Authors: Susan Mallery
“What happened?” he asked.
To them? To her?
“To your car,” he clarified when she didn’t speak.
“I have no idea. It stopped running. I’ll call the garage when I get home.”
“Then, let’s get you there.”
He didn’t bother asking where she lived. No doubt his parents would have kept him informed on the small island’s permanent population. Had he asked he would have been informed that, yes, she was still living with her mother. Not that she couldn’t afford her own place. She could. It was just that when it came to her mother and taking care of the store and everything else that fell on her shoulders, somehow it had seemed easier to stay put.
They drove in silence for about two minutes. She shifted uncomfortably, aware of her wetness on his pristine leather seats.
“So, you’re back,” she murmured into the awkward silence. At least it was awkward on her part. She had no idea what he was thinking.
“Uh-huh. I finished my fellowship a few weeks ago. Went to Europe for a vacation, then came here.”
A European vacation? She thought about how she’d spent the past month—as she’d spent the past seven or eight years. Working, dealing with whatever disaster her mother created, checking on the store. She had friends she hung out with, and she’d recently joined a book club, but now that she thought about it, her life lacked any level of excitement.
Not that she cared about impressing Dylan Harrington, she told herself. She didn’t.
“You’re still going to join your dad’s practice?” she asked, already knowing the answer to the question.
“I thought you might change your mind.”
“Me, too.” He flashed her a smile. “But I didn’t want to break his heart.”
Because Dylan’s dad had spent the past decade waiting to say, “My son, the doctor.” Once he could, it was something he repeated endlessly. He’d told everyone who would listen that Dylan would be joining his practice. She supposed most fathers wanted their sons to go into the family business. Doctor and Son, she thought, imagining the sign outside the front door.
“You stopped working for him,” he said.
She glanced at him, then away. “Yes.”
Until last fall, she’d been one of Dr. Harrington’s nurses. Mostly because he was the only doctor in town and she’d hadn’t wanted to commute to the mainland. But with Dylan potentially returning, she’d wondered about job security. Fortunately, Andi had moved to town and decided to open her pediatric practice, giving Nina the perfect job.
“Like working with kids?” he asked, obviously aware of where she’d landed.
“Yes. There are enough families on the island to keep us busy, but not so many that we’re swamped. Andi’s great to work with.”
“Did you leave because of me?” he asked, stopping at the corner and checking before making the turn.
A blunt question she hadn’t expected. “I was excited about the opportunity with Andi,” she said, sidestepping the issue. In truth, she would have left regardless. There was no way she could spend day after day with Dylan. Talk about weird. He’d been her first boyfriend, her first time, her first broken heart. He was a good-looking guy, a doctor, and it was just a matter of time until he fell in love and got married. Not that she wanted him for herself, but she sure didn’t want anyone thinking she was hanging around, pining.
She leaned back in the seat and sighed. Why hadn’t she planned better? This would be so much less awkward if she’d married some rich guy, preferably with a yacht. Or moved to Tibet to open an orphanage. Something remarkable and important. She could at least be studying to be a neurosurgeon. Instead, she was a nurse in a pediatrician’s office, and her romantic past had little to recommend it. She had been married once. For five days. Not exactly her proudest moment.
She and Dylan were supposed to have been doctors together, she thought grimly. That’s what they had talked about. Going to medical school and opening a practice. She hadn’t decided on her specialty, and he’d thought he would go into emergency medicine.
But then they’d broken up, and somehow finding the money to follow her dreams had become impossible. Between dealing with her mom and her baby sister, the store and everything else, she’d lost her way. Nursing school had been so much more practical. She’d only needed two years away at a four-year university. She couldn’t remember making the decision—somehow life had happened.
Dylan pulled into the driveway of her house. Rain still pounded on the windshield, and she wasn’t looking forward to the dash into the house. Not with her scrubs clinging to every bulge and him watching. Just as unfortunate, she could see the general shabbiness of the house from where she sat. It hadn’t changed at all in the past ten years. It needed paint and a new roof. She’d had plans for both, but a plumbing disaster last October had pretty much sucked up her savings.
