Learning to Trust Again: A Small Town Romance (Sugar Springs Book 2)
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A woman smarting from the betrayal of her fiancé. A man changing directions in his career. A threat that will come between their new love . . .
Former Olympic gold medalist Rory Addison suffers a career-ending injury when she is shot by a stalker while competing on the ice. After a long rehab, Rory earns her college degree and begins a new career in education. Her world comes crashing down again when her fiancé is disgraced by a huge scandal. Painted by the brush of his misdeeds, she resigns her position and is hired to teach high school history in the small East Texas town of Sugar Springs.
Walker Cox remained in Dallas after graduating from law school, eventually making partner at a high-profile firm. He walks away to return to his hometown, where he takes over his retiring father’s law practice.
When Rory is reluctant to begin a relationship with Walker, her grandmother tells Rory not to let her past color her future and encourages her granddaughter to give the handsome attorney a chance. Things heat up quickly between the pair, and they make plans for a wedding, even as Rory considers a career beyond teaching.
Will Walker and Rory begin their future together as man and wife—or will someone from Rory’s past spell doom for their relationship?
Find the answer in Learning to Trust Again, Book 2 in Sugar Springs.
Each book in this contemporary small town romance series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order. Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.
1 – Shadows of the Past: A Small Town Romance (Sugar Springs Book 1)
2 – Learning to Trust Again: A Small Town Romance (Sugar Springs Book 2)
3 – A Perfect Match: A Small Town Romance (Sugar Springs Book 3)
4 – A Fresh Start: A Small Town Romance (Sugar Springs Book 4)
5 – Recipe for Love: A Small Town Romance (Sugar Springs Book 5)
Release date: June 20, 2023
Publisher: Oliver Heber Books
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Learning to Trust Again: A Small Town Romance (Sugar Springs Book 2)
Los Angeles—Seven years ago …
Rory Addison opened her eyes, knowing her phone alarm would be going off any moment now. She always awoke out of habit before the alarm sounded but set it, just the same, whether it was for morning practice or a nap, which she had just finished to help her be fresher for tonight’s competition. Once, Anya Moranova had handled all those small details for her. Her longtime skating coach had told Rory when to get up and when to go to bed. When to eat and when to train. She would have told her pupil what to think, but there had been no other time to think of anything but skating. Except for the books Rory sneaked into bed and read with a flashlight, she concentrated on skating during her waking hours.
Ice skating had been her life from a young age. She had shown promise early on and left her small Texas town, situated twenty miles east of Tyler, going with her mother to live at a training facility in Colorado. She didn’t remember much about her life before she began training as an athlete, only that her father had chosen not to come with them. She still awoke sometimes, that final argument between her parents ringing in her head, her dad accusing her mom of choosing a stupid child over their marriage.
He had been right. Mom had always put her daughter first, at the expense of her marriage and career.
She sat up as the alarm on her phone went off, silencing it. It was the day of Worlds—the World Figure Skating Championship, the annual competition sanctioned and hosted by the International Skating Union—and the most prestigious, competitive event in the figure skating world. Only the Olympics garnered more attention than Worlds did. For the first time in more than two decades, the event was being held in the United States.
She left the bedroom and went to the living room of the hotel’s suite, opening the curtains. Sunlight flooded the room. Calling for room service, Rory checked on her order, what she thought of as her game-day meal, although it was not a game she would play but a program she would skate. The outcome of tonight’s free skate would decide if she would repeat as the Women’s Singles Champion.
The hotel employee she spoke with already had received her order the night before and merely confirmed the time it was to be delivered to her suite. She thanked the woman and hung up.
She spent the next hour going through a mixture of Pilates moves and yoga poses. She never walked on the day of a competition, wanting to save her legs, but she did enjoy physical exercise, stretching her body and letting her mind float away as she ran through her familiar routine.
Once she finished, Rory hit the shower, letting the hot water sluice over her body and its aching muscles, which she had pushed to its limits leading up to this all-important competition. She wrapped herself in the luxurious bathrobe provided by the hotel and returned to the suite’s living room. Five minutes later, her meal was delivered. Along with it came journalist Monica Wethersby, who must have been patiently waiting in the corridor for their scheduled appointment.
