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Excerpt for Love on the Rocks by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Kat felt terrible. “I’ve ruined your night again. I’m so sorry, Easton.”

He reached for her hand and squeezed it. “You could never ruin anything for me. I’m here because I want to be. I always want to be here for you, Kat. Why can’t you understand that? I can’t seem to prove that to you, even after all this time, after all we’ve been through together. Why can’t you believe that?”

“Because I don’t deserve you.” There, she’d finally said the words. “Why would anyone give up his dream and spend years helping someone recover? What’s in it for you? Nothing I can see, except a sense of duty fulfilled. I don’t want to be your duty. I want to be your—”

The truck swerved off the road and he put it in park.

“My what, Kat? Look at me.”

She sighed and turned her head.

“What do I need to do to convince you my love for you is unconditional? My proposal last year was not a scheme to trap you here. It was an honest request for you to spend the rest of your life with me. The last five-and-a-half months have been miserable without you. We’re connected by our hearts, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.”

Dear Reader,

When I wrote Love on the Edge, I had no idea it would become a series. As friends and family read my first draft, one after the other wanted more of Crane’s Cove, specifically to know what happened to Molly and Jack, why Kat was back suddenly and why there was so much tension between her and Easton, why Caroline was so dramatic, etc., - and the more I thought about the answers to those questions, the more those secondary characters became more active in my head. They all want their stories told. I chose to tell Kat’s story next because I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Her backstory began to meld to form a character that pulled elements from several people I knew, and she became real to me.

A few of my family members have sustained traumatic brain injuries (TBI’s). One was crushed by a horse, another was involved in a car accident that took the life of his son. Living so far from them, our family lived for the updates and prayed fervently. It’s heart-breaking for those who love them, and so painful for them to rehabilitate. My grandmother’s case was a little different; she had a sinus infection that leaked into her brain and threatened her life. After a major surgery that required removing part of her frontal lobe, I was able to be with her for extended amounts of time over the several years it took her to recover. Kat’s symptoms and tricks for remembering things are inspired by what I witnessed during my grandmother’s recovery, interviews with several mothers who are caring for children with TBI’s, and friends who sustained TBI’s in sport-related accidents.

Writing this story wrecked me at times, as I recalled that night at St. Luke’s Hospital when the doctors told us Gram might not make it. I thought about the terrible accidents and the grief of not knowing what would happen next. Caring for someone with a traumatic brain injury takes a strength many people do not know they possess. It’s easy to get frustrated from the blank stares after you’ve given instructions or waiting for them to realize they just made a match playing a memory card game. It’s heart-wrenching when they realize they can’t add simple numbers and don’t understand why.

But the brain is a beautiful thing. It can be re-trained. It responds to commands from your own voice more than anyone else’s. Self-talk and speaking things into existence can become reality. We can teach the brain to believe and do just about anything. With a loving support system, prayers, and coping techniques similar to those Kat uses throughout this story, many people suffering from TBI’s can live a fulfilling life.

If you or a loved one have suffered a TBI, I am praying for you. Have faith.

Kerry Evelyn

Love on the Rocks

KERRY EVELYN



Copyright © 2018 by Kerry Evelyn


Love on the Rocks

Kerry Evelyn

www.kerryevelyn.com

Kerry@kerryevelyn.com


Published 2018 by Swan Press


Edited by Racquel Henry of The Writer’s Atelier, and Nicole Ayers, Ayers Edits

Cover photo by Robert Hare Photography

Cover models Sarah Masry and John Kelley

Cover design and formatting by Valerie Willis, Battle Goddess Productions

Proofing by Laura Perez, Palmas Publishing


All rights reserved.


No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, scanning, information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.


This book is a work of fiction. All characters, places, organizations, events, and incidents either are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


The statements and information regarding the uses of essential oils have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The advice given by the characters is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.


Printed in the United States of America

First Printing: September 2018

Swan Press


Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9995861-2-9

Kindle ISBN: 978-0-9995861-3-6

SmashWords ISBN: 978-0-9995861-5-0

Dedicated to

For my Gram, Evelyn Marshall,

whom I miss dearly,

and all victims and families affected by traumatic brain injuries.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11



Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 4-8, 13

Chapter 1

Kat Daniels leaned back in the oak barstool and crossed one booted leg over the other. She frowned into the tumbler of amber liquid and ice in her right hand, considering again how she had ruined everything. God, what am I doing here? She had let go of the love of her life, and coming back to town to work at his family’s resort was not working out as she had hoped and the solution was certainly not to be found in a shot of whiskey.

The seaside pub in Crane’s Cove was surprisingly empty for a Sunday night in June. She was hoping she wouldn’t run into anyone she knew, but she expected a crowd of tourists at least. People she could talk to and then never see again, people to help distract her from her own regrets and the events of the last few weeks.

You know that’s not what you need, her inner voice scolded. She pushed the thought away and brought the whiskey to her lips. She took a sip and waited for her throat to recover from the burn. Picking up an extra shift at the resort hadn’t distracted her, so she’d skipped dinner and Uber’d to the pub with a plan to drink herself numb.

“Hey, Kat.”

“Hey, Kev,” she said to her old friend. He’d been working for his father’s construction business since high school, and it was evident by the way his shirt hugged his chest he was still very hands-on. Kat tossed back the whiskey and placed the glass on the bar.

He nodded to it. “Can I buy you another one?”

Kat sighed. If she’d wanted to be social, she would’ve hung out at the bar in the resort dining room. Saturday night’s events always drew a crowd on Sunday nights, and this week’s beachside potluck hadn’t disappointed. The guests were an especially lively bunch. Too bad most of them had departed earlier that morning to avoid the storm.

She shrugged. “If you want. On the rocks, please.” Kat absently twirled a long chestnut lock of hair as Kevin settled in the stool next to her.

