NEVER SAY NEVER
West Coast Happily-Ever-After, Book 2
FIRST KISS © Loner Llama Press
“Why is it so important to be number one?”
He shrugged. “No doubt Dr. Freud would say it’s wrapped up in my dad dying. People have told me he might have won Best All-Around Cowboy the year he died. My folks were on their way home from a rodeo when their truck rolled and went into a ditch.”
In an effort to brush away the sadness in her eyes, he said, “Or, as your mother liked to say, it could be cussed orneriness. She said I inherited that from my grandfather. Bull riding is what I do.”
“Even if it kills you?”
Will startled. Did she know about his doctor’s report? He knew rumors had been circulating when he left, but surely Anne couldn’t have heard anything. “What’s that mean?”
“You’re getting older. Your body isn’t as malleable as a young kid’s. You could land wrong and break your neck.”
He released the breath he’d been holding. “Actually, I may not look it, but I’m in better shape today than I was fifteen years ago. I lift weights and run. And my timing is sharper.”
She took a deep breath. “I wasn’t casting any aspersions on your body.” The compliment seemed to loom between them and she quickly added, “So, you’re planning on going back to the circuit this fall.” It wasn’t a question.
She rose to her knees and started to gather up their mess. “And, I’m taking a new job, too–a promotion that’s long overdue. It sounds like we have our futures all lined up and ready to go. To get involved on an emotional level would be terribly foolish, don’t you agree?”
“When you put it like that…but–“
She didn’t let him finish. “We’re adults, Will, not kids. Proximity and unresolved lust just aren’t good enough reasons to risk involvement.”
Will agreed on an intellectual level, but the shimmer on her lips was speaking to him at a different level altogether. “So, we won’t get involved, but one kiss every fifteen years isn’t going to kill us.”
She started to disagree, but Will knew a proven way to distract a woman. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
Anne gave a token resistance–a mumbled uh-uh that almost immediately turned to uh-huh. There was a small clattering sound as the colored pens scattered on the floor. Her arms encircled his shoulders, her body flattened against his as her mouth opened.
She tasted salty and sweet. Popcorn and soda, plus an intangible quality that made him groan. And as their tongues met, Will knew he’d made a serious mistake. Fifteen years hadn’t been enough to make him forget, and now, he had nowhere to run.
“As you can see, this was the bedroom. We’ve removed the furniture to avoid injury, but just imagine what a nightmare it must have been to sleep in a room that seems to be constantly shifting from side to side. We call this the dizzy room for a reason, so don’t be surprised if a stranger is suddenly holding on to you for balance.”
She took a deep breath and walked straight to the middle of the room. Almost instantly, her equilibrium went haywire. She stepped on what looked like a level surface and felt her foot drop a quarter of an inch. Just enough to throw her balance off. She staggered, which prompted Shane to dash into the room.
“Watch out,” she warned.
He weaved to the left like a drunk after a long night at a bar. “Holy crap,” he muttered. “What the he–?”
She grabbed his arm and pulled him closer to the wall. He looked slightly dazed. “Wow. What is it?”
“You’d have to ask my dad. Unfortunately, I think the secret went to the grave with him. All I know is it’s very effective. I’ve seen people bob and weave all the way back to their car. I’ve done this tour so often I barely feel it unless I’m in the middle of the room.”
He put a hand to his forehead. “I’ve got the spinners. Like those nights in college when you drank too much then lay down in bed and the ceiling was going around in circles.”
He looked at her so intently she realized she must have said the word aloud.
“Sorry. Wrong thing to say.”
She shook her head. “It was a long time ago. Shall we finish the tour? There’s an exit through the back, but since I have to lock up, I think we should go out the way we came in.”
His usual serious look was back on his face. He nodded and pushed off from the wall to lead the way. He only made it a few steps before listing sideways, like the Titanic after meeting the iceberg. She tried to keep him upright, but his momentum was too great. They both staggered a few steps then crashed into the wall. The wall with the drawing of a four-poster with a patchwork quilt on it, and they landed smack dab in the middle of the one-dimensional mattress.
