Love’s Winter Hope

When Jessalyn Dowrick’s husband left her and their three daughters to head west five years earlier, she had no choice but to pick up the pieces of her broken life and continue without him, eventually supporting herself as Eagle Harbor’s seamstress, and secretly hoping her husband would return. But days soon slipped into months, and months into years, all without word of Thomas or a cent of the money he’d promised to send.

While working day and night to build a new life that his wife would be proud of, Thomas wrote Jessalyn every week, asking her to come to South Dakota. But she never arrived. In fact, she never answered a single one of his letters. When he returns to Eagle Harbor in search of answers, he finds a woman who thought him dead . . . and soon regrets he didn’t come after her earlier.

As winter closes in and storms trap Thomas in town until the harbor opens in the spring, will he be able to convince his wife he’s worth a second chance?

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Excerpt

Eagle Harbor, Michigan; November 1883

“Look out!” Thomas Dowrick’s shout echoed over the angry noise of the waves. He bent his head against the wind and staggered toward the gunwale, moving as quickly as he could over the water-slickened deck toward the young sailor caught against the railing.

“Help!” Young Ronnie clutched the railing half a ship length ahead.

Snow drove down from the heavens with the force of buckshot, stinging Thomas’s face if he dared look up at the sky. And the frigid waters of Lake Superior sloshed across the deck, freezing the bottom of his trousers. He hurried past where the captain and sailors huddled by the gunwale, and toward the boy needing help.

One of the sailors looked up from securing a rope to the dinghy. “Do you need me to get Ronnie?”

“I can manage.” Never mind that he was a miner by trade, not a sailor, and that it had been five years since he’d last been on a ship. The captain needed every spare hand to prepare the dinghy that would carry them away from the rocks that had wrecked their ketch.

The snow nearly blinded him as he approached the bow of the ship and Ronnie. “What’s wrong?”

The brown-headed boy seemed far too young to have a job at all, let alone be a sailor. “I’m caught.”

Indeed he was. The cabin boy was wedged between the gunwale and a crate that had broken lose from its chains when the ship hit the rocks.

“Let’s see if we can move this.” Thomas pulled at the wooden box trapping the boy, but pain ricocheted up his weak shoulder. The crate wasn’t overly big, but whatever it held weighed a great deal.

“Watch out,” Ronnie shouted. “There’s another wave.”

The warning came an instant too late. A vicious wave doused him from behind, splattering its icy spray against his back and causing the ship to sway. His foot slid out from beneath him, and the deck sloped so steeply he careened into the gunwale.

“Don’t go overboard.” Panic laced Ronnie’s voice.

“Don’t plan on it.” Thomas clung to the top of the railing with both arms, his feet fighting for purchase against the slippery, slanting deck. Then he glanced down into the water below.

Mistake. Craggy gray rocks and white churning waves confronted him. He clung tighter to the railing, but the narrow strip of wood suddenly seemed too flimsy to hold a man his size.

Why hadn’t he taken the train and rented a horse rather than boarding the mail ship this morning in Houghton? It might have meant an extra three days of traveling, but he would have at least been alive—even if his wife and daughters were still missing.

You can’t let me die, God, not here, not now. I need to find them first, need to know they’ll be safe without me.

“Can someone else help us?” Ronnie called to the sailors handling the dinghy.

“I’m all right. I just need to…” Thomas inched his foot all the way against the gunwale and put a bit of weight on it. Then he did the same with his second foot before standing and releasing the railing, never mind how he couldn’t stop his jaw from chattering against the cold. “There. Now let’s move this crate again. As soon as the weight shifts, you slide out from it, understand?”

The boy nodded, his face white.

“One, two, three.” Thomas braced his feet against the gunwale and shoved. Pain shot up his arm like lightning. He gritted his teeth and put the full weight of his body into the crate. It moved about a half foot, just enough for Ronnie to scoot out from beneath the box.

A loud crack sounded above the roar of the storm—the unmistakable sound of splintering wood. Thomas clutched the railing and looked up. Were the waves breaking the ship apart already?

Shouts and curses from the group of sailors rang over the howling wind, then one of the sailors hastened toward them.

“The waves dashed the dinghy into the rocks.” The sailor pointed to the frothing waves below. Sure enough, the bow of the little boat jutted up from a craggy rock, while splintered wood churned in the wild waves. “There’s a lifesaving team at this port though. We’ll just have to jump rather than take the dinghy to meet them.”

