Cowboy on Her Doorstep

Cowboy on Her Doorstep

Pam Mantovani

July 2014 $13.9
ISBN: 978-1-61194-517-1

When Army Ranger Logan Montgomery returns to his family's ranch in western Montana to mourn the loss of his father, he discovers that his best friend had a little girl as a result of their lovemaking the night before he left to join the service.

 
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When Army Ranger Logan Montgomery returns to his family's ranch in western Montana to mourn the loss of his father, he discovers that his best friend had a little girl as a result of their lovemaking the night before he left to join the service. He sets out to prove himself to her—that he’s come home to stay.

Deputy Sheriff Kendall Grant has worked hard to build a stable life for her young daughter, Marissa. When Logan discovers he’s Marissa’s father, Kendall refuses to believe he intends to become a doting daddy. She’s convinced he’ll grow bored with small-town life and re-enlist. More than anything, she’s afraid this time he'll shatter both her heart and Marissa’s. How can she learn to trust that this time it’s forever?

As an Army brat, frequent moves often meant Pam had to leave friends behind. But no matter where she lived, romance novels were her constant companions. Then she met the man of her dreams on a blind date, and after she married her hero, Pam started writing her own love stories.

Now she has more friends, imaginary and real-life, than she can count. She’s still happily married to the man who swept her off her feet and gave her the romance of a lifetime. She loves writing about strong women and men who find each other and quilt the fabric of their lives together.

A member of Romance Writers of America, Georgia Romance Writers, and Southern Magic, Pam’s books have twice been awarded the Maggie Award for Excellence and once for the Linda Howard Award of Excellence.

 


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Excerpt

Chapter One

EVERYTHING FELT wrong.

Logan Montgomery shifted in the vinyl booth, forcing himself to relax. The jeans and cotton shirt felt stiff compared to his familiar fatigues. Rather than standing sentry in the shadows, he sat in a brightly lit diner across the table from his older brother.

He was home, instead of on the battlefield.

"Getting itchy feet already?” Carter asked. He shrugged a dismissal before Logan could answer. "Don’t feel like you have to stay on my account.”

Beneath the table, Logan closed his hands into fists. Carter’s dismissal hurt more than Logan wanted to admit, damn more than he intended to reveal. Instead, as it always had, his wish to please his older brother hid behind sharp words. "Look, Carter. I told you I’d get here as soon as my unit returned stateside.”

"Two months after we put the old man in the grave.”

"It’s not like Afghanistan is on the other side of the state.”

How could he explain to his brother that before he could even think about coming home to bury a father who’d rarely given him more than the time of day, he’d needed to escort home the body of a buddy? With his friend’s dying words echoing in Logan’s thoughts, he’d stood graveside and then spent time with the widow and the baby his friend had never held.

"Hardly matters. I don’t expect you to stay long.” Carter dug into his coconut cream pie. "You never wanted to stay and work the ranch.”

Logan could have argued with his brother, could have pointed out that at one time there’d been nothing else he’d wanted. He’d had such plans, plans that his father and Carter had gone through the motions of listening to. Then they’d done what they’d planned to do all along—they’d told him no.

Weary from more than the trip stateside, Logan didn’t want to argue with his brother. He looked down at his pie but couldn’t muster up the appetite or energy to lift a fork.

"Logan Montgomery? Oh I’m glad to see you made it home safe.”

For the first time in the two days since his return, Logan felt a smile curve his lips. He looked up to see Tammy Murphy, her hair still as red as her lipstick, walking toward them. The diner owner was as much a part of the town of Burton Springs as the ranches that dotted the western Montana countryside. She glanced at Carter as if she knew they’d been at the start of another argument. After all, she’d come between them before.

"I’m just sorry it wasn’t in time to see your Daddy before he passed,” she said.

Logan scooted out of the booth and wrapped his arms around her. He could probably wrap them around her twice seeing as she was as flat and thin as a fencepost. Still, her returning hug welcomed him home as nothing else had so far.

"It wouldn’t have mattered,” he whispered in her ear before giving her a smacking kiss on the cheek.

"He was proud of you.”

Logan stepped back, more stunned than if he’d been kicked in the head by one of Carter’s cattle.

"At least you came home to pay your respects,” Tammy said.

"Took his time about it,” Carter said.

"But he came back,” she said to Carter while continuing to look at Logan. "That’s just one more thing you and Kendall Grant have in common.”

"Kendall?” Logan felt a little hitch in his heart’s rhythm when he looked at Tammy. "Back? What do you mean? Where’d she go?”

Had she gone with her father on that missionary trip after all? He allowed one brief flash of memory of the last night they’d seen one another, how that night had nearly changed his mind about leaving. Not that she’d asked. Instead, she’d seduced him, surprising him with her tight body and demands. A little stunned by the force of the memory, Logan shifted, trying to get the blood back in his legs instead of pooling in his groin.

"She went to Billings, became a police officer like she always talked about.”

"Good for her.” Pride slid through him and, if he were honest, a little bit of relief. He’d obviously made the right decision for both of them.

"She came back to bury her Daddy and settle his estate, oh, I guess seven months ago.” Tammy stopped and glanced at Carter, who nodded his head in confirmation. "Sheriff Owens offered her a job.” Tammy’s pencil-drawn brows scrunched together. "I guess... well, the two of you were pretty close, so I thought you knew.”

"Knew what? What’s wrong? Is she sick?”

"No,” Carter answered when Logan looked at him. "She’s got a kid, a little girl.”

"About four,” Tammy confirmed. "She’s adorable, sweet, but is always asking questions. Has a head full of brown curls.”

Logan felt something sour in his stomach. "Kendall’s married?”

"Not that she’s said,” Carter answered.

Carter’s habit of saying nothing by way of an answer chafed. Fighting to ignore a stubborn suspicion, Logan looked over when the bell above the door to the diner rang. He watched Kendall Grant come to an abrupt stop when she spotted him, one hand still gripping the hammered copper doorknob. Against the mud brown uniform shirt, her face went white as the winter snow, showcasing her large brown eyes. He remembered how huge and appealing those eyes had grown when he’d slipped inside her the first time. The first time any man had done so.

How many times had he thought about writing her, to find a release of sorts in the friendship they’d once both enjoyed? He’d known he could put on paper everything he saw, felt, and did, and she would understand. What’s more, she’d accept. For that matter, how many dozens of letters had he actually written only to tear them up and toss them away? And while he rationalized that he was no good with words, it just hadn’t felt right to use her friendship to ease his mind after the way they’d spent that last night together.