Rory ushered in both the server and reporter and then seated herself in front of the table, removing the lids from the plates. Monica, who had been following Rory for the past few competitions in order to write an in-depth profile on her, set her phone to record and placed it on the table between them. Still, the journalist took out a pad and pen as a backup, not wanting to miss anything from this rare interview opportunity. Rory hadn’t given an interview in over two years, and she could almost see Monica salivating, ready to ask her questions.
The journalist’s eyes skimmed the table. “Is this a typical pre-competition meal for you, Rory?” she asked.
“Pretty much,” she said. “Although when I’m training, I space parts of this out in the morning. The yogurt and fresh blueberries are what I eat every morning before I go to the rink to practice. I take a break about two hours into rink time and eat the avocado toast I’ve brought with me.”
She indicated the poached eggs. “These are the only addition on the day of competition. I like the extra burst of protein they provide.”
“And this is all you’ll eat before you go to the arena?”
“I had a protein shake this morning. I’ll drink another one if I feel I need to do so. That would be right before I leave the hotel. I let my body tell me what fuel it needs. I’ve learned to listen to it over the years.”
Monica made a note of that on her pad.
“Tell me your frame of mind today, Rory. What is it like, wanting to repeat as a world champion?”
She kept from rolling her eyes like a middle schooler at the question. “As you know, Monica, I claimed the ladies figure skating world title six years in a row, starting when I was seventeen, until I turned twenty-two. So I do know a little bit about repeating.”
“Yes, of course,” the reporter said hastily. “I just wondered, though, what it’s been like to come back from your injury.”
She shrugged. “Injuries are a part of the sports world. Especially in figure skating. I’ve suffered from stress fractures in both feet, which is really common. They occur from the repetitive moves and motions from my jumps and landings in practice and competitions.” She chuckled. “You would think I was a bone surgeon because of the way I can discuss metatarsals, sesamoids, and navicular bones.”
Rory paused. “It was a hard landing a couple of years ago in warmups which caused me to roll my ankle and have to withdraw minutes before the final round. I knew when I came down, even though I’d warmed up and stretched properly, that I’d overstretched ligaments and would have to bow out from the competition in Madrid that night.”
That had been a tough night for her. She had gone out in the warmups, conscious as always of how far she could push her body. She had given up her daily run when the stress fractures began occurring in her feet and now wore extremely expensive shoes, which cushioned her feet as she walked each morning. Walking helped her maintain her sanity. It was something to do away from the rink and allowed her to be introspective.
Putting on a bright smile, she knew the reporter would be dazzled by it. Rory was a beautiful woman and knew it, but she tried never to trade upon her looks, wanting her talent and intellect to speak for her instead.
“After I withdrew from the competition two years ago, I made changes in my routine.”
“That’s when you started spending less time in the rink, isn’t it?” the journalist inquired.
She nodded. “I had enough experience on the ice. It’s been home to me for over two decades. I wanted to keep up my strength and endurance and trained accordingly. I gave up running for walking. I started practicing yoga and Pilates. I also do strength training twice a week in the gym. I spend an equal amount of time on physical conditioning outside the rink, as I do inside on my routines.”
“You famously choreograph all your own routines,” Monica noted. “Why don’t you leave that in someone else’s hands, as other skaters at your level do?”
“Who knows me and my capabilities better than I do?” Rory asked. “I tailor my short program and free skate to fit my style and what I want to show the judges. I see the routines in my head before I ever commit them to paper and skate them in the rink.”
“You’re known for your unusual choices in music, veering away from the classics. You’ve even helped the careers of some lesser-known pop artists by selecting their songs for international competitions.”
She shrugged. “I bore easily and want to choose songs that keep me energized. I select music which reflects my skills as an artist and athlete. Songs which play to my strengths. You have to realize that we skaters skate the same programs for months, if not a year or more, as we perfect it. I have to choose music which I can live with for that long.”
“If you repeat tonight after last year’s victory in the finals, that will give you eight world championship titles to go along with your two Olympic gold medals.”
“Yes, I’ve been blessed to win gold at eighteen in my first Olympic appearance and repeat as champion when I was twenty-two.”
“You’re twenty-five now, Rory, and will be twenty-six when the Olympics are in session. That’s almost grandmotherly in the women’s skating world these days. Will you skate for Team USA next year? And if you do, how many more Olympics do you have in you after that?”
