Someone Like You
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And in her free time, she would plot revenge. Mean, hard-hearted, satisfying revenge that would reduce her rat-bastard ex-husband to a quivering mass. She smiled at the thought and felt something cold and wet drip onto her leg.
Her aunt sounded concerned, which made Jill want to ask her what was wrong, but she couldn’t seem to open her eyes or speak. Something was taken from her hand.
“How much brandy did she have?” a man asked.
Mac, Jill thought hazily. Yummy, sexy Mac. She’d had a crush on him since she was thirteen years old. But he’d never noticed her. Not really. He’d been nice and friendly, but in a distant, big-brother kind of way.
It was because she hadn’t gotten breasts. Not real ones like her best friend Gracie. Nope, Jill had what Gracie’s mom had referred to as “discreet curves.” Jill didn’t want discreet. She wanted blatant, sexy, in-your-face boobs.
She felt herself slipping down in the chair, then suddenly she was high up in the air. It was like floating or flying or both.
“On the sofa?”
“Yes. I’ll get a blanket. I’m sure she just needs to rest.”
“Or drink less,” a man said with a chuckle. “She’s going to feel like crap in a few hours.”
That won’t be anything new, Jill thought as she burrowed into the pillow that found its way under her head. She’d been feeling like crap for two days. Only this was better. It was warm and cozy and she felt safe again. She let herself drift off and vowed that when she woke up, everything would be different.
MAC GAVE UP the pretense of not watching the clock somewhere around four forty-five. He had the thought that the waiting would be a whole lot easier with a beer in his hand, but he wasn’t going there. Not with Emily on the line. Not with it all being his fault.
He wanted to blame someone else, to point the finger and say he wasn’t responsible, but he couldn’t. Not when he’d taken every step himself. He couldn’t even blame Carly. His ex-wife had been more understanding and forgiving than he deserved.
Because she was organized and didn’t see the value in making him sweat, she arrived five minutes early. He watched the Volvo pull up into his driveway and was outside before either of the occupants had a chance to open their doors.
“Hey, kiddo,” he said as Emily stepped out.
His daughter was slight and blond, with big blue eyes and a smile that could light up the heavens. Only she wasn’t smiling now. Instead her mouth quivered at the corners and she wouldn’t look him in the eye. She clutched Elvis, her tattered, stuffed rhino, to her chest and stared at the ground.
He hadn’t seen her in nearly two months and it was all he could do not to grab her and hug her forever. He wanted to tell her he loved her, that she’d grown and got ten more beautiful, that he’d thought about her every day. Instead he tucked his hands into his jeans pockets and wished he could go back in time and make things different.
He turned his attention to Carly. Petite, well dressed, with her gold-blond hair cut to her jawline, she walked around the car and moved toward him.
“You look good,” he said, bending down to kiss her cheek.
She squeezed his upper arm. “You, too. Cute little town. So this is where you grew up?”
“This is it.”
“How does it feel to be back?”
He’d spent the past two weeks torn between hope and impending disaster. Too much was on the line.
“Good,” he said with a casual confidence he didn’t feel. “Let’s get the luggage and go inside.” He turned to Emily. “Your bedroom is upstairs, kiddo. Want to go check it out?”
She glanced at her mom as if asking for permission. When Carly nodded, Emily darted inside.
“She hates me,” he said flatly.
“She loves you, but she’s scared. She hasn’t seen you in weeks, Mac. You didn’t show up the two week ends like you promised. You broke her heart.”
He nodded and swallowed the rising guilt. “I know. I’m sorry.”
He crossed to the trunk and waited for her to unlock it.
“Apologies don’t work on an eight-year-old,” Carly told him. “You disappeared from her life without a word and now you’re going to have to prove yourself to her.”
He already knew that. The question was how? How did a father go about regaining the trust of his daughter? Was it possible? Had he crossed the line and was it already too late?
He wanted to ask Carly her opinion, but he figured he’d already used up all his currency with her.
“You didn’t have to do this,” he said as he lifted out two suitcases.
Carly grabbed a cooler. “I know. Part of me wanted to turn my back on you, but you’ve always loved her more than anything.” She closed the trunk and stared at him. “I want to believe you, Mac. I want you to have this chance. But make no mistake. If you screw up even one time, I’ll haul your ass back into court and make sure you never see your daughter again.”
JILL WOKE in darkness to the sound of the grandfather clock in the hall. She counted ten chimes, then shoved back the blanket and gingerly pushed into a sitting position.
Her memory blurred as she tried to figure out where she was and why she’d fallen asleep on a sofa. Bits and pieces returned as she recalled arriving at Aunt Bev’s place and the liberal consumption of brandy.
The quiet of the house told her that her aunt had already headed upstairs. Not a surprise—those who liked to be awake and perky for the sunrise usually had to go to bed fairly early. Jill was more of a sunset kind of gal, although she’d missed it today, what with sleeping off her stupor.
“There’ll be another sunset tomorrow,” she reminded herself as she stood and tensed in anticipation of a blinding headache or double vision. Neither occurred. Actually, she felt pretty good.
