Read Chapter 1 Here….
Jordan pulled to a stop in front of Mrs. Morgan’s flower shop. In the rearview mirror, she glimpsed the peaceful, sleeping faces of her daughters. The girls had dozed off almost the second they pulled out of the school parking lot. Given the past couple of days, Jordan couldn’t blame them. She was pretty damn tired herself.
Letting out a sigh, she stared at the lovely, little storefront without really seeing it. Who was she kidding? She hadn’t really seen a damn thing since running into Gavin in front of the school two hours ago. That moment, the one she’d dreaded for fifteen years, had finally happened—and it had been like an out-of-body experience.
For a split second, she’d had the urge to run up to him and jump into his arms. To bury her face in the crook of his neck and breathe him in, to inhale the scent of soap and firewood that was so distinctly his. All these years later she could still smell it if she closed her eyes. But when she saw that hurt, hard look on his face, Jordan had known it was too late. The damage had been done and there was no undoing it. She was the one who had run off, so how could she blame him for finding solace in the arms of someone else?
A few days after she’d left all those years ago, Jordan had finally broken down and called her friend Suzanne only to find out that Gavin had already taken up with Missy Oakland. That horrid, bitchy girl had been chasing him all through high school, and apparently Gavin wasn’t as uninterested as he always claimed he was. When Jordan heard that, the last thing she was going to do was come home. So she stayed in the city. Got a waitressing job and eventually a crappy apartment that was one step above the youth hostel she’d stayed in at first.
In her fantasies, the ones she let herself play out while falling asleep at night, she imagined Gavin pulling her into his arms and covering her mouth with his. Offering forgiveness without asking her for an explanation, even though he clearly deserved one. Telling her how sorry he was for betraying her and asking her if they could start over.
No. It was too late for apologies now.
The real moment—the one she’d survived and by some miracle hadn’t vomited in the middle of—had been far less romantic than her fantasy. She hadn’t been welcomed home by a boy who loved her, but by a man who was still painfully angry after all these years. Not even that charming, dimpled grin, the one that awakened a swarm of butterflies in her belly, could hide the hurt that edged his pale green eyes.
His thick, dark hair had been cut short and there was a whisper of gray at the temples now. That ruggedly handsome face had grown even more attractive with the years that had passed, but when his square jaw set and the smile faded, the hurt remained. And that pain she saw in his eyes, that was on her. It was one hundred percent her own damn fault.
It was no surprise that Gavin was still angry, both that she’d left town without a word to him or anyone else, and that she’d never come back. He wasn’t alone. She was pretty pissed off herself and easily recalled the pain of his betrayal. After all, she’d only been gone for a few days and apparently Gavin started screwing the first girl he could!
Nice. So much for true love, Jordan thought.
He’d obviously never really loved her, so why the hell was he so angry with her? Jeez.
Jordan scoffed and tapped the steering wheel with her fingers. Right. Fine. He could be furious with her, but he sure as hell hadn’t cornered the market on it. She was still pretty annoyed herself.
Eyes closed, she let the cool breeze of the air-conditioning wash over her, wishing it could wash away the mistakes she’d made. There had been so many.
That was the first time she’d run away.
Now here she was, fifteen years later, doing the same thing. Running. Starting over. Jordan looked over her shoulder at her sleeping daughters and fought the tears that threatened to fall. It wasn’t only about her anymore. They were all starting over.
Letting out a huff, she rested her forehead on knuckles wrapped in a death grip around the leather-bound steering wheel. What in the world was she doing back here anyway? Even when she was signing the rental papers for the cozy house on the beach, that voice in the back of her mind had questioned her decision. She had plenty of money from the divorce settlement; she could have gone anywhere. No matter what scenarios she ran through her head, she always came back to Old Brookfield…to Gavin.
A knock on the driver’s side window pulled her from her thoughts and had her yelping out loud. Hand to her chest, she snapped her head toward the window and came face-to-face with Maddy Morgan. Maddy, her oldest and dearest friend, grinned and waved like the bubbly, beautiful woman she’d always been. The familiarity of it made Jordan’s heart ache.
