She heard someone walking on the sidewalk. Instinctively, she stiffened before reminding herself that this was Fool’s Gold, and no one ever got mugged here. She looked up to see a man walking by. Only he didn’t keep walking. He stopped at her front gate and let himself in. The wineglass nearly slipped from her fingers as she watched Ethan Hendrix stroll toward her.

“Hello, Liz.”

He was as tall and handsome as she’d remembered. Broader and a little older, but only in that good way men age. It was too dark for her to make out his exact features, but if she had to guess, she would say he was happy to see her. At least he was smiling.

She blinked, not sure he was real, but the image didn’t go away, which was confusing. Why would Ethan be pleased she was back in town?

She clutched her wine in both hands. Standing up made the most sense and was also polite, but she wasn’t sure she could manage it. Her legs felt a little wobbly as she stared at the first man she’d ever loved. If she’d had another glass of wine, she probably would have admitted he was the only man she’d ever loved, but why go there now?

“Ethan,” she said, startled to have his name on her lips after all this time. She’d yelled at him, cursed him, cried for him and begged-but only in her mind. In the past twelve years, she’d never once spoken his name. Except once…to his wife.

“I thought I saw you earlier,” he revealed, moving closer and shoving his hands in his front pockets, a smile tugging at his lips. “At the race. I tried to get to you, but there was too much of a crowd. You’re back.” The smile turned into a grin. “You look good.”

She looked what?

Gathering all her strength, she set the glass on the porch, then pushed to her feet. After crossing her arms over her chest, she realized she still had to tilt her head slightly to meet his gaze. Time had not caused him to shrink.

“It’s not what you think,” she began. “I’m not here to make trouble.”

Confusion flickered across his face. “Why would you be?”

“I’m here because of my brother and his daughters. This isn’t about anything between us.”

The grin faded into a straight line. “About that,” he reflected, then shrugged. “I was a kid and a jerk. I’m sorry.”

As apologies went, it wasn’t much of one. Not when compared to his incredible rejection of both her and their son, but Ethan had never been big on accepting responsibility for his relationships.

For him, it was all about how things looked. After all, he was a Hendrix. A member of the founding family. Upholder of all things good and right. A girl from the wrong side of the tracks was good enough to sleep with, but a guy like Ethan would never want anything more.

“Whatever,” she muttered. “I didn’t know my brother had moved back and I didn’t know about his daughters. Until Melissa wrote me. That’s why I’m here. It’ll be two weeks. Three at most. I’ll stay out of your way, just like you asked.” Commanded was more like it, but this didn’t seem like a good time to bring that up. She was tired and dealing with too much already. A fight with Ethan would only complicate the situation.

She shook her head, her temper rising just a little. “But I will point out you don’t own the town, and you don’t have any right to tell me where I can or can’t be.”

“I know,” he said, moving a step toward her. “Would it help if I said I have no idea what you’re talking about?”

The lazy smile returned. The one that always had the ability to make her stomach flip over a couple dozen times.

“I wanted to welcome you back,” he continued. “And tell you I think it’s great you’ve been successful with your books. Even though I’m not sure I like the part where you kill me over and over again.”

Now he wasn’t the only one who was confused, she thought. He wanted to talk about her books?

“You deserved it,” she retorted. “And technically I haven’t killed you at all.”

“Then why do your victims always have a more than passing resemblance to me?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Which was a lie.


The smile left again as he took another step toward her. A step that put him a little too close.

“Eleven years ago I was a jerk,” he said. “I admit it and I’m sorry. That’s what I came by to say.”

“What?” She dropped her hands to her hips and glared at him. “That’s it? After everything that happened the last time I came to town you want to talk about that?

His eyebrows drew together. “What last time?”

“Five years ago, I came back to speak to you. Instead I had a very awkward conversation with your wife. You were out of town. Then I received your letter a few days later.”

The frown deepened. “What?”

She wanted to shriek. “I came here to talk to you. To tell you about Tyler. I saw Rayanne, who said you were out of town. About ten days later, I got a letter from you telling me you didn’t want anything to do with either of us. To stay away from Fool’s Gold and that if I came back, you’d make sure I regretted it.”

The frown turned into an expression of dismissal. “I accept that what I did all those years ago was stupid and mean, and I’m sorry. As for this crap-don’t bring my wife into your stories.”

She stiffened. “Stories? You think I’m lying? I spoke to your wife five years ago. You wrote me a letter. I still have it.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t write you a letter. You didn’t see-” He hesitated. “I don’t know if you saw Rayanne or not. I could have been traveling. I saw you in town earlier today, so I came by to say hello and apologize. That’s it.” His gaze sharpened. “Who’s Tyler? Your husband? You’re married?”

Oh, God. Liz sank back on the step. Thoughts and memories flooded her, making it impossible to pick just one. The early past intruded first-reminding her how much she’d once loved Ethan. How he’d convinced her to trust him, had told her that he loved her. She’d given herself to him on a starry night, by the lake. Desperate emotion hadn’t been enough to make her first time not hurt, and he’d held her when she had cried.

They’d planned on her joining him at his college, because being together in Fool’s Gold was impossible. Not that his family was especially rich, but because they were respectable. Something Liz Sutton could never be.

She remembered him and his friends at the diner where she worked after school. How his friend Josh had mentioned seeing Ethan with her. As clearly as if it was happening right now, in front of her, she recalled Ethan’s discomfort. He’d said she was a piece of ass-but not anyone he could be interested in. He’d denied her, had denied them. She’d heard every word.

Maybe if she’d been older she would have understood why he’d said what he did. Or if he’d been more mature or stronger, he could have stood up to his friends. Instead he had hurt her and she’d reacted. She’d walked over to the table, picked up the chocolate milk shake she’d brought him only minutes before and thrown it in his face. Then she’d walked out. She’d quit her job, packed a bag and run away to San Francisco.

Three weeks later, she’d figured out she was pregnant.

She’d returned to town, prepared to tell Ethan, only to find him in bed with someone else. She’d run again. This time she’d been determined to make it on her own. But five years ago, as Tyler had been getting ready to enter first grade, she’d decided to make another attempt to tell Ethan. Which had led to the conversation with his wife and the letter telling her that he didn’t want anything to do with her and his son.

None of this made sense, she thought. Ethan was many things, but stupid wasn’t one of them. He wouldn’t just forget about his own child. Unless he really hadn’t been told. Which meant his wife had kept the information of Liz’s visit from him.

“Liz?” His voice was low. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.” She pushed to her feet. “At the risk of repeating myself, Rayanne never told you that I came to see you?”

“That’s right.”

“You never wrote me a letter.”


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