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A Second Chance at Crimson Ranch Michelle Major GOOD WITH HIS HANDS, BAD FOR HER HEART... Ever since her marriage went up in flames, Olivia Wilder hasn't had the desire for love. But one magical dance with Logan Travers might change all that. The blue-eyed hometown hunk is a bit younger and a whole lot sexier than any man she's ever dated before. This is one carpenter Olivia would like to get to know better, and not just because of his building skills... From his first dance with Olivia, Logan knows there's something special about the beautiful brunette. The more she's determined to keep him at arm's length, the more Logan wants her in his embrace. And the more Olivia says she's just passing through, the more resolved Logan is to make her his, forever. To be desired by a man like Logan, someone strong and powerful and…six years younger than her… She pulled away suddenly and grabbed hold of the counter for support. What had she been thinking? Logan had agreed to help her with the renovation; he’d let her dump her family problems on him like a real friend. But it couldn’t be more than that. They both knew it. She couldn’t bear to take this any further and have him disappointed. Somehow she knew being rejected by Logan would be a million times worse than her own husband’s betrayal. “I’m—” she began. “Don’t apologize,” he said, his breathing as uneven as hers. “I took advantage of you,” she countered. He let out a harsh bark of laughter. “I kissed you, Olivia.” “Because you felt sorry for me.” “Because I wanted to kiss you.” He pushed a hand through his blond hair, tousling it in a way that made her want to brush it back into place. Because at her core, Olivia liked things in their place, even if that place kept her lonely and afraid. She didn’t think she had the guts to live life any other way. A Second Chance at Crimson Ranch Michelle Major www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) MICHELLE MAJOR grew up in Ohio but dreamed of living in the mountains. Soon after graduating with a degree in journalism, she pointed her car west and settled in Colorado. Her life and house are filled with one great husband, two beautiful kids, a few furry pets and several well-behaved reptiles. She’s grateful to have found her passion writing stories with happy endings. Michelle loves to hear from her readers at www.michellemajor.com (http://www.michellemajor.com). To my daughter, Jessie, who makes me smile every day. I love you to the moon and back a gazillion times and can’t wait to watch you make all your dreams come true. Contents Cover (#ud994eece-2a9c-5d9c-ab21-7eb60ce7938f) Introduction (#ucf9aa813-4543-516e-a580-c49896e279ac) Title Page (#ue45c97dc-8fd2-567b-a921-2fe8f226f72f) About the Author (#u03747a84-da3a-5bfa-b76e-08fe1df97be8) Dedication (#u730bdc48-3558-5896-a355-e0b8fd07af4b) Chapter One (#ulink_4b426c78-439b-570e-9d4b-d6450f347a9f) Chapter Two (#ulink_a38e3b54-a4f8-5fef-ad00-06a7926971fc) Chapter Three (#ulink_66fd4835-724e-58cf-8e6e-e24f8050fee5) Chapter Four (#ulink_cd35c7ab-bc0d-5cc7-8db0-94f73c355a61) Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fourteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fifteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Sixteen (#litres_trial_promo) Extract (#litres_trial_promo) Copyright (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter One (#ulink_480f39c1-9485-58e7-87e8-78bbd0c3a7e6) Olivia Wilder loved weddings, even if she no longer believed in marriage. At least not for herself. She wasn’t one to let her personal prejudice ruin someone else’s happiness. Especially someone who deserved it as much as her friend Sara Wellens—Sara Travers as of two hours ago. But the champagne Olivia had drained during the toast was doing funny things to her brain. Her hand fluttered in front of her face as she blinked back tears. “Tears of joy,” she assured Sara, who looked at her with a mix of understanding and sympathy that made Olivia want to cry harder. “I’m thrilled for you and Josh.” “I know, sweetie.” Sara gave her a gentle hug. They’d become close friends during the past six months. “And you’re better off without that slimeball husband anyway.” Olivia nodded. “You’re one of the lucky ones. Josh is a great guy. He loves you to the ends of the earth.” She hiccupped. “Nothing like Craig.” “Craig was a loser.” Olivia couldn’t help but smile at Sara’s blunt description. “And a cheater.” Olivia looked over Sara’s shoulder to where their friend Natalie Holt sat perched at the edge of the couch in the ladies’ lounge. The three of them had escaped into the private room for a few minutes to help Sara get ready to leave for her honeymoon. “He’s going to be sorry he didn’t do right by you. You were the best thing that ever happened to him.” Natalie was another friend Olivia had met in Crimson, Colorado, the town her soon-to-be ex-husband had become mayor of right after they’d married. That had been almost two years ago. From the start, Olivia had loved the small mountain town, felt at home there in a way she never had growing up in Saint Louis or at college on the East Coast. Craig had said it was only the first stop on his political career, although she would have been happy living in Crimson forever. Now she knew she’d never get that chance. “We shouldn’t be wallowing in my sad story.” Olivia made her voice light as she drew away from Sara. “This day is about you and that hot new husband of yours.” A dreamy smile lit up Sara’s face. “He’s pretty cute, huh?” Natalie laughed. “Puppies and rainbows are cute. Josh Travers is one hundred proof stud. Even I’d brave the flight to Hawaii just to watch him on the beach for a week.” Olivia smiled, knowing Natalie was petrified of airplanes. “Are you ready to go? Bags all packed?” Olivia asked. Sara and Josh were driving to Denver after the reception and flying out in the morning. Sara pointed to a mini suitcase in the corner. “I’ve got everything I need.” Olivia felt her eyes widen. “That’s all you’re taking for a week away?” Craig had insisted on a fancy cruise for their honeymoon, and she’d had to bring two huge suitcases to accommodate all the clothes she’d needed for dinners, parties and the like. “Sara won’t need more than a bikini,” Natalie said with a knowing smile. “And Josh will probably have her out of that most of the time anyway.” “I sure hope so.” Sara winked then shook her head at Olivia’s expression. “You’re blushing, Olivia.” “I don’t know...yes...well...” Natalie gave an indelicate snort. “Was Craig such a limp fish even on the honeymoon? It’s not a surprise, but still...” Olivia shrugged. “It was fine.” But nothing about her relationship with Craig had been fine, including their honeymoon. She knew she was to blame for that as well, or at least that’s what he’d convinced her at the time. She busied herself with folding Sara’s bridal veil before carefully placing it in the box. “You won’t leave before I get back?” Sara’s voice was so soft it made Olivia’s eyes prick again. “Why do you have to leave at all?” Natalie asked, rising to stand next to Sara. “You love it in Crimson. This town is great for you.” She smiled slightly at Natalie’s indignant tone. It had been so long—forever really—since Olivia had felt like she had friends in her corner. “Craig ruined both our reputations. Even if I had the money to stay, I doubt I’d feel at home here anymore.” “He was the dirty, cheating scumbag. Not you.” “You know how things work in a small town.” Natalie’s lips thinned into a frustrated line and she flipped a strand of soft caramel-colored hair behind her shoulder. She’d grown up in Crimson and knew better than any of them about life in a small town. “The best things about Crimson are also the hardest,” she said. “Always have been. People here are ready to help someone in need at the drop of a hat, but they also want to learn all your business in the process.” “People in town mean well. You know they do.” Sara wrapped an arm around Natalie’s shoulder. “Even if your trust tree has very few branches. We all know you like to keep your secrets even closer than your friends.” “I don’t have secrets, you brat,” Natalie answered with a grin. She gave Sara a playful flick on her bare shoulder. “I’m an open book and everyone knows it.” As both women erupted into laughter, a subtle ache started in Olivia’s chest. In her ivory gown, Sara, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty, looked every bit as ready to walk the red carpet as when she actually would for a movie premier. The turquoise necklace bright against her fair skin and the cowboy boots she wore with her wedding dress were the only things that gave a hint to the work she did running the guest ranch nestled at the base of the mountains outside of town. Natalie was a good six inches shorter than Olivia, her light brown hair and matching eyes warm and kind. But the faint shadows under her eyes proved that Natalie worked too hard balancing her jobs as a nurse at the local retirement home and a part-time private caretaker. Along with Sara’s long-time friend April, these two women had become the sisters Olivia had always longed to have. They’d accepted and supported her, pulled her out of her rigid shell and were teaching her how to enjoy life. She’d almost been happy until Craig had walked out on her two months ago, taking her life savings and her self-respect along with him. But that was too maudlin a topic for a night such as this. She plastered a bright smile on her face. “No more depressing Craig talk. Let’s get back out there and join the party.” Sara pointed a finger at her. “You need a man,” she said, ignoring Olivia’s fake smile. “Josh has two brothers,” Natalie offered. “I don’t need a man,” Olivia sputtered, feeling heat rise to her cheeks again. “I just got rid of one.” “Craig was a snake, not a man.” Sara waved a dismissive hand. “He doesn’t count. Josh’s brothers aren’t staying in town long enough