Authors: Dena Rogers
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 by Dena Rogers
Previously published by F+W Media
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by AmazonEncore, Seattle
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This title was previously published by F+W Media; this version has been reproduced from F+W Media archive files.
For Dwayne. Thanks for showing me how amazing the stars can be.
“Who…? Oh, shit!” Sera sputtered, her lips quivering, as she drove up to her uncle’s house. She swallowed hard, and her heart slammed into her chest upon recognizing the oversized Silverado pickup truck parked in the driveway. “What the hell is he doing here?”
“I don’t know,” her friend Maggie answered. “But half the country is talking about that truck.”
Sera’s quick temper flared. She jumped out of the car, slammed the door, and took a few hasty steps forward, but stopped when her mind caught up with her feet.
Looking at the ground, her stomach knotted as full realization of the situation sank in. The man she was once engaged to, who had ended their relationship by voicemail merely weeks prior to her deployment to Afghanistan, was there.
“Tyler!” she screeched, having no clue what she might say when he appeared. Her only thoughts were fueled by almost three years of pent-up anger.
With no movement from the door, her patience thinned. She picked up a piece of gravel from the driveway and hurled it towards the truck. Her unsteady hand missed it entirely. “Tyler Creech!” she screamed again.
Another stone thrown; this time it bounced off the tailgate. She had just grabbed a handful, ready to launch them all at once, when the screen door squeaked open. Pausing, she watched it inch wider until his large form filled its frame. She’d never thought of him as the heartthrob he was portrayed as on country music radio these days. He was a big bear of a guy, full of thick, meaty muscles. Tall and lean, but never with washboard abs or protruding biceps; however, his body was one to admire.
“Shit,” she muttered, meeting his paralyzing stare.
“I see you haven’t changed,” Tyler stated with little emotion.
Her eyes didn’t move as she watched him lean his body into the open door frame. She didn’t so much as flinch when Maggie turned the car back down the driveway.
Biting down on the inside of her lip, she tried to think of what to say next. The immediate adrenaline rush was beginning to fade, but it didn’t curb her anxiety. Three years had passed since she’d last seen him, and as much as she wished she could say Tyler hadn’t crossed her mind, the eagerness of the radio stations to play his newly charted number one hit—and the fact that she’d bought his record—made it difficult. Trying not to let the moment get the best of her again, she swallowed the hard lump that had risen back up in her throat.
“This is my uncle’s house, you know.” And Tyler’s mother’s house now too. But Sera left that part out.
He let the screen door swing closed and took the three steps to the porch railing. Leaning over for support, he squinted into the sunlight as he cocked his head to the side and replied, “And that’s my truck you just hit.”
She tossed a look back over her shoulder. As if she couldn’t identify the silly thing. It was every redneck’s vision of a perfect ride: big, loud, and loaded with chrome. Maggie was right—it had gained a lot of notoriety after being featured in his music video driving down a muddy road with Tyler serenading a voluptuous blonde sitting next to him.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I had some downtime. I knew Mom and Roy were in Florida so I thought I’d hang out at the house. What are you doing here?”
Sera watched him steadily; his broad arms rested against the wooden railing, his unkempt hair rolled slightly into dark curls at the ends. His full cheeks, despite being bristled with whiskers, had a boyish appearance.
Damn him and his downtime.
Taking two steps forward she said, “Well, you can’t stay here.”
“Yeah, well, your uncle is married to my mom now, so I have just as much right to be here as you do.”
She closed her eyes, willing the situation away. How much more unfair could life be at the moment? Her ex-fiancé was now her step-cousin. It sounded much worse than it was, but the fact that Tyler’s mom was now married to the uncle who had raised her from the time she was sixteen definitely hadn’t helped in her quest to forget him either. “Can’t you go stay with your dad?”
“Can’t you go stay with your mom?”
Grinding her teeth together, trying to keep the bit of composure she’d gained back, she said, “She’s two states away, Tyler. I’m not packing up and leaving because you had some downtime.” She took a couple of more steps in his direction. Her legs felt weaker with every stride. Yet her stubbornness refused to let her stop.
