Authors: Hunter J. Keane
By: Hunter J. Keane
It’s been two years since Jake Delroy lost his wife. With four kids at home, he spends most of his time just trying to keep them alive while not losing his mind. He has help from his sister-in-law Glory, and his best friend John. But as he watches the two of them building their life together, he’s never been more alone.
Kate Cooper has been a single mom for most of her adult life. It was never easy but now that her son is getting older, she faces challenges that her friends just can’t understand. She finds a sympathetic kinship with Jake Delroy. What starts as a friendship built on mutual understanding quickly grows into something more. Moving on means they both must let go of their pasts or risk their shot at forever.
As Jake and Kate struggle to embrace their second chance at love, Glory Stark battles her own uncertainties. She’s never been happier than right now- living with the love of her life and raising their perfect child. But love isn’t always easy, and Glory must learn that opening your heart doesn’t always mean it will end up broken.
Copyright © 2016 by Hunter J. Keane
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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“The kids are doing really well. Julia was named captain of her cheerleading squad. I guess that’s a pretty big deal. You know me and girl things… Chris decided he wanted to play basketball this winter. He’s actually pretty good.”
I took a deep breath, forcing down a wave of emotion that threatened to rip me apart from the inside. It was always like this when I tried to talk to Vic. Even now, two years later, it was hard for me to accept that she was gone for good. It was hard to believe that the tombstone in front of me was all that I had left to talk to.
“This was our second Christmas without you.” I brushed away a tear that had managed to squeeze through my narrowed eyes. “I still miss you so much. The kids miss you like crazy.”
I didn’t tell her that we were doing okay. The fact was, the kids had recovered from her loss better than I had. They returned to school and their friends, picked up where they had left off. I was the one that hadn’t found a way to go on without her. I was the one that wasn’t doing okay.
“Glory and Johnny are doing really well. She was off filming some movie in Canada these past couple of weeks. She’ll be back tonight if the storm doesn’t keep her away. Jack turns a year old tomorrow – can you believe that? This was his first Christmas with us and he just loved playing with all the wrapping paper. You would’ve loved seeing him stare at the Christmas tree with his big blue eyes. And boy, he would’ve loved you.” I smoothed my hand over the cement stone, wiping away the dusting of snow that covered it. “Well, I guess I’m just rambling now. I’m gettin’ pretty good at that. I miss you all the time, but I think I miss you most this time of year. Remember all those snow storms when we would build a fire in the fireplace and drink cocoa with the kids? Maybe we’ll do that tonight.”
Despite the torturous pain in my chest, I smiled. “I’ll be back next week, love.”
A large cloud was rolling over the town. We probably had a couple of hours before the snow really began to fall. I needed to get back to the farm and check on the kids. At sixteen, Julia was a convenient babysitter, but any longer than a couple of hours was pushing it.
My pickup truck roared to life and I waved to familiar faces as I pulled out of the cemetery. After coming here every Saturday for two years, it was almost like a second home in a very perverse way.
I tried to remember if we actually had any cocoa in the kitchen. Probably not. Vic had always been the one to think of buying special treats for the kids. I was lucky if I remembered the basics like bread and milk. The market was on the way back to the farm, so I made quick stop. I had just filled my basket with a container of cocoa and a large bag of marshmallows when someone tapped my shoulder.
“Stocking up before the big snowstorm?” Kate asked.
“This is what happens when you put a man in charge,” I joked, holding up my supply of non-essentials. “How have you been, Kate?”
“Okay.” She ran a hand through her dark hair. “Denton is with his father this weekend. Guess I’ll have to do my own shoveling.”
I laughed. “Tell you what- I’ll come by and dig you out. Us single parents have to stick together, right?”
Kate smiled warmly. Her son, Denton, was Christopher’s best friend. After she and her husband divorced, he had moved to a town over an hour away. When Vic died, Kate was the first person to bring over casseroles and volunteer to help with cleaning and laundry. She seemed in understand that I needed help, even if I was too stubborn to ask for it. I was forever grateful to her for that.
