Once the sun went down in Virgin River there wasn’t a whole
lot of entertainment for Sean Riordan, unless he wanted to
sit by the fire at his brother, Luke’s, house. But sitting
all quiet and cozy while Luke and his new wife Shelby
snuggled and said sweet little things to each other was a
special kind of torment he could do without. Sometimes they
just faked being tired so they could slip off to bed at
eight o’clock at night. More often than not Sean just made
it easy on them— he’d head over to a larger town on the
coast where he could enjoy the sights and do a little window
shopping, maybe meet a woman of his own.
Sean was a U-2 pilot stationed at Beale AFB in Northern
California, a few hours south of Virgin River. He had
accumulated a ton of vacation and could only carry over
ninety days to the next fiscal year, so he had a couple of
months to kill. His brother had just gotten married and Sean
had been his best man. After the wedding, Sean decided to
stay on in Virgin River and use up some of his leave. Given
the fact that Luke and Shelby had been together about a year
Sean didn’t feel as if he was interfering with the honeymoon
by hanging around. All that lovey-dovey stuff was not so
much about them sealing the deal, as it was about them still
being hot to trot, as if they’d just met.
And there was a lot of talk about baby-making, something
that surprised Sean about Luke. However, Luke’s willingness
to step up and try to nail that egg, night after night after
night, that did not surprise Sean in the slightest.
During the daytime, Sean always had plenty to do. There was
plenty of upkeep on the cabins Luke and Sean had bought
together as an investment and which Luke now managed and
rented full time. There was hunting and fishing—it was still
deer season—and the salmon and trout were fat, the river ran
practically outside the front door. Luke and his helper,
Art, were catching so many fish that Luke had to buy a shed,
run some wiring to it from the house and invest in a big
There was no denying the appeal of the Virgin River area for
a guy with time on his hands. Sean was an outdoors man at
heart and the October colors in the mountains were awesome.
It wouldn’t be all that long before the first snowfall, and
soon after that he would have to get back to Beale. So, in
the meantime, all he wanted to do was find a nice bar with a
fireplace to relax in front of—one without his brother and
sister-in-law cuddling up in front of it.*******************************************
“Ready for another drink, pal?” the bartender asked him.
“I’m good, thanks. I didn’t come in here to check out the
architecture, but the detailed carving in this place is
impressive,” Sean replied.
The bartender laughed. “Two things are obvious about you.
You’re not from around here and you’re military.”
“Okay, I admit the haircut is a giveaway. But the rest”?”
“This is lumber country and this bar is wall to wall oak.
When it was built, the wood was probably cheaper than the
nails. The craftsmanship? Common around here. So, what
brings you to town?”
Sean took a sip of his beer. “Burning off some leave.
Visiting my brother. I have a little over six weeks of leave
left. I used to hit the bars with my brother, but his
running days are over.”
“War injury?” the bartender asked.
“Battle of the sexes. He just got married.”
The bartender whistled. “My condolences.”
Tonight Sean had landed in a large upscale bar and
restaurant in Arcata. He occupied a spot at the end of the
bar where he could get a 180 degree view of the place. So
far it appeared as if all the women were with husbands or
dates, but that didn’t diminish his pleasure—Sean wasn’t
always looking for a pick-up. Sometimes it was nice to
simply appreciate the view. Since he was going to be
spending some time in this part of the world, he wasn’t
opposed to the idea of getting to know to know a girl, take
her out, maybe even get a little up close and personal.
All such thoughts were suddenly stopped and were replaced
by, Ah! Looks like I just hit the jackpot.
