At least, that’s the way I look at things. Take today, for instance. Here I was at the end of a twenty-four-hour shift at the hospital, and by all rights, I should have been heading back to my condo to collapse into bed for a solid eight hours of desperately needed sleep. But instead, I’d turned left out of the hospital parking lot and aimed my car toward the small town of Burton, located about forty-five minutes due west of Savannah.
I wasn’t driving all the way into town today, even though I was tempted to pop into my friend Celeste’s adorable lingerie shop and shoot the breeze with her. No, my destination was about ten miles outside of Burton: I was driving to a picturesque little piece of property that boasted a small lake, two acres of wooded land, and over a hundred years of fascinating history.
Oh, and it also included a rambling old mansion that hadn’t been occupied for several decades. Seeing the beauty it could become hadn’t been easy, but I had a discerning eye for spotting potential, and this house had it in spades. I’d fallen head over heels for the place and made a rare impulsive decision. I’d forsaken the search for a cookie-cutter suburban starter home and committed to another year or two in my soulless Savannah condo in order to fund the rehab of my dream home.
Last month, the work on the bones of the house—the structural support, electricity and plumbing—had all been finished. This week, the company I’d hired to handle the historical rehab was supposed to begin working its magic, and I couldn’t wait another moment to see what they’d done so far.
Hence, the tradeoff. I was giving up sleep in exchange for a quick walk-through of my dream home.
It was late afternoon, so I wasn’t completely surprised to see that there weren’t any trucks in the winding driveway that led to the house. Was I a tiny bit disappointed? Sure. I wanted to think that the people I’d hired were giving my precious project all of their time and energy and attention, but the truth was that they probably had other jobs going on at the same time.
Anyway, being alone would give me a chance to really soak it all in without anyone there to rush me along or ask pesky questions. There you go—yet another tradeoff.
I let myself in through the front door only because I wanted the full effect of stepping into the magnificent foyer. I wasn’t disappointed. The walls were freshly painted in an updated shade of their original color, and the woodwork we’d selected for this space was already up, and even though it hadn’t been finished yet, I could already see how gorgeous it was going to be.
“Oh, baby,” I murmured. “You are going to be so beautiful when they’re done. I’d say we’re restoring you to your former glory, but I think it’s going to be even better than that. Kind of like getting a facelift that makes you look like a sexier version of your twenty-year-old self.” I giggled to myself, thinking of all the women who would line up for that kind of surgery.
Kneeling down, I ran my fingers over the baseboards and craned my neck to examine the molding that ran along the top of the walls, seeing in my mind’s eye the old photos one of my contacts at the county historical society had dug up for me, the ones that we’d used to make style and color decisions. It really was like the original, only better.
I was about to stand up again and make my way toward the kitchen when I heard footsteps upstairs. That was disturbing; if the crew had left for the day, no one should have been here. But there they were again: yeah, someone was definitely upstairs, and whoever it might be wasn’t making any effort to disguise his or her presence.
My mind raced through a number of possibilities, landing on the worst one first. I’d heard that sometimes vagrants or addicts or criminals scoped out empty houses and camped out there when they were fairly sure no one else was around. My place was pretty far off the beaten track, but still . . . if someone happened upon it, they might not like the idea of being chased away, and if they felt cornered or had a weapon, I could be in trouble.
I moved slowly, reaching into my purse and groping blindly. Like most women, I’d learned young the defense method of threading keys through my fingers, and if I could find them now, I might be able to buy myself time to get to my car. I thanked my past self for feeling safe enough out here that I’d left it unlocked. The door was just a few feet away, and if I could get to it silently—
And then the footsteps sounded again—this time louder and coming closer. My heart pounded, and sweat broke out all over my body. I tried to swallow, but my throat was bone dry. I took a deep breath and was about to make a run for the door when I heard a deep voice.
I looked up, lifting my eyes to the banister on the second floor where a man was staring down at me. I blinked, my mind darting this way and that as I tried to make sense of the stranger above me who knew my name.
It wasn’t Linc Turner, the co-owner of Kent and Turner, the historical restoration company I’d hired. I’d have guessed it was one of the men who worked for him, but I hadn’t met any of them. It might have been someone local to Burton—someone I’d met with Celeste or maybe through Young Survival Coalition, the breast cancer support network and organization where we both volunteered. But it wasn’t. Somehow, I knew I hadn’t seen this face in a long time.
But I didn’t know him. The familiarity was frustratingly fleeting and vague. I frowned, rising slowly as the guy who seemed to know me jogged down the steps. My keys were still in my hand, so if he turned out to be psychopath who somehow happened to know my name.
“I didn’t put it together . . . I mean, Hudson is a common name, right? But then I heard your car in the driveway, and when I looked out the window to see who was here, I knew it was you.” He took a step toward me.
I moved backward. “I’m sorry. I don’t . . .” My voice trailed off. “How do you know me?”
He was quiet for a moment, and then a half-smile curled his lips. My heart sped up again, but this time it wasn’t fear making my pulse race. It seemed that my body had realized who he was, but my head was slow to catch up.
And then he spoke, his voice low and husky.
Just like that, it all came flooding back to me, and I knew without a shadow of doubt who was standing in front of me.
Who is Wesley?
And how does he know Sabrina?
Read next week and find out!
Meanwhile, catch up on all of the steamy romance happening in Burton right here!
I celebrated my twenty-first birthday by persuading Trent Wagner, the guy I’d been crushing on for months, to sleep with me. When he broke my heart and crushed my dreams by rejecting me afterward, I did the unthinkable. I tried to end my life.
Over two years later, I’m finally finding my balance again. My job at the county historical society is steady and predictable, two elements I appreciate right now. I’m living on my own, and my world is peaceful, if lonely.
That is, until hot single daddy Lincoln Turner comes to town.
When my wife was killed in a car accident, she left me with two small children and a bleak future. Six years later, I’m a recovering alcoholic who’s just gotten my kids back. I’m ready to tackle a new position as co-owner of a building restoration company.
I’m not looking for any attachments. But I’m also not ready for the irresistible attraction I feel for Jenna when a huge project brings us together.
The road to true love has more bumps than we could imagine. Making our way to a happy ending won’t be easy. But when two bruised souls find their way to each other . . . forever is possible.
“The water feels amazing.”
I turned my head toward the glare of the ocean as Abby Donavan—uh, Abby Kent now, I had to remember that she was married—dashed up the beach to where I sat next to her husband Ryland. I had to smile; I still wasn’t used to this more spontaneous, impulsive version of the contained Miss Abigail Donavan. When I’d met her a few years back, she had been our boss on the restoration of an old hotel, and I’d described her as steely. Maybe even a little bit icy. The lady had definitely melted, and I knew for sure it was more than the heat of the Florida sun that had done the trick.
In the beach chair next to me, the man who was responsible for most of Abby’s melting grinned. “Looking good there, Mrs. Kent.”
She shot him a saucy smile before dropping to the beach blanket in front of me, where my daughter sat with her arms around her knees. “Becca, come out with us! It’s so much fun. You can body surf with Ollie and me.”
Becca’s jaw tensed as she shook her head. “No, thanks. I’m fine here.”
“Bec.” I nudged her rear end with my foot. “Why don’t you go enjoy the water? This is your first beach trip. Don’t you want to play in the ocean? Have some fun, darlin’.”
My daughter replied without turning her head to look at me. “No, thanks. I don’t want to go into the ocean.” She paused a beat before adding, “It’s not safe. See that flag? It means there’s a rip current. People get carried away, and they can’t swim back.”
“We’re not going that far out, sweetie.” Abby pulled a towel out of her bag and dried off her legs. “I’m keeping my eye on your brother, too. We won’t go any further than just our hips, okay?”
“No, thanks.” Becca hugged her legs a little tighter as she repeated the words. “There could probably be jellyfish, too. And there can be bacteria in the water. Sometimes people die just from putting their feet in.”
I fought the strong desire to roll my eyes. “Becca, don’t be—”
Ryland jabbed an elbow into my ribs. “Hey, Becs, how long have I known you?”
She glanced back at us, frowning. “Ummm . . . I don’t know. All my life?”
“Yeah, just about. Did you know you were the first baby I ever held? Your mom didn’t give me a choice about it. She just plopped you into my arms. Now, would your mom have done that if she didn’t trust me?”
She gave a tiny headshake.
“Okay. And you know how much I love both you and your dweeby little bro?”
For the first time all day, my daughter’s mouth curved into a slight smile. “Yeah.”
“So you also know I would never, ever let you do anything where you might get hurt, right? Never. I’d throw myself in front of a speeding train to push you out of its path. Take on a grizzly bear if it were chasing you. You got that?”
“Then do you think, really think, that I’d let Aunt Abby take you down to the ocean if there were anything the least bit dangerous there?”
She pursed her lips and lifted one shoulder. “I don’t know.”
Ryland cocked an eyebrow at her. “We got to stick to logic here, tootsie roll. And logic tells you the truth.”
“But Uncle Ry—”
“Hey.” He pointed to her. “Not finished yet. Because I want you to think of something else. Do you know how much I love Aunt Abby?”
Becca sighed. “Yeah.”
“So you know I’d never want her to do anything where she might get hurt either.” Ry glanced at his wife. “I’m going to tell you something I haven’t even told your dad. Aunt Abby and I are going to have a baby.” He paused, letting that news sink in. “As much as I love you and Ollie, as much as I love Aunt Abby and this little peanut in her belly, would I sit back and let all of you do anything where you might get hurt?”
Becca’s head swiveled in Abby’s direction. I could almost feel her struggling to accept what Ryland was saying, to let it begin to overcome the fear. Finally, she gave a tiny shake of her head.
