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ANNA'S TEMPTATION

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CHAPTER 1


“I don’t care how much it costs,” Adam snapped, slamming the door of the taxi. “Just make sure he has the best care possible. Around the clock.” 

He cradled the phone to his ear with his shoulder, pulling the suitcase out of the trunk, waving to the driver absently. “The current nurse? I don’t care—I’ll get rid of her. Look, I’ve gotta go. I just pulled up to the house.”

Adam slipped the phone into his pocket and closed the trunk hard. He walked away from the cab without waving to the driver. He was too focused on what lay ahead—on what was waiting for him on the other side of the front door. As he walked up the path to the front porch of the quaint suburban house, he tried to remember how long it had been since the last time he’d been there. He couldn’t even put a date on it.

The dewy scent of flowers and freshly mowed grass rose to his nostrils. He was out of the city now. He slowed and glanced across the lawn. Small shrubs and hedges ran across the front of the house. Flower beds trailed up along the path. His mother had once spent long days beneath the sun shaping this garden. She no longer did.

Adam glanced back over his shoulder at the minivan pulling away from the curb and remembered why he’d stayed away for so long. This wasn’t the kind of place he was used to anymore. It wasn’t the kind of place that had sleek black cars and drivers. Instead, it had gray vans with cheap stickers and stains on the seats. He’d be lucky to find a real Americano in the entire town.

After high school, he’d moved out of town as soon as he could. He looked back only twice—once for something he tried to forget, and then just six days before, when his mother died. 

He reached the door and paused in front of it. It didn’t feel right to ring the doorbell to his childhood home but it had been so long that it also didn’t feel right to walk straight in. He set his suitcase down on the step, ran his hand through his thick brown hair, and knocked gently. Then, he picked up the case and turned the knob.  

When the door swung in, he was met with the familiar smell of the house. He’d forgotten it entirely. It settled around him with notes of childhood, nostalgia, and home. He set down the suitcase and looked around the entryway. It was the same as ever. There were perfectly ordered decorations on the tables and walls. A thin staircase led up the left wall to the second floor.

He heard footsteps in the hallway above and then the nurse started to come down the stairs. He saw her legs first. She was wearing shorts and he tried not to let his eyes wander but he couldn’t help it. Her calves and thighs were supple and rounded and on full display. He knew that it was a bad idea to go too far down that road, so he turned and closed the door behind him. 

When he looked back, the nurse was halfway down the stairs. He recognized her instantly, something jolting in his chest. Hard. 

She was older than the last time he’d seen her, but then again, so was he. And he doubted he aged as well as she had. She…looked good. “Anna,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

“Hi, Adam.” Her voice was soft, tugging at something deep in his gut. “I work here,” she said. “Didn’t you know?”

“No.” He stared. He remembered those eyes. They used to stare back at him beneath the stars on the roof at night and in stolen glances across the halls during the day. He remembered avoiding them more often than not.

“Your mother didn’t tell you?”

“Nobody told me,” Adam said. He spoke quickly. It was sharp. He wondered if she knew how irregularly he’d spoken to his parents over the years. He’d been making more of an effort lately but it was hard. 

“Do you need help with that?” Anna asked, looking at his luggage.

Adam looked down at the suitcase. “I think I can handle it myself,” he said, laughing.

“Okay.” She looked at him with curiosity. “I was just being polite.”

“Sorry,” Adam said. “I just wasn’t expecting you to be here.” It was more unsettling than he expected. He paused. “It’s been a long time.”

“Yes it has.” Something passed over her face, like the flash of a frown. “Years.”

Adam tried to remember the last time he’d seen her. He hoped that they’d left on good terms. It was hard to remember. He picked up the suitcase and glanced up the stairs. “I’ll just bring this up.”

Anna took a step forward. “I’m in your room.”

“What?”

“Sorry,” she began. “I… I’m staying in your room. Your parents put me in there before they knew you were coming back.”

“So, I’m in the spare?” 

Her cheeks pinked. “I can move, if you’d like.”

“No,” Adam said. He brushed past her, suppressing a frown. 

“I really don’t mind!” she called.

Adam started up the stairs, ignoring her. It was petty, he knew, but it got under his skin. Who did she think she was? He reached the top of the stairs. Once again, nothing had changed, not really. The house was still neat and tidy and almost entirely absent of personality. It was a typical small-town home. 