He ordered another round and gestured to the half a dozen or so patrons in the pub. “Pretty slow tonight. Guess people are prepping for the storm. Good to see you here.”

“Same.” Kat averted her gaze and watched the bartender place two new tumblers on the bar. “Thanks, Paddy.”

Paddy leaned toward her. “Don’t drink that one too fast now, Kat.” The owner of the pub had been a friend of her parents. She hadn’t known he still worked the bar or she’d have gone somewhere else. His kids had taken over when he’d retired a few years ago. Seemed like even they had better things to do on a Sunday night.

Paddy shot Kevin a warning look and headed for the other end of the bar, where a trio wearing University of Maine ball caps had just settled in.

His back now turned to her, she chugged the whiskey in one swig as an act of defiance.

Kevin raised a brow. “Well, then.”

She shrugged. “Tough weekend.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet.” He sipped at his drink. “So how long have you been back in town?”

Kat sighed. She uncrossed her legs, shifted in her worn jeans, and rested her forearms on the edge of the bar. Kevin mimicked her actions and waited for her answer. She spoke straight ahead. “A month or so.”

He nodded. “Well, welcome home. You want another one?”

“Why not?”

He finished the drink he was holding and waved Paddy over. The disapproving bartender set down another round and glared at him.

“I don’t think he likes me,” Kevin joked.

Kat swallowed the drink in one gulp. “He’s just grumpy tonight.” The whiskey was achieving the desired effect. The muscles in her thighs began to feel tender and tingly, relaxing her and at the same time making her more restless. “Paddy!”

He returned to their end of the bar, crossed his arms, and narrowed his eyes sternly.

She giggled. “You look so mad.”

“You’re drinking too fast, Kat. Wouldn’t want to see you find any trouble,” he said, looking directly at the man occupying the bar stool next to her.

“Oh, he’s fine.” Kat waved her hand absently. “Me and Kev go waaaaaay back.”

“Huh,” Paddy grunted.

She laughed. “Another round, please. This one’s on me.” She grinned at Kevin. “This night may not be a total bust after all.”

Paddy brought the next round. Kat picked up a drink and handed the other to Kevin. “To lonely Sunday nights,” she toasted.

They clinked glasses, downed the whiskey, and set the glasses on the counter. Kat felt the now-familiar cloudy sensation in her head take over. Over the past several months, she’d learned to find moments of solace from more than a few ounces of strong whiskey. She pulled on a different strand of her long hair and wrapped it around her finger. She twirled it as she studied Kevin’s face. She tried to focus on what he was saying.

“So what brings you back to town? Last I heard you were on the barrel-racing circuit. How’d that go?”

She darted a glance to her empty glass. “I got tired of it.”

“Really? All those wins get you down?”

Kat looked up at him. “Stupid people got me down.” And their persistent text messages.

He smirked. “On the tour, or here in town?”

Kat noticed him looking at her left hand, currently half-wrapped with hair. She quickly put her hand in her lap and covered it with the right one, sitting up and squaring her shoulders. “Both.”

He leaned toward her. “I see.”

“What do you see?” She blinked, straining to keep him in focus. Concentrate, Kat.

He tilted his head. “You don’t have a ring on your finger anymore. How long has it been gone?”

“Christmas.”

“Ouch.”

Kat was starting to feel agitated. “I don’t want to talk about it.” She slid off her seat. “I’m gonna go play a song.”

She felt his eyes on her as she walked over to the jukebox. She fed the vintage machine two quarters and selected a song from the eclectic variety. Good. Someone appreciates my attention. Too bad it was the wrong guy. She liked Kevin, but she’d never date him again. They were meant to be friends, that’s all. Her heart had long ago taken up residence elsewhere, and wouldn’t be moved.

She jumped as Kevin appeared at her side. “Hey!” She smiled. “Didn’t see you coming.”

“Sorry to startle you. Wanna dance?” he asked as the beginning verse of “Home Alone Tonight” began to play.

Kat tilted an ear toward the speakers and frowned. That wasn’t the song she selected.

“I don’t know how to dance to this song. It’s more of a my-life-sucks kind of sing-along song.”

He snorted. “That’s funny.” He held out his hand. “Try?”

“I’ll try anything once.” She offered her hand.

Kevin raised a brow. “Really?” He took her right hand in his left and placed his right hand on her slim waist.

Kat rested her left hand on his shoulder and they shuffled to the music. A thought came to her as she listened to the lyrics. “Hey, we should take a selfie!”

Kevin smiled. “Whatever you want.”

Kat pulled her phone out of her pocket and held it out to snap a picture. “Smile!” She grinned stupidly as Kevin squinted his eyes and held up his fingers in a sideways peace sign. She punched in a brief message, hit send, and replaced the phone in her pocket. “Ready for another shot?”

“I’m game if you are.”

“Great! It’s nice not to drink alone,” she added softly.

“Yeah,” he agreed. Kat tugged him back over to the bar. “Two more, please, Paddy.”

The older gentlemen looked her over. “How you getting home, Kat?”

She shrugged. “Uber?”

“I can bring her home,” Kevin offered. “You still live in that big house on the cliff?”

“Yep, big empty creepy house on the cliff.” She shuddered.

“You’re all by yourself?”

The bartender shot daggers at Kevin. “She’s got her uncle over there looking after her,” he said firmly to Kevin. “I’m sure Old Man Wetherby wouldn’t mind coming to get you, Kat.”

“Nah. He’s prolly fast asleep. Kev’s an old friend. He can bring me home. Where’s my next round?”

Paddy placed the drinks and a bowl of the bar’s version of Chex Mix on the counter without a word. Kat giggled after he disappeared through the swinging doors that led to the kitchen.

“I don’t think he likes you.”

Kevin shrugged. “Never has. Another dance?”

