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Max Ford maneuvered his rental car carefully through the slushy streets. Granted this old, dirty snow lining the thoroughfares was nothing new to Lenox, Massachusetts, for the month of February, but it was quite a jump from the palm-draped avenues he was used to back in L.A.
He hadn't been back to Lenox in years and hadn't driven in snow in even longer, but, as he eased off the gas, he realized he'd missed doing this. Shooting a scene for a movie in the snow wasn't the same as spending time off enjoying the pristine white surroundings. Besides, usually when he would shoot a winter locale, it was with man-made snow and not the God-given kind.
Since Max had grown up here, Lenox would always hold a special place in his heart. The population may be small, but the bank accounts of the residents were anything but. The sprawling estates had stood for decades; some were main residences, others second homes.
The two narrow lanes wound through town, and, just as Max rounded the last turn, he spotted a car off the side of the road, its back end sticking up out of a ditch. The flashers were on, and the back door opened. The afternoon sun shone through the car windows, revealing a woman- bundled up with a stocking cap over her head and a scarf wrapped around her neck and mouth-stepping out.
Instinct told him to slam on his brakes, but he was born and raised on the East Coast and knew better.
Carefully easing his car off the road just ahead of the wreck, Max left the engine running as he stepped out into the frigid temperatures. Damn, that biting cold was something he hadn't missed.
Since he'd come straight from L.A., he didn't exactly have the proper shoes to be trudging in the snow, but there was no way he would leave a woman stranded on the side of the road. Granted he was only a mile from his destination and could've called someone, but that wasn't the type of man he was raised to be.
"Ma'am," he called as he drew closer. "Are you all right?"
He wondered if she'd hear him over the howling wind, but when she froze at his voice, he assumed she'd realized she wasn't alone.
The woman in a long, puffy gray coat turned. All Max could see was her eyes, but he'd know them anywhere. Those bright emerald-green eyes could pierce a man's heart.. and once upon a time, they had penetrated his.
Her eyes widened as she reached up with a gloved hand to shove her scarf down below her chin. "Max, what are you doing here?"
It was too damn cold to be having a discussion about anything other than her current predicament, so he asked again, "Are you all right?"
She glanced over her shoulder, then back at him. "I'm fine, but the car is stuck."
"I can give you a lift," he offered. "Where are you going?"
"Um I can call a friend."
Max nearly laughed. Were they really going to argue about this? It was freezing, he hadn't seen her in too many years to count, and he really wanted to get to his mother, who was recovering from surgery.
"Seriously, just get in the car and I can take you anywhere," he said. "Grab your stuff and let's go."
Raine hesitated, holding his gaze as if she were contemplating waiting in the snow for another ride instead of coming with him. Granted they hadn't left things on the best of terms . No, they had actually left their relationship on very good, very intimate terms. It was after he'd left that something had happened. And he had no clue what that something was because the last time he'd seen her, they'd been in love with plans for a future together.
Still to this day, thinking back on that time in his life left his heart aching.
But now was not the time to consider such things. Raine needed to get in, because who knows how long she'd been out here in the freezing cold, and she needed to call a wrecker.
"All right," she conceded. "I have to get a few things first."
She turned into the backseat and seconds later she faced him again, this time with a.baby carrier?
Whoa! He totally wasn't expecting her to have a baby in tow. Not that he'd planned on running into her like this at all, but still.
"Can you hold this?" she asked. "I need to get the base out and strap it into your car."
Base? He had no clue what a base was considering the only thing he knew about babies is that he used to be one. Max reached for the handle of the carrier and was surprised how heavy this contraption was. He didn't see the baby for the large blanket-looking thing with a zipper going up the middle. He supposed that was smart, seeing as how the wind was wicked cold right now, and keeping the baby as warm as possible was the best idea.
In all honesty, the idea of Raine with a baby was what really threw him. She was probably married, because a woman like Raine wouldn't settle for a child without having the husband first. And that thought right there kicked him in the gut. Even after all this time, the mental image of her with another man seemed incomprehensible. He had to chalk it up to the fact he'd had no closure on their relationship, because he refused to admit, after years of living apart, that he still had feelings for this emerald-eyed beauty.
She lifted some gray plastic bucket thing from the backseat and started toward his car. He assumed that was his cue to follow.
Max held the handle with both hands since there was no way in hell he'd take a chance dropping what he assumed to be a sleeping baby. Not a peep was made from beneath the zipper. Surely the child was okay after that accident. Her car was barely off the road but enough that the front end was kissing the snow-covered ditch.
Once Raine had the base in, Max carefully handed over the carrier. With a quick click, she had the baby in the warm car and had closed the door.
"I have to get the diaper bag and this gift I was delivering," she stated. "Go ahead and get in I'll be right back."
"I'll get your bag." He stepped in front of her as she tried to pass him. "It's too cold and you've been out here longer than me. Is everything in the front seat?"
She nodded and looked so damn cute with snowflakes dangling on her lashes, her face void of makeup.. just like he'd remembered.
Not waiting for her to protest, Max turned back to her car, cursing the entire way. Cute? He was now thinking she was cute? What was he.. five? So they shared a past. A very intimate, very intense past, but in his defense, he hadn't seen her in nearly fifteen years. Of course old feelings were going to crop up, but that didn't mean they had to control his state of mind-or his common sense.
He jerked on her car door's handle and reached in, grabbing the pink diaper bag and a small floral gift bag. Who the hell delivered a gift when the roads were quickly becoming a sheet of ice? With a baby to boot?
Max slid back behind the wheel of his rental, cranked the heat as high as it would go and eased back out onto the road.
"Where am I taking you?" he asked.
"Um.I was on my way to see your mother."
Max jerked in his seat. "My mother?"