There was a ripple of female laughter as the door swung open
and a group of women, who were obviously having a good time,
entered. Even across the large restaurant, he could
appreciate their assets. The first one was short, dark, a
little on the round side and deliciously so. She appeared
lush and soft and brought a smile to Sean’s lips. The next
one was tall, thin, athletic looking, with straight, silky,
unfussy blond hair. Obviously a gymnast or runner—a fine
looking woman. Next came a medium sized redhead with a
curvaceous figure, twinkling eyes and a bright smile. A
feminine smorgasbord, he thought appreciatively. Sean did
not discriminate—he was attracted to all kinds of women, not
just one type. Next came—
Nah, couldn’t be, he told himself. He was just hallucinating
again. He thought he’d seen her many times before but it was
never her. Besides, Franci wore her hair long and straight
and this woman’s mahogany hair was in one of those
hyper-short cuts that, on anyone else, might look butch, but
on her? Oh man, it just couldn’t get any sexier. It made her
dark eyes look huge. The woman shed her coat and she was
thinner than Franci, but not by that much. But her eyebrows
were exactly the same as Franci’s—a nice, thin, provocative
arch over those big, heavily lashed eyes. It got him missing
Franci all over again.
She slid out of her coat and revealed a filmy dress. Maybe
not filmy, but certainly silky. It was dark purple and fell
loosely from her shoulders and was belted at the waist, then
flowed again to her knees. The dress accentuated her perfect
breasts, narrow waist, slim hips and long legs. Franci had
rarely worn dresses but Sean hadn’t minded—her long legs and
tight butt in a pair of fitted slacks used to blow his mind.
But this dress was good. Very Good.
The four women took a table near the front of the restaurant
by the window. They were carrying boxes, shopping bags and
party bags; a birthday dinner out? The one who looked like
his old girlfriend crossed her legs and revealed a slit in
the skirt of that dress that exposed a scrumptious thigh.
Whoa. His eyes were glued to that shapely leg. His groin
Then she laughed. God, it was Franci. If that wasn’t
Franci, it was her twin. The way she tilted her head back
and let go was a laugh with passion. Franci had always
laughed from deep inside her. That was how she cried too.
Sean was suddenly infused with mixed emotions—remembering
the wonderful laughs they’d shared in bed after their
typically great sex counterbalanced when he remembered
making her cry and he was sorry he had ever made Franci cry.
Well, hell, he might have made her cry, but hadn’t she
infuriated him until he wanted to punch a hole in the wall?
She could be maddening. Why was that again? He’d think of
it, given a minute. That had been almost four years ago.
What was she doing here in Arcata? After the break-up—which
had been ugly—he’d looked for her. But he had let too much
time slip by before doing so and she wasn’t where he
expected her to be. They’d met in Iraq when he was deployed
in the F-16 and she was an Air Force flight nurse who
regularly appeared to take the injured out of the theater.
Later, when he’d been transferred to Luke Air Force Base in
Phoenix as an instructor in the same jet, she was there,
assigned as a nurse in the base hospital. They had dated
exclusively for two years when a big shift occurred in their
individual lives—her service commitment was up and she was
planning to separate from the Air Force and return to
civilian life. He was going to cross-train in the U-2 high
altitude reconnaissance aircraft—the spy plane. He didn’t
see how either of those events should effect any change. He
told her he’d be relocating to Beale AFB in Northern
California. He thought she could probably find work there if
she was interested.
That had been the beginning of the end. After dating for two
years, she, at twenty-six, was ready for a commitment. She
wanted marriage and a family, and he didn’t. Well, there was
nothing new there—she’d been honest about that since the
beginning of their relationship. Franci had always hoped to
marry and have children. And that wasn’t something he needed
more time to consider—he really didn’t see himself settling
into that sweet little domestic trap. Ever. She’d been good
about not pushing that too hard, but she’d never backed down
either. For Sean’s part, he was monogamous. He told her he
loved her because he did. If he occasionally glanced at and
appreciated a pretty girl, it went no further. Even though
they each maintained their own home, they spent every night
together unless one of them was away from the base. But when
it came to marriage and children, she was in, and he, at
twenty-eight, was out.
She had said something like, “It’s time to take this
relationship to the next level or end it completely.”
You don’t want to be drawing a line in the sand in front of
a young fighter pilot. Jet jockeys didn’t take orders from
girlfriends. Of course it was no surprise that they fought
and he made her cry with senseless, stupid comments like,
‘Not in this lifetime, babe. If I were interested in getting
married, we’d be married,’ and, ‘Look, I’m just
flat-ass not doing the rug-rats thing, all right? Even with
you.’ Oh yeah, he was brilliant.
