Authors: Marie Force
Tags: #romance, #family saga, #nashville, #contemporary romance, #new england, #second chances, #starting over, #trilogy, #vermont, #newport, #sexy romance, #summer beach read
“Think about what’s best for you right now, Clare. It’s time to take care of you.”
“I’ll think about it,” she promised.
If being home had caused a mental setback, it did wonders for Clare’s physical health. Within a month, she was off crutches and using a cane. She still had a pronounced limp and trouble with stairs, but one day when she was home alone, she forced her unwilling legs up two flights to the top-floor suite she’d once shared with Jack. A rush of emotion hit her the moment she stepped into the room.
The big round room was empty, and she realized she’d never seen it that way before. She opened the door to what used to be Jack’s closet and wanted to weep at its gaping barrenness. Walking over to the wide span of windows that overlooked the ocean, she eased herself down to the plush carpet and remembered back to when she and Jack would hustle the girls through their bedtime routine so they could escape up here to relax together.
She gazed out at the water, wanting more than anything to go back to when her girls were small and relied on her for everything, to when Jack was hers and she still believed nothing could ever come between them.
Memories rolled through her mind like home movies, scenes from the past flashing one by one. Wallowing for a moment in the warmth of the recollections, she thought about parties they’d had on the pool deck, waking with Jack to the sound of squealing girls downstairs, holidays with their extended family. The movie ran on, and for a while, she let it.
Finally, she stood up to go back downstairs. “Dr. Baker’s right. I’ve got to get out of here.”
nna decided to spend a second month with Clare and kept the two of them so busy that Clare had little time to brood. Clare knew her mother had stayed more to keep her company than to help her. While she still had the limp, Clare soon found she could leave her cane at home. As her strength returned, they took long walks on the beach and went out for dinner with friends who were delighted to see Clare after her long illness. One weekend, her brother Tony and sister Sue came from Connecticut with their families. The girls were home, too. Having a full house was almost like old times.
Ten days before Kate was due to leave for Nashville, Dr. Langston cleared Clare to drive. Anna took her to renew her driver’s license, and Clare drove them home in her Volvo with the utmost caution, never exceeding thirty miles per hour on the short ride.
The next day, Jack called. She hadn’t spoken to him in a couple of weeks. When she heard his voice on the line, her stomach took a nervous dip that made her want to swear with frustration.
Nope, still not over him
. His voice was so familiar and comforting, like a well-worn pair of slippers or a favorite pillow.
Knock it off, Clare
He’s not your source of comfort anymore
“How are you?” he asked.
“Fine, and you?” They were so sickeningly polite. She wanted to scream.
“Still sleep-deprived. I’ve had no luck convincing Andi to hire some help. She wants to do it all herself until she goes back to work.”
Did his new wife have to be so freaking perfect? Where was the justice?
“I don’t blame her. You never got anywhere with me on that one either.”
He chuckled. “No, I didn’t. The reason I’m calling is I was hoping we could sit down with Kate to talk about her move.”
“I thought you had that all figured out.” She couldn’t help her snippy tone. This whole thing had, after all, been his deal with Kate.
“Hell no, I don’t have it figured out. That’s why I want to talk to her. I want
to talk to her.”
“Why do you need me? This was always between you and her.”
Jack sighed. “This was between her and I before you recovered. Now it’s between all of us. I thought you’d want to be part of it.” He paused. “I need your help, Clare.”
Damn him! Why did he have to say that? He’d gone straight to her Achilles’ heel: her need to be needed
. “Fine. When do you want to do it?”
“The sooner, the better. We’re running out of days. She usually has Thursdays off at the hotel. Would this Thursday work for you, say around four? I’ll come over, and I’ll ask her to be there.”
“Thanks. Hey, did I hear you’re driving again?”
“Just once so far. Dr. Langston cleared me on Friday, and my mother had me at the DMV yesterday before I could chicken out.”
“That’s wonderful. It’ll give you some freedom.”
“I suppose. Listen, Jack, there’s something else I need to talk to you about.”
She bit her lip and lost her nerve. “Actually, it’ll keep until Thursday. I’ll just talk to you then.”
