The shaking probably lasted only thirty seconds, but it felt like an hour. When the earth’s vibrations subsided, they both sat up in a rubble of leaves and branches, Sophie still entwined in Jordan’s arms.

“What…what was that?” Sophie asked breathlessly.

“I…I think an earthquake…a big one. Are you okay?” Jordan was shocked by the sudden tremor, but even more shocked that Sophie was in her arms. This was the closest they’d ever been.

“I think so. Are you? Your face is scratched.” Jordan’s breath hitched as Sophie grazed her cheek. “Does it hurt?”

Jordan gulped and managed to shake her head, silently praying Sophie wouldn’t stop stroking her wounds.

“Oh, my gosh. The butterflies.” Sophie lifted a large branch, which revealed several lifeless monarchs underneath. Her eyes immediately filled with tears. “They’re dead.”

Jordan’s heart melted. Not for the butterflies, but for Sophie. “Look at all the ones that survived, Soph. Like the little guy that just landed on your head.”

Sophie grinned through a sob. “Really? One is on my head?”

“Yeah, and he looks comfy up there.”

“You always know how to make me feel better.”

Jordan stiffened as Sophie scooted closer and rested her cheek on her shoulder. It would have been so easy to lean down and kiss the tip of her nose, then her lips. As though reading her mind, Sophie bolted upright and backed away.

“What were you saying before? About leaving?” Uncertainty clouded Sophie’s blue eyes.

Jordan stood on shaky limbs and steadied herself with a hand on the tree. Sophie stood as well, careful not to step on any butterflies.

“If you hear anything, if anyone says something, just remember that I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for any of it to happen.”

“What are you talking about? Sorry for what?” Sophie reached for Jordan’s hand, but she pulled away.

“I have to go.” Jordan took several steps back. She couldn’t explain. If Sophie knew the truth, she’d hate her. Just like her father did.

“Why are you doing this?” Tears brimmed in Sophie’s eyes.

A sharp stab ripped through Jordan’s gut. She hated being the cause of Sophie’s sadness. Without another word, she turned and ran down the trail. Sophie’s screams echoed through the forest, like a wounded animal in pain, each cry an arrow through Jordan’s heart. She ran as fast as she could, stopping only when she reached the edge of the grove. Burning tears threatened as her heart pounded.

If this is what love does to you, I want no part of it ever again.

Fear welled within Jordan as the earth shook beneath her again. It was an aftershock, not a strong one, but enough to remind her of the earthquake. What was she thinking? She shouldn’t have left Sophie alone. Jordan rushed back into the forest, relieved to find her sitting under the tree. She hid behind a bush until Sophie got up and walked down the trail. Jordan followed until Sophie was home safe, where she collapsed, sobbing, into her aunt Helen’s arms.

As Jordan watched Sophie from afar, her head felt like a pressure cooker ready to explode. The muffled, rapid pounding in her ears mimicked her heartbeat, and she felt light-headed. She wasn’t sure what was happening, but it was like someone had sucked all the energy out of her body; her arms went limp, and her knees buckled. Then she saw spots, right before everything went completely black.


Chapter One

Be Careful What You Wish For

Ten Years Later

 

Jordan was immediately suspicious. Doug invited her to Le Papillon only when he had bad news. In the dark, discreet restaurant, everyone talked in whispers and rarely caused a scene.

“Why not Frank’s Deli?” Jordan inched down Beverly Boulevard and chatted with Doug on her cell phone.

“It’s too noisy.”

“That’s why I like it.”

Le Papillon―French for “the butterfly,” though they spelled it Papillion―always reminded Jordan of Sophie, which left her feeling melancholy. Plus, it was a little creepy that the table centerpieces contained live yellow butterflies in clear-glass containers. Who wanted to stare at an insect while stuffing filet mignon down their throat? Wasn’t there a People for the Ethical Treatment of Butterflies group? Not that Jordan cared one way or another, but she was surprised no one picketed the place.

Jordan slammed on her brakes and honked long and hard at a Hummer that cut her off. “Asshole!”

“Jordan? You still there? Le Papillon. Noon.” Doug disconnected before she could protest.

“Asshole.” Jordan wasn’t sure if she was referring to the Hummer or Doug. Who was she kidding? She loved Doug. He was her BFF / business partner / gay wardrobe consultant / amateur psychotherapist. Pathetic to say, but Doug was her only real friend. She didn’t know where she’d be without him. They’d met in New York ten years ago at a community college and immediately hit it off. Several years later, they moved to Beverly Hills to start Soul Mate Outreach Solutions, better known as SOS, a matchmaking company. They’d hit it big after an Oscar-winning actress’s endorsement and become known as matchmakers to the stars, even scoring an interview with Ophelia, the most influential talk-show host in town. Their long-term success rate was impressive, considering Hollywood couples stayed together as long as it took ice cream to melt on a sunny Southern California day.

Traffic was at a complete standstill. Jordan craned her neck but couldn’t see beyond the bumper-to-bumper cars. LA traffic sucked. It could literally take forty-five minutes to drive four miles, mostly because of the brigade of tourists clogging lanes looking for stars’ homes. Jordan usually didn’t like bumper stickers but couldn’t resist the one she’d slapped on the back of her Jaguar that read, Welcome to Los Angeles. Now go home.

Sighing dramatically, she glanced at a hairy beast in the SUV next to her. His ears perked up, and he barked once in a deep baritone. Jordan had a feeling he was trying to tell her something, but the hell if she knew what it was. Not that she’d admit it, but her heart melted a little when he looked at her with sad, brown eyes. He was actually pretty cute, in a woolly mammoth sort of way. On rare occasions, she considered getting a dog, one to protect her from robbers and fetch the paper every morning. Dogs did that, right? Or was that only Lassie? Anyway, the dog idea was always short-lived. It was too much of a commitment.

After what felt like forever, traffic finally started moving. Instead of coming upon a wreck or some other plausible cause of the backup, Jordan saw something that made her want to laugh and cry all at the same time. Two lanes were closed on an ultra-busy street because palm trees were being planted in the median. Seriously? The last thing LA needed was more freaking palm trees. They needed open lanes of traffic!