“This was your plan all along, right?” Shane asked, wrapping his arms around her to keep steady. “To get me in bed?”
She laughed to keep her panic at bay, but to her surprise she didn’t feel the usual fear that came when someone got too close, too fast. In fact, she liked the feeling of being in his arms. Warm. Secure. Protected.
“I’ve seen the same thing happen to other people. Perfect strangers. Dad used to say it was all about a person’s polarity-–positive and negative.”
His eyes were such a deep, yummy brown. Like chocolate syrup. “Does that mean one of us is a magnet and the other iron filings?”
She knew which she’d be. “Maybe we’re both iron filings being drawn to the giant magnet in the wall.”
He arched his neck to look over his shoulder, his skepticism clearly back in place. Laughing, she put her hands flat against his chest and pushed back. She waited for her balance to return, the way it usually did, but if anything, she was even loopier. Her hands wouldn’t leave his shirt. Her breath was shallow and shaky. Because she knew he was going to kiss her.
Kiss. His mouth touching her mouth. No. She didn’t kiss. Or touch. Or… But no words of protest made it out before his lips touched hers.
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His last resort.
Jonas Galloway’s daughter is missing. He returned from active duty in Afghanistan to find his ex-wife had joined a cult and taken their seven-year-old with her. The group disappeared off the grid and Jonas has exhausted all leads. His only hope is to convince his old high school flame, Remy Bouchard, to use her “gift” to find Birdie. Remy may doubt her abilities, but Jonas never has. After all, she found him once and saved his life. He’s praying she can do the same for Birdie.
Her so-called gift.
Remy’s only back in Louisiana to close up her old family home and say goodbye to the past. She plans to reinvent herself in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and nothing Jonas, the ex-love-of-her-life, says is going to change that. Until he shows her a photo of his daughter. A little girl who looks like the child in her dream. A desperate soul on the verge of giving up. But if what Remy’s late mother said is true, then Remy could be the biggest mistake of Jonas’s life.
“Take me with you.”
“No. If the cops decide to treat this as a kidnapping, they won’t even want me involved in the investigation. Trust me, police and civilian investigators don’t mix.”
She crossed her arms and shrugged. “Maybe I’ll wander downtown and let some handsome tourist buy me a hurricane.” She named the highest-octane alcoholic abomination she could think of. She’d tried one once and got disgustingly sick. She drummed her fingers on one cheek, theatrically. “Yes, it’s true that an excess of alcohol can interfere with the brain’s usual nighttime activities such as dreaming, but…” She let the implication hang.
“We’re arguing about going to a place you may or may not dream about.” He let out a snarky hoot. “Is it just me? Or does that strike you as nuts?”
“Are suggesting I’m crazy?”
“Absolutely not. I know crazy. But you are slightly cracked.”
She couldn’t say for certain whose scowl gave way to a smile first, but a second later they were both laughing. And a second after that, kissing.
She wanted to blame the Kraken—or the intensity of the situation—but she wasn’t a liar. She’d been thinking about kissing him from the moment he showed up on her doorstep.
He broke it off, first. “Damn. I promised myself I wasn’t going to do that.”
“Me, too,” she said, touching her fingers to her lips. She’d kissed a dozen boys and men over the years but not a single one had left the sort of impression on her mouth as Jonas Galloway.
He sighed weightily. “Jessie was right. The lust between us is like our invisible pet elephant–it takes up all this space and we waste a mountain of energy trying to ignore it.”
“Well said. I couldn’t agree more. The damn thing went on every date I ever had, too, after we broke up. Voyeuristic beast,” she muttered under her breath. “You think three in one bed is crowded, you should try it with an invisible elephant.”
Oops. TMI. Too much information.
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“Come on, who says I don’t ever have any fun?”
Payton’s eyes shone with such golden life, her smile contained such uninhibited joy, all Cordell could do was nod and follow. Getting wet was a small price to pay for stealing a few brief minutes with the cowgirl in a swirling and surreal world. When the clouds parted and the rain stopped, reality would return. He’d have a promise to keep and a city existence to return to.
