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Bryce Harding stared down at the dainty blonde with shiny, bluntcut hair, her longlashed gaze leveled on him. Dark blue eyes reflected the same dismay that slugged him in the stomach when she'd turned toward him. She recovered faster than he did, though. Planting fists on her curvaceous, jeansclad hips, she gave him a waryeyed onceover, taking in his Tshirt, shorts and flipflops.
"How may I help you—Sergeant?"
He forced cheerful warmth into his words. "I didn't know you worked here, Sandi."
Had he known, he'd have steered clear of Dix's Woodland Warehouse tonight. He liked to patronize locally owned businesses in his mountaincountry hometown of Canyon Springs, Arizona. But a bigbox store would have fit the bill just as well.
"I work here parttime when I'm not teaching school." She folded her arms, expression still guarded. "May I help you find something?"
"I—" Why was he scrambling for words just like he did last winter when he approached her? He'd voiced his sympathy concerning her loss. That seemed appropriate considering he and Keith had been buddies since second grade. But it had been an awkward meeting. She'd pretty much looked at him as if he'd sprouted antlers. Kind of how she was doing now. She'd murmured illatease words of thanks and that was that.
He'd tried to convince himself at the time it was because he'd caught her offguard. Maybe she hadn't heard he'd gotten out of the army, had returned to town. But more likely, judging from the look on her face both then and now, her toocandid husband had spilled the beans. Told her about his best friend's campaign to keep him from marrying the cute little fox he'd fallen combat helmet over steeltoed boots for.
"I—" He cleared his throat and scrubbed the knuckles of one hand along the jawline of his beard. "I'm looking for one of those patch kits. You know, that putty you fix walls with."
"I'm afraid we don't carry anything like that." She sounded a little too pleased to share the news of a gap in the Warehouse's extensive inventory. "You'll need to go to the hardware store down the street."
"Already did. He's out of stock."
A perky eyebrow lifted. "If you've exhausted the local merchants, I'd say you're in for a drive to PinetopLakeside's Home Depot."
She tilted her head, dipped her chin slightly and looked up at him—a mannerism that made his breath catch. A subtle bit of appealing body language that the waytoosmitten Keith had described to him in detail. More than once. Funny how he'd articulated it so well it seemed almost familiar now, not the mannerism of a stranger.
Pulling himself back to the conversation, he cleared his throat again. "Think I'll try the discount store first."
"You do that."
"I intend to."
He didn't need her approval to go to the discount store. To drive to Home Depot. To do anything. It appeared she'd changed little in the nine years since she'd first caught Keith's eye with that "Dear Soldier" letter of hers. Or since he himself had issued his buddy a disregarded warning. Keith laughed him off, but she was still a bit too pushy for his own tastes.
"Is there anything else you need?"
Obviously she wanted to get rid of him, but he wasn't going to let her shoo him out the door. Free country and all that.
"My grandma could use some aspirin."
Though she had a medicine cabinet full of it.
Sandi's resolute expression transformed to one of concern. "Mae isn't feeling well?"
That's right, she knew his Grandma Harding. Grandma Mae he called her. "Arthritis is acting up."
She took an unexpected step forward, but his body blocked her and she pinned him with a pointed look. Guess she wanted him to get out of her way. After a moment's hesitation, he obediently stepped aside, the wooden floor creaking under his weight, but he caught the sweet scent of her as she maneuvered around him. Vanilla. Like Grandma Mae used in her chocolate chip cookies.
She motioned for him to accompany her as she headed down a store aisle. Past the souvenir items, sweatshirts and backpacks he followed along, determined not to let the alluring sway of her hips distract him.
After all, he was New Bryce now.
She was Keith's wife.
And not his type by a long shot.
She halted in front of a shelf and bent to snag an aspirin box. Placed it in his open palm. "This is what you want. Easier on the stomach, apparently."
He stared down at the box, then back at her. "You a nurse now or something?"
"No, but Sharon Dixon, who owns this store, is on an aspirin regimen for her heart. I've heard her talk about the benefits of this type." She pointed at the pain remedy. "Try this one."
"Does it come in a larger size?"
She took the box from his hand, her soft, slight one brushing his own, igniting his palm with a sensitivity he didn't know it possessed. Involuntarily his hand fisted, but a moment later she pried open his fingers to fill it with a supersize variety of the same aspirin brand.
"Anything else Mae could use? A heating pad, maybe? I've heard that sometimes helps."
He studied the cardboard container, then looked at her again. She sounded sincere enough. Helpful. Concerned about his grandma. Maybe this was the side of her she'd let Keith glimpse. Softening her—how should he put it? —uncompromising inclinations.
"I think this will do. Thanks."
