ayna Holt brushed back the soft white hair from her grandmother’s face. She’d cried all her tears on the flight from San Francisco to Dallas–Fort Worth, so now her eyes remained dry. She didn’t want Nana to wake up and see her granddaughter upset.
Rayna silently kicked herself for not insisting her grandmother move to San Francisco to live with her. Despite having heart problems, Nana always said no when Rayna mentioned it, saying she’d lived in Lanville her entire life and had no plans to ever move away. She visited Rayna often and always enjoyed seeing the city’s sites, but no place would be home except Lanville.
Rayna’s only other option had been to hire a live-in caretaker. Although Nana got around fine on her own, Rayna knew the day would come when her seventy-nine-year-old grandmother would need help taking care of herself. So she’d bought a house for Nana in a brand-new housing development, one with wide doorways and lots of open space so she could move around easily. After balking about the expense, Nana had finally relented and accepted Rayna’s gift. Once settled in the house, her grandmother had told Rayna how much she loved it.
Rayna glanced around the hospital room, noting the pale yellow walls and white trim. Soothing. She’d never been inside the hospital. Nana’s health had generally been good until a few years ago, when her heart problems intensified. There’d never been a reason for Rayna to see the inside of a hospital room in Lanville.
There hadn’t been a reason for her to see anything in Texas, period. The painful memories made it impossible for her to come here to visit her grandmother. Since Nana loved to fly, it had been easier for Rayna to make the arrangements for Nana to visit her.
“What are you doing here?”
Turning her attention back to her grandmother, Rayna saw Nana’s smoky blue eyes open and alert. She smiled. “Hey, Nana.”
Nana didn’t return her smile. “Rayna, what are you doing here?”
“I came to see you. I was worried about you.”
. All this commotion about a little shortness of breath.”
“Nana, you had an exacerbation of congestive heart failure. That’s serious.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Frowning, she looked around as if she’d lost something. “How do I raise this damn bed so we can talk?”
Rayna pressed the button to lift the head of the bed. Once Nana gave her okay to the position, Rayna adjusted the pillows behind her grandmother’s back and head.
“Don’t fuss over me, child.”
“Don’t give me a hard time,” Rayna snapped.
Nana’s sour expression vanished, to be replaced by a grin that lit up her entire face. “I knew that would piss you off.”
Rayna laughed, which she thought a miracle since a few minutes ago she’d been so worried about the woman she loved more than anyone in the world.
“How long do I have to be in this place?” Nana asked as she smoothed the covers around her hips.
“At least a couple of days. Maybe three. I spoke to the nurse on duty. Your doctor wants to run some tests.”
“Tests, schmests. A waste of my money and his time. I’m fine.”
Rayna picked up Nana’s hand and clasped it between both of hers. She looked at the pale skin and light blue veins so close to the surface. “For my peace of mind, let your doctor run the tests, okay? I want to be sure you’re all right.”
Nana studied her with that shrewd blue gaze that had always made Rayna believe her grandmother could see right inside her brain. “Who told you I was in the hospital? Mattie?”
Rayna nodded. “She called me this morning. I took the first plane I could get.”
“I told her not to bother you.”
“And I told her I wanted to be kept up-to-date on how you’re doing. She did exactly what she should’ve done.”
Nana’s eyes turned soft, sympathetic. “I know how hard it must be for you to have come here.” She squeezed Rayna’s hand. “You haven’t been back to Texas since you moved to California.”
No, and she wouldn’t be here now if she hadn’t been so worried about her grandmother. Pushing aside her discomfort, she smiled at Nana. “I’m the worrier, not you.”
A gentle knock sounded on the door. Rayna looked over her shoulder to see Mattie’s face in the open doorway. “Could I talk to you, Rayna?”
“What is it?” Nana asked, anxiety evident in her voice. “If it’s about me, tell me, Mattie.”
Mattie smiled, but Rayna thought it looked forced. “It isn’t about you, Grace. I just want to talk to Rayna a minute.”
Rayna kissed her grandmother’s cheek. “I’ll be right back.”