Putting a finger to her lips, Jordan pointed a thumb toward the backseat, praying the girls wouldn’t be woken up. They might need the sleep, but Jordan needed the quiet. Without making a sound, she got out of the car and closed the door. She’d barely turned around when Maddy gathered her up in one of the giggly, bouncy hugs that Jordan loved and had missed so much. Dressed in her signature casual style—a tank top, shorts, and flip-flops—her old friend was a sight for sore eyes.
“I can’t believe you’re really back,” Maddy said through an excited laugh. She pulled back and squeezed Jordan’s arms before releasing her with a playful huff. Pushing her sunglasses onto her head, she pursed her lips. “How the hell is it possible that you still look like you did in high school?”
“Hardly.” Jordan folded her arms over her breasts. “Actually, I didn’t think it was possible to feel this old. My poor daughters have an old woman for a mother and a son of a bitch for a father.”
“They have you and that’s what matters.” A warm breeze fluttered over them, making Maddy’s curly, dark hair whip around her head. Her light blue eyes flicked to the girls and her smile widened. “Did you get all settled in at the house? I left something for the girls in their bedroom.”
“Yes.” Jordan nodded, recalling the giddy expressions on their faces when they found the two baskets full of beach toys waiting for them in the pretty pink-and-white bedroom. “You must have spent a fortune on those. Do you always blow part of your rental commission on gifts for your clients’ kids?”
“You’re more than a client and you know it.” Maddy winked. “We’ve known each other for twenty years. Hell, when I moved to town in ninth grade, you were the only girl who would even talk to me.”
“Some friend.” Jordan’s throat tightened with emotion. “You’re the one who kept our friendship going.”
“Hey, life happens.” Maddy shrugged. “Neither of us is on Assbook or tweeting or whatever people do, so we weren’t gonna find each other that way, and I was still in Europe on exchange when you split. When I got home and heard you’d left, I tried asking your mom and dad where you were, but that went down like a fart in church. Thanks to my persevering nature and the handy-dandy Internet, I found you and here we are.”
“What would I do without you?” Jordan asked quietly. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I honestly don’t know if I would have had the courage to leave Ted if it weren’t for you.”
“Stop.” Maddy grabbed both of Jordan’s hands.
Those fierce blue eyes were edged with the familiar grit and fortitude Maddy had always possessed. Those qualities made her a devoted friend and a fierce businesswoman. Between the flower shop she’d inherited from her mother and her real estate company, Maddy had become one of the wealthiest women in town. And despite the time that had passed, the second Jordan had reconnected with Maddy, it was like no time had gone by at all. They picked up right where they left off.
“Jordan, you stop that crap right there. We’ve already been through this, girl. I love you. You’re my friend and I’ve always got your back. You’re home and that’s what matters.”
“I sure am,” Jordan said through a nervous laugh.
“What are you doing here in town anyway? Not that I’m not thrilled to see you, but I figured you’d still be settling in at the house.”
“When we spoke on the phone the other day, you mentioned that you could use some help at the shop.” Jutting a thumb toward the store, Jordan sucked in a deep breath. “I could use a job, and you could use some help.”
“Oh my God!” Maddy clapped her hands together and pumped her fists in the air while she hooted loudly. Jordan giggled when an older couple passing on the sidewalk looked at them sideways. “Yes! I would love it. Cookie and Veronica have been going balls to the wall since March, and we desperately need someone to help man the counter. Between weddings, communions, prom, and all that other stuff, they’re going nuts. Hell, I would have asked but I figured you didn’t need the dough.”
Jordan hated talking about money; the subject made her incredibly uncomfortable. She never had any growing up, and then when she married Ted, she had more than she could have dreamed of. She’d quickly found that it didn’t fix everything. Not by a long shot.
“I don’t really. I mean, I get child support and I got half of the proceeds from the sale of the penthouse, plus a lump sum. I didn’t want alimony, even though my attorney told me I was an idiot for that decision. Anyway, the girls are going to be in camp all summer, and the last thing I need is to sit around with time on my hands.” Images of Gavin wafted through her mind. “I could work weekdays and—”
“Say no more.” Maddy held up one hand, stopping Jordan’s babbling. “You don’t have to explain yourself to me. The job is yours. How does Monday through Friday, nine to five, sound? Twelve bucks an hour? Do you need health benefits?”
