Bosom Buddies Episode Four

If you missed Episode One, read it here.

If you missed Episode Two, read it here.

If you missed the Bonus Episode, read it here.

If you missed Episode Three, read it here.

 

Wesley

“Hey, can I borrow your stud finder?” Lincoln climbed up the last few steps, holding out his hand toward me. “Mine’s out of juice.”

I lifted one eyebrow. “What’s that you always tell us about keeping our tools charged up and in good working order?”

He shrugged, grinning. “Hey, I can’t help it. Every time I use the stud finder, it goes crazy and sticks to me. Can’t blame the thing for knowing a real stud when it sees one.”

“Oh, Jesus,” I groaned. “You didn’t really say that.”

“Sure did.” Linc had no compunction about making the corniest jokes ever, telling us that as a father of four, he held the ultimate dad joke title. It was a point of pride among the crew that none of us ever laughed when the boss unleashed a one-liner.

“Here.” I unsnapped the case that held my stud finder from my belt. “Take this and your lame humor and go downstairs. I’m busy here.”

“Yeah? Doing what?” Linc smirked, but we both knew that he was just yanking my chain. One of the things that I liked about working for this company was the way the bosses respected my skill. Other outfits didn’t realize that mutual respect was essential in order to hold onto talented workers. I’d had bosses who thought that sneering at what I did and how I did it made them big guys. I didn’t stick around long for that kind of treatment; I’d had enough experience with bullies to know when to cut my losses.

“Finishing up this trim.” I pointed to the elaborate woodwork beneath the waist-high railing at the top of the steps. “It’s got to be measured precisely, or—”

“The design is shit,” Linc finished my sentence. “Yeah, I know. I put in my time doing this kind of stuff. It can be tedious.” He paused, squinting at me. “If you need to take break, stretch your legs, get some air, go ahead.”

“We’re running behind on this part,” I reminded my boss. “I want to finish today so I can move on to the next tasks.”

“Yeah, but if you screw it up and have to re-do it, we’re that much further back. Work smart, not stupid.”

I nodded, the edges of my lips curling as I considered what a difference it was to partner with a guy like Linc. “I got it. Don’t worry, I know my limitations.”

“Okay, then.” He turned and descended two steps before pausing. “Speaking of limitations and knowing our own . . . Dr. Hudson texted earlier and let me know she’s stopping by for an update.”

My heart began to pound until it was too loud in my own ears, and suddenly, it was that much hotter up here. I kept my eyes on the cut pieces of wood in front of me. “Yeah?”

“Thought you should know since the last time she was here, she ran for the hills when she caught sight of you.”

“That’s not exactly—” I began and then expelled a long breath. “Okay, yeah. She did. She didn’t appreciate the surprise of seeing me again after all these years, I guess.”

“And you don’t want to tell me—” Linc broke off as we both heard the sound of the door opening below us. “Huh. Guess that’ll have to save. I’m going down to welcome her, so you can stay up here and keep working, but when we pass your way, play nice, all right?”

I raised my eyebrows. “I’m not the problem here. I’m always perfectly nice. She’s the one who . . .” I dropped my voice to a whisper. “Ran away.”

“Whatever. She’s the customer, so she automatically gets the benefit of the doubt.” Shooting me one more quelling glare, Linc started down the steps again. “Hey, doc! Is that you?”

I heard Sabrina’s voice waft up the stairwell. “Yes, it’s me. Wow, look at all the progress you’ve made! This is amazing.”

For the next ten minutes, I kept my eyes glued to my work, pretending that I could ignore the sounds of the conversation below. But every time Sabrina said something or laughed in response to whatever Linc was saying, my body tightened, and I got the same weird sense that I did just before a huge drop on a rollercoaster.

And then their voices were louder, and I knew they were approaching me. I had two conflicting urges: to run so that I didn’t have to see the raw hurt and cold fury in Sabrina’s eyes or to stay just so that I could look at her more, be close enough to examine all of the ways the last fourteen years had changed the girl who used to be my best friend.

I knew the minute she spotted me. I could almost hear her breath stutter, and then Linc said, “Ooopsie daisy, there. Don’t fall now. We’ve got insurance for our team, but I’m pretty sure you taking a tumble down the steps would be under your homeowner’s policy and could jack up your rates.”

