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The tires slid on the slush coated pavement of the freeway before catching. At the speed they were going, she’d be more than a little late for dinner. Not that they had a choice. Nor was she in a hurry to end their journey. Snow fell in big fat flakes to be slapped away by the wipers. Soft rock filled the car, a welcome change from holiday music, and warmth encompassed her.
For the first time all day, Lacey relaxed. Her gaze rested on Reece’s big hands, firm on the steering wheel. Not for one moment did she doubt his skill on the slippery roads. The man oozed confidence and competence.
His deep brown gaze shifted from the road to her face and back. “How long are you staying in Denver?”
“A week.” She snuggled into the seat. “I’ve been looking forward to getting out of L.A. and going home.”
“Home? Don’t you live in Los Angeles?”
She nodded. “Yes, but Colorado is home. It’s where I grew up, where all my strongest memories are.” She stared through the windshield at the falling snow. “I enjoy my job. I have a great roommate and lots of friends, but I don’t feel a connection to Southern California. Does that make sense?”
When he didn’t elaborate, she touched his arm. “Is Denver your final destination or a temporary stop?”
He winced. “Honestly, I don’t have a clue.”
His glance slid over at her again. “Why’s that? You don’t know anything about me.”
A dark brow shot up. “Oh?”
“I know you’re kind and considerate. I know you’ve experienced loss. It’s there in the lines on your face and the sadness in your eyes. I know that you roll with the unexpected and make the best of it. Most of all, you seem like a man in control of your own destiny. That’s why I’m surprised you don’t have your future all worked out.”
A smile eased across his lips. “And here I thought I was a closed book.”
“Nope. You’re an easy read. I’m guessing you had a plan, but it got derailed.”
His eyes widened. “Are you sure you aren’t a psychologist—or a mind reader.”
“Nope. I just make a point of studying people beyond what I see on the surface.” A green highway sign flashed by outside the window. Still thirty miles to Denver. “What happened to change your plans?”
His fingers tightened around the steering wheel. “My fiancée sent me a Dear John letter a month before my tour was up. Apparently she fell in love with someone else while I was gone.” He shrugged. “Not that I blame her. Long distance relationships are a bitch in the best of circumstances. Knowing your fiancé is getting shot at and might never come home is the opposite of best.”
Anger started as a slow burn in her chest and crept outward. She fisted her hands in her lap. He might act like having his life turned upside down and his feelings thrown back in his face wasn’t a big deal, but she didn’t believe him for a minute.
“I know you’re too much of a gentleman to hit a woman, but I’m not.” She pulled a notepad from her purse and waited with pen poised. “Give me her address.”
Laughter, rich and deep, echoed through the car. “Sonya probably has six inches and thirty pounds on you.”
“I’ll still kick her butt. My parents made me take self-defense classes before I moved to L.A. They worry about me in the big, bad city.”
Reaching across the center console, he patted her leg. “Small but mighty. Are you afraid of anything?”
It took a moment to gather her wits. His warm hand through the fabric of her pants left an indelible impression on her thigh. She swallowed. “That one’s easy. Flying.”
He grinned. “Ah, your terror in the face of a little turbulence is explained.”
“Okay, tough guy, what’s your biggest fear?”
His expression hardened. “I’ve already faced it. What Sonya did doesn’t even come close.”
His tone told her he didn’t intend to elaborate, and she wouldn’t dream of intruding on his privacy. They were quite for several minutes, letting an Eagles’ tune fill the conversational void, but the silence wasn’t uncomfortable. Lacey’s eyelids drooped. A muttered oath had them snapping open. Red taillights flashed in the evening gloom. The car slid as he braked but came to a stop several feet short of a big pickup.
Her heart settled back into a normal rhythm, and she let out a breath. “That was close.”
“Close is a bullet creasing your neck and barely leaving a scar. I wouldn’t consider a hiccup in traffic close.”
She stared at him as he eased the car forward. “Did that happen to you?”
Pulling back the collar of his shirt, he uncovered a red welt across his neck. The pulse at the base beat strong and steady.
Her stomach clenched, and she breathed through her nose. “I’m glad you aren’t going back.” The words rasped in her throat, hard and hurting. “I know we just met, but…”
He touched her hair in a gentle caress before returning his hand to the steering wheel. “Thank you for caring.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
In the distance, the glow of city lights glimmered along the horizon. They were almost to Denver. Anticipation mixed with regret, filling her with confusion. It was Christmas Eve, a time for family and tradition. She was going home to her grandma, and Reece would spend the holiday with his parents. They were nothing more than strangers whose paths crossed by chance. The hollowness inside grew as he left the freeway and followed her directions into a quiet neighborhood. Lights decorated the houses, glowing with Christmas cheer. When he pulled into her grandmother’s driveway, she sat still in her seat, staring at the illuminated tree shining through the living room window. The porch light welcomed her home.
“I guess this is it.” She bit her lip.
When he touched her cheek, she turned to face him. The warmth in his eyes set her heart beating in a fierce rhythm.
“Is that what you thought, that I’d just drop you off and drive away?”
Her shoulders lifted in a tiny shrug.
“You can’t get rid of me so easily.”
“Not a chance. My parents live maybe five miles from here. Seems likely I’ll swing through this neighborhood on my morning run.”
She pressed a hand to her chest. “I make a mean cup of coffee, and my grandma’s cinnamon rolls are to die for. “After a five mile run, you’ll need sustenance for the return trip.”
When he smiled, all the joy of the season filled her with happiness and hope.
“This isn’t the end, Lacey. It’s just the beginning. When I boarded that plane, I had no idea I truly would be going home.”
I hope you enjoyed Going Home. All my books can be found on my website, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Have a very, merry Christmas!