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My Best Chance releases in 4 days! Will reformed bad boy and single dad Ryan ever be good enough for his best friend's little sister? He's a single father to Corey, who's in trouble of his own and working off his debt at Hailey's Spice & Tea Shoppe. Will Corey bring Ryan and Hailey together or push them further apart?
★★★★★ "Between the slow-burn romance, the single dad, and swoon-worthy sweet moments scattered throughout this book--there were SO MANY feels rolling off these pages. It is truly a wonderful story about two imperfect people who were perfect for each other. I LOVED everything about this epic, single parent, siblings best friend, love story!" - Tara, Goodreads Reviewer
I turned the crystal figurine left and right, remembering how fascinated I was as a little girl by the light filtering through the facets, creating a rainbow on the wood floor. “I don’t understand why we need to go through everything.”
Nana gave me a measured look. “It’s past time for me to get rid of stuff.”
My stomach dropped as I looked around at the sheer flower curtains, the afghan covering the antique couch, and the cabinet full of knickknacks my grandmother loved to collect. Everything held a memory.
Nana gestured at the crystal in my lap. “I know how much you love that. You keep it.”
This home and everything in it had represented a haven after my mother left me and my older brother on Nana’s porch when I was six.
The front door opened, and I didn’t need to turn my head to recognize my brother Jake’s heavy footsteps.
“You needed some muscle?” Amusement tinged his voice.
The mood immediately lightened with his presence.
Nana smiled up at him with adoration.
Glancing at Jake, I did a double take. He wasn’t alone. My brother’s best friend, Ryan, stood next to him. “Why are you here?”
Ryan was the troublemaker in their duo growing up. They’d recently opened a garage in town together. Ryan wore a black T-shirt with the garage’s logo in white lettering, Harbor Garage & Service Repair Center, faded jeans, and boots. As a teen, he was tall and lanky, but he’d filled out since then, and it only made him more attractive.
He leaned a hip against the cabinet and crossed his arms over his chest. His biceps bulged from the movement.
There was something about him that drew me in. A sense that we sought refuge in this home together.
I’d followed my brother around when we were kids. Ryan was usually with him because he avoided his house, but Jake hadn’t minded me sticking around. He’d wanted to keep me close. In middle school, he’d warned me away from guys like Ryan. The ones who skipped school and smoked behind the bleachers.
Jake’s amused expression settled on me. “Nana said she needed me to move some boxes from the attic.”
My gaze swung back to Nana as my stomach dipped. “You’re not thinking of moving, are you?”
Nana stood, her movement slow as if she were in pain. “I’m not sure how much longer I can do these stairs.”
Jake’s brow furrowed. “We could move your bedroom to the one down here.”
Nana glanced from Jake to me, probably sensing our growing concern. “I’m not moving out today.”
I bit my lip, stopping myself from telling her she could always stay here. I could move back in to help, but she was independent and wouldn’t want me to even suggest it.
Nana moved toward the kitchen. “You boys want some lemonade?”
Jake and Ryan would always be boys to Nana. It didn’t matter that they were both well over six feet and built.
Ryan nodded as she passed. “We’d love some. Thank you, ma’am.”
Nana waved him away and grumbled, “Don’t ma’am me. I’m not that old.”
A laugh escaped despite the ache in my chest. She said you were only as old as you felt, and she felt great.
I wished I had her outlook on life. I tended to be more wary and cynical. But then, my past had taught me to be cautious.
When she disappeared into the kitchen, Jake braced a hand on the back of the couch and leaned in to say, “Hey, at least she called us before doing it herself.”
I smiled in response, but it felt brittle. Ever since Nana mentioned moving boxes from the attic, and needing to give away her things, I’d felt like I could crack wide open like the crystal if I dropped it on the floor.
I swallowed around the growing tightness in my throat. “That’s true.”