A familiar, strange sensation swept through Jordan as she broke out in a cold sweat. She felt weak and shaky, her head spinning like a merry-go-round. Dread weighed her down as she gripped the steering wheel. Not now. Not here. God, please don’t let me see black spots. The last thing she needed was to be in a wreck. Jordan pulled to the side of the road and took deep breaths in an attempt to slow her racing heart. She didn’t have time for this. She had places to be, things to do. After a few minutes of sitting quietly, she was back on the road, thankful she hadn’t fainted…this time.

Jordan pulled into the restaurant valet station thirty minutes late, glad to see Ralph was working. He was a nice kid, whom she trusted not to go hot-rodding in her black Jaguar. The car had been an extravagant birthday gift to herself, but she had to keep up appearances. She couldn’t be seen driving around town in anything that cost less than forty grand.

Before getting out of the Jag, Jordan took a quick look in the rearview mirror. Not too bad considering she’d been up and going strong since five a.m. She ran fingers through thick chestnut hair and pinched her cheeks to add natural color. Doug frequently said she could pass for a runway model, which always made her chuckle. Granted, she was five foot eight with a killer body, heart-stopping hazel eyes, and an attractive face, but she’d never thought of herself as gorgeous and certainly wasn’t confident enough to strut down a runway.

When Jordan entered the restaurant, Doug was seated and sipping red wine, which was clue number two that something was up, since he rarely drank. After a quick hug she took a seat, immediately wanting the scoop. “Spill it. What’s up?”

“What makes you think something’s up?”

Jordan raised an eyebrow. “Le Papillon? Wine? What gives, Dougie?”

“Can’t we order first?” Doug studied the menu like it was the most engrossing thing ever.

Jordan drummed her fingers on the table and glared at him. He really was a beautiful man. A Caucasian mother and African American father had produced a mocha complexion and striking green eyes. Always impeccably dressed and with a body more buff than that of any personal trainer at Crunch Gym, he could nab any guy he wanted, and often did.

After several minutes Doug peeked over his menu. “Is that a new outfit? Ann Taylor?”

“Yes, and you’re stalling.”

“Fine,” he said, putting down his menu. “I went over the books and even talked to the accountant, and we can’t do it. We don’t have the capital to open another office.”

“Damn. Are you sure? We’ve been doing so well.” Jordan frowned, sat back, and folded her arms across her chest. She dreamed of expanding SOS with an office in San Francisco, Dallas, then who knew where.

“I’ve crunched the numbers every which way, and we just can’t swing it right now. Not in the foreseeable future either. Maybe you could ask your mom for the money?”

Jordan shook her head vigorously. “No way. I don’t even know where she is these days. Last I heard it was Paris.”

Jordan’s mother was a travel photographer. When she was ten, her parents had divorced and Jordan’s father had reared her. Even after she’d moved into her mom’s New York condo after she left Monarch, she rarely saw the woman. She had, though, given Jordan a nice sum of money to start her own company. That was enough. She refused to ask her for anything more.

“What about borrowing the money from Bibi? Lord knows she’s loaded.” Doug winced, probably because he knew the reaction that idea would elicit. Bibi was Jordan’s for-the-moment girlfriend.

“Hell, no. The last thing I need is to be indebted to her.”

“Hey. I meant to tell you that lawyer called again. That’s like the third time. He said it was urgent you call him back.”

Jordan frowned. Why would a Monarch lawyer be calling her? She hadn’t had contact with anyone since she left.

“Oh, God, don’t look now, but Patty Parker is heading toward our table,” Doug whispered.

“See? We should have gone to Frank’s Deli. Stars never go there.”

The click of Patty’s stiletto heels echoed behind Jordan. “Why, if it isn’t the SOS dream team.”

“Patty, it’s so good to see you again,” Jordan lied.

Doug stood and pulled out a chair. “Won’t you join us?”

“Aren’t you a doll? I wish I could, but I’m with that big hunk-a-man over there.” Patty pointed to a nervous-looking Bill Poser sitting at a table. “We’re waiting for his parents.” Patty smiled coyly. “We’re announcing the news…of our engagement!” She squealed in decibels high enough for only a dog to hear. Amazingly, the wineglasses didn’t shatter.

“Congratulations,” they said in unison.

“Well, I have you two to thank since you introduced us. Listen, I have to get to the powder room, but you’re both invited to the wedding. And I hope you’ll be coming…together.” Patty wiggled her eyebrows before sashaying away, leaving a heavy scent of Chanel No. 5 in the air.

Doug giggled. “She still thinks we’re an item? I’m gayer than a picnic basket at the West Hollywood Park, and you’re all but missing an L tattooed across your forehead.”

“You should love that since you’re in the closet.” Jordan took a swig of Doug’s wine.

“I’m not in the closet. But when you date actors who aren’t out you have to be careful. Oh, and like you go around waving rainbow flags.”

“I don’t feel the need to advertise my sexual preference. If anyone asked, though, I’d tell them the truth. But no one asks. I think they’re afraid of the answer.”

“Half of Hollywood is in the closet. Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Doug opened his menu and studied it. “Do you know what you want?”

The yellow butterfly frantically flapping its wings inside the acrylic centerpiece caught Jordan’s eye. “Someone told me once that if you whisper a wish to a butterfly, it’ll come true.”

Doug furrowed his brow. “Butterfly wishes? Seriously?”

Jordan shrugged. “It’s worth a try, don’t you think?” She grabbed the container, closed her eyes, and said, “I wish that a big pile of money would drop down from the sky and land in my lap.” She squinted one eye open and grinned when she saw Doug’s horrified expression. “It’s not like I really believe it’ll work, but you can’t blame a gal for trying.”

 

 

Sophie stared at the items on her kitchen table. Was she a little insane? She checked off the objects on her list: empty box, a white feather, vial of seawater, handful of sand, and a Bic lighter. The lighter was a sad replacement for a candle, but it was all she could find, so hopefully it wouldn’t make a difference. She stuffed the items, which represented the four elements of air, water, earth, and fire, into the box. This just proved it. You could find anything on the Internet. Even a soul-mate spell.

