There was some maturity.

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That sent her mother stomping off, and she slammed the back door.

That wasn’t exactly mature either.

She should’ve stayed with Tell until he finished chores. Then she wouldn’t have known her parents were some sort of fuck buddies.

Fuck buddies.

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Her parents.

She’d laugh if she didn’t feel like crying, yelling and hiding—all at the same time.

“Are you done with your snit?” her mother asked with that imperious Russian inflection.

“Maybe.”

Metal scraped across the cement and her mother parked herself in front of the swing so Georgia couldn’t escape. “I’m sorry you walked in on us.”

“Not as sorry as I am,” she muttered.

“For heaven’s sake, you’re a little old to be traumatized by this! Especially since chances are high you and Tell McKay were doing the exact same thing last night.”

Do not blush. “But you didn’t have to see it, did you? And what am I supposed to think? Are you and Dad getting back together?”

Her mother looked shocked by the question.

Or was that guilt because she was just using her ex-husband for sex?

“The truth is I don’t know what happens next. Robert and I…have issues. Too many, it seems. And then when I see him again, it’s like those issues disappear.”

Good Lord. Was she talking about…lust?

“That’s why when I left him I had to move far away. Because when we’re in those intimate moments, everything else fades into the background. Then reality sets in and I…”

“Do you still love him?”

Her mother’s eyes met hers. “I never stopped loving him, moyah doch. I just couldn’t live with him anymore.”

Georgia felt the shock of that statement clear to the marrow of her bones. “I didn’t know. Neither of you…”

“Things that happen privately between a husband and wife aren’t meant to be shared. Especially not with children.” She shoved a hand through her hair. “Robert and I were both so raw and angry after RJ died. He wanted a fresh start. I was too mired in grief to question him. When I woke up out of that fog, he and I immediately started playing the blame game.”

“About RJ dying?”

“No, about you. I hadn’t realized how much you’d pulled away from everyone. Robert blamed me for that. I blamed him for making us move to a hog farm.”

“But I didn’t pull away from anyone. I tried to be the glue that held everyone together. You and Dad. Me and Deck.”

She shook her head. “You were a mess. Such a mess that you don’t remember it. Sweetie, you’re still a mess. You don’t let anyone get close to you.”

Her mouth opened to deny it but she honestly couldn’t. So she deflected. “Are you saying the fact my husband was banging another girl is somehow…my fault?”

“Good God, no. We shoulder a lot of the blame in accepting Deck into our family. We thought he made you happy. And he wanted to marry you…you never said otherwise.”

Her parents hadn’t seen anything wrong with encouraging her to get married right out of high school. Early marriage was the norm for women in her family. Her mother had married at nineteen. Both her grandmothers had been married off by age seventeen. And she and Deck weren’t the only couple from their class to exchange I dos the summer after graduation.

“I can’t undo any of those past mistakes, Georgia.”

That sense of surrealness washed over her again. They’d never talked about any of this.

“Then after RJ died, your father relied heavily on Deck because he couldn’t count on me. Robert lost his faith and I’d always used his unwavering belief in God to bolster mine. Without his convictions…I had none. So we both lost our way. We’re slowly but surely finding it again.”

“Are you finding your way back to each other?”

She shrugged. “Perhaps. But regardless what happens, I believe it’s time you mend fences with your father.” She held up her hand. “And no, he didn’t put me up to this.”

“I don’t know where to start.”

“Ironically enough, neither does he.” She frowned. “But he has mentioned making an effort, not that I know what that means.”

“We had lunch together.”

“That’s it? Robert made it sound much more involved than that.”

Georgia didn’t need to point out her father’s grandiose schemes to her mother. “Well, if I see Dad, I’ll make the effort too. For as long as I’m in the area.”

“Is it all right if I let him know that?”

“Sure.” She stretched out on the porch swing. “So what do you wanna do today? It’s not supposed to be too hot. We could hike the long trail around Devil’s Tower. Or maybe head to Spearfish Canyon to see Roughlock Falls.”

