Dedicated to my favorite avid reader, Rachel.
MEGAN STOOD IN THE doorway trembling, staring at her father. Loneliness seeped in as thoughts of the distance between them flooded her mind. He hated her, Megan saw it in his empty eyes when he looked at her and felt it in the coldness of his timbre. That man only said what he had to when it came to her, nothing more—nothing less. The overwhelming guilt had her dragging in deep breaths, remaining motionless was a testament of her reciprocating that emotion.
On wobbly legs, she moved toward the bed, keeping a few inches of space between them. “Maybe I should’ve tried harder to please you, got involved in the things you liked to do.” As the words left her mouth, she cringed, knowing that binge drinking wasn’t for her. Right! I can just see them being drinking buddies as if that will give me the closeness with my father.
“I remember the first few times you came home drunk and found me sleeping on the couch.” The corner of her mouth raised in a half-hearted smile. “You were so angry, calling me a little spy and ordering me off to bed, but I didn’t listen, just got used to having the same conversation week after week.”
She took another step towards him, her eyes on his weathered face. “When I stopped sleeping on the couch a few years ago, you thought you’d won, that I just didn’t care anymore, but I did. Bet you didn’t know I would lie awake in bed for hours, not even drifting off to sleep until I would hear your bedroom door slam shut.”
“Mary,” Dirk whispered. Megan forced a smile. “You’re still as beautiful as ever.”
Her heart plummeted at the loss of recognition. “Dad, it’s me, Megan.” It was the first time he’d ever confused her with her mother and it stung. Dirk blinked at her, recollection visible in his pale eyes. “How are you feeling?”
“I could be better,” he admitted.
Nice to know he is his ornery old self. “You’re going to be just fine.” Tears filled her eyes and made their way down her cheeks.
He scowled, producing even more wrinkles on his face. “Never could stand to see a lady cry.”
She wiped at the tears and bit into her bottom lip, hoping to hold them at bay. “Sorry.”
“I’m the one who should be apologizing to you. All these years every time I looked at you, my heart ached something fierce.”
Megan blanched. He does hate me. She shook her head, wanting to cover her ears to stop the words from penetrating into her brain, not ready to deal with any deathbed confession.
“Don’t,” she whispered, her lower lip trembling.
Dirk reached out and looked her dead in the eye. “Don’t what? Don’t tell you how sorry I am for running away from you? Or for making sure you knew that I couldn’t stand to be around you? Don’t tell you that you’re the spitting image of my
beloved Mary? That when I look at you, it’s like remembering what I’ve lost.”
Megan’s heart clenched deep in her chest. The words echoed in her ears as the tears trailed down her face. Dex was the only one to make that reference. Not one picture remained that Megan could refresh the fading imagine in her mind, he’d systematically removed every single one. Even though she understood what he was admitting, it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t fair that when her mother died, she lost her father too.
She saw the sadness in his dim eyes, the wrinkles pushed together in the corner as he stared at her, searching for forgiveness. Could I be so magnanimous? Is there time to make amends for the past?
“I have to go,” she uttered. Megan turned from the man and headed to the door, desperate to get out of there.
“Megan,” he croaked.
She stopped at the doorway but refused to turn around and look at him. She couldn’t take the anguish she saw on his face, it would only tug on her already broken heart, and she had to have perspective before they talked again. She reached to the wall for support, waiting, as her legs began to wobble.
“I am sorry, Meggie, for everything.”
Megan swallowed hard, the lump in her throat refusing to leave. She nodded once and rushed out of the room. Drawing a ragged breath, the air burning her lungs as she focused on steadying her body as well as her mind. His sudden urge to explain, to make peace shocked her to her core, but she didn’t know how to deal with this situation, and at that moment, she didn’t know if she wanted too.
JOE DROVE MEGAN HOME. The silence between them made her feel as if a brick wall sat down the middle of that car. The roads were long and straight, green scenery rushing by in a blur. Horses and cows grazed in fields, tractors moved over the land, spitting out bales of hay, the smell of manure wafted through the open windows, but it barely registered in her numb mind.
Joe slammed his fist into the dashboard, piercing the stillness.
“Joe?” She reached for his arm, setting her hand there, and then yanked it away, worried about sending the wrong message.
He spared her a sidelong glance but remained focused on the road. “What do you see in him?”
Megan closed her eyes, “I really don’t want to have this conversation right now.”
“I’m here, have always been here for you. What more do I have to do?”
