The Maverick's Red Hot Reunion  (3)

By: Christine Glover


A horrible heaviness oozed through her. Dread—the sick feeling of spinning out of control with no power to break the fall—dizzied her. She inhaled deeply, willing herself to remain calm even as her mind reeled with the implications. How would she get along without the friend she’d relied on when her world had fallen apart?

“Lou Gehrig’s?” she asked. “He’s only thirty-two.”

“Shit diseases like this don’t have age requirements.”

She heard the defeat in Zach’s voice. Their mutual friend, the man who’d introduced them when Zach had first come to Sweetbriar Springs to work, had been the one constant companion binding their lives, encouraging their dreams. And there wasn’t a damn thing they could do to save him.

A stinging sensation pressed behind her eyes. Grief filled her, wails clogged her throat. She held her breath, releasing the pressure in her lungs slowly.

Kennedy had known grief before. Now she wished she could feel the strength of Zach’s arms around her, the heat of his body warming her, and hear his soothing words of comfort. In the past, she’d have depended upon him, indulged in the weakness, but she held today’s tears at bay.

Collapsing in front of him was not an option. She’d cry later. Alone.

She swallowed hard, trying to get a grip on her emotions. Michael had always been in great shape. Hell, he’d been a triple gold medalist in the 2004 summer Olympics. She couldn’t fathom the impact this debilitating disease would have on her friend. “How much time does he have?”

“Docs can’t predict the outcome.” He stepped closer. “Where’s your dad?”

Zach’s words brought her back from the edge of grief. It was a question many had asked since she’d taken over her father’s business. “Probably drinking a margarita on his cruise ship’s deck with Mom.” Ever since her father had retired, her parents had become cruise-a-holics.

She saw the nervous tic in his jaw, heard his quick intake of breath. Zach had no idea about her ascension to CEO of her dad’s company. And that made her all kinds of suspicious about Michael’s motives for contacting Zach.

“Guess that means you’ll be working for me.” He quirked his lips into a scornful smile, one that lit a dangerous glint in his dark eyes.

“What are you talking about?” she asked. “Aren’t you still in charge of your father’s hotel and resort conglomerate?”

“Tanner Enterprises is financing the operation,” Zach said. “We own Sweetbriar Springs.”

“Great.” Not really. The last person she wanted to work for was her ex-fiancé. “I’ll be happy to work with whoever you send to oversee the renovation and hiring.”

“That person’s me.”

“But what about your father?” she asked. “Won’t he be angry that you’ve abandoned your duties to his company as CEO?”

“He knows this is personal. And temporary.” Zach scrubbed a hand through his tousled hair. “As long as I have the Internet and my laptop, I can easily take care of both situations.”

He stepped a smidge closer. “I’m in charge of the construction contract now. You still want it?”

The air between them felt volatile, explosive, charged. All the memories of their last night together stormed in her head, crackled in her temples, fired in her nerves. Five years of trying to forget it disintegrated.

Working for Zach for the next three months, side by side, rebuilding the place that had once brought them together? Not good. Not good at all. Still, a buried longing unfurled and whispered through her body, arousing her.

No. No. No. She’d made her choice then. There was no going back to what they’d once shared. Zach had no stake in her world anymore. She’d pushed him away with good reason—how could she ask him to stay with her when she couldn’t give him the one thing that had led him to propose in the first place? She’d lost her chance at having Zach in her life, lost her chance at them becoming a family.

Restoring Sweetbriar Springs couldn’t save her friend—or heal her broken spirit—but it could save her town. She’d honor her deal, invest in the future, and guard her tender emotions from the only man she’d ever loved.