Fake Fiance, Real Revenge

By: Roxanne Snopek

A big, shaggy, chocolate-colored dog bounded up to him and shoved her nose into his crotch. Rory followed, a second behind her, her sandal-clad feet clicking lightly on the wooden steps.

“Mistral! She knows better, I swear.” She pulled Mitch into a fierce embrace. Then she held him at arm’s length, frowning. “What is it? Did she really nail you? Her aim is impeccable.”

“No, it’s not that. But it feels sort of the same.” He swallowed, fighting for breath. “Where’s the house?”

“Ah.” Rory touched his arm. “It’s all there, I promise. Carson left the bones intact, just added on to it.”

“I’ll say.” He attempted a laugh. “I guess it’s true what they say about never going home again.”

“Hey, you weren’t around to consult, so you don’t get to complain now. It would have been a lot easier to mow the whole thing down, but he refused to do that.” Rory’s eyes flashed and her spiky blond ponytail quivered. “If I hadn’t come along and put him out of the guesthouse, I’m not sure he’d ever have finished it. Carson sees the same ghosts you do, Mitch. But he’s put his to rest; you haven’t. That’s not his fault.”

Rory’s words were even but Mitch heard the steel beneath them. Her grip on his arm was firm as she led him up the steps to the porch. She’d welcome him into her home, but she wasn’t about to let anyone talk smack about her husband.

“Guess I earned that,” he said. “So give me the nickel tour, then.”

And as Rory showed him through the renovated and enlarged house, he found that he could see bits of the old house, after all. The so-old-fashioned-it-was-trendy-again decorative ceiling cove. The enormous fireplace, where he could see the original river rock worked into the mantel. The archway into the kitchen, where his mother had marked their heights as they grew.

“It’s all still here,” he whispered, running his fingers lightly over the penciled lines. “Even this.”

“We glazed it for protection. We’ll put our kids’ heights on the other side.”

A cry sounded from another part of the house.

“Oh good,” Rory said. “Your niece is up from her nap. Walk around, check it out. You’re always welcome here—you know that, right?”

She said the last hesitantly, as if she weren’t sure who should be welcoming whom.

“Of course.” His smile was rewarded with a quick hug that warmed him far more than he expected. “Not so sure about your husband, though.”

“Carson?” She pulled out her cell phone and brought up the text message screen. “See for yourself.”

Mitch scrolled through the conversation.

You’ll never guess who’s here…it’s Mitch!!!

WHAT?? Seriously? When did he get there? A little warning would be nice.

He thinks you won’t want him here. :(

Good. Maybe it’ll improve his manners.

Be nice. >:(

He’ll try to run. Do Not Let Him. Make sure he stays, k? I’ll be home asap.

Don’t worry. I’ll tie him down if I have to. :*

Save the dirty talk for later, baby. ;)

Mitch grimaced and handed the phone back to Rory. “That’s probably enough.”

“What did I tell you?” Rory said. “He can’t wait to see you.”

“Or,” Mitch countered, “he wants to tear me a new one.”

“Stop it!” Laughing, she pulled his face down and kissed his cheek. “Don’t be a martyr. Everyone wants you here. Including Carson. Especially Carson!”

Then she left to get her child.

This wonderful woman had come into Carson’s life at a pivotal time for both of them and unaccountably, they’d managed to not only save each other but create a family, a world where they both lived by their passions.

Kind of like what Sabrina was doing with her birthing center.

Not at all like what he was doing.

God, Carson was a lucky bastard.

“Carson?” said a deep voice from the yard. “I thought you weren’t back until tomorrow.”

“Hey, Zach,” Mitch said, his heart thumping. Another person he’d turned his back on.

“Ho. Lee. Shit. Mitch? I must be seeing things.” Zach’s long legs ate up the ground between them. “I didn’t hear you were coming out. When did you get here? Man, it’s good to see you!”

There was no malice in his old friend’s expression, no reserve or suspicion. The cell phone on Zach’s belt bleated.

“Go ahead,” Mitch said.

Zach read the text and quickly clicked a response before pocketing the device. His olive complexion creased into a wondering smile. “I can’t believe I bumped into you like this. I only came here to pick up some equipment for Des.”

“Right. I heard you got together with some model from the city. Congrats, man.”

“Thanks! I’ll introduce you as soon as I can. Don’t let the pretty exterior fool you, though, that woman is one of the toughest people I’ve ever met. We’re, uh…” Zach fumbled, color rising in his cheeks. “We’re getting married. It’s official.”

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