Read Heartstrings Online

Authors: Sara Walter Ellwood

Heartstrings

BOOK: Heartstrings
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Cover Copy

 

He’s determined to set things right, no matter the cost.

 

The last person Abby Crawford wants to face down is country music superstar Seth Kendall. Last time she did, she flat-out lied so he’d go to Nashville without her. She’s never understood why their mutual best friend proposed, but she went with it so her baby wouldn’t be fatherless. Now she’s a divorced mother of a teenager, and secretly Seth’s biggest fan.

 

Seth is home in McAllister, Texas for his father’s funeral…and a chance to meet the daughter he’s never known. He’s willing to face the music of his own making and admit he’s known about his little girl all along. For fifteen years he’s kept his distance because Abby told him to follow his dreams without her, insisting she didn’t love him. But now he won’t leave until he knows his daughter and she knows him, even if it means facing the woman who broke his heart for good.

 

Confessing she’s lied about her daughter’s paternity all these years won’t be easy for Abby, especially with her ex blackmailing her to keep the secret. And Seth doesn’t know the hardest truth of all: Every love song he plays on his guitar still plucks her heartstrings.

 

CONTENT WARNING: Spicy sex.

 

A Lyrical Press Contemporary Romance

 

 

Highlight

 

She sighed and leaned back in her chair. She bit her bottom lip. God, she wanted to spend time with him. “What do you have planned?”

“Something special.” When she started to shake her head, he added, “All you need to do is say yes. And pack enough for a two-day trip. Although, I doubt you’ll need any of it.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you. I have the ranch–”

“You can go willingly or I’ll kidnap you. The choice is yours. I talked to Judd, and he’ll take care of the ranch in your absence,” he countered, referring to her foreman.

“You thought of everything.” Excitement curled in her lower belly at the way he grinned at her. A whole weekend with the one thing she couldn’t have, but wanted beyond all reason. Maybe she could convince herself he only wanted sex and couldn’t possibly feel anything for her.

 

 

Heartstrings

By Sara Walter Ellwood

 

 

Dedication

 

To the musicians in my family...

Marcus and Laura.

I love you!

 

Acknowledgements

 

First, I have to thank my amazing critique partners, D’Ann Lindun, Chloe Blaire, and Martha Ramirez for all the times they read and reread this story through its various incarnations. I will forever be indebted to these wonderful writers for all their hard work and valuable time.

Secondly, I have to thank my editor, Piper Denna. She is awesome, and I’m so glad fate brought us together.

And never lastly, I have to thank my family for their love and continued support. I love you.

 

 

Author’s Foreword

 

I’ve always been a fan of country music. When I was little, I’d dress up in my prettiest dress and my grandma’s sofa doilies and stand on her coffee table, belting out at the top of my lungs to her old 8-tracks of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. For years, I had the words to Dolly’s
Jolene
and Kenny’s
The Gambler
memorized and could sing them at a drop of a hat.

My big dream of being the next Dolly Parton was quickly squashed when my third grade music teacher told me I couldn’t hold a tune in a bucket and refused to let me in the school chorus. Granted, I still can’t sing, but I often find myself humming those old country songs.

Heartstrings
is my tribute to my love of country music. It is also a study of determination. This story has been through more rewrites than I can count. But in the end, I think it’s one of my favorites. I hope you fall as much in love with Seth, Abby and Emily as I have.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

 

Love,

Sara

 

 

Prologue

 

December 1983

Seth tightened his arms around his father’s neck and stared down at Momma lying on the bed of white in the big box. Daddy had cried last night. He’d never seen his daddy cry before. Not even last summer when Ol’ Blue died. The coonhound had been his hunting dog forever. Something bad must be wrong.

“Daddy, why won’t Momma wake up?”

His father rubbed his back and held him closer. He trembled as he spoke. “Your momma went away, buddy. She can’t come home.”

He pulled away. “Like Ol’ Blue did?”

Daddy swallowed so hard his throat moved up and down. “Yeah, son. Just like Ol’ Blue.”

He looked back at Momma. She was so pretty. Her yellow hair fixed in a fancy hairdo, and her face all made up as if she were going out to sing somewhere.

