Authors: Aliyah Burke
On the heels of landing his largest part yet, Brody Paget, has returned from Hollywood to Cottonwood Falls, to share the news with a family he’s not seen in years. Hermione Windsor can’t believe it when he walks into the bank. Even ten years wasn’t long enough for her to move on. Brody is determined to prove to her he’s still the only man for her.
Copyright © 2014 Aliyah Burke
Cover illustration copyright © Covers By K
Sensual Romance Publishing logo © MMJ
Editor: Jessica Bimberg
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Table of Contents
He had returned to Cottonwood Falls.
Hermione Windsor ducked her head as
the bank interior. She knew what others would see when they looked
at him. A man whose appearance was identical to that of an
up-and-coming action movie star. In fact, most might not know it
was Brody Paget, who’d at one time lived here in Cottonwood Falls.
After all, once he’d left here, he’d changed his name to Alton
Rivers…his screen name.
They may not know, but she did. With a sniff, she
lifted her head. She had no reason to be ashamed.
the one who’d left.
hadn’t abandoned her fiancé without
a word. And yet, seeing him, here and now, brought it back.
of it. The good, the bad, and the excruciatingly
Taking a deep breath, she withdrew the money and
counted it out to Mrs. Cofax who waited. “There you are, Mrs.
Cofax. Have a great day.”
“You know, Hermione. You’re always such a joy. Every
day I see you, you’re always so cheerful. Aren’t you the president
Not feeling particularly cheery right now.
“Thank you. I’m waiting a year or so more before my takeover,” she
said, smiling at the man behind her current customer, the actual
president of the bank.
“She’ll have my job very soon, Mrs. Cofax,” Mr.
Pringle commented. “Mark my words, she’s destined.”
The woman turned and welcomed him. Beyond them,
Hermione spied Brody still in line. His shades hid his dark brown
I wonder if karma will bite me for avoiding him.
A singular word, which tempted her with memories. She’d done that
to him a time or two, as well as being the recipient of some marks
No. I will
“Ms. Windsor,” her boss said. “A moment.”
She up moved her closed window sign in position with
a sigh, gave Mrs. Cofax a farewell smile, and left the chair. Mr.
Pringle met her at the end of the four teller windows.
“I wanted to thank you again for coming in to help
“No need. Shelia didn’t plan to go into labor early.
I have no problem running a window. I’ve been running since high
“It’s just not common for you to do so anymore,
especially as you’re now the finance officer of the bank.”
He sounded distraught, and she hastened to calm his
fears. “We’re family. I will help people when they need it. Our
patrons understand we’re short staffed currently.”
“I’ll take over now. I know you haven’t had a
“Sure thing.” If Brody was in here, it was the last
place she needed to be. On the other hand…
No, I don’t need to
do this now.
Moving to the back, she grabbed her container of
leftover perciatelli and meatballs then placed it in the microwave.
While it reheated, she withdrew her salad before she added the
breadsticks for the final remaining seconds of the heating process
of the pasta.
At the small table, she ate, in no particular rush,
enjoying her meal. The rest of her day flowed along smoothly. It
was later than she’d planned when she left, for she had some
paperwork to catch up on before she could depart.
The sun had begun to lower in the sky when she walked
out of the bank. Heading to her car, she took a deep breath, ready
to get off her feet and relax for a bit. She placed her bag on the
passenger seat and started to round to the driver’s side.
The voice wove around her, rooting her to the spot.
She closed her eyes briefly, took a deep breath, and turned to meet
the man behind her. Ten years wasn’t nearly long enough for her to
forget him, no matter how he’d changed. She would know him
anywhere. Regardless of what name he went by.
Yes, that would work. Be calm,
He towered over her. Always had. Brody had never
failed to make her feel small, delicate even. And protected.
important thing for me to remember here is the word
all those thoughts.
“I didn’t recognize you in the bank when I was there
at first. You’ve changed.”
She wasn’t sure that was good thing or not. “Most do
in ten years,” she said, grateful her tone remained modulated.
He never altered his expression, and she couldn’t see
behind his sunglasses.
“Yes,” he commented. “I suppose we all do.”
“Excuse me,” she said. “I have a date.” Where the
words originated from, she hadn’t any clue.
“Really?” His dark eyebrows shot up on his
Her ire went from low simmer to full-fledged with
someone using a bellows on the flames. “I’m sorry? Is the prospect
of me having a date so foreign to you?”
He took a step back before halting and shaking his
head. “No, that…that isn’t it at all.”