He walked past his own door, which was closed, to the guest bedroom on the far end of the landing. There were no windows in the hallway and the light was dim and artificial. It came down in a yellow glow from the ceiling, casting down over the cream-colored walls. It felt stuffy.

When he reached the guest room, he stepped through the open door. It was brighter. The room had been set up for him. The bed was made and the curtains were open. He set the suitcase down beside the foot of the bed and crossed over to the window. He opened it and let some air into the room. 

He heard footsteps on the stairs and went back out into the hall. Anna was coming up. He saw the back of her head—her auburn hair caught the light. The curve of her neck. She turned and looked at him and his heart jolted again. Dammit. 

“Where’s my father?” he asked, trying to get his head out of the past. He left so he could have a future. 

Her green eyes studied him, and he wondered what she was thinking. Was she remembering, too? “In his room.”

Adam nodded. He walked down the hall to the master bedroom on the other side. The door was open a crack and he pushed it in. The room was light and his father lay in a white bed near the window. He was pale and frail-looking. His eyes were closed and his chest was rising and falling slowly. 

“He looks sick,” Adam whispered, a weight pressing against his breastbone. He could feel Anna standing just behind him. He could smell the sweet hint of perfume and wondered if she’d worn it for him. He hadn’t expected her to be here but she clearly knew that he was coming.

“He isn’t well,” Anna said.

“How bad is he?”

“He’s strong.”

“How bad?”

“He’s frail,” Anna said on a sigh.

Adam turned. “Why did no one tell me that he was so sick?”

“They were so proud of you with your company… they didn’t want to worry you, or distract you.”

“Someone should’ve told me,” Adam said.

Anna looked down. “I know. I didn’t know if I…if we…”

Adam brushed past her, leaving his father alone in his room. He couldn’t face him right now. He felt too much shame about missing the last days of his mother’s life. Suddenly, he had the realization that Anna had been there. He turned and looked at her. “What are you doing here, anyway?” he asked.

She looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, why are you here?”

“I’m studying to be an RN.”

“RN?”

“Registered nurse,” Anna said. “This is my last placement. I worked it out with my school because your parents needed help…”

“I was on the phone with my assistant earlier,” Adam said. “She’s finding someone who can give my dad the care he needs.”

Anna sucked in a sharp breath. “What?”

“You’re in training, you said. That’s fine and all… but my dad isn’t a lesson. He’s a human being.”

“I know he is.” Anna’s green gaze hardened and her chin lifted a notch. “I’ve been helping him. I know what he needs and how he likes things done. I know him better than anyone right now.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing,” Anna said, glancing away. “Just…how is this assistant going to know what your father needs? Is she even in town?”

“She doesn’t need to be.”

“I know this is hard but you can’t walk in here and just…”

Adam shook his head sharply. “Yes, I can. Don’t forget, these are my parents.” 

“I know but—”

“But nothing,” he said. “Now, I need to get some rest. We can pick this conversation up again later.” He walked across the hall to his room and closed the door. Inside, he sat down on the end of the bed, absentmindedly noting the duvet was thick and soft. 

He stared at the window absently. He didn’t know what it was that bothered him so much about Anna— maybe it was just that she'd been here and he'd not. Maybe it was the uncertainty that came along with her. He was used to certainty. He was used to being in full control of everything.

He could hear the leaves rustling on the trees out the window. He could hear Anna walking down the stairs. They creaked beneath her steady footsteps. There was a cricket or some kind of insect making noise outside the window. Once he was sure that Anna was downstairs, quietly got up and walked over to the door.

Adam opened the bedroom door and walked across the hall to his father’s room. He leaned against the doorframe and looked in at his father again. Since when did his father look so frail? How did he not notice the years taking their toll?

Because his contact has all been long distance. 

A hot flush seared his gut and Adam scowled. His parents haven’t wanted for anything for years. They didn’t want to leave the house he grew up in, so he’s made sure they’ve lived comfortably. Now, it’s his responsibility to ensure his father has the best care he can get. 

His father’s eyes flicker open, blinking and squinting as he adjusted to the light.

Adam stepped into the room and walked across to the bed. “Hey, Dad.”

Thomas looked up. “Adam,” he said. A smile spread across his lips. “You came.”

“Of course I came, Dad.”

“Your mom…”

“I know, Dad.”

Thomas nodded and his eyes drifted closed again. A world without his wife of fifty years was one he probably didn’t like contemplating for too long. Adam stood in the room for a long time, watching as his father began to breathe deeply. It must’ve been an exhausting week. He stepped back out into the hall and softly closed the door behind him. 

