As promised, here is the excerpt to the upcoming Firefly Hollow installment, Cricket Cove. This is Amelia’s book, and is slated for release in early-mid February.
If you are a cat lover or know someone who is, please, please take a few moments to go here and read this post. You could save a cat’s life.
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The scene played out in front of her as though it were a movie. Candles gave the room a warm, intimate glow. The couple on the bed was completely wrapped up in each other. They were mostly naked, and his dark hair contrasted against her fairness.
The heat was delicious, unbearable. His touch roamed her body with hands that were warm and slightly rough. The feel of his exhalation in the hollow of her throat, then of his lips trailing down her chest, caused her own breath to hitch. His lips started to close around her nipple, and she arched her back with a moan.
Amelia Campbell came awake with a start, the gasp of pleasure still caught in her throat. For several stunned seconds, she sat in her dark bedroom, propped up on her elbows, trying to clear her head. When she realized she’d been dreaming, she let herself fall back onto the mattress with a frustrated growl.
Even in sleep, Logan Gibson was driving her nuts.
He’d felt so real this time. So solid, so warm, so… sexy. Realizing sleep wasn’t going to come again easily, she threw the covers back and got up. It was after three a.m., and she had really hoped to get a solid night’s rest tonight, but apparently that wasn’t in the cards.
“Third time this week. I’m going to have to do something about this if it continues,” she muttered as she went into the bathroom. The house was cool, the mid-November weather starting to stamp out the last remnants of the unusually warm fall they’d had. She had yet to turn the heat on, though she had used the fireplace a few times, but if it got much cooler, she’d have to flip the switch.
In the kitchen, she got the milk out along with the cocoa, sugar, and vanilla. As she stood at the stove and waited for the hot chocolate to heat, she ran a hand across her tired eyes. Between her writing duties, filling in for her sister-in-law Zanny while she was on maternity leave, and planning her sister Emma’s wedding to Logan’s brother, Archer, Amelia was beyond tired and approaching exhausted.
Normally she could have handled all three projects with one hand tied behind her back. But thanks to the stalker she’d apparently picked up, she was feeling nervy. As a result, her sleep had been completely disrupted in the last few weeks, and she was starting to feel it. Without even trying, she’d lost five pounds. So far no one in her family had commented, but she knew if she lost much more they’d say something. With that thought in mind, she grabbed the heavy cream from the fridge and added a healthy dollop to the small cooker.
Just thinking about her stalker made Amelia’s hands clench. She had a good idea of who he was—Roger Mullins, husband of her best friend, Lori. He didn’t like Amelia, never had, and he wasn’t happy that Amelia was trying to get Lori to leave him.
Amelia didn’t care. He was abusive, both verbally and physically, and he’d caused Lori to have several miscarriages over the not-quite-three years they’d been married. Lori’s parents were just as determined to break the two of them up as Amelia, but so far none of them had been able to budge Lori.
She felt perilously close to giving up. Every time she’d think she made a step forward, Roger would figure it out and change his attitude just long enough to make Lori think he’d reformed.
“At some point, this is going to become a futile battle that’s going to drag on until we’re old,” she muttered. “Though with the stalking…”
Amelia had done research on stalkers and on abusive spouses. She was fully aware the statistics were not good for Lori, and that the fact that Roger was now stalking her meant he was escalating in his boldness. It meant he was starting to turn his attention to Amelia, and as much as she tried to brush it off, the change scared her.
She took the hot chocolate to the door, hating the fact that she hesitated before unlocking it. She’d grown up at the top of the mountain and had spent a good portion of her childhood tooling around at her uncle and aunt’s house just up the road from where she now lived. She should have felt safe, and she loathed Roger for taking that security away from her.
After a cautious visual inspection of the yard around the trailer, she stepped onto the porch and made her way to the comfortable swing on the end near her bedroom. She curled her feet up underneath her with a sigh, letting her robe cover them, and wrapped her hands around the mug. The moon was full and the creek across the road glistened in the moonlight. It gurgled soothingly, quietly, but even the calming sound didn’t work at relaxing her.
She closed her eyes, letting the sound of the creek wash over her. As much as the stalking disturbed her, thinking about that was almost preferable to letting her mind drift to Logan.
Six-feet-two-inches of solid muscle, with slightly curly hair that was almost blue it was so black. Grey-green eyes that reminded her of moss-covered cliffs in winter, and a chiseled face that was saved from being too beautiful only by the presence of a scar bisecting his left cheek. He was the most exasperating, attractive man she’d ever met in her life, and he drove her to distraction.
For the last five years, Amelia had heard about Logan Gibson. His brother Archer had joined the family five years earlier. A mechanic who worked with her uncle, Jack Browning, Archer had come to the family’s Fourth of July celebration. Amelia had immediately connected with him despite their age difference, and she’d adopted him as a third older brother. Almost as soon as they’d forged their friendship, Amelia had seen that Archer was drawn to her sister, Emma. She’d spent the last five years waiting for a chance to push the two of them together. This past summer the time had finally been right, and after a rocky and tumultuous courtship, they were engaged. The wedding was in a matter of weeks, as neither Emma nor Archer wanted to wait long.
Given what she knew about Logan, Amelia had expected his personality to be similar to Archer’s, only quieter. More solemn. She’d been dead wrong. Instead of the easygoing, mischievous, laid-back sweetheart her sister was marrying, Logan was a surly, grouchy, self-righteous grump.
At least with her.
The same man who seemed to disapprove of her very existence was charming and polite to her sisters. He’d even unwound enough to joke with them at Archer’s birthday party a few weeks earlier. It was only when he interacted with Amelia that he turned into an unpleasant ogre. Not one to back down from a challenge, Amelia gave as good as she got. Being the youngest of five siblings had taught her a few things, after all. Every chance she got, she needled Logan.
Archer had been stunned by their grating interactions with each other, and Amelia had caught similar questioning looks from other members of her family.
“Pip, you can get along with anyone. But not him. What in the world?” Archer had asked after one particularly biting exchange that had her stomping off in the opposite direction of Logan.
It was true. The only person she’d ever not gotten along with, Logan aside, was Roger. And it wasn’t that she thought Logan was like Roger. She didn’t. But his attitude pushed every button she had, and she couldn’t resist pulling his tail.
The fact that he was the most attractive man she’d ever met in her life only made things worse.
Amelia was known amongst friends and family for being something of a Cupid. Her father, Owen Campbell, suspected it was one of her abilities. In a family with an assortment of unusual talents and “gifts,” hers wasn’t too shocking. Since she’d turned sixteen, she’d paired up ten couples who had gone on to become engaged or get married. Her mother laughed because guys who started out flirting with Amelia often ended up happily settled down with her friends and were left scratching their heads as to how it had happened.
