Lizzy Bergstrum thought she finally reached a point in her life when she could honestly say she had it all. A thriving writing career. A wonderful daughter. And a marriage to the love of her life. But looks can apparently be deceiving because her husband just walked out on her and their eight year old daughter hates her.
Gavin Bergstrum can’t handle the direction his life has taken. Not only did he get laid off from his job, but his wife seems to barely remember he exists. Convinced he’s tried his best to change things, he begins to wrestle with the possibility of divorce. But he can’t think straight in the same house as Lizzy. Hating to leave his daughter, but needing time to think and come to terms with what he feels he needs to do, Gavin decides to return to his small home town in Oregon and stay at his family ranch with his father and brothers.
In shock, Lizzy gives Gavin his space. But as time passes and he doesn’t say a word about their marriage, Lizzy decides it’s past time she takes matters into her own hands. Without a word, she follows Gavin to Oregon.
Now facing a daughter who blames her for everything, an irritated husband, and a small town that feeds on the drama, Lizzy finds herself trying to figure out how to convince Gavin to give her another chance, teach her daughter it takes two to make a successful marriage, and overcome her own insecurities – all without compromising who she is.
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He could kill her.
At this exact moment, Gavin Bergstrom could easily reach out and gladly kill his wife of ten years. Well, almost ten years, in another two months anyway.
If she lived that long.
Gavin watched as the woman—who may or may not survive the next two months to be his spouse of ten years—pulled her Cadillac Escalade to a stop a few yards in front of him in the wide open dirt area serving as the driveway of his father’s ranch. She climbed out of the driver’s side door of the big vehicle as though she belonged there, as though there weren’t a wall of issues between them.
Despite the dark trendy shades covering what he knew were deep violet almond shaped eyes, Gavin felt the heat being aimed his way and felt a morbid satisfaction in the fact she clearly wished violence on him at the moment too.
Well, at least they still had something in common.
Lizzy Bergstrom could happily murder husband at that moment as she closed the door to the SUV, and easily order out for dinner afterward. The surge of anger coursing through her at the sight of him didn’t really surprise her.
Folding her arms, Lizzy fought valiantly to keep an even expression on her face as she settled her gaze for the first time in three months on her supposed better half.
The preverbal knife could be pulled out to cut the tension, she thought. She half expected Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday to step out from behind the house at her husband’s back for the commencement of the OK Corral shootout all over again right here in the back woods of nowhere Oregon.
A telltale clicking behind her let her know her eight-year-old daughter made quick work of removing herself from the vehicle. She figured the girl wanted to put as much distance between the two of them as possible.
Sky ran the fastest Lizzy had ever seen the child move in her life as she ran toward her father.
Gavin’s gaze shifted to their daughter and immediately broke into a large grin as he let the large ax he held drop to the ground.
The expression jolted Lizzy. How long had it been since she’d seen anything resembling joy on Gavin’s face? The fact that she couldn’t had her focusing some of her anger on herself.
As her husband embraced their daughter, it gave Lizzy the opportunity to scrutinize this man before her. The man who left her—no that isn’t fair, she silently scolded herself. The man who chose to leave after she practically forgot he existed and the man standing and smiling with her daughter were not the same person.
The physical changes in Gavin were cataloged easily enough. The man would always be above average height with the type of broad shoulders women would love to lay their problems on. At thirty-six, his dark raven locks slowly started to cultivate some gray here and there. Short and cropped when he left, it had grown out to where it curled at the ends. Sans shirt and in only a pair of fitted jeans and work boots, she couldn’t help noticing the physical labor she knew he performed on his father’s ranch started to take shape in nearly every muscle displayed. The muscles were further highlighted by a healthy sheen of sweat produced by the logs he had been chopping when she drove up.
His eyes, however, were the biggest shocker. Lizzy presumed her overactive author’s imagination worked overtime, but she thought Gavin’s sapphire gaze developed a hard edge, a dagger quality to them. They sliced at her when his gaze moved up from Sky to her.