Shaking her head, sadness rolled over her, and she knew things wouldn’t be getting better any time soon.
When they pulled up to her house, isolation washed over her. The sun still shone but the house seemed dark, detached, and uninviting. She opened her mouth, ready to invite Joe inside, but snapped her jaw shut with a loud click and pushed the thought out of her mind.
“Thanks for taking me to the hospital. I’ll talk to you later,” she said exiting the car. Joe never uttered a sound as he drove off in a huff, the tires spinning on the gravel and kicking up dust.
She went inside, dropped her purse on the floor next to the table and made her way to the kitchen. Picking up the phone, the dial tone buzzed in her ear as she punched in her brother’s phone number.
COREY BROUGHT THE BLUE pickup to a screeching halt in front of the airport. He jumped out and hurried to the curb, a smile plastered on his clean-shaven face. The orange-tipped cigarette glowed as Dex took a long drag and then blew out a cloud of smoke right at him.
“Those things will kill, ya,” Corey said, waving a hand in the air to clear the stench.
“So I’ve been told.”
Dex dropped the cigarette and crushed it with the toe of his boot.
“Damn good to see you, Buddy.” Corey grabbed Dex’s hand and shook it before giving him a quick hug. “Where are Karen and the kids?” Corey craned his neck past Dex’s broad shoulder looking toward the glass doors.
“They’ll be here Saturday afternoon. Eric has a soccer game that morning and we thought it was better if he played. You look good,” Dex said, his eyes moving over Corey from head to toe.
“Thanks.” He raised an eyebrow and smiled. “I do, don’t I?” Corey snatched the duffle from the ground, tossed it into the back, and moved to the driver’s door.
Dex laughed as he got into the vehicle. “I expected you to either get fat, since I know you’re still living at home and eating your mother’s cooking, or look like a bum, as usual. Unless…” Dex stopped and began smiling.
Corey started the truck and slammed it into gear as they screeched away, music blaring. “Sorry to hear about your Dad,” he shouted, “but I’m glad you’re home.”
“Thanks. So, who is she?”
Corey ignored his friend and turned the music up louder.
“Good to know there’s finally someone in your life. I was starting to worry.”
“I’m still single and happy that way,” he blurted, knowing it wasn’t the time to bring up his relationship with Megan.
Dex stared at him and Corey found it hard to concentrate on the road. “You’re wearing new boots, a new shirt, and new jeans. Deny it all you want. There’s no way you’re dressed like that for me.”
“Do you want to go straight to the hospital, or home first?” Corey smiled at his brilliant segue and smooth change of subject.
“Home first. I’m still not sure what I’m going to say to the old man,” he muttered. He reached out and shut the radio off, taking a deep breath. “I’ve spoken to my father twice in five years. Four years ago I called to tell him about Annie, and the bastard didn’t say a word.” Dex sighed and shook his head. “His silence spoke volumes. I slammed the phone down and haven’t spoken to him since.”
Corey swallowed the growing lump in his throat. “Why didn’t you ever say anything? I thought you moved to Florida for a dream job, that the family had nothing to do with it.”
“I do have a great job that I love, but I couldn’t wait to get the hell away from him. Nothing I ever did was good enough. I was his biggest disappointment.” His voice was hard and bitter as his fist clenched on the seat between them.
MEGAN CAME OUT ONTO the porch when she saw the lights and heard the sound of an engine rumbling. She stood on shaky legs, forcing the sound of her brother’s anger from earlier out of her mind. They needed each other, and Megan would let everything else go, as long as she had someone to lean on.
Her heart leaped when her eyes landed on Corey. Heat rose to her skin and she fought to squelch the growing need to launch herself into his arms, to seek comfort in the man that stole her heart so long ago. The men exited the pickup. Corey moved to the back of the truck, grabbed the bag and lingered.
Dex smiled at his sister as he approached the porch and mounted the steps two at a time. “Hey, Sis,” he said, scooping her up into his arms, lifting her clear off the wood leaving her feet dangling like a rag doll. In an instant, her throat tightened and tears ran out of her eyes. His affections were unexpected, and the overwhelming relief that washed over her left Megan at a loss for words.
“I’m sorry, Meggie. I didn’t mean to snap at you,” he whispered setting her back on her feet. Dex wiped at the tears on her face with the pads of his thumbs and smiled. “You’ve really grown up. You look so much like Mom.”
Those words brought their fathers to the forefront, but she pushed them to the back of her mind still unable to deal with it. “Are you hungry? I made a pot of chili.”
