Standing Tall

Standing Tall

Ken Casper

January 2013 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-245-3

A Coyote Springs novel.

Our PriceUS$13.95
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She swore she’d never fall for another fighter pilot. This one is about to prove her wrong.

Investigative journalist Rika Philips and her young daughter arrive in the laid-back West Texas town of Coyote Springs to relax for the summer while visiting Rika’s grandparents. Her vacation ends abruptly when Major Alex Huston enters the picture—along with the troubling mystery of his top-secret work at the nearby Air Force base. Is national security at risk—or only Rika’s vow not to tangle with another love-’em-and-leave-’em fly boy?

Rika’s instincts tell her the public needs to know what’s going on at the base, and she dives into an investigation. Alex is her sexy nemesis, but she’ll have to collaborate with him if she wants the story. Before long they’re flying in uncharted territory, fighting an attraction that doesn’t come with parachutes.



Coming soon!



Chapter One

"HOW DID I EVER get elected neighborhood mom?” Rika Philips wedged a beach ball into the back of the van before pulling down the rear hatch and clicking it shut.

"Just lucky, dear,” her grandmother said. Barbara Tiers was a little woman, not much over five feet tall, with snow-white hair and pink cheeks.

Rika smiled. "I guess you’re right.” She looked around at the six children gathered in the portico of her grandparents’ Italianate-style house. "You kids ready?”

A chorus of "Yeahs” greeted her.

"Climb in,” she invited them. "And everybody buckle up. Remember. Safety first. All set? Emily, have you put on your sunscreen?”

"Yes, Mommy. Gram helped me.”

Rika kissed Barbara lightly on the cheek and slipped behind the wheel of her Voyager. "Say goodbye, kids.”

A deafening roar of "byes” ensued. Rika cringed at the high-pitched volume, then smiled happily at her grandmother. "We should be back by five,” she announced from her open window.

The four girls and two boys jabbered like magpies among themselves, leaving Rika with her own thoughts. She was still feeling the glow of praise for her last big story, an exposé that had received statewide attention and boosted newspaper circulation enough for her to wrangle three full weeks of vacation instead of two. At a price, of course. Her editor at theMichigan Sun made her promise to come up with a lead for another investigative report. The question now was how she was going to top bribery and corruption by a state representative.

Maybe surfing the Internet on Gramps’s computer would give her an idea. There certainly wouldn’t be anything local to report. Coyote Springs, Texas, was a wonderful place to visit and an even better place to bring up kids, precisely because nothing sensational ever happened here.

Relax, she told herself as the security guard waved her through the main gate at Coyote Air Force Base. This is only your first day of vacation. Enjoy it. Something will turn up.

"WELCOME TO the wolf Pack, Major.”

Alex looked at the airman standing in front of him. At least six foot four, the two-striper was broad-shouldered but lanky, with a mop of carrot-red hair, enough freckles to qualify as a tan and a youthful face that was probably both a blessing and a curse. He had farm boy written all over him.

"So they still refer to the base as the Wolf Pack.” He remembered his father explaining that coyotes, once so prevalent on these vast, open plains, were also called prairie wolves. Alex extended his hand.

"Riley Cavanaugh, sir,” the young man said, completing the handshake. "You’ve been here before?”

"A long time ago.” A lifetime ago.

Alex had idly observed the landscape sliding slowly below him in the twin-prop plane he’d connected to at Dallas. As he’d flown west, the terrain had become bleak, desolate and bone-dry in the August heat—until he’d spied a great green splotch at the base of a grayish-brown mesa, an oasis as inviting as the open arms of a lover. "It’s still prairie country.”

And he was after a wolf, or was it a fox?

They walked around the corner from the two gates that comprised the West Texas town’s municipal airport to the dimly lit baggage-claim area.

Riley tossed Alex’s luggage in the back of the Air Force van he’d parked curbside. Ten minutes later, as they approached the main gate of the base, Alex tried to suppress the feeling that he was coming home, but he couldn’t keep his pulse from quickening.

A security policewoman stuck her head out of the guard shack, nodded to Riley and waved them through. He gave her a familiar high sign as he drove by.

Alex wasn’t in uniform, so it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for the sentry to check his ID. Either she’d been told of his impending visit and ordered to let him proceed unchallenged, or the missing drone he’d come to investigate hadn’t occasioned a heightened state of security.

