Authors: Rebecca Royce
Tags: #The Calendar Men Series
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Rebecca Royce
Cover art by Mina Carter
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work, in whole or in part, in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
Published by Decadent Publishing Company, LLC
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The Calendar Men Stories
The Other Brother
A Model Hero
Falling for Her Navy Seal
Thankful for You
Also by Rebecca Royce
Out of Place Mate
Mate by the Music
Behind the Scenes
Believe in Me
Return to the Sea
I’ll be Mated by Christmas
One Night With a Wolf
Paging Dr. Wolf
Love in One Night
The Calendar Men Series
To JoAnne for coming up with this idea!
Aidan Roux strolled along the streetcar path, listening to the sounds around him. It would be wrong to say things hadn’t changed since he’d last set foot in New Orleans. A great deal about life here had altered completely in fifteen years. The city had never had so much direct sunlight before. Katrina had knocked over some of the shady trees on the busiest streets, and these days St. Charles Avenue blared in the afternoon sun.
But it was February, a blessed month in New Orleans, not too hot or too cold. Years in Afghanistan had taught him what both temperatures really felt like. Even the city’s humidity wasn’t going to bug him anymore.
Not that he intended to stay long enough to really get to experience the summer heat. He’d be out of there in a week.
He kicked a stone as he walked, smiling at a woman who waited at a bus stop with her baby. His duffel, slung over his shoulder, swung as he moved. All in all, a good decision to take the slowest pace possible. Delaying the inevitable helped despite the futility of the act.
Eventually, he was going to have to see his mother and face up to the fact he’d deliberately not come to his father’s funeral.
Screw the old man
. The same refrain he’d had in his head since the day he’d left NOLA and jumped into the arms of Uncle Sam played through his head like a jazz band stuck on the same refrain.
Screw the old man
A driver pulled up next to the neutral ground where he strolled and honked the car’s horn. “How’s ya momma and dem?”
Aidan jolted at the sound.
I’d know her voice anywhere. Stacey Castle
. He smiled as he approached her gray Toyota sedan and stared in through the rolled-down window.
She leaned back in her seat, grinning at him in the unabashed, unconcerned way she always did. Stacey Castle never acted like she had a care in the world. Only he knew her attitude wasn’t true. Or he had known, fifteen years earlier. Maybe things had changed; maybe her act of nonchalance had become how she really felt.
Once a beautiful girl of twenty, with blond hair she wore up in a ponytail and blue eyes that only flared to anger when someone blatantly lied to her, she’d changed into a sophisticated woman of thirty-five. Time had made her more beautiful, not less. Her long hair had been chopped. She wore it in a boy cut making her look ethereal, almost like a pixie from a fairy tale. Her arms, displayed beautifully through her T-shirt, held muscles indicting she either worked out regularly or did some job requiring her to lift a lot.
Stacey was thin, had always been, but her boobs hadn’t changed. They were more than a handful, and his mouth watered while he discreetly took them in. Remembering his manners, he quickly looked back up to her eyes and smiled. Her strong chin jutted out as she half-smirked back at him. She’d totally caught him checking out her breasts.
“So. Is this how you sophisticated Uptown women greet friends these days? Shout at men on the street?”
“I wanted to know if you still remembered your New Orleans speak. Or if all your years away from here had made you too good to answer, Dr. Redhead.”
He rubbed at his shaved scalp. For so many years in the army, he’d had to keep it really short. It had seemed silly to change it back. But Stacey would know when it grew in it would be curly, and what looked blond in a crew cut would be red at longer lengths.
“Cute. Did you come up with the nickname, now, or did you read it somewhere?” He couldn’t believe how easily they’d rolled into this banter. Aidan hadn’t spoken to Stacey in fifteen years. Not a phone call, not a letter to the girl he had loved for five years. Their separation had been entirely his fault. She hadn’t had a clue he’d intended to leave until he’d knocked on her dorm-room door and told her he’d joined the army.
Being Stacey, she’d even offered to make it work, her words said with tears running down her face. He’d denied her request, leaving her standing there an emotional mess. Of all the things he’d ever done wrong, causing her pain had been the worst. Maybe if Dr. Who ever came to visit him, he could convince the doctor to take him back in time so he could be a little bit gentler to a girl who had done nothing wrong.
“I did.” She motioned to the other door. “Jump in. I’ll take you to your mama’s.”
“I think I’ll keep at the pace I’m going. It’s good for the soul.”
“No.” She tapped her hands on the steering wheel. “You’re delaying the inevitable. You’ll be a sweaty mess when you get there.” She waited a bit, her eyes narrowing. “Unless you’d rather not chat with me.”