“Sure. Gonna bring my drink, though. Think I should sip this one. Liiiiittle tipsy!” She grinned up at him. “Your eyes are very blue, Kevin. And kind. I like that. Better than green eyes that are mean.” She knew she was talking nonsense. She didn’t care. The man with the green eyes certainly didn’t seem to care anymore.

He led her to the dance floor. Someone from the UMAINE group had added several songs to the queue. Kat sipped at her drink and swayed with Kevin to the Y2K playlist. She’d have to talk to Paddy about the music selection.

Easton Crane checked the latches on the horses’ stalls one last time and headed for the fridge in the break area at the back of the barn. He pulled out a local craft beer and popped the top, ignoring the vibration in his pocket from an incoming text message. He dropped heavily onto a nearby bale of hay and scanned the two lines of stalls that faced each other. All seemed well, another weekend of trail rides and riding lessons in the books. He took a long, slow sip from the bottle before he reached into his pocket.

Looky who found me at the pub! A long-forgotten, familiar anger burned in his belly at Kat’s silly grin and his old rival’s snarky pose. Easton put the phone back in his pocket without replying. He couldn’t figure out what Kat’s game was. He’d been ready to spend his life with her and then she took off barrel racing. At Christmas, he’d given her an ultimatum. The tour or him. She’d called his bluff and given back his ring. She’d left again and reappeared about a month ago. His parents had rehired her to help around the resort, of all things. Talk about salt in his wounds.

His phone rang. He groaned and pulled it out again. Paddy’s Pub and Grill. Nope, he wasn’t doing this. He stared at the phone as it rang and went to voicemail. His caller ID app was worth every penny as far as he was concerned.

It rang again. Paddy O’Hara cell. He sighed and swiped to receive the call.

“Easton Crane. Cliff Walk Stables,” he recited.

“Hey there now, Easton. Paddy O’Hara here. Thought you might want to know Kat is in here tearin’ it up. Lookin’ like she’s plannin’ to leave with that Kevin Conroy fella you played ball with. I don’t know that that’s a good idea since she’s barely standin’ up, and he’s had a few, too. Thought you might come get her.”

Easton sighed. He pulled off his ball cap and used it to wipe his brow. “Yeah, I don’t think she’d appreciate that, Paddy.” Since she’d returned, he’d been struggling to figure out why she was back and what she wanted from him. Some days, she acted as if she wanted to pick up where they’d left off. Other days, she was colder than a frozen harbor, snapping at him for no apparent reason or brushing him off when he tried to help her.

A few weeks ago, they’d been caught off guard outside the dining room during an event at the resort. When their song started playing, a magnetic force had drawn them to each other. They’d danced, suspended in time, hearts beating as one. A flood of emotion passed between them as they clung to each other. When the song ended, she’d bolted. Kat was hot or cold; there was no in between. All last week, she’d barely said a word to him at the barn.

“Welp, I called Old Man Wetherby and he didn’t pick up. She told me not to call Shelby; she’s babysitting her nephew tonight. Couldn’t reach your sister, Molly, either. Kat’s got no one else. I guess I could call up to the police station and see if one of the guys can bring her home. But you know, they’ve been understaffed since the Donovan kid decided to go to Virginia and join the FBI like his ma.”

“Won’t she take an Uber?”

“Suggested that. She shot it down after Kevin offered. She’s a stubborn one.”

“Don’t I know it.” Easton inhaled deeply through his nose and let out a long breath. He looked longingly at his half-full beer. “All right. I’ll head out there. Don’t let her leave with him.”

“No way in hell. I’ll deck him myself if I have to.”

“Thanks, Paddy.”

Kat sang as Kevin twirled her around the dance floor. “Whoa!” She stumbled as he attempted to dip her. He twisted to avoid landing on her and she fell onto him in a fit of giggles. “Whoops!” She rolled off him, still laughing.

A shadow loomed above them. Arms crossed and frowning, Easton Crane, her former fiancé, stood before them, his emerald eyes cold. Her face fell and she swallowed hard. Kevin stood up and offered his hand. She took it and stumbled to her feet.

“Time to go home, Kat,” Easton said, glowering at her.

She put her fists on her hips in defiance. “No, it’s not.”

“I got her, Crane.”

Easton shifted his fiery gaze to Kevin. “Not tonight.”

“What do you care?” Kat muttered. “You just want to ruin my fun.”

Easton tensed.

Kevin set his shoulders back. “She doesn’t want to go with you. She’s made that clear.”

“She doesn’t know what she wants,” Easton growled.

The men glared at each other. Kat didn’t dare look at him. She could sense he was tired and weary under his anger. Paddy approached the trio.

“Everything all right, fellas?”

“I’m here to bring Kat home,” Easton said, still focused on Kevin.

“And I’m telling you that I’m going to bring her home,” Kevin challenged. He stepped forward.

Easton held his ground.

“Oh, please don’t fight.” Kat sighed. She looked at Easton, her eyes searching his for a sign of warmth. He continued to glare at her. She took another step back, overcome with the maelstrom of emotions she saw in their depths. She shouldn’t have looked into his eyes. Another step back. Right into a barstool.

“Whoa!” Easton reached out to steady her. He was quick. It was like he knew she was falling before she actually fell. He used to be able to anticipate her every move. He’d always caught her before she fell when she was in therapy. Push that thought away, Kat. That was a different time and a different Easton.

“Easy there, Kat,” Paddy soothed. He turned to Easton. “You take her home. This guy”—he gestured to Kevin—“is gonna sit at the bar and have some coffee and snacks till I decide he’s not a danger to himself or anyone else.”

Kevin grumbled, but conceded. “I’ll call you tomorrow, Kat.” He followed Paddy to the bar.

Kat flicked her gaze back to Easton. “Why did you come?”

“Paddy called me.”

“Oh.” She’d hoped he’d gotten her text and felt something. Jealously, anger, anything really. Guess that ship really wasn’t coming back to port.

