Read Temporary Father (Welcome To Honesty 1) Online

Authors: Anna Adams

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Forever Love, #Family Life, #Honesty Virginia, #Cottage, #Mild Heart Attack, #Young Age, #Forty-Two, #Wife Suicide, #Friend's Sister, #Pre-teen Son, #Divorced, #Home Destroyed, #Fire Accident, #Boys Guilt, #Secret, #Washington D.C., #Father Figure, #Struggling Business, #Family Issues

Temporary Father (Welcome To Honesty 1)

BOOK: Temporary Father (Welcome To Honesty 1)
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“Eli’s father isn’t like you.”

Beth hurried to continue, “Not that I’m comparing. But I’ve always promised myself I wouldn’t stop trusting other men because of him.” She blushed. “I guess I have, though.”

“You don’t know me well enough to trust me,” he said.

“We know each other too well for people who met last week,” Beth said. And she leaned in to kiss his cheek.

He drowned in her scent. Without thinking, he reached for her, turning her face. Her lips were heat and succor and irresistible.

Sighing, she pushed her hands into his hair. She tasted sweeter than hope. His body clamored for more, and he staggered with her in his arms.

When she felt the rail at her back she pushed him away.

“I can’t,” she said. “Eli… He needs me.”

“I need you, too, Beth.”

“But for how long?”

 

Dear Reader,

Sometimes when I’m driving, I see in another car a family, or maybe a mom and her children, or a dad, looking harried, staring into the rearview mirror instead of keeping his eyes on the road. I think how odd it seems that life in that car is just as vital as my own. We’re all heading somewhere, mixed up in do-or-die business—or plodding through one day to get to the next—but we don’t have a clue about each other.

I was washing dishes—seeing the first scenes in
Temporary Father
—and I thought about those cars. I wanted to know everything about all the lives in a small town. So welcome to Honesty, Virginia, where the houses are quiet, the town is growing, the people are caring and lives are changing.

A newcomer to Honesty brings heaven and hell to Beth Tully. She has one priority—getting her son, who’s behaving oddly even for a hormonal preteen, back into their fire-damaged home. Aidan Nikolas is recuperating after an unexpected heart attack, which is attributed to business stress. Secretly he blames it on guilt over his wife’s death. When he meets Beth and her son, he’s struck by need for the optimistic, hardworking single mom, but he reads all the worst signs in her son’s implacable sadness and sudden bouts of anger. Aidan cannot walk away from the boy, even as he tries to persuade Beth she has time to love him, too.

I’d love to hear what you think. You can reach me at [email protected]

Best wishes,

Anna

T
EMPORARY
F
ATHER
Anna Adams

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna Adams wrote her first romance story in wet sand with a stick. The Atlantic Ocean washed that one away, so these days she uses more modern tools to write the kind of stories she loves best—romance that involves everyone in the family—and often the whole community. Love between two people is like the proverbial stone in a lake. The ripples of their feelings spread and contract, bringing all kinds of conflict and “help” from the people who care most about them.

Anna is in the middle of one of those stories, with her own hero of twenty-seven years. From Iceland to Hawaii, and points in between, they’ve shared their lives with children and family and friends who’ve become family.

Books by Anna Adams

HARLEQUIN SUPERROMANCE

896—HER DAUGHTER’S FATHER

959—THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT

997—UNEXPECTED BABIES
*

1023—UNEXPECTED MARRIAGE
*

1082—MAGGIE’S GUARDIAN

1154—THE SECRET FATHER
**

1168—THE BRIDE RAN AWAY
**

1188—THE PRODIGAL COUSIN
**

1248—HER LITTLE SECRET

1294—ANOTHER WOMAN’S SON

1336—MARRIAGE IN JEOPARDY

1380—ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS

(anthology with Brenda Novak and Melinda Curtis)

Mama and Grandpa,
I miss you too much.

CHAPTER ONE

A
IDAN
N
IKOLAS TOSSED
his bag onto the bed in the cottage’s main bedroom. He stood stock still on the wide-plank floor, breathing in the scent of cinnamon and apple, listening, feeling, believing his heart would beat one more time. And then again and again and again…

He was okay. He rubbed his chest, his left arm. No pain. No shortness of breath. No nausea. Bringing his things in from the car hadn’t killed him.

