Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt
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?
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.
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.
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
He was home,
instead of on the battlefield.
feet already?” Carter asked. He shrugged a dismissal before Logan could answer.
"Don’t feel like you have to stay on my account.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
sorry it wasn’t in time to see your Daddy before he passed,” she said.
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.
have mattered,” he whispered in her ear before giving her a smacking kiss on
"He was proud
back, more stunned than if he’d been kicked in the head by one of Carter’s
"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.”
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.”
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
What’s wrong? Is she sick?”
answered when Logan looked at him. "She’s got a kid, a little girl.”
Tammy confirmed. "She’s adorable, sweet, but is always asking questions. Has a
head full of brown curls.”
something sour in his stomach. "Kendall’s married?”
she’s said,” Carter answered.
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.
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.
hesitate. He bolted after her.
JUST HER LUCK.
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?
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
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.
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.
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?”
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
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
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.
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.
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.
"When can I
"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.
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.
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.
night she’d changed everything between them.
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
closed her eyes on his awed whisper of her daughter’s name.
you tell me?”
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.
have contacted me.”
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.”
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
She sucked in
a shallow breath but refused to apologize for her decision. "Not at the time,
"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?”
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.
said, glancing over her shoulder at him. "Marissa knows nothing about you.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
abruptly, turned to face her. She nearly took a step in defense. "I don’t want
a damn report. I want to see her.”
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.
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.”
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
punishing me because I left? Because I’ve been away so long?”
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.”
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.
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.
ashamed that I’m her father?”
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
immediately came around her waist, held her close.
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
did. Even when it meant ignoring what you wanted.”
back, and her empty arms dropped to her sides. "What the hell does that mean?”
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.”
"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.
than that. You walked away from memories.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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?"
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.
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?”
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
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
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
"Did you get
pregnant on purpose?”
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.
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?”
advantage of all the free or reduced assistance I could get.”
Kendall Grant I knew never asked anyone for help.”
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.”
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.”
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
"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.”
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
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
"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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
being fair. I could hardly be here to help you if I didn’t know.”
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.
MARISSA’S small feet slapped against the bare floor as she ran across the room.
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
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
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.
being mean to my Mamma.”
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.
down beside them. "We were just talking.”
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.
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.”
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.
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?”
smiled at Marissa’s disappointment. Then decided they all needed a reminder.
"Logan’s a soldier, come home for a visit.”
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?”
"No, not now”
Kendall said, tightening her hold on her wiggling daughter. "Now it’s
"But I want to
go see the horses.”
are sleeping. Which is what you should be doing.”
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.”
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.
however, young lady, you need to go back to bed.”
"I gotta go
potty,” Marissa declared and scrambled down out of Kendall’s embrace.
you.” Then she’d tuck her back in bed. Hopefully, that little space of distance
would steady her turbulent emotions.
"I can do it
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.
what I expected.”
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.
Marissa said as she skipped into the living room.
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
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
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
always smelled like honeysuckle.”
dropped her hand, shoved both hands into her slack pockets as she refused to look
up at him. "Her room is this way.”
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
he stared at Kendall for a long moment before he wrapped a hand around her arm
and guided her back to the living room.
like me,” he said and released his hold on her arm.
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.
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.
he said, swallowing down the emotion that threatened to lodge in his throat.
"Thank you for raising her, for letting me see her tonight.”
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
to see you this morning,” Carter said, when Logan walked into the kitchen.
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?”
use help.” Carter poured milk over his cereal. "Just how many horses you been
on in the last five years?”
"I can still
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.
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.
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—”
explosive device.” Logan stared at his brother as Carter shoved aside his empty
bowl. "I always wondered if you’d come across one.”
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
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
spotted a man slapping a young boy, she focused on a different type of
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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,
friend Lloyd and I were having a conversation.”
trouble here at all.”
"There is no
trouble here,” Robbie repeated. "No trouble.”
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.”
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
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.
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
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
"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.”
grinned over his shoulder at Logan. "Maybe we can find some other welcome home
celebration that you’d like to partake of as well.”
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.”