A life-saving team? Thomas shivered against the cold wind quickly turning his damp clothes stiff with ice. “What in tarnation is that?”

“They’ve got a bigger boat, and they’re coming to rescue us. See?” The sailor pointed toward the harbor.

Thomas blinked away a fleck of snow clinging to his lashes and turned to face the gray waves that were somewhat calmer inside the wide, shallow bay. Indeed, a boat headed in a straight line toward the ship, undeterred by the angry water that would keep any other boat off course.

“Let’s go.” The sailor motioned toward the opposite side of the deck. “They’ll approach from the open lake.”

“Can you walk?” Thomas clamped his hand on Ronnie’s shoulder, half to get the boy’s attention, and half to steady himself against the rocking ketch.

“I-I think so,” the boy stammered. “My leg got stuck when the crate slid into it, but I don’t think its broke.”

“I’ll help you.” The sailor swooped Ronnie up in his arms.

“I can help too.” Another shiver swept through him, this one so fierce he reached for the railing. Curse his wet clothes. At this rate, he’d be lucky to make it across the deck without freezing solid.

The sailor frowned. “Save your landlubber legs for walking yourself across the deck.”

Thomas took a step across the deck with the sailor, but the slope was so steep and the wood so slick he nearly slid back down to the gunwale.

“Come on.” The sailor glanced over his shoulder. “We don’t got all day. Least not if you want to be off this ship before it goes down.”

“Coming.” Thomas inched his way farther up the deck. White snow, gray sky, and violent, white-capped seas surrounded the boat. A little town sat shrouded in shadows across the harbor. It seemed so close, and yet so very far. Beside it, the Eagle Harbor lighthouse swathed a path of illumination across the storm, but the beam was weakened by the snow.

He reached the side of the ship and leaned over to glimpse a rowboat filled with people. It floated in a patch of water that wasn’t churning as much as the rest of the lake. Something hit the deck beside him with a thud.

The sailor next to him picked it up and held out a ring that looked to be made of cork. “Put this on,” he shouted over the storm. “It’ll make you float.”

“Don’t you need it?”

The sailor shrugged, then pointed to one of the men that had just jumped into the water. Sure enough he was floating over the swelling waves, the cork ring keeping his shoulders and head above the water. “I’ll find Johnson once I get in the water. We can share.”

“What about Ronnie?”

The sailor who’d carried the cabin boy across the deck was already slipping another one of the cork rings over Ronnie’s chest. “We’ll share.” The man looked at Ronnie. “You ready?”

The boy gave a nod, and the two of them tumbled over the side of the ketch together, leaving him completely alone on the wrecked ship. Thomas clutched the large ring and slipped it over his head, only to have it get stuck around his shoulders. He forced the ring down anyway, never mind how tightly it squeezed his chest.

A foaming wave slammed into the wood and rocks below, and he gripped the railing until his knuckles turned white. Give him a pickax, and he’d burrow into the dankest, darkest, narrowest tunnel and splinter rock until he found precious metals. But put him on the sea, and he was useless. He’d spent his childhood days in Cornwall hauling rocks out of mines, not fishing off the coast.

Ronnie and the sailor surfaced in the water and swam toward the small boat.

Maybe if he timed his jump to miss one of the large waves, he’d have a chance of reaching the rescue boat. He had to try jumping. Either that or give up all hope of finding his missing wife and daughters.

Just the thought of Jessalyn, of her long, blond hair and vibrant blue eyes and hopeful smile, caused guilt to rise in his chest, so thick and cloying it nearly choked him.

On the little vessel, a form stepped apart from the others huddled together. It almost looked like the man was preparing to…

“No!” Thomas shouted.

But the man jumped anyway, diving off the side of the boat and disappearing beneath the water. Was the swimmer coming to get him off the ship? He’d never forgive himself if the other man drowned.

Clutching the ring about him, Thomas balanced on the railing, drew in a breath of stinging, frigid air… and jumped.

Cold. The wind and snow up on the ship might have seemed cold, but it was nothing compared to the icy, watery fingers that worked beneath his woolen clothes until his breath nearly froze in his chest. Yet despite his weight and the sodden garments tugging him downward, the ring pulled him up to the surface.

The instant he broke through the waves, he sucked air into his starved lungs.

