She hissed in a breath. “Me, too.” She took another step back as he undid her last button, and her shoulders touched something hard—the doorjamb stopping her. She savored the feel of cool wood against her burning flesh.

His broad hand cupped her breast, kneading her and teasing her with his palm and thumb. He reached around her. Opened the knob. “Care to see my bedroom?”

Sorrow did. Though there was something she needed to see much more than that—his chest, bared again. She tugged his uniform shirt, untucking it from his pants. “Take this off.”

“You got it.” Billy swept her onto the bed, and she gave a little bounce as she landed.

She never knew she had a cop fantasy until experiencing the sight of a broad-shouldered sheriff stripping just for her. Legs parted slightly in a commanding stance, he stood over the bed, his eyes hooded and dark with hunger, swiftly unbuttoning. His gaze was unwavering. His desire, unwavering.

She’d enjoyed sex before, but never had she felt wanting like this. It seared her, set her body on fire. “I want you, Billy.” She slid her jeans down to midhip, very aware of the sliver of black lace she revealed. “Now.”

He practically ripped the rest of his clothes off and was on top of her, kissing her, touching her. She writhed with need, and he snatched her one hand, and then the other, twining his fingers with hers, sweeping her arms up over her head to give him unfettered access. “Is this what you’ve been hiding under those sweaters?” His mouth teased through the damp lace of her bra, sucking and nibbling her. “You’re so hot. And now you’re mine.”

She arched her back, reaching her breast to his mouth, needing it closer, harder, more. “Get these clothes off me.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He slid his hand behind her back, flicked open the clasp of her bra, and tossed the black scrap of lace onto the floor. Her jeans and panties followed, his movements exhilaratingly confident and sure.

She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling herself up, and him down, longing to feel his naked body press against hers.

When their skin touched, he hissed in a breath. He shifted, holding the brunt of his weight off of her. “You’re so perfect,” he whispered.

She raked her fingers through his hair, kissing along his collarbone, up the strong column of his neck, to his jaw. Stubble scraped her tongue, and the erotic sensation amped her lust to a fever pitch. “Me? God, Billy, you.” Desire made her weak, and she slid her hands from his hair to steady herself, grasping his upper arms, and moaned when her fingers met smooth, hard muscle. “You’re rock hard.” She gave a breathy laugh, realizing her double entendre, because another very hard part of him was an undeniable pressure against her leg. She wriggled beneath him, inching her hips closer to his, beckoning. She teased, a purr in her voice, “Rock hard.”

“Condom,” he growled, rolling from her. He was back on the bed in an instant, intense, focused, breathless. “I’ll take more time…”

“No,” she interrupted, guiding him to the perfect spot. “Now.”

“Now.” He plunged into her. “And again,” he snarled with a thrust of his hips. “And later. And more. And forever.”

And for the first time in her life, Sorrow felt completed. Complete.

Marlene stole another glimpse of Tom Sullivan out of the corner of her eye. The theater was dark, but the movie’s glow flickered over his features. In the starkly dappled shadows and light, he looked carved from granite.

He caught her looking, and she cut her eyes back to the screen, feeling herself blush a hundred shades of red. When was the last time she’d acted like such a schoolgirl? Probably the last time she’d been taken on an actual date, and she sure didn’t remember when that’d been.

She’d felt like a girl again, when Sully picked her up to drive them to Silver City. He’d taken her to a nice Italian restaurant—not a chain—and had bought tickets to a movie she’d picked out.

The last time her ex-husband had taken her to dinner and a movie, they’d probably been in high school. It seemed like they’d gone straight from the Homecoming Dance to having babies to diaper and bills to pay. She’d lost both herself and him somewhere along the way.

She tried to pay attention to the film, but something began to buzz, and it took her a moment to figure out that it was coming from her purse. The mobile phone. She hardly used it, and on those rare occasions it rang, it always took her a moment to place the sound.

She slowly unzipped her bag, cringing at the loud sound, and slipped it out. It buzzed like an angry beetle in her hand. If someone were actually calling her, it was either a wrong number or an emergency. She prayed it was the former.

She glanced at Sully, uncertain. They’d announced that cell phones weren’t allowed during the film.

Guessing her conundrum, he leaned close to whisper. “It’s okay.”

She barely registered his words, so focused was she on the feel of his breath on her cheek and the faint scent of his aftershave.

She forced herself to nod and peeked at the screen. The number was familiar, and it took her a moment to place it. Ruby. Her heart kicked up a notch. Oh dear Lord, what happened? There’d been much ado in her household over Marlene and Sully’s date, and her aunt wouldn’t be getting in touch if she didn’t have a reason.

