Road To Cedar Valley Falls by Kimberly Hanson

Road To Cedar Valley Falls

Kimberly Hanson

Copyright © 2023 by Kimberly Hanson. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying without written permission of the publisher or author. The exception would be in the case of brief quotations embodied in the critical articles or reviews and pages where permission is specifically granted by the publisher or author.

Although every precaution has been taken to verify the accuracy of the information contained herein, the author and publisher assume no responsibility for any errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for damages that may result from the use of information contained within.

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarities to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

I was given permission by Kimberly Hanson to put this on our blog.

Chapter One


Dax Marshall sat in front of his computer, staring blankly at the screen. He’d been working on the latest software update his customer for over an hour, but he couldn’t seem to focus. The screen in front of him blurred, his mind thinking of anything but what he needed to.

Frustrated at his lack of progress, he took off his black-rimmed glasses and threw them on his desk, rubbing his eyes.

The thrill of the holidays were long gone, and in its place held a sadness that only the middle of January could have. The dreary winter was no longer made beautiful with the Christmas lights. Cheery holiday gestures were replaced with sullen moods. All the excitement replaced with credit card debt and cold nights.

Not that the holidays held much joy for Dax. Since leaving his hometown of Cedar Valley Falls ten years ago, he’d only made the mistake of returning home twice. Mistakes he wasn’t in a hurry to repeat any time soon.

Now his holidays were mildly better, consisting of takeout food and movie marathons with his best friend and business partner, Mitch Brown.

“Hey, man. What are you still doing here?” Mitch asked as he popped into Dax’s office. The man himself stood in his doorway, arms crossed as he leaned on the doorframe. “I thought I was the only one of us that stays here until it’s almost time to start again.”

“I’m beginning to wonder that myself. I’m not getting much done on the Johnson project.” Dax pushed his rolling chair back, giving him room to stretch out his legs.

“Then go home and try again tomorrow. You still have a while before the deadline.” Mitch walked into the office and took a seat in a chair across from Dax. “What’s really going on with you? You’ve been off since before Christmas.”

“I don’t know.” Dax swivelled his chair around to look at the sweeping skyline before him. They had managed to find a small office on Vancouver’s waterfront, and while it might be on the industrial side with the less than picturesque views, it still gave Dax a sense of pride. A feeling they had made it from their little small town and were successful in ‘the big city.’

So then why am I so unhappy?

“Do you miss Rachel?” Mitch asked.

“No,” Dax replied with a chuckle. “She hasn’t even crossed my mind.” He was truthful in his answer. He knew Rachel wasn’t going to be long term. They both did, but neither wanted to admit it. Instead, they waited until Dax was able to save her from going to her company Christmas party alone, and they parted as friends.

“Then what is it? Don’t tell me you’re homesick.” Genuine concern crossed Mitch’s face at the thought.

“Definitely not.” Dax’s phone rang as if on cue. He didn’t hold back the groan as he looked down at the screen. “It’s like she knows we’re talking about home.”

“Are you going to answer it?” Mitch asked after sneaking a glance at Dax’s screen. He leaned back in his chair, resting his hands behind his head as he donned a smirk on his face. Dax knew that Mitch only wore the expression because his only relative back in Cedar Valley Falls was an uncle that didn’t care if he never returned to their small town.

Dax, on the other hand, had a family that seemed to call and try to lure him back to the town he hated every month.

Knowing that if he didn’t answer the call, his mom would just keep trying until he couldn’t avoid it any longer, he grabbed his phone and hit the answer button. “Hi, Mom.”

“Oh, honey, I’m so glad I caught you.” His mom’s voice sounded a little more frantic than normal, but still had the same pleading tone as usual when she wanted him to come back to Cedar Valley Falls.

He loved his mom, he really did, but he couldn’t go back to his hometown. Not after what happened.

“What’s going on?” Mitch moved to get up, but Dax waved him back down, anticipating he would be able to get his mom off the phone as quickly as normal with a few assurances he was fine and not falling into the ‘dark side of the big city’ as she put it.

“It’s your dad. He’s taken a fall.”

Dax sat up straighter, locking eyes with Mitch, who responded with a raised eyebrow. “What happened?”

“He was up on a ladder taking the Christmas lights off the house when he missed a wrung and fell from halfway up.” His mom’s voice shook as if she were fighting off tears. “He’s in the hospital, Daxy.”

“Is he okay?” Dax’s concern for his dad outweighed his irritation at the use of his childhood nickname.

“He will be. He broke his leg and bruised some ribs.”

“Why didn’t Bryce do it? Wasn’t he home for Christmas?” Dax knew if his brother had been around, he would have at least helped.

“He left a day early. He had to get back to Kelowna. Something about a business deal or a client or something. Anyway, that’s beside the point. I need you to come home.”

“What?” Dax sat up straight. He couldn’t help the panic that coursed through his veins at the mention of going to his small town. Mitch mimicked his movements, his questioning look turning to concern.

“Your dad will be coming home from the hospital today, but he’s going to be on bed rest for weeks and I can’t run the store and look after him.”

The store. Of course. Part of the reason that he left town.

“Can’t Bryce help? He’s closer.”

“No, he can’t come back until the Spring.” His mom’s voice went quiet, and he heard a soft sniffle on the other end of the line. “Please, I know I ask you to come home a lot, and that’s because I miss you. Seeing you in the city isn’t the same. But this is different. We need you here. Please?”

Dax pinched the bridge of his nose with his free hand, knowing what he had to go, no matter how much it might cost him, both financially and emotionally.

“Let me talk to Mitch. I’ll call you back tonight.”

“Oh, thank you, Daxy!” his mom said excitedly. “You have no idea how much this means to me!”

With further assurances he would call her later, he hung up and threw his phone on his desk.

“What was all that?” Mitch asked, now sitting on the edge of his seat.

“Looks like I’m going back to Cedar Valley Falls.”


Chapter Two


“Are there any updates on flight 276?” Callie Griffith asked as she walked to the desk at the gate of the Vancouver International Airport. It was the third time since she’d been waiting to board the plane she’d had to ask for an update.

“Sorry, not since the last time you asked,” the airline employee said with a tight-lipped smile, looking up only briefly from her computer to let Callie know she was getting on her nerves.

“Surely they must know if the plane is on its way here and when it’ll arrive.” Callie tried her best not to let her frustration get the better of her, but she needed to get on that plane.

Coming to Vancouver had been a colossal mistake. She didn’t know why she ever left Kamloops. She loved the Okanagan region with its amazing summers, lakes, and rivers. She had her friends and her job. She had the coffee shop on the corner of Lansdowne and Third that she went to every morning with baristas who all knew her order. Kamloops might not be a big city, but it was her home, and right now, that’s all that mattered.

“We will let you know of any updates as soon as we can. In the meantime, please take a seat.” The gate agent didn’t bother looking up from the screen that time.

“Thanks.” For nothing.

She walked back to her seat and flopped down, sighing as she went.

“I take there’s no updates,” a deep voice said from the seat beside her. In all her frustration, she hadn’t noticed the seat had been occupied while she was up.

“No. You’d think they would have something to tell us since our flight was supposed to leave three hours ago, but nope.”

“Too bad,” he said in a tone that made it sound like he was anything but sad the flight hadn’t left. She looked over to find a flop of dark hair looking down at a book.

“You don’t sound bothered by the fact we have been stuck here for hours.”

“Because I’m not,” he said, not looking up from his book.

She was getting really upset by people talking to her without actually paying attention to her. Reaching over, she placed her hand on his book, forcing it down on his lap. She was rewarded by having him look up at her, but then found herself momentarily stunned by a pair of stunning blue eyes behind black-framed glasses.

“Is there something I can help you with?”

Callie gave her head a small shake, breaking the momentary hold his stunning eyes had over her. “No, sorry. I guess I’m just anxious to get out of here.”

“Right.” The stranger held her gaze for a breath longer before picking his book back up, letting her hand fall from where it had rested.

Raising her hand back up, she closed her eyes and ran both her hands along her thighs, rocking a little as she went. She could feel her body temperature rising, an anxious feeling rising in her chest. She needed to get out of the city. Needed to get back home and as far away from Maxwell Gladwin as she could.

“Are you all right?” The man beside her asked.

“Yup,” she said with a weak smile as she opened her eyes and looked at him. She held her body still, even though it felt like she’d had ten cups of coffee. “I just really want to get going.”

“I’ve never seen anyone this excited to go to Kamloops,” he mused, the corner of his mouth lifting.

“I guess you don’t know the right people from there, then.”

“Attention everyone at Gate C30 with Flight 276 to Kamloops. We apologize but the flight has been cancelled,” the gate agent announced over the loudspeaker. Everyone at the gate groaned, some standing and yelling, drowning out what else the agent had said. Most rushed to the gate desk.

Callie sat, shocked, as she looked up at the scene in front of her.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Really?” Callie turned to the man next to her, who was patiently packing his book in his carry-on bag.

“No, I can’t say that’s how I saw my day going, but it is what it is.” He looked down at his phone as it lit up, the screen showing an incoming call with ‘Mom’ listed on it. He didn’t hesitate before answering. “Hi, Mom. Yes, we just found out our flight was cancelled. How did you…? Right, of course you did.”

He looked over at Callie, who had been caught staring and overhearing his conversation. Her face flushed as she leaned back in her seat and looked away, embarrassed she had been caught.

“I mean, I can see if I can get another flight. No, of course. Mom, you know that’s not… I can’t control the flights, Mom. No, I understand. Fine. Yes, love you, too.”

He hung up and picked up his bag as he stood. “Well, good luck, I guess.” He said as he gave her a nod, flung his bag over his shoulder and walked off.

Callie had no idea why this man had such a hold over her. Sure, he was handsome with his black-rimmed glasses, green eyes and hair that was slightly too long but styled in a way that reminded her of 90s heartthrobs, but there was something else about him that she couldn’t put her finger on.

She was knocked out of her thoughts as people started lining up in front of her, some knocking into her and her bag. Looking at the long lineup of angry people trying to find a way out of Vancouver, she knew if she stayed any longer she wouldn’t be leaving for at least a day. She had already been scheduled on one of of the last flights out that day. With no other choice, she picked up her bag and headed toward the exit.


Chapter Three


Dax had never been so happy he hadn’t checked in a bag.

He couldn’t imagine would a headache it would be to try to get anything back from the airline in all the chaos. In the walk from his gate to the baggage collection area, he overheard at least another three flights being cancelled. From what he gathered, some were due to weather, some from staffing issues, all that mattered to him was getting out of the airport as fast as he could.

He hoped he could delay his trip, but his mom had tracked his flight online and knew the moment it had been cancelled. Her call stopped him from being able to use any excuse to turn around and head home.

Standing in the line for rental cars, he tapped his fingers on the strap of his bag, wanting to do anything other than drive the five and a half hours, at night, from the airport to Cedar Valley Falls, but he didn’t have many other options.

The line was moving quickly, which was good because there were a growing number of people behind him.

Once he got to the front of the line, the lone employee working behind the counter looked as if they and lived about a month in the span of their shift. His eyes had dark circles, his hair dishevelled and shoulders slumped. “How can I help you?”

“I’d like to rent a car. Whatever you’ve got is fine.” Dax reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out his wallet.

“You’re in luck. We have one car left.” The agent typed on his screen before looking over at him. “Can I please see your driver’s licence and I’ll get this started for you?”

Dad handed over this license and let the man enter all the information, answering all his questions and going over all the paperwork. After more time than Dax would have expected to be there, he was given the keys and asked to wait out front while they brought the car out for him.

The agent put out a sign that said they were out of cars, much to the yelling and groans of the people in line behind him.

Dax walked out into the cold, windy night, blasted with a burst of freezing air as the left the warm airport.

“Hey!” A shout came out from behind him as he stood at the curb.

Dax shoved his hands in his pockets and craned his neck, trying to see if his car was coming.

“Hey, gate guy!”

That got his attention. He turned to find the frustrated girl from the gate running up to him, her laptop bag falling off her shoulder and pulling a roller bag behind her.

“Gate guy? I have a name, you know.”

“Well, obviously,” she said with an eye roll as she came to a stop in front of him. “But I don’t know what it is.”

“It’s Dax.” He turned back around, looking down the corridor of cars coming and going, hoping his car would be there soon.

“Well, Dax, I’m Callie.”

“Nice to meet you, again Callie.” Dax wasn’t trying to be rude to the woman, but he was freezing, tired, and wanted to do anything other than driving.

“So you got the last rental car,” Callie said as she stood next to him at the curb.

“Looks like it.”

“And we were both on our way to Kamloops.”


“So, I was wondering if maybe I could get a ride with you.”