Kat followed him out the door and into the cool summer night. She hugged herself as she trudged across the gravel to his truck. He opened the passenger door for her and she climbed in.

Easton drove in silence down Main Street. Kat leaned her head on the door frame and stared out the window. Her buzz had worn off.

“You know you shouldn’t be drinking whiskey with your meds, Kat.” Easton watched her out of the corner of his eye as he drove. She turned her body in the seat so that her back was facing him. His heart was still moved at the sight of her, even when she was a mess. He recalled the words he’d spoken that had prompted their breakup and wished he could take them back.

“What do you care?” she mumbled a second time that night.

He tensed, squeezing the steering wheel. She was becoming more and more reckless, leaving a string of bad choices in her wake. Picking up the pieces was getting old.

“You know I care. Don’t undo all your progress with bad decisions. You’re so close to complete recovery. Why do you continue to take risks?” Easton slowed for a red light and relaxed back into his seat. He turned his eyes to her curled-up body facing out the window and softened his voice. She didn’t need a lecture. She needed grace. “I was with you every day, Kat. Every day after your riding accident, through your therapy. I took college classes from the barn so I wouldn’t have to leave you.” His voice broke. “I never stopped caring.” He fought to control the wave of emotions that descended and missed her stiffening at his words.

“Then why won’t you forgive me?” she pleaded, her anguished whisper barely audible.

The light turned green and Easton pressed his lips together as he released the brake. Up and down Main Street, several businesses had already boarded up. It’d still be a day or so before they knew if the storm would hit with hurricane-force winds, but some weren’t taking any chances. The boards reminded him of how much work he still had to do at the stables to prep for the storm. He didn’t have time for Kat’s drama or impulsivity.

Ignoring her question, he made the turn onto Crane’s Cove Road and wondered if Old Man Wetherby would be able to prep her historic Queen Anne-style home sufficiently. He should take a look around after he saw her inside.

Crane’s Cove Road wound itself over a granite cliff that declined in elevation as it passed the town’s premier resort, the Cliff Walk. Owned by Easton’s father’s family for generations, the expansive acreage accounted for half of the town, from the high Acadian peak above the resort to the beach in the cove below. Beyond the family land, a scattering of town buildings and mom-and-pop businesses lined the road before it turned, hugging the peninsula that jutted out a half mile into the cove, ending at the Point, and then back again to the town landing and marina. Large residential homes dotted this section of town, most built by those who had profited from the whaling, fishing, and shipping industries over a century ago.

Kat’s house was one of these homes. It was left to her by her great-aunt Katherine, affectionately known as Auntie Katie, upon her death last summer. The house was expansive, its rose-painted shingles towering three stories above the rocky base, visible from all points in the cove. A windowed turret extended upward and peaked beside a widow’s walk. An attached walkway led to a gazebo overlooking the cliff.

Below the house by the road, the original carriage house had been restored and converted into a groundskeeper’s cottage by her great-uncle Charley, who had returned to his childhood home two decades ago to live with his sister after the tragic boating accident that had claimed Kat’s parents and maternal grandparents. Devastated by the loss of his youngest sister, his niece, and their husbands, he’d surprised everyone in town when he’d shown up after swearing he’d never come back. Charles Wetherby was the older half-brother of Katherine and Charlotte, Kat’s grandmother. He’d never gotten along with his stepfather and had joined the marines on his eighteenth birthday. He’d come back, compelled to help his sister raise their grandniece, and had been devoted to Kat ever since. In his eighties now, he was slowing down, but the inner Marine inside still pushed his physical limits.

Refusing to live in his stepfather’s house, the retired sailor had gutted the smaller building, added a loft apartment, and used the space below to store his Boston Whaler and a pool table. Before her accident, Easton, Kat, and their friends had spent many a night in their teens shooting pool with the old man and listening to his stories. He was getting older now, moving slower, sleeping more. Easton knew it was only a matter of time until Kat was truly on her own.

He turned off the road and onto the long driveway that led to the house. The cottage was dark, but the old man’s ancient Ford Ranger was parked in front of one of the large garage doors. Easton pulled in next to it and hopped out before Kat could ask any questions.

He jogged to the door and knocked. The blinds were drawn. Probably the old guy just went to bed early. He knocked again.

“Easton, what are you doing?” Kat hissed through the open truck window. “Let the man rest.”

“Just checking on him. Paddy said he didn’t pick up when he called.” He frowned at the lack of response.

“He goes to bed at seven now so he can be up at dawn,” she huffed. “I’m sure he’s fine.” “Thanks for the ride. See ya.” She opened the door and stepped out.

“Wha—” He watched her, arms crossed, purse hanging from the crook in her elbow, march up the hill toward the main house. “Kat, wait—” He glanced at the cottage door, shrugged, and hurried to catch up with her.

“You don’t need to follow me home.”

“I just want to—” He paused as he reached her side. What did he want? They reached the steps that led to the wraparound porch. She dug her key out and jammed it into the lock.

“Please,” she pleaded. Her eyes welled with tears. He reached up to wipe them, as he had done so many times. She left the key in the slot and swatted his hand away. “Don’t.”

Easton stepped back, emotionally struck with a pain that was far greater than the swat of her hand. He knew what he wanted. He wanted the old Kat back, regardless of her traumatic brain injury. He didn’t care if she couldn’t find the right word to say, or sometimes forget words or what she was doing. He wanted the Kat that fought hard every day to walk again, talk again. The Kat that loved helping him in the barn, caring for the horses and teaching little kids all about them and how to ride them. The Kat that sparkled with a love of life and found fun in everything, despite sustaining more loss than most people could handle. Where was she hiding inside this risk-taking, angry, impulsive woman who stood in front of him? And had she run away to cope with mourning Auntie Katie, or was there more to it? Was it because of him?

