Born in a Small Town / Page 4

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“Ask her,” Ben advised.

“Ask Chrissie? You have to be kidding!”

“Why not?” Ben demanded. “Nothing works better than the direct approach. According to Mary, that’s what women want these days. None of this second-guessing stuff. That went out with the seventies. If nothing else, Chrissie will respect you for being forthright enough to ask.”

Ben’s idea was worthy of consideration. “I’ll think about it,” he said.

Scott finished his coffee, but when he went to pay for it, Ben told him it was on the house. His old friend’s generosity hadn’t changed. In addition to a good cup of coffee, he’d given Scott something to think about.

The next few days passed quickly. Thursday afternoon Scott had an appointment at the law office. He was in the waiting room when Chrissie walked into the reception area. She halted midstep the instant she saw him.

“Hello, Scott,” she said, her voice remarkably cool and even.

“Chrissie.” He nodded. Then, feeling the need to explain the purpose of his visit, he added, “I have an appointment with Tracy.”

“Yes, I know.” She held a folder pressed flat against her stomach and wore a slightly puzzled expression, as if she’d forgotten why she’d come out of her office. “I, uh, gather everything’s going very well for you at Midnight Sons.”

“I’m enjoying myself.”

“Everyone’s pleased to have you home.”

“Everyone?” he asked, wondering if she included herself.

“Your family, certainly.” This came after a slight hesitation.

“I had coffee at Ben’s the other day,” he said casually, hoping to ease into a more comfortable conversation. “It’s amazing. I swear he hasn’t changed at all.”

“He’s wonderful. So is Mary.”

A short silence followed, which Chrissie broke. “I understand Matt and Karen rented you one of the renovated cabins.”

So she’d been checking up on him. That was encouraging. Maybe, just maybe, she still cared. That thought gave him the courage to ask her out. “I was thinking you and I might have a drink one afternoon,” he suggested.

Her eyes widened and her arms tightened around the folder.

“A drink,” she repeated slowly. “At Ben’s?”

He nodded. “Or dinner, if you prefer.”

She squared her shoulders and chewed her lower lip before answering. “I don’t think so.”

He shrugged, as if her refusal was of little consequence to him. “That’s too bad. I had a few things I wanted to discuss with you.”

Chrissie’s expressive eyes had always told him what she was thinking before she uttered a word. He’d wondered if this would be a detriment to her as an attorney, but apparently that wasn’t the case.

“You had something you wanted to talk to me about?” she finally said.

“Yeah.”

She worried her lower lip further. “Maybe…” She hesitated, then seemed to regain her resolve. “I don’t think so, Scott. Thanks, anyway.” She turned away to enter her office.

“How long do you intend to avoid me?” he called after her.

At his question, she turned back. “Avoid you? Don’t flatter yourself. What I intend to do is live my life just the way I am now.”

“You obviously have every intention of avoiding me.”

“I have every intention of not seeking you out. That’s not the same thing.”

“I see.”

“Apparently you don’t,” she returned in her best lawyer voice. “You’re out of my life, Scott. That was your choice, not mine.”

“People change, Chrissie. They—”

“Oh, no, you don’t,” she interrupted, waving her finger at him. “You’re not going to do this to me. Not again.”

“I asked you out for a drink. I wasn’t proposing we move in together.”

“Oh, sure, a drink—for old times’ sake.”

“No,” he corrected. “A drink to clear the air. I deserve that much, don’t I?”

Her eyes flared with outrage. “What you deserve, Scott O’Halloran, is a slap across the face.” She raised her chin so high she threatened to put her neck out of joint. “All right,” she said abruptly. “Fine. As a matter of fairness I’ll have a drink with you.”

Scott experienced a surge of hope. “When?”

“Friday night at the party.”

Scott frowned. “What party?”

“The party your parents are—” She bit off the rest of the sentence.

“Chrissie?”

Squeezing her eyes shut, she slowly exhaled. “Oh, damn, it’s supposed to be a surprise.”

CHAPTER THREE

THURSDAY MORNING Karen Caldwell poured her husband a second cup of coffee, then joined him in the massive kitchen at Hard Luck Lodge. Working as a team, they’d built the lodge into one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state. It’d taken almost twenty years of blood, sweat and tears, but they were equal partners, not only in their business, but in life.

During those years they’d also had three children and managed to create a warm nurturing home for their family.

Clay, their eldest, had been the best surprise of their lives, conceived while they were divorced and living apart. The pregnancy was what had brought them back to their senses. Clay was at UCLA now, studying chemistry. The girls, Jill and Emily, were sixteen and fourteen respectively and attended the local high school.

