A Hero For Heather…Chapter One

If you haven’t read the PROLOGUE check it out first

Chapter One

A Little Excessive

Fifteen Months Later

“It’s going to be so much fun tonight,” Daisy said to Heather. “I love that they are having a Christmas Eve party and doing it at Mona’s. It’s like they are keeping it all in the family.”

Heather turned from the closet in her room where she was trying to figure out what mini skirt to put on. Daisy was in a dress, but Heather didn’t own any dresses. Well, the only one she had she’d worn to Lily’s wedding over a year ago and it was more a summer dress that she got away with in September.

Not only that, but she also hadn’t looked at it or worn it again since that day.

Too many memories of the hot guy she followed to his room after her last glass of wine at the bar.

She’d told herself she hoped she didn’t have regrets, and when her body was screaming out its releases more than once that night, she knew she’d never regret an ounce of anything.

Was she embarrassed? Yeah, she was. But she’d never see him again. And it was so nice to just be the person she always wanted to be.

Well, she didn’t want to be a slut that slept with random men, but this felt different to her. Luke was best friends with her boss’s husband, not a random stranger.

She had a high level of respect for the Bloom sisters and it didn’t hurt anyone what she did that night.

It’s not like she confessed it to anyone and she wouldn’t.

“I’m happy they are doing this too. First year for something this big. And can I say you look pretty hot in that dress? Which skirt do you like better?” She held the black one up, then a tan one.

“Black for sure,” Daisy said. “Then you can put any color shirt on. What are your choices there?”

“I’ve got this red sweater that is somewhat festive. Maybe wear with black ankle boots and black tights. I mean it’s winter and chilly out.”

“That will look great,” Daisy said. “And we know you’ve got some awesome legs on you. Might as well show them off.”

Heather laughed and dropped her sweats and then moved to get her tights from the drawer. She didn’t mind Daisy was in her room and she was flashing her panties. Who cared? They were both single women and lived together for fifteen months at this point.

“That was my thought,” she said. “Not much call for a skirt or dress in the labs.”

She sat on her bed and pulled her tights up, then yanked her skirt up and found her sweater in her drawer and changed out her cotton shirt. 

“Nice,” Daisy said. “Do a little twirl for me.”

She laughed. Daisy was great and they got along so well. When she moved to Mystic she had no idea what to expect or think her life would turn out to be.

But she was loving every minute of it.

“Is that dress new?” she asked Daisy. 

“It is. Do you think it’s too much?”

“The color is awesome on you.”

Daisy looked great in jewel tones and the emerald green with a black belt was great with Daisy’s black stockings and pumps. The dress was above her knees, but not sleazy. She didn’t think the two of them could pull off sleazy, but they could be considered overdressed for a holiday party.

“Thank you,” Daisy said. “Do we drive or Uber?”

“I say Uber,” she said. “This way we can relax and drink as much as we want.”

“Sounds like one hell of a plan to me,” Daisy said.

The last time she drank too much she’d planned on getting an Uber home, but since she slept most of the wine off, she drove home the next morning. Not before she and Luke had another round of messing up his sheets. Then she left while he was in the shower.

No reason to stay any longer. It’d be awkward anyway. He was going back to God only knows where and if he wanted to reach her, he knew where she worked.

Since she hadn’t heard from him in all this time, she did the right thing leaving as she had. She probably did him a favor.

“There are a lot of cars here already,” Heather said when they were dropped off.

“Probably people in the restaurant and not the party,” Daisy said.

“Could be. Let’s go in and get our table.”

Once they were inside, they grabbed a table that would be for most of the single ladies that worked in the shops. She found she was closer to them than those at the warehouse or greenhouses.

Daisy and she got a drink from the server walking around and started to mingle.

She saw Violet Soren come in with her boyfriend, Trace Mancini. She hadn’t expected Violet to bring the new guy in her life of only a few weeks and assumed Violet wouldn’t sit with a bunch of women now.

Violet was talking to Jasmine and she heard them say something about a person moving.

“Who is moving in where on Monday?” Heather asked, going to stand by them.

Violet looked at her and whistled. “Wow. You’ve got a skirt on. And a short one.”

She wiggled her shoulders a little. “I never get to dress up and I like it. Daisy talked me into it.”

Violet turned and found Daisy with a dress on too. 

“Remember Luke from Lily and Zane’s wedding?” Jasmine asked.

The smile dropped from her face, her heart started to race, her hands got sweaty and there might have been some heat between her legs at the same time. “Yeah. Why?”

“He’s here. He’s moving into Zane’s cottage on Monday.”

“What?” she asked. Did her voice just squeak? Then she seemed to catch herself. “I mean, since when?”

“Wow,” Violet said, smirking. “That reaction was a little excessive. Did you think he was hot in his tux?”

She snorted. No use lying since she’d been heard making that comment. “Yeah. So did you and everyone else.”

“It’s something about those men in the service,” Violet said.

“Are you talking about me?” Trace said, coming to stand next to Violet. “You know, men in the service and all. You haven’t even seen me in uniform.”

Violet laughed. “Do you still have them?”

“I do,” Trace said. “It’s not my life now, but it is still part of me. I don’t know if we’ve formally met, have we?”

“I’m Heather and you’re the hot guy that Violet is blowing the singles table off for.”

“Your coworkers think I’m hot,” Trace said, bumping his hip into Violet’s. Heather wished she could find a guy like this, but the few dates she’d been on since Lily’s wedding, she’d found those men didn’t hold a candle to Luke.

And she had to stop using him as a measuring stick because he’d been gone from her life.

Or so she thought, but now they said he was back in Mystic.

“You should only care what I think,” Violet said. “And we are sitting here. But I’ll take you to the singles table to meet some of the rest of them and then we’ll come back and mingle with the mature ones.”

“Who says I want to be with the mature people?” Trace asked.

“Don’t flirt with my coworkers,” Violet said. She took the wine out of his hand. “You’re only allowed to flirt with me.”

“I’ll be flirting with you all night,” Trace said.

Heather walked away forcing a grin when someone waved at her. There was jealousy there for sure for a coworker, but more so she had to figure out why Luke was being talked about and how come he was moving to Mystic and not still in the service.

She was bound to run into him and what would she say? How would she act? 

How would he act? 

Would he think she would just pick up where they left off and be around anytime he wanted a quick roll in the sheets?

Or maybe he was with someone now. He could be married and she’d have to get any sexy thoughts of him out of her head if that was the case.

Didn’t matter. She had time to prepare for when she saw him again. She was just going to enjoy tonight.

