Royal Games by T.K. Leigh



“Your turn, Nora. Where should you go on this divor-cation? Where should you begin the next chapter of your life?”

A gentle breeze brushes against my skin as I consider where to go to reboot my life. “Maybe Paris.” I scrape at the label on the champagne bottle.

Chloe scrunches up her nose. “Paris?”

“Why not? I’ve always wanted to go.”

Her eyes narrowed, she assesses my response, then shakes her head. “That doesn’t work for me.”

“Well, what does work for you?” I retort lightly.

“Route 66.”

Her answer nearly takes the breath from me, my chest constricting, a lump building in my throat. “Route 66?” I respond in a small voice.

“Yes, Nora.” Her tone drips with sympathy. I float my eyes to Izzy and Evie, both of them wearing the same reassuring smile. I get the feeling they’ve discussed this amongst themselves. “It’s what you need to move on.”

I briefly close my eyes. It doesn’t escape my notice that she doesn’t say it’s what I need to forget about Jeremy. She’s talking about finally moving on from my first love. Finally mourning everything I lost when I watched all our dreams go up in flames mere hours before we were supposed to move to California. We’d planned to drive Route 66 then. But we never got the opportunity.

“I don’t think I—”

“I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like for you.” Chloe places her hand over mine. “But you’ve pretended you’re okay long enough. You never allowed yourself to grieve him. Instead, you tried to fill the void Hunter’s absence left by finding someone to take his place, hoping meeting someone you could pretend to love would be enough.”

I want to argue, but I can’t. She’s not wrong. Once I made the decision to move to Manhattan mere months after losing everything, I’d downloaded a few dating apps. Not a single man I dated carried the same spark I experienced with Hunter, but at least I felt something. And something was better than the utter despair and misery that seemed to consume me.

Then I saw Jeremy’s profile. Everything about him reminded me of Hunter, from his deep-set eyes, to the square shape of his jaw, even his love of Mel Brooks movies. Maybe that’s why I clung onto Jeremy like I had. Maybe I so desperately wanted him to be Hunter that I’d been blind to everything else.

It’s been six years, but I still find myself imagining Hunter lying beside me. Still move my hand to my stomach where our baby once grew. Still haven’t made good on the promise I made to his mother to dispose of his remains. They still sit on the dresser in my apartment. Even during my marriage to Jeremy, Hunter was there. Hunter’s always been there.

“It won’t be an easy trip,” she continues when I don’t say anything. “But it’s something you need to do. Isn’t that what Hunter would have wanted? What would he say if he were here and saw how miserable you are?”

“I’m not that miserable,” I protest.

Chloe tilts her head. “You don’t look miserable. But inwardly, I know you’re falling apart. Even six years later.” She offers me a compassionate smile. “We repeat what we don’t repair, Nora. It’s time to repair yourself. You can’t start the next chapter if you’re still stuck in the last one. And you’ve been stuck in Hunter’s chapter for years now. It’s time you turn that page. For Hunter.”

I nod, peering into the distance. “For Hunter.”





Chapter Three





Nora


“Mother fudge of all that is crap!” I exclaim, clenching my jaw tightly when I see the name flash across the screen of my phone. The anger in my voice is jarring against the tranquil music playing in the background at the yoga studio where I work.

“If it’s a telemarketer, just ignore it,” Lindsay, the receptionist, says.

“It’s not.” I close my eyes and exhale deeply. “It’s my mother.”

She grimaces. She’s only worked here a few months, but in that time has learned all she needs to know about my rather tenuous relationship with my mother.

“I’m sorry.”

“No more than me,” I mutter under my breath.

This is the last thing I need today. Which is exactly why she called. She tends to reach out at the worst moments, if only to have a front-row seat to my misery. It’s like she gets off on watching people suffer. Which is an interesting notion, considering her line of work.