"Very good." Her tone reverted to the impersonal, as if she'd again realized to whom she'd been talking—chatting with the man who'd done his best to save his buddy from a lifetime of regret. She headed back down the aisle. "I can check you out up at the front."
He followed her to the polished wooden counter and set the box down, then fished in a back pocket for his wallet. Pulled out a twenty, then broached a touchy subject. "I guess the museum will be open Memorial Day?"
With Sandi being the president of the local historical society, he'd had to call her several weeks ago. Had to notify her of upcoming changes to the agreement on the space his grandma leased to the Canyon Springs Historical Museum. It hadn't gone over well.
She gave him a probing glance as she rang up his purchase. "Is there a problem with the museum being open?"
"No. Just wondering what to expect."
"If you hadn't moved into the apartment above it with your grandma, you wouldn't be bothered by the historical society's comings and goings."
Grandma said Sandi had devoted herself to the museum since Keith's death, but who was she to judge if he should or shouldn't move in with his grandma? Grandma Mae was his first and only concern, and if her ability to remain relatively independent depended on having him close by, well so be it.
"Didn't say I was bothered. Just need to know what the plans are so I can keep my grandmother informed. After all, it is her home."
"I haven't forgotten that." Sandi's gaze sharpened as she handed him his change. His heart rate ramped up a notch, anticipating her fingers would again brush his, but she carefully placed the bills and coins into his palm without contact. "But it may have slipped your mind, Sergeant, that while you were dashing around the world on yet another tour of duty, the rest of us were right here making sure her needs were met."
No, maybe he hadn't been here, but nobody else managed to keep Grandma from falling down the back stairs, either. Or keep her from breaking her ankle, a wrist and a few ribs. He counted slowly to ten, determined not to let Keith's wife push his buttons. Grandma Mae always said the unspoken words you are master of, the spoken words are master of you.
Not that he'd always listened.
"That's something I'm well aware of, thank you, and for which I'm grateful."
"Then please make an effort to remember that—" her words came softly enough, but he didn't miss the underlying edge "—the next time you think about raising the rent on the historical museum and send us scrambling to make up the difference. That's why we're keeping it open on a holiday."
It was clear she thought the increase was nothing more than fun money for him. No doubt her husband had filled her in on the offduty lifestyle of Old Bryce. Probably didn't know there was a New Bryce now. He hadn't exactly announced it to the town. She didn't know, either, that his volunteer work and parttime jobs were just biding time until the hiring freeze ended and that promised firefighter position opened up. Well, he wasn't going to explain his reasoning for the rent increase to her. It was nobody's business but his and Grandma Mae's.
Sandi tilted her head, her expressive eyes questioning, still waiting for a response to her pointed remark. But this time that cute little mannerism didn't stir him. Much. He shifted the gear of his tone into neutral and held up the aspirin box. "I'll keep your recommendation in mind. And thanks for your help."
He turned away and headed to the door, conscious of her annoyed stare piercing into his back.
A shame such a pretty little gal had a milewide unyielding streak. Nobody would ever guess looking at her—at the full, soft mouth, eyes the color of a twilight sky, the winsome little mannerisms.
A mighty big shame.
And he could see right now this museum business was going to put him in front of the firing line of her prickly disposition. Especially when she found out the museum's days were numbered.
But he'd keep that to himself for now.
"I have no intention of getting married again. Ever. And certainly not to him. So you can get that notion right out of your head, Devon." Sandi Bradshaw laughed at the look of dismay her words elicited from her pretty, matchmaking sisterinlaw.
But at the mention of Bryce Harding's name her mind's eye had flashed to the big, darkhaired man with a neatly clipped beard and mustache who'd stood before her at the Warehouse last night. Twinkling brown eyes. Broadshouldered and built like a bulldozer. If it weren't for the baggy cargo shorts, flipflops and untucked black Tshirt emblazoned with No Regrets, she'd have thought he'd just stepped off the playing field of a Scottish highlands festival game.
But in the same instant she'd turned to him, his dark eyes had sobered with recognition and her own erratically pounding heart confirmed him as the man who'd come way too close to convincing her husband not to marry her.
"See?" Sandi's motherinlaw, LeAnne Bradshaw, shook back her stylishly cut, saltandpepper hair. She cast a knowing look at her daughter, Devon, across the glasstopped table of a Canyon Springs outdoor cafe—one of the many eateries and business establishments open only from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. "I told you Sandi and I are two of a kind. Each of us blessed beyond measure to have married the man of our dreams and no one else could ever replace either of them."
"I'm not saying anyone could replace Keith." Her expression still troubled as she eyed Sandi, Devon sliced off a bite of homemade apple pie. "But don't you remember, Sandi, how the two of you always laughed about wanting a house full of kids? Gina's already six years old. Don't you want any more children? Don't you ever get lonely?"