“You can’t be serious.” Dax pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Of course I am. I don’t just walk around asking strangers for rides all the time.”

“I sure hope not,” he muttered under his breath.

“Please? I wouldn’t be asking if this wasn’t important. I need to get to a Kamloops.”

“Then talk to the airline. Get on the next flight.” Dax rocked on in the balls and heels of his feet.

This car needs to hurry up. Now.

“They aren’t rebooking anyone. They basically told us we are on our own until at least next week. Please?”

Dax looked down at the woman, really looking at her for the first time. She was a good foot shorter than him, shoulder-length blonde hair tucked under a red toque. Her big blue eyes looked up at him, pleading with him to take pity on her.

“How do you know I’m not some serial killer?”

“Well, are you?”

“No, but you don’t know that.”

“Let’s just say you were. I highly doubt you’d be taking an airplane from the largest airport in the province to another city. That wouldn’t be a great place to run from the authorities. Now, maybe if you were leaving the country, that would be a different story.”

“You put a lot of thought into that answer.”

Callie shrugged. “My sister listens to a lot of true crime podcasts. I guess some of it has worn off on me,”

“It’s still not safe for you to just ask random men to take you in a five-hour car ride.”

“And if I wasn’t desperate to get out of the city, I wouldn’t. Now please, will you take me with you?”

Dax didn’t know what came over him, be he had the urge to help this woman out. He didn’t know if it was pity, the small town chivalry that had been instilled in him, or what, but he knew he couldn’t leave this woman stranded.

He took a deep breath and watched as it formed a cloud in front of his face as he exhaled. “Fine. But there are rules.”

“Yay! Thank you so much!” Callie jumped on the spot as a sedan pulled up in front of them.

He just prayed he wasn’t going to regret his decision.


Chapter Four


Callie stared out the window as Dax drove along the dark highway. Cars rushed past them as they made their way out of the city and entered the valley. He hadn’t said a word since he loaded the car with their luggage and started driving.

He hadn’t turned on the radio, which left an uncomfortable silence between them.

Had she been too pushy? Maybe. But she needed out of Vancouver, and fast.

Her ill-planned trip to surprise who she thought was the man of her dreams had turned into a nightmare. Now, she was stuck in a silent car with a grumpy stranger and it was all her fault.

Needing something to make her forget the actions leading to her current situation, she reached over and clicked on the radio, thankful for the latest pop hit to fill the car.

“No. Absolutely not,” Dax said as he clicked the radio off.

“You have to give me something.” Callie turned in her seat and crossed her arms over her chest. “We can’t spend the rest of the time in silence.”

He glanced over at her for a moment, his eyebrow raised before turning back to the road.

“Fine, if you won’t turn on the music, tell me about you.”

“There’s not much to tell.” His tone let her know he wanted to talk less than he wanted to listen to the Ariana Grande song on the radio.

“Why are you on your way to Kamloops?”

“I’m not,” he replied flatly.

“But you were about to get on a plane going there.”

Dax sighed and snuck a quick glance at her. “I’m heading to Cedar Valley Falls. Kamloops is the closest airport.”

“I think I’ve camped there once,” Callie mused as she relaxed back into her seat. “It’s pretty.”

“If you say so,” he muttered.

“You don’t sound like you want to go there.”

“And you sound like the person who asks a lot of questions.”

“If I’m going to be in a car with someone for over five hours, it would be nice to get to know them.” Callie couldn’t help but get her defences up as she spoke with Dax and started to see that maybe getting a ride with a stranger wasn’t a great idea.

“Maybe I should instil a new ‘no talking’ rule,’” he said under his breath, but Callie heard.

Callie huffed and leaned back in her seat, looking out at the road in front of them. The road was complete darkness except for their headlights, which made her disoriented along the stretch of highway. As they passed through farmland, there was nothing but them, the road, and the night sky.

This was not how Callie saw her day going. Her week, if that.

“I’m sorry,” Dax said, not taking his eyes off the road. “It’s just been a really long day.”

“I’m sorry, too. I shouldn’t have asked you all those questions. I shouldn’t have even asked you for a ride, but I didn’t have any other choice and I couldn’t stay there.”

“You’re not in trouble, are you? I mean, you have knowledge of those true crime things. I’m not going to be your next victim, am I?” he asked as he snuck a glance her way with a smirk.

That smirk made her stomach fill with butterflies. Butterflies she had no business feeling, especially for a man she wouldn’t see again by morning.

“No, I’m not in trouble.” Depending on the definition of trouble. “As for the serial killer part, I haven’t decided yet. It depends on how the next hour goes.”

Dax laughed, filling the car with the rich tone. It was a sound she could get used to. One she could find herself craving.

“Well, I guess I’ll be on my best behaviour, then. But, seriously, are you in trouble? You seem like you’re in a hurry to leave the city.”

Callie sighed. She didn’t know how much to tell him. Or maybe it was good she wouldn’t see him after today because then she could spill everything and not have the embarrassment of knowing she’d have to face him again.

It would be nice to tell someone everything.

“Do you promise not to laugh?” Callie asked, not sure if she was making the right decision.

“I promise,” he answered, and she believed in. She didn’t know why. He was a stranger, but there was something about him that made her feel like she was safe with him.

“I had a boyfriend in Kamloops. He moved to Vancouver in the fall for his work. I couldn’t leave right away because of my job, so we agreed to stay long distance until I could figure out a way to move to the city with him. We even talked about getting married.”

“So, what happened?”

“I’m an Office Manager for a law office and we’ve been working on a really big trial. I wasn’t able to fly down and see him over the holidays, but we ended up getting an unexpected break and I thought it would be a good time to surprise him. And it was a surprise, all right.”

“What did he do?” Callie noticed Dax’s hands gripped the steering wheel harder, his knuckles turning white in the soft light from the dash.

“He’s dating someone else.” Callie couldn’t stop the hurt from her voice. She was so embarrassed to think that Maxwell would have done that, or that she believed him when he said that it was only her.

“I’m sorry.” Dax’s words were soft, but there was anger behind them.

“I thought it would be fun to surprise him by flying down since we haven’t seen each other since the end of November. I worked through the holidays and we hadn’t been able to do more than the rare video or phone call. So, I hopped on a plane and flew to the city. When I showed up at his door hoping for a warm welcome, I was met with him having dinner with his new girlfriend.” Callie wiped the tears as they fell down her face.

She snuck a glance at the stoic and silent man. His hands continued to grip the steering wheel tightly. The reflection of the lights off his glasses made it hard to see what expression they held, but she could tell by his clenched jaw he had an opinion on it.

“Why aren’t you saying something?” Callie asked, nervous about what he might say.

His silence was making her regret saying anything. She was naïve to think Maxwell would have wanted to date her while she was stuck in Kamloops. Looking back, she could see she had invested more into the relationship than he had, and he had put distance between them not long after he moved. She just didn’t want to see it, and that left her feeling heartbroken and embarrassed.


“I’m trying to think of something to say that would be appropriate. Most of all, I want to say I’m sorry he put you through that.”

“Thank you, but you don’t need to apologize for him.”

“I know, but…” He took a deep breath before continuing. “I know what it’s like, and no one should be put into that position. So for that, I’m sorry. I’m also sorry that he wasn’t man enough to tell you how he felt and lead you on.”

For the first time in a long time, Callie felt like she was truly being heard and understood. She sagged back into her seat, feeling as if an enormous weight had been lifted off her chest. Maybe telling this stranger the most embarrassing story of her life might not have been as bad as she thought.


Chapter Five


Hearing the events of Callie’s trip had Dax on edge. It was too much like his own story with McKenzie. The long, dragged-out process of thinking they were each other’s forever, only to find out that the thought had only been on-sided. Bringing up thoughts of her had only created more stress about his trip back home.

Instead of dwelling on those it, he focused on the road ahead of him. Snow had started to fall and stick to the roads, making it hard to see.

“You’ve gone through this too?” Callie’s unsure voice came from across the console, sniffled hidden behind the sleeve of her jacket.

“Similar, yes. It’s actually why I’ve been avoiding going back to Cedar Valley Falls.”

“What happened?”

“I had a girlfriend from high school and through most of college. She went to school in Kelowna while I went to Vancouver. It was fine for the first couple of years, until we both come home for Christmas one year and I find out she’s engaged to someone else.” It may have been almost ten years since it had happened, but it didn’t make it any easier to talk about, especially since McKenzie and her now-husband moved back to Cedar Valley Falls.

“Engaged? Wow! She never mentioned anything to you?” Callie shifted in her seat, her voice stronger.

“No. She said she didn’t think we were ‘exclusive’ and assumed I had moved on. Apparently, we had very different definitions on what a ‘long-distance relationship’ looked like.”


“That’s horrible. I’m so sorry.” Callie put her hand on his arm. It shocked him how much his body responded to her touch. The skin under her hand lit up like it was on fire, even though there were layers of clothing between them. He had to stop himself from jumping at her touch. Not because it wasn’t unwanted, but because it was unlike anything he’d ever felt before.

“Uh, yeah.” Dax cleared his throat and straightened in his seat. “So I haven’t been back to town in a while.”

“So, why now?” Callie asked, placing her hand back in her lap.

“My dad fell and there’s no one else him run the family store.” While Dax’s relationship with his dad was—strained—but he didn’t wish him any ill will. Just because he had no desire to run the family store, or have any interest in selling hardware at all, didn’t mean he didn’t care about his family or the business.

His dad had started the store when he and Dax’s mom were first married. Dax grew up in it. He just wished his dad had understood his love for computers and didn’t make it a source of argument every time his job came up for discussion.

“Wow, that’s nice of you to drop everything and come back home.” Callie’s soft voice drew him out of his thoughts. Some might see this as an honourable act of a son, but really, it was motivated by guilt.

“Well, I didn’t have much of a choice,” he muttered.

“What do you mean?”

“My mom.” Dax felt his anxiety rising in his chest as he thought back to the original phone call with his mom. It took everything in him not to take his hand off the steering wheel and rub his sternum, but he needed to focus and have two hands on the wheel as the snow started falling harder around them.

“Ah,” Callie mused, turning to face him once again. “Is that who you were talking to on the phone?”

“When you eavesdropped?” Dax joked as he snuck a glance at her.

“I did not!” Callie gasped as she playfully swatted at his arm. “You were right beside me.”

“Sure.” He laughed. “But, yes, I was talking to my mom. She saw our flight had been cancelled and made sure I wasn’t just going to turn around and go back to my apartment.”

“She sounds like she really misses you.”

Dax wanted to believe Callie’s words, and knew that his mom did miss him, but he also knew that it was more than just a mom missing her son. It was the loss of a life his parents thought he would have with them. They never understood the his draw to the city, or his love of computers and programming. Instead, they skirted around it and acted like if they pretended like it wasn’t a long-term move, it wouldn’t be.

“I’m sure she does, but they need someone to run the store, and that’s why she’s in a hurry for me to get home.”

“You don’t have any brothers or sisters?”

“One brother, but he works in Kelowna and had to rush back.”

“I see,” Callie said, her gaze focused on the road ahead of them.

They were quiet for a while, Dax conceding and letting Callie turn on the radio. She chose a country music station, which surprised him as she hummed along to a Jason Aldean song. Dax tapped his thumbs to the wheel to the beat as the comfort of the silence surrounded them.

He liked that even with her million questions, she could find peace in silence. That she didn’t have to talk to avoid it like most of the other girls he had dated did. He found the more they were silent, the more he had questions for her. He wanted to know more about her. Mostly, he wanted to know why she was with the jerk for so long.

“I didn’t take you for a country girl.” He looked over, taking in her black leggings and grey parka lined with pink fake fur.

“Just because I don’t dress is jeans and plaid every day doesn’t mean I don’t like to get my country on.” She replied with a laugh. “And being from Cedar Valley Falls, I thought you’d be more of a country boy. Where are you hiding your truck?”

“No truck. Well, not anymore, anyway. I sold it once I got settled in the city.”

“Why?” Callie asked.

“No need for it there. I live and work downtown. I rarely leave and if I do, I can take transit or get a cab. It didn’t make sense for me to keep it. So, instead, I rent out the parking space in my apartment building and make some extra money.”

“That’s smart, actually.”

Silence fell over them again. Dax concentrated on the road as the snow began covering the lanes. The pitch black sky didn’t help visibility. His bright headlights reflected off the quickly falling snow, making it even harder to see where he was going. He focused on the disappearing road in front of him, trying his best to go off memory for any curves or bends along the way.

This was another reason he didn’t visit back home very often. You never knew if you were going to hit a random snowstorm on the highway.