“No, I have insurance for the girls and me. That’s perfect, Maddy. You really are a lifesaver. It will be so great to work again and really be on my own two feet. Ted never wanted me to work.” Her back straightened as she recalled his controlling nature. “Anyway, I’m on my own now and work will be good for me.”
“You’re free of that asshole, so I say, work all ya want. And for the record, it’s a good thing I never met him because I’d probably have punched him square in the jaw. I was thrilled when you told me you were leaving him, and when you called me about renting the cottage, it was a bonus. But I’ll be honest…I am sick about the reason. Ted sounds like a real SOB.”
“He’s something, alright,” Jordan scoffed. “Between his temper, the drinking, the drugs, and the other women—”
“Being abused isn’t limited to physical violence,” Maddy interjected firmly.
“I know.” Jordan sighed. Tears stung her eyes. She leaned back against the car and folded her arms over her chest, trying her damnedest to hold it together. “That’s why I left him. Thank God I have full custody and there were no limitations on where we could move. Ted signed off on it without blinking.” Her mouth set in a tight line and her voice was barely above a whisper. “Do you know he hasn’t seen the girls in six months? He’s barely spoken to them. Most times when I have them call him, he doesn’t even pick up or he rushes them off the phone.”
“What?” Maddy’s jaw fell open. “But you left the city this week. I thought you said you had an apartment not far from where you used to live with him.”
“I did, but it was always something with him, even when we were married. A meeting would come up or he would have some important client to tend to. Another bar to visit and another hooker to bang.” Jordan nibbled her lower lip and bit back the tears. But they weren’t for her; they were for her daughters who’d been robbed of a father. “I think the girls and I, the family, we were part of his image. So when I filed for divorce, that image was blown. We weren’t of any more use to him.”
“I’m so sorry, Jordan.” Maddy’s tone softened. “I didn’t know it was that bad.”
“How could you?” Jordan grabbed her friend’s hand and squeezed. “I had cut myself off from everyone. I was determined to make it on my own and then…well, so much time had passed, it felt like it was too late. When you and I actually had time to talk on the phone over the past couple of years, the last subject I wanted to bring up was my sham of a marriage.” She pressed at her eyes with the heels of her hands.
“It’s ironic, isn’t it? I ran away to escape my father, and I ended up marrying a man exactly like him. How pathetic. Ted may have more money than my father and look like a polished tycoon, but at the core he’s a mean, controlling, and nasty drunk too.” Pushing herself off the car, she sucked in a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “I stayed as long as I did because I didn’t want my daughters to come from a broken home.”
“What made you change your mind?” Maddy asked gently. “Why now?”
“Girl, this is a conversation that requires a bottle of wine and a couple of chairs on the beach.” She squeezed Maddy’s hand. “For now, let’s just say that it’s better to come from a broken home than live in one.”
“Ain’t that the truth?” Maddy murmured. “And I’m taking you up on that bottle of wine offer. You, me, and a bottle of wine on your deck. Deal?”
“I’ll bring the wine.” Maddy gathered her up in another hug and kissed her cheek. “You tell me when.”
“Hey, Jordan.” The gentle, hesitant tenor interrupted their conversation, and Jordan knew who it was before she even saw the man on the sidewalk. “When did you get back to town?”
Tommy Miller appeared much like he did in high school, and the sight of him was no less heartbreaking now than it was then. He was dressed in a dark gray uniform with his name stitched neatly on the front. His slightly stooped frame had filled out a bit over the years and his blond hair had thinned out to a dusty gray, but the burn scars that marred the right side of his face remained the same. They were a gruesome reminder of that fateful day from their childhood, one that haunted everyone in town, but Tommy and Gavin more than anyone else.
“Hi, Tommy. It’s so good to see you again.”
Jordan stepped onto the sidewalk with a wide smile. She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and the poor guy almost dropped the two grocery bags in his arms. She stepped away and tried to help him secure the bag slipping from his right arm, the side that that had been weakened and scarred in the fire.
“Sorry,” Jordan said quickly. “I guess I was so excited to see you that I almost knocked the bags down.”
“That’s okay.” Tommy dipped his head and stepped back, obviously not wanting Jordan’s help. “I can manage.”
