I hang my head with a long sigh, suddenly more exhausted than I’ve been in my life.

“It was like déjà vu,” I mutter. “While Jill was telling me about her appointment at the doctor, I just saw Kensie in my head, thirteen years ago, and I reacted like a complete prick. I felt like she’d betrayed me, and I was being trapped all over again.”

“That’s not Jill,” Ty replies. “She’ll raise that baby by herself if she needs to. She wouldn’t accept a proposal from you right now if you crawled across hot coals with the Hope Diamond.”

“I fucked up.”

“That’s an understatement,” Dad says and watches me with sober eyes. “You know, son, when you came home last summer, I worried about you. How you’d deal with Seth. How being at war for so long would affect you.” He shakes his head and offers me a smile. “But you’re the best father I’ve seen. I couldn’t be prouder of the man you are, especially when you’re with your boy. The effects of war seem to be lessening with time, although I know you’ll always grieve for the boys you lost over there. But it seems to me, you have more PTSD from Kensie than you do from anything else.”

“I . . .” God, what have I done?

“You were a boy then, like I said before. You’re not now. Jill isn’t Kensie. And she’s been nothing but wonderful to both you and Seth. So, what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to grovel.” I walk past Ty and pause, looking him in the eye. “I’m going to make it right.”

“See that you do.”

I ring her doorbell for the third time and finally just bang on the door with my fist.

“Jill, I know you’re in there!”

I listen for any sign of movement inside and when there still isn’t any, I find her spare key under the ugly gnome on the porch and unlock the door.



Her car is in the driveway. The lights in the living room and kitchen are off, but I can hear voices from her bedroom.

Who the hell is in her room with her? I march down the hall and fling open her bedroom door to find the television on, one of the New Year’s Eve countdown shows on the screen, and Jill sitting up in bed with chips, ice cream, and cookies spread around her.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” she demands angrily.

“You didn’t answer the door.”

“I didn’t hear it.”

I glance back at the TV and smile. “Obviously.”

She jerks up out of the bed, dressed only in an oversize T-shirt, and moves to walk past me. When I reach out to touch her, she jerks away, hands up as if in surrender.

“Don’t fucking touch me.”

Punch to the gut.

She glares at me and walks quickly out of her bedroom to the living room, flipping on lights along the way.

“I don’t want you in my bedroom.”

“Look, Jilly, I’m here to apologize.”

“Good.” She crosses her arms over her chest and watches me with an impassive face, but her cheeks are red and her eyes look glassy. “Who beat the shit out of you?”

“Ty,” I reply. “He came out to see me today.”

“I told him not to do that, but you deserve that black eye. I wish I’d been the one to give it to you.”

“I’m sorry for the way I reacted yesterday, sugar. You didn’t deserve that.”

“I didn’t lie to you.”

“I know that now.” I swallow hard and rub my hand over my mouth. “It was a shock and it knocked me on my ass.”

“Good to know how you handle surprises. Remind me never to throw you a surprise party.”

“I deserve that.” I look at her longingly. Fuck, I want to pull her into my arms and hold her tight. “I love you, sugar.”

“No.” Her voice is loud and strong and her eyes are on fire. “You will not say that to me. You lost that right yesterday.”

I frown and shove my hands in my pockets to keep from reaching for her.

“I don’t need anyone who speaks to me the way you did yesterday.”

“I was an idiot,” I insist. “Jill, you need to know that it was a mirror image of what happened when Kensie got pregnant.”

“No,” she says again. “It’s not. I’m not that woman. This baby”—she points to her flat stomach—“is not Seth.”

“You have to understand—”

“And frankly, that’s all bullshit anyway. No matter what happened in your past, it’s not okay for you ever to speak to me or anyone else like that. You have an issue with your ex-wife? Take it up with her. I’m not your punching bag.”

“You have to understand—” I try again.

“I understand,” she interrupts. “I get it, Zack. I’m not a moron. After the initial shock wore off and I could think clearly, I understood your reaction.”

I sigh in relief, but before I can say anything, she continues.

“But it doesn’t excuse you. I understand you, but I can’t trust you. I’ll survive without you.”

“Life is about so much more than surviving, sugar.”

“Oh really?” She laughs humorlessly. “Those are your words of wisdom right now?”

“I fucking love you, Jill. Tell me what to do to make this right and I’ll do it.”

“There is no making it right. Love never really lasts, Zack. It’s just one big fucking disappointment. I won’t invite you back into my life, love you and your boy, and then wait for the day to come that I have to watch you decide to leave me like I’m nothing.”

“That’s not going to happen,” I insist. I take a step toward her, but she holds her hands up again, stopping me. “God damn it, let me hold you!”

“No.” She shakes her head and wipes a tear from her cheek.

“Jesus, Jilly,” I begin but she shakes her head and walks away.

“Just leave, Zack.”

“No. We can work this out.”

“There’s nothing to work out right now. I want you to go. I don’t want to see you.”

“Fine.” I back toward the door. “I’ll give you time, but Jill, you’re mine. Baby or no baby.”

She firms her lips and glares at me.

“Those are the words I needed yesterday, Zack.”

“I’m giving them to you now, and by God, I’ll prove it.” I walk out of her house, shutting the door quietly behind me, and jog to my truck as the plan begins to form in my head. Twenty minutes later, when I pull up to my house, I rush inside.

Tags: Kristen Proby Love Under the Big Sky Romance
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