Untamed Trails – Book 10 – Sneak Peek

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Untamed Trails

Her love can make or break him…

Nathan Rourke has been through the ringer when he lost the love of his life to cancer. Driven away from family by his need to escape the pain, Nathan disappears for years as he perfects the art of drinking and ranch handing.

On a fateful morning when even his horse has left him, Nathan rescues a hapless woman from drowning in her own demons, forcing him to examine his own. When he offers to help on her ranch, he’s certain she’s going to turn him down.

With a baby on the way, Lily Dobbins needs more help than she’s willing to admit. Dropping her guard, Lily has to let Nathan in or fail miserably before she’s even started.

Will they enable each other to continue on their broken paths or will they be forced to see that making it in this life is so much better when they’re not alone? Nathan has to find a way to return to himself and his family before he’s lost in grief forever.

Their hearts are taken but can the shattered pieces be mended enough to let in someone new?

Chapter 1

Nathan

Nathan blinked at the early morning light which couldn’t be more disrespectful as it rose over the mountainside. He half-lifted his head in the soggy, rocky ditch. When had he gotten far enough west to run into mountain ranges on both sides? He couldn’t discern the passing of time. Seeing Hannah…

He shoved the thought process aside. Focusing on the present, Nathan glanced around. Thunder, his horse, was nowhere in sight. Nathan lowered his aching head slowly back to the rock pillow he’d somehow acquired when he’d slipped from the saddle. He didn’t dare move any limbs just yet. Who knew what he had broken and what he had still attached. Everything throbbed with a dull ache and he suspected his lower left leg was bent uncomfortably. As long as he didn’t focus too much on his lower body, he might not have to use the bathroom as badly as he guessed he did.

Nathan squeezed his eyes shut. Judging from the angle of the sun, the morning was still young and Nathan could go back to sleep. He didn’t need to wake up completely yet and he was still just drunk enough that he didn’t care about the rocky bed or the fact that his foot lie in a cool stream of water. He just didn’t care.

He closed his eyes against the annoying light and took a deep breath, ready to let the alcohol still in his system take him away.

A sob broke the quiet morning.

Where was there room for a woman’s crying in the middle of his sleepover? The sound didn’t disappear like a dream would. He snapped his eyes open, squinting and turning his head to the side. Rocks crunched against each other, the sound loud while a headache mounted.

There should be rules about crying at certain times of the day. How was a drunk man supposed to sleep off anything while a woman cried? The sound had a desperate tinge to it that added to Nathan’s aches.

“One, two, uh, three…” Even counting out loud to himself didn’t make the hallucination go away. Okay, it was safe to suppose whoever she was, she was actually crying.

Nathan sighed and threw his arm across his chest in the direction of the downward slope of the ditch. Grabbing a handful of grass, he pulled his torso around until he was on all fours. The readjustment of his position fixed the aching tug in his knee and he breathed out in relief. Steadying himself wasn’t easy as the ditch pitched and rolled around him. He closed his eyes. Breathe. Just breathe.

The crying increased and Nathan opened his eyes. Whoever she was, she was in an emotional state that Nathan hoped wasn’t contagious. He was still just out of it enough he didn’t have to face his ever-present sadness.

Grunting, he pushed to his feet and swayed when he reached full height. He reached up to block the sun from his face by pulling his hat firmly into place, but his hand just encountered his thick hair.

He squinted as he searched for his hat. Where was his hat? Over on the edge of the ditch his wide-brimmed dark brown Stetson rocked gently in the breeze. Nathan hadn’t been aware there was a breeze when he was in the bowl of the ditch. He braced his elbow on his knee when he bent down and scooped up his hat. Settling the bucket on his crown, Nathan narrowed his eyes as he scanned the area for a weeping woman.

He’d been following a country road marked as a highway but that was two-lane at best after leaving a three-bit bar the night before. There were remnants of a rainstorm on the dark, patchy rode and drops glistening on the blades of grass around him. He’d slept through rain? His leather duster had protected him, for the most part, and his clothes were only mildly damp and muddy.

Nathan rubbed his hand down his face. He’d been drunker than he’d thought. How had that happened? He wasn’t exposed to people he loved enough to get heartache which was the only reason he drank. Ah, that’s right. Hannah. His little sister had returned and she’d chosen Zander, a man Nathan had considered his brother and friend, not to mention employer.