The main drag was as he remembered it, wide enough for four lanes of traffic, but reduced to two by diagonal parking. The side streets were narrow, laid out, his father used to joke, when heavy traffic was two jeeps passing each other. The wooden buildings gleamed white, most of them double-eaved barracks with dull green roofs. The kind built in the mobilization days of World War II. How many lives had passed through here, and what had happened to them?

Alex ran a hand down his forehead and across his eyes. He’d known he was coming to a familiar place, but he didn’t think he’d be entering a time warp. The only thing missing, that would always be missing, was the sight of his father striding purposefully down the middle of the sidewalk in khaki uniform, the stripes of master sergeant proudly worn on his sleeves.

Alex slipped back into the present. His mission here was important, not to his career—it could even be a career killer if he stepped on the wrong toes—but because of its impact on national security. The Top Secret stealth detection system that was still under development may have been compromised. The technology wasn’t expendable, and in the wrong hands it could jeopardize the nation’s entire defense posture.

He’d ordered continuing photoreconnaissance of the area yesterday before leaving the Aerospace Research Center at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where he was a test pilot for the new generation of "invisible aircraft.” He’d also coordinated with Security Command for Master Sergeant Mike Lattimore to head a special mobile intelligence collection team and meet him in Coyote Springs. It would take them another day to get in place.

Riley dropped Alex and his bags off at the billeting office, which would assign him the equivalent of a hotel room in the Visiting Officers Quarters.

"Second floor, Major, overlooking the pool,” a young woman in uniform, a senior airman, said brightly as she handed his key across the counter.

His quarters turned out to be more like a cheap motel in an old movie, with the added disadvantage of sharing a bath with another room. In his father’s time, these would have been luxury accommodations, far superior to the open-bay barracks single enlisted men lived in. Nowadays, they were substandard for even the lower ranks.

At least his room was located in a corner of the building, so it had two windows, one of which was seriously encumbered by an air conditioner. Someone, intent, no doubt, on conserving electricity, had opened the second window, letting in the stifling, dry heat of summer.

He turned on the a/c and stepped over to close the other window. Below, a kidney-shaped swimming pool was squeezed in among three adjacent buildings. The enclosure was noisy. The cries and shouts of boys and girls ranging from about five to maybe twelve years of age echoed off the wooden walls.

What caught his eye, however, was the woman stretched out on a chaise lounge in the only spot of sunlight the close quarters permitted. Though modest for a bikini, her swim apparel still exposed more than enough feminine flesh to have an unsettling effect on him.

She had chestnut-brown hair coiled up on the top of her head, long slender legs, a tight belly and trim hips. Even though she was reclining, he could see her breasts were... well, modestdefinitely wasn’t the word that came to mind. His curiosity piqued, he wondered what color her eyes were. Sherry-brown to match her hair? Blue? With her tan, violet eyes would be a knockout.

Too bad he hadn’t thought to pack a swimsuit. Maybe after he paid his courtesy call on the installation commander, he could stop at the Base Exchange and buy one.

He was about to pull down the sash window, when one of the girls went up to the sunbather and said something. The woman sat up, shielded her eyes against the bright sun and answered her. He caught only the shouted, "Thanks, Mommy,” as the child ran back to her friends.

Mommy. Hmm. Too bad. Married women were definitely off-limits. What would it be like to come home to a beautiful wife like her and a house full of kids? He dismissed the thought. He’d seen enough marriages founder and fail to know family life was incompatible with a military career on the fast track.

He used his cell phone to call General Tiers’s residence. Nathan Tiers had been retired for years, but Alex had been ordered to contact him immediately upon his arrival in Coyote Springs. Exactly why, and what part the old man might play in his investigation, he couldn’t imagine, but orders were orders. He’d soon find out.

Busy signal. He snapped the receiver shut and unpacked his bags, all the time trying not to think about the woman in the bikini. What was her name? Jeannie with the light-brown hair? Get a grip, Huston.

He removed his uniform from the hanging bag and examined it. Hand-carrying it had been wise. Not a ribbon out of place. No wrinkles. He dressed, made sure his shoes weren’t scratched. Not patent leather, either. These were of the finest leather, spit-shined to a mirror finish. He adjusted his Scottish wool tie, wandered back to the window and casually gazed down. She was gone. Good, he told himself and tried not to feel disappointed. He had a mission to accomplish. No time for distractions.

