Years of adversity have molded Henley McClure into the attentive, conscientious psychologist she is today. She lives for her daughter, Jasna, and her work at The Refuge, an exclusive retreat for victims of PTSD. Her life is fulfilling…if a little lonely. But the only man who’s captured her interest, the most standoffish of the mountain retreat’s seven owners, lives in self-imposed isolation. It will take a little vulnerability on her own part, a dead car battery, and the surprising help of her daughter to break through Finn’s defenses.
His Coast Guard career ended in a tragedy that ground Finn “Tonka” Matlick’s life to a halt. For years, his only solace has been the animals he tends to at The Refuge…and admiring Henley from afar. He had no plans to risk potential heartache ever again, until an incident at the retreat had him clinging to Henley like the broken man he is. The kind, patient therapist and her sweet, thoughtful daughter may be the only ones capable of putting him back together.
As Finn slowly heals, and he and Henley grow ever closer, someone is watching. Waiting. Planning. Evil in the making who ultimately wants to watch the world burn, one victim at a time. And they’ll start by targeting one of the people Finn loves most.
**Deserving Henley is the 2nd book in The Refuge Series. Each book is a stand-alone, with no cliffhanger endings.
Release date: January 3, 2023
Print pages: 350
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Henley McClure had just finished a particularly emotional group session at The Refuge, and while she was tired, she was also filled with satisfaction. That always happened when one of her clients had a breakthrough in a session.
Being a psychologist was her calling, and she loved it. She worked for a thriving practice in Los Alamos, but in recent years, she’d actually reduced her hours at the office in town in order to spend more time at The Refuge. Working with the men and women who visited the nationally renowned retreat in the mountains of New Mexico was more satisfying than she’d ever dreamed. Even though she didn’t get to know her patients very well, since she usually only saw them for a few sessions, knowing she was helping them come to terms with the traumatic events they’d been through—events that had led them to The Refuge in the first place—filled her heart with gratification.
She also had the highest respect for the seven men who owned and ran the retreat. They were all former military, each having gone through their own traumas, which had led them to want to help others dealing with PTSD.
Of course, there was one owner she was drawn to more than the others.
Finn “Tonka” Matlick had caught her eye from the first moment they’d met. Not because he was extremely handsome—which he was. In fact, all of the owners were.
No…it was because of the hurt she saw deep in his eyes. One that matched her own when she looked in the mirror some mornings. Where she’d had the benefit of many more years and excellent therapy to help manage her anguish, Finn’s was still raw and visceral. He did his best to hide his pain from the world, but it was there. Lurking in the depths of his soul.
In the couple years that she’d known him, Henley had never tried to talk to Finn about what had put that agony in his gaze, despite being qualified to do so. He was extremely standoffish, preferring to tend to the animals at The Refuge rather than talk to the guests, or even hang out with his friends.
He’d attended many of the group sessions Henley offered to the guests, but he never contributed, never spoke about his past. Still, just having him there when she shared her own traumatic past with her patients made it a little easier to tell the tale. Seeing sorrow and empathy in his eyes made her anger and grief over what she’d endured feel just a little less sharp. But that was as deep as their relationship went.
She’d actually thought maybe things between them would change after the horrible incident from two weeks ago, when a man came onto the retreat’s property with the intent of kidnapping Alaska, the girlfriend of owner Drake Vandine. During that scary event, Henley and Finn had connected on a level they hadn’t before…or at least Henley had thought so.
But since that night—the night he’d cried in her arms in the barn as they protected the animals from the intruder—he hadn’t treated her any differently, which was a huge disappointment. Her only consolation was that she would swear Finn was now hanging around the lodge more often. At least when she was there.
She wanted to think it was because maybe he wanted to talk to her, but whenever their eyes met, he’d inevitably turn away.
She was frustrated with the man. Even more so with herself. She was a competent psychologist and an independent woman. Despite that, she couldn’t find the courage to make the first move toward seeing if they could maybe have more than an acquaintance.
In addition, years of single motherhood were beginning to take a bit of a toll. Stress was a constant companion, what with two jobs and Jasna fast approaching an age when she wouldn’t want Henley’s relentless protection much longer. And last but not least, since the night in the barn with Finn, Henley’s growing loneliness was also thrown into sharp focus. She hadn’t been in a relationship in years.
