Authors: Marie Force
Tags: #romance, #family saga, #nashville, #contemporary romance, #new england, #second chances, #starting over, #trilogy, #vermont, #newport, #sexy romance, #summer beach read
By: Marie Force
Copyright 2011 by Marie Force
Cover by Kristina Brinton
All characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.
For all the readers who asked for Clare’s story—thank you!
lare checked her watch again. One thirty.
It must be done by now. My husband—or I should say ex-husband—is remarried.
“Ex-husband,” she said with a shudder. Unimaginable. Divorced… Such an ugly word.
She wheeled her chair across her room in the rehabilitation center and gazed out at the steamy August day. Somewhere along the Ten Mile Ocean Drive in historic Newport, Jack had exchanged vows with Andi. He has a new family now. Clare had known this day was coming and had set the whole thing in motion by letting him go, but that didn’t make it any easier to imagine her Jack married to someone else. “Not my Jack anymore,” she said to herself.
The door opened. “Mrs. Harrington?”
Clare didn’t correct the nurse. She wasn’t “Mrs.” any longer. “Yes?”
“They’re ready for you in PT.”
Taking another long look at the City by the Sea, Clare wondered what Jack was doing right at that moment. Was he kissing his bride? Making a toast? Dancing with one of their daughters? She shook her head, angry to have allowed herself even a brief trip down that road. What did it matter now?
“Let’s go.” She wheeled herself to the door to let the nurse push her through the long hallways to physical therapy.
After dinner, Clare worked her way into lightweight pajamas. She was proud of her ability to do things for herself, even small things like changing her clothes. Each little victory added up. Rolling the wheelchair across the room she’d called home for the last four months, she eased herself from her chair to the sofa on her own—another recent accomplishment. Her recovery was coming along slowly but surely.
That she had recovered at all was a miracle, or so they all said. No one had expected her to ever emerge from the coma she’d been in for three years after being hit by a car. But four months ago, she’d defied the odds and awakened after a fever doctors had feared would finally end her life. Yep, a real miracle. Everything that happened since then had been somewhat less than miraculous: her twenty-year marriage had disintegrated, and her days were now marked by the struggle to regain her health.
Clare knew she was lucky, but she’d grown tired of hearing that word. Doctors had told her she would most likely be confronted with physical challenges for the rest of her life, including chronic urinary tract infections, a propensity toward pneumonia, fatigue, muscle spasms, and other fallout from three years of inactivity. Oh yeah, what a miracle.
A tearjerker movie on TV caught her attention, and it was a relief to be absorbed into someone else’s drama for a change. When someone knocked at her door, Clare muted the television. “Come in,” she called and was surprised to see Jack’s sister, Frannie Booth.
“May I come in?”
“Of course,” Clare said to her former sister-in-law. “Come sit.”
Frannie crossed the room to sit next to Clare on the sofa. She wore her auburn hair in an elegant twist left over from her brother’s wedding.
“I didn’t expect to see you, especially tonight,” Clare said, admiring the yellow floral silk dress Frannie had worn to the wedding. “You look fabulous.”
“Thanks. I was thinking of you and thought I’d stop by to see how you’re doing.”
“I’m fine, but you didn’t have to come.”
“I wanted to.”
“How was it?” Clare tried to sound casual as she twirled a lock of her unruly blonde hair around a finger.
“It was lovely but a little more exciting than we’d planned. Andi’s water broke during the reception. They had twin boys right there at the hotel. The doctor said they appear to be identical.”
“Oh.” Clare struggled to hide the surge of emotion. Jack had sons.
“It all happened so fast.” Frannie shook her head and smiled. “Apparently, she’d been in labor all night and didn’t realize it because she’d had back pain.”
Clare worked at keeping her expression neutral as she absorbed the news that the babies had arrived a month early. “They’re all fine?”
“The girls must’ve been excited,” Clare said, referring to her daughters.
“What’re their names?”
“They named them for Jack and the grandfathers, John Joseph Harrington the fourth, and Robert Franklin Harrington. Johnny and Robby.”
Despite her best efforts, Clare’s eyes flooded with tears. “Johnny and Robby,” she whispered.
“I’m sorry to upset you.”
Clare wiped her eyes. “It’s okay.”
“I’ve wanted to come for weeks to say…what you did…letting him go…” Frannie had a look of awe on her face. “It was so selfless.”
“It was the only thing I could do. It was selfish more than anything.”
“No, it wasn’t. It was amazing. I don’t know that I could’ve done it.”
A stab of pain hit Clare just below her broken heart. “I don’t want to talk about that anymore. It’s over and done with. But I’m glad you’re here for another reason.”
“I’ve had lots of time to think,” Clare said with a small grin. “I don’t know if I ever adequately thanked you for what you did while I was sick. I mean for you to give up a year and a half of your life to take care of my kids—”
“Taking care of your girls was a pleasure. You don’t have to thank me. You’d have done the same for me. So you’re really doing okay?”
Clare raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Did Jack send you to check on me?”
“Not this time. I think he’s so stunned by the babies arriving in the middle of his wedding, he doesn’t even know his own name right now.”
They shared a laugh.
