Authors: Amy Gregory
PRAISE FOR AMY GREGORY
I'm a HUGE fan of this series and of Amy Gregory. She has such a great way of telling a story. Once again she wrote a book that totally entertained me from start to finish. Mariann Belle’s Book Bag
Every time I read something new of Amy's it's better than the last. I can't wait for EVERYTHING else she writes in the future. What’s on the Bookshelf
This group makes up a truly remarkable family and I can't wait to read more of their stories. Great job Ms. Gregory! L. Keibler
If you want a sweet and hot read with a hot Alpha male and a vulnerable but strong heroine, Amy Gregory is the one for you. HarlequinJunkie Blog
Ms. Gregory, didn't sugar coat the harsh realities of life. Instead, she made us contemplate, and ponder, the importance of how we deal with the hardships life can deal us. L. Gomez
MIKE’S WAY BACK
Copyright 2013 Amy Gregory
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior permission of the publisher. The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Names, characters, and plots are a product of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
To Brian, thank you for continuing to support my passion. Love you always.
To Katie, without you, none of this would be possible. Thank you for everything, there’s just not enough ways to express my gratitude. But, most of all, thank you for your unwavering friendship! Sister by choice!
Katie Mettner for well…everything!
Katie Mettner, Tobi Helton & MF Sevilla for unending edits and story line opinions!
Lisa G., Kitty Kelly & Lisa K. for honest beta opinions.
And to an up and coming cover artist! R. Gregg.
Mike looked both ways then cautiously drove through the four-way stop, making his way to the town square. Dinner was just down the road, and he pulled into one of the only open diagonal spaces still free on the block. An early evening in late spring meant beautiful weather. Most of the small shops had propped their doors open, and patrons drifted in and out freely.
A steady stream of people made their way out of the bar—his destination
. Mike grinned to himself, it warmed his heart, and the familiarity calmed his tortured soul.
Not surprising, even on a weeknight, the small pub was packed. It was Mike’s idea of the perfect way to end his work week. Friendly atmosphere, great bar food, and a couple of televisions guaranteed to be tuned to a game. A true staple in a community that hadn’t changed much over
the last few decades.
Unfolding himself as he stepped out of the raised, cherry-red truck, he stood by his pride and joy for a minute as he took a quick moment to rub the dull ache in his left shoulder. That same ache brought him back home—back to his sleepy little town of
Renlend, KS. The epitome of small town USA. Back where the streets were quiet and lazy and everyone knew everyone—and their business too. Where a friend brought a casserole by for a new mom, or took a dish to the church for a funeral. A place where the children he saw swinging on the swings in the park, belonged to people he went to high school with so many years before.
Mike was back in a place where he couldn’t remember the last time a gun had to be drawn going into a hostile situation.
Giving his head a quick shake, he drew in a deep breath and pushed the memories of that day away. He pushed them back into the little box in his mind where he tried desperately to keep them contained. Unfortunately, his shoulder wasn’t the only thing that still hurt from that day, and like he’d told the doctors in Chicago repeatedly…nothing about that day was going to change and he was done talking about it.
Walking through the heavy wood and glass door, the smell of the bar hit him. The burgers, the fries, all of it, in a place that let him relax, at least for a short while. Mike was in a happier place just hearing the friendly voice of the bartender as his name was called out
, welcoming him for the evening.
“Jeff.” Mike clasped the outstretched hand. “How’s it going man?”
“Can’t complain. The usual?”
Mike gave a half nod and kept the snicker to himself as Jeff passed him an already open beer without waiting for confirmation. “Yeah, but make it a double on the burger tonight, I’m starved.”
“You got it, boss.”
Normally a friendly man, he was one to accept small talk with anyone from town that stopped him. Tonight though, he was just tired. It’d been a long week and if for no other reason than the weather was getting warmer, the school year was getting shorter, and the seniors at the one and only high school were getting restless.
Their downfall was he had grown up in this very town. Mike knew all their local hangouts, which fields they’d hit for an impromptu field party, and which last names to be listening for on the scanner when he was on duty.