After a while, he looked over to find Callie slumped against the passenger window, hands curled under her head and she slept. He wouldn’t dare risk taking his eyes off the road for more than a second, but was enthralled by how peaceful she looked. She no longer appeared to be the stressed out and frustrated woman at the airport gate, or the overly inquisitive, unexpected passenger. She looked beautiful with her blonde hair poking out from under her toque. It looked like a peace he hadn’t felt for a very long time.

He didn’t know why, but look at her sleeping made him feel a fraction of the stillness he used to feel. A peace he thought he’d found in McKenzie. He never put much stock in finding someone that could do that to him again, but having spending time with Callie was making him think maybe it was possible.


Chapter Six


“Callie.” A distant voice called her name, trying to lure her out of the most wonderful dream she was having. She had felt the warm sun’s rays on her face as she ran along the beach into the ocean. Laughed, as her long hair trailed behind her, running playfully from the man behind her. She ran into the water as they laughed, the man catching up to her and putting his arms around her, jumping in the air as they both crashed into the wave coming to shore. She turned and saw the man was Dax, smiling and laughing as he looked back down at her, his stunning green eyes no longer hiding behind the black-rimmed glasses.

“Callie,” the voice said again, this time followed by a gentle shake of her arm. The warmth of the beach faded away, and instead she was met with a cold car and a pain in her neck from sleeping against the car door.

“I fell asleep?” she asked groggily as she sat up, stretching out her aching muscles.

“Yeah, around Chilliwack. We’re stopped in Merritt. I’m going to get gas if you need to go in and grab anything.”

Callie looked around at her surroundings as he got out of the car. She couldn’t believe she’d been asleep for almost two hours. Climbing out of the car, she hurried into the gas station, wrapping her coat tighter against her body to shield herself from the brutally cold winter wind. The snow had picked up while she was sleeping. She was thankful Dax had been driving with how much had piled up.

After running to the bathroom quickly, she grabbed a variety of snacks and drinks, not knowing what Dax would like. Callie very much believed that any good road trip included a stop at a gas station for snacks. Filling up on chips, chocolate bars, and pop, she paid and made her way back out to the car where Dax was waiting. He looked over at her and her full arms as she climbed back in and raised an eyebrow at her.

“What’s all this?” he asked as he helped her unload her goodies from her arms.

“I bought us snacks.” Callie rearranged the toque on her head before grabbing a bag of chips.

“I see that,” Dax said, rummaging through the remaining items. “You know there’s only about an hour left of the drive, right?”

“Yes,” Callie said as she grabbed a bottle of pop and twisted the cap off. She took a long chug of the sugary drink, letting it wash away the salt from the chips. As she lowered the bottle, she saw Dax staring at her with a shocked expression on his face. “What?” She wiped the sides of her mouth, thinking she’d made a fool out of herself by spilling her drink all over her face.

“It looks like you bought half the store, Callie,” he said with a smirk.

Relief flooded her. She didn’t spill her drink after all. Just impulse bought too many snacks.

“Well, I didn’t know what you’d like,” she answered sheepishly. “I mean, I don’t know if you’re a salty or sweet guy, so I just bought a little of everything.” She stopped as she looked at him, panic rising through her body. “Oh my gosh, you’re diabetic, aren’t you? Food allergies? Am I going to kill you with one of these snacks?”

Callie grabbed the snacks, searching through until she found the peanut butter chocolate cups and trail mix with nuts. Dax placed his hand on hers, stilling her actions.

“No, no medical concerns here. I guess—I guess I’m just not used to anyone being that concerned about what I liked, or didn’t like, or even buying snacks for me at all.”

“Really?” Callie asked. “No one?”

“Well, I have my friend and business partner back in the city that picks me up the occasional coffee or lunch, but no, I can’t say I’ve had anyone that’s done that for a very long time.”

Callie’s heart sank. While Maxwell wasn’t the best boyfriend—especially with recent events—when it was good, he’d brought her coffee or treats. He would surprise her with things he knew she’d like just because. Even her friends would load up her favourite snacks for a day out or a road trip. It was sad to think that someone as wonderful as Dax hadn’t been able to experience the same.

She placed her hand on top of his, which still rested on her arm. Looking up into his deep green eyes, she wanted that to change for him. What shocked her the most was she wanted to be that change for him.

“I’m so sorry, Dax.” She didn’t know what else to say that wouldn’t sound trite or impersonal.

“It’s all right.” They stayed like that, staring into each other’s eyes.

Callie felt swept up in the magic of the moment. As if they were making a true connection. A connection of what? She didn’t know, but she knew she felt something.

“Anyway,” Dax said, clearing his throat and turning to grip the wheel. “We should get going if we want to make it before we get snowed in here.”

“Right, we wouldn’t want that.” Calle turned in her seat, focusing on the bag of chips on her lap. “Help yourself to whatever I brought. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t eat before the plane was supposed to take off and I’m starving now.”

Dax laughed, and Callie once again relaxed at the sound.

“Now that you mention it, I am.” He grabbed the chocolate peanut butter cups and tore into them, smiling widely as he bit into the sweet treat. “I rarely have these, but whenever I do, I love them. I don’t know why I don’t have them more often.”

“Maybe you should indulge yourself a little more often,” Callie added, enjoying how much he was letting himself relax.

“You know, maybe I should.” With a smile, he finished the last chocolate cup and started driving back on the highway.

When the night first started, she couldn’t wait to get back to Kamloops. Now that she was close to being home, she didn’t want the night to end.


Chapter Seven


“So tell me about McKenzie.” Callie’s question startled him. Maybe it was because, with his family or Mitch, she was a topic that was never to be brought up. He would rather talk about his lack of desire to run his dad’s store than talk about her. Except his mom. For some reason she includes it with all the town gossip whether he wanted to hear it or not.

“What do you want to know?” Dax tried to keep his voice level as he focused on the road. The snow was lightening up, which he was relieved about. He didn’t want to admit it to Callie, but there were a couple times on the highway up while she had been sleeping that were a little more dicey than he would have liked. The Coquihalla Highway is fantastic in the summer, but steep climbs and windy curves can make it treacherous in the winter.

“Why are you letting her stop you from going back home more often?”

“Wow, right to the point, huh?” He asked, taking a hand off the wheel to rub his sternum. It was a habit he’d developed young. Almost as if the physical act would help with the built up pressure of anxiety on his chest.

“Sorry, I can be blunt. I just, I mean, I guess I get it. I wouldn’t be thrilled if Maxwell decided to move back to Kamloops with his girlfriend.”

“Yes, but imagine Kamloops being a fraction of the size and everyone in town knows everyone else’s business.” He couldn’t stop the bitterness from coming out of there. That was another reason he tended not to go back to Cedar Valley Falls. Everyone knew everything. They all knew he didn’t want to run his dad’s store. They all knew McKenzie left him for David. They all knew he ran because he didn’t want to deal with it.

“Okay, now I see it.”

“Plus, uh, her husband is now the mayor.”

“He’s what?” Callie exclaimed from her seat.

“Yeah, elected a year or so ago. From what my mom tells me, after they moved back to Cedar Valley Falls, he set up a real estate office that did surprisingly well for a small town. He focused in on the vacation properties and got into rental management or something. Built up a real name for himself in the town.”

“Now I can see why you don’t want to go back. That must be…”

“Frustrating,” Dax finished for her.

“That’s one thing, yes.”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve made a decent name for myself in the tech world in Vancouver. Mitch and I built a decent small company and we’re growing every year, but it’s…” Dax’s voice trailed off, not knowing how to explain what he felt at the situation.

“Frustrating.” Callie finished for him.

“Yeah, that.” He gave her a smirk while keeping his eyes off the road. He knew if he snuck a glance at her, he’d be lost, and he didn’t want to crash the rental car in a snowfall.

“But you could avoid them the best you could, can’t you? You don’t have a reason to hide or anything, but maybe more like feigned indifference?”

“I would, but it’s also the Winter Festival.”

“Sorry, the what?” Callie asked, the shock in her voice had returned.

“It’s something he Cal started when he became mayor. He said it would ‘help the morale of the town’ after Christmas was over. So he started a weekend festival in the middle of January to rekindle some of the Christmas cheer. I haven’t been, but there’s a market, apple cider, and some sort of contest.”

“Interesting,” Callie mused. “I think you should go.”

“Sorry, what?” Dax looked startled at her, eyes wide, until he realized he needed his attention back on the road.

“I think you should go to the festival. Show that you aren’t intimidated—or frustrated—by them. Show them you’re back and just how great you are.”

Just how great I am, huh?

“I dunno.” The thought of showing up, alone, working at his dad’s store just like he always vowed he would never do didn’t sound like a great way to make his big homecoming.

“Come on, there’s no reason for you to hide away.”

“I’ll think about it,” he grumbled.

“Is it because you’re single?” she asked.

“You really aren’t holding back tonight, are you?” Dax asked, rubbing his sternum.

“I mean, I just assumed you are. Because you were going alone. I mean, of course you aren’t.”

“No, I am. I just, wait, what do you mean ‘of course you aren’t?’” He glanced over at her, noticing the pink in her cheeks as they passed under a streetlight.

“I just mean—uh—well, you’re good looking and obviously smart. I just assumed…”

Dax felt himself blush. He knew he wasn’t the worst looking guy, usually, but he’d always been placed in the ‘computer geek’ category with women. Only talking to him if they needed help with technology and flirted only if there was some way they could help him. Or they thought he was rich and weren’t interested any longer when they found out that was far from the truth. “Well, thanks? I am single and if I’m honest, that is part of the reason why I don’t want to make a big deal about me coming back home. Alone.”

“What if I came with you?” Callie shot back.

“As what? The girl that begged me to give her a ride?” Dax joked.

“No, silly. I could pretend to be your girlfriend.”

Dax had to stop himself from slamming on the brakes at her words.

“Pretend to be my girlfriend.”

“I did it again, didn’t I? Spoke without thinking. I do that sometimes. I’m sorry.”

Callie fidgeted with her hands in her lap, her gazed focused on them intently. Dax reached over and placed his hand on hers, stilling her movements.

“No, it’s not that,” he said carefully. “I, uh, well, how would that work?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t think it through that far.” They both chuckled as they looked at each other bashfully. “Is that something you’d be interested in? Would it make you feel more comfortable going home?”

Dax thought about it for a moment. His mom would have a million questions about why he kept a relationship secret, and would pester him with questions about Callie that he’s sure he couldn’t learn the answers to in the short time remaining on the car ride. But on the other hand, he wouldn’t have to show up and face McKenzie and Cal alone. He wouldn’t have to face the town alone, and that is a major plus.

“I think it would.”

“That’s great,” she said, her smile falling instantly. “I mean, would I even be someone you would want everyone thinking you’re dating?”

“What does that mean?”

“I mean, I know I can be—abrupt. I don’t always have a filter when I talk. I ask more questions than I should.”

“Then you’re perfect. You could take some of the heat off of me,” Dax said with a joke. His chuckle fell when he realized Callie wasn’t laughing. “Hey, I’m serious. I don’t see why anyone would have a problem dating you. Fake or not.”

“Well, this last day or so would suggest otherwise.”

Dax hated how small her voice sounded, and how she folded in on herself in the seat next to him. He might not know her well, but he knew she deserved more than that. “What would you get out of it?”

His question snapped her out of her thoughts and made her sit up in her seat. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I get to put on a face and greet the town with you on my arm. What do you get out of it? Why do you want to help me?”

“I don’t know, as a thank you for driving me up here when you didn’t have to? As a way to distract myself from Maxwell and his harsh rejection?”

Dax thought about it for a moment. There was some peace in knowing that he would have to face the town alone, but he didn’t want to put Callie through everything that would come with it. Especially not the questions from his mom, and possibly McKenzie, who he no doubt had been kept up-to-date on what was happening with him over the years.

“Please, Dax. I want to help you.” The softness in her voice was the deciding factor. He wanted to have someone that would take care of him. Be there for him. Even if it was fake and only for a short period of time.

He knew everything about that night had been a crazy blur. Something that he never would have thought up in a million years, but it was where he had found himself. In a car, with a stranger he met at the airport, who was currently asking to be his fake girlfriend. What was even crazier were the words that were about to come out of his mouth.

“Okay, let’s do it.”


Chapter Eight


“What do you mean, you just asked him for a ride?” Callie’s sister, Meg, asked as she stopped her coffee mug mid-air while going to take a sip. “You can’t just do that to people, Callie! Do you learn nothing from those podcasts I send you?”

“It wasn’t like that, Meg. Dax isn’t a serial killer.” Callie rolled her eyes at her sister’s antics. After hearing Callie made it back to town, Meg had invited herself over to get the full story of what happened in Vancouver and provide support. As they sat around the island in Callie’s kitchen drinking coffee, she was happy the conversation had shifted away from Maxwell. She would be happy to never relive that again.