“True.” Sabrina’s voice was thin and thready. “Thanks for the catch.”

“Can’t have the woman who pays the bills end up with a bump on the noggin that could lead to her forgetting that she hired us.” Linc sounded a little too hearty. “Well, here you can see one of our favorite artisans at work, restoring the second-level bricka-brack.” He cleared his throat. “Scoring Wesley for this job was a massive win. He’s the perfect storm: he does his own research, and with his masters in historical architecture, that’s not just hitting Google for colors and old photos, believe me. But add his incredible talent working wood, and he’s a truly rare dude.”

“I’m . . . sure.” Sabrina squared her shoulders as I rose from my knees to face her. “His work is definitely, ah, adequate.”

Adequate? I scowled and opened my mouth to respond, but before I could, Linc rushed to intercede.

“Ahahaha, doc, that’s the way to tell him.” He shot me a meaningful glance over Sabrina’s head. “We don’t want him getting a big head and leaving us to start his own company, right?”

“That’s definitely something I’d be concerned about.” Sabrina’s breathiness had turned brittle. “Leaving people without warning is his specialty.”

I stood in front of her, feeling as though I’d turned to stone, not knowing what to say. Linc’s eyes darted from the client to me, clearly not sure how to handle this tension.

A high-pitched tone trilled, the sound coming from the direction of Sabrina’s brown leather handbag. She fumbled with the snap and then whipped out her cell phone. Frowning at the screen, she gave her head a little shake.

“I’m sorry to cut short the tour, but I have to get into town. A friend . . . ah, it’s kind of an emergency.” She shoved the phone back into her purse. “Linc, if it’s okay, I’ll give you a call next week and set up a time to come by again.” She stepped backward, down another stair. “Sorry I have to keep . . . uh, I can’t seem to finish getting a good look, can I?” She affected a laugh that was undeniably fake. “The life of a doctor, right?”

Linc nodded, but his smile was forced, too. “Sure thing. This is your house, doc. Come whenever it works for you. And if I’m not here, just text or call with questions.”

“Of course.” Sabrina dipped her head. “What I see so far . . . it’s amazing. Fabulous. I can’t wait for it all to be finished.”

She spun on one heel and dashed down the steps, disappearing through the door seconds later.

“Well.” Linc crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the unpainted wall behind us. “Once again, the lady seems to be in quite a hurry. And this time, Crane, I’m gonna need an explanation.”

“I guess I owe you that much.” I pulled a kerchief from my pocket and wiped off my forehead.

“Let’s go outside and sit down,” Linc suggested. “We can refill our HydroFlasks on the way.”

The company of Kent and Turner was serious about taking care of the environment, doing our part to cut down on the scourge of plastic pollution. That’s why we were each issued our own personalized reusable cold beverage thermos. Those damn things kept water icy all the day long, even in extreme heat.

The old house we were restoring was set back in the woods, and as I joined my boss on a roughed-out log bench, I took a moment to appreciate the quiet, with only birdsong and the occasional rustle in the underbrush disturbing the silence.

“Okay.” Linc gulped down some water. “Spill. Tell me why our client seems to have an allergic reaction to seeing you.”

I twisted the cap back onto my water and rested it on the ground between my feet. “I’ve known Sabrina since we were toddlers. We lived down the street from each other in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and we were in the same playgroup. We walked into kindergarten together on the first day . . . then a few months later, her mother died.”

“Oh, God.” Linc’s jaw tensed. “That’s so damn tough. Poor kid.”

I realized that this news probably hit home with my boss, who had lost his first wife and the mother of his two babies in a tragic accident. Although he’d since found new love and remarried, he’d completely empathize with the idea of a child losing her mama.

“It was breast cancer,” I went on. “I don’t remember much, but later, when I was older, my mother told me that Sabrina’s mom had been really sick for a long time.” I paused, thinking back over the years. “We were with all of the same kids through elementary, middle, and high school. Sabrina hated being known as the girl without a mom. So I always made sure I treated her like . . . you know, like a normal person.”

“You guys were pretty close, huh?”