Making his way around the dark and aged four-top tables, the booths, and the friendly shout-outs, Mike sat down at one of the few vacant tables. The place
would start emptying out soon. It was a school night and most of the families were all at the tail-end of their meals. Easing back in the wooden chair, it creaked as he stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankles. He spent a minute studying the baseball game on the muted television in the corner of the bar, figuring out what he had missed. For the next seventy-two hours he would catch a couple of games on TV, restock his refrigerator, and get some much needed rest before it all began again with his next shift.
Life was definitely a world different than it had been a little over a year ago. Going from a large city like
Chicago, back to his hometown of barely five thousand wasn’t just different, it was almost culture shock. It shouldn’t be, for hell’s sake, he had grown up here. Mike had eaten at this same scratched table, in the same bar, still owned by the same family as it had been since before he was ever born.
However, life had changed the day a couple of holes were left in him.
All he ever wanted to do, from the time he was in middle school was be a detective, just like on television. A problem solver with a love of math and science, it was his calling. From the day he graduated college, then the academy, he put in the time and climbed the ladder as fast as he could, to grasp his dream. He discovered in Chicago that life could change on a dime. He watched it happen before his own eyes on a daily basis. Then the dime landed face up, and it was his life that changed in the blink of an eye.
Nowadays, in his hometown, life around him moved at a slower pace, but not Mike. He kept on the go, all the time, always working, working out, or working on his labor of love—restoring his Victorian home. He knew eventually, the old place would be returned to its once grand stature. Whether he had weights in his hands or a hammer and a nail, Mike did anything he could to keep his mind occupied. He had to—to survive.
Following a bead of sweat as it slipped down the side of the bottle, the droplet stalled on the brand’s logo, holding his gaze.
He listened as his name came out as barely a whisper over the connection. The hurt twisted in his stomach. For a big man who was supposed to keep his feelings in check, that small, choked voice on the phone was his undoing. Mike heard his sister’s-in-law stifled sniffles over the line, and the panic in her voice.
The tears were starting to burn. Screwing his eyes shut, he banked them back down where he needed them to be. Mike had been sitting upright in the mechanical bed. Molly was breaking his heart. Sinking back against the flat hospital pillow, he swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “I’m okay, Mol.”
He knew his reassurance wasn’t strong enough to make her feel better. His own shaky voice betrayed him. It wasn’t the physical pain. He’d been given enough meds to take the edge off. It was the phone call he knew he had to make before he went into surgery that hurt more than his shoulder.
“But Mike—you were shot!”
He could hear the desperation in her voice. The tears she tried to hold back were now obvious in her soft sobs. From the side of his bed his mother patted his thigh on top of the thin blue blanket. Mike knew he had scared the ever-loving hell out of all of them.
It was a random, bizarre moment in time. One he never saw coming.
“I know Molly. It’ll be all right, honey. Mom will call you and Carter as soon as I’m out and relay all the information I’m sure.”
“Carter’s on the other line booking the flight, we’ll be there,” she said, as he willed himself to hold it together. Mike waited out the pause for her to try and gain her composure again. “…as soon as we can. We love you, Mike.”
“I love you guys too. I’m okay, honey. I promise.”
“You have to be, Mike. You have to be.”
Hearing metal against metal, her plea went unanswered as the thin curtain was pulled back, the rings sliding easily on the silver pole. Two nurses and the anesthesiologist entered the small space he was still occupying in the emergency room. “I think they’re about ready to take me to the OR, honey. Do me a favor and tell that baby brother of mine to take good care of you.”
“I will. We’ll see you soon as possible. We’ll hurry.”
Trying to sound strong and in control like he normally was, he issued his order. “Okay, be safe. Love you guys. Bye.”
“Love you too…bye.” Her last word, trailed softly off.
Mike ended the call and stared at the screen of his cell for a moment before handing it to his father. It hadn’t even been two years since the woman on the other end of that phone had needed him.
Needed his badge, his gun, and his expertise to save her.
When he had been covered in her blood, it had bonded them as tight as siblings. He knew placing that call to his brother Carter and his wife Molly was going to throw all three of them back into the grip of a nightmare they’d long tried to put to rest. Hearing her pain and fear hurt a hell of a lot more than the two bullets still lodged in his body.