He paused in the hallway. Though he was back in his childhood home, he felt incredibly alone. This was much harder than he expected. Give him his world of mergers and takeovers any day. 

But now…he had a funeral to plan. It was the thing that Adam was dreading the most. He stood in the hall, looking at the paintings and vases. His mother had chosen them all. The house was full of reminders of her presence, but her personality was absent. His parents had not seemed to believe in expression. They believed in presentation, order—normality. He’d rebelled. And severed many ties as a result. 

He walked back to the stairs and began to descend. He remembered his mother’s voice echoing up the stairs, trapped between the walls. His footsteps carried down the stairs before him. By the time he reached the bottom, Anna was standing in the hallway again. He tried not to glare. She was always there, lurking. She'd been there for his mother when he wasn't—he knew, deep down, that it was the real reason for his anger.

“Adam,” she said, his name on her lips sending the same old shiver down his spine that it always had. Shit, things were more complicated than he’d expected. 

“Yes?” He reached the bottom of the stairs and looked down at her. He was a full foot taller than her. She had to look up to meet his eyes. 

Just the way he liked it.

He took a small step back, not appreciating where his mind was wandering.    

“I wanted to talk to you about the funeral.”

Her words are like a dousing of cold water. “What about it?” His phone buzzed and he pulled it from his pocket, glad for the distraction. He read the message and replied.

Anna shifted nervously. “I’d like to help with the arrangements.”

Adam shook his head, looking up from the phone. “No, we don’t need that.” He paused. “Ah, thank you.”

“This is a difficult time. You need help, Adam. Please, let me help.”

“All I need is a stiff drink,” he snapped. He was being a douche and he knew it, but he couldn’t seem to stop. He stepped around her and began to walk down to the kitchen in search of some liquor. 

His father used to keep a bottle of whiskey above the fridge. He wondered if there was still one there. Once, Anna and he had taken the bottle up to the roof and shared it between them, telling teenage secrets until sunrise. He wondered if she remembered. He was almost foolish enough to remind her. 

“I’ve been through this before,” Anna said. “I know how to do it.”

“I said no, Anna.”

“I don’t want to take control; I just want to ease the burden.”

Adam turned sharply. “Drop it!” he snapped. “I said no.” His voice raised more than he intended it to. It seemed to shake the walls around them as it carried through the small house. 

Anna stopped walking. Adam continued into the kitchen. He felt bad about raising his voice; however, his mother was dead and his father was gravely ill. The concoction of emotions was overwhelming. He felt anger, guilt, shame, and sadness. 

And he didn’t know what to do with any of them. 

If he'd known how sick his parents were, he would have come home earlier. His relationship with them had been difficult. Now, he had no chance to repair it. Yet, Anna was in his house and they loved her. He closed the kitchen door behind him. It was an old-fashioned door with glass panels. He could see her through the glass as he closed it. He watched as she turned and went back upstairs. 

The bottle of whiskey was still above the fridge. He reached up and took it down. Though he'd been a tall teen, he hadn’t been able to reach it without a chair the last time he’d taken it. It felt different now. He knew that his father wouldn’t care. The rush was gone. In the morning, he’d go out and buy himself a bottle. This one was cheap and weak. He poured a glass and set the open bottle down on the counter beside him. 

Through the kitchen window, he could see the backyard that had once been so familiar. The green lawn stretched to a white picket fence. There was a shed in the back, where he had once established a clubhouse. Years later, he snuck in to smoke weed with his friends. He wondered if his parents ever knew. 

The floorboards over his head creaked. Anna was up in her room. His old room. He checked the time—it was getting late. He wondered if she was getting ready for bed, slipping out of those tight-fitting shorts. He set the glass down and poured another drink. He put the lid back on the bottle and stashed it back above the fridge. 

He’s not going to think like that. He left the past behind for a reason.

And that included Anna.

CHAPTER 2


He was such an asshole. 

Anna looked out the window of the bedroom. She’d been looking forward to seeing him. It had been so long and they’d once been close, in their own way. Now, she felt like an idiot. He was just…such an asshole.

Anna knew that it had to be hard for him to come back here. He hadn’t had an easy childhood. There was something going on in his teenage years that troubled him—she never learned what it was. He’d gone to the city and built an empire. She ran her hand along the windowsill, feeling the smooth paint. She’d been proud of him.  