to be useful. Plus, Jake said he’s due back at the clinic by Tuesday morning. Logan is too much of a wild card to depend on.” “What about—” Natalie started. Olivia threw up her hands. “Stop!” Both women turned to her. “I’m not looking for a man,” she repeated. “You’re in a bad place,” Natalie argued. “You need to let loose.” “My husband left, taking most of my money with him. Heck, yeah, I’m in a bad place.” Olivia placed her hands on her hips and narrowed her gaze at Natalie. “I’m not the only one who needs to let loose. How about we find a man for you?” Natalie’s shoulders stiffened. “This isn’t about me.” “We just want you to stay,” Sara said softly. “I know.” The tension went out of Olivia’s shoulders. She wanted the same thing. She just couldn’t figure out how to make it happen. “I won’t leave until you get back. I’m meeting with the new mayor this week. Maybe I’ll have some great epiphany before then.” A knock sounded on the door and Josh Travers walked in. “Hello, husband,” Sara said, her dreamy smile returning. “Hello, wife,” he answered and came forward to wrap her in his arms. “The guests are asking for you.” He nodded at Natalie and Olivia. “Mind if I have a few moments with her, ladies?” “Of course not,” Olivia and Natalie answered in unison. “Come on, Livvy,” Natalie said with a smile. “Let’s round up a couple more glasses of champagne.” Sara touched Olivia’s arm as she walked past. “You deserve happiness, too,” she whispered. Olivia’s throat clogged, but she nodded and then followed Natalie back to the reception. * * * Logan Travers tipped the beer bottle to his lips as he scanned the guests at the reception. They’d sent off Josh and Sara half an hour ago in a flurry of well wishes and whistles, but the absence of the bride and groom hadn’t seemed to dampen the party atmosphere in the least. He was happy for Josh, and Sara seemed amazing, but that didn’t mean he liked wedding receptions. He curled two fingers into his collar and tried to stretch the starched fabric. This was the first time in his life he’d worn a tuxedo, and he hoped it would be the last. He was ready to head back to Josh’s ranch and crawl into bed for the night. His brother Jake had left already, using the fact that he was driving Josh’s daughter, Claire, home as an excuse. Logan figured it had more to do with Jake’s need to get away from the boisterous crowd drinking and dancing in the private reception hall above one of Crimson’s popular downtown restaurants. Logan had been close to making his own escape, but his new sister-in-law had cornered him on her way out and made him promise to dance with one of her single friends before he left. He’d worked his butt off all night to avoid getting entangled with any of the women at the wedding, limiting his dancing to his thirteen-year-old niece. But he’d been unable to resist Sara’s plea. Now he surveyed the couples on the dance floor and the people scattered at tables around the room. His eye caught on a woman seated by herself to the side of the dance floor. She looked as uncomfortable as he felt. Her dress was pale pink and her hair was pulled back from her face in an almost severe knot at the back of her head. Sara had described her friend Olivia as a very pretty librarian type. Logan didn’t know if he agreed with that, but decided she must be the woman. As he approached her, the music changed to a slow ballad. Damn. He’d been hoping to make it through some hokey line dance with her and call it good. He thought about ducking away, but her gaze lifted to his so there was no turning back. “Would you care to dance?” he asked, stretching out his hand, palm up. She eyed his fingers as if they were spikes on a cactus. “Why are you asking?” He hadn’t expected her question. Logan couldn’t remember the last time—if ever—a woman had offered any resistance to his interest in her. One side of his mouth lifted. “We’re at a wedding. There’s music.” He took a step closer and brought his hand to his hip. “I’m Logan Travers, Josh’s brother.” Her big gray eyes flicked to his before returning to the dance floor. “I know who you are, and I’m guessing Sara put you up to this.” He didn’t bother to deny it. “I don’t know her well, but she’s pretty insistent when she wants something.” “They’ve left,” the woman answered tonelessly. “You’re off the hook.” That was exactly what he’d wanted mere minutes ago, but now he felt like he was getting the brush-off. “You don’t think she’ll be looking for a report after the honeymoon?” “You seem to know Sara better than you think.” Her mouth curved into a genuine smile. Logan lifted his hand to his collar again, unable to explain the heat that shot through his spine. The woman stood and he was surprised at her height, especially since her shoes had very little heel. She was nowhere near as tall as he was, but at six-foot-three he was used to towering over most people. She was just a slip of a thing but only had to tip her head a bit to look him in the eye. Suddenly he wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms and discover if she’d fit there as well as he thought she would. “I’m Olivia,” she said and extended her hand. He covered her fingers in his and tugged her toward the dance floor. “You don’t have to do this,” she protested. “I want to.” He pulled her into his arms, maybe a bit closer than was necessary. Automatically, her left hand came to rest on his shoulder as he kept her right one wrapped in his. He couldn’t help but notice the enormous diamond on her ring finger. He was almost blinded as it caught the light. Sara had asked him to dance with her single friend, but the ring meant there was more to the story. He tried to ignore his curiosity as his fingers brushed the gauzy fabric of her dress along her back. A few pieces of mahogany-colored hair fell loose against her neck and he reveled in their softness as the strands grazed his cheek. She smelled like flowers, and he resisted the urge to bury his face in the crook of her neck and breathe in the fragrance. He gave himself a few moments to regain his control. Clearly he’d been too long without the company of a woman based on his body’s reaction to Olivia. She wasn’t his type in any way. She was too refined, too fragile, too reserved. Logan liked his female companions loud and fun. He was in it for a down-and-dirty good time. Everything about Olivia screamed out of your league. He was smart enough to believe it. “Why don’t you have a date?” he couldn’t help asking. He felt her body stiffen but her voice was calm when she answered. “My husband was a serial cheater who ran off with his secretary a few months ago.” His step almost faltered at her blunt honesty. He leaned back to look into her eyes. “Then he didn’t deserve you in the first place,” he told her quietly. Her breath hitched as her mouth formed a perfect O. There was a bleakness in her gaze, a quiet desperation that Logan hadn’t seen in a woman since he’d looked into his twin sister’s eyes almost ten years ago. Olivia Wilder was broken, he realized. He didn’t know her husband, but had the fierce desire to plow his fist into the other man’s jaw. “He wanted to discover his bliss,” she said after a minute. “The life we had was stifling for him.” “Tell me you’re not defending the jerk.” She shook her head but her eyes dropped to his bow tie. “It will be better in the long run.” “Is that what he told you?” “It’s what I tell myself to get through each day,” she answered then blinked, her eyes filling with tears. The music ended and she pulled away, but he held on to her hand. “Let’s get a beer.” She shook her head as if realizing she’d revealed too much but followed as he led her off the dance floor toward the bar. He could feel the weight of the stares from the other guests. He hadn’t stepped foot in Crimson in close to a decade and saw no point in making friends during this return trip. He planned to get the hell out of town as soon as Josh and Sara returned from Hawaii. Without letting go of Olivia’s hand, he grabbed two beers from the bartender and made a path toward the hallway that led to the stairs by the main restaurant. He wanted to head outside, but he knew it was too cold for her in that thin dress. It was late March and at the nine-thousand-foot altitude where Crimson sat nestled in a valley high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the temperature at night was still below freezing. Instead, he took her to the back of the restaurant, which was empty so late on a Saturday night. He pulled out a chair and she sank down, cradling her head in her hands as her shoulders shook. “Go away,” she mumbled between her fingers. Logan opened the beer bottles and sat one on the table in front of her. “Drink this.” He took a long pull on his, then ran a hand through his hair. “I prefer white wine,” she told him, her voice still shaky. “I’m fresh out,” he answered and she raised her head to glare at him, wiping the tips of her long fingers across her cheeks. Good. Anger he could deal with a lot easier than sorrow. “You don’t want them to see you hurting. They’ll take too much interest in it. That’s how small towns work.” He took several paces across the empty dining room, wondering why this woman’s sadness bothered him so much. Wondering if his advice was more for her or himself. “Everyone in Crimson has been great to me since I arrived.” She took a sip of the beer, made a face and then swallowed another bigger drink. “Besides, I am hurting. My husband was mayor of Crimson. I had a very public image in this town. We had the perfect life. Now I look like a fool.” “I’m not going to argue about your version of the perfect life. The fact that he cheated, then left you is his problem, not yours.” “It’s mine when he left with all of my money and hadn’t paid our mortgage in months. He left me with nothing.” She clapped a hand over her mouth. “You don’t want to hear about my problems.” “Don’t be too sure. Who was this pillar of the community?” She picked