It differed tremendously from the look he leveled on her three months ago when she came home from a long magazine interview, exhausted and hungry. Home for two days in the middle of her latest book tour—well, technically home; a jam packed schedule of interviews and meetings still demanded the majority of her attention. Between everything going on with her career, she tried to keep up with everything else in her life and manage to squeeze in time with Sky and Gavin.
But on that particular rainy afternoon, like something out of a trite Hollywood script, Lizzy came home to discover Gavin moody and irritable. No sooner did she walk through the door than he immediately jumped into a diatribe on household chores—a topic of long standing contention in their house since she started traveling more and more for her career. Wanting only to get something to eat and slip off her heels, she asked Gavin if they could have the discussion later. Being hungry, tired, and probably more than a little irritable herself, in hindsight, her terse reply probably could have been better phrased.
Gavin’s response turned explosive. Her own temper spiked and what followed over the next twenty minutes involved a loud, accusatory, and cruel fight that started with household chores and morphed into Gavin’s insistence that she barely knew he existed anymore.
When he stormed off upstairs, returning a few moments later, suitcases in hand, reality not only smacked, but sucker punched and wrestled her to the ground.
Her response consisted of a dumbfounded stare as he coolly informed her he reached his limit. He was leaving, going to his father’s ranch, his boyhood home, for a little while to clear his head. Lizzy heard him say several other things involving their daughter and about contact information, but the words took the in-one-ear-and-out-the-other route.
Then he was gone. And she had been left staring at the front door in bewildered disbelief.
From the corner of his eye, Gavin noted his wife’s perusal and did a little of his own.
The biggest surprise came from her hair. The thick golden tresses sleekly molded into a designer cut the last time he saw her had been hacked into a shortly cropped cut. The new look highlighted the shape of her face. Her cheeks looked a little more defined than he remembered, almost as though she’d been sick for a while.
Almost immediately, he decided she’d lost too much weight, noting the way the old jean cutoffs that used to hug her curves now hung on her. Her previously curvy figure looked drawn. But despite being too thin, her tank top clung to her torso, with a low neckline that left her breasts on full display.
Breasts he couldn’t help suddenly recalling how perfectly they fit in his hand.
Lust slammed into his stomach.
Shock held him immobile momentarily. Thankfully, Sky began her usual constant chatter. Despite talking to her on the phone everyday over the last three months, most days multiple times a day, Sky proceeded to share with him the events he missed over the last few months. It gave him an excuse to look away from his wife, down at Sky. And try to get control of himself.
For some reason, the memory of the first time he saw Lizzy ran through his mind. If pressed he would admit to recalling in clear definition the way her tight jeans and black top molded to her curves as she danced with friends to the loud booming music echoing off the walls of the bar where they met. A twenty-one-year-old single guy, recently stationed at one of the Navy bases, and probably a little drunker than he should be, he spotted her from the other side of the cramped dive bar and wanted her. Badly.
Remembering the sexual punch he felt fifteen years ago and comparing it to how he felt now, he wondered how it was possible she could affect him so much after all this time. He almost felt foolish for wondering if he still felt attracted to her over the last few months.
He let Sky chatter on for several long moments before he jumped in to interrupt her as she paused to take a breath. “Hold that thought for a second, sweet pea.” Gavin leaned down to be at eye level. He belatedly realized how much she grew in the last three months. “I need to talk to Mom.”
For a moment, Sky just stared at him. Her bright blue eyes, so like his own, narrowed slightly. The once cherubic face of his baby girl started thinning out as she grew into an older child over the last year. Long golden tresses rivaling her mother’s were pulled back tightly in a neat ponytail. “Why?” She bit off the word caustically, startling him momentarily.
Standing up again, “Because I need to talk to her,” he informed her evenly with a frown to let her know he didn’t care for her tone.