“Is everything okay?”
. “Yes, nothing to worry about. I’ll see you soon.”
Clare told herself she would’ve spent an hour getting ready even if she wasn’t seeing him. She would’ve given her hair more than the usual five minutes, dusted on a light coat of makeup, and chosen her clothes with special care because she was feeling better, not because her ex-husband was coming over.
Yeah sure, keep telling yourself that
, she thought as she slid into form-fitting jeans and a jaunty yellow top with three-quarter sleeves.
Studying herself in the full-length mirror in the downstairs bathroom, she noticed how the top hugged her breasts and was hit by a reminder of how much Jack had loved her breasts. He had rarely missed an opportunity to touch them, brush against them, or sleep with a hand between them. The memory of that intimacy took her breath away. She backed away from the mirror and wrapped a protective arm around her middle in an effort to regain her equilibrium.
How long had it been since she’d thought about being in bed with Jack? Or sleeping close to him? Or making love with him? Her face heated as a wave of longing cut through her. She yearned for him and the closeness they had always shared.
“Oh, Jack, I miss you so much,” she whispered. Tears flooded her eyes as she wondered if he now slept with a hand between Andi’s breasts. She shuddered at the thought, wiped her eyes, and opened the bathroom door.
“Clare?” Anna called from the kitchen.
“Coming.” Clare leaned against the wall and willed the color in her cheeks to return to normal. With a deep breath, she walked into the kitchen. “Here I am.”
“Don’t you look nice,” Anna said.
“Thanks.” Clare picked up an apple from the bowl on the counter and rolled it between her hands.
“What’s the occasion?”
Clare’s gaze shot up to meet her mother’s. She hadn’t mentioned the meeting with Jack because she knew her mother was anxious to go home to Hartford for a few days and wouldn’t go if she thought she might be needed. “No occasion. What time are you heading out?”
“I’m going now, so I’ll be home before dark. Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Anna asked, her expression fraught with motherly concern.
“Of course. Maggie will be here over the weekend, and Jill mentioned she might come home, too. I’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
Anna kissed Clare’s cheek and picked up her bag. “I’ll call you tonight, and I’ll be back before you know it.”
“Sounds good.” Clare saw her mother out the front door. As Anna pulled out of the semicircular gravel driveway, Clare waved and pushed the door closed against the November chill.
She went back into the kitchen and wandered to the full-length window to watch the ocean. Clare had always hated November. They’d often kept the pool open through October. The sailboat Jack owned with Jamie usually came out of the water at the very end of October, too. By November it was all over. Thinking about the boat reminded her of yet another thing that wasn’t hers anymore. The churn of the seas gave rise to similar feelings in her as she thought about what she’d had and lost and wondered how she’d ever live without it.
The doorbell rang at the stroke of four. Clare steeled herself and opened the door with a forced smile on her face, only to be hit again by another intense blow to the belly at the sight of him. His dark hair was wind blown and his face red from the chill. The nervous, uncertain expression on his face tugged at her heart.
“Hi, come on in.” She stepped aside and wondered if ringing the bell at the house that used to be his felt weird to him. The all-too-familiar scent of his cologne mixed with the earthy smell of decaying leaves that followed him in. “Can I get you some coffee or something cold?”
“No, thanks, I’m fine.” He took off his black wool coat, put it over the back of a chair in the family room, and turned to her. “You look great.”
“You look beat.”
He grinned. “Such is life for the father of twins. They’re killing me. Now I know why people have kids when they’re young, not old like me.”
She smiled. He didn’t look a day over thirty-five. Like her, he was forty-six, but unlike her, he looked as good as he had the day they met. “Do you have a picture?”
He reached for his wallet. “Here you go.”
Clare took the photo and walked past him to sit down. “
, look at them. They’re adorable.” They each had a full head of shiny dark hair—his hair—eyes that appeared to be hazel, and were clearly identical. She handed the photo back to him. “How do you tell them apart?”
“We put their initials on their diapers with a marker,” he said. “Andi ordered ID bracelets with their names on them, but they haven’t come in yet.” He checked his watch. “I wonder where Kate is? I told her to be here at four.”
