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Bad For Me(9)

By:Codi Gary

“Well, don’t feel like you need to humor an old goat like me.”

“Don’t be silly. You know I enjoy your company.”

“Same goes, but you should go home. Maybe take a nap or a jog, if that’s what you like. Me? Well, I’d rather go home, sit down in my chair, and turn on some football.”

Callie was thankful that Fred was so understanding. Sometimes, depending on what was weighing on her mind, she just needed to be alone. Actually, most of her free time was spent alone, watching TV with a bowl of buttered popcorn in her lap. Unless it was Karaoke Night at Hank’s Bar. She hadn’t accepted Gemma’s invitation to go out until about two years ago, and even now, some nights it was hard as hell. But she pushed through her weaknesses because going out with her friends gave her a small semblance of normalcy, something she wanted desperately.

Still, she hadn’t been to Hank’s in the last few months, what with Gemma’s being pregnant. Without Gemma as a buffer, going out with the rest of the group was awkward, especially with Gracie. Callie liked the opinionated blonde most of the time, but she was a little too wild for Callie on her own. Too many times, Gracie had mouthed off and caused a scene, and the last thing Callie wanted to be around was drama and violence.

She’d seen enough of that to last a lifetime.

AFTER HIS RUN-IN with Callie, Everett decided to head out for his usual hike. He still had several hours of daylight left and needed to burn some energy. When he worked hard during the day, he usually slept better. No night terrors. No lying awake, thinking of Robbie or Robbie’s family. Sometimes he still used a sleep aid but not often. Not with his family history of addiction.

He stopped along the hiking trail and bent over to tie his shoelace. The late afternoon sky was just turning a peach color as the sun sank down. He loved coming here, not just for the peace and quiet but for the beauty that surrounded him. This time of year, the trails were becoming overgrown, but at least it was past tick season. He hated those blood-sucking bastards.

Once his shoe was tied, he dropped his pack onto the ground and pulled his water bottle out. He always came prepared for several hours: a couple of water bottles, protein bars, a windbreaker—and his Glock attached to his thigh, just in case. The chances of bumping into a large predator were slim, but it never hurt to be prepared.

Everett took a long drink from his bottle before shoving it back inside his pack and pulling it into place. He needed time to think, especially about his reaction to Callie.

When he’d married Alicia, all he had wanted was to settle down and start a family. Have a couple of kids who would jump into his arms when he came home and a loving wife to grow old with. It was what he had been working for.

Until a roadside bomb had blown those dreams to hell.

Everett couldn’t blame his accident for his marriage going down the crapper. According to some of his friends’ wives, Alicia had never been a one-marine woman anyway. When he’d come back hurt and with a long road to recovery, she’d bolted. Still, it had hurt like hell to wake up one morning and find that his wife had abandoned him. Granted, they had spent more time apart than together, but she could have at least had the decency to leave him a Dear John letter. Instead, she’d sent him a text: At my mother’s. I want a divorce.

Since he’d come home, he’d been working on himself first, then on the farm, and then on Stateside. After a while, he’d started to think that maybe, if he met the right woman, he could have the family he’d always wanted. But he couldn’t seem to find a woman who fit the bill.

Whiskey-hazel eyes flashed through his mind, and he shook his head. Callie was the first woman to spark anything inside him, but she hadn’t exactly seemed enthralled with him when they’d bumped into each other. If she knew he was Rhett, his fiasco on the phone would make him persona non grata.

Maybe she’s just shy and awkward in person. Maybe she has her own hang-ups, just like you.

Pounding feet alerted him to someone coming down the trail, and Everett looked up to find the woman of his thoughts jogging toward him. He could tell it was her by the blonde curls swaying as she moved and, of course, the giant dog loping beside her. As she drew closer, he noticed the loose T-shirt and sweats she wore, making her nearly shapeless. Her face was shiny with sweat, and her cheeks were flushed.

Just then her dog barked—actually, barked was too mild for the deep sonic boom that came out of the beast’s muzzle.

Everett waved. “Hey, there.”

“Hey,” Callie said as she and the dog came to a stop. She removed her ear buds before asking, “What are you doing?”