Someone Like You
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“You love her,” Jill told him. “That counts for a lot.”
“I hope so.”
She was about to expand on the point when she remembered she had absolutely zero experience in the kid department. Not that she hadn’t wanted them. But the lying weasel rat bastard had thought they should wait and, for reasons not clear to her, they had. Of course now she was glad—children would have complicated the divorce.
“So what are you doing back in town?” Mac asked. “Vacation? Last I heard you were practicing corporate law in San Francisco.”
Jill felt her eyes widen. He knew about her life? Had he been asking? Had he thought about her? Was there—
She quickly slammed a mental door on those thoughts. No doubt Mac had simply picked up small-town gossip. Nothing worth getting excited about.
“I was, until recently,” she said. “I worked for a corporate law firm in San Francisco. I was about to make junior partner.” She resumed combing her damp hair. “Past tense?”
“Yup. My soon-to-be ex-husband managed to get me fired. He also got my promotion, my window office and our condo.” She tugged through a knotted strand. “Not that he’ll get to keep the condo. It’s community property. He cheated on me, too. I saw him, and let me tell you, there’s a visual I want erased from my brain.”
“That’s a lot for one day. How’d he get you fired?”
“I’m still working on that one. I brought a lot of business into the firm. More than any other associate. But when they fired me, I wasn’t allowed to speak to any of the senior partners to find out what was going on. I sent a couple of e-mails and letters, so we’ll see. In the mean time, I’m temporarily back in Los Lobos to take over the law practice of Dixon and Son.”
“And you’re not happy about it.”
“Not even a little.” She tried to tell herself at least she was still practicing law, but she didn’t actually believe herself.
“I take it Mr. Dixon didn’t have a son.”
“Apparently not. Or he wasn’t interested in taking over the family firm. So that’s me.” She set down the comb and forced herself to smile. “I’m a small-time litigator. In my free time I’ll be planning revenge on Lyle.”
“If the revenge involves breaking the law, I don’t want to know.”
“Fair enough. I probably won’t do anything illegal, though. I don’t want to be disbarred.” Which cut into the possibilities. Not a problem, though. She could rise to the occasion by being more creative.
“Have the summer softball leagues started yet?” she asked.
Mac nodded. “Sure. Games every weekend.”
“Good. I think I’ll park the car by the practice fields. There should be plenty of fly balls zipping around.”
He winced. “Is that 545 Lyle’s car?”
“Technically it’s community property. He bought it with joint assets.”
“If I were you, I’d make a note of that to tell the judge.”
Jill pulled her knees to her chest and sighed. This was nice—fun. If she’d been sixteen, talking to Mac in the dark would have been the answer to her prayers. At twenty-eight, it wasn’t half-bad, either.
“Why here?” he asked. “You could have gotten a job anywhere.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence. This gig is temporary. Actually it was my father’s idea.”
Mac stared at her. “He suggested it?”
“Oh, yeah. When I told him what had happened, he told me about the vacant practice here. You’d think that moving clear to the other side of the country would make him less of a meddler in town affairs, but no. It’s as if he’s still around the corner instead of in Florida.”
“He does keep a hand in,” Mac said. “Judge Strathern told me about the vacancy in the sheriff’s office.”
Jill didn’t know which surprised her more—that her father kept in contact with Mac or that Mac referred to him so formally. They’d known each other for years. Mac had practically grown up in her father’s house. Of course Mac being the housekeeper’s son probably put their relationship on a different level. Not that she’d cared about things like that. When she’d been a teenager all she’d cared about was how gorgeous Mac had been and how her heart had beat like hummingbird wings every time he smiled at her.
“So my dad’s to blame for both of us being here,” she said. “Although you like it.”
“Maybe the town will grow on you.”
“Like a wart? No thanks.”
She fingered her hair and realized it had started to dry. In a matter of minutes it would be a wild and wooly mess. She reached up and began to weave it into a loose braid.
“I don’t remember your hair being that curly,” he said as he watched.
Jill thought about how she’d looked earlier that day—a stained, drunk, frizzy mess. “It has a mind of its own. I tame it with a combination of iron will and hair products. Blow dryer, flatiron and an assortment of bottles and jars. Give me electricity, my tools and an hour and you’ll see sleek, perfect hair.”
“Why go to all that trouble?”
Spoken like a true man. “To keep it controlled and borderline normal.”
“Curly hair is sexy.”
Four simple words that made her stomach clench and her mouth go dry. She wanted to shake her head and flaunt her curls. She wanted to dance on the lawn and announce to the heavens that Mac thought she had sexy hair.
“Especially when it’s long, like yours.”
The world just got better and better.
Ooh, she sounded so cool and casual. Good thing he couldn’t see the chorus line of hormones doing the happy dance.
Mac stood. “This has been nice, Jill, but I need to get back and check on Emily. I wouldn’t want her to wake up and find the house empty.”
