Born in a Small Town / Page 2

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“You know Scott’s going to ask about you.”

“Well, if he does, tell him I’m perfectly content without him in my life.”

Susan laughed outright. “That sounds like a crock to me.”

“Well, it isn’t,” Chrissie said, praying she wasn’t giving herself away. Hiding her true feelings from her best friend was something she found difficult. But the truth was, she fully intended to keep her distance from Scott.

Resolved to push all thoughts of him from her mind, Chrissie slammed into the office early. She refused to look at her clock, refused to remember that at ten that very morning, Scott O’Halloran was flying back into Hard Luck—and into her well-ordered life.

At eleven-thirty, just as she was about to break for lunch, Kate, the secretary she shared with Tracy, buzzed her. “Scott O’Halloran is here to see you. Shall I send him in?”

Already? Chrissie’s heart began to race, pounding so hard she had to catch her breath. Scott was here? Now?

“Ms. Harris?”

Forcing her heart to slow down, Chrissie leaned over and pressed the intercom button. “Send him in,” she said as evenly as her shallow breath would allow.

A moment later Scott strolled into her small office. He hadn’t changed. He was still better-looking than any man had a right to be. He’d always had a real presence—a confident quality and a sense of life that invariably attracted people. Especially women. Chrissie made herself stand and meet him eye to eye. For one wild moment all she could do was stare. Furious at her reaction, she let her hands fall onto her desk for support.

“Hello, Scott,” she managed to say, proud of revealing a complete lack of emotion. To all appearances, he might have been a stranger.

“Chrissie.” He beamed her a smile bright enough to rival the sun.

She inhaled and held her breath. With hardly any effort, he was tearing down her defenses. And, no doubt, he knew exactly the effect he had on her, hide it though she might.

“You’re looking good,” he murmured with a nod of approval.

“Yes, I know,” she said in blithe tones, wanting him to realize she wouldn’t be won over by a bit of flattery and some practiced charm. Not this time. He could fall at her feet and beg her forgiveness, and she’d look down at him and feel nothing but contempt.

“Do you have a few minutes?” he asked.

“Actually I don’t.” Striking a casual pose, she crossed her arms. How dared he assume he could saunter into her office and pretend nothing had happened? He had nerve, she’d say that for him. Well, dammit, so did she. “Perhaps it’d be best if we cleared the air now,” she said aggressively.

“Cleared the air?”

“If you think you can walk back into my life again, you’re wrong. I’m older now. Wiser, too. The first time, shame on you, the second time shame on me. There simply isn’t gong to be a third time.”

Scott’s lips quivered with a smile.

“You find this amusing?”

“If you’d give me a chance to explain…” he began.

She laughed lightly, breezily, as if to suggest she’d be a fool to listen to anything he had to say. “Explain what? You’re the one who claimed to be in love with me—and all the while you were engaged to another woman! Frankly, I’m not interested in hearing any explanations. That’s all water under the bridge.” With great aplomb, she walked around her desk to her chair. Sitting down, her back very straight, she reached for her pen and glanced casually upward. “I think you should leave now.”

“Well, the truth is, Chrissie, I didn’t stop by to rehash old times. I was planning to hire you to draw up some legal papers, since I’m becoming a full partner in Midnight Sons.”

“Oh.” Mortified beyond words, Chrissie fought to keep from crawling beneath her desk.

“But that’s okay. I’ll make an appointment with Tracy.”

“Ah…” she blubbered, then nodded, implying she thought this was probably the best idea.

“Good to see you again,” he said on his way out the door, closing it behind him.

Chrissie dropped her forehead to her desk. What was it about Scott O’Halloran that turned her into a complete idiot every time she saw him?

CHAPTER TWO

ABBEY O’HALLORAN’S HEART was full. As she shelved books at the Hard Luck lending library, she reflected on the reason for her happiness. She’d been waiting for this day a very long time. Her son was home. Years ago, divorced and raising two children alone, she’d moved to Hard Luck and, after a few weeks and a whirlwind courtship, had married Sawyer O’Halloran. They had a good marriage and had added Anna and Ryan, now seventeen and nineteen respectively, to their family. As soon as he could, Sawyer had adopted Scott and Susan, and loved and nurtured her children as his own. Scott, however, had gone through a difficult period of teenage rebellion that had left Abbey and Sawyer at a loss as to how to deal with him.

It’d all started his last year of high school, when he had a couple of minor run-ins with Mitch Harris, the sheriff and Chrissie’s father. Mitch assured Sawyer and Abbey that Scott wasn’t a bad boy and the pranks he’d pulled were typical of many teenagers. Skipping school and painting graffiti on the community-center wall were small infractions, ones Abbey had been willing to overlook. What she couldn’t excuse was Scott’s lack of respect for Sawyer. Her husband had been nothing but warm and loving to both Scott and Susan. Scott, though, had become an increasingly angry young man, and he’d vented that anger against Sawyer. Abbey had never completely understood why her son seemed so resentful, why he’d felt such rage. His unpleasant behavior had escalated during his high-school years and later, too, when Scott had briefly worked for Midnight Sons. Although Sawyer had never complained, Abbey knew he’d been deeply hurt by the things Scott had said and done.

