No, I’m not. I love men. I love Ty and Josh. I’m even quite fond of Seth.
But Seth’s dad can suck it.
Deciding that it’s probably best if I’m not alone for the next few hours, and not wanting to drive out to the ranch to hang out with Cara, I text my brother.
Me: Make sure you’re dressed. I’m coming over.
I grab my purse and hit the remote start on my new car—damn, I love that car—just as Ty texts back.
Ty: We’re dressed. Come on over.
My car handles like a dream on the slick roads across town to the house Ty now shares with Lauren. Her great-grandfather was one of the founding fathers of Cunningham Falls, and the house they live in was passed down to her by her parents, who died a few years ago. The house is the biggest in town, a colonial-style white home with a circular driveway and beautiful gardens.
Cunningham Falls is gorgeous in winter. Not only because of the snow that covers everything, making it look clean and fresh, but also because of the lovely holiday decorations that have been hung every year the weekend after Thanksgiving for more than fifty years.
Big, red bells and fresh evergreen garlands are strung above the streets, along the streetlights. White lights twinkle through the branches. Snowflakes and snowmen made of white lights are hung on the telephone poles.
Thanks to the snowfall last night, everything is blanketed in the white powder, making our little town look like something out of a Dickens novel.
As I pull into the driveway, I see that white Christmas lights are hanging on the house.
I guess I should put mine up this week too.
“Nice car,” Ty calls as he jogs down the front steps.
“Thanks.” I grin proudly. “I bought it today.”
“You went alone?” He frowns as he opens the passenger door and slips inside, checking it out.
“No, Zack went with me.”
His head whips up and he stares at me in surprise.
“Something going on there, Jill?”
“No.” I shake my head, turn my back on him, and climb the steps of the porch. “He’s just a friend. The lights look nice.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I like the plain white. I think I’ll do white rather than multicolored on my house too.”
“I’m not talking about the fucking lights, princess.”
I chuckle and turn back around to face my brother. He’s tall and tattooed and the best lawyer this city has ever seen.
He’s also always been my protector, in every way, and I’d do anything for him.
“Zack is my friend, Ty. Where’s Lo?”
“She’s working. Have you eaten?”
“Yeah, I had dinner with Max Hull.”
Ty ushers me inside and leads me past Lauren’s closed office door to the family room off the kitchen. There’s a fire in the gas fireplace.
“I didn’t know Max was in town.”
I explain to Ty about Max running into my car yesterday—was it just yesterday?—and how we came to have dinner tonight.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“It was nothing. Barely a dent. If I hadn’t traded the car in today, I would have just had you knock the dent out. No biggie.”
He nods and hands me a glass of white wine, then sits with me and braces one ankle on the opposite knee. “What’s on your mind, Jill?”
“Do all men hurt women?” I blurt, then swiftly cover my mouth with my hand, mortified that the words escaped. “Forget that.”
“Oh, hell no, I’m not forgetting that.” He sits on the edge of the couch and sets his wine aside, watching me carefully. “What’s going on?”
“Seriously, I don’t know where that came from.” God, I’m so embarrassed. I rub my hands up and down my denim-covered thighs nervously. “Of course not all men hurt women. You’d never hurt Lo.”
“I think it’s time we talked, Jilly.” Ty sits back again, but every muscle is tight and I can see it’s taking every ounce of patience he possesses to not shake me until I spill the beans.
“What happened in LA. Why you moved home so quickly. Why in the name of God you’d ask me if all men hurt women.” He stares at me with sad eyes. “Talk to me, princess.”
I glance toward Lo’s office uncertainly.
“She’s in the zone. She won’t be out for a while. I promise.”
I take a deep breath and scrub my hands over my face and then decide fuck it. I need to talk.
“Dad hurt Mom, Ty, you know that.”
He winces. “I’m sorry, Jill . . .”
“Stop that right now. It wasn’t your fault. You and I both know this, and you need to stop with the guilt. It pisses me off.” He glares at me but I continue. “He was a son of a bitch. He just had no respect at all for women. Not at all.” I stand and pace the length of the family room. Now that the floodgates have opened, there’s no reeling it in. “So, one would think, as an intelligent woman, I would be more careful about who I chose to marry.”
“Are you telling me that Todd laid his hands on you?” Ty asks deceptively calmly.
“No.” I wave him off. “I would have been out the door the second he raised his fist. No, Todd liked to fuck other women behind my back.” I smirk and turn to look at my brother, who now has his mouth dropped in surprise. “I caught him red-handed. In my bed.”
“Oh my God, Jill . . .”
“And of course,” I interrupt, “it was all my fault. I couldn’t get pregnant, so I only wanted to have sex when I was ovulating. I was moody from the drugs. I was a shitty wife.”
Ty sputters and shoves to his feet, but I smirk. “No, he’s probably right. But I’m not going to pretend that when I heard right before the Fourth of July that the new wife—the one he’d been banging in my bed—was pregnant that it didn’t hurt me. ’Cause it fucking ripped my heart out.”
Before I can say more, Ty’s phone rings. He checks the caller ID, then mutes the sound and sets the phone aside. “That’s Mom.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I need. More shit from my past brought up tonight.”
“She’s not calling you.”
“She will. Eventually.”
“She’d like to talk to you.”
“It will be a cold day in hell before I’ll sit down and have a nice chat with that woman. She allowed both of us to be terrorized and abused for years. It was her job to keep us safe. I don’t respect her as a mother or as a woman.” My chest is heaving now with anger and indignation. “And, you know, maybe it was a good thing that I couldn’t get pregnant. I come from that. What kind of a mother could I possibly be? Todd reminded me of that as I stormed out of the house and told him to go fuck himself.”