“She didn’t get your punctuality gene. Give her a few minutes and then we can try her cell phone.”
“What did you want to talk to me about?”
“Let’s talk to Kate first.” Clare heard a car door close outside. “Here she comes.”
Kate burst through the front door. “Hey, sorry, have you been waiting long?” She kissed them and flopped down on the sofa.
“No, I just got here,” Jack said.
“I was out doing a few things and got stuck in a huge line at Target.”
Jack groaned. “Ah yes,
, where my daughters spend half my annual income,” he said with a grin. “I should buy stock in the company.”
“Very funny, Dad, but I spent my own money,” Kate said, sticking her tongue out at him.
Jack turned to Clare with a look of disbelief. “Did you hear that? She spent her
money? Is that what she said?”
Clare laughed even though she didn’t want to be sucked into his easy charm and effortless humor. His amused befuddlement over their daughters had always been something she adored about him. “I think that’s what she said. Well, Jack, you called this meeting. What’s on your mind?”
“I was just thinking we should talk about your move, Kate, and what happens after you get there.”
“I’m glad you asked about that. I’ve made a few plans I want to tell you about, but first I just want to thank you again for letting me do this. I know it’s not easy for you, and you’d rather be sending me to college.”
“We want you to be happy,” Jack said, reaching over to squeeze her hand. “Why don’t you tell us about these plans you’ve made?”
“I’ve signed up at Belmont University to take a couple of classes.”
“You have?” Clare asked, stunned.
Kate nodded. “Belmont has an excellent Entertainment and Music Business program. I’m not saying I’m going to get a degree, but if this is going to be my business, I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m taking Survey of Music Business and Survey of Recording Technology starting in January.”
Jack and Clare exchanged glances as she continued.
“I’ve also taken my graduation money and some of what I’ve earned at the hotel to record a demo CD with two covers and two of my own songs. Everything I’ve read says you should have a demo if you want to get anywhere in Nashville.”
“When did you do all this?” Jack asked, incredulous.
“In October. I knew you were busy with the babies and everything. I’m serious about this, Dad.”
“I can see that.”
“What about living arrangements?” Clare asked.
“I’ve taken care of that,” Jack said. “Jamie and I have a friend from Berkeley, Reid Matthews, who lives just outside of Nashville. I called him a couple of weeks ago, and he said he owns a couple of apartment complexes in the city. He’s going to let me know by tomorrow if he has any units open.”
“That’s great, Dad. Thanks.”
“He also offered to be a point of contact for you while you’re there. He’s a nice guy. You’ll like him.”
“Sounds like between the two of you, you’ve got your bases covered,” Clare said. “Can we hear your demo?”
“Sure, I’ve got it in the car. I’ll run out and get it.”
While they waited for her, Jack looked at Clare in amazement. “Well,” he said. “She’s your daughter in more than just her looks.”
“How do you mean?”
“She’s efficient and organized, just like you.”
“And she’s goal-oriented, like you.”
Kate came back in, turned on the CD player, and popped in her demo. She had done covers of Stevie Nicks’s “Landslide” and an acoustic guitar version of Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind,” as well as two of her own songs, “Funny,” and “Since You Left.”
“You sound beautiful, Kate.” Clare glanced at Jack, wondering where their daughter had gotten this awesome talent. “It’s so impressive.”
Jack’s eyes were wide with wonder. “I can’t believe that’s you.”
Kate’s pleasure showed on her face. “Thanks. I haven’t played it for anyone yet. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.”
“I don’t know why,” Clare said. “It’s wonderful. I love that song, ‘Landslide.’”
“I know. I always think of you when I hear it.”
“I’m so proud of you, Kate,” Jack said. “You’ve jumped right into this thing and put a lot of thought into it.”
“I only have a year, and I don’t want to waste a minute of it. I also answered an ad to work in a nightclub with open-mic nights. If I get the job, hopefully I can perform, too.” She checked her watch. “I actually have to run. I’m taking the second half of my coworker’s shift at the hotel tonight. It’s his wife’s birthday.”