Get your sneak peek of I’LL ALWAYS LOVE YOU – Lorhainne Eckhart
a few months ago

Get your sneak peek of I’LL ALWAYS LOVE YOU

#1 in Hot New Releases! “One night of passion with lifelong consequences. A rollercoaster of emotions and riveting love story.” (C. Wendt, Reviewer)

It was the hottest night of sex he’d ever had. Jeremy Friessen has heard the whispers that he’s just like his father, with his looks, his badass attitude, and his arrogance. He’ll never forget the night he spent with his best friend’s sister, especially since she up and left one day just three years ago.

But now she’s back. He catches a glimpse of her at a traffic light and again at the store, and when her eyes connect with his, she pretends she doesn’t know him. That makes him angry until he realizes she can’t hide her reaction to him.

What Jeremy doesn’t know is why she left or what her secret is. Whatever her reason for disappearing, Jeremy is determined to find out everything, but when he does, he may wish he’d never found her again.

Chapter 1

“You almost finished up there?”

Jeremy heard the scratchy voice of Dot, short for Dorothy, who was the owner of Dot’s Stop, the hardware store just outside the city center of Columbia Falls. Jeremy closed up the box of plastic PVC pipes from where he was crouched in the dusty attic, doing inventory the old-school way, with a clipboard and pencil, because Dot was a believer that going digital was a recipe for impending disaster. No matter how much Jeremy tried to convince her of the efficiency and ease, not to mention the better use of his time, she wouldn’t budge. If everything were digitally recorded, at her fingertips, so she knew exactly what she had, he’d never be stuck in a too-small attic again.

“Yeah, just…” He stood up and banged his head on the sloped attic ceiling. “Ah, shit!” he yelled and dropped the clipboard. For a second, he thought he saw stars as he took in the century-old attic where all the extra stock was stored—dusty, dark, damp. It was a crime, in his mind.

“You hit your head again, Jer?” Her deep laugh was raspy and almost sounded like a man’s as he made his way to the square hole in the floor where the wooden ladder hung down. Dot was in a red and white shirt that resembled a bowling league uniform, in her fifties, with long thick white hair that did nothing for her five-foot-five plump stature. She was still using the nickname she’d bestowed on him even after he’d reminded her a dozen or so times that he preferred Jeremy. He thought, though, it was her twisted sense of humor, and the fact was that she loved pushing his buttons. It was evident by the expression on her face as she stared up at him now.

“It would be great if there was an actual storage room instead of a spot that only fits a kid. Speaking of which, it would be better if you sent up Ruth or Cady, who are half my size…” He slipped his sneakered foot down on the rail of the ladder, gripping the clipboard, and climbed down. He still couldn’t believe he’d squeezed all the boxes of stock through into the attic, and he knew he was the one who’d have to haul each box down, not Dot or Ruth or Cady.

She said nothing as he stood in front of her, wiping the dust off his favorite Cubs T-shirt and his deep blue wranglers. He towered over Dot, feeling as if he’d breathed half the dust into his lungs, and she held out her hand for the clipboard. “Stop your complaining, would you?” she said. “Ruth and Cady don’t have your brute strength to move the boxes. Besides, I needed the count today, and they’re not working. You are.”

He slapped the clipboard in her hand. She never pulled her amber eyes from him, and then she dragged her gaze down, sweeping over him from head to toe and all the way back up, landing on his face before a slow easy smile touched her lips.

“You sure are a looker, there, Jer, just like your daddy.” She made a sound of appreciation, the kind that totally creeped him out, even though he knew she was married with four grown kids. Something about that cougar type of teasing made him feel like prey. Dot then turned away and started walking back to the front of the store, where she slipped behind counter. The small cluttered shop seemed to sell just about anything and everything, and even though he’d worked there for just over two years, he still didn’t know where everything was. He wanted to remind Dot to stop calling him Jer, but he knew it would be wasted breath.

“Truth be told,” Dot said, “if you really want to know, Cady actually volunteered to come in on her day off to help with the inventory.” She flicked her gaze up to him as he stopped just short of where she lingered behind the counter, scribbling something down before she flicked the pen and then glanced up to him. “To help you out,” she added with effect.

It took him a second to understand her meaning. “You mean…”

He didn’t finish as another slow smile touched Dot’s lips. Her eyes simmered with that teasing heat that had him wanting to take another step back. “Come on, Jer,” she said. “You have to know the girls here have the hots for you. The customers, too, who come in and wait for you and only you to wait on them. Add in the fact that every time you go up and down that ladder, every girl around is watching you, the way you move all those heavy boxes. Cady’s had eyes for you since the day you started working here over two years ago. She’s been drooling over you ever since. Haven’t you figured that out? You just have to look her way, toss the poor girl a crumb, and the girl is ready and willing to do anything just to be around you, with you, talking to you. Seriously, can’t believe you don’t see it. Told her to knock it off, but it’s as if you’ve cast this spell over her. Then there’s Ruth, the way she watches you when she thinks you’re not looking, all dreamy-like.”

Again, he just stared at Dot, not sure what expression was on his face as he pictured dark-eyed Cady, who wore glasses and was a senior in high school, he thought. Then there was Ruth, thin, young, with two little ones running around. Her husband was a roughneck, always out on the rigs, never home, and he didn’t like the picture that thought painted. Dot had to be wrong.

“Face it, Jer,” she said. “You’re cursed by your father’s good looks, so much so that every red-blooded and breathing woman in a one-hundred-mile radius would likely follow you home if they thought you’d give them the time of day. And don’t forget that arrogance and that badass attitude, the fact you never go with the crowd but always walk your own way. You’re the kind of strong-minded male women love. It sets you apart from every average Joe out there. Women love that.” She tapped the counter, and he couldn’t come up with a reasonable thing to say as he took in the empty store, the locked door, and the clock above her, which was sitting at ten past seven. Jeremy was unsettled by the image she’d placed in his head.

He pulled in a breath, wondering whether someone was going to jump out and tell him this was all a big joke. “I think you’re trying to mess with me, Dot,” he said.

She just rolled her eyes. “Try looking in a mirror, and if that doesn’t work, ask your girlfriend.” She lifted her hand in a wave as she stepped around the counter.

“I don’t have a girlfriend,” he called out, but she was already walking to the locked front door and flicking the deadbolt to pull it open. A relationship was the kind of commitment he really wasn’t into. Sex was sex, but commitment was something else.

“Go home, Romeo,” Dot called out over her shoulder.