Back to the phone. He was about to poke in the general’s number again, when he heard muffled shouting through the closed window. He went over and saw two thrashing figures in the deep end of the pool below.

Though adrenaline rushed through him, pilot training had taught him to keep a cool head. Evaluate the situation before acting.

He hadn’t seen a lifeguard on duty, hadn’t even noticed the usual perch for one. Strange. The Air Force had strict policies against unsupervised swimming. Maybe the rules didn’t apply in the Wolf Pack. Maybe here, patrons were supposed to monitor themselves—and their children.

Awareness of what was happening took only a split second. Alex flew out of his room, crashed through the fire door at the end of the hall and bounded down the iron staircase to poolside.

Someone was already in the water, struggling to save a boy who was flailing frantically. A few feet away, Alex saw a head with blond hair going under for what was probably the second time. Kids lined the side of the pool, excitedly jumping up and down.

Unsure how deep the churned-up water was, Alex launched himself into a shallow dive. Two strokes. He reached the submerged child, grabbed an arm and pulled up so quickly half the body shot above the waterline. The girl came down in a panic and clamped onto his head. Sputtering and coughing, she was pressing her belly button against his nose tightly enough to suffocate him. He hit bottom. The water was only six feet deep.

With one arm under her knees, he used his other hand to keep her from gouging his eyes out while he tiptoed to the edge of the pool. The depth diminished as he advanced, and the girl, finally able to breathe, was calming down. Reaching the side of the pool, he set the coughing, still-traumatized child on the tiled edge of the cool deck.

A hand reached out and stroked the girl’s arms. "It’s okay, sweetheart. You’re safe now.”

It took a moment for Alex to realize the other person, female type, was in the water beside him, not above. He peeked over. The woman he’d seen from his window. The woman in the bikini. Her eyes were a pale green with golden specks. He hadn’t seen or heard her come into the water.

A few feet away, the boy was also sitting on the side of the pool, a strapping young man brushing hair out of the kid’s eyes. "You’re all right now, Shawn,” the guy said, then looked over at the girl. "Emily’s okay, too.” He glanced at Alex. "How about you, sir?”

"I’m fine.” Except for his heart pounding double time, a half-naked woman next to him with the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen, and his best uniform, from tie to shoelaces, totally ruined. "What happened?”

"Shawn here did a cannonball too close to Emily,” the man said. "Must have knocked the wind out of her. She’s normally a pretty good swimmer.”

Alex surveyed the area. In the shade, beyond the view from his window, was a lifeguard’s chair on stilts. "You the guard on duty?”

"Yes, sir. Thanks for showing up when you did. Handling one isn’t so bad, but two’s a bit of a problem, especially when they’re both panicked.”

Alex observed the green-eyed woman beside him. She was quietly soothing her daughter.

"You, I presume, are Emily’s mother,” he said.

Even as her hand brushed her daughter’s arm, her gaze melted into his. Without thinking, he checked out the woman’s left hand. No ring. Divorced? It didn’t matter. She had a kid. He had a girlfriend. He didn’t need a wife and family.

"I want to thank you, Major—”

A half-forgotten memory flashed across his mind. A boy floating facedown in a stock tank. Sudden, helpless rage surged through him. "Why did you leave her alone? Why didn’t you stay and watch her the way you’re supposed to? Nothing is more important than a child’s welfare,” he blurted out before he even realized the words had formed in his mind. "If you had been doing your job as a parent, instead of worrying about your tan and then running off—” out of the corner of his eye he saw a tray of chips and burgers spilled on the ground a few feet away "—to feed your face, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Her jaw fell, then clamped. Her chest rose as she drew in air. "I... I only went... look...” she stammered.

Alex could see the impulse to lash back warring with what he supposed was the shame and guilt of knowing she hadn’t properly protected her child. "Next time watch your kids better.”

"They’re not...”

He trudged over to the ladder a few feet away and pulled himself out of the water. His dress blues felt like form-fitting leaden shackles and threatened to drag him back into the pool.

". . . all mine,” she finished in a small voice.

Trying to ignore her, he peeled off his coat and dropped it on the back of a wrought-iron chair, which immediately toppled under the weight. "Damn.” He bent down to pick up the chair and almost knocked heads with the woman in the bikini. Still leaning over, he raised his head enough to find himself staring at the water droplets poised in her cleavage.