“Well, I’m sorry to inconvenience your stay. I didn’t know anyone would be here.”
, she thought. With a deep breath, she reined in the last bit of her unleashed hostility as she straightened her shoulders and pushed forward, determined not to let the man she’d once loved more than life itself know how badly old wounds had just broken open.
• • •
So how long are you in for?” Tyler asked, following Sera into the house and to the kitchen where she stopped for a bottle of water.
She unscrewed the cap, giving him only a quick glimpse of her dark eyes before she tilted it up. He scanned downward, taking in her long hair lying flat against her back before his eyes settled in the heavenly curve just above her hips. Her waist was thinner than he remembered and she looked tired, but other than that, she looked good. Damn good, actually. Clamping down his jaw, he swallowed a gulp of relief, thinking back to the frantic call he’d received from his mom saying Sera had been involved in an accident while deployed. The vehicle she’d been driving was hit by an IED. For days he’d been beside himself, though his mom assured him that no one was terribly injured and that Sera was okay.
Seeing her finally released some of the unease he still carried around, but the awful memory caused a rush of guilt, igniting an urge to get back in his truck and get the hell out of there. He’d imagined this day would come, most days even hoped for it. With his mom and Roy now married, he knew he and Sera couldn’t ignore each other for the rest of their lives, but in no way was he prepared for it today. The five-hour drive from Nashville had zapped all his energy, and what he’d thought would be a nice and relaxing visit home was now sure to be anything but.
“I’m here to stay for a while,” Sera answered, tipping the bottle up to her mouth again.
So she was out of the army? He wasn’t sure how he felt about that—relief in knowing she was safe, disappointed that she hadn’t carried on with the only thing she’d ever talked about doing, or angry for more reasons than he could begin to list at the moment.
At the age of sixteen and on the verge of juvenile delinquency, Sera Cavins had come into his life after being sent to live with her uncle. Roy’s sole priority had been for his niece to graduate, and although Sera quickly settled in and flourished in their minutely populated town of Cobb City, Kentucky, college was never something she’d given much thought to. Instead she’d enlisted in the army a week after graduation and shipped off for basic training two months later. “So I guess you had enough of military life?”
“Yep,” she answered, swinging around on her heels toward the hallway.
“When did you get out?” he asked, following her to the doorway of her room. She paused long enough to give him a short glimpse of the chestnut color in her eyes, eyes laced with all the hurt and anger of the past few years. He winced at the thought before hearing her say that she’d been back in town for a week. Then, without giving him a chance to say anything further, she quickly closed the door.
After lying restless in bed for more than two hours and hearing Tyler strum idly on his guitar, never putting more than a couple of chords together at a time, Sera gave into the insomnia that plagued her most nights and got out of bed.
His music had always reflected his moods and his inability to work through a song echoed his failure at forming clear thoughts, letting her know that whatever was on his mind was as heavy as his obsessive pull on the strings of his guitar.
Wondering if his unsettled mood was solely about her presence, or if something else was bothering him, she walked down the hall knowing good and well she should leave him alone. Contact with Tyler was the last thing she needed. She’d hoped to take the time alone while Roy and Diana were in Florida to try and find her way back to being the Sera that they all knew, or at least some semblance of the woman they remembered. She missed the vibrant person she once was, but didn’t know how to find her again. It seemed life was drifting by just outside of her reach. She wanted to grab on and go with it, yet the weight of the last few years kept holding her back.
Nearing the end of the hallway, she considered turning back around. Earlier in the day she’d promised to keep distance between them. But following rules, even those she’d set out for herself, had never been her strong point, and instead of going back to bed like she knew she should, she found herself standing in the entrance of the living room, gnawing nervously at her lip while admiring a barefoot and shirtless Tyler sitting on the edge of the couch.
There had never been any frills that came along with knowing him. You got what you saw and from what little she had kept up with his career, it seemed something he’d stayed true to even in his rise to celebrity. It was something she greatly admired, although at times she wanted nothing more than to hate him.