Raine barely looked his way before she focused her eyes back on the road, a place he should keep his.
"I swear I had no idea you were coming in today," she quickly told him. "I mean, I knew you were coming, but I didn't know exactly when that would be. If you'd rather I not go.I can come another time."
She was going to see his mother? Things certainly had changed since the last time he'd been in Lenox with Raine and his parents. The way he and Raine had fought to be together, defying both sets of their parents and it all was for naught.
He cast a quick glance her way, noticed how she kept toying with the threads fraying off the hem of her coat, her eyes either staying in her lap or staring out the window. Why was she so nervous? Was it him? Was she mentally replaying every moment they'd spent together, just like he was? Was she remembering that last night they'd made love, and the promises they'd made to each other? Promises that he had fully intended to keep, not knowing she'd never hold up her end of the deal. Is that what had her so on edge?
"Why are you visiting my mother?"
Raine's soft laugh filled the car. "A lot has changed since you were in Lenox, Max."
Apparently and since she had pointedly dodged his question, he assumed that was code for "none of your business." And she was right. Whatever she was doing was none of his concern. Once upon a time they knew every single detail about one another, but that chapter had closed. They were all but strangers at this point. Could this last mile be any longer? Thank God the drive was in sight.
"I didn't know you had a baby," he said, trying to ease the thick tension, but once the words were out, he realized he sounded like an idiot. "I mean, I assumed you had a life. I just never So, how many kids do you have?"
"Just Abby. She's three months old."
"Do you need to call your husband?"
Way to go. Smooth, real smooth. Could I be any less subtle?
"No," Raine replied. "I'll call my friend when we get to your mother's house. He can come pick me up."
He? She was calling a male friend and not her husband.
Max mentally shook his head and scolded himself. Still this was none of his business.
He turned into the long, narrow drive. Straight ahead sat his childhood home, now his parents' second home, where his mother was waiting inside recovering from surgery. She would soon begin radiation treatments in town. Thankfully the doctors discovered the lump very early, and chemo wasn't needed.
Max had no clue how she'd look, but he knew he needed to be strong, and being thrown off by seeing Raine couldn't hinder his plans. His mother had to take top priority right now . God knows his dad wouldn't man up in this situation.
The sprawling two-story colonial-style home always dominated the flat acreage surrounded by tall evergreens. Max loved growing up here and had been fortunate to have been adopted by Thomas and Elise Ford. He never knew his biological parents, and, even though he'd rarely seen eye to eye with his father, he knew there were much worse scenarios he could've entered into as an orphaned baby.
Max pulled in front of the house and killed the engine. "Why don't I take your diaper bag and gift?" he offered. "I'm not comfortable with that carrier unless you can't maneuver it in the snow."
Raine glanced over at him and laughed. "I've been doing just fine for a few months now, Max. Longer than that before Abby came along."
She got out and closed the door. Her quick jab wasn't lost on him, but he had no idea why she was bitter. She was the one who'd dissed him when he'd gone to L.A. Destroyed any hope of sharing his life with her. And in his rage, after realizing she didn't want him, he had nearly got himself killed.
When he stepped from the vehicle, he noticed she was getting the carrier out, and also had the gift tote and her diaper bag dangling from her arm. Apparently this Raine was a bit more independent and stubborn than the old Raine. Who was he to argue?
He followed her up the steps, careful to stay close in case she slipped. By the time they reached the wide porch, they were stomping the snow off their feet. Max moved forward and opened the door for her, gesturing her in ahead of him.
If she was going to insist on carrying everything even though he'd offered, the least he could do is get the door and be somewhat gentlemanly.
The grand foyer looked exactly the same as when he had left home at eighteen. There was never a need for him to return to this home, because, as soon as he'd left for L.A., his parents had hightailed it to Boston.
His father had always loved the Boston area and thought it would make good business sense to branch out his pubs by starting a second in a larger city. Now his father had a chain of restaurants, and Max still wanted no part of the family business.
The wide, curvaceous staircase dominated the expansive entryway, allowing visitors to see all the way up to the second-floor balcony that ran the width of the entryway. A vast chandelier suspended down from the ceiling of the second floor, the lights casting a kaleidoscope of colors onto the pale marble flooring.
Raine was just unzipping the blanket mechanism covering the carrier when his mother came into the foyer. Max didn't know what to expect when they finally came face-to-face after her major, lifealtering surgery, but relief quickly settled in when Elise Ford rushed forward and launched her petite little frame into his arms.
"Max," she said, looking up at him with beautiful blue eyes. "I'm so glad you're here. I hate to pull you away from your work, though."
He was careful how he returned her embrace, knowing the left side of her body was tender from surgery.
"I would drop anything for you, Mom. Besides, I don't start another movie for a couple of months, so I'm all yours." He smiled down at her, soaking in the fact that his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, but, had not only fought it, she'd beaten the odds and won. "I can't believe how great you look."
She laughed, swatting his chest. "What were you expecting? I'm sore, and I definitely have my moments where I'm feeling run-down and tired, but today is a good day. Not only is my son home, he brought a beautiful girl and a baby with him."
Max turned to see Raine directly behind him, cradling a swaddled, sleeping baby. While his eyes were drawn to Raine, his curiosity made him look down at the child, wondering what life his ex was leading now. Apparently she'd gotten all she'd wanted out of life: husband, baby, probably that farm of her grandmother's she'd always loved.
"Oh." Elise moved past Max and sighed. "Look how precious she is. Nothing sweeter than a sleeping baby."
How were babies always instant magnets for women? What exactly was the draw? Baby powder? Slobber? What?
As Max watched the maternal love that settled into Raine's eyes, the softness of her features, the tender smile, he couldn't help but be jealous of this baby.