Nana would get an idea for a project in her head and do it on her own. More often than not, something would go wrong, and occasionally, she’d get hurt. I exchanged a look with Jake. I’m sure he was remembering the time she tried to change a light bulb herself. Jake had walked in on her having fallen from the ladder. She hadn’t broken anything that time, but it was enough to make us worry.
Ryan watched me with a steady gaze. “You okay?”
I couldn’t look at him because tears pricked the back of my eyes. I didn’t know what I’d do if Nana moved out of this house and sold it. I couldn’t afford to buy it. I just always assumed she’d live here until she died, and she’d pass it on to me.
“You look pale,” Jake added.
“You’re not worried she’s going to move out?” My voice was barely more than a whisper. I didn’t even want to voice the next idea—she’d sell it. Acknowledging the thought made it more of a possibility.
Ryan’s gaze traveled around the room and paused on framed pictures of Jake and me lining the walls. “This is a big house for her. It makes sense she’d want to move to an apartment or assisted living facility eventually.”
Nana had always been so independent, capable. Even when she got injured, she bounced back quickly. She wasn’t one to place limits on herself or say she couldn’t do something. She always seemed so capable. Considering a future where she wasn’t able to navigate this house was upsetting to me.
She was exactly what I needed when my mom walked out. She’d tell me to be sad for a little while, but then I needed to move on. It became easier because Nana and Jake were my constants, not my mother.
The reality I’d been avoiding was staring me in the face. It was a big house for one person. It was a lot to take care of, and she was probably lonely living here by herself.
Nana came into the room, and Ryan rushed to grab the tray of glasses and a large pitcher of freshly squeezed lemonade she was carrying. “Thank you, dear.”
I set the crystal, still warm from my grip, in my purse.
Ryan poured a glass for each of us, saving mine for last.
The cushions compressed as Ryan sat next to me and pressed the cool glass into my hand.
Feeling light-headed, I rested the sweating glass against my forehead, intending to blame it on the unseasonably warm fall day if Nana asked what I was doing.
Jake sat in one of the wingback chairs on either side of the wood fireplace. He spread his legs wide and braced the glass against his thigh. “How’s business at the store?”
I glanced at Nana, then at him. I didn’t want to worry her. “It’s good.”
Jake nodded. “You need any help, you let me know.”
I breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn’t sniffed out my lie. Even before the break-in, business had suffered.
“I still can’t believe someone broke into the store. Nothing like that has ever happened before,” Nana said.
Ryan stiffened next to me. It had been his twelve-year-old son who’d pushed open the door I’d left unlocked. I’d run into him when I returned to grab my forgotten cell phone. We hadn’t told Nana who’d done it, and thankfully, she didn’t read the paper.
It was enough that the incident caused tension between Jake and Ryan.
“What’s the plan?” Ryan asked Nana, effectively changing the subject.
“I’d appreciate it if you could put the boxes in the sewing room. Jake and Hailey can go through them. See what they want to keep.”
I was torn about going through the boxes because I wasn’t sure what I’d find. Would there be something that reminded me of living with my mother? I’d worked so hard to push her out of my mind and not to expect anything from her in the form of support and love.
“We can do that.” Jake stood, setting his glass on the coffee table.
Ryan stood to follow him out of the room, leaving me with Nana.
Nana focused on me. “I know this is hard for you.”
I stayed quiet because I didn’t trust myself to speak. There was a crushing weight on my chest. The fear of giving away her things, seeing the house empty, and selling it to someone else was inconceivable.
“But I can’t stay here forever.” Her voice was soft and filled with understanding.
I nodded, sipping the sweet liquid, hoping it would soothe my dry throat.
Nana’s eyes lost their focus as she looked out the window. “Maybe this will be good for you.”
“How is it good?” I asked.
Her gaze returned to me. “You’ll find closure. You can finally put your past behind you.”
“I have,” I said automatically. But the truth was, I hadn’t. I pushed it down deep. That was the opposite of dealing with it or forgiving my mother for abandoning us.
She gave me a pointed look. “You haven’t.”