at one corner of the bottle’s label. “Craig Wilder. He comes from a prominent family in Crimson.” Logan felt his jaw clench. “I know who the Wilders are.” “Were you friends with Craig growing up?” He almost laughed at that one. “He went to school with my oldest brother.” Her gaze became speculative. “How old are you, Logan?” “Twenty-six.” “A baby,” she whispered. “Hardly,” he countered. “So what’s your plan now?” She took another drink of beer. “I don’t have one. I was working on renovating the community center downtown, but it was in a volunteer capacity. I think Craig mainly gave me the job to keep me busy and unaware of his extracurricular activities. I’m not sure what happens now. The contractor heading up the remodeling was the husband of Craig’s mistress. Needless to say, I don’t think he’s too excited about a project that helps the town.” “But what happens with you?” “My mom still lives in Saint Louis, where I grew up. I’m going to stay with her and regroup.” “What about the community center?” She sat the beer bottle on the table and wrapped her arms around her waist. “It would have been good for Crimson. I had so many plans: art classes, events, reviving the theater, workshops for seniors. We were going to bring together people of all generations and walks of life in Crimson. The center would have highlighted local artists and brought guest teachers to the area. It had so much potential.” For the first time, Logan saw something more than disappointment in her gaze. When she talked about the community center, it was with passion and dedication. “It still does,” he answered. Her eyes searched his as if she expected to see something he knew she’d never find. She stood and took a step toward him as if drawn by the same invisible connection he was having trouble ignoring. “Why do you care about this?” “I don’t.” He took a drink of beer and looked away. “I’m making conversation to stop you from crying.” He forced his lips into a casual smile. “I’ve been away from Crimson for a while, but I’ve still got a reputation to protect. One dance with me and a woman bursts into tears. I don’t think so.” That made her smile and the strange charge between them disappeared. “I’ll be sure to tell everyone how that one dance was an amazing, life-altering moment for me.” He didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended at her sarcasm. Before he could decide, she lifted onto her toes and brushed a quick kiss across his cheek. “It was nice meeting you, Logan. Thank you for the dance,” she said softly. “I owe Sara for making you ask me.” “My sister-in-law didn’t make me do anything.” Suddenly it was important Olivia understand that fact. She only smiled over her shoulder and walked out of the restaurant. Logan sank into her chair after she’d gone. Her perfume still lingered in the air and he closed his eyes to focus on the expensive floral scent. He’d been back in Crimson for less than a week, enough time to reconnect with his brothers and attend Josh and Sara’s wedding. But already he felt his equilibrium shifting. His reaction to Olivia Wilder tonight was proof of that. He needed to get back to his regular life sooner rather than later, which wouldn’t involve an extended stay in his hometown. He’d left that chapter of his life behind long ago. Chapter Two (#ulink_187f5ff0-9939-52ce-99f7-b5c87e96b4e5) Olivia nervously tapped her toe on the floor as she waited in the lobby outside the mayor’s office two days later. She tried to relax, to think of flowery meadows and golden light, but the only image that popped into her mind was Logan Travers’s face as she’d kissed him. As silly as it was, she could still feel the rough stubble of his cheek and smell the woodsy, all-male scent of him. What had possessed her to kiss him as she’d walked away after the reception? As innocent as it had been, Olivia had never done anything so forward in her life. Put her mouth on a practical stranger, even a tiny peck. She almost giggled at the absurdly liberating feeling it gave her, which at least served to calm her nerves a bit. To him it had probably meant nothing, much like their one dance. He’d been fulfilling an obligation, end of story. Olivia certainly knew a lot about being an obligation. No more. That wasn’t how she’d live her life going forward. “Marshall will see you now.” The new assistant eyed her with a mix of curiosity and sympathy. “Thank you,” Olivia answered and, her nerves fluttering, walked into the office her husband had occupied only months ago. Marshall Daley looked at home behind the desk she’d come to think of as Craig’s. He’d been appointed mayor pro tem after Craig resigned and would complete her husband’s term until the next election. Marshall was a lifelong resident of Crimson, a retired insurance salesman and Olivia knew he’d do the right thing for the town as mayor. She closed the door and took a seat across from him. “How are things going?” He sat back and drew in a long breath. “They’d be a hell of a lot better if your husband hadn’t run off, leaving his responsibilities floating in the breeze.” “Ex-husband,” she clarified. “Almost. I’ve got another few weeks before the divorce is final.” “And you’ve heard nothing from him?” She shook her head. “I was so sure he’d come home and make this right.” Marshall picked up a pen from the desk and twirled it absently between his fingers. “My soon-to-be ex-husband is a selfish jerk who doesn’t care about right or wrong. My concern is what happens to the community center after this.” She felt herself twisting her wedding ring around her finger, still keeping up appearances despite the fact that her marriage had been a disaster. A part of her had, like Marshall, held out hope Craig would make things right and save her from looking like the fool she was. A look of pity crossed Marshall’s face, making her want to run shrieking from the building. She tried to see herself through the new mayor’s eyes. She’d worn a business suit to the meeting, the kind she normally reserved for town meetings. Now the tailored gray wool felt tight and itchy, as if it didn’t belong against her skin, the same way she no longer fit the mold of complacent political wife. “Unfortunately, the community center may become one more casualty of Craig’s abandonment.” Marshall shrugged. “Jeremy Dempsey wants nothing to do with the renovations. You must have noticed that work has stopped on the project.” She nodded. She’d driven by the job site on the way to this meeting, disappointed to see the darkened building. “Without a general contractor, the work is stalled indefinitely. We can’t find anyone willing to take over. Guys feel like they’re being disloyal to Jeremy if they even return my calls. It’s like he wants to punish the town for Craig and Melissa’s misdeeds.” Olivia had heard that Jeremy was making things difficult around town since learning his wife was Craig’s mistress. Olivia understood all too well the humiliation, hurt and anger Jeremy probably felt. “It’s not right that the people of Crimson should be punished. Craig and Melissa had hardly anything to do with the community center. I swear the only reason either of them cared about it was because it kept Jeremy and me occupied and off their trail.” “I understand that,” Marshall said with a slight cringe. “I also know how hard you worked on the project, and I agree that the town needs it. But there’s no one in Crimson willing to take over, Olivia. I’ll have a public relations nightmare on my hands if I hire someone from out of town. I’m putting out a dozen fires as it is thanks to all the things Craig left undone.” “You can’t give up on this,” she argued. “We need more money to finish the project. I know you did the initial fund-raising when you were the mayor’s wife, but things have changed.” He sighed and rubbed two thick fingers against his forehead. “There’s a real estate developer who’s interested in the building. He wants to turn the space into condos.” “No!” Olivia felt her heart pound against her rib cage. She’d worked hard to convince Craig to support the community center. She had so many plans for it and couldn’t stand to see them circling the drain this way. Marshall started at her outburst, then shrugged. “I’m sorry, Olivia. I don’t have a choice.” She wasn’t sure what she’d expected from this meeting. A part of her had hoped Marshall would say the community center could be saved. That would at least allow her to leave Crimson knowing she’d done some good during her time here. “What if I continue fund-raising?” she offered suddenly. “I’ve been managing most of the work anyway.” “I thought you were moving back to Missouri?” She pressed her lips together as indecision filled her. That had been the plan, the easiest way to leave behind this humiliating chapter of her life. The past two months had been awful. Olivia had hardly left her house other than to visit the ranch or Natalie’s small apartment. She drove to a town forty-five minutes away to do her grocery shopping so no one would stop her in the aisles. She knew people meant well, but she couldn’t stand how stupid she felt after being duped and then dumped by her husband. Sara’s wedding had been the first time she’d been out in public since Craig’s departure. There she’d ended up sulking at a table before crying on a stranger’s shoulder on the dance floor. Not the most stellar re-entry into the community. A vision of Logan’s piercing blue eyes came to mind. She thought about his comment that Craig’s leaving wasn’t her fault. She may not agree. but it was time to stop cowering behind closed doors. She loved the town of Crimson and the friends she’d made here. Why should her lying, cheating, rat husband rob her of this place, too? She straightened her shoulders and met Marshall’s gaze across the desk. “I’d like to stay and see the community center open. Like you said, the town needs it.” She paused then added, “I need it.” “I don’t know if continuing to keep this project going will help