Once outside the room, Rayna followed Mattie a few yards down the hall. “What’s up?”
The concern in Mattie’s eyes made her look older than her twenty-six years, and made Rayna’s stomach churn. “There’s a fire at Parker Place.”
Now her stomach roiled along with churning. Her grandmother and Mattie lived in the Parker Place housing development.
Mattie grabbed Rayna’s hands. “Grace’s house is okay. The roof and outside kitchen wall caught fire, but the house is still standing. It’s mostly smoke and water damage, although the roof and that wall will have to be repaired. There are holes in both.”
Rayna released the air in her lungs in a long
. “Repairs can be done. I’m thankful her house wasn’t destroyed. Were any of the houses badly burned?”
Mattie nodded. “Three have been completely destroyed, three others have major damage. The fire is still burning, but it’s a lot smaller than it was. Some of the neighboring fire departments are helping. I heard that some of our firefighters were hurt.”
“Enough to bring them here to the hospital.”
Hearing that some of the local heroes had been hurt made Rayna want to hunt down a set of scrubs to wear and jump in to help.
“I’m going back to Parker Place and see how things are going,” Mattie said. “Clay said I could go in the house and get some personal items once the fire is completely out.”
“Clay Spencer. He’s our fire chief.”
The mention of Mattie’s personal items clicked in Rayna’s brain. “Do you have a place to stay tonight? I have a room at The Inn on Crystal Creek. You can stay with me.”
Mattie smiled. “Thanks, but I’m going to my sister and brother-in-law’s house for a couple of nights.” Her smile faded. “I don’t know where Grace will go when she gets out of the hospital. I have no idea how long it will take to repair her house.”
Rayna hadn’t planned to stay any longer than it took for her to be sure her grandmother would be all right. With the fire causing damage to Nana’s house, she might have to extend her visit. “I’ll take care of getting Nana settled. She’ll be here for at least two more days. That’ll give me time to make a plan.”
“Okay.” Mattie glanced at her watch. “It’s almost midnight. I’m going back out to check on the fire department’s progress.”
“Call me and let me know.”
Mattie turned as if to walk away, then faced Rayna again. “You should call Coleman Construction for the repairs. They’re the best. They do a great job and won’t cheat you with inflated prices like some companies would do in a disaster.”
“Coleman Construction. They’re here in Lanville?”
Mattie nodded. “I can get the phone number for you.”
“I’ll find it. Thanks, Mattie.”
Rayna returned to her grandmother’s room to find Nana fast asleep, a contented, peaceful look on her face. She reached to press the button to lower the bed’s head, but stopped. Worried the movement might wake Nana, Rayna left the bed in the current position. She gently tugged up the sheet and light blanket to her grandmother’s neck, kissed her forehead, and left the room.
Rayna followed the signs to the emergency room’s exit, where she’d parked her rental car. Several men and women milled around in the ER waiting area. None of them appeared hurt, so they must be waiting for loved ones who were receiving treatment.
The double doors to the ER swung open as she walked by them. She automatically turned her head that direction. The sight of a man walking toward her stopped her in mid step. She locked gazes with the last person in the world she expected to see.
Her ex-husband, Marcus.
If Marcus hadn’t known for sure that he’d received no head injury, he would swear hallucinations plagued him. Rayna stood in his path, no more than five feet from him.
He quickly glanced over her slim but shapely body. She wore a simple green blouse, brown slacks, and brown flats. Her straight, red hair brushed her shoulders. Her hazel eyes appeared huge. She had to be as shocked to see him as he was to see her.
So many emotions swirled through him at the sight of her—love, passion, anger, sadness, confusion, disappointment, pain—all caused by the lovely woman standing before him. Some feelings came from the past, some from the present. They all mixed together until he had trouble separating them.
He didn’t know whether to speak or ignore her. He settled on dipping his head once to acknowledge he’d seen her. She blinked a couple of times, then did the same.
Rye Coleman stepped closer to him. “Hey, Marcus, you okay?”