I averted my gaze and changed the subject. “I can’t imagine you not living here.”
“Someone else will live here eventually,” Nana said.
The thought of that sent my heart racing.
Heavy footsteps sounded overhead. Then there was a thud.
Nana shook her head. “Go help them. Jake doesn’t know what to keep or what his children might want some day.”
I set the lemonade down and crossed the room to kiss Nana’s paper-thin cheek.
When I lifted my head, she grabbed my wrist. “It will be all right.”
I couldn’t bring myself to respond as I slipped out of her grasp. I crossed the room, my hand drifting over the wood railings to the second floor. A memory popped into my head of me racing down the steps as I rushed to catch up with Jake.
As I stepped onto the second-floor landing, I saw the door to the sewing room was open. It had been Jake’s when he lived here. A few boxes were already stacked in the middle of the room.
“Is this okay?” Ryan lowered two boxes to the floor.
“It’s fine.” But it felt like nothing would be okay again. The boxes were marked with black marker, indicating they were Jake’s or mine. I breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn’t started with the ones labeled Roxane, for my mother.
When I lifted the flap of a box, dust floated through the air, seemingly dancing in the light filtering through the window. I recognized books from my childhood stacked neatly, the spines facing up. I lifted each one, admiring the covers and the dog-eared pages. These books had been my escape as a child. All were fantasies about imaginary worlds with dragons and magic.
“I wondered what happened to those. Will you keep them?” Jake asked, dropping two more boxes on the carpet.
“Of course.” I couldn’t imagine giving them away. I’d save them for my future children.
“I’ll grab a couple of garbage bags for donation and trash.” Jake walked out.
Instead of returning to the attic, Ryan stood next to me, his arms crossed over his chest. “This is hard for you.”
“My whole life is in these boxes.” I sat back on my haunches.
Ryan shook his head, looking around ruefully. “If this were my family’s stuff, I’d junk everything.”
I glanced up at him in surprise. He’d been a constant in my life growing up, but he hadn’t talked much about his home life. “Why is that?”
His gaze met mine, and I sucked in a breath at the depth of pain I saw in them. “I don’t have a lot of good memories from home.”
I sighed, feeling weary, even though I wasn’t the one doing manual labor. “I don’t either. At least, not before I came to live with Nana.”
Each time Mom showed up for a visit, I couldn’t help myself from hoping she’d either stay or take me with her. It was a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, longing and disappointment. Jake and Nana held me together. I owed them everything.
Focusing on the task at hand, I wrote Keep on the box of books, and Ryan closed the flaps, moving it to the wall by the door. The next box was a stack of photo albums. Not opening them, I wrote Keep, and shoved it aside.
“You don’t want to look at them?” Ryan asked softly.
“Not now. Maybe later.” There was a possibility my mom would be in one of them, and I needed to be alone where no one could see me cry. Seeing her would bring everything to the surface.
With a nod, Ryan set the box on top of the first one and left the room.
The next few boxes contained toys we’d prized as kids. Cars and trucks for Jake, dolls and their dresses for me. After debating whether to donate or keep them, I chucked the ones that were in poor shape, and kept the best ones to possibly pass on to our children, even though Jake was adamant about not wanting any.
I could only hope Jake and I had a happier future ahead of us than our pasts indicated.
I spent a couple of hours going through the boxes they brought down. Then Ryan took out the accumulating garbage bags.
Ryan returned with a fresh glass of lemonade. “Are you sure you’re okay with Corey helping you at the store?”
I stood, wiping the sweat from my forehead before taking the glass. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Ryan’s jaw tightened. “He broke into your store.”
I huffed out a laugh. “To be fair, I left it unlocked.”
Ryan took a step toward me like he wanted me to listen carefully. “He entered without permission.”
“I get that. But I also don’t think I have anything to worry about. He didn’t take anything. He didn’t hurt me. He’s twelve years old, and he was going through something.” Corey’s mom, Tiffany, recently sent him to live with Ryan. It meant a new school, new town, new friends. It had been a difficult transition. I felt for him because I knew how it felt to feel like your mother abandoned you.