“Thanks for the ride,” she said, turning to him and offering a smile she hoped looked pleasant and confident. “Great timing. It would have been a long, ugly walk home. I’m sorry for dripping on your seats.”
“They’ll be fine. Come on. Let’s get you inside.”
Before she could respond, he was getting out of the driver’s side and walking around the car. What? He was coming with her?
She quickly scrambled out and met him on the walkway. “I’m fine. You don’t need to come in. Seriously. Go on with what you were doing. You saved me from the long walk home. That should be enough for one day.”
He gave her an easy smile and put his hand on the small of her back. “For someone soaking wet and cold, you’re sure arguing a lot.”
Then they were moving toward the front door, and she was opening it. As she stepped inside, she kicked off her soggy shoes. Dylan moved past her. She tugged off her socks and dropped her purse on the tiles of the foyer before walking barefoot into the living room.
She was aware of several things at once. First, there was a suspicious dampness in the stained ceiling in the corner. As she watched, a single drop fell onto the carpet below. Which meant her mother
called about the roof. Tim, their general handyman, was always timely about taking care of whatever crisis they had. So if the roof was still leaking, he hadn’t been told he was needed.
Second, she realized she couldn’t remember the last time a man had walked into their house. Well, a man-man, not a service guy. Dylan looked tall and masculine. Very out of place in a room crowded with too much furniture and “treasures” from the store. Every corner, every shelf and all surfaces were littered with figurines, wooden or glass boxes, picture frames and vases that her mother couldn’t stand to sell. In Bonnie’s mind, some objects were meant to be shared with the world and others were meant to be saved for family.
Last, and maybe most unsettling, was how having Dylan standing in the living room made
see just how scruffy everything had become.
The sofa was old and worn, with permanent dents in the cushions where they sat night after night. Nicks and dings marred the coffee table. The lampshades had faded from cream to a dingy yellow.
Nina stared at the room as if she’d never seen it before, shocked by how she’d ceased to see what was all around her. For a second, she had the realization that her hopes and dreams had suffered the same kind of neglect, becoming invisible due to inattention. Sadness swept through—the loss nearly painful enough to make her gasp.
“I’ll wait while you get changed,” Dylan said, walking over to one of the chairs and sitting down, as if he planned to stay a while.
She blinked at him. Why? Then she felt the damp chill of her clothes and water dripping down her back from her hair.
“Sure,” she told him, then hurried toward the hall, feeling the burn of wet cotton rubbing against her skin.
Ten minutes later she was in jeans and a sweatshirt. She’d done the best she could with her hair, towel drying it before combing it. She wasn’t going to take the time to blow-dry it. That would imply... She wasn’t sure what, but either way, she wasn’t going there. She shoved her feet into flats and went back to the living room.
Dylan sat where she’d left him. He stood as she came into the room. “Better?”
“Much.” She shoved her hands into her pockets. “You didn’t have to stay.”
“I thought we could catch up. I haven’t seen you in a long time.”
Simple words that genuinely confounded her. The obvious question was why? Why would he want to catch up? They hadn’t seen each other in forever, and aside from living on the island, they had nothing in common. Not anymore. Maybe not ever.
If only he wasn’t so tall, she thought, gesturing to the kitchen. Back in high school, Dylan had been what her mother had called dreamy. Now he was successful, polite, employed and still good-looking. The green eyes and strong jaw, not to mention broad shoulders, probably ensured he had a flock of available women at the ready. She wondered why he hadn’t married one of them.
She paused in the middle of the kitchen. No way she was going to bother feeling ashamed of the worn linoleum or ancient cabinets. There had been enough humiliation for one day.
“Wine?” she asked, heading for the small rack on the counter. She pulled out a bottle of red before he could reply. “Or I could make you coffee.”
“Wine sounds good.”