He laughed, with no real humor and certainly without pride. Staying in his friend, Van Haddon’s, cottage in the middle of Small-town, U.S.A., also known as Honesty, Virginia, might kill him if he didn’t stop dwelling on every flutter of his own pulse.

He shoved his bags across the bed, wrinkling the burgundy comforter. Forget unpacking. He was starving.

After a “minor” myocardial infarction, he’d spent two weeks at home, eating bland pap, living no life,
with his parents treating him as if he hadn’t run the family business for eight years without their ham-fisted help. A heart attack. At the tender age of forty-two, even though he’d been in such good shape the trainers at his gym left him alone.

When he couldn’t stand another second of his parents’ tender loving smothering, he’d called Van and asked to borrow his cottage.

The big plan for his first night of freedom? Make some dinner. And listen to the wildlife in the woods of Honesty, population “just under ten thousand.” The “just under” must keep them from having to change the sign after each birth.

In the kitchen, a stainless-steel fridge and stove gleamed among granite counters and crystal-clear windowpanes. His box of farm market vegetables and organic groceries looked out of place.

God, this pretty little house closed in on a man.

Despite the chill of a late April night, he flung up the window over the kitchen sink.

It didn’t help.

Nothing helped except moving. He unpacked the groceries first. Hard to wait for another pile of steamed veggies, just like the ones they’d plied him with at the hospital. Maybe some “nice apple slices,” as the head nurse had suggested, twirling the plate as if it were a kaleidoscope.

Which left him wanting to kill the first cow that crossed his path and eat it raw.

A telephone rang. He followed the sound down
the hall to the living room where the phone lay on its cradle beside a pile of magazines.
Businessweek. Fortune. Business 2.0.

Aidan touched each cover with reverence. They’d denied him even the
Washington Post
in the hospital. And who knew who’d taken custody of his Treo?

The phone rang again. The old-fashioned receiver had no caller ID. “Hello?”

“Hey. It’s Van.”

“Thanks for letting me use the cottage.” He worked gratitude into his voice. If he hadn’t felt so much like a rat in a cage, he would have been grateful. With tall ceilings and cool white walls the living room should have been relaxing.

A faint scent of wood smoke emerged from the cold, blackened fireplace, before which fat couches and chairs squatted around a big square table. A TV sat behind the open doors of an antique armoire that had never been meant for the purpose it served now.

“I’ll come down tomorrow and show you the walking paths,” Van said.

Aidan stifled an urge to snap that he could find them even after a minor myocardial infarction. “Thanks, but I’ll wander until I see them.” Then he felt bad. Van, a wunderkind of finance, the one man who always knew which parties to bring to the table, was trying to do him a favor. Aidan dialed back his frustration. “I appreciate your help.”

“No problem.” Van hesitated. “Have you eaten dinner?”

“I stopped in town for supplies. I’m fine.” He wasn’t sure he could stand one more pair of watchful eyes, waiting for his heart to explode. There’d been patients in worse shape in the cardiac ICU, but his name and the fame of Nikolas Enterprises had garnered him more interest.

“Come up to the house any time,” Van said. “Let me know if I can do anything for you—if anything in the cottage needs work.”

Aidan switched on the lamp at his side. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble. Every surface glowed. “Thanks, Van, but it’s great down here. See you tomorrow.”

He arranged the vegetables on the kitchen counter. Chopping them filled time and made some noise. So did toasting an illegal slice of fresh sourdough bread and slathering it with half a teaspoon of butter. Hunching over the sink, he ate it like a wild dog.

With less enthusiasm, he transferred his piles of celery, snow peas, cabbage, onions and carrots into a shiny silver colander. Next he unearthed a brand-new wok from its box and wrapping, washed it and did a quick stir-fry. Another boring, bland dinner.

He picked up his plate and made the mistake of glancing at the window, where his own face was reflected. And behind him…Madeline. He snapped his head around.

She wasn’t there. He knew that, but like a memory come to life, she appeared where he least
wanted to see her, when he could least afford to face her.