Until he got his head on straight, Nathan couldn’t be around Hannah. He didn’t deserve the love his family offered him. He wished they would stop trying to find him. Maybe now that Hannah had someone else to focus on, she’d give up on Nathan.

That would be best for everyone.

Nathan had been riding since he’d left Zander’s place, he just couldn’t remember when it was he’d left. A week ago? A month? The days and nights ran together like melted ice cream on a sidewalk.

Tamaracks and pines lined the street with cottonwood trees sporadically vying for space.

Where had the woman gone to? Nathan would believe it if he was going crazy. That was all that was left, wasn’t it? Insanity.

But there her voice was again. The sound wasn’t strident or even a little annoying. He searched the area but couldn’t see any sign of anyone.

A bridge about a hundred yards down from him caught his attention through the softly waving tree boughs. In the other direction, the road ran in a straight line with only trees and fences around pastures for too long to hide anyone’s distress.

Nate trudged down the road, toward the bridge. If nothing else, he could stop and relieve himself at a tree as soon as he ensured he was the only one around. He moved closer, the sound of crying rising in volume as he shortened the distance to the bridge.

A glimpse of dark hair moving in the breeze caught his eye and then disappeared. But the hair had been on the other side of the bridge railing.

Nathan snapped from his alcohol-induced daze. He straightened his shoulders and increased his gait. Reaching the opening of the one-car-across bridge, Nathan rushed to the side where he’d seen the woman’s hair.

She could’ve fallen and he wouldn’t know it. Bracing both hands on the wooden railing, Nathan leaned over the edge of the bridge and stared down into the swirling waters. Early summer. They were still in early summer to account for the swollen river banks and the debris floating underneath on the currents. If a woman had fallen, they wouldn’t find her body for a solid month, if not longer.

With fifty feet to the surface, the drop would be painful and terminal. Nathan had gotten bad enough in his own despair, that the thought of running from life had been more appealing than he was comfortable acknowledging.

But even the thoughts weren’t enough for him to walk away from life. Not when Emma… his poor, sweet Emma hadn’t been able to continue on. He looked left and right, unable to locate the woman he could’ve sworn he’d seen. Patting the rail, he stepped back, confused. How drunk was he?

But there it was again. The sobbing. Nathan rushed to the edge again, where he’d been but on the other side of the post.

There she was, the dark-haired woman crouched on the protruding support truss which stuck out two feet from the edge of the bridge beam. She gripped the wooden fencing with a white-knuckled grip and stared below her into the rushing waters.

“Wait!” Nathan stumbled as he rushed to get around the beam, to see her better.

A cream peasant-style top set off the dark, nearly black shade of her locks. She glanced up, startled at him, and then down into the water. Fear mixed with sadness in her expression.

“No, wait. Please.” Nathan lowered his voice, softened it to take the edge off. He wasn’t used to speaking with women or anyone outside of a ranch crew or tavern. Emma would be ashamed of him. He was ashamed of him.

She didn’t say anything, just stared down into the water with tension in her forearm as she continued gripping the rail.

“Ahem, um, can you come back to this side? I can help you.” Nathan reached down with one hand. He could grab her, but he wasn’t sure she wouldn’t slip from her position before he could grab her.

“I lost a shoe.” Her voice carried softly to him, vastly different in strength from the sounds of her crying.

Nathan waved off her concern. “That’s okay. That shouldn’t stop you from climbing back this way.”

As if she had a lot to think about, the woman waited and waited and then stood abruptly, still gripping the wooden post. She set her jaw and searched the railing of the bridge.

Nathan blinked at the sudden appearance of a very pregnant belly as it strained against the confines of her simple thin shirt over jeans.

Her dark brown eyes flitted past him down the road and then she jerked her gaze toward the water. Shaking her head, she sniffed.

Lowering his voice in tone, but not volume – that river was louder than it looked – Nathan edged closer, jutting his chin in the direction of the water. “What’s wrong?”

Startled, the woman looked at him, studied him as if she couldn’t tell if he were asking seriously or just because it was something to say. She licked her lower lip and sighed. “I can’t do this alone anymore. Not on my own.” Tears continued seeping down her cheeks in a constant stream like she’d forgotten to turn the faucets off.

Nathan glanced down the road and then back at her. “Your man left you? He’s stupid for doing that, you know.” Why else would a pregnant woman be all alone? And Nathan wasn’t lying. Based on looks alone, the man who had left her was an imbecile. She had warm rose-tinged beige skin that didn’t need makeup. Full pink lips and naturally dark lashes to enhance the walnut shade of her eyes.

