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After the Climb: A River Rain Novel
by Kristen Ashley

Published: 2022-01-14T00:0
Paperback : 430 pages
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The beginning of the binge-worthy, powerful, and heart-tugging saga from NYT bestseller Kristen Ashley.

They were the Three Amigos: Duncan Holloway, Imogen Swan and Corey Szabo. Two young boys with difficult lives at home banding together with a cool girl who didn’t mind mucking ...

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Introduction

The beginning of the binge-worthy, powerful, and heart-tugging saga from NYT bestseller Kristen Ashley.

They were the Three Amigos: Duncan Holloway, Imogen Swan and Corey Szabo. Two young boys with difficult lives at home banding together with a cool girl who didn’t mind mucking through the mud on their hikes.

They grew up to be Duncan Holloway, activist, CEO and face of the popular River Rain outdoor stores, Imogen Swan, award-winning actress and America’s sweetheart, and Corey Szabo, ruthless tech billionaire.

Rich and very famous, they would learn the devastating knowledge of how the selfish acts of one would affect all their lives.

And the lives of those they loved.

Start the River Rain series with After the Climb, the story of Duncan and Imogen navigating their way back to each other, decades after a fierce betrayal.

And introduce yourself to their families, who will have their stories told when River Rain continues.

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Excerpt

Prologue

The Meet

Corey

Forty-four years ago…

He stood beside Duncan and watched her go.

And as he watched her flounce away, all mad because Duncan was being a jerk, he knew he could watch her forever.

But she was walking away. They didn’t have forever. He knew that because, even though she was way down the creek before she made that turn into the woods, it seemed like it was all of a sudden that she was gone.

That was when he looked to his side and up, at Duncan.

Yeah, up.

Because Duncan was taller than him.

It wasn’t just being tall.

Duncan was a lot more “ers” than him.

And when Corey’s eyes got to Duncan’s head, he saw his best friend was still staring at the spot where she last was, like she was still there.

And Dun’s face was all weird.

Corey knew that weird.

He felt that weird.

Deep in his chest.

Like it’d been there all his life, even if he’d never felt it before.

It was a good weird.

Corey didn’t get it, but maybe it was the best weird ever.

No.

Duncan couldn’t feel that same thing.

Not for her.

Not for her.

“Why’d you have to do that?” Corey grumbled.

Dun didn’t even look at him when he replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

He didn’t have to say it twice.

Why did he say it twice?

And why did he keep watching that place where she’d gone?

“She’s just a girl,” Corey muttered.

That was when Duncan finally looked at him.

And he knew.

They both knew.

Imogen wasn’t just a girl.

And she never would be.

Chapter One

The Box

Imogen

My head came up when the Rolls made a turn and the road got bumpy.

We’d been following a mountain path for so long, the twists and turns, I’d been lulled. We were at least a half an hour, maybe longer, from the center of town.

Truth be told, to keep my mind from this upcoming meeting, I wished I didn’t get car sick when I focused on something while riding in a vehicle. I’d have been all over marathon texting one of my kids. Getting caught up on Insta. Playing that game I downloaded which I seemed to be able to get lost in for hours.

Hell, just last week, before I found out what had happened with Corey, my phone had warned I was at 10%. I’d looked at the time and it was two in the morning. I’d started playing when it was 8:30.

But then life changed.

I got the call.

Corey had killed himself.

Then I got other calls.

From my agent.

My publicist.

I needed to make a statement.

Corey Szabo, self-made tech billionaire behind Corza computers had committed suicide.

Corey.

Corey.

And, of course, being one of his dearest long-time friends, Imogen Swan, America’s sweetheart, had to have something public to say about it.

What to say about my beloved Corey?

My childhood friend.

The boy, and then man, who’d been in my life the longest.

There weren’t enough words in all the languages of the world to share how shattered I was that he’d taken his own life.

I closed my eyes tight, before I opened them and stared out the window at the thick trees we were (very slowly on this gravel road) passing.

Because this would be what Corey would do.

What was happening right now.

Me, on my way to visit Bowie.

Bowie hadn’t come to the funeral. I had no idea why. And I thought the worse of him for it.

Then again, it didn’t take much for me to think the worst of Bowie.

In grade school, all through high school, they’d been the best of friends.

Duncan “Bowie” Holloway and Corey “The Stick” Szabo.

The jock and the nerd.

Impossible.