Jeremy pulled out the keys to his F150 from his front pocket and started to the door. He shook his head at Dot and her peculiar personality as he stepped out onto the concrete sidewalk beside her, taking in his pickup across the half-empty parking lot, which they shared with the bingo hall, an old-time record store, and a sandwich shop.

“Hey, Jer, for the record,” Dot said, “all that teasing and stuff is just that: teasing. I like you a lot. Seriously, you’re a good guy even though you are easy on the eyes and a player. But here’s some advice that you should take to heart. Find yourself a girl, a nice one, and leave that game-playing behind.”

He took in Dot, trying to figure out where all this was coming from. “Thanks, but I like my single unattached life the way it is,” he replied. The fact was, he didn’t answer to anyone.

She shook her head and adjusted her big bulky purse over her shoulder as she locked the door. “Oh, there likely isn’t a guy around who hasn’t said that, and I bet your father said it, too, from the looks of him. But look at your parents, your family. You think your father is saying he wishes he had a simple, unencumbered, unattached life? I guarantee you he wouldn’t trade you all for anything. We all see the way your parents are together, the way they look at each other when the other isn’t looking. It’s that kind of deep love that everyone wants but not everyone has. At the same time, women have been throwing themselves at good-looking men’s feet since the beginning of time, and you not noticing isn’t anything new.”

“Dot, you’re exaggerating,” Jeremy said, but then, he also knew he’d never had to talk a woman into bed, into anything. He wasn’t sure now why that bothered him, but it did, the way she made him seem almost…shallow. Then there were his parents, their life, their marriage—but he wasn’t ready to be tied to anyone.

“Jer, I’m not,” she said. “Listen up. There’s worse things, and besides, you have a lot of other great qualities, too. You’re reliable, a hard worker, and…” She tossed him the keys, which he caught as she started out to the parking lot. “And now you’re in charge.”

“What? No, wait!” He watched as she lifted her hand, walking over to her silver Dodge Ram four by four. “I’m not in charge,” he said. “There’s no way. I have commitments, college.” He thought of the business course he’d finally agreed to take, how he’d compromised with his father instead of picking some Ivy League university for a degree he wasn’t interested in. “And I’m only part-time.”

“Just pop in when you can during the day,” she said. “Ruth and Cady are there. You’ll do fine, and besides, I trust you. I’m gone only two weeks. Just handle any problems and do everything I do.” She climbed into her truck, and he just stood there with the keys. He didn’t have a clue what Dot really did other than drink coffee, talk to customers, and tell all her employees what to do. Not only was he weirded out by what she’d said about Cady and Ruth loving him from afar, but he didn’t like the idea that he suddenly had to be their boss.

He climbed into his truck and dumped his cell phone and wallet onto the center console, then pulled out of the lot and turned left instead of right, going into town. His phone beeped, and he lifted it, taking in the text as he stopped at a set of lights about three blocks from where his brother Gabriel lived. The text was from his best friend, Alex.

Party tonight at Kurts, got the keg!!

His thumb hovered over the reply when he heard a car honk. Seeing the light was green, he pressed the gas and started through the intersection.

It was then he spotted Alex’s sister, Tiffy Cahill, in the oncoming traffic, behind the wheel of a beige older-model Volvo. Dark hair, gorgeous, and the image hit him from so long ago—how his hands had enjoyed the feel of her skin, her body, the night they’d spent together. It had been two, maybe three years ago, and her car was beside him as she passed.

She took him in, and he lifted his hand in a wave, thinking it’d be great to hook up, have some fun with her again, even though he shouldn’t. But she pulled her gaze away as if she didn’t have a clue who he was. Like, what the hell?

He kept driving and glanced in the rear-view mirror until he couldn’t see her car anymore. His best friend’s sister, one of the hottest nights of sex he’d ever had. Unforgettable. The memory alone stirred his interest, his desire. It wasn’t smart on his part, considering guys never went after their friends’ sisters if they wanted to stay out of the ER. He should put her out of his mind, never think of her that way again, never think about the touch, the kiss, how she tasted and felt, and the fun they’d had under the moon by the lake in the middle of summer.

Not long after that magical summer night, he realized now, Tiffy Cahill had all but disappeared.

Chapter 2

He took in the gleaming white of his brother’s kitchen, all high-end appliances with a huge granite center island. The home had an open concept, and he could see the living and dining room, the showpiece of the modest bungalow Gabriel had purchased as a fixer-upper. A can of what he thought was soda slid across the island to him.

“Uh…ginger ale? You couldn’t come up with anything stronger?” Jeremy said as he cracked the can. He took a swallow, wishing for a beer, but that would come later, at Kurt’s.

“You know I don’t drink, and you’re lucky there’s even soda in the house,” Gabriel said. “It’s Elizabeth’s. Also, let me remind you as your older and much wiser big brother that you’re only nineteen, and it wouldn’t go over well for you to be pulled over for any reason. In fact, Dad would likely kill me.” Gabriel gestured to a plate of fish and leftovers from dinner on the counter.

Jeremy could hear Elizabeth and her cute little girl, Shaunty, from down the hall. He lifted his hand. “No, it’s fine. Had a sandwich earlier on my break.” He kind of wanted to save room for beer, and then he’d likely crash at Alex’s, because he planned on having fun. Then there was Tiffy.

“So what gives?” Gabriel said. “It’s not like you to just stop in like this, although it’s great to see you. Seems you’ve got something on your mind.”

Just then, Elizabeth walked in, and Shaunty scooted out the bar stool at the island beside Jeremy and climbed up. She was freshly bathed and in a cute pair of pajamas. Her curly dark hair was still damp, and she smiled brightly at him.

“There’s ice cream, strawberry swirl,” she said. “Do you want some? I’m having some, too. It’s my favorite.” She was so damn cute, and Jeremy took in Elizabeth in his brother’s arms as she opened the fridge freezer. They seemed to be sharing a moment.

“Nope, I’ll let you have it all, but thanks, though, kid.”

She made a face, and he knew she was about to say something. “You know, I’m not a little kid,” she said. “I’m six.”

“Oops, my mistake, Miss Shaunty,” he added, which had her giggling.

“You sure we can’t tempt you, Jeremy?” Elizabeth said as she lifted the lid of the carton and scooped out the ice cream into two bowls. Gabriel was now leaning behind Elizabeth, his hands skimming her waist, her hips, as he kissed her neck, and they swayed together. It was almost embarrassing, at times, to be in a room with them.

“No, none for me.” He lifted his hand just as Gabriel stepped around Elizabeth and looked at him intently. He realized everyone was staring at him, waiting for him to say something, he thought.

