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IN THE WESTERN SKY, an orange sun sank slowly toward the hazy net of trees low on the distant horizon. It reminded Beau McCain of a large basketball sailing toward a basket. Bam. Three points. The light was gone and a shadowy dimness crept over central Texas.
He gazed through the beam of his headlights, a slight grin on his face. He'd been playing too much basketball with his brothers. He changed lanes and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The grin faded. He was returning to Waco after visiting a law firm in Dallas where he'd been offered a senior partnership, an offer he had no intention of refusing.
It was a drastic move. Living all of his forty-two years in Waco, except for a law internship in Dallas, he had his own firm practicing family law and was doing quite well. His personal life was the problem. All because of Macy Randall. He was tired of waiting for her to see him as more than a friend.
At his age, he wanted a home and a family and he had to finally acknowledge that wasn't going to happen with Macy. He had to move on, start a new life and forget her. Moving to Dallas was a big step in that direction.
Taking an exit off I-35, he turned by a McDonald's then onto the street leading to his subdivision. He and Macy lived next door to each other and Beau had known her all her life. She'd lived down the street when they were kids. He was eight years older, but he was a sucker for those big blue eyes and her sad little stories. Single-handedly, she was trying to save every animal on the planet.
Macy was a neonatal nurse who worked nights and Beau had babysat her strays more than once. She was never going to love a man as much as her animals. Beau wasn't sure shesaw him as anything more than a very good friend. She cried on his shoulder, told him her problems, but not once in all the years he'd known her had they progressed beyond friendship. He kept waiting, though. Like a lovesick fool, he kept waiting.
Beau McCain was moving on. He turned onto a cul-de-sac that housed several condos. When he'd bought the place, he'd no idea Macy lived next door. She'd married and moved away to Dallas, but now she was back--without a husband. He'd asked her about it, but in the last seven years she'd only said the marriage hadn't worked out. They talked about everything else, but her marriage was a subject she avoided.
He remembered her wedding vividly. He, his younger brother, Caleb, and their parents had attended. Though he'd acted like a normal friend, all the while his heart had been breaking.
Everyone in the neighborhood knew the scrawny, curly-haired girl who was always searching for a home for the endless array of animals she rescued. When Beau returned after his internship, the scrawny girl had turned into a leggy beauty with alabaster skin he'd never noticed before. But he knew where the freckles were on her nose, even though makeup hid them flawlessly.
Following the divorce of her parents, he'd become her confidant, her friend. That was his first big mistake. The next thing he knew she was engaged--someone she'd known in college and had met again. Beau had never told Macy about his real feelings and he never planned to. Their lives went in different directions, then a short two years later they were living next door to each other and the cycle started again.
His brothers teased him all the time about Macy and her ability to wrap him around her finger. He was too good for his own well-being--that's what his brothers said. But that's not how he felt. His father, Joe McCain, had called him "the bad son" because when Beau's parents had divorced, he chose to go with his mother. His brother, Jake, stayed with their father and spent years estranged from the family.
Joe McCain was a jealous, abusive man who drank heavily. When he did, he became angry and mean, and hit Althea, their mother. When Althea became pregnant with their third son, Caleb, Joe accused her of sleeping with Andrew Wellman, a man from their church. He said the baby wasn't his and beat Althea until she was black and blue. His mother knew she had to get out or risk losing her unborn child.
But Althea hadn't counted on Joe spreading his lies to their oldest son, Jake. When the sheriff came to take them away, Jake refused to go. It broke Althea's heart, but she left one of her sons behind. She tried and tried, but Jake remained steadfast in his loyalty to his father.
Beau saw his father from time to time as a kid, mainly running into him by accident. Joe had refused any contact with his younger son. On those rare occasions, Joe never missed a chance to tell Beau what a bad son he was and how disloyal he was to his own father. Those words stayed with him all his life, but he never changed his decision. It only instilled in him a need to prove his father wrong--to prove he was a good son.
As a kid, he grew up wanting Jake back in his life-- and Althea's. When Joe passed away, Beau went to the funeral, determined to make contact with his older brother. Jake resisted at first, but Beau never let up. He kept talking and visiting, wearing Jake down, and he didn't stop until he brought Jake and their mother back together. They were a real family now. Even Elijah Coltrane, a son Joe had with another woman, was a part of their big family.
Eli and Caleb were Texas Rangers and Jake ran the McCain farm. Beau knew from an early age that he was going to be a lawyer. Since his parents' divorce, he'd become passionate about keeping families together. He was good at negotiating and working out problems. This was his life's work.
Caleb had just married and was ecstatic. Jake had a wife and a family, and Eli was also married. He and his wife Caroline were expecting their first child. Beau wanted a bit of that happiness--with his own family.
His friend, Jeremiah Tucker, known as "Tuck" to the family, was also still single and the same age as Beau. Tuck was Eli's foster brother and the McCain brothers had accepted him as one of their own. Since Tuck and Beau were the two single sons in the group, they'd become good friends.
Beau started to call Tuck to see if he wanted to commiserate over a beer, but he decided it would be best to go straight home. It had been a long three days and he had to tell his family about the job offer.
And he had to tell Macy.
AS HE DROVE INTO HIS GARAGE, he saw Macy sitting on her front step with her animals around her--Lucky and Lefty, two mixed-breed terriers, and Freckles, a spotted orange tabby.
He unlocked his door and went inside, thinking he'd talk to Macy later. After three days and nights of being wined and dined, he wanted time alone to rest and to regroup. And he was tired. He yanked off his tie and threw his suit jacket onto the sofa. He ran his hands over his face, feeling drained. Was he getting old, or what? He couldn't take three days of partying? What was wrong with him? He had to exercise more--or something.
