Maddie Taylor – Halfway Home


Halfway Home by Maddie Taylor

After secretly loving him for a lifetime, can this shy farm girl corral her cowboy once and for all?


The amber glow she’d seen the night before reappeared, this time as passion filled eyes. A split second away from her first kiss with the man she’d loved forever, she fumbled with her phone with nervous fingers. When it finally stopped ringing, she glanced up, again struck by the mix of green and brown and amber in his beautiful eyes. What would happen if she stoked the glow to a full blaze? Eager to see, she tipped her head ever so slightly to the side, in kiss-ready position, and rose onto her toes once more.

“Remind me, where were we?”

In answer, the slow smile that curved his lips was so disarming, her pulse quickened, and shivery currents of desire raced through her veins.

“I think,” he replied in a husky whisper as one hand curled around her waist, “we were right”—the other cupped her chin while he lowered his head to where it was before the interruption—“about here,” he finished on a throaty exhale.

It turned into a growl of frustration when an incoming call interrupted them again. Not JT this time, but the universal generic default on every iPhone. His head dropped to her shoulder, and as his frustration bubbled over, he pounded the tree beside her head with his fist.

“This had better be fucking important,” he grumbled as he dug his phone out of the back pocket of his jeans.

Nate rarely cursed, at least not while she’d been in ear shot. That he did now showed his exasperation over their twice-thwarted first kiss. She wasn’t thrilled herself, but the entire situation suddenly struck her as funny, and she giggled.

Not finding anything amusing, he glared down at her, a brow arched as if to say just wait until I get off the phone, and with it already to his ear, barked, “Sheriff Dawson.”

Audrey pressed her fingers to her lips, smothering more laughter. Nate was gorgeous all the time, but when the little muscle jumped in his clenched jaw, and his enigmatic eyes flashed with emotion, he was a sight to behold.

That was when it dawned on her—the amber in his beautiful hazel eyes was like a barometer for his emotions. It burned hot when he was angry, frustrated, or turned on, and when hurt, like she’d unintentionally caused him the night before.

“I’d hoped we’d be spared the spectacle, but I’m not that lucky.” Nate dropped his head back and looked up at the towering tree. Weariness echoed in his words as if it were the end of a long day rather than mid-morning. “Where is she and her entourage staying?”

Audrey stiffened, and her laughter instantly evaporated. She knew without him saying more the she he referred to.

“I’ll be there directly,” he told the caller, sounding resigned to the fact. After he disconnected, he brought his head forward until his gaze met hers. “I hate to have to tell you this, darlin’.”

“You don’t have to. My mother is in town. That’s expected since she’s the reason I’ll be in court on Monday.”

“She arrived with a crew of ten,” he informed her as he deftly buckled his belt. “It seems she’s filming a documentary.”

Sometime last year, she’d learned from her nana—because Audrey and her mother did not speak—that Katharine was having trouble finding work. Roles for fifty-something actresses, fifty-six in her case, were generally parts as mothers and grandmothers, and the wardrobe, hair and makeup were age-appropriate, as it should be. Kat Porter wasn’t ready to bow to gravity or time and had refused several offers that came her way. Then, they dried up.

A documentary was new territory.

Her curiosity couldn’t keep from asking, “About what?”

“Herself. What else?” was his dry, and very apt response. “My deputy delivered more bad news.” His hands slid up her arms and cupped her shoulders before he went on. “The tabloid press pulled into town about five minutes after she did.”

Audrey closed her eyes, immediately transported back to high school and being hounded by the press and having her picture taken every time she stepped outside.

Nate’s fingers flexed, the roughened pads digging into her flesh, not painfully, but lending his support as she trembled with dread. “You know as well as I do it’s going to be a circus these next few days.”

“Yeah, with me as the side show.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it, which I do.” He released her with one hand and cupper her chin with the other. “Look at me, Audrey. This next part is important.” Her protector, who now wore a badge and a gun, and had the authority to use both, waited until she did as he’d asked then gave her the rundown on how this would go. “The security gates stay closed. If you’re in the house, the alarm system stays armed at all times. Don’t open the gate to anyone except me, Brad, Dad, and Darrell. If you go out, it’s with me or the deputy who will be assigned when I can’t be with you. Any questions?”

She shook her head.

“Don’t worry about this. I’ve got you covered.”

He’d said the same thing the day she arrived for the funeral. He’d taken charge then, too.

“Are you with me, Audrey?”

She hesitated—even though her first inclination was to run and hide. Any time Kat Porter was in the news, her daughter, who wanted none of her notoriety, was fodder for the gossip mill. And they’d found her in New York and Texas and Boston. At least here, Sheriff Dawson could protect her.

He leaned down and, with his forehead resting on hers, urged, “Don’t run scared on me again, baby.”

“I didn’t—”

“Yes, you did. You left after high school with hardly a word and never returned. But you’re not seventeen anymore, and I’m here with you this time. No matter how bad it gets, we’ll deal with it, together.” His eyes burned into hers as he framed her face with both hands. “Say you’re with me on this, darlin’.”

“I’m with you, Nate,” she replied without having to think about it because she trusted him, implicitly.

Whisper-soft, his mouth brushed hers when he murmured in approval, “That’s my girl.”

It wasn’t the first kiss she wanted, but it was tender and sweet, and made her heart turn over as she fell more deeply in love with him.

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