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He and Peter walk away, leaving Emma and me standing next to each other. I hate the look on her face. The insecurity is there, and it’s glaring at me.

Emma’s staring wide eyed at me, and I know I have a lot to tell her. “Look, I know I have a lot to explain, but I’m going to do it quick. Your father was arrested. It seems when he was on his way home yesterday he hit a person and killed them while he was drunk. The police searched for him and found him passed out on your living room floor. No one even knew about you and thought you left town when you were seventeen. The sheriff wants to meet with you...”

She freezes up, and I grip her by the shoulders. “Only to know you’re okay. I told him I’d bring you there in next week.”

When she’s still frozen in my arms, I force her to look at me. “I’ll be with you the whole time.”

She nods.

She looks up at the porch at Sophia and back at me. There’s so much sadness on her face, I would give anything to make her smile.

She lets her hand drop from my arm. “I guess since your fiancée is back, I should probably get going...”

I interrupt her. I haven’t thought about this or anything, but the thought of her leaving has me about to go off the rails. “I need you to do me a favor.’

She nods. “Sure, I owe you one. There’s no doubt about that.”

I don’t give her an explanation. I pull her to my side, backtracking toward the house, with her hand threaded through mine. We get a few feet from the house, and I mumble to her, “Just go with it, okay?”

She is no doubt wondering what is going on, but she doesn’t argue. She just puts her trust in me. She says okay, and I stop with her on the bottom step. “Sophia, what are you doing here?”

“I came home.” She smiles like she’s doing me some kind of favor or something. She left when things got hard. I’m definitely not letting her back now.

I shake my head. “This isn’t your home.”

She looks between Emma and me. “It was once.”

“Yeah, and then you decided you didn’t want to slum it anymore. Why did you come back?”

“Because I now realize what a good man you are. It may have taken me a year to figure it out, but I don’t care if we live on this run-down ranch....”

“It’s not run-down. It’s beautiful...” Emma says at my side.

My hand tightens on hers. “I’m sorry you came all the way here. But as you can see, I’ve moved on.”

“Moved on?” she asks.

“Well, yeah,” I say, looking at Emma. “Emma and I are getting married.”

Emma’s big green eyes get even bigger, but besides that small movement, she doesn’t give anything away.

“Married!?!” Sophia exclaims.

“Yeah.” I wrap my arms around Emma and pull her against my chest. “But I’m not going to let her leave me at the altar.”

Emma wraps her arms around my neck. She’s staring up at me. “I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. I love you, Brett Barrett.”

She says it with such intensity, I almost believe her. I may have asked her for a favor, but she’s going all out.

I know I’m pressing my luck, but I dip my head and capture her lips. The kiss is just as explosive as the one this morning.

Emma pulls away when Sophia makes a disgusted sound. Sophia throws her hands up in frustration. “Well, that’s nice, but I don’t have anywhere to go.”

I’m about to tell her that she can’t stay here when Emma’s arm goes around my waist. “It’s going to be dark soon. She can stay here for tonight, can’t she, Brett?”

But I’m already shaking my head. “I don’t think that’s...”

Sophia interrupts. “Just one night, so I can make a few phone calls and get something else lined up.”

I know Emma’s heart is in the right place, but she doesn’t know Sophia. Sophia doesn’t care if I’m supposedly engaged. She’ll do whatever she has to tonight to try to get me alone with her. But that could actually help me, because I’m not going to let Emma out of my sight.

“Sure, if you’re okay with it, honey, I am too,” I tell Emma. I turn to look at Sophia. “But tomorrow, you head out.”

7

Emma

What the hell was I thinking? The whole day all I could think about was possibly staying here. I cleaned the house top to bottom, put dinner in the crockpot, and daydreamed about Brett all day long. I know he only wants a housekeeper and someone that cooks, and I can do that. I’ll do the very best at it. I’ve never felt so safe and looked out for in my life, and I don’t want to lose that feeling now. That kiss from this morning made me start to think about all the possibilities, but I shove them all aside. He’s not interested in me that way. He told me so last night. But no matter what I do, I still can’t stop that tiny bit of hope from building inside me.

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