I moved back home knowing I'd run into the man who broke my heart 6 years ago, but I'm determined to keep my distance.
Except...he's just as hot as I remember & he wants a second chance...
Cara: I've moved home for good and plan to open a tea shop, raise my four-year-old daughter, and keep the promise I made after losing my husband: no romance. Sure, I'll run into my former best friend--and one-time lover, Roan--but I'm no longer the silly girl who flung herself at him that night after college graduation, only to be told the next morning it was a big mistake.
Roan: Trust has been a hard time coming since my now ex-wife embezzled from me. So, when Cara,the woman who stole my heart in college, moves back to Crescent Cove, I'm determined to keep things platonic. I ruined our friendship when I made a play for her six years ago, and I won't make the same mistake again. But Cara's in-laws sue for custody of her daughter, using pictures of us sharing a kiss. In bed. Really, it was totally innocent. But I've messed things up for her. To help her win the case, I offer her a marriage of convenience.
Cara: Close quarters during our tropical paradise honeymoon in Costa Rica ignites the heat we shared that one night back in college, making it hard to stick to 'just friends'.
Do I dare take a second chance with Roan? Or will he break my heart all over again?
2018 RWA® Golden Heart Finalist - Each book in the Crescent Cove Romance Series can be read out of order and features laugh-out-loud moments, plenty of romance, on-the-page heat, no cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.
A Crescent Cove Novel
© 2019 Marlie May
I hadn’t expected to run into my former lover on my first weekend back in my hometown.
Roan bustled behind the counter, stretching pizza dough, topping it with tomato sauce, spices, and cheese. Whistling while swaying his butt in a way that was too cute for my soul to handle.READ MORE
The most unexpected part about seeing him was the shift in my chest. After almost six years, I thought I’d feel nothing when I saw him again. Well, maybe some anger, but never longing. Which begged the question: What did I long for? Not a repeat of that night we’d had together, because that would only wreck me all over again.
Maybe I missed what we’d lost after we crossed that line. Our friendship.
“Mom?” My daughter, Arie, stared up at me. “We gonna get our pizza?”
“Sure are, sweetie.” I ruffled her hair. Dark brown, like mine. The waves came from her father, Jason.
Taking her hand, I led her toward the counter, passing booths filled with teenagers and parents with little kids. Since the Brew House was practically the only restaurant in town, they must see tons of business. Otherwise, Crescent Cove was still the sleepy coastal Maine town I’d grown up in.
“Can I help you?” a middle-aged woman standing behind the counter asked while tucking a strand of her black hair behind her ear.
“We ordered a pizza to go,” I said. “Under Stillman?”
“Should be ready in a second.” She typed our order into the computer, and then looked up with a smile. “That’ll be twelve-fifty-two.”
I handed her a twenty.
Arie whispered as she stared at the menu board, although I doubted she understood even half of what she read. At four, she was a pro at the alphabet and could write her name, but she’d just started sounding out words in the picture books we read together at bedtime.
My gaze was pulled back to Roan, who was loading a pizza into the wood-fired oven built into the far wall. Hopefully, we’d escape with our order before he saw me.
Funny how a few years could leave some people unchanged. Me? I might be twenty-eight, but sometimes lately, I felt forty. Roan looked exactly like he had when I’d last seen him, back when we’d just graduated from college. Broader shoulders, perhaps, but still a narrow waist. The same boyish dimples that sent my heart into a tailspin whenever they appeared. Dark blond hair streaked with surfer’s sunshine, even though he’d never ridden a board.
As if he sensed my attention, he turned, and his eyes lighted on me. A flash of pain, so brief I might’ve imagined it, crossed his face.
“Cara,” he mouthed. He untied his apron and yanked it over his head, tossing it aside. He strode around the counter and right up to me.
For whatever reason, I couldn’t drum up the indifference I wanted to feel for him. I could only tremble, my heart pounding in my chest. Because this was Roan, standing so close to me, I could reach out and touch him if I dared. All the feelings I’d had for him back then ran through me now. We’d had so much fun growing up together.
Like the time we’d gone roller-skating. Poor Roan had been a wall-hugger until I’d taken his hand in mine and shown him how wonderful it was to zip across the hardwood floor. Yeah, we’d crashed more times than my butt liked to remember, but we’d laughed our heads off while we did it.
