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Jamie leaned heavily on his crutches as he thumbed through the mail, enjoying the morning sun on his shoulders and the dewy coolness of the grass beneath his bare feet. After a year in the Syrian Desert, he didn’t think he’d ever grow tired of the crisp mountain air and deep, cool forests that characterized his hometown of Glacier Creek, Montana.
“Honey, you should put some clothes on! It’s not that warm out.”
Glancing up, Jamie saw his mother standing in the open doorway of the single-story, ranch-style house where he’d grown up. A tall, attractive woman in her fifties, she was dressed for her morning Zumba class in a pair of yoga pants and a bright pink hoodie. In contrast, he wore only a pair of shorts. Getting a pair of jeans to fit over his leg cast was impossible, and he hadn’t yet gotten around to putting on a shirt. The day promised to be warm and dry, so maybe he’d just lounge in the backyard, like he’d done almost every day since he’d come home.
“I’m fine, Mom,” he said.
“Your breakfast is ready,” she called, crossing the front yard to the driveway. “I’m leaving now, so don’t let it get cold. And be careful! You don’t want to do too much. You’ll exhaust yourself and fall, and I won’t be here to help you.”
Jamie raised his hand in farewell as she backed her car onto the street, and drove away. He sighed and closed the mailbox. He’d been home for almost two months, and as his injuries healed and he grew stronger, the walls of his childhood home closed in more tightly around him. His mother worried and fussed over him like he was still a child. His dad had explained to him the fear and anxiety she’d experienced when they’d learned he’d been injured in Syria, but Jamie wished she’d relax, just a little. He was home now, however reluctantly.
Thank God they were leaving in a couple of days for their annual cruise with the McCaffertys. This year they were cruising through the Hawaiian Islands for two weeks. His mother had wanted to cancel the trip, insisting he couldn’t be left alone, but Jamie and his dad had convinced her he would be fine. He was twenty-six years old, and had been taking care of himself for almost eight years. Knowing his mother, she’d make sure the cupboards and fridge were stocked with enough food and beer to last him a month. She’d probably already contacted the neighbors and put them on notice to provide assistance while she was gone, just in case.
He sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. He loved Glacier Creek, but there wasn’t a whole lot going on in the way of excitement. Even hanging out with his old high school buddies at The Drop Zone, one of his favorite pubs, was a major undertaking. The leg cast, which extended from his toes to mid-thigh on his right leg, made it impossible to drive, so he was pretty much at the mercy of his parents if he wanted to go out anywhere. They’d only be gone for two weeks, but Jamie would be housebound for the duration. He could already feel the itch of cabin fever crawling across his skin.
He glanced at the house across the street, and the empty driveway. Even his best friend, Dylan, who had joined the local smoke jumper crew as a wildland firefighter, was off battling a blaze somewhere in Idaho. Jamie hadn’t seen him in a couple of years, but decided as soon as Dylan returned, he’d get back in touch with him.
As teenagers, they’d sworn one day they would start their own extreme adventure company, along with their third friend, Lucas Talbot. There was nothing they had enjoyed more than pushing themselves to the limit. As adults, they’d each found a career doing just that, but in ways they hadn’t imagined when they’d been kids. He missed Dylan and Lucas. Too much time had passed since the three of them had been together.
His thoughts turned briefly to Dylan’s sister, Rachel, as they always did when he looked at the McCafferty house. Man, he’d been crazy about her as a kid, but time and biology had conspired against him. Seven years his senior, she hadn’t been remotely interested in a scrawny, prepubescent boy. By the time he’d grown up, filled out, and became a man, she’d found herself some rich playboy named Deke Narducci, aka the Deke-wad, and married him.
And that had been that.
He’d been out of the running before he’d even had a chance to compete.
Jamie hadn’t seen Rachel in years, which was probably for the best. She’d been his first serious crush. He still experienced a bittersweet pang of longing and regret whenever he thought of her. She’d been so beautiful, so confident, and so energetic in everything she’d done, that watching her had been like staring too long at the sun. She’d dazzled him. Whenever she’d come home from college, Jamie had found a reason to spend more time at the McCafferty house than he did his own. Dylan had been disgusted by Jamie’s obvious infatuation with Rachel, and teased him mercilessly. Jamie hadn’t cared. The abuse had been worth the reward of seeing Rachel, of simply circling in her orbit. She’d been so full of life, big dreams, and big plans that he’d been in awe of her.
