The Journey Collection
aware that he sounded like a two-year-old who had been told it was time to go to bed. “I’m gonna miss you, baby.”
    “And I’ll miss you,” she whispered. “You’re coming home to us, Travis. And when you do, we can be a real family.”
    “We already are one,” he murmured, bringing his hand up to her face. Lowering his lips down onto hers, he kissed her. They took their time, neither of them wanting to rush the moment. It was all they would have to get them through the challenge ahead.
    “Ugh, I know you two are in love or whatever, but I don’t need to see you sucking face all the time.”
    At the sound of their son’s voice, Travis and Penelope pulled away from each other and laughed. Ten-year-old Max stood in the doorway to their bedroom with his backpack slung on his shoulder. His blond hair stuck up in several directions, and he had an irritated look on his face, though his brown eyes were full of amusement.
    “I’m gonna be late, and when that happens, I’m gonna make sure that Mr. Nickels knows that it’s because you two can’t stop kissing all the time,” Max added.
    “Okay, we’re coming.” Penelope laughed again and pulled herself out of Travis’s embrace. She shifted her eyes up to him and asked the one question he knew he’d have to answer with a lie. “Are you ready?”
    “Yes,” he muttered.
    Travis grabbed his suitcase off the bed, and then followed Penelope down the hall and out to the car. He tossed his bag in the trunk before the three of them climbed inside and made the drive to the school in complete silence. Travis knew that the next few days would be just as hard on Max and Penelope as they would be on him, but at least they’d have each other. He had just gotten the chance to be with his son, and he wasn’t ready to let him go so soon.
    Finding out that he and Penelope had a child together had been a huge shock to Travis, but from the moment he had met Max in the high school gymnasium, he’d been drawn to the boy. Of course, it wasn’t until Penelope had come busting in and tried to distract Max that Travis had put two and two together. He should have known, the moment he looked into Max’s eyes and saw his mother, Loralie, reflected back at him, that the boy was his child. It turned out that leaving Penelope to follow his dream of becoming a professional football player had cost him more than just the love of his life; it had cost him his son, too.
    Travis and Penelope had been high school sweethearts, but when the time had come for Travis to leave for college, he’d put everything and everyone from the small Texas town of Clarendon behind him. He’d had just one focus: to become a star player. After four years at the University of Texas, Travis had been drafted by the Miami Sharks, and all of his dreams had come true — at least they had, until a series of shoulder injuries ended his six-year career. One hit was all it had taken, and Travis had found himself searching for some kind of new direction for his life.
    At the time, Travis had thought that he’d hit rock bottom. His career had died, and he had no idea what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Then he’d received an invitation from Jack Garrison, the principal at Clarendon High School, asking if Travis would come home for the big homecoming celebration. The Broncos had been having their best season in a decade, and for some reason, the team credited Travis with being their inspiration. He’d been reluctant, but in the end, he had decided that if he was going to find his future, he needed to deal with his past. Never once had Travis imagined that in reality his future and his past were so closely linked.
    Still, the journey home hadn’t been an easy one for him. Travis and Russ had struggled to understand each other, and a part of Travis still blamed his father for not telling him that he had a son. Also, a portion of him was still hurt that Penelope had taken away his right to be a part of the

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