As her thoughts moved to Dax, a swarm of butterflies flitted through her stomach. Since he dropped her off at home in the early hours of the morning, they had been texting about what to do with their fake relationship. The Winter Festival was starting in Cedar Valley Falls and they needed to make plans on now they were going to pull it off.

“There’s something you aren’t telling me.” Meg raised an eyebrow at her. Callie loved her sister, but hated how she could read her like a book.

“We, uh, sorta agreed to fake date,” Callie said, talking more into her own mug of coffee than to her sister.

“Sorry, repeat that again,” Meg demanded, placing her own mug on the countertop between them.

“Well, he’s had it rough going home to Cedar Valley Falls. He had an ex like Maxwell, she was actually much worse, and he has to face her now that he’s home.”

“And you fit into this because…?”

“Because he saved me, Meg. I would still be stuck in Vancouver if it weren’t for him.”

“You act like Vancouver was a war zone. He gave you a ride. He didn’t save your life.”

“It was an emotional war zone,” Callie muttered.

“What else is there?”

Callie remained silent, suddenly finding her cooling coffee very interesting.

“He’s good looking, isn’t he?” Mary exclaimed.

“What? No, I mean, yes, but that has nothing to do with it.” Callie felt her cheeks warm at the mention of how attractive Dax was. Which he was, in the dark hair, piercing green eyes, and dark-rimmed glasses. She never found the ‘intellectual looking’ guys to be her type before, but Dax was definitely changing what she thought she knew about herself and what she wanted.

“Okay, so walk me through how this happened.”

Callie told her about the Winter Festival and his ex. Meg sat riveted, like she was watching a soap opera. “So, I couldn’t just leave him to face all of that by himself in a place he didn’t want to be in. Not to mention, I looked him up and he’s successful in his own right, he just doesn’t see it. For whatever reason, he thinks that this Cal guy is better than him, and I don’t know why.”

“Have you seen it from his perspective? I mean, how would you feel if you had to come home to a small town and face Maxwell and his new girlfriend knowing that he was ruling the town that was yours? Is this Cal guy even from Cedar Valley Falls?”

“No, I don’t think so. It sounded like they met at school.”

“There ya go!”

“Wait, I thought you were just telling me what a bad idea it was for me to go to Cedar Valley Falls and pretend to be his girlfriend.”

“Well, things change. Now that you know he’s not going to end up on one of those podcasts, you need to help him out. Plus, I haven’t seen you this smitten with a guy for a long time. Not even with Maxwell.” Meg shrugged her shoulders and grabbed an oversized muffin from the box she’d brought with her that morning.

Callie opened her mouth to respond when her phone chimed. She looked down at the screen to find it a text from Dax.

Dax: All set for tomorrow. See you at the town square at 11?

“You’re blushing! Is it from him?” Meg asked as she tore around the island to look at her phone.

“Yes, it’s from him, and no, I’m not blushing.” Callie brought her hands to her face, immediately feeling the heat.

“Liar,” Meg joked.

Callie ignored her as she sent a text back to Dax.

Callie: Yup. See you then! 🙂

“Wow, exclamation mark and a smily face. You have it bad,” Meg joked as she playfully knocked their hips together.

“Oh, stop,” Callie said, but wondered if there were some truth behind her sister’s words.

The next day, Callie showed up at the Cedar Valley Falls town square at eleven o’clock sharp. Booths had been set up into aisles along the grassy area. People milled about as they stopped from table to table, buying trinkets and baked goods. The smell of apple and cinnamon wafted from nearby, making Callie’s stomach rumble.

“You made it,” a familiar deep voice said from behind her, instantly bringing a smile to her face.

“I did.” She turned and faced him, looking at him awkwardly. She didn’t know what to do or say next. Did she hug him like they were dating? Was this only for his ex and her husband? Of all the details they went over like their favourite food and childhood basics, they didn’t discuss situations like the one they were in now.

“I, uh, brought you coffee.” Dax handed her a white to-go cup smelling of heavenly coffee and cinnamon.

“You remembered,” she said as she took a sip, savouring the creamy coffee mixed with a hint of sugar and cinnamon.

“Of course. Along with your favourite sushi, which unfortunately Cedar Valley Falls doesn’t have any of, and gas station snacks. That I can get you if there are any more last-minute road trips,” he joked as he took a sip from his own cup.

She couldn’t help but stand there and smile at him like a love-sick puppy. She knew in her mind this was all for show. But her heart? It wanted to believe that he remembered these details because he wanted to, not because he needed to.

“Thank you.” They stood in between tables, looking at each other as people walked by. They were lost in their own world.

Callie didn’t know what to do. They were in this limbo of not knowing if they should act like a couple. They didn’t talk about PDA, how they felt about hugs, kisses, or hand holding. Callie was beginning to see that she really didn’t know what she was getting into.

What did she feel comfortable with? What did she want?

Him. I want it all with Dax.

The thought stilled her as it crossed her mind. Was that truly what she wanted? Her mind wasn’t sure, but her heart was giving her a resounding ‘yes.’

“Thank you again for helping me out, Callie. You didn’t have to drive all the way out here to do this.”

“Dax, I wanted to.” Callie placed her hand on his arm, feeling the same warmth spreading through her body at their touch.

Dax lifted his free hand and pushed a stand of Callie’s hair behind her ear. The movement was so subtle, so innocent, but yet it meant the world to Callie.

“Dax Marshall? Is that you?” A high-pitched voice sounded behind Callie, breaking them out of their bubble of just the two of them.

Callie turned to find a tall, blonde woman with curled hair and heavy makeup walking toward them.

“Here we go,” Dax muttered under his breath as he stepped beside Callie, placing his arm over her shoulders and hugging her into his side.

Callie wanted to close her eyes and take in his outdoorsy scent of sandalwood and smoke, but it wasn’t the time. She needed to pretend like she was used to being tucked into this side, surrounded by his scent. She needed to pretend that his touch was familiar and didn’t set her heart racing. Most of all, she needed to pretend like Dax was her everything.

That was when she realized she really did want it all with Dax Marshall.


Chapter Nine


Dax’s heart raced as he held on to Callie tight. Not only was it the anxiety of seeing McKenzie walking toward him, but also because having Callie hugged tight to his body gave him an unexpected reaction, and he didn’t know what to do about it.

Normally, the thought of seeing McKenize would have him rubbing his sternum, trying to calm the building pressure within his chest, but other than the rush of the current events, he felt calm. There wasn’t the telltale sign of building nausea or rising panic. He didn’t want to look for the closest escape or find some way to duck and pretend it wasn’t him that McKenzie saw. Instead, he was able to stand tall and face what was about to happen.

“Hi, McKenzie,” Dax said, giving Callie a squeeze.

“My goodness, it’s been a long time,” McKenzie said as she looped her hand through the man’s arm, a fake smile plastered on her face. Even after all this time, he could still tell when she was smiling just to put on a show.

“Yup, it’s been a while.” He looked down at Callie, who had a bright smile on her face. This one wasn’t fake. There was nothing about Callie that could be. She was in such a different realm than McKenzie, and he was happy for it. “I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Callie Griffith.”

“Girlfriend?” McKenzie said, rolling her eyes over Callie from top to bottom. “Your mom didn’t mention anything about you having a girlfriend.”

“We were keeping it quiet for a little while. You know how my mom is. I tell her we’re dating and the next thing I know she’s sending invites to the wedding,” Dax joked, hoping to diffuse any further discussion on the topic.

“Right,” McKenzie said unconvincingly, before turning to Callie. “It’s nice to meet you, Carrie.”

“Callie,” she corrected with a beaming smile.

“Sure.” McKenzie’s tone was flat before she turned to the man at her side, patting him on his chest, the large ring on her left hand shining in the winter sun. “This stunning man here is my husband. Daxy, I’d like you to meet Cal Smith.”

Cal stuck his hand out to Dax. “It’s nice to meet you. Welcome back to Cedar Valley Falls.”

“Thank you. And it’s Dax. I haven’t been called Daxy since I was a teenager.”

Cal nodded while McKenzie gave them a fake laugh. “Oh, Daxy, what’s a nickname between friends, right?”

“It’s Dax, McKenzie,” Dax said firmly.

“And what about that friend of yours, Mitch? What’s he up to these days?” McKenzie continued, as if Dax hadn’t corrected her.

“He’s still in Vancouver, running the office while I’m here.” Dax’s eyes shot around the crowd, looking for any way he could get Callie and him out of spending any more time with McKenzie than he had to.

“You two always were inseparable.”

“And you still are, aren’t you?” Callie said, looking up at Dax with a wide smile. “You should hear the things these two get up to in the city. Isn’t that right, Dax?”

“Yeah,” Dax chuckled. He didn’t know where Callie was going with this, as she had never met Mitch, but he trusted her.

Callie hugged him tighter, and Dax felt himself relaxing at her touch. He’d been skeptical at first but at that moment, he was glad he took her up on it.

“Oh, hey, is that the spiced apple cider table you were telling me about? I can’t wait to try one,” Callie said, pointing to a spot past McKenzie and Cal.

“That’s the one,” Dax said. As he looked down at her upturned face, he could only describe her expression as one of love. He knew it was fake, just like their facade of a relationship between them, but he let himself believe it was real. Just for a moment.

And it felt wonderful.

“Well, I guess we’ll leave you to it, then,” McKenzie said, drawing his attention away from Callie.

He didn’t know how long they took there looking at each other like that, but it wasn’t long enough.

“Yeah, I guess we’ll see you later.” Callie answered dreamily. He could tell he felt something, too. Or, at least, he hoped she did. He didn’t know if he could stand putting himself out there again, especially if he had started to get feelings for Callie. Some very real feelings.

Realizing they were now alone, Dax looped Callie’s hand through his arm and rested it in the crook of his elbow. He led her through the crowd, nodding his head hello, or stopping to chat with the people in town as they went. Normally, this amount of interaction would lead him to want to run, but he didn’t feel that with Callie on his arm. She was polite and witty, and started to collect quite the following of the older citizens of Cedar Valley Falls.

After throwing out their now-empty coffee cups, they made it to the tent with the apple cider.

“Dax Marshall? Is that you?” Agnes Miller’s eyes opened wide in shock from across the table. “I didn’t know you were back in town!”

“Really? My mom didn’t broadcast it across the town square?” Dax joked, but he knew his mom was most likely one step away from doing just that when he walked through the door.

“She mentioned you were heading home to help out, but I didn’t know this quickly. Welcome back!” She turned her attention to Callie. “And who is this you have with you?”

“This is my girlfriend, Callie. Callie, I’d like you to meet Agnes Miller. She makes the best apple cider you’ve ever tasted.”

“Oh, you.” Agnes waved her hand at Dax. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Callie. And girlfriend? Another thing your mom didn’t mention to me on our knitting nights. I’m going to have to have a word with that woman. Keeping us up to date on everything but this!”

“It’s not her fault, Mrs. Miller. I kept it under wraps because it was so new. My mom hasn’t met Callie yet.”

“Well, she’s in for a lovely surprise.” Agnes grabbed two cups and passed them to Dax and Callie. “Here, take these and enjoy the festival a bit before your mom gets here. I bet once she gets a hold of you two, you won’t have a moment to yourselves.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Miller.” Dax said, grabbing a mug.

“Yes, thank you. I’ve heard only amazing things about your cider. I can’t wait to try it for myself.” Callie took the mug that was handed to her, letting Agnes cup her hands over Callie’s for just a moment.

“Thank you for bringing Dax back to us.”

“Oh, I didn’t have anything to do with that,” Callie stammered.

“I’m not just talking about him being in town, dear. He seems like his old self, before that whole mishap with the mayor’s wife. He hasn’t been here for so long, but he’s back here with you.”

“Oh, just to help his dad…”

“Thank you.” Agnes gave her hand another pat before she moved on to the next person waiting in line.

Dax could only stand and watch in awe at the conversation in front of him. How had he changed? What had the town seen in him, or thought of him, that the mere fact he was in town to help his dad had been since an amazing feat that it would be pointed out?

“Are you all right?” Callie asked, placing her hand on his arm and giving it a squeeze.

“Yeah, I—I guess I never thought much about my leaving. I didn’t think anyone other than my parents noticed.”

“I’d say they noticed.” Callie stopped and took a sip of her apple cider. “Oh my goodness, this is the best apple cider I’ve ever tasted.”

