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When You’re Ready by J.L. Berg

 

 

Years after suffering the tragic loss of her husband, Ethan, which left her alone to raise their young daughter, Clare Murray still holds the last letter he wrote with the words "When You're Ready" written in his familiar messy handwriting, unable to break its weathered seal. Ready for what? He was her entire world, and Clare had accepted a life without him, without love. Until years later, fate brings her to an emergency room, and face to face with a stormy-eyed doctor intent on changing her mind.

 

Son of a billionaire, Logan Matthews has spent his life trying to make his absentee father proud. Without a family to depend on, all he's ever wanted is a place to call home. After a failed marriage, Logan believes he's unworthy of love...until he meets a woman who awakens his spirit and transforms his entire life in an instant.

 

But how far are Clare and Logan willing to go for love? Can his love mend the pieces of her grieving heart?

 

When their love is tested, is Clare ready to put her whole heart on the line again? Can Logan learn the true meaning of love, even if it means sacrificing his own happiness? When a second chance at love is given, Clare and Logan learn you are never truly ready until you're ready to risk it all.

 

This book contains adult language and scenes. Not intended for readers under the age of 18.

 


Prologue

 

Ethan

 

Three years earlier...

 

 

I took the stationery the home health nurse brought and I placed it in front of me. The blank white pages lay there, staring up and mocking me as I struggled to begin. I didn’t have much time. Clare would be gone for only a short time and I needed to get this out, to tell her how I feel. Telling her now, in person, would only cause her pain. She wouldn’t understand and would only lash out in anger.

I held the pen to the page, struggling to begin.

How do you tell the woman you love to move on? To love again? The thought of her with someone else tore me up inside, but the thought of her alone forever was worse.

So this is what I had to do for her. She’d been so strong for me for far too long, and it was time I gave that back. Eventually, she would need it.

Eventually, she would find someone who would make her want to love again, and I would be there for her, telling her it’s okay.

Finally, my pen met the paper and I began to write. I poured my soul out to the woman I loved.

The woman I had to leave behind.


Chapter One

 

Clare

 

 

"Miss? Do you need to see a doctor?" the emergency room attendant asked. My eyes roamed the familiar sterile walls, taking me back to the last time I’d stood in this very room. When they’d told me he...

Don’t think about it. Don’t even go there.

“Miss?”

I don’t even know why she was asking. Why else would I be standing here? The vomit smell, the wild look in my eyes and the crying child in my arms wasn’t enough of an answer for her?



"Yes, my daughter fell...she's been throwing up the whole way here. I...I think she might have a concussion," I managed to say while juggling said daughter in one arm and printing her name on the sign-in sheet on the counter with the other. I pushed back a piece of my auburn hair with my freed up hand, and exhaled in exhaustion.

Nodding, the middle-aged woman with the sandy brown hair and a nametag that said “Tammy” began to take our information, slapped those uncomfortable hospital bracelets on both our wrists and ushered us into the waiting room, assuring me it wouldn’t be too long a wait. Hopefully the walls wouldn’t close in on me before we got called back. I hated this place.

I sat us down in the far corner, making sure there was plenty of space between us and the other patients waiting their turn. No one needed to be sitting near this train wreck. My nerves were shot and I was still shaking like a leaf from our harrowing drive. I'm fairly sure I’d broken a number of traffic laws getting us here, but when your child was in the backseat, recreating a scene from the Exorcist, traffic tickets seemed a little less important. I knew in the back of my mind that it was most likely a normal, run of the mill concussion, and she just needed to be examined. I should have been calmer, but as soon as she began getting sick on the couch at home, I freaked out. I think it’s a mom thing, we can’t help it. It’s our job to panic. That’s what I kept telling myself at least.

I looked down at my Maddie, my four-year-old monster, currently dressed completely in pink, all of which was covered in dried vomit. She was holding onto my shirt with a tight fist, her tiny head resting against my chest. She was still sniffling from tears that had long since dried. The beautiful curly strawberry blonde hair that she’d inherited from me was a matted mess, sticking up in every direction. Her left thumb was purposely stuck in her mouth, her preferred method of calming when she was upset. I desperately tried not to think about whether or not that thumb had come in contact with anything projecting out of her mouth. Gross.

"I swear, child...you're gonna give me a heart attack before I turn 30," I said while absently running my hands through her disheveled hair, and gazing into the brown eyes that reminded me so much of the man I’d loved. My eyes were a deep green, but Maddie’s were the color of her father’s, dark chestnut brown.

The last two hours were a blur and I was still trying to recover. Parenthood was never-ending and exhausting. Being a single parent was even more so.

I hadn’t planned on the single part.

“Ethan, please don’t leave me!”

The memory of that night came rushing back. I remembered finding him unconscious and barely breathing, the ambulance, and the hysteria as they wheeled him in. Standing in this waiting room when the doctor came out and...no. I couldn’t do this right now. No one needed to see an emotional breakdown in the ER waiting room. Again.

“What's a heart attack?” Maddie mumbled weakly against my chest.

“It's like throwing up, but waaaaaaaaay worse,” I said jokingly in an attempt to lift her spirits. Mine too, maybe.

“Oh,” she whispered back. I could see her sheepish smile peek through for a second before it disappeared. Mission accomplished. At least she still thought I was funny.

 

Today began as any other day. Maddie had preschool this morning, and when we got home in the afternoon, she told me about all the adventures she’d had at school. I’d listened and said “Oooh,” and “Wow!” at all the right moments, making her feel like she was the most important person in the world, because she was. At least in my world.

Later, she’d gone upstairs to play dress-up in one of her many ballerina costumes. She twirled around, a vision in pink, telling me she was going to be the bestest ballerina ever.

"Baby, you already are the best ballerina I know!"

"Well duh, Mommy!" she replied. Such sass. I had no idea where she got that from. Absolutely none. She must have inherited that one from her father. Definitely not me. Nope.

I left her in her bedroom to be ballerina extraordinaire while I ran around the house picking up the epic mess a young child managed to create when I heard it...that heart-wrenching sound no parent wants to experience. I raced upstairs after hearing her hit the floor. As a parent, you learn quickly that the more delayed the scream, the worse it’s going to be. It’s like the child is working through the shock and winding their way up to the scream. It felt like a full hour before I heard that blood curdling scream. I was already at her bedroom door.

“Baby, are you okay?” I picked her up and brought her into my arms. Looking back, I realize that was probably not the most intelligent thing to do. Aren't you supposed to leave them still in case of spinal damage or something? I don't know...my parental instinct was to pick her up, so that’s what I did. She cried and I consoled. This went on for a few minutes, and then she calmed down a bit so we could talk.