She hesitated a moment, not certain if she wanted to answer the question, and she said so aloud.
“Monica, I take one competition at a time. The Olympics will happen next year, meaning there will be both them and Worlds back-to-back. I know my body has been under a great deal of wear and tear over the years. That’s why I believe in only thinking about the current competition and not stargazing ahead.”
“You have mentioned how you don’t spend as much time in the rink as you used to in practice sessions, unlike other skaters. Besides training, what do you do away from skating?” Monica chuckled. “Most skaters I interview tell me they have no life off the ice.”
Rory took a bite of her avocado toast and then said, “Two years ago when I had to withdraw, due to my ankle injury, I had to take a few months off from skating. It was at that time that I realized I had no work/life balance. No hobbies. At first, I binged a couple of old TV series which others have talked about. I’d never had time to watch them. Or any TV, really. Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. I was obsessed—just as I was with skating—and would binge twelve to fourteen hours a day. I finally figured out that was unhealthy. So, I started doing other things, cutting TV time to an hour or so a day. I picked up books from the bestseller list and started reading for pure pleasure. I’ve never cooked—never known how—and started watching Carter Clark’s vlog.”
“Oh, the sexy fireman turned vlogger turned Food Network star,” Monica said, making a notation on her pad.
“Yes. I decided if Carter Clark could teach me how to cook, he can do anything in my eyes.” Rory laughed. “So, I read. I cooked. I binged TV in moderation. I started rehab. I’ve continued those hobbies ever since. I like myself better because I have hobbies and interests off the ice.”
“You don’t mention friends or family, Rory. What is your private life like? Are you seeing anyone on the skating tour?”
That was a question she wasn’t willing to answer. It was an open secret on the competition tour just how many skaters hooked up with one another behind the scenes for short, intense, and very brief love affairs. Rory was no exception. She had been involved with everyone from an Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion to an Olympic hopeful who turned out to be a dismal failure. He flamed out, leaving the tour to become a sports promoter. She was friendly to the other women on the circuit but not close to any of them. She’d been trained by her coach to be a competitor first and foremost—and competitors didn’t get close to someone they would skate against, much less become friends with them.
Smiling brightly at the journalist, Rory said, “I would prefer to keep my private life private. I’m sure you understand that, Monica.”
“Are you willing to say anything on the record about Anya Moranova?”
She stiffened. The reporter had just named her longtime coach. The woman who had discovered Rory while she was still living in Texas. The one who had convinced her mom to move them to the training facility in Colorado.
And the woman who had let Rory go on one night to compete while her mom wasn’t in the crowd. Instead, she had been dying on an operating table.
Rory had always looked for her mom and the sweet, encouraging smile she gave her daughter during the brief warmup session that occurred before a round of competition began. Rory had gone out that night, the night of her second Olympics finals, and had not seen her mother sitting in her usual spot in the rink. Concerned, she had left the ice and found Anya, asking if the coach knew where her mom was.
“Ah, Aurora, your mother is here. I saw her earlier. Perhaps she merely has gone to use the facilities in order to be back in time to see you skate.”
Rory had had no reason not to believe Moranova. Anya controlled every facet of Rory’s life, and since her coach didn’t seem worried, Rory was satisfied. She went out as the final skater of the evening, far enough ahead in the standings that if she skated a clean program and took no chances, she would easily take the gold medal for the US. She didn’t look for her mom as she went out onto the ice. She never did at that point, always assuming her mom was present and watching, wanting to concentrate on the next few minutes of her performance.
That night, Rory’s confidence soared and though she didn’t need to, she took a couple of risks in her jumps, pushing herself physically and artistically. It paid off—and she won the gold by a mile to raucous cheers.
But it was only after the scores had gone up and Rory went out on the ice to skate a victory lap and sweep up flowers tossed to her that she once again saw the empty spot where her mom should be. She came to a halt on the ice and looked back to where Anya watched, a triumphant smile on her face. Though it wasn’t her mom’s habit to go to the kiss and cry area, Rory thought maybe Mom had done so. But only her coach stood there.
That’s when Rory’s gut told her something awful had happened.