She went in and slammed the door. He stared at it for a moment before shuffling to the corner of the porch that offered the view of the sea. Straight out and down below, Crane’s Light, the floating lighthouse his family had purchased from the Coast Guard back in the ’60s, signaled to him. When Kat had left him at Christmas, he’d emptied his savings into the lighthouse with the goal of fixing it up into an exclusive guest suite for the resort. He went out there every chance he could, and he was set to have it ready as a honeymoon suite for Matt Saunders and Lanie Owens when they tied the knot in July. The Coast Guard still operated and maintained the light, so it had been in decent shape to begin with. After the storm, he’d finish painting the trim work and bring in the smaller appliances and pieces of furniture. With Kat now teaching the children’s riding lessons on the weekends, he’d have plenty of time to spend at the lighthouse—as long as the hurricane didn’t destroy it.

Easton trudged back down the hill to his truck. He opened the door and sat for a few moments, staring up at the lit windows on the second floor he used to climb into a decade ago. So they hadn’t boarded up. He hoped they’d follow the evacuation orders. A shadow appeared in the bumped-out base of the turret. The outline of the broken woman he had loved for so long sat in her window seat, head on her knees.

Before he could entertain the idea of scaling her porch as he’d done countless times in his youth, he started the truck and drove back to the resort.

Chapter 2

Early Monday morning, after scarfing down the pancakes her uncle had left warming in the oven, Kat headed out to the resort to make sure Mocha was all set for the impending storm. The Cliff Walk offered limited boarding space and services to the town residents in exchange for use of the horses for guest trail rides, but Kat preferred to take care of her horse herself.

Before Mocha, she’d ridden Callie, who had been Easton’s grandmother’s favorite horse. The older Mrs. Crane, known around the barn as Ms. Vivi, had gifted Mocha to Kat as a foal after Kat’s accident as an incentive to motivate her recovery.

What had started with a trail ride for Kat’s tenth birthday had sparked a love of riding. Auntie Katie had told Kat how Ms. Vivi had remarked to her how much Kat reminded her of herself at that age. Not long after her birthday trail ride, Kat was offered lessons in exchange for helping around the stables after school. In a short time she had developed her natural talent in the saddle and was competing and winning jumping events all over the East Coast. Summers in New England, spring and fall shows in the Mid-Atlantic states, and winters in Florida. Auntie Katie was Ms. Vivi’s best friend and would spend most of her afternoons watching Kat learn and perfect her show-jumping skills. She’d been thrilled to spend her deceased husband’s fortune on Kat’s passion.

Kat had become fast friends with Ms. Vivi’s grandsons, Easton and JC, who worked in the stables. The boys traveled with Kat and Ms. Vivi to the events that weren’t local. A tear fell as she remembered the trip that had changed everything. It had been over six years ago, but it seemed like yesterday when she remembered the excitement of the event. She’d saddled up Callie, executed a perfect warm-up, and was ready. One minute she was clearing jumps and the next she was opening her eyes to the back of a white cotton bandage in a hospital. She had no memory of the fall itself. Perhaps her brain protecting itself was best.

Kat ignored the buzzing of her phone and parked her cherry red Jeep Grand Cherokee in the small lot beside the barn. It was brand new two years ago, a gift from Auntie Katie to celebrate getting her license back. She’d been seizure-free for over two years.

The gift included a brand-new, top-of-the-line saddle with ostrich leather accents and a lightweight horse trailer for Mocha. The SUV was an unusual choice for towing, but it suited her just fine. The rodeo could be a judgy crew, so she’d learned to let the comments and snickers roll off her in regards to her vehicle. Neither she nor Auntie Katie had envisioned her barrel racing and traveling when she’d purchased it.

She walked around the barn to the open doors that faced the paddock. A rustling around the corner made her look up. Easton stood perched about sixteen feet up on a ladder in the maple tree that cast its wide canopy over Mocha’s side of the barn.

“Look out below!” he called. Girlish giggling carried over the salty breeze. Kat frowned and pulled the sides of her jacket together. The winds had already begun to pick up. The storm was still several hundred miles offshore, and they had several hours to go before the rain would begin. She shivered as she peeked around the corner.

Below Easton, Maddie, Meggie, and Mellie,—or the Triple M, as the friends liked to be called collectively—gathered fallen branches, which they tied and stacked against the barn.

“Incoming!”

More giggles as Maddie called out, “I got this one!” The branch thudded onto the ground. She ran to it and dragged it to where the other girls stood.

Easton climbed down, wiping his brow. He took a few steps back from the ladder and surveyed the canopy of the tree. Kat sucked in a breath. The curve of his bicep peeked out from under his rolled-up sleeves. His jeans hugged every muscle of his lower half. As if he could sense her, he turned. His classically handsome face lost the grin he’d awarded to the girls and his eyes darkened. Kat pulled her head back and pressed her whole body to the wall. She took a deep breath to steady her racing heartbeat and squeezed her eyes shut, praying he’d ignore her.

“Hey, girls,” he called. Good. He seemed to be continuing what he’d been doing before she arrived. “I think I heard a vehicle pull up while I was up in the tree. Wanna go see who’s here?” Darn.

Kat straightened herself and rushed into the barn and to the first stall on the right. “Hey, sweet girl.”

Mocha greeted her with a whinny and a happy grunt. Kat reached up to stroke her between her eyes. She unlatched the stall door and was pleased to see that it was already mucked out and stocked with fresh water and hay.

“Those girls are taking good care of you, aren’t they?” She peered into the empty grain bucket. “Looks like you enjoyed your breakfast.” She scooped up a handful of baby carrots and a couple of sugar cubes from the bag in her jacket pocket. Mocha gobbled them up and gave her an appreciative snort. “Wanna go for a ride? There’s a storm coming, so I don’t know when you’ll get out again.” Mocha awarded Kat with a nuzzle and blew air out her nostrils. Kat laughed. “I’ll be right back.”