Lizzy refused to feel guilty for the cruel satisfaction rising in her at Gavin finally receiving some of their daughter’s fiery attitude. The acidic tone seemed to be the only one she heard out of her daughter’s mouth over the last three months.
The tension knotting her shoulders began to build in the pit of her stomach as she watched Gavin turn away from Sky and cross the short distance between them.
As he got closer, Lizzy found herself focusing on the distinctive sheen courtesy of the warm summer sun. The sweat and his newly defined muscles morphed her tension into an altogether different form, but she fought to keep any sexual feelings at bay. Now didn’t feel like a good time to get all hot and bothered by the guy who walked out on her and their daughter three months earlier. The jerk.
Not being very fair, she silently reminded herself. After all, he assumed you wouldn’t even notice. She silently acknowledged her inner conscious by mentally flipping it the bird.
Gavin came to a stop a little closer than she would have preferred, but she refused to take a step back and let him know his proximity bothered her. His reason for the closeness became obvious though, when his low voice made it clear he didn’t want to be overheard.
“What are you doing here? And why the hell didn’t you tell me?” he ground out in a tone that grated her nerves.
“Gavin, your mama taught you better manners than that. Don’t be rude to the person that just bought the old cabin,” a deep raspy voice called from the front porch.
Gaze sweeping up over Gavin’s broad shoulder to the front porch of the large cabin style ranch house, Ray Bergstrum stood as the epitome of what she envisioned as the quintessential man’s man. A tall broad frame hardened by years of hard work and the lines creasing his face showed every one of those years in clear definition.
Ray ambled across the porch and down the steps in his typical unhurried manner, his large callused hands shoved casually in the front pockets of his jeans.
Gavin’s features narrowed into a scowl as he looked at his father over his shoulder without moving away from her.
“Are you saying you knew she was coming up here and didn’t say anything?” she didn’t mistake the deceptively quiet tone. Gavin was livid.
Ray completely ignored his son, a reaction that didn’t exactly thrill her. It’d probably be another item Gavin would add to the list of her transgressions. Got Dad to go behind my back.
“Hi, Lizzy, you made good time. Didn’t expect you until tomorrow morning, figuring you would probably need to stop for the night.” Her father-in-law offered her a wide friendly smile as his usual custom.
Despite knowing it would probably make the situation worse, she couldn’t quite force herself to regret her deception. Glancing up at Gavin, she fought to keep a grin off her face as his scowl morphed into a glare. “I was motivated and Sky was a trooper.”
Actually it more amounted to Sky’s constant complaints spurred her on to reach their destination to give her a chance to get a break from her only child, but she didn’t want to voice the awful truth. It was one thing to know your husband and child hated you; it was another to admit it out loud.
Coming to a stop beside his only grandchild, Ray’s smile widened. “Do you have a hug for Papa?”
Sky’s smile flashed immediately and wide as she practically lunged at the older man to hug him tightly.
Keeping an arm around Sky, Ray turned and arched a brow at his son’s glare. “What?”
Gavin’s expression grew even more taunt. “You knew they were coming and didn’t think I’d like to know about it?”
Patting Sky’s head, Ray pulled away and moved towards them. “Well, seeing as how you’ve decided you don’t want her to be your wife anymore, I figured it was none of your business. Especially since the cabin belongs to me and not you.”
Lizzy would have thought it impossible for her shoulders to tense any further, but they did at Ray’s words. So he’s already decided we’re finished and he hadn’t even bothered telling me yet?
A dangerous look crossed Gavin’s face as he finally took a step back away from her and angled himself to see Ray as he pointed at him. “Don’t put words in my mouth. I did not say I don’t want her to be my wife anymore. And you know damn well the fact that you sold the cabin to my wife is my business.”
Relief swelled through her at his words and she released a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. They still had a chance. She wasn’t too late.
Ray turned his attention back to her, for all intents and purposes completely dismissing his son. Again.