Or the time we went cross country skiing on the trails outside of town. Me, shivering and complaining about the cold. Until Roan showed me how much fun it was to fly through the woods, the breeze nipping my cheeks, my skis swooshing beneath me on the hard-packed snow.
A lifetime of memories had connected us, but he’d cut those threads, leaving them to snap back to deliver me a mortal blow.
I needed to harden my heart, as I’d done back then, and remember my promise.
“It’s great to see you.” Stepping forward, he engulfed me in his arms. His warm scent drifted around me: evergreen, spice, man.
For a second, I closed my eyes and let myself drink him in. Only Roan had been able to bring out my best and tease me until I laughed at my worst. I wanted to melt into him. Wrap my arms around him. Never let go. The lure of my family may have called me back to Maine, but only now did I finally feel home.
But this was wrong. I’d just started to find myself and take charge of my destiny. With one touch, I started to fall apart all over again.
I shifted backward and lifted a shaky hand to fiddle with my hair. There was no denying that Jason had been a good man. I’d cared for him. But my feelings for my former husband were a fraction of what I’d once felt for Roan.
“You look great,” Roan said. “I heard you were moving back home.”
“I wanted to be closer to Dad.”
Arie gazed up at him, her face knitting. “Who’re you?”
“I’m Roan. And you’re…” Roan glanced at me. “She’s yours and Jason’s.”
I stroked my daughter’s soft hair. “This is Arie.”
“You’re a really big pizza guy,” my daughter said, her eyes like saucers.
In California, we’d ordered take-out more times than I cared to admit. Chinese. Indian. Tex-Mex. With my husband sick, quick meals had become the best meals. We’d eaten our way around the world but mostly ordered from Pete’s Pizza. The delivery boy was short and skinnier than a green bean, unlike Roan.
“That’s me. Just a big pizza guy.” Everything grave filled his voice. His sparkling eyes met mine.
I barely kept my smile from lifting to join with his. Traitorous smile.
“I make a mean pizza,” Roan said. “But I also make a mean salsa.”
I frowned. “Salsa? Like…”
“Yup.” He rocked on his heels. “My grandmother’s recipes.”
After school, his Gran would put out chips and homemade salsa for us to snack on while we did homework. Garden-fresh tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeños. My mouth watered, and I could almost taste it now.
“I’ve expanded into hot sauces, too.” Roan tucked his hand into the pocket of his jeans. His snug jeans. Not because he’d gained weight. It was obvious by the hint of abs underneath his tee that he was as buff as he’d been back in college.
I pulled my eyes up to his. Hooded, which told me he’d seen where my attention had wandered. Heat flooded my face. I hadn’t really been looking there.
Roan glanced around. Was steel solidifying in his expression? “Jason here with you?”
The three of us had hung out together during college. I’d married Jason, while Roan chose Lainie.
“No, he’s not.” Thankfully, Arie was chatting with a girl sitting at a nearby table. She didn’t need to hear this.
“Where is he?” Roan’s gaze narrowed on my face. “I’d love to say hello. Him being an old friend, and all.”
I’d have to name it sometime, even though speaking the words would only make me feel sad all over again. “Jason’s been dead for eight months. Cancer.”
“I’m sorry.” The irritation I’d heard in Roan’s words fled.
“Thank you. It’s been a rough time for us.”
He rubbed my arm. “I really didn’t know.”
“I guess that makes sense.” Unsettled by how alive I felt just because he stood near, I backed away. “It’s not as if we stayed in touch.”
Roan followed me with measured steps, one for each of mine. A hunter trailing a woodland creature. He’d need to take care, or I’d bite. “You’re right. The three of us were friends, but we didn’t stay in touch. Why didn’t we?”
How else could I put it? Roan said us sleeping together was a huge mistake. He’d asked me to leave so he could be with Lainie. The hurt I’d lived with back then came rushing back, making it hard to breathe. “I think you know the answer to that already.”
“Maybe, but…I wish…” A husky color rose in his face, and his hazel eyes darkened.
