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She never realized until she lost him that he was the only man she’d ever love.

Katy and Steven were the loves of each other’s lives until a tragedy and the fallout of Steven’s injuries drove the couple apart.

They share a son, but Katy and Steven have moved on with their lives, dating other people, and neither has seen the other in five long years. But when Steven comes knocking on Katy’s parents’ door after learning she’s back in town, Katy is forced to face her estranged husband and the love that broke her heart, and his intentions regarding their all-but-over marriage are soon made very clear.

The only problem is that as simple as it would be for them to walk away, seeing just what it means to move on and start a new life may not be as easy as they once thought.

Chapter 1

What was it about time? Looking back, Katy couldn’t understand wanting what she once had. Now there was a sense of peace, certainty, and needing to close the door and finish something that she knew all too well had at one time gutted her.

Katy took in her nails, the manicure and teal polish she’d splurged on, and stepped out of her black Jeep. It wasn’t new but was as close as she could afford, a few years old, a decent amount of mileage, with a backseat for Fletcher. She shut the door, gripping the stiff straps of her mint green bag and taking in the mix of sun and cloud, hearing a tractor in the distance, the singing of birds, and the lack of white noise that was constant in the city. She felt the breeze brush against her bare legs.

“Hey, you!” Emily said. Her mom was in the dirt on her knees with a flat of marigolds, planting them in the bed at the front of the house. “I didn’t expect you. You should have told me you were coming…”

Everything looked so different.

Her mom brushed her hands as she stood up, sounding so happy. Then, for a second, her smile faded. “Did something happen?” Emily said. There it was, the worry that seemed to be a constant for her.

“No, everything is fine, Mom. Just got off my shift on time and thought I’d slip down and see Fletcher, see how he’s doing.”

It was time for him to come home. There it was in the way her mom glanced to the side, a hesitation as she walked toward her. She had to know something was up.

“Is Dad here?” Katy asked as her mom held out her arms and hugged her after only another second, pulling her close, maybe unsure of how she looked in the pale blue shirt and faded jean shorts she had on.

“He’s here someplace. So how long are you off work?”

“Until Saturday, then I have to be back. Listen, I really want to talk to you and Dad about Fletcher and…”

“Hey, I thought I heard someone drive in,” Brad said as he stepped out of the house. “Your mom didn’t say you were coming back.”

He hadn’t changed except for the gray in his hair, now more pronounced. He strode down the stairs, which creaked under his weight. He was so large, broad chested, a rancher to the core, wearing blue jeans and a deep blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up. It seemed as if he hadn’t shaved today. He was still a handsome man, and the sweat stains under his arms didn’t diminish that in the least.

“New vehicle?” He was walking over to her, taking in her and then the Jeep.

“Yeah, I had driven the Beetle into the ground. It was time, got a good deal.” She could afford the payments and still pay rent, she thought, and not have to worry one more time about the mounting repairs her car had needed.

“Katy was just saying she wants to talk about Fletcher,” Emily said.

Her dad hesitated before pulling her close and hugging her, kissing the top of her head. Her wispy blond hair was now touching her shoulders, having grown since she’d hacked off everything with a pair of rusty kitchen shears how long ago? The horror in her mom’s expression, and her dad’s too, would forever be burned in her mind. No, that was another reason to never let herself go back to being that other person. That person had died.

“Well, let’s go in. Fletcher’s at school and will be back on the bus soon. I’m sure he’ll be excited to see you,” her dad said.

Why was it, as she took in a home that had been a refuge to her for so long, that she now felt as if she were a visitor and had to wait to be invited in? It wasn’t reasonable, she told herself, feeling a hand on her back as she strode toward the stairs in sandals. Her toenails matched the polish on her fingers. She knew it was impossible for Fletcher, who was now seven years old, to appreciate the trouble she’d gone through for him.

“Relax,” Emily said. “You seem rather tense. You okay?”

Her dad pulled open the door and stared down at her. For a minute, she wondered if he expected her to fall apart. At times she wished everyone would do her a grand favor and forget they’d seen her at her lowest and most vulnerable, being open, raw, and showing something she never wanted to see in herself.

“I’m fine. Stop worrying.” She forced a smile as she took in the exchange between her mom and dad. There it was: concern, worry, and something she didn’t want to examine too closely.

She slipped off her sandals and stood barefoot, resting her purse on the chair by the hall table, taking in the living room, which hadn’t changed—the furniture set, the western theme, the artwork on the wall that had been there forever.

Her dad slipped his hands in his pockets as her mom stood right beside him, and she wondered again why she felt like such a stranger in a place where she should have felt peace and welcome instead.

“Well, I’m just going to say it, since this waiting and dragging it out is torture and since there’s no easy way,” Katy said. “It’s time Fletcher comes home with me, lives with me.”

She could feel her heartbeat kick up. Her palms were sweating. Her dad’s arm was draped across her mom’s shoulders, and the emotion seemed to make him dig in. She wondered why she’d thought it would be so easy.