Within seconds, he was saturated. Water seeped through his cotton T-shirt and ran down the back of his neck. But as cold as the water was, the feel of Patyon’s fingers entwined with his, heated his blood. Thunder boomed followed by an almost instantaneous lightning flash. The storm was almost directly overhead. Knowing the wind would steal his words, he tugged her toward the porch. Again, she shook her head. Baxter, his tail between his legs, fled to the safety of his dry kennel.
Thunder again roared. Cordell snagged Payton’s slender waist and slung her over his shoulder. He reached the porch just before a jagged bolt splintered the sky.
Chest heaving, he firmed his hold on the back of her knees as he readied himself to return her to the ground. Cool air brushed his lower back and stomach. Payton must have gripped the bottom of his T-shirt to balance herself and had pulled it midway up his torso. He carefully took her weight and lowered her to the porch floorboards. But as he did so her full breasts pressed against his chest and her bare skin slid against his. He bit back a groan. The wet friction between the cotton of his shirt and her tank top had caused her own shirt hem to ride upward. There was now nothing between their naked midriffs but the wet lick of water.
His hands moved to her waist to steady her as her feet touched the ground. Beneath the pads of his fingers, he could feel the jut of her hips and the ripple of goosebumps over her soft skin. He fought for control. She’d be mad at being slung over his shoulder like a sack of grain. It would be okay. She’d tell him off and step away before he did something they’d both regret.
She didn’t move.
The soundtrack of the storm’s fury dulled to a whisper.
Every breath she took pushed her chest closer to his. Every breath he took threatened to shatter his self-control. When had she laced her hands around his neck? Another three seconds, and he’d be finishing what they’d started in his parked truck.
He didn’t even make it to two.
His mouth covered hers. She tasted of rain and sweetness and smelt of summer and mountain wildflowers. As she stood on tip-toe to match his hunger, the sky could have caved in over him and he wouldn’t have cared.
As much as she took, he gave. And as much as he asked for, she granted.
Her hands unclasped from behind his neck and slid over his water-slicked abs and under his T-shirt. He shuddered, knowing he was exposed but powerless to hide how she moved him and what she made him feel.
“Payton,” he groaned as they came up for air. “I can’t hurt you. I can’t stay.”
“I know,” she said, before again fusing her mouth with his.
His hands found the neat curve of her butt and pulled her even closer. This time she was the one who spoke as they drew apart to breathe.
“Please, tell me you’re feeling.”
“Oh, I’m feeling all right,” he growled as he plundered the delicate line of her soft throat.
“Good, because if you’re feeling, as per our talk the other night, that means I need to learn to accept help.” He’d never seen her eyes so luminous or heard her voice so breathless. She jumped and he caught her as she wrapped her slim legs around his waist. “And I think I’ll start by you helping me get out of these wet clothes.”
From KISS ME, COWBOY:
The sun disappeared beneath the horizon. Darkness surrounded them. Zack didn’t care. Charlie didn’t seem to either.
A good thing. She was his lifeline, his way back to the civilian world, a place he felt disconnected from at the moment. He talked, and she held his hand. He cried, and she comforted him.
She wiped away his tears with her fingertips.
Embarrassed, he looked away.
“It’s okay,” she whispered.
No, it wasn’t, but if she could pretend, so could he.
Charlie sighed. “I wish…”
Her compassionate tone made Zack look up. The lantern glowed softly, giving off enough light so he could see her face.
She leaned forward, toward him. The connection between them intensified. He came closer, driven by an urge he shouldn’t be feeling. Not with Charlie.
Zack stared into blue eyes filled with empathy, wanted to know what she wished and was about to ask…
She kissed him.
A kiss so tender and sweet, Zack knew she’d been heaven-sent to get him through this night. He didn’t plan on kissing her back—that would be against his rule—but she wasn’t stopping.
