Authors: Dori Lavelle
Tags: #Romance, #second chances, #starting again, #dark past, #angst, #left at the altar, #small town romance
To Live Again
Learning To Live Again 1
By Dori Lavelle
To Live Again (Learning to Live Again 1)
Copyright © 2014 by Dori Lavelle
All Rights Reserved.
Cover Art: Clarise Tan
Editor: Leah Wohl-Pollack
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Table of Contents
After losing the future that was promised to her, Kelsey O'Neil says goodbye to her old life and sets out on a journey to capture her own independence, find happiness, and maybe even true love.
A cozy cottage in a quaint Irish town seems the perfect place to start again. And Shaun Brannon, the sexy but mysterious author next door, could be her second chance at love. But Shaun is incapable of opening his heart to any woman. Can Kelsey find out why before she falls too hard?
Eight years ago, Shaun Brannon stopped believing in love, or marriage. His only belief now is in lust. The demons he wrestles with daily are too dark to let him get close to a woman without breaking her heart. Then along comes Kelsey, who makes him wonder how it might feel to give love another chance. Is he brave enough to show her his deepest scars?
This is a new edition of a book originally published under the title Chocolate Aftertaste.
The feeling Kelsey O'Neil got upon arriving in Dreara took her by surprise. It was like coming home. After everything that had happened in the last year, she'd toyed with the idea of moving out of Ireland entirely, but Dreara was perfect. It was only a two-hour drive from Saulery, but felt miles away from her old life.
She turned the radio on full blast and bobbed her head to the music, eyes fixed on the road ahead. The numerous photos she'd seen of the cozy little town with a sprinkling of thatched-roof cottages did not do the real thing justice. She rolled down the window and let the refreshing smells of newly cut grass and sea salt envelop her.
Following Caroline's directions, she drove along Dale Street and turned left onto Edgeway Street, where number twenty-eight was situated. She parked in front and stepped out of the car.
The afternoon breeze caressed her skin and blew a wisp of hair across her face. Tucking it back behind her ear, she gazed at the small, traditional thatched cottage. A cobblestone path cut through the flower-dotted garden to the front door.
As Kelsey stood admiring her new home, a golden retriever bounded from the rear of the cottage to greet her. Kelsey pushed the gate open before he got the chance to demolish it. Tail wagging, he sniffed her heels and tried to lick her legs. She bent down to stroke the dog's smooth fur.
A man's footsteps followed the dog's. "I give up," he said when he reached her. "I've been trying for years to teach him to be a gentleman."
Kelsey stood up and stretched out her hand. "You must be Brian."
"That's me." He was in his sixties and had the same laughing green eyes as Caroline. But unlike her, he had dimples on both cheeks instead of just one.
A few months after the life Kelsey knew was turned on its head, she had stopped by a small café in the center of Saulery. There, she met Jim and his wife Caroline, the owners. They had been so warm and welcoming and had served her the best mint hot chocolate she'd ever tasted. She found herself returning there time and again.
In her conversations with Caroline, she learned that Caroline's brother, Brian, owned a cottage on the beach he wanted to rent out. It just so happened Kelsey needed a change. She quit her job at Glocal COM, her father's beloved PR company, and offered to rent the cottage. And now, here she was.
"It's lovely to meet you, Brian."
"Bailey, enough." Brian stroked the dog's ears. "Give the lady a chance to settle in."
Bailey barked, but obeyed, walking back through the gate with his tail between his legs.
"He's so adorable," Kelsey said.
"Don't say that too loudly, unless you want him scratching on your door at all hours of the day." Brian had a deep, smooth voice that made Kelsey instantly comfortable.
"Kelsey, shall we take this conversation inside? I think it's going to rain any minute now."
"Sure. I'll just get my things." She opened her trunk and removed her suitcase, her carryall bag, and a bag of groceries.
Brian took the suitcase, and they strolled up the cobblestone path side by side.
He pushed the door open and stepped into the house, Bailey at his heels. "Coziest little place, isn't it?" Brian lowered the suitcase onto the floor.
The living room had a cast-iron fireplace, mahogany flooring, a large bay window, and a sea view. "It's really lovely." Kelsey placed her carryall at the foot of a chair and walked over to the open dining area to the right.
Brian sat down on one of the moss-green sofas as she ran the tips of her fingers along the cracks and scratches on the dining table.
"I'm afraid things around here are a bit worn out. I've been meaning to renovate for a while," he said.
"No, it's perfect." She had grown up in a mansion, but she'd never felt as at home there as she already did in the little cottage. "I like it just the way it is. Is this where you grew up?"
"No, I grew up on the outskirts of Dreara. We inherited this place from our grandmother."
"She must have loved it."
"She did. I left everything the way it was when she passed on." Brian patted the mahogany coffee table and pushed himself up to his feet. "I know you'd be happy enough to live in the sitting room, but that would mean I'd have to charge you less rent. Let me show you the rest."
Bailey, who had been lying at Brian's feet with his eyes closed, opened one eye. Unimpressed, he closed it again.