“Okay. I’ll go down.” She stood up, brushing sand from her legs. “But only a little bit in, right? Not deep.”
Abby rose, too, and extended her hand. “I promise, baby girl. No further than you want.” Over my daughter’s head, Abby smiled at me and winked. “We’ll just play around by the surf.”
Hands linked, the two tripped across the sand. I watched them go, grinning when Ab body-checked Becca and pretended to be sorry. It gave me a sense of relief to see my little girl finally relaxing a little bit. She might’ve been going on twelve, but she was always going to be my baby.
Which reminded me . . .
“So.” I tilted down my sunglasses and folded my arms across my chest, fastening Ry with a glare that was more bark than bite. “Something you needed to tell me?”
His smirk was huge and not at all repentant. “Hey, the situation called for something big, so I gave it to her.”
“Yeah, jackass, telling my daughter before me that you’re going to be a dad. What the hell, man?” I couldn’t hold the faux-mad any longer. Reaching across between the chairs, I punched his arm. “Congratulations, bro. ‘Bout time.”
The expression on Ryland’s face could’ve lit up NRG Stadium. “Yeah, right, about time. More like a miracle. Between Abby working so hard to get the hotel up and running and me being on the road all the time, trying to move the business down here, what’s more amazing is that we were in the same state long enough to make it happen.”
“So is this the reason you’ve decided to stop traveling altogether?” I pushed my glasses back into place and leaned against the webbed chair.
Ry shrugged. “Well, it was in the works anyway, you know. It was always the plan, for me to move all the operations down here, so we could start a real life together. We figured that we’d talk babies after that, but it turned out someone had other plans.”
“Babies are like that.” I stared out into the blinding blue of the ocean. “I don’t think I ever told you this, but Becca wasn’t exactly planned. Sylvia and I had only been married about seven months, and we were living in this cramped apartment, barely more than a room. Working for Leo Groff back then, remember, but still pretty far down the food chain. Syl and I had plans—we had that crappy little apartment so that when I had to travel for a job, she could come with me. I came home one night, absolutely dead on my feet. Filthy from a project we’d just started. I remember I was pissed because I could tell she hadn’t started dinner yet, and I was starved. Syl was curled up in the corner of this ratty old sofa we’d inherited from her aunt, and she’d been crying. I finally got it out of her that she’d taken a pregnancy test.”
“Oh, man.” Ry’s voice was filled with empathy. “What did you say?”
“What could I say?” I lifted one shoulder. “I mean, it was a done deal. And she hadn’t exactly gotten knocked up by herself. Takes two to tango, and let’s just say, I always liked a good tango. So I hugged her tight, told her she’d just made me the happiest man on the planet, and we started picking out baby names. After Becs came along seven months later, neither of us could imagine our lives without that kid.” I sighed a little, remembering. “All this stuff works out for the best.”
“Yeah.” Ry fidgeted, his chair creaking as he settled again. “You know, Linc, I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve heard you talk about Sylvia without . . . I don’t know. The deep pain. Like maybe you were about to lose it. It’s good to hear you say her name again with a smile.”
“We had good times. We had a great marriage, and I’ve never regretted one minute of our life together.” I hesitated, waiting for the usual boulder of grief to roll over me. But this time, as it has been lately, the feeling was not as devastating. I still missed Syl every day. I still sometimes talked to her when no one else was around. But the pain didn’t feel like it was going to consume me anymore. It was sadness, but it was no longer despair. “It’s not that common to find the love of your life when you’re seventeen. I was one of the lucky ones, and I’m never going to forget it.”
“So you believe that?” Ryland regarded me with curiosity. “That we all get only one great love?”
I dug trenches in the sand with my heels until I hit the cooler damp layer. “Don’t you? Isn’t Abby your one and only love?”
“Of course.” He didn’t miss a beat in replying. “And I’m counting on us having at least a hundred years together.” When I raised one eyebrow, he lifted his hands. “What? My family is very long-lived. But if something wacky happened and I bought the farm after five years, I’d like to think Abby might find someone else. Someone not quite as attractive as me, of course, because hey, you can’t expect to hit the jackpot twice.”
“Don’t forget humble,” I added dryly.
“Never would. I’m just saying, maybe sometimes second chances come along. Look at Jude and Logan.”
Jude and Logan Holt owned the hotel whose restoration had brought Ryland and me to Crystal Cove two years before. They’d been married as long as I’d known them, but Ry had told me their story: Jude had been married to Logan’s best friend and business partner, Daniel, for over twenty years before he passed away from cancer, leaving her with two nearly-adult kids, her own beach-front restaurant and their company’s unfinished projects. Apparently, although he’d never let it be known, Logan had secretly loved Jude all those years. It was only well over a year after Daniel’s death that he’d begun to court his friend’s widow.
Knowing them now, as I did, I couldn’t imagine any other ending for those two. Logan clearly worshipped the ground Jude occupied, and she was head-over-heels for him. They shared not only their businesses—which had only expanded in the past years—but also her grown children and her two grandchildren.
“Yeah, that’s true.” I gave Ryland a brief nod of agreement. “But I think that’s the exception, not the rule. Most of the people I know who end up married again, or in another relationship after they lose a spouse, don’t find the same fire. They’re together for comfort and companionship. And that’s great, but it’s not an epic love. I don’t think anything can ever touch that first time you fall.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.” Ryland fisted sand and let it sift through his fingers. “So, you ready for this change? Ready to become a man who stays in one place again?”
“I think so.” I stretched out my legs, letting the sun bake them. “It’s going to be good, I’m pretty sure. Burton seems like a nice town, and it’ll be a fresh start. For all of us.”
“And you need it.” My friend stared out ahead of us. “How’s it going, anyway? The transition with the kids, I mean. They seem to be doing okay.”
“It’s hard to tell yet.” I rubbed my fingers over my forehead. “We haven’t settled down to real life yet, you know? I picked them up from their grandparents’ house just about a month ago, and since then, we’ve been on vacation, more or less, down in Orlando and then up here visiting with you and Abby. That’s nothing different than what we’ve done other summers. The real adjustment will come when we’re alone in our new house, just the three of us, and I have to enforce the rules all the time. I’ll have to come up with a routine, and they’ll be getting used to new schools. That’s going to be the test.”
“Still.” Ryland cast me a sideways glance. “They seem happy.”
“Mostly.” I wanted to be optimistic, but the truth was, realism served me better. “But you see Becca. She’s scared of everything. Afraid to move and afraid to stay still. We were at a theme park last week, down in Orlando, and she got a little ahead of me in the crowd. I didn’t worry, because I had my eye on her the whole time, but when she looked around and couldn’t spot me, she freaked out. Took me nearly an hour to calm her down.”
“Hmmm.” Ry frowned. “That seems a little extreme.”
“It is. Maybe not for a five-year-old, but Bec’s almost twelve.” I lowered my voice, although there was no way either of the kids could hear me down in the waves. “That’s Doris. She’s always been a little bit of a worrywart, but since Sylvia’s accident, she sees disaster and tragedy around every corner. Becca’s picked that up, and it’s going to be a tough habit to break.”
“Maybe once you three are settled in Burton, she’ll relax a little. Have you thought about therapy?”
I nodded. “Both kids have had some counseling over the last six years. We might have to step it up a little in Becca’s case, though.”
“Ollie seems pretty happy.” Ryland watched my son as he splashed the females and made them squeal.
“Yeah, but he worries me, too. I don’t think the kid has quite wrapped his mind around the idea that they’re living with me now, for good. The other day, he said something about when he goes back to Texas. You know, he was only three when Sylvia died. He doesn’t remember her at all, and Doris and Hank are the only parental figures he knows. I was more like a visiting uncle than a dad to him.”
Ry gripped my shoulder briefly and then released me. “It’ll come together, man. Don’t stress it too hard. Kids are resilient, right? Isn’t that what everyone says?”
“I guess.” I sighed. “We needed this week in the Cove. I appreciate you and Abby letting us stay.”
“Hey, our hotel is your hotel.” He laughed. “Or something like that. And don’t worry. When we find a house, we’re going to make sure it has plenty of room for you guys to come down whenever you want.”
“You’re seriously going to move out of the Riverside?” Since before their marriage, Abby and Ryland had lived at the hotel that our company had restored. Abby was the manager, so it was easier for her to be on property. They had a roomy, comfortable apartment, and I’d never heard either of them complain.
“We are. We thought about trying to make it work there for a while longer, but the truth of the matter is that no hotel guests want to hear a crying baby in the middle of the night, and I’m given to understand that sometimes babies do that. Cry at night.”
It was my turn to smirk. “Now and then.”
“Yeah, well, anyway, Ab wants to do up a nursery, and I want a place where I can put in my own workshop. I’ve talked Cooper into partnering with me on some local projects, and it would be nice to have a place to do some of the work at home.”
“You’re becoming domesticated, Ry.” I ignored the twinge of envy I felt. “It looks good on you.”
“I never could’ve gotten here without you, buddy.” Ryland cleared his throat. “If you hadn’t come on as my partner and agreed to head up the new headquarters of Kent and Turner, I’d still have to be on the road. I’d still have too much responsibility to handle the local stuff, the artisan work. So . . . thanks, Linc. I can’t tell you how much Abby and I appreciate it. How much we owe you.”
I coughed away the lump in my own throat. “You don’t owe me anything. You . . . Ryland, you stuck by me when everyone else was ready to give up. When I was an ugly mess from the booze, when I cried my way through every day after Sylvia, you’re the only one who stayed. If it weren’t for that, I’d probably be dead in a ditch somewhere, and my kids would be orphans, raised by their grandparents. And you gave me the courage and the wherewithal to take them back, too. If you hadn’t believed in me, I’d have let Hank and Doris keep them. I’d still be miserable, alone. So don’t think I’m doing you some big favor. You’re giving the kids and me a way to start over. To make a new life.”