“Chris is still coming over next weekend? Denton is really looking forward to it,” Kate said hesitantly, like she was afraid I was about to give her bad news.
“Of course. I don’t know about you, but I kind of hope they never outgrow this stage.” I still had to remind myself that my oldest boy was fourteen now, a freshman in high school. Currently, he still liked comic books and sleepovers with his friends. I wasn’t sure I was ready for the inevitable hormones and hours locked in the bathroom. Having a sixteen-year-old daughter was hard enough.
“Agreed. But I hear we don’t have much say in that.” Kate glanced over her shoulder. “Looks like it’s starting to snow. We should get home before it really starts to fall.”
“Yeah. It was good running into you.” I wondered at the small twinge in my stomach when I started to back away from her.
Her smile faded just a bit. “Good seeing you, Jake.”
I found myself still thinking about that smile as I turned onto the road that would lead me home. It had been a long time since any woman’s smile had stuck with me for longer than a moment. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
Fortunately, with four kids waiting in the house, I didn’t have time to keep obsessing.
“Dad! J.J. won’t let me play the shooting game!” Marta’s little voice packed a fierce punch when it hit me the second I opened the front door.
I tossed the groceries on the kitchen counter and hurried to break up the fight. We usually had about one per hour on the weekends.
“Kids, stop yelling and stop fighting.” I let out a deep sigh when I saw the disaster that used to be the living room. Toys, pillows, and snacks were spread over every inch of the room. “This is ridiculous. What happened in here? Where is your sister?”
“She’s right there,” J.J. said with a wicked smile as he pointed at his younger sister, Marta, who was crying on the couch. At eleven, he was constantly testing his limits with me.
“How about the older sister? The one in charge?” I had learned that if I ignored his attempts to rile me up, he usually turned back into the sweet boy that I preferred.
J.J. turned back to his television game. “In her room. Talking to her boyfriend.”
“Great,” I muttered. If it was up to me, that word would be banned from our household. The spiky haired boyfriend would also be banned from my daughter’s life. But these kinds of things weren’t decided by fathers of daughters. “Julia Delroy! Get out here! Now!”
Five seconds later, I heard her bedroom door open, followed immediately by an annoyed sigh. “Daaad. I was talking to Grayson.”
“I’m sure.” I pointed into the living room. “You were supposed to be watching your brother and sister so the house didn’t end up looking like a warzone.”
“I was gone for like, five minutes. I can’t help it if they are a couple of brats.” She scowled and tossed her hair. This was what hormones did to my kids. “Maybe you should stay home and raise them instead of having your teenage daughter do it.”
I knew that it wasn’t my daughter saying those words, not really. My sweet little Julia would never speak to me that way. This was Teenage Julia saying these things while looking at me with detest. “Julia. Put that attitude away along with the mess in here. If you don’t, I’m taking away your phone for a week.”
“You are the worst dad ever!” she said as she stormed past me.
“Well, at least I’m finally the best at something,” I grumbled.
By now, Marta had recovered from her tantrum and she ran over to give me a big hug. I happily scooped her into my arms. At eight, she was a bit too big to be held, but I didn’t care. I was going to keep picking her up for as long as she let me.
“Daddy, I’m glad you’re home. I missed you.” She put her skinny arms around my neck and squeezed tight.
“I missed you, too,” I said, sighing contentedly.
“Were you visiting Mommy?” she asked, innocently batting her big eyes at me.
I nodded. “I had to tell her about your spelling bee win, didn’t I?”
“I wish I could tell Mommy myself,” Marta said.
She had been only six when we lost Vic, and I wasn’t sure she completely understood that her mother had died. Sometimes she would still ask when Mommy was coming back, or if she could visit Mommy. Every time it happened, my heart broke all over again.
“You can tell her tonight before bed, okay?” I reluctantly set her back on the ground as she struggled to get down.
“Can we go to Aunt Gloria’s house tonight?” she asked, twirling a pigtail around her finger. Julia must have done her sister’s hair. I was still perfecting a regular ponytail.
“She doesn’t get back for a couple of hours,” I reminded Marta. “We should give her time to settle in before we visit.”