"Damn,” he mumbled again when he realized the indecorous effect her closeness was having on him.

"I’m sorry about this.” She straightened and helped him place his sodden coat on the seat. "You should get out of those wet clothes. Better take the tie off right away, too, before the knot tightens and strangles you,” she added, motioning toward his neck.

The ghost of a smile on her lips and the hint of uncertainty in her quip drained him of the last ounce of rancor.

He struggled to loosen the soggy knot. Water streamed off it as he pulled the tail up far enough to slip the noose over his head. When he started to strip off his tailor-made, hundred-percent combed-cotton, light-blue shirt, she looked around nervously.

"I didn’t mean for you to take all your clothes off here,” she said in a voice that was stalled between a whisper and a hiss. "The children...”

He searched beyond her. The kids were gathered around, an attentive audience staring at him, some with their mouths hanging open.

"I assure you, there’s a limit to how far I’ll go,” he muttered, and hoped she hadn’t noticed how far it had gone already.

She pursed her lips primly, but he also saw a twinkle of amusement in her glorious eyes. They were glorious, too, he realized. He couldn’t remember ever seeing a color and depth that captivated him so completely.

"Why are you in dress blues in this heat? Major, uh—” she eyeballed the name tag on his jacket "—Huston. If you don’t mind my asking.”

"I just arrived and was going to pay a courtesy visit on the base commander.”

"Colonel Eckert?” She made an "uh-oh” sound. "Today’s Wednesday, Major.”

He crooked an eyebrow at her.

"Colonel Eckert plays golf every Wednesday afternoon with Colonel Lacy.”

Alex stared at her. There was a crisis of potential international proportions, and the base commander and lab director were out nudging little white balls into holes in the ground? The comment he wanted to make wasn’t as polite as her delicate "uh-oh.” He’d been called in from a critical stealth test flight yesterday afternoon and told to pack his bags. Apparently, the rush to get here had been a waste of time. No one here in the boondocks seemed to be letting the current state of affairs interfere with improving his handicap.

Alex took a step to deposit his shirt with his coat. His V-neck T-shirt was sucked against him like a clammy second skin, and his shoes made a squelching noise every time he shifted his weight.

"Might as well take off the shoes and socks, as well,” she said.

He sat down and removed his oxfords—his good handmade Italian oxfords—then stood up and bowed formally at the waist to her. "If you don’t mind, I think I’ll excuse myself now,” he announced grandly, only then noticing that several people had come out of the side door of the officers’ club and were gathered around to watch the commotion. The lifeguard had a sardonic grin on his face that Alex would have loved to wipe off.

Nuts, he thought to himself, if roles were reversed, I’d probably be laughing, too.

His trousers made a swish-slap sound as he mounted the iron staircase. This ought to teach me to be a Good Samaritan, he told himself as he put his hand on the doorknob to his room—only to realize the latch was self-locking and his key was inside.

"Nice going, Huston,” he said out loud. "Welcome to the Wolf Pack.”



Chapter Two

IT WAS RIDICULOUS to keep looking up at the top of the stairs of the VOQ. The new officer wasn’t going to storm down the steps again to rail at her for being a selfish, irresponsible parent. The nerve. The only reason she’d left poolside was to get the kids snacks. Emily had said they were hungry. It wasn’t as though she’d abandoned them, for Pete’s sake; there was a lifeguard on duty.

Rounding up Emily and her five friends and hustling them into the van took Rika less than fifteen minutes. Her hands shook as she stowed their towels and gear behind the back seat. She’d almost lost Emily today. A cold chill settled in her stomach and a knot burned her throat. The little girl who gave her life meaning, hope and joy had been in trouble, and she hadn’t been there for her. Rika had to strain to keep her voice from becoming shrill or breaking as she instructed the children to buckle up.

She glanced once more through the Voyager’s tinted window to the black iron steps. He wouldn’t come down again. After all, there was absolutely no reason for Major Whatever-His-First-Name-Is Huston to even leave his room—now that he knew the commander wasn’t available.

Still, she did feel bad about his uniform. Even dripping wet, the chestful of ribbons had been impressive. Of course, with a physique like his, he’d look good in anything—or nothing. She shook her head. What is the matter with me? Here I am, thinking about this guy’s muscles, when I want nothing to do with a military man.

