The first McGuire Brothers novel will be released in just one week! If you can’t wait until then, here’s a sneak peek. If you sign up to receive my newsletter, then you’ll be the first to get excerpts and so forth.
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Chapter 1 here
Chapter 2 here
“To new beginnings,” Jordan said quietly.
Could she have a new beginning with Gavin? Damn it, no. She was not going to start pining over Gavin. Cut the crap, she thought to herself. Leave the past in the past and live in the present. Focus on the girls.
“Amen to that.” Maddy took a healthy sip of her wine. “Hell, if you like it enough at the shop, maybe you’ll buy the place.”
“Really?” Jordan’s eyebrows raised. “You want to sell your mom’s place?”
“To the right person, sure. I mean, my mom loved you, and I am racing around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to run both businesses.” She puffed an espresso-colored curly strand of hair from her face. “Especially this time of year. It’s freaking nuts.”
“Own my own business?” The possibilities ran through her head before she rolled her eyes and waved off the strangely appealing idea. “I don’t know the first thing about something like that. Besides, I’m not a florist.”
“Neither am I,” Maddy said with a snort of derision. “That’s why I pay Cookie and Veronica the big bucks. Anyway, buying businesses aside, the gig is yours with no strings attached.”
Jordan placed her wineglass on the table and pulled her feet up into the chair, wrapping her arms around her knees. The warm summer air was filled with the scent of the sea, and two gulls fought over an old fish head along the edge of the water. The sound of the television in the family room—a cartoon the girls were enthralled by—was mixed with the comforting rush of the tide.
How many times had she dreamed of a quiet evening like this? Her daughters in their pajamas, all bathed and sweet smelling and safe in the other room, and her dear friend by her side with a glass of wine in hand.
Dark memories crept in. Jordan had never thought a day like this would come.
Silence hung between them with only the sound of the waves and passing gulls, and Jordan could feel the weight of Maddy’s question coming before she even uttered it.
“So are you gonna tell me what happened?” Maddy sat back in her chair and tugged her white sweater closed. “What made you finally leave him?”
Jordan sucked in a steadying breath and dropped her bare feet to the ground. Curling her fingers around the stem of her glass, she fought the tide of fear, regret, and sadness that swelled up when she recalled that night.
“Hey.” Maddy’s voice dropped to almost a whisper, and she rubbed Jordan’s back reassuringly. “It’s okay. I don’t wanna push. I mean, if you don’t—”
“No.” Jordan shook her head and sat up taller in her chair. “It’s okay… About six months ago, after one of his drinking binges, he came home late. Three in the morning. I’d fallen asleep on the couch. I knew he’d come home sloshed, because he did it so often, and it was easier to manage him and keep him quiet if I could get to him right away. You know? I didn’t want the girls woken up by such ugliness. Until that night, the strategy had worked.”
Rising from her chair, Jordan went to the railing of the deck and looked out at the ocean, unable to face her friend. Shame and guilt clung to her. She couldn’t bear to look Maddy in the eyes because she was too worried she’d see pity there.
Jordan knew how pathetic she’d been.
“Ted came after me. He stunk of whiskey and woke me up out of a dead sleep. He tried to pull my pajamas off. I shoved him off me.” She let out a bitter laugh. “He was so wasted, he could barely stand so it wasn’t hard. After my rejection, he trashed the living room and screamed about what a cold fish I was.”
“It’s okay, Jordan.” Maddy had moved in next to her and wrapped her arm around Jordan’s shoulders.
“He came after me again. Groping me. Shouting hateful, ugly things and I fought like hell to get away. I knew then that if I stayed any longer, it would only get worse.” Her voice shook with a mixture of rage and disgust. “When I finally got him off me and turned around, I came face-to-face with my girls. They were crying and clinging to each other in the hallway outside their bedroom. Ted screamed something incoherent before stumbling past them to the bathroom.”
“Oh my God, Jordan.”
“I grabbed Gracie and Lily, went to a hotel, and filed for divorce the next day.”
“Son of a—”
“Yup.” Jordan swiped at her eyes and drained the last of her wine. “He sure is.”