Marta pouted. “But I’m sure she missed us! Why can’t we go tonight?”
“Sweetheart, she probably wants some time alone with Uncle John and little Jack.” Of all of my kids, my youngest was the one that could still tear me to pieces when she cried. She had me wrapped around her finger and she knew it.
“Uncle John probably wants to see us, too!” She had quickly turned on the waterworks. “Why are you being so mean?”
“Because I’m the worst dad ever. Didn’t your sister tell you?” It was the wrong thing to say to a child that couldn’t understand sarcasm, but it worked.
She grabbed my hand. “No, you’re not. Julia is just PMSing.”
“What? Where did you hear that?” I was pretty sure I knew exactly who had taught her that phrase.
“Christopher!” She grinned up at me, flashing her missing teeth. “What does it mean?”
“It means that Christopher is in trouble.” Once again, I took a deep breath and prepared to call one of my hellions into the room. “Christopher Delroy! Get out here!”
J.J. looked up at me, momentarily distracted from his game. “Dad. Stop yelling and stop fighting.”
I backed into the hallway, taking several deep breaths. As I walked to the kitchen, I found myself muttering quietly, “You have no one to blame but yourself, Jake Delroy. These kids turned out just like you.”
The plane landed just as the snow really began to fall. If we had landed just a little bit later, we probably would’ve been detoured. After two weeks away from my family, I wasn’t sure I could’ve handled more time apart. I hurried to grab my bags and raced toward the exit.
Wind whipped the snow into my face as I stepped outside. Momentarily blinded, I blinked furiously until my vision cleared. The first thing I saw was Johnny, standing next to his familiar old truck.
My heart skipped a beat and I dropped my bags, racing into his arms. He smelled like cold and leather and home, all mixed together.
“I missed you so much,” I said, feeling breathless in his arms. This was the only place I ever wanted to be.
“Welcome home, Glor.” His arms tightened around me. “It’s so good to hold you again.”
I pulled back just a few inches to kiss him, relishing the feeling of his warm, perfect lips on mine. Nothing in the world tasted quite as sweet as his kiss.
“Where’s Jack?” I frowned at the truck. There wasn’t enough room for a car seat, so I knew my little boy wasn’t inside.
“Dad is staying with him. I didn’t want to bring him out in this weather.” Johnny dropped his arms and I immediately felt a chill. “I’ll grab your bags. Get in the truck and warm up.”
He had left the keys in the ignition, so I turned on the engine and cranked the heat. The truck was so old that it had one of those bench seats, the kind that allowed you to cram three people in the front seat. I slid over to the middle and waited anxiously for Johnny to join me.
The luggage was tossed in the back, immediately covered by snow. I didn’t care that the leather was probably going to be ruined. All that mattered was that my love had opened the door and slid in next to me, his body warm against mine.
“How was your flight?” he asked, making sure we were both buckled in before pulling away from the curb.
“Long, but fine. I’m just so glad to be home. They were talking about detouring our flight to Oklahoma because of the storm.” I sighed as Johnny’s arm went around my shoulder and rested my hand on his thigh. “How are you? Is Jack’s cold any better?”
Johnny kept his eyes on the road, which was already covered in a snowy sludge. “I took him to the doctor this morning. She prescribed something to help with his cough.”
“I hate it when Jack is sick.” My stomach was twisted in a knot of worry. I would feel much better once I got to hold him. “I got a text from Jake while we were taxiing. He said the kids were in rare form today.”
“He’s had a lot of rough days lately.” Johnny frowned. “I’m starting to worry about him. It’s been two years and I don’t think he’s moved on at all.”
“He lost the love of his life, Johnny. That’s not something you just get over. Trust me.” I thought about our own past, about how we had been separated for ten years before finding our way back to each other. I knew how it felt to say goodbye to the person that you loved more than anything. But at least we had been given a second chance. Jake would never get that.
“Yeah, you’re right.” His hand patted my shoulder. “I just think it would do him good to spend some time away from the kids. Have some adult time.”
“Adult time?” I raised an eyebrow. “Sounds kinky.”