But there you are.

Then, when Bowie got shot of me, he got shot of Corey.

I had no idea why.

On both counts.

Though, Bowie had told me, rather explicitly, if completely, tortuously and heartbreakingly erroneously, why he was done with me.

Therefore, it was only for Corey’s sake I would be in the back of that car right now, heading to Bowie’s house.

I knew he lived in Arizona, like I did.

I knew this because somehow, the fates had made him impossible to avoid.

Like Corey.

And me.

Knowing Duncan was that close, it had honest to God been the only reason why I hesitated moving my family from LA to Phoenix.

But he didn’t live in Phoenix.

And I was done with the industry, the traffic, the mudslides and fires, and it bears repeating, the industry, but I did not want cold, snow or the possibility of days filled with fighting what humidity did to my hair.

I’d talked Tom into it.

Then we moved to Phoenix.

Suddenly, the landscape opened up, and I wasn’t the only one in the car that gasped. Rodney, my driver did too.

Good Lord.

Was that…?

I clenched my teeth as my heart squeezed.

This would be what Duncan would pick if he had the money.

And he had the money.

So there he was.

That lake.

God.

And that house.

Sheer sprawling, rustic, monied perfection.

Even with the lake surrounded by the trees and mountains being such a breathtaking vision, I couldn’t take my eyes off the house as the Rolls rounded the graveled drive and came to a stop at the bottom of the steps that led to the carved-wood front door.

Wrap-around porch. Pine-green tin roof. Log cabin style. Multiple stone chimneys.

Outbuildings, several of them.

It was like I drove two hours out of Phoenix and found myself on the set of the Yellowstone series.

But with better scenery.

As Rodney got out, my stomach pitched, not with nerves, but with fury.

Why did Corey, as one of his last wishes, decide to put me through this?

Seriously.

I pushed open my own door and folded out, just as Rodney got to my side.

“Can you get the box, do you mind?” I asked him.

“Of course, Ms. Swan.”

I nodded. Smiled.

And braced.

I looked up the steps.

As the years passed, I tried not to pay attention. He wasn’t like Corey. Me. You couldn’t escape Corey or me.

But he looked how he looked. And he did what he did.

Therefore, he was in the public eye and he got photographed.

And I figured he lived up here in the middle of nowhere to do what he could to avoid it.

Duncan “Bowie” William Holloway, founder and CEO of River Rain Outdoor stores. Where you go for your every outdoor need.

Duncan William Holloway, ardent environmentalist, giving and raising millions to save any and every species, our wetlands, our rain forests, anything from fracking. You name it, he was on the front lines to save it.

Bowie was and always would, in some way, be the hero.

Except to me.

And there he was, standing at the top of the steps, wearing jeans. A lighter-colored denim shirt. A down vest over it.

Dark hair too long, messy.

Legs long and shoulders broad.

Features that were a jumble of perfect and imperfect, making them extraordinary.

Hawk nose.

Perfectly angled cheekbones.

Small eyes, but they were hooded.

Square jaw, almost always covered in stubble or a beard.

Like now.

A beard.

He seemed bigger than before.

Younger, he’d had the long, lithe, muscled body of a linebacker.

Now, he looked like a heavyweight boxer.

But of course.

Of course Duncan would only get better.

There was a woman beside him. Diminutive. Casual dress. Older than him.

She was practically wringing her hands as she stared down at me.

By the look of her, the age of her, she was a Rita’s Way fan.

Maybe All Roads Lead Here.

But more likely a fan of Imogen Swan, the actor who played Bonnie in the insanely popular, award-winning, critically acclaimed television series Rita’s Way.

If they didn’t have the Rachel cut, back in the day, they had the Bonnie.

In that show, my love interest Devon and I were both the standouts. And fortunately, the veteran actors were cool about it.

Devon and Bonnie, finding their way through young love, committed to each other through thick and thin. The thin being Bonnie coming up pregnant, so they discussed it, at politically correct length, with a good deal of angst, and in the end, decided to keep the baby and get married. More thin when young Devon fought cancer.

Poor Bonnie and Devon didn’t have a lot of thick. They lived mostly through thin.

And the American people (and eventually those around the world) rooted for them the entire way.

Nine seasons.

We should have stopped at seven.

But by the end, the residuals meant my children’s children were not going to have to worry about anything monetary.

So there was that.

I looked from the woman back to Bowie.

He was staring down at me, hands on hips, face registering no emotion.

Not surprising, it had been a long time since he blew us apart.

Sadly, I could not say I felt no emotion being there, seeing his home, him.

Fortunately, I was an award-winning actress, so I was pretty certain I was hiding it.

Rodney returned to my side, holding the heavy box that Corey’s lawyers had been instructed to give to me. It was sealed. And it was not meant to be opened unless both myself and Bowie were present.

Only Bowie and myself.

I’d had my assistant Mary make the arrangements. I had no idea if he’d balked and had to be talked around.

I just knew I was now right there.

Rodney and I walked up the steps.

“Duncan.”

“Imogen.”

Well then.

Right away, I knew.

All these years, and he could still cut me.

Even just that took a slice.

He never called me Imogen.

Gen.

Genny.

Beautiful, gorgeous, babe, baby, darlin’, sweetheart…

Love of my life.

Never Imogen.

“Before Bettina loses her mind,” he went on and shifted slightly, taking a hand from a hip to indicate the woman beside him. “This is Bettina. She takes care of the place.” Hesitation. “And she’s a big fan.”

It wasn’t snide, that last bit.

Not overtly.

It was still mocking.

It said Bettina was a big fan, but he was absolutely not.

I turned to the woman and offered my hand. “Bettina. Lovely to meet you.”

She took it, that familiar light shining in her gaze. Excitement. Open indication that in shaking the hand of a perfectly normal individual, she could not believe her luck.

“Sad circumstances,” she said, her voice trembling, probably with nerves. “But it truly is an honor to meet you.”

“That’s very sweet,” I replied.

“Let’s get this done,” Duncan grunted. “Is that it?”

I released Bettina’s hand and looked to him just in time to see him jerk his head to the box Rodney was carrying.

“Yes,” I replied.

Duncan moved to take it from him, but Rodney turned away.

“I got it,” Rodney said.

Duncan looked to me. “It’s my understanding this nonsense is supposed to be done, just you and me.”

“Rodney, you can give him the box,” I said to my driver.

“Ms. Swan,” he demurred.

Somewhat surprised, I took a second to study him.

He didn’t like Duncan.

Something about that made me ridiculously happy.

“I’m fine,” I assured.

I didn’t have a full-time driver. The days where I could go nowhere without people doing everything from fawning to accosting me were long gone. Over the past seven years I’d lived in Phoenix, I’d even done my grocery shopping repeatedly without being recognized.

It was like a liberation.

Rodney was one of two the agency sent when I ordered a driver, but he was the one I had most often.

I didn’t know if it was just because I was nice or because he admitted his mother was a big fan, and I didn’t share it with him, but I went to visit her in her nursing home, though it was clear his mother had told him I’d popped around.

Whatever it was.

He took care of me.

Right now, he was taking care of me by handing over the biggish, and definitely heavy box to Duncan, but obviously not liking it.

“We’ll do this in my office,” Duncan decreed.

The man was then on the move.

I followed him.

Duncan didn’t hesitate to share even further that he wanted this done. He did this by walking very quickly.

And I didn’t want to admit (but I did), that I found this disappointing.

Mostly because, upon entering his home, I wanted to stop and take it in.

Instead, I sensed vastness…and lots and lots of wood as I scurried on my heels behind him.

It wasn’t lost on me that I could drive myself and I owned a considerable array of casualwear.

So I didn’t need Rodney.

And I didn’t need to wear these winter-white silk gabardine slacks with the long-neck, soft-taupe, slouchy, lightweight sweater with interesting ribbing and (one of my pairs of) Prada slingbacks.

But there I was, putting on a show for Duncan Holloway.

Apparently, old habits did die hard.

He entered a room and I trailed him in.

But he stopped, and holding the relatively heavy and unwieldy box one-armed, once I was fully inside, he threw the door to.

This made me uncomfortable.

There was no reason the door needed to be closed. It wasn’t like Rodney followed us like a guard dog.

I was left with no opportunity to question this.

Duncan was heading to his desk.

However, this offered the opportunity to at least look around his office.

I saw instantly it was heavily decorated in the motif of “I have a penis!” with not very subtle nuances of “I could survive Naked and Afraid for an entire season, no sweat. And I wouldn’t even need a match or a knife.”

I considered that perhaps I was being unkind in this assessment.

Bottom line, the office was very Bowie.

