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“Of course.” His brows furrow before he continues, “Are you sure you’re okay? I can go there with you and stay, just you and me for a while if you want. Your mom will understand.”

My eyes burn with tears, but I quickly blink them away. “Thank you, but I’ll be fine. This is something I need to do on my own…for me.”

He smiles sadly as if he knows I’m fighting a battle I’m refusing to share. “Okay. If you need anything I’ll be there in a heartbeat.” He wraps me in a warm hug. I breathe him in for moment before pulling back, letting his familiar scent comfort me.

“I’ll call you if I need anything. But uh…do me a favor. Don’t tell anyone where I am.”

If he was a little concerned before, he’s in full blown worry mode now. His eyebrows furrow, “I won’t, but honey, now you have me worried. Are you hiding from someone?”

“I want to be on my own with no interruptions for a bit. That’s all,” I lie, well not totally a lie. I need to regroup and recharge without distraction, but Iamhiding. I’m hiding from Taylor and I’m running from Tate. We need some distance between us.

Dad spears me with his most intimidating stare, like when I was a kid and he wanted me to fess up about something. But I won’t crack, not this time.

When he sees I’m not budging, the worry stays etched on his face, but he knows he’s lost this round. He pulls me into a hug again. “There’s nothing I won’t do for you, Lucy. I hope you know that.”

“I do. I know,” I say into his chest as I return the hug wishing this was something he or even Rhett could make disappear for me but knowing the impossibility of that wish.

When I arrive back at Tate’s, I’m pleased to find he’s not back yet. Hopefully that means he won’t know I left. I’m not ready for twenty questions. But, even if he didn’t see me, I know Hawk did. He waved as I drove past the main barn, but maybe he won’t think to mention it to Tate. A girl can hope, right?

I pack the few things I unpacked last night, so I can leave quickly without Tate knowing. That’s the thing, I’ll need to leave either in the middle of the night while he’s sleeping or after he’s gone to work on the ranch. Probably safer to leave while he’s sleeping so I have the dark of night as my cover. Rocky is still by my side as I move around. Dogs are smart, and this one—I swear he knows what I’m up to. Too bad I can’t take him with me.

A few minutes after noon as promised, Tate returns home. “Hey, love. Did you sleep well?” He walks over to me and drops a kiss on my head surprising me. That’s not the behavior of someone who doesn’t care. I push away those thoughts. I can’t allow them to deter me.

“I did. Thanks for having coffee ready. Are you done for the day or just home for lunch?”

He tosses me a sexy smile. “I’m not done. I’ve got to pick up a couple horses we bought from another ranch after lunch. Do you want to tag along?”

I’m tempted. “I can’t. I need to do a few things for work. I’m still on leave but I need to check in and I may try to talk to Ivie. But thanks for inviting me.”

His smile falls a little but not completely. “That’s fine. And maybe you should spend some time with Ivie. I’m sure she has a lot to talk to you about after she and Sterling reconciled. Isn’t that what women do?” He chuckles lightheartedly.

The sound makes me feel warm inside, like all this mess is nothing more than a nightmare and this man standing in front of me is my dream come true.

I send him a look meant to be annoyed but I can’t keep a straight face and laugh along with him.

We fix sandwiches together and eat lunch, talking about the horses he’s going to pick up. I find myself excited to see them. After he leaves again, I find a piece of paper and an ink pen to leave him a note for when I leave.


Thank you for all you’ve done but I had to leave. I’m not staying in Greendale Valley, I’m going somewhere no one will think to look. Please don’t follow or try to find me. I need to take some time for myself. I’ll be safe I promise. And if anything seems weird, I’ll let you know. He won’t guess where I’m going but I’ll be on alert, nonetheless. If he can’t find me for a while, maybe he’ll give up. I’ll be back, I’m just not sure when. I want you to know even though I’ve tried not to have feelings for you, I do. Which is another reason why I need space. I know where you stand on relationships or lack thereof, so I need to put this space between us before my feelings become so strong you break my heart next. You wouldn’t do that on purpose, I know. But like I told you before, when I care, when I love, it’s with my whole heart. It’s who I am and that’s one thing about me that’ll never change. Keep Rocky company for me. I’ll come back when I’m…stronger.

All my love,


I fold the letter and tuck it in my bag, so he won’t accidentally see it before I’m ready for him to. I wipe away the tears managing to escape. It would seem my heart is already more attached than I thought it was, I can only hope the time and distance will help to calm that too.

I’ve been thinking about Lucy all day. This trip to pick up the horses Sterling and I decided to buy has given me nothing but time to think about her. “Man, you sure are quiet over there,” Hawk throws out. I’ve been silent for most the drive.

We’ve already picked up the two buckskin quarter horses and we’re headed back home to Valley B. These two are female. Their names are Whiskey and Gypsy. They’re still rather young but gentle and hardworking. Sterling and I have had our eyes on them for a few months now.

“I have a lot on my mind. Sorry man, I didn’t mean to be a downer,” I say as I cast a quick glance in his direction. He looks at me with curiosity.

“Is this about Lucy?” he asks knowingly.

My first thought is to lie and leave her out of this conversation, but somehow, I can’t bring myself to. “I do have Lucy on my mind, yes, but there’s other things too.” Other things like how I need to face my mother and tell Sterling and Briella I’m their cousin, not a family friend. But yes, front and center is Lucy…protecting her and somehow figuring out my feelings for her.

“Well, sounds like a lot to unload, and you know I’ll listen…but my first question is—what’s on your mind about Lucy? Do you have feelings for her? Real feelings?” he asks carefully.

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