Sully guessed her distress, and with a steady hand, he guided her up from her seat and out of the theater. It was supposed to have been a simple, friendly date. Nothing big, just a Tuesday night—he’d had to talk her into it, for pity’s sake.

And yet here he was, his warm arm around her shoulders the only thing keeping her propped up.

“Go ahead,” he prompted gently, when they got into the lobby.

She blinked against the bright overhead lights, fumbling to press the button to answer. She was too late, and her hands trembled as she redialed. A person didn’t act as caretaker to three elderly women without holding a part of her mind in constant reserve, always somehow expecting the worst.

“Ruby,” she gasped, hearing her aunt’s voice. “What is it?”

Marlene felt the blood drain from her head. She ended the call, met Sully’s eyes. “It’s Ma. She fell. They think it’s her hip. An ambulance—” She choked on the last words.

Sully somehow had her in her coat and headed out the door before she knew which end was up. “They’ll be taking her to Silver City Memorial,” he said.

She nodded, grateful not to have to speak. Tom Sullivan just knew. Just as he somehow knew how to navigate the streets of Silver City, pulling into the hospital lot. She was on autopilot, grateful he was there to find the right attendant and ask the right questions, navigating them to the correct curtained room in the ER. Her mother had just arrived.

And then the waiting began. Time compressed until she felt as though she’d either just gotten to the ER or had been sitting there her whole life.

Ruby and Pearl showed up not long after the ambulance, having driven themselves there in Marlene’s pickup. She would’ve found it shocking, had she not already been so swamped with emotion. She observed her aunts as though from a distance—them interrogating the nurses, bustling around, finding coffee—and she was struck by their calm. Their independence.

Suddenly it was nearly sixty years ago, and she was the kid and they were the adults. Snippets of memory returned in a flash, those times when her mother hadn’t been home, and it’d been Pearl and Ruby feeding her dinner, making her wash her hands and finish her schoolwork.

Like sun shifting through a prism, a new light shone on her aunts, revealing a different truth, showing their quibbles and tics anew. She’d forgotten such large chunks of her childhood—the tiny details, the meaningless daily trivia. As the years passed, much of it had drifted from her mind like bits of ash on the wind. Those long-forgotten snippets came to her now, and she wondered, how had life passed so quickly? How had those memories slipped away? Weren’t those day-to-day details what life was about?

Sully had been gone, and he reappeared now, sitting beside her to take her hand. He gave it a squeeze.

She looked at their twined fingers. His hands were so new to her, such an unexpected source of comfort. She’d seen in his eyes that he had word from the doctor, and she wanted to put off hearing it for another few moments. “My husband never held my hand like this,” she said, stopping him before he could deliver any more bad news.

“Your husband was a fool,” he said without hesitation.

She squeezed this strange man’s hand as she remembered Frank. How would he be acting right now? Her ex had never held her hand, never courted her, never taken her to fancy restaurants, and he definitely would never have tolerated a chick flick just because it was what Marlene had wanted to see.

She met his eyes. “I’m glad you’re here, Tom.” And she meant it. She was so grateful. She was an independent woman, a grown woman. She’d raised a houseful of boys. She was always the responsible one, including being responsible for her mother in a way Mama had never been truly responsible for her. She was a strong, self-reliant woman, and yet she found comfort in having a man beside her now. She drew a stabilizing breath. “What did the doctor say?”

“Your mother broke her hip. She’s not responding, but that’s the Alzheimer’s. Technically, besides the hip, she’s in good physical shape.”

She swallowed again and again, trying to dissolve the ache in her throat. “Ma was always fit as a fiddle. Mountain living.”

“Something like that.” His left hand joined his right, until her cold fingers were cocooned in Tom’s steady warmth. “They’ve hooked up an IV tube, Marlene, for feeding. But you’re going to have some decisions to make.”

She nodded, blinking back the tears. “Can I see her?”

“Of course.” He pulled her to standing. “They’re moving her now.”

Walking into the hospital room, all Marlene could think was that she needed to get her mother out of there. Mama might be staring blankly, no longer in her body, but the woman she’d grown up with wouldn’t want to be in a glaringly white and antiseptic hospital room—she’d want to be at home, where she could eat her favorite Pepperidge Farm cookies and watch her favorite afternoon programs. The younger Mama would’ve wanted to be in a car with the top down, laughing and angling for a picnic, even in the worst of weather.