She’d gone on dates, of course. All her other responsibilities aside, Amelia had an active social life. She’d even had a serious boyfriend once upon a time, but that had ended in disaster. So even though she was twenty-two years old and still a virgin, she kept a safe distance between any man she dated and her heart. She let them know up front that she was only interested in friendship.
The truth was that ever since her heart had been broken when she was nineteen, she’d never met a man who tempted her to let her walls down, emotionally or physically. She had always thought she’d just know when she met the man who was “it” for her, like her parents and grandparents had before her, like her brothers had with their wives. It hadn’t happened, and eventually, she’d stopped expecting it to.
But then there was Logan. And dear God, she was tempted. Sometimes it felt like she was holding back the force of a dam with one finger, having to be near him and not touch him. She’d honestly thought the first time she had seen him that she’d been electrocuted. Every part of her body had lit up, and she was stunned he hadn’t noticed. Astronauts in outer space should have been able to see her attraction.
So she avoided any sort of touch with him, even the most casual. That was something else that hadn’t gone unnoticed within the family. Amelia was a hugger, always had been. But she kept a careful distance between Logan and herself.
Amelia wasn’t sure what to do about it. She figured at first that she would just ignore it and the zing would go away. But it hadn’t. It had leveled out some, yes, so that it wasn’t almost painful to be in the same room with him. But she could still tell without looking when he walked in. She didn’t like the sensation one bit.
More than anything, her attraction to the man was embarrassing. If she’d had any hope there was a chance the two of them might have a romance at some point it wouldn’t have been so bad. But thanks to a conversation she’d overheard, she was painfully aware of what Logan thought about her. Even now, weeks later, remembering brought a stinging blush to her cheeks.
She’d been at the homeplace in the hayloft of the barn, having gone there for some solitude and quiet. Archer and Logan had apparently decided to stretch their legs, and she’d watched from the window as the two of them came toward the barn. Though Logan was dark where Archer was fair, there was no denying they were brothers. The way they walked was strikingly similar, even with Logan’s limp. He’d just moved to Hazard after leaving the Army, where he’d been nearly fatally injured earlier in the year. Though the wounds were mostly healed, a faint limp remained.
When they came inside so Archer could show Logan around, she’d thought about speaking up. But she didn’t expect them to stay long, so she’d kept quiet. Her head was throbbing from having stayed up very late the night before, and she closed her eyes, hoping they’d soon leave.
Instead, they’d started talking. When the conversation had been about her, she’d not known how to react. Humiliation and pain had frozen her in place.
“How’s this?” she heard Archer ask.
Logan let out a sigh that was audible even from a distance. “Perfect. Thanks.”
“Yeah, it was just a little too close in there. That’s a noisy bunch you’ve affiliated yourself with. You looking forward to officially being tied to them?”
“You know, I really am. Pip likes to tease that they adopted me years ago, and I feel like they did. But it will be nice to have it on paper. To be able to point to Emma and Sydney and say ‘that beautiful woman and her daughter are mine and I belong to them.’” He paused briefly. “So is it just the crowd that made you so tense? Or is it something else? Someone else?”
Logan hesitated. “I’m just feeling a little hunted, that’s all.”
“Your Pip. I can’t leave the room without her following me. I feel like I’m back in high school again. She’ll be asking you to pass me notes soon at this rate.”
Archer coughed. “I beg your pardon?”
“What are you saying? That I’m imagining it? You’re the one who called her a Cupid.”
“Yeah, but she’s not… Pip isn’t chasing after you. But if she were, would getting caught be such a bad thing?”
“Yes, it would.” Logan half-growled the words. “You know what I think about her. She’s all fluff, very little substance. And that dress she’s wearing today? Farm girl meets sex kitten? It’s sad, like a little girl playing dress up. She’s trying to imitate her sisters but she can’t quite pull it off. She’s a pale imitation. She’d do better just going back to her usual self, the jeans and jerseys. At least she wouldn’t look so ridiculous then.”
Amelia looked down at the comfortable sundress she wore underneath a light cardigan. It was an outfit she’d worn at least a dozen times over the past year. She could see the farm girl comparison, but sex kitten? If she hadn’t been so hurt, she would have laughed.
There was a long silence down below, then Archer finally spoke. “I don’t know what to say to that, other than you have your head up your ass. Amelia isn’t like that. She’s not wearing anything she doesn’t usually wear.”
“What about her makeup? Seriously, did she put it on in the dark?”
“What the hell is your problem? She’s done nothing to deserve this kind of derision from you. And she’s not wearing much makeup. She hardly ever does.”
“She’s just like Mom. Irresponsible, only concerned with the moment. She has a brain in her head but she doesn’t use it. And you might not think she’s chasing me, but damn it, Archer, I know what I know. Can’t she find a man any other way than to trap him? Corner him into compliance? Maybe that works with the boys around here, but I’m not giving in to her machinations.”
Silent tears tracked down her cheeks, and her hand came up to cover her mouth. She could hardly believe what she was hearing, and from the anger in his voice, Archer was right along with her.
“If you weren’t my brother and I didn’t know you don’t believe that, I’d knock you to the ground for saying what you just did.” Archer’s voice was so low, it vibrated. “You haven’t even known her for two weeks.”
“I’ve seen enough.”
“You stupid ass. Amelia is one of the most responsible women I know. If you took the time to actually see her and not some warped version of what you believe to be true about her, you’d be sick knowing how wrong what you just said is. But you’re attracted to her, and you’re chicken-shit afraid of her. And that’s just wrong, Logan. You need to fix it.”
“I’m not attracted to her. I don’t go for little girls. I like real women. You know that. And she doesn’t come close to qualifying as such.”
Amelia bit the heel of her hand so hard she almost broke the skin. The words and tone were so close to what Jimmy had said to her the night they’d broken up she could hardly bear it. If they didn’t leave soon she was going to give her location away. There was no way she could hold the pain back much longer.
When Sydney hollered for Archer from a short distance away, Amelia’s eyes closed with relief. The men left the barn, no more aware of her presence than they had been when they walked in.
For long, long minutes she stayed where she was, perfectly still, afraid that if she moved she’d break into splinters of pain. She waited until she was certain they were far enough away from the barn, then cautiously crept down the ladder. She cut out through the rear door and sprinted for the woods, then hit the much-traveled path that led down the mountain to her trailer.
She called back to the farmhouse when she got home and told her mother that she’d had to change clothes.
“I’m really not feeling that well. I think I’ll lie down and take a nap. Try to get rid of this headache.”
Sarah Campbell’s voice was concerned, but she hadn’t pushed. “Okay, sweetheart. Just call if you need us.”
Archer took Logan to the airport a couple of days later, and thankfully Amelia hadn’t had to see him again. That had been a few weeks ago, and she’d had time to school her emotions. He’d be returning soon, and she’d just have to deal with him.