Earlier that day she’d Googled “soul-mate love invocation” after reading her horoscope in the Monarch Messenger, as she did every morning. Written by Madame Butterfly, the resident psychic, it was always eerily accurate. Hers had read: Unpleasant surprises have dominated your year, dear Pisces. The death of something or someone lurks heavy on your mind, but do not despair. With death comes a new beginning.

The death referred to her girlfriend, Cindy, metaphorically speaking. Six months ago, Cindy had walked into their bedroom and said, “I’m leaving you. I’ve fallen in love with another woman and am moving to Seattle.”

Sophie had been speechless. Taking two shaky steps backward, she’d plopped down on the nightstand, right on top of the rose-quartz crystal Cindy had given her for Valentine’s Day. How apropos. Love was biting her in the ass―again. She’d gripped the sides of the table and watched her girlfriend of two years stuff her undies into a suitcase. Never trust a woman who wears G-strings. They weren’t even comfortable, always riding up her ass. Sophie knew they hadn’t been happy for a while. In fact, it’d been months since they’d had sex, but she’d thought they were just in a rut. You know, the infamous lesbian bed-death syndrome. She’d never expected that Cindy was having an affair.

Sophie grabbed the horoscope and read it again. With death comes a new beginning.

Well, if a new beginning was coming her way, she wanted to make darn sure the universe knew what she wanted. No more lying, cheating, G-string-wearing women. The Internet instructions suggested reciting the invocation under a full moon, and luckily, one was scheduled for tonight. Sophie grabbed the box from the kitchen table, along with a garden shovel, and headed into the living room.

“Hey, Mr. Limpet. I bet you think I’m nuts, don’t you?” The electric-blue betta fish waved his fins rapidly when she tapped on the aquarium. “This will be our little secret, okay?” Sophie dropped two freeze-dried shrimp into the water, with Mr. Limpet jumping like a dolphin to retrieve the treat. “You be a good boy, and I’ll be back in about an hour.”

A full moon lit the forested path leading from Sophie’s cabin to the eucalyptus grove. It was a beautiful night, surprisingly warm for November. This was the best time of the year. Thousands of monarch butterflies migrated along the Central California coast during October to January. It was also the busiest time, since Sophie ran the monarch butterfly sanctuary. Halfway down the trail, she stopped abruptly. Darn. She’d forgotten the printed soul-mate chant. The website had directed to recite the incantation exactly as written, but it was too late to turn back. Hopefully, she’d remember what it said.

As Sophie approached the forest, she inhaled the sweet scent of eucalyptus. This was quite possibly her favorite place on earth—amid trees, surrounded by monarchs, and with the sound of crashing waves in the distance. She walked to the largest tree in the center of the grove and looked up at hundreds of orange dots as monarchs huddled together. Her gaze roamed down the tree to a spot at the base of the trunk. BFFs 4Ever. That’s what was carved under her and Jordan’s initials. Sophie’s heart clenched. What a joke.

She knelt under the tree and began digging a hole. Satisfied that it was deep enough, she placed the box of items in the dirt, covered it, and rolled a large boulder on top. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and contemplated what she wanted. Well, she knew what she didn’t want, which was a lying girlfriend who would leave her brokenhearted. She wanted to find the one, her soul mate, if such a person existed. Sophie opened her eyes and held out her hands. Within seconds a butterfly landed in her palm. She gazed lovingly at the orange-and-black creature, admiring its beauty and endurance. It was amazing how these beings―with such delicate, paper-thin wings―migrated over two thousand miles each year.

Okay, now what was that chant? Sophie gazed at the moon, like it would help her remember. It had a cute rhyme. Something like love be strong…for she done me wrong…no, that was a country song…or maybe…oh, screw it…she’d make up her own.

Sophie gazed at the butterfly and whispered, “Flames of time erase mistakes…bring true love whatever it takes…uh…Be ye far or be ye near, I summon my soul mate to me here…um…by the power vested in the full moon and the Great Native American Spirit, my wish is granted…amen…that’s all, folks…with liberty and justice for all…the end.”

Sophie made the sign of the cross, though she had absolutely no idea why since she wasn’t even Catholic. The monarch flapped its wings and flew into the tree, carrying the whispered wish with him. Sophie stood and looked at the full moon, semi-satisfied with the ceremony. Now she just had to have faith that her soul mate would appear.


Chapter Two

Breaking Up Is Easy to Do

Not the French accent again. Bibi was born in Fresno, for Christ’s sake. Ever since she’d played a Frenchwoman in an international instant-coffee commercial, the accent had stuck. And Jordan was fairly certain Bibi wasn’t her given name, not that she’d ever admit it. They were sitting on the couch in Jordan’s Beverly Hills condo with two cups of hot water and a box of assorted Leif’s instant java on the coffee table. Bibi grabbed the box and studied her photo, tapping it a few times with a half-inch fuchsia fingernail.

“I was having a great hair day,” Bibi said, doing a bad Brigitte Bardot impression. She ran her hands through luxurious sangria-colored locks. Actually, it was brown with red highlights, but Jordan wouldn’t make that mistake again. Bibi’s two-hundred-dollar-an-hour hairstylist called it sangria, and because she was the hair goddess of the universe, the description had stuck. Jordan was all for extravagances, but two hundred dollars for a haircut and color seemed excessive even to her. Bibi ripped open the box, squealed, and sucked on one of her fingers.

“Paper cuts are the worst,” she whined. Yeah, the worst…except maybe for that Ebola thing. But then again, paper cuts involved bleeding and throbbing. Weren’t those the symptoms of Ebola? “I don’t know why you don’t have a maid.”

Jordan chuckled. “My place isn’t big enough to warrant a maid. What would she do? Open boxes for me so I don’t get paper cuts?” Guilt gripped Jordan when Bibi batted her big brown Bambi eyes. “I’m sorry. Let me see your finger.”

She cradled Bibi’s hand in her palm and looked at the injured member but couldn’t see anything, so she leaned closer…and closer…Was she looking at the right hand? She didn’t see even a pinprick. Where did she keep her magnifying glass? “I don’t see anything.”