either of us at this point.” She leaned forward the tiniest bit. “I’m not the only one whose reputation has suffered from Craig’s leaving. I know the mayor’s office is under a lot of scrutiny. You need some positive press for the town, especially before tourist season starts. The center was set to open by early May. I can still deliver that date. I’ll talk to Jeremy and convince him to keep working on the project. Or I’ll find someone to replace him.” His bushy eyebrows rose. “That’s aggressive, Olivia.” “It’s time I got aggressive about something, Marshall.” He studied her for a few moments, then nodded. “If you want a salary, you’ll have to come up with grant money to cover it. I know you did everything as a volunteer when you were the mayor’s wife, but I can’t start paying you now.” “Don’t worry,” she assured him with more confidence than she felt. “I can take care of myself.” There’s a first time for everything. He looked as if he wanted to argue, but she stood before he could speak. “You won’t regret this. I promise.” She extended her hand and he shook it tentatively. “I hope you’re right,” he said. Me, too, she added silently. She turned to leave. “Olivia?” Marshall’s voice stopped her as she reached for the door. She turned. “You were too good for him from the start,” he told her. “Thank you,” she whispered, swallowing down her emotions. Without looking back again, she walked out of the town hall and into her new life. * * * “You’re not being fair,” Olivia argued later that week. She stood in the back of Crimson’s local building-and-supply store, where she’d cornered Jeremy Dempsey after he’d repeatedly ignored her calls. “The town was weeks behind on our payment schedule.” “There was a lot of turmoil after Craig and Melissa left, but we’ve straightened things out. You’ve been paid now.” Olivia had watched the finance manager cut the check herself. “Who’s to say it won’t happen again?” Jeremy turned away and grabbed a box from the shelf. “I know this isn’t about the money. The community center will help the town in so many different ways. Don’t let your personal feelings cloud your judgment this way.” He gave her a once over. “Since when did you become the town champion?” “I’m learning to be my own champion. Marshall put me in charge of the project.” That stretched the truth, but Olivia had to prove she could do this. “Not good enough,” he told her. “Your husband is a two-timing, lousy—” “Ex-husband,” she corrected. “Soon to be, anyway. Trust me, I know every one of Craig’s shortcomings and I’m sorry for what he did. What both he and your wife did. But I shouldn’t be punished for his sins. This town needs the community center. I want to make things right.” “You could have made things right by keeping Craig’s wandering eye on you.” His eyes blazed as he spat out the words. “Maybe if he’d been happy at home, none of this would have happened.” Olivia took a step back as if he’d slapped her. She knew Jeremy had a son who was now without his mother. Olivia wasn’t the only one who’d been wronged, nor was hers the biggest loss. She’d been trying to convince herself that it wasn’t her fault. Jeremy’s angry words echoed in her head. If Craig had been more interested in her, maybe none of this would have happened. She sucked in a breath at the thought. This was hopeless. What had made her think she could extricate herself from the shadow of Craig’s deception and make a home in this town? She didn’t belong in Crimson. Emotions flooded her and she turned to flee, only to run into someone. Someone tall and extremely solid. She glanced up to find Logan Travers staring down at her. She saw a look of understanding pass through his eyes and nearly groaned. Of course he would have heard the accusation Jeremy had thrown at her. She wondered briefly if it was possible to actually die of embarrassment. His hands felt warm on her arms as he set her back a few steps. “You’re not running,” he whispered, then raised his head to greet Jeremy. “It’s been a while, Jeremy. How are things?” The other man’s gaze swung between her and Logan, clearly trying to come up with a connection. “I’m getting by,” Jeremy answered. “I’m surprised to see you back in town, Travers. With the way things were going, I figured you’d have ended up in jail by now.” Olivia’s breath caught at the blatant rudeness of the words. Logan didn’t seem to mind. One corner of his mouth lifted. “I turned things around. It happens.” “Construction attracts all types. Lots of guys just hanging on to the edges of the business to stay afloat.” Jeremy gave a jerky nod. “I hear you’re building houses in Telluride.” “Things are good down there. I’ve been lucky with the people I’ve gotten to know. Some builders care about doing things right. Others cut corners wherever they can.” His blue eyes met Olivia’s gaze. “I stopped by the community center building the other day. There are some problems with the wiring and insulation you’re going to want fixed before you continue.” Jeremy took a step forward. “Are you hinting that those problems are my fault?” Logan shrugged. “I’m saying it’s important to get the right people working on the project.” “You’ve got some nerve, Travers.” Jeremy Dempsey’s temper was back in full force. “I remember when you were a scrawny kid running wild around this town. You and your sister raising holy hell all over the place.” “A lot has changed since then,” Logan answered casually but Olivia saw a muscle tick in his jaw. Jeremy must have realized he’d stepped over some invisible line because his attention turned to Olivia. “I don’t want anything to do with your project and I’ll make sure no other contractor in Crimson will, either.” “It’s a community center for Crimson,” she said, trying not to sound as desperate as she felt. “I’m doing this to help the town.” “You could help by leaving,” Jeremy said. “No one here needs the reminder of anyone or anything associated with Craig Wilder.” He turned on his heel and stomped off toward the front of the store. She would have gone after him but Logan’s hand clamped around her wrist. “You’re better off without his help.” She shook off his grasp. “Easy for you to say. I need a contractor. I can’t exactly renovate the building on my own.” An older man walked into their aisle, took something from the shelf and turned away without making eye contact. Great. She wondered how many people had overheard her argument with Jeremy. She’d never liked the guy but knew he was well-connected in the community. She’d been running on adrenaline since her meeting at the mayor’s office earlier in the week, but now her shoulders slumped under the weight of the task before her. She felt Logan’s searching gaze and bit down on her lower lip. “I’m not going to lose it,” she assured him. He didn’t look convinced. “Let me buy you a cup of coffee while we talk.” “I think you’ve done plenty of talking this morning.” She walked past him up the aisle and out of the store, ignoring the stares from the men at the front counter. To her surprise, Logan followed her down the street. Although it was sunny and clear, the air was still frigid and a layer of packed snow covered the streets. “I’m sorry, Olivia,” he said when she stopped at her Mercedes SUV. He turned her to look at him. His broad shoulders blocked the sun, but its reflection shone in his blond hair and highlighted his strong features and jaw line. He was so handsome in broad daylight. It was a little difficult for Olivia to meet his gaze. She’d never been comfortable around really masculine men. The alpha type was far too intimidating. And everything about Logan screamed alpha male to her. “It’s fine,” she mumbled, dropping her gaze to the sidewalk. “I did go to the building site,” he told her. “Why?” she asked. “What does the community center matter to you?” “I have an interest in design. I like to work on renovations rather than new construction, especially historic buildings. I have a few more days in town and it made me curious.” “And you found problems?” “Nothing huge or structural.” He shrugged. “I don’t think Jeremy was doing his best work. You can find someone better. This is the slow season in construction. Lots of guys should have the time to fit this in.” She kicked her boot against a pile of dingy snow at the curb. “Not likely now.” She paused as an idea struck her. “Unless you take over the construction.” So much for avoiding alpha males. “No way,” he answered quickly. “Why not?” she countered, raising her gaze to meet his. “Jeremy isn’t going to come back on the project, and who knows how long it will take to find another contractor. With the tight timeline, I need someone I can count on.” “What makes you think you can count on me?” His expression was guarded as he studied her. It was crazy but the longer she thought about it, the more Olivia was convinced Logan could help her. That maybe he was the only person she could trust right now. “You’re Josh’s brother. I know he would vouch for you. That’s a pretty strong reference.” “You heard Jeremy. My reputation in Crimson isn’t the best.” “We all make mistakes.” “Mistakes,” he repeated, laughing softly. “Right.” He looked past her to where the mountains sat in the distance. Olivia loved those mountains and realized she’d do whatever she had to do to stay living in their shadow. “I left here a long time ago. This isn’t my home anymore.” “You just said it’s a slow season for construction. The whole thing should be finished in six weeks. There’s an apartment over my garage that’s empty. You can stay there.” “You don’t know me well enough to offer me a job and a place to live.” “The fact that I don’t know you is why I need you to take this job. You won’t be affected by the gossip.” As a brisk wind whipped down the street, Olivia started to zip up her puffer jacket, but it got caught in the fabric. She struggled with it as she spoke. “You saw how Jeremy treated me, how those men in the store looked at me. I’m quite the topic of conversation in