Until she turned and saw her one and only one-night stand leaning against the doorframe of the back room and his eyes were locked right on hers tighter than if a missile was getting ready to launch and she was the target.

She gulped and did the only thing she could think of.

She ran to the bathroom.

A Hero For Heather…Prologue


“That was one crazy wedding, wasn’t it?”

Heather Davis turned from where she was sitting at the bar after her boss, Lily Bloom, married Zane Wolfe. The hot guy chatting her up was in half a tux at this point. Luke Remington had been the best man and was in the Army, only here on leave. His tux jacket, vest and tie were off, the white shirt unbuttoned a few and her mouth was watering more than it had been as she eyed him all night.

His short military cut. Dark eyes that didn’t let you see much of what he was thinking. A charming grin coming her way.

Cool and relaxed was the impression she’d gotten. Cocky too.

Not someone that was her type, or she’d ever talked to, let alone would consider flirting with.

That was her past life though. The one she had in Mystic now was who she was trying to be.

“It was,” she said. “You seemed to be having fun. How long are you in town for?”

“Just a few more days,” Luke said. “I’m staying right here at this hotel.”

“You’re on leave or something? Don’t you get a lot of time off for that?”

She didn’t know much about the service or how time like that worked. “I am. Just another week, but I’ll travel some and then go back.”

“No family to visit?” she asked.

Most of the wedding party was long gone. She’d be getting a new roommate tomorrow. Daisy Jones was recently hired as Rose’s assistant and was going to be living with her.

The few months living alone hadn’t been all it was cracked up to be and she was starting to get lonely.

Heather hadn’t been employed at Blossoms that long, but she’d needed a place to stay and since Poppy moved in with her fiancé, Reese, and was going to sell her condo, she asked if she could rent it out instead. It’d been tight moneywise, but with a roommate soon, life would be smoother sailing.

“No,” he said quickly and held his hand up to the bartender to get another beer. She’d had more wine than she should have, but she wasn’t drunk. Not unless she considered it drunk with happiness over having the time of her life at this wedding.

Heather never felt as if she fit in all that much in her family. Two older brothers that protected her and made her feel as if she couldn’t do much on her own.

Her parents thought she was a disappointment in her career because they wanted her to be a doctor after she went into science. She never had any desire to go into medicine like they hoped.

She’d let herself be talked into doing research, maybe finding cures or saving the world from something. That job didn’t last all that long either because she was miserable letting others make decisions in her life. 

She had to remind herself more often than not that her Grandmother Jane, who’d cultivated her love of gardening, also told her repeatedly to be selfish and find what made her happy, not anyone else.

Her grandmother had passed while Heather was in college and never got to see her graduate. It’d been a handful of years now, and once her grief settled, she decided to listen to that advice regardless of her mother telling her she was being foolish.

She was working on fragrances and formulas for healing and relaxing properties for Blossoms and loved how she could blend her education with a love of gardening she’d developed as a kid.

“I don’t blame you. I love my family and all, but I’m glad they are there and I’m here.”

“Where is there?” he asked her.

“Concord, New Hampshire,” she said. “What about you?”

“The not so nice side of Baltimore. Too many places to count. So yeah, not the same thing.”

She looked him over again. His tall build, she was guessing six foot two, which was much bigger than her five foot four. He probably had a hundred pounds on her easily too. His brown hair and eyes, close-cut hair, and five o’clock shadow.

He looked dangerous to her, and she figured it came from being in the service, but now she was guessing it might have been part of his upbringing too. He didn’t look like the guy that would tell you any of that though.

“No,” she said. “I don’t care where someone came from. I only care about the here and now.”

He laughed at her. He’d laughed a lot tonight. He talked to people and mingled and her eyes were always going to him. She couldn’t help it and she wasn’t alone with her gaze.

Many of the single women at the wedding were feeling and saying the same things she was thinking, but she wouldn’t admit it to anyone.

She was still new here and didn’t know anyone well enough to share things like that.

She’d already had more than one comment on how she looked and acted different tonight than they were used to.

Not that she needed it pointed out. She didn’t look nerdy. She had her contacts in rather than her glasses, though most didn’t see her in her glasses that often either. They usually just saw her in safety glasses when she was in the lab.

But when she was out and having fun, she tried to be the person that she felt inside. Not the one her parents and brothers wanted her to be. But the one her grandmother encouraged her to let shine.

Moving here might have been the best decision in her life, but it was still hard to break away.

“Sounds like my type of woman,” he said. “Can I get you another drink?”

“Sure,” she said, picking up her wine glass and finishing it. She’d just take an Uber home tonight. No way she was cutting the night short. She looked around the bar and didn’t see anyone from the wedding and wondered what possessed her to come in here alone. Probably because she didn’t want to go home alone.

“How long have you worked for Lily and her sisters? She seems like a great catch for Zane. Man, he needs that in his life. Lucky bastard.”

She smiled. “Just a few months. But those three sisters are the best. Is this the first time you’ve met Lily?”

“It is,” he said, “though Zane talks about her.”

 “That’s so nice. You big tough guys have a sweet side.”

He laughed at her and her face blushed. She hadn’t meant to say that and wondered if the wine was loosening her tongue up a bit.

“Not sure anyone has ever said I had a sweet side to my face before.”

“I don’t know you that well,” she said. “Unless you want to share. But you’re leaving in a few days, so we are back to the here and now.”

“That’s right,” he said. “To the here and now. Or maybe later.” He held his glass up to her.

“I might be on board for the maybe later,” she said. She knew by the look in his eyes he meant going to his room and, damn it all, though she’d never done it before, she was pretty sure she was going to tonight.

Regrets would be for later, but this was the new her and why she moved away. To be herself.

If that meant a night of sex with a man she just met, then so be it.

It’s not like she’d see him again. He was going back into the service and she’d go on with her life but at least have some great memories.

A Hero For Heather

Luke Remington has a past and childhood no one knows about and he has no plans on sharing. His military career is just one more mark against him. He’s seen and done things most women would gasp at. His new career as a State Trooper is just another slot in time that most women can’t handle. In his eyes, he’ll never be good enough for someone, so might as well be married to his job. Until he meets someone that he actually wants to try with. If he can work up the courage to let her in.

Heather Davis has never been good enough in her parents’ eyes. She couldn’t be what they wanted so she moved and decided to do what made her happy. Luke brings things out of her that no man has ever done before. Like a one-night stand at her boss’s wedding. When he arrives back in town to stay, she wonders if there is any way she could be the woman for him and wiggle her way into his complex life.