It was very much what I would have expected from the man who grew from the boy who took Corey and me on long hikes as often as he could, no matter how much Corey complained about mosquitos biting him or his feet hurting. The boy who could name the wildflowers or sense a deer even before the deer sensed us. The boy who forewent birthday parties in a deal with his folks so they’d take him and his two besties horseback riding instead.

But the gods’ honest truth was that it was also very much the office of the man who accused me of cheating on him, refused to listen to my denials, told me he had it on “good authority,” even though he would not share who that authority was no matter how much I begged.

Because, “Genny, you know.”

I did not know.

And oh, how I’d begged to know.

Groveled.

Completely humiliated myself in an effort to get him to just listen to me.

However, whoever it was, Duncan trusted them more than me. Because he walked out of our apartment, and thus my life, breaking more than my heart. He broke my soul, my innocence, and my stalwart dedication to my view of the world through love-hazed, sex-hazed, I’ve got this, whatever it is, whatever may come, because I’ve got this man glasses.

I never saw him again.

Until now.

When he left me, he didn’t just avoid me and change his number.

He moved to Utah and disappeared for a while, emerging as the CEO of an up-and-coming outdoor store where all the cool kids wanted to get their camping, climbing and kayaking gear.

It had taken me years to get over him.

Years.

It took less time to become a mega-star in Hollywood than it took to get over Bowie Holloway.

But it wasn’t like I didn’t have forewarning.

He’d scraped me off in high school too.

It had started his glorious senior year, when I was a sophomore, and he’d come clean after all our years of friendship that he was into me.

And I had told him what had been burning in my heart what seemed like forever.

That I felt the same.

And then it was us.

Us. Us. Us.

My every thought. Both of our every moments. Even apart. It was us.

And that summer after he graduated, I knew he was the man I’d marry. I didn’t mind one bit I found him so early. I was all the way down with him being my one and only until the day I died.

As such, I’d given him my virginity and he’d treated accepting it like it was the greatest gift God had ever created.

That was a memory, even with all that had come in between, that I still treasured. Every girl should have that experience. And in all that had happened between Duncan and me, there was no taking away that he’d given it to me.

Then he’d dumped me the day before school started my junior year.

He’d gone then too, but just to move to the city in order to continue his promising career of being a mover.

And right then, as I watched him commandeer a letter opener, raring to get this done, I remembered other things too.

That he wasn’t as confident and cocksure as everyone thought he was. Those good looks. That body. His prowess on the gridiron. Everyone knew Bowie Holloway was the guy. Popular. He could get any girl he wanted (and this was true). He could best any challenge (this was not true).

They all bought into the ideal.

Except Bowie.

I remembered, too, that there was a reason he and Corey got along so well.

Because under that hot guy exterior was a nature nerd, but the relationship Bowie had with his father meant he had to keep that buried way down deep.

I also remembered that the first time his father made him kill a deer, and gut it, earning the nickname “Bowie,” he’d come to my house that night. He’d climbed through my window and cried in my ten-year-old arms his twelve-year-old tears, declaring he was never going to do that again, “Even if Dad hates me.”

He didn’t do it again.

And his father grew to hate him.

I had wondered, and as I ended up being his girl, twice, but I was his friend what seemed like forever, so I did not hesitate to ask why he’d kept the name Bowie.

“To remember…never again,” was his answer.

It was implacable.

He could be an intensely stubborn kid.

And I’d lived the nightmare of him being that same kind of man.

But there was more to him that I had not allowed myself to remember, until now, as I watched him standing behind his large, handsome, masculine desk, slitting open that box that he’d set smack in the center.

This was what sent me to stand opposite it, and say, “You look well.”

His head came up. His hazel eyes locked on me.

And his mouth moved.

“Let’s not.”

Well then.

“Of course,” I murmured.

“I don’t know what Corey was thinking,” Duncan stated. “And as usual, I have no goddamned clue what’s goin’ on in your fuckin’ head,” he continued. “But for the kid I knew who was my brother, I’m doing this. With you.”

He would obviously not know what was going on in my head because he didn’t ask, and if I spoke anyway, he wouldn’t listen.

I did not get into that.

I was right then just as keen to get this done. See what was in that box. And get the hell out of there.

I nodded.

Duncan slit open the box.

I took a step closer to the desk.

He folded open the flaps.

I leaned, peering in.

And I did not understand what I was seeing.