“The closest.” I rubbed my lower lip. “We were best friends. We told each other everything.” I swallowed, staring at the ground. “Well, almost everything. The only thing I didn’t share with Sabrina was the worst part of my life . . . and that was the fact that my father routinely beat my mother.”

It was Linc’s turn to suck in a swift breath. “Fuck, Crane. Jesus. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well, the man who donated the sperm for my conception was a sick son-of-a-bitch. I don’t have a memory of him that doesn’t involve my mom getting hurt. He was cruel, sadistic . . . I hated him.”

“Did he ever—” Linc frowned. “You know—with you? Did he lay hands on his kid?”

“No, and that was almost worse. Once I got old enough to try and protect her, he took extra . . . glee, I guess, in hitting her in front of me. Or attacking her verbally, emotionally. Whatever might twist me up, knowing I couldn’t do anything to defend my mother. He was a huge guy.”

“Fucking prick.” Linc glowered. “I can’t stand that. I don’t understand men like that—and you can’t even call them men really, because they’re less than animals if they’re hitting the women they’re meant to love and protect. If they’re teaching their impressionable sons to be the same way.”

“Yeah.” I ran my hands over my jean-covered thighs. “Well, I almost confessed everything to Sabrina so many times, but she had so much sadness in her own life that I didn’t want to lay that on her, too. So I kept my mouth shut.”

“Hmmmm.” Linc’s response was non-committal. “And then what?”

“The older we got, the closer we got.” I closed my eyes, letting my mind wander back to those crazy days of my youth. “At the end of junior high, I knew I liked Sabrina—I wanted her as more than just a friend. Hanging out and watching movies at her house wasn’t enough anymore. I wanted to . . . you know. Hold her. Kiss her. I wanted Sabrina as my girlfriend. But at the same time, I was scared shitless to make a move. Partly because I couldn’t imagine being involved with her in that way and not sharing everything—the truth about my home life, I mean. And then a big part was this worry I had that maybe I could be like him. What if it was like some genetic thing, and I hadn’t realized it because I’d never had a girlfriend?”

“That’s a lot of heavy shit for . . . how old were you then?”

“Sixteen,” I replied. “It was heavy, you’re right. But finally, the way I felt for Sabrina outweighed all of my fears and hang-ups. We were walking home one night, and I worked up the nerve to tell her how I felt. We had this dance thing at our high school every Christmas time, and it was a big deal. So I asked her to go with me, as my date, and she said yes, and we kissed.” I could still feel everything I’d felt that night. “I left Sabrina at her door, and I’m pretty sure I floated down the block toward my house.”

“Uh-huh.” Linc’s eyes were steady on mine, as though he had a clue about what came next.

“Thing was, though, I didn’t get home. A few houses away from mine, a car I didn’t recognize pulled up alongside me. When the passenger window rolled down, my mom was there in the dark, and she whispered to me to get in.” I gripped the log on either side of me until the wood dug into my palms. “She hadn’t told me, but for months, she’d been working with an organization that helps women and kids escape abusive situations. They’d helped her get the car—it had been waiting at a safe spot for the first opportunity my mom had to sneak away. That night, my father’s car had broken down, holding him up at work, and so my mother snatched the chance. She’d been parked down a side street, just waiting for me to walk past.”

“Holy shit, Wesley.” Linc gaped at me. “What did you do?”

“I was sixteen, and my mother needed me. She’d found us a way out of a situation that probably would’ve ended in her death if we hadn’t escaped. But getting away—and getting away safely—meant cutting all ties to the people who knew us. That included Sabrina. I didn’t have any way to contact her. Mom and I both destroyed our phones and dumped them behind a grocery store on our way out of town.”

“Ah.” My boss nodded. “But you did get away?”

“We did. We took back roads all the way from Wisconsin up into Canada, and then this pilot flew us to Alaska on a prop plane—crazy stuff. We lived up there in a small town, changed our names, our birth dates . . . it was mind-blowing, but we lived. My mother finally got a second chance for a peaceful, safe life.”

“And so did you.” Linc grasped my shoulder. “But it came at the cost of your friendship with Sabrina, right?”

“It did.” I nodded. “I finished high school in Alaska and was in the middle of my first year at a community college there when we learned that my father was dead. Mom and I would check on him now and then, you know, online, and we found out he’d been killed in a barfight in California. Guess he finally picked on someone bigger than him, and it bit him in the ass.”