She gripped the flowers she had already retrieved and skated off the ice, not speaking to Anya until they were behind the scenes. She had smiled and done a quick interview with ABC Sports, who broadcast those Winter Olympics, and then turned down the opportunity to go to the pressroom and speak to the cadre of international reporters present about her outstanding performance.
Instead, she had grabbed Anya by the elbow and led her to a janitor’s broom closet, pushing the older woman inside and closing the door behind them. She demanded to know where her mom was.
It was then that Anya told Rory that her mother had been in an accident on her way to the skating arena. That she had been crossing the street in front of the facility when a car struck her. Her mother had been rushed to the nearest hospital in Paris and died halfway through the operation.
A fury unlike anything Rory had ever known filled her, but she had harnessed it, coldly informing Anya Moranova that her services would no longer be required. Ever.
She had left that broom closet and never spoken to or about her coach.
And never would.
“As you know, Monica, we parted ways several years ago. We had been together many years, and Anya taught me much about skating. However, I had ideas I wanted to try and decided to strike out on my own.”
“But it’s unheard of, Rory, for a skater on your level not to have a coach. Or a nutritionist. Even an entire entourage. You have … no one.”
“I do have an assistant who handles things for me, such as flight and hotel reservations. She also books my rink time. Helps me gain the rights to music I wish to use in my routines. Other than that? I am pretty self-sufficient. I like being in charge of my destiny, from designing my own skating costumes to creating my choreography.”
Rory stood. “I need to get ready now, Monica. Do my hair and makeup. Some stretching. Get to the arena. I need time alone to mentally prepare. Skate through my routine in my head. That kind of thing. I’m sure you understand. If you have any follow-up questions, you can text me.”
She gave the journalist her cell number, cautioning her not to give it out and to use it wisely.
“I will, Rory, and thank you for spending this time with me. I know you’re not one to do interviews, but I promise that you’ll enjoy this in-depth piece I write. I’ll email it to you even before I send it to my editor to see if there are any corrections you’d like me to make.”
That generosity surprised her. “I appreciate that, Monica.”
“And I appreciate your time, Rory. Oh, my reporter’s nose is telling me you’re holding back, but I respect that you wish to maintain some privacy. If you ever do want to fully tell your story, though, I would be honored to have that opportunity to work with you. Maybe once you end your ice skating career, we could work on your autobiography together.”
Smiling, Rory thought that was the last thing she would waste her time with.
She saw the reporter out the door and then readied herself to go to the rink. Fortunately, no transportation needed to be arranged because the venue sat catty-corner from the hotel.
She pressed her costume, one she had designed herself. The deep blue reflected the color of her eyes and made her auburn hair stand out. Maybe once she stepped away from competing, she might see if she could have a career in designing competition costumes and practice wear for skaters. Being a skater herself, she knew what a perfect costume needed to consist of and thought her flair for design might be profitable.
Placing her costume in a garment bag, Rory gathered her athletic bag, slipping its strap over her shoulder, and then left her hotel suite. She knew enough to take the service elevator down and avoid the lobby, which would be packed with fans. She was in full competition mode now and needed to remain focused. Taking selfies and giving out autographs would rip her from her zone.
Coming out of the service entrance, she stepped into the hotel’s parking garage. Security guards milled about, waiting to escort the bigger name skaters across the street to the arena. The same two men who had gone with her to practices and the short program competition moved toward her. Rory was comfortable with the pair and glad of their presence since she’d had a few disturbing emails recently.
“Can I take your bag, Miss Addison?” asked the taller one.
“No, I’m good. Just get us to the arena if you would.”
They flanked her, walking from the dark garage toward the exit. A few fans waited there, calling her name. Most were teenaged girls accompanied by a parent. She smiled and waved, moving quickly as the hotel security people hustled her along.
But she did catch sight of a man in his late thirties. Her gut told her she’d seen him before entering a previous event. He looked at her intently. They locked eyes for a moment, and he called, “I love you, Rory,” creeping her out.
She glanced away, wondering if he might be the author of the inappropriate, graphic emails.
Less than three minutes later, she was inside the bowels of the arena and waltzed through the security checkpoint.
“Thanks for the escort,” she told the two guards.
“Give ’em hell, Rory,” one said, grinning at her. “Bring home the title.”
She smiled at him, determination filling her. “I plan to,” she assured him.