“There you are.” A man bobbed in the water not five feet from him, then swam closer. “I lost sight of you when you jumped. You floating all right?” He tugged on the rope attached to Thomas’s life ring.

“Fine.” Or he was if he didn’t think about how he couldn’t feel any of his limbs. “You didn’t need to come after me. I was going to jump.”

“Didn’t look like it.”

There was a jerk on the rope, then it started moving, pulling him toward the lifeboat. The man gripped the rope right before it attached to the ring and half swam, half let himself be pulled toward the boat.

Who was this man? Even with snow driving into the water and wind stinging Thomas’s eyes, the swimmer looked vaguely familiar. They crested the swell of a wave, then dropped into a trough, but the man didn’t lose his grip on the rope for even a second.

Wasn’t he cold? So numb he couldn’t move? Shouldn’t his lips be turning blue and his teeth chattering? “You’re crazy,” Thomas muttered.

Somehow the man heard him over the roar of the storm. “Saving lives isn’t crazy.”

Well, no. But risking his own life like this surely was.

They reached the boat, which was larger up close than it had looked from the ship, and the man let go of the rope and reached up, where he was pulled into the boat by the men huddled inside.

Then several sets of arms reached down to haul Thomas up. Pain tore through his shoulder, blinding and lightning hot despite the cold. A cry wrenched from him, only to be swallowed by the roar of the storm and the thud of his body landing on the bottom of the boat.

“Get that ring off, then sit.” The man who’d rescued him gestured to the bench near where he stood. He’d already pulled on a woolen coat and settled a wide-brimmed hat atop his head. “You’ve some blankets there to wrap up in. It shouldn’t take long to get to town.”

“Places, men.” The man’s booming voice echoed louder than the wind, then he sat and took up his oar. A moment later the boat surged forward.

It provided Thomas the first chance to look at the man without water splashing into his face.

“You’re one of the Cummings boys.” He attempted to wriggle out of the ring around his chest, then gasped at the fresh pain in his shoulder. He could only imagine what Dr. Torrell would say if he’d seen the way his shoulder had wrenched a few moments ago. “Isaac, is it?

His rescuer laughed, bitterness edging into his voice. “Not Isaac. Definitely not Isaac.”

What was funny about his question? Surely he wasn’t the first man to mix up two brothers’ names. “Elijah then.”

“That’d be me.” He plunged his oar into the water, grim determination etched onto his jaw. The boat rose on a crest of wave and then dropped into a trough.

Finally wriggling out of the life ring, Thomas set it in the hull by his feet and scooted closer to Elijah. “You might be able to help me.”

Elijah stopped rowing and looked at Thomas. “Do I know…? Wait, you’re Dowrick. Thomas Dowrick.”

He offered the man who’d been half boy when he’d left town a wry smile. “Five years older and a little worse for wear, but yes, I’m Thomas Dowrick, and I’m here to look for my wife and daughters. They’ve gone missing, and this is the last place I saw them.” He reached out and clutched Elijah’s sleeve with his stiff, cold fingers. “Do you know anything about where she might have gone?”

“Missing? You mean Jessalyn Dowrick?”

Just hearing her name caused a pang to resonate through his heart. “She was supposed to go back to her family when I headed West, but she never arrived in Chicago.”

“And you just now realized she was missing from Chicago?” The harsh look on his rescuer’s face told him exactly what kind of man Elijah thought would abandon his family for half a decade.

Except he hadn’t known they were abandoned. Didn’t that count for something?

Guilt welled in his chest once more. But rather than look away from Elijah’s stormy gray eyes, he held the other man’s gaze. Because he needed help. Because he’d been wrong to leave Jessalyn and his girls in the first place, and if he had any hope of restoring their relationship after he found them—if he found them—then he needed to admit his failures. “I just learned she never arrived in Chicago, if that’s what you mean.”

Elijah turned his gaze back to the churning sea and took up rowing, his oar plunging into the water in perfect time with the other rowers. “I don’t know what arrangements you and your wife made when you left, but she’s still in Eagle Harbor.”

Thomas sucked in a breath of sharp, crisp air. She was here? In town? “Will you take me?”

“Have to stop by the doc’s first. It’s my rule for everyone who rides in my lifeboat, but yes, after that I’ll take you.”

Thomas tilted his head up to the gray sky and pelting snow, while a warmth he couldn’t explain spread through him. His Heavenly Father had seen fit to answer his prayer before his feet had even landed on solid ground.