“Guess we’re both good for each other.” Ryland didn’t look my way, which was fine by me. After all, we were men, and gazing fondly into each other’s eyes wasn’t our thing.
After a few minutes, I felt like it was safe to speak again. “Really appreciate you hooking me up with Meghan Reynolds, too. She found us a house that looks to be perfect for the kids and me. I’m looking forward to getting up there and settling in.”
“I think the location will be just what we need business-wise, too.” Ry took a swig of his water bottle. “There’s still a lot of historical restoration work going on in the greater Savannah area, and you’ll be central to jobs in Atlanta, too. Alex Nelson gave me some contacts from when he used to live there.” Alex and his partner Cal now ran the Hawthorne House, a bed and breakfast that was also owned by Jude and Logan Holt. Before he’d moved down here to the Cove, Alex had worked in corporate event planning in the Georgia state capital.
“I can’t believe I forgot to tell you.” I smacked the arm of the chair. “I had an email this morning from the Baker Foundation. The approval came down from the state on restoring that old plantation house, and we got the contract. So my first big job is going to be local to Burton.”
“Dude.” Ry lifted his hand for a high five. “That is huge. How’d you forget to tell me?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I saw it on my phone right as we were leaving for the beach, and then Ollie couldn’t find his other shoe, and with one thing and another, I guess it just slipped my mind. Oh, and keep it quiet for now, okay? The local historical society hasn’t been informed yet. This was just a heads’ up from one of the Baker Foundation board members.”
“Will do. But hey, this is awesome. I’m jealous, though. A plantation? I’ve always wanted to take on that kind of project.”
“You’re welcome to come up and put in some hours whenever you want. Bring Abby, so she can see our new house and hang out with the kids.”
“We’ll plan on it. Don’t worry, I won’t be able to keep her away from checking out your new digs. Plus, I’m pretty sure she’s gotten attached to your kiddos.”
We both looked down to the ocean. Becca had ventured far enough in that the water hit her knees, and she was giggling as she watched her brother pretend to be a dolphin. My breath caught for a moment; I couldn’t remember when I’d last heard my daughter laugh with that kind of abandon.
“I think the feeling’s mutual.” The edges of my mouth curled. “Makes me wonder if we should’ve settled here instead. The kids would have you and Ab, and there’d be a sense of familiarity, at least.”
“Maybe. But at the same time I’d love to have all of you right here in town, I think it’s like you said. You need a fresh start, and in Burton, you’ll get that. You won’t be that far away from us, and we can visit.”
“Yeah.” A lump rose in my throat. “I guess there’s part of me that’s scared shitless I’m going to screw this up. The kids, I mean. Becca’s growing up. She’s going to hit those teen years before I know it, and how do I talk to her about all the ‘your changing body’ shit? That was supposed to be Syl’s job.”
Ryland blanched. “Dude, don’t look at me. I guess you’ll have to find some female up in Georgia who can help you out. Ask Meghan. She’s a chick.”
“But that’s just the beginning. There’s always going to be stuff I need to handle, not just as a dad, but as a mom, too. It’s terrifying, Ry. You think this baby part is going to be a tough gig? Just you wait, buddy.”
“Thanks, Linc. Appreciate all the encouragement.” He shook his head and gnawed at his thumbnail. “You know what, though? It’s going to be okay for both of us. We’ll make it through, ‘cause we’re both strong manly men. We got this.”
Scooping up a handful of powdery sand, I let it sift through my fingers. “I hope so, Ry. I really hope so.”
I’ve had a crush on Smith Harrington since we were in college together. I knew he didn’t see me as anything more than his friend—just one of the guys—but that didn’t stop me from weaving sexy fantasies about him.
Now, after years of maintaining a long-distance friendship, Smith’s moving to Burton to be my partner at the veterinary clinic—and he’s living upstairs at my new house. After all this time, I should be able to handle working and living with him without getting hot and bothered.
Or maybe not.
I’ve wanted Maureen Evans since the first day I saw her, but she never seemed interested in taking things to the next level. Eventually, I figured we were destined to stay in the friend zone. And although we’ve lived hundreds of miles apart for years, to me, she’s still the one who got away.
When Maureen asks me to be her partner at the veterinary clinic, I jump at the chance. Maybe all hope is not lost. Maybe with a little effort on my part, we can finally have our shot at love. So even as Maureen tries to maintain our just-friends bond, I push those boundaries . . . until flirting crosses the line into something more.
When friendship is no longer enough, there’s always love.
Read the first chapter now!
“Have no fear, reinforcements are here!”
I heard Meghan’s voice before her red head poked around the corner of my bedroom door. She grinned at me and held up the pile of flattened packing boxes she’d brought. “As promised. And I’ve got some wrapping paper and tape in the car. I’ll go grab them.”
“Why don’t you hold on for the moment? We’ve got enough to get started, and we’re tight on space.” I gazed around my room, sighing. Who would think that thirty years of living in the same house, with a brief hiatus during college, would let me accumulate this much crap? And yet here we were, knee-deep in boxes, knick-knacks, books, and clothes.
“Okay, where should I start?” Meghan stood with her hands on her hips, surveying the scene. “This is your show. I’m just a hired hand.”
“Yeah, well, don’t expect anything in the way of recompense, toots. This is strictly a charity gig. I’m poor now, you know.”
“Don’t worry. The only expectations I have are paper cuts and maybe a pizza and a couple of beers.”
“That I can handle. Why don’t you start with the books? There’re a few sturdy boxes from the liquor store in the corner.”
“On it.” She retrieved one of the boxes and began pulling books from the tall shelves that lined my walls, stacking them carefully. “I passed your mom on my way in. She seemed a little, ah, preoccupied. Everything okay?”
I blew my bangs out of my eyes. “Yeah. She’s picking up the pizza.” I concentrated on wrapping a small crystal box. “She claims it’s not true, but I think on some level, she’d started to think I was going to live here with her forever. You know, the widow Evans and her spinster daughter.”
“Shut up. You’re not a spinster.”
I nodded. “Oh, you’re right. I forgot about the husband and kids I have. Crap, where did I leave them now?”
Meghan rolled her eyes. “I just mean, you’re hardly old and dried up. Lots of women stay single later nowadays. You’re a modern career gal.”
Snorting, I reached for another pile of paper. “Sure I am. Or I’m the oldest single woman in Burton under fifty.” I watched my friend try to work out what I’d said. “No, it’s true. I figured it out the other day. Miss Charity, who works at the bank, is in her mid-fifties, near as I can figure. I don’t think there’s another unmarried woman in town my age or older until you get to her.”
“Maybe if you dated a little more instead of spending your Friday nights thinking about that stuff, it’d be a moot point.” She taped up the first box of books and moved on to another one.
“Uh-huh. That reminds me, I need to send a change-of-address notice to the men knocking down my door, begging to take me out.” I lifted my own finished box and carried it to the hallway. We were getting a nice little collection out here. Pretty soon, I could build a tunnel.
“I’m not going to argue and point out that if you wanted to go out on dates, you could.”
“Yeah, with who? You took the last decent available man in town.” I thought about Sam Reynolds, who’d been more like a brother to me than anything else, and I gave a little shudder. “Not that I was interested in Sam that way. Ever. I’m glad he ended up with you.”
Meghan smiled. “Me, too. But while I’ll admit I happen to think my husband is the sexiest, most incredible man in town, I find it hard to believe he’s the last one.”
“Okay, maybe Rilla’s the one to blame. She snapped up Mason from under our very noses.”
“Were you interested in Mason?” Meghan’s voice was equal parts surprise and amusement.
“Not one bit. I mean, the man is seriously hot. He’s built for sin, he’s a huge flirt, and he’s sweet as sugar to boot. But other than that, not my type.” I flipped up the top flaps of a half-packed box.
“So exactly what is it you’re looking for, if it’s not someone like Sam or Mason?” She started on a new shelf of books.
“Ah, I didn’t say I wasn’t looking for someone like Sam or Mason. But there are definite aspects of those men I’d love to have in my OAO.”
“OAO?” Meghan’s forehead wrinkled.
“One and only.” I winked at her and then tilted my head, thinking. “I guess I’m looking for someone . . . easy. Someone who I can hang out with, who knows me and likes me for who I am. Someone I don’t have to pretend with.” Smiling, I stood up and stretched my back. “Physically, I’m not that picky. A little taller than me, in good shape but not too built, you know? I don’t want to be intimidated by how much he works out. A regular guy.”
“There’ve got to be tons of regular guys around Burton. Maybe you’re just not looking in the right places.”
“Oh, yeah? And just where do you think this battalion of regular guys hangs out, pray tell? At Mason’s? At church? Out at the farm stand?”
Meghan threw up her hands. “I don’t know, Reenie. But you have to put yourself out there to meet people. Your—what did you call him? Your one and only isn’t going to just walk up to your front door and ring the bell.”
“Maybe he’ll bring in his dog to the clinic. We’ll lock eyes over his only-a-little-bit sick pet, and he’ll say . . . ‘Hello, Dr. Evans. I’m just a regular guy, and I’ve been looking for a girl just like you.’”
“You’ve been reading too many romance novels.” She lifted a stack of paperbacks. “Exhibit A.”
“Yeah, whatever. Why shouldn’t my life be like one of those books? I deserve a beautiful happily-ever-after.”
