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Reviving Hearts

Monroe Brothers, Book 3

This Christmas, I’d better not fall in love with my brother’s best friend… again.

A long time ago I fell in love with my brother’s best friend, Heath. We kept our relationship a secret, knowing my brother would never approve. I had faith that in time we would come clean and declare our love to the world, but Heath broke things off before that could ever happen. I fled from my hometown and vowed never to return.

Now I’ve inherited my grandmother’s Inn and I have no choice but to go back. It’s not as simple as just selling the property, it needs to be renovated first. When the realtor said he knew just the guy, I never suspected it would be Heath. The moment he steps back into my life, I can’t deny that the attraction is even greater than it was all those years ago.  

While renovating the Inn, Heath is determined to remind me of everything I loved about my grandmother’s property and his family’s Christmas tree farm. Nothing has ever felt more like home, than when I’m with Heath. Could these feelings be real or is it the magic of the holidays fooling me into falling in love with Heath again?

+ Excerpt +

“I’m not doing what’s good for you, Heath Monroe.” I was vaguely aware that we weren’t alone. But my gut churned with his betrayal.

I thought I was done thinking about him in any capacity. But now he was standing in front of me, looking way too good for words.

Heath raised his hands in a defensive stance. “We didn’t go onto your property on purpose. It’s just that no one from your family has been in these woods for years.”

My face flushed. Was he referring to how we’d meet up in these woods when we were teens? “Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m planning on renovating the inn and reopening it before the holidays.” I couldn’t believe I’d said that. I didn’t have any plans other than to renovate it and possibly sell it. What was it about Heath that had me saying things I didn’t mean?

“I, for one, would love to see the inn renovated and open again. I think it will be great for the surrounding area,” Heath’s mom, Lori, said from her seat on the golf cart.

“Gram would have wanted me to reopen the inn.” When she was alive, I knew she wanted me to come home and manage it. But I didn’t want to return to this town. Not where I’d grown up in a trailer with parents who didn’t view me or my brother, Aiden, as a priority.  

I’d felt awful about it, but I’d built a beautiful life for myself in California, and I hadn’t wanted to come back to the one place I’d always felt less than.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, dear,” Lori said as she rose from the golf cart and moved closer to where Heath and I stood across from each other in a tense standoff.

I’d always envied the Monroe brothers, with their tight-knit family. Whenever I saw them interact, there was so much love.

“Thank you.” I took a step back from the group, feeling out of place. They’d obviously come here as some sort of family gathering, and I was the one intruding. I didn’t belong here. 

“It’s good to have you back, Marley. Let us know if you need anything. We’re happy to help.” Lori patted my shoulder and returned to the golf cart. “I’m going to head back. I’m tired.”

Talon got into the driver’s seat and drove away.

“We should go,” Sebastian said, with his arm around a little girl with dark hair. There was a second girl next to her. I wondered if she was Heath’s.

I vaguely recalled the updates Gram would give me when I called to check on her. Their father had died a few years ago, which must have been devastating for them. And Sebastian had a little girl now. I’d blocked out whatever she said about Heath because I didn’t want to hear if he was happily married with kids. It was probably childish, but I’d never been mature when it came to him.

Now that everyone was leaving, my heart beat erratically in my chest. I wanted to escape to the haven of the inn. 

I wrapped my arms around myself, mainly to shield myself from the cool wind but also to protect myself from Heath. He had the power to hurt me before. 

“You’re cold.” Heath moved closer, his voice gruff.

“I should go back to the house,” I said, but I stood rooted to the spot as Heath came within a foot of me and then stopped. 

He was bigger and broader than I remembered. He was one year older than me and was best friends with Aiden.

When Aiden enlisted, Heath had stayed close to home, helping on the farm and attending a local college. That’s when we’d run into each other in the woods. I’d find a place to journal or read for the afternoon, and he’d insist he was looking for the perfect spot to build his cabin.

He wasn’t like the other boys in school, who were only interested in trucks or sports. He was responsible. He had chores to do on the farm, and he cared about his family. That combination was intoxicating for a girl who didn’t get positive attention from anyone.

“How have you been?” Heath asked, and all I could see was that letter he’d left, breaking off our relationship. I could still see the words in his messy script on the loose-leaf paper: I’m sorry, but I can’t betray your brother.

All I could think about was that he’d chosen his friendship with my brother over me. It was one more person who’d decided I wasn’t important enough. 

I shivered. “You lost the right to ask that question a long time ago.”

He sighed and nodded toward the nutcrackers. “I’ll move the lights.”

“You don’t want to see a survey?” My realtor had insisted on one when I mentioned wanting to sell the property from California. But now he was trying to convince me to renovate the inn to increase the value.

“I trust you.”

At one time, I trusted him not to hurt me. 

He shoved his hands into his pockets, his expression filled with regret. “Look, I’m sorry for how I handled things back then. I was young and stupid.”

I wanted to ask if he was upset that he’d broken up with me, but I couldn’t make the words come out of my mouth. We hadn’t officially dated because Heath never wanted anything to get back to Aiden. Instead, we spent time in the woods, talking, playing games, and getting to know each other. 

We eventually progressed to heavy make-out sessions, but we never went all the way. I should have been thankful for that, but I wasn’t. Heath had always been someone special to me, but I’d wondered over the years if it was because I was so young. I’d idealized our relationship. It was so easy for him to walk away; maybe he hadn’t felt the same way.

His expression pained, he continued, “I didn’t want to do something with you that I’d regret when your brother returned.”

“I remember what you wrote.” I burned the letter in the fire pit behind my trailer and vowed never to let another man hurt me. 

Heath sighed and looked away. “Of course, you do.”

