“Any problems with the rodeo this weekend in Pine Haven?”

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“No. But it’s tiny and so last-minute they aren’t expecting miracles on the PR front.” Her face turned thoughtful as she buried her fingers in the dark hair on his chest.

“Something else on your mind, sweetness?”

“Nothing big. It’s just weird. People I knew in passing, or who knew RJ, or my parents, or from school approached me at the community center.”

“What did they want?”

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“Seems once I volunteered for something, they assumed I’m interested in volunteering for other community projects. Before I knew what was happening, I agreed to help with a fundraiser for the chamber of commerce and help organize a workshop for the competitive cheer squad.”

What had these people said to Georgia to garner her interest in community activities? It had to benefit the PR company in some way.

Not nice, Tell. Be happy she’s not sitting at home.

“There’s a meeting about the cheerleading workshop on Tuesday night.”

Tell frowned. “Does that mean you’re skipping out on meeting me at Ziggy’s for dart league?”

“Shoot. I forgot. I can cancel—”

“Don’t sweat it. We can meet up afterward.”

“You sure?”

“Yep. As long as you’re in volunteer mode, I could use some help with the rodeo club fundraiser week after next.”

“Done. Anything else?”

“Yeah.” He let the tips of his fingers follow the planes and angles of her face. “Bring that mouth over here. I need another taste.”

She kissed him with such fire his cock hardened.

“Sweetness, you got way too many clothes on.”

She raised a haughty eyebrow. “And whose fault is that?”

“Yours. Strip.”

Chapter Twenty-Two

Georgia stood beneath the bank sign in Moorcroft, debating whether to cross the street to have lunch at the Mexican joint or head down the block to the greasy spoon, when the door to the bank opened and her father stepped into the sunshine.

She blinked at him for a second or two, wondering if her eyes were playing tricks on her.

He seemed equally stunned. Then he wrapped her in a bear hug. “Georgie! My goodness, girl, I was just thinking about you and here you are.”

“Hey, Dad.”

“Lookit you. No bigger than a minute. I forget what a shrimp you are,” he teased. Then he added, “But damn, girl, you are a beauty. Lucky thing you got your mama’s looks, huh?”

“And Mom says I got your temperament.”

“Bet she didn’t say you were lucky getting that trait. What’re you doin’ in Moorcroft?”

She held her breath, expecting he would demand to know why she hadn’t called him to say she’d be in the area, but he just looked at her expectantly. Happily. “I made a few sales calls.”

“Have you eaten?”

“No, but I have to get back—”

“You ain’t even gonna let your old man buy you lunch?”

Hello guilt. “Sure. I’ll let you buy… As long as it’s Mexican.”

He scowled. “That’ll work.”

Her father hadn’t argued or insisted on eating at the restaurant of his choice? That was different.

Maybe he was different.

They walked together, her father making small talk about the weather and hinting about big news in his life.

After they were seated with menus, Georgia studied Robert Hotchkiss as he slipped on a pair of reading glasses.

It’d been two years since she’d seen him when he’d shown up in Dallas, out of the blue. He didn’t look much different. Same pale brown eyes. Same shaggy gray hair. Same rotund carriage.

He glanced up with a small smile. “Whatcha havin’?”

“The beef enchilada platter. What about you?”

“Steak is probably the safest, although my doctor wants me to eat more green shit.”

Georgia smiled. “Mom tried to get you to eat more green shit for years.”

“She finally did develop my taste for all the different ways she could cook beets.”

“My borscht never tastes as good as hers.”

“Your mama’s cookin’ is just one of the many things I miss about her.”

The waiter served their drinks—iced tea for her, a beer for her father—and took their order.

They snacked on chips and salsa. The restaurant had typical Mexican décor—piñatas hanging from the ceiling and gaudy sombreros on the brightly colored wall. Plastic cactuses scattered throughout. Mariachi music playing in the background. Strands of chili pepper lights draped from the ceiling.

“Speaking of your mother… I talked to her the other day.”

“I heard.”

His bushy eyebrows rose. “What’d she say about me?”

