Weddings, Willows, and Revised Expectations

Seventeen years after being orphaned, Apryl Burns and her twin sister Courtney have their own expectations for life. While Courtney continues to shine at everything, Apryl holds fast to the mantra that as long as her potato chip stash remains intact, then she’ll be fine.

But when their beloved grandmother ends up injured and unable to manage her struggling antique store, Courtney makes it their mission to revamp the business and save what’s left of their family’s legacy. Despite rampant doubts in her abilities, Apryl finds herself trapped under the weight of family loyalty as they transition to a wedding venue decorating service. Soon shes forced to ask (translation: blackmail) their grandmother’s renter/handyman, Chance McFarland, for help, an arrangement that is made even worse by the fact that Chance is her former (ahem, and current) crush.

Chance knows a few dozen things about family loyalty, which is why he begrudgingly agrees to Apryl’s insane plan. While Apryl claims they’re archenemies, the girl Chance only glimpsed in their teens starts to emerge, stealing what remains of his heart.

But expectations are a powerful thing. Amidst the glamorous weddings and swaying willows, can those old expectations be revised into something new?

Prologue

A great philosopher looks at his various struggles as fodder for his innovative thinking, but, since I am not a great philosopher, I look at my struggles as something akin to stepping on a bee the size of a Komodo dragon. Painful and horrifying. Like I said, I am not a great philosopher. I’m a hairdresser who usually misspells innovative.

Correction: I was a hairdresser. Now I’m not sure what I am.

So, yeah. I’m not sure how to begin this. Maybe if this chair weren’t grinding my tailbone to dust, I’d be able to think straight and tell you this story. I always complained to Gram about this chair. She would just say that I was sitting in it wrong. No amount of shifting, however, relieves the pain. Or maybe that’s just the hole in my heart. Cheery, right? Well, I’ve never been a sunshine and rainbows girl.

I should get a grip and start at the beginning. What expression isn’t already coined by a multimillion-dollar movie franchise? Oh, never mind. As Solomon would say, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Also a cheery thought. I’m just full of those today.

Anyway. On a cold November night, after three days of labor, a happy couple welcomed their beautiful baby girl into the world. They just knew this little angel had great things in store for her. Then eleven minutes later, I was born. Once again, the happy couple imagined their second darling babe’s future, sure it would also be great and wonderful.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s the same thing I think every day.

Boy, did I prove them wrong.

But let’s skip ahead to my—our—fifteenth birthday. Because I blame everything happening right now on that day.

I glance around the willow grove. Courtney is standing by the present table, sipping a cup of punch. It looks like Queen Courtney is holding court, surrounded by all the popular, smart, and perfect boys and girls. She laughs and tosses her glossy hair over her shoulder. The way the boys stare, I’m convinced it contains some type of drool-inducing spores.

If I tried to flip my hair, I’d probably fall over.

Whatever. I roll my eyes like the “average” teenager I am and keep searching.

For him.

Gram set up our fifteenth birthday party in my favorite place, the willow grove. Courtney said we should just do it inside, in the kitchen, but I begged and begged. The idea of a fluttery party in the willow grove on a warm summer day just seemed enchanting. And it is. Our theme is purple because we couldn’t agree on a color, so Gram picked one for us. Twinkle lights—thanks to an extension cord—and streamers sway in the breeze. Tables with purple tablecloths dot the field surrounding the grove. People mill around, laughing, eating, and just enjoying one another’s company.

Where is he?

I have no idea why Chance McFarland and his father have been coming around so much. Gram hasn’t told us—yet. But I have the feeling it’s important. What I do know is that my heart feels like it will fly with the birds whenever Chance talks to me. A scary condition (especially because I’m afraid of heights) that I’ve been living with for a year, ever since the new, joint junior high and high school for the county opened its shiny steel doors.

Still no luck. I might just eat my body weight in cake today…

When Chance said he’d be at our birthday party last week—and I don’t want to be dramatic or anything—I thought I was going to die. Be still my heart! He actually winked at me when he said it too.

I search the throng of teenagers, pretending that I’m engrossed in organizing the cookies on the snack table.

Did Joe Cutly seriously try to do a mohawk?

Whoa, step back! That’s a lot of fuchsia.

Oh, look. Another one of Gram’s friends dyed her hair blue. Hope Gram isn’t next.