The pair waved goodbye, and she turned, going to a large room designated for competitors to wait in until their time to skate. It had several large TV screens livestreaming the competition, as well as food and drink available.
She nodded at a few of her fellow skaters. Other than that, she didn’t interact with anyone. Some skaters were quiet. Others were engaged in serious conversations with their coaches. She liked that this facility only allowed the competitor and coach into this room. All entourage members had to stay outside.
Rory did some stretches and then changed into her costume. She checked her hair and makeup, seeing it was fine.
Then it was time for the final group to go out for their warmup session. Being in first place, she would be the last woman to skate this evening.
Rory did her time on the ice and then retreated to behind the scenes. She kept separate from the others, not bothering to watch her fellow competitors skate. She didn’t care what they did. It was how she performed that mattered.
Closing her eyes, she ran through her entire routine from start to finish. Saw herself making the jumps successfully. So much of skating was mental, like a field goal kicker or a batter swinging his bat. It was a mind game you had to convince yourself to play—and win.
She rose from her chair, brimming with confidence, secure in her free skate of four minutes. She had integrated the required elements, building the spins and footwork seamlessly around her multiple jump combinations. Her combinations were more difficult than most competitors. Rory was known for her endurance, especially in this free skate portion. The weightlifting and strength training she had added to her workouts had paid off. She was going into tonight’s skate at the top of her game.
Receiving the signal from an official, Rory moved to the entrance, adrenaline pumping through her. Her name was announced, and she skated to the center of the ice, cheers erupting to the rafters. Worlds hadn’t been held in the US in many years, and the fans were hungry to see their country claim the title.
She waved to the crowd, her signature smile wide, knowing there was nothing like home field advantage.
Then Rory lowered her arms, readying herself, going completely still, her head bowed, waiting for the music to begin. When it did, she sprang into action, flying across the ice with grace and an innate poise which couldn’t be taught.
Getting a few of the required elements out of the way, she moved into her first combination jump. She pushed off, floating in the air like a butterfly, then nailing her landing, knowing she’d gotten the height and spin needed for maximum points. She moved across the ice, knowing her routine was spot on, popular with the audience, and appreciated by the judges and skating aficionados.
She worked up speed and took off again, landing her quad/triple combo to thunderous applause. Everything was now a blur, time moving quickly and yet almost standing still as she worked her way through her free skate.
The last minute of the free skate approached, where her most difficult combination lay, followed by a beautiful end spin where she became a blur. Once more, she flew across the ice, gathering speed to launch herself into the air. She pushed off, stretching to the sky, rotating, her arms held tight against her body, the thrill of knowing she would win another championship filling her as she descended, a deep satisfaction for these hard-won, back-to-back world titles coming at her so-called advanced age.
As she swept her arms outward to balance for her landing, she heard a loud crack. Felt intense pain in her shoulder. Her arms fought the air, waving wildly as panic and hurt rippled through her body. Rory hit the ice wrong. Hard. Completely off-balance. She heard as well as felt her right ankle snap. Incredible pain shot through her, blinding, dizzying, unlike anything she’d ever known.
She lay on the ice a moment, seeing the red blood against the white, frozen surface. The silence which had filled the arena suddenly shifted to screams. People scrambled from their seats. She saw a group race across the ice toward her.
Someone asked her a question. She tried to answer, but no words came out. Her shoulder continued to throb, but it was her ankle screaming at her. Rory knew it was not a simple break. The fracture would be career-ending.
She was taken off the ice. Loaded into an ambulance. An EMT began talking to her, but Rory couldn’t comprehend his words. She finally picked up on one.
She must be in shock. That’s why she now felt as if she were moving underwater, drifting, fighting. She felt him elevating her legs. Covering her with a blanket. Her teeth began to chatter. Her breathing was rapid and shallow. She heard something about an IV and felt the needle pierce her skin. The EMT was pressing on her shoulder. Confusion filled her.
After a moment, he said, “Good. Your BP is way better. We’re almost at ER. They’ll do a full workup and then get you some pain meds.” He smoothed her hair. “You’ll need surgery on that ankle. Maybe your shoulder.”
Surgery. That meant pain. And rehab. It would be a long road to recovery. Rory knew that much.
More than that, she knew no more World or Olympic titles were in her future.
The Rory Addison she had been ceased to exist at that moment—and would never be seen again.