He wasn’t interested, but he could recognize beauty when he saw it.

She laughed at the same time she sobbed, shaking her head. “I wish it was that simple. No, he died… from skin cancer of all things.” With her free hand she reached up and wiped at her cheeks, blowing out a whoosh of air as if she’d just run a marathon.

As if he’d been punched in the gut, Nathan stepped back a foot or so. He shook his head, eyeing her as if she really had been conjured. Would his cousins stoop that low to set up a woman with a story so similar to his that it ached to hear the words? He pressed a hand to his forehead, squeezing his eyes shut as if he could make her disappear.

But he wasn’t imagining things. He wasn’t. He couldn’t be. And his cousins hadn’t come for him. Over the last few years, the attempts had grown fewer and farther apart until it was just a whisper of concern from Hannah and even that vein had to have given up the last drop of blood.

He stopped. Swallowing, he stepped back to his position and nodded slowly. “I’m sorry for your loss.” He pointed toward the dirty covered wooden bridge and tilted his head. “Can you please come on this side?”

No matter what, he wouldn’t let that dead man down and let his woman and child fall to their death. Not while he was able to stop them. Not while he could only imagine Emma standing at his shoulder encouraging him to save her.

 

Chapter 2

Lily

The man was the opposite of everything about Lily’s Daniel. His dark coloring was more along the lines of something she’d find in her brothers or cousins. Daniel had been fair with blond hair and less bulk. This man had muscles rippling in his forearms and his neck, those she could see from under the collar of his flannel shirt and rolled up sleeves.

His dark hair and intense blue eyes challenged her as if he suspected she was up to no good. Why wouldn’t she get caught where she was?

Of course, it looked like she was jumping. Or trying to. She had hoped no one would see her out there. Her spot. When she and Daniel had gotten into a fight or she’d just needed some alone time, Lily had escaped to the bridge and sat on the support beam with her legs dangling above the moody water while she just soaked in the private time.

She hadn’t had a moment to herself or even had time to just go and sit and think in a long time – certainly not since she’d found out she was pregnant. Unable to face the responsibilities of the homestead that morning, Lily had thrown on her slip-on shoes, slid into her small truck, and made her way to the bridge.

Rubbing along the edges of her stomach which seemed to always be sore anymore, she’d narrowed her gaze at the height of the railing. Had it gotten taller since she’d been there last? But that wasn’t possible. Not everything had to change, just because she was. Climbing over the railing had been a pure act of stubbornness and lowering herself to the support beam had been a simple act of faith.

When her shoe had slipped off her foot, she’d realized just what exactly she was doing. She wasn’t the slim, agile woman she’d been only a few months ago. Instead, she couldn’t even come to her favorite spot to think about what she was going to do. She didn’t have the energy anymore to work on the ranch, to clean her house, or even to take a daily shower.

Lily had to face it. Her exhaustion stemmed from so much but she had a feeling depression was playing a huge part in her state of mind.

She was getting desperate. She didn’t know what to do. Her options were few and far between. She was alone and if she got off that bridge, she would have to go back to a ranch that she couldn’t stay on top of and bills that she didn’t know how to pay. If she couldn’t pay for her child or for her ranch, how was she going to be able to keep a roof over their heads? Winter was just around the corner and she ran the risk of losing everything.

But… another not-an-option included staying on that bridge. If she didn’t move and find the courage to try to climb back over that railing, she’d eventually get tired and fall, killing her and her child.

Of course, the man would think she was trying to jump for the latter consequences, but she had no way to tell him that she wasn’t doing that, without it seeming even more like she was trying to end everything.

Neither option was appealing, but the man didn’t know that. He didn’t know anything about why she was there. He acted like it was normal what she was doing which made her question things even more. Maybe that was why she hadn’t jumped off screaming in a panicked mess. Instead, she’d answered his questions calmly instead of with anxiety twisting in her gut.

Even with the complete opposite appeal from her husband… dead husband… Lily couldn’t help noticing the haunted glimmer in his eyes. The loneliness called to her and she bet he could just as easily have been on the same side of the bridge that she was.

“Ma’am? Can you come to this side?” His voice wasn’t demanding, instead asking her and waiting with the utmost patience.