“You want to take Fletcher back to Olympia now?” her mom said in a way that made Katy feel as if she’d suggested the most ridiculous thing. Before, she’d likely have backed down and shrugged and said never mind, but she couldn’t do that. She’d struggled so long to find her voice again. It had been too long since she’d been back here, seeing her son only when her mom and dad had driven him up to see her, a day here and there, so few and far between. That wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

“Look, I appreciate everything you and Dad have done for me, for Fletcher, but I’m his mother, and it’s time he comes to live with me. I’m settled and stable now and have a good job. There’s a school close by and a daycare at the hospital for when I’m working.”

Her parents weren’t smiling. She hadn’t thought it would be this hard.

“Katy, let’s just sit down and discuss this,” her dad said and stepped forward, his arm out, his hand sliding over her shoulder and guiding her into the living room.

Just then, she heard a car outside, and she wasn’t sure what to make of the exchange between her parents, but it was something that had her stomach squeezing, bringing that familiar anxiety back. She had to remind herself she was a strong, confident woman, and she couldn’t bury her head in the sand and ignore the things she didn’t want to face anymore.

There were heavy footsteps as someone jogged up the steps, then a sharp rap on the screen door before it squeaked open.

“Hey, I know I’m early.”

The deep voice had her freezing where she was, taking in a man she’d once been married to, had loved so deeply, and hadn’t seen in years.

“I had no idea Katy would be here,” he said, glancing to her dad and mom.

She wasn’t sure what it was in the exchange, what it was in his expression for her, but it was something that now had her feeling as if she were the uninvited guest.

“No one knew,” she said. “I had the time off work and decided to just drive down.” She felt ridiculous for having to explain. She should ask him how he was, say something about how he looked. Good Lord, he looked fantastic. She hadn’t expected him to look so healthy, fit, strong, and damn attractive. She heard the scrape of whiskers and knew it was her dad running his hand over his chin, but she couldn’t take her eyes off Steven and how good he looked.

His dark hair was short and a little on the messy side, and he was tall, with broad shoulders. It seemed as if he’d filled out more, put on more muscle, and she realized he didn’t have a cane anymore. In fact, the way he’d come in the house, strode in, it was as if he was the same old Steven, before the accident, before their lives had been ripped apart. No, scratch that—better than before.

“Well, then, I guess this would be a good time for a talk,” Steven said. “Was planning on reaching out to you, Katy, because it’s long past time we settled things between us.” He glanced only once to Brad, and she saw how close they were. Why did that bother her so much?

“I wanted to talk to you as well, Steven,” she said. Her heart was hammering, because he was a part of her past now. She’d put him on the back burner and had put this off for so long, afraid of ending that chapter of her life. Why? She couldn’t say for sure, but at the same time, she knew with certainty it was time.

He was wearing faded jeans, and his T-shirt was one she didn’t recognize. When he took a step to the side and lifted his hand, she took in the bare finger where his wedding ring used to be. Her ring. What was the matter with her?

“Great, then we should get started.” Steven gestured toward the sitting area, and she heard her dad clear his throat.

“I’m not sure this is the right time, Steven,” he said.

That had her attention as she glanced between them. The man she’d loved forever pulled his arms across his broad chest, tucking his hands under his armpits, and shrugged.

“I think this has been put off for too long,” Steven said. “It’s better it’s out in the open, anyway, so we have some closure.”

For a minute, she could feel the floor beneath her feet softening as she felt herself being ripped back to the young woman who’d hit rock bottom and clawed her way out of a place that was as low as anyone could go. “I agree, Steven,” she said, “which is one of the reasons I’m here.”

“Great, then we’re on the same page. It’s time we end this marriage once and for all, sign the papers, and we can walk away and both get on with our lives.”

She couldn’t believe he’d said the one thing she’d been fighting for the courage to say, the one thing she’d rehearsed for how long? Her hands were hanging loosely, and she heard the squeak of the door and footsteps.

She turned to see Corinne Johnston, dark haired, slim, with dimples in her cheeks and that beauty queen package—her former best friend from school.

“Hi, Katy,” Corinne said, appearing shy as she stepped over beside Steven, her hand slipping in his, the exchange between them close.

Like, WTF?

“Did you tell her?” Corinne asked.

Of course, instead of being relieved now, she was expecting the worst.

“Not yet…” Steven said.

Her dad stepped in closer as if he felt the need to get between them. “Steven.” That was all Brad said, and it sounded much like a warning.

For a second, she wanted to run out the door and jump back in her Jeep and drive away so she didn’t have to hear what he had to say, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from their linked hands and the flash of a diamond on Corinne’s ring finger. No, it couldn’t be.

“I can’t put it off anymore,” Steven said. “This has to happen now. I’m sorry, Katy. Corinne and I are getting married, so I want a divorce. We’ve been apart a long time, and this is merely a formality now. You have to know that.”

Hadn’t this been exactly what she’d wanted, what she’d wanted to say? She couldn’t get her tongue to move, couldn’t get her mind to form one reasonable thought. Everything she’d rehearsed and planned had completely left her head.

Then there were voices and chatter outside and little feet pounding on the stairs. “Daddy, Daddy!” she heard Fletcher shout as he raced in and over to Steven.

Steven beamed and hugged her son, and Corinne smiled down on him, touching his head as if he were hers. This was worse than anything.

“Hey, Fletcher,” Katy said. Her throat was so dry, and she barely recognized her voice as she forced herself to speak, for a second worried that he wouldn’t want her, but there was the smile he had just for her.

“Mommy!” he said as he raced over to her and hugged her.