She had said things, also in anger, probably things she
didn’t mean. Well, that wasn’t exactly correct as he
recalled now, looking across a crowded room at her as she
laughed and talked with her girlfriends. “Sean, if you let
me go now I’ll be so gone, you’ll never see me again. I need
a committed partner or I’m taking the walk.”
And Sean, being the cocky genius he was, said, “Oh yeah?
Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.” He winced at the memory.
They had gone their separate ways, bitterly. He went to
Beale because it looked like getting a promotion and command
position in the U-2 was more likely than in the highly
competitive F-16. He was an Air Force Academy graduate;
becoming a general was in his sights if he made the right
moves. Franci had exited the Air Force.
Sean assumed, incorrectly, that, he’d be able to find her at
her mother’s, or at least near her mother’s, in Santa Rosa.
A few months later, when his training in the new aircraft
was complete and he was ready to talk about their situation,
sanely and calmly, she was long gone. So was her mother. And
there appeared to be no forwarding address.
So, flash forward four years. Arcata, California? It really
didn’t make sense, but that woman across the room was
definitely Franci Duncan. He could tell it was her by the
way his heart pounded and he felt hot all over. And by the
way he was fighting an erection just looking across the room
She and her friends had all ordered frothy after-dinner
drinks, and were joking with the young waitress. They leaned
toward each other to whisper, leaning back to laugh—they
were gossiping and having fun. One member of the group
pulled a silky wrap out of a colorful bag and put it around
her shoulders, admiringly. The birthday girl? There weren’t
any men around them and he could only pick out one wedding
ring in the group, and it wasn’t on Franci’s hand. Not that
it meant anything; people didn’t necessarily wear wedding
rings all the time these days.
“You still okay on that drink, pal?” the bartender asked to
As Sean watched the proceedings he missed her so bad he
ached with it. Letting her get away was one of the great
tactical errors of his adult life. He should have found a
way to convince her they’d be fine together without
marriage, without a bunch of ankle-biters. But at
twenty-eight, pumped up on his fighter-pilot prowess, he’d
been over-confident. He had especially not been ready for
some woman to be calling the shots. Now, at thirty-two, he
realized how stupid he’d been at twenty-eight. In those four
years there had been other women, and not one of them had
come close to what he’d felt for Franci. For what he’d felt
with Franci. And he was willing to bet she hadn’t
found anyone as good either.
He was hoping that. He probably shouldn’t bet on it.
Franci was incredible; there had probably been a long line
of able-bodied, good-looking, more than willing men lined up
at her front door—wherever that was.
“You still on my planet, pal?” the bartender asked.
“Seems like something besides my skill at pouring a drink
has your attention.”
“Yeah,” he said, looking back at Franci. “I think maybe I
know one of them,” he said, tilting his head toward the
table of women.
“How’s your drink?”
“I’m good,” Sean said, his eyes uncontrollably drawn to the
woman across the room.
The women had a second order of frothy coffees. There was a
lot more laughing, talking, rummaging through the gifts and
they were oblivious to anything else happening in that bar.
They certainly weren’t trolling for guys. They never even
glanced toward the bar.
If she looked his way, even once, he’d have to think of
something clever to say. He’d have to smile, walk
confidently across the room to their table, say hello and
get friendly. He’d have to make them laugh and like him,
because he couldn’t let her get out of here without finding
out where she lived. She might be visiting one of those
women, which meant that after she left, she’d be totally
gone again. He couldn’t let that happen. He needed to see
her, talk to her. Touch her. Hold her.
“Why don’t you go over there? Say hello?” the bartender asked.
He looked up at his new friend. “Yeah... Well... The last
time we talked, I wasn’t her favorite person.”
The bartender laughed. “Hard to imagine,” he said.
Sean had been staring at that table of women for a long time
and the bartender was probably watching that, in case he
turned out to be some kind of pervert. Sean turned on the
charm; he cheered up real fast so he didn’t look so intense.
“Hey, I should settle up and get going, even if the scenery
in here is incredible.” He put some money on the bar,
including a nice tip, and left without finishing his drink.