Bibi pulled her hand back and stared at Jordan indignantly. “I stopped the bleeding myself.” She grabbed a packet of Café Viennese, poured it into one of the cups, and stirred vigorously.

At times like this Jordan wondered why she was dating Bibi. Okay, so she had beautiful sangria hair, perfect bone structure, and an even more perfect body. Granted, she’d had more than a few Botox sessions, but so had everyone else in Hollywood. She was a semi-talented, spoiled actress, not a great conversationalist, and they didn’t have much in common aside from the fact that they were both discreet about their sexuality. In retrospect, maybe Bibi was the perfect match. Lord knows Jordan wasn’t looking for anything serious. She never was.

Jordan stirred coffee grounds into her cup and tried not to groan. This instant crap sucked. “So where are you off to for the next commercial?”

Bibi had a sweet deal. She got an insane amount of money to travel the world filming ten-second commercial spots. All she had to do was sit on a mountain or at an outdoor café, sip coffee while wearing a low-cut blouse, and say―in a sexy growl―“Mmm, for instant gratification, I drink Leif’s.” Obviously, sex could sell anything, even a drink that tasted like insect repellent.

“Paris, maybe, but that’s not important.” Bibi put her cup down and turned to face Jordan. “I want to talk to you about something.”

“Oh?” Jordan peered over her cup.

Bibi inhaled sharply, held her breath, and squealed, “Let’s move in together!”

Jordan spewed French-vanilla mocha across the room. She couldn’t have been more surprised if Bibi had just told her she’d been nominated for an Oscar. “What?!”

“I’m in love with you, ma chérie.”

Jordan coughed, cleared her throat, and placed her cup on the table. “We’ve only been dating two months. You can’t possibly be in love with me.”

“But I am, and I know you feel it, too.” Bibi grabbed Jordan’s hands and clutched them tightly to her voluptuous chest.

“I’m not in love with you. I’m sorry.” Jordan pried her hands out of Bibi’s cleavage, bolted upright, and paced across the living room.

This was why she rarely dated. She could have spent the energy, emotion, and time on something important, like her company. Clearly, Jordan was missing the lesbian U-Haul gene. She’d never lived with a woman and didn’t intend to do so. She was a loner and liked it that way. Even a normal lesbian, though―with all genes intact―would have thought Bibi moved too fast.

Jordan stopped and faced the coffee queen head-on. “I told you when we started dating that I’m not looking for anything serious. This isn’t going to work.”

“What are you saying? You’re breaking up with me?” Bibi’s false eyelashes blinked rapidly.

“We want different things. And do we really have that much in common? So, yeah, I think we should break it off.” This was the part Jordan hated the most―the breakup, which she always seemed to instigate.

Bibi bolted off the couch. “I can’t believe you’re breaking up with moi! It should be the other way around.”

“I’m sorry. Really.” Actually, she wasn’t sorry, but she didn’t know what else to say.

“Fine!” Bibi grabbed her three-hundred-dollar Kenneth Cole purse. “You’re a cold fish in bed anyway! You have no idea how to please a woman.” Ouch, where’d that come from? “And for your information, people in relationships sleep over after having sex. They don’t slip out at three a.m. You’re not…normal!”

Jordan had spent most of her life feeling like a square peg in a round hole. She didn’t need a reminder from an angry, overpaid actress.

“Good-bye, Jordan!” Bibi stomped to the front door―as much as one could stomp in seven-inch heels―and slammed it shut on her way out. Geez, what a drama queen.

Jordan stood stiffly and stared at the door. Cold fish? Bibi would have to zero in on her biggest insecurity. She’d never felt particularly comfortable with physical intimacy and had learned to fake orgasms better than a bored housewife could. Not that Jordan didn’t enjoy sex, but the words “erotic” and “sensual” weren’t in her vocabulary. She plopped down on the couch. Whatever. She was better off without Bibi anyway. In fact, she was better off without any woman. She’d have more time to spend on SOS, which is all that really mattered anyway. The single, celibate life was the way to go. Jordan took a sip of cold French-vanilla mocha and spat it back into her cup. She needed a Starbucks latte. That was what normal people drank.

Jordan grabbed her cell phone as it vibrated on the coffee table. “Hey, Doug.”

“Guess who I got you an interview with. Go on, guess.”

“I don’t know how you could top Ophelia, but let’s see…don’t say TMZ because they try to twist everything I say into a controversy.”

“Nope. It’s with the hottest magazine in town. LA Live!”

“Whoa, seriously? Good job. When?”

“Friday. I’ve already told them we have a client-confidentiality agreement, so no personal questions. They want to ask about our process and what makes our match rate so successful.”

“That’s great.”

“I thought you’d sound more excited.”

“I am. Totally. It’s just…well, I broke up with Bibi. Like literally two minutes ago.”

“Good gosh, Jordan. How long did you date this one? It keeps getting shorter each time.”

“She wanted to move in together! After only two months.”

“I thought that’s what you girls did. Isn’t that in the lesbian handbook or something?”

“Well, not this girl. Plus, she said she was in love with me.”

“Oh, having a gorgeous actress in love with you must suck,” Doug said sarcastically. “I’ve known you almost ten years, and you haven’t dated anyone longer than six months. You know what your problem is―”

“I know you took a semester of psychology in community college, but no more psychoanalysis, please.” Jordan sighed loudly.

“You purposefully date women you don’t even like. You know there’s no chance of falling in love, so they’re safe. What are you so afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid,” Jordan said defensively. “Anyway, I’m swearing off women. SOS is my true love, and anything else just gets in the way.”

“Maybe you just haven’t met your soul mate yet. Maybe if you didn’t date beautiful bimbos―”

“It’s not that. I’m just not relationship material. It always ends in disaster. Listen, I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later.” Jordan disconnected before Dr. Freud could spout any more psychobabble.

Despite all her balking about relationships, Jordan did believe in soul mates, that one special person who feels like…home. She’d experienced that once in her life, with Sophie, but they were just teenagers. What’d they know about love?