She took in her mom and dad, and Steven and Corinne, and whatever it was in their faces staring back at her. This wasn’t going to be as easy as she’d planned, and there was also the fact that she still needed to tell them about David and the promise she’d made—a promise she didn’t know, right now, if she could keep.

Chapter 2

“Take the truck. I’ll get a ride,” Steven said as he leaned in the silver pickup. The crew cab still held all his tools, and he took in the uncertainty on Corinne’s face and the way she glanced over to the house. Everyone was still inside, waiting.

She was behind the wheel already, tucking her long dark hair behind her ears, something she did when she was uncertain. She would then start clinging, reaching out to him, becoming self-conscious, and it would take some time on his part to encourage her that she was amazing and good, but he didn’t have time for that right now. He didn’t have time to remind her that she wasn’t lacking in any way and to be proud of who she was.

“I could stay, or maybe I could take Fletcher now like we planned tonight and start dinner. Let me do that much…” Her brown eyes were bright, and he was sure there was a hint of jealousy lurking, likely the reason they were all in this tense situation.

“I told you to wait in the truck, and…” He trailed off. He hadn’t expected to see Katy there now after all these years. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to feel, and seeing her and knowing all of her vulnerabilities, knowing about the depression she’d gone through—still, he wondered if there was more. He hadn’t expected to feel as rattled as he did.

Corinne reached out and slid her hand over his cheek, then kissed him, soft, tender. She lingered a little too long. He reached for her wrist and stepped back.

“I won’t be long,” he said. “See you at home.” He tapped the side of the truck, not wanting to study too long what she was thinking or take that time right now to reassure her on how he felt about her.

“So you won’t be long?”

He wanted to groan at her hesitation as he rested his hand on the edge of the open window. “I won’t be long. Start dinner, and I’ll be there before it’s ready.” He leaned in and kissed her quickly.

This time she started the truck before tossing him a long withering look.

“Seriously, Corinne, this is a talk I need to have with Katy. I put it off too long. It’ll be fine. Go.” He flicked his hand before she could say anything else.

She nodded and backed the truck up before spinning around and driving out, the dust spewing behind her. He took a minute to gather his thoughts as he stared at the tail lights and then heard the screen door.

He turned to see Katy stepping outside and took in all of her and how much she’d changed, a little fuller in the face, around the hips, not as thin as she used to be. She was older, and her blue eyes were filled with so much he didn’t recognize, but then, he’d never expected in a million years to hear how she’d fallen apart. How long had depression plagued her for?

He watched as she pasted a smile to her face, and he couldn’t help wondering for a minute where her head was at.

“So, Corinne Johnston,” she said. “How long have you two been seeing each other?” Her arms were crossed over her full breasts. They too had to be a cup size bigger, he realized, as she started down the steps. She had a woman’s mature body now, and he could feel the distance between them.

“I don’t know, a while.” Two years or thereabouts, since he’d run into her coming out of physio, but he didn’t want to talk about Corinne with Katy.

She nodded and gripped her elbows, walking closer and then stopping as if needing to keep her distance. “You look good.” She gestured to him awkwardly, like two strangers instead of the couple that had grown up together, his first love. “I didn’t know you were …” She hesitated and then glanced back to the house.

“Healed, as good as new.” He’d pushed himself and still did every day, weights, the gym, running, pushing his body past what he knew his limits were. He’d defied what the doctors said he could do.

She nodded. “I’m glad for you. So you’re getting married, how soon?”

Another thing he didn’t want to talk about with Katy. At one time he’d been able to see her pain and everything she couldn’t hide, but something about her had changed. A lot about her had changed. “Soon as the divorce is final. So you’re doing good? Heard you’re doing well as a nurse, wow. Never expected that.” He wasn’t sure what it was in her expression. It wasn’t a smile, and there was a lot of distance.

“Didn’t know you knew.” She shrugged. “Kind of just fell into it, and I really enjoy it. How did you hear?” She was staring at him, and he took in her hair. It was so short, so not the Katy he knew and had loved. She must have known he was staring, as she reached up and pulled at the ends of it, a self-conscious gesture of hers he recognized. So there was still some of the old Katy in there.

“Your mom,” he said. “She’s proud of you. When you went to nursing school, she filled me in. Your dad, too. They can’t not talk about what you’ve accomplished.” There was also the fact that he’d asked every time Brad and Emily had brought Fletcher to see him, every time he’d come by the ranch to just talk. “So are you happy up in Olympia?”

She shrugged. “I love what I do, and Olympia is more than I expected.”

He’d never known her to be cryptic and unwilling to share, but then, they were both not the same idealistic kids who’d fallen out of love.

“Well, so how should we do this, a lawyer?” she said, getting right to it. “I guess that would be fair, right, have someone draw up papers, and then we should discuss…”

He cleared his throat. “They’re already drawn up,” he said. They stared at him every day, the papers drawn up by a lawyer his mom had hired a year ago, shoved in the junk drawer in the kitchen, a reminder of how bad things could get. He took in the surprise on her face, and the hurt, before she crossed her arms over her chest again.

She nodded as she firmed her lips. “Wow, you really meant it. You want it over.”

“We’ve been separated for a long time, and this is just a formality, really. Are you honestly telling me that after all these years, you haven’t been seeing anyone, been with anyone else, moved on with your life? It’s time we close this chapter and move on so we can both be happy.”