Tucking the bundle of mail into the waistband of his shorts, Jamie adjusted his crutches and turned to go back into the house, when a car turned onto the street. He wouldn’t have paused to watch except it was a sweet little Porsche Carrera GT in a gleaming shade of silver. Low-slung and sexy as hell, Jamie would have given his left nut to take it for a spin. Even as he wondered why a sleek set of wheels like that would have any business driving down Pinewood Avenue, it turned into the McCafferty driveway.
Jamie’s mouth nearly fell open. Had Dylan’s dad finally succumbed to a midlife crisis? A car like that was easily worth six figures. Unable to resist, he swung his crutches in the direction of the car, and then stopped short as the driver’s door opened, and a woman climbed out.
There was no mistaking the shiny swish of dark hair, or the sweetly curved ass beneath the snug white shorts. Jamie stopped breathing.
She hadn’t changed much in the three years since he’d last seen her, except she was even sexier than he remembered. Admittedly, the encounter at a popular L.A. restaurant had been so brief and unexpected, she hadn’t even seen him. But Jamie had recognized her. More importantly, he’d recognized the man who’d been aggressively hitting on a pretty brunette near the restaurant bar, while Rachel had sat at an outdoor dining table waiting for him to return with their drinks. She’d always had terrible taste in guys, as evidenced by her choice of husband.
Jamie had thought about that night so many times over the last few years, and still regretted he hadn’t gone over to say hello to Rachel. Or better yet, outed her dirtball spouse. In his fantasy, Rachel always slapped Deke hard across the face and declared their marriage was over. Then she ran, teary-eyed, from the restaurant. That’s where he came in, offering a strong shoulder for her to lean on. The fantasy always ended with the two of them in his bed.
She hadn’t yet spotted him standing in the middle of the street, staring at her like an idiot, and for a moment Jamie thought about turning tail and running. Only there was no running in his current condition. There was only painstakingly slow, snail-like progress. But he didn’t want her to see him like this, looking so fucking pathetic. Maybe, if he stood perfectly still, she wouldn’t notice him. Or maybe he could turn away and if she did happen to look in his direction, she wouldn’t recognize him. He was about to do that when her gaze swung toward him, and their eyes locked. He saw the precise instant when recognition caused her eyes to widen, and then sweep over him. Her mouth formed a wordless oh.
He smiled, feeling as if he’d been caught doing something naughty. “Hey, Rachel. Long time, no see.”
“Yeah,” she responded, sounding a little stunned. “Jamie, right? Wow. I would never have guessed. You look…great.” Her expression immediately turned contrite. “I mean, except for the leg. What happened?”
Jamie shrugged. “A mortar attack in Syria, and I was trapped beneath some debris. No biggie.”
No biggie. He sounded like a complete moron, and for the first time in his life, he couldn’t wait to get away from Rachel McCafferty. He wasn’t prepared to see her, and was definitely not ready to talk to her. She’d caught him completely off guard. She was even prettier than he remembered, and it was all he could do not to stare, bug-eyed, at her. He had an impression of slim, bare legs and a silky top that clung to her curves. She was so freaking beautiful, it hurt to look at her. He quickly looked away. It seemed some things never changed, like whenever she was near his brain stopped synapsing.
Now she looked uncomfortable, as if she didn’t know what to say, either. If she followed the news, she’d know the attack on the Marine compound five months earlier had been deadly. He’d lost two buddies that night, and had been trapped beneath the rubble for an agonizing eighteen hours before he’d been rescued. He’d been lucky; his injuries had been extensive, but not life-threatening.
“How long are you home for?” he asked, ignoring the warning bells jangling in his head, telling him to just let her go. Because what was the point in small talk? She’d married some dude on the East Coast, and that was that. The guy was a total dick, but Rachel had hitched her wagon to his horse. Or at least to his little Porsche Carrera.
“I’m not sure.” She shrugged, looking both uncomfortable, and something else. Angry? “A while,” she finally said. “At least until I find my own place.”
Jamie’s antennae went up, and he sharpened his gaze on her. “Oh, yeah? You moving back here?”
She looked away for a moment, and cleared her throat. Jamie had the distinct sense she was struggling to compose herself. When she turned back to look at him, there was no mistaking the sheen of tears in her dark eyes, and she swiped at them with her fingertips.