“Just that you called.” She stirred a packet of sugar in her tea. “She’s coming to visit.” Why had she told him that?

“Is that right? She didn’t mention it to me.”

“I was surprised to hear that you call her regularly.”

He honestly looked perplexed. “Why? Irina was my wife for twenty-five years.”

“I figured after the ugliness of your divorce…”

“Look, Georgie, after RJ…everything got way out of hand. I never expected…” He sighed. “It’s complicated and I never was good at uncomplicating things. But I’m awful good at makin’ them worse.”

Georgia bit her tongue. Changing the subject would be the safest way to finish this lunch. “What’s this big news you mentioned earlier?”

“I’m gonna retire.”

“Really? When?”

“Soon as the paperwork is sorted out. I sold the hog farm to a corporation outta eastern South Dakota. Shocked me how good of a deal they offered. And, well, I ain’t getting any younger.”

“You just turned sixty-eight, right?”

“Yep. That sounds old to a twenty-eight-year-old, huh?”

It did sound old. Her dad had been forty when she and RJ were born and her mother only twenty-two. During her childhood she hadn’t noticed the eighteen-year age gap made a difference in her parent’s relationship. But she wondered if that was why she’d never dated older men.

“I tried to call you on your birthday last month.”

“I know.” She aligned the bottom of the knife with the bottom of the spoon. “I don’t celebrate or do anything anymore. It’s just another day.”

Her dad chuckled. “Your mom used to go all-out for your birthdays.”

“The year we got the squirt guns was the best.”

“Really? Didn’t you break yours right away?”

“No. RJ busted his. He was so upset I gave him mine and we swore we’d never tell.”

His eyebrows rose. “I never knew that.”

“We were pretty good at covering for each other.”

“And sticking up for each other. I remember the summer you two were seven. We’d just moved to the farm and I caught RJ climbing on the barn with a quilt that he intended to use for a parachute when he jumped off the roof. The kid like-ta give me heart failure. I paddled his ass good.” He shook his head. “Then you marched up to me, bold as brass, and told me I’d better spank you too, since it was your quilt and you planned to jump off right after him.”

Georgia smiled. “I don’t know if you noticed I wore extra clothes as padding.”

He laughed. “Nope. I didn’t catch that.”

“It was RJ’s idea. He wished he’d thought of it.”

“I imagine. You two were always thick as thieves.”

That comment kicked her grief to the surface, not that she’d ever buried it deep. She scrambled to change the subject. “So retirement, huh? What will you do with yourself when you don’t have to slop hogs?”

“Maybe I’ll end up baby-sitting Deck and Tara-Lee’s kid,” he said with a laugh. “But since he’s getting a cut of the profit, Deck will likely be takin’…” He glanced up sharply. “Sorry. I know Deck is a sore subject.”

Do ya think?

“But now that the cat’s out of the bag, I want to explain—”

Georgia held up her hand. “Don’t go there. Please. We were having a nice lunch and I don’t want my appetite spoiled.”

“We do need to talk about this at some point, Georgie. It’s been seven years.”

The food arrived.

“So what’s your main responsibility in this job?” he asked.

Grateful that he’d switched topics, she smiled. “I’m at the rodeo grounds to make sure our portion of the event is handled properly. Working with the committees beforehand. Selling ads. Lining up radio spots.”

He sliced off a big chunk of meat. “What happens when the summer rodeo season ends?”

“I return to Dallas. But keep that to yourself. I don’t want any of our contractors afraid I’ll bail out early, since we’re the new kid around town.”

He grunted and steadily demolished his steak.

The conversation lagged, but not due to tension.

“Thanks for inviting me to lunch, Dad.”

“You’re welcome.” He leaned back in the booth, folding his arms and setting them on his belly. “So am I gonna get to see you again before you take off?”

“I’ll try. The road runs both ways. You could venture to Sundance.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Her father was looking at her in a way she’d never seen before—with regret. “What?”

“People change, Georgie. Holdin’ a grudge ain’t no way to go through life.”

Was he talking about her forgiving Deck?

Maybe he’s taking about you forgiving him.

She inhaled a slow breath. “I’m listening.”

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