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Bad For Me(5)

By:Codi Gary

Yeah, living the hermit life had its benefits.

He could have moved anywhere after he was honorably discharged and his marriage fell apart, but anywhere else, he didn’t have his family. The awkward encounters here were worth dealing with, just to be close to his father and brother.

Pulling his keys out of his pocket, he climbed into his silver Chevy and brought the large diesel to life with a twist of the key. He usually let it warm up a bit, but he needed the drive to get out of his head and stop thinking about what an ass he’d made of himself that morning with Callie. He could blame his stupidity on being lonely, but it wouldn’t be the whole truth. Every time he called in, his hands began sweating and his heart pounded.

It was a hell of a reaction to have to a woman he’d never actually met.

Maybe that’s why he’d thought there was something more between them and that she might have felt the connection too. He’d even considered accepting the interview for Stateside that Eddie Kendall had scheduled with Callie’s morning show, just so he could meet her.

But her silence had told him in no uncertain terms that was a bad idea.

Pulling the truck off the gravel road and onto the pavement leading into town, he shook his head. He’d been crazy to think she’d give out her number to some guy who called in to her station. What sane woman would? It was just that since he’d been back, dating had been tough—and not just because of his scars. Even months after he returned, he’d suffered from night terrors so severe that he’d wake up in a neighbor’s yard, with no memory of how he’d gotten there. Even the backfire of a car could send him to his knees, screaming Robbie’s name . . .

God, it was hard to think about the world without Robbie.

It was hard to relate to the cheery, small-town girls he’d taken out. He’d joined the marines at eighteen and done four tours in Afghanistan. He was twenty-seven when he was honorably discharged, months after he’d returned home to recover from his burns.

After everything he’d suffered and the five years of therapy he’d gone through just so he could function seminormally, the sheltered, small-town women he’d gone out with would never be able to comprehend the darkness that still hung heavily on his conscience. He was thirty-four now, and in the past eight years, he’d suffered more loss and pain than most people would in a lifetime. And although he’d met a few women he’d had things in common with, there just hadn’t been that spark of interest. Which was why Callie Jay the DJ had taken him by surprise; the electricity between them sizzled, and they’d never even met.

Six minutes later, Everett parked his truck and headed into Hall’s Market. On his way in, he passed a hay bale circle filled with pumpkins and thought about grabbing a few for Justin and Val’s wedding. They were having a fall theme, and Val had mentioned something about pumpkin centerpieces on Pinterest. Maybe he should pick some up for them.

Pulling out his cell, Everett suddenly ran smack into someone coming out of the store and instinctively caught their arms.

Make that her arms.

Golden eyes stared up at him from a round, pale face, her mouth open in a surprised O. The way her wheat-colored hair flowed around her in a riot of curls made him think of a disheveled angel.

Then, the low rumbling of a dog’s growl broke through the spell of his fascination, and Everett stepped back from the woman to find a giant tan dog watching him, its lips pulled back enough to flash its canines.

“It’s okay,” the woman said softly, touching the dog’s head. The low growl stopped, but the dark eyes still followed Everett’s every move.

“Sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going,” he said.

“Neither was I,” she said, holding up a torn newspaper that she must have been reading. “I guess this is why they say, ‘Don’t read and walk.’ ”

“I haven’t heard that one before. Is there one for thinking and walking?”

“You know, I have heard thinking is hazardous to pedestrian traffic.”

As he laughed, he watched her reaction to him—to his scars. Even now, eight years after a roadside bomb had taken out his Humvee, his best friend, and half the skin on his body, he waited for the inevitable awkwardness that followed an introduction. But as he studied her expression, he was surprised to find there was no pity, eye-shifting, or discomfort in her gaze.

Then again, she didn’t seem to find the conversation half as amusing as he did. She hadn’t cracked a smile once, despite her joke.

“I’m Everett Silverton,” he said, holding out his hand.

She hesitated for a moment before taking it. “I know.”