Prologue

Kenna

 

PAST

 

I waved frantically, trying to clear the smoke away from the oven with one hand as I attempted to open the kitchen window with the other. My efforts were in vain. The smoke detector let out a wail that was likely to make my brain bleed.

 

“Blasted oven.” I ran for one of the barstools and tugged it over beneath the shrieking alarm. I climbed up, stretching on my tiptoes until I could just reach the device. I twisted it off and quickly unplugged the wire.

 

“What in heaven’s name is going on in here? Do I need to get the fire extinguisher?”

 

“I’m sorry, Harriet. I just…” I wasn’t sure how to finish that statement.

 

Harriet fought to hold back a laugh as she shook her head, the lines creasing her face deepening with the movement. “Let me get these out of the oven, and you climb down off that death trap before you fall and crack your head open.”

 

I carefully lowered myself to the seat of the stool and then stood, setting the smoke detector on the counter. “I really am sorry.”

 

Harriet waved me off as she slipped on oven mitts. “You know you don’t have to apologize for things like this. We have to make mistakes—”

 

“—so that we can learn,” I finished in tandem with her. My grandmother’s best friend had been preaching this line since I’d come to live with her seven years ago. One of many Harriet-isms that I’d come to know and love.

 

She lifted the baking sheet up and frowned. “I’m afraid to say I don’t think these will recover. What were you trying to make?”

 

I took in the charred black rocks on the pan. Just the sight of them had a burn lighting behind my eyes. “Biscuits.”

 

Harriet’s gaze jumped to me at the sound of strain in my voice. “Oh, sweet girl. We can make another batch.”

 

“I don’t have time. And I just…I wanted everything to be perfect. I swear I followed your recipe to the letter.” But somewhere along the way, something had gotten mixed up, and my plans had gone up in smoke. If that wasn’t a metaphor for my life at the moment, I didn’t know what was.

 

“Take a deep breath.” Harriet ducked into the pantry and pulled out a Tupperware container. “I’ve got some crescent rolls from lunch you can take. What are they for anyway?”

 

“A picnic.” One I’d spent hours preparing for, trying to think of every last detail. “It’s Grant’s and my anniversary.”

 

Harriet’s expression faltered for a moment as she handed me the container. Her relationship with her grandson wasn’t always an easy one. And no matter what I tried to do to smooth the way for the two of them, it never seemed to work.

 

Harriet cleared her throat. “I just talked to Clark a minute ago, and he said they were all headed for the mainland. Spending a few nights in Seattle before heading on a trip to Boston.”

 

Grant hadn’t said a word about a trip with his parents. God, I hoped he hadn’t forgotten. “He texted me just a bit ago and said he was heading into town to pick up a few things. We’re supposed to meet on the beach in a few minutes.”

 

She patted my hand. “I must’ve misunderstood. You two have fun. Just make sure you’re back by eleven.”

 

I grinned at Harriet. “Never any curfew extensions from you.”

 

“I’ve only got you living at home for a bit longer, let me rule those few months with an iron fist.”

 

“Fair enough.” That was the thing about living the majority of your childhood with a parent who couldn’t care less about you, having a strict guardian made me feel nothing but loved. When classmates moaned and complained about curfews and family dinners, I fought the urge to roll my eyes. Was it really so bad to know that people cared about you? Your safety and your well-being?

 

I leaned forward and kissed Harriet’s cheek. “Don’t forget, you have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning.”

 

She chuckled. “Always mothering me.”

 

“Just looking out for you.” It was the least I could do for the woman who had given me so much. I’d been terrified when I first came to live at The Gables, sure I’d be sent away from Harriet’s sprawling waterfront estate and back to the home where I had been left alone to make myself dinner with the little we had in our pantry or to try and figure out how to use the washing machine so my clothes didn’t smell. But slowly, The Gables became home, and Harriet, my family.

 

She cupped my face in her hands. “You’re a treasure. The best surprise gift of my life.”