“I told you.” Dax grinned as he took a sip of his own. Fond memories of growing up in the town flooded him as the warmth of the spices and freshly pressed apples filled his senses. He would go to the local cafe as much as he could over the winter to get the apple cider. The cafe was now owned by Agnes’ daughter, but Dax smiled, knowing the cider had stayed the same. “Hey, there’s something else I want to show you.”

Dax grabbed Callie’s free hand and led her off to the far corner of the square.


Chapter Ten


Callie let Dax lead her through the crowd. Her heart raced at her hand in his as they strolled like a true couple enjoying the Winter Festival. Upbeat music played from a gazebo in the centre. People talked and laughed as they sat on benches and chatted.

“This place is wonderful, Dax.”

“Yeah, it has its perks,” he said with a smile as they drew closer to the corner of the square. With a look behind him over his shoulder, he tugged at her hand and pulled her through a hedge of cedar trees.

“Dax, what are you doing?” Callie exclaimed, laughing.

“I want to show you something.”

Once she was through the hedges, she was greeted by a beautiful garden. Most of the bushes were missing their flowers, and there was more brown than green from the plants. In the middle of the area sat a stone water well and a bench off to the side.

“What is this place?” Callie turned as much as she could without letting go of Dax’s hand, taking in the scenery.

“It’s a little garden at the locals like to keep to themselves. It’s surrounded by these hedges to keep the tourists out.”

“Do you get that many tourists in Cedar Valley Falls?”

“We do in the summer with camping and usually a bit more around Christmas. The town square is lit up and there’s another festival that happens the first weekend in December that usually gathers a decent crowd from the surrounding towns.”

“So why the hidden garden?” Callie asked as she took a seat on the bench. Dax sat down next to her, keeping her hand in his as they placed their cups at their feet on the ground.

“I don’t know the full reasoning behind it. I could ask my mom, but I think there was something that the people wanted to keep just for themselves. They’re happy to share everything about the town, but this place is special. I think it has to do with the founders of the town.”

“And the well?” Callie nodded to the stone structure in front of them.

“Oh, that’s the town’s original water source. Before everything was developed into what it is now, the people would come here to get their water. It’s why the square was built next to it. But the more tourists started coming, the more trash and things would get thrown down the well and the town wanted to protect it.”

“Why do you talk like you aren’t part of the town? People we talked to today clearly think you are.”

“I haven’t been here for a long time, Callie,” Dax answered, looking down at their joined hands.

Callie knew that there was more to the story, but it wasn’t her place to push. She wasn’t going to be here long; wasn’t going to be in Dax’s life for long. There was no sense in getting any more involved than she needed to be.

“Maybe you can be again? It seems like they would welcome you with open arms.”

“I’m sure they would.” Dax’s tone didn’t sound like he was convinced.

“Hey,” she said, getting him to look up at her. “Forget about them for right now. What do you want to do?”

“Other than go back home to Vancouver?”

“Is that what you really want, or do you want to run again?”

“Ouch, right to the point again, huh?” Dax placed his free hand over his chest and clutched dramatically.

“Only to those that don’t want to face the truth and answer the hard questions they like to avoid.” Callie didn’t want to push Dax, but in order for her to help him, she needed to understand him.

Dax sat quietly for a moment, staring at the well. Callie wondered if she had pushed too hard with her question. Just a moment ago she didn’t want to be too involved, and then she goes and asks questions like that.

“Maybe I was running,” Dax said after a moment, still not looking from the well.

“Why? You didn’t do anything wrong.” Callie squeezed his hand, reassuring him he had no reason to hide.

“Maybe not, but I was embarrassed. Who doesn’t know their girlfriend was dating someone else? Engaged to someone else?”

“More people than you think,” Callie whispered.

He turned suddenly, dropping her hand and cupping her cheeks in both of his. “I’m sorry, Callie. That was thoughtless of me. Of course you know what that’s like.”

They sat there, staring into each other’s eyes for a moment, joined together in their pain. Callie could feel his hurt mixed with her own. For that reason alone, she felt connected with him in a way she hadn’t felt with anyone else before.

“Callie, I…” His voice trailed off as he kept staring into her eyes.

“Yeah, Dax?” Callie’s voice was breathless as she tried to figure out what he was thinking.

She wanted to know why he brought her to the secret garden. Why he was cupping her cheeks and looking at her like he wanted to kiss her? Most of all, she wanted to know if he also felt like maybe this wasn’t all fake.

Because that’s how she was feeling.

Without a word, he leaned in and brushed his lips softly against hers. Her breath hitched as his fingers curled into her hair, holding her close. Callie placed her hands on his forearms as they pulled apart slowly, their foreheads joined.

Callie kept her eyes closed, letting the lingering rush of their kiss remain on her lips.

“Dax! There you are!” A loud feminine voice shocked Callie out of her bliss. Eyes wide, she looked at the smaller older woman with her arms on her hips. The expression levelled at Dax was a mixture of frustration and love.

Dax signed before taking Callie’s hand and standing, pulling her up with him.

“Hi, Mom. I’d like you to meet my girlfriend.”

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Kimberly Hanson always dreamed of being a writer.

Growing up on the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada, she had dreams of making the stories in her head come alive.

Being a stay-at-home mom to her two children lets her explore her creative side, letting her characters and stories come to life in her novels.

You can find more from Kimberly on her website.