“Of course you do. I’m just saying you might have to do a little something to make it happen.” Meghan lifted up the box and carried it out of the room. “So is your mom really upset about you moving out?”
“No. I don’t think so.” I stopped moving for a moment. “I mean, I think she’s a little sad. I’m the last chick to leave the nest. Iona’s been gone since she left for college and Flynn . . .” I rolled my eyes. “He left with all the big drama, of course.”
“And came back in the same way.” Meghan dropped onto the floor and began to put together one of the flattened boxes. “But it all worked out.”
“Yup.” My baby brother had left our small town the day after his high school graduation, full of ambition, determination and with a badly broken heart, since his long-time girlfriend Ali Reynolds had changed her mind at the last minute about going with him. He’d only returned about a year and a half ago when our father had died suddenly. He’d been as surprised as the rest of us to learn that Ali’s daughter Bridget was actually his child.
As Meghan had said, everything had worked out. Ali and Flynn had gotten married about a year ago, and now they divided their time between New York City and Burton, where they’d built a small house on the Reynolds’ family farm.
“Still, I don’t think it bothered Mom so much because I was here. Or Dad was. And when I told her my idea about buying the old Walker house, she was as excited as I was.” I wrapped another piece of crystal. “But over the last few weeks, she’s been pretty moody. Maybe it just hit her that I’m really leaving.” The thought of my mom rambling around this big house, lonely and sad, hurt my heart.
Meghan stepped around boxes and piles of stuff to sit on the bed next to me. “Maureen, this is a good thing. It’s a move forward. You’re buying your own home, and now you own the clinic, too. Your mom knows that, even if it’s going to be an adjustment at first.”
“I know.” I sniffled a little and dug in the pocket of my jeans for a tissue. “I guess change is always hard.”
“Helloooooo!” A familiar voice floated up the steps, and I smiled.
“Up here!” Meghan answered, and we heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps running lightly up the stairs. A few seconds later, my sister-in-law’s head peeked around the corner.
“What’s this? I thought we were working. Packing and shit.”
“Ali!” Meghan popped up and clambered over everything blocking her way to the door. “When did you get into town?”
“Just now, basically. We pulled into the farm, and Sam told me where you were. I left Bridge and Flynn to unpack and settle in. I figured y’all could use some help.” She surveyed the room. “Seems I was right. Shit, Reen, how the hell did you accumulate all this stuff?”
I shrugged. “I have no idea. And I swear I didn’t have this much crap until I started packing it. Maybe it multiplied.”
“That sounds possible. Point me in the direction of boxes, and tell me what to do.”
I pointed to the shelves. “How about helping Meghan finish up the books? That seems like the biggest priority.”
“On it.” She grabbed a box and began pulling books from a shelf Meghan had begun. “Okay, bitches, tell me all the news. Email and texting are great, but I feel like I never get the real scoop until we talk.”
“First of all, can we discuss how you talk when you come back from being up north? Since when do you call your friends ‘bitches’?”
Ali laughed. “Sorry. I need to stop talking Yankee when I hit the Mason-Dixon, huh? But stop trying to divert me, Reenie. I need to know what’s going on with you and one Mr. Smith Harrington.”
My face grew warm, and I dropped the marker I was using. “Nothing. What do you mean?” I bent over to retrieve the pen.
“I mean, when we left for New York after Christmas, you were living here, working at the clinic, clinging to the status quo. Then about a month ago, I hear from your mom that you’re taking over Dr. Yancey’s practice, buying a house, and the guy who made your heart go pitty-pat all through college is moving down here. Moving in with you.” She dropped two books into the box and threw up her hands. “What the fu—uhh, I mean, heck? Tell me what happened.”
I reached for a pile of notebooks and slid them into the box I was packing. “First of all, Mom’s not here, so you don’t have to worry about her yelling at you for your language. Second, Smith isn’t moving in with me. He’s going to rent the upstairs part of my house. Mrs. Walker converted it to a duplex a few years back.”
“But how did Smith end up being your renter? I didn’t even know you were still in touch with him.”
I’d forgotten that Ali would probably remember Smith—and that she was one of a very select group of people who’d known about the huge crush I’d had on him. She and I had still been friends early in my college years; our estrangement hadn’t happened until the summer before my junior year. Crap.
“Yeah, we did. Keep in touch, I mean. Nothing big, just emails, social media, that kind of thing.” I worked hard to keep my voice casual. No way did I want Ali making a huge deal out of this. “He was looking around for a new practice, and I knew I didn’t want to try to run Dr. Yancey’s on my own. I’ve got some good ideas for expanding it, but I can’t do that without a partner. So it worked out well.”
“Mmmmmhmmmmm.” Ali finished her box and began taping it. “And is Mr. Smith Harrington married?”
I didn’t look up. “Um, no.”
“And is he currently involved in a relationship?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“And are you planning to jump his bones?”
“I don’t—God, Ali. Seriously? Are you fifteen?”
“Nope. Just morbidly curious.”
“Well, stop. That whole thing with Smith—that was a long time ago. And keep your mouth shut when he gets here because he never knew about any of that craziness. Thank God. I’d have been mortified.”
“Okay, I feel like I just walked into the second act of a play. What’re you talking about?” Meghan looked from our mutual sister-in-law to me. “I thought Smith was just an acquaintance from college. Did you guys date?”
“No.” I filled that one word with as much emphasis as possible. “We did not. We were very good friends. We still are. And that’s all we’ll ever be.”
Ali nodded, her face poker straight. “That’s right. They were very good friends. Smith was the very good friend Reenie wanted to screw silly.”
I groaned and dropped my head into my hands. “Ali. You’re making me regret telling you all my deep-darks way back when.”
“Too late. And tell me it’s not serendipity, him deciding to move down here. You’ll be in the same town, in the same house, working together . . . sounds like the perfect set-up to me. Time to make some of those sexual fantasies come true.”
“When did you get such a dirty mind?” I stood up and crossed my arms over my chest.
“Blame your brother. We’ve been making up for lost time, and he’s very creative. Just the other night, we—”
I clapped my hands over my ears. “La, la, la, la—I don’t need to hear the disgusting details of your sex life with my little brother.”
Meghan came over to sit next to me again. “Don’t worry, Reen. If she gets out of hand, I’ll just make sure I talk about what her brother and I did last weekend down at the lake.”
Ali made a face and held up one hand. “Okay, okay. You win.” She shook her head. “When did it happen that my sisters-in-law ganged up on me like this?”
“That’s what happens when you spend six months out of the year in the big city, little sister.” I picked my way across the room and folded her into a tight hug. “But we love you anyway. Thanks for coming over to help, even if you are a pain in the ass.”
“Maureen Ann, language!” The front door slammed shut, and my mother’s words sailed up the steps.
I rolled my eyes. “Why is it always me she catches? You two could out-swear sailors and she never hears a word.” Raising my voice, I leaned out into the hallway. “Sorry, Mom.”
She appeared at the top of the stairs, lifting her curling black hair off her neck. “It’s hotter than hades out there. Ali, come here and give me a hug. Look at you, you’re more beautiful than ever.” Mom wrapped Ali in her arms then leaned back, studying her daughter-in-law. I saw my mother’s eyes narrow a little, but she didn’t say anything before she released her. “How’re you girls coming up here? Almost done?”
“Oh, uh, we’re getting close.” I glanced behind me at the partially-packed boxes and piles of assorted stuff.
“Hmm.” Mom raised one eyebrow. “Well, pizza’s waiting for you downstairs. Let’s go eat while it’s hot.” She turned and headed down the steps.
I slung an arm around Ali. “You know what the best part is of you and Flynn and Bridge being back in Burton? It means Mom has three other people to worry about and pester.”
Come home to Love in a Small Town, stand-alone happily ever after romances with lots of heat and heart!
Welcome to Burton, Georgia, the farm community where the women are sassy, the men are sexy, and happily-ever-afters are a specialty of the house.
Meet Meghan and Sam . . .
When I signed up to spend my final summer of college teaching art to underserved kids, I wanted a chance to reinvent myself, to go somewhere new and different. I never thought I’d end up in a small town in Georgia, living on a farm . . . with a man who clearly wishes I were anywhere but there.
But here I am. And even if Sam Reynolds doesn’t like it, I can’t help my attraction to him. Maybe I don’t want to help it. His deep brown eyes and slow Southern-boy drawl just do something to me. Something real and deep and maybe a little scary.
I don’t need excitement, and I sure don’t want romance. Fun is out of the question for a guy like me. I’ve had to be the steady, responsible one since my parents died, and serious is my way of life.
When this fiery red-haired art student moves into my farmhouse, I won’t deny that I’m tempted by her. But giving in to temptation could mean radical change . . . maybe more than I can handle. Meghan makes me want to believe in crazy things like forever and happy endings.
She’s the last thing I expected. I’m the last one she needs. And this is just a summer fling.
All of the Love in a Small Town romances can be read on their own. While characters pop up in each other’s stories, you can begin reading any book and feel right at home!
The white brick building looked a little dingy in the waning sunlight, but after the three-hour drive I’d just made, I was ready to kiss the cracked sidewalk that led to its door. I pulled my trusty blue Honda into the small parking lot and turned off the ignition. For a minute, I sat in the silent car, resting my forehead on the steering wheel.
A loud bang on the roof made me jump, and I looked out the window at a familiar grinning face.
I opened the car door and swung my legs to the ground as Owen stepped aside, still resting his hand on the top of my car so that he stood over me. I tamped down my annoyance as his eyes swept down my body in an all too intimate way.
“Hey, beautiful. Is this good timing, or what? I was just coming by to see if you were back yet.”