It looked to be filled with reams of paper, computer printed, and there was one lone #10 envelope on top, sealed, with something handwritten on the front.

Though as my eyes processed what I was seeing, I could make out what the papers said.

And my blood ran cold.

Over and over…

And over and over…

I’m sorry.

Three tall stacks, side by side, the box filled, the top pages all covered in the same thing.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Duncan’s large, veined hand reached in, nabbed the envelope and then shifted some papers aside, exposing the same underneath.

If it was all like that, it was thousands and thousands of I’m sorry.

“This says…”

My eyes darted up to Duncan, who was reading from the envelope.

His voice was quieter.

And I was very aware that I was incredibly disturbed by the literal thousands of apologies when I had no idea what Corey would need to apologize for—to Duncan and me—and I did not think that was a joke.

I still saw that Duncan had lost some of the color under his healthy outdoors-man tan.

“…I’m supposed to read this out loud with you here,” he carried on. He looked to me. “I’m not allowed to read it myself. He says he wants us to hear it first at the same time.”

“Duncan—” I could not hide the disquiet in my voice.

“Let me just read it, Genny,” he whispered.

There he was.

There was my Duncan.

My Bowie.

Mine.

Mineminemineminemine.

I couldn’t stop my head ticking, which made his eyes narrow in concern he didn’t hide, before I again nodded.

He didn’t hesitate to slit the envelope open. Pull out the tri-folded letter that was on such fine-quality stock, I could see it without feeling it.

Duncan unfolded it, and through a dead man’s hand, delivered a blow neither of us was prepared to absorb and neither of us would recover from.

Ever.

“Dun and Genny, I can’t say it enough. I’m sorry. It was me. And it was me because I loved you, Genny. God, you never figured it out. I thought I was so obvious. But you never figured it out. And you picked him.”

“What?” I asked softly.

Duncan didn’t even look at me.

“So I told him. I told you, Dun. I told you Genny and I slept together. And I told you because I knew you’d believe me. And I loved Genny so much, I was willing to sacrifice you to have her. So I lied and told you we’d had sex.”

The chill of shock slid over my skin, forcing me to take a wooden step away from the desk.

“And I was married. God, what a fuckup. I did it to myself, giving up on Genny and marrying Samantha. Of course, both of you would come to my wedding. Of course, both of you would remember how into each other you were. And of course, you would hook up and be inseparable again. I couldn’t even get either of you on the phone because, if you weren’t working or sleeping, you were fucking. And every day it kept going on, turning to weeks, months, an entire year. It was torture. It made me crazy. I had to make it stop.”

I was trembling.

Duncan stopped reading, I knew he did when he said gently, “While I finish this, why don’t you come over here?”

I tore my eyes from the letter in his hand and looked to him.

I should have kept them on that despicable, foul, hideous letter.

Because Duncan looked ravaged.

Not pale.

Not stunned.

Not angry.

Destroyed.

I knew why.

His best friend had betrayed him.

Not in the way he thought. In a much more selfish, vicious way.

And he’d done that by convincing him that the woman he’d loved had done the same.

Corey was that good authority.

I got it then. I understood.

I even understood why he didn’t tell me who told him.

He didn’t think he had to.

But he’d believed Corey beyond doubt.

Because there was one person on this earth at that time that Duncan would trust more than me, even if that person was betraying him at the same time, something that would never in a million years occur to him.

Corey.

“Just get it done,” I said.

“Genny—”

“Just read the damned letter, Duncan,” I snapped.

It took a moment, and I knew why.

Duncan despised his father and all he stood for.

But he could not escape his blood, and in having Burt Holloway’s blood, he did not like to be told what to do.

And he did not like it when he was denied something he wanted.

In this instance, he beat that back and returned his attention to the letter.

“I told Sam the same thing so she’d leave me, and she did. I had no idea she was pregnant.”

And that explained that.

Goddamned Corey.

At the end of them, Sam had cooled to me, significantly.

It hurt, because I had no idea why she suddenly disliked me so much, outside the fact their marriage was ending, I was Corey’s friend, her not-even-two-year-old-marriage was over, and she was carrying a baby.

We hadn’t been close, but we’d liked each other and were becoming friends.

And she’d never let that go. Not in all these years. Not even after her son became a part of our family so we could take care of him when Corey didn’t.

Now I knew why.

