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She turned down my proposal...

Two more days until A Chance at Forever releases on my store and the Second Chance Harbor Series is complete.

High school sweethearts, Mark proposed to Sophie after they graduated from high school. When she said no, he assumed there was no future with Sophie in it. Now he's back in his hometown to raise his daughter, and he's confronted with everything he left behind: his family and Sophie. What if there was more to Sophie saying no? What if they could have a future after all?

The cool air in the bakery had chilled the sweat running down my back, but it did nothing to lessen the conflicting thoughts I was having about my ex.

When I first realized who she was, my heart had stuttered under my rib cage, and it had nothing to do with the way I’d pushed myself on my early morning run.

She’d seemed flustered, her eyes wide and her breathing staggered. Inside, she seemed to relax, and that’s when I noticed she was wearing a pink T-shirt with the words “Sophie’s Sweets” stretched over her breasts. Those words and the way they emphasized all her curves had my imagination running wild.

For a second, it was like no time had passed. She was still my girl, and I was the guy she could depend on, the one she loved. I wanted to move closer, grip her hips, and pull her against me. I wanted the sensation of her soft curves against my hard body. I wanted to feel the familiar weight of her hair in my fingers.

Would she smell like sugar and dough? Would she be as sweet as she’d been as a teenager? Or was she spicier now?

Instead, I’d taken a step toward the counter to block the evidence of my arousal while she’d grabbed the water. When she’d turned, I’d realized she was even more gorgeous than she’d been in high school. Her lanky frame had filled out into enticing curves. Her thick, red, wavy hair with the dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks was the same. She was achingly familiar.

When I’d moved closer to throw out the water bottle, her breath had hitched. She was as affected by my presence as I was by hers.

My heart clenched at seeing her for the first time in a long time. We hadn’t been alone in the same room since she’d turned down my proposal. I’d tried to reach out several times when I was gone, and a few times when I visited home, but she’d been cool toward me. Her wary eyes and the hurt that simmered just below the surface made it seem like I was at fault when she’d been the one to say no to the logical next step—marriage.

Back then, I’d had no choice but to enlist. It had seemed so clear that I needed to leave, to escape my father and this small town. It would have been selfish to beg Sophie to come with me.

She was the practical one. I was the dreamer. The one who thought there was more to life than this small town and my dad’s business. She hadn’t felt the same. Maybe what we had was just young love, and it couldn’t withstand the test of time.

I picked up the pace to a jog on the last stretch home. The endorphins were already kicking in. I felt good. Each step that took me away from the bakery had me thinking about my future. Things had changed. Now that I was discharged from the military, no one controlled my life but me. Anything was possible.

Could I have everything I’d ever wanted, my daughter and Sophie?

It was still quiet when I opened the door, so I made coffee, then started to make pancakes with chocolate chips. Kendall always liked them when she was little, and I hoped she still did.

I wanted to make a good life for my daughter, Kendall, in Annapolis, but I had no idea what to do for work now that I was back.

When I was discharged, Kendall’s mother, Melanie, said she wanted to travel and it was my turn to raise her. Like our daughter was a doll we passed back and forth. I eagerly agreed because I hated that I’d missed so much of her life and was determined to make up for it.

I ate and passed the time reading the news on my phone. I was getting antsy when Kendall finally came down at eight in her pajamas with her hair sticking up.

Affection for her warmed my chest. “Good morning. Are you hungry?”

She plopped down on the end of the couch, her nose wrinkling when she saw my coffee mug. “No.”

“I made chocolate chip pancakes.”

Her lip curled. “What am I? Five?”

I bit back my initial response to remind her to be respectful. I knew moving here would be an adjustment. Kendall hadn’t wanted to leave her friends or her school.

For me, it made sense to move back home. I had family and friends here. It was familiar, and I needed that after being gone for so long.

I took a deep breath. “What would you like to eat?”

She rolled her eyes, and I held my tongue again.

“Why did we have to move here?” She’d made it known she hated small towns.

But I suspected her main issue was that I’d deleted all the apps on her phone. Melanie didn’t monitor her usage. I didn’t mind if she kept in touch with her friends, but I didn’t like the things I was hearing and seeing on those apps. She was constantly primping and prepping and then filming herself. All I could think about was who was watching my little girl on the other end.

“This is my home.” This decision tore me up inside because she would be more comfortable in the home she’d grown up in, but Melanie had sold it.

“It’s not mine.” Her jaw set in a stubborn line, reminding me a little of myself at her age.

I settled my elbows on my knees, drawing on the patience I’d used in the military. “I hope you’ll like it. That you’ll at least give it a chance.”

She snorted and looked away from me.

I liked to think I wasn’t the same when I was a kid, but I was probably worse. I butted heads with my dad every time we were in the same room together.

But I couldn’t let her disrespect continue. “I know you didn’t want to move here.”

“I want to live with Mom.”

I wasn’t expecting that admission, and I guess I should have. She’d always lived full time with her mother, but I thought she would still want to see me. In the past, she enjoyed our time together, but it was limited, and I always planned fun things for us to do.

It wasn’t real life. Now we’d be living together full time, and I was tasked with making sure she went to school and did her homework. It was a different dynamic. A role she wasn’t used to me playing.

“I’m sorry I missed out on so much of your childhood, but I want to get to know you better. I want to be your father.” I needed to be patient with her and let her get used to the idea.

She didn’t respond, but I took it as a good sign that she didn’t roll her eyes this time.

“I loved my job, but I hate that it took me away from you. I wanted to be there when you said your first words, took your first step, and when you learned how to ride a bike. I want to be there for you now.” I didn’t ask her if she’d let me because I didn’t think I’d like her answer. It would take time for her to get used to me being in her life more.

She swallowed and then nodded.

I let out the breath I’d been holding. It was something. A small step forward. It was more than I expected after the painful drive from Indiana to Maryland.

I needed to focus on Kendall and what she needed. I shouldn’t be caught up in a high school relationship that ended ten years ago.

Read A Chance at Forever on 11/15.

Read on all retailers on 12/13:

Catch up on the series:

Fighting Chance (Second Chance/Single Mom/Enemies to Lovers)

One More Chance (Fake Relationship/Friends to Lovers)

Lucky Chance (Grumpy Meets Sunshine/Police Officer)

My Best Chance (Single Dad/Brother's Best Friend)

Worth a Chance (Single Dad/Enemies to Lovers)

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