Why not kiss her? It was only one kiss…
Happy reading, my friends. My next BLACK HILLS RENDEZVOUS book will be featured next week…
She opened the door and carefully lowered her good foot to the ground. The ache in her ankle was back, but she’d be damned if she’d play the cripple in front of Paul.
“I can take one of those,” she said, meeting him at the tailgate of the truck.
He pulled the bigger of the two out first, setting it on the sidewalk. His muscles really were quite impressive, she realized. Wishing she had some reason to touch him.
The idea unnerved her. When he suggested she let him make two trips, she didn’t argue. She needed some distance, a little down time. Right now.
“Do you have the key?” Paul called out as he dashed up the ramp, the first of her giant suitcases in tow.
“I don’t think Mom’s ever locked the door in my entire life.”
He tested the handle. Sure enough, it swung inward. He wrestled the ungainly, soft-sided suitcase across the threshold then dashed past her for its mate.
She’d barely stepped inside when her phone rang. Mom.
“Hi. We just got here.”
“Wonderful. I have more good news. Oscar’s doctor is letting him go home today. The discharge papers will probably take an hour or two, we’ll be there in time to have dinner together.”
“You should invite Paul to join us. To thank him for picking you up.”
“Really, Mom? Do you think that’s a good idea? Dad’s first night out of the hospital? He and I haven’t seen each other in a couple of years. Maybe we should keep it family for awhile.”
“Oh, of course. You’re right. What was I thinking? We’ll do something nice for Paul later on. I have to go. The nurse wants Oscar to shower before he leaves since we don’t have that kind of equipment at home yet. See you soon, honey. I’m so glad you’re here.”
A few seconds later, Paul lugged her other ridiculously over-weight bag across the threshold.
“We have rocks in Montana, Bailey. You didn’t have to bring your own from California.”
She tried to smile, but the erratic thudding of her heart interfered with normal reactions.
Paul cocked his head. “What’s up?”
She shoved her phone in her bag. “OC is being released today. They’ll be here soon.”
She took a step, planning to make some effort to appear the gracious hostess. Unfortunately, her ankle locked and she lunged off balance, grazing her hip on the side of her father’s worn leather recliner.
Paul pivoted as precisely as Daz “heeling” in the arena. He caught her elbow and stepped in to help her regain her balance.
Close enough to smell his cologne and see the tiny strips of facial hair his razor missed. Close enough to kiss the lips that looked more familiar than they should have.
What the hell was wrong with her? This man hated her, cursed her, and she dropped into his arms like some stupid damsel in distress?
No. Good grief, no.
WISHING EVERYONE A VERY HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!!
Paul could honestly say he hadn’t seen ‘sex with Bailey’ as even a remote option when he fired up the Cessna. He’d figured the trip would involve a lot of pacing in hospital waiting rooms and ferrying OC back and forth from the hotel.
To wind up sharing a room with Bailey…a pleasant surprise. To be invited back into her life as a confidant of her worst fear, to hold her, kiss her…damn, he couldn’t quite get his head around the bounty.
“I want you worse than when we were in high school,” she’d said.
He knew exactly what she meant. He’d gone hard the moment she’d pulled off her T-shirt.
Every inch of her skin smelled like honey and roses. He wanted to go slow, remember every sensation, but Bailey had never been patient. Once she made up her mind to do something, it got done.
“Do you remember our first time?” he asked unbuttoning his shirt.
She brushed his fingers aside and took over. One, two, three, pull out shirt tails, four, five… “We came close so many times, but I think it was in my barn, right? The hayloft. Your Boy Scout sleeping bag.”
He unbuckled his belt and unzipped while she pulled the belt through the loops. “The hay smelled good but the sleeping bag wasn’t thick enough to keep the poking parts from poking you.”
His belt joined her shirt on the floor. By wordless agreement, they both wiggled out of their jeans. Her panties didn’t match her bra. Lime green bikinis with black polka dots. “Cute.”
She touched the raised fabric of his navy blue stretch boxer briefs. “No more tighty whities.”