certain circles these days. Most people are supportive, but for others it’s my fault that Craig had a wandering eye. I don’t like it and I don’t want it to detract from the community center. You’re the only person outside of my small group of friends who doesn’t look at me with pity.” She pulled harder on her coat, embarrassed that her fingers shook slightly. Glancing up at him, she said, “I can’t take any more pity in my life, Logan.” His mouth opened as if he would argue but then shut again. He took a few quick steps away from where they stood, then stalked back. “This is a bad idea.” He reached out to brush her hands aside. His long fingers gently worked the zipper free of the snag. He zipped up the coat to her chin, his knuckles grazing her jaw as he finished. “But you’ll do it,” she suggested, her voice the tiniest bit breathless. “I never was known for my good judgment,” he answered. “Yes, I’ll help you.” “You won’t regret it. I promise.” She smiled despite her nerves. “Would you be more comfortable staying with Josh and Sara? I’m sure they would—” “The apartment is fine,” he interrupted. “At the ranch I’ll only be in the way. I need to drive down to Telluride for a few days and wrap up some loose ends. My roommate can take care of the house while I’m gone.” Roommate? Olivia couldn’t help but wonder if that person was a woman or man. None of her concern. This arrangement was strictly business. She knew without a doubt that Logan Travers was too much for her. Too attractive, too young, too dangerous. Still, she felt relieved to have him working on the renovations with her. Something deep inside her relaxed with the knowledge that she wasn’t alone on this project. She tried to convince herself it was simply having a contractor to handle the construction, but a part of her knew it had more to do with the man standing before her. She took her cell phone from her purse and handed it to him. “Put your number in and I’ll text you my address. I have some things to take care of in Denver over the weekend. We could meet at my house Monday morning, and I’ll show you the plans and where we are on the project. You can get moved in, then we’ll go from there.” He watched her for several long moments, those ice-blue eyes giving nothing away. “Are you sure this is what you want?” he asked finally. I have no idea what I want, Olivia thought silently. Her plan was crazy, impulsive and the exact opposite behavior anyone would expect from Olivia Wilder. “I’m positive,” she answered. Chapter Three (#ulink_97cd3083-f9f8-5305-a0a3-60abbbde9bee) The following Monday, Logan let himself into the building at the edge of town that soon would house the community center Olivia was working so hard to make happen. There was no lock on the front door, something he planned to change today. Although the rooms were still under construction and unusable, he didn’t believe in taking any chances. As if in answer to his concerns, he heard a sound coming from the far end of the building. He made his way through the early morning shadows, careful not to make any noise as he walked. The glow of a flashlight was visible in the large room that occupied the back half of the first floor. He stepped through and realized he needn’t have worried about noise. The preteen boy who was currently spray painting a large B on the wall wore headphones. Logan could hear the bass echo in the empty space. The kid wore a flannel hoodie and jeans that rode low on his narrow hips. His dark brown hair was sleep tousled as he concentrated on his task. When the boy started on an i, it was clear where the graffiti was headed. Wordlessly, Logan approached from behind, grabbing the hood of the boy’s sweatshirt with one hand and ripping the headphones off with the other. “What do you think you’re doing, punk?” The kid flailed, arms and legs flying as he tried to fight his way out of Logan’s grasp. Logan figured he had more than a foot plus a good fifty pounds on the boy. It wasn’t difficult to capture his wrists before shoving him into the wall. “L-let go of me,” the boy yelled. “Not until you answer my question.” “What’s it look like?” The kid’s tone was surprisingly belligerent, but Logan felt a tremor of fear slide down his arms. “I’m sending a message.” “Who’s it for?” Logan asked, although he could guess the answer. “Olivia Wilder,” the kid said with a sneer. “She’s the biggest bi—” “Watch it,” Logan cautioned, pressing the boy a little harder against the wall. “She happens to be a friend of mine. What’s your beef with Olivia?” The boy’s thin shoulders tensed and he was silent so long that Logan thought he might not answer. “My mom took off with her husband,” the kid finally mumbled. He deflated so suddenly, Logan had to practically hold him up so he didn’t sink to the floor. Logan sighed as the situation became clear. “What’s your name?” “Jordan.” The answer came through gritted teeth. “How old are you, Jordan?” “I’ll be thirteen in two weeks.” “Jordan, I’m going to let go of your wrists now so we can talk man-to-man. But I’m warning you that if you try to run away, I’ll catch you and it won’t be pretty.” Slowly, Logan released the boy’s arms. He backed up a couple of steps and waited for Jordan to turn toward him. “Are you going to call the sheriff?” “Not yet. I’d like to see if we can work this out ourselves.” Jordan picked up the headphones Logan had knocked to the ground and placed them around his neck, keeping his gaze firmly away from Logan. “I’m sorry about your mom,” Logan said finally. Jordan’s head shot up and his eyes blazed. “Olivia is the one who should be sorry. My dad says that if she’d been more of a woman, her husband wouldn’t have needed to go after Mom.” “Have you heard from her since she left?” “She’s called a couple of times.” Jordan’s hands clenched into fists at his sides. “She’s in Arizona. Told me she loves me and that I can visit her over the summer. My dad yells, then begs her to come back. I don’t care if she ever comes back, and I’m not going to see her.” “I don’t blame you,” Logan said quietly. “But it’s not fair to blame Olivia. She didn’t force your mother to leave.” “But my dad—” “I understand what your dad is saying. He’s angry. This must be really hard on him.” “He sits on the couch in the dark every night. I can’t even get him interested in any hockey games, and he loves hockey.” “He loves your mom, and he’s hurting. I imagine you are, too.” “I don’t care about her,” Jordan said, his voice an angry hiss. “It wasn’t like she was a good cook or anything. I can heat up frozen dinners myself.” Logan felt a mix of sympathy and admiration for the kid. He remembered what it was like to put on a tough attitude to mask the real pain and how much trouble that could lead to. He pointed to the letters on the wall. “You’re going to have to clean that up.” “I’ll be late for school.” “Enough time this morning to write out one word but not much else?” Jordan glared at him. “Come back after school. Wear old clothes because you’ll be repainting that wall.” “What if I don’t show?” “Crimson is a small town, buddy. It won’t be hard to track you down.” Logan picked up the can of spray paint and the flashlight. The room was beginning to brighten as morning dawned more fully. “I’m going to be working on renovations for this building, and I’ll come looking for you if there’s any vandalism while I’m here. But I’m going to need an extra hand for the small stuff. You interested in making some money?” The kid’s eyes widened. “You’re going to give me a job after I did this?” “Give me your dad’s number and I’ll run it by him. I’ll have an answer by the afternoon. We all make mistakes.” Logan smiled as he repeated Olivia’s words from yesterday. “You get this chance on one condition. You need to leave Olivia alone. Your mom leaving wasn’t her fault.” “Some people are saying—” Logan cut off Jordan’s words with a wave of his hand. “Some people are idiots. Don’t be one.” “Fine,” the kid said on a huff of breath. Logan held out his hand. “Give me your headphones.” Jordan shook his head. “No way. These are Beats. Do you know how much they cost?” “I do.” Logan took a step forward. “You can have them back once the wall is clean.” Jordan muttered a few choice curse words under his breath but handed over the headphones. He picked up his backpack from the floor. “School lets out at three. I’ll be here after that.” “See you then.” Logan took a deep breath as he watched the kid disappear through the doorway. He’d come back to Crimson for his brother’s wedding and now he had a job in town and a potential delinquent on his hands. For someone who prided himself on keeping his personal connections to a minimum, today was a big departure. He wasn’t sure what had possessed him to offer Jordan work, other than recognizing a boy who was carrying a lot of emotional baggage on his shoulders and who might need an outlet for some of that pent-up anger and frustration. Maybe if someone had given Logan a little help years ago, his life wouldn’t have gone off track. He certainly felt out of his comfort zone right now. He took some measurements and made notes about the state of the progress before heading to the address Olivia had given him. He walked the few blocks to her house near the center of town, hoping the morning cold would clear his muddled head. The house was situated on a block of renovated Victorian two-stories. It had a large front porch. The exterior had been painted a sage green with white trim and shutters framing each of the windows. As a kid, he’d walked these streets with his twin sister, imagining which of the homes they’d want to move to. Anything would have been an improvement over the dilapidated farmhouse outside of town they’d grown up in. His oldest brother, Jake, still owned the land, but the house had burned down in a fire a few years after their mother’s death. As he stepped onto the porch, the front door opened. Olivia smiled nervously and gestured him inside. “I saw you coming