So as proud as she was that she’d grown a spine and left Deck, she knew few people would see the new and improved Georgia Hotchkiss—because no one had really known the old Georgia.

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Tell leaned forward to capture her attention. “Sorry about that. Tim, from my dart team, tends to go on and on.”

Georgia bit back her smart response, I hadn’t noticed.

“He’s one of those guys who believes we oughta have a strategy for winning the league. When most of us are just there to bullshit and drink beer.”

“That’d be the only draw for me.”

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“Speaking of… Would you come to Ziggy’s tomorrow night and watch the match?”

Nothing she disliked more than being a spectator at a guys’ sporting event—she’d done that more times than she could count. But if she wanted to spend time with Tell, hopefully naked time, she’d have to take one for the team first. “What time?”

“League starts at seven. It’s usually done by nine.”

“I could show up for a little while.”

He grinned. “Good. As far as tonight… Are you a fan of John Wayne movies?”

“I’ve only seen a couple, so I don’t know if that qualifies me as a fan. Why?” Please say we’re going back to your place to watch movies. In your bed.

“The Sundance Arts Council plays movies in the park every Monday night in the summer. They have a big projection screen by the band shell. You interested in checking it out?”

Tell wore such an earnest look she couldn’t say no. “Sure, as long as it doesn’t run past my bedtime.”

“When’s that?”

“Whenever you decide it’s time to take me to bed,” she purred. Then she stood, adding an extra wiggle as she dumped her empty cup in the trash.

Tell was a lot friendlier on the drive back to Sundance.

At the park, he spread out a blanket on the grass, away from the families with small children. She looked around, feeling so far out of her element she might as well be on Mars.

Then Tell’s hand gently touched her face. “Georgia? Something wrong?”

I don’t fit in here. I never have. “Just lethargic after eating.”

He scooted back, stretching his legs into a V. “You can use me as a pillow.”

Georgia crawled toward him. That bad-boy grin with smirking dimples was impossible to resist. She nestled her backside into his crotch, wiggling to get comfortable. Rolling her spine against his chest, she releasing a tiny sigh. Tell was so warm and firm. She turned her head to kiss the bottom of his jaw, getting a noseful of his pine-scented aftershave. “You are kinda hard for a pillow.”

“And getting harder in some places.” He set his chin on top of her head. “You feel good on me.”

“You’d feel good in me.”

He chuckled. “You never give up, do you?”

“Nope. So be prepared to be worn down by my feminine wiles, cowboy. Because not only do I talk dirty, I can act out all the dirty suggestions. Wanna see?”

“Maybe later.”

The movie started and she blocked out all sounds, concentrating on the steady beat of Tell’s heart and the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest. Onscreen, John Wayne was shooting at an outlaw. She tried to focus on the action, but her eyelids kept slipping shut. It wouldn’t hurt to rest her eyes. Just for a couple of minutes.

A rough hand skated up her arm and she jumped.

“Relax. You conked out for the first half.”

“It’s not over?”

“Intermission gives the local kids’ groups a chance to sell popcorn, candy, soda. The rodeo club is scheduled to work the concession next month.”

“How do you know that?”

“I’m an advisor to the club. Some of these kids need direction. Plus, it’s fun.”

That surprised her. “What else do you do for fun in your free time?”

“I hang out at the trap club. My cousins Colt and Kane roped me into refereeing at Little Buddies/Big Buddies flag football and basketball games. I shoot pool with Thurman, Warner and Ned.” He shrugged. “I’d rather do just about anything than stay home by myself. That ain’t fun.”

“That’s completely the opposite of the way I am. I’d hole up in my condo in Dallas all the time, if I could.”

“You love your place that much?”

No. I just don’t have anywhere else to go.

Tell kissed her forehead. “Well, I aim to change your antisocial ways now that you’re back here in the Wild West.”

“And force me to have fun.”

He grinned. “Yep. By any means necessary.”

They wandered to the concession stand hand in hand. Tell struck up a conversation with the couple ahead of them in line.

The woman kept sneaking looks at her, until Georgia finally asked, “I’m sorry. Do we know each other?”

“I doubt you’d remember me. I graduated the year after you. We had gym together and Mr. Larkin partnered us for—”

“Tennis,” Georgia finished. “We got second place. I remember that. You’re Allison.”