“Of course.” Jordan gave Maddy a sidelong glance. “Sorry.”
“Hey there, Tommy,” Maddy said with a wave.
“You back home to see your dad?” Tommy asked. He flicked his good eye up to Jordan before looking down at the ground again. Jordan’s heart broke. He was so self-conscious after all this time. “Or are ya here for good? I-I thought I saw you at the school today.”
“Yeah.” He adjusted the bags in his arms, and even though Jordan wanted to offer to take one for him, she resisted. “I’m the head custodian over there. I been workin’ there since we graduated, but last year I got promoted.” He stood a little taller. A hint of a smile played at his lips. “Anyway, I thought I saw you there today coming out of the principal’s office.”
“Of course. I think Principal Drummond mentioned that during our tour of the school. And, yes, we’re back for good. The girls and I are renting the Sweeneys’ old place out on Shore Road. I’d love for you to meet them, but they’re sleeping at the moment.”
“That’s okay.” Tommy lifted one shoulder and shuffled his feet. “I don’t wanna wake ’em up. I’m sure I’ll see ’em in the fall once school starts again.”
“Actually, if you work at the school, then you’ll see them all summer. They’ll be attending camp there.” Jordan squeezed his shoulder briefly. “It’ll make me feel better to know I have a friend there to keep an extra eye on them.”
“You bet.” Tommy’s grin widened. “It’s real good to have you back in town, Jordan.”
The sudden rumbling of an engine shattered the quiet of Main Street, and Jordan’s gut tightened at the sound of it. She didn’t have to turn around to know it was the town’s fire truck pulling around the corner and into the station on the other side of the street. Maddy inched closer and elbowed her in the ribs.
“See anyone else since you’ve been back?” Maddy asked, her dark brows waggling in an almost comical flurry. “Eh, Jordan?”
Gavin. Jordan swallowed the sudden lump in her throat and willed herself not to turn around. She folded her arms over her breasts while digging her fingernails into her palm so hard she’d probably draw blood.
“Well, I gotta go.” Tommy dipped his head in an abrupt good-bye and hurried away and around the corner. “See ya, Jordan.”
Tommy’s shuffling form vanished, and the warning beeps from the backing-up fire truck filled the air. Jordan stepped off the sidewalk and leaned down to peek in the window and check on the girls. Both were still sleeping. Thank God. She leaned back against the hot surface of the car and kept her back to the firehouse. Gawking at Gavin might be an intriguing and tempting idea, but it certainly wasn’t a smart one.
Maddy moved in next to Jordan and leaned on the top of the car, waving her arm furiously. “Hey, Gavin!”
“You are incorrigible.”
Jordan swatted at her friend’s waving hand and glanced at the firehouse before she could stop herself. Gavin and another man were standing by the front of the red and silver truck. Her entire body stilled and all the hairs on her arms stood on end. Even at this distance, one look from him made her belly quiver. Gavin waved back and Jordan got caught ogling him. Damn it. She spun around and pushed her hair off her face, wishing she could smooth her nerves as easily.
“And, yes, before you start the inquisition, I bumped into him at the school when I went to register the girls for the fall.”
“What?” Maddy gave her friend the stink eye. “You mean to tell me you’ve been standing here talkin’ to me all this time, and you failed to mention that you bumped into Gavin McGuire—the oldest of the five hottest brothers God ever put on this earth? Not to mention your first love. How did he react?”
“To say he was surprised to see me is an understatement.” She fought the urge to look back at the firehouse again. “It was a surprise for both of us.”
“Well, you did tell me not to say anything to anyone about you renting the Sweeneys’ place.”
“You didn’t even tell Rick?” Jordan asked with genuine surprise. Rick was Maddy’s longtime lover and one of the full-time firefighters in Old Brookfield. “I’m impressed.”
“Not exactly.” Maddy pursed her lips. “He overheard me on the phone with you, but I swore him to secrecy. If he ever wants to get laid again, he’ll keep his lips zipped. I told him he couldn’t say anything unless Gavin asked him about you directly. So? What happened?” Her expression twisting into a mask of anticipation. “Was it weird or awesome? Or weirdly awesome?”
