Physical trainer Erica Carmichael would never have come back home if her father hadn't been on his deathbed. Her plans to bid a brief farewell to the parent who'd made her childhood a nightmare with his drunken rages are complicated when she finds out she's first in line to act as guardian to her teenage brother. To make matters worse, she can tell the handsome next-door neighbor doesn't think she's up to the task.
Sporting goods store owner Brennan Swift wants to make sure the son of his best friend and neighbor will be adequately cared for by the boy's estranged sister, Erica. Unfortunately, this means he'll have to deal with the prickly woman. If only he were not so unfortunately attracted to her. He can tell Erica does not believe in the possibility a man might change for the better. She would never believe Brennan had truly overcome his own dark past.
Note to self: next time you return unannounced after ten years, make sure someone's going to be home.
Erica stood before the new paneled wood door with the stained glass insert--stained glass!--and decried her own lack of foresight. She'd told her brother Clint she'd drive to Palmwood from Los Angeles after he'd warned her their father probably didn't have much longer to live, but she hadn't been very specific about her arrival time.
Now she stood on the front porch with no way to get inside a house she barely recognized. For God's sake, there were roses growing by the steps, and the lawn was actually green. When she'd lived here, the front yard had been predominantly dirt. There certainly hadn't been any flowers.
"Damn," she breathed. The sun had just set, and a chill was creeping into the air. The cotton jacket she wore over her T-shirt wasn't designed for high-desert evenings when the temperature could plummet thirty degrees.
Probably everyone was at the hospital. Probably she ought to get this over with and go there, too. She'd come this far, might as well go all the way. Emotional insurance. That's what she'd told herself she was taking out by rescheduling her physical training clients for a week and driving back to a town and a person she'd never cared to see again. She was making sure it wouldn't haunt her for the rest of her life that she hadn't said goodbye to her father, though even he would have to admit he hadn't earned this much devotion.
"Erica? Hello, are you Erica?" The voice came from the house next door. It was a deep, masculine voice.
Erica turned to see a tall man waving to her from the edge of a wide, railed porch. Light from his open door put him in silhouette so she couldn't see his face.
"Are you Erica?" he asked again
"Um..." The house that used to be next door was gone. A two-story, crafted-wood deal now sat in its place. She was pretty sure the man who'd just hailed her was nobody she'd ever met. He had broad shoulders and was wearing a button-down shirt and jeans.
"Liam's over here with me," the man told her, apparently assuming she was Erica, after all, since he mentioned the name of her youngest brother. "Why don't you come on in?"