“Although I love the visits from you, I realize I’m not Chelsea,” Gabriel said. “It must be kind of hard not having her to bounce any ideas off since she up and left with Ric to Boston. So for you to just drop in like this, I’m thinking it must be something.”

Jeremy took in the expression now on Elizabeth’s face, in her dark eyes, as if she realized she’d just walked in on something. “Oh, it’s just been a weird day, is all,” Jeremy said. “Dot’s suddenly put me in charge of the store, as she’s decided to take off for a bit on holidays, and that was after she dropped a little bomb on me that two of my coworkers have been doing that ‘love from afar’ thing and following me around with puppy-dog eyes. At first I thought she was messing with me, which is what she does, but not this time. Now I’m supposed to go in and suddenly be in charge of them, knowing all this, and…” He lifted his hands, taking in the exchange between Elizabeth and Gabriel as she slid a bowl of ice cream in front of Shaunty, who was also watching him with interest and far too much amusement at his predicament for a kid her age. He really did miss Chelsea, and she hadn’t returned his call from yesterday. Apparently moving away to Boston with Ric meant his twin sister was no longer as available for him.

“Girls like you,” Shaunty said, staring up at him with dark eyes that reached inside him. She was the kind of kid, he thought, who could see the best in everyone. “Just be nice to them.”

He didn’t miss the smile Gabriel tried to hide. Shaunty had snuck in and grabbed a piece of his heart. She’d done that to all of them long ago.

“She’s right. Great advice, Shaunty,” Gabriel added.

Jeremy took in Elizabeth’s brilliant smile as she dipped her spoon into the carton and then took a bite of ice cream.

“But there’s something else, isn’t there?” Gabriel said. All Jeremy could do was squeeze the can of soda as he took in the exchange between his brother and Elizabeth.

“Hey, Shaunty,” Elizabeth said. “Slide on down, honey, and bring your ice cream, and let’s go in the living room and watch some TV.”

Mother and daughter moved into the living room, and he heard the TV flick on. He pulled in a breath just as Gabriel leaned on the counter closer to him, his expression amused.

“Well, spill,” Gabriel said. “What is it? Girls, money, school, Dad…” He gestured between them. “Is this about your boss and the women you work with, or is it something else?”

“You know my friend Alex?”

Gabriel nodded.

“Well, he has a sister I haven’t seen in years, and I kind of ran into her tonight. Actually, I didn’t really run into her. It was more like two ships passing in the night.”

Gabriel raised a brow, and he could see he didn’t get it.

“I spotted her on the way here at the traffic light, and I haven’t thought about her in years, but then just seeing her as she drove past and remembering that night and being with her…” He took in Gabriel’s amused expression, the way he raised his brows. He knew his brother got it.

“I see,” Gabriel said, “and you want to see her, or…?”

He could see his brother was having trouble understanding, which was exactly the same trouble Jeremy was having. He shouldn’t care.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just kind of weird, is all. After we hooked up, it was a night of fun, and then we went our separate ways. It was just a one-night stand kind of thing, by the lake, being as she’s Alex’s sister and it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. But there was something about her, and maybe it was just that night—but then one day she was just gone. I remember not seeing her and saying something to Alex, and he just said she had gone to live with their aunt, moved away. He never said anything else.” And I could never ask.

“So Alex doesn’t know you were with his sister?” Gabriel said.

Jeremy pulled his gaze away and looked over his shoulder to see Elizabeth and Shaunty focused on the TV, not him. “Seriously? It’s not the kind of thing you tell your best friend, like, ‘Hey, Alex, remember that night down at the lake when I snuck off with your sister? Well, guess what? We kind of hooked up.’” He lifted the soda and drained it before setting the can down and taking in the confusion on his brother’s face. “He’d kill me if he knew,” Jeremy finally said and leaned on the counter, feeling the tightness pull across his shoulders.

“So I don’t understand,” Gabriel said. “You’re going to ask her out, is that it? Or are you going to tell Alex, or…?”

Well, that was a no. Telling his friend was nowhere in the realm of possibility. Alex could never know, but at the same time, Jeremy was toying with the notion of mentioning he’d spotted Tiffy in town, something along the lines of Hey, didn’t know she was back in town—and yeah, can you give me her number so I can call her? Then what? That certainly wasn’t going to work.

“See you’re having some trouble, Jeremy, and I don’t remember you ever mentioning a girl more than once,” Gabriel said. “If you’re curious, call her, stop by and see her. Maybe she’s just visiting, and remember, too, she could also be married or involved with someone. So then you’d best move on. You ever stop to think that she told her brother about you two already, and maybe he knows?”

That had him sitting up a lot straighter. He hadn’t thought of her hooking up with someone else, which, of course, was likely. At the same time, he realized with horror that she may have told Alex. As soon as he thought it, he shook it off, because he wouldn’t still be in one piece if Alex knew. “Well, you gave me a lot to think about,” he said. “Great advice, thanks, but I should get going. Got plans tonight.” He stood up from the stool and took in the way Gabriel was shaking his head.

“Advice? Okay, whatever. Not sure what it was I said, but hey, listen to this: Messing around with your best friend’s sister is exactly the kind of thing that will have him being your ex-best friend, and that’ll be after he kicks your ass from one side of town to the other. So tread carefully. I can see even in your way of saying nothing that you’re going to do what you’re going to do, and it doesn’t matter what anyone says. Just use your head and not your…” Gabriel gestured rather crudely, and Jeremy just rolled his eyes as he turned away and started into the living room.

“Elizabeth, Shaunty, great to see you,” he said as he went to the front door and pulled it open, then stepped out and down the steps.

“Hey, Jeremy, word of advice,” Gabriel said from behind him, “since I’m sure you’re likely going to do something you shouldn’t.”

Jeremy stopped on the sidewalk halfway to his truck, parked out front on the street, and looked up to Gabriel standing on the porch. He said nothing and took in the slow amused smile that touched his brother’s lips.

“You should just call her.”

He just stared at his brother, remembering again how soft Tiffy’s lips were, her perfect breasts, and the edge of danger that had come with sneaking off with her.

“Later” was all he said before he continued to his truck. Then he climbed behind the wheel and picked up his phone, seeing a text from Alex.

Bring snacks!!

Chapter 3

Jeremy grabbed two large bags of Doritos, thinking of the keg at Kurt’s house—well, Kurt’s parents’ house, actually. Even though the guy was a dick, the parties were always at his house. He spotted a bag of Miss Vickies malt vinegar chips and grabbed that, as well. He was thinking of grabbing a package of jerky as he made his way over to the deli when he spotted Tiffy Cahill, he was sure, taking a package of cold cuts from one of the deli clerks.