Remorse bayoneted Sandi's heart, her memory flashing to the last words she'd spoken to her husband. But she nevertheless rallied the same bright smile she determinedly affixed each morning. Tucking a strand of her chinlength hair behind an ear, she managed another little laugh. "I guess—"
"Oh, for goodness' sake, Devon, stop nagging the poor girl." LeAnne shot a withering look at her daughter. "When would she have time to get lonely? Teaching at the high school nine months out of the year. Church activities. And have you seen that 'to do' list of hers? Then there's Gina. She's more than a fulltime handful."
"Well, all I can say—" Devon fixed Sandi with a playful look "—is if she's not fast on her feet, Sergeant First Class Bryce Harding will be off the market in no time. I haven't been in town but a few hours and I'm already hearing he's the hottest item on this summer's menu."
Sandi's mind again rushed to the man who, prior to that first encounter last winter, she'd seen only in photographs. A man who'd had the nerve on that snowy day to stop her on the street, introduce himself and express his longoverdue condolences. She'd no idea he'd come back to town. Was so shocked at his unexpected introduction that she hadn't handled their meeting well.
Hadn't done so hot last night, either.
It had been no easy feat avoiding him since that first illfated encounter months ago. Not only did he escort his grandma to church on Sundays—looking as uncomfortable there as might be expected, given his lifestyle—but now he lived above the Canyon Springs Historical Museum. Right above her home away from home since Keith's untimely death five years ago.
With considerable effort, she directed a wink at her husband's little sister. "Help yourself to him, Dev. You'll have no competition from me."
No chance of that. Not in a million years.
With a sassy grin, Devon brushed a hand through her dark, shoulderlength hair and struck an alluring pose. "Maybe I will."
"Don't even think it." LeAnne tapped a wellmanicured fingernail on the tabletop, a habit that set Sandi's teeth on edge. Click. Click. Click. "You girls know how I feel about that man. Not someone I'd want either of you getting involved with. I don't care if he was Keith's friend."
Devon made a face. "Oh, Mom."
"He was obstinate and uncooperative as a kid and I doubt that's changed. A bad influence on Keith from the beginning. And his questionable reputation continues to precede him." LeAnne glanced around and lowered her voice to a whisper. "Besides, it's no secret his mother never married his father."
Sandi's sisterinlaw smirked. "Like that's his fault?"
"He's too old for you, Devon." Click. Click. Click.
"He's Keith's age."
"Thirtythree to your twentythree."
"I can do the math, Mom."
LeAnne turned to Sandi, putting a halt to her daughter's impertinence. "I suppose you'll be working the holiday weekend. But is it a good idea for Gina to spend so much time with that Diaz boy? All that tree climbing and roughhousing and—"
"Come on, Mom," her daughter cut in. "Now look who's nagging."
"I'm not nagging. I'm concerned."
"About what?" Devon wadded her napkin and tossed it on the table. "That the kid might be having fun?"
Sandi glanced at her watch and rose. Time to make her exit before these two got into it fullscale as they'd been known to do. She forced a lighthearted lilt into her voice. "Thank you for treating me to a birthday dinner. And on one of the nicest days weatherwise we've had this year. It's been fun."
She loved them both to pieces, but there was only so much Bradshaw fun she could take at a time.
Posted February 6, 2012
At Home in His Heart by Glynna Kaye
Book 3 of Canyon Springs, Arizona
Sandi Bradshaw has been in Canyon Springs for seven years now. Keith Bradshaw had loved to vacation there so when they married he moved her to his trailer before heading back to serve his country. Two years later Sandi was a widow with a one year old daughter, Gina. Her goal since then was to add a whole room to the Historical Society Museum to honor those who served from this area and name the room after Keith. To honor him and to get his mother's approval. Sandi lived to please others and was so blinded by it that she might just miss a second chance at love.
Bryce Harding had lived his life wrong, but now he was a new man in Christ. He had to remind himself of that often after running into Keith's bossy widow. He tried to talk his friend out of marrying her, she was controlling just like Keith's mom. Bryce tried to remind himself of that every time he noticed her beauty. Bryce had left the army to live with his Grandma Mae after she had a bad fall and never expected Sandi to still be living in the town she had begged Keith to move from.
Sandi and Bryce seem to take one step forward and ten back. He has to do things to help his grandma, things that will cause Sandi and her precious museum grief. Bryce also has to show that he is no longer the person he use to be. People are not always willing to believe others can change. I really enjoy this series and Glynna's characters are such that you don't know how the chasms that are as big as the Grand Canyon itself will be reconciled between them.
Posted October 2, 2011
No text was provided for this review.