“Let’s just say I don’t think Gavin will be asking me out for dinner anytime soon.” Jordan lifted one shoulder and kept her voice light. “We dated a long time ago and we were kids, Maddy. Whatever. He has his life and I have mine.”
“Yeah, well, now your life and his life are back in the same little town. Something tells me that old sparks might fly again.”
“No.” Jordan shook her head adamantly. “No romance. No relationships—and definitely not with Gavin. There’s too much history there, and aside from all of that, I need to focus on my daughters. I want to show them that a woman can stand on her own two feet. For goodness’ sake, their father has tossed them aside like they mean nothing to him. The last thing my girls need is for their mother to bring another man into their lives. None of us needs that kind of risk right now.”
“Gavin isn’t just any man.”
“All the more reason I should steer clear.”
“Mmm-hmm. Sounds to me like this also needs to be discussed over that bottle of wine…or two.” Maddy made sound of disbelief and started digging around in her enormous messenger bag. Pulling a huge chunk of keys from within, she hooted with delight. “Damn if this bag isn’t like a giant black hole. I am constantly losing shit in here. Like I said, wine and girl talk soon—and that most definitely includes chatting about Captain Hotty Pants McGuire.”
“Right.” Jordan quickly changed the subject and forced a smile. “So when should I report to work, boss?”
“Why don’t you take this week to get settled with the girls at the cottage? You can start next Monday morning.”
“Great.” Jordan nodded and fought the urge to turn around and see if Gavin was still outside. “The girls start camp then, so it’s perfect timing.”
Jordan kissed Maddy good-bye and slipped quietly back into the cool air of the car. She put her sunglasses on and waved before backing out of the space. She tried not to look over at the firehouse as she approached it, but the attempt failed miserably. The instant she pulled past the fire truck, Gavin’s tall, broad-shouldered form came into view.
He was hosing off the side of the truck, free of his gear and wearing only his summer uniform of a navy-blue T-shirt and shorts. His tall, muscular build was on full display. Jeez. The guy still had great legs—long, well defined, and strong. Some men had huge torsos and scrawny legs, but not Gavin. Oh no. He was perfectly balanced and didn’t look like he had an ounce of fat on him anywhere.
She looked back at the road in time to see the light turn red.
Jordan cursed under her breath. She was stopped directly in front of the firehouse driveway—and Gavin. Feeling him stare at her, she gripped the steering wheel tighter with both hands. Just keep looking straight ahead. Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t do it. But even as the words flickered through her mind, her head was turning. A moment later she was met with those serious green eyes framed with dark lashes.
Sweet Mary, he was gorgeous. He’d filled out over the years, matured. The lanky body of a boy had been replaced with the sturdy, well-defined form of a man. There were dashes of gray in his hair. It was more than that though. Much more. Gavin’s inherent sweetness, the gooey center beneath that tough exterior, had been evident when he’d met her girls earlier. That tenderness had made her fall head over heels for him all those years ago.
When Lily grilled him back at the school, the guy didn’t miss a beat and squatted down, getting eye to eye with her precocious daughter. However, when he’d risen to his feet and met Jordan’s gaze, his green eyes had hardened. They were shadowed from all he’d seen over the years, and wariness lingered where she’d once seen eagerness.
Gavin shifted his stance by the truck and stared at her unabashedly, as though daring her to look away. Jordan’s breath caught in her throat and in that instant the world seemed to stand still. She could pull over. Jump out of the car and tell him how sorry she was for leaving the way she did. Tell him that she didn’t give a damn anymore if he’d slept with Missy Oakland and that all of that was ancient history.
Hug him. Breathe him in. Love him.
A horn blared behind her rudely and ripped her from her fantasies. She didn’t miss the annoyed expression on Gavin’s face as he snapped his head around toward the impatient driver behind her. Jordan hit the gas, not waiting for him to look back. Fantasies would get her nowhere. Dreams about an impossible future were what got her in trouble in the first place.
No. The time for dreams and childish fantasies was over.
She smiled when Lily’s sleepy face filled the rearview mirror. She had two bundles of adorable reality in the backseat, and they were her priority.
“We’ll be home in a few minutes, Lily.” Jordan turned her sights back to the road in front of her, leading down toward their new home by the beach. “It’s time to get settled.”