Walker Cox turned off his four-thirty alarm and rose, alert as usual upon awakening. He went into the bathroom and stared at his image in the mirror a moment.
“So, this is what thirty-six looks like.”
He quickly got ready for his weekly 5AM racquetball session with Gideon Ross, his best friend since pre-school. The two men had grown up in a small town in East Texas and remained lifelong friends, even attending college together. While Walker had continued his education at SMU Law School, Gideon had joined the Dallas Police Department and was currently a detective. Both were divorced—and better off for it.
Walker left his high-rise condo on Turtle Creek, pulling his Beamer from the garage and heading for his exclusive athletic club a few blocks away. He’d been a member ever since he joined the prestigious firm of Sapphire & Sammons straight out of law school. The law office only had twenty-two attorneys and was one of the most exclusive firms which represented Dallas’ rich and famous. And a few infamous, as well.
As he pulled into the parking lot, he only saw a handful of cars, one of them being Gideon’s ancient truck. He’d offered to buy his friend a new one, but Gid was too proud and refused the generous offer.
He didn’t have anything else to do with his money. When he first left law school, Walker worked one hundred hour weeks. Having made partner four years ago, he still worked ninety-hour weeks. The only difference was that he got paid a helluva lot more as a partner. Because he spent almost every waking hour working, he had amassed a serious bank account and investment portfolio. While he did drive the latest BMW convertible and wore custom-tailored suits, he didn’t have the time to spend any more of his money. He would love to take a trip anywhere, especially to various Civil War or Revolutionary battlefields, being a history buff. But there was always another case to manage. Another client to try and satisfy. He might be sixty before he was able to cut back on his caseload and spend his hard-earned money.
Pulling in next to Gideon, Walker exited his vehicle and locked it, slinging his athletic bag over his shoulder. He greeted his best friend.
“You look hungover, Gid.”
“I wish I had time for a drink. I’ve been putting in long hours on this serial killer case.”
“Are you close to catching who’s behind the murders?” Walker asked, already knowing the answer from his friend’s dejected posture.
“Nope. And it’s just getting uglier. This creep keeps sending snail mail letters to the newspapers and TV stations—and they keep giving him all the press and airtime he craves.” Gideon raked a hand through his hair. “I don’t think we’re any closer today than we were four months ago when the murder spree began. The only thing we know for certain is that he kills redheads.”
“Come on, let’s go inside. Take your mind off the case for a while.”
They entered the club and went to the desk. The place was old-fashioned, still run as if it were the 1960s. Walker signed in, noting Gid as his guest. He’d offered to pay for a membership for his friend. As usual, Gideon turned him down. Thank goodness Gid wasn’t proud enough to keep them from playing their weekly game.
They headed straight to their usual court, passing other empty ones not in use yet. They played so early in order for Gideon to make it to work on time. Walker no longer had set hours at his firm and could show up whenever he wished. Usually, he was at his desk by seven or so, as early as any of their new hires, because his workload demanded it.
After playing three games, Walker had lost two of them and called it quits. They went to the dressing room, where they both showered and dressed for their workday. Both would save time and run an electric razor over their faces on their way to work.
“You have time to grab breakfast?” Walker asked.
Gideon nodded. “I don’t even know the last meal I ate,” he admitted. “Food sounds good.”
They agreed on a local greasy spoon they frequented and were there in less than ten minutes. Janie came over and set down coffees for both of them.
“The usual?” she asked.
They both nodded, and the server left them.
“I should’ve said this before, but happy birthday, Walker. Are you celebrating with anyone tonight?”
He shook his head. “You know I don’t have time to date. Hell, neither of us has time or inclination to do so.”
“You’re not kidding,” his friend said. “I put in five years with Melinda. I can’t tell you how many times she griped about having married a cop.”
Gideon’s wife had been one of the famous SMU campus beauties, and they had married immediately after graduation. Melinda came from a well-to-do Fort Worth family and had been thrilled when she landed SMU’s star wide receiver, thinking he would go on to the pros and make a name for himself. Unfortunately, Gideon had torn up his knee three games into the season and sat out the rest of his senior year, missing the conference championship game and a bowl game. He’d worked hard to rehab the knee, though, and was disappointed when he went undrafted. Gideon tried to make it in the NFL as an unsigned agent but was cut from the final fifty-three man roster. He came back to Texas, and his servant’s heart told him he could make a difference as a cop. Walker was surprised Melinda stayed around as long as she did. A Junior Leaguer living on a patrolman’s salary was a long way to tumble in her family’s eyes. The couple had divorced a few days before their fifth anniversary, and Gideon had only had a handful of dates ever since.