Tearing his gaze away from Rayna, Marcus nodded at his boss. “Yeah, just banged up my wrist a bit.” He cradled his left arm in his right hand. An Ace bandage wrapped around his left wrist. “I have to keep it iced and elevated for a couple of days.”
“You’re lucky it isn’t worse.” Dax, Rye’s brother, squeezed Marcus’s shoulder. “We’re glad you’re okay.”
“Thanks.” He looked from one brother to the other, but could still see Rayna from the corner of his eye. “Have you been out there?” he asked Rye.
Rye nodded. “We’ve already talked to a lot of people about repairs. Griff is at the office now, manning the phones. Even this late at night, it’s been crazy.”
“I’ll bet.” Coleman Construction stayed busy year round. As foreman, that meant Marcus stayed busy, too. He wouldn’t let a sprained wrist keep him from working. He lifted his left arm a bit higher. “This won’t stop me. No break, just a bad sprain. I can still order everyone around like I usually do.”
“Which is exactly what a foreman is supposed to do.” Rye smiled. “I know you can still bid jobs. Just don’t push it and pick up something heavy until that wrist is healed.”
Movement to his left had Marcus looking that direction. He watched Rayna walk through the waiting room and out the exit door.
Dax’s gaze followed Marcus’s. “Pretty lady. Do you know her?”
“Yeah. She’s my ex-wife.”
“Dayum. And you let her go?”
“I didn’t have a choice, Dax. She left me after . . .” Marcus’s voice trailed off, not wanting to say the words aloud why Rayna had decided to end their marriage.
Marcus could see in Dax’s eyes the moment the lightbulb went off in his head. “Oh, shit. This is July fourth. God, man, I’m sorry.”
“Technically, it’s now the fifth, but thanks.” Before Dax could say anything else, Marcus turned to Rye. “What time should I be at the office tomorrow?”
Rye gestured toward Marcus’s arm. “You said you’re supposed to ice and elevate your wrist for a couple of days.”
“I can do that and still work.” The expression on Rye’s face told Marcus that his boss was about to argue. Marcus quickly continued before Rye could. “I need to work, Rye. It helps me forget . . . things.”
Rye ran a finger over his moustache. “You promise to take breaks?”
“Okay. Be there at eight. I’m sure you’ll have a shitload of work to do.”
“A shitload of work is exactly what I want.”
Marcus. Here. Rayna couldn’t believe her ex-husband lived in Lanville. But then, she shouldn’t be surprised. They had visited Nana here many times during their marriage and he’d often commented on how much he liked the small town. They’d lived in Irving, right in the middle of the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex, so visiting Nana had been like a vacation from the traffic and noise of the large cities. The hustle and bustle hadn’t bothered Rayna, yet Marcus preferred a quieter lifestyle.
His new lifestyle must include being a part of the volunteer fire department. She wondered if his toned, muscled body came from fighting fires. He’d always had a killer body, but now she’d describe him as buff. His golden brown hair had swirled over his ears and covered his nape, much longer than he used to wear it. His T-shirt and firefighter pants had been covered in dirt and smoke, but didn’t detract from his incredible good looks.
Her throat tightened as she started her rental car and headed for the bed-and-breakfast where she would stay for the next few days. Seeing Marcus brought back so many memories, both bad and good. She had been ridiculously in love with him. Walking down the aisle toward him on their wedding day had been the happiest moment of her life. She’d thought they’d be together forever.
Fate had other ideas. Just when they should have been the happiest, their joy had been snatched away from them on July fourth five years ago.
Rayna blinked back the tears before they had the chance to fall. Their divorce could have been prevented if only she’d had more courage. Facing the pain, the heartache . . . she hadn’t been able to do it. Seeing Marcus every day, blaming him for that pain and heartache, had slowly drained away any small amount of good left in her life. Her only choice had been a fresh start in a new city, a new state.
Away from the man she’d loved with all her heart and soul.
At least she wouldn’t have to see him again while she remained in Lanville. She would be busy with her grandmother’s house repairs and getting Nana settled again. She figured it would take only a few days for that to happen. Then she’d go back to her life in San Francisco.
Once again, she would run away and not look back.