His breath caught in his throat as her hand cupped his erection. “Not since college.” Not since Jen started shopping for him.
She turned her attention to his bare chest. “Your muscles are so filled out. Chiseled, even. From swinging a hammer, I suppose. You’re so manly, now.” Her tone held a hint of teasing, but he thought he detected a bit of wistfulness, too. He felt the same.
“You’re thinner and more voluptuous. How is that possible?”
She flexed her bare arm to show her well-defined biceps. “Exercise. For a while after the accident, I couldn’t do anything. I felt like my body was melting into the sheets. As soon as I started physical therapy, I went gung-ho. One of my trainers, who also became my friend, called me Bailing Wired.”
He squeezed the muscle. “Hey, that was my nickname for you.”
“That’s what I told her. Although I was never sure it was a compliment.”
He locked fingers with her and leaned in close enough to nibble her neck. “It was. I admired your drive and fearlessness. Scared the bejesus out of me at times, but, man, you were something to watch.”
She moved her head and shoulder in a way that told him she was enjoying his touch. He trailed his tongue to a pronounced bump on her clavicle. A broken collarbone from falling off a horse when she was ten. A scare like that might have stopped other kids, but not Bailey Jenkins. From what her mother told him, she was back in the saddle while her arm was in a sling.
She dropped back on her elbows. “This,” she said, shifting to her right side to touch her collarbone, “was the first of many. Two cracked ribs. My kneecap is all screwed up. I broke my elbow, but it’s stronger since I started lifting weights. A couple of toes. And fingers. And that’s not even counting my ankle.”
He slid off the bed so he could start at her feet. “Which toes?”
She wiggled her left foot. He kissed them all, which made her laugh.
“And your right ankle.”
The scar wasn’t as furious a red as when she first arrived in Marietta. He nuzzled his cheek against her wound, their gaze locked. “I’m sorry you were injured, but I’ve got a few war wounds of my own, you know.”
He licked the inside of both her knees.
“Viral paper cuts. I give myself a yearly bonus to make up for the grievance.”
Hey, what’s lovemaking without a little humor? 😉
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Paul watched four hours slip by as if it were minutes. A part of him couldn’t believe Bailey Jenkins–his Bailey Jenkins–was playing Marco Polo in his pool with his children.
At first glance, she looked the same as she had at eighteen, but that wasn’t quite true. Her body had matured. Her breasts filled out the demure, navy blue and white stripe two-piece–even if she could use a couple of pounds.
What changed the most about her wasn’t physical. This Bailey enjoyed playing with his kids. The old Bailey never had time for children. The teenage Bailey wouldn’t have asked Chloe and Mark clever, revealing questions…then listened, truly listened, when they answered.
Later, when they gathered around the stone fire pit for dessert, Mark asked the question he and Chloe had probably discussed at length. “What happened to your foot?”
The children had been skeptical when Bailey produced marshmallows, graham crackers and Hershey bars for dessert. It wasn’t that they’d never eaten s’mores, they simply couldn’t conceive of roasting marshmallow over glowing embers of broken glass.
“Car wreck. My foot got pinned under the front end of our truck. I was lucky.”
“What do you mean?”
“They had to use those big hydraulic Jaws of Life to get me out. I only had a concussion and a broken ankle.”
Only. Paul had work to keep from cringing.
“Were you driving?”
“No. I was in the passenger side.”
The tremor in her voice told him the memory still brought her pain. So, Paul cut off Mark before his morbid curiosity–typical of eight-year-old boys–asked for details about blood and missing body parts. “Where are the rest of the candy bars?”
“Mark,” Chloe cried. “You didn’t? Oh, my gosh, you are such a pig.”
His son’s lips were ringed by a suspicious brown outline, but Markie fervently denied the charge until Bailey hauled him onto her lap and ticked him until he confessed.
“Okay. Okay. I did it. I ate the last of the chocolate. So sue me.”
Bailey put him down. “Not necessary. A perfectly roasted marshy doesn’t need chocolate.”