“What did you and your mom do after that?”

I stretched out my legs. “Mom stayed in Alaska. She’d been dancing around a relationship with a really great guy for a while, and with my dad gone, she was free to finally go for it with him. They’re married and very much in love. She ended up with happiness she deserved.”

“And what about you?”

“Well, I spent a summer working with a couple of brothers who restored buildings up there. I realized that I loved the work—and as you know, the fact that it dovetailed so well with my history major made it even more perfect. I finished another year of community college in Alaska, and then I got a scholarship to a school in New England.” I shrugged. “The rest of my resumé is exactly what it says on paper. After the asshole died, I changed my name back.”

“You didn’t ever try to find Sabrina?” Linc cocked his head.

I hesitated. “I thought about it, but when I made a trip back to Waukesha, her family had moved—I guess right after Sabrina finished high school. I looked her up on social media, but I never could find her. And what would I have said to her? I have no clue what she thought when I disappeared from her life. I figured she hated me.” My mouth twisted. “Guess I was right.”

“Okay, I follow you so far.” Linc’s head wagged. “But did you try to explain all of this to Sabrina when you two reconnected here?”

“She didn’t give me a chance.” I shrugged. “She had a shit load of assumptions about me and what had happened, and before I could say a word, she blew out of here again. Like a hurricane.”

“So you need to get her back here and lay out the truth. Tell her exactly what happened in the past and why you ghosted.” Linc said it as though it was simple. “You owe her that much. And you need to do it soon if she’s going to keep avoiding being here at her own house in order to keep from seeing you.”

“Great idea, boss.” I tossed up my hands. “Do you have any brilliant plan to make it happen?”

Linc was quiet for a moment, his eyes narrowing. And then a slow smile spread over his face.

“Leave it to me, buddy. Just leave it to me.”

 

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Five is coming next Friday!

And we’ll see exactly what Linc has in mind.

The tale of Coral’s movie premiere date

is coming in this month, too.

What about Celeste?

Her romance is revealed in

TITS THE SEASON

which is part of the holiday benefit anthology

TINSEL AND TATAS

Releasing October 5th

Preorder Tinsel and Tatas Today:

Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo

Google

Barnes & Noble

Did you know Linc Turner has his own book?

The Forever One

Welcome to Burton, a small town just west of Savannah where the men are sexy, the women are sassy

and happily-ever-afters are a specialty of the house.

Jenna

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 Lincoln Turner comes to town.

Linc

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.

 

Bosom Buddies **BONUS EPISODE**

If you missed Episode One, read it here.

If you missed Episode Two, read it here.

 

Sabrina

“Come in, come in!” Celeste opened the front door to her adorable little lingerie boutique, Between the Sheets. “How’re you doing, sweetie?”

“I’m good. I’m fine.” I leaned into my friend’s enthusiastic hug. Celeste was one of the brightest, most positive people I’d ever met, and I often wondered why she liked someone like me who tended to teeter on the cliff of pessimism.

But she did like me, and I knew I was lucky to have both Coral and Celeste in my life. When we’d met at that volunteer rally back in college, I never could have guessed how long we’d know each other and how deeply they’d both impact my future. Hell, I lived in Georgia because after we’d finished our undergrad studies, Celeste had been determined to start up a business in Burton, her hometown. Coral had already written her first book by that time and knew she could work anywhere, so she’d decided to stick around and share a rental house with Celeste.

I’d gone to medical school in Atlanta, close enough that my girls could come to me at least one weekend a month. They’d cheered me on, getting me through those three long years of insanity, and when I’d landed a spot in a residency program in Savannah, we’d all been thrilled to live within about forty-five minutes of each other.

And now, all three of us had realized our dreams: Coral’s books were bestsellers, the kinds of books that were optioned for movie deals even before their release dates; I was working in a cutting-edge breast cancer treatment hospital, heading up some of the most promising studies and trials; and Celeste owned this totally kick-ass lingerie store on the main boulevard of Burton.

She studied me now, her eyes clouding with concern. “You don’t look fine.”