 

Guilt swamped me for what felt like the millionth time in the past two days. I’d almost blurted out my secret more times than I could count, hungry for Harriet’s wisdom and comfort. I swallowed the words back. “I should go.”

 

She patted my cheek and sent me off with a shooing motion. I picked up the picnic basket and headed out of the kitchen. I tried to shove the guilt and worry from my mind as I made my way out the front door.

 

Gravel crunched as I walked away from the large stone house, the rocks soon giving way to thick, lush grass that tickled my feet. The quaint guest house poked up on my right, and I could see Grant’s home in the distance. I grinned, thinking about the time we’d gotten long-range walkie talkies and stayed up late into the night, swapping stories and sharing secrets.

 

I searched the beach for Grant’s long, lean form, but the shore was empty. I crossed to the large piece of driftwood that made the perfect picnic spot. Spreading out the contents of the basket, I eased down onto the blanket, careful not to get anything on my dress. I glanced down at my watch. He was only a few minutes late.

 

I took a deep breath and forced my attention to the ocean, hoping the rippling of the water would soothe my frayed edges. I’d written out what I might say to Grant, how I’d tell him, over and over, but nothing seemed quite right. I just hoped that in the moment, the right words would come, ones that eased instead of panicked, that assured him we were in this together.

 

I thought it all through again, practicing the different things I might say, how I would voice them. Until the rumbling of my stomach brought me back to the present. I checked the time again. Forty-five minutes had passed in the blink of an eye. I looked down at my phone. No messages.

 

Annoyance pricked at my skin. Grant knew that marking special occasions was important to me. Birthdays, anniversaries, I always did my best to make them special for the people I loved. Probably because my mother had never done so for me, other than the time she’d shown up smashed to my fourth-grade classroom with a dozen stale donuts. Grant knew my wounds better than anyone, which only dug the sting in deeper.

 

A loud whistle pierced the air, and I turned to see Grant crossing the lawn towards the beach. I climbed to my feet, doing my best to keep the mixture of frustration and hurt in check. His eyes lit with a familiar heat as he approached. “Hey, babe. You look gorgeous.”

 

“I thought we were meeting at five.” As soon as the words tumbled out of my mouth, I wanted to take them back. My harping on his tardiness would only ruin our night.

 

Grant sent me a sheepish smile, the same one he always used before trying to smooth something over. “I ran into Joe in town. We started talking, and I lost track of time. I’m sorry, babe.” He wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me close. “Forgive me?”

 

The familiar warmth spread through me as I snuggled closer. When Grant held me, it was the one time I truly felt safe and not alone. I wanted to bask in the sensation forever. “You’re forgiven.”

 

He reached into his pocket, pulling out a small jewelry box and placing it in my hand. “This should make up for it.”

 

The velvet of the case tickled my palm as excitement lit through me. I opened the box and gasped. The heart-shaped diamond necklace caught the fading sun in a glittering dance. “Grant, this is too much.”

 

He cupped my face, tilting my head back. “You deserve the best. Happy Anniversary.”

 

“Happy Anniversary,” I echoed.

 

His lips met mine in a slow kiss that sent sparks through me. But as I pulled away, an overly sweet smell filled my senses. My nose wrinkled. “You smell like you rolled around in a florist shop.”

 

Grant stiffened. “I hugged my mom before they left. I think she was wearing a new perfume.” He chuckled. “I don’t think it’s a winner.”

 

It didn’t smell like something Annabelle would wear. But then again, my tastes were never up to her standards. I pushed the thoughts out of my mind and focused on the boy in front of me. The lock of golden blond hair that always swooped across his face, and the green flecks in his hazel eyes. He was beautiful. And he was mine. “I missed you.”

 

Grant planted one more peck on my lips. “Missed you, too, babe.” His hand squeezed my butt. “You’ve been working too hard.”

 

I forced my smile to stay in place. Grant never understood my need to work, to save. How could he when he’d never wanted for a single thing in his entire life. But I needed the sense of security, the knowledge that I could provide for myself in some small way.