She glanced at him and then down at the angry water. It wanted her. She could tell. She was talking to the unruly surface before her tears had taken over. Normally, Lily enjoyed heights, but as she stood there, clinging to the bridge in a more precarious position than she’d ever been in, she couldn’t remember why she was on that side.

“Can you help me? I’m embarrassed to say this, but I didn’t think this through thoroughly. I barely was able to climb over here.” She motioned toward her belly, as if it didn’t protrude in front of her like a masthead.

He moved toward her, understanding softening the sharp angles of his face. Lily turned carefully around, planting both hands on the railing. Her large stomach bumped her out and she tried adjusting for the shift of her center weight. Her last shoe slipped on the edge of the truss and her ankle twisted to the side.

As her weight gave out from her under her, she uttered a muffled scream. That was it. Nature had decided she’d made one mistake too many.

She was going to die.

The man reached out, grabbing under her armpits, and effortlessly pulled her over. She caught the scream in her throat and clamped her mouth shut tight. She wasn’t a light pregnant woman and the fact that he could just blithely drag her over the railing was a testament to his strength.

Her shoe, determined to be with its match in the waters below, caught on a small nail on the side of the railing, pausing his efforts to get her over completely. The shoe slid from her foot, falling while Lily crashed into the man’s chest. They both tumbled to the ground under the sudden release.

He oomphed as she landed on him, but she hefted herself to the side and plopped her arm across her face as more tears rolled down her cheeks into her hair. Relief. They were relieved tears. Faced with actual death or injury and Lily realized how much she actually wanted to live. She had so much going on and coming up, but all of that paled as she realized, while she hadn’t been able to face the fact that she was having a baby alone until that very second, she wanted that child more than she wanted to drag in another breath.

She peeked at the man from the side. His chest rose and fell with gasping that matched hers, but he wasn’t crying like she was.

Less than another breath escaped her and he was suddenly sitting above, patting his hands up and down her legs and then her arms, checking her head. She could’ve made a mistake and jumped from the pan into the fire. He could kill her, clear out there and no one would ever know. They’d figure her land was abandoned and call it a day.

“Where’s your car?” His tone had hardened and she didn’t know him well enough to recognize what type of determined glint darkened his eyes.

“Are… are you looking for the keys?” She crossed her chest with her arms and waited for him to do whatever he was going to do to her. She couldn’t fight, not if she wanted to make sure her baby wasn’t hurt. In the next couple seconds, she needed to get off her back before her sciatica screamed down both legs.

His soft chuckle should’ve alarmed her but instead comforted her that he wasn’t after anything maniacal. “I’m not going to hurt you or take your car. I’m going to take you to the hospital to make sure you and your baby are alright.” Moving to stand, searched the area around the bridge.

Stooping, he scooped her into his thickly muscled arms and stood with her cradled against his chest. He looked at her with a question in his eyes, their faces inches away from each other.

Sheepishly, she pointed toward the copse of trees where she’d stashed her little four-wheel drive Nissan truck. She hadn’t planned on anyone finding it for a while, so she’d left the keys in the front seat.

Without a hitch, the man strode toward her car as if she weighed no more than a bag of flour. His voice stayed low and steady, unhindered by breathlessness. Who was this guy? “Where are we and how do I get you to the hospital?”

Did she need to go to the hospital? She didn’t feel injured, but the more she concentrated the more she realized that her baby hadn’t moved in a while. Guilt riddled her and she stared over his shoulder at the bridge. She’d been so overcome with exhaustion and depression, she’d accidentally put herself in danger because she wanted to feel normal. Would just the small escapade on the bridge be enough to hurt her child?

“The clinic is in town, down this road and to the right. It’s right next to the bar.” She muttered, unable to escape the guilt chewing its way through her midsection.

“Let’s get going. I think I remember the bar, the rest of it, I’m going to have to guess on.” He nodded, as he opened the door to the truck and carefully placed her on the seat. Sadness turned his lips down but he didn’t look at her as he buckled her belt and then closed the door. He rounded the front of the small rig and climbed in beside her, adjusting the seat and turning on the engine.

Backing up and then pulling onto the highway, the man handled the truck like he’d been born in it. Was there anything that would surprise her about him?

He glanced cautiously her way. “Is the baby okay?”

She held her breath and shrugged, suddenly sadder than she’d been in a long time.

“Are you okay?” He reached over and patted her shoulder as the distance between them wasn’t far in the short bench style seat.