Now, however, he watched as her free hand rose to cover her stomach in an instinctive and protective move an instant before she turned and fled. That one gesture told him what his brother hadn’t said, couldn’t have known.

Logan didn’t hesitate. He bolted after her.

JUST HER LUCK.

Kendall tucked her head down and all but ran down the street. Why today, of all days, had she volunteered to pick up coffee from the diner?

Naturally, she’d heard that Logan Montgomery had come home. Even without benefit of gossip, Kendall would have known he was back. After all, it was her job as a Deputy Sheriff to keep track of everyone who came and went in town. Not that she could be expected to spot each and every stranger—though Logan Montgomery was no stranger to her.

Or to her heart.

So often she’d thought of what it would be like, feel like, to see him again. Late at night, exhausted, worried, or simply lonely, her heart and mind had replayed not only all the friendly times they’d shared but that one pivotal night as well. On the longest of those solitary nights, she’d fantasized that he’d come back to her. Then morning would come and her energy, along with her heart and mind, would be consumed with getting through another day. Now he had returned, not specifically to see her, but still, she wanted to cry with relief that he was safe and whole.

Another part of her fought panic at what his return could mean.

When she felt someone grab her arm, training overrode fear. She whipped around, her free hand already drawing her gun. She froze, staring down the barrel at the only man she’d ever loved.

Her daughter’s father.

He quickly released her and took a careful step to the side, out of the line of potential fire. He said nothing as he waited for a moment, giving her time to focus on him and steady her nerves. Though she realized he posed no physical threat, her heart continued to hammer in her chest.

"Is she mine?” he asked.

The question snapped out, a painful strike to her most vulnerable spot. Still, Kendall locked her knees and returned the gun to the holster at her hip. Even unarmed she was prepared to defend her decisions in whatever manner and degree necessary.

Her father would have preached she was being punished for her sin. She preferred to think of this meeting as fate. Fate wasn’t always kind or thoughtful.

"What are you talking about?” she asked, putting all the confusion she could into the question.

"Tammy just told me that you have a daughter. Am I her father, Kendall?” He didn’t demand, he didn’t convey judgment or criticism. As some had. He spoke with the calm acceptance of a known fact.

Logan took a step closer, close enough that she could see the anger, confusion—and was that pain?—in his grass green eyes. Now missing was the humor that had always lurked beneath the surface, the humor that had so often succeeded in freeing her own. The humor she knew he so often relied on to camouflage the insult of his father’s neglect. While she’d cherished their friendship, she’d often lamented that his beautiful green eyes had never once seen that her feelings went deeper than the simplicity that had defined their relationship for so long.

Four-and-a-half years ago, she’d seen the first light of dawn in his eyes as it spread over the bed of his pickup truck, reflecting the glow of love in her heart. By the time the sun had painted the sky with the rosy hue of the next dawn, he’d left town. Taking her heart and innocence with him.

Now, Logan stepped yet closer. "I was your first, Kendall,” he said in a soft voice that too often visited her during sleep. "I can do the math. Is she mine?”

She wanted to protest, to claim sole possession. Only, there was the part of her that so often had wished he’d been beside her, sharing all the ups and downs of parenting. It would do no good to deny, couldn’t change what she saw on her daughter’s face every day.

"Yes.”

"When can I see her?”

"I am not discussing this with you now, Logan.”

"Seems to me that’s what you’ve done for the last five years.”

She drew in a breath, certain now of the hurt beneath his temper. He wouldn’t be the man she’d once loved if he were anything less than shocked and angry by her secrecy. The man standing before her now, however, didn’t look much like the boy she’d once loved.

This man looked ready to handle whatever came his way, while the boy of her memory had been so determined to leave. The man before her looked comfortable with his place in the world, whereas the young man she’d known had been desperate to prove his worth.

Back then, he’d had wheat-colored hair that more often than not curled around his ears and down to his collar. For one glorious night she’d had the luxury and miracle of tangling her fingers in the rich fullness of that hair. Now he wore it military short, and the color had darkened to honey. There were lines around his mouth and eyes that had little to do with humor. She couldn’t begin to imagine all that he’d seen and lived through. For all intents and purposes, the man standing before her was a stranger, while the young man of her past had once been her closest friend.

Until the night she’d changed everything between them.

"I’m not discussing this with you here,” she clarified. "I’ve told no one who Marissa’s father is. I’d really rather no one find out now, while we stand on the street.”

"Marissa.”

Kendall nearly closed her eyes on his awed whisper of her daughter’s name.

"Why didn’t you tell me?”

"You left.”

He staggered back as if about to drop to his knees. And oh, wouldn’t that give everyone in town something to talk about? Still she didn’t regret the clipped accusation. She would use whatever weapon she had at her disposal to try and prevent another gaping wound to her heart.

"You could have contacted me.”

She had considered doing so more times that she could count. In the end, she’d known there was only one choice to be made. "I heard you’d joined the army and been deployed overseas. I thought about writing, but I couldn’t take the chance of you being physically hurt because you were distracted by the news.”

Not telling him, sharing with him, had hurt almost as much as his leaving had.

For a long moment he stared over her shoulder. She hoped he’d heard the truth in her explanation. "You never considered that it might be the very reason I needed to come home?”

She sucked in a shallow breath but refused to apologize for her decision. "Not at the time, no.”

"And now?”

"Right now, I have a job to do. You’ve waited five years to return home, Logan. You can wait a little longer.” She turned, then shot out an aggravated breath when his hand once again clutched her arm. "You’re going to want to turn loose of me.”

After a brief hesitation, he did so. "What have you told her about me?”

The question stopped her heart for a beat, and she dropped her head. If anyone knew the emptiness of not having a father’s love, it was Kendall. Her conscience demanded she acknowledge that Logan had the same history. Hadn’t that been one bond in their friendship? And yet, how could she introduce Logan into Marissa’s life knowing he would leave? Her first priority was, and always would be, to protect her daughter’s tender heart whenever possible.

"Nothing,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at him. "Marissa knows nothing about you.”

Before anyone came upon them and started the gossip mill working overtime, before she could cave into the needs she saw swirling in Logan’s gaze, she turned and walked away. Just as he’d walked away from her all those years ago.

Putting him and the meeting out of her mind, she worked her shift and did her rounds. She spoke with people she’d known her entire life, either for friendly or professional reasons. She knew some of those people gossiped about her behind her back. After all, she’d returned to her hometown as a single parent. But they’d all accepted her daughter. How could they not, she questioned as she walked out of the station house. Marissa never met a stranger and could charm anyone into doing what she wanted. Kendall’s smile faded as she drove through the dark side of midnight toward her small house.

