“Lunch is ready,” she said.

Both men moved into the house, where Nichole had set the table.

“How’s Beth?” Nichole asked as she set a tray of sandwiches in the center of the table.

“Improving a little more every day.” Sam was proud of the progress she’d made. He didn’t try to hide his smile, which came to him whenever someone mentioned Beth’s name. Sam noticed Rocco watching him and frowning.

“What?” Sam demanded.

“You falling for her?” Rocco asked.

“Maybe.” This wasn’t a discussion he wanted to have, especially now in front of Nichole. He turned his attention to the plate of sandwiches and said to Nichole, “Beth mentioned you were by recently.”

“Yeah. Shawntelle and I came for a visit the other day. Now that she has a piano close at hand she’s resumed teaching piano lessons. A couple of her students were there at the same time. Kids from the high school have stopped by, too. Beth has improved a lot since the last time I was up to see her.”

Sam knew Shawntelle was Rocco’s bookkeeper and a good friend to Nichole.

“We arrived when she was arguing with the physical therapist about getting in the pool.”

Sam snapped to attention. He didn’t know anything about this. “What’d you say?”

“Beth didn’t want to get in the pool even though the physical therapist said it would help her.”

“Why not?” he demanded. He’d kept close tabs on her treatment and was surprised she hadn’t mentioned anything about water exercises.

“I don’t know why she refused,” Nichole admitted. “You’ll need to ask her.”

“I will.” He would definitely find out what was holding her back.

Rocco frowned. “What’s the deal? Is she afraid of the water?”

“I don’t know,” Nichole said, “Shawntelle and I only heard the end of the conversation. I don’t think we were supposed to hear what we did. All I can tell you is that the therapists said it would help her, but Beth refused.”

This didn’t make sense. Beth was one of the bravest women Sam had ever met. He couldn’t imagine her backing down from anything.

Owen appeared and sat at the table. “Mom baked brownies this morning and she let me help.”

“You want to be a chef when you grow up?” Sam asked.

“I do if I can bake brownies.”

Grinning, Rocco walked over to the refrigerator. “You want a beer or a soda?”

“Soda.” Sam pulled out a chair and sat down next to Owen. Nichole had set out plates along with a big bowl of potato chips and sliced apples.

Sam reached for a ham-and-cheese sandwich and studied it as if analyzing its contents. Finally, curiosity got the better of him. “Don’t suppose Beth mentioned me?”

Nichole laughed. “Your name was every other word. It was Sam this and Sam that. Listening to her, one would think you walk on water.”

Holding back a smile would have been impossible.

“She said the two of you have been entertaining the patients and staff every night with your music.”

Rocco reached for a second sandwich. “You two are playing together?”

“Yeah.” He could see that his friend was amused but he was unsure why.

“What’s so funny?” Sam asked Rocco.

His buddy shrugged. “Nothing. I just never thought I’d see the day.”

“See what?”

“You,” Rocco said, lifting the bowl of chips and emptying a large potion onto his plate.

“What about me?” Sam had a feeling he should let this go, but he couldn’t make himself do it.

“You,” Rocco repeated, “hung up on a girl.”

“I’m not hung up on Beth.” He was. He so was, and he had no clue why he would deny it.

“Would you two stop,” Nichole interceded. “You’re beginning to sound like kids on the playground.”

Sam was happy to drop the subject. This thing with Beth was new and he had yet to fully take in what it was exactly, that they had other than a shared love of music and a connection he would be hard pressed to explain to anyone, even himself. And of course her addictive kisses.

Hearing that she didn’t want to get into the pool for her physical therapy puzzled him, and he was anxious to talk to her about it. As soon as he finished with his sandwich, he made his excuses.

“I best head out,” Sam said, scooting back his chair.

“You didn’t eat a brownie,” Owen announced, as if Sam had decided against sampling nectar from the gods.

“Next time, kiddo.” Sam ruffled the top of the boy’s head, raised his chin at Rocco, and hugged Nichole. “See you.”

“Thanks for the help,” Rocco called after him.

“Anytime,” Sam returned as he headed out the door. He didn’t hesitate and drove directly to the rehab facility.

When he found her bed empty, he did a search of the hallways, knowing she was probably walking the corridor. She used every excuse to stay out of bed, walking until the pain was too much for her or she grew weak.

It didn’t take him long to find her. Watching Beth walk, he was once again amazed at the progress she’d made in such a short amount of time. Seeing her without her being aware, Sam felt a tug against his heart. She made him proud, knowing every step brought her pain. Sheer resolve was what drove her. Her concentration was keen as she purposefully moved one foot in front of the other. Several times he saw her grimace, and it was all he could do to keep from rushing forward, lifting her in his arms, and carting her back to her room. If it were possible, he would gladly take on that discomfort himself rather than see her suffer.

Sam never expected such strong feelings for another woman. The depth of his attraction stunned him. It was like his heart reached out to her, willing her health and happiness, even if that meant it wasn’t with him.

No, that wasn’t true.

Just thinking about Beth with another man and his jaw tightened. He’d be lying to himself if he said he didn’t want her with him. That on its own was a surprise, seeing how he felt when they first met. Beth, sweet and proper; him being his irreverent self. It’d taken the accident for him to discover how much they had in common.

As if sensing his presence, Beth glanced up. Immediately her face broke into a smile, her eyes widening with inexplicable joy.

“Sam. When did you get here?”

“Just a few moments ago.”

She started toward him, nearly stumbling in her rush to reach his side.

Sam lunged forward, wrapping his arms around her before she had a chance to lose her balance. “Hey there, one step at a time.”

“I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me, too.” He hugged her and kissed the top of her head. He wanted to really kiss her, the way he normally did when they were together. Prying eyes prevented him from doing something he knew would embarrass her.

“You got the dryer moved for Rocco and Nichole?”

“We did. Nichole dutifully fed me lunch and now I’m here.” He released her and she apparently noticed his injured hand.

Her eyes lit up with alarm. “You hurt yourself.”

“It’s nothing,” he said, dismissing her concern, loving that she’d noticed.

Frowning, she tenderly rubbed her thumb over the back of his hand. “It looks painful.”

“It isn’t, but if you want to kiss it and make it better … just saying.”

She laughed as he knew she would, and pressed her lips over the small injury.


The question fell gently from her lips. He loved hearing the tenderness in her voice. “Much.” Although it wasn’t necessary, he kept his arm tucked around her waist and kept her as close to him as possible.

He waited for a few moments, letting her set the pace as they walked, then asked, making the question as casual as he could, “What’s this I hear about you refusing to do water therapy?”

“Who told you that?” Her voice held more than a hint of defensiveness, the subtle change in her obvious.

“Does it matter?”

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