“That’s a plus.”
She made her way to the guest room and smiled when she saw the folded-back covers and fluffed pillows. Her aunt had even left a tray with water, a glass and a package of Alka-Seltzer.
“An amazing woman.”
Jill ignored the bed and walked to her suitcase. After collecting toiletries, she hit the bathroom and turned on the shower.
Twenty minutes, one shampoo and an application of sweet-pea-scented body lotion later, she felt practically normal. She debated between PJs and sweats before settling on the latter. With her hair still in a towel and a wide-tooth comb in her hand, she walked downstairs and out onto the back porch.
The wooden structure was nearly as wide as the front porch and just as furnished. There was an old swing, a rattan table and chair set along with a bench, a few bug-zapper lamps and a trellis covered with bougainvillea.
Jill ignored it all and sat on the rear steps leading down to the grass. The night was cool and pleasant. A clear sky twinkled with a thousand stars she couldn’t see when she was in the city. She supposed there were those who thought small-town life was made perfect by things like stars and unlocked doors. They were, of course, hideously wrong.
She pulled off the towel and reached for the comb. Just then the back door of the house on the left opened and someone stepped out.
Jill froze, her arm raised, the comb barely touching her hair. Even in the dim light of the porch she recognized the tall, broad-shouldered man. Mac.
She figured the odds of him visiting a neighbor at this hour were slim, which meant he probably lived next door to her aunt. Wasn’t that just how her life was going? No doubt he’d moved in with his wife and…
Hazy memories clicked into place. Something about a child. A daughter maybe? But no wife. Or at least not the kid’s mother. Or had that been wishful thinking on her part? Horror swept through her as she thought she remembered passing out in his presence.
She shifted to stand and creep back inside, but a board creaked, Mac turned, then started toward her. Jill glanced down at the T-shirt she’d pulled on over sweatpants. Oh, yeah, a fabulous “aren’t I sexy” look. She supposed her lack of bra could be considered provocative, if she had actual breasts larger than fried eggs.
“How are you feeling?” he asked as he approached.
His voice rumbled into the quiet of the night. The sound seemed to rub against her skin like velvet on silk. Her insides clenched and her mind emptied of all rational thought.
“Ah, better,” she managed. “I needed that.”
“The nap, the brandy or passing out?”
“Maybe all three.”
He paused in front of her and leaned against the railing. One corner of his mouth curved up.
“Do you remember anything that happened this afternoon?”
She had a feeling that he wasn’t talking about the drive from San Francisco. The question made her uneasy.
“Why? Did I do anything memorable before, um, passing out?” Had she thrown up, or worse? Was there worse than throwing up?
“Nope. You got very quiet, spilled your milk and passed out.”
Inwardly she winced. “Sounds charming.” She recalled waking up. “So how did I get to the sofa?”
Mac’s half smile widened into a full grin. “You’re welcome.”
He’d carried her? She’d actually been in Mac’s arms and she hadn’t been conscious for the moment? Could her life get any more unfair?
“Ah, thanks. That was really nice of you.”
What she wanted to know was had he enjoyed the experience? Had he thought of it as anything more than a chore? Had she even once crossed his mind in the past ten years?
He moved to the foot of the stairs and sat down. His thigh was amazingly close to her bare toes. If she moved her foot a scant inch, they would be touching. Jill jerked the comb through her still-wet hair and swallowed a sigh of frustration. One would think she would be more grown-up and mature by now, but one would be wrong.
“So you’re back in town,” she said when no wittier bit of conversation occurred to her.
He pointed to the house on the left. The one she’d seen him walk out of. “Right next door.”
“With your daughter?” she asked, hoping her wisps of memory were accurate.
The humor fled his face, leaving behind only tightness and something that might have been pain.
“I’m sure she’ll enjoy Los Lobos. It’s a great place for kids. Especially in the summer.” Jill hadn’t started to chafe at the restrictions of small-town life until she’d entered college.
“I hope so. I haven’t seen her in a while. After the divorce…” He shrugged, which didn’t explain much.
“Was her mother difficult about things?” she asked.
“No. Carly was great. It was my fault. I wasn’t around for a while. That hurt Emily. She’s just a kid, I should have realized. I want joint custody, but I need to earn the privilege. That’s what this summer is about.”
His words left her with more questions than answers, but she decided not to push.
“I hope things work out,” she said.
“Me, too. Em means the world to me.” The smile re turned. “Your aunt agreed to help me with day care. Should I be rethinking that?”
“Because of what I said about her not liking children?”
Jill shook her head. “She didn’t like teaching very much, but she was always great when I was growing up.” There was the whole psychic gift thing, but maybe it was better to let Mac find out about that on his own.
“Good to know,” he said.
“Your daughter arrived earlier, right? Did everything go okay?”
He glanced toward the house. “It was fine. Carly drove her up from L.A. and stayed through bedtime. All I had to do was hang around in the background. The real test will be in the morning.”