What was he doing? He didn’t want to know who she was seeing. Please say no please say no.

She said nothing at first. “Move on like how you’re moving on with my old best friend?”

There it was, the green-eyed monster. He hadn’t expected that.

“You and Corinne haven’t seen each other in years. Seriously, Katy, what difference does it make?”

Instead of being reasonable, she seemed to pull into herself and have stubbornness written all over her, another thing that hadn’t changed. For a minute, he didn’t think she’d answer.

“So you’ll sign,” he said, “and we should settle this. Then there’s just one more thing we have to talk about.” He knew this would be hard, and she stared at him now with fire burning in those bold blue eyes.

“And what else is that?” she asked, and it wasn’t lost on him that she hadn’t answered about signing.

“We need to talk about Fletcher,” he began, and her face said nothing, but her eyes said everything. “I want him to come live with me and Corinne, permanently.”

Chapter 3

“So this is where you’re hiding out.”

Katy hadn’t heard her dad come up behind her where she leaned against the wall of the barn, the north side, hidden from the house, sitting on a bale of hay with her mom’s old flannel jacket pulled on over her shoulders, staring at the hills and trees in the distance.

“I’m not hiding,” she said. “I’m thinking away from everyone.”

The fact was that she felt as if everything was being ripped away from her and her carefully orchestrated plan. She didn’t need to look over to see her dad looking down at her.

“This wasn’t the way we wanted you to find out,” he said. “Sorry. You okay?” It was the way he said it, with that familiar worried hesitancy, as if she’d, what, flip out, lose it? She wasn’t the train wreck she’d once been.

She glanced over to her dad, who moved away from the wall over to her and nudged her with his hand before saying, “Move over.”

She scooted over, the hay scratching her bare legs, and her dad sat beside her, leaning forward, arms on his splayed knees. He turned his head to the side and took her in, saying nothing, but he didn’t have to: His one look said everything.

“If you’re worried that I might fall apart and go all crazy, you can rest assured I won’t,” she said. “Thus, I’m sitting out here, looking out at the hills alone, thinking. So you and Mom can stop tiptoeing around me and keeping things from me, like the fact that my husband is with someone who used to be my best friend.” She took in her dad, who winced and glanced back to her again, maybe trying to figure out where her head was in this.

“Well, that’s the thing, Katy. He’s not your husband anymore, not really. You two have been apart for how many years and haven’t talked or seen each other. You had to know this was coming.” He looked away and was rubbing his hands as if considering what else to say. At the same time, the thought hit her that her parents had known everything about Steven and his life, and for how long? It was just another thing that had her believing she no longer belonged.

“You’re not saying anything, Katy. Are you telling me you still want a life with Steven, that you want to be his wife? Because I haven’t seen that. Your mom told me you were seeing someone up in Olympia. We’ve seen both of you move on.”

She took a breath, in and out, feeling her dad’s eyes on her again. He was so strong, and she could see what a rock he’d been for her mom, for all of them. She hadn’t really shared much about David, even though he’d wanted to come with her to meet her family.

“Yes, I am.” She flushed, wondering why her dad was making her feel as if she’d done something wrong.

“And you didn’t want your mom and me to know?”

There it was, the reason she didn’t want to share that she was seeing the man who’d helped her get her feet on the ground. “Yes, no…” She shrugged. “He wanted to come with me to meet you, but I said no because I wasn’t sure how you’d react. And I wasn’t ready.”

Her dad said nothing, but she could tell by the intensity that he was likely thinking the worst.

She shrugged again and shook her head slightly. “He was the counsellor I was seeing up there, and before you say anything about the patient/doctor and how unethical it all is, you should know nothing happened between us until I stopped seeing him. It was after, and he even had trouble with all the ethical boundaries.”

In the beginning, how long ago now? So long that she’d continued to grow into a different person. So why wasn’t she happy and instead feeling as if everything was wrong? It had to be coming back here, where everything about her life was so uncertain.

“Well, that’s good, I guess, but here you are, out here, sitting by yourself, and yeah, sorry to say, Katy, of course we are worried. How could we not be? So you and Steven, you worked it out? It’s better if it’s settled so you both can move on.”

She should have been happy, but the way he said it had her heart aching, filled with this heaviness she hadn’t felt in so long. Why now?

Her dad was still watching her, and she didn’t look away, feeling how tight her face was, her jaw. He shut his eyes and shook his head. “Oh, Katy, you aren’t going to make this easy, are you? What is it you want? Are you still in love with him, or what is this?”

“I don’t know, Dad. I just never expected to feel like this, and seeing Steven… Why didn’t you tell me he was doing so well, about him and Corinne, all of it?” she said.

Her dad said nothing for the longest time. “Katy, you’ve spent how long struggling to get back on your feet, pulling yourself together, and then there was nursing school, your depression, and we worried for so long about whether it would be too much and some little thing would come along and push you over the edge. Honestly, Katy, I didn’t think you wanted to know. You never once asked about Steven even though you knew we made sure he saw his son. Both of you moved apart, and we never said anything. We kept Fletcher because he needed to be here. Neither one of you was able to be a parent full time, and that’s fine. He’s our grandson, we love him, but you should know, Steven has spent a lot of time with Fletcher, every spare minute. He’s a good father.”