Family Bonds-Duke & Hadley…Chapter One

If you haven’t read the PROLOGUE yet you can check it out first.

Chapter One

Standing Behind It

Two Months Later

“What are you doing here?” Duke Raymond asked his twin sister, Kelsey, who was walking into his restaurant. “Don’t you have a business to run?”

“I’m working,” Kelsey said. “Just like you are.”

It was nine on a Monday morning in early April. His restaurant, Duke’s, would be opening for business at eleven thirty. He was here going through inventory and placing orders for his specials this week. Or at least trying to.

“Yeah, but you sit in an office, not me.”

Kelsey co-owned and managed a CPA firm with their mother. She was the furthest from the tourist industry on the island. 

Their ancestors had founded Amore Island many generations ago. Duke was from Patricia’s side, one of the twin daughters of Malcolm and Elizabeth Bond who’d married well but didn’t get as big of the Bond fortune as their three brothers did.

There was money in his branch, trust funds too, but everything they had they’d worked for and continued to do so.

He always knew what he wanted to do in life and was thrilled there was money there for him to buy this restaurant over three years ago and get it started.

His sister had stepped right into their mother’s business and did everything for him and for a lot of their cousins on the island too. On the outside, not many knew there was more than his restaurant and his mother’s CPA firm that would go to him and Kelsey. But his father who was from the Bond side had multiple business ventures and investments on and off the island too.

“Which is why I’m here so we can meet,” Kelsey said. “Do you have some time to talk?”

“I do,” he said. “Do you want something to eat? I’m sure you haven’t had breakfast yet.”

“No,” Kelsey said. “Why would I eat when I knew you’d offer to make me something?”

He laughed and walked to the kitchen, knowing his sister would follow him. She had a key to his restaurant and had let herself in, then all but scared the shit out of him when she called his name before entering his office. At least she gave him a heads up, not something she did when they were kids and she wanted to sneak up on him.

When they were in the kitchen, he asked, “What do you want?”

“An omelet sounds good,” she said.

He pulled out the eggs and veggies that he knew she liked, found some bacon and ham to go with it. He’d load her up to the point she wouldn’t be able to eat the rest of the day. And she’d eat the full plate even though she was a tiny thing.

It was a game they played. She’d clean her plate because she’d always say it was the best thing she ever ate and it couldn’t go to waste.

He pulled the rubber band out of his pocket and tied back his long dirty blonde hair. Tonight when he was working he’d have a bandana on his head to keep the sweat from his face too, but for now, it wasn’t needed.

“What’s on your mind that you are here this early?”

“I’ll get to that soon,” Kelsey said. “You ready for the wedding on Saturday?”

Their cousin Penelope Rauch was marrying Griffin Zale at Penelope’s hotel, Atlantic Rise. He’d lost track of the family tree at this point. His grandmother and Penelope’s grandmother were twin sisters. His father, Kyle Raymond, and Sophia Rauch were first cousins. What he was to Penelope at this point didn’t make a difference to him. They were blood like he’d always felt of everyone.

It seemed like his family were shacking up like bunnies in heat around him lately, finding significant others, getting hitched and having kids.

Or in Penelope’s case, having the child first.

“Yep,” he said. He was cracking eggs into a bowl and set them aside while he speed cut through peppers and mushrooms. The bacon was in the oven already. He’d rather put it in there and have less of a mess to clean up. “Just need to make sure there are no stains on my suit.”

Kelsey laughed at him. “You need to buy another one. If I have to keep buying a new dress for these things you need more than two suits and shirts.”

“No one pays attention to me,” he said. He was glad of that fact because he lived in his chef’s clothing most of the time. Or jeans and a T-shirt like now. In the summer, it’d be shorts. His wardrobe didn’t change much.

“That’s right,” Kelsey said. “The men have it easy.”

“Unless you are trying to impress someone there, why do you care? Looking for some single man to land?”

“Please,” Kelsey said, waving her hand. “Like I’m going to pick up some man at a family wedding. I’m fine the way I am. Just like you.”

“Seems to be the story of our lives. We are young yet,” he said. “At least I am.”

“We’re the same age,” she argued. “Thirty-two isn’t old. But I guess you’re right. It is when you’re a woman.”

“Talk to me about business while I work,” he said.

“Sure,” Kelsey said. “I emailed you your monthly reports. You know things are going well. They always are. Even during the winter when it’s the slowest.”

“It’s good to have the best food on the island,” he said, smirking. He was cocky enough to say it and stand behind it, but he also knew it was a higher end restaurant in terms of cost. Most people came to him for a special night out and not a fast meal. 

Well, not true. They’d come at lunchtime more often, but dinner was a completely different menu. He’d planned it that way on purpose so that people felt they could come and not be handcuffed by their wallets to sample his food.

“I tell everyone that,” Kelsey said. “You know I spread the word for you. That’s the bulk of your marketing. Maybe at some point you could splurge for some more than you do.”

He sighed. He’d heard this before. “I’ll look into it. I don’t have time. I talk with the hotels and we exchange things that way.”

Like his cousins. Penelope and Emily at Atlantic Rise. Hunter Bond at The Retreat. Eli at Bond Casino. 

Hell, even his cousins Bode and Drew with their retirement community, he’d been talking with them about putting things out for future tenants. He could make it work. If he could find the time.

“You do,” Kelsey said. “And it’s cost effective.”

“You get off on words like that, don’t you?”

“I don’t need my brother asking me what I get off on,” Kelsey said.

“Geez, Kelsey. Cut the shit. You always do that to me.”

He didn’t need to think of his sister being with a man or anything at all related to one.

“It’s fun to get you worked up.”

He dumped the eggs into the hot pan, then followed it up with the vegetables, ham and cheese. He had two pans going at once. Might as well make one for himself while he was at it.

“You always did like to yank my chain,” he said, moving to the oven and checking on the bacon. He knew it was done. Everything was timed in his head and he was never wrong.

He pulled it out and set it down, then went back to finish up the omelets.

Once he had their plates completed, he carried them out to the bar. They could sit there and talk.

Kelsey helped herself to orange juice. She knew where everything was. She’d been behind the bar a time or two helping out when he’d been short staffed. The same with his parents. That was what family did. They were there for each other.

“Mmm,” Kelsey said. “You made mine as big as yours on purpose and now I’m going to feel sick all morning when I finish this, but it will be so worth it. I just won’t eat until dinner later.”

Exactly what he’d thought she’d say. “Tell me why you stopped over this morning other than me feeding you.”

“You told me that three years into Duke’s you were going to start looking at other opportunities on the island.”