“You’re looking thoughtful,” Matt said when Karen sat down across from him at the table. In a flurry of activity and near-panic, the girls had flown out the door for classes. After the long summer break they were having trouble resuming the discipline of waking up early for school. Only a few moments ago, Jill had been searching for her misplaced gym uniform. While her sister dashed frantically about, Emily had slapped together lunch for both of them. Now, with the girls gone, blessed silence enveloped the kitchen.

“You’re worrying about Clay again, aren’t you?” Matt’s tone held a slight accusation.

Karen hadn’t found it easy sending their son off to college a few weeks earlier, especially a college so far from home. Still, she knew that Clay was a lot like her—steady and capable. Jill and Emily were more like Matt—creative but a bit unfocused. The focus part would come in time, the way it had with their father, Karen believed.

“Actually I was thinking about Scott O’Halloran,” she told him.

“It’s good to see him again, isn’t it?”

Karen knew Matt was pleased to rent out one of the cabins on a long-term basis, especially to Scott, whom they both liked. “He’s still hung up on Chrissie, isn’t he?” Karen asked, knowing her husband had talked to Scott a number of times.

Matt shrugged, and Karen rolled her eyes. In her opinion, most men were hopeless when it came to romance; Matt was no exception. And Scott—well, as a kid he’d had delusions of romantic expertise.

“Don’t you remember what Scott told us just before Clay was born?” she asked her husband.

Matt chuckled. “Sweetheart, that was a lot of years ago.”

Karen’s memory was good, and this particular incident had stayed with her. She smiled, recalling the day the young boy had stood resolutely before her. “He claimed that he was responsible for bringing the two of us back together. In fact, he felt we owed our reconciliation to him.”

Matt burst out laughing. “Scott’s the one who said I should take you camping.”

“In order to wine and dine me, right?” Karen muttered. Scott’s idea of creating a romantic mood was that Matt should drag her and all the necessary and assorted gear to his favorite fishing place. Apparently Scott believed that sleeping on the ground, battling off mosquito attacks, plus catching, cleaning and cooking all their meals would rekindle their love. All this when Karen was several months pregnant with Clay. What a disaster that had been.

For one thing, fishing had never been her forte, and Matt had been furious when she’d nearly lost his favorite rod and pole. Then she’d fallen in the river and gotten drenched from head to toe. Matt had managed to catch fish after fish, and all she’d caught was a miserable cold, as if pregnancy hadn’t made her uncomfortable enough. By the time she returned to Hard Luck, it was a miracle they were even speaking to each other.

“Scott used to see himself as quite the matchmaker, didn’t he?”

They exchanged smiles across the table, smiles that quickly turned into laughter as the memories continued to surface.

“You know what I think?” Karen said, reaching for her coffee. She held the mug in front of her lips as she mulled over her idea. “Turnabout is fair play.”

Matt stared at her. “Oh, I don’t know about that…. Anyway, this is none of our business. They—”

Karen went on as though he hadn’t spoken. “We could arrange for Scott to take Chrissie somewhere he once considered wildly romantic…like, I don’t know, the garbage dump? I remember you once suggested we go out there and watch the bears.”

Matt chuckled. “Scott will think that’s fun, but I’m not so sure about Chrissie.”

“True,” Karen agreed, still thinking. “Hmm. All we need to do is figure how to get the two of them alone. Given a little time, I’m sure they’d work everything out.”

“At the garbage dump?”

Karen rolled her eyes again. “Someplace else. You come up with a spot. You’re the creative one in the family.”

“Sweetheart, be sensible. First of all, you don’t have any real evidence that Chrissie still feels the same way about Scott.”

“She does,” Karen said. “I’m positive.”

“Okay, so they went together for a while, but that was ages ago.”

“Chrissie’s loved Scott from the time she was eight.”

Matt seemed to require a moment to think that through. “All right, Chrissie loves Scott. But how will Mitch feel about all this? I didn’t get the impression he’s too thrilled to have Scott back in town.”

Her husband had a point. Mitch Harris was Chrissie’s father and represented the law in Hard Luck. Scott wasn’t really a bad kid, but Mitch and Scott had clashed a number of times. Not that Scott’s misdemeanors were anything new in Hard Luck; other teens were guilty of similar behavior. The difference was Chrissie’s involvement with him. Father and daughter had argued over Scott more than once. Mitch had refused to make allowances for his daughter’s boyfriend, regardless of her desperate pleas. Karen knew the sheriff had breathed a sigh of relief when Scott left Hard Luck, despite Chrissie’s broken heart.

“Mitch never disliked Scott,” Matt said. “If anything, he was doing him a favor by making him accountable for his actions.”

“I know, but…”

Studying her, Matt set his mug aside. “What’s gotten into you? I’ve never known you to meddle in anyone’s love life before. Why now?”


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