Thank you, God. He was finally going to see his wife…

After five years of hearing nothing from her. The cold crept back in.

He knew why she’d refused to come west with him initially, but why had she been hiding from him for five years? And what would she say when she realized he found her?

 

Chapter Two

Jessalyn Dowrick bent her head over the sketch of the bridal dress and rubbed her bleary eyes. Should she use four-inch lace around the sleeves, or three? And what about adding lace to the collar? The sketch she’d been sent from Chicago didn’t have any, but unless styles were changing, she—

“Ma.” A slender hand settled itself atop the pattern. “Can we go to the doctor?”

Jessalyn drew her head up and blinked at her oldest daughter, who was tilting her head to the side and pressing a rag to her right ear.

“Oh, honey. Another one?” She set down her pencil and held out her arms.

“It hurts.” Tears glistened in Olivia’s eyes, and she climbed onto her lap. “I don’t know why I keep getting them.”

“Sometimes earaches just happen.”

“Then how come they don’t happen to Claire and Megan?” Olivia rested her sore ear on Jessalyn’s shoulder. “Or you?”

Jessalyn sighed, her chest rising and falling beneath the weight of Olivia’s ten-year-old body. “I don’t know.”

And it was hardly fair to say they “just happened.” They’d been “just happening” a lot over the past two years, almost to the point that her daughter had a constant ear infection.

Jessalyn glanced out the large display windows facing North Street to find the snow coming thicker and faster. The tiny pellets of white weren’t obscuring the bar on the other side of the road yet. But it wouldn’t be long given the dark gray clouds and whipping wind. It might only be November, but the first storm of the season was here. By tomorrow morning the dirt road and dry autumn grass would be covered in snow, and they’d stay buried for the next six months.

The hills surrounding Eagle Harbor might be rich with copper, but Michigan’s Copper Country also sat on an unprotected peninsula that jutted into Lake Superior. The big lake to their north gave them at least twenty feet of snow every winter, and that was in a mild year. Some winters saw closer to thirty feet.

“Let me see if we have any willow bark tea in the kitchen. Perhaps that will suffice until the storm stops, and we can visit Dr. Harrington tomorrow.” Provided the storm didn’t keep up for two or three days.

“We’re out. I already checked.”

“Drat.” Though she shouldn’t be surprised. Olivia’s last infection had only faded a week ago, and she’d not replenished the usual supplies and medicine yet.

Olivia bit her lip and glanced at the bridal sketch. “Will you be able to get your work done if we visit the doctor?”

“Of course.” She’d just be up past midnight doing it. She patted Olivia’s hip. “Get your coat and boots on while I fetch Claire and Megan. Maybe we can make it back before the snow gets too deep.”

Ten minutes later she pulled open the door to her shop, herded her three girls out into the storm, and stopped short at the sight of a hulking man approaching through the snow.

“Can I help you?” She pulled her youngest daughter, Megan, to her side to shield her from the wind.

“I need my coat back.” The man’s broad shoulders and towering form proclaimed him to be either a miner or logger.

She squinted at him. He looked vaguely familiar. “I just finished a pile of them this morning. What did you say your name was?”

But since he was already wearing a drab brown coat, the better question might be why he was asking for it back during a blizzard.

“Ebberhard. Frank Ebberhard.”

The name was familiar as well. “Yes, I’m pretty sure I finished it this morning. Didn’t you need buttons replaced?”

Something unsettling moved through the man’s dark eyes, and he didn’t bother to answer her, just glowered.

“Um, why don’t you come inside? It might take a minute or two to find it.”

“I’ll wait here.”

A frisson of fear shivered through her. She’d had strange requests before, yes, but nothing quite so odd as this.

“Go back inside, girls.” At least they could wait in the warmth. She certainly wasn’t going to leave them alone with a man like Frank Ebberhard. She followed her daughters inside and hurried toward the stack of mending she’d finished, waiting on the table at the back of her shop. His had been a mackinaw coat, hadn’t it? The red and black plaid pattern was popular among loggers in Copper Country.

She rounded a final table and stepped over a pile of socks that needed darning before reaching the stack of coats. Spotting the mackinaw fabric in the middle of the pile, she set the stop of the stack aside and grabbed the two plaid coats, then glanced at the scrap of paper she’d pinned to each of the collars. Emmett Tungston and Frank Ebberhard.

