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Then he’d lifted his head and whispered, “Gotta be out early, peaches, but thanks for settin’ me up for the day.” Then he’d kissed my nose, his ultra-cool goatee tickling my skin, and left the bed. No pressure, just a thinly veiled promise.

The kiss was great, the kind of great that, back in the day, would launch a thousand daydreams. But I was done with promises.

Now, he was taking me to Denver for reasons unknown but whatever they were, they required me being blindfolded.

The Expedition stopped and I asked, “Can I take it off now?”

“In a minute,” Tack answered.

I waited impatiently and then felt my door open. Tack carefully guided me out of the SUV to my feet and he kept guiding me as we walked then he stopped, turned me and his arm wrapped around my ribs, pulling my back into his front as his other hand went to the blindfold and pulled it up and away.

We were standing in front of my house. There were new windows, a new door and no visible bullet damage. The big bricks that had been painted maroon prior to my habitation looked like they’d been filled and the entire front of the house had a new coat of maroon paint. It looked like a house, not the byproduct of the aftermath of a battle.

“Surprise, darlin’,” Tack whispered in my ear.

“Oh my God,” I whispered back.

I heard his soft laugh then he took my hand and guided me up the steps. On my porch, he inserted a key into the lock, moved it to the other lock and then swung the door in. He maneuvered me in front of him as we walked in and I saw that what had been done outside had been way done inside. The plaster bits and bullet holes were gone. The walls were newly skimmed, smooth and had a fresh coat of white paint, so fresh, I could smell it in the air. But it was more than that. My damaged furniture had been carted away. The floors had been sanded and refinished. The mantels of the fireplaces on each side too. It was clean and sparkling and, with some furniture, habitable.

“These are yours,” Tack said, lifting my hand palm up and dropping the keys in it.

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I looked at the keys. Tack kept talking.

“You can paint it any color you want, it’s primed.”

I tipped my head back to look at him and I felt the tears stinging the backs of my eyes.

“Tack…” I whispered, “I don’t know what to say.”

He grinned. “Welcome home, babe.”

Not thinking, I moved into him, wrapped my arms around him and gave him a hug.

“Thank you,” I whispered against his chest.

His arms were wrapped around me and they squeezed tight.

Then he said, “I don’t think you get what I’m sayin’ to you, peaches.”

My head tipped back but I didn’t let him go. “What?” I asked.

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One of his arms left me so his fingers could slide in my hair at the side and then hold it at the back of my head.

“You don’t feel safe down here, you’re welcome to stay at my place, long as you like. But we been listenin’ and we been diggin’ and your sister has gone to ground. Things have cooled down on that and you’re safe to come home if you want.”

I was certainly glad things had cooled down though a little worried about what Ginger “going to ground” meant but I knew what Tack was saying had two meanings.

“You’re giving me space?” I asked quietly.

“When you come to me, Gwen, it’s gotta be because you wanna come to me, not because you need to come to me. And it’s gotta be that way not just for me but for you.”

God, he was a good guy.

I dropped my head so my forehead rested against his chest and his hand curled around the back of my neck.

“Thank you,” I repeated into his chest.

“I see you wanna come home,” he noted and I nodded against his chest. “All right, darlin’, you get settled. I’ll go get your computer. Sheila can come by and pack up your shit. I’ll bring it all back down.”

I tilted my head back. “I can come up. You don’t need to be driving back and forth for me.”

“You need to settle, babe.”

He was right. I did. I so did. I’d been unsettled for so long, I didn’t remember settled.

And he was such a good guy.

I leaned into him. “Thanks.”

His head dipped, his mouth hit mine and I felt his lips open. Stupid me, stupid, stupid me, I opened my own, his tongue slid in and my tongue moved to touch tips.

Nice. Way nice.

He tasted really good.

His lips released mine and lifted up to kiss my nose.

Then he looked in my eyes and said gently, “Anything for you, Gwen.”

Such a good guy.

I shoved my face in his neck and held on tighter. He let me do this until his arms gave me a squeeze. I understood what that meant, let him go and stepped back.

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“Later, babe,” he murmured.

“Later, Tack,” I replied, he turned and walked out of my house.

A couple hours later Tack delivered my computer and hooked it up. He also brought my suitcases. Then he left probably because he had a life and I had a decision to make and although my life revolved around me, that didn’t mean everyone else’s did.

I unpacked and started laundry. Then I made a grocery list. Then I texted Meredith, Cam and Tracy and told them I was back home but I needed the night to get settled. Cam texted back that it was cosmos at her house the next night, no excuses, no lip. I returned the text saying I’d be there. I wasn’t certain I was ready but I had to live my life and I might as well start now.

I was heading back upstairs from the kitchen when I heard the chime and clunk of the doorbell.

I froze as unexpected pain sliced through me.

The last time I heard the chime and clunk of the doorbell, Hawk was coming over and taking me to dinner. Dad had called out to me to tell Hawk not to worry about the doorbell. Then Hawk had given me shoes. After that, hope had budded.

I sucked in breath to control the pain and stared at the door knowing one thing was for certain, it wasn’t Hawk.

Cam, Tracy and Meredith would give me space. Dad and Troy would not. Dad could get impatient and he was protective and after all that went down, and the obvious fact I was no longer with Hawk, he would be concerned and not happy to be kept out of the loop. Troy had been a fixture in my life and being thus, I was one in his. With Hawk out of the picture, he’d make his approach.

I wasn’t ready for either of these.

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