“Oh, stop with the flattery, Celeste, you’ll make me blush.” I rolled my eyes. “I just came off a twenty-four, and I only had time for a couple of hours of sleep before I had to drag my ass to Burton for this meeting.” I yawned big. “So sorry if I don’t match your sparkle. Cut me a break.”

“Whoa there, angel pants. Slow your roll. When I said you didn’t look fine, I only meant that there’s something in your eyes. Something that says you’re not at all fine and good. You’re upset.”

“Am not.” The denial flew fast from my lips. “Like I said, I’m just . . . tired.”

“Okay.” She shrugged, and she might have said more, but just then the bell over the door jingled as Coral came in, followed in short order by a group of three young women.

Celeste wore her official saleswoman smile as she glanced at me. I nodded, understanding that she had to deal with these last-minute-before-closing customers, and gestured to Coral to follow me behind the counter and into the small sitting room in the back of the store.

“Ugh, I saw those girls getting out of their car right after I did, and I kept sending them mental vibes: don’t go into Celeste’s store. But I guess my Jedi mind power must be a little rusty.”

“Oh, it’s fine. She’ll schmooze them, sell them a couple hundred dollars’ worth of sexy silkies, then send them on their way.” I sank onto the overstuffed loveseat. “God, it feels good to be off my feet. It’s been a long week.”

“Sorry about that.” Coral kicked off her shoes and curled into the opposite corner of the small sofa. “Just work stuff?”

I hesitated. I’d been vacillating all week on whether or not to spill my guts to the girls about Wesley. They both knew of him; they’d heard the story early in our friendship, on one of our very first margarita sleepovers. I’d gotten sloppy drunk and sobbed out my heartbreak. Still, I wasn’t sure I wanted to let them know that the first guy who’d broken my tender heart was now helping to transform my home.

“Yeah, just work,” I answered Coral finally. “A lot of challenges right now.”

“I’m sorry.” Coral reached over to pat my hand. “Want to talk about it?”

“No.” I shook my head. “Comes with the territory, you know.”

“Sure, but . . .” She shrugged. “We’ve all been there. Or at least near there.”

I had to swallow hard over a lump that had risen suddenly in my throat. Coral, Celeste, and I called ourselves the Bosom Buddies for two reasons: first, we’d met at a volunteer rally for Young Survival Coalition, and second, we’d all three gone into lines of work that had something to do with, well . . . boobs. I worked in breast cancer research and treatment, Celeste sold fancy and sexy bras, and Coral wrote historical romances that all featured those famous and stereotypical heaving bosoms.

But behind the truth was pain that was still scarred and hurting, at least for Coral and me. I’d lost my mom to breast cancer when I was only five years old. That was why obliterating the disease was my daily personal crusade.

Coral, though, had actually fought breast cancer herself. She’d been diagnosed at age seventeen and battled for three years before going into remission. Now, nearly ten years after she’d finished treatment, it was sometimes hard to remember that she’d ever been that sick—it had happened before Celeste and I had met her—except that every now and then, I happened to look into her deep gray eyes—those old soul eyes—and caught a flash vulnerability. And then I remembered my friend’s enormous courage.

I scooted over on the loveseat and slipped one arm behind her back. “Thank you, Cor.”

She gave me that heartbreaking half-smile. “I didn’t do anything.”

“You do stuff all the time. You’re always here for Celeste and me. You listen, you encourage—you’re the best cheerleader a woman could want. I love you to pieces, and I don’t say it nearly enough.”

“Oh.” Coral ducked her head, embarrassed. “We all do that for each other.”

“Well, we try. I don’t think I’m as good as you are.” I nodded my head toward the door that led to the front of the shop. “By the way, did you think Celeste sounded funny on the video chat last night when she asked us to meet up here today?”

“Funny how?” Coral tilted her head.

“I don’t know. Funny like . . . she’s hiding something. Or like something big is happening.”

“Oooooh!” Coral’s eyes got big. “Do you think it’s a guy?”

“Jesus, Cor, does it always have to be about a man?” I rolled my eyes.

“Not all the time, no, but every story’s better when a man’s involved,” she shot back, all sassy like. For all of her wise ancient spirit energy, Coral really was a hopeless romantic. It was probably why she was so good at her job.

“I don’t know about that,” I sighed, thinking of Wesley and our tense encounter at my house last week.