 

“I have the next two days off. But Harriet said you’re headed to Seattle with your parents?” I said it as a question, hoping he’d tell me that he’d only be gone for the day.

 

Grant’s body seemed to string tight at my words. “Yeah, they want me to fly to Boston with them next week.”

 

“Another business trip?” Clark often had his family accompany him to various conferences and events.

 

Grant’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed, a sure sign that I wasn’t going to like whatever he had to say. “Not exactly,” he muttered.

 

“Then what are you going for?” Dread crept through my stomach. I hadn’t sensed anything amiss over the past few weeks, but I read it loud and clear now.

 

“I’ve been trying to figure out the right time to tell you.” He toyed with the hem of his button-down shirt that hung casually untucked, and my stomach twisted into a painful knot. “I got into Harvard. Dad really wanted me to go. Said he’d get me a sick apartment if I agreed.”

 

“Acceptance letters come out in April.” It was the only thing I could think of to say. It was the end of July now. Four months. A third of a year. And that whole time, we’d been planning a life together, one that was supposed to start in a matter of weeks. “I didn’t apply to any schools in Boston.”

 

The wince he gave me was all I needed to know. Grant wasn’t planning on me coming with him. Tears burned the backs of my eyes. “How long have you known?”

 

He reached out for me, but I retreated, and his hands fell back to his sides. “Not long, I swear.”

 

The way his eyes shifted to the left told me that he was lying. That lie broke something in me. “Just a couple of nights ago, we were looking at apartments in Seattle online.” My breaths started coming quicker. “Was that some kind of sick joke to you?”

 

“No, Kenna. Never. I just didn’t know how to tell you. I love you, but…”

 

His words trailed off as he stepped closer. The scent of the perfume clinging to him had my stomach roiling. “But what?” My voice cracked on the question.

 

“But I need some time to be free. We’re so young. I love you, but I’m not ready to settle down. We should spend some time apart before we do that. I think we’ll both feel better about it in the end.” He cupped my face, but I couldn’t even feel his hands. I’d gone completely numb. “You’re still my forever, I just need to have college on my own first.”

 

My breathing picked up speed again as if no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my lungs to fully inflate. My fingers began to tingle as I stepped out of Grant’s hold. Air, I needed air.

 

“Kenna? Shit, are you okay? Just breathe.”

 

Grant ran a hand down my back, and I didn’t have the strength to shy away from it. I was too consumed with the effort of trying to catch my breath. “I’m. Pregnant.”

 

He recoiled as if I told him I had a flesh-eating disease. “Y-you’re what?”

 

“Pregnant. I’m pregnant.” Just saying the words out loud made my breathing even out, as if they were a call to arms. My baby needed me. I couldn’t lose it now.

 

“But you said you’re on the pill. Did you lie?”

 

My head snapped up. “No, I didn’t lie. No form of birth control is one hundred percent effective.”

 

Grant’s gaze narrowed on me. “But we used condoms most of the time, too.”

 

Most of the time. My mind circled around the words. “Every time. You had one every time.”

 

His eyes shifted—that same tell. But this time, it cut deep. “Once or twice, I didn’t actually put it on.”

 

I stared unblinking at the face of the boy I loved. The one who’d been my first everything. From holding his hand in a darkened movie theater to letting him have the piece of myself I’d held onto for eighteen years. He’d made me feel special, cherished, wanted. And for a girl who’d spent so much of her life feeling like a castoff, being wanted was everything.

 

“You knew how scared I was of this. Of being like my mother. Of people thinking I’m like her.” I didn’t regret my little bean, not one bit. I was going to love him or her with everything I had in me. But that didn’t change the betrayal of Grant’s actions. Apparently, he didn’t care enough about my fears to protect us both.

 

He straightened. “If you were truly on the pill, it wouldn’t have mattered if I didn’t use a condom a few times. Hell, maybe you cheated on me. This baby probably isn’t even mine.”