“What happened, Maddie? How did you fall?” I asked, looking over at her ballet barre positioned right next to her bed, putting all the pieces together in my head as she looked up at me.

“I don't know Mommy, I just fell,” she said, lying through her teeth.

“Mmm, well...it wouldn't have anything to do with this ballet barre, would it?”

“Um, no?” I could see her mind going, trying to figure out something, anything that could get her out of this...but nope, her four-year-old brain wasn’t fast enough, so she reverted to an old favorite, the pathetic pouty face. It works on everyone except me. I’m Mommy, therefore I’m immune.

“Okay, well I'm going to tell you what I think happened and you can tell me if I'm close or not, okay?” She nodded in agreement. “I think someone, possibly you, thought it would be fun to climb on their ballet barre and perhaps sit on it like the monkey bars at the playground.”

Her eyes widened. Yep, bingo.

“Considering that isn’t the safest thing for a little girl to do, I think it might be time for the ballet barre to take a vacation until we can find something safer for you to practice on.” I knew I shouldn't have taken that hand-me-down plastic ballet barre from my Mom’s friend, but she insisted. I don’t know why, but everyone felt this overwhelming need to give toys and clothes to the widow. If I showed any of them my monthly bank statement, they’d probably have a different opinion. Ethan was a planner, and he made sure we’d be taken care of no matter what. I could choose to never work another day in my life and we’d be fine. But being a young widow, I was still the ultimate charity case. It’s been almost three years and I think there might still be enough frozen casseroles in my freezer to last through an apocalypse.

Maddie, though sad, had agreed, and we relocated the ballet barre. She was pretty bummed over losing it, I could tell. But she handled it like a champ.

“Mommy, if my Daddy were here...could he build me a ballet barre?” I nodded, unable to form words, staring at those stupid hospital walls, a reminder of everything lost. That’s exactly what Ethan planned on doing when she had gotten old enough, but plans, being the bitch that they are, have a way of changing.

 

“Madilyn Murray?” the triage nurse called from across the room. I rose from the chair, juggling Maddie in my arms, and followed the nurse through the double doors to a small room on the left.

“We need to weigh her. Can she stand?” the petite blonde nurse asked as we entered the room.

“Oh, yes.” I placed Maddie’s petite body on the scale, stepping back just slightly. I didn’t want to be too far away in case she fell.

“Okay, you can take her now,” the nurse said, writing down the information on a notepad.

The triage nurse, whose name I learned is Nicole, goes through the many triage procedures, taking her temperature, pulse and blood pressure and asking if Maddie’s allergic to anything. I always find this a strange question to ask for a young child. I mean, how many medications can a normal four-year-old possibly have taken to know a definitive answer to this question? Maddie’s probably taken a grand total of maybe five medications in her short life, and I’m supposed to say no, she not allergic to anything.

“Okay, let’s go over all her symptoms so I get everything into the system,” Nicole said, transferring information from her little notepad into a computer.

I went over the events of the afternoon with her, the ballerina routine, the fall, flying up the stairs, and how it happened. She continued to type on the keyboard and listen. Occasionally she asked questions.

“After she settled down, we went downstairs to cuddle on the couch and start a movie. About an hour or so later, she became quiet and lethargic, which is very un-Maddie like. I was about to call the on-call pediatrician when she became violently ill. So, I packed her in the car and came here.”

Nicole leaned forward, examining Maddie, completely oblivious to our stench, and it was strong. There was no way someone could miss it. People who worked in hospitals must have nostrils of steel.

“Bless your little heart. How ya doing, baby girl?” Nicole’s southern accent was strong. She was not originally from here. Richmonders don’t have that much twang.

“I’m okay, I guess,” Maddie managed to say before burrowing her head back into my chest.

“We’ll take good care of her. Let’s finish up, and we’ll get you settled in an exam room. I’ll make sure she gets Dr. Matthews. He’s the best.”

“Thank you, Nicole. I really appreciate it,” I said, meaning every word.

“Don’t you mention it, hun. I got one at home just about the same age,” she said, turning back to the computer to type again.

Nicole proceeded to ask a few more questions, briefly examined Maddie's head, made a call, and minutes later another nurse appeared in the doorway, ready to escort us down the hall.

“You take care, hun,” she said, waving at Maddie and me as we walked away.

 

Ushered into an exam room, we were introduced to yet another nurse, this one’s nametag said Theresa. She gave me a tiny hospital gown to change Maddie into before heading for the door, saying she would return shortly.

I looked at the clean, freshly laundered hospital gown with envy. At that moment, I’m pretty sure I would have given half my closet for a pair of scrubs. The last thing on my mind when we left was clothing, and I’d rushed out the door covered in vomit. The time since hadn’t improved matters, and I was pretty sure I smelled awful. No, scratch that. I knew I smelled awful. Theresa seemed to be holding her breath the entire time she was in the room. Well, at least I was at a hospital. There was no one to impress here.

The door to our exam room cracked open and a familiar face peeked in.

“Clare? Oh my God! I heard one of the nurses say your name and came to investigate. Can you tell me why I had to find out my BFF and goddaughter are in the ER through some random nurse. You couldn't have called or texted?” Leah, my slightly peeved best friend said, walking into the room wearing panda bear scrubs. Only Leah could wear those ridiculous looking scrubs and still look hot. I don’t know how she makes it out alive each day in the Labor and Delivery unit. If someone like her had walked in when I was in labor, all tanned and blonde with her perky breasts and model physique, while I was sweating like a pig trying to birth a child, I would have decked her. She was lucky I actually allowed her in the birthing room when Maddie was born. Although I did make her come to the hospital in her grungiest scrubs and absolutely no makeup. Petty? Yes. But it made me feel the slightest bit better.

Leah and I had been best friends since second grade, when Kara Daniels tried stealing my chocolate pudding cup in the lunchroom. Leah saw the whole thing from across the cafeteria. She got up from her chair, walked over to Kara and punched her right in the nose. That little bully fell backasswards off her seat, stunned. Leah of course went to the principal's office for it. He called her parents and she got sent home for the rest of the day. Honestly, she got off easy. When she returned to school the next day, we were inseparable and have been ever since. Kara Daniels, of course, never bothered me again. Leah and I did everything together and even graduated from the same college, but shortly after, she decided to return to school and get her nursing license, after several failed attempts at finding a job revealed that you couldn’t do jack shit with a philosophy degree.