Her hair was longer, pinned back at the sides, and he had to tell himself to keep walking, to breathe and put one foot in front of the other. He cut through the tables of baked goods as she tucked the package into her red grocery basket. He’d ask her out, maybe tonight, and skip the party.

He was so close, and she turned, flicking her eyes up, the odd hazel that was a shade darker than her brother’s. She wore a tank top with a gray cardigan and faded blue jeans, and he realized she was looking right at him, and the smile she’d worn seconds earlier had faded. There was no recognition, and she pulled her gaze away as if she hadn’t even seen him.

Damn, he couldn’t believe it. How could she have forgotten? She was walking away.

“Tiffy,” he called even though he knew he shouldn’t. He should let her go, let her walk away. He should just pay for his junk food and get the hell out of the store before Alex learned what he did to his sister.

He saw her freeze about ten steps from him. Her back stiffened before she turned, and he could see she couldn’t hide her reaction to him.

“Hi,” he said. “I thought I saw you at the lights in town.”

She turned around fully, holding her basket, but there was no friendly smile, nothing that said she knew him.

She opened her mouth, he thought to say something, but instead she let out a breath as he stepped closer again. Awkward was all he could think. She had to know who he was. How could she not? He took in her curves as his gaze swept over the body he remembered, the same full pink lips, her perfect chin. She wasn’t looking right at him. It was an awkward glance to the side, down and to the baked goods, before her gaze landed back on him.

“Yes?” was all she said, as if he were a stranger.

Like, what the fuck?

“It’s been a long time,” he said. The last time he’d seen her, she’d been naked under him on a blanket outside at the lake, a night he swore he’d never forget.

There it was, a tight smile. “Yes, I suppose. Well, I have to get going. I’m…” She gestured over her shoulder and started to step back, her lips firmed. “Take care” was all she said, not Great to see you! How are you? or anything of the polite conversation he’d expected. He realized there was not a chance of anything happening between them, which was just as well.

He just stood there, holding those damn Doritos and a bag of Miss Vickies, and watched as Tiffy Cahill hurried away to one of the cashiers. She set the basket on the counter and unloaded her groceries, then looked up and back over to him. What he saw staring back at him for a second confused the hell out of him, because it seemed as if she was angry. Really? She pulled her gaze away and flicked a smile to the cashier before paying.

He felt so many things in that second. He’d never been so confused in all his life. Women! was all he could think before his phone dinged again, and he knew it was likely Alex wondering where the snacks were.

***

He could hear music from the two-story gray house where cars were parked up and down the street. It was an older area of town, ultra conservative, and he wondered how the neighbors handled the craziness that often came from Kurt’s.

He pulled past the already packed driveway and took a spot in front of a modest bungalow as the sun slipped lower on the horizon, and then he slipped out of his pickup and grabbed the bag of snacks before the family that lived there could come out and tell him to move it.

“Hey, Jeremy!” he heard a couple of girls call out, standing with a few jocks in front of the house. He lifted his hand in a wave as he walked in through the open door and past the crowd of what appeared to be a hundred, easy, stuffed into the house. The living room was jammed, as were the hallway and the stairwell, as he made his way to the back of the house, where the kitchen was filled and the keg was being manned by Kurt himself.

“Jeremy, you made it,” Kurt said.

“Yeah,” he said and looked around. It sounded as if Kurt was well on his way. He took a plastic cup filled with the warm draft. “You seen Alex?” he asked, but Kurt was already talking to someone else.

He spotted Boone Hudson just out the back with a couple blondes, and it took him a second to stop himself from walking out there and getting in his face. He still couldn’t believe what the jerk had done to his sister Chelsea with that sex tape. He still wanted to cause Boone a lot of misery, even though Chelsea’s fiancé, Ric, had made sure the harassment stopped.

“’Bout time you got here,” Alex said, ripping the bag of Miss Vickies from Jeremy’s hands and tossing it to Kurt before taking both bags of Doritos. “What took you so long?”

Alex was his height and build. His hair, though, was on the longish side and lighter than Jeremy’s. His face was the same oval shape as his sister’s, with a light spattering of freckles, and his eyes were glassy as he ripped open the bag of Doritos, spilling some on the floor.

“Stopped in to see my brother and at the store for your dinner,” Jeremy said. He took in Alex’s goofy grin as he shoved a handful of chips in his mouth. Yup, he definitely had no idea what he and Tiffy had done. He lifted the cup and took a swallow of the warm draft, wishing it were cold.

“Listen,” Alex said. “I’m going out with Sky tomorrow, movies, dinner, and her cousin is in town, so I kind of need you to step in and be her date. Show up so she’s not the third wheel.”

Jeremy took in his friend, not wanting to tag along either. Sky was a blond airhead, as far as he was concerned, and being around the two of them was painful at times, considering they spent more time making out than anything else.

He shook his head. “Yeah, no thanks. Not into punishing myself, and I have a policy of never doing blind dates.” He didn’t need to search that hard for a woman, and he was still smarting from the blow-off from Tiffy.

“Ah, come on,” Alex said. “Look, Sky’s been making all kinds of excuses and won’t go out unless her cousin comes, and those two always end up slipping off together, and I end up going home alone with a night of nothing more than holding hands. You owe me.” He shoved another handful of Doritos in his mouth as he was bumped by one of the jocks trying to get over to the keg. Jeremy’s beer spilled down his shirtfront.

“Shit…” He wiped his jeans and downed the rest of the draft before he spilled more on himself. “I owe you nothing, and seriously, I’m not interested in entertaining some chick all night who’s likely…”

“She’s hot,” Alex cut in. “Like, smokin’.” He gestured to imitate the size of her breasts. At any other time, that would’ve been all Jeremy needed, so why was he still considering saying no?

“Yeah, better not. Got to work,” he added, though he didn’t, really, other than to stop in, and then what? He took in the way his friend shook his head and shoved more Doritos in his mouth. He wondered how long ago Alex had started on the beer and whatever else. “Hey, I thought I saw your sister today…” he started. What was he doing? There was something about Alex’s mouth now, and he knew he was toying with danger.

Alex tilted his head back and devoured what Jeremy thought must have been crumbs left in the bag of Doritos. Then he crumpled the bag and tossed it over the head of some guy Jeremy had never seen before at the counter. Alex pulled the back of his hand over his mouth to wipe away the crumbs.

“Yeah, she’s been home about a week,” he said. He swept his hand in the air as if it was nothing. “You seriously can’t find time to show up at least for the movie or dinner, an hour? Come on. Sky is seriously not going to leave her at home alone, and she already said her cousin won’t tag along as a third wheel. I’ll owe you big time.” Alex was never going to leave it alone, and Jeremy finally shrugged.