She moved to lay Mr. Tungston’s coat back with the others, only to find a piece of paper had slipped from its pocket. She shook her head and retrieved the paper, then put it back into the closest pocket. Must the men who dropped off mending always leave their pockets full of papers and trinkets? It seemed she was always picking up something or other. If she actually kept all the change that ended up on her floor, her savings account at the bank would be double its current balance.

She draped Mr. Ebberhard’s coat over her arm rushed through her shop, weaving her way between tables and around stacks of scraps. Outside, the was wind so frigid it nearly sucked the breath from her lungs. “Here you are, that will be—”

“Keep the change.” He shoved a dollar at her and turned, stalking away.

She blinked down at the bill. She only charged twenty-five cents to replace buttons, but the man’s shadow had already faded into the storm.

Oh well, she’d use it to purchase an extra bag of willow bark tea. She pulled the door to her shop back open. “Come along girls. We can go now.”

They filed back outside, and she gripped five-year-old Megan’s hand in hers, then bent her head against the wind before starting down the road. “Stick close.”

“The cold makes my ear hurt.” Olivia pressed a hand to her ear, which was already covered with a scarf.

“I know, honey. I’m sorry.”

“Jessalyn? Is that you?”

She looked up to find Isaac Cummings, the newly-elected town sheriff, crossing the street toward them.

“What are you doing out in this?” A scrap of auburn hair peeked out from beneath the wide-brimmed hat he wore, and his breath puffed cold little clouds into the air. He took the hand of her middle daughter, Claire, and started walking.

“I should ask you the same question.” She closed her eyes against a particularly harsh gust of wind, then looked over her shoulder to make sure Olivia followed.

“Just came from The Rusty Wagon.” Isaac jutted his chin toward the bar that sat across the street from her shop, his chiseled features implacable amidst the driving snow and wind. “Wanted to make sure things were staying calm inside.”

She nodded. The sailors, loggers, and miners that filled Eagle Harbor never needed much excuse to visit the bar, or the brothel farther down the road, for that matter. Rainstorms and snowstorms actually gave them an excuse though. But she hadn’t considered Isaac would have to work in storms such as this. Would the jail be full by the end of the night?

“You still haven’t told me why you’re out here,” he called to her. “Or where we’re going.”

She trudged through a snowdrift that rose overtop her boots. “Olivia has another earache, and I was out of willow bark tea, so—”

He looked over his shoulder and scowled at her. “You should have waited a few more minutes. I was headed to your place to make sure you had enough firewood to get through the storm.”

He was? Though she shouldn’t be surprised. Isaac Cummings helped her whenever he could. And since he lived in the apartment above the telegraph office that sat next to her shop, those situations arose more often than a person might guess.

“I could have gotten Dr. Harrington, and then you wouldn’t need to bring your girls out in this. The doc would have paid a house call.” Isaac turned down Front Street and headed south along the harbor, his tall form cutting easily through the blizzard.

“We’ve survived worse, but thank you.”

“Ma, you’re going too fast.”

She turned to find Olivia struggling through a drift the wind had blown across the road, a mitten-covered hand still pressed to her ear.

“Here. You take Claire.” Isaac thrust Claire’s hand into hers and tromped back toward Olivia, then swooped her into his arms.

The low sound of his voice rumbled through the storm as he spoke to her oldest daughter, and her heart lurched. What would it be like to…?

But no. She’d not let her thoughts wander in that direction. What would it be like if Thomas had never left? If he were the one carrying Olivia now and not a neighbor with an overly vigilant sense of duty?

That was the better question, but she’d stopped asking herself those things years ago. After five years of not hearing from him, Thomas was surely dead. Besides, there was no sense in letting her brain wander into the land of “what if,” only in taking stock of the resources she had and making do. Which meant a trip to Dr. Harrington’s at the moment, snowstorm or not.

Numbness was creeping into her nose and cheeks by the time they reached the doctor’s sprawling log cabin. She guided her children up the steps, and Isaac pulled open the door to let them pass, all while keeping Olivia tucked against his chest.

Warmth enveloped her the instant she stepped inside the parlor… that was filled with people despite the storm?

“Take your things off and hang them on the pegs.” She tugged at Megan’s hat and surveyed the men. Most were strangers, with Ian Fletcher and Emmet Stone being the only familiar faces.

“Was there a shipwreck?” Isaac’s voice was rough and dark behind her.

The bearded man nearest them nodded his head. “Afraid so.”