He never reached out to me, even though I held out hope that he’d change his mind. Aiden would always be between us. 

“I never told you, but Aiden asked me to look after you when he left. You know how your parents treated you—”

I didn’t need him to finish that sentence. We both knew that I couldn’t rely on my parents for something as simple as a kind word or a meal. “I had Gram.”

Heath’s compassionate gaze met mine. “But you deserved so much more.”

His concern only hurt more. “I lost your friendship when you broke things off.”

His lips pressed into a firm line. “That’s how it had to be.” 

I held up my hands. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I don’t want to rehash our past. I just want to do what I came home to do and go back to my life.”

“You’re not staying.” It wasn’t a question. 

I laughed without any humor. “There’s nothing for me here.”

He winced. “Lila told me how you were doing over the years.”

Gram never mentioned it to me. “When did you see her?”

“We took turns going over there to check in on her and maintain the property. Mom would bring her meals and drive her to the doctor. They’d sit and chat over a cup of tea.”

I felt a pang about not being the one who was there for her the last few years. I’d been wrapped up in myself. But Lori and Gram had been friends despite their age difference. 

Heath scrutinized me, and I wondered what he saw. The successful businesswoman I was now or the teenager who would have followed him anywhere.

“You look good.”

I wanted to say that he did, too. In fact, he looked better than he had when we were teenagers. He’d filled out, his shoulders broad underneath the red-and-blue-checked flannel that hung open over a green Monroe Christmas Tree Farm shirt, and his thighs stretching his worn jeans.

I bet he’d learned a few things since we used to mess around. He’d always been attentive and skilled with his tongue and fingers. Now that he was a man, I wanted to experience it again.

Shaking that image from my head, I took a few steps back, needing to distance myself from him. Being around him stirred up feelings and emotions I thought I’d buried long ago. 

“Where are you staying?”

“At the inn.” Gram had moved into a room on the first floor after the inn was closed so that she didn’t have to manage the stairs. She’d closed off the rest of the house and let it go. 

I was a little concerned if there was anything living in the house that I should be concerned about. Gram’s bedroom, the kitchen, and the living room were still in good shape, even if it was outdated.

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea for you to stay there. Is it safe?”

I let out a huff. “It was good enough for Gram.”

“Why don’t you let me look at it tomorrow? I can do a quick walk-through and let you know.”

“My realtor has been through it, and he didn’t fall through a floor.”

Heath’s expression remained stoic. “That doesn’t mean anything.”

“As much as I appreciate your concern”—I really didn’t because I didn’t need him in my space—“I don’t need your help. I’m a big girl now.”

His gaze slowly perused me. “I can see that.”

My face flushed from his appraising gaze.

“If you need anything, you have my number. I built a cabin through those trees.” He pointed in the direction of some lights.

“I’m the closest to your property.”

It was close to our spot. I wondered if he’d chosen it on purpose.

“Knox’s cabin is on the other side of the mountain and closer to the road. Talon’s cabin is behind his. I’m building a cabin for Sebastian next. His will be closer to the main farmhouse. He wants to be close to Mom. We were hoping that she could watch his daughter, Ember, but with her recent health scare, he might need a nanny.”

My heart skipped a beat. “What recent health scare?” 

He shook his head. “We thought it was a heart attack, like my dad had, but it was just an anxiety attack. The doctor wants her to slow down and reduce her stress. Gram didn’t talk to you about my family?”

“She talked about Lori and your brothers.”

He smiled. “She didn’t talk about me?”

I looked away. “If she did, I didn’t want to hear it. It’s not that I’m still hurt by what you did. I just couldn’t…” I couldn’t say the words.

“I enjoyed listening to her talk about you. Lila was so proud of you. How you put yourself through school and wouldn’t accept her money.”

I scoffed. “Of course not.”

“And how you built an online business and were living in a house in Malibu.”

My throat tight, I said, “I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished. I wanted to get out of this town, and I did.”

“I’m glad you’re happy,” he said.

I wouldn’t have said I was happy. I would have said I felt safe and secure now that I had money. I was able to buy an amazing house and whatever else I wanted. But money wouldn’t bring Aiden home or protect him when him while he was deployed. Money had elevated my station in life and provided amazing opportunities, but it hadn’t given me lasting friendships or even a good man to spend time with. “Are you?” 

“I hate that my dad died and won’t get to see Emmett and Knox happy with their significant others. He won’t get to see Ember grow up. But I love working on the farm and being close to my family.”

I wanted to know if he’d realized his dream of owning a contracting business. When we used to talk, he mentioned his internal conflict about working at the farm and pursuing his own dreams. I’d bet that had intensified since his father died.

“I’m sorry about your dad, but I’m glad that things seemed to have worked out for you. And I’m sorry about confronting you about the lights. I thought there were teenagers out here drinking beer and causing trouble.” That didn’t explain why I continued to yell at him when I realized who it was. That was my frustration with seeing him again and my traitorous heart that picked up at the sight of him.

“It’s okay.”

I threw my thumb over my shoulder. “I should head back. I have a lot to do.”

Something passed over his face, a hint of longing. It was so quick I almost thought I’d imagined it.

“I’ll stop by to check your place tomorrow.”

There was no point in arguing. Heath was stubborn.

“I’d appreciate that.” 

When we were teens, our relationship felt exhilarating because it was forbidden. I’d wondered over the years if that’s why my connection to Heath felt different. But now that I’d run into him again, I still felt that undeniable pull. He was like a magnet I couldn’t help but be drawn to. But I knew if I got too close, there was the possibility I’d get burned.

I needed to stay away from him so I wouldn’t be sucked into his vortex. Nothing good could come from getting close to a man who’d hurt me in the past.

Only a fool would do something like that.

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