She collected the opener, but before she could do more than reach for the bottle, he was at her side.
Such a gentleman, she thought, not sure if she was impressed or annoyed. His mother must be so proud.
He pulled out the cork with a lot less effort than she usually needed, then poured them each a glass. Nina had a brief thought that she should keep some kind of snacky thing around to offer guests. She had kept the leftover brownies, but she wasn’t about to share those. The wine would have to be enough.
She led the way back to the living room and claimed a corner of the sofa. She kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet under her. Dylan took the chair opposite and raised his glass.
“To old friends.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I assume you mean that in the spirit of friends you haven’t seen in a while and not ‘old’ friends.”
He grinned. “Exactly.” He took a sip of the wine. “Nice.”
“So how are things?”
She thought briefly of Tanya and the inventory theft, of the leak in the roof and how she still had to call about getting her car towed. “Great.”
“I heard your sister moved out of state.”
“Averil lives in Mischief Bay. That’s in California, south of Santa Monica.”
“Right. Is she in college?”
Nina smiled. “She graduated a long time ago, Dylan. Averil’s married. She’s a writer for
One brow rose. “Married? Little Averil? I can’t believe it.”
“I know, but it happened.”
“Not yet.” She gazed at him over her glass. “You’re not married.”
“Was that a question or a statement?”
“A statement.” She gave him a genuine smile. “Are you forgetting where we are? This island is the definition of a small town. Of course I know everything about you.”
His expression turned wry. “I hope not
Probably not, she admitted to herself. But there had been a time when she had been the keeper of his secrets and, in theory, his heart.
She’d been fifteen when she’d fallen in love with Dylan. A sophomore in high school. He’d been a senior. She’d tried to conceal her crush, but she’d been unable to look away whenever he was near. One day, at lunch, he’d walked up to her.
When’s your birthday?
In three weeks.
His green eyes had crinkled with laughter.
You’ll be sixteen?
Because fifteen is too young?
You do realize that nothing about me will change in the next three weeks. I’ll be exactly who I am.
He had, and on her sixteenth birthday he’d asked her out. And he’d kissed her, like no one else had.
There’d been a couple of other kisses before him. Fumbling, stupid kisses at parties where games were used to hide the awkwardness of adolescence. Those kisses had been insignificant. Kissing Dylan had rocked her world.
From that date, they’d been a couple. He’d graduated and gone to college and they’d stayed together. It was when she’d been a few months from graduating high school herself that the trouble had started.
“When do you start work?” she asked as her mind returned to the present. Polite questions for a safer topic.
“Are you excited?”
His eyebrows rose. “I’m not sure I would describe myself as excited.”
“Your dad is.”
Because there was nothing the senior Dr. Harrington wanted more than his son to join his practice. He’d talked about it from before Dylan was born. Or so the Harrington family lore went.
“I know. He’s been telling me over and over.” Dylan sipped his wine. “He’s already designed new business cards.”
There was something in the way he said the words. “Didn’t you want to come back?”
She studied him, not sure she believed what he was saying. “You had an obligation. There’s a difference.”
Dylan glanced around the living room. “Where’s your mom?”
“In Montana, on a buying trip.”
His mouth curved up at the corners. “I remember those and her love for the treasures she found.”
“She does like going through other people’s stuff.”
“She runs an antique store.”
An exalted name for Blackberry Preserves, but her mother would enjoy it.
“She’s bringing back less junk these days,” she admitted. “Bertie helps with that. She has a good eye for a bargain.”
Nina raised her chin. “My mom’s lover.”
Dylan’s expression didn’t change. “I thought I heard something about that from my parents. I’m impressed. When did she come out?”
Nina had been hoping for a little more reaction. Something that could make her dislike him. His acceptance was disappointing. “Just over ten years ago. Bertie started coming over. Averil and I thought they were friends. Then Bertie stayed the night a few times. One day Bertie took me aside and said she wanted to move in. She asked if that was okay.”