The polite manners of his upbringing kicked in, and he rushed to get around to the other side of the car. Shoving his duffel in the trunk, he took a seat next to Stacey and shut the door.
She waited a second for him to buckle up before she pulled back into traffic. Cars screeched and honked when she did, indicating one thing about Stacey had not changed. She still couldn’t drive worth a shit. The girl lived in her own world.
This close to her he could see she didn’t wear a wedding ring, a note he’d file away for later.
Not that she’d ever sleep with him again. And sometimes people didn’t wear wedding rings.
His mother would know if she’d wed. Oh hell, he’d gone and gotten way too invested in the question.
“So, you’re home. I couldn’t believe it when I heard you were on your way. All bets were on you never coming back here.”
“My mother asked me to return home this year.” And he’d already let her down so many times. How could he say no for a week? Not when he’d left the army only a few weeks before. It wasn’t like he had so many plans made that could keep him away.
“We were all shocked just the same.” She came to a stop at a light, her brakes squealing when she slammed on them. Stacey always drove like she wanted to cause a wreck. Still, something must be looking out for her because when he’d known her, she never actually hit anything. Just came really close. A lot.
But what did he know? Maybe she’d smashed up half of New Orleans in the last fifteen years.
“So. You’re a doctor.” She bit down on her lower lip. “Your mama is so proud of you. We all are. You always wanted to be one.”
“I am a doctor.” He rubbed his forehead as he wondered if she regretted picking him up. Making small talk with a person who once broke your heart couldn’t be easy. “The army helped me out. Glad to hear everyone is happy about it.”
He really didn’t know what else to say on the subject. Aidan had spent so much time not thinking about all of them over the past fifteen years, hearing they’d been talking about him was weird.
“Right.” She pulled over to the side of the road, and he gripped the seat.
What the hell is she doing?
Stacey placed the car in park and stared at him. “Look. We’re going to see each other a lot for the next week or so. I don’t want things to be this weird between us every time we get together.”
“Are they weird?” He took a deep breath. “Look, I guess I shouldn’t pretend they’re not. It’s good we ran into each other. This way I can tell you how sorry I am about what happened fifteen years ago.” He cleared his throat. Never, not once since he’d joined the army, had he been such a bumbling fool. “The way I left, how I left, all of it was very dramatic and awful. The only thing I can say is I was going through a lot of shit at the time and I didn’t know how to behave. I was a kid. We both were. Anyway, I’m really sorry.”
She reached out and touched his hand. Surprised by the contact, he stared down at her small fingers clasping his own.
“It’s okay, Aidan. I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago, practically the same day. You had to do what you needed to do. And look at you. It was clearly the right thing for you to have done. You’re a doctor, an army surgeon. You saved all those kids in that village.”
She’d heard. His cheeks heated. Hopefully, she wouldn’t ask him much about it. The day remained mostly a blur, thanks to caffeine and the adrenaline fueling those moments. People didn’t want to hear
I’m not sure
as an answer. They wanted details. He hated having to give them out.
Stacey continued talking. “Your leaving turned out to be a really good thing for me, too.”
A pang thudded in his chest. This would be where she told him she’d moved on and married a millionaire, that the sex with said money-pants was better than anything he’d ever given her in his inexperienced youth. The girl he’d fantasized about even when he’d had no right to even keep her in his sexual imagination.
“It was?” They were pulled over on the side of the road two blocks from his home. He’d never flinched in combat hospitals but all he wanted was to run home before he had to hear what she said.
“Yes.” She brightened. “I’m a photographer. After Tulane, I went to New York City. I studied, traveled, won a bunch of awards. If you’d stayed here, I would have, too. My career wouldn’t have happened.”
“Oh.” A photographer. He never would have thought it. Maybe that wasn’t fair. She’d always been artistic. What
have happened if he’d stayed? Would he have encouraged her? What-ifs didn’t matter. He’d gone; she’d apparently done something exceptional.
“Oh?” She laughed, a loud, hard sound. “That’s all you have to say? Okay, Red. I see you’re as close-mouthed as ever. Let’s get you to your mom’s.”
Relax. Stacey Castle made herself take a deep breath before she took out her frustration on the accelerator. So what if Aidan Roux had returned? She’d known for weeks to expect him.
She hadn’t meant to run into him on the street. Of course, she could have driven by, and he never would have known. But, no, like always, she’d had to make things more difficult on herself and invite him into the car.
“I need to ask you something I’ve sort of been playing with since I heard you were coming back.”
“Go ahead.” Back in the day she’d tried so hard to draw him out, to know what secrets he held to himself when he said so little. She knew whatever they were should probably be left alone. He’d fled the city to leave them behind. “Although I’m not exactly certain what I can do for you.”