 

“How can you say something like that? You know me. You know that I would never do anything to betray you.” My heart was cracking. As if the organ had been submerged in subzero temperatures.

 

The boy I thought I knew better than myself suddenly seemed like a stranger. I’d always known that Grant had a short temper. He was used to getting things the exact way he wanted. But I never expected that he’d turn on me. I was the one who listened when his parents were too busy with work and charity galas. I was the one who explained where he was coming from when Harriet lost her patience with him. I made sure he stayed on top of his schoolwork. I cheered him on at every football game. I’d held him as he’d cried when his grandfather died. How could he forget all of that in the blink of an eye?

 

Grant began pacing back and forth. “You heard about Lacey, didn’t you? The parties? You think you can trap me?”

 

I blanched, my mouth falling open, but I couldn’t seem to form words, and my mind rapidly spun. The sickly-sweet scent tickled the back of my brain. Lacey. It was the perfume of the girl who had made my growing up years on the island torture. Throwing my mom’s drunkenness and abandonment in my face more times than I could count. Tripping me in the hallway. Writing nasty things on my locker. The boy who was the love of my life, the father of my baby, smelled like…Lacey.

 

I closed my eyes, trying to block out the pain slicing at my chest. “How could you?”

 

He scoffed. “You really think I was going to wait around for years when you were locked up tighter than a drum? Just because you’re the hottest girl on the island doesn’t mean you’re going to lead me around by the balls. God, you’re so damn naïve.”

 

All it took was one spark. The discovery of one lie that ignited a chain reaction, revealing all of the other deceits. But the worst realization of all was that there was no way Grant loved me. He never had. I was only a pretty face to him. A beautiful possession. That spark sent the future I’d been building in my mind, the home I’d thought would be my forever, up in flames.

 

Grant began backing away towards the lawn. “I don’t want a damn thing to do with any baby. If it is mine, then get rid of it. Because if you don’t, you’re on your own.”

 

I reared back as if he’d physically struck me, though that would’ve been less painful. “You don’t mean that.”

 

“The hell, I don’t.” Those hazel eyes I loved so much hardened with a glint I’d never seen before. “My dad warned me you might try and pull a crazy stunt to get me to stay. Said you’d try to guilt me, to manipulate me. But I never thought you’d stoop so low. You make me sick.” With that parting blow, he tore off, moving up the hillside and towards his house.

 

My body trembled as I sank to the rocky sand. If I didn’t sit, I worried I’d fall. I pressed my back against the worn wood of the log. This was one of my favorite spots on the estate. A place I’d always found peace. Somewhere that reminded me how limitless the Universe was, and how small I was in it. I’d always found that comforting, as if whatever I struggled with was so tiny compared to the vastness of the sea surrounding me. Now, I just felt empty. Totally and completely alone.

 

I pictured the ocean rolling up, the waves swallowing me whole and pulling me out and into that expanse. I craved it, letting myself go. I blinked against the sting of the salt air.

 

I guess I wasn’t so different from my mother, after all. Eighteen. Pregnant. Alone. I gave myself a good shake. No. I’d fight with tooth and nail to make sure that’s where the similarities ended. Even if I had to do it with no help at all.   

 

 

Chapter One

Kenna

 

PRESENT

 

“How the hell has she roped us into doing this foo-foo bendy stuff more than once a week?”

 

Bell laughed as we watched Caelyn ease Harriet into a gentle stretch. “Because you love Harriet more than any other human on this planet, and the foo-foo bendy stuff has been good for her blood pressure.”

 

I huffed and leaned back on my mat. Bell was right. Yoga had been good for Harriet’s heart and her spirit. Plus, it was an excuse to get outside and enjoy The Gables’ grounds. No matter how much time passed, I never tired of the gorgeous view.

 

“You’re supposed to be in pigeon pose, Kenna. That looks great, Bell.”

 

I growled something unintelligible at Caelyn before getting into the posture. “Teacher’s pet,” I groused at Bell.

 

She grinned and shrugged. “I like yoga.”