“An hour.” He couldn’t believe he’d said it. “But no movie.”

Alex fisted his hands in the air. “Seriously, you’re killing me…”

Jeremy only shook his head, still stuck on Tiffy when he should’ve been heading over to the keg for another beer. “So where has your sister been? I mean, she up and moved away how long ago? She moving back for good?” Okay, what was wrong with him? He took in something in Alex’s expression as he paused and then pulled in a breath. Jeremy wasn’t sure what he was thinking as he shrugged.

“Family stuff,” he replied. “Listen, I don’t want to talk about my sister. She’s back, but now I have to give up my games room, because it’s not just her, and our cozy bungalow is becoming overcrowded.”

So she was attached, married, a boyfriend. Whatever, didn’t matter. Taken was taken, and he needed to move on and get her the hell out of his mind. It was only because she wouldn’t give him the time of day. That was the only reason he was acting like a sex-starved puppy.

“Well, maybe I can come for more than an hour tomorrow,” he said. He’d give it a chance, and maybe this cousin of Sky’s would be all he needed to shift his attention from Tiffy and a night he’d never forget.

“Hey, great, what changed your mind?” Alex now wore a big wide goofy smile.

The fact that your sister is taken, and I need to find a way to redirect my interest. “To help you out, and Sky’s cousin better be all you say.”

“That’s great. Hey, listen, if you’re crashing tonight, too, you’re going to have to take the couch, because Tiffy and my nephew have the futon in my games room.”

Then Alex was grabbed from behind by a couple of rowdy friends, and beer was flowing, and Jeremy was still stuck on nephew.

Chapter 4

Tiffy missed her bed. Being forced to sleep on a futon, and a hard one, at that, was another reason she was up before anyone else in her parents’ house. She blinked at the sliver of light that poked through the blinds, and she took in her dark-haired little boy beside her, fast asleep. She realized some of the discomfort she was feeling was because the bed was wet. Her decision to give in and let him wear his big-boy underwear to bed instead of a pull-up had been exactly the wrong choice.

She rolled off the futon, her bare feet hitting the beige carpet, taking in her brother’s big-screen TV and PS4, which now filled the room that had once been her bedroom. Tiffy Jean Cahill had always been strong minded, strong willed, and had a somewhat difficult personality, as her mother put it. She kept so much of what she was feeling and doing to herself. Even her brother, a year older than her, didn’t have a clue where her head was at, and that was just fine with Tiffy.

She’d made her own bed, as her dad often said. The result could be either an epic failure or something else, depending on the circumstances she’d created, which she often chalked up to What the hell were you thinking? Her decisions were something she didn’t share with anyone.

She pulled at her pajama shorts and the T-shirt she’d slept in before pushing her dark hair over her shoulders as she yawned, taking in the clutter of her open suitcase on the floor and the white garbage bag filled with dirty clothes for her and Brandon. She reached for a pull-up from the package tossed on the open suitcase and knelt on the bed. Without waking her little boy, she peeled off his soaked underwear and slipped on the diaper. He stirred and murmured but didn’t wake, and for a second she found herself taking in how he was the image of his father more and more every day.

She reached for the plastic bag and tucked in his underwear, knowing she was running out of clean clothes for Brandon. She would have to wait until everyone was awake before she started the washer, considering it was a twenty-year-old model that clanged and rocked and could be heard everywhere in the house. She let out a breath and pulled open the door, then paused in the hallway of the quiet bungalow, seeing her parents’ door closed at the end of the hall. Her brother’s across the hall was also closed.

She was first up, and she walked in the bathroom and shut the door. She took her time and then washed her hands, taking in the dark circles under her eyes, the tiny imperfections on her face, and her hair, which needed another wash. First, coffee and some quiet so she could figure out everything about her day and remind herself she’d made the right choice in moving back here. Home was home, and Brandon was at an age where she would need help from her family.

She pulled open the bathroom door and stopped in the open doorway, seeing the futon and a sleeping Brandon in what had been her bedroom until she left almost three years earlier. Her brother, she noted, had wasted no time in taking over, and her parents had let him. She just shook her head again, thinking of the single bed she’d once had, a girl’s bed, and here she had returned as a woman, a mother.

Tiffy strode barefoot toward the kitchen, the hardwood creaking with each step. She yawned as she took in the living room, which was open to the kitchen, and froze when she saw the male on the sofa, his chest bare. Good God, was it impressive! He had dark hair and a messy five o’clock shadow, and his arm was tossed over his eyes. He was asleep.

Jeremy Friessen…shit!

She looked right and then left, seeing the kitchen, the door, and the hallway that led back to where her little boy was. She took a step backward and somehow bumped the hall table, and she whirled around, reaching for the vase as it tipped. She righted it and held her breath, mentally kicking herself, trying to be so quiet.

When she turned around, Jeremy was watching her. His eyes were that amazing green, and he had killer abs she didn’t remember. Those lips…shit, she wished he’d pull the blanket up and cover all that perfection. Why the hell was he there in her living room, her parents’ living room?

“Tiffy” was all he said, and he was looking right at her.

She had to remind herself to breathe. “So you’re sleeping on the sofa. Why?” she said, a little too sharply, and she wasn’t sure what she saw in the flicker in his eyes. This was a Jeremy she didn’t remember, and seeing him yesterday had damn near gutted her. She was still affected, and that just couldn’t happen.

“I don’t drink and drive,” he said. “So you moved away and now you’re back, to stay?” he added and sat up, the blanket falling away. She let out a sigh of relief when she saw he’d slept in his jeans. He lifted his arms and stretched his bare feet onto the floor, then stood up and reached for a shirt tossed at the other end of the sofa. She realized she was staring as he pulled on a Cubs T-shirt, and then he was really looking at her. Of course, she hadn’t answered. What could she say? Yes, she was back, because it was time, and she figured it was safe.

“Yup…yup…” she said, crossing her arms, feeling naked in front of him. “I’m looking for a place and a job.” She hadn’t considered that she’d ever run into Jeremy, not like this.

“So…where did you go to? One day you were just gone.” He crossed his arms, and she couldn’t keep her traitorous eyes from going right to his magnificent chest, to those arms, and she needed to end this now.

“Just away, to family, you know, trying a new place, a new town.”

They were still talking when she should’ve been finding a way to get him out the door.

“Mommy, I want pancakes!” Her son came running behind her, yelling, and grabbed her legs. His smile was precious, and she rested her hand on his short dark hair, which was sticking up on the side. His two-year-old baby teeth flashed.