Would Marissa charm Logan? Or would he look at her and see only what he’d lost? Not lost, Kendall corrected with a small shake of her head. Left behind. She refused to feel guilty about her decision to not tell him. Her heart might have longed for his return, but she’d had no reason to believe it possible. After all, he’d only come home now because his father had passed away. And even then, he’d waited two months.

She braked to a stop a few yards from her driveway. The truck parked there could only mean one thing. She should have known Logan would be impatient for more details. Something else the two of them had always shared. With a sigh, she shoved away fatigue, pushed aside her longings, marshaled her courage, and parked her car. It struck her as funny that, almost as if they’d choreographed it, they exited their respective vehicles at the same time.

Then she took in the fierce set of his features, the waves of tension that rolled across the yard to tug at her heart. She said nothing, not even when she felt the heat of his body as he followed her up the walk, and she unlocked the front door. As much as she didn’t want to have this conversation inside the house where they risked Marissa waking, she couldn’t very well stand outside where neighbors would see and possibly hear what they had to say to one another.

"It’s okay,” she said to the young woman rising from the sofa, color draining from her oval face when Logan’s boots echoed on the bare floor. "Audra.” Kendall kept her voice soft and easy, as if she brought a man home every other night. "This is a friend of mine, Logan Montgomery.”

She half turned to gesture toward him, only to realize he’d moved across the room, ignoring them. From her periphery she saw Audra let an old fear hurry her away. The sound of the back door closing echoed through the quiet room. Kendall couldn’t calm her friend’s unease now. Later, they’d talk. For the moment, all of Kendall’s attention was focused on Logan’s face as he hunkered down to stare at a series of pictures of Marissa on the small bookcase.

That hard line of his jaw relaxed, and his throat worked once, as if trying to clear the emotion that had lodged there. Oh, and the emotion was in his eyes, blazing with discovery and longing. On one bent knee, his hand fisted as if to stop from reaching out to stroke a finger over the milk chocolate curls. What she saw both pleased and frightened her.

"She looks like you,” he whispered.

"Funny, when I look at her, I see you.” He lowered his head, drew in several ragged breaths that seemed to mirror the fearful pounding of her heart. "She’s like you in so many ways. She’s always full of questions. Since moving back here, she’s changed from wanting to be a fairy princess to a cowgirl riding in the rodeo. She has a bad habit of leaving her toys scattered all over her room, but I usually don’t say much to her. I don’t want her memories to be of me spending all my time cleaning or arguing with her about the way her room looks.”

Logan stood abruptly, turned to face her. She nearly took a step in defense. "I don’t want a damn report. I want to see her.”

"Yes, well.” Kendall resisted rubbing her damp palms on her trousers. "It’s late, Marissa’s asleep, and I’ve just come off a ten-hour shift.” She glanced around, remembered her friend had slipped out of the house. No chance of a buffer or diversion from this conversation.

"I don’t expect you to wake her up,” he said, "but, Kendall, I want to see her as soon as possible. I’ve already lost so much time with her.”

"I never said I’d keep you from her.” Though it would burn a hole in her heart each and every time she saw them together, she knew she had no hope of keeping them apart. The woman in Kendall, who had given her heart in the first place, raced to overtake the mother who would make any and every sacrifice necessary to defend her daughter’s heart against the pain of losing love. "I’m saying you’re going to have to wait a little longer.”

Logan scrubbed hands over his face. He looked so tired, from a kind of fatigue that had dogged him longer than the two days he’d been home. She’d often dealt with that kind of exhaustion, one that sprang from emotional more than physical weariness.

"You mean more than just seeing her tonight, or even tomorrow,” he said, with the instinctive understanding they’d once shared. "You mean waiting to tell her that I’m her father.”

"Yes.”

"Are you punishing me because I left? Because I’ve been away so long?”

"No. I’m protecting my daughter.”

"Ourdaughter.” For a second, an instant, her heart quivered at the fierce narrowing of his gaze. "Our daughter, Kendall. I realize that you’ve had her alone for more than four years, but that’s in the past now.”

"Is it? You haven’t been home in five years, Logan. And you never once contacted me. Why should I think that’s going to change? Just because you’re here now doesn’t mean you’ll stay.”

He opened his mouth, as if about to say something, and then closed it with an almost audible snap of his jaw.

With a sigh she shoved a hand through her hair. "I need to lock this up.” She gestured to the gun in the holster at her waist. "I’ll be right back.”

She walked down the hall to her small bedroom. With the routine of seven months on the job, she loosened the belt, secured the gun in the locked box on the top shelf of her closet, and shut the door. She turned with every intention of peeking in on Marissa. Her shoulders jerked along with her heart.

Logan stood in the doorway of her bedroom.

Logan. Bedroom. There were two words that so did not need to be together in any sentence. Not in any way, shape, or form in her mind. Still, images and sensations from the past knocked on the walls of her heart. Five years of suppressed longing were jumping with joy at the thought of being set free.

"Are you ashamed that I’m her father?”

"What?” Sheer shock replaced misgivings. "No, of course not. Oh, Logan, how could I be ashamed when you gave me the most precious thing in my life?” Driven by a force stronger than her misgivings, she walked to him, gently wrapped her arms around him.

His arms immediately came around her waist, held her close.

Five years ago, she would never have been so bold. Five years ago, she’d known the emptiness that came with little or no physical affection. Five years ago, she’d been a young girl with romantic dreams. Since then, she’d yearned and longed for every touch, caress, and press of body she’d shared with Logan that one night. Instead of dwelling or giving in to the heartache of the loss, she’d poured all that emotion onto her daughter. She’d be damned if Marissa ever doubted her mother’s love the way she’d doubted her own father’s feelings.

"I have a lot of regrets in my life,” she whispered, "but being with you that night has never been one of them.”

"I want to do what’s right.”

"You always did. Even when it meant ignoring what you wanted.”

He stepped back, and her empty arms dropped to her sides. "What the hell does that mean?”

"Keep your voice down, you’ll wake Marissa.” She paused a second. "You wanted to leave right out of high school.”

"I wanted Dad and Carter to listen to my idea about training horses for barrel racing,” he corrected and scrubbed his hands down his face. "I thought they’d eventually get used to the idea and come around to my way of thinking. Then Mom got sick.”

"And you left.”

"It was a little more complicated than that, but for now, we’ll just leave it at yes, I left.” He turned and walked away.