He usually ran every morning, but had missed his routine in Dallas. That's what he needed, to work up a little sweat. As he headed for the bedroom to change into shorts and sneakers, the doorbell rang.
He grimaced. It had to be Macy. No way around it-- he had to see her tonight. Just as well. He needed to get this over with, to start severing the ties that had kept him bound for so long. He took a deep breath.
Swinging the door open, that breath of fortitude dissipated like smoke into thin air. Tears trailed down her cheeks and she quickly wiped them away with the back of her hand. His fingers tightened on the doorknob and he willed himself not to react, not to let his emotions take control. The tears were probably for another pet she'd rescued. The abuse of animals always broke her heart.
"Hi." She smiled through her tears, making her blue eyes appear that much brighter. "I saw you drive in." Lucky and Lefty trotted inside and Freckles trailed behind them.
"What's wrong?" he asked, doing what he always did--supporting her no matter what. His brothers were right. He was putty, soft and malleable, in Macy's hands. Any reservation he'd had about moving just vanished. He had to salvage what was left of his self-respect, his pride. And he couldn't do that when he was around her.
"You're not going to believe this." Macy followed her animals into the living room and curled up on the sofa, her bare feet beneath her. Petite and energetic, she had shoulder-length strawberry-blond hair that had a natural curl and a life of its own. Today it seemed to be everywhere and he knew the cause. When she was upset, she was prone to running her hands through it repeatedly.
Macy wasn't beautiful by anyone's standard, but to him she was. She had a natural, honest appeal that was hard to resist. She was everything he'd ever wanted in a woman--kind and caring, with a great sense of humor, and never afraid to admit when she was wrong. She was perfect in every way, except she thought of him as her best friend. And nothing more.
"Delia's back." Through a stab of pain, he heard her soft voice.
"Delia, she's back. She showed up this afternoon out of the blue."
Delia was Macy's sister, ten years her junior. As a child, Delia had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactive disorder. She'd been uncontrollable until they'd put her on medication. Even though the medicine calmed her, her rebellious, bossy nature still shone through.
After the Randalls' divorce ten years ago, Delia became more of a problem. She couldn't stay focused in school and started skipping classes. At fourteen, she ran away and their mother, Irene, had a hard time disciplining her, especially without the influence of their father, Ted. At sixteen, Delia moved out for good and they'd had no idea where she was. Months later she'd resurface only to leave again. But Delia had always been at the center of Macy's soft heart.
"She's eight months pregnant and I don't know what to do. When I tried to talk to her, she became angry and stormed upstairs to the bedroom." Her fingers slid through her hair in a nervous gesture.
Beau sat in an oversized leather chair and Freckles hopped onto his lap. Freckles had half a tail and one ear missing. Stray dogs tried to make a meal of her and Macy had rescued her from the animal shelter. He stroked the cat and she purred at his touch. At least someone missed him.
"Have you contacted your parents?"
That was a sore subject with Macy. After twenty-five years of marriage, Ted had walked out, moved to Houston, and later remarried. After Delia ran away, Irene sold the house and moved to Denver. She soon remarried, too. Macy's relationship with both her parents was strained. She didn't understand how her father could do what he'd done or how her mother could give up on their marriage and Delia.
"Not yet. Not too sure it will do any good. They're too busy with their new lives to be bothered with her, but I'll call anyway. They need to know. I don't understand either one of them and how they can just turn their backs on..." Her words trailed away as she fought to control her emotions. Beau resisted the urge to go to her.
Lucky, hearing the distress in Macy's voice, crawled into her lap. Lucky had a ring around his neck where his hair wouldn't grow anymore. Some kids tried to hang him. Once rescued, he was taken to the animal shelter, the rope still around his neck. Macy's number was on file and whenever they received an abused animal they called her, knowing she would nurture it back to health and find a home for it. The vet had said he was lucky to be alive, so that's what Macy named him.
She'd found Lefty on the side of the road after a car had hit him. His right paw was so mangled that it had to be amputated. He hobbled on three legs and Macy had had him for years. Both dogs whimpered in her lap and Macy's face changed completely. The stress disappeared and her face softened. Her animals brought her a peace that no one else could.
"In a way, your parents are right," he told her.
"Delia's been on her own for a long time and she's never taken kindly to interference in her life, from them or you."
"I know, but there's a baby involved now and she won't even tell me who the father is. She won't tell me anything."
"She probably never will, and come a new day Delia could just as easily be gone again."
"Yeah." Macy stroked the dogs.
"Try not to argue with her because it's not going to make a bit of difference. It never has."
"You're right." She tried to smile and failed. "I always feel better when I talk to you." She ran her hands through her hair again. "Oh, crap, I should have combed my hair before coming over here. I must look a mess. Or like a Brillo pad."
You look beautiful.
He grinned. "It is sticking out in different directions."
"Beau McCain." She lifted an eyebrow. "You could at least say something flattering."
I do, but you never hear me. "I think it's rather fetching like that."
Her hand stilled. "You do?" For a moment she paused and he wondered if his opinion of her looks meant something to her, then she came back with one of her usual remarks. "You're such a diplomatic lawyer and an even better liar."
He winced. "Ouch."
"Don't pretend your feelings are hurt." She stood with both dogs in her arms. "I better go back to the war zone and see what Delia's visit is all about."
Beau walked her to the door. "Let her talk and try not to pressure her. Just be patient."
"I'll try. I just worry about her." At the door, she stopped. "How was your trip?"
"Fine." He refrained from saying anything else.
"I miss you when you're not here."
For a brief second, his heart knocked against his ribs in excitement, then he had to remind himself that they were just words. Nothing else. Now was the time to tell her he was planning on moving, but she was too upset about her sister. He'd do it later.