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By Sharon Sala
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Sharon Sala
All right reserved.
Two and a half years later
Wind whipped in and out the open windows of the dusty black Jeep, shifting collars and hairdos with pushy insistence. But the occupants were long past caring about their appearances. Their entire focus was upon the ranch house just visible in the distance.
It had been a long, hot ride from Los Angeles to Dallas, but their destination was at hand. Summer vacation had arrived, bringing three of the four book-weary students inside the Jeep halfway across the country just to see what made their driver tick.
On the UCLA campus, Scott Holt's slow Texas drawl, along with a quick wit and a ready smile, made him a favorite among the females, as well as the males. And over the years, his amiable attitude and sharp mind had impressed more than one of his professors. With a little over three semesters left to graduation, Scott could almost see the light at the end of his long tunnel of education. But the satisfaction in knowing he was nearly at the end of his degree was nothing to the jolt of pleasure he got in coming home.
"Texas air even smells better," he said, and, in a quick burst of laughter, accelerated. His passengers began grabbing at belongings as they shouted at him to slow down.
Scott looked over his shoulder, grinning when the pretty blonde in the backseat suddenly clutched the seat with one hand and shook the other oneat the back of his head.
"What's wrong, Steph?"
Stephanie Hodge rolled her eyes and tried hard to frown, but it was difficult to stay mad at someone as engaging as Scott Holt.
"I'm reminding myself that I'm going to be busy the next time my big brother decides to hang out with cowboys."
"I thought you said you lived just off the highway," Mike Hodge grumbled, bracing himself with a hand against the dashboard. "That rooftop you pointed out is still a good two miles away."
"Four," Scott said, then laughed again. "You're in Texas now, remember? Out here, everything's bigger -- even miles."
Both brother and sister groaned, then proceeded to tease their classmate in a good-natured manner while reminding him that they'd get back at him when he returned to California that fall.
As Mike and Stephanie were one-upping each other with sarcastic jokes at his expense, Scott glanced up in the rearview mirror at his other passenger, wondering what expression B.J. was hiding behind her sunglasses today.
Stephanie glanced nervously over at her seatmate.
"You okay, Billie?"
Billie nodded and smiled, while longing for the chance to get out and stretch. It seemed like hours since their last stop. She was ready for shade and something cool to drink. Her long legs were straddling a stack of duffel bags, and her bare neck and arms were a berry brown beneath the thin cotton tank top that she wore. She rode with the bumps and thumps as if she were rooted to the spot, while the wind whipping through the windows tried unsuccessfully to undo the long, black braid hanging over her shoulder. Only a few of the shorter strands had escaped the braid and whipped madly around the edges of her eyes, but she didn't seem to notice or care.
Scott shrugged, shifting his gaze to the road ahead. B.J. was an odd one, but he liked her -- even admired her. Already into her second year of graduate school, she often acted like the trio's chaperone instead of their equal, although little more than a couple of years separated them in age.
She was the kind of girl he could hang out with when he was between girlfriends, or when there was nothing else to do. She didn't chatter nonstop, or read things into their relationship that weren't there. To be honest, Scott didn't know why they hadn't gone past being friends. He'd even been a little surprised when she'd agreed to come to the ranch along with Mike and Stephanie, but his invitation had been genuine just the same. He sensed a loneliness in B.J. that even a roomful of classmates couldn't breach.
"Is that it?" Mike asked, as a peeling, two-story farmhouse suddenly appeared on their left.
"Nope. That's old Daisy Bedford's place. Doesn't amount to much anymore, but it's hers just the same." Scott laughed to himself, remembering the years of cold war that existed between Daisy and his father. "She's a character. See that window on the second floor, the one that faces south?"
As they moved past the house, the trio turned to look at the upper story while waiting for him to continue.
"Wave at it," he said, and they did so without question.
"I'll bet a dollar to a doughnut that Daisy not only saw you, but knows down to the ketchup stain on Stephanie's shirt what you guys are wearing."
"You're kidding!" Mike said, and pivoted even farther around in his seat. "How?"
"She's got a telescope. Keeps a weather eye on anything within seeing distance, including my dad, and he knows it." He laughed again, as old memories returned. "They've had a running feud for years about it. He's just as bad, though. He does outrageous things in plain view of her window that he knows will tick her off. When she's had enough, she leaves these odd, ominous warnings on the answering machine without leaving her name. It's not that she thinks we don't know who it is, it's just that she doesn't give a damn."
"Warnings as in threats?" Stephanie asked, unable to stop a slight shiver of apprehension as the old, faded farmhouse disappeared from view.
Scott grinned and looked over his shoulder at Stephanie as they settled back into their seats ...
Excerpted from Second Chances by Sharon Sala Copyright © 2007 by Sharon Sala. Excerpted by permission.
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