When she’d heard from an excited Archer that Logan was taking a position at the local vocational school and would be moving to Hazard by the end of November, she’d wanted to howl with frustration. Even shifting into the wolf that was her spirit animal and running herself stupid hadn’t helped. She’d gone on an hour-long run before bed this evening and every night this week, and it hadn’t done a bit of good.
“You’ve put up with Roger and his shenanigans. You can deal with Logan. Eventually you won’t even remember what he said,” she told herself as she finished off the last of the cocoa.
It was just too bad she didn’t believe that for an instant. No, something told her she’d be hearing his words in the back of her mind for a long, long time to come. She kept second-guessing herself when she dressed for the day, trying to determine if she was dressing inappropriately or not. For a couple of weeks after he’d gone, she was afraid to put makeup on. If she hadn’t been working at the photography studio she wouldn’t have. And she hated that she’d let him have that much power over her.
For the first time in her life, she was truly jealous of her sisters. Being the youngest of five, with her nearest-in-age siblings being two beautiful, accomplished women, it would hardly have surprised anyone if Amelia had self-esteem issues. For one thing, both Emma and Rachel were stunningly beautiful, whereas Amelia could only be considered cute or pretty. They were both quite a bit taller than her, too. Rachel was five-foot-seven, and Emma five-foot-ten. Amelia was barely five-foot-three, and she was curvy. She wasn’t fat or even overweight, but she had what her grandmother called a “womanly” figure.
She was blond, but both of her sisters had dark hair, though Emma’s had a warmer tone than Rachel’s. And they could stop men on the street with a smile. She’d seen it happen. Emma and Rachel could make a man think about sex without even trying. Amelia made them think about home-cooked meals and nurturing. She knew that. Enough of her male friends had told her as much.
Despite that, until Logan had come along and said what he did, Amelia had never felt second-rate. Except with Jimmy, and she’d long since learned that was a time best forgotten.
“It’s enough to give a girl a complex,” she told the moon with a tired yawn. “And these stupid dreams…”
Perhaps the worst part about the dreams was that, aside from what she could do for herself, there was no way she could gain any relief. She just wasn’t the kind of person who sought out strangers or friends and had casual, uninhibited sex. Her parents and older siblings, the still-single Rachel not included, had set the bar pretty high for happy, meaningful relationships. And as much as she protected her heart, Amelia wanted to belong to someone. She longed to have someone to share her life with. She wanted it desperately, more than she wanted anything. If Logan had reacted with even half the animosity toward her that he’d exhibited so far, she would have made a play for him. But given his words that day in the barn, it was out of the question. She’d sell herself on a street corner first. It would be less demeaning.
Standing, she stretched the kinks out of her back and hips. She’d run fast and hard earlier that evening, and soreness was her reward. The last thing she wanted to do was return to her empty bed but she had to be up early in the morning to meet her sisters and Zanny for a trip to Lexington, to look for wedding and bridesmaids dresses.
She looked over her shoulder at the creek and the field that stretched out toward the opposite mountain. The landscape was stark, quiet, cold. Just like her bed and her heart. Logan wasn’t for her as much as she wished he were. For a few seconds she let herself imagine what it would be like to go back to bed, to find him there, to curl up next to his side and feel him tuck her in close. To be loved. The sharp pang of longing that wound its way down her body brought tears to her eyes.
She no longer had any faith that such a happy ending was in her cards. Every bit of hope that hadn’t been stomped out by Jimmy years earlier had died that day in the barn.
Tomorrow she’d wake up and be Pip, the cheerful, optimistic baby sister. She’d put on the face her family expected to see, and for the most part, she’d fill the role honestly. But tonight she felt old and brittle. And what scared her most of all was the growing hopelessness that she felt. She worried that the darkness inside might take over her daylight self one day and then she’d cross a line she’d never come back from.
Amelia wasn’t the only one having a restless night. Several hundred miles away in Virginia, Logan Gibson was sitting at a table in an all-night diner trying to drink enough coffee to drive away the demons that plagued him.
“Nightmare?” Sal Hudson, the diner’s owner, asked as he came over to refill Logan’s coffee cup.
“Yeah. Same ol’, same ol’.”
Sal sat down with a grunt. “They’ll fade with time. Doesn’t help you much in the here and now, though.” He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one, then offered the pack to Logan, who declined. “You packed up yet?”
“Yeah. All I had was a couple of trunks. I head out day after tomorrow.”
Sal tapped his lighter on the Formica table. “Going to see your buddy tomorrow?”
Logan nodded. He saw understanding and pity in the older man’s eyes. A Vietnam vet, Sal knew all about survivor’s guilt. “His fiancée finally showed back up today. Says she’s back for good now. Came to terms with her new reality.”
Logan knew his voice was bitter but he didn’t care. His best friend, Colin, had been horribly injured in the same incident that had almost cost Logan his life last summer. They’d both been discharged with honors but Logan felt like he’d gotten off light. His injuries weren’t nearly as severe as Colin’s. And the two men were the only ones who’d survived the ambush on their unit. Six other soldiers had died that day. He and Colin, grateful as they were to be alive, were still trying to figure out why they’d been spared.
He and Sal talked for a few more minutes. When some men dressed in fatigues came in, Sal got up to take care of them. He laid a solid hand on Logan’s shoulder as he passed. Logan had been coming in the diner for several weeks now, and he and the older man had built a rapport.
With Sal gone, Logan’s thoughts went back to the letter he’d been penning. He’d gotten in the habit of writing his brother during stressful times, and even though he’d be arriving in Kentucky and moving in with Archer almost before this letter made its way through the postal system, the familiarity of the exercise calmed him.
I’m torn, he wrote. I know I’m doing the right thing by coming to Hazard but I hate to leave Colin by himself. I just don’t get a good feeling from his fiancée. She’s fickle. The kind of woman who would set Dad’s radar off from a mile away.
How are the wedding plans coming? I’ve heard those can get to be quite the headache. If you need to run away once I get there, we’ll go. We can hide out until the big day. With the annoying one in charge, I can’t imagine you’re getting much peace.
Logan stopped writing to take a sip of coffee. Amelia. The annoying one. Pip, as Archer and most of her family called her. A petite blonde bombshell full of energy and laughter, she was stunning and unexpected. She was younger than him by almost eleven years. His body didn’t seem to care about the age difference, and that indignity had set a torch to Logan’s temper, turning him surly at every encounter they had.
The first time he’d met her in person, he’d been blown away. Even dressed in a pair of jeans that had clearly seen better days, and an oversized baseball jersey that did nothing to hide her curves, she’d made him sit up and take notice. Her hair ranged from pale blond to deep, burnished gold, and cascaded halfway down her back in a wavy curtain. And her smile…
He’d been curious for years. Archer had shown him pictures, but a snapshot was hardly a good gauge of a person’s truth. And if he was being honest, Logan was expecting Amelia to someone he could be friends with. He already admired her for what she’d done for Archer. But the reality of her was the furthest thing from what he’d expected to find when he finally met her, and had thrown him off balance.
