The day was unseasonably warm for November, allowing her to leave the doors open to air out the house. She hung up the sheets and several pairs of Abe’s jeans, feeling like a total sap when she found herself humming while she worked. She’d started doing that a lot. Truth was, she was happy. Happier than she’d been in a long time.

She loved when evening rolled around and they chatted about their workdays. Cooking together. Snuggling on the couch after they’d loaded the dishwasher. No more of Abe plopping himself on the easy chair to watch TV after supper while she cleaned up the kitchen. Abe didn’t help because it was expected. He helped because he liked to spend time with her. No matter if they were cooking, or washing dishes, or f**king each other silly.

Their couple status meant they’d been invited to Hank and Lainie’s for supper a few times. And to Bran and Harper’s for dessert and poker. It was all so nauseatingly normal.

Yet, it wasn’t. New and improved didn’t begin to describe the changes in each of them individually and when they were together. It made her long for things she’d feared she could never have. Especially not with this man.

She swept the front deck with an old broom. She boiled potatoes for supper. Cranked the music while she vacuumed. Blissfully lost track of time. She’d wandered among the building debris downstairs, debating on whether Abe would ever consider masculine wallpaper instead of just paint.

The front door slammed. Then the back door slammed. Abe bellowed, “Janie? Where are you?”

“Down here.”

Thump thump thump down the stairs. Abe rushed her, wrapping her in a bear hug that actually lifted her feet off the floor. He held her so tenaciously she felt his entire body vibrating.

“Abe? What’s going on?”

“I need you to come outside with me.” He leaned back and studied her, those serious gray eyes never wavering from hers.

Her heart raced. Since she’d moved in with Abe, there’d been no more incidents that could be attributed to her stalker and she hoped to heaven that wasn’t about to change. “Should I be worried?”

“No. Come on.” He took her hand, led her up the stairs and out the front door.

Sheriff Bullard leaned against his patrol car next to a scrawny boy and another man. He acknowledged her with a curt, “Janie,” and a nod of his head.

Janie gripped Abe’s hand tightly. “Sheriff. Is something wrong?”

He jerked his chin to the boy whose red face nearly matched the color of his hair. “This is Bobby Callan, Junior. Bobby has something to say to you.” The sheriff motioned for Bobby to move closer.

Bobby shuffled forward and swallowed nervously. He dropped his chin to his chest, shoving his hands in the front pockets of his baggy jeans.

“Look her in the eye, boy,” the other man prompted.

He lifted his head and blurted, “I’m the one who caused your car crash. And I’m so sorry. It was an accident, I swear! I came up on you fast and didn’t know what to do after the first time I hit you. I meant to step on the brake but I was so scared I accidentally stepped on the gas and hit you again. Then you swerved just as I was about to pass you, the corner of my truck hit the back end of your car and it headed for the ditch. And I—I didn’t stick around to see if you were o-k-kay. I’m so sorry.” The rest of his words were lost in his stuttering sobs.

Janie seemed to be frozen in place as she stared at the sobbing kid. He was barely big enough to see over the steering wheel. How had he gotten ahold of a vehicle? She looked at the man she assumed was the boy’s father.

The guy ambled up to stand beside the kid, but didn’t offer to comfort him. He nodded at Abe like he knew him. “I can’t believe my son stupidly decided he’d steal my old feed truck and take it for a joyride when his mom and I weren’t home. I hadn’t paid much attention until I went out two days ago to switch out the battery and noticed the crumpled right front quarter panel. I looked closer at the scrapes around the cattle guard, imbedded with flecks of paint, so I knew there was only one explanation: someone had driven it and been in an accident. I asked Junior about it and he came clean.” He shot the kid a dark look, then locked his gaze to Janie’s. “There ain’t no excuse for what he did, causing an accident and then just takin’ off. I’m more embarrassed and sorry than you can ever know. We raised him better than that. It’s . . .” His voice broke. “I’m grateful that Abe came upon the accident as soon as he did or this would be an entirely different conversation.”

“I ain’t gonna lie, Bobby, I’m upset because Janie was seriously hurt,” Abe said to the man. “But I’ve known you for a few years and you ain’t the type to pass the buck, so I appreciate you comin’ here and telling us in person.”

“We wanted to let you know that we’re filing an insurance claim to reimburse you for the car repairs and the medical costs. What the insurance don’t cover, we’ll repay. Junior is gonna be working for a long goddamn time to pay us back. And I suspect he’ll be lucky if he’s allowed to drive before he’s eighteen.”

Bobby Junior wiped his arm across his face and looked at Janie. “I’m sorry. I really am.”

Janie couldn’t seem to make her mouth work, so she merely nodded.

Sheriff Bullard opened the rear door of the patrol car for Bobby and his son. Then he walked to Janie. “I’m sorry about all this. Not a good way to welcome you back to Muddy Gap, huh?”


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