“I did,” he said. 

He wasn’t jumping on anything. It had to be right. The right location, the right building that didn’t need too much work. The right style of fare he’d want to offer. Once he found the place, the food would come next. He wasn’t tied into anything.

“I might have an opportunity for you.”

“Are you selling real estate now? I thought that was Drew’s domain.”

“Very funny,” Kelsey said around a mouthful. “No. I’ve got a client. They own a pub on the south end. Less than a mile from Juliet.”

Amore Island’s south port was Juliet, the north Romeo. Everything tied back to the lore and legend of the island of love at first site. Or fate. Or whatever other tales had been spun from it over the years.

Duke never believed any of it, but it seemed a lot of his cousins were proving him wrong.

“Are they looking to sell? What’s the name of the place?”

He was aware of every restaurant on the island. Best to know his competition. 

“Southside Pub,” she said.

“I’m familiar,” he said. “They opened shortly after I did.”

“Yes,” Kelsey said. “Stan and Louisa Breaton. They are retired educators from Plymouth. It’s their second career. Really nice couple. They live on the island. They’ve had a cottage in their family for years.”

“Did they have any experience in running a pub? Or at least cooking or working in one?”

“No,” Kelsey said. “It was a dream they had. To them, they wanted to just break even. They had their pensions and were comfortable. If they were able to take a paycheck and keep people employed and bring business to the island, they were happy enough.”

He supposed he could understand that thought. 

No, he couldn’t.

To him, he put everything he had into what he did. To his craft. That was what he thought of it as.

“It’s not going well?” he asked.

“No. I think they got what they wanted for the first year or so, but this past winter things were rough. It’s a lot of work and time, as you know.”

“It’s not a cushy forty-hour-a-week job. Not even ten months a year if they were teachers.”

Kelsey grinned. “Louisa was a high school principal, Stan a superintendent. Hardly forty hours or ten months, but still not the same as running a pub.”

Duke nodded. “They want to sell?” he asked. “I’d have to check it out and get a feel for the place. See their books. You know that.”

“I do,” Kelsey said. “And I can tell you anything you bought up I’d go over and since I do their books, I wouldn’t lead you astray. I think they just don’t know how to run a restaurant. It seems they get enough customers, but their food costs are crazy high. Their staffing costs too. They’ve had a lot of turnover on top of it.”

“So they are paying more to get people to stay?” he asked.

“That and their prices are low too. There isn’t anything wrong with that.”

“There is if they don’t know how to figure out their margins,” he said. 

“That is part of it,” Kelsey said.

“Have you eaten there? How is the food?”

“Not bad. It’s not your quality by any means,” Kelsey said. She was more than halfway through her omelet.

“Hardly,” he said.

“Here’s the thing,” Kelsey said. “They aren’t even sure if they want to sell. Well, that isn’t the case. They want it to go to someone that will make it what they thought it could be. They know you’re my brother. We were talking. It’s an odd proposition they are offering.”

He looked up from his plate. “How odd?”

“They’d be willing to let you run the pub for a period of time. Let’s say spring to fall.”

“The busy season,” he said. “They want me to run their business so they can profit? Hell no.”

“No,” Kelsey said. “Hear me out. They’d turn it over to you. You’d run it and take the profits. You’d take all the food expenses and payroll. You aren’t buying anything. They will cover whatever debt there is for this period of time in terms of loans they’ve got. To them, they put themselves into that and wouldn’t pass it to you. If you are doing the work, you don’t have to pay their debt.”

“Let me get this straight,” he said. “I walk in let’s say the first of the month and take over every expense starting that day. I get the profit along with it?”

“That is what they offered to me,” Kelsey said.

“That’s nuts,” he said. “What are they getting out of it?”

“Satisfaction that something they had an idea for can work and they just can’t do it? I’m not sure.”

“It seems too good to be true,” he said. “And it feels as if I’m taking advantage of things too.”

“Well, not really,” Kelsey said. “They don’t have a lot of debt. Just the loan on the building more than anything.”

“If I agreed to do that, it’d have to be part of the monthly expenses that I cover,” he said. That was only fair in his eyes. It’d be like paying the rent for the building.

“I knew you’d say that but didn’t tell them. I’m just passing on the information.”

“I’d be crazy to not consider this. With their permission, give me what you know I’ll need to look at. Revenue and expenses. I’ll go try their food out this week and get a feel for the business and how it flows.”

“You can change all of that,” Kelsey said, running her fork over the last piece of egg on her plate.

“I can. It’s if I want to.”

“The location is good,” Kelsey pointed out.

“I know that,” he said. “Which is why I’m considering it all. Get me that information and then I’ll reach out to Hailey if I decide to move forward. It all has to be drawn up and signed regardless.”

Hailey Bond was the family attorney. As he said, he didn’t do anything half assed.

Kelsey stood up. “This meeting went exactly as I expected. Along with your monthly financials in your email are all the information you’d want on Southside.”

“You knew I’d agree to look it over,” he said, picking up her empty plate.

“Of course I did,” Kelsey said, laughing. “Neither one of us is stupid. Reach out when you’re ready to talk more.”

He watched his sister walk out of his restaurant in her navy pants and pumps, her light green sweater with her dirty blonde hair flowing across her back.

They might be twins, but they didn’t look all that much alike. 

Yet they did think the same for the majority of their lives.

Family Bonds-Duke & Hadley…Prologue


“I’m sorry about Eddie.”

Hadley Breaton sighed into the phone. She sniffled a little too. “I know, Mom.”

“It’s got to be heartbreaking for you. When are the services so your father and I can attend?”

“I’m not sure yet,” she said.

No way she was telling her parents she only found out about her ex’s death because a friend texted her. Her parents didn’t even know Eddie was an ex. She hadn’t had the heart to tell them that they’d split a month ago.

They’d only dated about five months. The first month, he was so charming and full of life. Something she’d never been.

Charming or full of life.

She’d always kept to herself and was kind of quiet. A coworker set her up with Eddie, and as uncomfortable as she was at first with his outgoing personality, she started to feel so alive around him.

He was the life of the party, doing everything to excess though. Drinking. Smoking. Drugs. Anything to give him a thrill.

The smoking and the drugs bothered her, but he said the pot was to help him sleep at night because he went a hundred miles an hour during the day.

Pot was legal in many states, so though it was a drug accepted by many, it just wasn’t for her.

She let it go though because of how he made her feel.

Then his accident happened when he was goofing off with friends. She’d told him he needed to slow down multiple times, but he’d always said not to be a stick in the mud.  That life was meant to be lived not watched from the sidelines.