“No pancakes today. How about a bowl of cereal and some orange juice?” she said, and her son glanced up and over to Jeremy.

“Okay.” He jumped, still holding her legs. “Who are you?” He was so quick, and she took in Jeremy, who was looking at her son, staring at him. She didn’t know what to make of the expression on his face.

“I’m Jeremy, and you are?” He actually took a step to her son, who still had one hand wrapped around her leg and both feet standing on hers.

“Brandon,” he said, and there was that Jeremy smile, the same one that would, at one time, have had her willing and ready to do anything. She had to look away.

“Come on, you. Let’s get you some breakfast and me some coffee,” she said and lifted Brandon up. He wrapped his legs around her waist, and she patted his pull-up as she walked into the open-concept kitchen and pulled open the cupboard. She reached for a box of cereal and rested it on the counter, seeing that Jeremy had followed her in and was now leaning on the island, watching her with far too much interest. She reached for a bowl in the cupboard and a spoon in the drawer before pulling open the fridge and grabbing the milk. Then she walked over to the small dinette by the sliding glass doors.

“Okay, sit down and let Mommy pour your cereal. Do you want just half full, full, or really full?” she said as she sat her little boy on the chair. He sat on his knees, and Jeremy pulled out a chair across from him at the small round table. She couldn’t look at him, and she struggled to hold it together as she poured milk into the bowl. She had to remind herself he’d leave soon…right? Like, what the hell, Alex? She wanted to have a word with her brother about bringing his stray friends home.

“So, Brandon, how old are you?” she heard Jeremy say, and she jabbed the spoon in the cereal and slammed the drawer harder than was necessary.

“Okay, Brandon, here’s your breakfast. Eat up, and I’ll get you some orange juice,” she said and put the bowl in front of her son, seeing the way Jeremy’s eyes went from her son to her where she stood with her hand on the back of Brandon’s chair.

He held up two fingers as he shoveled a mouthful of cereal in, the milk spilling out.

“You’re two? Wow, you’re almost grown up,” Jeremy teased, and there was something about the way he did that to her son that brought a feeling of anger bubbling inside her. She squeezed the back of the chair and took in the way Jeremy’s green eyes flicked up to her. His hooded gaze hid everything.

She had to fight the urge to ball her fist, because she wanted nothing more than to slug him and all that arrogance. She pushed away and walked back over to the fridge, then yanked it open and grabbed the carton of orange juice, feeling how light it was. She gave it a shake, and there was only a dribble in there.

“Alex…” she said under her breath. She gave the door of the fridge a shove closed. “How about some milk instead, Brandon? It looks like your uncle drank all the juice and put an empty carton back in the fridge.”

“I hear my name…” Her brother strode into the kitchen, bare-chested and stinking of beer, and he went over to Brandon and tousled his hair, then took his spoonful of cereal and shoved it in his own mouth.

“Hey, that’s mine!” Brandon said and laughed, and Alex stood up and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

She held up the carton as if it said everything, and Alex just shrugged as he walked over to the coffee pot and started making coffee. “I thought for sure you’d have made coffee already. What have you two been doing out here?”

She had to grit her teeth, because the last thing she wanted to do was talk about Jeremy with her brother. She said nothing as she pressed her palms on the island and looked over to him, seeing that he was watching her.

She realized her brother was looking right at her and then over to Jeremy as he pressed the button and started the coffee brewing. “No one answering? Hey, Jeremy, coffee. How about breakfast, eggs, a pound of bacon? Tonight, you can swing on by here at fivish and follow me over to Sky’s and meet her cousin there. She can ride with you, and hopefully you can convince her to…”

Tiffy took in the rude gesture her brother made, and she made herself pull in a deep breath. “Alex, seriously? Brandon is sitting right there,” she said.

Her brother shrugged and made a face as he grabbed a spatula and rested a frying pan on the stove.

“You know what, you two? I’ve got to go,” Jeremy said. “I’ll skip the breakfast, but thanks for the use of your sofa.” He leaned in closer to Brandon and rustled his hair. “Pleasure, Brandon, until we meet again.”

Her son laughed, and she fisted her hands and did her best to hold it together as Jeremy stood up and walked into the living room, grabbed his keys and wallet, and stuffed them in his pocket before striding over to the front door and shoving his feet into sneakers.

“Later,” he said and pulled open the door, then stepped out.

She shut her eyes for a second and let out a breath that she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Then she flicked her eyes open and turned, taking in her brother, who was watching her intently and then staring at the door Jeremy had just walked through.

“What was that?” Alex jabbed the metal spatula right at her, and she had to fight the urge to flinch.

“What are you talking about?” she said, walking over to her son, who was done his cereal and had lifted his bowl to drink the milk, which was running down the side of his mouth. “Brandon, no…” she said as she pulled the bowl away and reached for a cloth napkin folded in the middle of the table. She wiped his face and then the milk on the table and chair before she helped him down. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up,” she said as Brandon ran into the living room and went to pull out the box of toys that had once belonged to her brother, which her mom had pulled out of the attic. He pulled out the truck and cars.

“Tiffy, seriously, what the hell was that about?” Alex took a step toward her, and the way he was watching her, she could see he was thinking. Then he shifted his gaze to Brandon and put down the spatula on the island before pulling his hand across his face. He dragged his finger from her to the door and back.

“You and Jeremy?” was all he said.

She pulled her tongue over her teeth, keeping her mouth closed, and his gaze landed on Brandon again.

“Tiffy, uh…” he said, and she could see the minute he got it. “You and my best friend…and Brandon?” She could see the flash of fury and the way the anger seemed to roll off him in waves. He rolled his shoulders. “I’ll kill him,” he said, so matter of fact, as he walked around the island and down the hall to his bedroom. She glanced once to Brandon and then started after her brother, who was pulling on a T-shirt and socks.

“Alex, what are you doing?” She stepped into his room, which smelled just as bad as he did.

He turned on her, and she didn’t miss the anger on his face. “What am I doing? You’re serious? I don’t know why I didn’t figure it out and put it together before. But now, having the two of them together in the same room, he looks just like Jeremy. I should have figured it out as soon as I saw Brandon. It’s the eyes. Christ, he knocks you up and bails and then gets to fuck off while you’re off across the country at Aunt Rita’s, having a kid, and I never figured it out. I’ll tell you what I’m doing.”