"Do you see that?” Kendall demanded when she followed him out of the bedroom. He paced the living room, the movement so familiar to her. "Do you see how you walk away whenever you don’t want to face something?”

"I left your bedroom.” She heard the grind of his teeth in every word and felt the irrational need to push at him.

"It’s more than that. You walked away from memories.”

His gaze narrowed as it stayed focused on her. She saw a glimpse of the man, the solider he’d become during his absence. "Trust me, Kendall, you don’t want me having memories while I’m standing this close to you and your bedroom.”

Kendall sucked in a surprised breath. The dark look in his gaze was so compelling that her hand instinctively went to her hip. That’s when she realized it wasn’t a physical threat she saw, but need. And that was more dangerous than if he’d made a move toward her. She had the split-second notion that if she stepped toward him they’d be locked and rolling on the floor of her living room the way they once had in his truck bed.

She inhaled two more trembling breaths before she could speak. "Logan, I know better than anyone how your mother’s death changed you. I also know how it feels to be a young child desperate for a father’s love.”

"Then you should understand why I want to see her, to know her.”

"For how long? Until you get tired of the responsibility that never lets up? Until you decide you’ve had enough of playing daddy and decide to leave?"

"That’s not fair.”

"Maybe not. I’m tired, and when I am, I tend to be irritable. You have no idea how it feels to be so exhausted and know you have no one to depend on, no one to give you five minutes of rest or quiet.” She dragged hands through her hair, resisted the urge to pull at the ends. "Still, I would do it all over again without hesitation.” Her heart pinched before she dropped her hands to her side and looked into his beautiful green eyes.

"Logan, you asked me why I never contacted you. Let me ask you the same.” She encouraged a new slice of hurt to coat her words. "Did you ever think about how I felt when I found out the day after we made love that you’d left? Then, as time went on and I still heard nothing from you, what else could I think but that you were glad to be rid of me?”

Her throat choked on the emotion welling up inside of her, straining to break free. She took a half step back, torn between wishing and fearing he would reach for her. "What else could I think but that I was one more regret for you to leave behind?”

"You should’ve known better, I could never think of you as a regret.”

"It’s how it felt to me at the time.” And every day since, she wanted to add but kept silent. "You never said a word about leaving.”

"I planned to tell you that night, that’s why I came by to see you. Hell, Kendall.” He scraped fingers through his short hair. "You surprised me. I never expected... damn it. You were the one who talked about leaving.”

I would have stayed if you’d asked. It was foolish to think of what had never been, what would have been wrong for both of them. At that time.

"It was all I could think of at the time,” she admitted. "Getting away from my father and what I saw as his betrayal.”

And now? Her heart demanded. Now, when they’d both changed and grown? Now, when they’d seen what the world could bring, when they’d experienced disappointment and heartache, along with pleasure and joy? Tears burned for release, but with the same will that had helped her through all the hurt and loneliness, she refused to let them fall.

"Did you get pregnant on purpose?”

The question didn’t surprise her, but the tiny nick of pain did. She’d offered him her innocence, her love, and had all but demanded he accept both. "No, it was just a lovely side benefit.”

"Was it hard?”

She didn’t try to pretend he asked about the physical labor of giving birth to his child.

"Sometimes.” More for something to do—and to give her a little distance—she moved to sit on the sofa. "Physically, I felt good. I worked two jobs until right before Marissa was born, so I had enough saved to get us past those first two months.”

"You had no one to help you?”

"I took advantage of all the free or reduced assistance I could get.”

"Really? The Kendall Grant I knew never asked anyone for help.”

"Where Marissa is concerned, there’s nothing I won’t do to make her life better.” Her mouth twisted in a bitter curve. "It seemed only fitting that I take charity money after my dad used my college fund to pay for his missionary trip.”

"Did he know?”

"I wrote him when Marissa was born, but he never wrote back. I told myself that it didn’t matter. But, a couple of times every year, I sent him a card along with some pictures of her.” She shrugged, as if she could dismiss years of hurt with the gesture. "It was stubborn of me, I guess.”

"Determined,” he corrected. After a brief hesitation, he came over to sit at the opposite end of the sofa. "I’ve never met anyone as determined as you when you’ve made up your mind about something.”

"Which is just a polite way of calling me stubborn.”

She expected, had hoped for the flash of his smile, indicating they’d come to some sort of uneasy truce. Instead, he looked at her with the same intensity as he had during their first meeting today. "I guess that’s what worries me the most.” She didn’t ask why. "You’ve dug in your heels about not letting me spend time with her.”

"I’ve dug in my heels about not telling her that you’re her father. Logan, try to see this from my viewpoint. If you spend time with her, she’s going to love you.”

As Kendall had. As she was so terribly afraid she still did.

"You make it sound like that’s a bad thing.”

"It is.” She saw the misery blazing in his eyes. "I don’t want her hurt.”

"And how is spending time with her, with her loving me, going to do that?”

The fact that he had to ask, that he didn’t have a clue, ripped at her. She sighed. "Did you hear what I said about how Marissa is always full of questions?” She waited until he gave her a hesitant nod. "If we tell her that you’re her father, I can guarantee that one of her first questions is going to be why you don’t live with us like the other daddies. How will you answer her?”

"Is that what this is about? You want me to marry you?” he asked while his hands fisted on his knees.

Kendall stood and paced around the room, using the movement to keep the hope from surfacing. How could he ask her that and not know what it would do to her? "You’re missing the point.”

"No, it would work. I can support you.”

"I don’t need your money.” The words fired like a gun, sharp and rapid. Her heart felt as if it were bleeding from the pain. "I’ve managed to provide for her without your help. You can’t buy her, Logan.”

"Damn it, Kendall. How are we going to resolve this if you twist everything I say?”

She opened her mouth to argue, but then admitted fear accounted for much of her reaction. "Money isn’t what Marissa needs.”

"Right. She needs a father.”

"One who is involved in her life.” The spurt of anger felt good as it washed away longings she had no business wishing he would ease. She would not, absolutely wouldnot, depend on a man to complete her life. And if she had to yell until her throat was raw to get him to understand, it’s what she’d do. She’d always done what she had to without waiting for someone else to take care of her needs. She’d had little choice after all.

"What are you going to do?” she demanded. "Breeze in, spend a few days with her, maybe buy her a few toys, and then leave again? It’s not enough. Time and attention are what she wants, what she needs.”

"That’s what I’m trying to give her.” His words, his tone, the way he swept a hand through the air all conveyed his irritation and frustration.

"For how long?”