Anna turned away from the window and walked over to the bed and sat down on the end of it. She remembered those long nights on the roof of this house so well. She wondered if he even thought about them anymore. The sensitive boy she’d known seemed so distant—so far removed from this man. He’d always been cold to her at school. She thought that it was a shell. Now, she wondered if it was just the real man. Maybe the kind boy she thought she knew was the façade.

Thomas, Adam’s father, needed her. She wasn’t going to leave him, no matter what Adam said. She’d find a way to stay and help. The funeral arrangements were another matter. If he wanted to handle that alone, she had no right to intervene. She understood that. Adam’s mother, Katherine, had wanted him to take charge. Here he was, doing just that. Maybe it was all for the best. 

She pulled out her phone and started to scroll through her social media feeds. Then, she pulled up the browser and went back into an old habit. She searched his name. News articles and photos emerged. She saw him in his expensive suits with beautiful women on his arm—at least he didn’t seem to discriminate. The photos displayed women across the spectrum. The only thing they had in common was that they were drop dead gorgeous. 

Anna wasn’t particularly insecure—he knew that she had something that men liked—but, beside these women, he would never even see her. No one would. She closed the browser and dropped the phone on the bed. She didn’t know why it bothered her, anyway. He was an ass. He was a rich, entitled prick. 

She needed to remember that. 

* * *


“How are you feeling this morning, Thomas?”

“Better now,” he said, smiling. He leaned on her arm as he climbed out of bed. She helped him over to the dresser. He looked at her. “Was I dreaming, or is Adam home?”

“Adam’s here,” she said, smiling. “He’s downstairs now.”

There was a glimmer in the old man’s eyes that she hadn’t seen for weeks. He smiled. “Good,” he said. “I was hoping that it wasn’t a dream.”

“I’ll bring you down to him as soon as you’re dressed.”

“He’s a good boy, you know,” Thomas said. “Don’t let him fool you.”

Anna laughed. “I know he is, Thomas.” She looked at the old man and smiled. He was a proud dad. There was nothing that could change that. She’d stay out of Adam’s way as much as possible and try to keep the peace. 

After Thomas was dressed, she helped him to the top of the stairs and into the stair-lift. “Into the depths,” Thomas said with a grin. 

“Not too fast now,” she teased.

“I’ll go as fast as I damn well please,” Thomas replied with a grin. She began to follow him down. It was easy to see where Adam got his vigor. By the time they reached the bottom of the stairs, Adam was stepping out of the kitchen. He had a piece of toast in his hand and was chewing. 

“Hey, Dad,” he said, with his mouth full. He was wearing a polo shirt and snug jeans. How many times did her eyes used to linger on the way denim hugged his ass? Anna yanked her gaze away. She promised herself she wouldn’t go there. 

Thomas stood. He waved Anna away when she tried to assist him and she reined in her smile. He was trying to demonstrate strength to his son. He walked around the foot of the stairs and opened his arms. She felt a twinge in the pit of her stomach as they embraced, reminding herself why Adam was really here. 

It was sweet. 

It was sad, too.

They were sharing great pain as well as joy. It was a difficult time to be reunited. 

When Adam and Thomas released one another, Anna stepped forward and took Thomas by the arm, gently. He didn’t resist. The three walked together into the kitchen and Anna helped him into a chair at the kitchen table. Adam went to the cupboards and began to get cups out. “Coffee?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Thomas said.

Adam glanced at Anna and raised an eyebrow. “Yes, please,” she said.

“So polite,” Thomas said. “You could learn something, Adam.”

Adam laughed. “Sure, Pop.” He set three cups down at the table and scooped coffee into the machine. “Milk, anyone?”

“Yes, thanks,” said Thomas.

Anna watched as Adam busied himself in the kitchen. It seemed so normal and domestic in contrast to the life she knew he led in the city. She wondered if he made his own coffee there. His white t-shirt hugged his shoulders tightly. She hadn’t realized how muscular he’d become. Once more yanking her gaze away, she mentally shook herself. She should’ve remembered that nowhere was safe with Adam. His entire body is like a magnet.  

“Sit down,” Thomas said, patting the seat beside him. 

Anna took a seat beside him. The sun was coming through the window beside them, casting a solid ray of light over the table. “It called for rain,” she mused.

“Who did?”

“The weather network.”

“My bones are a better predictor of the weather than they are,” Thomas muttered. Adam filled the cups and sat across from his father at the kitchen table. “How’s the work going?” Thomas asked.