“But that was the end. She didn’t forgive me, and Dun, you didn’t forgive Genny, and I got part of my way, you two were over. But then Gen, you moved to LA, and Duncan, you went to Utah, and all I managed to do was make certain no one had what they wanted.”

He certainly did that.

“I knew, way back then, I should say something. I knew way back then, I should come clean. I should tell you, Dun. Or you, Genny. Make it right, at least between the two of you. But I didn’t have the guts. I told myself I was working up to it, but—”

“You can stop now,” I interrupted. “I don’t really care to hear Corey explain why he betrayed the both of us, and his pregnant wife, in order to have something it was not his to have.”

Duncan tossed the paper to his desk and looked across it, into my eyes.

It was very bad form, and moot at this point, not to mention childish, to tell him I told you so.

Therefore, I refrained.

It wouldn’t matter.

He knew it. I could read it on his face. In fact, it was written on every inch of him.

But that was not my problem.

“Well, there you go,” I stated. “Corey proving indisputably that Corey was what the media alluded to repeatedly. Socially awkward. Single-minded. Driven to extremes. And willing to do absolutely anything, walk over people, tear them down, annihilate them, to get what he wanted.”

It was just, I never believed that.

That wasn’t my Corey.

I was very wrong.

Duncan had no response.

At least not verbally.

But Duncan was not a man of limited emotion and he fought hard not to be like his father. A man who hid the fact he was the same because having emotions was not what a real man had.

And now, Duncan was processing.

He did this by reaching into the box and taking a sheaf of the papers out. He sifted through the I’m sorrys. Then he tossed them on the desk beyond the box.

Out came more papers, which Duncan inspected while I watched.

And again, he tossed them, most of these sliding to the floor at my feet.

There were many things I had loved about this man beyond reason.

One of them was what I was witnessing now.

It might seem weird, but I’d thought it was incredibly mature, especially back then, when we were so very young.

Because Duncan had a temper. It was explosive. He let it loose, and if you were not used to it, it would be terrifying.

But he knew enough about himself to do it. Even in his early twenties. Enough to know those feelings had to be let go and he had to control them to the point he didn’t hurt anyone or himself.

But that was all the control he wielded.

Best of this, it was then done. He flamed bright and searing.

Then he flamed out.

And this was going to happen now.

“Du—” I began.

Too late.

The box was up, and with a powerful heave, it flew across the room, hitting a winged-back chair. The box tipped, the apologies flooding the seat of the chair and the floor, the box wedging itself between the arms.

I did not move through this maneuver, or after.

He then turned burning eyes to me.

“You told me,” he said softly.

“I—”

“You fucking told me!” he roared.

Yes, his temper was terrifying.

Though I knew him, even though the years had been long since I’d witnessed it, so I was not terrified.

I remained silent.

“I didn’t believe you,” he stated. “I didn’t believe you because he told me. He told me the two of you got drunk, and you fucked him. Because you weren’t sure of the future I could give you. But you were sure of him.”

Well, hell.

Apparently, Corey was socially aware enough, or humanly aware enough, to know just how to dig right into those soft, vulnerable spots.

And then shove the blade deeper.

Because even then, Duncan was a mover.

By that time, he was foreman of a crew, but he was “only” a mover.

But Corey had been hired out of college on a six-figure salary, was on a rocket trajectory, and even at the time, I thought it was strange (not to mention, it annoyed the hell out of me), not just more of Corey’s overcompensating and lack of confidence, how much he didn’t let Duncan forget it.

Though, perhaps what Corey didn’t know was that Duncan already wasn’t ever going to forget it.

Or perhaps he knew that all too well.

“And you were. You were so sure of him,” Duncan continued. “So proud of him. ‘Corey’s gonna rule the world someday, wait and see.’”

My words of yore coming back to me in this instant made me feel nauseous.

“He was remorseful,” Duncan informed me. “He told me he’d understand if I never forgave him. It was a moment of weakness. You were beautiful and he thought the world of you and admitted he had a crush on you and the booze made him stupid. He’d take that hit, of losing me. But I had to forgive you.”

Which, of course, would lead a man to think, Yeah, he was drunk, it’s a guy thing. I get losing control. But her? She’s a slut out for the best thing she can get.

Not to mention the reverse psychology.

Boy, Corey had this down.

At age twenty-six.

However, this water was so far under the bridge, it had evaporated, rained down, flowed back under that bridge, and repeat.