Just over a year ago, she’d committed suicide. The cardiac team had attributed his heart attack to work pressure. They didn’t know guilt drove him or that it was his fault she’d done it.

He set the plate, food and all, in the spotless white sink. Another glance at the window revealed only him. He leaned into the open half, sucking down air, but it wasn’t enough. With his mouth gaping like a fish on a riverbank, he headed for the front door.

He pushed it open so hard it swung back at him. The night was colder than he’d thought, cold that bit into his lungs and set a fire that made him cough.

But he didn’t collapse. The only band around his chest came from breathing fresh air when he was used to the purified, sanctified, hospital-approved stuff.

He stared into the tall trees, mostly evergreen, waving in the moonlit sky. On the hill above him, Van’s house was alight with life. Lamps flickered in glowing pools all the way down to the shrubbery that divided Van’s lawn from the cottage’s. Another cold breath brought on another choking cough. As he grabbed his chest, he saw movement on the hill.

Someone crashed through the shrubbery, and a woman burst into his borrowed yard, wearing navy sweats, a white tank, holly leaves in her dark-blond ponytail and concern on her delicate face.

“Are you okay?”

He coughed again. It was a defining moment. Not that he was vain, but a lot of women came onto him. Some offered cell numbers and e-mail addresses. More than one had palmed a hotel key card into his hand.

This one, tall and lithe and smelling of pine and exercise, had busted through Van’s landscaping, bent on administering CPR.

“I was coughing,” he said, seduced by the sheen of sweat on her rounded shoulders.

“Oh.” She glanced toward the house. “Are you cooking? Set the place on fire? Van does that all the time.”

“I can cook.” Now that was an impressive display of testosterone. “I just coughed.” Oddly, she didn’t produce an oxygen canister. “I’m going for a walk. You must know Van?” He started down the gravel drive, knowing she’d fall into step beside him.

“I’m his sister.” She pushed her hand down her thigh and then offered it. “Beth Tully.” She looked at him too closely. “And you’re Aidan Nikolas.”

“Van told you about me?”

Her palm, hot from exercise, warmed his blood. The human contact felt almost too good after night upon night in the sterile confines of the hospital.

“He told me someone was arriving at the cottage today.” When she nodded her ponytail licked at either side of her neck. He couldn’t help staring. “But I’ve seen you on magazine covers, too.”

Some men might like being one of the sexiest guys alive, but Madeline had chosen to die rather than be with him. He wasn’t such a catch. “I try to ignore those. You live with Van?”

“He’s taken me and my son in.” Not mentioning a husband, she also ducked her head as if she’d said too much. “Our place burned down two months ago.”

“That’s bad.” Great answer. Nice and banal.

She dipped her head again, in a nod. Tall, round of breast, with curves that defined temptation and a voice like the whiskey tones of a forties starlet, she made him hope the husband she hadn’t mentioned didn’t exist.

“We’re rebuilding. It’s a fishing lodge.”

She stopped as if she’d slammed into a brick wall. Most people filled a silence. Not Beth Tully.

Sick of the sound of his own thoughts, Aidan searched for a way to keep her from running back to her own life. It had nothing to do with her sweet body reminding him he was only forty-two—and that he’d recovered from the heart attack. He was not an invalid.

His wife hadn’t wanted him, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t still want a woman.

“You’ve lived here all your life, Beth?”

The strands of her hair clung to her neck again. “Except for a year in Florida.” Her scent, spice and exotic flowers, drew him even closer. “When I was first married,” she said.

He’d resisted those key cards and phone numbers and addresses so clever they’d immediately imprinted themselves on his mind, but he’d never stumbled across a woman so full of life she’d knock down landscaping to save a man. “Your husband lives here, too?” He couldn’t help it.

She shook her head.

At the end of the driveway, she turned up the hill. “I’d better get back. My son…isn’t Van’s responsibility.”

Information on that missing husband would require digging. The thought, completely out of character, stopped him in his tracks. “Okay. Nice to meet you.”

“You, too. Let us know if you need anything.” Gas-lit Victorian lamps helped her up the drive. A sudden thought turned her toward him, and he took a step in her direction. She pressed her fingers to her lips, and then she rammed her hands into the shallow pockets of her sweats. “See you around.”