If she had to, she’d keep hammering home this point until it got through his thick skull. Just as she’d refused to hear his protests the night she’d seduced him. Now there was another type of innocence in jeopardy.

"Just how much time are you willing to give, Logan? There were plenty of nights when I was so tired from a long day at work. But I still had dinner to make, baths to give, laundry to wash and dry and fold, all while trying to figure out which bill to pay this month.” Those long years of burden leaked out, fired the simmering embers of an angry resentment she hadn’t realized existed.

"You’re not being fair. I could hardly be here to help you if I didn’t know.”

"True enough, and I accept blame for not telling you. Hindsight makes it easier to see the mistakes. But don’t you dare come here after all this time, expect to spend a few days with her before you leave again, and not think about how it’s going to hurt me to watch you go.”

"Who said I was going anywhere?”

Shocked by the question, Kendall fought against holding tight to the tiny sliver of a chance that he might actually stay. In that silence, she watched as Logan slowly rose to his feet. It took her only a second to realize he no longer looked at her.

His eyes had gone wide while his body seemed to have gone attention-stiff, but she had the sudden, unarguable sensation that he hadn’t heard her shouted confession. And while there was small comfort in that knowledge, she felt her heart drop into her stomach an instant before she heard the voice.

"Mamma?”


 

 

Chapter Two

"MAMMA.” MARISSA’S small feet slapped against the bare floor as she ran across the room. "Mamma.”

A demand now, more insistent as she felt a small hand tug at the material of her uniform slacks. Kendall watched as Logan’s left hand closed into a tight fist. Oh, the look on his face was everything she’d hoped would be there when he first set eyes on his daughter. It was a look she knew she’d never, ever forget. It was a look that reminded her of his stunned realization that she’d been with no one before him.

"Marissa,” he whispered with a soft reverence. Then he suddenly looked at Kendall. There was nothing calm in his expression, nor any frozen wonder. There was determination and insistence.

Kendall’s heart faltered even as her spine stiffened. "No,” she whispered in answer to the silent demand.

She turned and knelt, wrapped her arms around the sweet reassurance of her daughter and the stuffed blue dragon Marissa still slept with. Even as Kendall nuzzled her cheek against her daughter’s curls, she felt Marissa peek over her shoulder at Logan standing behind them.

"You were being mean to my Mamma.”

Kendall eased back and looked at her daughter. Marissa stared at Logan with a determined expression on her face, as if ready to do battle. It reminded Kendall, painfully, of the expression he’d worn moments earlier when they’d argued about whether or not to tell Marissa the truth.

Logan squatted down beside them. "We were just talking.”

Kendall glanced at him. His gaze was focused on Marissa as if trying to absorb every movement, each nuance, of this first meeting. Kendall understood. The first few weeks of Marissa’s life, she’d spent hours staring at the miniscule miracle of her daughter, breathed deeply of her softly powdered perfection, and memorized the way she fisted her left hand while sleeping.

It hurt to be here, literally, between her daughter and the man Kendall had loved. So many years lost, so many moments missed. For all of them. And yet this first meeting, so long hoped for and dreamt of, was filled with tension and unease. She accepted the part she played in this scene. Still, she had to hold strong and protect her daughter’s tender heart in whatever way she could.

"You yelled at her,” Marissa insisted.

"I’m sorry we were loud,” Logan apologized.

"And I’m sorry we woke you,” Kendall said. On unsteady legs she stood, still holding Marissa in her arms. Logan stood as well.

"Who are you?”

There was that innocence Kendall wanted to protect. Such a simple question, and yet nothing about the answer was simple or easy. Everything could change in a single moment, depending on how Logan answered. And damn it all, she had mixed feelings about exactly what she wanted him to say.

Still, if the situation had been different, Kendall would have grinned at her daughter’s lack of restraint. She took pride in knowing she was raising Marissa to be self-confident and assured. Or at least she had until this moment.

"I’m Logan,” he answered. "And I would never hurt your mom. I promise. She used to be the best friend I ever had.”

"Is that why you were yelling? ’Cause you’re not friends anymore?”

"No.” His gaze flicked to Kendall. She couldn’t decipher the emotion she saw in the instant before he returned his attention to Marissa. "Your mom will always be very special to me because she gave me the most precious gift of my life.”

Kendall struggled with frustration at Logan for putting her in this position by using an echo of her earlier words. Still, she couldn’t deny her heart opened a little more with his obvious wonder at seeing and speaking with his daughter for the first time.

"My mamma sometimes buys me special presents when I’ve been good. I asked her for a horse for my birthday.” In her quicksilver way, Marissa’s line of thought changed. "Are you a cowboy?”

"No.”

"Oh.”

Kendall nearly smiled at Marissa’s disappointment. Then decided they all needed a reminder. "Logan’s a soldier, come home for a visit.”

"I’m staying with my brother,” Logan said. "He has a ranch. With cattle and horses. Maybe you could come out and see them sometime.”

In an old habit, Marissa placed her small hands on either side of Kendall’s face, insuring she had her mother’s attention. "Can we go?”

"We’ll see.”

"Now, Mamma.”

"No, not now” Kendall said, tightening her hold on her wiggling daughter. "Now it’s nighttime.”

"But I want to go see the horses.”

"The horses are sleeping. Which is what you should be doing.”

"Tomorrow?”

Oh, how unfair it was to see that light of anticipation and excitement in her daughter’s face and know it was there because of something Logan offered. Even the knowledge that the promise would add bittersweet memories to her heart held no weight against the desire to make her daughter happy.

"I’ll have to check and see when I have a day off.”

The mirrored pleasure she saw on daughter and father had her knees going to water. Kendall used the need to boost the growing weight of her daughter in her arms to help steady her stance and her emotions. It struck her suddenly that her little girl was getting older. Soon she would be too big to be held.

"Right now, however, young lady, you need to go back to bed.”

"I gotta go potty,” Marissa declared and scrambled down out of Kendall’s embrace.

"I’ll help you.” Then she’d tuck her back in bed. Hopefully, that little space of distance would steady her turbulent emotions.

"I can do it myself.”

The declaration reinforced the fierce independence that was slowly but surely taking her daughter out of Kendall’s protective reach. Had her father ever felt this conflict between pride and alarm? Marissa shoved the stuffed dragon into Kendall’s hands. "You hold Blue.” She turned and skipped away, singing a tune from her favorite cartoon movie.

"She’s not what I expected.”

Kendall told herself that it didn’t matter, that she didn’t care what he thought or had expected. "What do you mean?”