She held in the regretful sigh and managed not to say how she wished they could talk about her sexy hair a little bit longer. Maybe next time.
She waved as Mac walked toward his house, then turned toward her own back door. Just as her fingers touched the door handle, she froze.
Maybe next time? Had she really thought that? No, no, no, no, no. There was no this time or next time or anytime. Mac was here—small-town sheriff makes good with kid. She was there—big-city corporate law shark. That was her—swimming for freedom. She did not want to get trapped here in Los Lobos. She wanted big bucks and bigger revenge on the rat fink lying weasel dog. Hunky guys next door were not part of her plan. And in case she was tempted, she needed to re member what had happened the last time she’d thrown herself at the guy in question.
He’d taken one look at her naked body and vomited. There was a lesson there—one she would do well to re member.
EMILY KENDRICK SQUEEZED her eyes as tightly closed as she could. She squeezed until her whole face hurt and she thought she might squish her eyeballs. She clenched her teeth, raised her shoulders and held her breath until the burning went away. Then she relaxed.
Okay. Better. She wasn’t going to cry. Not here. She wasn’t sure why she thought she shouldn’t give in to tears. It wasn’t as if someone had told her not to cry. The message came from inside her—that scary dark place that got bigger when she thought about the summer with her dad and her mom going away and how nothing had been right for a long, long time.
She could hear noises from downstairs. Something clanged onto the stove. Before, she would have giggled at the thought of her dad cooking. He’d done it sometimes, on Sunday morning or when she’d been sick and he’d stayed home with her. Then he’d made fun stuff, like grilled-cheese sandwiches cut up into the shape of a boat, or caramel corn they’d baked in the oven. He’d always let her help. He’d—
The burning came back. Emily sucked in a breath and willed it away. She wouldn’t think about before. About when things had been good and her dad had tossed her in the air and told her he loved her and her mom had laughed all the time. She wouldn’t think about that, or how one day she and her mom had gone away and her dad had never, ever found them.
She walked to the bed she’d made so carefully and picked up Elvis. The worn rhino fit into her arms the way he always had and that made her feel better.
“Mommy left us,” she murmured into the bare spot behind his ear—the place she always whispered her secrets. “She left last night after she tucked me in bed and I’m mad at her.”
Emily didn’t want to be mad at her mom, but mad was safe. She liked being mad right now because when she was mad she didn’t care so much.
“We have to stay the whole summer and be with some lady because my dad has to work. He’s the sheriff.”
She didn’t know what being the sheriff meant. He’d been a policeman before. She’d liked how he looked in his uniform—big and brave and she’d known he would always keep her safe. But then he’d let her go away and daddies weren’t supposed to do that. They were supposed to be with their little girls always.
She didn’t want to be here, Emily thought as she stared at the door to her room. She’d begged her mother to let her stay home. She’d promised to be good and clean her room and not watch too much TV, but it hadn’t mattered. Her mother had brought her here and had left her.
Emily’s stomach growled. She was hungry because she hadn’t eaten much dinner the night before.
Slowly, carefully, she opened the door and stepped into the hallway. The house was old, but nice. Big, with a second floor and lots of big trees. Her mom had told her that the ocean was real close and that her dad would take her to play on the beach. Emily had liked that but hadn’t said anything.
The stairs creaked as she walked downstairs. She could still hear her dad in the kitchen. She smelled bacon and maybe pancakes and her mouth began to water. Her grip on Elvis tightened until she was afraid she would pop him like a balloon. Finally she hovered at the entrance to the kitchen.
The room was big, with lots of windows. Her dad stood by the stove. He looked so tall and strong and just like she remembered him. For a second she almost ran over to be picked up and hugged. She wanted to feel his arms around her, holding her close. She wanted him to tell her that she was his best girl always.
Her throat got all tight and her stomach felt squishy instead of empty. And when he looked up and smiled at her, it was as if her feet had somehow glued themselves to the floor.
“Hey, kiddo, how’d you sleep?”
“Okay,” she whispered.
She waited for the hug, or a wink or something to tell her that he still thought she was his best girl. She leaned forward to hear him tell her that he loved her and he was glad they were together. That he’d missed her and looked for her every day but he hadn’t been able to find her.
But he didn’t. Instead he pulled out a chair at the table in the center of the room.
“Have a seat. I made pancakes. You always liked them, right? Oh, and bacon.”
Emily felt very cold on the inside, as if that dark, scary place inside of her had just frozen over. She didn’t want pancakes, she wanted her dad.
He waited until she was seated, then pushed in the chair. Emily put Elvis on the table next to her place set ting and waited while he slid three pancakes onto her plate. Bacon was next. She looked from the food to the glass of orange juice just to her right.
Funny how she didn’t feel hungry at all. She didn’t feel anything.
“Here’s some strawberries,” he said, putting a bowl of the cut-up fruit on her left.
Emily squared her shoulders and carefully pushed the plate away. “No, thank you,” she said in a voice that was so small she wondered if she were starting to disappear.