“Aha!” She wriggled to sit up straighter. “See. There’s something else going on with you, girlfriend, and it’s definitely man-related. I can just tell.”

I never lied to my friends, but that policy didn’t stop me from trying to redirect Coral’s attention. “Do you think Celeste is too stressed about this holiday benefit? Taking on the chairperson job was a big decision.”

Coral narrowed her gaze. “Stop trying to change the subject. Also . . . yes, I think she’s stressed, but no, not too stressed. You know her. She thrives under pressure.”

“Hmmm. Maybe.” I nudged her with my elbow. “Hey, do you have to be up early tomorrow?”

She frowned. “No. Not particularly. Why?”

“Because I’m off for a few days, and I was thinking we could crash at Celeste’s place tonight after dinner. We could have a margarita sleepover. We’re way past due for one.”

“That sounds like a plan.” Coral grinned. “Celeste will have to get up to open the store, but you and I can sleep in. Oh! And we could go to Kenny’s for waffles!”

“Now you’re speaking my language.” I loved the small diner in the center of Burton’s downtown. It was one prime reason I’d chosen to settle so close to this little town—but I wasn’t going to admit that to Celeste or Coral.

“This is perfect.” Coral rubbed her hands together. “While we’re here, we’ll gang up on Celeste and get her to spill whatever she’s hiding. And then tonight—” Her grin turned wicked. “We’ll find out what it is you’re trying to keep from us.”

I sent her a withering glare. “I will never talk. No matter how much you torture me.”

My friend snorted, smirking. “Oh, we’ll see about that, Sabrina. We’ll just see.”

Want to know what comes next?

The details of this meeting–and what’s up with Celeste–are all revealed in

TITS THE SEASON

which is part of the holiday benefit anthology

TINSEL AND TATAS

Releasing October 5th

But the next episode of BOSOM BUDDIES releases on Friday–

and it’s all about the margarita sleepover!

Stay tuned!

Preorder Tinsel and Tatas Today:

Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo

Google

Barnes & Noble

A tasty tidbit of ILLEGAL TOUCHING

 

Grey’s Anatomy meets Monday Night Football. 

Heat and heart clash in this rollercoaster of a love story.

Noah

Finding out I’m going to be a dad knocks me off my self-destructive path and makes me determined to do the right thing.

I know I’m going to be there for my child, no matter what.

But will the mother of my baby ever trust me enough to give me a second chance with her heart?

Alison

After weeks of rollercoaster uncertainty, suddenly I’m not by myself anymore on this journey to parenthood.

When Noah tells me he wants to be an involved dad, I don’t realize just how hands-on he plans to be.

I’m determined to protect my heart from his seductive smolder, but damn, he’s not making it easy to keep things all business.

Sometimes, I forget why I need to fight this feeling . . .

The second trilogy in the best-selling Diagnosis: Love world is made up of two SHAMELESS CLIFFIES before the finale. You’ve been warned. The books release a week apart, so your angst doesn’t have to last long–and the happily ever after in book three is worth the journey.


“What time is it, anyway? Feels like it’s late, but I’m so woozy, I can’t really tell.” I yawned.

“Just after nine.” Noah settled into a chair that didn’t look very comfortable. 

I sighed. “Okay. Well, you should probably head home now.” I paused. “Do you need to call for a car?” 

“Nope, I’m back among the driving population, thanks very much. And I’m not going home. I’m staying here with you tonight.”

“Oh, no, you’re not,” I objected. “Don’t be ridiculous, Noah. I’m fine. You heard Maggie. I’m here with all the doctors and nurses . . . all I plan to do for the next twelve or thirteen hours is get as much sleep as I can. There’s nothing for you to do.” 

“Doesn’t matter. I’m staying.” He patted the arm of the chair and then leaned back until it reclined and a footrest popped out. “I told them I wasn’t going home, so the nurse arranged for a sleeping chair for me. She’s bringing an extra pillow and blanket in a minute.” 

I wanted to argue with him some more, but I was too tired, and my headache was returning. “Okay. Do whatever you want.” 

A nurse came in a few minutes later with Noah’s blanket and pillow. She fussed over him, telling us both how sweet it was to see such a devoted man. He smirked and looked satisfied, and I would’ve rolled my eyes if I wasn’t feeling so shitty.

