Category Archives: Reveal
Wrangled By Love
The Cowboy Way Series; Book 1
by Barb Shuler
Genre: Contemporary Romance
My Own Nightmare
~ Meet Barb Shuler ~
I needed to get away from the city, away from the hot mess that had become my life.
When I stumbled upon my childhood home on RentBnB.com, I took it as a sign, cleaned out my life savings, and hightailed it to the only place that ever meant something to me, a place I hadn’t seen since a lifetime ago.
Only when I arrived to the familiar South Dakotan farmhouse, I was met by a brooding, we-don’t-take-kindly-to-strangers cowboy by the name of River McCray, who insisted this was his house and most definitely not a rental property.
I’d been internet scammed.
And that cocky, smart-mouthed stranger had the nerve to make me a humiliating offer: I could stay in his house for the next two months rent-free, but I had to work for him.
He’d be my boss. And my roommate.
With no money and nowhere else to go, I agreed. But nothing could have prepared me for the tension, the attraction, and the bombshell revelation that changed … everything.
“Babe, I’m not done yet.” My fingers press into the back of his arms as his naked body unsticks from mine. My lips, parted and breathless, wait for his to return, craving the heat of his tongue as I bask in the early Arizona sunrise peeking through our curtains.
Grant pushes himself away from me, rolling to the cold side of the bed. The contents of his climax spill from the unsatisfied ache between my thighs.
“Thought I told you.” He offers a two-second apologetic smile. “I’m meeting a client at eight. Have to go in early.”
I glance at the vintage alarm clock on his nightstand. There’s more than enough time.
“Five more minutes?” I roll to my side, my swollen lips curling into a slow grin as I trace my fingertips along the crumpled sheets between us. “Please? That’s all I need.”
He smirks, like he thinks I’m being cute, and then he walks around to my side of the bed. Bending to kiss my forehead, he drags his thumb along my lower lip and exhales through his nose.
“Here,” he says, reaching toward my bedside table. Pulling the top drawer open, he fishes through the contents before retrieving my purple vibrator, a relic from the early days of our relationship when I was still trying to be the girl I thought he wanted me to be. A plan that backfired and then some. “This ought to help.”
If there were more light in our bedroom this morning, he’d probably be able to see the color draining from my face.
“You don’t want it?” he asks, pausing for a beat before placing it on the bed to my left.
I can’t answer.
Ever since Grant finished law school at NYU and made partner at his uncle’s prestigious law firm in Scottsdale, he’s become self-involved, self-obsessed, and disgustingly self-centered. It’s all about him, all of the time.
I didn’t want to see it.
I didn’t want to believe it.
All this time, I made excuses for him, convincing myself it was a phase. Convincing myself one of these days I’ll get the old Grant back …
… the one with the charming smile who couldn’t keep his hands off me …
… the one I fell in love with fresh out of college …
…the one who was obsessed with me, seeing to it personally that my happiness was above all else …
… the one who almost made me forget about the ones before him and not think twice that there might ever be one after him …
Grant strides toward the en-suite bathroom, his tight ass flexing as he moves, and I listen as he flushes the toilet a moment later. The shower begins to spray. My eyes move to the vibrator. I refuse to touch it.
And besides, my mood has miraculously vanished.
Twisting the diamond engagement ring on my left finger, I run my fingertip along the sharp edges of the glimmering brilliant-cut stone.
It was supposed to symbolize his commitment to me. Hope for the future. Infinite love that never ends.
Peeling myself out of bed, I wrap the percale sheets around my body. Suddenly the idea of standing naked before him feels awkward and vulnerable in a way I’ve never felt around him before. As I make my way to the bathroom, I clear my throat and feel the creep of nervous heat as it blooms up my neck.
He turns to me, rinsing suds from his eyes as his fingertips massage his thick, sandy blond hair. “You want to get in?”
“I don’t want to be with you anymore.” I didn’t rehearse the line. I didn’t ponder the decision longer than the time it took me to walk from the bed to the en-suite. Sliding the diamond ring from my finger, I place it gently next to the sink.
Grant scoffs, pressing the glass shower door open and sticking his head out. “Leighton.”