He walked out with his head down, trying not to attract any
It was colder than usual on the coast this October night. He
wandered across the street where he could keep an eye on the
front door. He hoped they quit the bar before he froze to
death. It made him sick to think she might get away from him.
He made up his mind and it took him less than fifteen
seconds to decide—he really needed to see if he could get
things straightened out with Franci. They should be
together. He just hoped she would see it that way.
He actually said a prayer. There had to be a patron saint to
ignorant, immature playboys, right? Saint Hugh? Saint Don
Juan? Whomever—give me a break here and I’ll change my ways.
I swear. I won’t be over-confident; I’ll be sensitive. We’ll
negotiate and get back to what we had before...
And then it happened. The four women came out the front door
of the restaurant, one of them toting her presents. They
lingered, laughed some more, hugged, and then they went
their separate ways. Two went left, two went right. At the
end of the block, Franci and her friend went in opposite
directions and Sean, feeling like this was the one chance in
his lifetime, hot-footed it after her.
He had just about caught up to her when she was unlocking
the door of small, silver sedan. “Franci?” he called out.
She jumped, turned and stared at him, wide-eyed.
“It is you,” he said, taking a few steps nearer to
her. “Your hair—wow. Threw me off for a minute.”
She looked almost frightened at first. But then she seemed
to compose herself, though she shivered from the cold and
pulled her coat tighter around her. “Sean?”
“Yeah,” he said, laughing. “I can’t believe I’m running into
you here, of all places.”
“What are you doing here?” she asked, not looking thrilled
to see him.
“Remember Luke? Remember, I told you we bought some old
cabins together a long time ago? Long before I met you.
Well, he got out of the Army and came up here to work on ‘em.”
“Here?” she asked, aghast. She pulled her coat tighter.
“Those cabins are here?”
“Back in the mountains, along the Virgin River,” he said. “I
was just burning some leave, visiting him. I came over here
She looked around. “Where’s Luke?” she asked. “Is he with you?”
“No,” he laughed. “Married. Recently married. I try to get
out of their hair in the evening because they...” He stopped
and laughed silently, shaking his head. Then he looked at
her face. “You look great. How long have you been here? In
“I...ah...I don’t actually live in Arcata. I was just
meeting some friends for dinner. Everything all right with
you? With your family?”
“Everyone is good,” he said. He took another step toward
her. “Franci, let me buy you a cup of coffee. Let’s catch up
“Ah... No, I don’t think so, Sean,” she said, shaking her
head. “I’d better get””
“I looked for you,” he said impulsively. “To say it was a
mistake, the way we broke up. We should talk. There might be
things we can work out that we were both too stubborn to””
“Listen, don’t even go there, Sean. It’s all in the past. No
hard feelings,” she said. “So good luck and good””
”Are you married or something?” he asked.
She was startled. “No. But I’m not looking to go back to the
discussion that ended us. Maybe you were able to just blow
it off, but I—”
“I didn’t blow it off, Franci,” he said. “I looked for you
and couldn’t find you anywhere. That’s why I want to talk.”
“Well, I don’t,” she said. She opened her car door. “I think
you’ve probably said enough on that subject.”
“Franci, what the fuck?” he asked, confused and a little
angry by her immediate rebuff. “God, can’t we have a
conversation? We were together for two years! It was good,
me and you. We never had anyone else, either one of us and” ”
“And you said it wasn’t going any further,” she said,
stiffening her back. “In fact, that was one of the nicer
things you said. I’m glad you’re doing fine, you look just
the same, happy as can be. Say hello to your mother and
brothers. And really, don’t push this. We decided. We’re over.”
“Come on. I don’t believe you mean that,” he said.
“Believe it,” she shot back. “You made a decision—you didn’t
want a commitment to me and here you are—you don’t have one.
Bye. Take care.”
She got in her car and slammed the door. He took two giant
steps forward and heard the door locks click into place. She
backed out of her parking space quickly and drove away. He
memorized the license plate, but the most important thing he
noticed was that it was a California plate. She might not
live in Arcata, but she lived close enough to drive over for
Now that he’d seen her, he knew what he’d long suspected. He
was far from over her.