Today's Reading

That brightened her mood slightly. Her phone dinged with a text. Gary, the retiring ranger she was replacing.

Are you riding with me?

She quickly texted him.

Yes. What time?

Give me an hour and I'll pick you up.

She sent him a thumbs- up emoji and hooked her phone on her belt.

"Come see what I'm working on," her mom said.

Brooke edged into the room. It wasn't often she got a chance to see an unfinished work by her mother. The painting was of her very pregnant sister. "Oh, wow," she said. "That's beautiful. She'll love it."

"I hope so. Meghan's feeling kind of..."

"Fat? That's what she told me the other day," Brooke said. "I tried to tell her that wasn't true, and maybe this will show her."

"I'm glad you like it. I should have it finished in time to take with the others to Knoxville next month."

The baby's due date was a couple of months away, just after her mom's gallery showing of her work ended. They both turned as the doorbell rang. It couldn't be Gary already, and besides, he would just honk. "I'll get it," Brooke said and hurried to open the front door.

"Jeremy?" she said, her stomach fluttering at the sight of one of Natchez's most eligible bachelors. Had she forgotten a date?

He looked behind him then turned back to Brooke with laughter in his eyes. "I think so."

Heat flushed her face, and it had more to do with the broad shoulders and lean body of the man on her doorstep than the temperature. "I wasn't expecting you. I don't have a lot of time, but do you want to come in?"

"Since it's a little hot and humid out here, coming in would be good," he teased. "And I apologize for dropping by without calling, but I was afraid you'd tell me you were busy."

Brooke steeled herself against the subtle citrus fragrance of his cologne as he walked past her. She'd had exactly two dates with Jeremy Steele and hadn't figured out why he was even interested in her. She was so not his type. The handsome widower tended to lean more toward blondes.

"Hello, Mrs. Danvers," Jeremy said to her mother, who had followed her to the living room.

"How many times have I told you to call me Vivian?"

"I'll try to remember that," he said with a thousand- watt smile.

"Good. A thirty-something calling me Mrs. Danvers makes me feel old," she replied. "And since I know you didn't come to see me, I'll go back to my painting."

"Good to see you... Vivian." Then he turned to Brooke and glanced at her uniform. "Are you working tonight?"

"Sort of," she said. "I was going to ride along with Dad on his patrol, but he cancelled and turned me over to another ranger. Why?"

"I know it's last minute, but I was hoping you'd have time to join me at King's Tavern," he said. "I have a hankering for one of their flatbreads."

Her mouth watered at the thought. Brooke hadn't eaten since lunch, and she could do last minute, at least this time. But the question of why 'her' kept bobbing to the surface. Ignoring it, she said, "That sounds good. I'll text Gary to pick me up later."

"Gary?"

She grinned at him, tempted to describe the aging ranger as a hunk but instead settled for the truth. "He's the ranger I'm replacing when he 'retires'."

Red crept into Jeremy's face. "Oh, that guy. Are you even sworn in yet?"

"No, that's next week. I talked my dad into letting me get a little early practice." It helped having a father who was the district ranger, even if he wasn't overjoyed about her becoming a law enforcement ranger. Then she looked down. "I need to change first."

"You're fine like you are," he said.

Maybe to him, but she was not about to go on a date wearing a National Park Service uniform and a Sig strapped to her waist. "Give me five minutes."
...

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