Rocky Gap, Montana
Wren paced back and forth in the main lobby of Glacier Regional Airport. It would still be another hour and a half up to Rocky Gap, but Kalispell was the closest airport unless they went into Canada. Wren had made sure to arrive early just in case, but now she was getting impatient. She was normally a patient person as she worked with horses for a living, but she hasn’t seen her brother in six months and she missed him. Since Keeley’s death he had thrown himself into his work and not come home much. Wren knew he was still hurting and she was sure her niece was as well.
The green eyed cowgirl glanced at her watch for what felt like the hundredth time. She had already checked the arrival board 4 times and knew that the flight was on time. It should have landed ten minutes ago. At least that was what the board had said. Yet she still hadn’t seen them. Maybe they had gotten held up at the baggage claim. Hopefully the airplane didn’t eat their luggage. Wren had that happen once and it was awful. Thank goodness for Wal-Mart’s. She looked around again, hoping to spot someone she knew. People rushed around her, acting like she wasn’t even there. Some were headed toward the security line while others headed out into the sunshine, laughing and talking. Wren pushed her beige hat up on her head before slipping her hands into her sheepskin jacket. Just because the sun was shining brightly didn’t mean it wasn’t cold out. She had had to scrape ice off her Silverado to come pick them up.
“Aunt Wren!” a cute little ash blonde called.
Wren spun around, a smile touching her ruby lips. “Hey Fin!” she said, holding her arms open and kneeling down. Finley jumped into her aunt’s waiting arms. “I’ve missed you. Where’s your daddy?”
“I’m right here, sis,” Griffen answered, pulling a roll behind suitcase along the tile floor. She also noticed a carry one sat on top of the suitcase and a pretty blonde walked beside him carrying a pet taxi. ’Sorry it took so long. We had to get Tippy and Pip.”
“No problem,” Wren grinned, determined not to let him know how impatient she had been. She pushed back to her feet. “You must be Avery. I’m Wren.”
Avery smiled, which took away from the bruises on her face. “Pleasure to meet you. Griff talks about you all the time.” Wren glanced at her big brother, curiosity flashing through her soft greenish brown eyes. “All good things,” Avery promised. “Stake outs and protection detail can get long. Leaves a lot of time for talking.”
Wren held her hand down to Finley as she thought about that. “I hadn’t thought about that. Well, I’m sure you guys are all tired and mom will be sending out a search party if we don’t get there soon,” she grinned. “Although I think I can finagle a stop at Java Jive if you guys need a caffeine boost. I know I do.”
Griffen gave his sister a one armed hug. “You read my mind. Let’s get out of here.”
Finley happily walked beside Wren as they made their way out of the airport and to short term parking where Wren had left her truck. Light fluffy flakes had started falling again, turning everything into a magical winter wonderland. The mountain peaks surrounding them were covered in snow and it looked pretty with the bright sun peeking out from behind. The four soon climbed into the truck, Finley and Avery in the back with the animals and Griffen up front with his sister.
Rocky Gap, Montana. Things sure hadn’t changed much in ten years. Sure, he had been back to visit from time to time but it wasn’t the same as living here. One could still walk down the paved streets and be known by everyone. The mechanic knew which car you drove clear down to the coffee shop owner knew which drink you ordered. Some would consider it a paradise. Others had felt trapped and only realized later what they had. While there were the slim few who never came back.
Griffen had planned on being one of the latter. He had left on a scholarship and then took up criminal justice. It had taken him a while, but he had finally made US Marshal and hadn’t looked back. Although being home again brought back memories. And having his best friend there with him just added to the confusion of being home.
Griffen sighed softly as he sat in the Java Jive nursing his white chocolate mocha and cinnamon crunch bagel. He couldn’t believe he was back. Yet Finley seemed happy for the first time in ages. He glanced over to where Finley sat with his sister, Wren in the little book nook. Finley’s eyes had lit up as soon as she had seen the books and had literally dragged Wren with her. Now the two were bent over reading together while Wren nursed her coconut macaroon latte and Finley sipped on her chai tea. Avery had been quiet on the ride and now she just sipped on her own coconut macaroon latte, watching Griffen. He could feel her eyes on him. He could always tell when she was watching him.
He glanced down at his phone, acting like he was looking at something important. Really his screen was black, but for some reason he felt nervous around Avery suddenly. They had been best friends for years, yet this was different. Before he had been married to Keeley and they could only be friends. Was that the problem? They were both single and he found himself attracted to his best friend? No, he wasn’t going there. It was too hard to think about.
Griffen glanced up as the front door to the little coffee shop opened. A pretty dusty haired young woman walked in. She had a list in her hand and seemed to be contemplating something. There was something about her that seemed familiar. Then she lifted her head and Griffen knew instantly. She had filled out in all the right places and wore glasses now, but he knew those mocha eyes…Janna Malloy. He remembered Lee, one of his friends from high school having a thing for her but never being willing to tell her. He kept putting everything else ahead of his feelings.