He’d asked for her help in his recovery and she’d gladly done it because…that was what she always did.

She’d been called a doormat in the past and now it was just stepped on all over again with muddy shoes.

A people pleaser she’d always been and she was pretty sure she always would be too. She’d never learn.

“Let us know when you find out,” her mother said. “You shouldn’t be alone right now.”

“I’m fine,” she said. She was pretty sure she wasn’t going to be allowed to go to his service. She’d been told Eddie’s family was going to have it be small and private. Almost like an invitation only. 

That meant no ex-girlfriend regardless of everything she’d done for him and how soul crushingly hurt she was in the end.

“Hadley. You and Eddie dated for almost six months. You’ve been through so much with him. Then to have this happen. I know his lifestyle bothered you at times…”

“He lived his life his way,” she said. “I should have realized that in the beginning.” 

“I know that he made you feel like a person you always wanted to be.” Thinking back, at the time she thought she wanted to be that outgoing person, but her true self came out and she learned she couldn’t be someone she wasn’t.

Now she was just trying to pick her life up and move on.


“He did make me feel that way,” she said. “But it’s not who I am.” She didn’t want to talk about this and start crying again. She hated to feel like such a fool and not only had it happened with her heart, but now her life in general was a big old hot mess. “How is the restaurant doing?”

“You know how it is,” her mother said. “Your father and I are considering selling it. But you don’t want to hear about that right now. Maybe Dad and I should come be with you.”

“I need some time alone,” she said. “Talking about your life takes my mind off of mine. It’s been your and Dad’s dream since you retired. Why would you sell it?”

Her parents were both retired from the Plymouth school district. Her mother had been a principal, her father a superintendent. There’d been a small two-bedroom cottage in their family on Amore Island that went to her father and that was where they moved to when they retired.

Having grown up in Plymouth, it wasn’t that far and she’d spent a lot of time on the island as a kid herself. It was just never a place she wanted to be but wasn’t shocked when her parents said that was going to be their retirement home.

Her mother sighed on the other end and she knew she’d get her way and have the distraction of talking about something other than her foolishness. “It’s been three years,” her mother said. “You know we are struggling. We’ve got our pensions to live off of. It’s not a big deal. The goal had been to just break even and provide jobs to the area. Have some fun. I don’t know what we were thinking.”

“You were thinking that you were young when you both retired and weren’t ready,” she said. “There isn’t anything wrong with that.”

Her parents wanted to experience life too. Just like she was trying to do with Eddie.

“No,” her mother said. “And if things were still breaking even, I think we’d continue, but the truth is, this last winter was harsh on us. We didn’t have enough put away from the summer to get us through. It’s just a thought, nothing you need to worry about. You’ve got other things on your mind.”

Yeah, and that just added to it. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could stay here with everything looming over her.

She could barely make ends meet right now and the debt from being with Eddie was floating around her like an ominous fog making her want to run for shelter.

Shelter was going to be home with her parents, as much as she didn’t want to feel like she couldn’t handle her own life.

She’d had plans to return home—which meant the island now—and see if she could find a job there. She’d thought she could help out at the restaurant because she knew her parents would need it and it’d give her some spending money to figure out her next move without having so many living expenses on her own.

But if her parents were selling the restaurant, that was going to put a wrinkle in her plans. She’d figure it out on her own like she always did.

“It’s fine,” she said. “I just had no idea you were thinking of selling.”

“Just talks,” her mother said. “Don’t concern yourself with it. We always thought maybe you’d want to take it over, but if it’s not turning a profit, there is no reason to be saddled with it. It’s a lot of work and you don’t want to be here either. We know.”

Hadley let out another sigh. No reason to talk about this now. They said it was just a thought. “Keep me posted if you decide,” she said.

“We will,” her mother said. “And let us know when the services are, please. Your father and I can take the day and come be there for you. It’s not that far.”

She was three hours away in Portland, Maine. She’d come here for college and never left. She wasn’t in love with the area, but she didn’t hate it either. 

“Sure,” she said. “I’ll do that.”

She hated to lie but the truth was, she had no idea what was going on with Eddie’s services and she didn’t think she’d find out until after the fact anyway.

She hung up with her mother after that and sat down in her tiny apartment. She was positive she couldn’t stay here much longer unless she could find another job. Or at least a second job.  Eddie had a lot of medical bills, and like every other time in her life, when people asked her for something, she did it without thought.

She was the one left with little to no savings and a ton of credit card debt because she’d been giving Eddie money for his expenses. A month ago when she asked if he’d be able to give her some of it back, he started being a jerk. Like a person she’d never seen before. She bit her tongue because it always seemed she did and chalked it up to him being under stress himself.

Once again in her life, she was sitting here wondering what the heck she was going to do and all her options were slowly swirling down the toilet.

She put her head in her hands and started to cry. It’s not like it would solve any problems or even make her feel better, but she didn’t know what else to do.

Family Bonds-Duke & Hadley

Duke Raymond comes off as a tough guy in the kitchen but those that know him well, realize he only wants what is best for the people he sees potential in. He always focuses that energy on his employees, but now he finds himself doing it with a woman. One he isn’t so sure he knows everything about and hopes it doesn’t burn him in the end as he lets his heart open up.

Hadley Breaton spent most of her life being a pushover and taken advantage of by those close to her. No matter how hard she tries to put her foot down or take a stand, she always finds herself stepping back and accepting things rather than having a confrontation. Life has changed drastically for her. She is starting over. With that comes a new career and man and maybe it’s time to do what everyone has been telling her. To go after what she wants. Only the minute she does, she realizes she might lose the man she is falling in love with.

Fierce-Royce…Chapter One

If you haven’t read the PROLOGUE you can catch up now.

Chapter One

Made Her Hot 

Fifteen Months Later

“Chloe,” Grant Fierce said, knocking on her door in early November. “How are the plans coming?”

“Almost done,” she said. She’d been working on several parts of the commercial building for over a year now. When Grant and Garrett brought her in and said she’d be one of the few engineers responsible for the work, excitement had filled her over the task.

She loved her job here and didn’t care there weren’t that many female engineers. The owners of Fierce treated everyone the same regardless of their sexual orientation and position.

“Great,” Grant said. “Royce will be stopping over tomorrow to pick them up. I know they are on a timeline and the new tenants are itching to get in.”

“I’ll have them for you to look over and sign off within a few hours,” she said. She tried not to think about Royce Kennedy coming into the office and maybe seeing him.