When he had received his first letter from Archer after his brother had connected with the Campbell family years earlier, Logan was intrigued. Most of the letters he’d gotten from Archer over the years were short, to the point, and written in simple, childish words that belied his brother’s intelligence. Archer was functionally illiterate, a guilt Logan carried that weighed heavily on his shoulders. But this letter had been different. The script was elegant and flowing, and its tone was almost chatty, full of responses to his own letter. Amelia had written it for Archer, the letter had disclosed, and Logan had wondered then if his brother was involved with her.
Curious, he had written back, and then eagerly awaited Archer’s response. He’d been subtle, digging without flat-out asking if they were dating. Over the next few letters, it became clear that while his brother was not involved with Amelia, he felt a great regard for the young woman. When Logan received the first full-length letter written by Archer himself, revealing that Amelia had been teaching him to read and write, the emotions had been almost more than Logan could bear. If he’d been able to get his hands on the girl he would have kissed her.
As time went on, Archer’s confidence grew. Logan could measure it by the contents of his letters. And when Emma Campbell and her daughter Sydney kept popping up in those letters, Logan started to get a sneaking suspicion about where his brother’s heart lay. Once he was injured and had returned stateside, those suspicions were confirmed. He’d been concerned, especially after Archer’s relationship with Emma had soured. After all, his brother’s first marriage had ended in disaster, literally—Candace had shot Archer and almost killed him. So as soon as he was able, Logan had traveled to Kentucky to find the truth for himself.
What he found was a warm, loving, boisterous family who’d accepted Archer as one of their own. Emma, instead of the seductress he’d half-feared her being, was head over heels in love with his brother. And Archer was happier than Logan had ever seen him, which had caused part of the guilt Logan had long carried over Archer’s childhood and young adult years to fade.
“I’m at peace. I feel like I’m finally where I belong and I’m doing what I should be doing, Lo. If I died tomorrow, I’d die a happy man.”
What made Archer’s peace more astonishing was the fact that when his ex-wife had shot him, she’d killed the mountain lion that was a part of him. Logan and Archer came from a long line of shape shifters, and that Archer could be so calm about the loss blew Logan’s mind. Logan had wanted to drive to the women’s prison where Candace was still housed and rip her apart. Archer had talked him down as they drove back to the airport in Lexington so he could fly home.
“I’m okay with it. And I know I should have told you sooner, but please believe that I didn’t mean to hide it from you forever.”
“But how can you really be so accepting?” Logan had asked. “That’s what I don’t understand.”
Archer was quiet, not answering for a few miles. “I was still pretty angry when I got to Hazard. But I got to know the Campbells, and I got to know Pip. She really helped me move past the anger, the grief. I thought I had but she realized I hadn’t. She made me face it in that gentle way she has. Made me not just see but believe I could be more. That I wasn’t defined by what had happened, by what I’d lost. That what was left was more important. And I guess I just healed.”
The brothers were both quiet, and after a while Logan shook his head. “I have a hard time reconciling what I know about her with the person I met. She just doesn’t seem to fit. I certainly didn’t expect her to be so damned annoying.”
Archer sighed, the sound tense. “You keep telling yourself that. You’ll regret it someday.” Talk had turned to other topics, a change for which Logan was grateful. They’d had an argument a couple of days earlier about Amelia, and he’d spent enough time thinking about her.
Like now, when he was trying to write Archer. He forced his thoughts away from the memory of the curve of her cheek when she smiled and the sound of her laughter, and back to his letter.
I’m planning to head out early day after tomorrow. That will come as no surprise to you, I’m sure. I might stop in Ashland, say hi to some old friends, but I’m just as likely to come straight in. Depends on how I’m feeling once I get there. The SUV is pretty comfortable for short distances, but we’ll see how she does on the open road.
Give Emma and my niece a hug. I’ll see you soon. Looking forward to rooming with you again until you get married. I’ll have to plan a bachelor party with Emma’s brothers, if for no other reason than it would annoy the Pip. I swear, she’s a conundrum. She’s a flighty little thing, but at the same time, a more disapproving woman I’ve never met, not outside catholic school. Does she wear a chastity belt? Maybe that’s the problem. She has one, and threw the key away. More likely she lost it. Someone needs to buy her a pair of bolt cutters for Christmas, so she can get rid of the thing and lighten up. But you didn’t hear that from me.
He realized as he sealed the envelope and put the letter in the mailbox that thinking about Amelia Campbell’s sex life, or lack thereof, just prior to trying to sleep probably wasn’t a good idea. As frivolous as she was, she’d been haunting his dreams ever since he’d laid eyes on her. Between Amelia and his frequent nightmares, he hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. The knowledge did nothing to endear her to him.
“Maybe I should plan on stopping somewhere along the way for some old-fashioned R and R,” he mused as he walked back to his efficiency apartment. But his heart wasn’t in it. As frustrated as he was, the thought of exposing himself physically to a stranger, or even a friend, left him feeling raw.
Logan had come home scarred and wounded. He’d regained an astonishing amount of physical strength but his endurance was gone. His doctors told him it wasn’t likely to ever return. He couldn’t argue with them that he was a shifter and he healed differently from regular humans, so he kept his mouth shut. But he had a nagging worry in the back of his mind that they were correct. At least he still had his cat, though he hadn’t been able to fully shift yet.
Time would tell just how much he would heal. Even if he never regained his full physical abilities, he’d learn to deal with what he was left with. He hadn’t come this far to give up now. Besides, focusing on the pain of healing meant he had less time to focus on a young blonde he had no business thinking about in the ways that he did.
Amelia was late. She hated being late. It was rude, it was irresponsible, and most of the time it was entirely preventable. Today was an example of a good exception.
She’d gone to her car, coffee and keys in one hand, book satchel in the other, ready to go to work at the photography studio. She was running on time, which meant she was going to be a few minutes early. With any luck, she’d arrive in time to get a bear claw from the bakery next door before they sold out.
As soon as she saw her tires, she knew that bear claw was not in her cards today.
All four were flat.
“Okay, that’s odd.”
It didn’t take ten seconds for her to figure out how and why. When she unlocked her door to set her bag inside, the tire valve caps were lined up in a neat little row on the ledge in front of her odometer. All the air rushed from her lungs with a sickening wheeze.
There really wasn’t another explanation. Given their encounter in the grocery store the day before, she had been expecting something. But not this.