 

I sighed and attempted to relax into the stretch. I did my best to force my mental to-do list out of my mind, to not think about everything I could’ve used this hour and a half to accomplish. It was Saturday, and I was with my favorite people in the world. These women were my rocks. They’d been beacons of light when my entire world had been pitch-black.

 

And now, years later, we were all back on the island where we’d grown up together. Time had passed, but the closeness we shared hadn’t changed a bit. If anything, it had grown stronger, the bond cementing itself into the marrow of who we were.

 

“How are things with Henry?”

 

Bell’s question jolted me out of my memories. I pushed deeper into the stretch, relishing the bite of burn. “They’re fine.”

 

“Sounds like things are hot and heavy, just full of passion.”

 

I grabbed the towel at the end of my mat and chucked it at her. “Not everyone gets reunited with their lost love and spends days at a time locked away in their brand-new house in the hills.” But not everyone wanted that either. If I never saw my lost love again, it would be too soon.

 

The smile fell from Bell’s face, and I wanted to kick myself. “You deserve real love, Ken. Not just the imitation kind that makes you feel safe.”

 

I focused my attention on switching my pigeon pose to the other side. I didn’t want to think about just how little of a spark I had with Henry. “We’ve only been on a couple of dates. It’s not serious.”

 

Bell made a humming noise. Years of friendship meant that I could translate the sound to: bullshit. I cleared my throat. “So, how’s the new space coming along?”

 

It was just the thing to ask. Bell’s eyes lit with excitement, something I hadn’t seen in my own in a decade. “I think it’s going to be perfect. I should be ready to open the shop doors in just a few weeks.”

 

I twisted to face her. “That’s great. You couldn’t find a more ideal location.” Main Street housed all of the essential tourist stops for our small island of fifteen hundred people, and it was just a stone’s throw from the bar Bell’s fiancé owned. “Is Ford happy?”

 

“He’s happy I’ll be so close to The Catch, but you know him, he wanted to float me the money to rent the biggest, most extravagant space we could find.”

 

I chuckled. “Of course, he did.” But Bell would never take him up on something like that. She needed to make her dream of owning a furniture shop full of her painstakingly restored pieces happen all on her own. And I respected the hell out of her for it.

 

“How are things at number crunchers?”

 

My lips twitched. Bell had never thought accounting was exactly thrilling. But I loved it. While the world was shades of gray, my job was all black and white. Every problem had an answer, and I could always find it.

 

But there was a flicker of jealousy whenever Bell spoke about her new shop. I’d considered going out on my own more times than I could count. Thoughts of getting out from under my ogre of a boss and steering my own ship were incredibly tempting. But every time I imagined taking that first step toward owning my own business, I balked. What I had now was what was best for me. A stable salary, health insurance, a 401k.

 

I gave my head a little shake. “Everything’s good. My client load has eased up now that Karen is back from medical leave—”

 

A loud whistle pierced the air. “Ladies, what did I do to deserve to be greeted with such a sight?”

 

I bristled at that low, rumbly tone and immediately straightened from my stretch. “It’s called being a peeping Tom, and I’m pretty sure it’s an offense punishable by jail time in all fifty states.”

 

Crosby grinned, his whiskey-colored eyes twinkling with mischief. “You wound me, Brown Eyes, and after I went to all this trouble to bring my favorite ladies lunch.”

 

I scoffed. “Sorry, but we’d rather not be a part of your harem.”

 

Crosby winked at Bell. “I love it when her sass comes out. Ford sent me over with all of your regular orders.” Bell might as well have melted on the spot.

 

I elbowed her in the side. “Don’t fall for his winks and charm just because he mentioned your man.”

 

She laughed. “Sorry, you’re on your own with this vendetta. I like Crosby, and I love the panini that I’m pretty sure is in one of those bags.”

 

“See, she likes me. It’s only a matter of time before you come around.”

