A Chance At Forever
Second Chance Harbor Series, Book 6
The one that got away is now the one I refuse to let go.
Enlisting was one of my life goals, so was marrying my high school sweetheart Sophie and escaping
our small town. Nothing has ever hurt me more than when she turned down my proposal.
I was stupid back then, heartbroken and foolish. A one-night stand was supposed to help me get
over Sophie, instead I got the girl pregnant and ruined any chance of Sophie ever looking my way
For the last few years I’ve focused on being the best father and soldier I could be. Now I’ve done my
duty for my country and it’s time to take over raising my daughter, her mother insists it’s my turn.
What better place to do it, than in my own hometown?
Sophie has moved on and is now a successful bakery owner, but she’s still the woman I could never
forget. My daughter is her biggest fan, secretly so am I.
With a series of burglaries in town, Sophie is worried her bakery is next. I might not have made the
right decisions all those years ago, but this time I’m going to prove to Sophie that I’m the right man
A future without her simply isn’t an option.
+ Excerpt +
Sophie looked up as I approached. This time, I paid closer attention, and there was a flash of fear before she covered it with a polite smile. “You need water?”
I could have run home and gotten a drink, but I had so many questions. Was she afraid, was she safe, and even deeper questions, like what had her life been like over the last ten years? Was our breakup easy for her?
I stopped in front of her, rubbing the ache in my chest. “I could use some.”
She unlocked the door and pushed it open for me. I waited close by while she locked up and reset the alarm.
This morning, her long red hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she wore another pink bakery T-shirt with black leggings.
She moved toward the refrigerator behind the counter, and I sat in the same spot I did the last time I was here.
Colton hadn’t asked me to keep an eye on her, and she wasn’t my responsibility, but I couldn’t seem to stay away.
When she set the bottle in front of me, I slid a credit card across the counter. “I didn’t pay the last time I was here.”
She smiled, but it was tight. “Your money’s no good here.”
“What if I make it a habit to drop by every morning?” I lowered my face, tilting my head to the side, trying to break through the veneer she’d put on when she saw me. She was perfectly polite, but I wanted the real Sophie.
Her eyes flared. “Are you going to?” She shook her head. “Never mind. Don’t answer that.”
“You should run it.” I nodded toward the card that sat between us.
“You’re welcome to stay and drink that, but I need to get started on the baking.” She flung a thumb over her shoulder at the kitchen.
Then she turned and moved toward the kitchen, and I was mesmerized by the gentle sway of her hips. Her ass, encased in those tight pants, left nothing to the imagination. I loved this curvier version.
Unscrewing the cap, I listened to the soft tick of the clock on the wall and drank down the entire bottle before moving around the counter to throw it into the recycling bin. I should tell her I was leaving, but when I moved to the doorway to the kitchen, I stopped to watch her.
Music played from her phone as she moved around the room, gathering ingredients and setting them on the stainless-steel counter in the middle of the room. One side of the room had expensive-looking appliances, including the double-door stainless-steel refrigerator and multiple ovens. The other side had sagging shelves stacked high with cooking utensils, bowls, implements, and ingredients.
It was a stark contrast to the relative newness of the front counter and eating area. She’d clearly spared no expense on the appliances, but the shelves were another story “You need a new storage area?”
She startled and placed her palm on her chest. “You scared me.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to.” I moved closer to her, leaning a hip against the counter.
She licked her lips, looking slightly uncomfortable with me in her space. “The shelves. Yeah. I couldn’t justify the expense. I want the front area to look inviting to guests, and I need the best equipment to bake, but those could wait.”
Growing up on the lumberyard, I was handy with wood. I helped Dad build shelves before he hired out for that kind of thing. It was on the tip of my tongue to offer to help her, but I wasn’t sure she’d like that. Would she be too proud to accept help from me? Would she think I pitied her? But I needed something to keep me busy, and I needed to stay close with this burglar still out there.