The first time she’d realized Roger was toying with her was the same day she’d met Logan for the first time. Almost a month ago, on her father’s birthday, Amelia had overslept. It was an unusual occurrence, to say the least. When she’d called up to the farmhouse at the top of the mountain and apologized, explaining that her power was off and the clock’s alarm hadn’t awakened her on time, they had told her they had power. So did her aunt and uncle who lived just up the road, almost within sight of Amelia’s trailer. That had been odd, but she hadn’t made the connection until she’d walked out into the yard to see Archer standing with Logan. They were discussing her power outage, which had apparently been caused by the quick connection having been knocked loose.
Whoever had disconnected the power had also taken her favorite pair of ratty sneakers, which she’d left on the porch after having gotten them wet the night before. Logan had discovered them tied together, hanging across the power line on the other side of the road.
The taunts hadn’t ended there. A few mornings later, she’d gotten up to find a small pile of white gravel on the rug at her front door. She came home from work a few days after that to a dark porch, and once she’d unlocked the door and set her things inside the house, she discovered that the lightbulb had been removed from the fixture. The globe had even been replaced.
Things were mostly quiet after that. She’d started to relax, thinking that maybe it had been kids after all. But then yesterday at the grocery store, she had turned the corner and her buggy had collided with someone else’s. The apology had died on her lips as she saw Roger’s smirking face.
“Well, well, well. Lookie here. Amelia Campbell. Fancy running into you.”
She was immediately suspicious. “Roger. Where’s Lori?”
He gave a negligent shrug. “Home. Not feeling well, as usual.”
Amelia knew he never let Lori go to the grocery store without him for fear that she’d speak to another man. And she knew Roger wasn’t the kind of husband who just went out and bought groceries for the family because his wife didn’t feel up to it. His cart was empty, save for a six pack of beer. The suspicion that he’d followed her into the store crawled into the back of her mind.
“I’ll have to stop by and see her, then. Has her mother been by to check on her?”
She didn’t miss the way his hands tightened on the handle of the cart or the way his mouth flattened into an ugly line. “I think it’s best if you stay away. She needs her rest right now, and seeing you always tires her out. I’ll be home the rest of the day with her, once I get back from the store and running errands, of course.”
Amelia’s heart crept into her throat. That meant he’d probably beaten Lori again. As soon as she could get to a pay phone she’d stop and call Lori’s mother, Christine. She tried to pull her buggy back, but he pinned her against the shelves again.
Undaunted, she raised her chin. “Then I’ll check in on her soon.”
Roger sighed. “You know, I wish you wouldn’t. She really does better when you aren’t around. We’ve had this discussion before.”
She brought her buggy back as far as she could, and then using all her strength, slammed it into his. The wire frames hit so hard, his tires left the floor.
“Temper, temper, little girl,” he half growled, jaw clenched. “Some man needs to teach you a lesson or two.”
The light that entered his eyes as he looked her over caused Amelia’s stomach to turn. “You listen to me, you stupid son of a bitch. One of these days you’re going to go too far. And when you do, someone’s going to rip your throat out. I just hope I’m there to see it.” She knew better than to antagonize him, but stretched as thin as she was, her caution went out the window. “You stay the hell away from me, and you keep your hands off Lori. If her father was able, you’d already be a dead man.”
Lori’s father, Edward, had undergone open-heart surgery the year before. He’d never fully recovered and Roger used the man’s illness to do whatever he wanted to Lori.
Taking advantage of the curiosity of a passing shopper, Amelia got her buggy loose from Roger’s and hurried past him. The mocking sound of his laughter had followed her down the aisle, and she barely managed to hold herself together long enough to pay for her order.
Now, standing beside her disabled car, she felt like crying. Alternatively, if Roger had suddenly materialized in front of her, she knew she would have killed him. Stretched to her emotional breaking point, she put her belongings in the car and unlocked the trunk to get the small compressor she carried out of her emergency kit.
“Thank you, Daddy, for putting this kit together.” She sighed as she plugged it into the cigarette lighter. The compressor was slow as molasses in January, but it would do the job.
By the time the four tires were aired back up and she’d washed up, she was going to be at least twenty minutes late getting to Emma’s. She called and left a message on the machine so her sister wouldn’t worry, then hit the road.
“I don’t know how in the world I’ll explain this. I don’t want to lie but I refuse to worry her,” she told the empty car when she stopped at a light. Aside from the power connection incident, she hadn’t said much of anything to anyone about what Roger was doing. She knew that wasn’t smart but she hated being a burden. It was one of her biggest faults, Amelia knew.
“If he does much more, I’ll have to tell Rick. He’ll know what to do.” Rick was her cousin, Jack and Gilly’s son, and a deputy sheriff. “I just don’t have any way of proving it’s Roger. As evil as he is, he’s smart.”
When she glanced to her right, she saw that the person in the car next to her was staring at her with suspicion. She laughed ruefully and shook her head. “I’m turning into a crazy person who talks to herself. Pretty soon I’ll be the old lady at the end of the street who has a houseful of cats. Ah, well.” The light changed, and with a quick wave, she pulled away from the other car.
She knew she couldn’t ignore Roger’s antics forever. She knew the time of putting his actions to the back of her mind was coming to a close. But today she just wasn’t up to facing the reality of what she was up against, what she’d gotten herself into by trying to defend her best friend. Admitting Roger was spooking her would be admitting a bitter defeat and she wasn’t strong enough to deal with that reality just yet.
When Logan and Archer walked into the Campbell farmhouse the Thursday evening before the wedding, they were met by a pacing Amelia. The planning binder he’d hardly seen her without since he’d moved from Virginia was tucked under an arm. Logan groaned.
“Sure you don’t want to just fly to Vegas?” he muttered to his brother as he slid his shoes off and set them in the line of shoes next to the door.
“I heard that. Don’t you even think about it, soldier boy,” she threatened. “I’ll string both of you up by your toes. We’re in the living room.”
His brows snapped together in a fierce scowl. Before he could bite back at her, Archer pulled her into a loose headlock.
“You know I wouldn’t ruin all your planning, Pip. He’s kidding. What do you have for us?”
“Some last-minute details, that’s all.”
“If we’re talking about flowers and dresses and frou-frou, I’m going home. I’m starving,” Logan commented as they followed her through the wide double doors.
“Oh, is that why you’re so grumpy?” she asked. “Your blood sugar is low and it’s making you cranky? I’m sure Sydney has some animal crackers she wouldn’t mind sharing with you.”
“Pip,” Archer warned under his breath. She didn’t respond, but she stopped with the biting remarks.
A round of hellos greeted them when they walked in. Archer waved at the couple sitting on the hearth in front of the empty fireplace. “Hey, Ben. Ainsley. When did you get in?”
“A couple of hours ago.” Emma’s twin brother and his wife lived in Lexington. “Getting nervous? Only a few days to go.”
“Nah. Excited. Where are the boys?” Archer asked.
“They’re upstairs playing, out of the way,” John, Emma’s oldest brother, answered from his seat on a second loveseat. His wife, Zanny, was beside him, feeding their infant daughter, Molly, with a bottle.
