Karissa thought she knew exactly how her life was going to be, but when her marriage goes down in flames, she has to move home to the family ranch with her young son and start over again.
Marshal Wilmore has had a crush on Karissa since they were teenagers. The timing never seemed to work out for them before. Now that she’s home, he hopes she’ll see him through new eyes. When several members of the high school basketball team he coaches are caught in a doping scandal, he job is and reputation are on the line. Can he still convince her that he’s worthy of her trust?
Karissa glanced out the window of her little apartment again and wondered what was keeping her brother and father. The morning was growing old, and she knew it would be late by the time they got everything loaded and reached home.
A U-Haul truck came into view and the driver honked the horn, announcing his arrival. Must be Hank. Dad would never be so obnoxious. “It’s about time.” She felt bad as soon as the words escaped her lips. She’d barely slept the night before, staying up until four a.m. to pack the rest of her things, and was a little on edge. She reminded herself to be sweet and grateful that her father and brother were taking the day to help her—doing this alone would have been impossible.
Her son, Paul, raced past her, jetting a spaceship through the air, pushing the button that made the battery-operated engine sounds blare. She grimaced and held herself back so she didn’t snap at him. She was definitely sending the toy with him to his dad’s and she hoped they left it there. Dennis had bought it for their son, after all. He should have to deal with the noise.
Karissa hurried to let her father and brother in, and opened the front door to see Marshal Willmore getting out of the moving van. The surprise hit her like a shockwave. What was he doing here?
Hank’s white 4×4 pulled up right behind the moving van and she could see her brother behind the wheel, but not her dad. She forced herself to smile and wave like she wasn’t bothered by the image of Marsh, loping toward her in a T-shirt and blue jeans, the fabric stretched over his trim, but nicely muscled frame.
Hank joined him on the sidewalk and they approached side-by-side. He enveloped her in a tight hug, easing her stress and fears slightly.
“Hi, it’s good to see you,” she said to her brother, then glanced toward Marsh. “You came to help. Where’s Dad?” She tried to sound upbeat and unbothered by the appearance of the guy who had teased and tormented her alongside her brothers while she was growing up.
Marsh’s smile was easy and confident. “Your mom wasn’t feeling great, so I offered to come so he could stay with her. I’m practically one of the family, anyway.”
Hank snorted. “Yeah, you two are just like brother and sister.”
Marsh shot Hank a dirty look.
“How’s the packing?” Hank asked, as if to shift the discussion, though a smile lingered on his lips.
“Great, almost done. I hope you brought a few tools with you; we still have to tear down the beds.” She left off the fact that her soon-to-be ex-husband didn’t know a hammer from a screwdriver, but felt that, as the man, the tools should go to him in the divorce. And he wasn’t shy about taking what he thought should be his.
“What? You think I’d go anywhere without my stash?” Hank asked. “They’re in the truck, of course.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder to the parking lot.
Paul came out of the apartment and threw himself into his uncle’s arms, but Karissa quickly ushered everyone inside. It was after eleven and she knew Hank would want to help milk the cows that evening. “There’s not too much to move, I hope,” she said. “We should easily be able to squeeze it all in the two trucks and my car.”
Marsh walked down the hall, peeking into each room as he passed it, then returned to the living room. “You’re not kidding. I’m surprised he left you the beds.” The irritation in his voice exactly mirrored her own frustration.
Karissa pressed her lips together and turned to the kitchen. Discussing the fact that Dennis had snuck in while she was at work and helped himself to the table and chairs, sofa set, television and entertainment center, half the dishes—including a few heirloom pieces she’d inherited from her grandmother—and all of the movies wasn’t going to soften the antagonism in Marsh’s voice.
The sound of tires on pavement drew Karissa’s eyes back to the parking lot and she frowned at the sight of Dennis’s car. He was early. Not that she was complaining.
“I think I’m going to have a chat with him,” Hank said, setting Paul on the floor.
“No, you won’t. You know you’ll just make the situation worse.” She put a hand on his chest and was glad when he stopped, though he could easily have gotten around her. “He’s here to pick up Paul for his weekend visit, and he’s done me a favor by coming hours early. Be civil.” She would say to be nice, but didn’t think that word would be in his vocabulary at the moment.