She arched one eyebrow and, looking down her nose at
him, sniffed. “Good.” Before she totally lost her composure, she
spun on her heel and climbed in her car. Her trusty Honda rumbled
to life when she turned the key, allowing her to drive away without
another word. Even so, as she moved farther away from him, she
glanced in the rearview.
Damn him! What had she done to deserve this? Without
considering she may be busy with other things, or someone else,
Hermione drove over to her friend’s house, Dr. Melinda Glazer.
Parking beside her SUV, Hermione took deep breaths
before climbing out on wobbly legs. At the door, she rang the bell.
Moments later, Melinda answered.
“Hermione, how… What the fuck happened? Are you okay?
Get in here.”
She could feel her walls crumbling around her then
Melinda had her arms circling her.
“Christ, honey,” she said. “You look like you’ve seen
a ghost. What’s going on?”
She had, in a manner of speaking. “He’s back,” she
muttered, going along as Mel led her to the couch.
“Go grab something comfortable from my closet, and
we’ll talk about it. I’ll fix us something to drink.”
Hermione may have less stature than Melinda, but at
least she wouldn’t be in her business suit. In Melinda’s room, she
dug for a pair of sweats and an oversized sweatshirt, needing some
extra warmth for the moment. Melinda waited with a drink for her,
and they sat on the couch.
“Am I interrupting something you had going on
tonight?” she asked.
“Not a chance. Besides, you need me, I’m here. What’s
going on? Who’s back?”
She sipped the coffee, grateful for the liberal
amount of alcohol she tasted in it. Leave it to Melinda to know
what she needed. She swallowed, accepted the burn, and looked at
Brody paced his small hotel room. He needed to go
home and see his parents, which had been the sole purpose of this
trip. His news to them would be better served face to face.
So what the hell am I doing hiding out in the
He wasn’t quite sure, but neither could he bring
himself to go to the house he’d grown up in. His confidence had
wavered in the bank. He sank on the edge of the bed.
Hermione. Seeing her again had rocked him to the
core. She’d filled out in the ten years since he’d left, becoming
much curvier. She still took his breath away. It had been a shock
to see her, but once he’d figured out who she was, he couldn’t take
his eyes off her. He’d been eternally grateful he wore his
sunglasses, for that way no one else in there would know he stared
only at her.
The young woman who’d stolen his heart had given way
to a mature woman who made his mind go down roads best left in the
shadows. He had no claim over her.
Plus, she said she had a date
Knowledge that pissed him off. Again, without any
rhyme or reason. He didn’t have the right to feel such a way about
her, but he did. He wanted her here with him, wanted to share his
journey with her. Kiss her. Make love to her.
His mind shoved him down a dark path. Was she
enjoying her lover? Taking him inside her body with moans and cries
that used to be reserved solely for Brody? Was that man kissing her
in that ticklish spot on her hip, right below her butterfly
Rage simmered just below the surface, and he swore,
catapulting to his feet and pacing once more. He pocketed his keys
and left the room that had begun to close in on him.
He slid behind the wheel of his rental, a white
Cadillac Escalade. Backing away from his spot, he turned toward his
childhood home. No time like the present. He noticed the changes as
he drove along, liking what he saw. The place still had a small
hometown feel to it. Some days in Hollywood, he missed that. Missed
the niceties that come with knowing your neighbors.
As he pulled up to his parents’ house, he took
several deep breaths. Parking behind his father’s old truck, he
killed the engine. The front yard, meticulously maintained, as
usual. The house appeared in need of a new coat of paint, but it
wasn’t anything serious.
He opened the door and climbed out. His old rope
swing no longer hung from the large Cottonwood in the yard. He
strolled up the path to the steps, steps he’d fallen off, jumped
from, and rolled down more than once. The railing, smooth beneath
his hand, gave him purchase as he went to the screen door.
The television was on; he could hear it through the
door. It was accompanied by the scent of his mother’s cooking.
Brody pushed the doorbell and waited.
“I got it, James. You stay there.” His mother’s
southern drawl was a balm to Brody’s soul.
She approached, wiping her hands off on her apron.
“Yes?” she asked before she stopped and gasped. One hand over her
mouth, she pushed open the door, never once taking her eyes from
“Brody?” she asked, that same hand reaching out to
him. He couldn’t help but notice the slight tremble.
He removed his sunglasses. “Hi, Mama.”
Tears filled her large eyes as she reached for him.
“Oh, my baby is home. Brody’s come home. James, Brody’s back,” she
called out, her strong arms holding him the way only a mother’s
Over his mother’s head, he looked up to see his
father standing there. “Hello, sir,” he said.