I couldn’t tell her that’s why I was offering or even why I was here. I knew she didn’t like Colton suggesting she needed to change her business model to be safer, and she wouldn’t appreciate my interference either. I had to come at it from a different angle.
“I could make new shelves for you. Would you like them to be open, or would you prefer closed cabinets?”
Her eyes brightened before she carefully schooled her features. “I like to see what I have, so open, but you don’t need to help me. You just moved home. You have your hands full.”
My gaze drifted from her mouth to the apron she deftly tied in the back. The movement caused her chest to push out, and my brain was swiping through images of my hands on her fuller breasts. Testing the weight, my thumbs tweaking her nipples. Did she still have a dusting of freckles on the tops of her breasts?
Sophie tipped her head to the side. “Are you okay?”
I cleared my throat and waved a hand toward the front. “I’m just gonna—grab another water.”
At the front counter, I gave myself a few seconds to gather my thoughts, to rid the images of Sophie’s bare breasts from my head. I shouldn’t be thinking about her this way. We had our chance, and it was over.
This time, I brought the bottle with me to give me something to do with my hands.
While I was gone, Sophie had pulled out several large bowls and flat pans. Bags and containers of ingredients covered the rest of the space.
“You do this every morning?” I asked her, trying to think of a way to fill the silence.
“I’m the only baker, so I work mornings and then leave early in the afternoon if I need some time off.”
I was used to getting up early for physical training, but it was something I continued to do after my discharge for my health. Never being able to take a morning off must be tough. “What do you do if you get sick?”
Her cheeks flushed. “I don’t.”
She worked when she was sick. I knew her tells. “That must be hard.”
“The business is doing well, and I’d love to hire another baker, but I don’t think I could justify the cost. I’d only need someone a couple of days a week, and would they bake the same way? Would it taste the same?”
I set the water bottle on the counter, bracing my hands on the cool surface. I was enjoying getting a clearer picture of Sophie as an adult. “It’s tough giving up control.”
She measured and poured ingredients into the large bowl as if she had the recipe memorized and could do this in her sleep. “I don’t think of it that way.”
“Hmmm.” We started dating a few years after her mother died, and it was obvious she was a huge help to her father. She ensured her sisters were awake each morning, ate breakfast, packed lunches, and got on the bus. After school, she helped them with homework and made dinner.
Her father meant well, but he had to work long hours to support his family. He wasn’t home for the bus pickup and drop-off, or even dinnertime. He helped out more on the weekends, which was when we spent time together. Thinking back, Sophie had a hard time letting go.
After a few minutes, she nodded toward a stool against the wall. “You can sit if you’re going to stay awhile.”
There was no edge to her tone, only softness. I pulled the stool over to the counter and sat.
“Do you need to get back to your daughter?” Sophie placed the first few trays of pastries in the oven.
“She’s still sleeping. Can I bring some of the fresh pastries home?” I wanted to stay in the warmth of the kitchen with the softly playing music and the smell of flour and sugar.
Sophie smiled. “Of course.”
She was proud of her business. When I met her, she was so worried about surviving each day and raising well-adjusted siblings that she didn’t talk much about the future.
“Have you always dreamed of opening a bakery?”
“Honestly?” At my nod, she continued, “I don’t think I had any expectations for the future, other than making sure my sisters graduated and knew what they were doing in life.”
My heart stuttered. An understanding of her filtered through. I’d asked her to leave Annapolis and come with me when I deployed. I’d asked her to leave her family. It wasn’t a question she could say yes to. Was it possible her rejection had nothing to do with me?
Hope sprung in my chest, but I tapped it down. I couldn’t be sure that was the case. It might just be wishful thinking.
She started on her next batch of dough, deftly measuring and pouring while keeping an eye on the oven. “Did you enjoy your time in the military?”
I couldn’t get enough of watching her—the freckles scattered over her nose and cheeks, the confident way she moved around the kitchen as she followed a recipe in her head.
She paused and then shook her head. “Sorry, that was an inconsiderate thing to ask. I don’t even know much about your deployment or what you faced.”