 

“Look what the tide dragged in, my favorite fella.” Harriet shuffled forward, but Crosby crossed the grass to make it easier for her to reach him, bending so that she could press her lips to his cheek. Why Harriet had chosen Crosby McCoy as her lawyer, I would never understand. And try as I might to get her to consider someone else, she’d never budge. She adored the man-boy.

 

Crosby held out his arm, and Harriet looped her hand through it. “Let’s go into the kitchen. We can eat in there.”

 

We started towards the main house, and I mumbled something about slacker lawyers invading my life.

 

“You just think I’m invading your life because you look for me everywhere.” I jolted at the sound of Crosby’s voice. “Just admit you’re in love with me already, it’ll be much less painful for us both.”

 

I let out a cross between a scoff and a snort. “Sorry, lover boy, surfer dudes just aren’t really my thing.”

 

“Paddleboarding. I’m a paddleboarder. Though I wouldn’t mind a trip to Fiji to learn how to surf. I could take you with me. You, me, a little bikini, and margaritas on the beach.”

 

I glanced over my shoulder. “I didn’t know you liked wearing bikinis so much.”

 

Crosby let out a stage whisper. “I’ll wear one if you will.”

 

Harriet chuckled, and I couldn’t help the snort of laughter that escaped me. The man really would rock a bikini if I agreed to wear one. “Harriet, is this really the person you want representing your legal interests? He’s liable to show up in court in a string bikini.”

 

She grinned. “It would certainly make legal matters more interesting.”

 

“I’d pay good money to see that,” Caelyn offered up.

 

Crosby arched a brow. “See, some people appreciate me. What about you, Miss Harriet? Will you head to Fiji with me so I can learn to surf?”

 

“Only if you get me one of those cabanas with a young stud to wait on me. And there have to be French fries.”

 

Crosby squeezed her shoulder. “You’ve got yourself a deal.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a carton of fries. “Just starting off this adventure on the right foot.”

 

Heat simmered along my skin. “Crosby, she can’t have those. It’s not Sunday.” With all of Harriet’s heart issues, we kept her to a low cholesterol diet every day but Sunday. That was our cheat day. Crosby knew this.

 

“Oh, lighten up. It’s the kiddie size, it’s not going to send her cholesterol skyrocketing.”

 

I tightened my hold on my yoga mat, my nails digging into the foam. “You don’t know that. I’ve set a meal plan with her doctor, and we’re sticking to it.”

 

Crosby met my stare. “At her last checkup, the doctor said she was doing great, right? What’s the harm in a treat now and then? Come on, just because you want to live the same predictable life day after day, doesn’t mean Harriet has to.”

 

“Now, Crosby,” Harriet warned.

 

I squeezed the mat harder, the rubber letting out a squeak of protest. I heard the word he wasn’t saying: boring. So what if my life was mostly the same, day in and day out? Predictable was steady, it was safe. I knew what to expect, and there were minimal surprises around the corners. That’s what I needed. Someone who canceled plans, never had set business hours, and got his kicks from dangerous, extreme sports would never understand.

 

I swallowed back the curses I wanted to level at Crosby and did my best to keep my tone even. “Yes, all of Harriet’s levels look good. Because we’ve been following this plan.”

 

A grin split Crosby’s face. “Well, I’ve been bringing her French fries every week, so I guess I can keep that up, can’t I?”

 

I halted mid-stride, and my mouth fell open. I immediately snapped it shut. But when I tried to speak, to say something, anything at all, nothing came out. My gaze turned to Harriet. Her lips twitched. “Sorry, sweet girl, I needed my fix.”

 

I forced my fingers to relax their hold on the mat, and I started walking again. “If you don’t want my help with the meal planning, that’s fine.” If Crosby were in charge, Harriet would be eating battered and fried foods from The Catch seven days a week, with a beer to finish it off.

 

Harriet released her hold on Crosby and grabbed my hand. “Don’t be like that. You know I love how much you care.” She shot an irritated glance at Crosby. “I just need my fries every now and then.”