She didn’t always, even though they’d worked together on and off since she’d been hired here five years ago.

Sometimes she did the work and he came in to get it when she wasn’t around or picked it up at the front desk. If he had a question he’d email or call, but they were both busy and it’s not like his projects were the only ones she had on her desk.

“Thanks,” Grant said. “I know Royce is ready to get this space done. These tenants have been more difficult than the rest, but they are taking up most of the fourth floor.”

The commercial building project had been massive and the work even more so. Many of the tenants were lined up prior and the work they wanted done was figured out before they moved in. She’d heard the talks that the cost of the construction over the standard was normally incorporated into the monthly rental. Made sense to her though that wasn’t her job. 

Nope, her friend Megan in accounting was overseeing all the costs on this project too. But she knew based on the amount of work she’d done with this one tenant their rent might be the highest and not because of the space but because of the sheer pain in the ass they’d been with nonstop changes.

“I’m sure he’s as ready to be done with them as I am,” she said, smiling at Grant. “Though he has it worse than me. I finish this and it’s back to him. He has to worry about them changing colors and finishings I’m sure.”

“I heard from Richard that keeps happening too,” Grant said.

“Better him than me,” she said.

“He’s a nice guy,” Grant said.

“Richard?” she asked.

“Yes, Richard, but I meant Royce. You work with him a lot. He’s pretty easy to get along with.”

“Sure,” she said. “I have no problem getting along with anyone though,” she said.

Which was true. Though she tended to keep to herself, she was always professional. Maybe she was a little cooler with Royce than others because when he was in the room he made her hot.

She wasn’t sure the last time a guy made her feel that way just being in a room with them, but since their conversations never really turned personal, she didn’t know what was going through his mind.

She knew he wasn’t married because Grant and Garrett had mentioned it a few times in passing. She wasn’t stupid either. She knew why they were saying it and wasn’t going to let on that she knew where their thoughts were going.

Those two men liked to set people up. You’d think they’d be satisfied with the couple they were working with now. Megan from accounting and her boyfriend, Jonah Davenport. Jonah’s sister, Raina, worked at Fierce and was married to Cody McMillan. Cody was the brother-in-law to Ryder Fierce. 

Yep, they were keeping it all in the family and working this magic they all said they had.

She figured they were just getting lucky.

“Royce, he’s had a lot on his plate for years,” Grant said. “After his heart attack Richard had to step back from the day-to-day grind, but he’d never back off completely.”

“I’m sure it’s hard when it’s your family business,” she said.

“That’s true. And it’s in your blood too. It’s hard to step back. I think Richard went from seventy hours a week to a normal forty at this point.”

“But someone has to work those seventy hours so it’s probably Royce,” she said.

She should have realized that. Maybe he had no time for a personal life. 

“It is. And Elise. You know his sister owns part of the company too and runs the business part of it. She oversees the staffing in the office and the dealings there.”

“I did know that,” she said. “Royce has mentioned it before.” 

Or maybe Megan did. Sometimes Megan would come in and ask her a few things so she could come up with an invoice to send. Yeah, maybe she didn’t hear it from Royce because they never talked about anything other than the current project they were working on.

Grant was still standing in her doorway and she got the feeling that he wanted to talk more but wasn’t opening his mouth.

“Oh, sorry to interrupt,” Raina said when she stopped by her office.

“No interruption,” Grant said. “I’ll let you get back to work then, Chloe.”

“Thanks,” she said. She watched Grant leave and then asked Raina, “What can I help you with?”

“Nothing,” Raina said, laughing. “I could hear Grant talking to you and thought I’d come save you.”

She started to laugh. “Save me from what?”

“Come on now,” Raina said, moving into her office. “You know as well as I do they are trying to move onto you next, right?”

“You think you’re so smart now that you are happily married.”

Raina shrugged and grinned. “It did fall into place nicely. Megan agrees too.”

“What do I agree with?” Megan asked, popping her head in. “I was looking for Raina but heard her in here.”

Raina moved closer to the door and shut it. “That Grant and Garrett did a good job setting us up.”

“They didn’t set me up,” Megan said. “I met your brother for the first time at your Jack and Jill party.”

“Please,” Raina said. “You know they are pushing it and going to take the credit for it.”

“It seems like that, but it’s not going to be with me,” Chloe said, putting her hands on her desk as if she wanted to stand up and lean into the conversation. 

Megan shrugged and then grinned. “I wanted to do it myself, but Jonah is a bit bullheaded. If his name comes up they are always pushing more.”

She should have thought of that herself. It just wasn’t going to work for her. She was going to keep her lips sealed on her personal life.

“Good move,” she admitted. “And it seems to be working.”

“I came in to save Chloe. Grant was fishing and Chloe isn’t ready to bite on anything. I could tell by her tone she didn’t want to push Grant out of her office but didn’t want to talk about it either. But you can talk to us.”

“I don’t have anything to say,” she said.

“Come on now,” Megan said. “There is no one you have your eye on?”

There was no reason to lie. “Maybe,” she said. “But there is no way I’m telling anyone in this office where there are big ears.”

“What?” Megan said, laughing. “We tell you everything.”

“No,” she said. “Raina didn’t tell us about Cody for a while.”

“She’s right,” Raina said. 

“I told you about Jonah pretty early. How he’s rough around the edges. He’s not rugged like he’s going to go out and swing a hammer and get dirty but he’d mop the floor with someone so that’s dirty in his own right.”

Jonah owned a gym and trained MMA fighters and boxers. Not too many would mess with him, she was sure.

“Sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into this,” Chloe said.

“That isn’t your type?” Raina asked. “Is that the problem? You like the suit-and-tie guy?” 

“God no,” she said. “Or I don’t know. It seems like it doesn’t matter their career or what they wear to me. I just have horrible luck with men. I want someone that doesn’t crowd me too much and lets me do my own thing.”

“Oh, because you are so busy with all your friends,” Megan said, grinning.

“I can’t help it if all my close friends are getting lucky and left me out in the cold. Now I’m busy binge watching TV at night. What if I like a show this fictional guy doesn’t? I’m not giving up watching something because they don’t like it.”

Both girls started to laugh at her. “We have more than one TV in our house,” Raina said. “Cody and I don’t watch the same thing all the time.”

She looked at Megan. “Don’t look at me. I don’t see Jonah enough to worry about that.”

“And you are okay with that?” she asked.

“Yeah. Like you, I don’t want someone in my space all the time either. It sounds to me you are just making excuses though.”

“Whatever,” she said. “If you two don’t have a work conversation for me I’ve got to get this done so Royce can pick it up tomorrow.”