She pushed a white square onto her skewer and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. Her loose off-white cover-up slipped from one shoulder.
Paul had forgotten how lovely her natural skin tone was. How smooth and silky her skin felt when they were laying in the sun trying to get a deep brown tan. Fools.
A minute later, she lifted the golden treat to her lips and blew.
His groin reacted.
“Nothing beats a sticky, gooey marshmallow straight off the fire.” She pinched a hunk and pulled the bite upward, strings of glistening white sugar trailing behind. With a flourish, she spun the filaments onto the bite and lowered into her open mouth.
Chloe clapped and grabbed another marshmallow to try for herself.
Mark squinted at Paul. “What’s wrong, Dad? You look like you swallowed a marshmallow whole.”
Outed by an eight-year old. Damn.
Paul jumped to his feet, gathering the empty wrappers and used napkins. He carried the mess to a nearby trashcan then said, “Bath time, kiddos. Your mother gave me hel–heck last week for not making you wash your hair after swimming. She says it’s going to turn green.”
He made a mad scientist gesture that brought a grin to Bailey’s lips. Her sticky sweet lips. “Scoot, you two. I left bottles of anti-chlorine shampoo in each of your showers.”
Mark and Chloe took off with a minimal amount of grumbling. He could see they were worn out. The best part of owning a pool, in his opinion.
Bailey waited until both kids were gone before getting to her feet. She didn’t want to intrude on their nightly family rituals. She picked up the children’s half-empty water glasses and followed Paul into the kitchen, which had all the bells and whistles any TV chef might expect: granite countertops, polished chrome appliances, hardwood flooring and dark golden oak cabinets. The recessed lights in the ceiling turned the butter yellow walls a warm, inviting color.
“Your home is beautiful, Paul. Could be right off the pages of a decorating magazine, and yet it seems perfectly functional at the same time.” She pulled out one of the chrome stools tucked under the island and sat.
He wiped a spill on the gorgeous marble countertop before her elbow connected with it then tossed the rag into a big white apron-front sink.
Was it possible to have sink envy, she wondered?
She’d wasted so much time designing a dream kitchen to fit in Ross’s dream log cabin. A kitchen not unlike this one, with windows behind the sink overlooking the backyard.
“Jen spent more money on this room than the rest of the remodeling combined. I told her we wouldn’t be able to afford food to cook by the time she was done.” He carried the bag of leftover marshmallows to a walk-in pantry about the size of her mother’s guest room.
He returned a moment later, a liter-size green bottle of imported water in hand. She recognized the label but rarely splurged on the pricy brand.
“Although compared to the cost of our divorce, the kitchen was a real bargain,” Paul told, grabbing a couple of glasses from a cabinet with beveled glass panels.
His cynicism made her uncomfortable. Was she ready to talk exes?
He unscrewed the cap with a powerful twist and poured two glasses of the fizzy water. “My new go-to drink, instead of beer. Chloe’s class stared a recycling campaign. When I loaded all the bags in the truck, it looked like a flaming alcoholic lived here.” He held out his glass. “Cheers.”
She touched the lip of her glass to his and looked into his eyes. Friendly, yes. Interested, too. The kind of interest a part of her desperately wanted to explore. Too bad the thinking part of her brain knew better than to start something she couldn’t finish. She hadn’t talked to OC yet. Could she trust him or not? Was she staying or going?
She took a sip of bubbly water then slipped off the stool. “Excuse me a minute. I’m going to try Mom’s phone again.”
Coward. She walked to the dining table where she’d left her purse hanging over the back of her chair.
She carried her phone outdoors and took a seat by the fire pit. The flame had been shut off but the night was warm enough without a fire.
She could understand the attraction of these one-click-to-start units, but they didn’t compare to the romance of a wood campfire like the one she and Paul made love beside that last summer. They’d lied to their parents and spent an entire weekend hiking, fishing and camping alone. They’d shared a single sleeping bag. She’d never experienced sex as pure and delicious–lust combined with the stamina and abandon of youth.