Walker’s marriage history was no better. At twenty-nine, he’d married a fellow attorney, a Yale Law grad who worked for a competing law firm in his same building. Christine was ambitious and avaricious. She didn’t think Walker was moving up the ladder as quickly as he should, especially since they were the same age and she’d just made partner at her firm. She divorced him six months after their spontaneous elopement, the ink barely dry on their marriage license. Christine had gone on to become one of the top attorneys in Dallas, and Walker had heard rumors that she was thinking of running for District Attorney in next year’s election.
Janie placed their plates before them and then freshened their coffees, leaving them in peace once more.
“I thought thirty-six would be different,” Walker admitted. “I knew I would make partner by then, but I also believed I would have a life. A wife. A couple of kids. Definitely, a dog. I knew I would have to work long hours, but I thought I would have time to spend some of the money I made. I pictured living in a nice house. Taking a vacation each year, one with the family and a separate one with the wife.”
He blew out a long breath. “I’ll admit it, Gid. I’m lonely. Burned out.”
And then Walker said something aloud that surprised even himself. “I think I’m done with Dallas—and this life."
Gideon’s eyes widened. “You’re going to quit Sapphire & Sammons?”
He nodded, liking the idea more and more, picking up a piece of bacon and inhaling it.
“What good is it to make a ton of money if you don’t have someone to share it with?” he complained. “I can’t help it. You know my parents. Campbell and Betty Cox are one of the great love stories of Sugar Springs. They are more in love today than they were forty years ago when they got married.”
“What would you do?” asked his friend. “I assume you still want to practice law.” He grinned. “Wouldn’t want to waste all that education you got.”
“Don’t shit bricks, Gid, but I’m thinking about packing up and heading home to Sugar Springs.”
Gideon let out a low whistle. “If you would’ve told me when I got up this morning that I would hear you say those words, I would have said that would be the last thing coming out of your mouth. Have you talked to your dad about this? Would you go to work with him?”
“No, but I’m going to call him. Mom actually spilled some beans last week. She told me that Dad is finally ready to retire. They want to travel the world. You know how much he loves to sail. They want to see the sights.”
“And you think he’ll ask you to take over his law practice, don’t you?”
Walker nodded slowly. “That’s what Mom told me. And she added to act surprised when Dad brought it up.” He hesitated. “I’m seriously considering it, Gid.”
“You should do it,” his friend encouraged. “You don’t have anything left to prove in Dallas, Walker. You’ve earned accolades. You’ve tried—and won—some of the most challenging cases to hit the headlines.” Gideon’s tone softened. “I understand that pull toward home. That feeling of belonging in a community. I also think you wouldn’t have to work nearly as hard at being a lawyer in Sugar Springs as you do here in Dallas. You probably would put in half the hours you do now. Of course, it would mean less money, but you’re already set as it is. I say go for it, buddy. Find a house. Find a girl. Get that dog. Have a life.”
He heard the wistfulness in his friend’s voice and said, “You could come home, too. You know that. Chief Hamilton would hire you in a second. Hell, he’d probably fire someone to make room for you on the Sugar Springs force.”
Gideon laughed. “I don’t know about that. Why don’t you test the waters for me?” he suggested. “If you find happiness in Sugar Springs, then maybe I’ll think about coming home one day, too.”
They finished eating in silence, each lost in his thoughts, and then Walker said, “Let me get this. My treat.”
He removed some cash from his wallet and handed it to Janie as they went out the door, making sure she had a generous tip.
They got to their cars, and Gideon threw his arms around Walker, hugging him tightly.
“If you go through with this, I won’t think of it as losing my best friend. I’ll do whatever it takes to make time to see you,” Gideon promised. “Just let me know when you’ve made up your mind.”
“I will,” Walker promised. “It’ll be soon. I know that.”