“Hey.” Maddy took both glasses and placed them on the table. “You are one of the bravest women I know.”
“Brave?” Jordan could barely get the word out. “I’m a coward. I ran away fifteen years ago, and here I am doing it again.”
“Bullshit.” Maddy grabbed Jordan’s shoulders, gently forcing her to face her. To Jordan’s relief, she saw no pity there. Only resolute love and acceptance. “You survived, baby. You did what you had to do. That’s what you did then and that’s what you are doing now. You are a survivor—and don’t you forget it. Just because he didn’t outright hit you doesn’t mean he wasn’t abusive or controlling.”
Tears blurred Jordan’s vision as Maddy gathered her up in a warm, lingering hug. How long had it been since anyone held her this way? Comforted her? Too many years for her to count. She’d missed her friend more than she’d realized, and the generosity of such unconditional love cracked Jordan’s last line of defenses. The tears fell freely as Maddy embraced her tightly.
“Thank you,” Jordan whispered. Pulling back, she kissed Maddy’s cheek. “You really are the best friend I’ve ever had.”
“True.” Maddy gave Jordan a playful smack on the ass before pouring them both a bit more wine. She handed Jordan a glass and held her own up. “To good friends!”
“And surviving,” Jordan murmured.
Jordan’s first day of work at the flower shop reminded her of the first day of school. She was so busy learning the ropes and dealing with customers that the day went by in a flash. So fast, in fact, that she forgot to eat lunch and only caught herself from looking out the window for Gavin four or five times.
She was definitely a glutton for punishment.
With her stomach rumbling, she locked the front door of the shop and checked the time. She had a few minutes before she needed to pick the girls up from camp, and the delicious smell of fresh baked bread from the market called to her.
Checking the traffic and doing her damnedest not to even glance at the fire station across the street, Jordan headed over to the market and away from the station. The heat of the June afternoon had given way to a balmy early evening, making her long for sunset on the deck. She and the girls had made a habit of talking about their day while the sun went to sleep.
When Jordan tugged open the door to the market, the scent of freshly baked bread enveloped her. Forcing herself not to run to the bakery counter and gobble down an entire loaf, she snagged a small green handbasket by the register and smiled at the young woman behind the counter. Wearing a blue-and-white apron, the girl gave Jordan a brace-filled grin as she rang up an older gentleman’s sale. A feeling of contentment washed over Jordan as she strolled the aisles, and she realized she didn’t miss the city at all. Not the traffic. The honking horns. The rude pedestrians. The unsmiling waitstaff or the woman at her grocery store in the city with four nose rings and a chronic inability to smile.
Nope, she didn’t miss it one bit.
On her way toward the back of the store, Jordan picked up a few other items she needed, cereal and milk, and a couple she didn’t, like the bag of peanut M&M’s and a package of Kit Kat bars. If she wasn’t having sex, then she would have chocolate.
She rounded the corner and her shoulders sagged when she saw with the line at the bakery counter, four people deep. Pressed for time and hungry as hell, Jordan grabbed two of the white paper-wrapped loaves of sourdough that had likely been made earlier in the day.
The familiar voice raked over Jordan like fingernails on a chalkboard, and while it had been years since she’d heard it, there was no mistaking who it was.
“Hello, Missy.” Jordan deposited her bread into the basket and turned to face the only woman she’d ever really disliked. Forcing a tight smile, she said, “It’s been a long time.”
Missy’s ebony hair was tied up in a ponytail and her oval-shaped face with almost hollowed-out cheekbones was free of all wrinkles. She had to have had Botox, and Jordan wasn’t sure if she was jealous or disgusted.
Missy’s slender form was clad in a pair of white Daisy Duke shorts and a pink tank top that barely contained her chest. Basically, the woman hadn’t changed an ounce since high school. She was still va-va-voom sexy. Big boobs. Narrow waist. Full hips. Lips like Angelina Jolie. Jordan swallowed the sudden lump in her throat and pushed her hair off her forehead. The woman was a walking sexpot, and she always had been.