The colors in Roan’s eyes had always fascinated me. Happy, they looked like mist drifting across a meadow. Sad, they resembled a soft green fern. Now, they were blacker than hemlock on a cold winter’s day. I wasn’t sure how to read this color.
“Your pizza’s ready.” The older woman leaned around Roan, holding out a white cardboard box.
“Good seeing you,” I said to Roan. I propped the box on my hip and spoke to Arie. “Time to go, sweetie.”
Roan’s gaze followed me out the door.
Our boots crunched on the snow as we walked down the sidewalk toward the building I’d purchased for my new business. We soon turned onto the path alongside and climbed the staircase to our second-floor apartment.
“One is fun, two is true.” Arie sang the song I’d made up to help her learn her numbers. I hummed along, and we stomped in time on the steps. “Three is a tree. Four…” Tilting her head, she frowned up at me. “What’s four again, Mommy?”
While Arie worked her way to ten in a chirpy voice that melted my heart, I skimmed my eyes across my building. There was so much to do before this place would be ready to open. The outside needed paint and a new roof. Inside, a kitchen update, among a million other things. I’d bought the building for practically nothing because it had been on the market for years. Or so Dad told me when he emailed me the real estate link four months ago. When he said he missed me and hoped I’d move home.
With the remainder of my savings, I’d hire out the kitchen renovation and roof repair. But I had strong arms and the will to do the rest myself. If things went as expected, I’d open my doors in April, three months from now.
It would look fantastic. Light blue paint with cream trim. Simple, yet elegant tables with matching chairs on the patio out front. And cozy nooks inside where people could sit and enjoy a cup of tea with a cookie or scone, fresh from the oven. And, to top it off, a sign hanging above the main entrance.
Tea for Two
The name we’d come up with for my new tea room.
We. I’d yet to break the habit of referring to myself as one of two.
Just thinking about Jason made me stall on the steps and lower my head as if he’d reached out from his grave and spoken harshly to me. Our relationship had challenged my patience more times than I cared to admit, but I did miss him. Hard not to when he’d been such a huge part of my life.
For the first time in forever, I felt free, no longer tied to a life spent fulfilling everyone else’s needs except my own.
“Mommy?” Arie said from the deck above me.
Leaving California to come back home was the bravest thing I’d done in years, and it was time to savor this challenge. Smiling up at my daughter, I took the stairs two at a time. “Coming!”
We entered our apartment, where I dropped the pizza box onto the coffee table and hung our coats on the pegboard.
Brr. Goosebumps flashed up my arms. Why was it so cold in here? Growing up in Maine should’ve made me immune to freezing winter weather, but I already missed the sultry days in California. In an attempt to mimic some of that warmth, I’d turned up the thermostat before we left. It should’ve been toasty when we returned.
I strode to the wall and tapped the dial. Something rumbled in the basement, and the radiators hissed in retaliation. The darn furnace hadn’t run right since I’d bought the place. Good thing a repair crew was coming to look at it tomorrow.
My phone rang. When I slipped it from my pocket and stared down at the number, I couldn’t hold back my groan. But the smile I’d pressed onto my face whenever I interacted with my mother-in-law settled into place with practiced ease. “Bethany. How are you? How’s John?”
“Oh, you know. We’re doing the best we can.” Bethany sniffled. “Somedays, it’s a struggle to get out of bed in the morning. And I can’t walk past your old place without crying.”
As an only child, family had been important to Jason. After we married, my in-laws bought a house a few blocks from ours and Jason insisted we spend our free time together. Card games on Friday night. A movie with popcorn on Saturday. And let us not forget the combined vacations. I mean, I got along well enough with Bethany and John, and I’d wanted to please them and my husband. But we did everything together. Jason’s mother had even insisted I learn how to prepare Jason’s favorite foods, which, to my embarrassment, she tasted and rated on a scale of one to ten. With a culinary arts degree, a ten should’ve been my norm, but not for Bethany. She seemed to take great satisfaction in giving me threes.
Losing Jason had ripped them apart, but suppressing myself to please them had nearly crushed me.
“How’s Arie?” Bethany asked through the phone.
“Great. She starts school tomorrow. We met her teacher on Friday.”