Anxiety thrums in my stomach, and I finger my locket. Seriously, where is he? Maybe he’s not coming. Oh, man. He’s not going to come, is he? If he doesn’t come, that’s all I’m going to remember about today. Whenever I look back on this birthday, there’s going to be a big black smear on this otherwise wonderful memory.

However, like the lovelorn fool I am, I keep searching for him.

Finally, I see him. Chance leans against a willow tree. Despite the fact that his back faces the crowd, I see him reach down, pluck a blade of grass, and pop it into his mouth. Apparently, he’s trying to be all cowboy. Why do guys do that? He knows this is New Hampshire, right? Not exactly the Wild West.

I start toward him, prepared to tease him about the grass chewing.

Except a hand clamps down on my shoulder.

Um, creepy. Fight or flight? Fight or flight?

“Hi, Apryl. I just wanted to catch you and wish you a happy birthday.”

Oh, it’s Chance’s dad, Mr. William McFarland. “Thank you, sir.”

He smiles and reaches for a cookie. Laugh lines crinkle all over his tan, weathered face, especially around his eyes. He rambles on and on, but I don’t hear what he’s saying. However, the way he’s studying me makes me feel self-conscious. I smooth the black lace on my dress skirt in an attempt to calm the anxious feeling trying to overtake me like the hives I get when I eat shellfish.

How long do you have to wait until it’s no longer considered rude to leave?

I think it’s been long enough.

I’m just about to excuse myself when I see a girl saunter around the trunk of the willow tree Chance continues to lean against. He takes her hand.

I can’t feel my face.

“Apryl, did you hear me?” Mr. McFarland asks.

“Wh—What?” I feel like I just lost a slap bet, face stinging from seven or eight smacks.

Mr. McFarland follows my gaze and nods. “Ah…” The breeze flicks at his full head of salt-and-pepper hair.

I lean against the table. My hand grapples for something to hold. My brain only registers that I’ve stuck my hand into something sticky when the unknown substance glues my fingers into a half-curled position. I am so dumb. Of course he’s with another girl. He’s always with another girl.

“Ah, that son of mine. Barely sixteen years old and flirting with every girl he can see.”

Yeah, I can see it too.

“I remember what it was like to be young.”

Oh, boy.

“I understand he wants a girlfriend.”

Clearly. I look at my jelly-covered hand. Gross.

“I just wish he’d go for a different kind of girl.” Mr. McFarland looks at me, his brown eyes piercing me where I stand.

Gulp.

A different kind of girl?

Am I a different kind of girl?

“Those girls aren’t good for him. He needs a girl who can understand the kind of legacy we’re building. And don’t think I haven’t noticed the way you guys spend time together. You certainly seem to get along.” His eyes pierce me once again because he knows. I thought I had been playing it cool. But cool doesn’t have permanently rosy cheeks.

“Um. Yeah.” I swallow.

“Good. That’s good.” He fixes me with his dagger-like stare once again. “Don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I do.”

He clears his throat. “Yes. I agree.”

Then he smiles. Only it’s not a nice, knowing, shared-secret kind of smile. It’s the kind of smile that would make a happy baby wail for their mom.

“Yes, I think Courtney is a good match for him.”

Once again, I can’t feel my face. But that only lasts for three seconds. Then it burns like lava as shame, humiliation, jealousy, and mortification consume me alive. If I could get away with it, I’d rip my locket off and throw it at someone.

“She’s just the kind of girl Chance needs. I intend to make sure he’s spending time with a proper young lady.” He places his hand on my shoulder once again, and I swear it weighs a hundred pounds. “You understand what I’m saying, young lady?”

Oh, yeah. I understand. I nod, my neck stiff and my head wooden.

“So, please, stay away.” He gives me one more pointed look before walking over to another group of partygoers.

There it is. I’m not good enough for his son. I’m no good. I’m not a proper young lady. A girl forever destined to be average.

And who would ever want average?

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Chapter 1

“Let me say this again, so clear that every senior citizen with a hearing aid in a two-block radius will hear me and be able to repeat this a week from now.” I pause for dramatic effect. “No.”

“You’re not the bride,” Izze singsongs. She does a side-to-side head bob that sends the shoulder-length curls she’s been growing out bouncing.

“Bridezilla,” I grumble.

Kaylee holds up the offending magazine. “This hairstyle is beautiful.”

Courtney takes the magazine from her, studying the picture like it’s the Holy Grail for her law exam. “It’s not that bad, Apryl.”