Boy, did it feel as if sides had been chosen, and she’d not even had a chance to get her foot in the door. “And what, I’m a horrible mother?” she said, speaking out loud the thought that had plagued her for so long. It was something she’d kicked herself for many a night, believing she hadn’t done enough even though it killed her to leave him with her parents while she struggled to get her feet on the ground.

“Is that what you think?” Brad said. Geez, just the way he said it sounded so much like David.

She pressed her head against the wall of the barn, feeling the worn and weathered wood, and it was welcome. “Of course I have, for the longest time. It was even worse knowing that Fletcher was better off here with you and Mom even though I wanted him with me, but it’s time he comes home. I’m his mother. I’m ready to be his mother,” she said.

Her dad was still leaning forward, his hands just hanging, and then he shook his head and turned to face her, giving her all of that tough-love look she’d seen a few times growing up. “You want to take Fletcher from the only stable home he’s known? And what, Katy, move him into an apartment? He’ll spend the rest of his time in daycare when you’re working, and you’ll see him when? Then there’s this man you’re seeing, who he doesn’t know.”

She said nothing as she took in the points her dad was making. But he was her son.

“This is the only home Fletcher has ever known,” Brad said. “He goes to school here. Your mom and I are here for him, raising him. I think you need to think about that. He’s happy here, we’ve made sure of it, just like we did for all you kids. You really think pulling Fletcher away from the only home he’s known and from us, his grandparents, will make him happy?”

Why was it sounding as if her dad, her parents, were saying no?

“Steven said he wants to take Fletcher, to have him live with him and Corinne,” she said.

Her dad didn’t say anything as he stood up and brushed the hay off his jeans with callused hands. “Dinner is ready,” he said. “Your mom will have it on the table. Go get washed up.”

He’d never before not answered her, and she had this awful feeling settling in her stomach and knew that David would be urging her to use her words to speak it out, not allow herself to slip back into the shadows and say nothing because it was easier.

“You know what? I’m not hungry,” she said, crossing her arms stubbornly over her chest, giving it right back to her dad.

She wasn’t sure what it was she saw in the way his amber eyes seemed to brighten in intensity, a fire or something in him that she knew wasn’t amused. “You talk of taking your son home, being a mother to him,” he said, “but here you are, sitting out here and not being in there with him, not spending time with him. That kind of says everything louder than words on why he needs to stay here.”

Oh shit! Her cheeks burned. Her dad’s words had been cruel in a loving way, and this was the first time he’d basically told her to get real.

“Point taken,” she said, then slid off that scratchy bale of hay and stood up, having to fight the urge to sulk over being taken to task. She was a grown woman feeling much like a child, only her dad was right. She wanted Fletcher, her son, and the only way to have him was to hold her head high and walk with her dad into the house, where she would have to face her fear that her son might very well not want her.

Chapter 4

She wasn’t sure what woke her, but the sun was streaming in through the bedroom over the white duvet and glistening off the white metal of the iron bedframe. As she stirred, she was stuck in a moment of peace in this comfortable room. Then she heard it again, voices, her mom’s, her dad’s, Fletcher’s, and her brother Jack’s, then the door closing and a vehicle starting.


Katy threw back the covers and bolted from bed in the T-shirt and underwear she’d slept in and reached for the shorts tossed in a pile on the floor. She stepped into them as she yanked open the bedroom door and raced down the hall barefoot, then down the stairs to where her mom was just stepping back into the house, holding a mug of steaming coffee. The smile that must have been on her face moments ago faded.

“Oh, Katy, you’re up. How did you sleep?” her mom asked, stepping past her in blue jeans, slippers, and an autumn-color short-sleeve shirt. Her hair hung in soft waves, neat and tidy.

Then there was her: a mess, from the image reflected back at her in the mirror above the hall table. She was still wearing the smeared makeup she hadn’t bothered to clean off before she went to bed, and the wrinkled shirt.

“Fine, but where, what…” She gestured to the door, seeing only dust and no sign of anyone else. “I was going to take Fletcher to school this morning. I told you and Dad that last night.”

Her mom stopped at the entrance to the kitchen and took her in. She wasn’t sure, but it seemed as if she was worried about something. Maybe she thought she’d fall apart or have a meltdown. “You weren’t up, Katy, and he had to go. Your dad takes the boys every day anyways. Come in and sit down, have some breakfast.” Her mom moved around the corner into the kitchen.

She listened to clatter and the fridge opening and closing, taking in the door again and the fact that she was messing everything up. So she started into the kitchen just as her mom poured a coffee and rested it on the table, then pulled out a chair and patted the table.

“Come sit,” Emily said.

Her feet were bare, and she felt grungy, but that coffee was calling her. She settled in the chair as a bowl and spoon appeared in front of her along with a box of cereal and carton of milk. She wondered for a minute whether her mom was going to pour it for her as she lifted the mug of steaming coffee and took a swallow. Mmm, good.

She didn’t bother scooting the wooden chair closer to the table as she pulled up her legs, wrapping her one arm around them, feeling the stubble. She needed to shave.

She took in her mom sitting down in her dad’s spot at the head of the table. She wrapped her hand around her mug and then just watched Katy.