“And here I am.” I stood up, forcing him to step back. “And yeah, it’s perfect timing because you can carry my bag.” I closed the door and looped my purse strap over my head. “It’s in the backseat.”
Owen reached for the handle of the backseat door and pulled out my bright pink rolling suitcase. “Just the one? Weren’t you there for a week?”
“Five days.” I clicked the lock on my key fob. “And I travel light.”
“Yeah.” He extended the handle and started for the front of the building. “Don’t you want to know why I’m here?”
I shrugged. “Not really.”
In front of me, Owen’s back stiffened just enough for me to notice. He swiped back the long black hair that always seemed to hang in his eyes, and I caught the look on his face. I swallowed a sigh. He was annoying as hell, but he was still a friend, and he didn’t deserve to take the brunt of my mood.
“Sorry. I’m tired. It was a long drive up from Florida.” I forced a smile as Owen held the door for me. “Tell me why you’re here.”
Luckily Owen was the kind of guy who bounced back fast from a slight. “I came over to take you to the biggest party of the year. Oswald, Lloyd and Ziggy are throwing a kegger at their new place. Everyone’s going. You have an hour to get ready.”
The wheels on my bag squeaked as he trailed it behind him across the small lobby. Out of habit, we ignored the slow-as-molasses-elevator in favor of the staircase. I gripped the banister and pulled myself up the steps.
“I don’t know, Owen. I told you, I’m tired.”
“Aw, c’mon, Megs. You’ll feel better once we get there.”
I didn’t answer, and we climbed the rest of the way in silence broken only by our footsteps echoing against the cavernous walls. I opened the door at the top of the steps, holding it for Owen this time. My apartment was the second one to the left down the hall.
The doorknob turned in my hand, and I shook my head. No matter how many times I warned her, Laura always forgot to lock the door. She was sitting on our hand-me-down couch, a sketch pad on her lap. Her blonde hair was piled high in a messy knot, and she bit her lip in concentration as her pencil moved across the paper.
“Knock, knock, I’m an intruder. Thanks for leaving your door unlocked for me, lady.” I made my voice deep and tried to sound threatening.
“Meghan!” She tossed her drawing aside and jumped to hug me. “You’re home. How was the drive?”
“Long and monotonous, like it always is.” I lifted my purse over my head and hung it on the back of a kitchen chair. “How are things here?”
“The same.” She glanced over my shoulder, and her left eyebrow rose. “Hey, Owen. Are you pulling bellhop duty tonight?”
He propped my suitcase against the back of the sofa and dropped down into the fuzzy blue recliner. “Right place, right time. I’m trying to talk Megs into going to Oswald’s party tonight.”
“Ah.” Laura met my eyes. “I heard about that. Dani and Ash are going.” That didn’t surprise me. They were neighbors and classmates of ours, and they’d never met a party they didn’t like.
I sank down onto sofa and let my head fall against the cushion. “No offense, Owen, but I don’t want to go to some party where everyone’s going to be screaming and drunk. And there’re going to be so many people, no one’ll be able to move.”
“But everyone’s going to be there. It’ll be epic.” He was trying to look confident and convincing, but I caught the hopeful pleading behind the bravado. It irritated the crap out of me.
“Will there be dancing? ‘Cause that’s what I want to do. I want to dance. If I’m going to get my ass in gear to dress up and go out, it won’t be to get pawed by drunk boys and have beer spilled all over me. It’ll be to hit a decent dance floor. And I doubt that’s going to happen at Oswald’s party.” I opened one eye and fastened it on Owen.
He shrugged. “Probably not, but hey, we could make it happen. They have a sound system, and we’ll plug in and clear a space.” He leaned forward, his blue eyes going soft and suggestive. “And I bet we could find a dark corner for some slow dancing. Some special slow dancing.” He winked.
I thought I might gag. “God, Owen, is that all you think about? This—” I pointed at him and then at myself. “It happened once. Get over it. No repeat performances.”
“Geez, Meghan, can’t you take a joke?” He huffed out what was supposed to pass for laughter. “I was just saying, it’s going to be a party you don’t want to miss. Everyone’s going to be talking about it for weeks.”
Laura tucked her bare feet beneath her, curling up in the corner of the couch. “Actually, the girl who does my hair was telling me about this place that just opened in her hometown. It’s in … ummm … God, what was the name of the town?” She rolled her eyes up, thinking. “Burton. She said it’s like forty-five minutes southwest of the city, and this bar that opened has a huge dance floor and some killer local bands. The guy who owns it used to be in the music biz, so he gets all the best acts.”
I brought my hand down onto my knee with a loud smack. “Sold! We’re going to—what was it? Burton? And we’re dancing.”
Owen fell back in the recliner. “Seriously? You’re driving an hour to some Podunk town to hang with locals just because they have dancing?”
“Yep.” I smiled at him. “You know me, Owen. Unpredictable.”
He sighed, long and loud. “Well, I guess I can do that. I can’t believe I’m going to miss the biggest party of the year—”
“Oh, no, my friend.” I shook my head. “This is a girls-only night. You go to Oswald’s and get wasted. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for you missing a fun time like that.”
Owen frowned, and for the space of a breath, I thought I saw a flash of hurt in his eyes. But he recovered and shook his head. “Whatever.” He stood up and pulled keys from his pocket. “I’m gonna bounce. Later.”
I watched until the door closed behind him, and then I let out a long breath. “Crap on a cracker, that boy wears me out. I’m not trying to be mean, you know? But he doesn’t seem to get subtle.”
“Meghan Hawthorne, leaving broken hearts in her wake as usual.” Laura leaned over and bumped her shoulder against mine. “Owen’s a big boy. He’ll get over it.” She stretched her arms over her head. “So, were you serious about going out tonight? Or was that just to get Owen off your ass?”
“Of course. I never kid around about dancing, you know that.” I shot her a look. “Why, you didn’t make up the whole thing about the bar, right?”
Laura held up one hand. “Nope. Scout’s honor, Natalie told me.”
“Okay. I need about an hour to get myself together.” I nudged her with my foot. “Get ready, bitch. Taking no prisoners tonight. We’re gonna dance the cowboys off the floor.”
“Oh, joy.” She reached for her drawing pad and flipped it closed. “Bring ‘em on.”
* * *
“I’ll be designated driver. From the look on your face when you got home, I think you need to let loose tonight.” Laura stepped out of our building’s front door, concentrating on her high-heels as she navigated the uneven sidewalk.
I twirled car keys on my index finger. “Thanks, that sounds good. Want to take the Honda? Might be a little more dependable.”
She tossed me a glance of mock indignation. “Are you insinuating that my car couldn’t make this trip?”
“Not insinuating. Saying it loud. I love the Bug, but let’s face it, that car spends more time up on the mechanic’s lift than down on the road.”
Laura sighed. “Sad but true. Okay, we’ll take your dependable car, and you can drive us out there, since I’ll be getting us home.”
“It’s a deal.” I unlocked the Honda and wiggled into the driver’s seat.
We maneuvered our way through the neat squares that made up so much of Savannah, out of the city and onto a two-lane country road. Laura had mapped directions on her phone.
“So we stay on here for about twenty miles, and then we should see the place on the … it looks like the right.”
“What’s it called again?” I set the cruise control, frowning a little at the hesitation I felt in the engine.
“The Road Block. Where do they come up with these names?”
“Who knows? If it’s serving up liquor and hot music, I don’t really care what it’s called. I need loud music and enough of a buzz that I don’t have to think about anything.” I caught Laura’s wince out of the corner of my eye.
“What happened this week? In the Cove?”
I grimaced. “Nothing happened. It’s all sunshine and roses. Joseph and Lindsay love running the Rip Tide, and Mom is thrilled about that. She and Uncle Logan are …” I lifted one shoulder. “You know. Sickeningly in love. She’s remodeling the kitchen at Uncle Logan’s house. Well, I guess it’s her house now, too.”
“What about your house? I mean, where you lived before.”
“Strangers are living there now. Mom rented it out.” I tried to keep my tone even, as if it didn’t matter to me, when it did matter. Very much.
“Well …” Laura’s voice was tentative. “At least she didn’t sell it. Didn’t you say she wanted to keep it in the family? That’s something.”
“Yeah.” I rolled my eyes. “Not for me, though. It’s for Joseph and Lindsay, so one day when they have more kids, they’ll have a place to live.” I sniffed a little. I loved my brother, no question about that, and my new sister-in-law was great. But still, being at home in Crystal Cove, Florida made me feel like a fifth wheel lately. I was the only one in the family who hadn’t had a major life upheaval in the last six months, the only one still on the same boring path. It made me feel both a little self-righteous and left out all at once.
“You know if you told your mom you wanted the house, she’d make sure you had it. Or at least she’d work it out between you and Joseph. I’m not taking sides.” She laid her hand on my arm, probably sensing that I was starting to bristle. “I’m just saying, if you look at it rationally, it makes sense. Joseph and Lindsay have the baby, and they’re married. It’s not unlikely that they’ll have another kid at some point, right? So, it would make sense for them to need a bigger place to live sooner than you.”
“Because I’m the loser without a husband. Or a fiancé. Or even a boyfriend.”
“That’s bullshit, Meggie.” Laura and I had been friends for almost four years, and she was one of the few people who could get away with calling me on my crap. “You don’t want that. Or at least that’s what you say all the time. You could have any guy at SCAD. I mean, Owen would probably propose if you so much as smiled at him.”
“Owen,” I scoffed. “Yeah, because that’s who I want to spend my life with. A rich pretty-boy who’s only worried about the next party, the next good time.”
“You’re not being fair to him. Owen’s a decent guy. He’s just not the right one for you.”