“Let’s go, Megan,” Raina said, smirking. “Chloe needs to figure this out on her own.”

“Nothing to figure out,” she said. “I’ve got work to do.”

Both girls left and she did what she said she was going to. She got to work and tried to push Royce from her mind. Too bad it never seemed to happen.


“Did you get anywhere?” Garrett asked Grant before he could sit down in his office. He’d rushed in and shut the door behind the two of them.

“No,” Grant said. “She’s like a vault. Either the two of them are extremely clueless to the potential we see or we are way off.”

“We aren’t off on this one,” he said. “No way. We’ve been watching the two of them look at each other for years when they worked together. We noticed it a long time ago.”

“I know,” Grant said. “That’s part of the reason we named her to this project. Not that we wouldn’t have done it regardless based on her work alone, but it’s been over a year and nothing from these two.”

He sighed. “I never expected it to be this hard. I talked to Richard a few weeks ago and he said Royce never slows down to even want to meet a woman.”

“I can’t believe you told Richard that we thought Chloe and Royce would be perfect for each other,” Grant said.

“I know. Normally you’re the one with the loose lips, but this time I couldn’t help it. Maybe it had more to do with hoping Richard could push on his end. This is getting tiring, don’t you think? I thought for sure something would have been going with those two before Megan.”

“I know,” Grant said. “Royce is going to come get the new plans tomorrow. I’m going to make sure he has to get them in Chloe’s office. We just have to figure out how to keep putting them together and hope sparks fly.”

“Might be time for a field trip to the site when we know Royce is there too. Nothing like watching someone in action to see if it works.”

Grant started to laugh at him. “I don’t know what goes through your mind half the time.”

“Don’t knock it,” he said. “Sometimes we might have to get out of this little box we are in. I’m running out of ideas. Do you have anything better?”

“Sadly, no,” Grant said. “Let’s see what tomorrow brings before we try that.”

If they didn’t see anything soon, they were going to have to change tactics. Once Royce got these plans from Megan the two of them might not cross paths again until they got another tenant for one of the other open spaces. They were running out of time and space.



“Do you know what’s going on?” 

Royce Kennedy looked at his sister, Elise, as she attacked him when he walked into their family’s office building. Elise worked in the back, not up front. He hated when she all but mauled him trying to get answers the way she’d been doing since they were kids.

“You know the same thing I do,” he said. “We got the same group text.”

He started to walk past her toward his office, which was next to his father’s. “Slow down,” Elise said. “And why are you so grouchy?”

He turned and looked at her. “Unlike you who gets to sit in the air conditioning, I’m outside sweating my balls off in the heat. I’m down three guys today and we are on a deadline, as you so often remind me.”

“Awwww,” Elise said, following him as he continued down the hall. “Poor baby had to get his hands dirty rather than bark orders and tell people what to do.”

He turned and looked at the smirk on his sister’s face. “Beat it, brat. I’ve got fifteen minutes before we meet and I need a damn shower.”

“I guess I never figured out how handy that shower would come in when you insisted it be put in the bathroom between your and Dad’s offices,” Elise said.

“That’s right,” he said. “Pampered princess sits at her desk and looks at papers and tells us what to do without actually doing the work. The rest of us don’t want to sit in dirty sweaty clothes any more than we have to.”

He shut his office door in his sister’s face to her laughter. They always talked like that to each other. For the past almost two decades it’d been just his father and the two kids. Their mother didn’t get the life she thought she was going to and decided to find someone else to give it to her.

He and his sister had fought to stay with their father and not their mother. They were of an age where their voices were heard and their mother was just as happy to only see them every other weekend. When she wasn’t trying to find a guy to give her what she wanted.

Royce walked over to one of the cabinets in his office where he kept a change of clothes. He didn’t often need to shower here, but there were times he’d come from a site and be a mess from the dust and dirt blowing around and then have a client meeting and didn’t want to show up looking like he walked out of a dust storm.

Most probably wouldn’t care all that much. They owned a construction company, so it came with the territory.

Maybe it was just one of those things his mother used to bitch about with his father. That his father came home dirty and stinking and she’d comment about it. Not that his mother ever bitched about the money they had. Never that.

Just that his father didn’t sit behind a desk for it but worked with his hands.

At least back then. In the past three years though, since his father’s heart attack, he spent more time in the office with Elise and managing projects or talking with clients, putting Royce on the site and doing the hard work. Like today.

Once he was in the bathroom, he locked the connecting door to his father’s office so that he could shower and get in the conference room on time. When Richard Kennedy called a meeting you got there when you were told.

“You made it,” Elise said to him when he walked into the conference room down the hall. If it was just the three of them he wasn’t sure why they couldn’t meet in his father’s office. “And you smell much better.”

“Bite me,” he said. He lifted his hand and pushed his fingers through his damp hair that he’d towel dried fast. 

“You’re both here,” his father said coming in. All six foot three inches of man that didn’t have the presence that he had years ago. His father lost a lot of strength and muscle after his heart attack and recovery. He was pretty sure his father lost a lot of his confidence too, but it was not something they ever talked about.

“After Royce showered. He stunk,” Elise said.

His father looked at his sister and frowned. Royce wondered if it was a memory of the words their mother used to say. 

“You’d stink too if you were outside working construction in ninety-degree weather. Do you want to switch with your brother for a week?”

Elise laughed. “I would break a nail. No, thank you. I love you both just the same though.”

His father laughed. He grinned and shook his head. His father would never get mad at Elise, he was sure, because she stuck by his side. She’d always been a daddy’s girl.

“You might not love me when I’m done talking,” her father said. “But I’ve got big news to share. It’s going to put a crazy amount of work on us, but it will pay off in the end.”

“You made a decision without us?” Elise asked.

“I still own more of the company than you two, remember that,” his father said.

When his father had his heart attack, he gave up fifty percent of the company, giving Elise and Royce each twenty-five percent, his father retaining half. His father had enough to decide on his own knowing that they’d never both go against him.

More so if it expanded the business. 

“What’s the news, Dad?” Royce asked

“I received a call from Grant and Garrett Fierce this morning regarding a business proposition they’d like us to go in with.”

“Not a job?” Elise asked.

They had worked with Fierce for years. They’d thought of hiring their own engineer here years ago but in the end decided it was better to contract with Fierce, knowing they were more knowledgeable and had many to choose from if one person was on vacation and questions had to be answered. It’d been a great relationship his father had for years and he and Elise decided if it wasn’t broke there was no reason to fix it.