“Is Elijah all right?” A flicker of fear laced the darkness in Isaac’s voice that time.

“Elijah?” The man gave Isaac a blank stare.

“He’s fine,” Ian Fletcher, one of Elijah’s lifesavers, called from across the room. “Took a little swim, but Doc Harrington has him warming up. He’s in the sickroom while the doc looks at the passenger he rescued.”

Isaac kept his jaw hard, his face resolute, but she caught the flash of relief in his hazel eyes. The entire town knew Elijah Cummings went out on volunteer rescues, just as assuredly as the entire town knew his brother Isaac opposed the idea. What must it feel like to be Isaac? Stuck waiting while a loved one risked his life to save others?

“Will Dr. Harington be very long?” Olivia huddled against Isaac’s chest.

Isaac looked down, seeming to realize he still held Olivia, then carried her to the sofa and set her down, never mind Olivia’s boots getting snow on the couch.

“Something wrong, sweetheart?” A weathered sailor stopped at the edge of the couch, concern etched into the craggy lines of his face.

“My ear hurts.” An icy little tear slipped down Olivia’s cheek.

Jessalyn bent to undo Megan’s buttons, then hung her daughter’s things on the peg before scurrying over to Olivia.

“I’m sure it won’t be much longer.” She laid a hand on Olivia’s brow. Though the girl had just spent a quarter hour outside, her skin was turning warm with the fever that often accompanied her earaches.

“I’ll get the doc’s wife. See if she can help with anything.” The sailor turned for the kitchen.

“Thank you.” Jessalyn bent to work at the laces on Olivia’s boots. She couldn’t complain about Isaac laying her daughter down, but surely Dr. Harrington and his wife Lindy didn’t want snow ruining their sofa.

She’d just set the boots on the floor when Lindy swept into the room, her honey blond hair glistening in the lamplight. She headed straight for them and gave Olivia a side hug. “Don’t tell me you have another earache, Olivia. I’m so sorry.”

“Do you have some willow bark tea while we wait?” Jessalyn unbuttoned her own coat.

“Of course, but it shouldn’t be much longer before Seth’s done with his patient.” Lindy gave Olivia another squeeze, then headed into the kitchen in a flurry of swishing petticoats.

“Here, let’s unbutton your coat, even if you don’t want to take it off.” Jessalyn began at the bottom of the coat while Olivia started at the top. A quick sweep around the room told her Megan and Claire had headed straight for the toy box in the corner—bless Dr. Harrington for thinking of children and keeping toys in his parlor. Isaac paced by the door to the sickroom, his wide shoulders hunched and his face as dark and brooding as the storm clouds outside. The other men were milling about, some drinking coffee and eating cookies, some sitting in the chairs placed around the sizable parlor.

“I said I don’t need any more treatment.” A voice rose from behind the door of the large sickroom, loud enough to drown out the chatter in the parlor. “I’m perfectly fine, or I will be…” The door flung open and a large man stood in the frame. “As soon as I find my…”

The man stared at her.

Jessalyn sucked in a quick breath, but just as suddenly, her lungs forgot to work, trapping the air inside her.

“Jessalyn,” he said.

Or maybe he didn’t say it. Maybe he whispered it, or mouthed it, or thought it.

But she felt the impact of her name on his lips through every inch of her body.

“Thomas.” He was back. The man who had once shared her life. Her husband. Her heart hammered against her chest. How many times had she dreamed of this day, ran it over and over in her mind until her body ached with the loss of not having him beside her? How many times had she imagined what she’d say when he finally returned, each and every word of it?

He took a step toward her, his body so large and familiar she nearly went to meet him, nearly wrapped her arms around his chest and settled her head on his shoulder. How long since she’d felt the strength of her husband’s arms as they held her?

How long? She stiffened. Five years, five months, and eleven days.

She’d thought him dead, but he was certainly alive and well.

Which meant he’d knowingly abandoned her and their daughters.

And if it had taken him that long to come back, then she could stand on the other side of the room for five minutes without going to him. She could force herself to forget about the way his arms would feel around her and his heart would sound beneath her ear. She’d already forced herself to forget a great many things about him. Two more shouldn’t be any trouble.

Except her husband hadn’t been anywhere close those other times. It was a lot harder to ignore a person when they stood ten feet away.

“What…” She forced her tongue to move, forced her dry mouth to form words. “What are you doing here?”