alexis morgan



Alexis Morgan
© 2023.


Tripp Blackston didn't like to think of himself as a coward, but right now he was really having to fight the urge to hightail it back out of town. It was really tempting, especially if he could convince Abby and Zeke to take off for places unknown with him. He was pretty sure he could depend on Gage to let them know when it was safe for them to return to Snowberry Creek.

After savoring his nefarious plan for all of thirty seconds, he gave up on the idea. His mom and dad would never forgive him, and he wasn't sure that Abby would approve of him treating his parents so badly. Besides, he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he were to hurt them like that.

Still, he couldn't help but be a little ticked off at them for the stunt they'd pulled. They'd been on his case for a while now to come home for a visit. Well, actually they'd been pushing him to move back to his hometown, period. The pressure campaign had started right after he'd left the army behind. His mother never failed to point out that she expected Tripp to settle down, get married, and provide them with more grandkids. His father also wanted a golf partner. The fact that Tripp didn't even like the game didn't seem to matter.

The bottom line was that he should've known something was up when neither of his parents had never once brought up those subjects while he was staying with them. Instead, they'd kept things light and did their best to make sure he had a good time. Mom had prepared all of his favorite meals, and his father had taken him fishing out on a nearby lake. They'd also hosted a huge barbecue one evening, so he could spend time with both relatives and a few friends from back in high school.

He'd appreciated the chance to see everyone and get caught up on their lives. The problem was that he'd felt like an outsider looking in the whole time. He'd really tried hard to hide that truth from everybody, but he wasn't sure how successful he'd been. While he didn't regret his decision to join the army, there was no denying how much it had changed him. He could barely remember the starry-eyed kid he'd been when he'd signed up.

And that was the version of Tripp that his parents wanted to come back home. Sadly, that kid was gone for good. He'd seen too much, done too much to ever be that innocent again.

His mother had been out walking around Abby's yard and admiring all of the various flowering plants. Right now, the roses and a lot of the perennials were in full bloom. When she spotted him, she headed in his direction, stopping just short of where he was sitting on his porch steps.

"I must say, your house is very…cozy."

That was a pretty tactful description, considering the cottage consisted of a single bedroom, a bathroom, a tiny kitchen, and a living room that was only big enough for a loveseat instead of a full-size sofa. "It suits my needs."

"I'm sure you could afford something much nicer back home. From what I've read, housing prices out here are ridiculously high."

He grinned at her. "Don't forget, I'm a poor college student, Mom. This is a lot better than living in a dorm or even army barracks."

His father stepped out onto the porch just in time to hear that much of the conversation. "If money is a problem, you could live with us for free while you finish up your degree. There's a perfectly good college less than twenty miles from the house."

This wasn't a conversation he wanted to have with both of his parents hovering over him. He pushed himself up to his feet and leaned against the porch railing as he struggled to find some way to put an end to the discussion without hurting their feelings.

Drawing a deep breath, he let it out slowly. "I'm sorry, but…"

He was saved from saying any more when Abby pulled into the driveway. Knowing he was only postponing the discussion, he stepped around his mother. "Abby's home."

However, he should've known his folks wouldn't give up that easily. His mother caught his arm, trying to hold him back. "Tripp, we can meet her later. I'm sure she'll understand that we're having a private family discussion. After all, she's just your landlady."

Seriously? That what they thought? That she was just his landlady? Abby was so much more than that, and he knew he'd made that clear to his parents on several occasions.

He gently removed his mother's hand from his arm. "Mom, tread carefully. I'm a grown man, not a teenager you can boss around. Abby matters to me, and I won't tolerate her being treated with anything but respect."

After taking a step back, he added, "For the record, any discussion about my future plans will involve her. For now, I'm going for a walk."

Then he marched away, leaving his parents staring at his back.


Abby took one look at Tripp's expression and knew things weren't going well between Mr. and Mrs. Blackston and their son. While she didn't want to offend his parents, right now she needed to do something to help Tripp. She was pretty sure giving him a big hug wasn't the right course of action. Instead, she gave him a quick peek at the gooey butter cake Bridey had sent home with her. If that didn't cheer him up, nothing would.

Just as she'd hoped, his face lit up with greedy glee. "Do I have to share it?"

"It probably would be rude not to." She glanced past him at his folks. "Having said that, it's up to you—as long as I get a piece."

The corner of his mouth quirked up in a hint of a grin. "It's a deal."

Still looking a little desperate, he said, "I need to stretch my legs after that long flight. What do you say we take Zeke for a walk? I haven't had a chance to let him out or anything since we got here."

"Sounds like a great idea."

As they started across the yard to the back porch, she figured there was no time like the present to figure out the logistics of his parents' visit. "Do you know where your folks plan to stay while they're here?"

Tripp shook his head. "The subject hasn't come up yet. They might prefer a hotel, but they could also have my place. I thought about asking Gage if I could hide out in his guest room, but that wouldn't be fair to you."

It was probably too much to hope that Gage had two extra rooms, but unfortunately there was another option. She'd inherited her late aunt's Victorian house as well the older woman's old fashioned manners. She owed it to Tripp to offer him an alternative. "You know they'd be welcome to stay with me. They could have the bedroom on the third floor. It has its own bathroom right next to it."

He glanced down at her. "I can't vouch for them being pleasant guests. They tried to woo me into moving back home by keeping things all light and easy while I was there. Then they followed me back here with no warning and have already started the pressure campaign."

Abby had experienced something similar with her own mother, so she understood exactly what Tripp was going through. She looped her arm through his as they started up the back porch steps. "Let's take that walk. While we're gone, we can call ahead to Owen's place and make reservations for dinner. Maybe if we show your folks around town a bit and introduce them to some of your friends, they'll start to understand why you love living in Snowberry Creek."

"It couldn't hurt to try. Besides, it's been too long since I've had a rack of Owen's ribs and some of Frannie's pie."

"What about the gooey butter cake?"

He tucked the box in closer to his chest. "You said I didn't have to share it with anyone but you."

She laughed as she unlocked the back door and stepped back out of the way so Zeke could charge past her to reach his buddy. Tripp immediately shoved the gooey butter cake toward her to avoid any possible disaster as the ninety-five pound dog bounced around him.

Once Tripp convinced the dog that he was back to stay, they moved inside. Abby set the cake on the counter, and then clipped on Zeke's leash. Before she could head back outside, Tripp smiled down at her with a whole lot of heat in his eyes as he wrapped his arms around her and pressed her against the kitchen counter.

"There's one thing we have to do before we can leave."

All though she suspected she already knew the answer, she asked, "What's that?"


And then he kissed her.