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When Harrison keeps showing up unannounced at her construction site, sometimes with her favorite pastries, Cass starts to wonder if she should add him to her daily routine… If she does, will her perfectly laid out plans fall short of paradise? Or could she find her new life and a new love, all without any plans at all?
“Let me get the food on the grill, and I’ll get the ice pack off and the ankle wrapped again.”
He did that, then hurried back inside to get a towel and another bandage. Cass had sat at his outdoor table, and she lifted her leg up onto the seat across from her so he could work on her leg.
“The swelling has gone way down,” he said.
“It feels a lot better.”
He nodded. Dried her foot and ankle, and rewrapped it. She put her leg down and he took the seat it had been in. “What are you going to tell your son?”
“About my foot?”
“That I twisted my ankle doing something awesome, like saving a mermaid who’d washed up on shore and needed to get back into the surf before anyone else saw her.” Her eyes shone with joy, and that made Harrison happy.
“Wow,” he said while he chuckled. “I was not expecting you to go there.”
“My kids love stories like that,” Cass said. “Whenever West or I would get hurt, we’d make up some fantastical story about how we’d incurred the injury.”
He nodded, sobering. “I’m sure you didn’t do that when West died, though.”
Cass pulled in a breath, her eyes turning the size of dinner plates.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to…say that.”
Cass shook her head. “No.” Her bottom lip wobbled as she said, “It’s okay. There weren’t any stories of how he’d died saving Santa’s reindeer, you’re right.”
“How did he pass?” Harrison asked. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“I can.” Cass took a big breath. “He was a homicide investigator. Originally, we thought one of the people he’d been investigating him had wanted to silence him. He often testified in court cases and whatnot.”
Harrison nodded. A story like that would be online, and he could probably find it. He didn’t want to; he wanted to hear it in Cass’s own voice.
“But really, it was just a case of wrong-time, wrong-place. He’d gone to a sporting goods store to purchase a pair of cleats for Conrad.” She ducked her head and smiled. “He played rugby in high school. He plays for Baylor too. Anyway. West was there, and an altercation broke out between a couple of other guys.”
Harrison reached over and took her hand in his. “You don’t have to,” he whispered.
“West intervened when the fighting started,” she said. “That’s just the kind of man he was. One of the boys—and he wasn’t a boy. He was twenty years old—had a gun, and he pulled it out and just started firing.” A single tear ran down her face, and she didn’t move to wipe it away.
Harrison did it for her, and she raised her gaze to meet his. “I’m sorry,” he said. “How unfair life is sometimes.”
“Yes,” she whispered. “I’ve learned a lot of things since West died, and that’s one of them.”
His phone buzzed, telling him it was time to flip the burgers, and he jumped to his feet. He turned his back on Cass so she could compose herself, and as he attended to the corn and hamburgers, he wondered if he should’ve asked her for that story.
She’d given it though, and as he cracked eggs in the pan on the burner of the grill, he was glad he had. They needed to have a real connection if they were to have a real relationship, and he didn’t want another relationship like the one he’d had with Claudia. They’d been more like roommates, coming and going about their own business, only stopping to ask how the other’s day was if they happened to run into one another.
He didn’t want a repeat of that, but he also didn’t have to know everything on date one. He pulled the eggs from the pan and turned to put them on the table. Cass sat there, perfectly composed, and she looked at him.
“Sorry,” he said. “I really didn’t mean to make you cry on the first date.”
She waved her hand. “I cry, Harrison. Sometimes it comes on quickly, and sometimes I think I can control it, but I can’t. If you can’t deal with a few tears now and then, maybe we shouldn’t go out again.”
“I want to go out again,” he said. He needed to get the other toppings from inside, as well as toast the buns. Instead he crouched in front of her and took both of her hands in his. She had pristine nails, painted the color of the pink spoonbills they’d seen in the Everglades.
“And I’ll take you out somewhere nice,” he said. “Not try to show off in my outdoor kitchen.” He smiled. “All right?”
“I suppose I can be convinced to go to dinner ‘somewhere nice’ with you.” She smiled too, and Harrison’s chest tightened in anticipation as she leaned toward him.
He caught a whiff of her peachy perfume as his eyes drifted closed. He thought for half a second she was going to kiss him—and she did.
Just not on the mouth.
Her lips branded his cheek, and she whispered, “Thanks for letting me talk about West,” before she pulled away.
“Yeah.” His voice sounded like he hadn’t used it in ages, and he stood to get the rest of the food on the table before he ruined it—and the rest of this date.