Protecting Her by Logan Chance

Protecting Her

Logan Chance
This book is a 50k romance suspense novel. It was previously released as We All Fall Down an Amazon Top 50 Bestseller.
Love can cost you everything.
We weren’t meant to be together.
At eighteen, I knew this. Being ‘white trash’ didn’t mean I was stupid about all the ways it was wrong.
Evan Lacuna was too old for me, too handsome, and I was raised to never trust a cop. I should have listened.
I didn’t want to fall for him. But I did.
Years of trying to forget can’t erase the secret we share.
Love can cost you everything.
Because, sometimes, the secrets are so ugly, the good guys so bad, there is nowhere to go but down.
A complete standalone.
Copyright © 2018 by Logan Chance. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying without written permission of the publisher or author. The exception would be in the case of brief quotations embodied in the critical articles or reviews and pages where permission is specifically granted by the publisher or author.
Although every precaution has been taken to verify the accuracy of the information contained herein, the author and publisher assume no responsibility for any errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for damages that may result from the use of information contained within.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarities to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Chapter One
The Beginning-Bella
My life would scare the hell out of Stephen King. Seriously, it could redefine the entire horror genre. It’s not an original story—a father I’ve never met, a mother more concerned with her boyfriends than me—but working the graveyard shift at a gas station only adds to the terror. There are no creepy clowns, which I hate, or witches casting curses in the large mini-mart, there’s worse: people with nice things, people with a future, people who will take their thirty-two-ounce fountain soda and drive their new car away as fast as possible from this dump of a town to the ‘pretty’ parts of Florida. And I’ll still be here.
So, will the super pregnant woman that lives in the woods just behind our store with her boyfriend and dog. It’s where most of the homeless people live until the cops come to do a sweep every six months or so and toss them out like the ‘white trash’ they think they are.
Every night she comes in with her boyfriend and buys a single bottle of juice, two hotdogs, and a can of dog food. And every night, like clockwork, I let them grab drinks from the soda fountain for free. She always tries to pay, but I never let her. Arrest me. I’d do more for them, but there’s not a lot an eighteen-year-old can do. It’s probably selfish I’m stashing away half my paycheck, but I never claimed to be a saint. To prove that point, I swipe a piece of fried chicken from behind the glass case. For gas station chicken, it’s pretty darn good. Much better than the nothing that was my dinner.
The second I sink my teeth into the crispy crust, a tall, dark-haired man wearing a New York ball cap enters the store, interrupting my Robin Hood moment.
He strides over to the display of candy bars, and Iike I normally do when I’m alone in here, I guess what he’s going to get while I eat my chicken leg. Hm. His jeans are worn, but not the kind of worn like I’m wearing. He bought his worn, he didn’t earn it like I did. The dark T-shirt clinging to his biceps could go either way. I’m going to say he’s not the type of man who needs an expensive T-shirt based on the tattoo peeking from beneath the sleeve, so he probably doesn’t like the expensive candy bars with fancy names. I think he’ll go for the Snickers. He’s too handsome for a candy bar that doesn’t offer at least three things.
In suspense, I nearly choke on my chicken as I watch him reach down and select a plain ‘ol chocolate bar. He moves around the display, to the chips on the opposite side. While he studies the carbs, I study his face —the hard lines and angles, the straight nose and perfect-sized lips—and guess barbecue. That flavor has a rugged appeal, like he does.
He glances up and our eyes meet. I should look away, or at least put down this chicken leg, but I can’t. I need him to walk around that obstacle blocking him from my view and show me he picked barbecue. He looks back down, and after a few minutes, his eyes volley back to mine. And that’s when I get an uneasy feeling that starts low in my belly and works its way up my spine. How long does it take to pick a bag of chips? I’ve learned working here: not only poor people steal.
My instructions are to call the cops if I see shoplifters, but by the time they get here, the thieves are usually long gone. I leave my position behind the counter and drift a little closer to the sexy potential thief. Not that I plan on trying to take him down over a couple dollars—I barely reach his shoulder—but I’m not going to just hand it to him either.
“Did you need help with something?” I ask.
“Not unless you have salt and vinegar chips back there.”
“Yuck, no,” I answer.
That feeling in my stomach takes a dip when he smiles. A dimple peeks out for a moment, dazzling me, and then I remember that’s how shoplifters try to trick you, with charm. Meanwhile, he’s probably shoving five pounds of chips under his shirt.
He turns toward the glass refrigerator doors and leans down to grab a bottled water and that’s when I see it—the handle of a gun tucked between his waistband and briefs. I’ve seen what guns can do to people.
Since I don’t want to die tonight with a chicken bone in my hand, I hustle behind the counter, toss the drumstick somewhere between the stacks of napkins and plastic silverware underneath, and hit the panic button we had installed last summer. I never should’ve taken this job, but my options are slightly limited. Though, not as limited as they’ll be if he blows my head off. I can’t tear my eyes from him as he closes the distance to the checkout.
“You alone in here,” blue eyes do a sweep over my long brown hair, across my face, down to my name tag, “Bella?”
I try to memorize everything about him, but his eyes are like being lost in the sky.
“No,” I lie. “I’ve got a good friend under the counter and I’m not afraid to use it.”
Hopefully, my implication is clear. Hopefully he thinks it’s a weapon.
Amused, he reaches behind him. “Your chicken? Well that’s a first.” Instead of a gun, he pulls out his wallet. “How much?”
Quickly I scan his items, not taking my eyes from him.
“Three dollars and thirty three cents,” I tell him, taken aback by the total filled with my favorite number. I’ve always liked the number three and the way it curves into a heart that’s not complete. Not to mention it’s a magical number. Working till three am, three days a week, didn’t deter me at the job interview.
“It’s not safe for you to be here alone,” he advises.
“It’s not safe for you to have a gun tucked in your jeans,” I counter, without thinking.
“I have a license to carry,” he says, with a half smirk.
He pays and on his way out, gives me one last glance over his shoulder before blue and red lights flash, shining through the windows of the store. The man stops just outside the door, watching the calvary arrive.
I breathe a sigh of relief, they showed. I’m half-expecting the police to draw their weapons, shouting to the stranger to put his arms up. But it never happens.
Ray Martin, the sheriff, walks up to the stranger, pats him on the shoulder with a smile, and they laugh.
I strain my neck, trying my best to see what’s going on.
They both enter the store.
“Evening, Bella,” Ray says, making my skin crawl with a smirk the devil would admire. “You called me over our new officer?”
“New officer?”
“Evan Lacuna,” the blue-eyed stranger introduces himself, then smiles. “Nice to meet you.”
I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. I was raised never to trust a cop, and I knew something was off about him. He may be hot, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a cop. “Hey,” I finally say.
He steps closer. “You really thought I was a criminal?”
“If the shoe fits.” I need to shut up before Ray hauls me down to the station. He’s done it before, trying to scare me straight or something stupid like that.
Evan steps even closer, and says only for me to hear, “Hands tied behind my back is not how I want to live my life.”
The circus finally leaves, and I replay his words, watching him drive away, until he’s nothing but tail lights. It’s never been proposed to me in that light before: hands tied behind my back. My life has only ever felt like a weight around my ankles, pulling me down.
Chapter Two
When you live in a small town, little things matter. The smell of sugary confections, salty fries, and the whirring of thrown together rides may be inconsequential to some, but to me, stuck in the middle of super rural Lake County, Florida, it’s the highlight of my life when the carnival rolls into town.
For one, I have a gig playing a fortune teller, which means I’ll have a little extra cash in my empty pockets.
Two, I get the night off from ringing up soda and chips at my boring gas station job. And three, I get to pretend to not be me for a few hours and escape into a world where people stare back at me with hope and excitement in their eyes.
I don’t have a super fantastic costume to wear—this is fortune telling on a slim budget, people—but I do have a flowy, black dress I borrowed from Rebecca, my co-worker. My dark hair is left long and wild, falling in soft waves past my shoulders. Since this is a special occasion, I used a little makeup to give my hazel eyes a dramatic smoky effect. I’d say I definitely look the part; the reflection staring back at me could pass for at least twenty-one.
The only thing authentic about my role is my deck of cards. I pull the small mahogany box that holds my most prized possession from under my bed. It once belonged to the only responsible, loving person in my life: my grandma, Ophelia. I smile running my finger across the scarred lid. Memories of sitting on the front porch of her old farmhouse while she scattered these cards around, flipping them over and telling me my future, fly out when I open the box.
She was a wild spirit who believed in magic. And me. Our card was always the Three of Cups. She used to laugh because the number three seemed to follow me around. Literally. My birthday is the third. Grandma Ophelia told me it meant I was lucky, because in the bible it’s the Trinity of wholeness. Like coming full circle. I’m not really a religious person, but I still like the notion.
I tuck the cards in my tote bag, slide on my red flip flops—they’ll have to do—and set out on foot to the carnival. The humid August Florida air is like walking through a sauna, the wet just clings to you. When I leave here, I’m definitely going somewhere with winter. Somewhere with snow and chapped red noses from the cold.
I hustle through the streets and past the long line of cars waiting to park at the fairgrounds. Everything is alive and bright. I know mostly everyone here under the buzzing lights of tents and rides. My manager, Hardy, is no longer the old man who yells at punk teens to get out of his goddamn store when they make a mess at the Slurpee machine. He’s now a jovial clown with floppy shoes and balloons for kids. The downside to the carnival is definitely the creepy as hell clowns. There’s something sinister about their pasty white faces and exaggerated bright red smiles. No offense to clowns, but if the big floppy shoe fits.
Once I check in at the gate, I walk the short distance to my designated booth and step inside the small dark tent, illuminated softly by a string of white Christmas lights. I prop my sign next to my table and chair.
It doesn’t take long for a group of boys I went to high school with to start making trouble. One of the guys, Charlie Miller, is, how do I put this politely, an asshole. He swipes my cards.
I hold out my hand. “Give them back.”
“You’re supposed to be able to tell the future, right? Do I give them back or don’t I, Bella?”
“Those were my grandma’s cards. I want them back.” I extend my hand further but it does nothing to move him.
“I’d say your future says you give them back,” a deep male voice says from behind me. I glance over my shoulder to see the new cop. It’s been three weeks since our run in and to my disappointment, that time didn’t change how downright gorgeous he is nor the fact he’s a cop. Wintery blue eyes focus on Charlie.
“If I were you I’d give the girl her cards back.”
That’s all it takes for Charlie to toss the stack of tarot cards on the table and leave.
“Thanks.” I smile. “You saved me.”
He watches me for a moment, his eyes roving over my outfit. “Technically, I saved your cards, not you.”
My cheeks heat under his scrutiny. “Well, these cards are very important to me, so in a sense, you saved me.”
He peers around the tent. “Do you really know how to read cards?”
“Maybe.” I motion for him to sit. “Here, please, let me give you a free reading,” I wink, “for saving me.”
“I could be that guy and make a joke about ‘didn’t you see me coming,’” he says, taking a seat in the flimsy folding chair.
“Good thing you’re not that guy, or I’d have to say ‘that’s what she said,’” I reply back.
He laughs a bit at my corny joke, and I swallow as I take him all in. Magic. Ha. You couldn’t tell me in this moment it doesn’t exist. This man was made from a wish. Someone looked up at the sky one night, closed their eyes and brought him to life.
I blink, trying to clear the stars from my head, and hold out my hand. “Here, let me see.”
He places his large hand on mine, palm side up. His attention is fierce under the soft glow of the lights, as if this silly card reading is worth more than the three bucks I charge.
“I’m not very good at palm reading,” I trace the lines of his hand, “but I was taught what the lines mean.”
“What do mine say?”
I trail my finger through the dip of his palm, skating slowly over his warm skin. “This is your life line.” I glimpse up and grin a little. “Yours is really long.”
He chuckles. “That’s what she said.”
I laugh a little, going back to his hand, heart racing, as I try to ignore how his playful charm makes him even more attractive. “Yes. It’s as long as your heart line. I was told it means…” I hesitate, “you’re a good lover.”
He smiles. “Who told you that?”
I keep hold of his hand. “My senile grandmother.”
He grins, and even though there’s loud music, whirring rides, and barkers shouting through the haze of the fair, all I see, all I hear, is him.
“Maybe we should see if the cards agree,” he suggests, nodding to the pile.
I reluctantly let go of his hand to release the cards from their constricting rubber band and spread them across the table. “Turn over one card.”
He flips over a card with a sword. “Ah, the ace of swords. This means a decision is going to be made that affects your life but is ultimately out of your control.”
He lifts one of his perfectly arched brows and nods. “Do I get another?”
“Two more,” I instruct, making sure he has the luck of three on his side. His eyes carefully scan the cards, his chiseled jaw taut as he debates which to choose, before he finally flips over a card with a nude man and woman. He peeks up at me, raising his brow again, but this time that damn adorable dimple is back in the pocket of his cheek.
Heat rises on my cheeks again. “The lovers,” I tell him. “This is the ultimate love card, symbolizing a unique bond and deep connection between two people.”
He turns his gaze back on me full force, his brows pulled together with doubt, as he says low, “Do you believe in this stuff? That it actually comes true?”
“I plead the fifth,” I say, avoiding his question. “You get one more card.” I urge him on, but he shakes his head.
“I think I want to leave it at that. Seems like a good place to stop.”
“But three is a lucky number. Do you really want to take a chance with your future?” I tap the table for him to pick another, and he watches me a moment before flipping over a third card. My stomach clenches as I silently stare at the bad omen.
“Oh, it can’t be that bad, can it?”
I fake a smile and shake my head. “I just forgot what it was for a second. Um, it means you’ll rescue someone,” I lie. “See, the white knight on the horse.”
He rises from his chair. “I guess I’ve fulfilled part of my destiny tonight then, haven’t I?”
“I guess you have.” I swallow hard. “Thank you, again.”
He nods, and I watch as he strides through the stifling crowd like a sharp knife through butter. People fall away from him as he approaches, as if he owns that kind of power to part the seas.
The next four hours, I read fortunes until my replacement arrives, and then, not ready to go home yet, I walk around through a haze of delicious food smells. My stomach rumbles, because I haven’t eaten anything today, so I scope out the concession stands. Funky Town Funnel Cakes has hot orders, ready and waiting, in the window and no one does them better, so I weave between the people and grab an order.
I pick off bites off the sweet treat as I walk the length of the carnival and stop at the giant Ferris wheel. Every year, I watch it turn but don’t ride. Looks like this year will be the same.
I finish off my funnel cake and chuck my paper plate in the nearby trash can. As I twist around, I bump chests with a man. Now familiar blue eyes gaze down at me. “Having any fun tonight or is it all about working?” I ask.
“Just doing one final walk through before I leave.” He looks over at the wheel. “You going to ride that thing?”