“Janna?” he asked, causing her to spin around quickly, her pretty eyes narrowing behind her glasses. She looked cute in glasses, although Griffen wondered why she had to wear them.
Her stance eased and a smile touched her lips. “Griffen!” she cried. “Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes. I thought you were still out east working with the Marshals.”
Griffen rolled his eyes. He wasn’t surprised that she figured he was still out there. He always put work first. “Oh, you know me, I’m like a whirlwind. Never know where I’ll show up.”
Janna laughed and slid into the chair opposite his. “Seem to remember you were always like that.”
“So, did you ever manage to rope and tie Lee down?” he asked curiously, wanting to get away from old memories.
Janna rolled her eyes. “You crazy cowboys. What’s a girl gotta do? Sit on you and threaten you?”
“Hey!” Griffen said, holding up his hands in surrender. “US Marshal. Not cowboy.”
“Once a cowboy, always a cowboy,” she grinned. “And to answer your question, yes, I married him. “ Her face suddenly colored. “We’re expecting our first in April.”
“Oh Jan that’s great news!” he exclaimed, reaching across to hug her. “It’s about time that man got some sense knocked into his thick head.”
Janna set a hand on her stomach. “Yeah, took quite a bit. If you’re sticking around you should stop by the L&J sometime. Lee would love to see you. Got a couple horses that might be right up your alley as well.”
“Don’t know if I can still sit a horse.”
“Oh sure you can. That’s something you can’t forget. Trust me.” Griffen could tell there was more behind those words, but Janna didn’t elaborate. “Welp, I better get going. I promised to pick up lunch and drinks for everyone. Now, no slipping out of town without saying good-bye.”
“Yes ma’am,” he smiled, watching as she headed up to the counter to place her order.
Griffen turned his attention back to his mocha. He really had missed his hometown. It felt like he had never left. He looked up quickly when someone cleared their throat. Avery was watching him, curiosity in her pretty crystal eyes. Dang, he could get lost in those eyes if he wasn’t careful.
“She was pretty,” Avery commented, taking a sip of her latte. “And your sister seems like great fun.”
“Her husband was my best friend in high school. We rode in the rodeo together quite often. Haven’t seen him in ages.”
Avery grinned. “Then I say we take Janna up on her offer and go see them. I love horses and I bet your daughter wouldn’t mind keeping Wren company for a bit.” She quickly covered her mouth. “I’m sorry. Maybe you don’t want to leave Fin behind.”
Griffen shook his head. “No, I’m sure she’ll love it. And mom and dad will be thrilled to have her there. Maybe I’ll do that. I really should have stayed in touch better.” He gave her an almost shy smile. ’Thanks for agreeing to come with us, Ave. I wasn’t sure how it was going to be coming home again.”
Avery lifted a shoulder before taking a bite of her orange glazed scone. “Can’t go back to work yet,” she teased. “Cause someone called our boss. You woulda just bugged me til I agreed.”
Griffen didn’t all look sorry about that phone call. He had done it for Avery’s own good. She was still battling a concussion and he could see that moving still put in her pain. She wouldn’t be able to do much without constant pain for a while. A vacation was just what they both needed. He just prayed he wouldn’t come to regret it and do something stupid. Like propose so some crazy thing. He quickly shook that thought away. Keeley had been the love of his life. He was never getting married again. Except he wasn’t sure his heart was agreeing with his head right now. Just great.
The two fell into comfortable silence. That was one thing about Avery, even when things were quiet it was just nice to be around her. It was never awkward and he felt like they could understand each other without saying a word. Dang it! He was in deep trouble. And to think, she was about to meet his parents. He hadn’t even thought about what his parents would think about him bringing a woman with him. His partner or not.
“Hey Griff, I just got a call from Grainger,” Wren said, walking up to them with Finley beside her. “He said mom is starting to go stir crazy. She has already threatened to come hunt us down. Or rather send Grainger.”
Griffen rolled his eyes with a laugh. “Then I guess we better go. Otherwise Grainge won’t let us live it down. Besides, I’m ready to see mom and dad. Not to mention I think we all need a bit of a break. What do you think, Punk? Ready to see grandma and papa?”
“Oh yeah,” Finley grinned. “And I can see Rivi,” she said excitedly.
Griffen nodded and ruffled his daughter’s hair, getting a scowl from her. He collected their empty plates and set them in the bin to be washed. He noticed that Wren was still nursing her latte as was Avery and Finley. He still had about half as well. Should last them til they got home. The four headed back outside. It had snowed more on their drive and there was already a good four inches on the ground. Griffen wouldn’t be surprised if they had six or seven inches by morning. Man, he had missed Montana.