Her breasts tightened and her nipples puckered inside the cups of her mostly dry swimsuit. The still damp crotch of her bottoms felt unnaturally warm and moist.
She couldn’t remember the last time she had sex–aside from the occasional self-pleasure that usually left her a sobbing wreck.
“You need to get laid,” Maureen told Bailey at their last physical therapy session. “Sex is a great healer. So is forgiveness. Once you dump that heavy burden you’re carrying around, you’ll be able to run and ride again.”
Run? Maybe. She’d been walking a lot the past few days and her ankle felt much stronger. But, ride? She couldn’t picture it. Her riding days were over.
Before she could call up her mother’s cell phone number, Bailey’s phone rang. Mom’s image appeared on the screen.
Bailey sat on the chaise and crossed her legs. “Hi. Are you home?”
An awkward pause–as if someone fumbled the phone–made her sit up. “Mom?”
“No. It’s me,” OC said. “She’s asleep. They gave her something.”
They? Bailey’s pulse jumped.
“Luly has a lump on her side. I made her call the doctor. He saw her right away and sent us to Bozeman.”
“T…to the hospital?”
“Yeah. Took six hours to get a room. Can you believe that? The surgeon’s going to do something in the morning.”
“Nine. But you know how that goes.”
“Wh…what do they think it is? Cancer?” Her voice cracked in a broken whisper.
“Not sure. One of the doctors thought it might be some kind of infection. Endimidercondriac or something.”
“That sounds like it. Could be leftover from her gallbladder surgery.”
“Her gallbladder? But that was last year.” Bailey’s last trip home before Ross and Daz died.
“I know. I don’t get it. But, she says it doesn’t hurt.”
Oh, mom. Do you ever complain? “Do you need me to come pick you up?”
“No. The nurse made a bed for me on the couch. I got my pills. I’ll be fine. But I know your mother wants to see you before she goes in.”
“Of course. I’ll be there first thing. Text me if you need anything from home.”
“I…” He paused. “I’m sorry about today. You were right to think the worst. They say you have to hit rock bottom before you can start to climb out of the pit. I’m climbing, Queen Bee. And this time I’m gonna make it. You’ll see.”
He ended the call before she could get her emotions under control to reply. Did she dare hope? He’d made promises before. Did OC’s problems even matter now? Her mother–the glue that had been holding them all together– was sick, dealing with a potentially serious disease.
Dad isn’t the only one who has to step up.
She got to her feet and walked inside. Her expression must have conveyed her distress. Before she could say a word, Paul cleared the distance between them. “What’s wrong? Your dad?”
“Mom. She’s in the hospital in Bozeman. They’ve scheduled her for surgery in the morning. Some kind of l…lump.” She shared what little OC told her. “If it’s cancer, they’ll discuss a protocol. If it’s not–please, God–they’ll remove it and release her.”
“How big a lump?”
“I…I don’t know. She never told me. All this time. I can’t believe it. I don’t know whether to cry or scream.”
He took her in arms. “Whichever makes you feel better.”
She closed her eyes and for a moment she felt…home. Was this what it was like to know somebody had your back?
I could have had this. But she chose to leave. And she knew why. Because, bottom line, she was Bailey Jenkins, and Paul Zabrinski always deserved better.
That hadn’t changed.
She started to pull away, but Paul tightened his hold. “Don’t run away, cowgirl. Not tonight.”
“I have to leave early in the morning.”
“I know. I wish I could drive you, but…”
“You have the kids. And a business to run. A life. I appreciate all the help you’ve given me, Paul, but I’ve got this. Really, I do.”
He stared into her eyes a good minute then released his hold. “Okay. But call if you need me.”
“I will. Thank you.”
Then she leaned in to kiss his cheek. His cheek.
How her lips landed on his lips she couldn’t say for sure. And they didn’t mess around with a grateful peck. Her lips remembered…as if she and Paul had never been apart.
And don’t forget, you can read Louise and OC’s love story for free…