Daddy hated Momma’s singing. They fought about it all the time. “Daddy, I heard you and Momma fighting the other night.” He turned back to meet his father’s eyes again. “What’s a divorce? And why did you call Momma a–a
whore
?”

Daddy glanced around as several of the other people standing nearby looked at them. He carried him over to a chair against the wall and sat with him on his lap. “You don’t need to worry about that.”

Momma never was like Mike’s mom. Carolann played with Mike and his baby sister and even Seth, and Abby when her mom brought her over to play. Carolann baked cookies and made up games.

Momma never had time for him or his friends. She always seemed so sad. The only time she was happy was when she was getting ready to go out. Momma drank a lot of grown-up drinks and acted mad all the time. When she’d take some of those little pills she hid in her dresser drawer in her room, she’d be happy, but she still never had time for him.

“Momma said she hated us.”

The next morning after she’d said that, Momma wouldn’t wake up. The sheriff had come and asked Daddy a bunch of questions.

Daddy held him close and kissed the top of his head. “Your momma loved you, Seth. She just…just...” His voice cracked and he sounded like he was crying again. “She just never forgave me for not letting her go off to Nashville.”

“Why?”

“I was afraid she’d get famous and forget about us.” Daddy pulled him close, his voice so low and deep he had to listen close to hear the words. “Instead, she felt trapped here and hated me for denying her dream.”

If Momma hated Daddy, she probably hated him, too.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Seth Kendall parked his Escalade and stared out at the people who had known him all his life. What the hell was he doing here?

With a sigh, he opened the door, and all eyes turned in his direction as he got out. Why hadn’t he stayed in Nashville as everyone assumed he would? Why did coming back here seem so important now, after being away for fourteen years?

The answers to those questions had plagued him the entire drive to his hometown of McAllister in the Texas Panhandle. The motivation wasn’t his father’s death at all. He’d come home because it was time for him to make things right, even if that meant causing a whole mess of hell to get it done.

He shrugged into his jacket. If it had been made of solid iron, it wouldn’t have felt any heavier. The mid-August day was hot, but the sweat gathering under his Hugo Boss suit didn’t come from the afternoon sun. People watched him all the time. That came with the fame he’d garnered as a country music superstar, but today, he didn’t want to be gawked at. He adjusted the knot of his necktie and closed the door of the SUV.

He tipped his hat and nodded toward his father’s friends and business associates as he headed toward the old church. None of the mourners spoke to him, but he could imagine what they were thinking. Everyone knew he and his father had despised each other.

Decorum required he remove his Ray-Bans and black Stetson as he entered the church, but he forced his expression to remain impassive. He combed his fingers through his hair and looked around. People chose seats, gradually filling the oak pews, and the low murmur of conversation mingled with the bagpipes playing a mournful rendition of his father’s favorite hymn,
Amazing Grace
. He recognized almost everyone as he made his way to the front.

“Aunt Johanna.” He stopped where his father’s twin sister and the minister were speaking in hushed tones next to the open casket.

Johanna Kendall looked up at him with blue eyes reminding him of his father’s. Dressed in a severe black dress and with her graying red hair pulled into a bun, she stepped forward and wrapped him in a hug. “Seth, I’m glad you finally made it home.”

He held on for a moment before letting go. He’d come home for her. “How are you holding up?”

She shrugged and her eyes filled with misty sadness. “I’ll be okay.” Johanna used a white lace handkerchief to dab at her red-rimmed eyes. “I’ll miss him. I never realized his heart was so bad. He always seemed as strong as a bull.”

“We may not have seen eye to eye, but he was still my father.” Hugging his aunt again, he held her and looked anywhere but at the man lying on the white satin inside the casket. He glanced at the pew behind him. As he sucked in a deep breath, he stepped away from Johanna and dropped his hat onto the seat.

Johanna moved away to speak with Glenda Marshall, the mayor’s wife.

Seth held out his hand to the minister. “Reverend Keller.”

“It’s a shame you were unable to get away from your engagements to come home sooner. How’re you doin’, Seth?”

“I’m as good as can be expected, I guess.” He shook the preacher’s hand, then shoved both of his hands into his pants pockets. “I’m glad he didn’t suffer.” He didn’t know what else to say.

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