They made their way upstairs, the steps creaking as if awakening from a deep slumber.
The first room Brian showed her was big and airy, and had its own bathroom and a balcony. Kelsey stepped out onto it. A soft drizzle fell now, and she wiped a raindrop from the leaf of one of the potted plants.
Brian joined her. "I tried my best to keep the plants alive. But I have a feeling plants don't like me much."
"They look happy enough."
"Not my work, I'm afraid. Noel comes twice a week to tend to them."
"The best. Everyone's plants recommend him."
Kelsey smiled. She and Brian were going to get along fine.
"Let me give you time to settle in. If you need anything, don't hesitate to call." He handed her a card with his phone number and left.
Once she was alone, Kelsey threw open the living room window that overlooked the sea, and breathed in the salty air. She closed her eyes as it diluted her worries. Her father had warned her that she had made a huge mistake by dropping everything, including a great career, and fleeing to an unknown town. Deep down she knew it had been the right decision for her to walk away, to give herself time to think about what she really wanted from life, but a tiny piece of her also wondered if he was right.
A sudden deafening roar startled her, and she rushed to the window facing the street. She pulled back the curtain in time to see a rundown pickup truck halt in front of the cottage next door.
A man who had to be in his early thirties, wearing jeans and a battered-looking brown leather jacket, climbed out of the truck, and for a moment he just stood there, gazing into the distance. Then he pushed the gate open and strode to the door. The cottages were close enough for Kelsey to see that he was tall, with dark chestnut hair that brushed the collar of his jacket, broad shoulders, and a handsome face. In a word, gorgeous. Kelsey swallowed hard. He looked like a star just stepping off a movie set, and she couldn't pull her gaze away until he disappeared into the house.
She smiled to herself and went back to gaze at the sea, making a mental note to take a swim sometime before the temperatures dropped. She'd read online that it was unusual for September to be so mild in Dreara. Right now she had too much to do before she could relax.
She was about to turn away from the window when she glimpsed the man exiting the house from the kitchen door and step into the garden. He had changed into shorts and a white t-shirt, which he suddenly pulled over his head as he marched to the gate that opened onto a path leading to the beach. Wasn't he cold? She was pretty sure the drizzle had cooled the air.
Kelsey blinked twice when she caught a glimpse of a large tattoo running down one side of his back. He was too far away for her to make out what it was. But his muscles stood out clearly, glistening from the mist that hung in the air.
He walked like a man on a mission. Twice, he glanced back in the direction of her cottage, and she dropped the curtain. He couldn't have seen her, and yet her cheeks burned and her heart thumped. It had been a while since she had seen a man that hot, and her body reacted in spite of her good sense. She took another peek, biting the corner of her lip.
Kelsey had come to Dreara with finding herself as her utmost priority. But she had a feeling it might be hard to ignore the very sexy stranger living next door.
As he strolled down the narrow sandy path to the beach, Shaun Brannon glanced behind him at the cottage next door. She was still watching him. His lips curled into a smile. She couldn't possibly think the sheer curtain hid her. Even from a distance he could see her long, strawberry-blond curls swept to one side of her neck. He'd always had a weakness for women with curls.
Gritting his teeth, he picked up his pace. Just what he needed—a beautiful woman next door to mess with his head. One glance at her and he knew she was a "good girl". The kind of woman he did everything to stay away from. From experience, those kinds of girls always wanted more than he was willing to offer—love, marriage, kids. The man he used to be had wanted those things. Not anymore. Through a cruel twist of fate, he was robbed of that hope. Robbed of everything he had believed in.
When he'd stumbled upon an online advert for the cottage on the beach six months ago, in a small town hardly anyone knew about, he didn't think twice. He’d needed to get as far away from his old life as possible, and he'd always had a thing for Ireland. Here he could regroup, focus on writing his next novel, and accept whatever came next.
He was a different man now, and no woman could change him. When he needed a warm body next to him at night, he went for the bad girls. They were easier to kick out in the morning. How was he going to handle a gorgeous girl next door without wanting to get into her pants?
After another discreet glimpse behind him, he broke into a sprint and didn't stop until he dove like a fish into an oncoming wave. He sliced through the refreshing water, and tried to let it clear his head. The ocean always did.
He swam until he gasped for air and his arms and back burned. Fantastic. He never stopped before that happened—physical pain was the perfect distraction from the anguish that roiled inside him. Working his body silenced his inner demons. At least for a while.
Kelsey managed not to think about her neighbor again as she unpacked her carryall and placed a few of her possessions around the cottage to make it her own. She would stay for a while.
Three hours later, Brian showed up again, this time with his wife, a sunny woman called Sarah. They each carried bowls of food, and Sarah had a basket hanging from her right arm.
"We came to welcome you properly, love." Sarah grinned. "We also brought you your first meal in Dreara."
"That's very kind of you. Please come in."
They did, and then they took over. Before Kelsey knew what was happening, Brian and Sarah had laid the dining table with serving bowls of potatoes, stew, rice, and green salad.
"Let's eat." Brian pulled a chair out for his wife and waited for her to sit before he did.