Then one day, without a word to anyone, Scott had enlisted in the army. Not that Abbey or Sawyer would have objected. By this point it was obvious that Scott had problems he needed to resolve. As his mother, she’d longed to help him deal with his past, yearned to answer his doubts, but she couldn’t help what she didn’t understand. Watching Scott fly out of Hard Luck for boot camp was, without question, one of the most difficult moments she’d ever experienced.

She’d known someday he’d return. She just hadn’t known when that day would come. She certainly hadn’t expected it to be nearly ten years later.

The library door opened and Sawyer walked in. Even after all these years of marriage, she felt a rush of joy at the sight of him. His hair was almost completely gray now. The laugh lines around his eyes were more pronounced but he was as handsome and vital as when they’d first met.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, surprised to see him.

“Hey, I’ve got a library card.”

His eyes held a warm teasing light and she smiled in response. She’d loved this man for twenty years and borne him two children. They’d made a good life together in Hard Luck and looked forward to the time they could officially retire and travel, the way they’d planned. As Sawyer often reminded her, there was an entire world for them to explore. But no matter where they went, Alaska would always be home.

“I thought you were with Scott.” She placed the latest Janet Evanovich mystery back on the shelf, then turned and kissed her husband, catching him by surprise.

“Hey, what’s that for?”

“I’m just so happy I can barely hold it all inside. Scott’s home! And this time it’s for good.”

Sawyer grinned with equal delight. “He’s grown up, Abbey.”

“I know.”

“The years away have served him well. He’s lost all that anger. He’s made peace with himself and he’s ready to step into the business.” Sawyer moved toward her desk and perched on the corner. “Did you hear he’s found a place to rent?”

“Already?” Abbey couldn’t help being disappointed. She’d hoped for a chance to fuss over her son for the first couple of weeks.

“He wants to make his own way, and I can’t say I blame him,” Sawyer said in Scott’s defense. “Matt and Karen are renting him one of the cabins they renovated this summer.” Their good friends, the Caldwells, had owned and operated Hard Luck Lodge for the past twenty years and had always been fond of Scott. Their primary business was providing accommodations for the tourists who flew in with Arctic Experiences, the tour company run by Matt and their son-in-law, Ron Gold.

Now that Abbey thought about it, one of those cabins was ideal. There was also a touch of irony attached to it. She’d come here in response to an advertisement offering jobs to women willing to move to Hard Luck, fifty miles from the Arctic Circle. To attract qualified job applicants, Midnight Sons had included a cabin and twenty acres of land for each. What the brothers hadn’t bothered to disclose was that the cabins were dilapidated one-room shacks, desperately in need of repair. If that wasn’t insult enough, the twenty acres they’d so generously thrown in were nowhere near Hard Luck or the cabins. For the most part they were only accessible by air.

“Matt’s done a good job with those cabins,” Sawyer remarked.

Abbey agreed. The original shacks had been torn down years ago and larger, better-equipped cabins built. The Caldwells had recently begun an extensive process of renovation and Scott would be renting one of the newly upgraded cabins.

“Scott’s had a busy afternoon,” Sawyer continued. “He was in to see Tracy about having the papers drawn up.”

“Not Chrissie?” Abbey asked.

Sawyer shook his head. “Apparently not. My guess is, he knows he’s got some amends to make.”

Abbey nodded slowly. As Scott’s mother she could think of no better wife for her son than Chrissie Harris. Although Scott had never discussed his feelings for Chrissie, Abbey knew he’d loved her as a teenager, and Abbey strongly suspected he loved her still.

That morning when he’d arrived, Abbey noticed the way Scott’s gaze had moved over the crowd who’d gathered to greet him. He’d been searching for Chrissie; she was sure of it. And practically the first stop he’d made in town was the attorneys’ office. Yes, there were some legal papers to be drawn up, but that certainly didn’t need to be done the first day he was back.

“Abbey?”

She glanced up to find her husband watching her.

“You’ve got that look in your eye.”

Abbey played dumb. “What look?”

“The one that tells me you’re up to no good.”

She frowned with indignation. “You haven’t got a clue what I’m thinking, Sawyer O’Halloran.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” her husband challenged, leaving her desk to sink into an overstuffed chair. Abbey sat on the chair arm beside him. “I do know what you’re thinking,” he told her. “Your eyes give you away. You’re thinking about Scott and Chrissie.”


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