I shrug before tucking a messy strand of dark hair behind one ear, unable to meet his gaze because although my head knows the man standing before me is different from the one I once knew, my heart knows no difference. As soon as he leaves for work, I’ll clean myself up and pack my things.
I’m not sure where I’ll go, but I’ll figure it out. Anyplace would be better than sticking around here like Grant’s personal doormat.
“All because I didn’t give you an orgasm?” He laughs. He isn’t taking me seriously.
Shaking my head, I say, “It’s not that.”
He rinses the soft white suds from his body, steps onto the mat, and wraps a white towel around his waist, tucking it at his hip. The scent of cedar wood shower gel permeates the muggy air, suffocating my senses as his hands circle my waist.
Spinning me to face him, he cups my chin in his right hand.
“Talk to me,” he says, focused. “What’s this about? What’s going on here?”
He rolls his eyes, still smiling. “Of course I’ve changed. I’m building the life we’ve always dreamed of. The long hours? The Maserati? The wardrobe? It’s all part of an image I have to project. Nobody wants to hire a lawyer who rolls up in a rusty sedan in an off-the-rack suit. Come on. You know that.”
“I’m not talking about that.”
His brows meet. “Then how have I changed?”
“You’re selfish,” I say, “And you never used to be. We used to be in this together. You and me. We used to fit together so easily, and now … now it’s like we don’t even line up anymore.”
“Christ, Leighton. You know I love you. You know you’re the center of my world.” He drags a hand through his damp hair. “I’m sorry my career is overshadowing what we have right now, but I promise it’s not forever.”
My mind replays a moment from last weekend, when we attended a charity gala in downtown Phoenix. I counted at least eight women who couldn’t take their eyes off Grant all night, and the man was well aware. He strutted around, peacock proud, introducing himself to anyone who so much as met his cunning emerald gaze. Never once introducing me as I stood in his shadow like a forgotten afterthought.
There’s a difference between networking and schmoozing.
The old Grant would’ve worn me proudly on his arm, kissed my forehead every chance he got, and introduced me like a true gentleman.
Instead he left me alone by the open bar, at one point spending twenty-five minutes chatting up a leggy redhead in head-to-toe Givenchy. She couldn’t stop smiling in his presence, touching his arm as she laughed at everything he said, and he stood unusually close to her.
I’m not a jealous woman, and I never have been, but seeing how Grant looked at every other woman that night with the same gaze he used to lovingly reserve for me filled me with doubt and made me question our relationship for the first time since we met.
“You scheduled a client dinner on our anniversary last month,” I say. “And you forgot my birthday this year.”
Grant places a hand over his perfect, chiseled chest. “And I apologized for those incidences, did I not?”
“The old you—”
“—the old me?” His brows lift, incredulous. “There is no old me. Stop being dramatic. I’m going to work before you make me late with all of … this.”
A little piece of me dies every time he takes that tone with me, which lately has been more frequent than ever.
He shakes his head, disgusted, and heads to the closet. When he returns with a red gingham tie in hand, he releases a quick breath.
“We’ll finish this when I get home tonight.” He places the tie on a robe hook, and his tone is softer than it was a second ago.
For a splintered moment, I second guess my decision.
Am I being rash?
Do other people spend almost eight years with someone and then wake up one morning and decide it’s over? That it’s not worth trying to salvage? That it’s suddenly come to this?
I watch Grant as he stands over the sink, lathering shaving cream onto his chiseled cheek bones, humming a Rolling Stones song to himself like it’s any other day. I don’t think this man has ever worried for a single second that he might lose me, and maybe that’s why he’s pushed me to the back burner over the last couple of years.
“I love you, Leighton.” He stares into the mirror, our eyes meeting in his reflection. “I’ll fix this. Whatever’s bothering you, we’ll figure it out tonight. I’ll make it right, I promise.”
That’s Grant: cold and cutting one moment, sweet and tender the next.
He never used to be this way.
Grant’s razor drags along his cheek, leaving a track of smooth, tanned skin in its place, and he flashes his trademark disarming smile that makes me think the old him might still be in there somewhere, waiting for me to breathe him back to life.
I pause before stepping out of the bathroom and heading back to bed. Mondays are my late day, and I don’t have to be at work for another three hours, which will give me more time to think this through.