“Leah, I'm sorry. I was going to text you as soon as we got through triage, but they just put us in here. The whole thing has been one giant blur. I thought concussions were supposed to be instantaneous. We sat on the couch watching The Wizard of Oz for over an hour. What if I made it worse by not doing anything?” I said.

“Should I have taken her here right away? What if her brain is hemorrhaging or something?” I think my blood pressure doubled with each word. I don’t know why I started panicking again. Stress is a funny thing.

“Clare. Seriously, calm down.” She kneeled down in front on me as I sat next to Maddie on the bed.

“You didn't do anything wrong. You know by now that you can't take her to the ER for every bump, scratch or fall,” she said soothingly. “You did everything perfectly. Now shut the hell up and relax.” She paused, and then scrunched her nose in disgust. “Did you know you totally smell?”

A giggle escaped out of me and I pulled her toward me for a tight hug, silently thanking her.

“No, I mean, like really smell. Don’t hug me! Yuck!” I laughed harder. I could even hear Maddie giggling a little next to me. Leah had always been my savior when my world was flipped upside down.

“Seriously, are you doing okay? You know, being here?” she asked, knowing the last time I’d been here, having been in that waiting room holding my hand to the very end.

“Yeah, I mean. I guess.” I smiled weakly. She squeezed my hand, knowing when not to push.

“Okay, well take care of my girl. I’ll be back to check on you later. And seriously, find a change of clothes, cause you are just nasty,” she teased.

“Thanks, Nurse Morgan. You are the bestest nurse ever,” I mocked as she rolled her eyes and headed for the door.

Being here was like anywhere else that reminded me of him, the ice cream shop, our favorite restaurant, and the grocery store. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid, just have to fucking do it and get it over with. Of course, he didn’t die at the ice cream shop.

I pulled myself away from going down that awful road. Leah’s right, Maddie was fine. Just because there were memories here that haunted me and filled my soul with dread didn’t mean that every event here would end with the same outcome. I looked over at Maddie who was now resting comfortably, and I felt calmer.

“You know Maddie? I think we’ll be able to go home in no time!” I said enthusiastically. She looked over at me and smiled, right before she lifted herself up and hurled over the side of the bed, right on my shoes.


Chapter Two

 

Logan

 

 

I don’t even know why I answered the phone. My best friend Colin meant well, but he sounded like a fucking broken record, and I didn’t want to hear it. Mostly because everything he said was true.

"Dude, you’ve got to stop burning the candle at both ends. You're gonna end up leaving a bloody cloth in someone's gut or something," Colin said as I leaned back in the hard plastic chair of the hospital cafeteria, staring at my half eaten dinner. Ham and cheese sandwich that tasted like cardboard, with a side of caffeine. Again.

"Yeah, well everyone has a hobby. Some people cliff dive, others garden or practice meditation. I just happen to excel at going to bars, drinking and picking up women." I don't think he found me nearly as funny as I was trying to appear.

The fact is, I was tired.

So fucking tired of everything, and...I just didn’t care anymore. When I left the hospital, I didn’t want to go home. I don’t know why I bought that house in the first place. It was so empty. I moved to Richmond to disappear. Colin thought it was to be closer to him, and yes, it was nice having him around. When I actually bothered seeing him. God, I was an ass. But at least he had Ella. He wasn’t a bachelor anymore, and as happy as I was for him, I was also envious. I hated that feeling. I hated most feelings these days. Going home to the big empty house left me wandering the halls with nothing to do but think. So instead, I went out to a bar or a club, trying to disappear in the crowds of people. Until I got recognized. Do people really not have a life? Since when did billionaires’ kids become so damn interesting? It did make finding a woman to go home with easier. No one said no to a night with Mitchell Matthew’s son. Too bad I didn’t actually stay until morning.

“So, that's not really the reason I was calling," he said with a nervous twitch in his voice. Why was he nervous? In all the years I’d known him, Colin had never been nervous about anything. He always faced everything head on with balls of steel. I still remember the night he’d met his wife, back when I’d still been a decent guy to hang out with, before I’d turned into the bastard I was now. We were at a crowded bar around campus when he first spotted her, walking in with a date. He said he knew at first sight she was “the one” and had to talk to her before she disappeared into the crowd. Thinking he was crazy, I turned to tell him so, but he was already gone. A man on a mission. He dodged people left and right, even jumping over a table full of people to get to her. Finally reaching her table, he kneeled down in front of her, totally ignoring her date, and looked up at her with his trademark shit-eating grin and said, "You're going to be the mother of my children, and I've been sitting in this bar waiting my whole life for you. So why don't you say goodbye to this loser and go someplace with me?"

The whole bar was silent by now, having witnessed the table jumping shenanigans and heard his declaration of love. She looked around, turning red from all the attention, when suddenly her horrified face transformed into a mischievous smile. Thinking he’d won her over, he smiled back, waiting for her to say yes and follow him into the sunset or whatever.

Instead, she poured her entire margarita on his head.

The whole bar erupted in laughter and applause. Rather than walk around in defeat, he stood and strode back over to our table, red slush sliding down his face, and sat back down looking like he just scored a winning touchdown.

"Why the hell do you look so cocky? You just got turned down in front of the whole damn bar," I said, trying hard not to laugh, and not succeeding.

"Just wait," he grinned.

And so we did. We sat there and finished our drinks and ordered more. An hour or so went by, and when our third round came by, the waitress dropped Colin's drink in front of him, along with a napkin. He held it up triumphantly showing a phone number along with the name Ella. They've been driving each other crazy ever since. Unfortunately, my luck in that department had not been so good. But then, I’d been raised by a money-loving asshole, so what do I know about love?

"Why do you sound so damn nervous all of a sudden?" I asked, running my hands through my messy dark brown hair. I didn't like nervous Colin.

“Got a call from Gabe the other day. He called to tell me Melanie’s pregnant. He wanted to call and tell you himself, but he wasn't sure how you'd take it. You guys haven't exactly spoken since the divorce.” I was silent; I didn’t know what to say. Did he expect me to react?

"Anyway, I thought you should know. It's fairly new. I think they're only a couple months along. Melanie is really excited. I know what the two of them did was shitty on an epic level, and I know they don't deserve our forgiveness, but at the end of the day, they're some of our oldest friends. And they're trying. I guess I'm trying, too. I think I still want to kick Gabe's ass again, that was fun.”

