Joe Reed was a man with a plan. For years, he was engaged to one woman. Now he'd been dumped, but he couldn't even bring himself to care. Because inexplicably, he was falling for Kathie his ex–fiancee ?s sister. Which was not in the plan. But then he kissed her .
And his safe, predictable existence shattered on a dime.
About the Author
Teresa Hill tells people if they want to be writers, to find a spouse who's patient, understanding and interested in being a patron of the arts. Lucky for her, she found a man just like that, who's been with her through all the ups and downs of being a writer. Along with their son and daughter, they live in Travelers Rest, SC, in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, with two beautiful, spoiled dogs and two gigantic, lazy cats.
Read an Excerpt
The little old ladies by the picnic tables glared at him like he was pond scum.
Joe Reed tried to ignore them as he stood under a giant magnolia tree eating a hot dog at the town's May Day picnic, trying to look like the old him—respectable, predictable, an all-around good guy.
Wait a minute. He leaned to the right to get a better look at one of the little old ladies.
Was that a friend of his grandmother's?
His grandmother was hard of hearing and not quite living in the present. She often thought she was a girl looking for her poodle, CoCo, who'd been dead for seventy-five years. Joe had hoped she'd never get the whole story of his downfall, but if one of her friends from the nursing home was here, she'd probably be treated to the whole unsavory thing. Which meant, he had to hope his grandmother either wouldn't hear what the woman had to say or that she'd forget it very quickly, both highly likely.
Still, he really didn't want her to know.
Yeah, now that he'd gotten a better look, he was afraid that was her friend Marge and...maybe she was coming this way, probably to give him a piece of her mind. He turned around hoping to disappear, but the next moment, he got nailed in the shoulders and dragged off into the woods by two men.
Not strangers, unfortunately.
He'd rather be mugged.
Not that anybody got mugged in Magnolia Falls, Georgia. But he'd rather. "Hey, come on," he tried.
Wherever they were going, he could at least get there under his own power. But his captors would have none of that, and one of them was armed, so he stopped arguing and let them do what they wanted.
They released him a half mile later, dumped him with his back against a tree, then backed up to face him, both glaring.
One was a cop.
Joe used to date his sister.
The other was a minister. He was now married to the sister Joe used to date. Very happily married, by all accounts, so, as Joe saw it, Ben couldn't object too much to the fact that Joe and Kate had broken up. Otherwise, Ben and Kate would never have gotten together.
It was just the way in which Joe and Kate had broken up that was the problem.
That was where the other sister came into it. Kathie.
There was a third sister, Kim, the baby of the family, but Joe had never laid a hand on her.
It was the middle one who had been his downfall. Still was, judging by the way the people of their little town were treating him six months after the whole debacle.
"We have a problem," the brother who was the cop, Jax, said.
"Whatever it is, I didn't do it," Joe insisted, feeling like he was in third grade and had gotten caught pulling Celia Rawlins'hair. Not that he'd actually done it. She had just kept accusing him of it to get him into trouble. His mother said it was a crude form of flirtation, but he just hadn't understood. He didn't like being in trouble. He really was a good guy. Not that anybody believed that anymore.
"Oh, yes, you did," Jax said, looking as big and intimidating as he had in high school, whether he'd been plowing through linebackers like they were zombies or dating the girls of the cheerleading squad one after another. Everybody got a turn. He'd made it look easy, still did.
Joe had been quieter, spent more time on his studies, been president of the senior class and valedictorian, a chess champion, a force to be reckoned with in debate, none of which had helped him get girls.
He was not a ladies' man, not at all the type to be engaged to one sister and sneaking around kissing the other.
He still wasn't sure how it had happened.
Temporary insanity was all he'd managed to come up with. It still made his head spin when he thought about it too much, so he tried not to. He was a bank president, for God's sake. The youngest in the state when he'd been named to the job. Voted most likely to succeed. Mr. Straightlaced.
What had happened to that man? "I really didn't do anything," Joe tried again.
He hadn't called anyone, hadn't talked to anyone, hadn't seen anyone. He'd lived the life of a monk for six months, trying to keep his head down and do his job and not give anyone reason to talk about him, not ever again.
Not that it had stopped any of the gossip.
He felt like he'd been branded for life, would never live down what had happened.
He looked at Jax, seething, his gun at his side, then to Ben, the calmer of the two. Surely a minister wouldn't be a part of beating the crap out of him here in the woods, would he? Not that Joe didn't think he deserved a beating. Honestly, he was surprised Jax had waited this long.
But that was it, a few punches? They weren't going to really hurt him, right? At least, he didn't think so.
He looked to Ben for help. "It would probably be better if you just listened for a while," Ben said, looking calm as could be, like he took part in dragging people off into the woods all the time, which seemed quite unminister-like to Joe.
Kate had said her new husband had a way of making things happen. Surely she hadn't meant this.
"This is the way it is," Ben said, smiling a bit while Jax scowled. "Kate isn't happy."