“Not that bad? Not that bad!” I sputter in mock horror. How can I aptly express my disgust? Would clawing my own eyes out be too dramatic? Perhaps hacking my hair off with the butter knife in front of me would send the message.

Izze starts waving her arms all over the place. “It’s classic.”

I grab the magazine. “It’s old-looking. Been there, done that. Don’t you want something new? Romantic? Creative? Something with curly tendrils and pretty flower appliques?” We’re gathered at Izze’s cousin’s café, Whipped Cream, planning last minute details for her bridal shower. At least we were. Somehow the conversation had dissolved into an argument about hairstyles for the wedding.

Izze stares at me like I just spoke gibberish to her. So do Courtney and Kaylee.

I sigh. “Courtney, please turn around.”

She takes a sip of her black (gag) decaf espresso before answering. “Not happening.”

Before the somewhat-aggressive words can form on my tongue, Kaylee takes the clip out of her red hair. She runs her fingers through the pin-straight tresses. “Okay.”

With my purse slung over my shoulder, I walk around the table and start braiding, looping, and pulling her hair into a masterpiece fit for royalty. Alas, I’m still waiting for Kate Middleton to tell me that I am her one and only stylist. Her loss.

I pull another bobby pin out of my purse—I keep a plastic bag full of these little miracle workers in there at all times—and curl and pin the last strand just above her right ear.

“Wow.” Izze gingerly reaches out her hand to touch it.

“And that’s just what I can do with a few pins.”

“And she’s oh so humble about it.” Courtney rolls her eyes, and I bite my tongue to keep the sisterly comebacks to myself.

“All right. Let’s get back to planning the bridal shower.” Courtney clicks her pen in a way that means business. “Let’s talk about games.”

I stifle a groan. Bridal shower games and I do not get along. I tune in and out of this inane conversation for the next twenty minutes. I glance at Izze. She looks happy. Really happy. Like, light-glowing-from-her-espresso-colored-eyes happy.

That’s right, peeps. My always-the-bridal-consultant friend is finally a bride. And just for the record, she is not marrying an accountant. For too many months I thought Miles was an accountant, not a financial consultant. Either way, he works with numbers. That seems pretty accountant-y to me. But after Izze threatened to throttle me, I stopped asking to borrow his calculator.

And just so you can note it on the official record, he has five calculators.

My phone starts to ring in my purse. I pull the dinky thing that barely passes for a smartphone out of my second-hand purse. It’s vintage—I found it in my grandmother’s antique shop the last time Courtney and I visited her.

“Apryl.” Courtney’s critical tone pulls me from the memory. “We aren’t supposed to be using cell phones. Remember? I said no cell phones.”

“It’s Gram’s ringtone, Courtney. Get a frozen chamomile tea, would you?”

“What does frozen chamomile tea—and by the way, yuck—have to do with your grandmother calling?” Kaylee asks.

Courtney rolls her eyes. “It’s her way of saying relax, take a chill pill, calm down.”

“I’m going to use that,” Izze says.

For some reason the call went straight to voicemail. I listen to the message, dread filling my body from the top of my blue-black hair all the way to my black- and silver-painted toenails. As a man’s voice fills my ear, panic and fear wrap around my heart. I don’t hear anything other than seven terrible words:

Your grandmother is in the Keene hospital.

“Courtney, Gram is in the hospital. We’ve got to go. Now!”

My twin sister starts shrieking and asking all sorts of questions, but I don’t have any answers. Her blue eyes, which are slightly darker than mine, are wide with panic. I shove my phone at her while I gather our stuff. Izze and Kaylee spring into action, trying to help me pick up our junk while Courtney mutters “Where is she?” over and over again to the man in my phone.

“Finally!” Courtney grabs my arm and pulls me out the door with her. “I’ll drive.”

“We’re praying for you!” Izze yells.

“Let us know if you need anything!” Kaylee shouts.

“Thanks,” I mumble too quietly for them to hear me.

“Someone has until the end of You’ve Got Mail playing on the waiting-room television to tell us what’s going on, or this entire hospital will suffer the consequences. And Meg Ryan is about to meet her cyber crush only to discover Tom Hanks, so you don’t have long.” I’ve been in a glare-off with the receptionist in the emergency room for over an hour, and my patience is wearing thin.

The boney woman puts a hand on her waist. “Ma’am, there’s nothing I can do.”

My chest hurts and not just from the fact that she called me “Ma’am.” I’m only twenty-four!

