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Five years ago, I let the girl of my dreams get away.
To be honest, I set fire to her barn, fought with her brothers, then exiled myself to a logging company in the Canadian wilderness.
But a reclusive b@stard can’t hide forever. When my sister got sick, I took in my two young nieces. Now I’m paying rent to Sesame Street, drinking Jack and fruit juice, and reading my chainsaw manual as a bedtime story.
I’ve gone from lumberjack to babyjacked, and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.
Fortunately, I found a nanny. Five years have passed, and Cassi’s not just my best friends’ little sister anymore. She’s all grown up, dark and beautiful with a smart mouth and a broken heart.
Doesn’t take long before she’s falling for me again, but I can’t shout timber yet.
Cassi can’t forgive the past. And I can’t tell her why I ran.
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The first time I saw Remington Marshall, he stole my heart.
The last time I saw Remington Marshall, he’d just burned my family’s barn to the ground.
Arson usually complicated relationships.
Especially afterward, when Rem left our sleepy town of Butterpond in the dead of night without so much as a goodbye. He’d stayed gone for five long years.
Five years with no phone call. No visits. No explanations.
Even worse—no apology.
So, when my brother, Tidus, told me Rem was back in town, I had to make a decision.
Ignore Remington Marshall and forget he’d ever existed…
Or demand an answer for why he’d broken my heart.
I chose the latter, encouraged by the perspective I’d gained over the last couple years. As long as we stayed away from any flammable objects that might’ve torched what remained of my potential happiness, a conversation would bring me some much-needed closure. Besides, all that time had allowed me to douse the last few embers left burning in my barn, heart, and loins.
But that still didn’t make confrontation a good idea, despite my brother’s insistence.
He came home to take care of his nieces, Tidus said.
Take him up a box of kids’ toys from storage, he said.
Pick me up a burger from Lou’s on the way home, he said.
Rem wasn’t a man who wanted to be found, even in the tiny town of Butterpond—a small cluster of dreams, prayers, and fatty liver disease. Butterpond was where the trees wanted in, the people wanted out, and my family’s farm accidentally lynch-pinned the whole place together.
To the town, my family was a fixture. The Payne’s farm. The Payne’s charity. The Payne’s pain in the ass boys who rolled over the town’s one streetlight like a plague of locusts. The Payne’s adopted daughter in a family of five boys—bless her heart.
But Rem? He no longer belonged in the town. Men like him kept to themselves, tucked away inside a cabin in the mountains, hidden from society by gravel roads, the occasional tick, and busted suspensions.
As much as I’d once loved Rem, risking Lyme disease and a punctured tire seemed a bad idea.
I did it anyway.
A box of old toys and children’s clothes was jammed in next to my suitcase.
This would be quick. In and out. Hand him the box stuffed with goodies from when my family had foster kids running all over the farm. Wish him well. Make the requisite small talk. And then pretend like my heart wasn’t held together with a roll of scotch tape and a smattering of pride.
I wasn’t about to let Remington Marshall shatter my barely rejuvenated dignity. Besides, the last I’d heard, he was the one crippled with guilt. Rumor had it—and by rumor, I meant the occasional conversation with his sister, Emma—he’d run away to the deepest forests of Canada to join a logging company.
If a heart broke in the forest, did it make a sound? The answer was yes, but it wasn’t a thud. More like the noise a sleepy woman yelp in the middle of the night when she stubbed her toe on the way to the bathroom. Less of a timber! More like son of a—
The box fit snugly against my hip, drawing the hem of my skirt up only an inch. I was fine with that. Showing a little leg would do me good. I’d grown up since the fire. Earned my curves. Managed to fill out my bra without two handfuls of wadded up toilet paper. Things were looking up.
I wound my way over a weed-choked cobblestone path and picked my steps up the rickety porch. The cabin was lost in the woods, and the forest wasn’t happy with the new occupant. The little space was so overgrown with brush and leaves that the trees would be grateful to be cleaned out of the gutters.
My knock clattered against the cabin door—almost loud enough to drown out the very irritated cry of a baby.
The wail might’ve belonged to a child. Could have also been a mountain lion with a toothache. Sometimes it was tough to tell, even with a degree in early education. Money well spent.
The door flung open. I expected Remington. Instead, a bright-eyed, blonde-haired, puffy-cheeked three-year-old peered up at me, scowled, and belted at the top of her precious little lungs to alert all within a square mile of my arrival.
I winced. “Hi. I’m Cassi. Is your Uncle—”
This alerted the baby—the real siren of the household who’d missed her calling as the dive alarm for a German U-Boat.
The chorus of screams rang in my ears. I shushed the three-year-old with a wave of my hand.
“I’m not a stranger—I’m a…” Was friend the right word? “I know your Uncle Rem…well, not know know. We grew up together. I mean, he grew up with my brother—I grew up later. But we were…I’d see him a lot—”