Furious, but unwilling to let the emotion control him at the moment, Gavin turned away from his wife and father, disgusted. He moved back towards Sky, his daughter grabbing him in another hug when he reached her. Glancing up at the house, he spotted two faces practically pressed against the kitchen window. Two of his four younger brothers, Greg and Gabriel, had kitchen duty tonight, but apparently they found the soap opera that had become his life more interesting.
“Here’s the keys to the cabin. The round one is to the front and back doors and the square one is for the shed.” Ray’s voice sounded clear and even behind him.
Turning, Gavin watched his father hand Lizzy a small set of keys.
“I had Clare clean it up for you. Like I said on the phone, it’s not the newest place in the world, but it’s still in pretty good shape considering its age.”
Lizzy gave his father a small smile as she took the keys from him. “I’m sure it’s great.”
Her gaze moved to him and resentment swelled watching her smile fade. Although, what did he expect, she hadn’t smiled at him for months prior to him leaving. Why would she start now?
But the indiscernible look settling on Lizzy’s features startled him. After ten years of marriage and five years together before getting married, Gavin would have bet big money he knew every single one of his wife’s expressions. But this one, he realized dumbfounded, he didn’t recognize.
Her gaze dropped down to Sky. “Come on, Sky, we’ve got to go up to the cabin to settle in.”
Beside him, Gavin felt Sky’s shoulders tense.
“No!” She shouted the word venomously. “I don’t want to go with you,” she spat before turning pleading blue eyes up at him. “Dad, can’t I stay here with you and Papa? I don’t want to go with her.”
Apparently he missed the memo about today being Surprise Day, Gavin realized, as he could only stare at his daughter for a moment, never having seen this side of her before.
“I tell you what, little missy, no little girl is welcome in my house that sasses her mama the way you just did. No matter what injustice you think she’s handed you, a child never speaks to their parent that way.” Ray delivered his little speech with an even look and matching tone.
Sky’s cheeks turned bright red. Gavin frowned down at her. “Your grandfather’s right, you know better than to talk to your mom that way.”
Looking up to his wife, he arched a brow. Apparently the statute of limitations for surprises for the day hadn’t been reached yet, he thought silently in disbelief when Lizzy didn’t scold, or even comment on, Sky’s behavior.
Rather than say anything, Lizzy looked away and her back stiffened so much he thought her spine would snap.
What the hell is going on? His bewilderment bothered him.
Seeing Lizzy wouldn’t say anything, Gavin looked back down at Sky. “Honey, since I didn’t know you were coming, I don’t have anywhere set up for you to sleep. I’m sleeping on a cot in one of the extra rooms. I’ll try to look at setting something up tomorrow so you can stay a few nights with me. How does that sound?”
A stubborn look Gavin recognized all too easily surfaced on Sky’s face, but she remained silent, temporarily mollified and nodded. Turning away from him, Sky made her way back to the car and climbed in without so much as a single glance in her mother’s direction.
Gavin returned his gaze back to Lizzy, but she completely ignored him as she turned to climb back in the car.
That, at least, he’d grown used to.
In between her to-be-read pile and trying to bring the characters in her head alive, Kristen spends as much time as she can with family and friends. Much to her husband’s dismay, she enjoys collecting purses, shoes, and jewelry. During those rare times she’s not working at her day job, rushing her daughters somewhere, watching movies with her husband, and trying to meet a deadline, she can usually be found energetically cheering for one of her favorite New York sports teams.
As with just about every other writer on the planet, Kristen grew up an avid reader. She started with young adult before she technically hit the age range and moved on to sci-fi classics by Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. At fifteen, her best friend gave her a book she just had to read! The book was Honest Illusions by Nora Roberts. Always a sucker for a happy ending, she was a goner and fell in love with the romance genre. Having started writing novel length stories at the age of eleven, Kristen’s stories all took a romantic turn from that point on.