“At least let us go back there! We drove all this way—” In other words, twenty minutes— “and we have the right to see her. We’re her immediate family!”

“I’m afraid I can’t let you.”

“I am going to sue this entire hospital! My sister over there is a lawyer.” Well, almost a lawyer, but the receptionist who bears a striking resemblance to Ursula the Sea Witch doesn’t need to know that. I wave my arm behind me to indicate Courtney, who is Lamaze breathing in a chair across the room, legs crossed and jiggling with nerves. She paints the picture of competent lawyer right now, doesn’t she? At least she isn’t brown paper bagging it.

The woman narrows her eyes and speaks through clenched teeth. “Please sit down. I will do my best to get someone to talk with you. But it’s crazy back there, so it may take some time.”

With a huff, I storm across the waiting room and sit beside Courtney.

“No luck,” Courtney states.

“We’re going to sue them.”

“What?” Her eyes are wide with horror. “You can’t joke about lawsuits in a hospital! That’s like…like…”

“Like screaming ‘Bomb!’ at a TSA convention?”

She stares at me for a moment. “I don’t think that’s the expression.”

“I don’t use clichés.”

We both fall into worried silence. There were no details in the message that I can remember. Zippo. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. However, I’m not sure I remember anything other than those seven horrible words. So here we sit, borderline homicidal.

“She’s not going to die, Apryl.” Courtney’s whispered words should be reassuring but they’re not. Sometimes people die. We both know that. And now we’re sitting in my least favorite place in the world. The place where our lives were devastated forever.

I squeeze my eyes shut against the memories. When I open them again, it’s just in time to see a tall, broad chested man with arms the size of my head walking out of the waiting room. I do a double take.

Chance McFarland.

Thankfully, I’m distracted by another man in light blue scrubs who walks into the waiting room and stops at the receptionist’s desk. He talks with her quietly, and Ursula the Sea Witch points at us. I hold my breath as he approaches us.

“Are you Charlotte Burns’s granddaughters?”

“Yes!” we shout in unison like creepy twins from a horror movie.

“Follow me, please.”

He leads us down a hallway, and for a moment I think he’s taking us to the little room, the bad news room, the same room from seventeen years ago. He walks right by it, though, and waves his ID badge in front of a sensor on the wall that opens the doors to the ER. My heart relaxes. He leads us through the chaotic maze and finally stops in front of a room with curtains for walls.

He pulls back one of the curtains for us to enter. “The doctor will be in to see you shortly.”

Gram lays in a bed in the middle of the curtained room. I immediately rush to her left side, and Courtney rushes to her right. I take her withered hand gently in mine, afraid it might break.

This is too much.

She’s fast asleep. Peaceful even. I wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with her if not for the wires and machines connected to her. Oh, and the huge brace on her from the waist down.

A man in dark blue scrubs and a lab coat steps into our billowy room. “I’m Dr. Scott, the attending physician on your grandmother’s case.” He gives us that patented doctor smile. Seriously, they must take a class in med school on how to smile like that. Entitled The Perfect Calming Smile and taught by stinking Dr. Smile himself.

“What happened?” Courtney exudes calm, cool, and collected now. You would never have known she hyperventilated to the beat of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” just minutes earlier.

“Charlotte fell down the stairs and suffered a hip fracture, which is a break in the thigh bone—the femur—of your hip joint.” He walks over to the one actual wall in the room and begins drawing a picture on the dry erase board mounted there. As he draws, he gives us mini-lecture on ball and socket joints. Apparently the hip is one.

As he recapped his marker, Dr. Scott’s expression remains grave. Like a funeral plot. “To be blunt, it was a bad break with multiple fractures. There was a break approximately two inches from the hip joint and another fracture four inches from the hip joint. And the femoral neck fracture, the break closest to the hip joint, is cutting off blood supply to the head of the thigh bone. She’s going to need surgery. Tonight. My team is preparing the OR now.”

“Is this a dangerous surgery?” I whisper, unable to take my eyes off my precious grandmother.

“There are risks to every surgery, but this is the only course of action. We’ll be performing an internal repair. The plan is to insert screws into the bone to hold it together while it heals.” Dr. Scott sets the marker back onto the board’s attached tray. “Dr. Rothman, a colleague of mine, will be assisting in the surgery.”

I blanche at the words “screws” and “bones.” Judging by Courtney’s pale face, she’s feeling nauseated as well.

