Gone Country Page 70

“No. My mind is made up.”

“You change your mind about everything, Sierra. So you have to give me more than, I hate Wyoming I want to go home.”

She glared at him.

“Really? I’m just supposed to drop everything and move back to Arizona because you want to?”

“You made me drop everything to move to Wyoming. How is this any different?”

“It’s a helluva lot different.” Do not remind her you’re the adult and you make the decisions. Take a different tack. “You want to tell me what happened to you in the last day? Because this change of heart or mind, or whatever, came completely out of left field.”

She vehemently shook her head. “If you think this is sudden then you haven’t been paying attention. But that’s not a surprise since most your time is spent with Rielle.”

“You’re really going there, Sierra? Making Rielle the root cause of your problem?”

Her cheeks colored with guilt. But that didn’t keep her from snapping back, “Rielle is the cause of this problem—your problem—you don’t want to leave Wyoming because of her, which is not my problem.”

His daughter had him there.

“Anyway I thought she was building a new house so she didn’t have to live with us.”

“Plans change. She’s living with us permanently.”

“And you didn’t even think to tell me about that? Great. Well, it doesn’t matter because I won’t stay here and you can’t make me.”

“What are you going to do? Drive to Scottsdale by yourself? You certainly can’t live there by yourself.”

“You’re forgetting Scottsdale isn’t my only option.”

His stomach pitched.

“Mom has been asking what my plan is for the summer.”

“Why is this the first I’ve heard of it?”

“Maybe because you only hear what you wanna hear,” she shot back.

Hadn’t Rielle accused him of the same thing? “I would’ve remembered that. What did your mother—”

“Are you going to move us back to Arizona or not?” she interrupted.

“I have to decide right now? Then fine. No. This is ridiculous, Sierra. Let’s just take a step back and discuss this rationally.”

“No. I haven’t seen my mom in almost six months. I miss her. I want to be with my mom. You don’t care about that at all. You hate her and you’re trying to keep me away from her.” She started to cry. “I don’t want to be here anymore. I hate it here.”

“Sierra. Don’t.”

“I can’t help it! If you don’t move us back to Arizona, I’m moving to France. And not just for the summer.”

His heart nearly stopped. “What? How did this go from you spending the summer in France to you living there for the entire school year?”

“Mom’s boyfriend is staying there two more years and he bought a house.”

“Your mom will be living in Paris two more years?”

Sierra nodded. “Do you think it’s fair that I’ll hardly get to see my mom at all in the next two years?”

“Moving was her choice,” Gavin pointed out.

“For a year. I know the custody agreement gets reviewed after my birthday. So if I tell Mom I want to live with her, you know she’ll fight to make that happen.”

And Ellen would win for all the reasons Sierra had just given him.

A profound sense of grief choked him. He managed to eke out, “Why are you doing this to me? To hurt me?” He swallowed. “Guess what, it’s working.”

“Dad, it doesn’t have to be like that. Let’s just go back to Arizona. Please.”

Gavin stared at his child; she was nearly unrecognizable in this state. Beyond stubborn. Almost wild with the need to get her own way. And she always did. He could see everything that he’d ever done for her wasn’t enough. It’d never be enough. In that instant he saw her resemblance to Ellen and it made him nauseous. But how much was his responsibility for letting her become this way?

“This discussion is far from over. And don’t think for a second you get to make this decision. I do. Don’t call your mother. I mean it. And I suggest you steer clear of me until I’ve had time to think this through.”

“But Dad—”

“I mean it, Sierra. You need to back off and leave me the hell alone.”

Thirty minutes in the shower did nothing to clear his head.

It wasn’t yet noon and he needed a stiff drink.

So he poured himself one.

How had he ever thought he’d escape this issue? If someone held a gun to his head and made him answer if Sierra was miserable here, his answer would be no. Living around his family had changed his life. All he’d had in Arizona was his business and his daughter. Looking ahead, in two years Sierra would be in college and he’d be alone. The daily parenting part of his life would be over. That thought had always scared him.