"I guess I thought... well, hell. I mean, yeah, I looked at those pictures.” His head tilted toward the bookcase. "All I could think, all I wanted to think, is she’s little, more like a baby.”

"She’s a long way from that. And she needs to go back to bed.”

He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her.

"I’m back,” Marissa said as she skipped into the living room.

Kendall turned away from the hot annoyance on Logan’s features, felt her lips curve. One corner of the hem of Marissa’s nightgown was stuck in the waistband of her pink panties. She knelt down to straighten the bed clothes. "Back to bed, little lady.”

"Mamma, rock me.”

The simple request, accompanied by those tiny arms locking around her neck and the hazel eyes that were the perfect blend between Kendall’s brown and Logan’s green ones, was impossible to resist. It wouldn’t be long before Marissa was too big, or considered herself too old, to sit in her mother’s lap and be rocked. How could Kendall deny herself a pleasure that would all too soon no longer be hers?

It would also give her a means of tucking Marissa beneath her protective arm against Logan’s penetrating, eager gaze. "For just a little bit.”

"What’s a bit?”

"You are.”

Marissa giggled as she was scooped up. "I’m getting bigger.”

"I know. I’m going to have to tie a brick on your head so I can keep you my little girl.”

LOGAN’S ARMS tightened painfully across his chest at Kendall’s possessive claim. In no way had he been prepared for this unexpected, fierce need to be the one sitting in a rocking chair with his daughter on his lap. He watched as Marissa twisted and shifted, causing Kendall to wince twice, until Marissa and her stuffed dragon settled into just the right spot. One hard push by Kendall’s small foot set the rocker into motion. Marissa slipped her right index finger into her mother’s hand, and Kendall used the pad of her thumb to begin a rhythmic stroking from knuckle to tip.

Neither mother nor daughter looked his way.

He felt like an intruder as he sat on the sofa, leaning forward as he balanced his forearms on his thighs and watched them, hungry for even this tiny glimpse into their lives. It was obvious that Kendall and Marissa shared a bond, one that didn’t include him. He honestly didn’t believe Kendall deliberately tried to exclude him; it was simply her and Marissa’s habit to sit like this. They didn’t need him. The two of them had existed as a family for more than four years. If he left tomorrow, it would hardly cause a ripple in their lives.

It didn’t take long for Kendall’s soft conversation to soothe Marissa into sleep. When she started to stand, with an ease that belied the weight of a sleeping child in her arms, Logan stood and took a step forward.

"Can I?” he asked, holding out his hands, fighting off resentment when Kendall hesitated. Then, finally—slowly—she passed Marissa to him.

The weight staggered him, not the physical weight but the emotional punch of holding his child for the first time. Marissa slept through this moment, but Logan knew he would never forget it. He’d missed so much. Her first smile, her first step, her first word. How many more moments would he miss if he signed his reenlistment papers?

Marissa shifted, her legs crossing at the ankle as she rubbed her nose against the fur of her stuffed dragon. He’d no sooner adjusted his hold and calmed the frantic beat of his heart, before she moved again. This time, she nestled against his chest with a small sigh.

"I made the mistake of letting her sleep with me one night,” Kendall said, her gaze on the girl, her lips lifting in a small smile. "It’s not a mistake I’ve repeated.”

"She smells like strawberries.”

"Her shampoo.”

He stared down at his daughter, in no particular hurry to carry her into her room and lose this chance to hold her. Kendall lifted a hand and lightly stroked it down the curls of their child. He had an acute remembrance of her hand trailing down his bare chest in much the same manner.

"Your shampoo always smelled like honeysuckle.”

Kendall dropped her hand, shoved both hands into her slack pockets as she refused to look up at him. "Her room is this way.”

Logan followed Kendall, pausing once as Marissa tossed in his arms. The bedroom was small, barely large enough for the narrow bed and a small chest of drawers. He stood still, surveying the shelves stuffed with books, the assortment of toys scattered on the floor, as Kendall smoothed the tousled covers.

When he lay Marissa down, he didn’t back away and let Kendall take over the tucking-in duty. He paused and waited for Marissa to toss and turn before settling, then slipped the sheet lightly over her, bringing it up to her shoulders. She immediately stuck out one leg, kicking him in the shin before she hooked it over the top of the sheet. Leaning down, he brushed his lips over her warm cheek.

Straightening, he stared at Kendall for a long moment before he wrapped a hand around her arm and guided her back to the living room.

"She doesn’t like me,” he said and released his hold on her arm.

"She doesn’t know you,” Kendall answered with a fatigue-filled sigh.

"I’m a father,her father.” The words, the reality now that he’d seen her, talked with her, held her, cut Logan off at the knees. He rubbed hands over his face when what he wanted to do was wrap Kendall in his arms and hold on.

"God, Kendall, we have a child. And she’s beautiful.” He looked at her, saw some of the exhaustion she spoke of. She could have made so many other choices. Instead she’d had his child, had raised Marissa to be bright and loving. It couldn’t have been easy, especially given the way her father would have reacted.

"Thank you,” he said, swallowing down the emotion that threatened to lodge in his throat. "Thank you for raising her, for letting me see her tonight.”

Kendall closed her eyes and swayed on her feet. Logan took a step forward, afraid she might collapse. Yet he didn’t reach for her, didn’t hold her against his chest. He hated knowing his insistence piled weight onto her slim shoulders. And yet, what else could he do? He was hungry for all she could tell him about her life, and that of their daughter, in the years he’d been away.

She drew in a deep breath. Before he did what he knew he shouldn't—wrap his arms around her—he took a small step back. Her eyes opened and she met his gaze. "I’ll make coffee.”

GUNFIRE AND THE bright flash of an explosion woke Logan.

He reached for his pants while rolling off the cot. Only, the angle was off, and he ended up with a face filled with carpet. He sighed and rolled over so he could brace his back against the side of the bed and stare out the window at the dark sky growing pink with dawn. The nightmare drifted away like smoke from gunfire. Not Afghanistan, but home.

Go home, Cowboy, before it’s too late. Don’t wait like I did.

In his mind he heard the slurred words from his buddy, Dave, dying in his arms. He saw the blood, felt the grit in his eyes from sand being kicked up by exploding shells, heard the frantic voices screaming orders.

Well, he hadcome home, and it could be argued that he’d done so too late. Not only had he failed to come home in time to see his father, he’d disappointed his brother. Again. And, he’d missed out on the first four years of his daughter’s life.