She was growing more and more exasperated with herself, and with Finn. Every day, she swore she’d talk to him. See if maybe he was interested in developing something more…or if she should turn her attention elsewhere.
Doing her best to push away thoughts of Finn, Henley reached into her purse and grabbed her phone to make sure her daughter hadn’t texted while she’d been in her session. As soon as she grabbed the cell, it began to vibrate, scaring the crap out of her. Huffing out a laugh at her jumpiness, Henley brought the phone up to her ear. She didn’t recognize the number, only that it was local.
“Is this Henley McClure?”
“This is Betty Turner, the nurse at Mountain Elementary School.”
Henley’s heart rate sped up. It was only eleven in the morning. Her daughter, Jasna, had seemed a little off this morning, but they’d been running late and her daughter wasn’t a morning person, so she hadn’t thought too much about it. “What’s wrong? Is Jasna all right?” she asked the nurse.
“She has a fever. She threw up as well and says her stomach hurts. It’s probably the bug that’s going around, but because of the fever, we’re going to need you to come pick her up.”
Henley frowned. Jasna was a fairly quiet kid. She had a couple friends in the apartment complex where they lived, though for the most part, she was content to play by herself or read. But she was rarely sick. And she never complained. She was tough and easygoing, so if she was saying her stomach hurt, it had to really hurt.
Looking at her watch, Henley thought she had just enough time to pick up her daughter, drop her off with a neighbor, then get back to The Refuge for the afternoon session she’d scheduled with a guest. From what she understood, while in the Army, the woman had been captured and held for a month before being rescued. Understandably, she was having a hard time with everything she’d been through, and Henley didn’t want to let her down or postpone the session. With a trip to town and back, she’d be cutting it close.
“I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”
“Don’t rush. Jasna’s safe here. She’s napping on the cot in my office.”
“Thank you. See you soon.”
Jasna was Henley’s entire world. She was an old soul. Twelve going on forty-five. She’d been conceived while Henley was slogging through a decade of schooling. Not when she would have chosen to have a child, but…between her class schedules, work, and the demons from her past, she’d used men in a bid to ease her stress. Instead, she’d added to it with motherhood. But she wouldn’t change it for the world.
Getting pregnant had been the wake-up call Henley needed to get her shit together. It hadn’t been easy to be a single mother—and it still wasn’t—but she’d done it. Henley was extremely proud of how she and Jasna had managed to overcome every obstacle thrown in their path—so far.
Still, what she wouldn’t give for a shoulder to lean on. A companion. A partner. Especially at times like this.
She couldn’t help but think about the fact her daughter was only slightly older than Henley had been when she’d lost her own mother. She didn’t want Jasna to ever go through something so traumatic. She’d do whatever it took to protect her. Anything.
With that thought in mind, she gripped her phone and grabbed her purse as she headed out of the room she usually used to meet with clients at The Refuge. She needed to call Mrs. Singleton, her neighbor, and see if she’d be willing to watch over Jasna for a while until she could get home later.
Looking around, she didn’t see any of the guys, but Alaska was sitting behind the reception desk.
“How’d the session go?” she asked as Henley approached.
“Good. I need to head out for an hour or so,” she told her.
Alaska stood up, her brow furrowing slightly. “Is everything all right?”
“I think so. My daughter’s sick. The school nurse called and I need to go pick her up.”
“Oh, no. Is there anything I can do?”
Henley smiled warmly at the other woman. Many people might consider Alaska Stein plain, but she had a heart of gold, which was way more important than looks in Henley’s eyes. She and Drake were made for each other. They’d been friends nearly their entire lives, and only recently realized that friendship was an amazing foundation for love.
Something Henley couldn’t help but wish for herself…with Finn.
Shaking the thought aside, because she and Finn were nothing like Alaska and Drake, Henley shook her head. “Thank you, but no. I’m just going to run to Los Alamos, get her settled at my neighbor’s place, then come back for my afternoon session.”
“I’m sure we could reschedule,” Alaska told her.
“I know, but I don’t want to. I really want to meet with Christina.”
“All right, but if you need anything, just yell. I’m working for another hour or so. We’re interviewing a few potential housekeepers to replace Alexis. I mean, I’m happy for her that she got that inheritance from her great-uncle or whoever he was, but she left us in a bit of a bind. We’re hoping to hire someone today. Anyway, you have my cell number, right?”
Henley nodded. She actually had the numbers of all the guys in her contacts, as well as Alaska’s. They’d insisted she have a way to get a hold of any of them in case of an emergency. “I do, thanks,” Henley confirmed.
“Okay. Drive safe and tell Jasna we all hope she feels better soon.”
It was a sweet sentiment…and a very recent development. Henley had kind of kept her daughter a secret from everyone at The Refuge since her employment. Not intentionally, or because she didn’t trust them. Beyond idle chitchat or talk about work, her conversations with the owners usually weren’t personal, so Jasna simply hadn’t come up. But the night of Alaska’s attempted abduction, Henley had been stuck at The Refuge late into the evening, and when it was suggested that she just spend the night, she’d explained her need to get home to her daughter.
Now that everyone had found out about Jasna, they frequently asked about her, and Alaska always scheduled Henley’s sessions so they were over before dinnertime, so she could get home to her daughter.
“Thanks, I will.” Henley waved at Alaska before hurrying for the front door of the lodge.
As she walked to her car, she went to her contact list and clicked on Mrs. Singleton’s name. Her neighbor had been a godsend over the years. Babysitting at a moment’s notice and generally being there for both Jasna and Henley when they needed her. She was in her sixties, and her children were all grown and had moved away from Los Alamos. Her husband, Gerald, had passed about a decade before, and she seemed to love having Jasna to fuss over.
But when the phone rang and rang in her ear, Henley frowned. She left a message—and wasn’t sure what to do next. Mrs. Singleton was always available.
Taking a deep breath, she prayed Mrs. Singleton called back before she picked up Jasna. She had no other babysitting options. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d had to postpone a session with a Refuge client, but she hated to do it all the same.
Henley passed the entrance to the barn as she walked toward the small parking space for employees. There was a separate parking area for guests, and the guys who owned The Refuge parked near their cabins. So at the moment, her and Jess, one of the housekeepers, were the only ones with vehicles in the lot. She stopped at her Honda CRV. It wasn’t new, but it did well on the mountain roads, especially in the winter.
Climbing into the driver’s seat, she quickly put her key in the ignition and turned it.
To her surprise, nothing happened. Not even a click.
She blinked and tried to start the car again, with the same result.
She hit the steering wheel and let out a frustrated shout—mortified when she felt the telltale sting of tears.
Her dead car was apparently the last straw today. Her frequent stress, loneliness, Jasna being sick, her inability to get a hold of Mrs. Singleton, worrying about missing a session—it all decided to hit her at once.
Henley gripped the steering wheel and lowered her forehead to rest on her hands as she tried to keep tears of frustration at bay…without luck.
Her pity party lasted only about a minute before a knock on her window startled her so badly, her hands flew to her chest as she lurched sideways, away from the sound.
Looking out the window, she saw it was Finn. And he wasn’t happy. He took a large step away from her door and held up his hands, doing his best to prove he wasn’t there to hurt her.
Taking a deep breath and trying to compose herself, Henley opened the door and got out of her vehicle.
“What’s wrong?” Finn immediately asked.
“Are you hurt? Is it your daughter? Why are you just sitting in your car? It’s too warm out here for you to be in there with the windows up. And you’ve been crying. Talk to me, Henley.”
She wiped her cheeks with her hands and almost laughed. This was the most she’d gotten out of the man at one time…well…ever.
With another sigh, she looked up at him. The man was so tall. She’d always been a little afraid of tall men, because when her mom was killed, the guys who’d done it seemed huge to her tiny ten-year-old self. Though she’d never, not once, been afraid of Finn.
She knew he was two years younger than her thirty-six, but despite whatever hell he’d been through, he looked even younger. He had thick dark hair that was usually mussed, as if he ran his hands through it constantly. Today was no exception. His beard and mustache were closely trimmed to his face, and his chiseled cheekbones made him look outdoorsy and rugged. He had on his usual faded and well-worn denim shirt over a khaki T-shirt and jeans. His boots were dusty and dirty, and his brown eyes were, at the moment, focused intently on her.
She’d caught him staring at her more than once in the past, but as soon as she made eye contact, he always looked away. Not today. In fact, he was staring at her so closely, it was almost disconcerting. She wondered what he saw in her features at the moment.
Stress and exhaustion, she assumed.
She forced herself to smile, even though it was an effort. “I’m fine. And it’s not that warm out here. I think you’re just hot-blooded,” she joked. But when Finn didn’t even crack a smile or relax a fraction, she shook her head. “Jasna’s sick. I doubt it’s anything too serious, as the school nurse said it seems to be going around right now. I need to go pick her up and my car won’t start. And I can’t get a hold of my neighbor, who usually looks after her when I need a sitter. Without someone to stay with Jasna, I’ll have to cancel my session this afternoon with Christina, and I really don’t want to do that to her.”
Henley was aware she was speaking too fast and the tone of her voice was rising just slightly, right along with her stress, but because she was on the verge of tears again, she didn’t even care.
To her utter shock, Finn reached behind her into her car and grabbed her purse. Then he shut the door and put his hand at her elbow, steering her away from her CRV toward the barn.
“Finn?” she asked uncertainly. This was the first time he’d touched her since that night in the barn, when he’d held onto her so tightly, almost desperately, while dealing with whatever demons were swimming in his head.
He didn’t answer, just walked around the barn to where his F-250 pickup truck was parked. It was a beast of a machine, an older model, had dents all over and the bed was full of dirt, hay, and who knew what else. It was a working truck, and for some reason that appealed to Henley. He didn’t care if it got banged up, as long as it was reliable and did its job. And as he was constantly hauling things for the animals at The Refuge, it got a lot of use.
“Finn?” she asked again when he walked to the passenger side and held open the door. “What are you doing?”
“Taking you to town to get Jasna,” he said simply.
Henley frowned. “But—”
He didn’t let her continue. “We can swing by your place, and if your neighbor isn’t there, we’ll bring her back here. I’ll take a look at your car and see if it’s something simple that I can fix while you’re in your session with Christina.”
Henley could only stare at him with her mouth open. “What?” she asked, utterly flabbergasted.
Finn ran a hand through his hair and shrugged. “Your daughter’s sick, your car won’t start, and you need to get to her. So I’m making that happen.”
Henley swallowed hard, tears threatening once again. She’d been on her own a very long time. She wasn’t used to people doing things for her, outside of Mrs. Singleton’s willingness to babysit. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“Climb up,” Finn said in response.
She was grateful for his hand on her elbow as she hopped—literally hopped—into the huge truck. The height was no big deal for Finn because he was over six feet, but at her five-four, it wasn’t quite as easy. She clicked her seat belt on as Finn walked around to the driver’s side. He started the truck without a word and pulled away from the barn, heading for the main road that led to town.
He didn’t say anything else, but Henley was used to silence, so it didn’t bother her. She dialed Mrs. Singleton again, but when it went to voice mail, she hung up without leaving another message.
“When you get to town, turn on Diamond Drive,” she said quietly after a while.
He pulled into the parking lot of Mountain Elementary School a short time later, and Henley glanced at him. “I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time,” he said in his rumbly voice.
“I…I appreciate this.”
Finn merely nodded.
She stared at him for a beat, wanting to ask so many questions. But instead, she gave him a small smile and reached for the door handle. She jumped out of the truck and walked toward the front door of the school. It was hard to believe her baby would be in middle school next year. Jasna had always been a quiet, introspective child, and Henley wasn’t ready for the possibility of teenage angst. But if it was going to happen, it would do so whether she was ready or not.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed open the door and headed for the main office. Something occurred to her as she traversed the halls. Finn had said they’d bring Jasna back to The Refuge if she couldn’t find Mrs. Singleton. She’d never brought her daughter to work before. Not for any particular reason; there just hadn’t been a need or an opportunity.
She wasn’t sure about bringing her there now. Where would she hang out while Henley was with her patient? She was sick; the last thing Henley wanted was for her daughter to spread her germs to the guests, or any of the guys or Alaska. And Jasna herself might not want to go either. If she felt like crap, she’d probably want to go straight home, to her own bed.
It was probably best if she just had Finn take them both to her apartment, and he could head back to The Refuge on his own. Of course, that would leave her without a car, but Henley would figure that out later. Her car wasn’t working at the moment anyway.
One thing at a time. And first up was getting to her sick daughter.
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