Authors: Rachel Hanna
January Cove Book 2
By: Rachel Hanna
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Aaron Parker sat on the edge of the dock and cast his fishing line back into the still waters of the north Georgia mountain lake. He was thankful that one of his oldest friends from high school in January Cove had loaned him his cabin for a week so that he could get some rest and attempt to forget what his life had become in the last several months. But the fish weren't biting, and he was growing frustrated instead of relaxed.
The quiet of the mountains was very different from what he was used to in January Cove. He didn't realize how loud those crashing ocean waves could be until he sat on the edge of that dock and surveyed the still waters of the small lake. Simplicity. That's what he needed right now. The ocean was too complicated, brought back too many memories of the life that was taken from him.
He'd met Natalie Jenkins three and half years ago at New Year's party with friends. They'd had an immediate attraction, but who wouldn't have been attracted to Natalie? She was stunning with her long blond hair and sparkling green eyes that shot right through his soul. He'd known from the first moment he'd laid eyes on her that she was "the one". He could see them sitting on their front porch overlooking the ocean in January Cove with a passel of kids running around. He could see them as old people walking down the beach, hand in hand.
But apparently, Natalie saw something else.
After dating for three years, he'd popped the question on New Year's Eve as a reminder of when they had met. She'd excitedly said yes, and they began planning the wedding of her dreams. They would marry on the beach, of course, and honeymoon in Hawaii. Aaron had never been happier, but maybe that was how he missed the signs.
She'd started working later and later. She'd started going out with her girlfriends for drinks. She wasn't looking for her wedding dress yet, even though most women would have been scouring the surrounding areas for the perfect gown. Not Natalie. She'd changed very soon after accepting his proposal. She wouldn't set a date, said she was so busy with work.
Natalie was a marketing executive at a small advertising agency, so it didn't make sense to him that she was staying late at work or delaying their wedding. Her hours were nine to five, and he couldn’t think of any valid reason that she’d be staying late over and over. He wanted to ignore his gut feelings, but he couldn't. He knew enough to know that something was going on, and he couldn't stake the rest of his life on a woman who might be up to no good.
So, one evening when she said she was working late, he followed her. Even though it made him feel completely stalker-ish, he had to know what was going on. So, he rented a car, put on a baseball cap and waited outside of her work. As she left, he noticed a man walking with her. They seemed awfully friendly for co-workers, and she was doing "the laugh". He recognized that laugh as her way of flirting, and his stomach churned.
After driving over to Savannah, they got out at a bed & breakfast where she and Aaron had stayed on several occasions. Nausea overwhelmed him as he watched them walk inside, holding hands the whole way.
Aaron followed them inside and waited for the front desk lady to appear. She was an old friend of his, and when he entered her face went white.
"Aaron," she said softly.
"Hi, Joanna," he said pursing his lips. "I think you know why I'm here."
"I do. And I'm so sorry..."
"I need the key, Joanna." Her eyes went wide and she shook her head no.
"Aaron, you know I can't give you the key." A shy and sweet Southern woman, Joanna Eldridge was the epitome of a wallflower. But, she was kind hearted and everyone liked her.
"Joanna, I need to see for myself."
"I can't have you here fighting with some guy..."
"I won't. I promise. I'm here to let her know that we're done. That's it. No fighting or yelling or causing a scene. I swear to you."
She stood silently for a moment before sliding the key across the front desk. "I have to take care of something in the back. But, I cannot and will not give you a key, Aaron," she said with a sly smile as she left the key sitting in plain sight. He took a deep breath as she walked away and then retrieved the key from the desk.
As he walked up the hallway to room six, he knew that his life was about to change forever. Everything he'd thought was in his future was now gone, and it was about to be replaced by something he would have never imagined.
He quietly inserted the key in the door, but then he realized that it was still unlocked. He turned the knob and opened the door to see Natalie climbing onto the bed in sexy lingerie that he'd purchased for her on Valentine's Day. She was supposed to wear it on their honeymoon. The guy was already in bed, completely naked and waiting for Aaron's fiancee.
“What the...” the guy shouted, causing Natalie to turn around and see Aaron standing there, frozen in place with his anger building.
Natalie looked like a deer caught in headlights and tried to cover herself with a blanket from the foot of the bed. Aaron found that odd given that he'd seen every part of her. Why would she cover up for him? He noticed the sparkle of her engagement ring shining from the dresser.
"Who the hell are you?" the guy said as he stood up and put another blanket around his waist. He was about Aaron's size, and Aaron had fought enough with his brothers growing up to know that he could probably take him, but he'd promised Joanna that he wouldn't make a scene. Instead, he took in a sharp breath and looked back at Natalie who had tears already running down her cheeks.
"Roger, don't..." she said grabbing his arm as he stalked toward Aaron. "He's my fiancé."
"Didn't you notice that big, shiny ring on her finger, jackass?" Aaron asked through gritted teeth.
"Aaron!" Natalie chided, which astonished him. What right did she have to react to anything he said to her lover?
"Look, man, I had no idea she was engaged." The guy put both of his hands up and smiled as he shook his head. “She's a good lay, but I don't make a habit of breaking up relationships.” Natalie looked at him with her eyes wide and her mouth hanging open.
"Really?" Aaron said rolling his eyes. "Well, here's the good news, buddy. She's not engaged anymore," he said as he snatched the ring off the dresser and turned to walk out the door.