If Kendall had her way, it could be a long, drawn-out process for him and Marissa to get to know one another. Guidelines, schedules, restrictions. She’d outlined them, black and white, with little or no room for adjustment. At one time, he’d admired—and often envied—her single-minded nature, the focus that so often ran straight and narrow. The focus, he supposed, that had enabled her to be a single mother while earning the sheriff’s badge she’d wanted for as long as he’d known her. Now, however much he understood the reasoning behind the request, a part of him resented her plan that they take a slow, methodical approach to this situation.

Restless, he stood and finished dressing. He’d become accustomed to following orders, had found a certain amount of freedom in relinquishing responsibility. But he’d be damned if Kendall dictated or controlled how and when he saw his daughter.

And every time he saw Marissa, he’d be reminded of the night with Kendall.

He couldn’t say he’d often dwelled on the memories of that last night, the night that created the miracle of a young girl. But watching the two of them last night, hearing the soft hushed tones between them, had brought back every sensation of being with Kendall.

Her skin had been so soft the last time he’d seen her, touched her. Despite the dark of the night around them, he’d noticed the blush spread over her cheeks when she’d leaned forward to surprise him with that first kiss. He’d known she was innocent, had used that as his reasoning for them to stop. But her mouth had been so sweet and inviting. And it had tempted him with her relentless return to his. He supposed knowing that he planned to leave the next day had contributed to his state of mind of wanting to have a good memory to take with him.

When she’d used the tip of her tongue to trace along his lips, he’d had little choice but to open and take the kiss further. She’d been slow and deliberate, the focus he’d so often admired about her fortifying her continued assault on his senses.

Then those shy hands had traveled across his shoulders, over his chest, down his belly. She’d hesitated then, as if unsure what to do next. He’d thought this would be the break he needed; this would be when she realized they needed to stop. Instead, she’d taken his hand in hers and molded it around her breast. Despite her innocence, she’d tilted back her head and moaned. Her face had been alive with wonder and discovery, her eyes blazing with a growing awareness and sense of power. Her lips had curved ever so slightly. Driven by a force stronger than restraint, he’d given in and accepted what she offered, took what he suddenly wanted with a desperation and hunger he’d never known before.

He’d been with other women since then, but right now, visualizing her with the daughter they’d made, he couldn’t recall a single detail about any of those others. And, he admitted, given half a chance, he wouldn’t go back and change the outcome of that night.

A familiar squeak from the stairs had his mind returning to the present rather than taking another stroll down that pivotal night of his past. He took a step toward the bedroom door only to suck in a deep breath at the constricting fit of his jeans. Hell, he didn’t need thoughts of Kendall complicating an already turbulent time in his life. If he thought of her—and damn it all to hell and back, he knew it would be when he thought of her—it was best for those thoughts to be in the context of her being Marissa’s mother and not his previous lover.

With a glance over his shoulder, he stared at the dresser drawer where he’d laid the pictures Kendall had given him of Marissa. They rested on top of his reenlistment papers.

Maybe Kendall had it right to keep the truth from Marissa. Until he knew if he was staying or not, it was probably better to keep quiet about their family connection. After all, his past wasn’t exactly littered with good family relations.

He and Carter had never seen eye to eye. Some of those differences and disputes had been set in motion by the old man, but some were the result of Logan’s own willful stubbornness. He liked to think he’d matured, had seen enough of the world to better accept that he and his brother didn’t have to always see eye to eye in order to get along. Granted, they’d gotten off on the wrong foot due to him returning home two months after the death of their father, but maybe—just maybe—they could find a balance. And hiding out in his old bedroom was no way to correct the regrets of the past.

"Didn’t expect to see you this morning,” Carter said, when Logan walked into the kitchen.

"Couldn’t sleep.” Logan went to the refrigerator in search of orange juice. Leaning back on the counter, he drank from the carton. "Since I’m up, you want some help around the ranch this morning?”

"Can always use help.” Carter poured milk over his cereal. "Just how many horses you been on in the last five years?”

"I can still outride you.”

"Always could.” Carter’s grin vanished as quickly as it appeared. "The old man never did understand why you wanted to work with the horses instead of the cattle.”

"I think it was more he didn’t like that I went against what he said, instead of going along with him.” Logan returned the carton of orange juice to the refrigerator. He found a bowl and spoon, sat across from Carter, shook some cereal out of the box, and added milk.

"You were always more hers than his.”

There was no point in arguing that fact. From an early age, Logan had known the way to get what he wanted was through his mother. Just as he’d accepted that his father expected Carter to take over the reins of the ranch.

"Why the military?” Carter asked.

"I set out for Texas intending to sign on to a ranch and earn enough money to get started. But the second night I was on the road, I went to this little bar outside of the town where I’d stopped. There was this guy in a wheelchair. We got to talking. He’d been a Marine, lost both his legs due to an IED. That’s—”

"Improvised explosive device.” Logan stared at his brother as Carter shoved aside his empty bowl. "I always wondered if you’d come across one.”

"Everyone comes across them, they’re all over the damn place.” Logan paused, then shook his head. "Anyway... this guy, he talked about how proud he was to have served his country, what it was like to be overseas, and how he missed the guys he’d been stationed with. There I was, still steamed about that last fight with the old man, feeling kinda sorry for myself to be honest, and here was this guy who’d lost so much. Yet he claimed he’d go back in a heartbeat.” Logan shrugged. "I enlisted the next morning.”

"Did you ever regret it?”

"Sometimes. I wished I’d been here to have a chance to fix things with Dad.” He gave his brother a half-hearted grin. "I even missed you a time or two.”

"I’m proud of what you’ve done.” Logan could only stare at his brother in stunned silence as Carter rose and walked to the sink. "You remember Dwight Davis?”

It took a minute to make the conversation switch, let alone connect the name with someone from the past. "You went to school with him.”

"He took over the feed store. Has a little girl now, not quite seven. Brittany. Girl wants to be a barrel racer. But Dwight’s wife’s been sick.”

Carter looked over, and Logan saw the worry they’d known when their mother had been sick. "Kathy had cancer a while back. In remission they say, but she’s still on the weak side, so Dwight doesn’t like to leave her alone much. Anyway,”—Carter turned on the water to rinse his bowl—"he’d probably appreciate it if you spent some time with his girl, see if she’s any good and if there’s anything you can do for her.” He tilted his head a little, his version of a shrug.

"After we finish up the morning chores,” Carter continued. "We could spend a couple of hours getting the old corral back in working order. The fence has a couple of rails that need to be replaced.”

