Cassidy unintentionally set the fire that destroyed her family. Now, in an attempt to escape the constant reminders, she prepares to leave the tiny farming community she grew up in. She covers her guilt with a devil-may-care attitude, but she can't fool Jared, her best friend and loyal partner in crime. Cassidy and Jared's lifelong friendship blossoms into romance during the last Summer on the farm.
Jared knows if he can't help Cassidy overcome the pain of her past, he'll lose her forever. Desperate to keep her by his side, Jared devises an outrageous plan. When his scheme goes awry, his good intentions turn into betrayal. Jared needs Cassidy's forgiveness but first, she must learn to forgive herself.
Will their relationship end, or can Jared show her that sometimes a lifetime isn't long enough to love someone, and a million miles won't separate you from your past?
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“You’re not ever coming back, are you Cass?” He wasn’t looking at her, focused instead on the pasture. It was more of a statement than a question, and they both knew the answer.
What Jared didn’t know, what he couldn’t understand, was why. And she didn’t have the words that would make him understand.
This place would always be about fire to her. She would always smell the smoke, feel the heat. The sun would blaze one minute burning her skin, and when that season passed, the maples beyond the pastures would set the horizon ablaze with their red and yellow leaves, or a thundercloud would roll in and turn the sky as gray as smoke. As close as she and Jared were, he could never feel what she felt. He could never understand how long a fire could burn.
“Hurry up and get decent,” he said. “I’ve got a graduation present for you.”
Cassidy went inside and changed. When she came out again, his back was pressed against a porch post, his fingers wrestled in his pockets, and his cowboy boot tapped out a rhythm on the wood. Samson was standing nearby, too proud to be tethered to the house.
“What?” she said as she mounted her horse.
“I didn’t say anything.”
A thin line creased his forehead and a frown dipped the corners of his mouth. “You’ve got that look.”
“The look I was born with.” He straightened himself and grabbed Delilah’s reins.
“You look like your Daddy.”
A cloud settled in Jared’s eyes, but he didn’t respond. Cassidy nudged Samson with her heel, and the palomino took off at a trot.
Jared and Delilah were soon alongside.
At the top of the hill, Samson stopped next to the trunk of the oak, but before Cassidy could step down, Jared grabbed the reins and pulled them from her hands.
She grabbed at them and jerked back, but he didn’t let go.
“Trust me,” he said.
She held tight, stretching the leather taut between them.
“Cass, please just come with me. I promise I have a reason.”
If there was one person in the world she could trust, it was Jared. She released her grip, and the knotted strips of leather fell against his wrist.
He led Samson down the hill. Over her right shoulder she could see the small iron gate to the family cemetery. At least they weren’t going there.
They crossed the pasture and climbed another hill. Under the shade of a cluster of small oaks, he dismounted and waited for her to do the same. She hesitated, and Samson flapped his lips in protest. Jared said nothing, just stood there with his hand out for her to join him.
She planted her feet on the ground and took his hand. “This better be good.”
They left the horses in the shade, and she followed him to the cement steps that led to the emptiest place in the world. Moss had begun creeping up their risers and onto the treads. In some places on the hilltop the weeds and grasses were nearly waist high, but beyond the steps, the ground was flat, carpeted with green moss—the concrete foundation of what had once been the home she shared with her parents.
Her heart raced in her chest. She tasted acid at the back of her throat, and her ears roared with the thunder of ravenous flames, the sound that ripped through her nightmares.
“It’s ok.” He steadied her with his arm. “I’m right here.”
She let him lead her up the steps and over to what resembled a bench-shaped topiary. Undoubtedly, it was one of the trusses not completely destroyed by the fire, and now upholstered by creeping jade moss. He tested the timber’s stability with the toe then heel of his boot, then motioned for her to sit. They sat together, neither speaking, until Cassidy steadied her breathing.
The place was nothing like the inferno of her dreams. The damp moss was cool to the touch. Life was all around. Birds chirped, a lizard scampered over a stack of bricks, and water pooled in the uneven concrete foundation.
“Why did you bring me here?”
In her palm, he placed a chain with a small silver medallion. On the surface, a bare-chested man balanced on the flayed tail of a mermaid, and an urn tipped over his shoulder. The silver had tarnished and the edges were rubbed with wear. Cassidy had seen the zodiac emblem a million times. The charm had belonged to Jared’s mother and he’d worn it since they were kids, never once taking it off.
“I’m a Leo.” Her voice was as soft as the breeze that brushed the grasses on the hill.
“I know.” He lifted the medallion from her hand. “This is my sign. I thought maybe you could use it more than me.”