“Honestly? Because I’d forgotten about it. So many other things happened over the years. It came back to me when you said you were helping out with Luke’s kid. So no, you’re not a doormat, Jessie. No matter what Luke led you to believe.”


She killed her beer. “Luke and I were headed for a divorce anyway.”

“I know.”

“I loved him. I’da done anything, let him get away with anything, been anyone he wanted me to be, just to keep him.”

“I know that too, sweetie.”

She held her fingers to her eyes to stem the tears. “God, Mom. I’ve had time to think, a lot, too much time probably, but one of the hardest parts of losing Luke was figuring out I’d lost myself too. I let him define me. And when he wasn’t around to tell me who to be, I didn’t know who the hell I was.”

Silence fell and Jessie welcomed it.

Her mother cleared her throat. “And what about Brandt McKay? Are you letting him define you?”

Jessie shook her head. “Which might seem at odds with agreeing to help him take care of Landon. I’m not doing it for Brandt. I’m not even doing it for Luke. I’m doing it for that little boy, no matter if Landon ever knows it, no matter how hard it is. He needs me. I’ve already got a lot of regrets where Luke is concerned and I won’t let ignoring this helpless kid be another one.”

“Will you be able to let Landon go when the time comes?”

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I don’t know.

The door in the living room opened and Lexie started barking. Jessie grabbed her collar and issued a terse, “Stay.”


“In the kitchen with Jessie, Roger.”

Roger came through the door in stocking feet. Before he acknowledged Jessie, he gave her mother a kiss on the lips. More than a peck, less than dueling tongues, but a kiss filled with warmth and affection.

“Hey, you.” Her mom smiled up at him, happiness shining in her smile and her eyes. Jessie fought those stupid tears again because if anyone deserved a man who adored her, it was her mother.

Roger kissed her one more time. “Hey yourself.” Then he remembered Jessie was in the room. He adjusted his glasses. “Jessie. Nice to see you. I hope the roads were all right?”

“They were fine.”

Roger crouched down to pet Lexie, giving Jessie an opportunity to study him. He definitely looked like an accounting teacher with his white button up shirt, plaid cardigan, and khaki pants. Beneath his thick glasses were kind brown eyes, which were another indication of his gentle demeanor.

“Would you like a glass of wine?” her mother asked him.

“No, thanks. I’ll let you get back to girl talk.”

Jessie stood. “Actually, I think I’ll head to bed.”

“I didn’t mean to chase you off, Jessie,” Roger said.

“You didn’t.” She swiped her mother’s half-full bottle of beer. “Besides, I think Mom would like that glass of wine.”

“I put your stuff in your usual room.”

“Thanks. Goodnight.”

“See you in the morning, sweetie.”

Jessie wandered into the bedroom. The first time she’d come to her mother’s home after Luke had died, she’d taken one look at the twin bed—a blatant reminder of her single status—and she’d slid to the floor, weeping.

No urge to weep arose this time, but she had gotten used to sleeping with Brandt in the last few weeks, wrapping herself around his warm body after they’d made love and before they drifted off. She’d really gotten used to his unique way of waking her up.

She slipped on her pajamas. Lexie preferred tile to carpet, so she curled up on the floor in the adjoining bathroom.

Jessie slid beneath the sweet-smelling sheets and brought the down comforter under her chin. She turned on her side to get comfortable, squinting at the red numbers on the clock on the bedside table.

Eleven. Was Brandt tucked in bed? Or had he fallen asleep in front of the TV?

Ten minutes ticked away. Then twenty. She heard her mom and Roger moving down the hallway, followed by the click of their bedroom door closing.

Another fifteen minutes passed. Almost midnight. She should be tired. But she was wide-awake.

Her cell phone vibrated on the nightstand. Jessie snatched it and smiled at the caller ID: “Hey. Is everything all right?”

“Yeah.” Brandt cleared his throat. “Didn’t mean to scare ya, I just called because I…missed you.”

Her heart did a little flip. How sweet that he didn’t think anything of calling her up just to tell her he missed her.

“Sorry if I woke you.”

“You didn’t. I was just laying here staring at the ceiling, to be honest. Did you get my text?”

“Oh, was that what the ‘I’m here’ meant? That you’d arrived safe and sound in Riverton?”


“How’s your mom?”

“Good. She’s been baking and cooking all day. She’s invited a few people over for dinner tomorrow.”