She opened the stall door as the girls entered the barn. She smiled. The three girls had started much like she had. It was Maddie’s sixth birthday that started their love of everything horses. Eight years later, when they turned fourteen, they began working at the resort and had been dependable barn hands for the last two summers. They had no trouble taking over Kat’s duties last year when she decided to leave the stables and barrel race full time.

The only difference now was the absence of Easton’s grandmother. After Kat’s accident, Ms. Vivi sold off the jumps and limited the barn to trail rides and children’s lessons only. When Kat had recovered enough to ride again and assist Easton at the barn, Ms. Vivi had literally hung up her saddle and moved into an apartment complex for retired seniors on the other side of town.

“Hey there, Kat!” Mellie greeted her. “Can we help you with anything?”

“Sure. I’d love some help saddling up Mocha. She seems a bit edgy. Likely she senses the storm coming.”

“Happy to!” Maddie answered.

“Great!” Meggie chimed in. “We’ll grab her stuff.”

The girls headed for the tack room and Kat turned back to Mocha. “You ready, sweet girl? I thought we’d head up to the meadow and then work on the barrel pattern. Does that work for you?”

Mocha neighed and snorted her response. Kat grinned.

The girls returned with Mocha’s gear. Mellie handed the aqua saddle pad to Kat. She positioned herself on Mocha’s left side and tossed it over her back.

“I love that color on her,” Mellie commented as she handed Kat the half pad. “It just pops on her gorgeous chocolate-colored coat, you know?”

“Totally,” Maddie agreed. “Someday when I’m a famous rider, I’ll dress my horse just as flashy as Kat dresses Mocha.”

Kat smiled. “I have no doubt you girls will have the best-dressed horses in southern Maine.” She took the saddle from Maddie. “I can picture the headlines now: ‘Triple M Saddle Club Wins First Downeast Equine Fashion Show.’”

The girls beamed. “Do you really think we can do that, Kat?” Meggie asked. The most serious of the three, she was often the one to bring her friends back to reality when their imaginations ignited.

“I think, no, I know, you girls can do anything you set your minds to. Focus on the goal. Break it down into small parts and small goals and crush one after the other.” She adjusted the saddle, positioning it above the withers and tugging on the saddle pad to line it all up so Mocha wouldn’t get pinched. Maddie moved over to Mocha’s right side and reached under to hand the girth to Kat, who grabbed it and tightened the cinch.

Maddie turned to Meggie, who handed her the bridle. “I agree with Kat. We just need to learn everything we can about horses and fashion—and I suppose leather making and sewing, too.” She frowned. “So not glamorous.”

“Well,” Kat said as she slid the bridle over Mocha’s head, “you already know that most things related to horses are the opposite of glamorous. Take mucking, for instance.”

The girls giggled.

Kat adjusted the browband and stroked Mocha’s muzzle. She took the reins. “Ready, girl?”

Maddie, Meggie, and Mellie stepped aside as Kat led Mocha out of the stall. Kat stepped up, slid her left boot into the stirrup, and swung her right leg over the saddle. She landed with a slight thump. Mocha grunted.

“Sorry, girl. I’m a little off today,” she whispered. Turning to the girls, she gave a little wave. “Thanks for your help. Will I see you when I get back?”

“Oh yes, we’re here all day to help Easton prep for the storm,” Maddie said.

Kat felt a twinge of guilt. She was off Mondays and Tuesdays, but hadn’t offered to help.

“Great. I’ll leave her in your capable hands when we return then. I’ve got some prep to do myself still.” She gave Mocha a little kick and steered her around the paddock toward the trailheads.

“Have a great ride, Kat!” Maddie called.

“Thanks!”

Kat guided Mocha toward Mountain Walk Trail and leaned forward in her saddle. Within the pines, the upward climb into the Acadian woods was tranquil on any day. Today was extraordinarily quiet. It seemed even the wildlife was hiding in preparation for the storm. All was still except for the occasional wind gust rustling leaves and needles on branches.

And her cell phone. She ignored the vibrations in her jeans pocket. She’d check it later.

They emerged from the trees into a small dirt clearing at the overlook. She stared out into the cove. Straight out, waves crashed against the Crane’s Cove lighthouse. She wondered if Easton had secured it yet. She hoped so. It couldn’t be safe to head out there at this point. Off in the distance to the left, her rose-colored home peeked out from the pines along the short peninsula. At high tide, the waves were already crashing higher than she’d expected along the rocky dike. On the right side, the land rose into a higher cliff than the one her house sat on across the cove. She recalled the conversation she had had that morning with her uncle. He refused to evacuate.

Kat slid off Mocha and led her to the low hand-created stone wall that lined the outer perimeter of the overlook. Below the haphazard structure, a chain-link fence ran the perimeter a few yards out. Beneath her, the resort jutted out like a stepping stone. Glimpses of the main lodge, stables, and cabins dotted the greenery with shingled roofs and chimneys. Beyond the road, graying teak stairs led down to the beach. Someone had removed the colorful buoys that hung from the beach shack, and the kayak rack sat empty. The beach chairs and umbrellas had been locked inside. They were all taking this one seriously. All it took was a little shift of the wind to devastate.

She climbed back up onto Mocha and followed the trail to the meadow. Nudging the mare into a trot, then a lope, they rode the perimeter a few times before heading back down Pine Walk Trail to the stable area. Her cell buzzed again, and she ignored it. She didn’t want to talk to anyone. As soon as it stopped buzzing, it started ringing. She stopped Mocha just short of the trailhead and pulled out her phone. Kevin. She swiped the red dot. It could go to voicemail.

Her cheeks flamed as she recalled her behavior the night before. Her life had truly fallen apart. A text message from her former boss had sent her over the edge and straight to the pub.

Kat, when are you coming back? It’s been weeks. Don’t make me come find you.