Okay, he performed an act of heroism, and all he got for it was a ruined uniform and the humiliation of having to strip it off in public. Well, she wasn’t going to lose any sleep over injured male pride. Besides, he was probably the type who had more than enough to spare.

But there was something familiar about him. It wasn’t the uniform. She’d seen plenty of men in blue and green, black and khaki uniforms. The beautiful bod? She felt a delicate ripple dance through her. Desire? She shivered. If she’d ever laid eyes on that body, she’d remember precisely where and when.

She’d definitely seen him, though, and heard him, too. The deep, strong voice, confident of its authority, was strangely familiar. She searched her memory, trying to pinpoint where it might have been, and drew a blank.

Dredging up a smile and waving at the guard, she drove through the west gate of the base. The youngsters, normally loud and exuberant, were quiet in the back seat, probably because they knew what was coming. Rika took a deep breath. Might as well get it over with.

"Okay, kids. I think it’s time we reviewed the rules.” She concentrated on her daughter, seat belted into the captain’s chair beside her. "Emily, where should you not swim in the pool?”

The girl hung her head, her eyes half closed as she fumbled with her fingers. "Near the diving board when people are using it,” she recited in a small, sulky voice.

Rika lifted her chin and peered in her rearview mirror at the boy with the curly brown hair in the back corner. "Shawn, what should you never do when using the diving board?”

"Jump close to other swimmers,” he responded humbly.

"So you both knew the rules and you broke them, didn’t you?”

"Yes, ma’am,” said Shawn softly.

"Emily?” Her daughter was now playing with the wet tendrils of her long blond hair. "I didn’t hear you. "

"Yes, ma’am,” the girl replied in a slightly belligerent tone.

Rika slanted her a warning glance. "Do you all understand now why we have those rules?”

There was an unenthusiastic chorus of "Yes, ma’ams” and "Yes, Mrs. Philips.”

"Shawn, you could have hurt yourself very badly and you could have hurt Emily. You were lucky the lifeguard was able to get to you as quickly as he did. Do you realize you might have drowned?”

His expression downcast, the boy whispered, "Yes, ma’am.”

"And you, young lady—” Rika’s hands tightened on the steering wheel as she turned to her little girl "—if the major hadn’t shown up when he did, you could have drowned.” She tried to sound stern, rather than let them hear the panic she felt at the thought of what might have happened. "You both could have been killed.”

"I just wanted to splash her,” Shawn said with that tone of righteousness kids use when they know they’ve done something wrong but want to justify themselves.

"Splashing is one thing. What you did was dangerous and irresponsible. If you can’t play by the rules, you won’t come with us anymore.” In the mirror Rika saw the boy lower his head, a solemn frown of contrition on his face. "That goes for everyone.”

She said no more as she drove on. The children stared out the window or whispered behind their hands.

"Mrs. Philips, are we going swimming again tomorrow?” Micki Sanchez asked a minute later, apparently unaffected by her friends’ close call and the admonition.

"Not tomorrow—in fact, not for the rest of the week. You all need a time-out from swimming to think about what happened today.”

"That’s not fair,” Cindy Roberts whined. "I didn’t do anything wrong. Shawn and Emily did. It’s all their fault.”

"I didn’t say you did anything wrong, Cindy, but you don’t have to go swimming every day.” The mirror reflected five hangdog faces. "Besides,” she said, "don’t you remember we’re supposed to go horseback riding tomorrow morning?”

"Yeah!” came the group reply. Swimming was all but forgotten.

"But only if the bunch of you can keep out of trouble between now and then.” Rika turned off the main highway onto the ranch road.

The children lived within walking distance of one another on the quiet country lane outside city limits. Rika stopped the van at the foot of the driveways of their respective homes and made sure they grabbed all their belongings. They thanked her for the day and said goodbye to Emily. Calling out promises to come over first thing in the morning, they then scampered off like young Tom Sawyers and Becky Thatchers. If only their lives could always be so idyllic and all the potential tragedies of life could be averted as easily as today’s, Rika thought.