Passing his nightstand, I catch his lit phone screen from the corner of my eye.
Normally I wouldn’t look, but there’s a nagging sensation in the pit of my stomach, a jarring feeling that tells me something isn’t right.
Peering into the bathroom, I don’t see Grant. He must be in the closet, changing into his suit. Sucking in a deep breath, I steal a look at the text message taking up half of the screen.
And then my heart drops to the floor.
I’M READY FOR MY CROSS EXAMINATION THIS MORNING, COUNSELOR, BUT I HAD A COUPLE OF QUESTIONS BEFORE WE PROCEED. LACE OR SILK? MY OFFICE OR YOURS? XO
A million questions swarm my mind, all of them circling at once.
Who is she?
How long has this been going on?
Is she the first?
How could I not know?!
Why would he initiate sex this morning?
Why would he tell me he loves me and then run off to fuck someone else?
“Leighton?” Grant’s voice brings me back, and my frozen stare moves from his phone to the bathroom doorway where he stands. His hands adjust the Windsor knot of his tie, though right now I’m wishing they were my hands, pulling it tighter and tighter still. If I can’t breathe right now, why should he get the privilege? “What’s wrong?”
My vision drowns in warm tears.
It was different earlier. There was a sense of pride in knowing I could make the decision to end things based on principle.
But now …
It seems the decision has been made for me.
There’s no recovering from this.
There’s no bouncing back.
This is the bottom dropping out.
“Leighton, talk to me.” Grant moves closer, lowering to his knees and taking my limp hands in his. I want to recoil at his touch, but I don’t have the energy. “Did something happen? Is it your grandmother?”
He doesn’t get it, at least not right away.
But when his eyes move toward the phone, his breath catches. And then he lets me go, his hands sliding off of mine, slow and careful.
Grant stands, straightening his posture before slipping his phone into his pocket and studying my face.
The weight of his stare is heavy, but the silence between us is heavier.
The man who has argued hundreds of cases over his budding career is officially speechless, unable to defend his reprehensible actions.
And how could he?
The evidence is damning, and his lack of words may as well be a guilty plea.
But not for long.
When Hunter and Carey decide they want to live with their father in California, Mackenzie knows right away that she’s in for a tough time. And she couldn’t be more right.
The two boys show her on a daily basis that she’s not good enough for their dad. In fact, they make it quite clear their lives would be better without her. But could it be that Hunter has quite a different motive for hating her?
I first met Carter on a Friday. I was standing talking to someone when he came in, and it was like every atom in the room was immediately drawn in his direction. The oxygen, the people, even the flowers turned their heads to look at him. His presence was so powerful I couldn’t help stepping a little closer. When his eyes met mine, an electric shock went through my body. I was literally glowing, and in that fraction of a second, I imagined what it would be like to be his woman. And then…
His eyes moved on to the next object, not even acknowledging my presence, leaving me absolutely crushed. I wasn’t worth a second look. Swallowing hard, I watched him walk over to Brittany, who had been in charge of interior design at his new company headquarters. I’d had nothing to do with the project—I was just here to support my best friend on what was going be a big evening for her.
And I had never felt as much contempt for anybody as I felt for her in that particular moment. Even though I loved her to pieces.
Carter Tilman, head of Tilman Finance Group, had occupied the number-one spot on our girls’ talk agendas the past few weeks. God, was he handsome, Brittany had told me so many times I’d started rolling my eyes at her. But now I saw him in the flesh. He was blond and blue-eyed, about six-foot-two and, from what I could see under his suit, well built. The perfect combination of sleek and edgy, he immediately made me imagine him being a somewhat less-than-perfect gentleman in private quarters.
But there he was, talking to Brittany! Not even giving me a second of his attention.
I kept watching him, inconspicuously following him around, trying to be near him. But not once did I manage to capture his attention. It made me feel small and insignificant. In his world, I didn’t even exist.
Just before midnight, Brittany signaled to me that she was done. With a slight sense of regret, I left. After all, there was no reason for me to stay. It would just make me sad.
Outside, I said goodbye to Brittany and her colleagues before walking over to my car. I was just about to open the door when somebody behind me said, “I was hoping to be introduced to you.”