She gave me another dose of acetaminophen, hung another bag of fluids, and dimmed the lights on her way out. The room wasn’t completely dark—that was almost unheard of in a hospital—but it was as restful as it was going to get. I closed my eyes. 

I heard Noah making himself comfortable, grunting as he adjusted the pillow and the chair. When he’d stopped moving around, he sighed softly. 

“Noah,” I murmured. “Thank you.” 

He cleared his throat. “For what?” 

“For coming to the hospital today. For staying with me tonight. For making sure I wasn’t alone.” Somehow, it was easier to say these things in the quiet dark. 

“You don’t have to thank me for that, sweetheart. I was glad I could be here.” His voice was a little muffled by the pillow, but I heard him anyway. 

“I was scared,” I admitted, my hand fisting under the sheet. 

“I know. I was, too.” He shifted, and the chair squeaked, complaining. I had a hunch that such recliners were not designed for guys as big as Noah. “Which reminds me. I’d like you to change your emergency contact to me when you get back to work. If Emma hadn’t been on your file today, I wouldn’t have known what was happening.”

I was too tired to argue, and besides, Noah had a point. “All right. I’ll update it as soon as I can.”

“Thank you.”

We were both quiet for a few moments before Noah spoke again. “Remember when we were here together right after I’d been hurt? When I was in the ER, and no one was doing anything, and I was in so much pain?” 

“Of course, I remember that. I felt so terrible for you.” 

“I was scared that day, and you sat with me and made me feel better. You kept my mind off all the nightmare scenarios that were dancing around my head. So consider this payback in part.” 

I smiled in the dark. The meds were doing their job, and the headache was beginning to ebb. “All right. If you say so.” 

I heard the steady, comforting rhythm of Noah’s breathing. I held on tight to that sound, foolishly glad that he was here, that he’d insisted on staying with me. 

“You know, I was thinking before, when you were asleep, that you know pretty much everything that I’ve been doing since the last time we saw each other—I mean, since before my surgery,” he amended quickly. “You know I’ve been screwing things up left and right. But other than trying to get in touch with me, I have no idea what’s gone on in your life.” The chair squealed again. “What new projects have you done in your house? How’s everything in your office?” 

I took a deep breath, thinking. “I finished the master bathroom.”

“How did it turn out?” 

“It’s beautiful. I love it. The tub is old-fashioned, but it’s huge and deep . . . so comfortable. The colors are exactly what I wanted. It might be my favorite room in the house now.” 

“Mmmmm. Can’t wait to see it.” Noah yawned. “What else has been new?” 

I thought about the crazy, tumultuous ride the last few months had been. “Oh, I flew to California to see Daneen. Remember I told you about my last foster mothers, Daneen and Lana?” 

“Yeah, I remember. Lana passed away a little while back, and Daneen’s in a home, right? Dementia?” 

I was gratified and oddly touched that he’d remember. “Yeah, that’s it. She has congestive heart failure, and her doctor thought I should come to visit sooner than later.” 

“How was she?” 

I hesitated. “Good. Not as bad as I’d feared, but she didn’t know me . . .” I thought back to the few days I’d spent with her. “The first day, she talked about me. I mean, she talked about Alison, not recognizing that I am Alison, you know? And she said something about Lana doing some digging into who my parents were. If what she told me really happened, Lana found out that my mother had planned to keep me until the last minute. My biological father might have been a dangerous man—or he was in trouble with someone—whatever the reason, my birth mother thought it was safer to leave me than to take me home.” 

“That’s wild.” Noah sounded genuinely intrigued. “Are you going to follow up on that? See if you can figure out who your parents were?” 

I shook my head, even though I was pretty sure he couldn’t see me. “I don’t think so. Not now . . . maybe not ever. If it’s true and my mother really did leave me at the hospital because she thought I’d be safer, I could be stirring up something that’s better left alone. If it isn’t true . . .” I trailed off. “I’d rather not know. I’ve thought about what Daneen said, and it’s just so in character with who Lana was—and who Daneen was, too. Daneen always said it didn’t matter where we came from, it was where we were going. I think she would’ve been a little pissed that Lana went ahead and looked into it when Daneen didn’t think it made any difference. So maybe it’s true. It makes me feel a little more at peace when I think of my birth mother. Maybe she really did do the most noble thing she could.” 