Dr. Scott points to one of the IVs leading into Gram’s pale arm. “As you can see, we’re keeping her well-medicated, but I suspect it’s made her drowsy. It usually does. We went over the risks and benefits with Charlotte before the meds knocked her out, and she gave permission for us to keep you two informed.”

Two men pull the curtain aside. The bigger man with white bushy eyebrows turned to Courtney and me first. “We’ve come to transport Charlotte Burns to pre-op.”

“Excellent.” Dr. Scott looks at us again. “I’ll speak with you after the surgery. One of the nurses will show you the way to the OR waiting room.”

Courtney and I stand there helpless as the doctor exits and the transport guys unhook our grandmother. Without a backwards glance, they wheel her away.

I didn’t say goodbye.

A nurse arrives and smiles at us with sympathy. “Can I show you to the OR waiting room?”

“No, thanks,” I mumble. “We know the way.”

Courtney and I leave the ER and walk down the bland, lifeless hallways to the waiting room. I stop and grab my sister’s arm. “I’m going to run to the bathroom and to get some junk food. You go get us some good seats. Try to score us one of the couches. Take it with force if necessary. I think we’re going to be here awhile.”

“Okay, fine.” Courtney sighs. Not in a way that says she’s annoyed with me but rather in a way that says she’s drained by all this. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained.

She’s not the only one.

I go to the bathroom first, only breaking down a little bit in the stall. At least I thought it was only a little bit. My lobster-red face, however, says otherwise. My pale blue eyes look eerie in this light. My blue-black, naturally straight hair falls a couple inches past my shoulders in a way that normally highlights my high cheekbones but now just highlights that I’ve been honking like a dying seagull. Attractive image, is it not?

I need Starbursts and Snickers and about a thousand bags of chips. I’m thinking Cool Ranch Doritos.

I leave the bathroom and punch the down button for the elevator. It dings, and the doors open. I step inside mindlessly. The doors are about to close when a large, rough hand inserts itself between them.. The doors open again, and inside steps Chance McFarland.

This was not happening. “Get off the elevator,” I growl.

“Going down?” He completely ignores my demand, and the doors slide shut behind him. Totally and stinking fantastic.

“Get. Off. The. Elevator.” I desperately push all the buttons trying to get the elevator to stop.

“Can’t.” He leans against the opposite side of this stupid, tiny enclosed chamber. His long legs seem to take up all the available space.

“Why are you here?”

He shrugs.

“Why?” I snarl.

Once again, he shrugs.

“At least acknowledge that I’m speaking to you!” I’m filled with visions of flicking him in the forehead.

“Once upon a time you told me to stay out of your way. I thought that would include not speaking to you.”

Twit. Twit. Twit.

“I think that would have included not riding in the same elevator as me.” I fiddle with my antique gold locket, rubbing my finger over the familiar floral pattern. It’s my nervous, anxious, angry habit. It’s nothing short of miraculous that I haven’t rubbed it smooth. “And by the way, you’re speaking to me now.”

“I don’t see why you seem to hate my guts, but it’s certainly your prerogative.”

“I don’t recall ever saying that I hate your guts. But you’re right, I do not like you.”

Chance raises an eyebrow. “And the reason would be?”

“Sometimes you just don’t like people.” Never in a million reasons will I tell him the real reason.

“Perhaps the smell of motor oil repulses you? Most women turn their noses up at it, but I never took you to be a prissy girl,” he drawls.

I flinch.

Chance’s eyes are lit with the knowledge that he knows he struck a nerve. Oh, man. That’s it. Crossing the four feet separating us, I prepare to engage in verbal warfare. And maybe one of those old movie slaps.

That is, until the elevator jerks to a stop and the lights flicker out, leaving us in total darkness. The sudden halt sends me flying into Chance’s broad chest.

My face smacks into a cloth-covered brick wall, and my scathing comments disappear from my brain, replaced with one thought and one thought only:

Who knew that Chance would have abs like that?

Chance caught Apryl in his arms but, at the force of her impact, lost his balance. They both crashed into the ground, with Apryl landing right on top of him, the top of her head knocking him in the jaw.

He spat out a mouthful of silky black hair. “Get off me.”

She scrambled to get off him but tripped on his outstretched leg in the dark, this time punching him in the jaw.

“Ow.” He rubbed his aching jaw.