Every molecule of my body strained toward him, but I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself, so I made a point of turning around slowly. “Really?” I asked, feigning disinterest.
He came closer, nodding. “You’re stunning. I just have to kiss you.”
And kiss me, he did. Our first kiss, which led to many others. Our first encounter, which turned into hundreds. Two lives fused into one.
Which leads me to the here and now, almost one year later.
“Are you excited?” he asks.
I nod, kneading my fingers. “Oh boy, am I excited,” I say in a strangled voice.
He laughs, quietly stroking my cheek. “Just don’t show any fear. They’re like predators. They can sense it.”
“Please tell me you’re joking!”
“I’m sure they’ll like you.”
“They” are his sons. Hunter and Carey. Ages seventeen and fifteen. I haven’t met them before because they live with their mother in Miami. But they’re coming to spend the summer with their dad in San Diego. And here I am. I can’t escape the inevitable, even though it scares the living daylights out of me. Seriously, I’ve never been this nervous, not even during finals week in college.
“Relax, sweetheart,” Carter says, reaching for my hand. He runs his fingers across my knuckles soothingly.
I look at him, trying to smile. It isn’t usually difficult, but today I can’t bring myself to do it. I’m meeting his sons. His teenage sons. I’m not even that much older than them… I’m twenty-five, and Carter is forty-three. Our age difference has never been a problem before, and people say age is just a number, but, come on—this just seems like a recipe for disaster.
“Here they are,” he says, pointing. Two tall boys who look a lot like Carter—and totally different at the same time—are walking across the baggage claim toward us.
Carey, the younger one, must be nearly six feet tall. He’s blond and blue-eyed like his dad. But while his father has a distinctly manly look about him, Carey brims with the beauty and energy of youth. His skin is spotless, which I take as a personal affront, because I still get zits in my mid-twenties.
Hunter is already taller than his father. He has close-cropped brown hair and brown eyes. His cheeks and chin are speckled with stubble, and for such a young man, he has a very masculine aura. The girls must be all over him. It’s true what they say. The apple does not fall far from the tree.
They’re both trying to appear cool, but I can tell they’re happy to see their dad. They each give him an affectionate hug, and he hugs them back happily. Carter has always seemed like a sexy bachelor to me, but seeing him with his sons is kind of cute.
“Okay, boys,” he says, putting his arm around me. “This is Mackenzie. Sweetie, meet Hunter and Carey.”
The boys’ bright faces darken, letting me know I don’t stand a chance. I stretch out my hand, and they do shake it, but they squeeze so hard I have to put effort into not screaming. “Nice to meet you,” I say, trying to sound cheerful.
Carter seems satisfied, at least. “Let’s go home. Mackenzie and I thought it’d be fun to have a barbecue.”
Carey turns his cold blue eyes away from me, defrosting them for his father. “Actually, we’re meeting up with some friends tonight, Dad.”
“Oh, well, why don’t we have dinner, then you can go?” Carter suggests cheerfully.
The boys seem mollified as their dad takes Carey’s bag and puts an arm around his shoulders, Hunter on his other side. They’re the perfect trio.
“Are you coming, sweetie?” Carter calls over his shoulder.
I follow them out of the airport, the lowly fourth wheel.
Back at the car, Hunter gets in front like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Carter looks irritated for a second but doesn’t say anything. Instead, he holds the back door open for me, and I silently climb into his Mercedes SUV.
Once behind the wheel, Carter is all cheer again. “What are your plans for the summer?” he asks.
“Friends, beach, babes,” Carey says automatically.
Hunter laughs. “In that order?”
Carey shrugs. “It’s not exactly a secret you go through all three of them like candy. Especially that last one.”
Carter throws his oldest a look. If I didn’t know better, I would think it was respect, but that’s impossible, right? Could a father be proud of his seventeen-year-old son’s sexual exploits? No. There must be something else behind that look.
Hunter turns around to grin at his brother. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, virgin.”
“TMI, thank you very much,” Carter says, and he actually sounds amused.
Hunter slouches down in his seat. “I thought you’d put those condoms there on purpose so we couldn’t help but find them.”
“Don’t corrupt your brother,” Carter laughs. “There’s still hope for him.”