"Wait! Aaron!" she yelled behind him as she grabbed her robe and followed him into the hall, tugging at the tie to get it closed. "Aaron, please!" she said loudly. He stopped, but he didn't turn around. The thought of looking at her made him feel sick.
"Natalie, we have nothing to talk about. There is not one thing you could say that would change anything here. It's over."
"Aaron, I was just scared and stressed. The pressure of the wedding..."
Aaron turned around swiftly and glared into her eyes. Those eyes that used to mean everything to him now looked hollow. "Don't you dare blame this on the wedding. I proposed to you because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you, Nat. I wanted to have children with you, wake up every morning with my arms around you, grow old with you. I offered you everything I have, and I never betrayed you. And for what? So I could walk in while you were having sex with some guy from your office?"
"How did you know he was from my office?" she asked, a hint of anger in her voice. "Wait. Did you follow me here?" Her anger was palpable, and he couldn't imagine how she thought she had the right to be mad at all.
"What does it matter?"
"You invaded my privacy. That's like... stalking!" she said sharply.
"You can't be serious," Aaron said running his fingers through his blond hair and sighing. "Well, don't worry, because I won't follow you anywhere ever again. As far as I'm concerned, you don't exist."
With that, Aaron turned and walked down the hall. He dropped the key on the desk as he left, wishing that he never had to think about Natalie again but knowing it was impossible.
Of course, it wasn't the last he heard from her either. She'd continued calling him and showing up at the campground for a couple of weeks after he caught her. She never really asked to get back together; instead, she had tried to prove that it was the first and only time she had cheated on him for some reason. He never really understood the point of talking about it all, but she had always been a bit of a "right fighter". She really just wanted to prove to herself that she wasn't a bad person, but Aaron was angry. He was much angrier than he'd thought he could ever get at her or any woman.
His heart had been broken - no, shattered - into a million pieces. At twenty-seven years old, he knew that swearing off women forever wasn't realistic, but for now he had no interest. How could he ever trust another woman again?
As he cast his fishing line back into the water, he breathed in the clean mountain air trying to wash away the thoughts that seemed to be embedded in his mind forever. He didn't like the way that she still had a hold over him, even though she had moved on long ago. It had only been four months since their breakup, but he'd seen her around town with various men in recent weeks, and it made him wonder about his own ability to choose a good woman. How hadn't he seen her flaws before?
If he was honest with himself, he wanted what his brother Kyle had with Jenna. Even after all those years apart, they had managed to find their way back to each other a few weeks ago. It was like fate or God stepped in and pulled them back to where they needed to be, and Aaron wished he was that lucky. When it came to love and finding a life partner, he was starting over from scratch and it didn't feel good. While his best friends from January Cove were all married and had families of their own, he was sitting on a dock alone wishing that his former fiancee hadn't been such a slut.
Anger boiling through his veins again, he slammed his fishing pole down on the dock and watched it break into two pieces. He put his head in his hands and growled as he realized that this little mountain trip wasn't alleviating his stress any more than being back home in January Cove. Natalie followed him wherever he went because she was firmly implanted in his mind. At that moment, he decided that it was time to go back home after just five days in the mountains because at least he could occupy his mind with work rather than sitting around alone thinking about her.
It was quiet. Maybe too quiet. Tessa Reeves stared out the window of her small camper, looking at the ocean that came in and out like clockwork. Just like the breath going in and out of her lungs without effort and thought, the ocean rolled in and out all day long. The sound of it both calmed and terrified her, but she had to put the terrifying thoughts out of her mind. Otherwise, she might roll into a ball on the floor and implode.
Her camper wasn't much, but it was all she was able to afford. Saving up her money for months, she was glad to have been able to purchase it at all. It was old, but it ran, and that was all that counted at the moment. It got her to where she needed to go, and it was her protection right now.
Nestled under a tree at the Crystal Cove campground, she felt safe, but she knew better than anyone that safety was only an illusion and could be taken away at any moment. She wasn't going to let her guard down for anyone, so she'd been keeping to herself inside the small camper with her dog, Beau, and her three year old, Tyler.
It wasn't easy to keep a dog and a toddler occupied inside of a small camper all day every day, but it was what she had to do right now until there was a better plan. She prayed that there would be a better plan soon, although she couldn't imagine a scenario that would keep her and Tyler safe.
For the last four days, she had stared out at the ocean waves, willing them to take her fears and anxieties away. So far she wasn't having much luck. For the first time in six years, she was on her own in the world. It was both scary and liberating, thrilling and terrifying.
Tyler was taking a nap, so she took the opportunity to start preparations for dinner. Money was tight, and she couldn't spare much. Getting a job would have been great, but she couldn't take the risk of being seen in public or leaving Tyler alone, so she'd have to get by as long as possible on the small amount of groceries she'd brought with her and the little bit of money she had tucked away under the flattened mattress of her bed in the back of the camper.
For awhile, she had been used to a bigger space, a nice sized house on the beach with a big kitchen and a spacious master bedroom. But she felt freer in her current space than she ever had in her old home, so she wasn't going to complain. Plus, that luxurious facade of a life had been short lived anyway. She hadn’t seen the beach up close in years.
She was less than two hours from her former life, but right now it felt a world away. She'd had to make a choice, and now she had to deal with the consequences of doing that.
An evening storm rolled over the ocean, and she stared out the tiny window of her camper as she hand washed the few dishes she'd brought along. As the thunder rumbled and the rain started to come down, she wondered how she was going to do this. How would she raise a little boy on the run?