“No. Grant and Garrett are looking to expand some themselves. They found a big commercial building they want to rehab and rent out for office space. Lots of options at this point. They already have Olson Law Firm on board as a partner and are looking to bring in two contractors.”

“Two?” he asked.

“One that does commercial construction that we don’t specialize in. And one for the office spaces and interior that we do.”

“This is a partnership for four different entities?” Elise asked.

“Yes. We will all put in the same percentage to purchase the building. Olson and Fierce will provide services needed free.”

“No way we are doing work for free,” Royce said. “It’s not the same thing as drawing up legal documents or blueprints.”

“No,” his father said. “But we will do the work at a discounted rate. After all, we will own a quarter of the building. It’s a rental property. Those are things that will be worked out more.”

“Who is going to manage all of this?” Elise asked. “Collect the revenue, pay the bills. All the things I do here. Someone has to do it for this property and assure there is enough money to cover everything. Staff to work on the building. The list goes on and on.”

“That is what Olson’s and Fierce’s will manage. There is a lot to figure out. This is a good business opportunity for us. Something I’ve wanted to branch out and do for years. It’s less risk when there are four of us. If you two don’t agree to it, then I’ll put the money in by myself.”

Royce wouldn’t leave his father hanging like that. Not when he thought it was a good idea. “I’m for it,” he said. “Which puts us at the majority even if Elise doesn’t want to. It’s no more work for her, as you just explained.”

“If that is the case,” Elise said. “Sure, I’m in.”

He snorted at his sister’s smile. “It’s going to be work for us,” his father said. “We have to manage our other work and this project. Elise will have to figure out the costs and they will be billed at a lower rate. We need to walk the property and figure out the estimates. The all-in project will be split four ways but not all cash if we are doing the work. The work for each office above standard costs will be passed onto the tenant in their lease. Does that make sense?”

“Yep,” Elise said. “That is on my end. They need the cash for the building, but the rest is going to come from our services. Got it.”

“When do we see the building?” Royce asked.

“I went and looked at it today with Grant, Garrett and Robert Olson. They haven’t firmed up who the other contractor is going to be. They are talking to two of them and will show them the building this week. Both are people we know, Royce. Either will be a good choice.”

He’d take his father’s word for it. “Okay. So not much more to do for a bit by the sounds of it. It’s all going to take time to even get to the work part.”

“It will,” his father said. “But I think everyone will move fast if they can. The hardest work is going to fall on you. You’ll have to oversee the jobs and the guys and deal with the engineers and their changes.”

It was the story of his life that the work fell on him, but he wasn’t going to let it go to his father either. 

And he hated to always deal with the engineers but bit his tongue half the time. He got along with everyone at Fierce that he’d dealt with. Most times. 

It’d be his luck that Chloe Grey would be put on this project, and though he got along with her, he also got tongue-tied for someone that didn’t have that problem much in life.

He’d get through it just like he did everything in life.

By picking up a hammer and smashing his way through.


Chloe Grey loves her job at Fierce Engineering. She likes being single because she isn’t one for compromising. The last thing she expects is that her bosses would try to set her up but once she is onto them and with whom, she takes matters into her own hands and offers a proposition to the sexy contractor.

Royce Kennedy is determined to follow in his father’s footsteps and take over the family construction business. He didn’t think he’d have the same nasty luck with women that his father did though. Well, at least he has his career since that is the only thing he has time for. Which is why Chloe’s idea is so tempting…until he wants to change the rules.

Back To Me…Prologue


“Go get it,” Cooper Winslow said to his dog, Winston. The rescue mutt took off in the fenced-in yard to get the ball that was just tossed.

When Winston returned and dropped the wet mangled ball at his feet, Cooper picked it up and tossed it again, watching the dog race to the back to retrieve it.

He could stand out here all day playing fetch with his dog.

His best friend. 

If he could have more pets, he’d fill this house with anything he could save.

But at fifteen, he didn’t have much of a say other than the one dog that slept on his bed and kept him company. The only dog he’d ever been allowed to have.

“Good boy,” he said to Winston, squatting down and rubbing the dog behind the ears. When Winston flopped over, he did the same for the exposed belly.

At three now, Winston had joined the household over two years ago. Shortly after Cooper’s mother was gone from his life.

A horrible time back then for a teenager that was close to his mother. His father and he had grieved like a loving family did when someone was ripped from their lives so tragically. 

He wondered if he’d ever get closure from it all. A hurricane in south Florida where his mother had been staying overnight because of a delayed flight. Her job as a flight attendant always made him nervous, but she loved it. She got to travel all the time, though it’s not like she went sightseeing in most of those places. Just rode the plane there and back a few times a week.

The last time she didn’t come back. 

The hurricane hit. The hotel she and the crew were staying in destroyed, her body never found with plenty of others. 

Life had to move on though. It’s just he didn’t want it to. 

His father struggled the same as him but adjusted better in the past year. 

Cooper picked the ball up and tossed it again, Winston taking off running. His grief and what he went through were the only reasons he’d been able to get this dog. He knew that. He’d been asking for a pet for years and was always told no.

Or more like he’d been told he could get a cat. A bird. A fish. Frog. Anything that was easier than having to let a dog out all the time or handling one that barked. 

He’d never been one to shy away from something hard and was determined to go after a dog and give it a loving home.

He had all this love to give and was just waiting for the right time to hand it out. It seemed his father didn’t have to wait as long.

No, he was going to let it go. It wasn’t his life. They’d all been through enough.

Winston came running back with the ball in his mouth, dropped it at his feet, then took off for the edge of the yard, put his big paws on the fence and started to bark. Winston didn’t bark much, so Cooper looked and saw a stranger across the street watching him playing with his dog.

He couldn’t see the woman’s face, but she was definitely watching them.

“Quiet, Winston,” he said, tugging on his dog’s collar to get him to stop. “Sit and be good.”

Winston didn’t sit and he wasn’t being good. The woman started to walk closer. His jaw dropped, his eyes might have popped out of his head and he knew they were filled with tears.

“Mom?” he asked. It couldn’t be. It had to be a ghost.

But it wasn’t. His mother was standing in front of him with a baseball hat on her head, one eye seemed to be more closed than he remembered with a faint scar on the side of her face.

“Hi, Cooper.”

“How can it be?” he asked, wishing the gate was right where he was standing and he could hug her. His hand reached out and touched hers.

“It’s a long story,” she said.

“Cooper. Who are you talking to?”

He turned to see his stepmother, Hannah, standing in the doorway of the back porch and all he could think was, “Oh shit.”