“Someday,” I answer. “It’ll have to stay on the bucket list because I’m a little … no … I’m really scared of heights. Can’t lie.”
He tilts his head, studying me. “Come on.”
He steps up to the Ferris wheel and goes right for the guy manning the ride, slips him some cash and motions to me. A little stunned, I gawk at the towering contraption. He looks so beautiful standing next to the object of my fear. I let his magnetic pull guide my feet to him. We are put on the ride right away. I clasp my hands down on the steel bar and take a deep breath.
“Sometimes you have to just do it,” he says, his ocean-blue eyes gleaming under the crackling bulbs framing the wheel.
“You should work for Nike,” I say, my voice a faint whisper as we climb higher. He half-smiles.
The ride jolts forward as it begins to turn, and I clasp on for dear life. I brave looking over at him and he’s staring at me as we lift toward the stars.
A lock of hair blows across my face, but I am not letting go of this bar. “Would you mind moving my hair?”
He carefully reaches out to tuck it behind my ear.
“Thank you,” I manage to say.
“I foresee,” he muses, with a wry smile, “you being a lot of trouble.”
“I could say the same about you.” My heart races from how he stares at me, almost like he’s going to lean in and kiss me. That would be absurd. But not as absurd as the fact, I really want him to. In this magical place, I want to believe in things like love at first sight, white knights, and happy endings. He doesn’t kiss me, though, and the ride ends much too soon.
We climb down, and I still feel high.
“You can check that off,” he says as we walk away.
“That was amazing,” I realize, now that my feet are on solid ground.
The vendors are closing up and the music stops as we hit the end of the midway and all the magic fades into the darkness of night as we exit. A group of guys whistle low at me as they walk past. Evan glares in their direction, looking unamused by their juvenile antics.
“Future leaders of America right there,” I say, commenting on the boys.
“Did you date one of them?” he asks.
“I don’t date boys from Lake County, or any other county for that matter.”
“To think I saved you,” he jokes.
I smile at him. “Details are important. I said boys …”
Evan captures his bottom lip for a moment, and I glance down briefly because his stare makes my stomach flop. He looks out at the smattering of vehicles left in the field. “Where’s your car?”
I point to my feet. “They get great gas mileage.”
He strokes his hand through his chaotic raven hair. “I could give you a ride if you’d like.”
“That’s ok. I’m not far. I’ll walk.”
Part of me doesn’t want him to know I live on the poor side of town, in a run-down trailer, with my mother and whatever guys she’s sleeping with this week, but the other part wants a little more time with this man.
“I’ll drive you,” he says.
I agree and let him lead me to his truck, a black Ford F-150 with dark-tinted windows. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t smell incredible inside. New, like leather. But also, like him. Like whatever he washes with and was born with. That smell you can’t describe on a baby’s head—unequivocally unique and intoxicating. Plus, his truck’s clean. Like, super clean. I’m not really used to anyone being so meticulous about anything, but hey, cleanliness is next to Godliness, so I’ll take it.
The short ride is silent as he navigates the empty streets, and I feel the need to fill it with chatter. His New York ball cap sits on the seat between us. “Have you been to New York?”
“I lived there.”
“Lucky. I’ve never been anywhere outside of Florida. Do you travel a lot?”
“When I was younger.”
I look over at him. “How cool. To other countries?”
“I’ve been many places. Yes.”
“Then how the heck did a guy like you end up in a place like boring Lake County?”
He darts his eyes to me like for the first time tonight he’s unsure of me. “Long story.”
His lights illuminate the shabby trailer I live in with my mom as he pulls in my driveway. Embarrassment rifles its way to the forefront and I hop out to escape it, hoping he won’t take too much in before I can end this night. Standing outside his truck is a little like turning back into pre-party Cinderella after the spell wore off and she was ripped from a horse-drawn carriage and reduced to a ripped dress, missing one shoe.
“Thanks again,” I tell him.
“Goodnight, Bella,” he says before I shut the door.
He waits until I’m inside before leaving.
To my surprise, my mom’s still awake. She peeps through the curtains in our living room as I step inside. “Who was that?” she asks, her curious brown eyes narrowing on me.
I don’t dare tell her it was a cop. “Just a guy I met at the carnival.”
“A stranger? You let a strange man drive you home?”
Ha. Like she’s one to judge. She’s been bringing ‘strange’ men into our house nearly my whole life. I let it go, though.
“I’m tired, Mom. I’m going to bed.”
She calls after me as I head down the narrow hallway, “Did you make any money tonight?” and then a string of things about what she needs money for, none of them important or good, of course. I close my door and let her voice fade out, climb into my twin-sized bed and close my eyes, thinking of Ferris wheels and eyes so blue and magnetic I feel connected to him even though he’s long gone.
I might be young, but I’m not naive enough to ignore the signs that fate keeps putting him in my path. There’s a troublesome bright red flag of course—the third card he flipped. Evan might be leading a good life as a cop, probably living on the better side of town like his fellow officers, but something very bad looms over Evan Lacuna. The card of Death.
Chapter Three
Two a.m. is when you begin to wonder if good fried chicken and working this shift is worth eight bucks an hour. Of course, it’s not, but there are bills that need to be paid and no adults who are sober enough to pay them. I kind of like having electricity and water. I may be on my own in this trap called life, but at least I’m not alone tonight. Hardy, the old man that runs the store, fills the cooler shelves but it’s eerily quiet. Too quiet. I don’t like the silence, because then I think about things I shouldn’t be thinking about. Things like Evan Lacuna. I can’t figure him out. I can’t figure me out either, because why am I obsessing over a cop?
The door opens and two guys head straight toward the beer coolers. They each grab a six-pack of Coors and run out of the store as fast as they came in.
Hardy emerges from the cooler wielding a wet mop and half-limps his way straight toward the front doors. “Let them go,” I tell him.
He ignores me, anger flaring his nostrils like a bull, as he pushes open the door and goes after them.
I can’t believe this is really happening, and I don’t think I have the kind of luck or karma to live knowing I let Hardy chase down criminals with a dirty mop as his only weapon. Am I the only one who sees the irony that his mop can’t clean up this mess?
With a sigh, I pick up my cell phone and dial 911, walking out toward the parking lot as I describe my so-called emergency to dispatch. “My manager just chased two kids who stole the cheapest beer we sell into the woods. Probably should send a cop out here so he doesn’t die or get fired.”
While I debate whether to follow him into the woods, to my surprise, three squads pull into the lot. My heart does this unfamiliar thrash against my chest. Lacuna is back. He climbs from his SUV, in a tight fitting black tee and black cargo pants, looking as dark as the night.
They find Hardy at the edge of the woods, with a knot on his forehead, where the thieves punched him and took off, dropping the beer as they went. I give my statement to a deputy, knowing this will probably never go anywhere.
“Are you alright?” Evan asks. The concern on his stubbled face is foreign to me. My body doesn’t know how to feel about it, so my heart thumps faster and faster as he approaches.
“Yeah, this is nothing new,” I tell him, resisting the urge to tug at the hem of my Manatee Mini-Mart T-shirt. He makes me feel like I need to busy my hands. “But I’m not the one who went chasing after them with a mop.” I motion to Hardy, sitting near the ambulance with a hand on his head.
He steps closer and lowers his voice. “You wouldn’t do anything like that, right?”
I look up at him. His eyes are weapons. They split through my armor with a single swipe. Maybe that’s what irritates me so badly about him. He knows I’m only half-cocked. “No.”
“Good.” He steps even closer. “I wouldn’t want to have to worry about you chasing idiots into the woods.”
“I’m not that stupid.” I add with a little wink.
He smiles. “I don’t think you’re stupid at all.”
My face heats, and it’s not because of the warm Florida air. “I. ..thank you,” I whisper, trying to blow it off, as I lower my eyes.
His large shoe fills my vision as he steps closer. “I need to talk to your manager.”
“Lacuna,” an officer calls out.
“One sec,” he responds before turning his attention over to Hardy, “You need to lower those stacks of soda boxes near the front of the store.”
Hardy rubs the ice-pack over his head. “Why’s that?”
“Because when I drive by to check on the store, I can’t see her behind the counter.” He points to me. “And if anything were to happen to her it would be on your head. And then I’d come after your ass.”
I stand still, watching Hardy cower to Evan.
“Yeah, ok. I never thought about that.”
“Just get it fixed.”
Evan focuses his attention back on me, like all on me. It’s intense and sexy.
“Thank you,” I say.
“Maybe you do need something a little stronger under the counter than a chicken bone.”
I laugh a little. “Yeah, maybe.”
Evan says goodbye and joins the other cops. When I head back inside, I can’t stop myself from giving a quick peek over my shoulder as I open the door. Evan watches me, before hopping into his SUV, and then he’s gone. Just like that. There’s a first for everything, and I take in a deep breath, trying desperately not to recognize the fact that I might be attracted to a cop.
And I try to remember the rest of my shift who I am, and how cops don’t like girls like me.
Even officers who stare too long. Give him another week, and he’ll probably be non-existent.
When Rebecca arrives to relieve me, I can’t clock out quick enough.
“Where’s Hardy?” she asks.
I fill her in on what happened.
“Wow, can’t believe they showed so fast.” She slides her Styrofoam coffee cup under the counter. “Jessie said that new officer was in the diner the other day.”
Suddenly I’m not in such a rush to leave. Rebecca always has the town gossip from her sister, Jessie. And Rebecca doesn’t disappoint. “She said he’s renting a house over in Briar patch. Said she can’t understand why a man who looks like that is still single. Said he told her if he’s still single in three years, when he’s thirty, they can get married.” She laughs; I don’t. I imagine they’ll have the perfect house to go with their perfect life.
And I don’t know why this thought angers me more than it should.
“You going to the lake this weekend?” she asks before I make it to the door.
“Probably not. I’m sure Charlie Miller will be there, and I don’t care to watch him get all drunk and annoying.”
She smiles with this far-off, dreamy look in her eyes. “But, he’s so good-looking.”
I laugh. If anyone’s good-looking it’s that cop. You know the one I can’t stop thinking about.
I wave goodbye, not even commenting on what she said about Charlie, and walk out the door.
When I get to the edge of my yard, I can already hear Tucker, Mom’s latest boyfriend, making a fuss. He’s waking up the neighborhood, and all I can think about is what would it be like to come home to quiet and clean and normal? In a few more months, I’ll have enough saved to get my own car, and in a few more, I’ll have enough saved to get my own place in another town, where no one looks at me and sees the rot.
Instead of going inside, I head down the road in the opposite direction. Toward the house I know a new cop is renting.
Knowing full well this is a huge mistake, I keep walking.
It’s late, or as some may see it, early, almost five am, and I pray to no one listening that he’ll be home.
This is so wrong. So not something I have a right to do. I stop in front of his neat lawn and darkened home. There is no yelling here. There’s happy flowers and pretty landscaping.
I walk up his front steps. And then I turn away. God, I’ve morphed into this creepy stalker girl. I can’t knock on the door of a cop I barely know.
I rush back down the street, past the haughty street lamps shining their judgement on me, toward the one place guaranteed to make me feel better—the library.
Using a computer at a public library is about the most annoying thing to do in the world, especially when it’s the middle of summer and everybody who is broke is trying to stay cool and out of the heat. I have a guy sitting next to me who thinks what I’m doing is his business. He looks about twenty years older than me, but he still keeps asking me stuff like if I have a boyfriend, ‘cause pretty girls like me need a man to take care of them.
As if I need a man to take care of me. Why is it always this notion out there in the world? That a woman needs a man. I’ve seen that a lot from my mom. Does a man ever need a woman? Maybe in the movies they do. But is that real life? I don’t care, that’s what I want: a man who can’t survive without my love. Because I feel like I would have a lot of love to give. Like the lack of love given to me growing up has doubled the size of my heart, and I have so much to give to a man. The guy next to me asks if I’m doing anything Friday night, and I lie and tell him I have a boyfriend. Even though I’ve never really had a boyfriend. Even though I think if I did have a boyfriend it would be a cop. Talk about a man taking care of me. I bet Evan Lacuna knows how to take care of a woman. What is wrong with me?
Before the man next to me can say anything further, I slip on the library supplied headphones.
I continue scrolling the internet, wanting to better my own situation. To better myself. I get stuck for a minute watching a few cat gifs, and laughing, but then I click onto an ad for a hospital and watch a video about becoming a nurse. About learning the human body to help people when their’s fail.
And then I watch another video, concentrating on the screen in front of me, on the video of the woman in a light-blue pair of scrubs talking about the excitement of working in a hospital’s emergency room.
I think I could do this. I can’t work at a place that gets robbed on the regular. Evan was right to worry about my safety. It isn’t something that I should take for granted. Working late nights at a gas stations is not what I want to do anymore. I want to be a part of something bigger. A part of something meaningful. To do more than just give someone a free soda who can’t afford their own. At the hospital, I can actually save lives.
I click out of the video, and onto the weather alert flashing on the screen. A disturbance in the tropics. Ugh, just great. A hurricane heading right toward us.
I mentally think of everything I’ll need for the storm.
Batteries and water are the highest priority.
I power down my computer, and say goodbye to my nosy neighbor. I feel his eyes on me the whole time as I walk toward the front door. I’m too pumped to go home, so I head into the diner my mother works at, knowing I can grab a good meal before the stress of the next week hits. It’s going to be one Hell of a week if we get a direct hit. Of course they don’t know. My future is being predicted by a big red cone. I’d probably get a more accurate reading from my tarot cards. You’d never know there’s a hurricane looming off in the Gulf of Mexico from the cloudless sky and bright sunshine. But the way the sucker looked on the computer, it was heading right for us. And it was huge. (that’s what she said) See everything reminds me of him.
I open the diner doors, breathe in the smell of gravy and grease, and kind of wish I really did have psychic fortune telling abilities, because I would have seen what was coming.
Chapter Four
This is a bad idea, motherfucker. I should turn around and walk out of this greasy spoon diner and away from the girl sitting at the far end with long dark hair tumbling down her back. But I’m all about bad ideas.
I cross the checkerboard tile and slide onto a red leather topped stool next to Bella just as the waitress slides a plate heaped with scrambled eggs and bacon in front of her.
“I’ll take what she’s having,” I say.
Bella’s head whips to me and her eyes drift over my uniform. The blonde waitress—Mabel, her name tag reads—flips my ceramic mug over with a smile and fills it with coffee before taking my order.
“Is this a stalker thing?” Bella asks, once Mabel is gone.
I glance over at her. Today her hazel eyes look more jade than the brown from the carnival a week ago. Definitely brighter than they were last night. Eighteen freckles fan across the bridge of her nose onto her cheeks. Eighteen reasons why I shouldn’t be doing this. But I do a lot of things I shouldn’t. It’s kind of my mantra. I’m kind of pretending I know what that word means. But, it sounds good. And I love doing shit that I could get in trouble for.
“Do you want me to watch you?” I take a slow sip of my coffee. My highly inappropriate comment stops her fork on the way to her mouth. “I didn’t mean to imply…”
“I know,” she brushes my remark away like lint from her sleeve.
“Here you go,” the waitress interrupts, sliding my breakfast on the counter. “Bella, tell your mom I’ll trade shifts with her tomorrow if she still wants. I have to help Gary board up windows.”