He slipped behind the wheel of his convertible and drove to his office in downtown Dallas, pulling into the parking garage and his reserved space, which carried his name, a privilege of being a partner. He was at his desk by seven-twenty and began going through his emails, his first housekeeping task each morning.
Half an hour later, an email notification flashed across his screen. It came from Elton Briggs, their managing partner, who was on a rare vacation to Belize. Walker wondered why Briggs was sending an email from there and decided to open it. He read the message with increasing shock.
To my colleagues at Sapphire & Sammons –
I regret to inform you that this will be the last communication we have. You see, I finally snapped. After three decades of grinding out hour after hour in devotion to this esteemed law firm, I’ve had enough. More than enough.
I quit—and I’m going out in glorious style.
Most of you know that I’m a wizard with numbers. I’ve also learned quite a bit about moving around off-shore accounts from our esteemed client base. I’m sorry to announce this to you, but Sapphire & Sammons is bankrupt as of five minutes ago. I have moved out every single penny in the company’s coffers. No account was left unmolested. I have taken retainers. Advances. Even funds from clients for current trial work. The planning that went into this was tremendous, but I have drained every dime from every account we possess.
Do yourselves a favor, gentlemen and our lone lady lawyer. Quit sweating blood and tears into this soulless law firm. Don’t try to resurrect it from the dead, where I’ve buried it. I doubt you could because the scale of what I’ve done will be too great.
Find a life for yourselves, one which has meaning. That’s what I’m going to try and do, something I should have done a long time ago. Don’t try to find me. You and law enforcement won’t be able to. I know how to bounce money all around the world ten times over, and I am not in Belize as I said I would be. I’m in a country which has a no extradition policy with the US. I’m fifty-five today. Maybe it’s not too late for me to try and have a life. Go have one yourselves. Curse me now—but thank me later for what I have done—because I may have saved your souls with this clever—if highly illegal—move.
Whether you believe it or not, I wish all of you my very best.
Walker stared at his screen, his jaw dropped in disbelief. He closed it, trying to wrap his head around what he had just read. He went through the email a second time to make certain he hadn’t missed anything.
No, he hadn’t. Elton Briggs had obviously siphoned off funds from every account the firm held. As the managing partner, Elton had access to all accounts at Sapphire & Sammons. Briggs would have been able to pull off what he said he’d done before anyone would have caught onto the scheme. Walker couldn’t imagine the investigation which would follow. It would be a bloody mess. Even though no other partners or associates at Sapphire & Sammons had broken the law, they all would be tainted by the brush used by Elton Briggs.
He supposed he should thank the managing partner, after all, because Walker knew what he now needed to do.
Writing a two-sentence resignation letter, he printed it out, signing and dating it. He glanced at his TAG Heuer watch and saw it was a few minutes until eight o’clock. Other than a few other attorneys, he was the only one in the office. The administrative assistants and paralegals didn’t arrive until nine.
He scribbled a quick goodbye on a post-it to his admin and removed his checkbook from his briefcase, writing her a check for just under ten thousand dollars. She’d been with him three years and was a single mother. He wanted to make sure she had something to tide her over until she found a new position. After that, he typed a glowing letter of recommendation for her, printing out ten copies and signing each for her to use in her upcoming job search.
Opening the lap drawer to her desk, he left the letters, check, and goodbye post-it inside. Closing the drawer, her texted her a brief message to look in the drawer when she got to work.
Walker headed to the storeroom and collected two empty boxes. Quickly, he cleared his desk of the few personal items it held, seeing there was so little he needed to take that he would only need one box. Rising, box in hand, he placed his resignation letter on top as he headed to the door. He stopped at the receptionist’s desk and tore off a piece of tape, placing it at the top of his letter.
Opening the office door, he taped the resignation to the front of the door and reclaimed his box of personal possessions, leaving his employee ID card on the receptionist’s desk.
With a heart lighter than it had been since he left Sugar Springs for college half a lifetime ago, he returned to the parking garage and placed the box in his trunk. As he pulled out into heavy downtown traffic, he touched his mom’s name. She answered, out of breath.
“Walker? What’s up? I just got home from exercise class.”
“It’s time for Dad to make that call to me. The one where he offers me the chance to take over his firm.” He paused. “I just resigned from Sapphire & Sammons, Mom.
“I’m ready to come home to Sugar Springs.”
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