“Hey,” he said, frowning at her distress. He’d never seen Rachel cry. He moved closer, until he was in her driveway. “Are you okay? Did something happen?”
She gave a bitter laugh. “You could say that. Deke and I just got divorced. Like literally, just a few days ago.” She flapped a hand. “I mean, we haven’t lived together for almost two years, but the papers just came through the other day, and I don’t know…it just seems so final. The end of a chapter.” She drew in a deep breath and expelled it. “I had to get away, so here I am.”
Something shifted in Jamie’s chest, and then broke loose and began turning cartwheels of unadulterated delight.
As in…no longer married.
“About damned time,” he said, unable to disguise his satisfaction. “That guy was a douche, and the only one who couldn’t see it was you.”
Rachel’s face registered shock, and then affront. “I beg your pardon, but I wasn’t aware you ever met Deke.”
“I did, actually. A couple of times. Once when the two of you came home for a visit, and once out in L.A., at a restaurant called The Point.”
Rachel tipped her head, considering. At least she no longer looked like she might burst into tears, for which Jamie was grateful. He could handle just about anything except a woman’s tears.
“We were only at The Point once, a few years ago,” she finally said. “You were there? Why didn’t you say hello?”
“I was with a bunch of guys from my unit, and it didn’t seem like the right time,” he hedged. “You probably wouldn’t have recognized me, anyway.”
Her eyes swept over him again, and this time he could have sworn there was something else in her eyes…a feminine awareness and maybe even appreciation. It was all Jamie could do not to puff himself up beneath her gaze. He forced himself to lean easily on his crutches and act as if it were no big deal to be standing there, talking to her.
“Probably not,” she finally agreed. “You’ve, ah, changed a lot.”
“Damn straight. I’m not fourteen anymore.”
Her eyes flicked over him again and he watched with interest as warm color crept up her neck, before washing into her cheeks.
“No, you’re certainly not,” she agreed.
The undisguised approval in her tone was so clear, Jamie started to blush. He cast around desperately for a safer topic.
“That’s an impressive set of wheels,” he said, indicating the car. “Is it a celebration gift to yourself, or the spoils of war?”
Rachel glanced at the silver sports car, and her mouth curved in a rueful smile. “Deke gave me the car just before we split—it was supposed to be a birthday gift, but in retrospect I think it was actually a guilt-gift. Anyway, we have a house—had a house—in Jackson Hole. We kept the car there, so when I flew into Wyoming yesterday, I picked it up. I spent last night in Bozeman, and drove the rest of the way this morning.”
A home in Jackson Hole.
A Porsche Carrera.
Jamie felt a little stunned. He knew Deke Narducci was wealthy; he was heir to the Narducci shipping and cruise lines, after all, but he hadn’t given much thought to just how filthy rich the guy really was. Deke was mostly famous for hanging out with other famous people on his luxury yacht, or for being seen at popular celebrity events, or vacationing in exotic locales. Jamie had always written him off as an entitled playboy. But seeing evidence of his lavish lifestyle—one Rachel had shared—made him realize they came from completely different worlds. He couldn’t begin to compete.
“Did I say something wrong?”
Jamie jerked his attention back to Rachel, who studied him with a small frown. He shook his head. “Nah. I was just thinking it must be hard coming back to this, after what you’ve been used to with Deke.”
Rachel looked around, as if seeing the neighborhood for the first time. “Actually,” she said, “it feels really good. I’d forgotten how green everything is, and how good the air smells. I’ve missed being home.”
“So you’re not going back to New York?”
“Maybe just to clear out my apartment, but I don’t think I’ll live there again.”
Jamie tried to contain his grin, and failed.
She stared at him as if mesmerized, then made a vague gesture toward the house with one hand. “I should probably go in, say hello to my parents, you know…get settled.”
Jamie nodded. “Right. I should get back, too. It was great seeing you, Rachel.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “We should do it again soon.” Realizing what she said, she shook her head and gave an embarrassed laugh. “I mean, I hope to see you again soon.” Clearly flustered, she gave him a quick smile. But before she turned away, she gave him one last, all-encompassing look, as if she couldn’t quite help herself. This time, there was no mistaking the admiration in her eyes, before she abruptly spun away and all but ran into the house.
And just like that, Jamie was back in the game.
He swung his crutches in the direction of his parents’ house, amazed at how, in the space of mere minutes, the town of Glacier Creek had just gotten a whole lot more exciting.
End of Excerpt