I knew what she wished. That we’d stayed in California, where she could keep a tight rein on me. But as hard as I’d tried to mold myself into what she needed, I couldn’t play that game any longer. If I hadn’t run, she would’ve sucked away every last bit of my identity.
“Before I speak with my granddaughter, I have excellent news,” Bethany said. “That colonial house next door went on the market. Of course, I called right away and put a deposit on it. I’ll get in touch with the movers tomorrow.”
Movers? I pinched my brow and tried to sound normal, even though I wanted to shriek. “Excuse me?”
“You’re coming home.” No mistaking the sharpness in Bethany’s voice. Sometimes, I heard it in my sleep. “Your silly adventure in Maine is over.”
Silly adventure. I blinked back the sting in my eyes. Why couldn’t she understand how important this was to me?
That trapped feeling I’d lived with since marrying Jason poured through me all over again. Panic edged into my voice. “I just moved home. I bought a building. I’m renovating.” Wind had barely begun to fill my wings.
“Sell it.” The steel I’d associated with Jason came through in Bethany’s voice. The Stillmans bred true. “Arie needs to be here, with her grandparents.”
“What about my dad?” I whispered. “He’s a grandparent, too. Over the past five years, he’s only seen Arie twice. Once after she was born and two years later when he came out to visit. Dad was a lobsterman. If he didn’t work, he didn’t have money. A man couldn’t get to know his only grandchild through photos.
“You know she loves us. Misses us.”
“She does.” Despite how they treated me, it was clear my in-laws loved Arie as much as they had Jason. But still… Please. Let me live my own life. “I want to give this a chance.”
“You’ll fail,” Bethany said sharply.
There she went again, tightening the cord around my neck. My confidence fading, I could barely force out the words. “I deserve this.”
“We deserve to see our only grandchild on a regular basis. It’s our legal right.”
Legal? I shook my head, pushing the word from my mind. “You’re flying here this summer to see her.”
“It’s not enough.”
I almost caved and said I’d put my building on the market. That I’d move back to California, settle into the house next door, and pick up my dictated life as if I’d never left it. But I couldn’t do it.
From somewhere deep inside, I found some resolve. “It will be enough. You’ll see.”
Bethany’s whimpers turned into weeping. I knew her body shook and that John would be putting his arm around her shoulders.
My breath came out in sharp gasps. I’d been a wreck after I stood up for myself and told them I was moving home, and I felt the exact same way now. But if I didn’t show some spine, I never would. I needed to find myself again, not live a life controlled by my in-laws.
“Hey, it’s going to be okay.” I pushed the words out. “You’ll see.” And, because I couldn’t handle this confrontation any longer, I said, “You want to talk to Arie?”
“We’re not finished discussing this, Cara.”
“I’m sorry. I—”
“The house!” Bethany’s anger charged through the phone like a slap, and I flinched. “We’ll lose the deposit.”
“I can’t move back.” I dragged the words from deep inside me, where a solitary spark flickered. “Talk to your lawyers.” She had a fleet of them on call 24-7. “They’ll be able to get your deposit back.” Lowering the phone, I crossed to where Arie sat on the sofa, watching TV. “Sweetie. It’s your grannie.”
Arie reached for the phone. “Grannie!”
While they talked, I rushed into the kitchen and splashed water on my face. So much for feeling cold. Now, my body flamed. Clenching the edge of the sink, I took long, deep breaths and pushed out my frustration with each exhale. In no time, I’d suppressed my irritation. A skill I’d mastered after considerable practice.
I returned to the living room as Arie hung up, grateful Bethany hadn’t insisted on speaking to me again.
If I knew my mother-in-law, this was nowhere near over. She’d call, again and again, wearing me down until I gave in solely to get her to stop. Somehow, I’d have to find the will to hold onto my dreams.
“Time to eat.” Arie flipped open the lid of the pizza box.
“Dining room,” I said in a shaky voice, pointing in that direction.
“Mommy,” she said, long-suffering.
“Mommy,” I said, using the same tone, and we laughed. Nothing cheered me up more than letting fun back in. I needed to do it more often.
“Dad eats—used to eat in the living room.”
Hard to believe Arie might not always remember everything Jason had done. She was old enough to miss her father for a while, but was she old enough to hold onto the good memories forever?
For that matter, could I?