Therefore, it was no matter.

“There’s no point going over this,” I declared. “What’s done is done. Corey’s dying gift was a one final fuck you. However, I’m taking it as finally having the understanding he was who he was and the relief that my grief at losing a lifelong friend will not last as long as I thought.”

“No point?” Duncan asked.

“Sorry?”

“No point going over this?”

“Well…no.”

“You were the love of my life.”

My stomach folded in on itself so powerfully, I thought I would vomit.

“And you were that from the minute I met you when you were eight,” he carried on. “I knew it when I threw that frog at you and you marched up to me, shoved me and said, ‘Gentlemen don’t throw frogs. You’ll hurt the frog.’”

God, I remembered that.

And I also remembered how disappointed I was he threw that frog, because he was so cute, but he was also clearly a jerk.

It didn’t take him long to reverse that opinion.

“It was little kid love, but it never died,” he finished.

“Yes, it did,” I pointed out.

He flinched.

My heart hurt.

Time to go.

“I’m sorry I pressed this. I should have just opened the box without subjecting you to—”

My preamble to my departure was interrupted by Duncan.

“You wouldn’t want me to know? You wouldn’t want me to know that you didn’t cheat on me with my best friend?”

“It hardly matters now. You haven’t seen Corey or me in over two decades.”

“It hardly matters?”

“Yes.”

“You ride around in that Rolls everywhere, Genny?”

Damn.

I forgot.

I knew Duncan.

And Duncan knew me.

Duncan didn’t let up.

“Hollywood’s down-to-earth female Tom Hanks throws on some heels and folds into a Rolls to take a two-hour trip up to a mountain house in the middle of nowhere?”

His tone was dripping disbelief.

“I think we’re done here. Goodbye again, Duncan.”

And with that, I turned on my Prada kitten heel (when normally, for the most part, I went barefoot, and if I needed to put on shoes, they were slides or T-strap flat sandals, and yes, the slides were Valentino and the T-straps were Chanel, but neither were Prada slingbacked kitten heels), and I started to the door.

I stopped when Duncan cut around me and barred it with his big body.

“We’re not done,” he declared.

“We’re very much done,” I stated.

“Genny, we need to talk this out.”

“What is there to talk out?”

His head jerked, violently, and angry lines formed between his brows.

And his answer was, “Everything.”

“Everything what, Duncan? Seriously, what? There is nothing to salvage from this. You’ve been out of my life more than half the time I’ve been living it. And if Corey has not just demonstrated to you that he is not worthy of your time or emotion, he has to me.”

“I fucked up.”

“Yes, you did, twenty-eight years ago.”

“And we need to talk that out.”

“I disagree.”

“Gen, you’re single. And I’m single.”

He had to be joking.

I felt my eyes grow wide. “Are you mad?”

“If you mean angry, fuck yes. Blind with it at Corey and me for fucking up so colossally.”

“I didn’t mean angry, I meant crazy,” I explained.

“Then I’m not that. I’m very sane and I’m very serious.” He took a step toward me. “And you know it.”

“I actually think you’re crazy,” I contradicted.

“You couldn’t get enough of me,” he declared suddenly.

It took all my talent, of which many were convinced I had a great deal, to force nonchalance.

I waved my hand between us. “I was twenty-four years old and—”

“I’m the love of your life too,” he bit out.

“You were then, Duncan, but my life went on without you at your choice.”

“I had no reason not to believe him.”

Oh no.

I shook my head. “We’re not doing this.”

I tried to step around him.

He stepped in front of me.

I snapped my head back. “Let me out of this room, Duncan.”

“It destroyed me, walking away from you.”

I threw my arms wide. “And yet here you stand, healthy, living your dream.”

“Yeah, you’d know about my dream, Genny, wouldn’t you?”

Goddamn it.

But he wasn’t finished.

“And here you stand, tricked out, showing at my cabin in a Rolls.”

“This isn’t a cabin, Duncan, how many square feet are in this house?”

“Six thousand.”

Oh my God.

Was this the stupidest conversation in history?

“Seriously?” I asked.

“He wanted this, Genny.” He jabbed a finger at the chair with the box and flood of paper on the floor. “Those apologies mean dick. That is not his final message for us. What he really wanted was you standing in a room with me, knowing what would happen if we did.”

“Nothing’s going to happen, Duncan.”

“Nothing never happens between us, Genny.”