“I know, Colin. I get it. Honestly, I'm happy for them. Especially Melanie. She's finally getting everything she ever wanted.” Everything I couldn't give her.

“If you talk to Gabe, tell him I’m happy for them. I...I can’t do it yet. I can’t talk to them, not yet,” I said. Of course, it’s not for the reasons he thinks. I didn’t deserve to talk to either of them. I’d wronged them and they didn’t need me and my shit in their life anymore.

"Okay man, no problem. We’re not talking on a regular basis, but I’ll pass it along if he calls again. Well, I should let you get back to doctoring or something. We need to get together soon and have some man time,” he said, letting out a long sigh.

“This pregnancy stuff is getting to me. Ella made me read a book about breast feeding the other day. Have you seen what a breast pump looks like? It's frightening man, I need some dude time." He really did sound frightened.

"Okay, I'll call you. Later." I said, knowing I probably wouldn’t, and continued to stare at my half eaten dinner. I don’t even know why he continued to call. If the roles were reversed, I would have given up by now. I’m not worth it.

I looked around the cafeteria, which had long since emptied by now. A quiet hum came from the refrigerators, and I could hear the shuffling of people’s feet in the hallway. Life went on in the hospital as I thought about my ex-wife. Melanie finally got what she always wanted, a family. It just wasn't with me.

Love me Logan, just love me.

I thought I did. I tried. I gave her everything I had to give. But it wasn’t enough.

Looking at my watch, I realized I was needed back in the ER. I gathered the remnants of my lack luster dinner and dumped my trash. As I walked out of the cafeteria, my mind focused back to work...at least I’m good at that.

 

Clare

 

I sat near the end of the bed holding Maddie's hand. She’d thrown up a couple more times and the nurse had to come in to change her hospital gown. She seemed a bit calmer now but was still pale. I was amazed by how much liquid could come out of a human being. But, looking back to my college days, I seemed to remember saying something similar as I hugged the toilet and swore I’d never drink again. And wow, it smelled in here. I was really starting to question the sanity of those who worked in a hospital or the medical field in general. Willingly throwing yourself in the middle of sick people all the time? Yuck.

A knock on the door marked the entrance of yet another person. As I turned my head, I found myself face to face with the real-life version of Dr. McSteamy entering the exam room. Is this our doctor?

Holy hell, I think I just whimpered a little.

Tall and built like a swimmer, he was sexiest thing I’d ever seen in a pair of scrubs. Like the sky right before a summer storm, his eyes bordered between gray and blue, and I couldn’t help but stare into their thunderous intensity. His hair was dark brown that edged near black and had that "just fucked" look to it. The kind of hair that made you want to run your hands through it. How did guys do that? Did they spend time creating that look in a mirror, or was it really a product of being fucked? I suddenly wanted to know. Oh shit, was I drooling? Did he say something?

He was looking right at me, waiting.

“Are you the mother?” he asked. His eyebrow arched in question. A really hot question.

Seriously, Clare...get your mind out of the gutter.

"Uh, yes. I'm Clare Murray. This is my daughter Madilyn, uh, Maddie," I said, trying to cover up the fact that I had probably been standing there for an ungodly amount of time, lamely staring at him and forming my own mini puddle of drool while he tried to get my attention back on my sick daughter.

Yup, best mother ever.

“Nice to meet you Ms. Murray, I’m Dr. Matthews.” Turning to Maddie, he said, “And this must be the princess.”

Calling Maddie a princess earned him major brownie points and I think I even heard a faint giggle. She immediately looked up, her big brown eyes connecting with his as he began the examination.

Dr. Matthews bent down, leaned over her tiny frame and ran his hand over Maddie’s head. I knew he was checking for any bumps or abnormalities, but his gesture seemed protective and my heart did a little flip flop seeing my daughter in the arms of another man.

Done with his physical exam, he settled himself at the end of the hospital bed and motioned for me to take a seat in the chair positioned next to Maddie. It was a small room, making us all very cozy. I could feel the heat radiating off his body. His really, really hot body. His eyes lingered on mine briefly and I felt the blush start to creep up my cheeks. A quick smirk flashed across his face before he began speaking.

"Well, your nurse already gave me some of the details on what led to Maddie’s injury this afternoon. Sounds like you had an eventful day,” he said, giving Maddie a gentle smile. She looked up at him like he was the king of the world, which surprised me. Maddie’s generally not a fan of men, having not been around many in her life.

“But it looks like a classic concussion. Her skull feels normal, and I don’t see any signs of swelling or bleeding. I’m going to go ahead and order a CT just to rule out anything major and make sure we’ve covered all of our bases. But more than likely she’ll be back to her old self in a few days,” he said, offering reassurance.

I nodded absently, those stark white walls started to tighten around me. It’s not the fact that he wanted a test that sent me into an instant panic attack. I understood the precaution. I was glad Dr. Matthews was taking the time to do so, and I appreciated his thoroughness. It was the way in which he said it. The exact phrasing. One sentence brought the memory back to haunt me, flooding my mind and taking over my senses.

 

Ethan sat down next to me on the bed. He looked at me with those dark brown eyes and a concerned, loving look. He knew I always worried about everything.

"Baby, I don't need any more tests. The doctor says they’re only migraines," he said. "The CT came back normal which rules out anything major. I don't want to fight with the insurance company to get an MRI. You know they aren't going to pay for it, so why bother?" He pulled me down onto our bed so that we were lying side by side.

"It's going to be fine. So please, stop worrying," he pleaded, leaning in to kiss me slowly, desperately trying to change the subject. He pulled away, looking at me with a devious grin plastered on his face. "Besides, we have more important things to think about right now," he whispered, looking down my body slowly and appreciatively.

"Oh, yeah? I can't think of anything," I said, faking a yawn and stretching my arms out wide. "I think I'm going to go to sleep. Night!"

I tried to keep my face steady, but I couldn’t help the grin that escaped, and before I could cover my mouth to hide it, he attacked and I squealed with laughter. He straddled my body, pinning me to the bed with his knees and trapping my wrists above my head in his tight grasp.

"Shhh! This is the first night in weeks the baby has been asleep for more than an hour, and you're going to ruin it with your squealing horse laugh!" He leaned down to kiss me, chuckling.

"I do not laugh like a horse!" I pouted.

The annoyance in my voice melted as his trailing kisses reached my neck and meandered down to my shoulder, taking the strap of my nightgown with him. He pulled my body firmly against his and slowly made his way back to my mouth, kissing me so fiercely that every other thought melted away. Tests and headaches were left in the past.

