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It doesn't mean I'm leaving him, she repeated firmly again. I'm just...getting my priorities in line. Just visiting my sister indefinitely. Nothing wrong with that.

Unselfconsciously, she found herself smiling. She'd cried her tears last night and felt the guilt mingled with regret. They would return. Later, when the relief wasn't so profound, they'd undeniably return.

Wisconsin became a speck as the plane rose above it, gliding effortlessly south. Though she assured herself she wasn't leaving the man she was engaged to, she was leaving Vikki behind. Vikki--the woman Bryan Larson could manipulate with his gentleness, the woman who'd needed to belong to someone, the woman who'd given up trying to make him see her for who she really was. That woman was not coming along. Because that woman wasn't real and never had been, despite the years she'd tried to believe in her, too. She'd known that for a while, but Bryan always got his way. Except this one time.

After deboarding at O'Hare, Vikki waited in line ten minutes to use a pay phone, then dialed her sister's work phone number using her charge card.

"Rain, please don't tell me tight-ass talked you out of it," were Mallory's first words.

The nickname 'Rain' had become as familiar to Vikki as the name on her birth certificate. Mallory had started calling her Rain only a few days after Vikki had been placed in the Novak home when she was sixteen. Mallory's reason for the nickname was: "You know when it rains--one of those warm summer showers? They're so quiet, but the air is heavier? Like it's charged? Like it's restless for more? That's what you're like. You're like the rain." She'd called her Rain ever since.

"I'm in Chicago. My flight to L.A. is supposedly on schedule. So I'll be there at two-fifteen." The words came out breathlessly, as if she'd run around in circles for ten minutes instead of waiting patiently in a line to use the phone.

"I can't wait to see you, hon. I'm sorry I've got that meeting I mentioned last night, but you have to meet Carmine anyway. I really want you to like each other."

Carmine Saxon was a man Mallory had met about two months ago yet hadn't called to tell Vikki about until yesterday. From the little her sister had revealed on the phone, Carmine was the man of her dreams.

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