“I’m starving.” Dex turned and glanced over his shoulder. “Are you stayin’, Corey?”
“I never pass up a meal, especially a free one.” His dark, hunger filled eyes met hers as he approached. He winked when he crossed in front of her and then walked into the house.
Megan took a deep breath, desperate to steady the desire that built so fast before following. As long as she concentrated on Dex and Dirk, everything would be fine. She could pretend that Corey Brady hadn’t been inches away from making her a woman in every sense of the word.
During dinner, she found herself staring at the table and her bowl because those dark eyes continued to probe her the entire time. From her vantage point, she could see the couch behind Corey. If she gazed at it long enough she could picture herself half-naked in his arms. The conversation between the men became fuzzy as Megan’s focus remained on their earlier encounter.
“I really need to take a shower,” Dex said pushing his chair away from the small table and standing. “Are you going to wait for me?”
“Sure, if you want me to. I’m not working tomorrow. Whatever you need, say the word and I’m here for you, Buddy,” Corey said.
“I won’t be too long.” Dex turned and marched down the hallway and out of sight.
Megan stood and began clearing the table, willing her hands to stop the nervous shaking. She gathered the three dinner plates and silverware and headed to the kitchen sink, thankful Corey couldn’t see her face or the deep blush that took over.
Hoping she could wash dishes and avoid conversation, she moved at a snail’s pace. The last thing Megan needed to think about was his big hands, or the way his hot breath felt on her skin, or how his lips claimed her mouth and made her wanton. She shook those thoughts out of her mind. Turning the faucet on, Megan squirted some soap into the sink watching the bubbles take shape in the stainless basin. Once it was ready, she returned to the table to gather up the rest of the dishes, her eyes avoiding the man who sat there, studying her every move. Washing dishes in a fog, Megan replayed images of herself lying on the couch, looking up into Corey’s face, her hands moving over his chest. She wanted him, like nothing else she’d ever wanted in her entire life.
COREY STOOD BEHIND HER. The intense urge to grab her thick, long braid that hung down the middle of her back pulsed through his fingers. Instead, he reached around her and rested one hand on her arm.
“You forgot a spoon,” he whispered, dropping it into the sink.
He slid his hand down her arm and noticed the slight tremble. Both hands dropped into the warm water and found hers. Blood rushed through him. Megan leaned back into his chest and that innocent contact sent a surge of heat through him. He thought back to this morning, to being so close to making love with her, feeling those hazel eyes burning into him. He inhaled and exhaled, his breath washing over her shoulder leaving tiny goosebumps on her skin. Corey kissed her neck, breathing in her flowery scent. This woman did things to him, made him feel things he couldn’t explain. He shouldn’t be doing this with his friend’s sister, but damn if he could stop the wave he was riding.
“Megan,” he whispered, kissing her neck again, and then again. He lifted her hands out of the water and turned her to face him, lacing their fingers together. The eyes that spoke volumes, the ones he longed to see the passion in remained closed, and he didn't like that. He needed her to look at him, to make sure that she felt half of what he did, to know with complete certainty that she wanted him.
“Look at me,” he whispered, watching as her thick black lashes fluttered open. When their eyes met, he noticed the longing in the depths of those hazel beauties. He felt it as well, heat centering itself in his stomach in an instant. Her lips parted and the temptation of kissing her raged. In a flash, his mouth came down on hers. She responded to him so easily that he deepened the kiss, his tongue in her mouth searching, as she wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer. Megan rose on her toes. The second her breasts met his chest, he felt the body heat between them ignite like an inferno. Cupping her bottom prevented her from going anywhere. She fit snug against him, as if she belonged there, this moment bringing him closer to what he wanted more than his next breath.
Silky fingers toyed with the hair on the back of his neck, his pleasure filled moan audible. He squeezed her bottom and she gasped, the reaction exactly what he needed to hear before pressing on. Megan tore her mouth from his, but landed on his neck, leaving a fiery trail upward until she stopped short of his ear. Her teeth nipped at his lobe, once, then twice. Corey ground his hips into her making Megan groan. That throaty sound roused a smile.
“Kiss me,” he demanded.
Megan stood looking up at him for a moment’s hesitation and then she fused her sweet mouth to his.
The creak of an opening door froze them in place, breaking the electrifying kiss. He looked down into her overwhelmed face. She was even more beautiful with swollen lips and the unmistakable blush in her cheeks. Could it be possible that Anna was right all along? Would no other woman make me feel this alive?