“Good,” Adam said. “Busy, as always.”

“Any interesting projects?”

“Big new bridge over the river on the east side,” Adam said. “Eight lanes.” He sipped the coffee, keeping his gaze on his father. 

Anna realized that she didn’t really know what kind of company Adam owned. “What kind of work does your company do?” she asked, forgetting momentarily that she'd made a promise to herself to keep her distance.

“Engineering,” Adam said. “Civil. We have a lot of contracts with the city.”

“You’re a good man,” Thomas said warmly. “That’s important work to be doing. With all the nepotism in politics, it must be tough to get those contracts.”

“It is tough,” Adam said, then he shrugged, “but we’re the best. There’s no denying it. Once we got our foot in the door, there was no turning back.”

Thomas nodded. Anna rolled her eyes. 

“What?” Adam asked.

Anna looked across quickly. She hadn’t expected him to see. “Nothing,” she said, looking away.

“How long are you staying?” Thomas asked, leaning forward. Anna wondered if he could sense the tension between her and Adam. She suppressed a frown. The last thing Thomas needed was more emotional strain. 

“I haven’t decided,” Adam said, yanking his gaze away from Anna. He’d obviously decided to let it go. 

“I suppose you’ll leave whenever they need you back at the office,” his father said, sounding cautious. 

“It’ll fall apart without me there,” Adam said, “but I’ll stay as long as I can.”

Anna managed to repress the urge to roll her eyes a second time. They were on thin ice as it was. Trying to distract herself, she looked out the window into the backyard. Except the first thing her eyes fell on is the shed. The one she used to sneak into the shed with Adam many years before. She wondered if he even remembered. Refocusing, she looked beyond it. Behind the shed was her parent’s old house—where she’d grown up and lived for most of her life.

“Anna was a huge help to your mother,” Thomas said, his weathered hands gripping his cup of coffee.

She looked back at him, then over to Adam. Adam nodded slowly, his handsome face inscrutable. “That’s good.”

“And to me,” Thomas said. Anna wondered if he’d heard some of their conversation yesterday. She hoped that Adam wouldn’t think that she’d been telling tales. “You two didn’t really spend too much time together as kids, did you?”

Adam was looking at her. She couldn’t tell what the expression on his face meant. “No,” he said. “Not too much.”

“It’s a shame,” Thomas continued. “She’d have been a good influence on you.”

“Or I’d have been a bad influence on her,” Adam said, winking at Anna. The tug in her chest was as instant as it was unwelcome. 

“She’s too smart for that,” Thomas said. “Did you hear she’s going to be a nurse?”

“I did.”

Thomas looked at Anna, his gaze warm. “A noble profession.”

“Thank you,” Anna said, reaching out to squeeze his hand. “You’re too kind.”

“It’s the truth,” he replied, wrapping his own hand over hers. 

Adam abruptly pushed out his chair and stood. “Breakfast, anyone?” 

Anna withdrew her hand, trying not to frown. This guy was hot and cold. 

Thomas shook his head. “I have no appetite in the morning.”

Adam didn’t look at Anna this time. He went over to the fridge and opened it. “There’s nothing in here,” he noted with a crinkled brow. 

“We haven’t been to the store since…” Anna suppressed the desire to squeeze Thomas’s hand again, even though she wasn’t sure why. 

“I’ll go out to the supermarket,” Adam said. His phone rang. He had it in his hand already, practically another limb. He turned the screen and declined the call without even looking.

“There’s no need,” Thomas assured.

“There is,” Adam replied. “It’s the least I can do.”

“Here, I’ll give you some money,” Thomas said, but Adam was already striding away.

“I’ll be back soon.” He went out through the kitchen door and, shortly after, the front door opened and closed. 

Thomas watched him, the wrinkles on his face looking deeper somehow. He and Anna sat for a while, drinking the rest of their coffee in companionable silence. When they were done, Anna tidied up the kitchen and then helped Thomas into the front room, where he sat with an unopened book on his lap in front of the TV. Their routine was calming and welcome. 

As Thomas dozed off in front of the TV, Anna went upstairs and made his bed. She sorted his pills and phoned the doctor to arrange his next visit. As she worked, her mind wandered. Against her will, images of the first time she’d really spent any time with Adam rose like ashes from a long dead fire.