She pulled into the driveway of her grandparents’ ten-acre miniranch. When her grandfather, General Tiers, retired from the Air Force after thirty-five years of service, no one could understand how he and Mrs. Tiers, who had enjoyed such an active social life in Washington, could abandon it for a little town in West Texas that no one had ever heard of. Rika was very glad they had. The massive cream brick house, with its green tiled roof, appeared staid and formal on the outside, and some of the treasures within were priceless, but for Rika, it had always been a warm, happy place, full of life, fun and love.

After parking in the gravel driveway between the splashing triple-deck fountain and the huge double front door, Rika and her daughter got out of the van and went inside. The rich warm smell of chocolate cake baking greeted them. Barbara emerged from behind the central staircase, wiping her hands on an old paisley apron.

"Grandma, I almost drownded today,” Emily cried out excitedly, as if it had all been a lark.

"You what?” Barbara Tiers’s busy hands stopped and she looked in consternation at Rika. "What happened?”

"I almost drownded,” Emily repeated.

"Drowned,” Rika corrected. "You almost drowned.”

Barbara slipped onto the spindle-back bench opposite the stairs. "What are you two talking about?”

"Shawn cannonballed off the board,” Emily prattled on breathlessly, "and he landed right on top of me, and the lifeguard had to jump in after him, and another man came running down the stairs and dived in the pool and saved me. He was real mad at Mommy for not watching us, and Mommy made him take his clothes off—”

"Whoa, young lady. Slow down.” Barbara brushed her hand across her great-granddaughter’s cheek, then gathered her in her arms. She glanced up curiously at her granddaughter for clarification.

"We had a little incident at the pool,” Rika explained. "Shawn Mullens jumped in and hit Emily, who was swimming too close to the board. They both got the wind knocked out of them and went under. I was inside getting burgers and fries for the kids at the time. The lifeguard grabbed Shawn and a major who’s staying at the VOQ dove in and rescued Emily.”

"Yeah, and he had on this big blue uniform and it had a whole bunch of ribbons—” Emily contributed.

And pilot’s wings, Rika reminded herself. Out loud she said, "He was on his way to see Colonel Eckert and was wearing his service dress—”

Barbara’s eyes widened. "A new major on base?”

"He wasn’t very happy when I told him he wouldn’t have gotten to see the colonel anyway, since it’s Wednesday and Eckert and Lacy golf together every Wednesday.”

"Where’s he from and what’s he doing here? Is he assigned permanently or on temporary duty?” The old woman was almost as breathless now as her great-granddaughter.

"I have no idea, Gram. We didn’t stop to talk.”

"Well,” Barbara asked pointedly, "did you at least get his name?”

"Huston. That’s what his name tag said. He didn’t give me his first name. All I know is Major Huston.”

"What does he look like? Is he married?”

Rika shook her head, half with annoyance, half with amusement. Barbara Tiers was convinced her granddaughter’s marriage to Clay Philips had failed because Clay had not been a military man. Gram was determined to match her up with someone in uniform, preferably an Air Force officer’s uniform.

Rika wasn’t only unenthusiastic about the idea, she had good reason not to get involved with a pilot, especially a fighter pilot. Her first love had been a jet jockey—until she caught him proposing flights of fancy to one of her sorority sisters. She’d given him back his ring and cried for days, never quite sure what was lacking in her that would drive him into another woman’s arms. Then a couple of years ago her best friend had divorced her zoom-bag husband for playing around. They were all alike, Cassie had assured her, a breed of their own, irresistibly charming, arrogant, egotistical and totally unfaithful.

"Well?” Barbara asked impatiently.

Rika could picture him with remarkable clarity. Six-two or -three. Broad shoulders. Gray or maybe light-blue eyes... and built... well, like Michelangelo’s David, but with hair on his chest. She took a deep breath. "Now, Gram, don’t go getting any ideas. He had gray hair, for heaven’s sake.”

Barbara’s brows knitted in disappointment. "Gray hair? Oh.”

Rika fought to keep a straight face and hoped her grandmother didn’t get to meet the new officer. "Probably has a wife and six kids at home,” she added, although she hadn’t noticed a wedding ring on his left hand, and she was sure she would have. After all, she hadn’t missed the class ring on his right hand. Air Force Academy. So what? Just because he wasn’t wearing a band didn’t mean he wasn’t married. What did she care, anyway? She was perfectly content with her single-mom life. She didn’t need a man complicating it. Certainly not a man like Major Whatever-His-First-Name-Is Huston.




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