 

If only I had been more persistent, more demanding...taken him to more specialists...

"Are you sure the CT will be enough? Nothing will be overlooked?” I asked, escaping from the memory that had held me captive. Fear was evident in my voice. I knew everything was fine, and what happened with Ethan had been rare, but the irrational panic was there nonetheless.

Maddie is not Ethan. Maddie is not going to die. I silently chanted, feeling the calm beginning to return.

I looked up at Dr. Matthews and he was watching me with concern and confusion painted all over his gorgeous face.

Awesome. Good job, Clare. Now the hot doctor thinks you’re crazy.

 

Logan

 

I didn’t know whether to comfort the woman in front of me or pivot and run. She seemed to be in her own world, full of pain and possibly regret, and I didn’t know who or what could bring her out of it.

It had been a slow night in the ER, meaning we hadn’t had many emergencies. So far that night, I had mended two broken arms, stitched up a knife wound for a local chef who’d had a bad day at work, and pulled a Lego out of a little boy's nose. I was about to lose my mind from the boredom. I hated days like these. I’d come to Richmond from one of the top trauma centers in the country. I had worked brutal hours, running from one patient to the next, never taking breaks, living on bad coffee and taking power naps on any empty hospital bed I could find. It had also given me a reason to not go home, cowardly choosing to stay at work rather than face a wife I couldn't love.

Moving here was a nice change of pace but on the slow nights it sometimes got to me. I don’t regret my decision, but sometimes I missed the rush. Luckily, not every day was like this. It was still an ER and I had my fair share of adrenaline-inducing cases, but nothing compared to the rush of what I had left behind. The larger hospital downtown took most of the serious trauma cases, but we still had enough to keep me busy. Besides, quiet is what I wanted, and what I’d asked for.

So, when I walked into this exam room, I was expecting another mundane case, considering the evening I’d had thus far.

The smell of vomit had been the first thing that hit me when I entered, and I instantly groaned. God, I hated vomit. Give me blood and guts any day. I would rather stitch up anything then walk into a room that smelled like this. I was focused on the file, trying to re-learn how to breathe through my mouth when I looked up and saw my new patient lying in a hospital bed. She looked like an angel with a head full of long strawberry blonde curls and round cherub cheeks. She looked over at me with big brown eyes, smiled faintly and I found myself having the sudden urge to bring her into my arms, assuring her everything would be just fine. Having no idea where that came from, I turned my head away from the little girl in search of her mother, and dear God, I found her. She was breathtaking. Loose, dark red curls trailed down her back showing off a slim body full of curves in all the right places. She was wearing...hmm, well I suddenly knew where the vomit smell was coming from. She must have run out of the house in a panic. My eyes traveled back up to her eyes, shit. I don't think I’d ever seen eyes so green in my life. A man could get lost in them, never able to find his way back.

She’d been looking at me, staring actually, like she was waiting for me to say something.

Oh right, I was the doctor.

I had to tell myself to stop eye fucking her and be professional.

And I had been. She introduced herself as Clare Murray. I knew that already, having read the child’s file, but it was nice to have an introduction. I’d checked out Maddie’s head, feeling...I don’t know what, when she curled into me as I examined her. I skipped over that quickly. I didn’t like to feel...anything.

I helped Maddie lay back down, covered her with a blanket, and sat at the end of the bed focusing my attention back on the beautiful woman in front of me. She was looking over at her daughter, obvious worry in her eyes.

Her worry went from slight to panicked when I mentioned the CT I’d planned for Maddie. I’d never seen someone panic so much over a simple test before. She asked if I was sure, and then it was like she was gone. Her eyes went blank and her gaze wandered down to her joined hands resting in her lap, and she just disappeared. I don’t know why, but I knew this had nothing to do with Maddie. It was too abrupt, too intense, and there was a sense of loss in her eyes. She was worried before, but below the worry I could tell she knew Maddie would be fine. She knew just as I did that it was a simple concussion that would go away on its own. Everything else we were doing was just precautionary.

I didn’t know what was going on in her head, but a few seconds passed and she looked up at me, a mixture of panic and embarrassment playing across her face.

Before I knew what I was doing, I reached toward her, "Clare? Are you all right?” I asked, putting my hands on hers, trying to pull her back from the place she drifted to. Her eyes focused on where our hands had joined, and she spoke without glancing up.

“You're sure she doesn't need any other tests? The CT scan will show you everything?” Her voice quivered slightly as she asked again.

I could hear the pain in her words, see the fear in her eyes, and I wanted to erase it all. I don’t know what I was doing, why this woman’s pain was calling to me so loudly. It wasn’t my problem to fix. I seriously needed to get the hell out of this room before I did something stupid.

I jerked my hand back, clearing my throat awkwardly. "Yes, she’ll be fine, Ms. Murray. We will make 100% sure she’s well enough to discharge when you leave. I'll look over the CT personally after the radiologist is done, just to be sure," I said in my most professional doctor-type voice, trying to convince myself that this was just another patient, and Clare was just another mother. Noticing the abrupt change in my tone, her head bobbed in agreement, and she returned her attention to Maddie, clearly hurt.

I took a step toward the door and silently cursed under my breath.

Instead of turning the knob and walking out the door, I rotated around, walked the three steps to the chair Clare was in, and took a knee in front of her.

Her emerald green eyes shifted from Maddie to me in surprise, widening at my abrupt change of pace.

Yeah, I know. It’s new for me too.

"It will be okay," I assured her, looking over at Maddie, and then finding my way back to Clare.

"I promise.”

I quickly stood, and exited the exam room.

Well, so much for not doing anything stupid.

 

Clare

 

What the hell was that? I thought I was crazy, but I think I may have found my date to the crazy dance. I was pretty sure that wasn’t normal. Most doctors didn’t kneel, vowing everything was gonna be okey-dokey. Because if so, I’m pretty sure malpractice suits would be through the roof.

We had just been wheeled back into the room after the CT and I was quietly sitting beside Maddie, watching her sleep. It had gotten late, and I swear we’d been here for three days, even though it’d only been four hours. Nothing in a hospital ever moved fast. My thoughts drifted back to Dr. Matthews and his odd exit from the exam room.

When he grabbed my hand and asked if I was all right rather than stare at me and call in the people with the straitjackets, I felt something. Something I thought I’d never feel again. I’d loved Ethan with my entire being. We’d met when I’d just started college, and he was my first love. When you have the type of love Ethan and I did, you don’t expect to ever be lucky enough to find it again. It’s not that I was determined to die alone, but I just figured that’s how it would be. Men and women spend their entire lives looking for “the one.” I’d found him and I’d been lucky enough to have eight wonderful years with him. I had my time and that was it. But when I looked up into that man’s eyes as he was holding my hand, I felt something in me stir...something I’d thought was long since gone. I thought he’d felt it too.

