Born in a Small Town / Page 9

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He’d wanted to tell her the truth about Farrah that summer day. He’d intended to break off the engagement once he returned to Utah and then, as soon as he was free, come back to Hard Luck and plead with Chrissie to marry him. So much for the best-laid plans. The matter of his engagement had blown up in his face when Farrah unexpectedly flew up to see him; she’d arrived with great fanfare and announced to everyone within earshot that she was his fiancée. Scott had seen the look his parents exchanged. His mother had been confused, especially after all the time he’d spent with Chrissie. Sawyer had been angry and they’d argued. Soon afterward, without a word to Chrissie, Scott had left Hard Luck, feeling lower than a snake.

He owed her an apology, and more. “I know it comes five years too late,” he ventured, “but I am genuinely sorry.”

His words appeared to fall on deaf ears. Then, “Is the apology meant for me or Farrah?” she asked.

“Both.”

“It must’ve given your ego a real thrill to have two women in love with you at the same time.”

He let the comment slide. “I’d settle for just one,” he said quietly.

The fire popped, then briefly flamed, spreading a warm glow arouhnd the room. Scott watched as Chrissie threw aside the blankets and leaped to her feet. “Oh, no, you don’t!”

“Don’t what?” he asked, sitting up. He couldn’t imagine what he’d said that she found so offensive.

“Let’s get something straight. You think you can bring me back to Lake Abbey, stir up a few old memories and then weasel your way back into my life. Well, I’m here to tell you it isn’t going to happen.”

“Chrissie—”

She covered both ears and started to hum Christmas carols. “I’m not listening. I’m not listening. Nothing you say will make one bit of difference.”

If she didn’t look and sound so silly, Scott might have let the moment simply pass. Not now. Climbing down the ladder, he marched over and sat on the sofa next to her.

Gripping her shoulders, Scott looked her directly in the eyes. “Nothing I can say will make any difference?” he questioned. “Then try this one on for size. I love you, Chrissie Harris. I’ve loved you half my life.”

CHAPTER SIX

DUKE PORTER waited until he knew Scott and Chrissie had landed safely on Lake Abbey before he left the Midnight Sons office. As he walked through his front door, taking off his wet jacket, he inhaled deeply. The scent of sage and his favorite chicken dish filled the house. He could hear sounds of laughter from his youngest daughter, Sarah Lynn.

“Are Scott and Chrissie okay?” Tracy asked, carrying a chicken casserole to the dining-room table.

“Yes and no,” Duke told her, helping himself to a black olive.

“Daddy!” Sarah playfully slapped his hand.

“You’re supposed to wait for dinner.”

“Sorry, I forgot,” he said, and winked at his middle daughter who stood a short distance away, a frown of disgust on her face. Shortly after turning fourteen, Leah had, without any warning, completely lost her sense of humor. Almost overnight, his fun-loving outgoing daughter had turned into a morose and sullen teenager. From experience, he knew it was a stage. His oldest daughter, Shannon, had forged a path through the troubled teen years, so he knew what to expect. Or so he liked to believe.

“What do you mean Scott did and didn’t land safely?” Tracy demanded.

“He landed,” Duke explained, “only it wasn’t in Hard Luck.”

“He’s all right, isn’t he?” Leah asked, her brown eyes wide with concern.

His fourteen-year-old had a major crush on Scott O’Halloran. “I presume so. He thought he could beat the storm system coming our way, but he couldn’t. So he decided that, rather than risk it, he’d touch down on Lake Abbey.”

“All alone?”

“Chrissie’s with him.”

Leah slouched in the kitchen chair and pouted.

“Some women have all the luck.”

Tracy returned to the dining room with a pitcher of water and placed it in the center of the table. When she looked up, her eyes connected with Duke’s. “How long will they hole up there?”

“Overnight, I suspect, perhaps longer. Depends on the weather.”

Tracy’s bold smile triggered a responding one from Duke.

“What?” Leah asked, glancing first at her mother and then her father.

“Nothing,” Tracy muttered.

“Never mind,” Duke said.

“Oh, puh-leeze,” Leah groaned, and rolled her eyes. She nudged her younger sister. “Cover your eyes. Mom and Dad are going mushy on us.”

“Shannon! Dinner’s ready.” Tracy called their oldest daughter, a high-school junior, from her room.

Shannon appeared, looking so much like Tracy that even now it took Duke by surprise. When he’d married Tracy, he’d envisioned a houseful of rough-and-rowdy sons; instead, he had three beautiful daughters. Not once, not for a single second, had he been disappointed. His life was full and he deeply loved his wife. In fact, marriage was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

They all sat down together and joined hands for grace. Before the completion of the “amen,” Duke had reached for the serving spoon and leaned toward the casserole. His wife cast him a disapproving glance, which he ignored.

“Did I hear someone mention Scott and Chrissie?” Shannon asked.

