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I tried the whole “fake it ’til you make it” thing. I was the “fake” part and my husband, Archer, was concerned only with the “making it” part. When I got a call about a family emergency, I walked out on my hot-in-a-suit ambitious husband and my superficial life and ran back home to the family ranch. And I stayed, ignoring my husband’s attempts to reach me—and I still didn’t tell anyone I was married. Then he tracked me down.


“You didn’t tell them?” I wished I could take back the incredulous tone enveloping my words. I was used to being cool under pressure, but this situation wasn’t exactly normal.

Why was I so incensed? It wasn’t as if I’d sent out notices I’d eloped to my family almost three years ago. The difference was that Delaney still talked to hers, yet they’d been clueless.

Guilt flashed across her features, but her shoulders went tight. “It’s complicated.”

“How complicated is it to tell your parents you’re married?” We can’t let our private business affect our professional life. Let her go, Archer. If she wanted you, she would’ve given you the few minutes you asked for. My boss’s advice hadn’t seemed pertinent until now. “Is there somewhere private we can talk?”

“Yeah, you’d better start talking,” her mother said and folded her arms. Cheryl, the name came to me. Delaney had rarely talked about her family to me. She’d said they weren’t as close as she’d like. Was it because they were so similar? I wasn’t seeing a lot of the wife I knew in Texas in this woman, but side by side, they were a younger and an older version of the same hard woman.

“This is private,” I reiterated.

Cheryl spun on me. The fire in her eyes nearly made me take a step back. Some of my clients were formidable, but this woman could make a bull cower. “And you’re a Barron. On my land. Talking like you own my daughter as much as you wanted to own all this.” She directed her blazing glare to Delaney. “Start talking, Laney.”

“About what, Ma? That’s the gist of it. He’s a Barron and I married him. That pretty much tells you why I never said nothing.”

This time I did take a step back. I’d never heard Delaney speak like that. The heat in her tone. That grammatically incorrect language. The way she freely confessed to not wanting to admit she married a guy like me.

I’d worked my ass off to get to where I was. To be proud of my job, my home, my appearance, and, especially, my last name. And Delaney spoke like it was the opposite.

Her father didn’t lose his perplexed expression. “You went to Texas and found another Barron to date?”

“Another Barron?” I echoed. As if the rest of the conversation had been easy to follow. What the hell did that mean?

Delaney pressed her fingertips to her forehead and muttered, “I didn’t get enough sleep for this.” She blew out a breath and pointed to the space beyond her barn. Without looking at anyone, she announced, “That land over there is Bruce Barron’s. Your uncle. I dated his son Derek all through high school until he dumped me to date Kennedy, who is now my best friend—yes, Ma, don’t start. And Kennedy is married to Liam Barron.” She rotated her arm to point past the house. “Your uncle Cameron’s son, the kid not from his wife, in case you haven’t heard the story. And I moved to Texas and happened to run across you. And no, I didn’t tell you everything. You wouldn’t have dated me otherwise.” Her tone dropped to a sneer. “Too much of an embarrassment risk.”

Yanked out of the weirdness of having my family—people I’d never met—described to me, I stared at the woman I’d married close to three years ago. The demure, put-together college grad I’d met at a job fair. Polished. Sophisticated. Accommodating. I’d had to have her, so I’d swept her off her platform-heeled feet.

This was not that girl.

“Wasn’t getting dumped by one of ’em enough?” Cheryl asked.

Delaney cringed but folded her arms. “Okay, Archer. So you found me. What do you want?”

I’d been so busy soaking her in and managing the one-eighty she’d done on me that I’d forgotten what had made me drive from Texas to North Dakota in early July. Now that I was here, I didn’t want to admit why. I didn’t want to tell her about the papers in my car.

But I wasn’t the one who’d left and stayed far away. She hadn’t answered my calls. She didn’t return my messages, other than the first one after she left when I asked if she was okay. Her reply had been “fine.” That was my last communication with her since she’d walked out on me.

Despite my hurt feelings and resentment, my words tasted as sour as lemon juice. “You’ve been gone for over half our marriage. I came to get an annulment.”

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