And then he snapped his hand back and tried to brush it off like it never happened. It was like a slap in the face. I reminded myself that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice. Ethan was gone, and so was my one true love, at the age of twenty-seven. No man could ever compare to that. That’s what I’d thought until he’d spun around, swearing everything would be okay. I didn’t know what to make of that, but it made my heart quicken just thinking about it. It was like he was trying to erase the virtual bitch slap he’d given me and tell me he’d felt it too. Or I could be seeing a connection that wasn’t there. He could just be crazy and I’d just won my very own psycho bodyguard.

A quiet knock brought me out of my thoughts, and Leah appeared in the doorway.

“Hey sweetie, how’s my girl?” she whispered, sitting on the edge of the bed as she leaned over to check on a sleeping Maddie. I was a little nervous about her falling asleep, but Theresa said it was fine. They would wake her up in an hour to check on her. Honestly, I was a little envious. I wouldn't mind crawling on that bed with her and taking a nap.

“She’s better, been sleeping for about fifteen minutes. Dr. Mathews said it was just a concussion, but she just came back from doing a CT just in case. And before you ask, I’m fine,” I said, seeing her eyes already widening when I mentioned the CT. Sometimes, I think she knows me better than I know myself.

“Are you sure? You know it’s not the same thing, right? She’s not Ethan.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ve told myself about a hundred times since he ordered the test.”

“You got Dr. Matthews? Damn, you lucked out! He’s fine, like I want to lick every inch of his body fine,” she laughed, making an obvious change in conversation.

I rolled my eyes. “Leah! I obviously didn’t notice. He’s my daughter’s doctor, I wasn’t exactly checking him out...much,” I smirked.

“I knew it. Slut.”

“Whore,” I countered back.

“Anyway,” she laughed, “You do know who he is right, like who his father is?”

I shook my head. “Nope. Although the name sounds familiar, I don’t pay much attention to the news anymore. Four-year-olds don’t get overly excited about current events or celebrity gossip.”

“Right, sometimes I forget you don’t live in the real world anymore. How is Dora these days?” she taunted. Leah loved heckling me about horrid cartoon characters. She knew Dora was on my top five most hated cartoon character list.

“Just as goddamn annoying as she was the last time you asked, jerk. I hate that stupid show,” I snapped, which sent her into a fit of silent laughter.

She pulled herself together and said, “Anyway, Logan Matthews is the only son to Mitchell Matthews, the founder of Matthews Associates, which is like the richest hedge fund company in the world.”

Of course I knew that, everyone knew that. Mitchell Matthews was known for taking his family fortune and turning it into billions on the stock market. He was a genius. Every business major in the world knew his name and studied his business’s history.

“He’s that Logan Matthews? What the hell is he doing in Richmond?” Shouldn’t he be in New York or Paris? I might be, given the option.

“No one knows. A couple years ago, he was living in New York and married. He worked at NY Presbyterian in the Trauma Center and was gaining some serious cred in his field. He’s a freaking Harvard and Yale grad. Anyway, big scandal breaks out all over the news. His wife cheated on him, and he disappeared. A few months later, he shows up here in the ER. He’s been here ever since.”

“Wow, she cheated on him?” I couldn’t imagine the heartbreak.

“I know, right? Who would cheat on that? I mean, seriously. I’ve only ever seen him in scrubs and that’s enough to make me want to go home and spend some quality time with my vibrator.”

“Really, Leah? Maddie’s like right there,” I reminded her, pointing a finger at my sleeping child.

“She’s asleep, and I know my goddaughter. She could sleep through an alien invasion.”

She was probably not wrong about that. Maddie slept like the dead.

“So, he came here to hide?” I asked.

“Well, he hasn’t exactly been hiding. No one really knows why he moved here, but according to the papers, he’s quite the player and makes no effort to cover up the fact.”

Well, I guess the crazy theory still stands. No player would want to touch this hot mess. A single mom, and widow to boot. Yeah, I was a huge bag full of fun.

“Hmm, interesting,” I said.

“So, before you leave you should ask him out!” Leah said, out of nowhere.

“Um, I’m sorry...what?”

“Ask. Him. Out,” she reiterated.

“Why? Didn’t you just say he was a player?” I was confused.

“Exactly. That’s just what you need. A hot doctor with no strings. It’s just the right thing to get the chains re-oiled and gears working right.”

“Did you just use a bike analogy for my girlie parts?” I don’t know why I’m surprised anymore.

“Yep, sure did. So what’s your deal? Is he not hot enough?” she asked.

Oh lord. She wasn’t going to let this go.

 

Logan

 

I had just returned to the ER wing after going over Maddie's CT with the radiologist on call. Everything looked normal, as I had expected. I’d even had the radiologist double check, keeping my promise to Clare, and helping my nerves settle. I had to be sure before I entered that room. I had no idea why I felt the way I did. I'd never felt anything so strong for a patient or her family. Being a doctor, I always wanted to heal and protect, it was in my nature. Why else would I be working these shitty hours and surviving on so little sleep? But this went beyond normalcy. I had felt something with that woman and her little girl the instant I walked in the exam room. After spending the last three years avoiding most situations that had anything to do with emotions, it frightened me. It was exactly why I was going to make sure Maddie was safe, and then send them home. Away from me and my poisonous existence.

Having been warned at the nurse’s station that Maddie was sleeping, I knocked gently at the door and quietly let myself in. Apparently my knock went unheard because as I stepped in I noticed Clare, sitting in the same seat I’d left her in, speaking with a blonde nurse from L&D. Their heads were huddled together, and slightly turned away, with their voices reduced to a low hush.

"Jesus, Leah. Just because I haven't had sex in over three years doesn't mean I'm dead. Yes, I’ll admit, he's goddamn gorgeous. He's like the Ian Somerhalder of doctors...he's --- oh shit," Clare halted mid-sentence, and her eyes widened in surprise as she spotted me in the doorway. She looked like she'd just been caught with a joint in the school bathroom. Oh fuck, was she talking about me? From the shade of red her face was turning, I’d say yes.

I tried to hide my widening grin and cleared my throat...trying to remember what I was going to say.

"Ah, sorry for the um, interruption?”

Don’t grin, jackass.