up the sidewalk,” she explained quickly. “Not that I was watching or waiting. I happened to be near the window...watering a plant...and you were...well, come on in.” He smiled as color crept into her cheeks and felt the anxiety his memories produced slip away. She wore a cream-colored turtleneck sweater and slim pants that made her legs look a mile long. Her hair was pulled back again, and he realized he wanted to see it down around her shoulders. To know whether it was straight or held a bit of curl, if it all would feel as soft in his hands as the bit he’d fingered during their dance. “Good morning,” he said as she scooted aside to let him in. He took a strange satisfaction in the fact that she seemed as affected by him as he was by her. It wasn’t the six-year age difference that made his awareness of Olivia so foreign. She was in a totally different league than him. Normally he’d respect that invisible barrier. But something about this woman made him want to forget all of the very rational reasons she was not for him. Because as much as his brain understood that, his body wasn’t cooperating. “Do you want coffee?” she asked as she led him through a formal living room filled with antique furniture and real art—the kind that looked like it cost a lot of money. A few spaces on the wall were noticeably blank, but he didn’t comment as he followed her into the kitchen. “I’d love a cup,” he answered, taking in the modern appliances and warm butcher-block counters. “Nice space,” he told her. Her hand faltered as she reached up to take a mug from the cabinet. “Thank you. The kitchen is my favorite room in the house. It’s the only place that doesn’t feel stuffy to me.” She flashed a tentative smile. “The garage apartment is nice, too. It was going to be my studio, but...” “You’re an artist?” He pulled out one of the stools and sat at the island’s counter. “A painter. Sort of. Not really.” She shrugged. “I like to paint and studied art in college, but I haven’t had much time for it lately.” “I took a ceramics class in high school. Before I got suspended for the second time.” The mug she held clattered to the floor but didn’t break. He watched as she scooped it up, set it in the sink and took out another one. He shouldn’t have brought up his misspent youth, but he’d needed to remind them both how different their lives were. “Were you any good?” “I didn’t have a chance to find out,” he told her. “They put a lot of the troubled kids with one of the art teachers. Kept us busy and out of the way of the students who gave a damn.” She turned, her gaze curious. “Why didn’t you care?” “I was angry, stupid and young. A bad combination. I managed to graduate, mainly because the school wanted to be rid of me.” She set the cup of coffee in front of him. “Milk or sugar?” He shook his head. “But things got better after you left Crimson?” “After a while,” he answered as he took a drink. “I grew up. Realized I didn’t have to turn out the way most people expected me to. I had a choice not to fail, to prove them wrong. I made that choice.” She took the seat across the counter from him. “Maybe the problems you had when you were younger shaped you into a person determined to be better.” He actually laughed out loud. “I’ve never heard anyone suggest that.” “I have a lot of experience putting a good spin on bad situations,” she answered with a small grin. How was it that talk about his wild past seemed to melt away her nerves? He’d brought it up to keep her at arms’ length, not as an ice breaker. Her smile slowly faded. “I wasn’t sure you’d come today. I figured maybe once you’d left town you wouldn’t be back.” The thought had crossed his mind more than once in the past few days. He’d even interrupted Josh on his honeymoon to run Olivia’s plan by Sara. He’d figured his new sister-in-law would have something to say about Logan returning to town and working so closely with her friend. To his surprise Sara had loved the idea. She’d told Logan that Olivia needed someone on her side, and he’d be the perfect person to take over the renovations. Even Josh had seemed happy that Logan would be spending the next month and a half in Crimson. Logan wasn’t used to people being happy to have him around. He’d felt as though he had an itch he couldn’t quite reach ever since he’d agreed to this plan. He didn’t know how to make it go away, so he was doing his best to ignore it. “I gave you my word,” he answered. She nodded as if that made perfect sense. He wanted to reach across the table and shake her. Didn’t she see that he was not worth the trouble he was bound to cause? Maybe that was what he found so irresistible about Olivia Wilder. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had believed the best about him, whether or not he deserved it. “I have the plans and the proposed budget.” She pushed a stack of papers toward him. “Not that I want to cut corners, but if there’s any way to reduce expenses, that would be a big help.” “You know I’m cheap labor.” He was only teasing but loved the blush that colored her cheeks once again. “That’s not what I meant. I’m going to put some of my own money into the project. At least until I can line up more outside funding. The new mayor has the best of intentions, but his plate is overly full at the moment. There’s a chance the community center could get waylaid if there’s something more critical that needs money from the town. I don’t want the work delayed any more than it has been.” “Where did you get the money?” “What?” She looked at him as though she didn’t understand the question. He studied her. “You said at the wedding that Craig had drained your bank account. I know the community center is important, but you need to take care of yourself first. You don’t need to do anything foolish just to get money. Things will work themselves out, Olivia.” She busied herself with emptying her mug into the sink. “Easy for you to say. And it’s none of your business where I got the money.” “That’s true,” he answered softly. “But remember I’m on your side in all this.” “I sold my wedding ring to a jeweler in Aspen.” She whirled around to face him. “We’ll be divorced within the month. I don’t have any use for it.” He held up his hands, palms facing her. “I’m not judging you.” “Besides which,” she continued, absently rubbing two fingers across the empty space on her left hand, “it was my grandmother’s diamond. My parents gave it to Craig before he proposed. He didn’t even have to spend his own money on a ring. That’s how ready they were to pawn me off on him.” She stared at him, eyes blazing, her chest heaving. “I practically had a dowry attached to me, as if I was some Regency spinster. I was twenty-eight at our wedding, not exactly an old maid.” “I hope you got a lot for it.” Her mouth twisted. “Enough to make sure the renovations will continue.” “If you’re sure that’s how you want to use it. You don’t owe anyone in Crimson because of what your husband did.” She shook her head. “I owe this town a lot. It’s the first place that’s felt like home to me.” “How long were you and Craig married?” he asked, coming to stand next to her. “Five years.” She took the mug from his hands, his skin tingling where she touched him. “I’m thirty-two. Way older than you.” “Six years,” he clarified. “Not way older.” She took a step back but he followed. “I could have been your...babysitter.” He tipped his head back and laughed. “My brothers and I would have had you tied up in minutes.” “I’m tougher than I look,” she whispered, turning away. “I bet you are.” He placed a hand on her arm and she looked at him over her shoulder. “You’re not an old maid, Olivia. Not by a long shot.” Her gray eyes darkened as she looked at him. Hope and doubt crashed behind them and he had to resist the urge to smooth the crease between her brows. Instead he said, “I went by the site this morning to see where to start.” “Is it bad? Are we behind? Do you need to hire a crew?” He glanced up at her. “I have someone working part-time for me, and I’ll bring subcontractors in as needed. A lot of it can be done on my own. I brought my tools up from Telluride.” “You can keep them in the garage. I had an extra key made although most people in Crimson don’t bother locking their doors at night. I’ll show you the apartment.” He followed her out the back door and across the driveway. He noticed a small Subaru station wagon parked next to the house. “The SUV, too?” Her pace didn’t slow. “It was bigger than I needed. I traded it in.” Olivia Wilder was more resourceful than he’d expected. “You really are committed to this community center,” he murmured more to himself than her. She turned to face him as she stood on the first step leading up to the garage apartment. “Do you believe we can do this?” She was above him on the step and he tipped up his face to meet her gaze. Her skin was creamy and smooth in the sunlight. A pale dusting of freckles spilled across her nose. “I believe you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to.” “We’re a team.” Her eyes searched his as she spoke. He’d been part of a team once. His twin sister, Beth, had been his best friend, confidant and protector, and he’d been the same for her. Since her death ten years ago, Logan hadn’t allowed himself to get close to anyone. Now this slip of a woman wanted more from him than he was capable of giving. He couldn’t tell her that. He wanted Olivia to get what she wanted, to regain her self-confidence or maybe discover it for the first time. He’d been too young, selfish and stupid to help his sister when she’d needed it. But he could help Olivia. And perhaps in the process he’d be able to rid himself of a bit of the blackness that had consumed his soul since Beth’s accident. “We’ll finish the work on your community center,” he told her. “It will be great.” Her smile was so open and trusting, it made his heart beat faster. Which was strange because before today he hadn’t been sure he still had a heart. * * * Later that