“He’d taken her on a brief tour when they’d first arrived yesterday afternoon, and though the furnishings were sparse, the structure was soundly built and it was evident no expense had been spared on the craftsmanship, fixtures, or cosmetic appearance. “It’s a lovely house.”

His gaze met hers. “It’s more than I ever thought I’d have.”

Finished with his breakfast, Ford stood and took his empty bowl to the sink and rinsed it out. His gaze glanced out the window in front of him, then he looked back at Grace. “You didn’t get to see much of the outside of the house yesterday. Would you like to take a morning stroll after breakfast and see the rest of the place?”

She realized that for all of Ford’s confidence, he wanted her approval. She found she couldn’t refuse him, or disappoint him. “I’d like that,” she said, hoping the comfortable relationship they were establishing would enable her to get to know her husband better. “Give me half an hour to shower and change, and then I’m all yours for the day.”

Ford walked casually alongside Grace as they passed the empty corral he hoped to someday soon fill with a few Quarter Horses. A huge sense of contentment warmed him as he told her of his plans and they talked companionably about nothing in particular. They’d spent the past hour strolling around his property while he showed her the improvements he’d made to the land, and indicated his intentions for the future. She’d been suitably impressed, and he’d been filled with pride for all that he’d accomplished.

It was a heady sensation to realize just how far he’d come in eleven years. To an outsider looking in, he seemed to have it all: a sprawling home that exceeded anything in Whitaker Falls, a thriving million dollar business, a beautiful wife, and a baby on the way that would complete the craving he’d always had for a family of his own. Life couldn’t get much sweeter for a man who’d spent his youth as a juvenile delinquent, struggling for acceptance, and resenting the fact that nobody cared enough about him to try and give him the guidance he’d so desperately needed.

But for all that he’d obtained, the one most important thing seemed to allude him—Grace. For all that she’d accepted their situation, she was still cautious with him. Not that he could blame her. Everything had happened so quickly between them, from his surprise return, to their whirlwind courtship that hadn’t allowed time for them to discover who they’d become in the past eleven years. No amount of money would banish that reserve of hers, or gain her trust and respect . . . just time, care, and a whole lot of patience . . . and those stolen kisses he’d insisted upon this morning.

He glanced at the woman beside him, and frowned. Though they’d only been outside for a short amount of time, she looked tired, her face flushed from the warm sunshine. Taking into consideration her delicate condition, he lightly grasped her elbow and steered her toward the house and the sturdy, hand-carved oak swing he’d had installed on the back porch.

She settled herself on the swing, her brown eyes holding a combination of bewilderment and feminine curiosity.

He sat beside her, leaving a foot of space between them. “What’s on your mind, Grace?” he asked, determined to find out what had his wife so perplexed.

She tilted her head, regarding him speculatively. “Out of all the places you could afford to live, why would you choose to return to Whitaker Falls?”

Her curiosity was certainly valid, since nothing had been easy or welcoming about his return. He’d concluded years ago that it would be much less complicated for him to build a house near Richmond, where people knew and acknowledged him for the successful business man he was, yet he’d always known that he’d return to Whitaker Falls, despite the possible tribulation of doing so.

Stretching his arm across the back of the swing, he wove the tail end of her French braid between his fingers, unable to resist touching her. “I know it seems crazy, coming back to the one place where I’m least wanted, and everyone associates the name ‘McCabe’ with disgrace, scandal, and a list of offenses, but my reasons for returning are pretty basic and unpretentious, actually.” He paused for a moment, hoping she’d understand his motivations, as foolish as they suddenly seemed to be. “Cutter Creek is where my roots are.””