What's your happy place?
We rented a house on Chester River in April which is the location of my first series. We fished with the kids, visited Chestertown, played card games (which we're obsessed with right now), and relaxed in the screened-in porch. I wanted to include this special place in one of my books, and it fit perfectly in Ryan and Hailey's story. He takes his son Corey fishing and invites Hailey along. It was the perfect weekend for them. I love including real experiences in my stories. Scroll down for a sneak peek of My Best Chance.
“You ready to go?”
I didn’t move my gaze from Corey until he nodded slightly. His way of telling me he was okay. I stood, and then at the last second, went with my instinct and hugged him. He didn’t shrug me off or complain. If anything, I thought his shoulders relaxed.
“Call if you want us to pick you up anything in town,” I said to Corey.
“We can come get you, too. The town is just over the bridge.” Ryan pointed out the large windows to the bridge just north of the house.
Corey nodded. “I’ll be okay.”
Ryan waited until we were driving in the direction of town to ask, “Everything okay with Corey?”
“He was talking about his mother. I’m sorry. I should have stayed out of it.”
Ryan held up a hand to stop me. “If I’ve learned anything the past few months, it’s that if he wants to talk, he will. You can’t force it, and you can’t ignore it when he opens up.”
“He’s worried about going back. He wants to live with you.”
He nodded tightly. “That’s good to hear.”
“I told him a little about my background. We’re not the same, but maybe something resonated with him.”
Ryan leaned over to take my hand in his. “I appreciate you talking to him. But let’s not think about the custody situation for the rest of the day.”
“Yeah, that sounds good.” I was all too willing to fall into the fantasy that this weekend was my life.
Entering town, we saw signs for the farmers’ market, which, apparently, happened every Saturday. There were people and cars everywhere.
Ryan finally found a parking spot near the park. There was a sense that we had all day to explore, and I was excited to get started. We stopped at the green fountain in the park, content to watch kids run around it, giggling.
After a few minutes of people watching, Ryan asked, “Want to check out the farmers’ market?”
“I’d love to.” The road was blocked off for vendors. We stopped at a coffee shop and ordered coffees and donuts to enjoy while perusing the market.
We didn’t buy anything, but it was nice to leisurely stroll through the booths. Next, we checked out the stores. There were musicians playing outside an art exhibit. We wandered inside to see the wares and the original bank vault that was open for visitors.
At one of the art galleries, I paused in front of a print of a house on the river. It looked similar to the one we were staying in.
“Would you like it?” Ryan asked quietly.
This wasn’t the original. It was just a print. So, I didn’t feel guilty when I said, “It would be a nice memento from our trip.”
Ryan grabbed the print and paid for it.
When he handed me the bag, I said, “Thank you.”
It wasn’t an expensive gift, but I loved that he’d noticed I was interested and wanted to buy it for me. It felt like something a boyfriend would do.
Ryan took my hand. “Want to grab lunch? There’s a restaurant on the water at the marina.”
“I’d love to.” I felt lighter and more hopeful for the future.
We got in the car and drove to the marina. It wasn’t far, but it would have been a longer walk back. We sat outside on a porch that jutted over the water.
“I don’t care what I eat. This view is amazing.” Water lapped against the deck, and birds swooped down to the water and soared into the air.
“It is nice.” But Ryan was looking at me.
I smiled. “I was talking about the view.”
He nodded, staring at me intently. “I was, too.”
My face heated at his attention. The waitress stopped by to ask for our drink order and then left us alone again.
“I love it here,” I said.
“You’ve never been to the Eastern Shore?”
“I haven’t. We didn’t travel when we lived with Nana. It’s funny because we moved a lot when we lived with Mom, and no matter how many times she called it an adventure, it never felt like one.”
Ryan reached over to slip my hand in his. His thumb caressed the back of my hand. His touch sent a tingle up my arm to my elbow, and it continued until it hit my heart. “I’m glad I got to experience this with you.”
In that moment, there was no one else but us.
Looking out over the water, I said, “Me too. There are so many other things I want to see. Other than moving around as a kid, I’ve never been anywhere.”
He gently squeezed my hand. “I’d like to be the one who takes you all the places you want to go.”
My heart clenched almost painfully at his sweet words. He couldn’t know what his words meant to me. Promises of forever were dangerous. The familiar alarm bells rang in my head, advising me to be wary. Promises were meant to be broken.
“After things with Corey are settled, why don’t we plan a trip? Just us.”
I smiled, but it felt weak. There was no guarantee Ryan would get custody, and if he didn’t? I was almost positive he’d follow him to Texas. There was no point in making plans. Not yet, anyway—no matter how much my heart longed to make plans for the future.
We ate crab cakes because Ryan said that’s what you did while on the shore. Then we drove through the rest of town, commenting on the beautiful historic homes. Then we drove through Washington College’s campus.
On the way back, Ryan insisted on stopping at a grocery store to buy sides to eat with the fish he’d caught this morning.
When he parked in the driveway, he asked, “Want to help gut the fish?
“Um. No, thank you.” I wanted no part of that.
“I’ll teach Corey how to do it.”
Ryan enjoyed imparting knowledge on his son. It was heartwarming to see.
Inside, we found Corey watching TV.
They went outside to deal with the fish, and I got the sides ready. Since most were store-bought, I placed them in bowls with serving spoons. I opened a bottle of wine and poured a glass to enjoy on the dock.
I walked down the long dock and sat on the end, my feet dangling over the side. The water was surprisingly clear. I could see schools of fish below me.
I could sit here forever, listening to the water and the birds and watching the current go by.
Ryan sat next to me, not saying anything.
“I think this is my happy place.”
He placed my hand in his lap. “Mine too.”
His thigh was warm under my hand. “How are the fish coming?”
“Corey’s manning the grill.”
“Is that a good idea?” I looked over my shoulder, but from here, I could barely see more than his head above the grill itself.
“He has to learn these things, and I want him to know I trust him. Don’t worry, I’ll check on him in a minute.”
“I’m not worried. You’re a great dad.” It was like he was making up for lost time, filling each day with knowledge and advice he wanted to share. He wanted to mold Corey into a good man. I was proud of him.
The sky was streaked with pink and purple. It was like one of those pictures we’d seen at the galleries, except it was our life. The only thing that made the moment more perfect was when Ryan kissed me.
When Ryan pulled away, he lifted his beer and tipped his head toward the wineglass I’d set down on the dock.
When I lifted my glass, he said, “To many more evenings like this.”
“To love and family.”
A smile curved slowly over his lips. “To love and family.”
I clinked my glass with his bottle, and we sipped our respective drinks. “I can’t think of a better day.”
“It was the best.”
We sat quietly for a few more minutes until Ryan stood reluctantly. “I better check on him if we don’t want burned fish.”
“Go.” I had no plans to move. It was the perfect spot to watch the sunset.
Visiting a place like this was a dream come true.
Being with Ryan and Corey did nothing to ease that ache inside. The one that wanted everything: love, family, children. My desire wasn’t going away. If anything, it was growing bigger with each day I spent with them.
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