Which raised a whole host of questions for Mercy Zamora--because when hometown boy Ben Vargas shot out of town ten years ago, he also left Mercy behind. And though she had led the chorus of no strings/no wedding bells/no babies, ten years can change a girl. If only it had changed her feelings for him...
And as for Ben--he'd had his reasons for leaving, but Mercy had never been one of them. And so he was home--at least for now. And he should know better than to start something, once more, that he couldn't finish.
Know better than to think that once he had her in his arms, he'd ever be able to let her go...
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February 01, 2007
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Excerpt from The Prodigal Valentine by Karen Templeton
"How hard can it be," Mercedes Zamora muttered through chattering teeth as she elbowed her way into the mammoth juniper bush bordering her sidewalk to retrieve her Sunday paper,
"to hit the frickin' driveway? Crap!" A flattened branch slapped her in the face; on a growl, she dove back in, thinking she had maybe three seconds before her bare feet fused to the frosty driveway, only to let out a shriek when something furry streaked past her calves and up to the house.
The cat plastered himself to her front door, meowing piteously.
"Hey. Nobody told you to stay out last night," she said as she yanked the paper out of the greenery, swearing again when she discovered her long, morning-ravaged curls and the bush had bonded. She grabbed her hair and tugged. "I feel for you but I can't--quite--reach you!"
The bush let go, sending her stumbling backwards onto the cement, at which point a low, male, far-too-full-of-himself chuckle from across the street brought the blood chugging through her veins to a grinding halt. Frozen tootsies forgotten, Mercy spun around, wincing from the retina-searing glare of thousands of icicle lights sparkling in the legendary New Mexican sunshine.
Oh, no. No, no, no--this was not happening. Ten years it had been since she'd laid eyes on Benicio Vargas. And seared retinas notwithstanding, it was way too easy to see that those ten years had taken the shoulders, the grin, the cockiness that had been the twenty-five-year-old Ben to a whole 'nother level.
What effect those years might have had Mercy, however"stunning, she was sure, in her rattiest robe, her hair all juniper-mangled"she wasn't sure she wanted to contemplate too hard. Not that she was ready to be put down just yet"her skin was still wrinkle-free, her hair the same dark, gleaming brown it had always been, and she could still get into her size five jeans, thanks for asking. But the last time Ben had seen these breasts, they hadn't had their thirtieth birthday yet. Quite.
Not that he'd be seeing them now. She was just sayin'.
Ben flashed a smile at her, immediately putting her father's glittering Christmas display to shame. Not to mention his own parents', right next door.
Mercy wasn't sure which was worse"that once upon a time she'd had a brief, ill-advised, but otherwise highly satisfactory fling with the boy next door, or that here she was, rapidly closing in on forty and still living across the street from the lot of them in one of her folks' rental houses. But hey"as long as she was leading her own life, on her own terms, what was the harm in keeping the old nest firmly in her sights?
As opposed to Mr. Hunky across the street, who'd booked it out of the nest and never looked back. Until, apparently, now.
"Lookin' good over there, Mercy," Ben called out, hauling a duffle out of his truck bed, making all sorts of muscles ripple and such. Aiyiyi, could the man fill out a pair of blue jeans or what?
"Thanks," she said, hugging the plasticwrapped paper to the afore-mentioned breasts.
"So. Where the hell have you been all this time?"
Okay, so nuance wasn't her strong suit. "Yeah, about that," Ben said, doing more of the smile-flashing thing. If she'd rattled him, he wasn't letting on. Behind her, the cat launched into an aria about how he was starving to death. "I don't suppose this is a good time to apologize for just up and leaving the way I did, huh?"
Huh. Somebody had been spending time in cowboy country. Texas, maybe. Or Oklahoma. "Actually," she called back, "considering you've just confirmed what half the neighborhood probably suspected anyway!" She shrugged. "Go ahead, knock yourself out."
His expression suddenly turned serious. Not what she'd expected. Especially since the seriousness completely vanquished the happy-golucky Ben she remembered, leaving in its place this--this I-can-take-anything-you-dish-out specimen of masculinity that made her think, Yeah, I need this like I need Lyme disease.