Here Comes the Sun Excerpt
A USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestseller!
Butler Vermont Series, Book 3
“I love those who yearn for the impossible.” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Even with snow swirling around him, Wade Abbott knew the way home. He could find it blindfolded, which he was basically doing since the whiteout snow made it so he had to rely on everything but his vision. He’d been out with his brothers for hours looking for two young boys who’d gone sledding in the foothills of Butler Mountain and disappeared in the blizzard.
They’d found them alive but hypothermic forty-five minutes ago and dispersed to head home to warm up. His younger brothers, Lucas and Landon, both paramedics, had transported the boys to the hospital, where they’d be reunited with their grateful parents.
The snowmobile’s headlight illuminated the Nelsons’ mailbox, a green monstrosity that indicated Wade was about five hundred feet from his own driveway. He noticed a pattern in the snow that looked an awful lot like footprints. Who would be foolish enough to be out in a full-on blizzard if they didn’t have to be?
Was he hallucinating, or were the footprints leading to his place? A trickle of unease traveled down his back, which was odd because he never felt unsafe in Butler, Vermont. Hell, he never even locked his door. He didn’t have to. His place wasn’t easy to find unless you knew where it was.
He hung a right into his driveway and followed the deep footsteps for a quarter mile of twists and bends until his cabin came into view, nestled into a copse of evergreens, his own piece of paradise.
Biting one of the fingers of his glove, he pulled it off and reached for the flashlight strapped to his hip to further illuminate the yard. The flashlight’s beam cut through the snow to identify a huddled lump on his porch.
“What the hell?” Wade cut the engine and jumped off the snowmobile. Fighting the foot-high snow, he crossed the yard and went up the stairs. “Hello?”
He nudged the lump with his foot.
He scooped up the bundle and carried it inside, where heat from the woodstove he’d stoked earlier swept over him. Dropping to his knees in front of the fire, he deposited his visitor.
She moaned again.
Dear God, it’s a woman—a half-frozen woman. Moving quickly, he threw two more logs on the fire and began unwrapping the ice-crusted scarf that covered her face so the heat could penetrate. Bruises. Her face was black, blue and swollen, so much so he didn’t immediately recognize her.
And then he knew.
His heart skipped a beat and shock reverberated through him as he began to frantically remove her wet coat and gloves.
“Mia.” He could hear the panic in his own voice. “Mia!”
She moaned again. Her lips and fingers were blue.
Wade rubbed her hands between his. “Mia, talk to me.” What was she doing here, and who had beat the hell out of her? Rage simmered in his gut. He’d suspected from when he first met her almost two years ago at a yoga retreat that the man in her life— Wade assumed it was her husband—was hurting her, but they’d never reached the point where he felt comfortable asking her about it. Throughout their friendship, he’d seen the signs: skittish, jumpy, secretive, scared, but she hadn’t shared anything overly personal with him.
She’d broken off contact with him a year ago, and he’d suffered ever since, wondering why she’d stopped calling him and worrying whether she was safe.
“Mia, honey… Wake up. Please wake up.” He would’ve called for help if anyone could’ve gotten to them in the storm. Since outside help wasn’t an option tonight, it was up to him to get her warm. Unzipping his parka, he pulled it off, removed his boots, kicked them aside and then took off the survival suit that allowed him to be out in a storm for hours without suffering hypothermia. He stripped down to underwear so he could use his body heat to warm her.
Then he went to work on her clothing, moving carefully in case she had other injuries. Working from her boots up, he took off soaking-wet clothes that had him wondering just how long she’d been out in the storm.
Other than the violent tremors that rattled her body, she never stirred as he stripped her down to panties and a tank top, both of which were damp. He laid her wet clothes on top of the woodstove to dry and then stopped short at the sight of arms and legs mottled with bruises of various colors.
Wade choked back the rage that burned through him. He blew out a deep breath, grabbed a down comforter from the sofa and pulled it over them as he molded his body to hers, hoping his body heat would help to raise her core temperature. It would be better, he knew from his lifesaving training, if they were both bare, but he didn’t think he could handle that.
Hopefully, he could get her warm without having to strip down completely.