“No. I mean yes. But what is wrong with me? I…” Lily stared at her hands twisted together in her lap. Shame flooded her and she couldn’t speak. Why couldn’t she be stronger? Why was she so weak? It didn’t matter what he thought of her. She could have just as well been trying to jump for all the thinking she’d put into going to the bridge. She hadn’t wanted to die, she just didn’t know what would make her feel better. She didn’t blame him for thinking the worst about her.

Lily was having a hard time believing anything but the worst about herself as well.

The man cleared his throat. “I’m Nathan Rourke. What’s your name?”

Lily blinked at the sudden change in topic. He should’ve listed out all of the sins she’d just tried committing, killing herself and her child weren’t things that the Lord would forgive easily… at least He shouldn’t. Why would this stranger, this Nathan Rourke, look past them?

She cast her eyes to the side and then downward again. “Lily Dobbins.” Her whisper made its way to Nathan, even as she closed her eyes. Now he had a name to go with the shameful face. She had to get over it. He wouldn’t be around long enough to worry about what he thought of her. She didn’t have to try to explain anything. He was a good Samaritan and that was all.

She just had to figure out a way to stop getting distracted by the muscles – all the muscles.

“Nice to meet you, Lily Dobbins.” The way he said her name made everything they’d just gone through sound like they’d met at the market, like it was okay, normal even.

Lily could do with a little bit of normal in her life.

 

Chapter 3

Nathan

“While we’re looking over Mrs. Dobbins, sir, could you reiterate for me once more what the reason is for bringing her in?” The intake nurse eyed Nathan with distrust owed a new person in town. Nathan didn’t blame the woman. He couldn’t look trustworthy since he’d spent the night in a ditch and hadn’t been protected from the elements in days.

Lily, or Mrs. Dobbins, smiled nervously beside him as she finished filling out the paperwork.

Nathan wasn’t perturbed. He answered smoothly. “Of course. I saw the patient walking along the roadside. I pulled up alongside her and asked what was wrong. She said she was looking for her dog and had gotten too far.” He leaned forward. “I would’ve suspected alcohol, but you can imagine why I didn’t.” He nodded toward the more-than-obvious stomach sitting on Lily’s lap. “Rather than quiz her on why she thought it was okay to be out walking in her state, I brought her straight here. She must’ve lost her shoes looking for her sweet dog.”

A blush tinged Lily’s cheeks pink but she didn’t look up. She finished scribbling and handed the papers to the receptionist who watched Nathan with wide eyes. The woman claimed the clipboard with the papers and spun on her heel, walking swiftly back to the reception desk.

Nathan leaned over, more than aware that he was less than clean in a very clean environment. “I have no idea what their problem is, but I’m betting it’s small town paranoia with more than a large side of curiosity.” He patted her hand, ignoring the tingle of awareness at the contact. “Don’t let them bully you.”

“That’s Mirabelle. She would be the town gossip, but that role is held in very high esteem by the office manager you met when you carried me in here. You should have let me walk.” Lily admonished him to the side. She smiled tightly, watching the office workers as they circled her like vultures looking for information.

A different nurse with a slightly friendlier disposition pushed open a door and smiled sweetly. “Lily Dobbins?”

Lily turned back to Nathan. “You’ll wait, right?” She studied his face as if he were her only friend in the world.

“Of course. It’s your truck.” He nodded toward the door. “Get going.”

She responded to reassurances like a horse to patting. Lily nodded and lifted her chin as she turned toward the waiting nurse.

Nathan would wait. What else did he have to do? Plus, he had to make sure she was okay. He didn’t want to see something happen to her when he’d pulled her from the air.

His hands shook as he remembered how close he’d come to missing her. He’d reached for her as she’d slipped backward. Thankfully, he’d stopped himself from backing up too far. Nathan didn’t think he could handle it if he’d lost her.

For a pregnant woman she didn’t have much weight to her. He’d expected her to be heavier as he’d pulled her over, but he should’ve learned a long time ago that assumptions were worse than lies.

A few hours passed and his stomach growled, reminding him he’d skipped breakfast and lunch. How long had he been in there? There was a conspicuous absence of any clocks in the waiting room as if they wanted the people waiting to get stuck in some kind of time loop.

If the sunlight square shifting across the floor from the window hadn’t moved, Nathan would’ve suspected that time had stood still.

He yawned, wiping his hands down his face and leaning back. Crossing his ankles, he folded his arms over his waist and stared at the continually whispering office staff. They had dressed in the same bright pink and blue scrubs with their graying hair done up in twists. He couldn’t tell them apart and he didn’t really care to try,

Another length of time passed and he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and lacing his fingers together.