“I was coming in to give you the test results from Maddie's CT," I continued as professionally as I could muster.

"Right. Um, yes. Was everything okay? I mean, she's all right? You didn't find anything?" she blabbered, eyes going wild like she expected bad news.

Her hand reached out for the blonde nurse. I took a step forward because I was sorry I had scared her, but stopped myself. She’s not mine to protect. She was the mother of a patient. I needed to get my shit together and let this go.

"No, the radiologist didn't find anything. I had him look it over twice to be sure. She is perfectly fine. Just a concussion. I'll have some discharge instructions typed up, the nurse will go over them and then you can get out of here. Sound good?"

Clare let out an audible breath and looked relieved. She released her friend’s hand to reach out to her daughter, who’d just awoken. She took her daughter’s tiny hand in her own and smiled before looking up at me.

"Yes, thank you. We would love to go home."

I locked eyes with Clare one more time, trying to memorize the emerald color that shined through them. It’s true, a man could get lost in those eyes forever, but it wasn’t going to be me.


Chapter Three

 

Clare

 

 

"So much for sleeping tonight," I said to no one as I set the alarm clock next to the bed for one hour in the future. Our discharge papers said I had to wake Maddie every hour the first night. She’d had the worst day ever and to top it off, she would be startled awake all night. She was going to hate me.

As I tucked her in minutes ago, she gave me her goodnight hug and kiss routine, and then said "Mommy, I'm sorry I scared you. I'm not gonna leave you alone like Daddy." Dear lord, the things kids say.

"Oh baby, I know. Daddy left us because he was sick, and it was his time to be with the angels. It wasn’t his fault. I know you’re staying right here with me. But maybe you could lay off the climbing a bit?" I said, hoping to lighten the mood.

A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, "Okay, Mommy. Are you really going to build a ballet barre in my room?"

Oh, right, that. "Well, we’re definitely going to try. How about on Sunday we take a trip to the home improvement store and get everything we need?" I said, praying for divine intervention. I am so defunct at home improvement, hammers and nails flee in my presence.

She bobbed her head up and down enthusiastically, and I gave her one last hug and kiss before turning off the light. My eyes wandered over to the corner where the ballet barre would go and, as I walked out of the room, I wondered how in the world I was going to make this happen for my little girl.

Ethan, if you are up there...a little help? Please?

 

Walking into my bedroom, I flopped down on my bed just in time to pick up my ringing cell phone which was currently blaring “Milkshake” by Kelis. God, I hated that song.

Leah.

She had an obsession with ringtones. Or maybe she just liked to mess with me. She periodically stole my phone and programmed a new default ringtone, knowing full well I had no idea how to change it. She would wait patiently, like a lioness waiting for prey, until I would call her bitching about how my phone rang in the middle of the grocery store blaring “Sexy and I Know It”, or “Don’t Cha Wish your Girlfriend was Hot Like Me?” by the Pussycat Dolls in the middle of a preschool play. Leah found it hilarious. Me? Not so much. When my phone started singing “Baby” by Justin Beiber in the gynecologist’s office, I almost killed her. She kept that particular one programmed for weeks, slowly driving me insane. I really needed to learn how to use my cellphone.

"Hi Leah, she's doing much better," I answered.

"Oh, thank God. Thank you for taking care of my precious goddaughter tonight. I’ve been worried,” she said. She always played up her godmother role, like she was a queen or something.

“Well, now you can calm down. She’s asleep. Well, for the next hour at least.”

Leah’s always been like a sister to me and she loves my daughter like an aunt. I fear what she and Maddie might do together when she gets older. I may have to set ground rules. No rock concerts with Aunt Leah.

“Do you like your new ringtone?" she jeered.

"You're just lucky I answered in the first place. After tonight, I’m seriously driving all the way downtown if I need an ER. That had to be the most embarrassing moment of my life.”

Dr. Matthews knew exactly who I was talking about the minute he walked into that room. The over confident grin he’d briefly flashed before examining Maddie said so.

"Why? Because he heard you say he was hot? Well, duh. He is. It's not like he doesn't know it," she said, like it was no big deal.

"Oh God and the comment about how long it'd been. Jesus, he must think I'm a nun...or a prude," I whined, finding a comfortable position on the bed. I absentmindedly twisted a dark red curl around my finger.

“Wait, aren't those the same things?"

"Shut up, not funny."

"Okay, like I was saying before we were interrupted by the very topic of our conversation. Dr. Matthews is single, and you are single...oil, gears...etc.”

Wow. Subtle, Leah.

"And as I told you earlier, I have no idea why you are telling me this."

"Clare, sweetie. It's been over three years. I'm not saying go find a new husband. But at least think about the possibility of getting back out there and having a little fun,” she said gently.

"Fun? I have fun," I fired back defensively.

"I mean the adult version of fun. The horizontal kind you do with the opposite sex."

Oh. Right. I'd forgotten about that kind of fun.

"I just don't know if I'm ready, Leah," I huffed into the phone.

"Sweetie, you'll never know if you don't try. What better person to test drive than a super sexy doctor?" Leah cajoled.

"Maybe you should take your own advice? When was the last time you went out on a date?” I asked, knowing full well the answer. It had been months.

Leah had been in a long term relationship with a guy named Daniel. They were getting pretty serious and everyone expected him to propose. Then Ethan got sick and she did what any best friend would do. She dropped everything and helped me run my life for the next year. She was there for me every step of the way. When I needed a babysitter while we went to doctor’s appointments, chemo treatments and counseling sessions, she was there. She picked up groceries, paid bills, and held me when I cried. She was my rock. But unfortunately, Daniel was not as understanding. He left, saying she cared more about me than him. It devastated her, and I've felt guilty ever since. She's told me over and over that it obviously wasn't meant to be, and I agree, but the guilt remains. Ever since Daniel, her dating life has been minimal.

"We're not talking about me," she answered, changing the subject.

“We're talking about you and hot doctors. I could get his number for you. You could call and say you had a question about Maddie. No, wait! You could ask for a house call!"

“Oh my God. You’re insane. And no. You are not breaking into hospital records to get a phone number for me,” I said. I took a deep breath, knowing full well she was not going to give up.

"I need some time. Give me a few days. Maybe we can go bar hopping or something, but I don’t need to be set up with a billionaire doctor to get my mojo going again.”

"All right, but I expect you to get some phone numbers when we go barhopping. No hiding in the corner booth. I still think hot doctor is the way to go. It would definitely be my pick. Yum,” she said, in a dreamy voice.