He was enveloped in the sweet, fresh scent of her hair, while his heart beat erratically, his palms felt sweaty despite the cold and his mind raced. What had brought her here? Who had hurt her? What did she want from him? Could he bear to see her again and then watch her go back to wherever she’d been the last year? He tightened his hold on her. He wouldn’t let her go back to the man who’d been hurting her, that much he knew for certain.
“Mia, honey, you’re safe. It’s Wade. I’m so glad you’re here. We’re going to get you warm.” He ran his hand gently up and down her arm, wishing she would wake up and talk to him. He’d missed her so much. Talking to her had once been his favorite thing. After they first met at the yoga retreat, they’d connected a few times at coffee shops between his home in Butler and hers in Rutland. He’d driven more than an hour each way for the chance to spend thirty minutes in her presence.
The last time he’d heard from her, she’d told him she couldn’t talk to him anymore. He’d begged her to reconsider and promised to keep his distance so as not to cause her any further difficulty. But he hadn’t heard from her again, until he found her on his doorstep, nearly frozen and obviously injured.
Her poor face was so terribly swollen that it made his heart hurt to look at her.
God… He’d gladly kill the man who’d done this to her, and he had no doubt it’d been a man.
He pressed his lips to her forehead. “Sweetheart, wake up and talk to me. It’s Wade. It’s okay now. No one will ever hurt you again.”
The only reply he got was a tortured-sounding moan.
Her lids fluttered open, revealing the gorgeous navy-blue eyes that had once looked at him with such affection. She stared at him, almost as if she couldn’t believe her eyes. “Wade,” she whispered.
“It’s me, honey. You’re safe with me.”
She began to cry.
Her tears broke him. “Shhh, it’s okay. Everything is okay now.”
She shook her head as her teeth chattered. “N-no, it isn’t.”
“It is for right now. The only thing you need to worry about is getting warm. Hold on to me and let me warm you up.”
Mia burrowed deeper into his embrace, her arm sliding around his waist and her leg slipping between his.
Wade swallowed hard. Here in his arms was the woman he’d dreamed about since the day he met her. He was supposed to be helping her get warm, but her nearness was making him hot in more ways than one. He took a deep breath and scooted his hips back a crucial inch so she wouldn’t be able to feel what her nearness had done to him.
What did it mean that she’d come to him? He’d once written down his home address and phone number as well as the address and phone number for the office and told her to use the info if she ever needed him for anything at any time. With cell phone service nonexistent in Butler, he didn’t own a mobile phone, so he’d given her all the other ways to reach him. After so much time, he figured she’d thrown away the scrap of paper and forgotten about him.
He had never forgotten her. Thoughts of her and what she might be going through had tormented him through months of sleepless nights and long days at work in which he’d moved through his life in a perpetual state of despair. He’d known Mia a year when he first shared his complex feelings for her with his sister Hannah. His sister Ella knew about her, too, and he’d told his grandfather a little about her, but he hadn’t told anyone else, preferring to keep his feelings—and his despair—to himself.
As one of ten kids, most of whom worked together running the family’s Green Mountain Country Store, it wasn’t easy to keep secrets in his family. But he’d been aided by the fact that he was considered the “quiet” one of the bunch. No one thought much of it when Wade sat back and took in the madness of their family rather than actively participating. So he’d been able to keep his situation relatively private, which, in his family, was saying something.
He had so many questions for her—especially why now and what now—but he didn’t ask any of them. Rather, he stayed focused on warming her and containing the desire zipping through his body, a reminder of how much he’d wanted her from the first time he laid eyes on her.
For a long time after Wade settled them in front of the fire, Mia shivered so hard, her teeth ached. She’d never been so cold in her life. Her car had gotten stuck in a snowdrift on the outskirts of Butler. Fortunately, she’d spent hours studying road maps into and out of Butler. In the back of her mind every second of the last miserable year had been Wade’s address, the phone numbers she’d memorized, along with the map of Butler that had represented her path to freedom.
Her biggest concern as she’d plotted her escape was that Wade might not be willing to help her. She’d had to hope and pray that he would still want her the way he once had, even if he’d never said the words. A woman knew these things, and her life now depended upon him still feeling the same way.
He was so warm and solid as he caressed her back in small, soothing circles that made her want to purr with pleasure. She had no idea how long they lay cuddled up to each other under the heavenly blanket, but after a while, her teeth stopped chattering and sensation returned to her extremities in painful pricks. The warmth flooded her mind and body, filling her with a sense of security that was even more blissful than the heat coming from the woodstove—and his muscular body.