Johnny chuckled. “That’s not what I meant. But yeah, he could probably use some of that, too.”
“Jake with another woman?” I shook my head slowly. “I just can’t picture it.”
“Me neither. But maybe we start with something easier.” He turned the truck onto the exit that would lead us home.
“You should take him out. I can watch the kids and you guys can go do whatever guys do when they aren’t burdened with women and children.” I smiled as familiar sights came into view.
“So… we’ll watch football, drink beer, and scratch ourselves?” Johnny shot me a playful smile. “Sounds like a great plan.”
“Men.” I sighed dramatically. “It’s a wonder you survive at all without a woman to take care of you.”
His arm tightened across my shoulders as he pulled me closer. “It’s a wonder you were willing to put up with me at all.”
I melted against him, wishing we didn’t have another ten minutes before we would be home. Even after all this time, I still couldn’t get enough of Johnny Carter.
“You’re never getting rid of me,” I whispered with my head on his shoulder. I thought again about Jake, how lost he must feel without Vic. Losing my sister had been the hardest thing I’d ever experienced, but I was certain it was ten times worse for him.
After that thought, I no longer cared about the length of the ride. I was content to just be with Johnny, warm and safe, knowing that a beautiful baby boy was at home waiting for his mother to return.
When the truck pulled onto the dirt road that led to our house, I was surprised that the journey was over. But now that I was so close to seeing Jack, I bounced in my seat and reached for the door handle.
“Hey! Wait for the truck to stop,” Johnny scolded me with a laugh.
The minute the wheels stopped turning, I leapt from the vehicle. I skipped up the porch stairs and pushed open the front door.
Johnny’s father was seated on the couch, looking down at something that had captivated his attention. I knew that look well, as it was the same look I always had when I was watching my boy.
“Jack!” I dropped to my knees and opened my arms wide.
Blue eyes flashed in my direction and then he was on his feet, stumbling in my direction on shaky legs. He had only been walking for a couple of months and was still perfecting his stride. “Ma!!”
He crashed into me a full-force, his little body quickly engulfed by my embrace. My heart finally felt whole again.
“Hey, baby. I missed you so so so so much.” I kissed the top of his head.
“Mishoe,” he said, which was baby talk for ‘I missed you.’
Johnny came inside carrying my bags and dropped them just inside the door, finally shutting it after I had let the cold air and snow inside.
“Dad, thanks for watching Jack. Let’s get you home before it gets really bad out there.” He smiled when he saw Jack’s big smile.
“Anytime, son. Jack and I had a great time together.” Mr. Carter was slow to get to his feet. His health still wasn’t as good as it used to be. “These two could probably use some time alone together anyway.”
Johnny dropped a hand on Jack’s head, ruffling his dark hair. John Junior was the spitting image of his father and seeing the two of them together was like seeing the world as it was always meant to be. “I’ll be right back.”
“Okay. I’ll put Jack down while you’re gone.” I gave him a meaningful look that made him smile.
Once Johnny and his father were gone, I gave Jack a quick bath, laughing as he splashed water at me. Once he was dry and clothed in warm, superhero pajamas, I curled up with him in a big rocking chair and read him our favorite story.
Johnny returned just as we reached the end. “He missed you,” he said, looking down at our sleeping son. “Hopefully he’ll sleep well tonight.”
“That’s the plan,” I said with a wink. “I’ll put him down and then –”
“Wait just a few more minutes,” Johnny said, his hand stroking my hair as he stood next to the chair. “It’s good just to see the two of you like this.”
I knew exactly what he meant. It was these moments, the small every-day moments, that filled me with so much joy and love that I wondered how I had ever survived without them.
A few more minutes turned into almost an hour. Johnny wandered away to give me some time alone with Jack and I enjoyed watching him sleep. His long lashes fluttered against his cheeks and I wondered if he was dreaming. When I finally put him in his crib, he let out a long sigh that seemed to echo how I felt.
“Down for the count,” I said, finding Johnny in the living room. He had started a fire and opened the curtains to watch the snow fall.
“You made it just in time,” he said as I settled in next to him.