“It was important, Mom, for me to take Fletcher to school, and I told him last night at dinner I would.”

She’d screwed up again. It seemed to be her middle name. Gone was the Katy who had held everything together. She couldn’t even get up in the morning, but then, she hadn’t set an alarm either, so this was on her.

“Katy, the last thing your dad and I want to do is wake you, and if you really wanted to take Fletcher, then you needed to be up and ready, cleaned up…” Her mom gestured to her as she shook her head. “No depending on me and your dad to wake you up. This is the responsible part of being a parent, and I’m not meaning to sound as if I’m lecturing you, but you come home yesterday and tell us you want to take Fletcher from the only home he’s known, back with you to Olympia, away from us, away from here…” Her mom gestured and stopped talking.

“What, you think that I’m still a fuck-up?” Katy snapped, and her mom groaned and sat back in her chair.

“Katy, stop that. You’re not, and don’t say that. You’ve not had to be a parent to Fletcher because you had to look after yourself first, and you’re doing that. Your dad and I are so proud of you, so proud of how far you’ve come.” Her mom reached out and rested her hand over her arm before pulling away.

“But still…Fletcher is settled here, and he needed to be here. Everyone goes through stuff, and you have your family, us, to lean on, to be there, to take Fletcher and look after him because that’s what family does, but he’s been here a long time, Katy. He’s setting roots down. This is his home now. He goes to school here, has friends. His doctor is here. He learned to ride, and every Saturday, Jack and your dad and Fletcher go off on their little adventures on horseback, having boy time, and he’s happy, Katy. He comes home from school sharing everything about his day, the good, the bad. He has chores, and we’re here, me, your dad.

“Fletcher and Jack are almost like brothers, they’re so close,” she continued. “And then there’s family. Neil and Candy are close by, and Steven lives close, and they see each other often, Katy. Steven is here almost every day, especially as of late, whether he’s here for dinner or he takes Fletcher to little league. Both your dad and Steven go together with the boys. You want to take him away now from everyone who loves him?”

For a minute, Katy felt selfish. She hadn’t expected this from her mom. “But I’m his mother,” she said, and even to her own ears it sounded weak.

Her mom reached over again, giving a supportive squeeze, but it did little to relieve the ache in her heart. “You’re the one who left, Katy, to go to Olympia. Remember that. I’m not criticizing you for it. We understood your need to go, to get on your feet, and we’re so proud that you took on nursing school, but then you stayed up there after.”

Katy took a swallow of coffee, seeing now the disappointment, or was it something else, in her mom’s expression. She didn’t know what to say.

“No one is questioning the fact that you’re his mother, Katy. You’ll always be his mother, and he loves you, don’t think he doesn’t, but ask yourself if taking Fletcher with you to Olympia is really the best thing for him right now. With your long hours, how much time would you have together? Then there’s the man you’re seeing there. You haven’t shared much about him, but your dad told me last night he was the doctor you were seeing, who helped you…”

The floor squeaked, and she turned to see her dad standing there and Steven beside him, pulling off shades and tucking them in a faded blue T-shirt hanging loose over heavy black cargo pants. Why hadn’t she heard the door?

“So I guess I have two questions now,” Steven said. “Since yesterday, I couldn’t figure out what was going on with you—but for the record, Katy, you’re not taking Fletcher to Olympia, not now, not ever.” He lifted a large brown envelope and tossed it on the table in front of her. “Is that why you came back now after all this time, because you want to take Fletcher back with you? You never answered me on the divorce papers, signing them, yet I hear you’re involved with someone.” Steven had a deep voice, deeper than she remembered, and the way he talked now, there was an edge of hardness that lacked any feeling for her. She hadn’t expected that.

“Well, that’s the thing, Steven. I need to think over some things, and yes, I am taking Fletcher. I’m his mother, and I never gave up any rights to him,” she stated, feeling everyone’s eyes on her, seeing the way her dad wiped his jaw with his hand. He said nothing, but his expression said everything. “I certainly would never agree with him going to live with you and…” She gestured in the air. “Corinne. She’s not his mother, I am,” she snapped, putting her mug on the table and standing up, feeling grungy and naked, standing there in yesterday’s clothes. She gave only a second glance to the envelope sitting on the table.

“Yet I walk in and hear there’s this guy you’re seeing.” Steven took a step into her space, and this time she felt the bite in his voice as he stood so close to her. She could feel his tension, and she had to remind herself she didn’t have the right to touch him anymore, to reach out and run her hand over his impressive chest. Why had that thought even passed through her mind?

“Yes, there is someone. His name is David. He’s good and kind, and he supports me and has my back. He’s there for me, and as a matter of fact, he wanted to come here with me.” She took in Steven, who appeared unimpressed as he crossed his arms.

“Great, so you’ll have no problem signing the divorce papers, and you can move on with…”

“David,” she said, unable to shake the fact that it seemed as if he was having trouble saying the man’s name.

“David, great. Then Corinne and I can get married—but you’re not taking Fletcher. I am,” Steven said, leaning in a bit.

She had never seen this side of him, this unbending, hard side. Not to this degree, not like this. But she was having none of it as she shook her head, feeling the stubbornness take hold. She wasn’t about to give in. No, she was ready to fight.