 

My shoulders slumped. I knew I was holding on to every little thing in my control with a grip that rivaled the Hulk. Any little thing I could manipulate to give Harriet a bit more time, I would tackle like a drill sergeant. But none of it would change the truth. Harriet was dying. And it was only a matter of time before I’d have to say goodbye to the woman who meant everything to me. 

 

 

Chapter Two

Crosby

 

A sharp smack hit the back of my head as the girls disappeared out of the kitchen. “Did someone hit you with a stupid stick this morning?” Harriet asked.

 

I rubbed the spot on the back of my skull. “That was a little harsh.” Except, it wasn’t. I’d screwed up royally. Kenna had been buttoned-up and exacting since the moment I met her, but it had only gotten worse since Harriet’s health had taken a turn. It didn’t take a psychologist to know that her world was spinning out of control, and Kenna was doing everything she could to hold on to anything within her grasp.

 

“She’s hurting, Crosby.”

 

“I know that. I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. I just like needling her.” Little in my days gave me as much pleasure as seeing pink hit Kenna’s cheeks and hearing her snarky comebacks. Those were the moments I saw her genuinely come alive. I knew what it was like to live life as a half-zombie, following a track I didn’t even remember starting down in the first place. I didn’t want that for Kenna. She had too much life brimming beneath the surface.

 

Harriet chuckled. “You two are like cats and dogs.”

 

“She needs someone to call her on her bullshit.”

 

Harriet sent a pointed stare in my direction as if she were thinking about giving me another smack. “Language, young man.”

 

“I’m sorry, Miss Harriet. She needs someone to call her on her bull hockey.”

 

Harriet’s lips twitched. “You’re not wrong.” Her focus went soft as if she were lost in a memory. “She’s had a tough life, my sweet girl. The fates have not been kind to her, and she deserves so much more.”

 

My chest tightened with a phantom grip. For as much as I tried to pick up stray bits of information from Kenna’s friends, I knew very little about her past. The woman was locked up tight as a drum when it came to discussing anything personal. I hadn’t seen her discuss personal topics with anyone. The only thing I knew was that she had been raised by Harriet. “What happened to her parents?”

 

Harriet’s lips thinned into a hard line. “I’m not sure if her mother even knows who Kenna’s father is. Or, if she does, I doubt she ever informed him that he has a daughter. The kind word for her would be flighty. She doesn’t have a mothering bone in her body. She’d dump Kenna on her grandmother and then leave for weeks on end. I thought when Carrie passed away, Kenna’s mother would step up, but she didn’t. When I found out she’d left Kenna alone for three days, I filed for custody. Janet didn’t fight it.”

 

My fingers flexed around my glass. The control, the rigidity, it all made a little more sense now. The majority of her childhood had been full of uncertainty. That changed a person’s makeup. “How old was she when she came to live with you?”

 

“Eleven.”

 

Not young enough. The damage had already been done. I found myself wanting to give Janet Morgan a good shake. “I hate that she went through that.”

 

Harriet patted my hand. “Me, too, dear boy. Me, too.” She took me in with an assessing stare. “What’s your interest in her?”

 

I held up my hands in mock surrender. “It’s not like that, I swear.”

 

Harriet scoffed. “I’ve heard that one before, and from far better liars.”

 

It wasn’t a lie. I was attracted to Kenna, but I’d never go there. I respected her too much, knew that she was looking for something I’d never be able to give her. “I’m not going after Kenna. Trust me.”

 

“Nothing would make me happier than my two favorites finding partners in each other, but you haven’t exactly been on the hunt for anything permanent. And my Kenna…she deserves a forever kind of love.”

 

I rubbed at the back of my neck. “That’s why I’m not going there. Our bickering and maybe some friendship, that’s all I’m looking for.”

 

Harriet shook her head and took a sip of her tea. “That’s your loss. And it’s a great one.”

 

I had a feeling Harriet was right, but it didn’t change anything. I needed freedom and the ability to do what I wanted, whenever I wanted. I’d never surrender that piece of myself to another again, it was too great a cost. I pulled out my briefcase. “Let’s look over this paperwork.”