afternoon, Olivia turned around in one of the side rooms of the community-center building. “This is going to be where we do the kids’ programs because it’s on the first floor and close to the bathrooms. Upstairs we’ll have yoga classes and adult workshops. The big room in the back will be for speakers and community events.” “You’ve got it all worked out.” She flattened the building plans to the work table in front of her. “I’ve been dreaming about this for almost a year. Craig was elected mayor just months after we came to town. I started volunteering at the visitors’ center soon after. It was clear that the town needed a place like this.” Logan studied the plans. “This town needed someone like you.” She glanced up at him. “Thank you for saying that. I’m not sure it’s true, but I appreciate hearing it.” As she watched Logan study the plans, Olivia thought she’d never felt more alive than this day. As excited as she was about the renovations, she hadn’t been comfortable at the building site while Jeremy and Craig had been running the show. The community center was her baby. The sense of responsibility and ownership it triggered gave her heart a lift. “I have a couple design ideas,” Logan said slowly, not taking his eyes off the plans. “Logistical things as far as water lines and how to position rooms for the most practical use and flow when people come in to the building.” She peered over his shoulder. “Great. You’re the one with the construction experience. I want to hear everything you have to say.” “Just like that?” He turned to face her as one corner of his mouth lifted. He was so close she could feel his breath against her cheek. “Aren’t you going to tell me how this is your project and you’re the boss?” She swallowed hard and leaned back. “This is our project,” she corrected. “I want it to be the best it can. We’re a team. I’m not the boss. I’ve never been in charge of anything.” “Have you ever wanted to be?” She glanced up and was struck by the intensity of his gaze. Somehow she didn’t think he was talking about the renovations any longer. “We’re a team,” she repeated after a moment. He gave a short nod and straightened. Olivia watched him walk to the window. His shoulders rose and fell as if he was having trouble catching his breath. She knew the feeling and placed a steadying hand on her own chest. Suddenly she couldn’t put together a coherent thought about plans, construction or anything that didn’t involve Logan’s hard body and Olivia as the boss. Fantastic. She’d become a certified cougar in a matter of hours. A door slammed at the front of the building and a minute later a boy slinked into the room. “I’m here,” he said, his narrowed eyes focused on Logan. “Some guys are having an airsoft gun war at the park, but instead of having fun, I’m stuck as your slave for the afternoon.” Olivia saw a quick smile flash across Logan’s face. “You should have thought of that before you bought the can of spray paint.” “Spray paint?” she asked softly, her mind a little fuzzy. The boy whipped around, obviously unaware of her presence in the room until she’d spoken. She recognized him as Jordan Dempsey. They’d even met a couple of times at town events. She thought of her conversation with Jeremy Dempsey in the hardware store. She knew the two of them had been just as devastated by Melissa and Craig’s betrayal as she’d been. Maybe more so. While she hadn’t expected Craig to desert her, she’d known he was a serial cheater and she’d no longer been in love with him. She wasn’t sure if she ever had. But Jeremy and Melissa had seemed happy in their marriage, at least on the surface. Although Olivia certainly understood looks could be deceiving. She wasn’t sure what had motivated Melissa to abandon her family, but that kind of rejection could hit a kid hard. Olivia knew that from personal experience, as well. She was a regular expert on rejection. From the daggers Jordan was shooting in her direction, she could tell exactly where he placed the blame for his parents’ breakup. “What’s she doing here?” His chin jutted out in defiance, but there was the tiniest tremble in his voice. It made her heart ache. “Olivia is running this project,” Logan said calmly. “You know that, Jordan. Don’t pretend otherwise.” The preteen boy’s bitter gaze never left her face. “I said I’d help you. Take out the garbage and whatever else you need. I never agreed to talk to the trash.” Before she could even register the insult, Logan had stalked forward and grabbed Jordan by the collar of his fleece jacket. The material bunched in Logan’s clenched fist. “P-put me—” “Logan.” Olivia took one small step forward. “You don’t have to—” “Apologize,” Logan told the kid, giving him a sharp shake before releasing him. Jordan bent forward, coughing melodramatically. “I’m not going to—” “He doesn’t have to,” Olivia offered quickly, taken aback at Logan’s immediate instinct to protect her. Logan bent down, his voice quiet but firm as he spoke to Jordan. “She is not responsible for what your mother did. You have every right to be angry, but not with Olivia. You think making her the bad guy is going to help you feel better, but it won’t. That’s something you’re going to need to figure out real quick or you’ll be facing bigger trouble than vandalism charges. Trust me.” He smoothed a hand over the boy’s back, the touch surprisingly gentle given the way he’d been holding him moments earlier. “Apologize to her. Now.” “I’m sorry,” Jordan mumbled. “Look her in the eye.” The unshed tears Olivia saw glistening in Jordan’s eyes broke her heart all over again. “I’m sorry I called you trash.” “You will treat Olivia Wilder with respect and not just while you’re here with me.” Jordan looked at Logan and nodded. “I’m going to have my eye on you while I’m in town.” Logan reached down and picked up a bucket and scrub brush, handing them to Jordan. “I don’t want to hear about any trouble involving you. Got it?” The kid took the bucket and brush and nodded again. “Good. You can start with the spray paint in the back room. After the wall is repainted, I need a few things from the hardware store. I’ll give you cash with the list.” Olivia saw Jordan’s eyes widen. “You trust me with money?” “Until you give me a reason not to,” Logan answered. “You’re a good kid, Jordan. Don’t let your anger make you forget that.” He pointed toward the back of the building. “Now get going on that wall. If you want something, there’s soda in the cooler by the wall and chips next to it.” “Thanks,” Jordan mumbled in response, but he looked relaxed as he disappeared out the door to the hallway. “I’m sorry.” Logan turned to Olivia. “I should have told you about Jordan. I caught him decorating the wall this morning before school. Not the most flattering language.” “Begins with a B, rhymes with witch?” she guessed. He flashed her a smile. “You don’t want to say the word.” She shrugged in response. “I was never much for cursing. But I’ve heard that particular word enough to recognize it. What happened when you found Jordan?” “I scared the hell out of him,” Logan said with an answering shrug. “Then told him he was going to work here after school and in exchange I wouldn’t call the cops. If you don’t want him here, I’ll make other arrangements.” “I don’t mind. This whole situation is probably hardest on Jordan.” She studied him for a moment then smiled. “Is he your crew?” Logan nodded. “Until I need more.” “You’re a nice guy.” His mouth dropped open. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Her smile widened. “Just what I said. You’re nice. You want to do the right thing. Most people wouldn’t have given that kid the time of day, let alone a second chance. Nice is underrated. It’s a compliment, Logan. Say thank you.” “No.” His big shoulders shifted as if his shirt was suddenly too tight. She watched his fingers flex and knew she’d made him uncomfortable. The thought made her giggle a bit, since she’d been feeling slightly off balance all day. Misery loved company. “Are you laughing at me?” A muscle in his jaw ticked. “Near you,” she corrected. Her skin felt delightfully warm all of sudden. Her whole body went tingly at the same time as a weight seemed to lift away from her heart. She’d told Logan she trusted him and that was true. Her first instinct had been that he was someone she could count on. Watching him with Jordan had confirmed her belief. Despite his gruffness and clear intention to scare the kid straight, Logan wanted to help Jordan. Just like he’d agreed to help her. She’d keep her attraction to him secret. He was still too young and too handsome to look at her as anything but a friend. But what Olivia needed more than anything in her life was a true friend. The knowledge that Logan could be one made her almost giddy. She was jolted from her musings as his hands wrapped around her upper arms. She hadn’t even realized he’d moved. But now he was holding her, almost lifting her off her feet the way he had Jordan. His voice held a sharp edge as he spoke. “Don’t trust me and don’t depend on me. I’ll only hurt and disappoint you.” She met his fiery gaze with a measure of steel she hadn’t realized she possessed. “Everyone I’ve ever cared about has hurt and disappointed me,” she answered softly. “I’m not sure I’d know how to function any other way.” He sucked in a breath at her admission. She was shocked that she’d said the words out loud. He drew her so close that his lips almost grazed hers. He wanted to kiss her. She could see it in his eyes, feel the electricity in the air between them. Heaven help her, she wanted to be kissed by this man. No matter how wrong it was. Despite the differences in their ages, their lives. Every part of her wanted to feel his lips against hers. She knew that kissing Logan would change her. She was a woman who was ready for that change. Nothing could have prepared her for this moment but she reveled in the unknown, leaning in ever so slightly. Chapter Four (#ulink_d7d01e65-df6d-5415-b457-d7cd7eafc547) Logan took a step back, wrenching himself away from Olivia. He had to force his hands to release her. She stumbled forward before righting herself. Her fingers—those long, elegant fingers—pressed against her lips the way his mouth almost had a moment earlier. Her eyes were hazy with confusion and something else he couldn’t name. The truth was he didn’t want to understand it, because it might demolish his razor-thin willpower. “Don’t trust me,” he said again, his tone unsteady. There was an undeniable tremor in his voice, but he was damn sure he’d remain in control of this situation. “Go.” He pointed to the door. “You have to go now, Olivia.” Yelling wasn’t necessary. She understood how serious he was because she left without another word, grabbing her purse from the table and practically running for the front of the building. He wanted Olivia Wilder but he couldn’t have her. Didn’t deserve her. Of that he had no doubt. Wanting things beyond his reach was familiar territory for Logan. He had no issues with lowering his expectations of what he could have, what was his rightful due. He had a life, despite the fact that for several years after his sister died he’d tried to squander it away. He’d been convinced he didn’t deserve to live without Beth, couldn’t stand the pain of her loss. But that had changed, and if he was destined to be part of this world, he’d long ago decided to earn his place in it. That was the only reason he was here with Olivia, he reminded himself. She was nothing like his sister. Somehow he still saw in her the woman Beth could have become if their father’s abuse hadn’t broken her spirit. He felt the overwhelming pull of potential that never came to pass being back in Crimson. He knew he was no one’s hero, but Logan couldn’t resist trying to help Olivia. The only way he could truly help was by resisting his own immense need for her. He concentrated on the renovation plans once more. When Jordan had finished repainting the wall, Logan sent him to the hardware store and then began nailing sheets of drywall to studs in the main room. Most of the electrical work and plumbing already had been completed, which meant Logan would only have to deal with a few additional subcontractors. There were a couple people he could call for help who would put him in touch with the guys he needed to finish the job. He’d try to keep the subs working on the project to a minimum, both to save costs and to maintain a low profile. Of course, there was more to this project than he could handle on his own or with the help of a preteen boy in the afternoons. But he wasn’t sure of the reception he’d receive from people in town. Many of the companies in Crimson were family-run operations. Thanks to the reputation he wasn’t sure he’d ever live down, almost everyone would remember him. Just as well he didn’t dredge up the past. Despite his brother’s recommendation, he couldn’t imagine anyone else in Crimson would be too pleased to have him working on such a public project. This wasn’t about him. He had Jordan help him move drywall until they both were covered with a chalky film. Once the kid had started talking, he hadn’t shut up, sharing stories about school, the town and his father as fast as he could breathe. Normally, Logan liked to work in silence, but today he was grateful to be distracted from his thoughts. After sending Jordan home around supper time, he cleaned up his tools and installed a lock on the front door. He couldn’t imagine Olivia had many other enemies in town outside Jordan Dempsey, but why take chances? He pulled his truck into Olivia’s driveway, his stomach turning over as he thought of how he’d spoken to her earlier. It wasn’t her fault that he hadn’t been with a woman in almost a year. That was the only explanation he could come up with for his reaction to her. So what if she smelled amazing, a combination of lavender and spice that made him dizzy with need? He longed to trail his fingers through her soft, mahogany hair. He could imagine kissing every inch of her pale, creamy skin until her whole body flushed like her cheeks did when she looked at him. This train of thought was getting him nowhere but damn uncomfortable. He owed her an apology but needed a long, cold shower first. Just as he climbed out of his truck, he noticed another car, a bright yellow bug, parked next to the garage. The door opened and a girl, or young woman he supposed, hopped out. She looked him up and down, her gaze unabashedly appraising. “And who,” she said slowly, “might you be?” Before he could answer, the back door of the house flew open. Olivia stepped onto the porch, her hair swept up in a messy ponytail, arms wrapped around her waist to ward off the chill. She wore an awful fuzzy pink cardigan that had clearly been around for more than a decade. She’d changed into black sweatpants and shoved her feet into enormous Sorel boots. To Logan, she’d never looked more appealing. That fact only served to convince him that he needed to get this renovation project finished as quickly as he could and get the hell out of Crimson and away from Olivia Wilder. “Millie?” Olivia said, her voice a mixture of shock and disbelief. The other woman raised a gloved hand. “Hey, sis.” * * * A few moments passed before Olivia reached out a hand to the porch’s wood railing to steady herself. She hadn’t seen her half sister since their father’s funeral three years ago. That had been the first time they’d actually met, although Olivia had known about Millie Spencer’s existence since she was a girl. “What are you doing here?” she asked, swallowing against the dryness in her throat. Millie reached in the backseat of her tiny car and pulled out a duffel bag. “I’m driving back to Virginia from California. Thought I might stay with you for a couple of days. Catch up and all that.” She turned to stare at Olivia, her whole body tense, as if she expected Olivia to refuse her. Which would be the smart thing to do. Olivia and Millie didn’t have any kind of a relationship and why would they start now? But Olivia wouldn’t turn away her only sibling, despite her mixed feelings. Her gaze flicked to Logan, who stood silently watching the two of them. Olivia had been raised to keep her dirty laundry private. It was ingrained in her. She couldn’t bring herself to do anything different. “Come into the house,” she told Millie. “We’ll figure things out.” She noticed that Millie seemed to relax with the knowledge she wasn’t going to be turned away. She took a step forward then pointed one finger at Logan. “What about him?” “I’m staying up there.” Logan indicated the apartment above the garage. “Interesting,” Millie answered. Manners forced Olivia to take the few steps down the porch and across the driveway. “Logan, this is Millicent Spencer. She’s...” “Your sister?” Logan answered for her. She couldn’t meet his gaze as she nodded. “My half sister. Millie, this is Logan Travers. He’s—” “Hot?” Millie supplied with a sly grin. She turned to Logan. “Nice to meet you. I hope we get to know each other better during my stay. You can show me around town.” He gave Millie a slight, almost indulgent, smile. Even that made Olivia’s stomach burn. “I’ll leave that to your sister.” Lifting his gaze to Olivia, his eyes grew serious. “I’m sorry about earlier.” She studied a spot behind his shoulder. “No problem. Misunderstanding. Have a good night.” She turned toward the house, unable to stop the heat rising in her face. “Let’s go, Millie.” As she started up the steps, Olivia looked over her shoulder. Millie still stood in the middle of the driveway, her eyes glancing between Olivia and Logan, who was unloading a toolbox from the back of his truck. Silently, Logan headed for the garage apartment. Olivia watched him open the door, then shut it behind him without looking at either of them again. “Are you coming?” Olivia asked her sister. Millie shifted her bag on her shoulder and followed Olivia. “If all the guys in Crimson look like that, I should have come for a visit a lot sooner.” Olivia counted to ten in her head as she walked into the kitchen, moving to stand on the other side of the island from her sister. Glancing around, Millie whistled under her breath. “Nice place. Can’t wait for the grand tour.” “What’s going on with you, Millie?” Olivia asked, her head starting to pound from the events of the day. “Where’s Craig?” “Gone.” “On a trip?” “For good.” Olivia rubbed her fingertips against her temples, trying to relieve some of the pressure there. “He left me. Took off with his secretary and all my money.” “I’m glad you got rid of him.” Millie nodded, seeming unsurprised. “He made a pass at me at Dad’s funeral.” Olivia took a step back, feeling as if she’d been slapped. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “We’d just met. Officially, anyway. I didn’t want to draw any more attention to myself. I’m sure your mother wouldn’t have appreciated it.” Her eyes drifting closed, Olivia thought about her mother’s reaction. Diana Jepson hadn’t even known Millie had attended the funeral. She liked to pretend her husband hadn’t been keeping a second family near Washington, DC, for the better part of their marriage. But Olivia had been obsessed with her father’s mistress and daughter ever since she first realized they existed. It was sick, but she couldn’t help herself. When Millie had shown up at the visitation the night before the funeral service, Olivia had spotted her immediately. Craig had been uncharacteristically supportive, offering to keep Millie away from Diana. Now she knew why. “So, is the new guy your rebound boy toy?” Millie gave a small shake of her tiny hips, then made a noise like a growl. “I didn’t know you had it in you to consider becoming a cougar.” Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/michelle-major/a-second-chance-at-crimson-ranch/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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