I allowed myself one last fleeting memory of the moment I’d shared with the doctor today. Had I shared a moment with him, or was it just an indication that I needed to move on. Could I?

"It's time, Clare," Leah said, just as the one hour alarm went off saving me from further discussion on my love life, or lack thereof.

“I’ve got to go wake up our sleeping beauty.”

“Better you than me. That girl is a bear when she’s sleepy,” she joked.

“No kidding. Just like her godmother.”

 

After waking a very sleepy and unhappy Maddie and returning her back to bed, I readied myself for sleep. I finally eased into bed after a day that seemed like it would never end. Running my hands over the soft sheets, I tried to remember what it was like to have Ethan here beside me. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he and I were here together in this place, and yet I can still remember the exact color of his eyes, and the way he smelled after a shower when I lay in his arms. My eyes traveled over the room we’d decorated so long ago. We spent forever picking out the exact shade of gray, and the perfect furniture. The first year of our marriage was spent making this house our home. And now it was just me, raising our daughter, alone.

I can’t help but think what today would have been like with him by my side. What it would have felt like to have someone there, holding my hand, holding Maddie’s hand, and assuring us everything would be fine.

My fingers reached toward the nightstand drawer next to the bed, pulling out the envelope I’d held so many times before. Still sealed, with worn edges from constantly being held, I brought it to my nose, hoping there would still be a faint whiff of his cologne, but knowing full well there wasn’t.

On the front of the envelope, it simply says "When you're ready" in Ethan's messy handwriting. I always gave him shit for it, asking him how he could read the scribble he produced. He would laugh and admit that he couldn't. I smiled, remembering all the years of sweet memories we shared.

I found the letter weeks after he died, when I was looking through one of his drawers. Knowing him, he'd probably hid it somewhere out of the way on purpose, knowing I’d need some time. Those first weeks of grief were...well, there were no words. When someone close to you dies, it feels like they take a piece of your very soul with them. There were days when all I could do was muster up the energy to breathe. I would have done anything and everything to have a small piece of him back. When I finally found the letter, digging through his drawers, looking for something I don’t even remember anymore, I looked at the words he’d scribbled down on the envelope and froze. Part of me wanted to rip the envelope open that second, but those three words kept me from doing so. For nearly three years that envelope had sat in my nightstand. On the nights when missing him would get too much to bear, I’d pull it out and run my fingers over the words Ethan had written, and feel like he was here with me. But to this day, I still couldn’t break the seal.

"Ready for what, Ethan? How will I know?" I asked the silence. It didn’t answer back. It never did.

 

Logan

 

Sitting in my usual spot at the bar, I looked around at the quiet little pub I liked to frequent on the nights I wanted to be left alone. The bar was mostly empty tonight, as it was most nights, but that's why I liked it. You could settle yourself in the corner with a drink and disappear. And that is why I came to this city, after all. If I got the itch for something more...female, I would head downtown. But in here, I was left alone, to be whatever was left of me.

"Hey Logan, you need another one?” Cindy, the bartender asked.

"Sure, why not?" I hadn’t finished with the one I’d been nursing, but I was optimistic.

"Save any lives today?" Cindy asked me that question every time I saw her. Settling into her mid-fifties, she had one of those voices that sounded like a truck driving over gravel, and her hair was hair-sprayed to the ceiling.

"Nope. Slow night. But I did pull a Lego out of a kid’s nose. That was solid entertainment."

She laughed, moving across the bar to get my new drink.

Thinking about the hospital brought my thoughts circling back to the little girl with the strawberry curls and her beautiful mother, Clare. All evening, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. Especially Clare. I never thought a woman covered in vomit could be so appealing. Thinking about the conversation I walked in on with her friend still makes me chuckle under my breath. I needed to Google that Somerhalder dude. Was he an actor? I had no idea who she was talking about.

"Cracking yourself up tonight, hun?" Cindy asked with a pointed gaze, dangling a freshly refilled drink before my eyes. "Maybe I need to keep this for myself, Doc?”

Feeling bold due to the memories of Clare and the whiskey currently zinging through my veins, I blurted out, "Cindy, do you think everyone’s capable of love?”

Surprised, she quickly answered, “Yes, I think everyone's capable of lovin’ another, why?”

“Because I’m not so sure. How do you know?”

I thought I was in love with Melanie. Hell, I’d even married her. But then I discovered the truth too late, trapping her in a loveless marriage, and driving her into the arms of another man.

Cindy looked at me like I'd grown two heads. In the years I had visited this place, we’d had conversations all the time, but they never went beyond friendly banter and her relentless flirting. It was obvious she didn’t know what to do with the sudden onset of my liquid confessions.

"You okay, hun? I know a man who wants to keep to himself, and I respect that, but you’re different tonight.” She looked at me, her eyes full of concern.

“What’s got your emotions so ripped open all the sudden?”

I completely froze. What was I doing? Bleeding my heart out to a middle aged bartender? It was ridiculous.

Whatever I felt in that exam room today was over. Clare was gone, and I needed to get on with my life. Love didn’t happen in an instant. Especially for me. And that woman, shit...any decent woman, didn't deserve the train wreck of life that would come with becoming involved with me. No need to introduce someone else to a life of Logan sized failures and fuck ups. I would stick to what I was good at, what everyone expected of me.

"Sorry, Cindy. Must be the whiskey talking. Just rambling. Anyway, I'm out."

I threw a couple twenties on the bar and slid on my jacket.

"I'm headed downtown to start some trouble," I said, forcing a grin to spread, before heading out the door.

Enough thinking for tonight.


Chapter Four

 

Clare

 

 

God, I hated home improvement stores.

As I lifted Maddie into the oversized shopping cart, I looked around in fear at the enormous store and asked myself what the hell I was getting myself into. Hopefully, I could find one of those old grandfatherly type men who work here who could walk me through this. Otherwise, I was screwed. Before his stroke, my Dad could have help with this sort of thing, but he'd lost so much control in his hands that handiwork was out of the question these days.

My brother, Garrett, was pretty well trained in the art of fixing things, but was currently out of town on an extended business trip. My little brother, the executive. It still cracked me up. Just a few years ago, he was an irresponsible frat boy and now he worked for a major pharmaceutical company, traveling all over the world.

"All right Maddie, let's see what kind of trouble we can get ourselves into today!" I exclaimed, glancing down at her sweet face as I pushed the cart into the first set of aisles.

In the last few days she had completely recovered. It was like the concussion never happened, except when I delivered th


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