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Kira Macgregor blinked, then swallowed. She fought the urge to say "nuh-uh," because Jake McKenna's voice--the voice of the man who'd been her best friend for twenty-eight years--held no trace of humor. Only one response was possible.
"I'll be right there."
She waited until she hung up the phone before she slid to the floor. She watched her hands, vibrating under the force of her reaction. She'd skipped right over shock and jumped feet-first into abject terror.
Suck it up, Macgregor. Jake needs you. She dragged herself upright and stared at the kitchen table, where she'd been going over her schedule. She wanted to race out the door, but practicality interfered for a moment. Not knowing how long she'd be gone, she had to settle things first.
It took her three hours to wrap up her last job and reschedule her work for the rest of the week and one hour to pack and close up her condo. Then she faced a two-hour drive home to Brook Hollow, Massachusetts. Six hours fighting the lump in her throat. Trying not to imagine what her life would be like without Jake McKenna in it.
She pulled into his driveway at midnight. His living room lights were on, and as soon as she got out of the 4Runner the porch light flashed and the front door opened. Jake stood in the doorway, silhouetted, looking larger than life and as healthy as ever. Kira choked back a sob. She pulled her bag from the back seat and shut the car door. The sound boomed in the small-town quiet. She started moving up the driveway, and by the time she reached the steps she was almost running. Jake met her at the topand she flung herself into his arms.
"Oh, Jake," she whispered, clinging to him. His arms trembled as they wrapped around her, and he pressed his face into her hair. They stood like that for several minutes, until Kira felt strong enough to face whatever he was going to tell her.
"What's happening?" she asked.
Jake shook his head. "Let's go inside. I need a drink."
Kira followed him into the living room and watched while he poured himself a rum and Coke and her a glass of spring water. He added lemon to hers, then joined her on the sofa.
"You know that mole on my back that's been there forever?"
Kira nodded. When she was three she'd thought it was chocolate and tried to bite it off.
"It changed over the last few months. I finally saw the doctor about it. He removed it and sent it for biopsy, but he's pretty sure it's melanoma."
Shock ran through Kira. Long before skin cancer was a general concern, they'd run around in the sun. Kira had burned several times every summer. Jake had burned once, then turned "brown as a berry," as her grandmother always said. He'd continued to tan every year, just from summer activities, but when his mother or Kira tried to get him to use sunscreen, he shrugged off their concerns. "The damage has been done," he always said. "I'm at risk whether I stay indoors three hundred and sixty-five days a year or spend it all outside. I'm not going to live my life paranoid about every little risk."
And now his life may be over.
"What does he mean he's pretty sure?" She let anger overcome her despair. "That's a damn careless thing to tell someone. When will the results be back?"
"And then what?"
Jake shrugged. "I don't know, Kira. We didn't discuss anything."
Her anger flamed higher, now at Jake for scaring her based on so little. "If you didn't discuss anything, why do you think you're dying?"
"It's melanoma. Melanoma is the most fatal of skin cancers." His tone was matter-of-fact, but his eyes reflected unreasonable fear. "I'm preparing for the worst."
Kira wasn't going to accept that. "That's stupid. Optimism is more important now."
He let one side of his mouth curve upward. "That's why you're here." He leaned back. "The doctor gave me some literature, and it's pretty grim. I just ... feel like it's too late."
"God," Kira whispered, seeing that in his face. He was ready to give up. She wouldn't let him. "How did you know the mole had changed? I rarely look at my back."
He looked embarrassed. "Uh, a woman I was dating saw it and said it looked weird." He changed the subject. "The test results will be back tomorrow," he said again. "We'll know for sure then."
Kira's mind raced, mentally rearranging her life to accommodate this sudden, horrific turn of events. She'd sworn to everyone who'd listen that once she left Brook Hollow, she'd never move back. But she hadn't considered this. There'd been a rumor that the schools were thinking about networking. Maybe she could submit a proposal. It would take several months, and she could be with Jake until--Her mind refused to go beyond "until."