“I do have a career.”

“It must be nice,” he muttered. “My famous sister.”

“I’m doing what I love, and it’s great,” she said much too enthusiastically. “Just great. I’m here to try to teach you about ambition.”

“I got a job. Didn’t Gram tell you?”

Gram walked into the room and took Summer into her arms before Summer could reply.

“I was wondering what it would take to get my Babygirl home.”

“Don’t you dare call me that!” Summer smiled, fondly remembering how she used to be embarrassed by the nickname when she was a teenager.

“Set your bag down and then go sit out on the screened porch. Tuck, you join her. I’ll bring you something you can’t get in that big city of yours, Babygirl-a glass of my delicious, mint-flavored tea.”

Summer sighed. “Gram, I don’t want you wearing yourself out waiting on us. Tuck, we’re going to help her, you hear?”

Tuck, who was lazy by nature, frowned, but since he adored his big sister, he didn’t argue. He trailed behind them into the kitchen where he leaned against a wall and watched them do everything.

“At least you’re going to carry the tray,” Summer ordered as she placed the last tea cup on it.

Tuck grabbed a chocolate-chip cookie instead.

Then the phone rang and he shrugged helplessly before disappearing to answer it.

As Summer took the tray out to the porch and set it on the table, she sank into her favorite rocker, finally taking the time to appreciate the deep solitude of the trees that wrapped around Gram’s big old house. In New York or L.A., Summer’s phones rang constantly with calls from her agent, producers and directors…and, especially of late, reporters.

She was A-list now, sought after by directors on both coasts. She’d worked hard and was living her dream.

She had it all.

Or so she’d believed. Then her costar and sometimes lover, Edward, had walked out on her. The night their hit play closed, he’d declared to the entire cast that he was through with her. That had been a month ago. Ever since, nosy reporters had been hounding her for the full story, which she still didn’t want to share. That night, back in her apartment after the wrap party, she’d tried to tell herself that Edward’s departure hadn’t made her painfully aware of how empty her personal life had become.

No well-known Broadway actress was ever alone, especially when she was under contract for a major Hollywood film. Even when she was between shows and movies, she couldn’t walk out of her apartment without some stranger trying to take her picture or get her autograph. She was always multitasking-juggling workshops, PR events, rehearsals and script readings. Who had time for a personal life?

She was thirty-one. Forty, that age that was the death knell to actresses, didn’t seem quite so far away anymore. And Gram, being old-fashioned and Southern, constantly reminded Summer about her biological clock. Lately, Gram had started emailing pictures of all Summer’s childhood girlfriends’ children and gushing about how cute they were.

“Where would I be without you and Tuck? Mark my words, you’ll be sorry if you end up old and alone.”

Gram’s longings were part of the reason Summer had let Hugh Jones, the hottest young actor on the west coast, rush her into a new relationship not two weeks after Edward had jilted her so publicly. Had she actually felt a little desperate at realizing how alone she was?

Not wanting to think about her personal life a moment longer, Summer picked up her glass and drank some of her iced tea.

Where was Gram? And what was taking Tuck so long on the phone?

Was he talking to Zach?

She took another sip of tea.

Reporters constantly asked her if she was in love with Hugh. But unfortunately for her, it wasn’t Hugh who came to mind at the mention of the word love. No, for her, love and Zach would always be tangled together like an impossible knot. Her chest tightened. She’d only felt that exquisitely painful rush of excitement once.

She never wanted to feel it again.

She’d been sixteen, and he nineteen, when their romance had ended in unbearable heartbreak. For a brief moment she allowed herself to remember New Orleans and the terrible, secret loss she’d suffered there, a loss that had shattered her youthful illusions forever, a loss that had taught her some mistakes could never be made right.

Zach was the reason why she almost never came home. Bonne Terre was a small, gossipy Cajun town. If she hadn’t forgotten her past, the town wouldn’t have forgotten it, either. Even if the town’s citizens didn’t ask her about him, she always felt him everywhere when she was home. She had too many painful memories and… secrets.

Here on this very porch he had kissed her that first time.

Just as she was remembering how her mouth had felt scorched after he’d brushed his lips against hers, her grandmother’s low, gravelly whisper interrupted her thoughts.

“You’re not the only person who loves to sit in that chair.”

The sly, mischievous note in her grandmother’s tone sent a frisson of alarm through Summer.

“Oh.” She didn’t turn and smile because her cheeks were still burning.

“Zach always sits there.”

Summer stiffened.

“I can’t believe you allow him to come over, much less allow him to sit in my chair. What if someone tips off the press about his visits to see my grandmother and this causes another nasty story to be published about us? And why is he developing in Bonne Terre anyway? In all these years he’s never once come back, until now.”

“When his uncle died back in the fall he came to visit Nick. When he saw the land prices, he started talking to people. He already has a casino in Vegas. One thing led to another. The city fathers decided to court him…”

When Summer noticed the ice cubes in her glass tinkling, she set the glass down with a harsh clink.

“Careful, dear, that’s your mama’s best crystal.” They paused, as they both reflected on the sweetness of Anna, Summer’s dear, departed mother, whom they would miss forever. “Zach’s bought up all that land across from our place.”

“I still can’t believe that with his history, with so many in this town set against him, Zach would come back here.”

“He says it’s time to set the record straight. He’s certainly winning the town over.”

How exactly did he intend to set the record straight? Summer thought of the one secret she’d kept from him and trembled. “He’s made a fortune in Houston. Isn’t that vindication enough? Why would he care what the people here think of him?”

“They nearly sent him to prison.”

Because of me, Summer thought with genuine regret.

“Old wounds run deep sometimes…and need healin’. He’s got everybody around here excited. His casino’s going to be a fancy riverboat.”

“Gambling? It’s a vicious, addictive sport.”

“Gaming will bring jobs… And jobs will buy a lot of forgiveness. Bonne Terre’s fallen on really hard times of late.”

“Gram, you sound brainwashed. It makes me wonder how often Zach comes by.”

“Well, he dropped by the first time because he wanted to see if I’d sell this place to him.”

Summer would watch the swamp freeze over before she let that happen.

“Zach’s been by about once a week ever since. We have coffee and cookies. Chocolate chip are his favorite.”

Summer took great pains to center her glass in its condensation ring on the coaster. “I hope you didn’t tell Zach you might sell or that I was coming to see you about all this.”

Her grandmother hesitated. “I’m afraid I might have told him he could make me an offer. And… You know how I can never resist bragging about you. I’ve shown him my scrapbooks.”

Summer frowned. “I can’t imagine I’m his favorite subject.”

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