This was frighteningly true.

And thus, I was at my end.

I changed tactics.

“I cannot describe how little I care that Corey maneuvered this nearly thirty years down the line,” I shared. “He doesn’t get to explain away tearing the man I loved from me with the proverbial thousand apologies and the lame excuse of, ‘I didn’t have the guts to right my wrong.’ He’s not fifteen anymore where we covered his awkwardness for him, and he wasn’t fifteen back then when he drove us apart.”

“Gen—”

“I’m not done,” I clipped.

Duncan closed his mouth.

“And I’m not going to stand here and listen to you try to explain why you didn’t believe me.”

“It was Corey.”

I touched my hand to my chest. “And I was me.”

That again shut his mouth.

“We can’t go back, and not only because I don’t wish to go back, because we can’t. I have a life, a career, and three children—”

“All grown and no man.”

“After what you put me through, and what Tom put me through, do you think I want a man?”

There was a subtle but distinct rumble to his, “What’d that guy put you through?”

And again, there was my Bowie.

Protective, almost to a fault.

I shouldn’t have brought Tom into it.

I shook my head. “It’s none of your business.”

“Genny, for Christ’s sake—”

“It really turns on a dime like that for you?” I demanded.

“It never turned the other way,” he shot back.

Oh my God.

I felt those words through every cell in my body.

And so, I had to do it. I had to pull her up.

Bonnie.

Sweet and kind and funny.

But more importantly, strong and smart and able.

“Well, I’m very sorry, Duncan,” I said quietly. “Truly, I am. But it did for me. And there’s no turning back.”

We stood there, staring at each other.

And it was with no small measure of pain that I took him in, knowing the last time I saw him in person he was twenty-six and glorious.

And now he was fifty-four and no less glorious. Silver in his hair. Also his beard. Lines on his forehead, around his eyes. And maybe part of that heft he had was some weight in his middle, because Duncan was always active, but he loved his food.

And oh, how much I would have treasured being beside him along the way to see him become the man who stood before me.

But that was gone.

Corey took it away.

And Duncan let him.

Yes, most importantly, Duncan had let him.

And that was the Duncan I had now.

Because he was going to do it again.

He stepped out of my way.

But this time, he allowed me to walk out of his life.

And that was what I did. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

These people live their lives under microscopes. How do you feel about the pressures the personal lives of famous people are put under? Do you think it’s part of the price of success? Or do you think the general public erroneously feels entitled to these areas of celebrities’ lives?

Many male actors have active careers, playing leading roles, deep into their 40s and 50s (and for actors like Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise, in their 80s and 60s). How did it feel when you read about Genny’s career stagnating simply because she’d reached a certain age—an age that is relatively young? Do you think this double-standard leaks into everyday life?

Statistics show that 81% of women report having experienced sexual harassment or assault in their lifetimes.* In this book, Genny ruminates on the #MeToo movement and how the responsibility quickly was twisted to the females, laying blame on them that they didn’t report incidences of sexual harassment and assault. Taking the risk in laying this blame, the possible fallout of that, and in some cases needing to be very public about it, even if their reputations and livelihoods lay in the balance.

How did you feel about the fact Genny expressed she carries some shame for not speaking up? How did you feel when she described how she was threatened with the casting couch, but it was Tom who came to the rescue? Do you feel it should have been Genny who dealt with that situation, even if it meant she might have been blacklisted and effectively her career would have been over?

It’s broadly hinted both Duncan and Corey had significantly dysfunctional upbringings, which produced the same (if still different) type of man: overachieving. As some insights into both men unfolded, did your thoughts turn to how these two chose to live their lives and how they went about making their fortunes?

What effect did Genny’s childhood, that was clearly loving and supportive, have on Genny? How she parents and lives her life? She, too, is highly successful. Did you feel her upbringing had any effect on the person she became and how she went about doing that?

Duncan being forced to hunt a deer altered the path of his life. It drove him to connect deeper with Genny. It informed the kind of father he’d become. And it formed the kernel of what would become his life’s mission. How did you feel when he was telling this story? Did you think, ultimately, it was worthwhile that he went through this trauma because it made him the man he’d become? Or did you feel he would become that man regardless?

Imogen and Duncan get their second chance after being brutally betrayed by someone they both trusted implicitly. After all the time they’ve missed together, what was your favorite part of their reconciliation?


*Source: National Sexual Violence Resource Center

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