“Did you hear that?” Hunter says. “You’re the good, normal, boring brother.”
“No, I’m not!” Carey leans forward to punch Hunter’s shoulder.
Hunter dodges it, laughing.
For some reason, I feel like I shouldn’t be here. They’re acting like I’m not here, anyway.
“Hey, boys, no punching,” Carter throws in. “Words are your weapons! You know the rules.”
“Hunter’s too stupid to use language as a weapon,” Carey grumbles.
“Stupid?” Carter repeats. “Was that report card a fake then?”
Hunter grins. “No need for that, Dad. Unlike Carey, I’ve got brains and looks.”
“Yeah, and your looks are shit!” Carey teases.
His brother turns around, looks straight at me, and then says to his brother, “I guess you want to spend the evening with Dad then…”
There’s a meaningful silence.
Carey looks at me for a second as well and then makes a cut-throat gesture with his hand, as if to threaten me, “They’re my friends, too.”
Hunter grins like a predator. “Be a good boy then.”
Carey snorts but doesn’t say anything.
I’m relieved when we get to the house—our house. Even though I know the toughest part is still ahead. Because the boys don’t know I’ve moved in with their dad. What on earth are they going to say when we tell them? It’s clear by now that they don’t hold back. And I don’t want those word-weapons trained on me…
Walking up the driveway, I look at the house like I always do. It’s huge, built for a large, happy family, and once again, I feel like an intruder. This is where they all used to live as a family. And now Carter lives here with a new woman. Me.
As soon as the boys get inside, they quietly claim the space around them. The house seems smaller with three big men in it.
“I’ll go fire up the grill, sweetie,” Carter says when I enter the kitchen.
I nod, and he gives me a hug, kissing me on the top of my head. Carey gives me a look so hostile I have to close my eyes, fighting back tears. I don’t want to show them how much they affect me.
As soon as Carter leaves, Carey steps in front of me. “Are you after our money?”
I give him an irritated look. “Excuse me?”
“Dad’s got a lot of dough. Is that what you’re after? Why else would you be with a guy twice your age?”
I’m speechless. Hunter nonchalantly leans against the fridge, not saying anything, but there’s something terrifying about the way he’s standing there all calm, his arms crossed in front of his chest. My eyes move from one brother to the other, and my mouth goes dry.
“Sweetie, can you bring out the steaks?” Carter calls from outside.
I swallow and glance at Hunter blocking the fridge. When I take one step toward him, he doesn’t budge. “Would you mind…”
He puts on his predator’s smile. “Would I mind what?”
He smiles down at me. “Say please.”
I want to tell him to fuck off but remind myself that he’s seventeen—and testing me. I can’t say to him what I would say to a twenty-five-year-old asshole in this situation. Pulling myself together, I give him my best unflinching look. “Would you please move over?”
He steps aside. “There you go, doll.”
Do not react, I tell myself. Just ignore it. “My name is Mackenzie. Or Mac.” I silently curse myself. Great job! Now he knows it bothers me, so he’s never going to stop calling me that.
Flustered, I get the steaks from the fridge and take them outside.
Carter smiles at me. “Hey.” He pulls me closer for a kiss. “Is everything okay?”
I nod. “Yup. Just weird.”
He gives me a loving smile. “I know you guys are all going to get along great. I love having my three favorite people here with me.”
I snuggle up to him until he frees himself to put the meat on the grill.
“Hunt?” he calls inside. “Can you set the table out here, please?”
As the boys come out onto the porch with plates and cutlery, I go back to the kitchen to grab the sides I made earlier.
“You haven’t answered my question,” someone says behind me, and I flinch so hard I drop the bowl in my hands. My potato salad lands on the floor, and glass shards from the bowl fly through the air. One of them hits my shin, and I stare at the red drop trickling down my leg.
“Are you okay, sweetie?” Carter calls, rushing inside, alerted by the almighty crash I just made.
“Yeah.” I nod a little too fast. “Just dropped a bowl. Sorry.”
“No problem,” he says. He comes over, picks me up, and sets me down on the kitchen island before diligently picking up the shards and throwing the rest of the bowl in the trash.
As he begins to wipe the floor up, my manners kick in. “Hey, let me do that,” I say, starting to slide off the counter.