For so long, she’d had to wonder what it might be like to be touched by Wade Abbott, and now she knew what heaven must be like. She took deep breaths of the woodsy, natural scent of him and noted that he’d cut his hair since she’d last seen him. Once upon a time, she’d sat across from him in coffee shops and wished she could run her fingers over the sharp planes of his face and touch the longish hair that wasn’t brown or blond or red, but rather, an interesting golden mix of all three colors.
During those visits, she’d memorized every detail, right down to the flecks of gold in his eyes that glittered with pleasure whenever he looked at her while they talked until their coffee grew cold and the sun dipped toward the horizon.
Every time she’d left him, she’d done so under a veil of panic, certain this would be the time her secret friendship with Wade would be discovered by a man who would kill her before he’d let anyone else have her. But somehow, they’d gotten away with it. Other things had transpired that’d convinced her to stay away from Wade, for his safety as much as hers, but she’d never stopped thinking about him, wondering about him or wishing that things were different.
Had he thought about her, too? Or had he moved on with someone else? Was there a woman sleeping in his bedroom at this very moment? Would he hold her this way if he had someone else? If it meant saving her life, she knew for sure he would. But once her body was warm, would he leave her to join the woman he loved?
That was like a knife to her heart. Thoughts of him had kept her alive long before tonight, and all her hopes were pinned on him being willing to help her now. She wiggled even closer to him and encountered evidence that he wanted her as much as he always had.
He gasped as she rubbed against him. “Mia…”
The proof of his desire freed her to ask for what she wanted more than anything. “Will you kiss me, Wade?”
He stared at her, seeming incredulous. “Are you really here asking me to kiss you? Will I wake up tomorrow to find out I dreamed this?”
She placed her hand on his face because she’d wanted to for so long and now she could. “It’s not a dream. I’m really here, and I’ve been dying for your kiss for as long as I’ve known you.”
Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and released it before opening them again. “What about your husband?”
“I don’t have a husband.”
A strangled sound escaped his tightly clenched jaw in the second before his lips found hers with the light of the fire and years of yearning to guide them. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I’m okay, and I really want you to kiss me.”
He kissed her like a man possessed. His fingers dug into her hair and shaped her skull, making it impossible for her to escape, not that she had any wish to be anywhere but right there with him. She’d waited what felt like forever for him to kiss her, and the reality was a thousand times better than the fantasies had ever been.
To call this a kiss didn’t do justice to the feelings that exploded inside her as his tongue found hers in an erotic, sensual dance that made her dizzy and weak with longing.
“Mia…” He withdrew slowly, gently kissing the uninjured side of her face, jaw and neck. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to kiss you.”
“Don’t stop.” She sounded desperate and wanton but couldn’t be bothered to care. Combing her fingers through his hair, she brought him back for more.
They kissed like they were afraid this was all they’d ever have. Perhaps it was. Perhaps he wouldn’t be able to help her, and if that were the case, she’d have no choice but to leave him. For his sake, as well as hers, it would have to be all or nothing.
One kiss became two and then three, and when they came up for air, he was pressed up against her, and she wasn’t cold anymore. Not even kind of.
He gazed at her, the firelight turning his hair and skin to pure gold. “Who hurt you, Mia?”
“The man I used to love.”
“Why would he do this to you?” He ran his fingertips gently over the bruise on her left cheek.
“That’s a very long story.”
“You can’t go back to him,” he said fiercely. “I knew he was hurting you, but I couldn’t prove it, and you’d never talk to me about him.”
“Because I couldn’t.”
“How did you get here?”
“I drove as far as I could, but my car got stuck in a drift on the way into town. I walked the rest of the way.”
“That’s miles from here!”
“I don’t know how far it was, but it took a long time, and then when I got here and you weren’t home… The last thing I remember is reaching for the door hoping you wouldn’t mind.”
“I wouldn’t have. Of course you could’ve come in.”
“I must’ve passed out before I made up my mind.”
“My place isn’t easy to find. You’d have to know where it is to find it, especially in this weather.”
“After you gave me your address, I looked it up on a map, and I memorized the route.”
