— EARLY SUMMER —
“Cara, do you have a minute?” My boss, Kyle Reardon, pokes his head in my open classroom door and offers me a warm smile.
“Sure, what’s up?”
He saunters in and takes a long look around my empty classroom. The breeze from the open windows ruffles his hair, and he runs his hand through it as he leans against my desk. “Looks like you’re ready to get out of here for a few months.” He gazes down at me warmly. “Remember last week when you mentioned that you’d be up for a tutoring job this summer?” I roll back in my chair and look up at him. He’s handsome, with short copper hair and blue eyes, a nice build.
He’s also married with four children.
“I do,” I confirm.
“Well, I have one for you.”
“You know the King family, right? They run that big ranch just outside of town.”
“Of course, I grew up here, Kyle,” I reply dryly. In a town the size of Cunningham Falls, Montana, we pretty much all know each other, especially those of us who grew up here, just as our parents did, and their parents before them.
“Zack’s boy, Seth, needs a tutor this summer.”
“Zack’s back in town?” I ask, my eyebrows raised in surprise.
“I don’t think so.” Kyle shakes his head and shrugs. “I can’t tell you their business, small town or not. Seth is staying with Jeff and Nancy, and Josh is helping too.”
“Oh,” I mutter, surprised. “So for whom would I be working, exactly?”
“So proper,” Kyle teases me, and grins. “You’ll be working for Josh. You can go straight to his place on Monday morning. They’d like you to come Monday through Friday, about nine until noon.”
“Geez, he must need a lot of tutoring.”
The laughter leaves Kyle’s eyes and he sighs. “He’s a really smart kid, but he’s stubborn and has a bit of an attitude. I’m warning you, he’s not an easy kid to work with. He’s only been here for three months. He refuses to do the work or hand it in.”
“Does he start trouble?” I steeple my fingers in front of me, thinking.
“No, he just keeps to himself. Doesn’t say much to anyone.”
I’ll have to work with Josh King, which won’t be difficult. He was always nice to me in high school, smiles at me in passing when I see him around town. He and his brother are nice guys.
Rumor has it he’s a womanizer, but nice nonetheless.
And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had a crush on him for as long as I can remember.
But I can be professional and teach Josh’s nephew. I didn’t really want to paint my entire house this summer, anyway.
“Okay, I’ll give it a go.”
“Great, thanks, Cara.” Kyle stands and turns to leave my classroom. “Have a good summer!”
“You too!” I call after him as he goes whistling down the dark, deserted hallway.
Cool, I have a summer job.
* * *
I love my town. Like, wholeheartedly, never want to move away, love it. I don’t understand how Jillian, my best friend since kindergarten, can stand living so far away in California. Our town is small, only about six thousand full-time residents, but the population doubles in the peak of summer and the heart of winter with tourists here for skiing, hiking, swimming, and all the other fun outdoor activities that the brochures brag about.
We sit in a valley surrounded by tall mountains, and when it’s sunny, the sky is so big and blue it almost hurts the eyes.
I pull into the long gravel driveway off the highway just outside town and follow it past the large, white main house to the back of the property where Josh’s house sits. It’s not as big as the main house, but it’s still large, bigger than my house in town, and is surrounded by tall evergreen trees and long lines of white wooden fences.
I do not envy the poor sap who has to paint the fences every few years.
The butterflies I’ve kept at bay come back with a vengeance, fluttering in my belly as I come to a stop in front of his house. Josh and his brother are twins, and until Zack broke his nose in football their senior year, it was almost impossible to tell them apart. They’re both big guys, tall and broad shouldered. Zack always had a more intense look in his face, while Josh is more laid-back, quick to smile or tease—especially me, it seemed. In high school I was invisible to most people, having been a little too round, a lot too plain, but Josh noticed me.
He used to pull on my horrible curls as he’d walk past me at school, and of course because he was two years ahead of me, and a football star, I was crazy about him. My hair naturally falls in tight ringlets, but I’ve since straightened it, thank God.
I haven’t seen much of Josh over the years. Each of us went away to college, and since we’ve both returned, I may catch a glimpse of him at the grocery store or in a restaurant, but never long enough to talk to him. I wonder if the rumors of his womanizing are true.
They were in high school.
I just hope he hasn’t turned into one of those cowboys who wear tight Wrangler jeans and straw cowboy hats.
My lips twitch at the thought as I pull myself out of my compact Toyota. The front door swings open, and there he is, all six foot three of him. Only with great effort does my jaw not drop.
Jesus, we breed hot men in Montana.
Josh’s hair is dark, dark brown and he has chocolate-colored eyes to match. His olive skin has acquired a deep tan, and when he smiles, he has a dimple in his left cheek that can melt panties at twenty paces.
Dark stubble is on his chin this morning, and he flashes that cocky smile as he steps onto the porch. His jeans—Levi’s, not Wranglers—ride low on his hips, and a plain white T-shirt hugs his muscular chest and arms. I can’t help but wonder what he smells like.
Following directly behind Josh is a tall, blond woman I don’t recognize, laughing at something he must have said just before he sauntered through the door. They stop on the covered front porch long enough for him to smile sweetly down at her. He pulls his large hand down her arm and murmurs, “Have a good day, and good luck.”
“Thanks, Josh,” she responds, and bounces down the steps of the front porch, nods at me, and hops into her Jeep.
“Carolina Donovan,” Josh murmurs, and stuffs his hands in his pockets.
“You know I hate it when you call me Carolina.” I roll my eyes. “My parents should have been brought up on child-abuse charges for that name.”