“Don’t worry, I’ll do it.” He smiles at me, and a knot in my heart dissolves. Carter. He loves me. I love him. That’s what I need to remember.
When he’s finished, he gets out a Band-Aid and carefully places it over the little cut on my leg. “There you go. All set. I hope Hunter didn’t burn the meat.”
“I heard that,” a voice calls from outside. “Like I’d make a mistake doing something as manly as grilling meat.”
Carter laughs and kisses me before we take the remaining sides outside. Once we’re all sitting at the table, Carter looks at both boys. “Weren’t you two talking about going to football camp this summer?”
“It doesn’t start for three weeks,” Carey reminds him. “And we’ll only be gone a week.”
“What positions do you play?” I ask, just to be part of the conversation. Truth be told, I already know Hunter plays wide receiver and Carey’s a second-string quarterback, which they proceed to politely tell me. In fact, as long as their dad’s around, they’re polite and reasonably friendly. They’re not going out of their way to make me comfortable, but it’s at least possible to talk to them. However, when Carter takes a call and disappears into the house, things change quickly.
“Answer my goddamn question,” Carey snarls.
Hunter just grins and leans back, crossing his arms in front of his chest again. In a few years, he’ll be a real giant. He’s already tall, and even though his muscles are pretty impressive for a teenager, I’m sure he’ll bulk up some more.
Realizing I’m on my own, I look back at Carey. “You can stop asking. Because it’s none of your business.”
He pulls a face. “So you are a gold digger then.”
I gather up all my courage. It’s difficult to remember I’m a confident woman with Hunter staring at me like I’m some insect he’s about to crush. He somehow manages to appear both cocky and laid-back at the same time—a skill most men do not attain in this lifetime. “I-I don’t want to argue with you,” I say, trying to keep my voice from wavering. “I want to get to know you both, and get along. I’m not here to cause trouble. I love your dad.”
“News flash, doll,” Carey says. “Just because you spread your legs for our dad doesn’t mean you can wrap us around your finger. Dad’s brought home a lot of women over the past three years. They all had one thing in common. You want to know what it is?”
I shake my head, but I didn’t really think that was going to stop him.
“They’re not here anymore.”
Like I said, I didn’t want to know. “Please don’t talk to me like that.”
“Like what?” Carey asks innocently.
“Hmm,” he says, like he’s mulling it over. “To be honest, I think I’m being pleasant.” He looks at Hunter like he’s waiting for instructions, but Hunter obviously doesn’t care to interfere.
And I don’t know how to react. What am I supposed to say? “I’ll tell your father”? That’s a sure-fire way of ruining whatever chance I might still have at building a relationship with them. Or should I tell them—again—that I don’t want them talking to me like that? Only to have them ridicule me again… Maybe I should get up and leave. But then they’ll think they can do whatever they want with me.
Fortunately, Carter returns then, but he’s wearing a frown. “That was your mom,” he tells the boys. “She wanted to know where you are.”
Their expressions change immediately. Carey suddenly looks guilty, while Hunter’s face hardens.
“She said she had no idea where you were,” Carter says, his voice stern. “She was worried.”
Carey looks at the floor, but Hunter snorts disbelievingly.
“Hunter,” Carter says, frustrated, running a hand through his hair. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
Hunter looks him directly in the eye. “We want to move back to San Diego.”
Carter looks stunned. “Excuse me?” he finally grinds out.
“You want me to say it again?” Hunter says.
Carter snorts. “Why?”
Hunter rolls his eyes. “You know Mom.”
“Yeah, what about her?”
Hunter runs a hand through his short hair. “She’s a mean drunk. And she brings home all kinds of men. It’s like living in a goddamn brothel.”
I swallow. I’d thought they couldn’t stand me because they loved their mom so much. But that’s apparently not it. They may have been treating me like dirt just a few seconds ago, but I can feel their pain now. No child should have to worry about whether a parent actually cares about them. I know that best of all.
Carter runs a hand over his face. “Hunter…”
“Come on, Dad! I know what you’re going to say. But we can’t stay there with Mom.”
Carter nods slowly. “Actually, you don’t know what I’m going to say.” He looks over at me quickly. “Mackenzie moved in with me a few weeks ago. So, this is her home now, too. If you two want to move back in, you have to get along with her, too.”