“Uh-uh, you are not taking him.” She went to step around Steven when his hand slid around her arm, holding her. Just feeling his warm strong hand and the calluses there, which she hadn’t remembered, had her staring down at it.

“Steven,” Brad said.

She heard her dad’s warning, but she wasn’t looking his way. Steven was still touching her, and he stepped in closer. As she looked up, she could feel his warm breath. The expression on his face was hard and unreadable. He said nothing, but he didn’t have to, as she felt the excitement overwhelm her at this battle of wills that she didn’t want to stop.

She gritted her teeth as she stared up at him. “Take your hand off of me.”

He lowered his hand, raising both in the air then as if to show her he’d heard and listened. “Sign the papers. Don’t make this difficult. And about Fletcher, if it’s a fight you want, you’ll have one,” he said.

She couldn’t come up with a comeback or anything as she took in her mom and dad, both standing there, taking in her and her husband. Instead of saying anything, she started walking out of the kitchen, furious because her damn body didn’t seem to get the message that she and Steven were done.

Chapter 5

“I was just talking to my mom and Joannie today,” Corinne said. Her sister, Steven remembered. “We phone conferenced, and they both had a great idea for the wedding. We could book this cute lodge for the weekend, rent the whole place out for the wedding guests. It’s up around Forks, and if we have it booked before the summer rush, we can get a discounted rate.”

Corinne was tossing a salad in their open concept kitchen, the five-year-old townhouse he’d bought a few years back. It had everything he wanted, needed: three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and a fireplace with a beautiful rock face at the center of the main floor, which was what had sold him.

“So do you think we could book it for that date?” she said.

He was holding his iPhone, staring at the blank screen and the unreplied message to Katy. She was ignoring him. He looked over to Corinne, seeing she was waiting for an answer.

“Sorry, what date?” he asked, wondering at what point in the conversation he’d stopped listening.

“June 25th, about three weeks from now, give or take. The wedding, come on. Katy signed the papers, right?” She put the wooden bowl on the round kitchen table she’d set for the two of them, and he could smell the steaks grilling on the stove.

“Don’t book anything just yet,” he said. He’d left Brad and Emily’s after Katy had raced upstairs, and he’d heard a door slam. The divorce papers were still sitting in an envelope on the kitchen table.

“Why not?”

He was staring at his phone again, for what? Maybe for some message from Brad that Katy had magically come to her senses and signed the divorce papers. He looked up, and Corinne was watching him. Her deep brown eyes weren’t just questioning now; they were filled with a fire he’d seen only a few times.

“Steven, why can we not book anything now? Did or didn’t Katy sign?” Corinne snapped and walked around the island. She was wearing a short blue dress that stopped at midthigh. She was taller than Katy and slimmer than this new Katy he’d seen, the one who wasn’t the same idealistic young girl he’d always loved.

He took a second and tucked his phone in his back pocket. “Not yet, but she will.”

Corinne swore under her breath and fisted her hands in front of her. “That bitch. I knew she’d do this, Steven…”

“Whoa, stop! Corinne, that’s not fair. You don’t know anything about the situation or what’s going on in Katy’s head, just like I don’t.” He and Corinne didn’t fight often, and she usually gave in after a time, but the way she was standing in front of him now, her arms over her middle, he had an idea she’d likely want to say a thing or two to Katy. And that wasn’t a good thing.

“Oh really, Steven? I was there yesterday, remember. I may not have seen her in a while, but I’m a woman, too, and I remember how she was with you, and her face when you told her we were getting married. Did you not see her expression?”

She shook her head, her hands now on her hips. “She wasn’t happy for us, and seeing you were now with me, I had a feeling then she was going to be a problem. She wants you back. I guarantee you all of this is just to see that I can’t have you.”

Right now, the last thing he wanted to deal with was Corinne’s insecurities and paranoia. He didn’t have the energy for it tonight, considering he still needed to have a sit-down with Katy and hammer out all the details about Fletcher and the fact that, come hell or high water, he wasn’t letting her up and leave with his son. In fact, being close to his son was the reason he’d left his high-paying job with Vic McCabe in Salem and moved back to Hoquiam.

“You’re wrong about that, Corinne. She’s seeing someone, so you’re misreading things. It’s about Fletcher. She wants to take Fletcher back to Olympia,” he said. He hadn’t expected to still feel anything for Katy, but then, they shared a son. Of course that had to be it, and she’d hit rock bottom taking care of him. He couldn’t help wondering if the stress of his rehabilitation had been the trigger for her depression.

“Oh, really, she’s seeing someone, as in involved? Wow, that’s great! I didn’t know that. Who is this man?” she asked.

For a second, he was about to say, What? The last thing he wanted to talk about was Katy seeing another man. Even the image of her with someone else wasn’t one he wanted to think of, not something he wanted in his head.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t ask her, and we’re not talking about this anymore. The point is that this isn’t about me or having me back, so get that out of your head,” he snapped, walking around Corinne into the kitchen to where the steaks were overcooking on the stove. He turned off the burner and picked up the tongs, then set the steaks on the cutting board to rest.

“You’re right about one thing: It’s not about you, it’s about me and the fact she’s not happy I’m with you. I’m telling you, Steven, she’s not about to make this easy. It has nothing to do with her moving on, but more that she sees me as taking something that’s hers.”