“Ah. Well. I promised Robert I’d help clean out the house. I left things there and he doesn’t know what to do with them now that the place has been sold.”

Her mom was ditching her? For her dad? Unbelievable.

“I hope you’re not mad.”

“No. That’s fine. I tentatively had plans with Tell anyway.”

“You haven’t said too much about him.” Her mother sipped her coffee. “Makes me think there’s more to this thing with him.”

“It doesn’t matter because I’m not sticking around. I have a life in Dallas.”

“Hmm.”

She hated it when her mom said hmm. “What?”

“I don’t think you’re being honest with yourself. It feels to me like you came back to Sundance because you’ve got unfinished business here.”

“My boss didn’t give me a choice. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to return.”

“But now that you’ve been here awhile, has that attitude changed?”

Yes. And I don’t know what to do about it.

Her mother laughed. “You and RJ both had that look. When I see that stubborn tilt to your chin, I know the subject is closed.” She stood. “I have to meet your father and I don’t know how long this will take. So, umm…don’t wait up.”

Georgia waited a whole hour before she called Tell.

“Hey, sweetness, what’s up?”

“You know how you’re always surprising me with spur-of-the-moment fun? Today is your lucky day, cowboy, because I’m returning the favor.”

“That right? And what fun stuff can I look forward to?”

“Me in a bikini. Wear your sexy board shorts and bring a towel.”

When Tell didn’t immediately respond, she worried she’d taken it for granted he’d have Sunday afternoon free. “Look. If you don’t want to—”

“Don’t get your panties in a twist. It’s not that. I’m more surprised than anything.” His voice dropped to a deep rasp. “And I’m feelin’ a little cocky that you’re takin’ the lead. Admit it, hot lips, you like that I’ve helped you unleash your fun side.”

She pressed her forehead against the closet door. “I appreciate it more than you can possibly know.”

“How soon do I need to be ready?”

“Half an hour.”

Tell’s rough-tipped index finger trailed up the inside of her arm, sending ripples of gooseflesh from her wrist to her shoulder. “Come on. Please.”

“No.”

“But you’re always up for trying something new.”

Don’t blush.

“Think about it. You’re breathing hard. Sweating from the effort. And when you’re in the moment, feeling weightless and boneless, you never want it to end.”

Georgia gave him a droll stare. The man made everything sound like sex.

“I see them wheels churning, Georgia. You want to. You know you want to.” He rubbed his mouth across her knuckles. “Please say yes.”

“Explain something to me.”

“Anything, baby.”

“Why does a grown man have a gigantic trampoline?”

Tell shrugged. “I got it for Landon. He loves the damn thing.”

“Sure. You got it for Landon. Like you got the zip line for Landon.”

When he offered that completely sheepish, totally charming grin, she melted. “Busted. I always wanted one when I was a kid and Dad never let us have one. So I’m makin’ up for lost childhood opportunities.”

“That’s sad.” She frowned. “What else did your father deny you?”

“Visits from Santa.”

“No. Really?”

“Uh-huh. No Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy or the Great Pumpkin either.”

“Poor baby.” Joking aside, it caused a dull ache to imagine a young Tell, missing out on some of the best aspects of being a kid. That sense of wonder. And the possibility that magic existed. Her parents had given her that.

“The weird thing? We had dirt bikes. Guess Pop didn’t care if we broke a bone or cracked open our skulls bein’ reckless boys, but stockings filled with candy and toys were dangerous.” He smiled but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“My dad was furious when I made the cheerleading squad. He said it was too dangerous being tossed up in the air. But he had no problem with RJ getting on the back of a bull or a buckin’ horse.”

“That sucks. But on the bright side for me, my dad was an equal opportunity hater. No one got special treatment—we all just got bad treatment.”

As soon as Tell said that, she knew he regretted his honesty. He tried so damn hard to be the happy-go-lucky guy. If she kept thinking about the sweet little boy who’d never gotten a visit from Santa, she might start weeping. So she offered up her own recent parental issues.

“So in the rush to see your half-naked, totally-buff body glistening in the sun, I forgot to share what I saw this morning after I got home.”

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