 

 

Sophie sat on her couch and eagerly tore into the UPS box on her coffee table. Most people got excited about receiving books or clothes in the mail, but not Sophie. What got her heart pumping were one hundred packets of Asclepias eriocarpa seeds, better known as woolly pod milkweed. Seventy-five seeds per packet distributed to students up and down the coast meant an increase in milkweed plants, which would hopefully make a dent in monarch conservation. The mass mailing would be time-consuming, but Sophie would do anything to save the butterflies. Without milkweed, they would die off. It was the sole food source for monarch caterpillars and what the butterflies used to lay their eggs. As it was, milkweed was being cut down to build parking lots, shopping malls, and condominiums, which infuriated Sophie something awful.

Her insides twisted into a Celtic knot concerning the uncertain fate of the monarch sanctuary. Frances, the elderly woman who owned the center and surrounding land, had passed away a month ago. She was completely hands-off, which made her the perfect boss. In fact, she’d only stepped foot in the place once, when it opened five years ago. Sophie was appreciative since she had free rein of the sanctuary, where she worked tirelessly to build a thriving milkweed field.

Surely the property would go to Charles, Frances’s son, which wouldn’t be a good thing. He was a stern bulldog of a man…and Jordan’s father. Not that that mattered, but Sophie had had several uncomfortable interactions with him after Jordan disappeared. He’d responded to her many attempts to inquire how to reach Jordan in New York or what had happened with silent stares or slammed doors. No. Having Charles as her boss would not be pleasant. Or worse yet, he’d sell the land to a condo developer. Sophie’s stomach soured. She’d never let that happen. Nor would the townspeople. Since the sanctuary had opened, the city of Monarch had embraced the butterfly theme with a passion, maybe going a little overboard at times.

Sophie looked up as someone walked through her front door, which was wide open. One of the many things she loved about Monarch was that you could safely leave your door open without fearing that anything more than a few butterflies or a squirrel would break in. Sophie bolted off the couch and wrapped her arms around Bertha. She was a short, plump woman in her mid-sixties, who gave the best hugs ever. Bertha’s mission in life was to brew the best java in town in her coffee shop and look after Sophie. At twenty-nine, she was more than capable of taking care of herself, but it never hurt to have another mom, considering her biological one sucked. When Sophie was ten, her mom had landed in jail for a foiled bank-robbery attempt with her loser boyfriend and then completely disappeared after her release. Sophie had never known her father and had been raised by her aunt and uncle. They were wonderful caregivers, but she didn’t feel like she had a real mom until she met Bertha.

“Hey, sweetie. What do you have going on here?” Bertha motioned to the packets piled on the coffee table.

“It’s milkweed seeds. I’m doing a mass mailing to several schools in the area.”

“Isn’t it a little late to plant seeds? Shouldn’t you do that in summer or spring?”

“These are Asclepias eriocarpa.” Sophie smiled at Bertha’s frown. “Woolly pod milkweed.”

“Oh, yes. I like those. They have white flowers and fuzzy leaves.”

“Exactly. These are native to California and can be planted any time of the year. Plus, they’re drought-tolerant, which is good considering how little rain we’ve had lately.”

“Well, you can count on me to help mail these out. I know Molly and Mabel would help, too.”

“Thanks,” Sophie said with a smile. She missed some things about living in a big city, but nothing could replace Monarch’s family atmosphere. Not only did she have a replacement mom but also two substitute aunts in Molly and Mabel.

“So, have you heard who’ll inherit the sanctuary and land?” Sophie asked. If anyone would know, it’d be Bertha. Her coffee shop was the hub of gossip.

“I haven’t a clue. Seems like it’d be Charles, but if so, you’d know by now, I’d think. Maybe Frances didn’t have a will and the state will take it over. I’m not sure how those things work.”

That would be the best scenario. Sophie could work with a government agency to protect the land for butterfly conservation.

“Now, don’t you worry,” Bertha said when she undoubtedly saw the concern on Sophie’s face. “We’ll make sure nothing happens to the milkweed field and sanctuary.”

Sophie forced a smile. “Let’s get out of this mess, and I’ll make us some tea.”

“Do you have any coffee instead?” Bertha asked as she followed Sophie into the kitchen.

“You know I only drink your brew. Besides, I don’t even own a coffeepot.”

Bertha gasped and put a hand over her heart. “Well, I know what to give you for Christmas now. Speaking of which, I’m planning a big shake, rattle ’n’ roll New Year’s Eve party to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the earthquake, so be sure to mark it on your calendar.”

Sophie grunted to herself. She didn’t like to think about that night. It wasn’t Bertha’s fault for bringing it up, though, since she didn’t have a clue as to what had happened. Sophie hated how her body still reacted to the mere thought of Jordan. Her face flushed, her heart pounded, and her mouth had a metallic, sour taste. That was quite possibly the worst time of her life. Sophie had cried for months after Jordan disappeared. Eventually, though, the tears had turned to anger, especially after she’d reached out to her several years ago when hearing about her company in Beverly Hills, with no response whatsoever.

Sophie rose on her tiptoes, reached into the top cabinet, pulled out a box, and handed it to Bertha. “Cindy left this here. What do you think?”

Bertha perched reading glasses on the tip of her nose and studied the photo of an attractive woman sipping a cup of java. “Leif’s international coffee. I’ve seen these commercials. This Frenchwoman does make it look tasty. Oh, wait, it’s instant?” Bertha looked at Sophie in horror, like she’d suggested they drink cyanide.

“It’s not half bad. Nothing compared to yours, of course. Let’s give it a try.” Sophie grabbed the box and opened it. “Do you want Café Vienna, Suisse Mocha, Caramel Macchiato―”

“Surprise me,” Bertha said, sitting at the kitchen table. “Speaking of Cindy, have you heard from her?”

“God, no, and I hope I never do.” Sophie leaned against the counter as two cups of water warmed in the microwave.

“It’s been what? Six months since she left? Any prospects?”

Sophie shrugged and debated about whether to tell Bertha about her soul-mate ceremony. Bertha wouldn’t be opposed to such things, but Sophie decided to keep it to herself. “I did sign up on a singles website but haven’t met anyone yet.”