“I’ll tell her to call you,” she replies back.
Mabel leans her hip against the counter, crossing her arms. “You got supplies and stuff?”
I dig into my breakfast listening to their discussion about the hurricane now forecast to blow through Florida in a few days. Bella tells her she’ll be fine, but I know from the briefing at the station they’re expecting more than a little wind and rain. Mabel moves away to clear tables, and we eat for a few minutes before I feel the urge to end the silence.
“Did you walk here?” I ask between bites.
“Yeah,” she tells me. “Sometimes I use Mom’s car, but the radiator is busted. I’m still saving for my own.” She looks over at me and gives a little wink. “Poor people problems.”
Another bad idea hits, and it’s out before I can stop it. “I could give you some work, if you need extra money.”
She tilts her head at me, curious. “Doing what?”
“I don’t know. I can think of something.”
She spins toward me, and her knee brushes my thigh. My dick twitches from the contact.
“Sex?” she says in a low voice.
“Fuck,” I mutter, “no. Do you do that?”
“No, but don’t think it hasn’t been offered to me. I could make them think we’re having sex and have a car in a week.”
“Come again? How exactly does a man think you’re having sex but you’re not? Explain this to me.”
She pushes her plate aside and leans forward a bit. “One time, we had to stay in a motel, because we didn’t have a house. So, me and mom were in this weekly pay place, and it came with HBO. Well, they had on a show one night Mom was watching about these girls in Las Vegas. Like a documentary of street walkers.” She looks around to make sure no one is listening. “So, this one girl was on there saying she made all this money by making men believe that she was giving them head, but really she just used her fingers and made it feel like her mouth. So …”
It takes me a good minute before I can even form the words. And when I do, it comes out slow as molasses. “You think you could fool men into paying for that?”
“Am I talking to Evan the human being, or am I talking to Officer Lacuna? Because that’s going to make a big difference in how I answer that question.”
“I won’t arrest you for prostitution.”
“Good, ‘cause I am not a hooker.”
“If you take money for sex, that is the purest definition, Bella.”
“I’m just saying I could.”
Oh I know she could. A girl that looks like her would make a fuckton of money selling herself. “Why did you have to tell me this?”
She finishes off her meal, studying me, thoughtfully. “Does it make you mad because you know you wouldn’t arrest me for it because you’d feel super guilty since I’m your little charity case?”
“Bella … “ I lean forward so our faces are inches apart, “make no mistake, you will not be taking money for sex from anyone. Including me.”
“I wasn’t going to,” she whispers. “But it’s not unheard of around here for cops to not follow the law.”
I lean back, putting distance between us, because I have no comment on that.
“Thanks for the offer for work, but I’ll have to decline.” She focuses on my badge. “How did you decide to become a cop?”
I’m not sure how to answer her question, or if I should. But I give her a little bit. “I didn’t want to be anything like my family.”
Her brows raise. “I thought most cops come from cops.”
I laugh a little under my breath. “Definitely not.” My phone rings, saving me from her inquisition. “I have to take to this call. Enjoy your day.”
She smiles. “You too, Evan.”
On my way out, I give Mabel twenty dollars to cover her breakfast and mine.
My call turns into a two day nightmare of preparing the town for a hit by Hurricane Logan. The fucker is unpredictable and keeps zigzagging around in the ocean, but he’s ready to hit tonight and pummel the county with ‘catastrophic rains and heavy winds.’ Which means all the people living in flood zones need to get the fuck out. One of those people—-Bella. I drive through her neighborhood giving the stragglers a final warning and then pull my patrol SUV into her driveway. No one answers when I knock. So I knock again. Then, I twist the knob, sticking my head in. “Bella,” I call out, stepping over the threshold.
I step further inside. It’s cramped, but clean. Once more I call out, walking toward the hallway. The door to the left is open and I stop at what must be Bella’s room. It smells like coconut, like the beach, like her. She has no bed frame, but still made her bed. A thin cobalt blue comforter lies over white sheets with one matching pillow. I’m not sure why that makes my chest feel all fucking weird. Like she made the best out of nothing. The pale yellow walls are bare except for blue letters that spell out LIVE BY THE SUN, LOVE BY THE MOON across from her bed.
A door opens further down the hall and I turn to see a wet dream. Bella lets out a scream in nothing but a sexy as fuck white towel with water droplets cascading down her long, tanned legs. Oh fuck.
“What are you doing here? she asks.
My eyes make a valiant attempt to stay on her face but fail. The threadbare scrap of a towel, hides nothing, really. She might as well be wrapped in gauze. Her nipples harden when my eyes sweep across the mounds of her breasts exposed above the towel.
I clear my throat, and rub the back of my neck, trying to ignore the ache in my dick. “I’m doing a final sweep through the neighborhood. Time to get out.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“Yes, you are.” I cross my arms.
“I’m an adult in the eyes of the law,” she challenges, “so I can stay.”
“You’re eighteen.”
She prickles at my statement. “So. How old are you?”
“Twenty-seven, but that has nothing to do with you staying here. Where’s your mom?”
“She’s at Tucker’s. I’m not staying there.”
She walks toward me and I step aside for her to enter her room. She closes the door, and I lean back against the wall, waiting. Maybe I need to be charming or some shit. “Listen,” I say to the door, “I’ll feel responsible if something happens to you. I’ve seen death, and it’s pretty fucking horrific.”
Ok, not my best charm, but five minutes later the door opens. Instead of a towel, she’s dressed in a yellow sundress, holding a black duffel bag in her hand.
“This little infatuation that you have with trying to save me isn’t going to end so good for you,” she says, softly. “There’s a reason why they move damaged goods away from premium products and mark down the price. People want the good stuff.”
“Baby, the deals are the best stuff.”
She smiles, and I push off the wall before I kiss that look off her face. “Got everything you need? All your important papers?”
“Got your tarot cards?” I know it’s important to her.
“Oh, I almost forgot.” She puts a hand on my arm. “Thank you. I would have been devastated if I forgot them.”
“That’s what I’m here for.”
She nods and follows me to my truck. We take off down the road under a light sprinkle of rain.
“The school isn’t this way. You need to turn around and head down Ponkan.”
I glance over at her. “You really want to stay in a cramped, hot fucking gymnasium of a school with hundreds of other people?”
“I don’t really have a choice, Evan.”
“You’re coming to my house instead,” I tell her. Like there’s no other option. And well, there kind of isn’t.
She worries her lip. “Are you sure?”
“Nowhere safer than with me.”
“I take back what I said about cops. You’re a good guy.”
A good guy. In my world the word ‘good’ has a different meaning. I live in a bit of an alternative universe.
At my old Catholic school in Manhattan, where I grew up, I didn’t listen much to the nuns, but there was something that always stood out from a passage in Isaiah, that read; ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who turn darkness to light and light to darkness, who replace bitter with sweet and sweet with bitter.’
Woe. It’s a word used to scold. To stop. To describe sorrow. I’m living in a world of woe. An officer who’s been tasked to use my good to perform deceptive deeds. To hide behind a badge of gold to sell the people I’ve sworn to protect tarnished silver. To become the sweet that is really bitter.
Cops can get away with anything if you know the right people. Even more if you are the right people. The only thing you cannot escape are your own demons. The things you do on—and if you’re me—off the job. Power is a drug. It is there to consume like a hungry wolf with plenty to eat, but never enough to satisfy the craving for more blood.
And my cravings run deep. I just didn’t expect them to desire a girl like her. We’re silent the rest of the ride, and the heavy clouds finally unleash the rain as I pull in my driveway. She stares at the large rental home with its neatly manicured lawn as if she doesn’t belong here. We make a dash through the rain for the porch, and as I unlock my house, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.
Telling her this is a safe place to be?
A million ideas pop into my head the moment Bella Hattie follows me inside my house. None of them are good. Actually, all of them are quite bad. The fragrance of her, that floral coconut scent that lives on her skin, replaces the emptiness of musk and leather from the few pieces of furniture I have in the living room.
Her eyes bounce around the interior, and I wonder if she’s curious about my lack of furnishings?
I don’t plan on staying here long, so I didn’t see the need to fill it with things, but now it looks fucking odd.
“I just moved in,” I tell her as she sidles closer to the nearly empty built in bookshelf. “A lot of my stuff is still in boxes.” I watch her as she looks around, marveling at how high the cathedral ceilings reach. “I’ll have to dig through and find some stuff so we can ride out this storm a little more comfortably.”
Her eyes, deep green gems with flecks of gold, fill with surprise. “You haven’t done that yet?”
I smirk. “Been a little busy saving people.”
“Right.” She wets her lips, trailing her eyes over my face as if I really am some savior. “Maybe I could do that? Where are the boxes? I’d love to help since you’ve saved me yet again.”
“Stay here. I’ll grab a few from the back room.”
I smile back at her and try to push the shit I’m feeling for her to the pit of my stomach. To save her. To save me.
Once I reach the back bedroom, my phone rings. “The fuck, Lacuna?”
“Watch your tone, Roman.”
“I’m getting my shit handed to me by Levinthal because you haven’t checked in this entire week. Forgive me if I’m a little goddamn miffed.”
I laugh at that word. “Did you just say miffed?”
“If you don’t follow orders…”
I cut him off. “Don’t threaten me.”
“I’m not, but you know how Levinthal is. You need to finish this and get back to New York.”
“I’m kind of liking Florida.”
“Don’t even play with me right now, Lacuna.”
“I’ve got everything under control.”
I disconnect and grab two boxes, knowing I have absolutely nothing under control.
Chapter Five
“Logan’s a beast.” From the window, I watch the trees sway and the rain come down in angry, gray sheets.
“Yeah this storm’s going to do a lot of damage.”
Knowing it’s the worst spot to be in a hurricane, I move away from the window and over to the boxes Evan stacks in the corner.
“You really don’t have to help with these,” Evan tells me.
“Listen, we’re stuck here for a while, so might as well.”
“Let me grab a few flashlights. I have a lantern too,” he glances around, “somewhere.”
I laugh a little.
But, before we can do anything, we lose power. Luckily, he finds two flashlights and a lantern in the kitchen.
He sets it on the dining room table and scans the kitchen. “Actually, we should kill everything in the fridge, it’s all dying in there anyway.”
I raise a brow. “Who’s our most critical patient.”
He crosses the room, and I follow him into the large kitchen filled with more cabinets than I’ve ever seen. “I think the ice cream is about to go.”
“I love ice cream…” I take a seat on a stool at the island. “…best put it out of its misery.”
I watch his shadowy profile grab a couple of spoons from a drawer before he comes over to the island with a barely touched pint of my favorite flavor—mint chocolate chip.
“Mind if we share? I don’t have any bowls. At least none that I can find right now.”
I dig my spoon into the carton. “Ok.”
Evan grins and clinks his spoon to mine. “Cheers.”
The awkwardness of being here with a complete stranger, really, falls away as we share ice cream. It’s almost like he’s no longer a cop. I know he still is, but he almost seems like a normal guy. Like someone I could be friends with.
I watch as he puts the spoon in his mouth and pulls it clean. His eyes catch mine and he grins. “What?” he asks.
“Nothing.” I smile. The soft glow of the lantern and flashlight, the storm roaring outside, and the heat soaking through my pores make this almost feel… romantic.
“You’re staring at me funny.”
I laugh. “No, I’m not.”
“Do I have ice cream all over my face?” he asks.
I smile at him, keeping our eyes connected. “No, but if it gets any hotter that might be a good idea.”
Flames lick my belly as his tongue cleans the spoon.
“Yeah,” he agrees. “This storm is going to last a while. No power, no TV, or anything really to do.”
The husky tone of his voice makes me think of a million things we could do. All bad things. Things like kissing, touching, licking ice cream from that damn dimple. I stand, tossing my spoon in the sink. “Let’s unpack.”
He rolls his eyes in a fun way. “A working hurricane party, sounds fun.”
“We’ll make it fun.” Again, with the sexuality. He must think I’m crazy.
His eyes smolder before he smiles. “Let me get a box cutter,” he says, keeping this strictly platonic.
Which it should be. I don’t know what my problem is. I feel like telling him I don’t normally do this sort of thing, but then again who does. He’s just doing his cop duties by letting a stranded girl stay here, but I can’t help wanting more.
We move into the living room and I set the lantern on the bookshelf while he slices through tape on the first box, then turns to face me. “No judging me on the contents of these boxes.”
“Oh, now I’m intrigued.”
He laughs. “Well, maybe we can grab a bottle of Fireball instead. Get drunk?”
“You do know I’m eighteen, right?”
He rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah, probably a bad idea.”
I eye him curiously for a moment.
“You really must not want me to see what’s in these boxes.”
“I’m kidding. I really think it’s just boring stuff.”
I peek into the box. “I doubt you’re anything but boring.”
“I’m pretty boring,” he says, taking out a Star Wars blanket. “See, boring.”
I pull out a t-shirt with a giant taco on it that reads, ‘I’m into fitness. Fitness taco in my mouth.’ I turn back to him and raise a brow.
“It was a gift.” He grabs it from my hand, balls it into his fists, and tosses it onto the couch.
“Mhm,” I say, removing two cool taco bookends and placing them on his bookshelf. “You sure do have a thing for tacos, huh?”
His eyes smile. “I can’t believe you just asked me that.”
My face flushes with embarrassment. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Mhm.” He laughs. We continue through the box until it’s empty. “I probably would never have fully unpacked,” he says, looking around at the items littering the room.
“Well, I’m glad I could help.” And I really am glad. I feel like I got a glimpse into the man who owns things like a taco shirt.
“I appreciate it.” He turns back to another box and opens it, revealing all his kitchenware inside. “Found the bowls.”
The wind howls, and a snap of thunder crashes. Evan turns toward the glass. “We should probably get away from the windows. I didn’t have time to board them up with working all the time.”
“You didn’t ask any of the guys at the station for help?” I ask him.
“Nah.” He rubs his chin. “No one I trust there.”
“I wonder what people would think if they knew I was here…with you.”
“Bella,” he says slowly, “there’s something you need to understand about me from the get-go.”
“I’m listening.”
“I don’t allow anyone to dictate my life. If I want to do something, I do it. If I want something, I take it. Life’s not supposed to be constricting. I’ll never live that way.”
“Doesn’t that kind of contradict what you do for a living?”
“How so?” He grabs two smaller boxes and takes them into the dining room where there’s no windows.
“You’re a cop,” I answer, following him.
He looks over his shoulder at me. “You think I ruin people’s lives by making them abide by the law?”
“No, I just think it’s a bit hypocritical sometimes. Some of the cops around here think they’re above the law.”
“We all get the same playing field. If I get caught breaking the law, being a cop won’t get me out of the jam I put myself in. I’ll have to pay the same cost as anyone else. But it’s a chance I’m willing to take for the things I want to do and the things that I just…fuck, want.”
“Have you ever broken the law?”
“No…” he almost sounds unsure of his answer.
“Is that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, Officer Lacuna?” Because, I almost don’t know if I believe him.
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Logan Chance is a USA Today, Top 20 Amazon, KDP All-Star, and KDP All-Star UK bestselling author with a quick wit and penchant for the simple things in life: Star Wars, music, and smart girls who love to read. He was nominated best debut author for the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2016. His works can be classified as Dramedies (Drama+Comedies), featuring a ton of laughs and many swoon worthy, heartfelt moments.

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*I was given permission by Logan chance to put this on our blog*