“Why, Mia? Why did you memorize the way to my home?”
“Because I knew I’d come to you as soon as I could. I only hoped that I’d still be welcome after all this time.”
“You’re always welcome with me. You know that.” He looked at her with love and joy and hope. So much hope that her heart contracted. “You still haven’t told me what happened or why you came tonight, in the middle of a blizzard.”
“Because…” She swallowed hard, summoning the fortitude she needed to say the words. “I need you to do something for me.”
“I’d do anything for you.”
His fierce words made her want to weep from the relief of knowing she hadn’t misjudged him or his feelings for her.
“Tell me what you need, Mia. There’s nothing you could ask of me that would be too much.”
Looking up to meet his intense brown-eyed gaze, she said, “I need you to marry me.”
“Only I discern infinite passion, and the pain of finite hearts that yearn.” —Robert Browning
Wade stared at her, certain this couldn’t actually be happening. The woman he’d longed for was lying in his arms asking him to marry her? Where did he sign?
“Wade?” She waved her hand in front of his face, which was when he realized he was staring at her.
“All this time, I thought you were already married and that he was hurting you. I’ve been tortured wondering what became of you.”
She shook her head. “I’m so sorry I put you through such an ordeal. I never intended for that to happen.”
He absorbed the information with a soaring feeling of hope he’d never experienced quite so acutely before.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
Taking a deep breath, he said, “Um, yeah, I’m good. Better than good. I’m excellent, in fact.”
She smiled. “I know this is totally shocking and completely out of the blue, but—”
He kissed her. Because he could. Because he was crazy about her. Because she was here and asking for his help, and because there was absolutely nothing he wouldn’t do for her. “Yes,” he said, his lips still pressed to hers. “I’ll marry you.”
She pulled back from him. “Don’t you want to hear why?”
“I care very much about how you got hurt and what’s being done to punish the person who hurt you. But I don’t care why you want me to marry you. I’m in.”
He kissed her again, losing himself in her, wanting her more than he’d ever wanted anything in his life, and now she was asking him to commit to her for a lifetime? Yes, hell yes.
Mia pulled back from the kiss but kept her hands on his face. “You need to know why.”
“No, I don’t.” What he needed was to keep kissing her for the rest of his life. If he could do that, he wouldn’t need anything else. Ever.
She turned away to break the kiss. “Wade. You do need to know why. When you know, you might change your mind.”
“I believe I’ve already given you my answer, but if there’s more you want to tell me, I’m listening. And PS, I’m not going to change my mind.”
“I need to sit up for this, and I need you to not touch me and scuttle my brain cells so badly I forget what I need to say.”
He flashed a smug smile as he helped her sit up, wrapping the blanket around her shoulders. “Do I scuttle your brain cells?”
She took a long, hungry look at his bare chest that only added fuel to the fire simmering in his groin. Did she have any idea how beautiful she was to him? And when she looked at him like that, it took all his willpower to keep his hands to himself. “You’ve scuttled my brain cells from the minute we first met, and you know it.”
“No, I didn’t know that until right now. For a long time, I wondered if it was just me.”
“It wasn’t just you.”
Her face lost all expression as she seemed to withdraw into herself.
Because he couldn’t be this close to her and not touch her now that he was allowed to, Wade took her hand and kissed the back of it. “Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it together. Now that you’re here, I’ll never let you go.”
“You need to know what you’d be getting into before you decide anything.” The dull, flat tone of her voice made him wary.
“Tell me what you think I need to know, and we’ll go from there. But I’ve already decided.”
She looked up at him, and the sadness in her gaze made him hurt for her. “Did you hear about the big drug bust in Caledonia County a few months ago?”
“I remember reading something about that.” And he recalled his grandfather, Elmer, asking him if he knew anything about it a month or so ago. He sat up straighter, wondering what the connection could possibly be. “What about it?”
“The ringleader was a guy named Brody Dennison. He… He’s the one I was involved with for the last three years, and the one I’ve been trying to get free of for almost that long, but he…”
Suddenly, Elmer’s fishing expedition made sense. He’d known this and wanted to know if Wade knew, too. How in the hell had he known? “What, honey?” Wade tried to contain the rage he felt growing with every word she said. “What did he do?”
“He told me if I ever left him, he’d find me and he’d kill me.”