“Uh, a website?” Bertha was many things, but up-to-date technologically wasn’t one of them.

“The Internet. On the computer.”

Bertha gasped and held her breath. “You know what you need!?”

“No, what?”

“You need a matchmaker! I saw it on the Ophelia show. Some bigwig Beverly Hills matchmaker was being interviewed. She could help you find a soul mate.”

Sophie knew Bertha was talking about Jordan because she’d seen the interview as well. No matter how much she’d tried to turn it off, she couldn’t take her eyes off Jordan. It was the first time she’d seen her in almost ten years, the first time she’d heard her voice again. Sophie had missed that voice. The way it cracked when Jordan got excited and how the cadence was quiet and smooth when she spoke about something that touched her heart. Jordan hadn’t changed much over the years, except that she looked even more beautiful. In fact, she was pure perfection. Healthy chestnut curls cascaded around her flawless complexion, which glowed under the studio lights. When Jordan’s hazel eyes had gazed into the camera, Sophie could have sworn she was peering directly into her soul. Seeing Jordan again had stirred up all sorts of emotions, which had kept Sophie awake half the night.

“You may not be able to get that swanky company to help you out,” Bertha said. “But I bet there are matchmakers around here. You should look it up on that…er…website…thingie.”

“That’s something to consider.” Sophie heaped instant coffee into the cups and stirred vigorously. She placed the drinks on the kitchen table and sat across from Bertha.

Bertha peered into the cup, sniffed it a few times, and said, “Well, here goes nothing.” She took a sip and swallowed hard before coughing uncontrollably.

Sophie jumped up and patted her on the back. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, my.” Bertha looked horrified.

“That bad, huh?”

“Worse.” Bertha cleared her throat and pushed the cup aside. Sophie handed her a glass of water, which she gulped down. “You know, someone at the coffee shop told me that matchmaker went to school here, if you can believe that. A real-live celebrity from Monarch. Did you know her? She must be about your age.”

“Mmm…I don’t think so.” Sophie hated lying, but the last person she wanted to talk about was Jordan.


Chapter Three

The Jackpot

Jordan gazed out her fourth-story office window overlooking Rodeo Drive. When she and Doug were searching for office space, she’d wanted something in West LA or maybe even downtown, but considering more than half of their clients were actresses, it’d been a smart move. They could lunch at La Scala and commiserate over the lack of available straight men in Hollywood before walking around the corner to let SOS add romance to their lonely lives.

“Hey, boss.” Doug strolled into her office. They were equal partners, but he had started calling her boss after the Ophelia interview, since she’d become somewhat of a celebrity.

“Is Tiffany in yet?” Jordan asked. Doug raised an eyebrow. “Seriously? She’s late again?”

Tiffany was their receptionist, a twentysomething anorexic with a red streak in her hair and a famous boyfriend from the hottest boy band in town. Clients found her fun and amusing. Jordan thought she was lazy and irresponsible.

Jordan plopped into her chair. “Are we seriously not going to fire her? She’s always late, she types with two fingers, and she dots her i’s with a heart. That’s so not professional.”

Doug chuckled. “Clients love her.”

“She’s a screw-up. Last week I caught her designing a new tattoo when she was supposed to be doing reports.”

“I’ll talk to her. So what’s Tiffany’s new tat gonna be?” Doug smirked.

“I’m not sure exactly. It looked like a guitar inside a heart, but it could’ve been a penis. It had her boyfriend’s initials on it, so it could go either way.”

“Too funny. Okay, so I came in here to tell you who our newest client is.” Doug paused for dramatic effect. “Sabrina Cooke!”

The Sabrina Cooke? Impressive. She just won a Golden Globe.”

“And she’s even more beautiful in person. And obviously s.i.n.g.l.e.”

“Why are you looking at me that way? First, I’m swearing off women, and second, we have a strict policy about messing around with clients. And it’s a good thing ninety percent of them are women, or else you’d be in big trouble.”

“You’re no fun.” Doug sat on the corner of Jordan’s desk. “So how are you doing? After the Bibi thing?”

Jordan shrugged and leaned back in her chair. “Fine. I dunno. She…uh…she said I wasn’t…normal.”

Doug bolted upright, his fists clenched. “Do you want me to beat her up for you?”

Jordan wasn’t sure if he was kidding, but from his stance he looked serious. He really was a good friend. Her big, gay protector.

“That’s sweet, but I’m pretty sure she could take you. She said I was a cold fish in bed and that it wasn’t normal I don’t sleep over. You know, after sex.”

“You don’t stay all night? Cuddle and all that girly stuff?”

“No. It feels too…too…”

“Too much like a relationship?”

“Precisely. That’s weird, isn’t it? God, maybe I am abnormal.” Jordan rubbed her face with her hands.

“You need to do what’s right for you. I only hound you about dating because I want you to be happy. And who am I to say you’d be happier with someone than alone?”

“Thanks. And I am happy. Really.” She wasn’t the type to dot her i’s with little hearts or use smiley emoticons, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t happy. Right?

Jordan put Bibi and relationships out of her mind and got back to work, until the phone started ringing…and ringing…and ringing. Finally, it stopped, which either meant the person had hung up or Tiffany had finally showed up. A few seconds later, the office door swung open.

“You have a call.” Tiffany leaned against the door frame and put a hand on her hip. She was wearing a tight black leather outfit more suited for the Roxy Theater than a professional office.

“Who is it?”

“Someone named Fifi or Mimi or something.”

Jordan raised an eyebrow. “Could it be Bibi?” Tiffany responded with a blank stare. “If it’s Bibi, tell her I’m in a meeting.” Jordan continued typing but then stopped when Tiffany didn’t make a move.

“You’re in a meeting?” Tiffany opened her mouth wide and glanced around the office.

Jordan bit her lower lip. “Just tell her I’m unavailable and take a message.”

“So…like…you want me to like…lie?”

Oh my God, the girl who bragged about getting arrested for doing it with her boyfriend in the O of the Hollywood sign suddenly has morals?

“Like tell her I like can’t talk right now. And that’s not like a lie.”