Karissa grabbed the backpack of Paul’s weekend belongings and told Paul to give his uncle a hug goodbye, then went out to meet Dennis.
His mouth was set in a grim line as he eyed the trucks. “I can’t believe you’re taking my son so far away,” he complained as soon as she was close enough to hear.
They’d had this discussion before, so she didn’t respond to his complaint. “You’ll bring him home Sunday night?”
“Yes. And you’ll bring him back out to me for my next visit.” It was more of a reminder than anything, as if her move was designed to deprive him of his son instead of her admitting that she needed a little help from her family. Her work hours as an emergency dispatcher were too irregular to depend on child care. Dennis’ eyes flicked to the apartment.
Karissa glanced behind her and saw Hank standing in the doorway, deep scowl lines between his eyes. She could keep him from talking to Dennis, but she supposed keeping him from shooting intimidating glances was too much to ask. She returned her gaze to Dennis. “Bring him to me before eight so I can get him in bed. He has school starting Monday morning.” And she had a new job.
“Yeah.” His face turned to smiles as the sound of Paul’s feet pounded down the walk toward them.
“Daddy!” Paul launched himself into Dennis’s arms and was cradled close.
This man may have torn her world in two when he announced he had gotten another woman pregnant and was choosing her over his wife, but there was no doubt that he adored his son. Karissa tried to just be glad that he still cared about Paul, even if he’d stopped loving her.
“Did you bring back the dishes?” she asked him.
“You’ll get them when the divorce finalizes,” he said, coolly.
“Right.” Stubborn jerk. She gave her son a hug and kiss goodbye and said she’d see him in a few days, then turned back to the apartment, fighting to keep the sadness, anger, and exhaustion under wraps.
Marsh came out of the apartment, heading for her as Dennis led Paul away. “You okay?”
“Fine.” Though she wasn’t. She sucked in a cleansing breath, fighting for self-control. “I said not to come out.”
“Settle down, Kar. I’m just grabbing some tools to take apart those beds.” He gave her shoulder a quick squeeze as he passed.
She gritted her teeth and wished he had never come. It was bad enough having Hank see her like this without dealing with Marsh as well. She forced a smile as she walked back into her echoing apartment.
If she could just hold on for a few more hours, she’d be alone and on the road home again.
Home, that elusive place she’d been trying to create for herself and Dennis, and had failed utterly.
They stopped to gas up at a convenience store down the street, and Marsh watched every move Karissa made. She was unhappy. Or maybe it was the exhaustion she’d used as an excuse for the temper he saw flash in her eyes from time to time. She hadn’t blown up at them, though, and that worried him.
Karissa had always been feisty and more than ready to stand up for herself. This woman had been worn down by circumstances.
She went inside, and Marsh leaned against the moving van, his gaze still following her.
“Rein it in, buddy,” Hank said. “I don’t think she’s even remotely ready to think about another relationship.”
Marsh pulled his gaze away from her. “Yeah, I’m getting that feeling. What did that jerk do to her? How long has she been like this? It’s like she’s a totally different person.”
Hank scowled. “If I’d had any idea how unhappy she was…I just want to pound that guy.”
“Get in line.”
Hank sent him a sidelong glance with a hint of smile on his face. “I don’t think she was overjoyed to see you.”
Marsh nodded. “She just needs a little time to remember why she had a crush on me when she was a kid.”
Hank snorted. “Dude, that was all in your head. Wishful thinking. She thinks you’re a pain.” He pulled the gas nozzle out of the tank and hung it up. “Oh, wait a minute, you are a pain.”
“You’re very funny.” He gave his best friend an annoyed scowl, but his eyes had already returned to the store, where Karissa was emerging with a tall soda.
Moving too fast with that one would definitely be a mistake, but that meant he had time to ease her into friendship first—which would be good for both of them.
He’d let the chances pass him by when they were teens, knowing their three-year age difference would bring her daddy’s shotgun out if he’d asked her out. Though they’d ended up going in different directions, she’d always been the one who got away.
This time he wouldn’t let her slip through his fingers. He believed in second chances.
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