She stopped. Turned and faced him. “I did not want you to come to Sugar Springs, Mr. Haddock. You were not invited to come, and you are not welcomed,” she said evenly. “If you still want to purchase my script, I’m grateful. But I have nothing to say to you, about it or anything else.”
Wheeling, she hurried to her front door. He had to stop her before she got in the house, or he knew he would have lost all chance of speaking with her.
“I’m the boy,” he shouted in desperation. “The boy—from the diner. In Owens.” He swallowed, praying she would react.
She did. She froze, her body so still that he held his breath, wondering if she had heard him. Then she turned gradually, as if she were in slow motion. Her jaw was slack. He saw tears brimming in her eyes.
Carefully, Tanner approached her, every step cautious and measured. She watched him, her lips moving silently, no words uttered aloud.
When he came to stand in front of her, she bit her lip, trying to keep from crying, but the tears already streamed down her cheeks. He reached out, his fingers brushing them away.
Her gaze intensified. It was as if Paige Laramie saw through to his soul.
“You are that boy,” she said, wonder in her voice. “I never thought I would see you again.”
Without warning, she threw herself at him, her arms locking tightly about him. Automatically, his arms came around her. He caught a faint scent of vanilla and the sweat from her run.
“Thank you,” Paige whispered. “Thank you. For saving me. For helping me to come home again.”
Rory gazed at Walker a moment—and then did something spontaneous. Something she had wanted to do since she met him.
She stepped to him and looped her arms about his neck, pressing her mouth softly to his. His arms slipped around her, and he stepped closer, their bodies flush against one another.
The kiss was lingering. Sweet with a bit of pressure. His lips felt right against hers, even though she knew they both held back. She felt the warmth of his body. Smelled the tang of his cologne. Yearned for more, but knew now wasn’t the time.
Walker was the one who broke the kiss and stared down at her. “We’ll definitely continue this later,” he said huskily. “But we shouldn’t keep Granny Bea waiting.”
He cradled her cheek with his palm. “When I kiss you again, Rory, it’s going to be for hours.”
She shivered, thinking how she wanted the same. She longed to explore his mouth. His body. She had never had such an intense response, both physically and emotionally, to a single kiss.
Stepping away from him, Rory said, “Let me know when you’re ready, Walker. Because I’m more than ready to see what happens between us.”
Nova’s cell dinged with a text message. She refused to look at it even though her phone blew up with message after message. Going ot the living room, she waited in the dark, knowing Cole would show up.
Half an hour later, she heard his truck in the driveway and went and unlocked the front door. Opening it, she did something she had never done since she had returned to Sugar Springs.
She placed the latch on the screen door.
Nova needed a barrier between them.
Cole stormed from the truck and raced up her porch steps. She could only see him in silhouette since she hadn’t turned on the porch light.
“Nova,” he said, desperation in his voice. “Talk to me. We can fix this.”
Steeling herself, she said, “That’s the key word—we. I don’t want to fix it. I’m done. Let it go. Let me go.”
“Not without a fight,” he said, pulling on the screen door and finding it locked.
Nova tried another tact. “If you truly love me, Cole, then respect my decision to end things. We had some good times, but I’m asking you to walk away.”
With that, she quietly shut the door, leaning against, her forehead resting on it as tears streamed down her cheeks.
In the stillness, she heard him say, “I love you, Nova. I always will.”
Then the sound of his boots going down the steps echoed in the night. His truck started. Cole drove away.
He was now gone from her life.
Gideon did something he had never done before. He’d watched fellow cops check out their dates online, using police databases to dive deeply into their research. He’d no intention of doing that, but curiosity drove him to type Hope’s name into the search box, wanting to learn what he could about her before their next date.
Several women with her name popped up, and he scrolled through, trying to locate any article about her. When he couldn’t, he refined his search, adding Doctor in front of Hope Keller and Houston after her name.
This time, one Dr. Hope Keller popped up, an oncologist at M. D. Anderson.
Where the hell was his Hope?
Gideon began drilling down, putting her name in with Houston veterinary clinics and animal hospitals. He tried her name and Texas A&M University and the vet school. Again, nothing.
It was as if Dr. Hope Keller, veterinarian from Houston and graduate of Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine, did not exist. Warning bells went off in his head. Why wouldn’t Hope have left any kind of digital footprint on the Internet?
It troubled him that she had arrived out of thin air, ready to buy Dr. Bisch’s practice. She said her parents had died recently, and so he typed in Keller, Houston, and Obituaries.
Again, no hits leading to his Hope.
Being a cop wasn’t always good in these situations because his thoughts went dark places it shouldn’t. What if she had killed someone and was trying to outrun the law, taking on a new identity and name?
Gideon closed out of the sites he’d been scouring and stepped away from his computer, his thoughts in a jumble.
Dr. Hope Keller didn’t seem to exist—and yet she had turned up in his town, intriguing him. Making him want things he had long ago set aside.
He got ready for bed, promising himself when he got to work tomorrow morning, he would use every resource at his fingertips to discover who the hell Dr. Hope Keller really was.
Ford saw the last mourner out. When he entered the house, he was taken by the quiet. For the first time in days, he was alone. A wave of loneliness poured through him, an ache so raw and painful that he knew it would take a long time to grieve for his uncle.
Then Ford heard a noise come from the kitchen and realized he wasn’t alone, after all. He went to it and saw Vivi scrubbing a glass Pyrex dish. She was humming softly to herself.
“I didn’t realize you were still here,” he said.
She glanced up. “I thought I’d wash a few items before going.”
“I’ll dry,” he volunteered, picking up a dish towel.
They cleaned the dishes in companionable silence. It didn’t seem awkward having her here. In fact, Ford liked the fact that she was here.
Vivi drained the sink and rinsed it clean of suds, removing the bright yellow gloves she wore, and placing them in the drainboard to dry.
He set down the dish towel and took her hands in his. A rush of emotion swept through him, and he didn’t think he could be by himself.
Squeezing her fingers, he urged, “Stay. Just for a little while. I don’t want to be alone.”
“All right,” she said quietly, gazing at him with those luminous, amber eyes that drew him in.
A sudden longing ran through him. A yearning for something he couldn’t put into words. All Ford knew was that he needed Vivi Romano, more than he had ever needed anyone in his life. He pulled her to him, and his mouth sought hers. The kiss wasn’t a tender one. It was greedy, and Ford released her hands, reaching for her face. He held it as he devoured her, need and greed and want intermingling.
His arms encircled her, holding her tightly against him as he continued his assault on her mouth.
For her part, Vivi gave to him, letting him consume her. But he needed more of her.
He needed to be inside her.