Divorced and jobless, returning home is Samuel Murray’s only option. Only home is not how he left it. The family farm is in ruins, struggling beneath a mountain of debt. Sam must step up and take the reins, something he’s dreaded since a child, and his only help is from the woman he’s treated badly in the past.
Evelyn James won’t make the same mistake with her heart again. No matter how much Sam appears to have changed. But the desire burning hot between them is hard to ignore and she’s no longer sure she wants to. Only she’s afraid to give in to him in fear of losing him once the novelty wears off. Can he prove to her he’ll always be by her side or will her lack of trust destroy them before he even has a chance?
He blinked owlishly at her as though trying to comprehend why she was angry at him and who the hell she even was. His eyes widened as some of the fog cleared and he seemed to figure her out. His mouth dropped as he gave her body a slow perusal. Her jaw clenched. She hadn’t been able to get him to look at her other than in disdain her entire teenage years, and now she’d filled out some and lost her braces, she finally earned a somewhat sleazy once-over.
Stepping forward, Evie slapped him hard across the cheek. She’d been wanting to do that since high school, too.
Her heart thumped even as her palm stung. Holy hell! She hadn’t thought she had that in her.
There wasn’t an eye in the place that wasn’t staring at her and the silence of the pub was deafening. Even Brett appeared surprised, his mouth hanging open. She’d never reacted violently toward anyone. Not even the rowdiest and persistent grazier had earned such treatment.
Evie had been itching to do that for years and she wasn’t about to lie, it’d been satisfying for all about five seconds until she figured he wouldn’t remember.
Bugger. Oh well, at least the memory would stay with her.
When he remained where he was, his eyebrows drawn together in confusion, Evie grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet, bracing herself as he staggered about, unable to find his balance. The stool scraped against the rough wooden floor. Evie secured Sam with an arm around his waist before he face planted. She didn’t want to be explaining unnecessary bruises to Joan in the morning.
His warm breath fanned across her face as she marched him out the door which was being held open by one of the late-night pub flies. She nodded at him in thanks and noted that old Jonah had already gone ahead and opened her car door.
“Some of us actually work for a living.”
She pushed Sam a little too hard into the car, his larger body finding the smallness of the interior an issue. His forehead smacked against the frame of the door.
Evie winced in automatic sympathy and this time gently pressed her hand on his head so he would duck. He most likely wouldn’t remember, just like the slap, and would probably think he’d done something stupid while intoxicated. Well, it was true. He’d pissed her off.
His slow action had her slapping his hand away and leaning over his body to finish the task as though he were a child.
“Jesus, Evie. I don’t remember you being this bossy.”
“Yeah, well, times change.”
She closed his door loudly and his lips pursed. Evie waved her goodbyes to the small crowd that had gathered at the door. She could only imagine the talk that’d be all over town in the morning.
Sam spoke again as she slipped behind the wheel. “You’ve changed.”
“Have I? Shame I can’t say the same about you. You’re still the selfish, indulgent little boy you’ve always been.”
“So help me if you throw up in this car.”
“I won’t, Evie. I promise. I can hold my liquor. Had plenty of practice.”
Of that, she had no doubt. As for his promise, like she’d believe him. The only promise he’d kept was the one he vowed never to return. Then again, he’d just broken it.
Thankfully, she made it home without issue. Getting Sam upstairs became her next challenge. Why she didn’t just leave him on the floor, she didn’t know. He deserved no better. Except, she’d been raised to be kind and understanding. Even if it was Sam.
His head drooped against his chest. “Sorry.”
Was he? And about what? For his abhorrent behavior over the years or the fact she’d had to collect him from Brett’s? She wished she could believe him.
They took the stairs one at a time, his considerable weight pushing her into the wall. By the time she made it to his bedroom, Evie was puffing. As soon as she reached the bed, she loosened her hold and Sam flopped face-first onto the mattress.
Evie blew out a deep breath, her bangs fluttering when Sam remained as he was. An angry grunt escaped her lips as she lifted his legs, dropping them onto the comforter.
“You’re a disgrace. You’re not even here one night and already boozing it up. What the hell happened to you, Sam?”
She leaned over his prone form and pushed against his shoulder, using her waning strength to roll him over. A startled gasp followed as he moved on his own accord and had her tumbling down beside him. He shifted his body until she lay beneath him and his lips descended on hers. The first touch was electric, the right combination of demanding and persuasive. His tongue slid along the seam of her lips before gently probing, asking for entrance. Her lips parted and he took charge. She shivered as his tongue grazed hers. Evie’s eyes closed as she lost herself in the sensations of him sucking her tongue and the gentle pressure of his lips. She slid her hand up his arm, over his neck, and into the abundant hair.
She welcomed the weight of his body as he consumed her and she sought to be closer, her mind a muddle. Cloudy with heady desire. A moan escaped her lips and her eyes snapped open. The stark need in that small sound terrified her. She would not succumb. Never again would she allow him to have power over her again. Evie came to her senses, pushing him aside so she could breathe, and scrambled onto her knees before sliding off the bed.
“No.” Her hands shook, her needy body crying out for his touch. She wasn’t going to be sucked back into caring for him. He didn’t deserve her concern and certainly not her love. He hadn’t then. He didn’t now. Not to mention, he was a shell of a man, broken and beaten down. He had much healing to do before he’d be useful. She couldn’t think of the alternative. Evie was barely managing not to fall to pieces as it was.
Tears burned her eyes as desperation raged inside her. She’d been relying on Sam to help her, to relieve some of the pressure which seemed insurmountable, but now it appeared she’d backed the wrong horse. Sam couldn’t even help himself. How could he possibly make her life easier? Hopelessness took over her driving emotion, her stomach clenching with worry as Sam snored softly, while she stood with a mountain of debt and fear on her shoulders.
Why did she think he’d be anything more than a hindrance?