One in his shoulder, the other…two inches from his heart.
He reached for the bottle, the dark glass still cold to the touch. Tipping it back for a long swallow, the slight burn of the heavy ale helped force his past back where it belonged.
Noises became sharper around him as he realized it wasn’t Molly’s voice calling his name this time. Silverware sliding across a plate and ice cubes falling into a glass were a far cry from an emergency room, especially when a round of cheers rose up around him. One glance was enough to know the baseball game he had zoned out on was now tied. Blinking, he separated his hellish past from present day and turned toward the bar to answer Jeff.
His friend was holding up a fresh bottle, yet to be uncapped. Mike blinked twice, hardly letting Jeff’s chuckle register.
Mike’s jaw wasn’t the only part of him to twitch.
It had nothing to do with the second beer the bartender just set on the counter for the waitress to deliver to him. No, it was all to do with the knockout in a black pencil skirt, toned bare legs and killer heels standing at the bar—talking to Jeff.
Taryn slipped her notebook into her oversized purse along with her cell and laptop and then locked the rental car. She was hungry. Well, starving, famished, and ready to fade away to be more exact. The appointment that brought her to the quaint small town took longer than she expected, but the building was so fabulous and held so much potential, when the owner didn’t rush her out, she wandered through every room, hall, and back again. The feel of the exposed brick was going to be perfect, and the fact that it was in such good shape made it even more exciting. The possibilities were endless, and as a designer, the blank slate was a dream job.
Her stomach growled again.
She was in a great mood and could have stayed locked in the building all night making notes, planning designs, watching the sunlight change through the stained glass transom as the afternoon gave way to evening. When Taryn’s stomach informed, not only her but also her client, of her state of hunger, she let the woman point her in the direction of a decent burger. She tried like hell to erase the stain of embarrassment from her cheeks. Shaking off the client’s apology for not being able to escort her herself, Taryn reassured the young woman eating alone was old hat. Besides, she came up with some of her best ideas while sitting solo amongst the noise of others in a restaurant.
Standing at the bar, she contemplated placing her order to go, but then decided it was too early in the evening to return to her hotel room. She hated staring at the boring walls of a hotel room when there were at least several interesting conversations floating around her in the bar. Glancing over at the filled tray a waitress carried out from the kitchen made Taryn’s mouth water. Her decision was made. There was no way she was risking those, to-die-for homemade potato chips, to a Styrofoam container and a ride in the car to her room. She knew from experience that some foods just don’t travel well.
“On second thought
, do you mind if I change my order? Is it too late?”
Jeff looked up from tapping her order into the screen. “Not a problem at all, what can I get you?”
Taryn hesitated, not wanting to be
customer. “Oh, nothing, but can I possibly…just eat here, instead?”
“Of course, hon. Just sit anywhere you’d like. I’ll have Kel bring it out when it’s ready. What can I have her bring you to drink?”
Iced tea was on the tip of her tongue. Then she smirked. It was after business hours. She was full of ideas and would be in the bar for a while. A beer sounded good. “Michelob Lite?”
“Sure thing, doll.”
Grinning, Taryn turned on her heel and let her eyes wander around the room. She needed to be by herself and off to the side as much as possible. Noise and conversation were great—to a point. Making her way to an empty table, she passed several families plus a couple of tables pushed together where several businessmen discussed,
. Snorting to herself, she could only imagine how productive they were by the sheer volume of the laughter dancing around them.
Pulling out her sketchbook and the yellow legal pad, Taryn read over her
notes. This was why she loved her career. The rush. Some people drove ninety-to-nothing, some people skied downhill faster than a bat out of hell. Taryn drew, her mind spinning faster than her fingers could keep up. A whispered
to Kelly, the waitress, when her beer was placed on the colored cardboard coaster was the only break in her concentration.
Waiting for her laptop to boot up in front of her, Taryn turned to the chair beside her to get her camera from her purse. Turning back, she caught the stare of the man sitting catty-corner to her. The corner of his mouth turned up even more. Frozen, all she could do was force herself to breathe. Quite a feat considering her heart had instantly started beating so fast it would probably be considered life threatening by anyone in the medical field.