No one else had come into the clinic since they’d walked in that morning. Of course, it had to be afternoon by then, but Nathan had no way to tell.

The door opened and Lily rolled her eyes as she headed toward him. A bag of pamphlets in one hand and the other gracefully positioned along the lower lines of her stomach. She walked with the Leaning Tower of Piza look while she leaned back as if taking pressure off her lower spine and hips.

Nathan ignored the women at the front and stood, moving to stand beside her and walk with her out to the truck. He scooped her into his arms and half-tilted his head when she gave him an embarrassed questioning look. “You don’t have shoes on. How are you? Is the baby okay?”

She sighed, lifting tired eyes to his face as he pushed open the door with his back and turned with her in his arms. “Yes, the baby is fine. They suspect I’m a little agitated and gave me clinic slippers. They asked me multiple times if I was being coerced by you.” She shook her head and laughed as she allowed him to settle her into the seat in the front of the cab. “I never realized just how protective of their own a small town really is.”

Nathan shook his head, closing the door softly on his words. “You have no idea.” Putting her in the truck reminded him of time he spent with Emma. He didn’t want to remember that… he couldn’t right then. He didn’t have access to enough alcohol to make that trip down memory lane.

Sliding into the driver’s seat, he buckled up and started the engine. “Okay, now you need to tell me where you live.”

“I’m on Dobbins Lane. Back down the road and past the bridge about a mile or two. You can’t miss it. Blue road sign.” She set the bag on the seat beside her and spread her knees apart in an attempt to get comfortable.

Following her directions, Nathan followed the fairly empty highway back out the way they’d come in. “I know the baby is okay and that’s good, but are you okay?” He glanced at her as if all of the answers he sought would be written on her cheek or on the tender skin of her forearm.

“Yes. I’ll be fine, thanks.” She half-smiled, but stopped it from growing into a grin.

As he drove the truck, Nathan didn’t want Lily to freak out, but he was starting to have a hard time focusing. His hangover was coming on hard and with no fluids or food to tide him over, his vision was crossing. The sooner he could get some water and relax a bit the better they’d both be.

He needed to stay awake and he also had to satiate his dying curiosity. Shifting on the seat, he glanced out the window then over at Lily. “When did your husband die?”

She put her other hand around her stomach like she cradled the child where it lay. “He died… about five months ago… actually just about a week before I found out about being pregnant. We… the stress of taking care of him, I just didn’t think it was possible.” She blinked back tears. “I didn’t even get to tell him, you know? That’s been the hardest part of this. I got to say goodbye, so it’s not like it was a fast and sudden death like a car accident or anything, but I didn’t get to tell him about this.”

“When are you due?” Nathan glanced at the roundness of her abdomen. She was larger than he remembered seeing his mom when she was pregnant with Hannah.

She laughed derisively. “Four weeks. I’m not even ready, still having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that pretty soon, I’ll be on my own with a baby to take care of. The doctors used to swear I was having twins, but that’s because I came in when I was almost out of my first trimester. They just humored me. Can you imagine? Twins.” She looked around as they approached the bridge. “Where is your truck or, I guess, your car?”

“I don’t have one.” He didn’t go into details, just continued driving over the bridge and avoided looking toward the water. He didn’t want to bring up the incident he’d pulled her from. That had to be frightening and embarrassing all at once.

Lily asked quietly, “Why are you out here, then?”

Nathan shrugged, resting his wrist on the bottom curve of the steering wheel. “My horse ran away. I fell off him when I was drunk. I thought he was a little better behaved than that, but lately I haven’t been the best company.”

Lily wrinkled her nose. “Drinking out here? Why?”

“I can’t let go of my demons.” Nathan couldn’t follow that topic path. There was more darkness down that route than he could handle with a hangover.

She pointed at her stomach, arching a delicate eyebrow. “It can’t be as bad as all that.” She then redirected her finger toward the band on his hand. “Are you married?”

He turned his hand to put the ring out of sight, while avoiding looking at it. “Yep.” He bit the word off with a curt puh sound. He would always be married.

Thankfully, Lily dropped the topic, but added, “Well, I’m sure your wife is proud of you.”

Glancing sharply at her, he cocked an eyebrow in disbelief. “For drinking?”

She shook her head and stared out the windshield. “For being a gentleman.”

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