“I’m starting to think the right one doesn’t exist.” I rubbed my thumbs over the rubber of the steering wheel. “Not that I’m looking. I don’t need permanent. I just need right now.”
“That’s okay, because the right one is going to be the last one you’re looking for. Trust me.”
“Whatever you say.” I knew it wasn’t any use to argue with Laura, who steadfastly believed in soul mates and true love. And why shouldn’t she? She’d been with her one-and-only since they were both fourteen years old.
“Did anything else happen while you were home? Seems like something’s bothering you.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. It just feels like … everyone has a plan. They’re all moving forward in life. You know? Mom and Logan are buying a house in Siesta Bay—that’s the next town down the coast from the Cove—and they’re going to refurbish it and open another bed and breakfast. Mom’s still partly running the restaurant, and she and Uncle Logan are planning this month-long trip to Europe in the fall. Joseph and Lindsay are both in school and taking care of the baby and doing everything Mom isn’t at the Tide. It feels like I’m the only one still in limbo.”
“Oh, Meggie, you’re not in limbo. You’ve still got another year of college. You’re not supposed to have all the answers yet.”
“Yeah? Well, you’re the same age as me. But you’ve got a plan, too.”
A faint pink tinged Laura’s cheeks. “I have an idea, yes. But I don’t have all the details ironed out.”
“Bull, Laura.” I said it with a great deal of love in my voice. “You know as soon as Brian gets home, that engagement’s going to be official, and then you’re going to be the best damned Marine wife around. I know you have it worked out to do graphic art online from wherever he’s stationed. So don’t tell me you don’t have a plan.”
“Nothing’s definite,” she mumbled, but she glanced away, out the window, and I knew I was right on target.
We rode in silence for a little bit longer before I spoke again.
“I made a decision about this summer.” I hadn’t intended to tell anyone yet until the details were more definite, but suddenly, I wanted to have something to share about my future. “About what I’m going to do, I mean.”
“I thought you were going back to the Cove and working at the Tide. Teaching some private art lessons on the side.”
“That was before everything changed. I was only going back down there because I thought Mom would need me. She doesn’t anymore, not really. Uncle Logan tried to talk me into signing on to volunteer at the art museum in Jacksonville, but I don’t feel like spending the summer walking bored tourists around, pointing out the same shit to people who couldn’t care less. Plus, if I spend the summer in the Cove, I’ll end up sleeping with Drew again, and I don’t want to go back down that road.” My high school boyfriend had never left our hometown, and it was all too easy to fall into old habits when I was there for any length of time.
“Okay. That’s valid. What’re you going to do, then? Are you staying in Savannah?”
“No. I don’t know where I’m going to be, exactly. I signed up to work with ArtCorps.”
Laura frowned. “I’ve heard that name, but what is it, exactly?”
“Like the Peace Corps, sort of, but with art. Volunteers teach in areas where all the fine arts programs have been cut or lost funding. ArtCorps assigns art students to summer programs and schools, and we get to work with underprivileged kids.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I thought you weren’t sure you wanted to teach.”
I nodded. “I’m not sure, but I thought, what better way to figure out if I do? I mean, this is not going to be a cushy job, I know that. But if I can do it in that kind of environment—I figure it’ll be in a city somewhere—and if I enjoy it, I can be pretty certain about teaching anywhere.”
“Yeah, that sounds like a great idea. I’m proud of you, Meghan.” She smiled at me. “Do you have any clue where you’ll be?”
“Not yet. I put in for the Southwest, because I’ve never gotten to spend any time in that part of the country. There’s a lot of need in the area. And being far away from everyone and everything familiar just feels right, you know?” I glanced at Laura. “I can reinvent myself for the summer. I can go without wearing makeup, dress in old jeans and stuff … and I’m going to make it a male-free summer. No dating. No hookups. Nothing. I’m going to enjoy just being me and try to figure out what I want next.”
“Hmm.” She stared straight ahead, but I caught a hint of a smile playing about her lips.
“What?” I demanded.
“Oh, nothing. Just that most of the time, when a girl says that, she ends up meeting the one.”
I stuck out my tongue at her. “Give it up, girlfriend. The whole true love deal isn’t happening for me. Not this summer, anyway. And look here, saved by the bell. Or at least the Road Block.” I smirked at her and turned into a parking lot that was full of cars and pick-up trucks. In the middle of the huge gravel lot rose a tall building made of rough-hewn boards, with the name of the bar spelled out in uneven neon letters on the side.
I maneuvered the Honda around random clumps of people who were either loitering outside or making their way to the door. We found a spot in the back, far from the entrance. Laura looked around us, worry on her face.
“It’s not too bad now, but coming out in the dark, walking back here is going to be a different story. I’m not sure about this.”
“Oh, come on, Lo.” I teased her with the nickname that was the only one she tolerated. “We’re in the middle of the country. It’s a small town. We’ll be fine.”
She didn’t look convinced, but she followed me toward the door behind a small group of girls.
Inside, the place was dark and loud. There were people everywhere, sitting at the bar, around small tables and standing around the dance floor, which I was glad to see was as big as advertised.
“What now?” Laura yelled into my ear.
“Drink, then dance!” I answered, taking her hand and leading her to where the bartenders were trying to keep up with the orders. We stood waiting for a few minutes before one of them got to us.
“What’ll it be, ladies?” He grinned, taking us in with an expression that was appreciative without being creepy.
“Rum and Coke for me, just plain Coke for my DD, please.”
“Designated drivers drink free.” He pulled up the soda hose and filled a glass, set it on a napkin, and slid it across to Laura. “Captain, darlin’?”
“Please.” I watched him splash in the rum and then fill the glass with cola. I sipped and nodded, eyes closed. “Perfect. Can we run a tab without a credit card?”
He hesitated. “We usually only do that for locals. But …” He winked. “I think you two seem trustworthy.”
“Here.” I fished my credit card out of my purse and handed it to him. “On second thought, just use this.”
He waved it away. “Nah, really. It’s cool.”
I leaned onto the bar, pressing my arms to the sides of my chest so that my boobs popped out, accented by my V-neck shirt. “I appreciate you being nice, but by the end of the night, I might not be able to think straight enough to give this to you. So, do us both a favor and just take my card.”
He skimmed his eyes down me, raking over my deep auburn curls, tight black shirt, and short denim skirt. He shook his head. “Whatever makes you happy, darlin’. But listen, you be careful out there. Nice folks around this area, but lots of out-of-towners here tonight. Stick close to your friend here.” He nodded at Laura.
“Thanks. Will do.” I turned in my seat and took a long drink, scanning the crowd. There was a wide variety of people, with some guys in cowboy hats and others in khakis and polo shirts. Girls in skirts as short as mine hung on men or chatted with friends. Up on a small stage, a group of musicians in jeans and flannel were unpacking instruments and setting up mics.
Across the room, a guy sitting at a table with three of his friends caught my eye. He wore jeans and a gray T-shirt with his ancient-looking boots. He was drinking a long-neck, and a slow smile spread across his face as he looked me up and down. I kept my gaze on him as I brought my glass to my lips.
“See that guy over there?” I spoke to Laura without looking at her, maintaining the eye-lock with Mr. Sexy Cowboy. “Once the music starts, he’s going to be over here, asking me to dance. Want to lay a bet on it?”
“Nah.” She shook her head as she followed my gaze. “No way. There’s smolder in those eyes, baby. I think you caught yourself a live one. So what are you planning to do with him?’
I smiled, sipped my drink, and pulled my shirt a little tighter. “Anything I want.”
Okay, yes, I know I said that before, but hear me out. Boobs—and the effort to save them—have brought me more than just my business and my livelihood. Thanks to boobs, I met my two best friends. Also, I got a second chance with the man who got away once upon a time—the same one who came back into my life and made everything wrong somehow right again.
But I digress.
Let’s get back to my friends. I met Sabrina and Coral on my first day of junior year at college. The weekend before I’d come back to school, I’d had sex for the first time—and it just happened to have been with my older brother’s best friend, the guy I’d crushed hard on all through my teen years. I was feeling all kinds of emotions, everything from guilt that I’d done the deed with someone who’d made it clear it was a one-night-only deal to hurt that he’d been able to walk away from me so easily.
So even though my family wasn’t really religious, I’d somehow wandered into a Catholic church. A priest was taking confession, and when I slipped into a booth and blurted out my sins, the kindly older man had offered advice along with absolution.
“You need to get outside yourself,” he’d suggested. “You know, help others. Volunteer with a charity. Work with the needy.”
I’d thanked him profusely and hightailed it out of there in case he planned to recruit me as a nun. But when I’d stepped out into the sunshine, I’d been smack in the middle of a big volunteer rally—how’s that for timing and coincidence, huh?—hosted by Young Survival Coalition.
Sabrina and Coral each had had their own reasons for being at the rally, but somehow, we’d found each other and formed a friendship that had never wavered over the ten years since.
But today, I was about to do something that was either going to strengthen that bond or threaten it. And I really wasn’t sure which way it was going to go.
“Babe, are you sure about this?” Ty’s skepticism wasn’t exactly helping me. “I mean, I know you have all the right intentions, but . . . it kind of feels like you’re interfering in your friends’ lives. In a big way.”
“No. Well, yes.” I frowned and shook my head. “But it’s for their own good. And really, it’s just a Christmas Eve party. An intimate little get-together for my friends.”
“And the guys who they’ve recently stopped seeing,” Ty added. “Don’t forget that little detail.”
“Hey, who’s side are you on, anyway?” My forehead wrinkled as I glared at him. “If the answer isn’t mine, then I think Santa just might not bring you the very special treat you were going to get tonight. After everyone leaves.”