“You could go up there with them,” Amelia suggested to Logan innocently, her smile as fake as a three-dollar bill.
“It would probably be more fun than whatever you have planned,” he shot back.
“Oh, dear God, tell me they aren’t still at each other’s throats?” Emma asked Archer with a groan. “Aren’t we the ones who are supposed to be bickering?”
Archer went to the loveseat where she was curled up with Sydney. “Absolutely not. That’s a myth.” He bent down and kissed her, then took the space beside her. The happiness on his brother’s face made Logan smile. The smile faded when he saw that the only empty seat was on the couch next to Amelia, and he gave an inward curse as he sat. He wondered if she had planned it that way, then decided it didn’t matter. He could sit anywhere in the room and she would still annoy the piss out of him.
“So, here’s where we are. We’ll start decorating the church and reception hall tomorrow.” For the next thirty minutes, Amelia went over the plans with an eye for detail and discipline that would have served her well in the military. He tried to pay attention to the words but the light floral scent she wore kept distracting him. As if that weren’t bad enough, they were sitting close enough on the couch that he could feel the heat of her along his right side. Their arms brushed several times during the discussion. Logan had worn his shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbow, and the tingles that ran along his skin when they touched made him regret that decision.
Just when he thought the talk was winding down, with Amelia having been distracted by a question Rachel had about the catering, Sydney got up and came over to him. She stood beside him for a minute, her head tilted.
His eyebrow quirked. “Yes?”
“Up, please.” Without waiting for his response she carefully climbed into his lap and settled down. She pushed her glasses up on her nose, then reached out with a small hand to do the same to his. Satisfied, she nodded once. Logan winked at her, and she giggled.
“Are you flirting with my daughter?” Archer teased.
Sydney sighed and laid her head on his chest. She patted him three times, then started toying with the buttons on his shirt. “Uncle Logan, I got a question for you.”
“Okay. Ask away.”
The little girl pursed her lips and blinked up at him. Logan could practically see the wheels turning in her head, and a glance at Archer told him his brother was waiting with bated breath to see what she would ask. Sydney was known for being precocious, to say the least. The question could be anything from wanting to know what was for dinner to asking where baby brothers came from. She’d hit him with that bombshell the first time he’d talked to her on the phone, and he’d stammered his way through an “I don’t know.” Fortunately she was five, and she’d bought it.
“Well, I know you got a kitty cat inside. Right? Just like my new daddy used to have, but his kitty cat went to sleep. Yours isn’t asleep, though. So when you turn into the kitty cat and somebody rubs your belly, do you purr? Noah’s pet kitty cat purrs when someone rubs her belly.”
An awkward silence spread across the room. Logan gave a slight shake of his head as though he weren’t quite sure what he’d heard.
“I beg your pardon?”
Sydney huffed, and her scowl was straight Emma Campbell. “When you’re a kitty cat, do you purr?”
Logan had no idea what to say. He looked at Archer, whose eyebrows were nearly to his hairline. Emma looked similarly astonished. Looking around the room, he saw that the only ones who didn’t seem surprised were her grandparents, Sarah and Owen. Owen was even shaking his head, half amused.
Emma straightened from where she’d been leaning against Archer. “Sydney, sweetheart, um… do you remember when we talked about what was okay to bring up and what wasn’t?” Emma asked gently.
Sydney bit her lip and turned to her mother. “Yes. But it’s just us here. Not strangers. And I’m not picking my nose or showing my bloomers.”
“Oh, boy.” Archer was fighting a smile. When Emma narrowed her eyes at him, he held up his hands. “This one’s all you.”
“Fine. You can handle her first boyfriend.”
“Boyfriend? She’s five!”
Logan coughed to hide his laugh at his brother’s horror. The narrowed look Archer sent him told him he hadn’t been entirely successful.
“You just wait. Someday you’ll have a daughter, and we’ll see who’s laughing then.”
“Oh, hell no. I’m not having kids. You know that.”
Emma rolled her eyes at their exchange. “She won’t always be five. Sydney, we don’t just ask people about their shifting abilities like that. Not everyone has an animal inside them and they wouldn’t understand. It might upset them. Okay?”
Sydney turned her face up to Logan. “Are you upset?”
“No, but your mom is right. Shifting is a secret.”
Her shoulders slumped with disappointment. “Okay, then. I won’t ask again.” She got down, dejected, and Archer held out his hands. She let him pull her into his lap, and he gave her a smacking kiss.
“Where did you hear about Uncle Logan’s kitty cat? Do you mind telling me?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t hear about it. I felt it.”
Archer frowned and exchanged a puzzled glance with Emma, who shrugged. “What do you mean?”
Sydney gave a half shrug. “I don’t know. It’s like when I listen to you here.” She tapped him on the chest. “I can feel that you used to have a kitty cat but it’s asleep now. And I can feel that he still does. When Aunt Zanny had Molly in her belly, I could feel her. And I can feel Aunt Ainsley’s baby, too. It’s just this big. It’s a girl, too,” she whispered as she held her fingers two inches apart.
The silence and shock that filled the room was almost palpable. As one, the family turned to Ben and Ainsley, who wore sheepish but pleased looks.
“Ben?” Owen asked quietly.
“We, uh, we weren’t going to say anything for a little while, but yeah. We’re pregnant.” He put his arm around Ainsley and kissed her temple. “We found out a couple of weeks ago.”
The laughter and tears that filled the room told Logan more than words that this pregnancy was a very unexpected, very welcome event.
Emma was the first to reach the couple, and she pulled both of them into a tight hug. “How?” she asked tearfully. “Have you been trying? IVF?”
Ben’s face turned red but he was laughing. “The usual way, and no. It just happened. We’ve been talking about adoption lately and then Ainsley started throwing up. We thought it was the flu.”
“This wasn’t supposed to be possible,” Ainsley said with a joyful smile. “We’d accepted that years ago. We’re not sure how it’s come to pass, but it has. Jonah said it happens sometimes, especially when a couple starts seriously exploring adoption.”
“Jonah’s a friend who’s also a doctor,” Archer explained when Logan looked to him questioningly.
The celebration over the joyful news disrupted the planning session so much that even Amelia had to concede defeat. “We might as well go in and eat. I don’t think any of us can focus on the wedding right this minute,” she teased as she hugged her brother.
After they sat down around the dining room table, plates full, Emma’s attention turned back to Sydney. “So tell me about this feeling you get, sweetie.”
The little girl shrugged. “It’s like a little tickle, right here.” She pointed to her own belly, down low. “And then when the baby gets bigger, the tickle gets bigger and then the baby kicks and stuff. Just like Molly. ‘Cept I don’t feel the kicks, just the tickle.”
