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It Had to Be Him

By´╝ÜTamra Baumann

Meg Anderson slowed her rust-bucket SUV, cut the engine, then glided quietly down the hill toward the moonlit lake. The lights were all out in her shotgun-packing grandmother’s house, but Grandma was a light sleeper.

She’d had buckshot plucked from her ass before and would rather give birth again than repeat that horrendous procedure. Especially because the only doctor in her small hometown had been her oldest brother—doesn’t get more embarrassing than that.

She parked behind the equipment shed, then hopped out of the car to perform a little B and E into her grandmother’s guesthouse.

When a girl needed somewhere to hide out for the summer, what better place than a teeny-tiny town in Colorado where her middle brother was the sheriff, her father was the mayor, and her sister ran the only hotel. The townspeople lived for gossip when they weren’t busy keeping secrets, and that’s just what Meg needed. The keeping secrets part. The gossip not so much. Especially because it was usually about her.

And if the stars would all align for the first time in her life, her father would have had a change of heart. Hopefully he would have forgotten that part about how she was never allowed to work for the family business again, because she was out of options. But there was no way anyone was going to take away the one good thing in her life.

Her daughter, Haley.

Meg tested the handle on the guesthouse. It was locked. People didn’t lock doors in Anderson Butte as a rule. But Grandma’s guesthouse, close to the shore and the hotel, had been used in the past for some naughty times by amorous couples who’d stumbled upon it. Luckily Grandma never figured out some of those fun times had been Meg’s.

As she slipped her now-defunct group medical ID card in between the lock and the doorframe, the cricket chirps grew louder, as if tattling on her, the little traitors. Wiggling the card to the left, then sliding some more to the right, she was just about in when a deep voice spoke behind her.

“What are you doing?”

Crap! She’d recognize that voice anywhere. Her brother, Ryan-the-tattletale-sheriff, who lived next door.

Turning around and sending him her most confident smile, she tapped a finger to her lips. “Shhhhh. Haley’s asleep in the car. How’d you even know I was here?” Growing up in a small town taught her early on to never lie. Someone always knew the truth and would hold her to it. Instead, she’d become the best conversation diverter west of the Mississippi.

Ryan crossed his arms and cocked a brow. Only two years her senior at thirty, he knew all of her tricks. “You want to answer the question or do I call Dad?”

Damn Ryan. He knew just how to yank her chain.

She lifted her hands in surrender. “Arrest me or go away. It’s late and I’ve had a long day.”

There was just enough moonlight reflecting off the lake to see his jaw twitch in annoyance. Of her brothers and sister, she and Ryan looked the most alike. Except for the suspicious squinty eyes and the five o’clock shadow.

They both had dark hair and Alaskan husky intense blue eyes, but Ryan was full of muscles and attitude while she just had the ’tude. Being a pixie-sized five foot two and surrounded by tall, genetically perfect family members tended to bring out the pit bull in a person.

He tilted his head toward her sad excuse for transportation. “Thought you bought a new car. Why are you still driving this hand-me-down piece of junk?”

She’d rented a car the last time she’d been home. It wasn’t her fault they all assumed she was better off than she was. Leave it to annoying Ryan to point it out. “I never sold this, it’s handy for moving. What are you doing out here this time of night anyway?”

“Zeke and two of the Three Amigos called and said they saw a car turn down Grandma’s drive. Just checking things out.”

The Three Amigos, the bane of her existence. A trio of older women who’d always judged her the hardest. “Well, thank you for doing your job, Mr. Perfect. Now go away.”

Ryan shook his head as he shouldered her aside and pulled out a key to unlock the door. “What kind of trouble are you in this time, Meggy?”

“Just thought it’d be nice for Haley to spend a summer on the lake.” Never mind she needed to hide from Haley’s father.

“Right. Need any help here?”

“Nope. Got it. See you tomorrow?”

“Yep.” He had the nerve to muss the hair on top of her head like she was still a kid. “Good to see you, Muck.”

As was their ritual, she slapped his hand aside and tried to knee him in the crotch, but he was always too quick. “I’d rather you didn’t call me that anymore. Especially in front of Haley.” Of all the nicknames her family enjoyed torturing her with, Muck, short for “Megan the F-Up,” hurt the deepest. Probably because it used to be mostly true. But not since she’d had Haley. “Please, Ry?”