“He’s stranded with Chrissie up at Lake Abbey,” Leah complained. “Can you imagine getting stuck in a storm with a hunk like that? Why can’t it happen to me?” Still bemoaning her sorry lot in life, she stretched across the table for the plate of biscuits and helped herself to one.

Duke quickly grabbed a biscuit before he got shortchanged; it’d been known to occur. To his surprise, Tracy had turned out to be a excellent cook. He’d had his doubts when he first married her, and with good reason. Once, during their brief courtship, he’d visited her in Seattle and she’d insisted on making dinner. The meal had damn near killed him. But soon after they were married, she’d taken cooking lessons from Mary Hamilton and proved to be an apt pupil.

Duke had to give all due credit: His wife was a marvel. She’d gone into this marriage convinced she could do it all and have it all. She’d claimed she could maintain her career as an attorney and keep up with the ever-increasing demands of being a wife and mother. And for the most part, she had. They’d planned the first two additions to their family. It wasn’t until Sarah Lynn was born that Tracy took a leave of absence from the law firm. With infinite wisdom—and with advancing age—she’d declared that yes, she could have it all, just not at the same time. When Sarah Lynn started kindergarten, Tracy put on her attorney’s suit again. Three years ago Chrissie Harris had joined the law office and was working out well.

Within ten minutes, all three girls had eaten and vanished. Duke and Tracy lingered over the last of their coffee.

“So…Scott and Chrissie are stuck up at Lake Abbey,” Tracy said, bracing her elbows on the table and holding her coffee cup in both hands.

“Stir any memories?” Duke teased.

She smiled. Twenty years earlier Duke and Tracy had been involved in a fairly serious airplane crash. Tracy had been living in Seattle at the time, and she’d flown up to Hard Luck to attend a friend’s wedding. Duke had been scheduled to fly her into Fairbanks for her connecting flight to Seattle. The two of them had clashed from the moment they’d met, a couple of years before. Tracy Santiago was everything Duke disliked in a woman; he found her bossy, independent and headstrong. He’d derived real pleasure from baiting her and soon discovered she could more than hold her own. Tracy had viewed him as an unreasonable male chauvinist pig—one of the few men who truly fit that now-dated expression. Their arguments and dislike of each other had been legendary.

Then the plane had gone down, and Duke was badly hurt. He’d broken his arm and sustained internal injuries. During the long hours before the rescue team arrived, Tracy had shown herself to be both capable and compassionate. While she confidently dealt with the crisis at hand, caring for him and guiding the rescue party to the downed plane, Duke realized he’d done something very foolish. He’d gone and fallen in love with her.

Tracy loved him, too, and had the wisdom to recognize that although they were vastly different, they had everything necessary to make a good life together. Duke had just needed some time and distance to appreciate what Tracy already knew.

He’d claimed, in the days before Tracy, that he wanted a conventional wife. One who’d stay home with the children, bake cookies and do other wifely things. None of that interested Tracy. He’d married her, convinced he’d survive on frozen dinners the rest of his life, but by then he’d loved her too damn much to care. Over the years there’d been some bad meals, but more than enough fabulous ones to maintain the balance. Some of the inedible dinners he’d cooked himself. Tracy wasn’t the only one who’d changed; he’d done his fair share, too.

Twenty years and three daughters later, he was more than willing to admit how right she’d been. Not that their years together had been easy. On plenty of occasions he’d been convinced they’d made a big mistake, but he refused to give up on their marriage. And she felt the same way. What mattered most was the love and the commitment they shared. The fact that they were both hardheaded, stubborn fools had turned out to be an advantage.

“Are you remembering the crash?” Tracy asked.

Duke nodded. “I think it’s poetic justice that Scott and Chrissie are stuck up there together. He loves her.”

Tracy didn’t immediately agree.

“You don’t think so?” Duke asked.

“I don’t know about Scott,” Tracy said with a thoughtful look, “but I certainly know how Chrissie feels.”

So the two women had talked about Chrissie’s relationship with Scott. It shouldn’t surprise him, seeing that they worked together. “When did Chrissie mention Scott? What did she have to say?” Duke pried.

“Actually she didn’t say a word,” his wife told him, standing. “We don’t generally discuss our personal lives at the office.”

“But you just said…” Duke trailed her into the kitchen. “How do you know about Chrissie’s feelings if she didn’t mention Scott?”

“The way I always know,” Tracy said casually, putting the butter dish back in the refrigerator. “It’s what people don’t say that’s more informative.”

“Girls!” Duke shouted to his three daughters. “Dishes.”

His order was followed by a chorus of protesting groans, all coming from different parts of the house. Duke ignored them, as did his wife.

Tracy retired to the living room and reached for the mystery novel she was currently reading. Normally Duke would turn on the television, but he left it off this evening.

“I hope Scott and Chrissie can work it out,” he said, relaxing in his comfortable chair.


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