Tiffany sighed, spun around on her heels, and slammed the door shut. Jordan took a deep breath and shook her head. That girl had to go. She looked at her computer screen and was about to start typing when the phone rang again…and again…and again.

“Tiffany?” No response. “Oh, good God.” Jordan picked up the receiver. “SOS, how may I help you?”

“I need to speak to Ms. Jordana Lee.” The man sounded serious, professional, and had a voice she didn’t recognize. Plus, he’d used her birth name, which was weird.

“This is she.”

“Ms. Lee, I’ve been trying to reach you for weeks. I’m so glad to finally speak with you. My name is Michael Simms, and I’m an estate-planning attorney in Monarch.” Jordan’s body tensed. Just the mention of the town made her anxious. “I’m afraid I have some bad news. I’m sorry to inform you that your grandmother passed away a month ago. Your father said no one in the family has been in contact with you for quite some time. Otherwise I would have let a family member break the news to you.”

Jordan was silent for several seconds. “Mr…Simms, is it? My father is correct. I’m no longer a part of the family. Thank you for your call, but it wasn’t necessary.”

“Ms. Lee, wait. Don’t hang up. Your grandmother had a will. She left you the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary.”

“My grandmother left me a…what? There must be some mistake. I seriously doubt she’d leave me anything.”

“She was very adamant about gifting the center to you. So, if possible, I’d suggest you come to Monar―”

“Hold up, Mr. Simms. I wouldn’t be caught dead in Monarch.” Jordan winced at the poor choice of words, considering the circumstances. “The last thing I need is a butterfly building…or whatever it is. Just give it to my father. I’m sure he’s the one my grandmother meant to leave it to.”

“Before you make any rash decisions, you need to know some things. The property consists of the sanctuary, which employs a lepidopterist, and sits on two acres of land. It’s prime real estate, which is located on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It’s quite valuable.”

Valuable? He had her attention. “Two acres? Is that a lot? And how valuable are we talking here?”

“An acre is approximately the size of a football field. The sanctuary and land have been appraised at two million dollars.”

Jordan coughed loudly into the phone. “Excuse me. Did you say two million? Would it seriously sell for that?” If this were a cartoon, her eyes would be dollar signs.

“Ms. Frances received several offers from Kelstrom. They own the chain of Grand View Hotels and Spas.”

“Why didn’t she sell it?”

“Your grandmother said it belonged to you.”

Okay, this was weird. Jordan had been excommunicated from the family, and she and her grandmother hadn’t been close. In fact, she scared the crap out of Jordan. The woman’s glare could cut a tin can better than any Ginsu knife ever could.

“So, I’ll just sell it. I don’t need land in Monarch or a butterfly…thing,” Jordan said, thinking aloud. “But are you sure there isn’t some mistake?”

“It’s all in the will. I think you should come to Monarch, Ms.—”

“No! I’m not going to Monarch. Can’t you just handle everything for me?” Jordan looked up as Doug walked into her office. She motioned for him to sit.

“I didn’t want to do this over the phone, but there’s a stipulation in the will.”

Aha. She knew there had to be a catch. “What kind of stipulation?”

“Everything is in the letter from your grandmother. I had hoped to give it to you in person so we could discuss it.”

“A letter? What does it say? Can’t you overnight it to me?”

Doug mouthed a silent “What’s up?” which prompted Jordan to hold up a finger.

“I suppose I could. Should I send it to your office address?”

“Yes, please. But can’t you tell me what it says?”

“I’m afraid not. Your grandmother had strict instructions. Only you should open it. I suggest you give me a call after you’ve read the letter. My contact information will be included in the package. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thanks. I’ll call you soon.” Jordan hung up and stared at Doug.

“What was that about? Jordan? Are you okay?”

“Remember when I wished that a big pile of money would drop in my lap?”

“Yeah, so?”

“I think we just hit the jackpot.”

 

 

Jordan looked at her watch for the fortieth time, wondering what time UPS arrived. For once she was glad Tiffany was late. She didn’t want her turning the package away or opening it herself. Doug walked past Jordan’s office and stuck his head in the door.

“Nothing yet?” he asked.

“No, and the suspense is killing me.” Jordan chewed the nail of her little finger. “What kind of stipulation could there be? We’re probably getting our hopes up for nothing. My grandmother wouldn’t leave me something valuable.”

They both looked toward the front door as it opened. Doug glanced back at Jordan. “I guess we’re about to find out.”

After signing for the package, Jordan stared at the envelope on her desk.

“Do you want some privacy?” Doug asked.

“No, have a seat. You’re more family than my grandmother ever was.”

She ripped open the package and briefly glanced at the letter from Mr. Simms before seeing a white envelope that read, To be opened by Jordana Lee after the death of Frances Lee. She glanced at Doug and took a deep breath. The letter was dated a few weeks before her death.

 

Dearest Jordana,

If you’re reading this, then I am dead. And so be it. This life has dragged on too long as it is. My only regret at being six feet under is that I missed seeing the look on your father’s face upon learning that you are the sole heir of my property.

I never was one for sentimental drivel, so I’ll get to the point. Until a few months ago I didn’t know why you disappeared that New Year’s Eve. For all I knew you’d been killed in the earthquake, since Charles never spoke your name again. It wasn’t until Rebecca blabbed everything after one too many mai tais at lunch that I knew what had happened.

Whatever the circumstances, we’re family and should stick together, which is a lesson I must have failed to impart to my son. The three of us are all that’s left, and now that I’m gone it’s just you and your father. Since I couldn’t bring you two together while I was alive, perhaps I can do so from the grave.

By now you know that you own two acres of land as well as the monarch butterfly sanctuary. You’re free to do with it as you wish under three stipulations:

 

You must live in Monarch and work at the sanctuary for two months.

Your two-month residence must commence within one week from receipt of this letter.

You must meet with your father twice within those two months and try to make reasonable amends.

 

Michael Simms, my attorney and trusted friend, will periodically check on you to make sure you are adhering to these three items. If you fail to comply, the land and sanctuary will be given to the State of California.

Sincerely,

Frances Lee

 

Jordan stared at the letter and read the three items several more times. She looked at Doug, took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. “Fuck.”

