“That seemed to surprise her. “You came back because you grew up here?”

“Yeah.” It was as simple, and as complex as that. He tried to explain. “This land belonged to my grandparents, then my mother, and even though she didn’t care enough to try and hang on to the only legacy she had, it was my legacy, too. Cutter Creek is a part of who I am.” Bitterness seeped into his tone, and he swallowed it back, refusing to allow those resentful emotions to intrude on what had started out as a pleasant day. “I couldn’t see someone else living here, when I’ve always wanted this land for my own, to build a big house and raise a family here.”

The understanding he sought touched her expression and softened her gaze, giving him the fortitude to continue.

“I wanted to come back and make a difference in the McCabe lineage,” he said, giving her a glimpse of the vulnerability he’d hadn’t been able to shake over the years. “Everybody remembers my drunk of a mother who practically lived at the After Hours Bar, and this scrappy, illegitimate kid who caused trouble wherever he went. I want this time around to be different.”

She pushed the swing into a slow, swaying motion with the toe of her sandal. “You can’t change the past, Ford.”

“No, I can’t change the past,” he agreed, trailing his fingers over her shoulder in a light caress. “But I’ve learned that I’m in control of my future, and that’s where I’m going to make the difference, here at Cutter Creek. I’ve spent the past eleven years working hard, trying to prove to myself that I could be something, despite how I grew up. Getting to where I am today hasn’t been easy, but every struggle has been worth it.” He wasn’t defensive, just adamant about using his success to his advantage.

“And now you have your own business, which I’m assuming is doing well for itself,” she said, clasping her hands over her stomach. At his silent nod, she prompted, “So what, exactly, does FZM do?”

Remembering how vague he’d been about his business during his dinner date with Grace, and how cautious he still needed to be, he chose his words wisely. “It’s a development company. The company I originally went to work for when I left here, Khann and Associates, gave me the financial backing and support I needed to start the company a few years ago. Khann is like a silent investor. I bid on the projects and develop them, and the profits are split, which has been incredibly lucrative. I’m in the process of acquiring a piece of property I plan to redevelop, which will be my first project without Khann’s financial backing.” And until he was awarded the piece of land, that’s all he was willing to reveal.

“Will your work keep you away from home much?” she asked.

Home . He liked the way that sounded. “I hope not. I’ve got a main office in Richmond with a full staff, and half a dozen project managers who oversee my jobs. I’m sure I’ll be spending at least three days a week in Richmond to keep an eye on things, but I can work on a bid or proposal here at the house just as easily as I can at the main office. I’ve got everything I need to run things smoothly from here.”

“Well, I’ll try and stay out of your way as much as possible,” she said, wrapping a hand around the chain link holding up her end of the swing. “Grace and Charm keeps me pretty busy, so you’ll have the house to yourself during the day.”

“You won’t ever be in my way,” he assured her, leaning closer and bypassing that one foot safety zone he’d kept between them. “Besides, I wouldn’t mind having you close by, just in case I get an uncontrollable urge to kiss you.”

Her lips parted and her eyes widened slightly in anticipation. Deciding to let the desire and craving for his kiss simmer for the time being, he merely ran a finger down the slope of her nose.

She let out a puff of breath, flustered and exasperated by his playful tactics. “You, Ford McCabe, are a terrible tease.””