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“Good morning, beautiful. How are you doing this fine morning?” Luke must have seen her cell number pop up on his caller identification.

“Not good.” She was out breath. “H-he’s here. At Savannah House,” Morgan hissed over the line.

“Who’s there? What’s going on?” Luke asked. His voice sounded as confused as she felt.

“Preston Sykes. My childhood nemesis. The one who tormented me through grade school,” she explained.

“You’ve got to be kidding me! I thought he moved away years ago.”

“Trust me. I wouldn’t kid about something like this.”

Luke let out a growl. “I’ll be right there to toss him out on his ear!”

“You can’t do that, no matter how much I might want you to.”

“You shouldn’t have to deal with that punk in your own place of business.”

“I don’t know if he recognized me or not. I think he’s here with his wife.”

Luke snorted. “Someone married that joker?”

Morgan felt a giggle building up inside her, but it never came out. Her nerves were too on edge to laugh about the situation. All these years later and the sight of Preston still managed to paralyze her. He was the bogey man lying in wait under her bed, the one who’d given her nightmares as a child.

She was different now though, she reminded herself. Stronger. Wiser. Older. She wasn’t alone. All five of her best friends would back her up in a heartbeat if she needed them to do so. And if worst came to worst, she would ask Luke to come down and toss him out of Savannah House on his ear. As a child she’d been at his mercy. Now, she had power. The power to stand up to him. The power to confront him. And most importantly, the power to erase him from her nightmares.

“Baby, do you want me to come down there? I’ll get there as fast as I can.”

Her heart swelled at Luke’s thoughtful offer. Knowing that he wanted to support her in this moment felt incredible. But, although it would be comforting to have Luke at her side, it was important to handle this uncomfortable situation on her own.

“Thank you for having my back, Luke. A few years ago I would have run away from this situation. Truthfully, I would have hid out in the kitchen until he checked out of the inn. But that’s not about to happen. Not now. I’m facing this head-on. This is my resort! And I’m not shrinking away and hiding from anyone.”

“Way to go, Morgan. I’m cheering you on from my office at Duvall Investments. I can’t wait to hear how this plays out.”

“I’ll keep you posted. Thanks again,” she said, feeling certain after speaking with Luke that she now had the strength to deal with crossing paths with Preston.

Morgan didn’t even have to seek out Preston. About an hour later she was walking by the parlor when he came striding toward her. He darted a quick glance in her direction, then approached her with halting steps. He narrowed his gaze at her, as if he wasn’t quite certain of her identity.

After a few seconds, recognition flared in his eyes. “Morgan? Morgan Lucas? It’s you, isn’t it?”

With his jet black hair and piercing green eyes, Preston had turned into a very attractive man. But Morgan couldn’t help but shiver at the sight of him and the sound of his gravelly voice. Just one look at him sent her spiraling back to the past. He had been cruel and without a shred of mercy. And now, she couldn’t even force words out of her mouth. Why did the past manage to have such a hold on her? It felt as if she was being strangled.

Please, Lord. Give me strength. And courage.

She nodded, eyeing him warily. When they were kids she’d always felt he was Goliath and she was David, although she’d never managed to conquer him the way David had in her favorite Biblical story. But now as adults, they were equal

s. Fear was just a state of mind, something to vanquish.

His features tightened. “I guess you remember what a jerk I used to be.”

Anger exploded inside her. “A person doesn’t forget that type of bullying. You targeted me at a time in my life when I was really vulnerable. I couldn’t fight back. I didn’t even know how, or why you held such animosity toward me. You made me afraid. That’s a terrible thing, Preston.”

He shook his head. “You’re right. I was a shameless bully. And a bigot to boot. I said and did things to you that make me shudder with shame. I have no right to ask for your forgiveness, but I’ve come a long way since then. And those things I did…it’s not any justification, but I was taught those things.”

“You’re right. It justifies nothing!” she snapped. She wasn’t going to give Preston a pass. A person could be remorseful for their actions, but it didn’t null and void them. His actions had gravely wounded her.

They locked gazes. “I’d like to ask for your forgiveness, Morgan, but I truly understand if you can’t grant it.”

She let out a ragged sigh. All of these pent-up feelings toward him went back almost two decades. “Being sorry doesn’t erase my pain. As for forgiving you, I’ll have to pray on that. I don’t owe you forgiveness. If I do find a way to do so, it will be for myself, Preston, so I can put those awful memories to rest. I don’t like this feeling of being chained down by things that happened to me. It’s not who I am or who I want to be.”

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