He reached for his keys and his wallet, which were buried under a pile of clothes on a desk in the corner. “I’m doing what I should have done three years ago, because guys don’t mess around with their best friend’s sister, not ever. I’ll kill him.” His finger was in front of her face, and then he walked around her, and she could feel the anger oozing from him. Add in the liquor he reeked of still, and she knew this was exactly what couldn’t happen.

“Alex, wait, stop right now. You can’t do this…” She ran after him to the front door, seeing her son, Jeremy’s son, pulling out all the toys. But her brother was already out the door and into his faded blue Subaru, which was parked at an odd angle.

He backed out of the driveway with a squeal and then pulled away.

“Is that your brother driving like a crazed person, waking up half the neighborhood again?” Her mom asked from behind her, wearing a short blue and black kimono robe over her wide frame. Her blond hair hung in waves over her shoulders, and she went over to Brandon, touching his head and then leaning down and kissing him when he smiled up at her. “Good morning, my sweet boy,” she said.

Tiffy closed the door, pulling in her lower lip between her teeth when her mom glanced her way. She hadn’t answered. “Yeah, he’s, uh… You know Alex,” she said.

Her mom rolled her eyes as she strode into the kitchen, and her dad appeared too in an identical robe that stopped mid-thigh, kissing her mom. Then they were both in the kitchen, laughing, doing what her parents always did. To them, nothing was ever a big deal, and they had always let her and Alex pretty much do whatever they wanted.

That was also why she was, she figured, in the predicament she was in now. But they were right about one thing: This was her life, her choices, and she needed to figure out what the hell to do—because the last thing she wanted was for Jeremy Friessen to ever find out that Brandon was his son.


Chapter 5

Something wasn’t adding up. Seeing Tiffy and her two-year-old son, he had realized it was just the two of them, no one else, no boyfriend or guy there with her. Was she newly divorced, separated, or had she just hooked up with the wrong guy and was now, from what he could tell, a single mom with a kid at eighteen? What a way to start out her young adult life. It must have been a mess for her. Why was he still thinking about her and giving her the time of day?

He parked his truck beside his dad’s pickup and Gabriel’s older model, which was still newer than his own pickup. He gave his door a shove as he walked toward the house, hearing voices from the barn and the house. As the screen door opened, out stepped his sister.

“You didn’t come home last night, Jeremy,” Sarah said. “Dad was just asking about you, and Mom, too. We were all wondering where you were, especially when Mom said your bed wasn’t slept in. She was going to call you, but Dad said to leave it alone and you’d show up.” She strode out of the house, her very light blond hair pulled back in a high ponytail, wearing blue jeans and a faded yellow T-shirt. She was getting into his business just like she did everyone’s.

He made a face as he glanced to the barn and ran his hand over his hair, which was a mess and likely sticking up everywhere. He needed a shower, getting a whiff of how bad he smelled, and to brush his teeth and have a coffee. “Crashed at Alex’s. Where is everyone?” he asked, thinking of the date he’d committed himself to later.

It was a favor Alex was going to owe him for big time, considering Jeremy still wasn’t convinced it would be anything other than time he’d never get back. There was just something about the idea of a blind date that didn’t interest him in the least. He was the last guy who’d ever need anyone to fix him up. He liked it that way.

“Gabriel and Dad and Zach were rounding up some of the calves early this morning, and Elizabeth and Shaunty are here. Elizabeth brought a bunch of crabapples, so we’re making jelly right now. Mom’s been canning since yesterday, and…”

He turned his head to the barn even though his sister was still talking, filling him in on everything she seemed to think he was missing. His dad and Gabriel were leading the horses out to one of the corrals to graze, and he’d stopped listening to Sarah, who could, at times, go on about everything, giving a blow by blow, with details that he didn’t want to hear.

Then he heard a car and turned to see the dust in the distance and what looked like a small blue Subaru. Alex. Seriously? Like, he’d just left his place. Had he forgotten something? Yup, the closer he got, he could see it was his friend, who always drove on the fast side. It was just something about Alex, nothing calm and reasonable. He was about getting places fast, not wasting time, go big or go home. But the way he was coming in was crazed, out of control, and unusually over the top, even for Alex.

He took the curve in the dirt road so fast his back end skidded around. The rev of his engine was loud, and Jeremy could hear the door to the house behind him, but he didn’t glance back. Alex’s hands were white on the wheel, and he was staring right at him, coming right for him, not slowing at all. Like, what the fuck? This crazy-ass shit was not the thing to pull here, not around his dad, his family.

He just stood there and could hear his mom yell behind him, he thought. Then his sister and someone else shouted, and all he could think was that his friend wasn’t slowing down, and he was so close, coming closer still, in this bizarre, twisted, fucked-up scenario that he couldn’t wrap his head around. Time froze, and someone was yelling in the distance, long and loud, before he was hit from the side, arms around him, and he was tackled hard. It knocked the wind out of him, and he was on the ground with an oomph.

He gasped, pulling the dust that whirled around them deep into his lungs. It was in that second that he realized the car had now stopped so close that he could reach out and touch the front end of the dingy chrome, which he thought was steaming. It was another second before he realized it was his dad who had knocked him out of the way. He was on the ground beside him, and Jeremy sat up, coughing, seeing the faded blue of the Subaru and then Alex stalking around the car toward him, his face contorted with rage. He was pumped and furious.

What the hell had he missed? His best friend’s hands were fisted.

“You son of a bitch!” Alex yelled. “I swear to God, you are so dead…” Then he ran, blasting a warrior yell at Jeremy and landing a punch to his face, his nose. Then he was on top of him, yelling, as he felt the pounding of a fist, one, two. Then Alex was yanked off him.

Jeremy tasted blood and saw Gabriel and his dad pulling a twisting, out of control, furious Alex off him. He wasn’t the happy-go-lucky friend he’d left less than an hour ago, on whose sofa he’d slept all night. Then he felt hands on his shoulders and beside him, his mom and Elizabeth, who helped him up.

“What is this about?” his dad yelled. “Settle down, Alex! What is wrong with you, coming in here like you did, driving like a maniac? You could have killed someone! You were headed right for Jeremy, and you’d have hit him if I hadn’t knocked him out of the way. You’re angry about something? I don’t care what this is! Knock it off!”

He could see Alex struggling, and Gabriel and his dad had to fight to hold him back. “Let me at him! You are so dead, Jeremy! You motherfucker, you touched my sister? You son of a bitch, you knocked her up and then fucked off on her? You think you get a pass and can screw my sister and treat her like some two-dollar whore and then run, and you think I’m going to call you a friend and let you get away with that shit?”