Joe puzzled over that. He hadn't done anything to Kate, either. Had barely spoken to her, hadn't gotten anywhere near her, and if Kate wasn't happy, wasn't that more Ben's problem than Joe's, given the fact that Ben was her husband now?
"Well, she would be happy—perfectly happy—married to me," Ben said. "Except for one thing."
Joe could just imagine what that one thing was. "And Kim's not happy," Jax said. "Most important of all to you, I'm not happy, and I could hurt you so easily."
Ben stepped between them at that point. "And if my wife and her family aren't happy, of course I'm not happy," he said.
Okay. Joe hadn't gotten anywhere near any of them, either, but he nodded, to show that he was listening and taking it all in.
"We couldn't possibly be happy right now because a member of our family isn't here," Jax said.
"Okay," Joe said hesitantly.
Kathie. She'd taken off the day of Kate and Ben's wedding, just disappearing after the ceremony. It had been weeks before they'd even known where she was, teaching at some expensive boarding school in North Carolina and resisting all their efforts to get her to come back home.
Joe couldn't blame her. He'd have liked to run away, too, but he wasn't the type to run. He had obligations, and he'd decided to tough it out here, thinking that years of being responsible, dependable, good-guy Joe would overcome a few moments of insanity with his then-fiancé"s sister.
But no. Apparently, he was going to be punished for this forever.
And now, they were all mad at him because Kathie wasn't here?
Joe was afraid to have her within a hundred miles of him, afraid of what he might do next to screw up his life, but they wouldn't care about that.
"And since you made this mess," Jax said, glowering down at him, "you are going to fix it."
Joe swallowed hard, bracing himself for a fist to the jaw, wondering if he'd be eating through a straw for the next six weeks because he had no teeth left or because his jaw would be wired shut.
He braced himself as best he could, but Jax didn't hit him.
He just said, "You are going to bring our sister home."
"Me?" Joe said. "But...she hates me."
"That's your problem," Jax said. "What he means is...we're sure you can find a way around that," Ben said, like all Joe needed to do was turn left instead of right, to get out of a traffic jam.
Women were nothing like traffic jams.
There was no road map, no real signals to tell a man when to stop and when to go ahead. You couldn't call AAA and get a TripTik to tell you to go left for eighty-seven miles and then head north for thirty-seven and then take three right turns and you were there.
"She won't even talk to me," he tried. How could he convince her to come home when she wouldn't even talk to him?
"We're going to leave that problem up to you, too," Ben said, slapping him on the back like they were buddies or something.
Jax slapped a paper against his chest, and Joe grabbed onto it.
"That's her address. Don't bother to call. Like you said, she wouldn't talk to you anyway. You need to just show up. We included directions. It's only a four-hour drive. Tomorrow's graduation day at that fancy school of hers. She'll be free to do anything she likes once that's over. You're going to go home, pack a bag and start driving."
"Tonight? You want me to go get her tonight?"
"I expect you to be out of town within the hour.And you know I'll know if you're not," Jax said. "I bet you can imagine what's going to happen if anyone catches you here after eight o'clock."
Jax and his buddies on the police force.
Joe had been cited for five moving violations within a week of Kathie leaving town, and he hadn't been guilty of a one. But he hadn't protested, either. Not until he'd ended up before a judge who was ready to take his license away, and then, he hadn't had to say much. The judge had known exactly what was going on and let him off with a warning, specifically that he should try hard to undo whatever he'd done to upset Magnolia Falls' finest.
"Do you have any idea what those tickets did to my insurance rates?" Joe complained.
"Could you possibly think I care?" Jax shot back.
"She won't come back because I ask her to," Joe said in all honesty.
"Then you've got some thinking to do, don't you?" Ben said. "Good thing it's a four-hour drive. I'm sure by the time you get there, you'll have figured out just what to say to get her to come back."
"I can't. I mean... I don't know what to say. I don't think there's anything I can say. If there was, I'd say it." Not because he wanted her to come back...not really. What kind of man welcomed insanity back into his life?
But this was her home, the only one she'd ever known. Her father had died when she was five, her mother last year, and her sisters and brother were all the family she had left. They'd always been tight, and he hated thinking of her cut off from her family this way and all alone in the world, especially if she was upset.
And poor Kate. She'd been like a second mother to her two younger sisters, had always taken very seriously her obligations to them.
He really owed Kate.
And Kathie. He kept thinking of her as a teenager. He'd known her that long, but she was twenty-four now. He'd just turned thirty-one, a grown-up, supposedly a responsible, intelligent one, and he'd handled the whole thing between them so badly.
So he owed them both, and he'd been raised to believe that first, a man tried hard not to make mistakes, and if he did, he always tried to make up for those mistakes.
"Okay," he said, resigned to it but having no idea how he'd accomplish the task of bringing her home. "I'll go."
Which meant, within the next twenty-four hours, Joe would be face-to-face with Kathie Cassidy.
God help him.