Now when he looked ahead to the future, he didn’t see emptiness. He saw Rielle.

He knew Rielle loved him. But how would that change if he walked away? If only for Sierra’s sake, if only for two years?

Rielle would feel like his second choice. That no matter what, he’d always put his daughter before her. She deserved better than that.

But how could he, in good conscience, send Sierra off to France? Two weeks with her mother in Arizona had put her right back on the edge of that destructive path. Sierra had taken full advantage of her mother’s need to prove that she was young, hip and cool.

If he returned to Arizona, he could monitor his daughter for the next two years. Make sure she was being responsible in all aspects of her life. Sierra could choose the college that best suited her, rather than having limited choices because she pissed away two years in another country.

Did he let his daughter go and let her make her own mistakes?

Vi popped into his head. Although she avoided calling his birth a mistake, it was. A mistake that changed the course of her young life.

Would he really have to choose between the stability of his daughter’s life and his life with Rielle?

Rielle’s arms came around him and he jumped.

“Sorry. I thought you heard me come in.”

“No.” He sipped his drink.

“You never came back outside.”

“Ran into a little problem with Sierra.” He grunted. “Scratch that. A huge fucking problem.”

“What’s going on?”

“When we moved here last year, in a moment of guilt, much like promising her a car, I told Sierra if she hated it, we’d return to Arizona.”

Rielle stiffened behind him. “You told her that?”

“Promised her that, actually.”

Her hold tightened on him. “Oh, Gavin.”

The words weren’t meant to chastise him, but somehow they did. “School is out. Sierra has decided she’s had enough of Wyoming and is holding me to my promise…by way of a threat. If I refuse to move back to Arizona, she’ll go to France and live with her mother. We revisit the custody agreement this month after Sierra turns seventeen. I know the judge will favor reverting custody to Ellen, given the lack of contact between her and Sierra in the last year. Sierra has a voice in the decision and she will side with her mother.”

Rielle was quiet. Too quiet. Then she said, “What are you going to do?”

He drained his whiskey and set aside the empty glass. “No idea.”

She stepped in front of him. “Gavin. Think about this. You’re giving Sierra all the power here. She’s a sixteen-year-old girl. Can you imagine how difficult she’ll be from here on out if you give in to her threat? You’re her parent. Not her puppet. She’s a child and she’s got way too much control.”

“She’s had control of me since the minute she was born.”

“No. She’s had your love and support since the minute she was born. There’s a big difference.”

“I will lose any influence I have over her if I let her move to France. I’ll lose her.” That caused an acute ache. “I can’t imagine her not being in my life every day.”

“Then you have made your decision,” she stated softly.

“No.” He pulled her to him. “I love you. We have a life here. A life I’m happy with. I don’t want to lose you either.”

“But you will.”

That startled him. “I will what? Lose you?”

“Yes. I love you. I’m grateful that you’re in my life. But if you decide to go back to Arizona…then this won’t work. You can assure me it’s only for two years until she graduates from high school, but you’re hoping Sierra goes to ASU. Can you really see yourself leaving Phoenix if she’s still living there? What if she picks a college in California? Will you stay in Phoenix the next four years because it’s so much closer than Wyoming? If Sierra needs you, you can hop on a plane and be at her side in an hour.”

“You really think I’d drop everything to be at her beck and call?”

“Don’t you now?”

“That’s not fair. You know you’re the same way with Rory.”

Rielle shook her head.

“You didn’t drop everything when she called you last fall, so stressed out about school?”

“That was different. Rory is an adult. She needs me when she has the occasional breakdown, not every day like Sierra still needs you.”

“Okay then. Move to Arizona with me. If you love me and you don’t need to be in Wyoming because Rory is here. We’ll find a place with gardens and you can grow exotic chili peppers. After Sierra graduates, we can return here.”

“Move to Arizona? Really, Gavin? How am I supposed to make a living there? You expect me to just walk away from the business I’ve built the last fifteen years? It’s taken me a long time to get to the point that I’m not starving.”

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