“Wow,” Doug said. “Why does she want you to move to Monarch for two months?”

“’Cause she knows I wouldn’t step foot in that town unless forced to do so. I guess she thinks if I’m there, then my dad and I will have a better chance of reconciling. But why does she want me to work at the sanctuary if she doesn’t care if I sell it?”

“What are you going to do?”

“I have no idea.”

Doug grabbed the letter and scanned it. “Who’s Rebecca?”

“My stepmother, which is a joke since she’s only ten years older than me.” Jordan jumped out her chair and paced back and forth. “Okay, let’s break this down. We have the property. It is, in fact, ours.”

“We?”

Jordan stopped and looked at Doug. “Yes, we. You’re more than just my business partner. You’re like a brother to me. I wouldn’t have survived the last ten years without you.”

Doug smiled as his eyes misted. “I feel the same way.”

“Okay, enough of this sentimental drivel,” Jordan said with a grin. “So, the land is ours to sell if I move to Monarch for two months, work at the sanctuary, and make contact with my father twice.”

A wave of nausea washed over Jordan as her heart pounded. She plopped into the chair and put her head between her legs, the room suddenly spinning. She heard a muffled voice, maybe Doug asking if she was okay. Black spots clouded her vision right before she encountered total darkness. The next thing Jordan remembered was feeling puffs of air on her face. As she blinked her eyes open, Doug was frantically fanning her with a file folder as she lay flat on her back. She tried to sit up, but he held her down.

“Don’t get up just yet. You fainted.” Doug sounded frightened, even though he knew it wasn’t anything serious. They’d been through this many times.

She closed her eyes and laid her arm over her forehead. “How long was I out?”

“Just a few minutes. You’re lucky you didn’t knock your head on the desk.”

After she lay still for a couple of minutes, Doug helped her stand upright and sit in the chair. Jordan rolled her eyes and felt heat rise to her cheeks. The fainting episodes were embarrassing and always made her feel like such a wimp. It was the only thing in her life she couldn’t control.

“These spells seem to be happening more often,” Doug said.

“I’m fine. So, where was I?” Jordan asked, wanting to change the subject.

“You were talking about seeing your dad again. Ten years is a long time. Maybe he’s had a change of heart.”

“You don’t know my father. He isn’t the forgiving type. God, I can’t go back to Monarch. I just can’t. And live there for two months?”

“I’ll support whatever decision you make. We’ve made a success of SOS without your grandmother’s money. We don’t need it.”

Jordan gaped at Doug. “It’s two million dollars. Do you have any idea what we could do with that much money?”

“Don’t remind me.” Doug sighed and gazed out the window as Jordan rested her forehead on the desk.

“You never did tell me what happened with your father. All you said was that he threw you out so you went to live with your mom in New York.”

Jordan groaned loudly. She lifted her head and looked at Doug, who was staring directly at her. It wasn’t that Jordan didn’t want Doug to know the whole sordid story. If anyone would understand it’d be him. She just didn’t want to relive the memory. The compassionate look on his face, though, urged her on.

“It was a few days before New Year’s Eve,” she said. “I was a senior in high school, about to graduate in four months and excited about going to college. I came home one day to a very angry father and stepmother sitting at the kitchen table…with my journals.”

“They read your diaries?”

“Oh yeah. All five years’ worth.”

“So what’d you write?”

“They were mostly filled with feelings and fantasies about my best friend.”

“Who I take was a girl?”

“Most definitely. I had a huge crush on her.” Jordan ran her fingers through her hair. “Well, actually, it was more than that. She was my first love.” And last.

“Seriously? You were in love?” Doug pointed at Jordan in disbelief.

“Geez, you make me sound like some sort of robot incapable of having a human emotion.”

“Sorry. I’m just surprised you never mentioned her before. So, your dad freaked over you being gay? Is that when he threw you out?”

“He said I was a disgrace to the family, that he never wanted to see me again, and that I was going to hell. He tracked my mom down in New York and shipped me to her a few days later. I got my GED, took a few business classes at community college, and that’s where you and I met.” Jordan’s stomach clenched and a hard lump formed in her throat. Damn. This shouldn’t still be so hard.

“Bastard. How could he do that to his own child?”

“I wasn’t a boy.”

“What?”

“My father always wanted a son. He made that fact clear from the moment I was born. He’d have badgered my mom into getting pregnant again, but she was too wrapped up in her career. I always wondered if he would have reacted the same way if I were his son.”

“I’m so sorry. What did that girl say when you left?”

“I couldn’t tell her about any of that,” Jordan said, shaking her head. “She was totally straight, dating the star quarterback, no less. I was ashamed, and more than anything, I didn’t want her to hate me. So I took the coward’s way out and disappeared without an explanation. I didn’t think she’d understand.”

“So she didn’t know you were in love with her? And you haven’t seen or talked to her in all these years?”

“Nope. Not a word. Aside from the fact that I thought she’d hate me, I couldn’t be friends with her anymore. It’d become too painful to be in love and not be able to act on my feelings. Unrequited love sucks.” Jordan’s shoulders slumped as she inhaled a shaky breath. She felt empty inside, like a hollowed-out log, as memories of that time flooded back.

“Huh. I’ve never heard you use the L-word before. That’s so sad. Are you still in love with her?”

Jordan shot her gaze upward to Doug. “No! Of course not.” That came out a little stronger than Jordan had intended, so she softened her tone. “We were teenagers. And like I said, it was a long time ago. No one could stay in love with someone for a decade when they’re not even together.”

They couldn’t, right? Admittedly, Jordan had compared every woman she’d dated to Sophie, and no one came remotely close to the Disney Princess, but she couldn’t still be in love with her.

“Is that part of the reason you don’t want to go back? You’re afraid of running into her again?”

“I doubt she lives in Monarch. She’s probably married with two point five kids and living in Utah. That’s where we were planning to go to college.”

“If she is there, would you tell her the truth? I mean, would you tell her you were in love with her?”

Jordan shook her head. “No. What would be the point? It’d just make us both uncomfortable.”

“What was her name?”

“Sophie. Her name was Sophie.”