“Hmmmm.” Noah grunted. “Well, if you ever decide you want to take it further, find out more, I’d be happy to help however I could.” 

“Thank you.” 

I closed my eyes again and listened to Noah’s breath growing slower and more even. I smiled, picturing his body contorted into some semi-comfortable position on the recliner. It was such a peaceful feeling, knowing he was near me. 

Before long, I was sleeping, too.

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A LOVE IN A SMALL TOWN Family News Update!

 

If you haven’t read any of the LOVE IN A SMALL TOWN romances yet, now is the time to start! This box set is free on all vendors for a limited time. (See links below: Amazon may not have gone free yet, but will shortly.)

To celebrate, I’m sharing this little peek into what’s been going on in Burton recently via an email update from Cory Evans to her daughter-in-law Ali, who lives part-time in Burton and part-time in New York City.

Dear Ali,

I saw your text message this morning about feeling out of the loop, but you know, I don’t love to text long and complicated updates. So I figured I’d email you instead. Hope you don’t mind!

Everyone here is well. I was out to the farm for a meeting about the Christmas Bazaar–yes, I’m on the committee again this year, despite swearing I was retiring from that fuss and bother–and so I was able to see Meghan and Sam and the twins. Oh, my, those babies are getting so big–and smart! Of course, they’re beautiful, too. Daniella and Justin are talking up a storm now. I can’t wait to see them with Bridget and Colleen when you and Flynn and the kids come home for Christmas this year! It’ll be so much fun.

Oh, and Sam and Meghan are doing well, too. I think they’re still slightly sleep-deprived and a little shell-shocked after being parents for a year, but they’re getting into the swing of things. Meghan just keeps telling everyone how happy she is, and Sam is the sweetest daddy ever–apart from Flynn, of course.

I was over to the Road Block for lunch today. I ran into Rilla who was there with her cousin Jenna and Sydney Garth. They were planning a joint baby show for Jenna and Sydney–oh, did I tell you BOTH of them are pregnant? I swear, there’s something in the water down here. Those two have gotten to be such good friends, it really does my heart good to see it. Anyway, Rilla seemed to be a little extra glowy these days, too, so I pried it out of her that Piper, Noah and Miriam are going to have a little sister or brother some time next spring. She swears this is the last baby, but judging by the way Mason looks at that woman, I wouldn’t bet on it. But let me tell you, Ali, seeing him happy and contented again after everything that man went through is definitely an answered prayer.

Maureen and Smith spent last week in Boston visiting his parents and his brother. Every time they go, I worry that the big city will lure them up there permanently, but Reenie swears that they love the slower pace of life in a small town. Their veterinarian practice is growing, so I assume that would keep them here, too. I’ve been hinting to my daughter about wanting more grandchildren, but you know that girl just keeps evading me and saying that they’re having too good a time with each other to think about settling down with kids yet. Maybe you and Flynn can be an example to her that being parents doesn’t mean ending the fun–only expanding it.

I had a package from Elizabeth last week, with all kinds of delicious cookies she’s been trying out for her blog. She sent some to Kiki, too. We both agreed that she’s got some crazy talent in the kitchen! Anyway, Elizabeth and Trent are still loving life on the road. Trent left Crissy Darwin’s band, as you might have heard, and is spending some time in Nashville to record his first solo album. I reminded Elizabeth of the Christmas Bazaar, and guess what? She talked Trent into coming back to Burton to play for us at the Bazaar! We’re all so excited and can’t wait to see them. 

With your dear family home, Elizabeth and Trent, too . . . we’ll have a real extended family Christmas, won’t we? I’m so tickled that you’ll be here for the Bazaar, too. And I’m very curious about the big news you teased about in your text . . . are you sure you want to wait to tell me in person? 

Well, I should finish this up and head to bed. I have to be at the library bight and early–our new round of preschool classes begin tomorrow, and I like to have everything set up before the little ones arrive. 

Much love to my grandbabies, to my son who never writes to his mother, and of course to you–my wonderful daughter by love! 

Kisses and hugs,

Mom Evans

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