He wasn’t sure if the expression on his face showed his disbelief. “That’s absolute crap, Corinne. You’re reading way too far into this and creating something that isn’t real…”

His phone dinged, and he reached for it from his back pocket and saw the text from his mom. Heard Katy is back and you’re getting her to sign the divorce papers. So glad! We should celebrate. He squeezed his phone.

“Who was that?” Corinne asked.

He held up his phone. “My mom. Apparently she heard Katy is back. I take it that was you who told her, and that I’m getting her to sign the divorce papers?” He took in Corinne, who was still standing with arms crossed.

She shrugged. “Well, yeah. I didn’t realize it was a secret. You are planning to get her to sign, right?”

Oh, good God, here we go again. “Look, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop sharing so much with my mom, especially about Katy. You and my mom want to be friends, that’s fine. Just don’t discuss Katy with her, please, or my business—our business,” he quickly corrected, wondering why he was feeling unusually protective of Katy. Maybe it was because every chance his mom got, she didn’t waste a second taking a dig at Katy or all her shortcomings or the fact that she’d up and left as soon as the going got tough.

He didn’t think she’d ever listen. She had made her own mind up many years ago that Katy wasn’t good enough. “Katy doesn’t deserve this, okay? She hasn’t had it easy, so give her a break.”

Corinne stepped up to him, sliding her arms around his shoulders, then rising up on tiptoes, and pressed a kiss to his lips. “Okay, I’m sorry. I won’t talk to your mom about Katy anymore, but would you please get her to sign the papers so we can get married?” She pressed against him, teasing him the way he liked with her body, which could distract him from just about everything.

The doorbell rang.

He slid his hand over Corinne’s ass as she pressed her forehead into his chest.

“Just keep that thought,” he said. “I’ll get rid of whoever that is.” He patted her ass and stepped around her to the white door with the plexiglass cut-out and pulled it open, not expecting to see Katy standing there looking better than he’d expected, with Fletcher.

“I hope this isn’t a bad time,” she said as he pulled his son to him and hugged him.

“Hi, Dad! Mom and I were going out for ice cream. Do you want to come?”

Katy shrugged, and he felt a hand on his shoulder. Corinne had appeared.

“Hey, Fletcher,” she said. “Great to see you. I didn’t know you were coming by. Katy, hi…how are you?” It was too polite, the sugary sweetness in her voice. “We were just about to sit down for dinner. Why don’t you both stay?”

Steven glanced down at her, trying to figure out what she was doing.

“No, but thank you. We already had dinner,” Katy said, standing on the front porch with Fletcher. He could see the way his son was looking from him to Katy, and he wasn’t sure what he was picking up. “Sorry, Fletcher,” she said, and he realized he’d forgotten what a beautiful smile Katy had as she gazed down at their son. “Looks like just you and me.”

“That’s okay,” Fletcher said as he slid his hand into Katy’s, and they started to turn around and stepped off the step. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

“You know what…?” He took in Corinne, her expression, seeing the hurt there as if she knew what he was going to say when he didn’t have a clue himself. “Can you wrap up my dinner? Please, this is important. I’m going to tag along with Fletcher and Katy.” He kept his voice low.

For a second, he wasn’t sure what she was going to say, and he felt bad for running out like this. “Well, why don’t we all go…?” she started, but that was exactly what couldn’t happen if he was going to have a chance to talk to Katy and work a lot of things out, like the divorce and Fletcher and the fact that she was there on his doorstep. He had more questions than answers.

“Katy, wait up,” he said.

She said something to Fletcher from where they now stood on the walkway, and he saw her black Jeep parked out front. She stopped, and he turned to Corinne.

“Look, just let me work this out. You stay here, and I won’t be long.” He leaned down and kissed Corinne’s cheek, then stepped out before taking a look back and seeing the hurt in her expression along with an angry jealousy that wasn’t flattering.

She reached for his arm before he could take another step, glancing past him, he knew, to Katy, and then kissed him deeply, one of those toe-curling kisses that let him taste her and could quickly take him from zero to “Let’s take this upstairs,” but he slid his hands over her shoulders and pried her away, groaning. For a second, he had to catch his breath. Then he stepped back, taking in Corinne’s face, which now was filled with satisfaction.

“Have a great time,” she added, and Steven turned, stepping down, taking in Fletcher and Katy. Katy was staring at Corinne with an oddly amused expression. Steven hadn’t a clue what it meant.

“So, ice cream,” he said, and Fletcher whooped and jumped in the air, racing to the Jeep as Steven fell in beside Katy.

“Well, that was some kiss,” she said.

“Yeah, well…” He didn’t know what to say to explain Corinne’s need to stake her claim on him. Even he wasn’t so much of a fool as to miss that territorial move.

Katy stopped at the Jeep and faced him. “I thought you and I need to talk.”

That they did. “And bringing Fletcher along?” he said.

His son hopped into the back seat, calling out to his dad to hurry up.

“We’re spending time together, Steven, so get in, and let’s go get some ice cream.”

He watched as Katy stepped around to the driver’s side, and he glanced back to his place, seeing that Corinne was still standing there in the open doorway, her arms across her chest. She lifted her hand again.

Great, clingy, needy, he thought. He was likely in for an earful as soon as he got home.

Copyright 2017,  Author Lorhainne Eckhart

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