Max Hull left Cunningham Falls a long time ago. Thanks to his killer instincts and business smarts, he’s come back to town richer than anyone’s wildest imagination. Now he’s closer to his family, living in his dream home, and at the top of his career—it sure looks like he has it all.
All but one thing. And she’s not interested.
Willa Monroe and Max were childhood sweethearts. She daydreamed about their wedding day and named their children, but Max’s dreams were bigger than her. After high school, he left her behind without another word. Now, Willa is a single mother and a successful business owner, and the heartbreak of losing Max was a very long time ago.
She’s moved on.
But when he walks into her shop and back into her life, suddenly it feels like no time has passed at all. He’s as handsome as ever, and more charming than she remembered. Once he makes friends with her son and turns his attention on her, how long will she be able to resist him?
And does she really want to? Sometimes you do get a second chance at first love.
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Eight Years Ago…
IT DIDN’T KILL ME.
The worst possible thing that can happen to a person has happened to me, and I’m only twenty-two years old.
I don’t feel the bitter Montana cold. I don’t hear the words the minister whose name I only learned yesterday is saying. I’m numb, staring straight ahead at the rich mahogany that I insisted on.
If he’s going to be in there for the rest of eternity, I want it to be nice, even if I can’t afford it.
I’ll figure it out.
My mom asked me last night why we didn’t have life insurance, and I just laughed. For Christ’s sake, Debbie, what twenty-two-year-olds do you know with life insurance?
I feel my lips tip up now at the thought, still staring at the gleaming wood in the sunlight, and hear, “Amen.”
There’s shuffling around me. I’m hugged, patted, and people make sympathetic noises.
I don’t care.
I’ve been talked around for the past four days. I scowl as I walk to the casket and lay my hand on the cold wood. How is it possible that just four days ago he was here? Warm and whole, his strong arms wrapped around me, and now he’s just…gone.
I’m a widow at twenty-two.
It’s louder this time, which means I’m required to answer. I glance around, surprised to find that aside from Max Hull, I’m alone. Cars pull away, and the cemetery workers huddle about thirty yards away, trying to stay warm.
“Hey,” Max says as he moves closer to me, but I shake my head, warning him to stay back. Max knows me well, maybe better than anyone besides Cary, but Cary’s gone now, so Max knows me the best, and he understands that I can’t be touched. He holds his hands up in surrender. “Willa, I just wanted to say—”
“I don’t care,” I interrupt him and turn my eyes back to Cary’s casket. The flowers on top are red roses. The baby in my belly kicks and I rub my hand over the spot, reminded that I have to pull it together for this little one.
“I’m sorry,” he says, but I shake my head.
“Go away, Max.”
I sigh and turn to look at him. God, he’s handsome. He’s the most handsome boy I’ve ever known.
And he left me without looking back. Left Cary, his best friend in the world.
“You’ve never been good at listening to me, Max, so I’m going to make this crystal-clear. I don’t give a shit that you’re sorry. You took him skiing, and you let him fall in that tree well. If you hadn’t come to town five years after leaving it, my husband would be alive right now. So, no, I don’t want to hear it. Go away.” I push my finger into his chest, driving my point home. “I don’t want anything to do with you.”
He clenches his jaw, and his nostrils flare, but he doesn’t argue. He just nods once, turns on his heel, and walks away, and I’m finally alone with my husband.
“I’m so damn mad,” I whisper, shaking my head and looking back at the expensive wood, the flowers, and the photo of my man sitting in front. “I’m pissed at you, Cary Monroe. You told me you’d never leave.”
For the first time since the phone call I never thought I’d receive, I feel tears threaten, and I give in to them.
“Everyone leaves,” I mutter as the first drop splashes down my cheek. “First Grandpa, then Max.” I swipe at my wet face. “Then Daddy. But you were always there, holding my hand. Smiling. ‘It’s gonna be okay, Wills,’ you said. ‘I’m not going anywhere.’”
I sniff and shake my head.
“You fucking lied to me, Cary. And I’m so mad at you. I would open this expensive-as-hell casket and slap your face if I could.”
I eye it, considering it.
“You know what I hate the most? That when Max picked you up that morning, I was irritated with you then, too. Because I wanted you to stay home and put the crib together, and you said you’d do it that afternoon. You’d have Max help.”
A sob escapes.
“But now, you won’t do that. And our son won’t ever know you.” I rub my belly again, comforted by the movement of the tiny child in my womb. “He won’t know how funny you were, or how good it feels when you hold him.”
I swallow hard and take a deep breath, trying to get myself under control.
“Actually, that’s not true. He’ll know you because I’ll tell him about you. But it won’t be the same.” I lay my hand on the casket again. “It won’t be the same at all. How am I supposed to do this without you?”
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