Carey gives his dad an exasperated look. “She moved in with you?”
“You have a problem with that?” Carter asks, and for the first time, he sounds slightly snappy.
“No,” his youngest mumbles.
“Anything’s better than staying in Miami,” he says.
Carter nods. “Mac?”
I give him a surprised look. “Yeah?”
“It’s your home, too. Are you okay with them moving in?” he asks.
“They’re your sons,” I say, even though I have to swallow before I finish my thought. “They’ll always be welcome here.” Deep inside, I thought it would be tough to spend ten weeks with them. But having them move in with us? It’s a whole different story. While Hunter’s about to start his last year of high school—and then he’ll be off to college or somewhere else—Carey would be with us for at least another three years.
Can I do this? It very well could be three years of hell lying ahead of me.
But, at this point, I’ll just have to wait and see.
Carter puts a hand on my shoulder and looks over at Hunter again. “If I let you move in here, I expect you to behave better than you did in Miami.”
Hunter and Carey both nod. “Promise,” they say in unison.
Carter snorts. Obviously, he doesn’t believe it. “Okay, we’ll still have to see. I’ll call your mom and let her know about your decision.”
“Awesome.” Hunter gets up. “Now, we’re out of here.”
“Be back at midnight,” Carter says.
“Dad, seriously?” Carey asks in the tone of a complete brat.
“You’re fifteen,” Carter responds.
“So Hunter can bring you back here at midnight and stay out another hour.”
“That’s totally unfair!” Carey whines.
Carter gives him a firm look. “What did you just say about good behavior?”
Carey gives him a sly smile. “You said better, not good.”
I struggle to keep a neutral face, because inside, I’m secretly applauding Carey. Carter though isn’t so impressed.
“Midnight,” he says.
“Can we take the car?” Hunter asks.
Carter nods. “Keys are on the table.”
They’re gone within a second.
“Rascals,” Carter says, sitting back down with me. He puts a hand on my leg. “Thank you, sweetie.”
“It’s your house, and they’re your sons. Of course they can move in with us.”
“It’s our house,” he corrects me gently.
I shrug. “Still.”
He runs a hand through his hair. “It’ll be different.”
He looks at me. “What’s wrong?”
I’m kneading my fingers, and he zooms in on them. He knows I do this when I’m nervous, so there’s no point lying to him now. “They don’t like me,” I admit.
Carter nods slowly. “Give them some time. They’ve never seen me with another woman. Only with their mom. But it’ll be okay.” I realize then that he has no idea his sons actually know about every woman he’s ever dated.
“So, I guess they don’t have a great relationship with their mom?” I say, trying not to sound like I’m prodding.
Carter shakes his head. “Not anymore. They always did before. But then she cheated on me, and I left. She started drinking, and… I guess sometimes they still hold me responsible for it.”
I take his hand. “But it’s not your fault.”
He smiles wistfully. “I know. I couldn’t stay with her. But I’m sorry my boys got hurt.”
“You’re a great dad. They love and respect you.”
He nods. “They’ve always been my number-one priority.”
“Why did they stay with their mom?”
“It’s what they wanted. Lauren was not in a good place after the divorce, and Hunter always feels like he has to take care of people. Save them. He didn’t want to leave her alone, and Carey always does what Hunter does. I’m just glad he’s somewhat of a good role model.”
A faint smile flits across my lips. “So what trouble did they get into in Miami?”
Carter smiles. “Oh, man, they messed up a few times. Nothing serious, though. Hunter got in a few fights with his coach and had plenty of detention. And they were at a few parties that were broken up by the police. Carey was caught drunk once. I’d say it’s all pretty normal for their age. Judging by what my friends say, it could be much worse. Some kids are really out there. Hunter might be a bit of a hothead, but he’s sensible enough to make sure Carey’s always safe.”
“What if they don’t accept me?” I ask.
He strokes my hand. “It’ll be fine, sweetie. Don’t give up.”
I nod, even though I know I’m in for a rough ride.
My stories are all about love, but some are of the romantic kind, some of the sad kind and others of the very steamy kind. So if you can stand drama, foul language and sex, you came to the right place.