(One Strike Away Book Three)


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THE LAST TIME Travis Forsythe felt the power of a motorcycle between his legs was the last time he set foot in Green Hills, South Carolina.

Eleven years by everyday standards. By Travis' way of thinking, more like a lifetime. He left Green Hills a skinny kid without a dime to his name. Even the beat up old Kawasaki he'd tenderly nursed along through high school decided thirty miles down the road was its limit, dying with little ceremony.

Travis didn't blink. Though he cursed up a blue streak, he sure the hell didn't turn back. Blessed with a strong body and a will of iron, he walked, the worn heels of his just-this-side-of-too-tight leather boots crunching in the loose gravel. The old duffle bag taxed with carrying his earthly possessions slung over one shoulder.

Luckily, Travis didn't own much, making his burden light. And with each step, the weight—from the bag, from his soul—lifted even more. He swore then and there that nothing would bring him back.

A promise he'd kept. Until now.

As Travis parked the shiny new Harley on the street, any changes to Green Hills were lost on him. He didn't care enough to notice, remembering what he'd said to Nick Lander's when they parted in New York.

In and out. Travis had one piece of business on his agenda. Then he would be off to Bermuda. After a long, sometimes grueling baseball season, he and Nick deserved a little R&R.

Good company. Cold drinks. Hot beaches. Hotter women. Blonde, brunette, or redhead? If the mood struck—and the ladies were willing—perhaps all three at the same time.

Grinning at the idea, Travis removed his helmet, running a hand through his thick dark hair that—much to his chagrin as a boy—had a tendency to curl at the ends. What he needed was a haircut.

Travis would find a barber shop in Bermuda. One looking out over the ocean, not an alleyway like the one his father used to take him to in Green Hills. He wanted a place where the air was clean, not clogged with the smell of rotten garbage, piss, and God knows what else.

Five minutes in this town and his mind had already headed south, dredging up memories he hadn't thought about in years.

Gripping the helmet with leather clad hands, Travis shook off his wayward musings. As he paused outside the storefront, he took a deep breath. Though the faded blue paint peeled from around the plate-glass window frame, the sign above the door looked new.

Green Hills Non-Profit Thrift Shop. All donations welcome.

Travis had a donation. A swift kick in the butt to the proprietor.

Three heads turned as Travis entered the building. The pretty brunette checking out a display of dishes sent him a smile. Interested, but not as friendly, the older man and woman near a rack of winter coats eyed him with a faint air of suspicion.

The fourth person in the room, just out of her teens—maybe—didn't have time to worry about Travis. She stood behind the counter—near an old-fashioned cash register—working the life out of a piece of gum, the contents of a dog-eared book holding her complete attention.

The woman Travis wanted to see was nowhere to be found. Naturally. Why make his visit any easier?

Logically, Travis knew—since he hadn't sent word to expect him—his anger wasn't warranted. However, logic and anger seldom went hand-in-hand.

He was here. Where was she?

Rather than stew, Travis did what he always did. He took action.

"Excuse me?"

"The prices are clearly marked." Without raising her eyes, the young woman flicked a lock of purple-streaked hair over her shoulder. "If you're looking for a lower price, good luck."

Travis admired a woman with attitude. Downright rude was something else. She needed a lesson in customer relations. But he had neither the time—nor inclination.

"I don't care about your prices. I'm looking for—"

"Hello, Travis."

Delaney Pope.

So much about her had changed in eleven years. However, Travis would have known her anywhere as long as he could look into her eyes. A true, startlingly bright, purple.

"We need to talk." Noting the sudden interest from the gum-chomping cashier, Travis added, "Alone."

"My office is in the back."

As he followed Delaney, Travis noted the sway of her hips, hips he was certain she hadn't possessed the last time they met. He felt a twinge of unease before reminding himself about the passage of time. She wasn't a scared kid any longer.

Like Travis, Delaney hadn't lived the last ten years in a bubble. She had grown up. He could admire her figure without feeling guilty—without the slightest intention of acting.

Sorry brain. Sometimes his libido ran the show. The age-old man/woman thing—no matter the woman or their history—couldn't be tamped down.

Delaney took a seat behind an old wooden desk, pocked with long, deep scars. Her gaze, when she finally met his, was steady and cool.

"What can I do for you?"

"You want to play dumb?"

Travis crossed his arms and waited. Once, just his intractable stance would have made Delaney crumble. Now, she didn't blink. Apparently, somewhere along the way, she'd found the backbone he always knew she possessed.

"I'm not dumb, Travis." Delaney's demeanor went from cool to frigid. "Despite words to the contrary, I never was."

"You never heard those words from me, Del."

"No." A flicker of warmth entered her gaze. Delaney sighed. "Never from you."

"Do you want to explain this?"

Travis placed a cashier's check on the desk.

"I owed you money. Now I don't."

Travis rubbed his temples, counting slowly to ten. He really, really needed a vacation.

"All the time we knew each other. Through everything, I only asked you to do two things."


"Never pay me back," Travis interrupted. "And never, never, come back to Green Hills."

"You can't hold me to promises made when I was sixteen and scared out of my mind."

"Nothing's changed, Del."

"You're wrong." Delaney's hands clenched. As if realizing, she breathed deeply, relaxing her fingers. "I don't need your money. And I don't need you to take care of me. Not anymore."

"We were friends."

"Were is the operative word, Travis. Those days are long gone."

"I still think of you as a friend."

Travis felt a tug of regret when he saw surprise flare in Delaney's eyes. He could have—should have—stayed in touch. He hadn't forgotten her as much as pushed her to the back of his mind along with a tangled mess of less than happy memories.

"Friends who haven't spoken in over a decade?" Delaney scoffed. "I don't think so. You have no right to try and dictate what I do with my money or where I choose to spend my time."

"No right?"

"None whatsoever."

Travis rested his hands on the desk, leaning forward. Close enough to see the flecks of silver that highlighted the unusual color of her eyes.

"My rights as a delinquent friend may be debatable. But there's one thing you can't deny."

Delaney crossed her arms over her chest, the look in her unforgettable purple eyes telling him she her patience had almost run its course.

"Do tell."

Travis slowly smiled, knowing he held the winning card.

"My rights as your husband."