Ryan shook his head.
“Corey’s a good kid. He just needs to know he has a permanent place with you.”
Ryan shifted on his feet, considering me. “You feel a kinship to him because of your past.”
“I do.” Ryan saw firsthand how it was for us when my mom would show up and then leave. It made Jake angry, but I fell apart. I’d wait at the window for her to come back.
“I can see that.”
“Tiffany sent him to live with you?” I’d heard a little from Jake. Ryan and I didn’t usually have heart-to-hearts.
He ran a hand through his hair, making it stand on end. “Tiffany said she couldn’t handle him anymore.”
“How do you think that feels to Corey?”
Ryan shook his head. “Not great.”
Sympathy for Corey flowed through my body. “His mother sent him away.”
“This is my chance to be the dad he needs me to be, but how do I do that when I’m not exactly the most upstanding guy?”
I wasn’t sure about that. Sure, he’d caused trouble in his youth, but he’d never gotten into any real trouble. Ryan was a pro at skirting that line. Just enough to stay in school, to graduate, and to avoid arrest.
I tipped my head to the side, considering him. “Has he ever lived with you for an extended period of time?”
“Just short visits during the school year and a couple weeks in the summer. Those times were fun, not the daily routines in his life. I never had to remind him to do his homework or stay out of trouble.”
“I get that.” He was scared. I could sense it in his expression, his jerky movements. Ryan was usually so confident and sure of himself, but he was questioning his ability to be a good dad. My heart contracted in response. It was endearing, and I wanted to help him.
“When do you want him to start?” Ryan asked.
“Tomorrow’s fine. I need to clean out that apartment, rip up the carpet, and paint.” My friend, Zoe, had recently moved out of the apartment, and Nana wanted it to have a facelift before we rented it again.
“Your store is within walking distance to his school. I’ll pick him up whenever he’s done.”
I tipped my head to the side. “I don’t want to interfere with homework or practice.”
Ryan nodded. “Let’s say no later than seven, and I’ll send you his practice schedule so you’ll know which days he can’t be there.”
“Whenever he can come is fine.” It saved me the cost of hiring a handyman to paint.
“I really appreciate you giving him a chance. I know his attorney suggested this as a way to make him look good in front of the judge, but I want him to make a change. I want him to connect with something or someone here, even if it’s not me.”
I covered his hand with mine. “You’re a good dad, Ryan.”
Whatever he thought of himself, he was putting Corey first now.
Ryan tipped his head back, then focused on me. “If that were true, why is Corey in trouble with the police? Why does he have a court date? Tell me that.”
“Whatever he’s going through is big and real. He’s processing the situation with his mother, the move here, living with you. It’s a big transition. Give him time.”
Ryan sighed. “I just hope I’m up for the job.”
“I think you’ll surprise yourself.” Ryan was nothing like my mother. He was solid and trustworthy. He wasn’t a dreamer like she was.
Jake popped his head in the doorway. “You guys almost done in here? I want to stop by the shop and run some numbers.”
“You work too much,” I said affectionately.
Jake tipped his head. “You know how difficult it is to start a new business.”
He’d mentioned that most businesses failed in the first few years. I ran Nana’s for her, and we were struggling. It wasn’t easy, but I suspected the issue with my shop was that I wasn’t passionate about it, not like she’d been.
Jake didn’t have that problem. Opening the garage was his lifelong dream.
Ryan clasped his shoulder. “We’ve got this.”
Working with Corey meant being around Ryan more. In the past, Jake had always been the perfect buffer, and I knew nothing could come from my childhood crush. He wasn’t my type, or at least, he wasn’t anymore.
I needed a nice guy, not one who had tattoos, drove a motorcycle, and had a history of causing trouble. So, no matter how attracted I was to Ryan, I needed to steer clear of him.
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