Taking a deep breath, she asked, “Does anyone

“Taking a deep breath, she asked, “Does anyone besides me know you’re back in town?”

He shrugged those broad shoulders of his. “I’ve run into a few people. I’m not hiding the fact that I’m back, considering I’m going to be a permanent part of the community.”

She dragged a hand through her disheveled hair, feeling weary to the bone. “Yeah, well, the residents here have a long memory, so if you’re expecting a parade in honor of your return, don’t hold your breath.”

A pained look passed over his features. “I know full well what most everyone thinks of me, and I’m hoping their opinions will change in time. I’m not the wild, rebellious kid I was when I left. What I’ve done, what I’ve become, has to count for something.”

She thought she detected the barest hint of hope in his voice, saw the briefest glimpse of the lonely boy he’d been—a scrappy kid who’d wanted nothing more but to be welcomed and accepted by the town he’d grown up in. Steeling herself against the urge to fall for such a convincing, heart-felt act, she thought of her father and what his reaction would be. “My father blames you for Aaron’s death. I doubt his opinion will change any time soon.”

Though he leaned negligently against the counter, his body screamed with tension. His gaze clung to hers, as if needing an anchor from the condemnation he was sure to face from Ellis Holbrook. “Do you blame me?”

She felt the silent pull of his question on her heart, her conscience. He wanted, needed , to hear that she didn’t hold him responsible for her brother’s tragic death. As much as she ached to say the words, she knew she’d be a fool to fall for his plea and give him that leverage over her emotions, not when she now had something much more emotional at stake—her baby.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” she said in the most impassive tone of voice she could manage.

The vulnerable, lost little boy look in his eyes evaporated, hardening into resolve. Releasing a sigh filled with disgust, he pushed off the counter and brushed past her, leaving the kitchen. Grace moved to the window above the sink and closed her eyes, swallowing the huge lump that had gathered in her throat.

Relief, and an odd sense of disappointment coursed through her as she waited to hear Ford leave. But instead of the front door opening, she heard the bathroom door close—no doubt he was emptying his bladder after gulping two glasses of iced tea.

A minute later, she heard him exit the bathroom and sent a fervent prayer that he’d leave now. They certainly had nothing left to say to one another.

Her wish wasn’t to be.

“What is this?” Ford asked from behind her.

Turning around at the curious tone of his voice, her eyes widened in alarm when she saw what had prompted his question. “Give me that!” she demanded, attempting to grab the plastic stick from his fingers.

He effortlessly held it out of her reach. “Isn’t this one of those home pregnancy test things?”

Her stomach clenched, and anger burned through her like acid. “You had no right to go snooping through my personal things!”

“Snooping?” His brows rose indignantly at the insult. “It was sitting right next to the bathroom sink!”

Surely she wouldn’t have been so careless. “It was not!” she said through clenched teeth.

“Was so,” he argued mildly, though there was nothing calm about the stormy shade of his eyes. “Maybe you were in a big hurry when you heard someone knock on the door and you overlooked hiding it.”

That gave her a moment’s pause to think about her frantic actions when she’d stuffed everything into the box. Good, Lord, she honestly couldn’t remember putting the plastic strip in there as well. “Regardless, it’s none of your business.” She lunged for the incriminating evidence again, only for him to smoothly intercept her efforts.

Holding the plastic strip out of her proximity, he eyed it critically. “The way I see things, it’s very much my business if this blue strip means you’re pregnant.” His brows pulled into a perplexed frown as he looked at her. “Although that confuses the hell out of me since you told me you couldn’t get pregnant.””