“I’m sure,” Clare said. “I’m doing fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“I also came because I have something for you.” Frannie reached into her bag for a leather-bound book. She held it against her chest for a moment as she collected her thoughts. “Shortly after I moved in with Jack and the girls, I started keeping a journal. It was odd because I’d never had one before, but I suddenly had a need to write things down. Anyway, I debated for a long time about whether I should share it with you. And then I realized that most of the time I was keeping it, I was doing it for you. I was writing it for you.”
“Did you think I’d recover? No one seemed to think I would.”
“No, I didn’t think so. But for some reason I started writing things down, and when I read it over recently, I understood I’d done it for you, like I was talking to you. I didn’t consciously set out to do that. Oh, I’m not explaining it well.”
“No, you are. Can I see it?”
She handed the book to Clare. “I know you’ll be so happy to get back some of the time you lost with the girls by reading about their lives, but there’re other things in there that’ll cause you pain. I wish I could spare you that. I didn’t give it to you before now because of that.”
“You wrote about them, too, didn’t you? About Jack and Andi?” Clare asked as she brushed a hand over the leather cover.
“Yes, and I don’t know if you should read those parts.”
“Maybe I’ll skip them. You have no idea how much this means to me.”
“I think maybe I do. I’m a mom now, too, remember? If you want to talk about it—any of it—you only have to ask.”
“Thank you.” Feeling as if she’d been given a priceless gift, Clare reached out to squeeze Frannie’s hand. “Thank you so much.”
“I hope you’ll still be thanking me after you’ve read it,” Frannie said with a grin. “Have you made any plans?”
Clare shrugged. “Not really. They’re saying I have maybe another month of rehab, and then I can go home. I’m not sure what’s next for me.” She twisted her face into an ironic smile. “I find myself at loose ends for the first time in more than twenty years.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out. I know the girls are looking forward to having you at home. Do you need anything?”
“Your brother made sure I’d never want for anything. I got my bank statement the other day, and my eyes almost popped out of my head.”
“He doesn’t want you to worry about supporting yourself.”
“With that kind of money, I’ll never have to worry again, that’s for sure. He didn’t have to do that.”
“Yes, he did.”
Clare smiled. “I’m glad you came, Frannie. Will you come again and bring your babies? I’d love to see them.”
“Come on, Clare, give me one more step. Just one more.”
Sweat rolled down her face as she struggled against the crutches. “You’re a sadist, Jeffrey.”
“You love me. You know you do.”
Clare put her last bit of energy into that final step and then rested against his outstretched arms.
“Right,” she panted. “Just keep reminding me.”
Behind them, someone applauded.
Clare turned to find her doctor watching. “Great, an audience,” she grumbled and swiped at the sweat on her face.
Dr. Paul Langston came across the room. “That was outstanding. I counted at least fifty steps.”
“I counted fifty-five,” Jeffrey said.
“I don’t remember sending you an invite, Dr. Paul. What’re you doing here?” Clare thanked Jeffrey when he eased her into her wheelchair.
“I came to check on my star patient. Do I need an invitation?”
She took a long drink from her water bottle. “Not if you’re going to charm me.”
Dr. Langston tapped a toe against the chair. “I’m thinking we’re just about ready to kiss this baby good-bye and talk about sending you home.”
Her stomach clenched with anxiety. “Already? I thought you said another month?”
“You’ve gotten used to us, huh? Can’t live without me?”
“Yeah, something like that,” she said with a grin. He was a dreamboat with close-cropped blond hair and mischievous blue eyes. Too bad he was also ten years younger than her. “You’re easy enough on the eyes, I guess.”
He hooted. “Such flattery! It’s going straight to my head. I’ll take Miss Congeniality back to her room,” he told Jeffrey.
“See you tomorrow, Clare,” Jeffrey said.
“You’ve been doing so well,” Dr. Langston said as they rolled along the corridor. “The nurses tell me you’re showering and dressing on your own and relying on them less every day.” He stopped next to a bench in the hallway and sat to bring himself to her eye level. “I thought you were busting to get out of here. What gives?”
“Is it what’s waiting for you at home?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you mean what’s not waiting for me?”
“Have you talked to Dr. Baker about it?” he asked, referring to Clare’s psychiatrist.
“Here and there, but we’ve been more focused on the attack and all that. I haven’t wanted to talk about the untimely demise of my marriage. I’m just a bundle of unresolved issues,” she said with the good-natured grin that had made her a favorite among the medical team that had cared for her over the last four months.
“I think we should set a date.” Dr. Langston folded his arms over his white coat. “Two weeks from today?”
“Are you sure? That’s awfully soon.”
“Your daughters are waiting for you. Don’t you want to get home to them?”
“They’re happy living with their father right now.”
“They’ll be thrilled to have you home again. They’ve waited a long time.”
“I’m sure they’re more than used to being without me. How do I get back three years with them?” She bit back the urge to weep.
“You can’t. All you can do is go forward from here. I’m going to be honest with you, Clare. None of us imagined you’d get this far. You’ve defied the odds. Don’t let yourself down by giving up now.”
She smiled. “You’re tossing me out, huh?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“You’ve all been so great. I’ll miss you.”
He got up from the bench. “Nah, you’ll be too busy enjoying your fabulous new life to give us a thought.”
“Somehow I doubt that.” She twisted her hands in her lap. The idea of going home filled her with apprehension.
He squatted down so she could see him. “Talk to Dr. Baker. Tell him how you feel about going home. Let him help you.”
“I will. Thanks, Paul.”
An item in the
Newport Daily News
caught Clare’s eye the next day: