Abrupt Changes: A Second Chance Romance
Weeks after a bitter divorce, tragedy brings me back to Orlando for the foreseeable future to care for my mother and determine what direction my life should take.
When someone unlocks the back door to my mother's house, I expect an intruder.
I never thought I'd run into Clint Ramsey like this. After nine years, my attraction to him hasn't faded.
He not only has a key to Mom's house, he has a key to my heart.
It takes all my resolve to steel myself against him and the magnetic pull he's always held over me.
When I fell in love with Raegan, I fell in love with her mom and sister, too.
The day I left her in New York City was the worst day of my life. It destroyed our future, and I've regretted it ever since.
With Raegan back in Orlando, I'm determined to keep my distance to protect my heart and my peace of mind. The problem is deep down; I know this is my last shot at happiness and I won't let it slip away.
When Raegan's safety is threatened, I must fight to protect the only woman I've ever loved.
Release date: February 16, 2021
Print pages: 272
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Abrupt Changes: A Second Chance Romance
The Finest Things
As I stood in my mom’s farm-style kitchen, a chill slithered up my spine and I swung my head to the door when I heard a key scraping into the lock. It was lunchtime, and I was preparing a tomato sandwich for my seventy-one-year-old mother. As quietly as I could, I put the butter knife down and grabbed the butcher knife out of the block.
Edging to the laundry room next to the side door, I waited, with the knife up and at the ready.
It might seem like overkill, but my sister, Bronwyn, had been murdered four days ago. The authorities were still investigating, but they were saying it looked like suicide or an accident. I didn’t buy it, and not just because I read murder mysteries like most people binge-watch Netflix.
My sister had been a star swimmer in high school, but she accidentally drowned in the bathtub? I did not think so. With that in mind, there was no telling who was walking into my mom’s home.
The door opened, and I exhaled loudly when I saw the man standing in the doorway.
The last time I’d seen Clint Ramsey, he had no facial hair, kept his hair as close-cropped to his head as he could without shaving it bald, and he wore a police uniform. Now, he’d let his jet-black hair grow out more and his angular jaw had the dark shadow of two days’ worth of stubble.
His arms had bulked up more in the past nine years, too, seeing as his white dress shirt strained against his biceps. He had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. I didn’t know for sure, but my guess was that he spent far more time outdoors these days, because his thick forearms appeared more bronze than olive.
My mouth went dry, and I swallowed.
His voice still sounded smooth and controlled, though. “Shoulda known you’d be here. What’s with the knife?”
My eyes widened. “‘What’s with the knife?’ Really? I didn’t know who the hell was coming in here. I could’ve stabbed you, Clint Ramsey!”
His eyes raked up and down my face and body. Then his lips quirked up, his head tilted back, and he had the gall to laugh.
He was laughing… at me! The jerk!
“I’m serious, Clint. I could have stabbed you.”
He righted his head, and those rich brown eyes caught mine. “Rae, I’d have disarmed you in seconds. That’s why it’s so damn funny. And who else would have a key?”
I cocked my head to the side a touch. “Maybe the bastard at large who killed my sister?”
He went silent.
“And don’t call me Rae. You lost that almost ten years ago.”
His jaw clenched. “No. You left me ten years ago.”
I didn’t leave him, seeing as he’d told me to go and to follow my dreams. But I didn’t have time for an argument we’d had plenty of times in the past.
My free hand went to my hip. “And you’re here why?”
The tell-tale sound of Mom’s walker on the wood floors came closer to us.
In a moment she entered the room, her eyes narrowed at Clint. “I want your nuts.”
I stared at my mom standing there, in her mauve housedress and terry-cloth flip-flop-style slippers.
I looked back to Clint, to ask what this was all about, but the tender look on his face made my heart leap.
“Stocked you up, Penny. I’ll fix you a bowl in a moment.”
Mother shuffled away, and I hissed at Clint. “You’re the reason her blood pressure won’t go down, aren’t you?”
He looked at me with a fire in his eyes I hadn’t seen in years. “What can I say, Raegan? I got good nuts, and any nut worth eating has to be salty.”
I crossed my arms on my chest, careful of the knife. “No more nuts, Clint. She’s had two strokes. Getting that blood pressure down is crucial.”
He stepped into my space. “One of those was a mini-stroke, not that those aren’t bad too. But there’s no telling how many days your mom has left. She likes boiled peanuts, there’s no reason to keep them from her. Especially this week.”
I sighed. “I’m grateful that you’re her snack supplier, but this needs to be the last time you come by. And I’ll take your key, if you don’t mind.”
His face lowered toward mine, the fire in his eyes blazing. “I do mind, Raegan Connelly. Especially seeing as it was your mother herself who gave me the key, long before she had her first stroke or needed Wynnie to look after her.”
My head reared back because Bronwyn didn’t let just anybody call her ‘Wynnie’.
He smiled and it looked almost conniving. “Yeah. You’ve been out of the loop since you got your dream job on Madison Avenue. I’ve been helping out more than you know because I didn’t want you to know.”
He looked to the counter and back to me. “Now, you get Penny’s sandwich ready, I can give her a side dish of peanuts to go with it. Got news for you, hotshot, I don’t give her that many peanuts at a time, so you think I’m gonna stop bein’ her ‘snack supplier,’ you better think again.”
I glared at him as he strode to the pantry, and I noticed he carried two grocery bags filled with cans of boiled peanuts.
He looked back at me, cocking a brow. “Better hop-to, Rae. Your mom gets mighty ornery if she has to eat her lunch after the news.”
The sooner I finished Mom’s lunch, the sooner I could get Clint out of the house.
As I plated her sandwich, Clint’s phone rang. I kept my eyes on the plate of food, but I heard how distracted he sounded.
“Ramsey,” he answered.
“I got a moment. What’s up?”
I wondered who might be on the line. Unfortunately, since it was the middle of the day on a Saturday, it could be anyone.
“What the hell for?”
I glanced his way and found him staring at me. My head jerked as I refocused on cutting Mom’s sandwich into four triangles.
He guffawed. “Now that’s a first. Uh, can I bring a woman?”
My stomach sank. It wasn’t like I thought he had been celibate in the past ten years, but I never thought I’d hear him making plans to take his woman somewhere.
“What’s for dinner?”
Another knife to my dead heart. Over the years, I often thought of Clint because of his semi-foodie ways. He appreciated only the best food, but that didn’t mean it had to be healthy or expensive – as evidenced by the boiled peanuts. When we were living together, he often asked me what was for dinner as he scrambled his eggs for breakfast, such was his focus.
My head hung with those thoughts.
“Oh yeah. Definitely better be Beef Wellington. That’s right up my girl Raegan’s, alley. Time?”
My head jerked up at the end of his statement, and I glared at him. Oblivious to my ire, he grinned at me.
“We’ll be there, man. Lookin’ forward to it, but just to say, you didn’t need to do this.”
As he tucked his phone away, I crossed my arms on my chest. “Have you lost your mind? Or is there some other woman in your life named Raegan you’re taking to this dinner date?”
He eyed me up and down, again, before he stepped closer and I caught a whiff of his scent. It was different from years ago.
Maybe even better than before, but I couldn’t think about that.
“Thinkin’ I lost my mind the day I told you to follow your dreams. It’s just dinner with my buddy’s younger brother.”
I shook my head and opened my mouth to speak but he put his finger on my lips.
“Caring for your mother is draining on the best of days, Rae. Wynnie hardly ever had a moment for herself. Try as I might to get her to take a few hours, she rarely would. So, it’ll be a cold day in hell when I watch you do that shit to yourself. You’ll get two hours out of the house, tops. You don’t trust her alone that long, I got a buddy who can drop by.”
Ignoring the familiar feel of his finger on my lips, I pulled my head away to say, “That’s not the point.”
He shook his head. “You don’t have a point, Raegan. Breaks like this don’t come around often, you need to take advantage. You got five hours to prepare. Besides, you damn sure don’t have time to make Beef Wellington yourself, and rumor has it, while in the Big Apple you developed a taste for not just the finer things in life, but only the finest things.”
That evening, I pulled another plate from the cupboard, and Mom made a scoffing noise. My gaze swung to her and I noticed her pursed lips.
“Is there a problem?”
Her chin dipped. “I may be getting older, Raegan, but I can still hear. And I know Clint said something about taking you to dinner.”
I smiled as I took her plate to her. “Yes, but I didn’t accept.”
“You bloody well should. I didn’t raise you to be a fool.”
I sighed and sat down. “Mom, I—”
“You said yourself, you don’t have a new job up there. Not yet. And before…” she trailed off and I put a hand on her arm.
“Mom, that’s another reason —”
“No, it isn’t,” she bit out.
I leaned back in my seat. “Well, I don’t see the point of —”
Her eyes narrowed. “I like what Clint said about that. ‘You don’t have a point.’ And he’s right, my Rae-of-sunshine. Go. Eat some fancy food with friends of his. Sharing a meal with him doesn’t make it a date.”
I looked to the side as I contemplated it.
I didn’t know if she meant to speak lower or not, but Mom muttered, “Although a date with him would do you a world of good.”
My head whipped to her. “You did not just say that!”
She grinned. “My days are numbered, Rae. I say what I mean and mean what I say.”
A knock at the front door stopped me from retorting.
“Let me see who’s here. Can’t be Clint. It’s only five-thirty. Wouldn’t be like him to show up over an hour early.”
Walking to the front door reminded me of yet another item on the to-do list: replace Mom’s front door, because it was essentially a solid sheet of glass. Not even the frosted glass, either. There was a stylish curtain in front of it, but it didn’t obscure anything.
As I approached, I noticed a man standing at the door. He wasn’t Clint, but he was a stunner. Tall. Probably taller than Clint, but not by much. As I unlocked the door, I heard his phone ring.
He answered it, with his sharp blue eyes on me. “Yo.”
He paused before he said to the caller, “Yes.”
He looked behind him and back to me. Next thing I knew, he stepped forward with such authority I reflexively moved out of his way. After he shut the door, he looked back at me, but said into the phone, “Doesn’t look that way.”
His eyes traveled from my eyes down to my toes and back. “How does she look?” he asked in a far-away tone. “Like you’re one lucky bastard.”
Somehow, I knew he was talking to Clint.
I crossed my arms. “I do not.”
He grinned, and I realized not only was this man sexy, he was probably younger than me – though not by much. “Yes, lucky. You’re lucky I met Cecilia when I did, Ramsey.”
I gave him my side-eye because I didn’t like that sound of that, not only for me but also for whoever Cecilia happened to be. My ex-husband had cheated on me multiple times with multiple women, so it was a fair chance I was more sensitive than most women about statements hinting at cheating.
“Real lucky. I mean, I’ve been in her presence two minutes. The hair would get any man’s attention, but along with the attitude. Smokin’,” he said with a smirk.
From his phone, I heard muffled words, but the angry tone was clear.
“Told you after what you did at the House of Blues, payback’s a bitch. You reveled in giving me hell while meeting my woman at the same time. I see the appeal, and, I think, now we’re even. If you’d let me go, I’ll introduce myself properly and encourage her to get a move on.”
‘Get a move on.’ He was here to watch my mom and give me time to get ready. Tears sprang to my eyes. I should have been cried-out by now, but the strangest things made me think of my sister and the many things she would never do, never feel.
“There something you didn’t tell me, Clint?”
I looked up at him and saw his lips were pressed together in an angry line.
“Then why am I standing in front of a woman with tears in her eyes?”
At whatever Clint said, his expression softened. I didn’t want his pity and that helped me get the tears under control.
He nodded. “Understood. Later, Clint.”
With his left hand, he tucked his cell into his back pocket while he extended his right hand to me. “Brock Sullivan. Sorry we couldn’t meet under better circumstances.”
I shook his hand. “By ‘better circumstances,’ do you mean before you met Cecilia?”
His chin dipped and his eyes held regret. “No. That was me giving Clint shit. He had it coming. I’m sorry you had to hear it. And even though you are smokin’, no offense, but I didn’t mean it. Nobody can top my Sunflower.”
My eyebrow quirked for a moment. “You’re lucky because that’s a helluva good save. And with my history, I’d go out of my way to let your woman know if you were the least bit serious.”
He nodded and his closed-lip smile conveyed more regret. Then his expression cleared and he gestured for me to walk ahead of him.
“What’s for dinner? I smell food, and you better not have eaten already. My brother’s a spectacular cook – not that he’d hear me say that – but you owe it to yourself to have his Beef Wellington.”
I failed to stifle my grunt. “If this guy weren’t your brother, I’d think Clint put you up to saying that because he said nearly the same thing.”
“He’s had Gabe’s cooking, so you should believe us both.”
We entered the kitchen and Brock moved past me to the stove. He grabbed the plate I had pulled down and scooped out a heaping serving of Hamburger Helper.
“Sorry. I didn’t know you’d be eating with us, Brock. Saturdays are always Hamburger Helper nights for Mom.”
He looked over his shoulder at me. “It’s a classic, but yours is fancy, seeing as you added cut-up pickles and tomatoes.”
Before he went to the table, I put a slice of garlic bread on his plate.
“Mom, this is Brock Sullivan. Apparently, he’s a friend of Clint’s.”
Mom swallowed her food. “I heard you and him talking. Clint wants to line up more hotties to take care of me, he’s more than welcome.”
I sighed, but Brock chuckled as he sat down.
“What can I get you to drink, Brock?”
He smiled. “Water’s fine.”
I put a bottle of water on the table for him.
“Thanks, Raegan. Now, Gabe and Cassie won’t care what you’re wearing, but Clint seems insistent you… how did he put it? ‘Put your game face on.’”
My head tilted. “Did he now?”
He shot a mischievous grin at me. “No. That was your mother he was talking about. Penny and I will be fine, so you can go shower or whatever.”
He turned to my mom. “It’s all right if I call you Penny, right, Mrs. Connelly?”
“Sure thing,” Mom said.
I probably could’ve fought off Mom’s pushiness about going out with Clint, but add Brock to the mix and I knew when to give in.
“Fine. I’ll be out in twenty minutes.”
“You got plenty of time,” Brock muttered to his plate.
Mom laughed. “I like you already, Brock.”
He pointed his fork at her. “You say that now. Wait ’til I beat you at Triominos.”
Mom laughed harder, and for once I had something to smile about.
When I came out of my bedroom, Brock and Mom were still at the kitchen table. Their plates were gone, the lazy Susan had been moved to the counter, and Triominos were spread on the table.
Mom broke into a lopsided smile when she noticed me. I figured it was the dress. Her neighbor, Tanya, had put on some weight after her second child and she insisted on giving me her periwinkle tank-dress. I had thought the light hue wouldn’t work with my red-hair and brown eyes, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it complimented my complexion. The skirt flared and it looked very much like a skater-dress. Luckily it said ‘casual’ because the only other dress I brought with me was black.
I shook my head at her, but she ignored it.
“You look nice, Rae.”
“Thank you, Mom.”
Brock looked appreciative, but before anyone could say anything, Clint bellowed from the front of the house. “Sullivan! Get your ass out here.”
I turned to Brock and wondered how he would respond to this. He winked at me – or Mom. Or maybe both of us.
“No can do, Clint. Penny and I have a full dance card tonight. We just started a serious match of Triominos. She’s in the hole by double digits—”
“Wish you were double digits in my hole,” Mom muttered.
My eyes widened and I bit out, “Mom!”
Brock seemed oblivious to this, since he continued. “And it is my sworn duty as a Sullivan to teach her Thirty-one Knock since I cannot believe she’s lived seventy years without being exposed to one of the best card games around.”
Mom’s eyes never left Brock and when I saw her sly smile, I braced for what she might say.
“Poker’s the best game around, dear,” she said in a sweet tone.
Brock pondered it. “It can be.”
“Strip poker in particular,” she added.
I gasped. “Mother!”
Clint’s heavy footsteps came closer.
She chuckled. “You might be limiting my nut intake, Rae, but you’re not gonna limit my fun.”
Brock chuckled. “Sorry, Miss Penny. My woman wouldn’t like me playing that kind of poker with you.” He leaned closer to Mom. “Besides, I wouldn’t want to give you another stroke when I lose.”
I hadn’t seen Mom attempt such a bright smile all week. “That would be the best way to go, Brock.”
My eyes closed and I hung my head. I looked back to Brock. “I am sorry. My mom has never been so… saucy, I guess you might say.”
“Oh, just say it, Raegan. I’m a dirty old woman. Lucky for the next man in your life, you’re an apple which didn’t fall too far from my tree.”
I looked away but stopped when I heard Clint’s deep chuckle. “She’s got you there, Rae.”
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