Carter didn’t look at him, just kept running water in his bowl. Logan found it necessary to wash down the sudden constriction in his throat with the last of his milk. He had no idea whether or not he would seriously follow through on this opportunity. But he also wasn’t about to turn away from his brother’s offer—an offer that went deeper than a suggestion to help out a friend.

"That’d be great,” he finally said.

IT WASN’T THE first time Kendall had worked her shift after a few short, fragmented hours of sleep. It was, however, the first time her tired thoughts revolved around a man rather than a sick daughter.

It didn’t help any that Marissa had asked at least a dozen times when could they drive out to Logan’s ranch and see the horses. His brother’s ranch, Kendall immediately corrected. It would do her more pain than good to think of the Montgomery ranch in any way, shape, or form as Logan’s.

Not that Marissa had much interest in Logan. All she’d talked about was the chance to see and, with a sly glance at her mother, maybe ride a horse. When Kendall had mentioned Logan by name, Marissa had wrinkled her nose and said she didn’t think he was very nice.

Kendall had been conflicted about Marissa’s comment. On the one hand, she liked that he hadn’t made such a sterling first impression on her daughter. Their daughter, she could practically hear him correcting. On the other hand, it bothered her that Marissa had that negative impression. It wasn’t like her baby to be so critical about someone she’d just met.

Yet, Kendall admitted she’d used Logan’s five-year absence and his eventual leaving at every turn. As she completed her shift, she also acknowledged—at least to herself—that she’d done so as much to protect her heart as to protect her daughter’s sensitive feelings.

It had been foolish to think she could see him again and not feel something. After all, he was the only lover she’d known. The feminine side of her that had been tamped down beneath a mother’s duty had suddenly sprung to life with one look at him. Standing in her bedroom with her arms around him had done little to subdue or pacify those feelings.

Years ago, it had been a girl who’d turned to him, a girl who’d wanted to feel the comfort and excitement of his arms, his touch, his kiss. Last night, it had been a woman who’d stood within the circle of his arms and trembled, as she had all those years ago, with the desire to toss aside caution and pride. Even as she’d fought him as a mother, she’d wanted the opportunity to be intimate with him again.

One lesson she’d learned, been forced to learn the last five years, was a person didn’t always get what she wanted. Could she free the passion and need she’d only known with Logan? Could she risk her heart being trampled if he left her behind again? If she took that chance, would she be able to protect Marissa in the process?

When she spotted a man slapping a young boy, she focused on a different type of protection.

Kendall identified the two figures as she brought the car to a stop outside The Pit, an aptly-named bar on the west side of town. Lloyd Miller and Robbie Patterson stood beneath the front door overhang, watching as she called in and alerted Dispatch to her location and situation.

Everyone in town knew The Pit was where you came if you wanted pills, illegal drugs, to place a bet, or buy sex by the hour. So far the Sheriff’s Department hadn’t been able to catch and hold the owner, Lloyd Miller, for anything more than suspicion.

What few people in town understood was Robbie Patterson’s obvious devotion to Lloyd. Robbie didn’t work for Lloyd, although she knew for a fact that Lloyd often used their so-called friendship to get Robbie to run errands for him. Because she and Robbie had attended school at the same time, Kendall knew Robbie had Asperger’s and suspected the syndrome traits contributed to the relationship. Although she had yet to prove it, she believed Robbie’s lack of social skills, not to mention his superior math ability, were tools Lloyd used for his own benefit. Recently she’d been questioning if Lloyd had found a way to take advantage of the fact that Robbie’s father was the town’s lone pharmacist.

"Hey Robbie,” she called as she shut her car door and made her way closer to where the two men stood. Robbie flinched as though she’d shouted. He’d never liked loud noises. "How are you today?” she asked, making an effort to lower her voice.

"I am doing very well today, thank you for asking.” He tapped his fingers against his thigh as if entering numbers on a calculator while he stared down at his shoes.

"I’m crushed that you didn’t ask how I’m doing, Deputy,” Lloyd said, shooting her a smile that had a shiver skating down her spine.

"I don’t care how you’re doing.” She stepped up closer, bent her knees a little to get a better look at Robbie. His right cheek had a red streak across it. Anger flared within her, had her looking up so she could stare at Lloyd. "I should take you in for this.”

"For what?” Lloyd asked in all innocence. He actually spread his hands out as if inviting her to check them. "Robbie and I were just having a chat. Isn’t that right, Robbie?”

"My good friend Lloyd and I were having a conversation.”

"There’s no trouble here at all.”

"There is no trouble here,” Robbie repeated. "No trouble.”

Kendall stared at Lloyd, seething with frustration. She could do nothing, had no cause for doing anything more than walking away.

As if he knew exactly what she thought and how she felt, Lloyd grinned. "Well, if there’s nothing else, Deputy, Robbie and I’ll head back inside.”

"One of these days, Lloyd, you’re going to get so cocky that you’ll make a mistake.” She leaned forward ever so slightly, staring into his cold eyes. "I really hope I’m around when that happens.”

He closed a little more of the gap between them, and Kendall stiffened her stance so as not to recoil from the stale stench of cigarettes on his breath. Her stomach lurched, and she tightened her throat to keep the bile down.

"Any time you want to come around me, baby, you’re welcome to do just that.” He had the audacity to lower his gaze and then bring it, slowly, back up, touching on every intimate part of her body. "I’ll always find time for you.”

Before she could unleash her temper and say, or do, something she would regret, a truck rolled over the gravel. Logan wasted no time exiting as soon as the truck parked.

Kendall’s heart jolted hard at the sight of him wearing the old, familiar cowboy hat low on his brow. From the dark shadow on his jaw, he hadn’t shaved this morning. In a fanciful moment, she pictured herself and Logan as town sheriff and gunslinger about to draw at twenty paces.

"Logan Montgomery,” Lloyd exclaimed, taking a step back while shooting a speculative glance at Kendall. She schooled her features to give away nothing. "Heard you’d come back.”

"Back and thirsty,” Logan said as he stepped onto the wooden walk in front of the old building. He didn’t so much as give Kendall a glance. "I’ve been over at the feed store checking on some business. Thought I’d stop by for a drink before I head home.”

"And as a veteran, the first drink is on the house.” With another quick glance in Kendall’s direction, Lloyd turned and opened the door.

"I’ll take it.”

"Good.” Lloyd grinned over his shoulder at Logan. "Maybe we can find some other welcome home celebration that you’d like to partake of as well.”

Robbie followed Lloyd inside, giving Logan only enough time to slow his steps and speak to her in a low voice that nonetheless conveyed annoyance and a promise that bordered on a threat. "I’ll talk to you later.”


 

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