I moved around the counter and placed a hand on hers. Her warmth radiated through my skim. “I loved my job.”
Her gaze drifted from where our hands were touching to my face. An awareness passed between us, and I moved away, needing to sever our connection.
“Why did you leave?” she asked as I moved back to my spot on the stool.
“Kendall. I left to take care of her. She was getting older, and I didn’t want to miss everything.”
Sophie considered me thoughtfully. “Do you mind if I ask where her mother is?”
I sighed. “Melanie said it was my turn to raise our daughter. She needed—no, she deserved a break.”
Sophie sucked in a breath. “She said that?”
“So, she just left Kendall with you?” I could practically see Sophie’s mind moving and turning, trying to make sense of what I was telling her.
“She did, but I’m grateful I get this time with her. Don’t get me wrong, Kendall needs her mother. I’m sure she’s hurt that Melanie left, and maybe it’s selfish, but I’m enjoying this time with her. We missed a lot while I was deployed.”
Her forehead wrinkled. “It must have been difficult to be separated from her.”
“Each time I left her, it felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest. I justified it by reminding myself I was taking care of her financially. Melanie was there to handle the day-to-day stuff, but I hated missing each stage of her development. I only have this time and then it’s gone, you know?”
Sophie’s gaze met mine. “I know exactly what you mean.”
A timer rang, interrupting the connection.
“I’ll take them out to cool, and then you can pick whatever you think Kendall would like,” Sophie said over her shoulder.
The water. The baked goods. It was an excuse to spend more time with her. I was worried about her safety, but it was so much more than that. Seeing Sophie again brought everything back, and I wasn’t willing to let her go. Not until I got to know her. Not until I got to the bottom of what happened when I proposed.
She placed the trays on a cooling rack and moved the next batch into the oven. “Do you remember this song?”
I tilted my head to hear the notes. “It played at our prom.”
That time in our life was bittersweet. I had this feeling that a big decision was looming. One that would take me away from Sophie. The tension between me and my dad was building steadily. He wanted me to stay and work the business, and I didn’t.
So, I held her closer, kissed her harder, and wished the moment would last forever.
Wanting to replicate that feeling, I stood and held my hand out to her. “Do you want to dance?”
There was a moment our gazes caught and held when I thought she’d say she had work to do, and I wouldn’t have blamed her. She bit her lip, and it was like time was suspended. She reached behind her back to tug on the apron strings. She lifted it over her head and laid it on the stool. Then she placed her hand in mine.
I tugged her closer so I could grip her hip and hold her hand in mine. It felt good to be near her again. There were a few inches of space between our bodies, but she was close enough I caught her sugary sweet scent. Her hair was pulled back, exposing her neck. I wanted to lower my head to kiss the soft skin.
Sophie smiled softly. “This is a first.”
I leaned back slightly to see her face. “You don’t dance with all of your customers in the kitchen?”
She laughed softly. “Never, actually. And I wouldn’t exactly call you a customer. No one else has ever watched me bake at four in the morning.”
“No one?” My hand drifted from her hip to her back, just above the curve of her ass. She wasn’t wearing a dress as she had at prom, but I still felt every curve.
“Other than my employees, I’ve never invited anyone back here.” There was raw honesty in her tone and her gaze.
“I feel special, then.” I softened my voice in deference to the moment.
A smile curved over her lips. Her cheeks were flushed, most likely from the heat of the oven, but I liked to think it was because we stood so close. It wouldn’t take much for me to draw her in closer, but we weren’t dating. This was a momentary dance to commemorate our history. It wasn’t the start of something.
Except I never wanted the song to end. I wanted to pull her close so that her curves were pressed against me. I wanted to feel her everywhere.
In high school, we explored each other’s bodies, but we didn’t have sex. I wanted to wait for her to be ready, thinking it would happen the summer after we graduated. Then everything changed.
I untangled my fingers from hers to brush some flour off her chin. Her breath hitched. Our movements stalled.
I should kiss her. But we weren’t eighteen and in a ballroom.
SHARE THIS POST