Zanny cleared her throat. “When I first found out about Molly, before I told anyone, even John, Sydney kept running over to me for hugs. She’d put her head against me, then giggle and run away. I thought it was a game at the time, but… With this family’s abilities? Maybe it isn’t surprising that she can feel things.”
Everyone looked to Owen, who was studying his granddaughter with speculation. “I’ve come to the conclusion that anything is possible with this family. I grew up hearing about women who were healers, who could lay hands on a person and know what was wrong with them. I’ll do some digging.”
“I’m surprised you’ve not come across that kind of folklore before,” Rachel commented. “As many years as you’ve been doing genealogy and research.”
“I’ve seen some articles and journals that mention it, but that sort of thing was never at the top of my list. I know where to start, though.”
Sarah laughed from the opposite end of the table, her smile warm for her husband. “Does this mean we’ll be spending the night in the studio tonight while you do research?”
Owen’s answering smile was just as warm. “Maybe.”
Logan knew that Owen had a studio located a short distance away from the main house, set back into the tree line a bit. “Is that where you write?” he asked.
“And it’s Mom and Daddy’s getaway,” Amelia teased. “I’m surprised the two of you haven’t moved back out there now that we’re all out of the house, as much time as you spend there. I guess you’re showing Mom all your new sketches, hmmm?”
Owen reached over and tapped her on the nose. “Hush.”
Emma’s cheeky grin matched her baby sister’s. “I’m with Pip, here. I think we should be seeing a lot more books than what we do, as often as you need Mom’s ‘opinion’ on something.”
Their father looked down the table to Sarah, laughing helplessly, his cheeks flushed as teasing laughter sounded from around the table. “Daughters. I told you sons are easier, but no. You insisted on having girls, too. See what you’ve done?”
“Not by myself,” came the pert response. “And if Sydney is right, you’re about to be overrun by granddaughters, Owen Campbell.” He didn’t look too put out by the idea, if his happy grin was any indication.
“Yeah, what about that?” He looked to Archer and pointed. “Get busy on some grandsons, would you? After the wedding.”
Archer’s face turned red so fast, and he coughed so hard, Logan thought he was going to have to do the Heimlich maneuver on his brother. But he was laughing so hard himself, he didn’t know if he could do it if he had to. Around the table, most everyone was laughing along with him, enjoying Archer’s embarrassment.
When the laughter died down a little, Amelia looked at Logan with amazement.
“Oh, my God. You do have a sense of humor. Who would’ve thunk it?” She widened her eyes and batted her lashes at him from across the table. “Someone should take out an ad in the paper. Emma, where’s your camera?”
Emma couldn’t respond for the tears streaming down her cheeks. She snorted when she tried to answer and could only shake her head.
Logan scowled. “I have a good sense of humor, thank you very much. Just because I don’t think everything is a joke doesn’t mean I don’t have a sense of humor. Ow!”
Archer poked him in the side. “Cool it, dude. She has a point. You have gotten pretty serious.” His eyebrows were raised, his face set in a challenging look as he watched Logan.
“Yeah, well, where I’ve been the last few years, there hasn’t been a lot to laugh about.” He thought he heard Amelia mutter something about him having a stick up his ass and that not helping, but a quick frown from her father had her flushing and looking down at her plate.
“I guess I could tell them all about some of your more embarrassing moments from childhood,” Logan conceded to Archer. “Some of the stunts you pulled were pretty funny.”
For the rest of the meal, partly in an effort to smooth things over and partly to prove Amelia wrong, he kept them in stitches with exaggerated tales of Archer’s antics as a young boy.
“Be careful when he’s sick or if he, um, over-imbibes,” he warned Emma. “He has a tendency to strip down buck naked. When he was a little guy, it was all we could do to keep clothes on him. I think he finally grew out of it when he was about eight or nine.”
“That’s not true. I was much younger,” Archer protested indignantly. “And I’m not planning on ever over-imbibing again, you’ll be happy to know. I’m too old for that.”
Logan held back a smile when Amelia snickered from across the table.
“Turning over a new leaf, are you? Because I remember a day not that long ago when you had to take Aunt Gilly’s headache remedy.” She made a face at Archer and stuck her tongue out.
Archer made a face back. “Extenuating circumstances, you know that. When’s the last time you saw me… indisposed before that?”
She tapped her cheek with a finger and pretended to think. “Let’s see…”
“Uh-huh, you can’t think of anything can you?” Archer asked smugly after she had hemmed and hawed for a few seconds. “I’m the picture of sobriety. Most of the time.”
“Dang it, you are. This is why it’s so hard to roast you at your birthday. You just don’t get into trouble. Maybe Emma will be a positive influence on you.” Her smile showed how deep her affection for his brother was, and Logan wasn’t happy to feel a strong pang of jealousy. If she ever looked at him with that much love, he’d probably be incinerated on the spot.
After dinner they went back to the living room and wrapped up the planning. Archer walked Logan out to his car when they were finished.
“Thanks for backing off in there.”
Logan shrugged. “I don’t mean to get so short tempered around her. But she just irritates me to the point that I can’t seem to help it.”
Archer’s words floored him. “I think you’re attracted to her.” Denial instantly sprung to his tongue, but before he could protest, Archer continued. “I’m not happy about that, to be honest. I think if there was less animosity between the two of you, you might be a good match. But there’s so much anger there it worries me. I think you could end up hurting her. She’s not as irreverent and lighthearted as you seem to think, Lo. She’s been hurt a lot, as much as she’s the baby in the family, and has everyone protecting her. She’s very sensitive. And I’m glad you’re here but I don’t want to see the two of you tear each other apart. So be mindful, okay?”
More than his words, Archer’s serious tone spoke volumes. It gave Logan pause. “Is this about what I said a few weeks ago?”
“Partly. But it’s also because of the way the two of you seem to grate against each other. Amelia doesn’t react like that to other people. I’ve only ever seen her this defensive with one person, and that’s Roger. So I think there’s something else going on with her as far as you’re concerned, but I don’t know what. I can’t get her to talk to me. That’s also a first.”
Logan blew out a sigh. “You think it’s a defensive thing?”
“It’s the only explanation I can come up with that makes sense. Really, she gets along with everyone. She can give advice to people that most of us would get our heads knocked in for suggesting and then get thanked for it. I’ve seen her coax smiles from some of the most bitter, sour people you can imagine when she helps Emma out at the studio, and she does it with genuine warmth. But you…” Archer shook his head slowly. “I don’t know what’s going on there, and it worries me. It reminds me too much of how she was after she and Jimmy broke up a few years back.”
“Jimmy?” There was that damned flare of jealousy again.
“Long story. They were friends from childhood, he was Lori’s brother, they dated for a while. He cheated on her, got the other woman pregnant, finally grew enough balls to break up with Pip, and then promptly got killed in a car wreck. It changed her. She’s just in the last few months started acting like her old self again. It really shook the family up. They got to see a side of her I don’t think they knew existed.”