She shuddered and kicked Mocha gently with her heel, steering her toward the barn. She didn’t feel like working on the barrel pattern after all. Maddie saw her approach and hurried over.

Kat handed her the reins and dismounted. “Thanks, Maddie. We took a loop up to the overlook and ran a bit in the meadow. She’s not too hot, but I’m sure she’d love a good rubdown and a treat or two.” She stroked the mare’s cheek with her right hand and pulled some more baby carrots out of her left pocket. Mocha nibbled them greedily. “Here,” she said to Maddie. “Take the rest and give them to her when you’re done. If she’s good, you can give her a few sugar cubes, too.”

“Will do,” Maddie said.

Kat turned back to Mocha and planted a kiss above her nostrils. The horse returned the sentiment and nuzzled her face. “You be a sweet girl for Maddie.”

Maddie led Mocha into the barn and Kat scanned the grounds. Easton was on the roof of the barn, banging a hammer. She walked around to where he could see her and called out, “You need any help before I go?”

“Nope. Go home and force Old Man Wetherby to come to the lodge.”

“You know he won’t. He rode out Hurricane Bill and Superstorm Sandy and who knows how many typhoons in the Pacific. This storm doesn’t scare him.”

Easton set the hammer down and glanced out to Kat. “It should. One bobble and we’re toast.” He sought her eyes with a sincerity that took her breath away. “Are you staying with him or coming back here?”

Kat inhaled deeply. She hadn’t expected that look he gave her. She could feel the warmth in it all the way from the roof to where she stood. He had to still care. The eyes couldn’t lie, could they? A little bit was enough to keep her hope alive. “I haven’t decided. Molly offered to let me bunk with her at the lodge, but I’m worried about him being alone out there if the storm surge is bad.” She sucked in her bottom lip. “And then there’s Mocha—you know how she spooks in thunderstorms.”

Easton shook his head. “Stay with Molly, please. He knows the risks. It’s not his first storm. And your horse will be fine.”

“True, but he and Mocha are all I’ve got left. He shouldn’t be alone. It’s been five years since Sandy, and Auntie Katie isn’t here this time to stop him from doing something stupid. He’s so old, Easton. I couldn’t live with myself if something happened and I wasn’t there to help him.” Her phone rang again and she let it go to voicemail.

“Aren’t you going to answer that?”

“Nope.”

Easton grunted and picked up his hammer. “Do what you want. Mocha will be fine if that’s what you’re worried about. I’ll bunk in the office for the duration.”

“Really?” Her eyes misted. “That’s—”

They turned toward the parking area as a Ford F-350 roared up and parked next to Kat’s SUV. Kevin stepped out and nodded up to Easton before turning to Kat. “You lose your phone?”

Kat sighed. “Nope, just been busy.” She glanced up at Easton. She stifled a laugh at the murderous expression on his face. He must have some major beef with Kevin.

They’d always been rivals, competitive in academics and on the field. The three of them had shared many classes throughout their school years, especially in high school. Thanks to the teachers’ unoriginal seating arrangements, Conway, Crane, and Daniels were never too far from each other.

“I can see that.” He shielded his eyes with his hand and assessed the roof. “Need some help up there?”

“I’m all set.”

Kevin shrugged and looked back at Kat. “Tried calling you. Wanted to know if you needed any help prepping for the storm? I’ve got all my tools and some boards in the truck.”

She shook her head. “We should be all set, but thank you. I hired a service to board up the house.”

Kevin raised his eyebrows and scrunched his face into a pained expression. “Not those tarp-and-board guys in Bar Harbor?”

“Yep.”

Kevin groaned. “Why didn’t you call me? Those hacks hire college kids with zero experience who want to make a quick buck. It’s temp work. Likely they’re just bangin’ nails however to get those boards to stay.” He crossed his arms. “Want me to take a look at least? Make sure they’re secure and won’t blow off?”

“Couldn’t hurt, I guess.” She called up to Easton. “If you don’t need me, I’m heading home.”

“All set here,” Easton replied through gritted teeth.

Why was he always so mad? God, please warm his heart to me.

“Let’s go. I’ll follow you.” Kevin hopped in his truck and roared the engine. “See ya, Crane.”

Kat stole one more glance at Easton. He resumed banging at the same board. She sighed and got into her car. Time to go try to convince the old man to evacuate again. She’d have to worry about Easton later.

Easton’s fingers squeezed the hammer. The red SUV disappeared from sight followed by the man he detested most. Kevin had no integrity, no backbone. He ran from anything that got too hard and moved on to the next easy thing that appealed to him. He’d been that way his whole life, but it hadn’t mattered to Easton until he’d abandoned Kat after she’d fallen off her horse and sustained a traumatic brain injury.

After a year of his persisting, Kevin had worn Kat down and finally wooed her by asking her to the homecoming dance on Acadia High’s morning news their senior year. They’d been dating for three months when Kat, Easton, JC, and Grandma Vivi journeyed to Florida for the Winter Circuit. Kat was expected to place, and at seventeen, she was hopeful that consistency would advance her to the Indoor Circuit that fall. It was her biggest show to date, and Kevin had opted to stay home, insisting she’d do great and that the basketball team needed him more than she did. That was a fact, but if Easton had been her boyfriend, he’d have dropped everything to watch her. She was magnificent, beautiful, and commanding.

Though Easton had called Kevin from Wellington as soon as he knew which hospital Kat would be airlifted to, Kevin remained in Maine. When it was evident it would be a long recovery, he’d broken up with her to “give her time to heal and focus on herself.” It was Easton who’d missed the senior prom to binge watch movies with her, and it was Easton that wheeled her up to the stage to get her high school diploma.

He was always too shy. For years he and his brother traveled all over with Kat and their grandmother in her old RV, towing Callie, Grandma’s dark bay, and all the gear. He was too afraid to tell Kat how he felt, afraid of how things might change if she didn’t feel the same. He could handle pining. He knew he couldn’t handle rejection. Not from her. It would wreck him. And it did.