He offered me a sip of his beer, but I waved it away. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
“Are you hungry? Want me to make you something?” Johnny started to move away.
“No.” I pulled him back to me and set the beer on the coffee table. “The only thing I want right now is you.”
A familiar look of longing filled his eyes and I marveled that he could still look at me that way. It made my heart flutter in my chest. As we lost ourselves in the moment, and in each other, I wished for every night to be like this.
Hours later, I opened my eyes and saw that I was still on the couch. My clothes were in a pile in front of the fire and I was covered in a warm blanket. Snow continued to fall outside and I could see that it had already accumulated several inches on the windowsill. I realized that the spot next to me was empty.
Wrapping the blanket around me, I padded down the hall toward Jack’s room. Johnny was holding him as he cried, patting his back and singing softly. He was wearing nothing but his boxers, looking darn near perfect with his messy hair and stubbled jaw. Jack tucked his head into the soft space on Johnny’s neck, one of my own favorite places to rest my head.
“Why didn’t you wake me? You’ve had him for two weeks,” I said. My voice betrayed the worry that I had been battling since Jack was born. I worried that I wasn’t a good enough mother, that I was doing harm to Jack by leaving him to pursue my career.
“You’re tired. You need to rest.” Johnny didn’t seem to pick up on those worries. He was too busy soothing our son.
After finding out I was pregnant, we had sat down and talked about how we wanted to raise our baby. I was tired of the Hollywood lifestyle, but I still wanted to have a career. Besides making good money for our family and my philanthropic organizations, it was also important for me to keep doing something that I loved. Johnny had understood.
We had agreed that I could still pursue my career, as long as I was never away for more than a few weeks. When Jack was seven months old, I had left to film a short cameo. I was only gone for a week, but it had been torture for me. These last couple of weeks had been my second attempt at being a career woman and I had felt guilty the entire time.
“You’ve been working, too, Johnny. I’m sure you haven’t gotten much sleep with his cold acting up.” As if to prove my point, Jack coughed loudly.
“It’s fine.” He didn’t notice the pained looked on my face. “We’re just glad to have you home. There will be plenty more sleepless nights when I’ll be happy to let you handle it.”
He was right. I was just being overly sensitive because of my own insecurities. But it made me wonder if the guilt was worth it. Would I be able to sustain this type of lifestyle long term?
“I think maybe I should quit work for a while.” I said, seemingly out of nowhere.
Johnny stared at me blankly. “Okay…”
“I think it might be the best thing for our family,” I continued.
Jack had stopped fussing, his timing a little too perfect. Now Johnny was focused only on me. “This seems a little sudden. Is it something you’ve been thinking about for a while?”
“Kind of.” I shrugged.
Johnny slowly placed Jack in the crib, pausing to make sure that he would stay asleep. Then he straightened and said, “We should talk about this.”
“We just did.” I turned, lifting the blanket so that I wouldn’t trip over it. I let it fall to my feet in the living room and started to redress.
Johnny watched me with an unreadable expression. “What’s going on with you?”
“Nothing.” Standing in just my underwear, I turned with my hands on my hips. “I just told you what I’ve been thinking. Why are you acting like I’m starting a fight?”
“For the record, if you
trying to start a fight, it’s never going to work with you standing there like that.” A small smile played at his lips. “You win.”
I grabbed the closest item of clothing I could find and pulled it on. It was Johnny’s t-shirt. “This isn’t about winning.”
“What’s it about then?” He sank onto the couch and rubbed his hands through his hair. I knew that he was frustrated.
“I’ve been really lucky with Jack. I got to see him crawl, and hear his first word. I made it back in time to see his first steps.” I hugged my arms around myself, wondering how I could still be so cold while standing in front of the fire. “That luck is going to run out eventually.”
Johnny’s stare turned suspicious. “What do you mean, you’ve been really lucky with Jack?”
Guiltily, I looked to the ground. My right hand moved lower until it circled my waist. “I wanted to wait until after Jack’s birthday to say something.”
“Are you…” He stood slowly, mouth slightly agape.
I raised my head and looked him straight in the eye. “I’m pregnant, Johnny.”