“I can’t believe this,” Apryl moaned as she rolled off of him. “I’m going to die in an elevator. It’s just like that wretched ride.”

Chance rolled his eyes, thankful that she couldn’t see him in the dark. “I’m fine, thanks.”

“What are you sputtering about?”

“My jaw that you nailed twice. What are you sputtering about?”

“That ride at Disneyland…or Disney World. I can never keep them straight. Anyway, I’ve never actually been on the ride.”

“Then how would you know it’s wretched, as you put it?” Chance shook the chin-length, blond hair out of his eyes. He usually only wore his hair in a ponytail when he was working, but he sure wished he had that leather band with him right now.

“Because I saw a video of it. Regardless, we’re going to die in here.” Apryl kicked and banged the walls of the elevator. She screamed over and over, “Help! We’re stuck in here!”

Finally, when his eyes were starting to adjust to the darkness, she collapsed onto the ground again. Where were the emergency lights in this thing? “I don’t want to die.” She reminded him of Donkey in Shrek.

“I think you should get a grip,” he mumbled.

“I can’t believe I’m going to die in here!”

“We aren’t overly dramatic, are we?” Chance studied Apryl, huddled in the opposite corner of the elevator. Her knees were drawn to her chin, and she was rocking back and forth. Oh, great. She was on the verge of hysteria, and Chance had never been fond of dealing with hysterical women. “Why don’t we talk about something else?”

“Should we take a musing look at our lives or talk about the bucket lists we never got to complete?”

Oh, brother. “How’s your grandmother?”

“She was taken to surgery just before I got stuck in this hanging coffin.”

Man, she really did not let an idea go once she got it into her thick head. Of course, Chance knew that from firsthand experience.

“Wait.” Apryl picked up her head from where it rested on her knees. “How do you know about my grandmother?”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Not often, but yeah, right there I was being legit. I’m not exactly in the mood to joke around.”

Chance popped his jaw. There. That would help. “I brought her here. I called you. I stayed with her, waiting for you and Courtney to get here. Took you long enough, by the way.”

“There was a lot of traffic on the highway.” Silence filled the air while she paused, her fingers tapping her knees in a quick rhythm. “Were you there when the doctor talked to Gram about the risks?”

He shifted uncomfortably. “Um…yeah.”

“Is it bad?”

“There are always risks.” What was he supposed to say? Yeah, there were risks. Blood clots. Bleeding. Infection. Problems with anesthesia and delayed healing. Not to mention all the long-term problems that could arise. The doctor, however, made it clear that the benefits far outweighed the risks. The chances of survival without the surgery…

“Thanks for inspiring confidence.” She tried to infuse her normal edge into the sarcastic comment, but her voice broke on the last word.

Chance stifled a groan and let dropped his head into his hands. He just wasn’t cut out to deal with women. Crazy mood swings and lots of crying. That’s why he was never in a relationship long enough to deal with those particular feminine traits. He rubbed his scruffy face with both hands. To make the situation even worse, her crying was justified. He should comfort her. He fished around in his pocket. His hand wrapped around a thick cloth. Was it the cloth he used to wipe grease from his hands? He took a whiff of it. Nope. Should be good to use.

“Here.” He tossed the cloth to her.

Apryl caught it midair. “Uh, thanks.” She proceeded to wipe her face then sniffle even more.

“Just blow your nose already! Stop trying to be polite.” Oh, that earned him a look worthy of death.

Apryl lifted the cloth like she was about to blow her nose then shrieked. Next thing Chance knew, his peace offering had smacked him in the face.

“Why would you give me your sock?” Apryl shrieked in disgust.

 Chance held it up for inspection. It was indeed his sock. Whoops.

“Eww! Did you take that off your foot?” Apryl wiped her tongue on the sleeve of her sweater.

“For crying out loud, woman! Why would I do that? And why are you wiping off your tongue? Did you lick the sock?”

Apryl said, “Because you’re my nemesis.” at the same time Chance said, “Because I’m your nemesis.”

“Saw that one coming.” He sighed. This crazy firecracker was too much. Had always been too much.

“I swear, if we get out of here alive, you are going to regret that.”

Chance sighed. So much for brokering a temporary peace treaty between them.—Wouldn’t want things to get too boring. His father was right—Apryl was as unhinged as ever. When they got out of here, Chance would happily go back to avoiding her. The woman was so fiery she burned blue. He’d be willing to bet that was why her hair had a bluish tint to it.

Her fire.

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