“Yes. And I was friends with RJ.” She smiled sadly. “Then again, everyone was friends with RJ.”

“My brother did have a knack for knowing everyone when he walked into a room.” Kind of like Tell.

“RJ was a great guy.”

That pang of sadness surfaced. “Yeah. He was.”

Tell squeezed her hand.

But the encounter was a pointed and poignant reminder to her that this small-town stuff didn’t appeal to her. Where everyone knew her sad family history. Where everyone paid attention to her purchases in the local grocery store, gossiping that she’d bought magnum condoms and a raunchy romance novel. She’d rather be anonymous in a big city than infamous in a small town.

She looked around the park. Everything seemed too perfect. Almost as if it’d been staged. Happy moms and dads resting on heirloom quilts while their kiddos ran wild. Friends laughing together. Reliving the types of memories she’d rather forget.

You don’t belong here.

Georgia had such a sense of disquiet she abruptly let go of Tell’s hand.

Tell frowned. “You okay?”

“Ah, yeah, I’m just going to use the facilities.”

And she fled.

Maybe this hadn’t been the best idea.

Georgia had been skittish all night. When she wasn’t ignoring everything and everyone around her.

It bothered him that she hadn’t joined in the conversations at the burger joint. Not that she’d been rude. She’d just seemed uninterested and entirely focused on her food.

Maybe she’s shy.

That jarred him.

Georgia Hotchkiss…shy?

No way. She’d always spoken her mind.

Hadn’t she?

No. If he remembered correctly, the only time she’d voiced her opinions was when Deck hadn’t been around. Like in history class. The rest of the time she’d kept quiet. So she wasn’t aloof or stuck-up, as most people—including him—had assumed.

As much time as Tell had spent watching her in high school, how had he not noticed that she was actually shy?

Because you were a teenage boy too busy imagining fucking her.

Seemed he, too, had seen only what he’d wanted to see.

When Georgia returned from the bathroom, her face was even more pale.

He was by her side in an instant. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m ready to go. If you want to stay and watch the end of the movie, it’s not that far to my place. I’ll walk.”

“Like hell you will.” He loomed over her. “Stay here. I’ll grab the blanket and be right back.”

They didn’t speak on the short ride to her house. After he’d parked in her driveway, he said, “You wanna tell me what’s really wrong?”

She continued staring out the window for another minute before she faced him. “Now that I’m back in Sundance I see a lot of mistakes I made.”

“Like what?”

“Like I didn’t make much effort in high school to make new friends.”

“Why’s that? Because you’re a little shy?”

Georgia looked at him sharply. “How’d you know?

“Lucky guess.” He kissed the back of her hand. “Go on.”

“I’m not painfully shy or anything. I was just raised in a God-fearing home where men were masters of their domain. My mom was a foreigner and introverted, so I ended up like her, where RJ took after my dad and was outgoing. Took me a long time to figure out most people thought I was stuck-up because I wasn’t like RJ.”

“With the last name McKay, I’ve dealt with a lot of those preconceived ideas too. It sucks.”

She nodded. “But mostly I didn’t try to find a best friend because I already had one.”

“Deck?”

She shook her head. “RJ. Whenever we moved to a new town, I didn’t worry about fitting in because I had him. Then he took to Sundance like he was born here and he kind of left me in the dust, which is probably why I clung to Deck so much. Everybody knew RJ. Everybody liked him.” She looked away. “I miss him. I know it’s been almost nine years and it should be easier, but it still hurts. And being here makes me face it every day.”

“Hey.” Tell leaned across the seat, gently encouraging her to look at him. “I know how that feels. I still expect my brother Luke to barrel up when we’re out fixin’ fence. Course, he’d tell me I was doin’ something wrong. That part I don’t miss.” He smiled. “But I miss him. Not the Luke who was a shitty husband to Jessie or the Luke who was Dad’s favorite kid as well as his favorite whipping post. I miss Luke, my brother. The guy he was when it was just the four of us. Not trying to impress the ladies, or trying to piss Dad off, or trying to make Mom laugh when she was so damn miserable. But the guy who taught me stuff. The guy who listened when I talked. He’s been gone almost five years and I still miss him every day. I know I’m lucky that I’ve got two other brothers. But neither of them replaces Luke.”

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