“I remember you writing something about that when it happened,” Logan said. “You were worried for a while.”
Archer nodded. “Emma and I didn’t think we were going to get her to pull out of it. I know it scared Emma nearly to death. She’d never seen Pip like that.”
Logan studied his brother. “But you weren’t surprised.”
A cloud of steamy breath rolled away from them as Archer exhaled. “I guess because I hadn’t known her all her life, I could see it. She wears this mask, this free-spirit persona. It makes a lot of sense if you know some things about her childhood. I think she does it because she doesn’t want to worry anyone, and yes, part of it is who Amelia is. She really is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known. But there’s a deep well of loneliness hiding inside her, a darkness. When everything happened with Jimmy, she couldn’t hide it as much.”
Logan was uncomfortable with the revelation. He wasn’t about to tell his brother that Archer had guessed correctly, that he was attracted to Amelia. He certainly wasn’t going to confess to Archer that what he’d just said made things worse instead of better. As long as Logan could dismiss Amelia, he knew he wouldn’t even entertain the idea of an entanglement with her. But if he saw her as an adult, then she became that much more dangerous. And since they clearly wanted very different things from life, any sort of relationship beyond casual friendship could prove disastrous.
“I’ll try to keep a lid on it, but you’re going to have to get her to back off. I promise I won’t start anything, but if she pushes me too far, I can’t promise I won’t finish it.”
Archer nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. Hopefully some of this stress is just the wedding. Emma and I are the ones who are supposed to be keeling over from the tension, but Pip’s fighting to keep most of it off of us. No matter how much we try to do so she doesn’t have to. Speaking of, I’ll see you tomorrow around three at the church?”
“I’ll be there with bells on.”
That caused a wide grin to spread across Archer’s face. “I’d pay money to see that.”
“Yeah, well. See you tomorrow.”
His mind didn’t waver from Amelia and what Archer’s words meant, even in sleep. For most of the night he chased her through his dreams, only this time it wasn’t the erotic give and take he’d grown used to over recent weeks. This time they were running through a forest, the woods filled with thick fog that hid and revealed her in turn. She stayed several paces ahead of him and kept looking over her shoulder with an expression so full of hurt and sorrow that it left shards of sadness in Logan’s mind all through the next day. Like the shrapnel that had ripped into his body months earlier, the dream left bleeding tracks across his conscience.
He kept thinking about the accusations he’d carelessly flung at Archer in October, when they were in the Campbells’ barn. Archer had said then that Logan would be sick if he realized just how badly he’d misjudged Amelia. His brother was right. Logan was horrified.
“Thank God I said it in private. Archer would never tell her about that conversation. Still…” Guilt was eating at him as he thought about how dismissive he’d been. Ashamed of what he’d said, he let himself admit that he’d only been so defensive where she was concerned because he was deeply attracted to her. He had fought that attraction with disdain that she didn’t deserve, his instincts kicking in to protect him from a threat to his heart he knew was real.
Logan and Archer had lost their mother to a senseless accident when they were eight and six, respectively. Their father, Steve Gibson, had not dealt well with the loss. He drank too much, blaming Tamsin herself for dying.
“She was so damned impulsive, lost in her own world so much of the time,” he’d tell Logan bitterly as he drank himself into a stupor. “She was a dreamer and she didn’t think about how other people would be affected by her actions. Do you know how many times I came home from work and you boys were hungry or dirty and she was in her room, painting? Or to find that she’d gone outside to the garden and left a pot on the stove? Never trust a woman who’s like that, Logan. Sure as hell don’t have children with her. You boys will pay for the rest of your lives for my mistake. I never should have married your mother. I wish to God I hadn’t.”
As he got older, it was hard for Logan to hold on to the good memories he had of his mother. Her laughter, her lightness. Instead, his memories were poisoned by Steve’s vitriol. Logan had struggled through his own grief and loss to try to protect Archer from their father’s bitterness as much as he could, but it came at a high cost to his own self.
He rubbed a hand over the scar on his left cheek that Steve had given him a few weeks before his death. He’d come in from school one afternoon, determined to speak up to his father, to tell him to man up and get help. When he’d approached Steve with the speech he’d prepared, the man had struck out physically. In all the years, through all the misery, he’d never gotten physical with either of his sons. But he lashed out at Logan unthinkingly, the piece of metal in his hand slicing deep into Logan’s face.
Steve had apologized profusely, but the damage was done. Archer, underage, had driven him to the hospital. The ER staff had called the police, and a report had been filed. Steve had spent the night in the drunk tank, and after a stern talking to, had promised to reform. Logan was on the fence about pressing charges. He wanted to give his father the benefit of the doubt, at least this once.
Two weeks later, he’d walked in from school to find his father’s lifeless body stretched out across the bed he’d shared with Tamsin. He written a short note that stated simply he couldn’t live with the pain of her loss any longer, that his sons would be better off without him, and he’d stuck his .45 in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Logan knew Archer had never forgiven their father for the way he’d killed himself, for leaving them in such a mess, for dying in such a violent way without regard for whichever son found him.
Logan himself wasn’t so harsh on the old man. He understood that Steve had loved his wife too deeply, too much, to go on without her. Their father had died the same day their mother had. It had just taken his body eight years to catch up.
So with that knowledge planted firmly in his mind, Logan had sworn to never let himself be vulnerable to any woman the way his father had been. He’d had a string of relationships through the years that were superficial, lightly affectionate. If they showed any danger of becoming too deep, Logan backed out fast. He wasn’t promiscuous, and he didn’t treat sex lightly, but he had never been in any danger of becoming seriously involved with any of the women whose beds he’d shared.
He knew Amelia would be different. Contrary to his words weeks earlier, he knew she had substance. She was a dangerous package—physically, emotionally, in every way. He resented that she was so lighthearted because she made him want to be free, to not be weighed down by the past and his memories. She was the kind of woman a man could build a life with, could grow old with and still feel young. Soothing and warm and indescribably sexy all rolled into one small, perfect package. She made him want things he had no business wanting.
She was his worst nightmare, the perfect trap, and the attraction he felt for her wasn’t something he could slake with a casual friends-with-benefits relationship. Even if she wasn’t his brother’s best friend and his own soon-to-be sister-in-law, Logan would have run far and fast from the temptation that was Amelia Campbell. Because while no other woman had ever tempted him to let himself be caught, she did. And if he let her catch him and he lost her? He knew he wouldn’t be able to stand the loss. He’d be left a shell of a man, just like his father had been. And God forbid if they had children. The thought of going through what his father had made him shudder.
On top of that, if he got close enough to her to satisfy the physical urges she stirred in him but then pulled back, it could devastate her. He didn’t want to do that, and not just because of Archer. But because he didn’t want to hurt her. And that scared him most of all.