 

“I see you avoiding the topic, but go ahead. Just know you can’t run from the demons chasing you forever.”

 

Oh, yes, I could. I’d made it my life’s mission, and it was working. I pulled out the papers and set them on the table. Harriet had had me draft a new will for her a few years ago but had called yesterday to ask if we could go over it to make sure everything was in order. “How do you think your family’s going to handle this?”

 

“Oh, they can suck it.”

 

I let out a bark of laughter. “Brutal in your old age. I like it.”

 

She gave a little shrug. “I’ve been more generous with them than I should’ve been. It’s my fault they raised a spoiled-rotten son. Maybe this will be a little wake-up call for them all. But, unfortunately, I think it’s too little, too late.”

 

Wills, trusts, and end-of-life arrangements carried with them a truth that had a boldness rarely seen at any other time. They showed you who a person loved and loathed. How forgiving they were. And what they valued above all else. The documents sitting on the worn kitchen table in the palatial but warm estate showed just who Harriet Abbot was and what she prized most.

 

***

 

My phone rang through the speakers of my truck. Glancing down, tension began to gather at my temples. I hit Accept anyway. “Hey, Mom.”

 

“Hello, Crosby. How are things on that island of yours?”

 

I bit back a chuckle. She’d called Anchor Island, “that island of yours,” since I’d first moved here years ago, as if I owned the whole thing. I think she hoped it was simply a toy I’d pick up and put down, but it wasn’t. The small isle had become my refuge. “Things are great. I’m just headed back to the office from an appointment.”

 

“Business is good?”

 

When I’d announced my plans to move to Anchor to set up shop on the island, my mother had begged and pleaded for me not to. She’d told me if I needed a vacation spot, to go to Martha’s Vineyard or the Hamptons. Only the best for Georgina McCoy’s son. She had not been pleased when I’d gone west anyway.

 

“Everything’s steady.” There was only one other law office on the island, but the guy who ran it was a bit of a snob. So, slowly but steadily, I’d eaten away at more and more of his business.

 

“That’s good.” Her tone sounded as if she thought it was a fate worse than death.

 

I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. “How are things in Boston?”

 

“We’re on the Vineyard this week, actually. Your father got a couple of days off.”

 

“That’s great. Hope you guys get some good weather.” I didn’t know why I shared the sentiment, it wasn’t like my mother went for long walks on the beach. She might deign to play a game of tennis or join my father on the golf course, but sand was a no-go zone for her.

 

“I’m sure we will. Look, I’m actually calling for a purpose.”

 

That pressure at my temples intensified, building in a steady beat behind my skull. “All right.”

 

“I ran into Alicia in town.”

 

My hold on the wheel tightened. “I don’t need to hear about her.”

 

“She and Brent broke up. She asked after you, so I passed along your new number.”

 

I let out a slew of curses under my breath. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

 

“She made a mistake, Crosby. None of us is perfect. Surely, you don’t claim to be.”

 

A mistake was a single lapse in judgement. It wasn’t a two-year affair while my ring had been on the woman’s finger. “Then you go ahead and spend lots of quality time with Alicia. I’ll be passing on that.” It also meant that I’d likely have to change my phone number. “I’ve got to go, Mom. I’m at the office.”

 

I hung up without waiting for her goodbye. My parents had always loved Alicia and all she represented: that their son was settling down, getting serious about his law career. When we were together, my parents had seemed genuinely interested in me for the first time in my life. I talked business with Dad while Alicia and my mom would chatter on about the season’s galas. I became more like them when I was with her. It didn’t matter to my parents at all that I was slowly dying inside the whole time.

 

I didn’t make the turn into my office’s small gravel lot. Instead, I headed for the mountain. I needed a taste of the freedom I’d gained that I now so fiercely defended. Today, I needed some one-on-one time with a rockface to drown out all the memories threatening to suffocate me.

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© 2018 Catherine Cowles
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