“Anyone you know?”

Was she supposed to tell him about the single guy her mom had invited? No. Especially when she hadn’t met the man yet. Not that Brandt would be jealous…would he?

Jessie had the perverse impulse to tell Brandt about her blind dinner date, just to see how he’d react.

High schoolish, Jessie.


“What? Oh sorry, no, I won’t know anyone.”

“Well, I’m hopin’ all her dinner guests are old couples and that she isn’t tryin’ to fix her single, hot daughter up with some guy.”


“You’re such a flatterer, Brandt McKay. Hot daughter. Right.”

“You are hot. Smokin’ hot,” he whispered huskily. “And if you were here, I’d prove just how hot I think you are.”

She rolled flat on her back and adjusted the phone. “How would you do that?”

“I’d kiss you. And once I had your focus totally on those long, wet kisses that make you whimper, I’d start to unbutton your pajama top.” He paused. “You are wearin’ them long john ones you’re so crazy about, aren’t you?”

“Yes. Why? Would you rather I wore something sexier to bed?”

Brandt growled. “What’s sexy is what’s under whatever you’re wearin’, which is why I can’t wait to peel it off you.”

“Mmm. Keep going, cowboy. Then what would you do?”

“Once I had that shirt hangin’ open, I’d drag my palms down your chest until I had your breasts cupped in my hands. I’d brush my thumbs across your nipples until they were tight points. Then I’d put my mouth on them. Just my lips. I’d nibble. Tease with those butterfly flicks that make you arch your back and moan. I might use my teeth. Test that edge of pain. I might get the tips wet and blow just to see hard I can get ’em. While my mouth was workin’ you, my hands would be strokin’ that soft curve where your heart is racing. By that time you’ll be begging, grinding against me so I’d suck your nipple until I had the whole thing in my mouth.”

This was actually getting her worked up.

“I heard that catch in your breath, Jessie. Is this turnin’ you on?”


“Touch yourself. Close your eyes and do everything I tell you. Imagine my hands, my breath, my mouth on you.”

Her answering, “Okay,” came out in a breathy whisper.

Brandt made that low-pitched growl again. “Pinch your nipple.”

Jessie switched the phone to her left hand and used the fingers on her right hand to twirl her right nipple into a tight peak.

“Is it hard?”


“Put your fingers in your mouth. Get them wet. Now twist the tips just to that edge of pain.”

She did exactly as he asked, imagining Brandt’s hands, and it shocked her that the fingers touching her nipples…didn’t feel like her fingers.

“God, it’s sexy as hell, listening to those noises you make. Now loosen the drawstring on your pants just enough so you can slide your hand down there. Skim your fingers over your belly. Stop and stroke that sweet, soft section of skin between your hipbones. I love how your skin gets goose bumps when I touch you there.”

Her flesh rippled. “Me too.”

“Now slip your finger beneath your panties. Follow the slit from the top to the bottom. Slowly.”

Jessie let her index finger trace the rise of her pubic mound to the entrance to her sex.

“Tell me, Jessie. Are you wet?”

“Very wet.”

“Let your fingers play in that wetness, swirling it around. Then bring the tip of your finger up those soft pink folds and touch your clit. A little, not a lot.”

“But I want to touch it a lot.” She let her middle finger draw circles around that hidden bit of flesh.

Brandt chuckled. “I’m sure you do. But I’m not done playin’ with you. I like to drag this out because I love havin’ my hands on you.” His already raspy voice dropped another octave. “In you. Take your middle finger down, over your clit, separating those pussy lips and slide it inside your pussy. Slide it deep. All the way to the webbing of your hand.”

Jessie jammed her fingers into her channel, arching her neck and nearly dropping the phone.

“Move that finger in and out,” he said gruffly. “More. Add another one. Fuck yourself for me, Jessie.”

“I am.”

“Use your thumb on your clit. Find that slippery knot and start out slow, building as you’re pumping your fingers in and out of that tight heat. Hold the phone down there so I can hear you fucking your hand.

So I can hear how wet you are. How wet I’m makin’ you.”

She removed the phone from her ear and held it above her pelvis as she worked herself with her fingers. “Can you hear that, Brandt? So wet. So hot. Only for you. I’m so close. Send me over. Make me come. Please.” Jessie heard him swear and she put the phone back by her ear.