After a devastating accident, Barret Atkins has accepted a quiet, solitary existence. His life is turned upside down, when he finds the badly injured Kansas Smith, left for dead in a case of mistaken identity. As Kansas begins to recover, Barret must face some deep scars of his own. When the couple begin to fall for each other, their lives spin into a revival of past hurts, jealousies, and betrayals, causing Barret to put a halt to their budding relationship.
Barret’s hesitation causes his best friend-turned vicious rival, Duncan Craig, to pursue a friendship with Kansas. Where will this leave Barret? Can they all hold on long enough to escape Kansas’s attacker, and will they ever conquer their own inner demons intent on keeping them apart?
On Saturday morning, Kansas could wait no longer. She could no longer live under the same roof with a man she was deeply in love with without telling him how she felt, and finding out once and for all how he truly felt about her. Now she stood leaning back against the counter sipping a cup of coffee, her stomach ached from nerves for what she was about to do.
Most of the night she was awake rehearsing speeches on the same theme--confessing her love to Barret. Now all her carefully rehearsed words failed her.
Barret sat at the kitchen table in t-shirt and jeans, absorbed in the newspaper. A shadow of a beard emphasized his maleness.
Setting the cup on the counter, she took the few steps to stand beside the table. “Barret, why don’t you like me?” she blurted, immediately wishing she could bite back her words.
Looking up from his newspaper, his eyebrows slashed together. “Excuse me?”
Confusion consumed her, and she felt trapped and exposed, hesitant to continue. When he stood, she wanted to shrink away from him.
“Whatever gave you the idea that I did not like you?”
The demanding look in his blue eyes only made the words harder to form. Finally, she found her voice. “I love you, and you don’t love me,” she finally admitted.
His shoulders visibly stiffened and the color drained from his face. Obviously, she caught him off guard. “I...I do love you, Kansas. But...but I don’t love you like you mean,” he stuttered.
Her heart sank heavily in her chest. She raised her chin and looked back at him. She had to know. “What is it about me you don’t like?”
“I like everything about you, Kansas. No, I love everything about you,” he told her as he planted his hands firmly on her shoulders causing her to want to crawl out of her skin and away from his touch. She’d said way too much, and upset their whole stable situation.
Finally, she looked into his confused eyes. “I’m sorry, Barret. I just couldn’t go on like this. Just tell me what it is about me that...” her voice trailed off as she slowly came to terms with the fact that he didn’t love her as a woman.
Lifting her chin, he forced her to make eye contact with him. “Listen, angel, it’s not you, you’re absolutely perfect,” he told her, and smiled a smile she knew was forced.
“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, and you’re an amazing person. You can have any man you want, but I’m not the right man for you,” he said gently.
Continuing to maintain eye contact with him, she decided she wasn’t going to allow him to get off with such a broad response “Why?” she demanded.
“The accident changed me, Kansas. I’m not the same man I was before it happened, and I’m glad for that. You wouldn’t have liked me then. I was an arrogant, self-absorbed bastard, and now I’m not sure who I am anymore, or what I really want. But I do want you to know that if things had been different, and I wish they were...”
Finally, she could take no more. “I got it, Barret,” she said shaking loose of his grip and turning away.
“It’s just the hero thing, Kansas. You’ll get over it. You think you love me because I saved you that horrible day in that swamp. When some time passes, you’ll realize you’d never be happy with an almost forty year old detective. You would only resent me for taking you away from your old lifestyle.”
She whirled to face him, her hands on her hips. “Why you arrogant… You don’t know me at all!” Finally, she lost the battle not to cry and tears poured freely down her cheeks. “I thought we were so close, but I guess I was completely off base about that. I don’t care about money or scars! I only care about you! We could have been so happy--”
The doorbell rang cutting off Kansas’s words and she felt some relief that it had interrupted her intense venting. She felt like such a fool now.
She’d received the answer she was after. Unfortunately, it was not the one she wanted to hear.
Natalie-Nicole Bates is a book reviewer and author.
Her passions in life include books and hockey along with Victorian and Edwardian era photography and antique poison bottles. Natalie contributes her uncharacteristic love of hockey to being born in Russia.
She currently resides in the UK where she is working on her next book and adding to her collection of 19th century post-mortem photos.
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