“I’m always on your side, darlin’.” Ty’s haste to reassure me was sweet, but I wasn’t sure if it was genuine or encouraged by what he wanted to see on me—or off me—tonight in bed. “I always will be. But I’m also just a little worried that you might be in for a big disappointment—and your best friends could end up furious with you.”
“No . . .” To be honest, I wasn’t as settled on that point as I might have been. Sabrina was a dead-set against romance woman, and I knew that she’d been rattled by her renewed acquaintance with Wesley, the guy she’d thought had abandoned her after their first kiss back in high school. Coral, on the other hand, was all about romance—as long as it didn’t involve her own love life. Still, she’d spilled her guts to Sabrina and me about Dax, her temporary fake boyfriend, and in the course of doing that, she’d admitted that maybe she did have feelings for him.
“You don’t sound sure about that,” Ty observed, smirking. “It’s not too late to call this off, you know.”
“I’m not doing that.” Crossing my arms over my chest, I shook my head. “I want my best friends to be as happy together as you and I are. Wesley and Sabrina deserve a second chance to find out if they’re meant to be, now that they’re grown up. And Coral has to realize that she can’t live the rest of her life being faithful to a boy who died over ten years ago. She didn’t die with him.”
“Maybe that’s the trouble,” Ty put in. “Maybe she has survivor guilt.”
“I’m sure that’s part of it,” I agreed. “But I don’t want her to waste any more time with that guilt. I want her to find her happy ending. Or her new happy beginning.”
He studied me, his expression inscrutable. “You really are a good friend, you know that, babe? Sabrina and Coral are lucky to have you.”
“We’re lucky to have each other,” I corrected him, smiling. “And that’s why I need to do everything I can to help them out.”
“Well, then.” Ty stood up, stretching, and my lady parts sang as I drank in the sight of his toned, muscular torso pressed against his T-shirt. “I guess we’ve got some party prep to do.”
“Hey! I brought the rum!” Sabrina came through the front door wearing skin-tight burgundy velvet jeans and a creamy cashmere sweater with a deep V neck. She was gorgeous as always, even if I could see the hints of sadness beneath her holiday merry mask.
“Welcome! Merry Christmas.” I hugged her and stepped back, pretending to examine her outfit from head to toe. “Wow. Hot mama. Do you have plans after, or is all this sexiness just for Coral and me?”
“Hey, don’t I count?” Ty came up behind me, slipping his arms around my waist as he grinned at Sabrina.
“No, you don’t count, because you only have eyes for my girl here.” She gave his bicep a light punch. “As it should be. And to answer your question, Celeste . . . no, no plans. Just happy that I’m actually off duty for Christmas Eve.”
“That’s something to celebrate.” Ty reached over my shoulder and snagged the bottle of rum from Sabrina’s hand. “Let me add this to the bar I’ve set up. Can I make you a drink? Celeste and I came up with a twist on a coquito that’s pretty damn amazing.”
“Sure, I’ll take one of those.” Sabrina wagged her eyebrows at me as Ty headed toward the kitchen. “How adorable are you two! It’s like he can’t stop touching you, and every time you look at him, there are sweet little red candy hearts in your eyes.”
“Shut up.” I swatted at her, but she wasn’t wrong—the smile that wouldn’t wipe off my face was proof of that.
“Where’s Coral?” Sabrina tossed her purse onto the entry table and dropped down to sit on the sofa.
“She’ll be here soon.” I shrugged. “She said she needed to drive into Savannah to finish some Christmas shopping today. I think she’s trying to give Ty and me alone time, even though I told her that this is her house, too, and we both respect that.”
“Do you think you’ll end up moving out?” Sabrina cocked her head. “You know, so you can shack up with loverboy guilt-free?”
“It’s much too soon to think about that,” I answered loftily, even though I’d already been sneaking peeks at the real estate ads, just in case Ty and I decided to make Burton our joint home base. “Besides, he lives in Nashville.”
“Oh, with the way his star is rising, pretty soon our boy will be able to live wherever he wants.” Sabrina shrugged. “Besides, now that you’ve found each other again, why would you want to even think about being apart?”
“Funny that you’d say that,” I began, thinking that Sabrina had given me the perfect opening.
“Yeah, I’d kind of like to hear the answer, too.”
We both turned toward the door to see a tall guy who looked like he could’ve been Chris Evans’ stunt double. My mouth dropped open. Damn. Sabrina had told us that her old high school sweetheart was sexy, but I hadn’t realized just how hot he was.
“Wesley?” Sabrina stood up. “What are you doing here? I thought you left town. Linc told me . . . he said you’d moved on to a new job.”
“I told you that day in the basement that I wasn’t going to leave town again, wasn’t going to leave you.” He shut the door behind him and took another step toward us. “I had to go up to North Carolina for a few weeks to help with another project. But I always knew I’d be back.”
“I . . . I . . .” Sabrina stammered, and in all the years we’d been friends, I’d never heard her do such a thing. “That day in the basement, Wesley. What I said to Linc on the way out—and how I ran away—I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean it to sound the way it did.”
“Brina girl, have you been beating yourself all this time, thinking I didn’t know that?” Wesley closed the distance between them. “I knew what you meant. You were freaked out about the storm, and then Linc showed up, and that threw you for a loop.”
Sabrina sank back to the sofa. “But I left you there without saying anything, and then I didn’t try to call you or see you. . . I figured you’d given up on me this time.”
“Nope.” Wesley dropped to one knee next to my friend. “I had to leave the next day, and I figured you needed some space after—” He glanced my way, and one side of his mouth curled slightly. “After everything we, uh, talked about the day of the storm. I only got back to Burton yesterday. Celeste had texted me last week, though, to invite me tonight.”
Sabrina looked up at me, her brow knit together. “How did you even know how to get in touch with him?”
I shrugged. “I have my ways.”
Realization dawned in her eyes. “Jenna Turner.”
“She might have played a part,” I allowed. “I just really wanted you to have another chance to talk to Wesley. To figure things out.”
“Listen, Brina.” Wesley reached for her hand. “I’m not asking you to swear undying love to me. Not tonight, anyway.” He winked at her. “All I want is for us to take a chance—together. Let’s take the time to find out, once and for all, if that spark is still there. And at the end of the day, if it isn’t . . .” He lifted one shoulder. “Then we’re still two good friends who’ve been able to reconnect, right?”
Sabrina was silent for a moment, and then she nodded. “Right. But Wesley . . .” She threaded her fingers through his. “If that day in my basement is any indication, I don’t think a lack of spark is going to be any problem.”
Grinning broadly, Wesley straightened up and pulled Sabrina to her feet, too. Drawing her close to him, he said, “Maybe we should start testing that theory right now.”
The kiss he gave her just about blistered the paint on the wall of my living room. I looked away discreetly, wondering if I should step out, maybe see if Ty needed help in the kitchen—
“Well, hey. Looks like a win for little Miss Matchmaker.” My boyfriend came in bearing a tray of drinks along with crackers and cheese. “Not bad, babe. One couple down, one to go.”
“Wait a minute.” Sabrina came up for air just long enough to stare at me. “One down, one to go . . . does that mean that Coral—”
“Oh, my God!” My roommate and other best friend burst through the door at that moment. Dropping her bags, she covered her mouth with both hands, trying to stifle a shriek. “Is this Wesley? Sabrina, is this him?”
Snuggling a little closer, Sabrina nodded. “Wesley, you already met Celeste, but this is the third member of our little trio, Coral Jennings. Coral, Celeste surprised me tonight and invited Wesley to join us—and it turns out that we’re both in the market for second chances.”
“I can’t believe it! This is so amazing and wonderful and romantic.” Coral did a little dance. “I’m so happy for you, sweetie.”
“Well, uh—” Sabrina looked at me, her eyebrow arched meaningfully. “I’m glad you’re in favor of pop-up matchmaking, Cor. Because Celeste just might have interfered in your love life, too.”
Coral tilted her head. “Oh, really? So was it meant to be a surprise that you invited Dax tonight, Celeste?”
My eyes went wide. “You knew?”
She giggled. “As it happens, when the text came in, we were together. At his apartment in Savannah.” She paused for dramatic effect. “In bed.”
“How could you not tell me?” I wailed. “I was so worried about you.”
“Didn’t you wonder where I’ve been disappearing to for the last few weeks?” Mirth danced in her eyes. “Or have you been too busy shacking up with your own loverboy?”
Ty chuckled, and I elbowed him in the ribs. “Watch it, buddy. Remember my threat about that special treat tonight.”
“Hey, I’m just saying that the lady has a point.” Ty slung an arm around my neck and tugged me close. “So Coral, is Dax gonna make it here tonight?”
“He’s parking the car. We were going to walk in together, but we didn’t want to ruin your plans, Celeste.” Coral hugged me. “I really do appreciate you butting in, even though it was unnecessary in this case.”
“But what happened?” I asked. “The last I heard, Dax had turned down your friends-with-benefits proposal, and that was the end.”
“Well, it might have been, if I hadn’t been on the set of Diego’s movie,” Coral admitted. “Diego and I formed a mutual encouragement society—I pushed him to take a chance with Zander McCord, and he goaded me into admitting that maybe it was all right to take a chance on something real with Dax.” Her expression softened. “All this time, I’ve been telling myself that I could never really love again after Jason. But the truth was that I was terrified to go through that kind of pain again—the kind that comes when you really love someone and then lose him.”
“But we agreed that you’re never going to lose me.” Dax joined Coral in the doorway, looking all sorts of sinful in his leather bomber jacket and smoldering good looks. He drew Coral to his side. “And even if the unthinkable happened, we’d rather have this time together than miss out on what could be pretty damn spectacular.”