It was a cold day in late December, after Christmas with the new year was just around the corner. The period of lull between the holidays. She was sitting in a new sweater at the back window of her house, looking out into the snow-covered lawn of the house behind. It was Adam’s house. Well, it was technically Thomas and Katherine’s—Adam just lived there. 

She knew Adam from the neighborhood and from school. They were in the same grade. They’d attended the same events and been in the same classes for as long as she could remember. She’d stolen secret glances at him for almost as long, just like every other girl. 

The fire was crackling in the fireplace across the room, burning low with red embers. The light was muted outside, turning the sky a dark indigo. It was still too early for stars but it was one of those winter days where the light began to fade early in the afternoon. She was sitting against the window when she saw him standing out behind the little shed, trying to clear a path to the door with a tiny shovel, the kind given to a child to keep it occupied while someone else does the real work.

It was such an unusual scene, and she was so bored and cooped up, that she soon found herself fighting every instinct she had and putting on her boots to investigate. She had the grate over the fire and the back door open before two minutes passed. She trudged out through the snow to the fence along the back of the property and leaned across it, watching Adam tirelessly toss tiny shovel after shovel of snow away from the door. 

She stared in silence until he looked up. “What are you doing?”

He stopped digging for a moment, examining her. He seemed to be deciding whether or not she merited a response. For whatever reason, he decided that she did. It wasn't much of one, but it was something. “Digging.”

She rolled her eyes. “I can see that.”

“Then why did you ask?” He turned back around and started shoveling out a thin path to the shed door, which was piled high with snow. 

“It’s going to take you hours to clear a path with that,” she said.

He shrugged. 

“Don’t you have a bigger shovel?” 

“Can’t find it.”

“Can’t you ask your parents?”

Adam stopped shoveling again and looked up at her. “They aren’t home,” he said. He paused, examining her again with those incisive eyes, deep and brown. “Why do you care, anyway?”

“I dunno,” she said. “Guess I’m just bored.”

“Don’t you have extra homework to be doing, or chess club or something?”

“I don’t play chess,” she said. “And why would I do homework over Christmas break?”

Adam shrugged. “Just figured you were that kind of girl.”

“You’ve got no idea what kind of girl I am,” she said. She hadn’t meant it to come out flirtatiously but her tone changed. It must’ve been Freudian, or something. Then she flushed deep red. She tried to recover. “Do you want to borrow a bigger shovel?” 

Adam looked down at the tiny shovel in his hands. “Yeah,” he said. “Alright. Thanks.”

The door opened downstairs. Anna felt her heart skip a beat—it was just the nostalgia, she told herself. She finished making the bed and closed the door quietly behind her. As she made her way back downstairs, she could hear Adam putting away groceries in the kitchen. He was opening and closing cupboards, trying to find the right place for everything to go. She went into the front room, where Thomas was still sleeping, bringing his walker in from the hall. He’d need it when he woke up for lunch. 

When she walked into the kitchen, Adam was standing with his back to her. He was reaching into the top of a cupboard with his sleeves rolled up, the muscles of his forearms shifting. How is it that even that looked sexy? 

Feeling her presence in the room behind him, he turned. “Do you need something?” 

She’d always needed something when she was around Adam. Frowning internally at her traitorous mind, she shook her head. “No.” She glanced at the open cupboard housing crockery. “Would you like some help?” 

There was a brief pause. “Sure. All of this has changed since I lived here.”

“The cans are in the next cupboard over.” She walked over to the bags of groceries on the table and started to unpack them, leaving the items out on the table.

“I’m sorry for being so hard on you yesterday,” Adam said quietly. “This hasn’t been easy.”

“I know,” Anna said, her face softening. “It’s alright.” 

She began to move the groceries from the table into the cupboards where they belonged. Adam gradually stepped aside, realizing that Anna had a better handle on the situation than he did. 

She paused, holding a loaf of bread in her hand. “You know, I’m not trying to make things harder for you. I’m not trying to replace you. I’m just trying to help your father.”

Adam nodded, chewing his bottom lip. “I know,” he said. “I guess…I just wish that I’d been here.”

“You are now,” Anna pointed out, holding her breath even though she wasn’t really sure why.

Something flashed in the depths of his ochre eyes. “But it’s too late,” he said, looking away.

Anna lifted her chin. She was no longer the timid girl from over the fence. “Bull shit,” she said quietly. “It’s never too late.”

His eyes widened, giving her a little jolt of triumph. She spun on her heel and walked out. 

Chew on that, Adam.