No wonder Gavin had slept with her. What red-blooded heterosexual man wouldn’t?
“Gosh. It has to have been like fifteen years.” Missy giggled the way a young girl would and slapped Jordan on the arm playfully. “But we don’t look a day older, do we? Say, I didn’t know you were visiting too. If I had, I would have suggested we get together for a drink but I’m heading home today.”
A drink? Jordan had thought this girl hated her in high school. Why would she want to go out for a drink?
“Uh. Well, I’m not visiting. I moved back.” She adjusted the basket because the metal handle was digging into her forearm and she was starting to sweat. “I mean, I moved back here with my girls.”
“Oh! You got kids?”
“Yes.” Jordan nodded. “Two girls.”
“Oh, that’s cool,” Missy said in a tone that was agreeable but not meaningful. “I was just here for a couple days visiting my daddy. He’s been after me to come home for like the past four years.” She snorted with laughter. “I always fly him to LA. This time I caved, but I can’t wait to get back to the Coast.”
Why did that sound so perfect for Missy?
“Well, it was nice bumping into you, Missy, but I have to be going.” Jordan plastered a tight smile on her face and fought the urge to back up. “I have to pick up my daughters from camp.”
“Sure, sure.” Missy popped a stick of gum in her mouth and pointed one well-manicured finger at Jordan. “Say, you know who I saw yesterday when I was driving through town? Gavin McGuire. The man looks as fine as he ever did. Better maybe.” She let out a sigh and stretched her arms over her head in a feline-like move. “Too bad I’m not staying longer. Maybe I could actually get that guy to take me up on my offer. He’s so gorgeous. I should let him know that my offer is still good.”
Jordan stilled but her stomach swirled almost to the point of nausea.
“Oh shit.” Missy’s face fell and she grabbed Jordan’s arm. “You two aren’t together, are you? I mean, I wouldn’t go after him if he were married.”
“No, Gavin and I aren’t—” Her head was swimming, and she clutched the basket almost to the point of pain. “But didn’t you—I mean, I thought I heard that you and Gavin dated after I left town—after graduation.”
“What?” Missy declared loudly. An older woman glanced at her disapprovingly in passing, but Missy didn’t notice. “No way. Oh, don’t get me wrong; me and every other girl in town tried to nab Gavin after you split, but the guy wasn’t interested. Your buddy Suzanne tried harder than anyone, but he didn’t bite. That fall when most of our class went away to college, he joined the military, I think.”
“Suzanne?” Jordan asked quietly, trying to keep her voice even. “You mean my friend Suzanne? She was after Gavin?”
“You didn’t know that?” Missy’s voice was laced with incredulity. “I guess you aren’t friends with her anymore.”
“No. Well, I lost touch with most people after I moved away.”
“Uh, yeah. Well, no great loss on that friend.” Missy let out an undignified snort of laughter. “She was all over his sexy ass like the day after you left. She played nursemaid to his broken heart. Bringing him cookies and shit.” Missy rolled her eyes. “Whatever. It was like a hundred years ago, right?”
The phone in Missy’s back pocket started ringing. Jordan barely heard her as she said a quick good-bye, made air-kisses, and hurried out of the store to take her call.
Shocked and increasingly furious, Jordan made her way to the register.
On the drive home with the girls chattering away in the backseat, she could not stop thinking about what Missy told her.
Suzanne had lied. Gavin never slept with Missy or anyone else. Suzanne lied to keep Jordan away so she could have him for herself. Tears pricked the back of Jordan’s eyes. How could she have been so stupid? How could she have believed that lie so easily and completely?
The weight of her mistakes and the choices from her past settled over her and threatened to crush her.
Jordan pulled the car into the driveway of the gray, saltbox Cape Cod cottage as the familiar and almost comforting urge to run pulled at her, called to her.
“We’re home!” Gracie exclaimed. “Home again, home again, jiggety jig.”
“I’m pooped.” Lily unbuckled her seat belt and let Gracie out of her booster. “Camp was fun but I’m glad we’re home.”
Jordan shut off the engine and squeezed her eyes shut.
No more running…they were home.
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