Everyone was staring at him, and he couldn’t get past what his friend was saying. He’d never seen the hate, the violence, on anyone’s face before—not for him. Alex knew about Tiffy, and he was insinuating…what, that he was somehow the father? No.

“Hey, wait! Okay, I admit I slept with her, but you’re wrong about the kid. I would never do what you’re saying! You’re saying I got her pregnant, yet this is the first I’m hearing of this. You’re wrong. Did your sister tell you…?”

His dad was looking from him to Alex and not saying a word. Gabriel appeared furious, shocked, maybe, still holding a fighting Alex, who was trying to break out of their grasp.

“You son of a bitch, I’ll kill you! You calling my sister a liar? Don’t you fucking dare say one word or try and worm your way out of what you did. In fact, she said nothing. I figured it out. I bet you were laughing behind my back, you fucking prick, knowing all this time what you did to my sister and thinking you got away with it! The only thing you’ve done is gotten on my bad side and made an enemy for life. How the fuck did I not figure this out before?” Alex was yelling, and Jeremy didn’t have to look over to the three shocked, likely traumatized faces of Sarah, Zach, and Shaunty, who shouldn’t have been hearing any of this. Yet they were glued to the scene as if his life were one of those explosive action movies and they couldn’t pull their eyes away from the screen.

“The way you two were with each other this morning, I knew something was up, and three years ago when she left, moved away, pregnant, thinking it was better to have the baby somewhere else where no one knew her, saying she just wanted a new start and didn’t want her friends to see her pregnant when they were all talking prom dresses and evening gowns, lipstick and mascara, and she’s looking at maternity wear and childbirth… Mom and Dad let her go even though they would have loved nothing more than to have her at home. It was just a baby, they said, no big deal, but she moved in with my aunt, saying she wanted the anonymity. Now I know, it was because of you that she left. Because you fucked her over!” Alex was breathing heavy.

Jeremy felt a cloth touch his lip, feeling the sting, and pulled back. His mom was there, holding a rag. Her mouth was set firmly, and the way she was watching him was filled with outrage, disappointment, and likely the same shock he was feeling. He took the cloth from her, and she didn’t pull her gaze from him.

“You’re wrong, Alex. He’s not my kid,” Jeremy said. He couldn’t be.

His dad was looking at him with an expression he’d never seen before, his eyes narrowed. Sarah, Zach, and Shaunty were on the porch, so quiet, hanging over the railing, shocked. Elizabeth was on the other side of him, staring over to Gabriel, who said something to Alex. Right now, he wanted to be anywhere but there. He spit blood on the ground after pulling the cloth away from his bleeding lip.

“Settle down right now!” Andy said. “Do I need to call the sheriff, or are you going to behave yourself?” He was putting everything into holding Alex back, keeping Alex from launching at him again and using his fists on him. He’d never seen this side of his friend, this kind of anger, hate. It was so wrong, but then, so was the fact that Alex believed Tiffy’s little boy was his. What was his name again? He couldn’t remember. Alex had to be wrong.

“Fine, just let go of me,” Alex said. His face was red with rage, but Andy and Gabriel let him go, though they were still right beside him, ready to grab him if he moved any closer to Jeremy. Alex squeezed his fists at his sides and shuffled his stance as if doing his best to pull it the fuck together. Then he let out a breath before holding up his hands as if to show them he’d heard them and would refrain from jamming his fists in Jeremy’s face again.

“And you?” Andy snapped, leveling his hardened gaze on Jeremy. Those icy blue eyes could cut right through bullshit. “What is this about a kid, you getting some girl pregnant?” His dad was staring straight at him and then back to Alex.

“Look, I don’t know anything about what Alex is accusing me of, or me getting Tiffy pregnant,” he said. “Yes, I had sex with Tiffy…how long ago? And yeah, you’re right, I’m a total dog for that, but there’s no way I would ever do what you’re saying, knock up a girl and then walk! Tiffy never said one word to me. It was a night of fun, we both wanted it, and it meant nothing. The only thing I knew is one day she up and moved away. She left town until I saw her yesterday, and I saw her and the kid today. You’re wrong. He’s not mine. Did she tell you he was?”

Even Gabriel was giving him a look like he needed to mind what he was saying or he’d take up where Alex had left off. He pressed his hands to his head, bumping a sore spot at his brow, feeling the warm stickiness of blood, reliving that night by the lake and the sex they’d had. Yes, he was a total fuck-up, but he’d used a condom. So yeah, his friend was wrong. There’d been someone else, because there was no way that kid was his.

Alex firmed his lips and shook his head hard. “She didn’t have to. I figured it out and should have figured it out when I first saw him. He looks just like you, Jeremy, you fucking lowlife bastard. I put it together. She didn’t deny it, and Tiffy doesn’t lie. So tell me what you’re planning to do about this, you fucker.” His friend jabbed his finger his way, and his dad was looking over to his mom, who was still beside him. He didn’t have to look down to see how upset she was. The emotion from everyone was over the top.

“Hey, first, I’m done with the threats,” Andy stated, cutting in before anyone could say anything, which was great because he couldn’t think of one reasonable thing to say. He was still reeling from the shock. “If this is true, it’ll be handled, and if this is my grandson…” His dad was shaking his head and then leveled his You’ve totally fucked up big time, Jeremy gaze on him, then jabbed his finger toward him with a force he’d not seen before.

“You go talk to her and find out if this is true,” Andy said. “If…” He glanced to Alex, who didn’t pull his gaze from Jeremy, one that was still filled with the urge to kick his ass into the next county. It said loud and clear that they were no longer friends. “If any of this is true, the boy will be looked after, and so will Tiffy,” Andy said to Jeremy as if he needed to be reminded of how he was supposed to handle things.

“Brandon,” Alex said. “My nephew’s name is Brandon, and he’s two, born June 6. You want to do the math? Because that was all I thought of, driving out here. You know what really gets me is when we found out Tiffy was pregnant, she sat us down in the living room and said it was no one of any importance, over and done, and he would never be part of her life. She was so matter of fact.”

Boy, did that sting, and it made absolutely no sense to him.

“Jeremy, you need to go and talk to Tiffy,” his mom said. “Get cleaned up, showered, because you stink. Then you go over and talk to her.” She had her arms crossed, and her eyes were vivid green.

He felt his stomach tighten, because it was then he realized that Brandon had the exact same eyes as his mom, as him.

Holy fuck! was all he could think. He didn’t nod, couldn’t get his mouth to form a word past the lump jammed in his throat. In that second, what flashed in his mind was the image of the kid, Brandon, the little boy, the smile, the face from that morning.

 He already knew how this was going to go down. Brandon was, in fact, his.

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