Grandma Vivi had lived for those trips. She shared with them once that she’d never really been cut out for running a resort. She much preferred her horses to people. Their Grandpa John, on the other hand, had lived for hospitality. It was in his blood. When he passed away unexpectedly, Easton’s parents had taken over the operations, allowing Grandma Vivi to work the stables full time. She was thrilled when she discovered her best friend’s grandniece had a natural aptitude and talent for riding. Her own children and grandchildren loved horses, but not in the way she did. With Kat, it was as if she were a young girl again. Those were the best years. He’d give anything to have them back.

It hadn’t been fair. Easton often wondered why God hadn’t prevented Kat’s accident. Pastor Porter had reminded him that God had saved her life, and that Easton should focus on praying for her recovery. No miracle was too big or too small for God. He recalled the verse the pastor had shared from the book of Romans, that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Easton clung to that verse then, and recalled it still, when life’s events didn’t make sense to him or when they made him question his faith. Sometimes, he grew discouraged looking for the good that the verse promised. When he thought about it objectively, Kat lost her horse, her future career, her ability to process, friendships, and academic aptitude. She’d lost her aunt. She could no longer devour books or compute higher level math. Kat had lost so much, and why? What was God’s purpose? After her aunt died, Kat pushed him away, desperate to find meaning for herself. If God had a hand in it all, she needed to know why so much suffering was necessary.

Easton climbed down from the roof and put his tools away. He pulled on the hoodie he kept in the office. The pressure and temperature continued to drop steadily. The horses could feel it, too.

Over the last few days, he and Matt Saunders, a guest he’d become friends with over the last month, had assisted him and Terrance, the resort’s landscaper, with hurricane prep. They’d trimmed branches, secured equipment, and brought in anything that could turn into a projectile. Only a few more things remained on his to-do list. He needed to bring in Kat’s barrels and check that the hay and feed were stocked. After that, he’d secure the sheds at the back of the paddocks to make sure the old-fashioned open-aired landau carriage, the sleigh, and all the large equipment was set.

Easton opened one of the sheds and sucked in a breath as he stared at the landau. He’d last taken it out to drive Matt and Lanie to the formal. The night played in his head. Kat had found him holding up the wall outside the dining room. He’d heard the words of their song faintly through the walls and had reached out to her before he could think any better. For a few moments, they were back in time, swaying to their song. It was just them, holding each other up, their hearts beating in sync.

Easton slammed the door on the landau and the memory. He snapped the padlock shut and began walking toward the main lodge.

He texted the girls that he was taking a lunch break and set off. He reminded them not to forget to eat their lunch, as they often did, and to text if they needed anything. They were good barn hands, and their friendship reminded him a lot of him, Kat, and JC at that age.

As if his ears had been ringing, Easton’s phone lit up with JC’s picture. He hadn’t talked to his brother in a few days. He swiped green. “Hey, man.”

“Yo, bro. Looks like that storm’s gonna hit ya, huh? Category one. Not so bad, right? You gonna watch it from the overlook? I bet the surge will be awesome!”

Easton couldn’t help smiling. JC had a positive spin on everything.

“Nah. Gonna ride it out equine-style.”

JC laughed. “Dude, the barn is the last place I’d be. All that noise. Where are Kat and the old man gonna hang?”

“Not sure. You know Molly’s moving into the lodge? Mom and Dad insisted on everyone evacuating the cabins and she asked Kat to bunk with her in one of the empty rooms. Mom offered Old Man Wetherby a room, but I’m pretty sure he’ll decide to stay at his house. Kat doesn’t want to leave him, though.”

“Yeah, I see her point. He’s all she’s got left.” For the second time that day, that comment riled Easton. It wasn’t true. Kat had him. He corrected himself. Could have had him. She’d made it clear—at Christmas of all times—that she didn’t want him.

“Not my problem anymore.” Easton swallowed a lump and narrowed his eyes. He would not allow his feelings to get the best of him. The new, tough Easton did not show emotion, did not give his heart away, did not allow anyone to penetrate the walls he’d put up. He would not play the fool again.

Chapter 3

Kat parked at the top of the driveway. Kevin pulled in behind her and was out of his truck and at her door before she turned off the ignition. When did he get chivalrous? She opened it before his hand could reach the outer handle. He stepped back as she exited her SUV.

Kevin turned his eyes from Kat and squinted at the younger twenty-somethings on the roof of the covered porch. It was clear they were struggling to place the heavy board and drill in the screws at the same time. “How much did you pay them, Kat?”

“Likely too much, from the looks of it. I probably should have called you.” She bit her lip and looked at him. “It’s just that it’s been awhile, you know?”

“Yeah.” He pulled his eyes from the motley crew on the roof. “No worries.” He opened his mouth and closed it, as if he wanted to say more and thought twice. “Mind if I climb up and offer some help?”

“Not at all. I’m going to head inside and pack up some stuff. Come find me when you’re done.” She pulled her jacket close and looked up at the darkening sky. “Hopefully the rain will hold up until you guys finish.”

“Will do.” He jogged over to the ladder propped against the front of the porch and readjusted it before climbing up.

Kat returned to her SUV and grabbed her purse before heading inside. On the kitchen counter, a sandwich wrapped in wax paper sat next to a plastic container of sliced apples and a stainless steel bottle labeled “iced tea” on a strip of masking tape. Her eyes welled with tears. The old man seemed really happy to have her back home. She hadn’t thought he would have missed her so much when she left, but she was learning that his gruff exterior belied his inner feelings.

She’d left him alone last summer, after his sister died, and had only thought of herself. Though he’d doted on her since she was a little girl, he’d never been overly affectionate. She hadn’t considered once how he might feel about her leaving. She understood now how much he cared. He had aged over the last year, more than she could have thought possible.


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