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Wanting to slip into town as quietly as she’d sneaked out, Katie Sara
McMichaels had driven through the night, planning her arrival while most
Paradoxians would still be asleep.
Last time she’d seen that city limits sign, she’d been a teary-eyed seventeen-year-old curled in a miserable ball on the backseat of her mother’s Oldsmobile. Midnight, May second, eleven years ago.
She’d watched in the car’s side mirror as darkness swallowed Paradox and obliterated it both from her view and from her life, convinced she’d never return.
That had been one month before high school graduation. Two months after...
She rolled her head to the side and studied the large white Persian cat snuggled in the shotgun seat. Tucking two fingers beneath his fluffy chin, she tipped his head. Two clear blue eyes blinked at her.
“What am I doing, Chia? What made me think for one single minute I could teach PE and Sex Ed to the high school kids of Paradox, Georgia? I must’ve been crazy as a peach-orchard pig to even consider this.”
The cat grumbled as if to say, “Your decision, so deal with it.”
Early morning mist shrouded the trees and the red-clay fields. When Thomas Rhett’s newest song came on, Katie Sara turned up the volume and sang along. Tempted to drop her pretty blue Mustang’s convertible top, she contented herself with rolling down the windows. Cool morning air rushed in.
This would be okay. It would.
Then her traitorous mind veered to forbidden territory. Paradox’s bad boy extraordinaire. Argh!
Reiner Broderick, with his long hair and Harley, his total disrespect for rules, was the Big Bad Wolf mothers had warned their daughters about since the beginning of time. The fact that he’d even noticed her, Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes, had kissed her... She’d fallen ringing-bells and rush-of-angel-wings in love with him.
Could he at least have had the good grace to ride quietly off into the sunset? No! The quarterback who’d signed the biggest contract in NFL history ruled the universe. The man’s mug was plastered everywhere!
Even permanently sidelined by a shoulder injury, his face, that sexy-as-sin smile, that incredible, rock-hard body still sold merchandise. And so he continued to smile at her from every magazine rack in every store in every city, every small town, and every gas station and convenience store.
He winked at her from billboards strategically placed along the highways advertising God-only-knew-what because she could never get beyond those eyes, that mouth. She could never catch her breath in time to read the message on the board.
At eighteen, Bad Boy Reiner had been irresistible. The man he’d grown into? The mind-blowing, Grade A stuff of fantasies! Eyes the color of her grandmother’s cobalt vase when the sun shone through it and dark curly hair outrageously tousled and just a little too long. The strong, square chin with a deep cleft and a five o’clock shadow that almost hid the small scar Kip had put there playing pirates in third grade.
Fortunately, he was off somewhere playing with a pigskin or smiling into a camera, making another quadrillion dollars. Since he’d left for college, the sport god had returned just once according to her friend Rhonda, and then only so the town could throw a tickertape parade and bow down to worship at his size-twelve feet. Because of that, Katie Sara could return home.
Reiner Broderick. Riding the crest of the wave.
And herself? She’d taken a steep plunge from the top, the fall hard, its impact cataclysmic.
“But I’m safe, Chia. Reiner’s forgotten this little town even exists.”
The answering machine picked up. Just as well.
“Auntie Belham? Reiner here. The decorator called to say the house is finished and ready to go. I’ve about got things wrapped up on this end, so expect me Tuesday.” He hesitated, then grimaced. “Tell Felicity she can bring the rat with her. But in a cage. One with a good latch. A really good latch.”
He hung up, flopped along the length of the leather sofa in his quiet bachelor condo, and scrubbed his hands over his face. Talk about going to hell in a hand basket. ’Bout summed up his life at the moment.
When he’d left there for the University of Georgia, he sure hadn’t let the door hit him in the butt. No, sirree! The prettiest sight he’d ever seen had been the city limits sign in his rearview mirror. He’d needed to get away. Tucking that football under his arm, he’d been top Dawg at UG and then right on into the pros. Problem was, no matter how fast or how far he ran on those fields, he couldn’t outrun the memories.
Bounding off the couch, Reiner moved to the sliders, stepped onto the deck, and gazed out over the Atlantic. A stiff sea breeze ruffled his hair. He’d miss his beach house here on Hilton Head. Planting his hands on the rail, he stared past the dunes and watched as little trails of sand curled out to sea with the waves.
Once he’d graduated, his folks, footloose and fancy-free, sold the house he’d grown up in to become globe-trotting, archeological-dig junkies. He’d had no reason to head back to Paradox.
Except once, and he’d only gone then as kind of a professional obligation. The hometown-kid-makes-good thing had embarrassed the hell out of him. But now... Jeez. As of three weeks ago, he actually owned a house there! And he had to go home. He had no choice.
Reiner swore he could hear that city limits sign way up in Paradox sticking out its tongue, taunting him. “Nah-nah, nah-nah, nah, nah.”