“What he said,” Coral sighed, snuggling closer. “I’m risking my heart on Dax because he’s worth it.”
“Well, come in and shut the door,” I said, waving them into the living room. “Ty’s brought drinks for everyone, and I, for one, think that this calls for a toast.”
“You mean Dax and me?” Coral inquired. “Or Sabrina and Wesley?”
“How about all of us finding love this year?” I suggested. “How about us celebrating this beautiful season with someone special by our sides?”
“I’ll drink to that,” Sabrina chimed in, lifting the glass that Ty had given to her.
“No, wait a minute.” Coral, our resident wordsmith, raised her glass and took a moment to look at first Sabrina and then me, her eyes shining.
“To friendship. To love. To being there for each other. To bonds that last. To sticking by each other, thick or thin.
“And most of all . . . to the Bosom Buddies.”
Thank you for reading Bosom Buddies!
Writing this serial has been so much fun–
and has let me spend just a little more time in Burton this year.
I wish you and your families–those you choose and those you were given–
the best of the holiday season.
And no matter how or when or if you celebrate,
I invite you to choose love every single day of the year.
“So you never did tell me. How did the big date go? You know, that night I covered your shift and you were all dressed up in the monkey suit?”
One side of my mouth curled up as I regarded Marc. “Fine. It was fine. Now listen up, because I want you to be familiar with this new list of cocktails. The holidays are just around the corner, and you know we’re going to have a shit ton of tourists in the city, staying at our hotel, hitting up this bar. That’s not even counting all of the corporate parties, weddings, and other social events.” I tapped the paper on the bar. “Read it. Learn it. Live it.”
“Uh-huh.” Marc picked up the menu and let his eyes wander down the list. “Don’t worry, boss. I’ll have time to study tonight. Looks like it’ll be pretty quiet.”
“Probably,” I conceded, tossing a used bar towel into the bin under the counter. “I’ll leave you to get down to business. I’ve got a date at home with a cold beer and Sunday Night Football.”
“Doesn’t sound like as much fun as your last date, but whatever, dude. You do you.” Marc grinned. And then, as an older couple wandered over to sit down at a nearby table, he winked at me. “Time to get to work.”
I’d just clocked out and was about to head out when Sherri, one of the restaurant servers, nearly ran into me.
“Oh, Dax! You’re exactly the man I need.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Not the first time I’ve heard that, but I have a feeling you mean it in a different way.”
She shot me a look of mock reprimand. “And you’d be right. Listen, we’re in the weeds tonight. We’re down two servers and a sous chef, and we’ve got two big parties coming in.” She lifted a small slip of white paper. “Then this guest up on the twentieth floor ordered champagne and strawberries to be delivered to her suite. Since you’re going to have to prep the bubbly anyway, would you mind taking it up along with the berries?”
I hesitated. Normally, I’d have been happy to help out my co-workers. One of the things I loved about this job at the hotel was that we all pulled together when the place got busy. I didn’t mind coming in early or hanging around to make sure the job got done. But I’d been feeling mopey and grumpy lately, and I honestly just wanted to be at home right now where I could be miserable on my own.
It was stupid, and I knew it. I didn’t even really know Coral Jennings, and we’d just shared that one kiss. Why was this bothering me so much? Why had I made an ass of myself by showing up at her signing? She’d snidely accused me stalking her, of wanting a piece of her fame pie—which was an asinine thing to say, by the way—but maybe I’d had it coming by pushing when she’d made her position clear.
Sherri was still waiting for my answer, her toes tapping impatiently. I bit back my initial inclination and nodded my head.
“Sure. Did the guest ask for a specific kind of champagne?”
Sherri lifted one eyebrow. “As a matter, they requested Cristal. 2005. Two flutes, strawberries and cream.” She rolled her eyes toward the kitchen. “Come see me when you’ve got the wine ready, and I’ll have everything else set to go.”
“Okay. Will do.” I turned to go back to the special cooler where we kept our high-end liquor.
“Appreciate you, Dax!”
I sighed and focused on the job at hand.
I didn’t make many room service deliveries. Most people came down to the bar when they wanted a drink, and when they ordered booze with a meal, the kitchen servers popped over to the bar to retrieve what was necessary and then added it to the cart.
Consequently, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken the service elevator upstairs. I was heading up to the penthouse suite now—swanky, weren’t we—with a wheeled cart beautifully set for two lucky someones to enjoy pricey bubbles and luscious red strawberries grown in a year-round garden within a biodome outside the city.
There were times when I felt as though I was doing okay in my life, paying my rent on time, owning my car outright, and even putting away a little something for the future. But when I came face-to-face with the luxuries we offered here at the Gwynne, I realized that I was still just a good ol’ boy from North Carolina, and I was never going to understand people who lived the high life.
The elevator dinged softly, announcing my arrival on the twentieth floor. I waited until the doors slid open and then wheeled my cart over the plush carpet to the suite’s door, where I knocked.
The door swooshed open as though the occupant had been waiting for me, and when I saw who was on the other side, I understood why.
She stood with one hand on the doorknob, fidgeting a little as she gazed up at me. My mouth dropped when I took in the full picture.
Her small and curvy body was covered in sheer white cloth, some kind of nightgown deal, I thought. It was the kind of thing I’d seen on television or in the movies, but none of the women I’d ever dated wore stuff like this.
But damn, Coral wore it well. The neckline plunged between her full breasts, revealing her creamy skin, and through the thin material, I could make out the dark circles of her nipples. Her short hair was tousled the same way it had been the night of the premiere, but this time, her face was bare, no makeup in sight. She didn’t need it; her gray eyes were luminous as she watched my gaze consume her luscious body.
“Hello, Dax.” Coral’s voice was husky.
“I—I didn’t know it was you. I mean, who ordered the—the room service.” I eased the cart further into the room.
“No, I specifically asked the woman downstairs to send you up without letting you know it was me. She told me you were about to go off-shift, and so I thought . . .” She shrugged, the movement causing the nightgown to ripple over her skin. “Maybe this was a good way to tell you that I’m sorry.”
“Well.” I cleared my throat. “It’s, um, the most unique and promising apology I’ve ever gotten.”
Her lips twitched, and she lifted her chin. “Dax, I’m sorry about what happened at the bookstore. I don’t . . . I shouldn’t have said that to you. I never really thought you were trying to—you know. Cash in on my fame. That was stupid. And hurtful. I think I was just reacting to—um, you pushing me. Not that you were—I mean, I know you didn’t mean to. You couldn’t know—you can’t understand. But anyway, I really am so sorry.”
“All right.” My voice sounded hollow. “Apology accepted.” I swallowed, not sure what to do next. I felt as though I’d fallen into some bizarre dream.
Coral sighed and clasped her hands behind her back, unintentionally—I thought—thrusting forward her chest. “Okay. Phew.” She smiled up at me. “I’m so glad we straightened that out.” She reached for the bottle of champagne. “Let’s celebrate by pouring some of this fine champagne and sitting down over here. Can you close the door, please? I know this is the penthouse, but I’d still like some privacy.”
“Coral.” I couldn’t believe I was doing this, but I shook my head. “What is this?”
Her hand holding the champagne flute shook a little. “What do you mean? I thought that since we cleared the air, we could . . . well.” She took a deep breath. “Like I told you, I don’t do dating or anything like that, but I like you, Dax. And I’m thinking that we could have some fun.”
“So you came up here, booked this suite, ordered room service, and met me with this—” I swept my hand in her direction. “This get-up. And you think that by saying you’re sorry, I’m going to be okay with jumping into bed with you, no strings attached.”
Coral crossed her arms over her breasts, her cheeks going pink. “I thought we could talk—I thought you were interested in me.”
“I am interested in you,” I almost bellowed, then lowered my voice as I remembered that we were in the fucking penthouse. “But for more than just a casual fuck. God, Coral, I’ve lived most of my life going from woman to woman, from bed to bed. It’s fine. It’s been fine. And then the first time I meet a woman I think could be more—a woman I want to be more to me—you won’t even think about it. You won’t even give us a try.”
“I explained all of this. I told you why.” Coral’s lip jutted out stubbornly.
“And I told you that I didn’t accept that. You threw some ugly words at me, and then you came here to, uh, apologize—” I gave the word air quotes. “—which was really just an excuse to try to seduce me.”
“Dax—” Coral began, but I cut her off, shaking my head.
“You said you could never love anyone else. You said you had your one shot at love when you were a teenager, and now you won’t even consider that maybe you’d get a second chance. You won’t think about it. I think you’re a damn coward, Coral Jennings.”
Her eyes flared. “The fuck I am.”
“You heard me. A damn coward who’s too chickenshit to take a chance on love.”
“How can you say that?” Tears filled her beautiful eyes, and I almost lost it right then, fighting the desire to sweep her into my arms and kiss her, make her feel better, take back the words I knew had stung. But if I touched her, I’d be a goner, and I wasn’t going to give in. Not when I knew we had the potential for so much more.
“I’m sorry, Coral,” I said, gentling my tone. “I really am. I didn’t mean to hurt you. But you have to know my truth, too. I’m tired of meaningless fucking. I’m tired of not having someone special in my life. Sure, I want the hot sex, but I also want long talks over meals. I want walks in the woods where we find out more about each other. When it comes to you, Coral, I want the whole package.” I took one step backward. “And because for the first time in my life, I know I want more, I’m not going to settle for anything less.”
Before I could look at her again and lose my resolve, I pivoted and walked out the door, shutting it behind me.
Want to know what comes next?
Episode Eighteen is coming next Friday, December 24th!