Gravel spurted behind her as she ran up the hill.

What had she almost said?

He’d give a lot to know. He’d give a lot to run at her side. His doctor had insisted on walks at first. Feeling like his great-aunt’s favorite old beagle, Aidan lumbered down the hill. He stared at the sky above, mouthing his frustration in words he wouldn’t have spoken to Beth Tully.

He’d refused to take the time to see his own cardiologist on the way out of D.C., but he’d agreed to
an appointment with a local cardiologist to get rid of the strictures against activity.

And then he could run like that woman. He laughed out loud, and his step lightened.

 

S
TILL BREATHING HARD
, Beth Haddon Tully climbed white-painted stairs to her brother’s porch. Aidan Nikolas. His business deals had skyrocketed Nikolas Enterprises to international prominence after his parents, the founders, had retired.

She almost dropped onto one of the Adirondack chairs that squatted along the sweeping porch. Aidan Nikolas could save her—save her lodge anyway. The bank had turned down her loan application today, and Jonathan Barr, who’d clearly forgotten she was more than the child who’d been his daughter’s high school best friend, had let slip the news that he suspected Van would be visiting him for a loan in the near future as well—in the Haddon tradition of trying to save failing family ventures.

Van must be around the house somewhere. He’d returned from a business trip earlier in the afternoon. She ran inside the blue-and-white period Victorian she wouldn’t have been able to afford if lottery tickets started flying at her head.

“Van?”

He didn’t answer. Beth took off her shoes to keep from spreading dirt or wet grass. Van’s housekeeper, the dour Mrs. Carleton, wouldn’t approve. “Eli?” Beth’s eleven-year-old son had been playing video
games, but she’d asked him to take time out for reading before she’d left for her run.

“Hmm?” he said from the living room.

She went to the doorway. Beside Eli, a big, black Lab looked up, thumping her tail at Beth.

“Lucy, girl.” Beth ventured into the room and ran a hand over the dog’s silky head. “Have you walked her yet?”

“Read? Walk the dog? Anything else I should do?”

“I’ll think of plenty.” She bent to Lucy, trying not to smile at Eli’s tone. After the lodge had burned down, he’d run to his father’s house, and he’d been reluctant to come back, claiming he was only a burden to her.

Since then, Eli had been quiet and too cooperative. Bad dreams had begun to plague him. Every time he got up in the middle of the night, Beth heard him. Despite sweat ringing his T-shirt, tears in his eyes and gasping breaths he worked like a grown man to control, he’d never admit something was bothering him.

His simple preteen testiness made Beth want to hug him till he ran from her, screaming like a girl.

“A walk should just about do it,” she said. “And it’ll be good for both of you. You don’t get enough exercise since we moved in with Uncle Van.”

“I’d get plenty if we could afford to replace my skateboard.”

Already turning toward the stairs, she stopped. “I wish we could,” she said, hearing the bank manager’s voice from their afternoon meeting.

“I hate to see you struggling,” he’d said, “but you didn’t even check to see if Campbell had paid that insurance premium after your divorce.”

As if she needed reminding her ex-husband was a deadbeat and a liar.

“Mom, I know we don’t have the money. I’m sorry I asked.”

“It’s okay to be mad at me. I hate when you act all grown up.”

“It’s not okay.” He slid off the couch, easing his hand over the dog’s head. “Lucy, come.”

She scrambled up with a complaining whine. No one in the house felt easy tonight.

“Don’t go past the lawn into the woods this late,” Beth said, to remind him he was a child.

“Mom.” His tone suggested she get off his back.

“I’m serious.”

Slamming out of the house, he didn’t answer. Beth flipped on the brighter outdoor lights. Taking the stairs two at a time, she ran to the window in her room. Down on the lawn, Lucy jumped on Eli as he cocked his arm to throw her football.

She hadn’t ever managed to get the hang of fetch. Eli and Lucy went down in a tangle of gangly legs and black fur and a whippy tail. The ball trickled toward the line of solar lights along the driveway. Eli and Lucy both chased the ball, and Beth reached to close the blinds. Before she pulled the cord, another light caught her eye.

BOOK: Temporary Father (Welcome To Honesty 1)
8.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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