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UNFORGIVEN by Jay Crownover
Loveless, Texas #2 | Available Now
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About UNFORGIVEN:From the New York Times bestselling author of the Marked Men series comes an irresistible and suspenseful romance between a tough Texas Ranger and his first love--a woman in danger who insists she doesn't need his protection.
Hill Gamble is a model lawman: cool and collected, with a confident swagger to boot. Too bad all that Texas charm hasn't gotten him anywhere in his personal life, especially since the only girl he ever loved has always been off-limits. But then Hill is assigned to investigate her father's mysterious death, and he's forced back to the town--and the woman--he left behind.
When Hill left Loveless, he broke Kody Lawton's already battered heart. And now that he's working on her father's case, avoiding him is impossible. She can handle Hill and her unwanted feelings--until he puts his life on the line to protect her.
Suddenly, Kody realizes that Hill could be taken away from her...for good.
"Crownover delivers the goods."-Lori Wilde, New York Times bestselling author
"Crownover writes cowboys that make you want to pack your bags in search of a small-town ranch!" -Melissa Foster, New York Times bestselling author
Includes the bonus novella Cowboy to the Rescue by A.J. Pine!
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Grab your copy of UNFORGIVEN today!
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Hill put his cowboy hat back on his head and stifled a yawn behind his hand. “We can save all the updates for later. Y’all go ahead and finish laying Conrad to rest. I just wanted to stop by and pay my respects.”
Case reached out to clap Hill on the shoulder at the exact same time I reached out and grabbed a handful of his shirt. My body was moving faster than my brain, and my emotions were all over the place, making it impossible to keep up.
“Can you come out to the farmhouse with us?” I wasn’t exactly sure why I needed him to come, but I suddenly knew I did.
My oldest brother gave me a questioning look, and I quickly dropped my hand. I cleared my throat and reached up to tuck some of my hair behind my ear.
“I mean, if you don’t have important investigative stuff to do. You’re practically family. I think you have as much reason as the rest of us to be there.” I felt like I might bolt out the door and not look back if he didn’t agree to come. I wasn’t supposed to rely on him anymore. He’d proved that was a bad idea in the past, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. As great as my brothers were, they didn’t make me feel like everything would eventually be okay again the way Hill did. Regardless of the past, Hill was the one I always believed would be able to fix whatever was broken. It was a lot to put on his shoulders, and totally unfair. No one could live up to those expectations, not even Hill, which was why his fall from the pedestal I’d had him on back in the day had been so heartbreaking.
Slowly Hill nodded, all while covering up another yawn. I felt terrible. The guy needed to sleep, not to hang around as my underappreciated security blanket. But putting Conrad into the ground and saying goodbye to my complicated past forever seemed much more manageable when I knew Hill was going to be there while I did it.
We all followed the hearse out of town in a long procession of pickup trucks. Once again my lime-green Jeep Wrangler stuck out like a sore thumb and defied convention. My father had hated the brightly colored vehicle, often referring to it as a death trap. His disdain made me love the thing even more.
The finality of things eventually hit me as I watched my brothers, my nephew, and Hill each take a corner of the casket and start to move my dad to his final resting place. Case had picked a spot under an old cottonwood tree at the back of the property. It was far enough away from the house that a person would have to make a special trip out to pay their respects. It would keep whoever ended up living in the farmhouse from having my father’s ghost lingering right over their shoulder.
It was a somber, serious walk to the location. I think all of us realized we no longer had to live in fear of Conrad or be oppressed by the secrets of our childhood. Our father’s transgressions were no longer our cross to bear, and maybe now we could finally grieve not only for him, but also for our mother.
When she passed away, Conrad did his best to eradicate every trace of her from our lives. She was never spoken of, never cried over, never outwardly missed. She was snatched away and became a hazy memory before any of us could do anything about it. So while we were coming to peace with Dad being gone, we also now had the space to mourn the loss of the woman who had done her best to counterbalance all his hate.
I didn’t realize I was crying until Aspen wrapped an arm around my waist and discreetly handed me a tissue. She also handed me a white rose and muttered, “Take your time.”
I didn’t want to get any closer to the grave. I didn’t want to admit I was sad and maybe a little lost. I wanted to pretend none of this was happening…the same way I had when Aaron died.
Thinking about my mom, then Aaron, as well as my father suddenly made the tight grip I had on my composure shatter. It felt like so much had been taken away from me, and it was hard to breathe through the agony of that loss.
My shoulders shook as silent sobs racked my body. Aspen tried to pull me closer, but I pulled away, covering my face as I struggled to rein my emotions in. Both the tissue and the rose hit the ground at my feet as the flood of tears blurred everything into a hazy kaleidoscope. The sobs were no longer silent as I gasped for air and wailed at the unfairness of it all. Sure my dad hadn’t been great, but he had been mine. Sure my mom had been sick and suffering, but she’d also been mine. And Aaron, God, I’d never wanted to let him go. He was the one person I’d honestly believed would never leave me, and he was gone as well.
Strong arms wrapped around me, and my forehead hit the center of a strong, broad chest. I knew immediately the man holding me wasn’t Case or Crew, but the man who had also lost Aaron. I liked to delude myself into thinking Hill and I had nothing in common, but the truth was, our grief was exactly the same. He was the only person who really knew what it was like to live with that gaping hole inside your heart.
I fisted handfuls of his shirt and cried until I was hoarse and could barely stand. I felt his hand cup the back of my head, but he didn’t say anything. He simply stood there, holding me, shielding me as my feelings were finally allowed to run free. I had no idea how long we stood like that, but my knees felt weak and my throat was completely raw by the time the tears dried up.
Wordlessly, I looked over at the now-covered grave and silently picked up the abandoned rose. I tossed it on top of the freshly dug dirt and rubbed my burning eyes with the palms of my hands. I wanted to apologize, to make up some excuse, but as always, Hill seemed to know I was at my breaking point. He didn’t question me, didn’t push.
Instead, he inclined his scruffy chin in the direction of the old farmhouse and softly stated, “You need a glass of water and a few minutes to sit down. Let’s head back to the house.”
All I could do was nod weakly and walk next to him. I stumbled slightly and didn’t protest when his arm shot out and wrapped around my shoulders, pulling me tightly to his side. I felt like a deflated balloon. I was always so full of hot air and bluster, but it took next to nothing to break that thin shell and show just how fragile I was.
I walked next to Hill in silence, wondering how he always had a knack of showing up just when I needed him. I really wanted to rest my head on his shoulder but held back. It was scary, really, how attuned he was to me, when all I’d ever done was push him away and throw up roadblock after roadblock when he tried to mend the wounds of our shared past. The hurt I had was comfortable. I wasn’t ready to let go of it yet, no matter how tempting unloading all my baggage was.
“It never gets any easier.” His voice was low and I could feel the vibration where I was pressed against him.
“Saying goodbye.” He sighed, and his hold on me tightened a fraction. “I still think about Aaron every single day. I can still hear his laugh and see his smile.” Hill cleared his throat. “All these years later, whenever my phone rings, I still think it might be him. Time does help, but I don’t think it’s enough to heal some wounds. Some we just have to accept as being part of us forever.”
I sucked in a breath and felt tears threaten once again. I swear I never cried, but lately I was like a damn faucet. I rarely talked about Aaron, and never brought him up when Hill was around. I always thought it would be too painful, too much to bear, but his words brought a flood of happy memories to the surface. Things with Aaron had been so bad at the end, I’d repressed almost everything about my time with him, including the good moments. He did have the world’s best smile, and I hadn’t thought of it in so long, and wouldn’t have if Hill hadn’t brought it up.
I put a hand to my chest and felt my heart pounding. “I don’t know if time has helped me, but it is nice to think of happier times.”
Hill nodded and I shut my mouth, not wanting to go any further down memory lane. I remained silent as we continued to walk. I should’ve told him he could let me go, but I didn’t.
It took about twenty minutes to wander back to my childhood home. Hill yawned and apologized for basically sleepwalking no less than five times. I was going to bully him into bed and order him to sleep for at least twelve hours when he came to an abrupt halt as soon as we rounded the side of the run-down house.
Coming down the long dirt road leading into the property was a flashy car, one that had no reason to be pulling up to my father’s home.
“Isn’t that a Tesla?” The question tumbled out as I instinctively put my hand on the muscled expanse of Hill’s broad back. I felt him tense at the touch.
“It is. Does the driver look familiar?” He kept the question low as I squinted into the setting sun to see if I remembered seeing the person behind the wheel before.
I gasped and practically pushed Hill as I exclaimed, “She does!”
The woman driving the Tesla was the same well-dressed redhead who’d been at the viewing.
I still had no clue what her connection to my father was, but it looked like I was about to find out.