Wade released a pained sigh.
“I… I was afraid he’d kill you if he ever found out about our… our friendship. That’s why I stopped returning your calls. I was afraid for you.”
“I can take care of myself. I don’t want you to ever worry about me.”
“I was worried. You have no idea what he’s capable of. I’ve only recently learned the full extent of what he was doing when he was bullshitting me about his ‘successful contracting business’ that was actually a front for a huge heroin operation. So many people were hurt by him, lives destroyed… It makes me sick.”
Wade reached out to stroke her bruised cheek. “Did he do this to you?”
She nodded. “It turns out I know just enough to be a threat to him in the criminal case. He’s out on bail and has been pressuring me to marry him so I won’t have to testify against him. When I refused to marry him, he…” She took a deep breath and released it. “He beat me, and he said there’d be more where that came from unless I changed my tune—quickly.” Lowering the blanket, she raised the hem of her tank to display a badly bruised abdomen and ribs.
Wade gasped. “Mia, oh my God. You need to be in the hospital! What if you have internal injuries?”
“It happened a couple of days ago. I think I’m okay.”
“I know you said you didn’t want me touching you while we’re talking, but I really need to. Can I, please?”
Her chin quivered. “I wish you would.”
He scooped her up off the floor, blanket and all, and moved them to the sofa, arranging them so they were facing each other with the blanket pulled over their shoulders so she wouldn’t get cold again. “How did you get away?”
“He had a mandatory court appearance today, and I left while he was gone. He said when he got back, he was bringing someone to marry us so I’d have no choice but to keep my fat mouth shut. I’d been preparing to run for weeks, but after he beat me, I knew he wouldn’t give up until I was shackled to him for life. I figured the only way I can get him to stop pressuring me is if I’m legally not able to marry him, because I’m married to someone else. And the only person I’d ever want to be married to is this gorgeous, sweet guy I met at a yoga retreat a couple of years ago who’s been giving me a reason to live just by being out there somewhere.”
Wade brushed away a tear that rolled down her cheek. He couldn’t bear to see her cry. “He’s been hurting you for a while now, hasn’t he?”
“Not like this, but in other ways. Grabbing my arms or handfuls of my hair… Things that wouldn’t show to the outside world but would keep me terrorized enough to toe the line. I kept asking myself how the nice guy I’d fallen for had turned into such a monster. It took me a while to realize he’s always been a monster. He’d just hidden it well when we were first together, back when I thought I’d finally found a good guy. It wasn’t until I met you, a truly good guy, that I could see just how far off I’d been with him.”
“I’m wondering how you were able to go to the yoga retreat in the first place.”
“He went on a weekend fishing trip to Maine with his brothers. I left after he did and was back before him. He never even knew I was gone. I worked as a waitress, and he never asked where my money went, probably because he was so flush with drug money, he didn’t need my pitiful contribution. I squirreled away as much as I could, so I’d be ready when I got the chance to run. I’m not without resources, if you’re wondering about that.”
“I’m not wondering about that. In fact, that’s the last thing on my mind. Not only will I marry you so you can’t marry him or anyone else, but I’ll protect you from him and anyone who’d try to harm you. You’ll have me and my entire, formidable family behind you. We’ll have your back, sweetheart, and I’ll get my cousin Grayson to represent you in any legal matters. Everything will be okay. I promise.”
“He won’t go quietly,” she said. “I have no way to predict how he’ll react to finding out that I married someone else.”
“He won’t get near you. Not as long as I’m alive.”
“I almost didn’t come here. I thought about heading west and disappearing.”
“I’m so glad you didn’t do that. I would’ve missed you for the rest of my life.”
“Wade…” Her eyes filled again. “What I’m asking of you could endanger you. I have to be sure you understand that.”
“I get it.”
“You need to think about this, to be sure—”
He kissed her. “I’m sure. My aunt is the town clerk. My grandfather is a justice of the peace. We’ll get a license and get married as soon as the blizzard ends.”
“What will your family say?”
“I don’t care what they say.”
“Yes, you do. I know you well enough to know you care very much what they think.”
“Not about this.” He stared into her eyes. “There is nothing—and I do mean nothing—anyone could say or do that would keep me from offering you this protection. By helping you, I get everything I want, too. The way I see it, it’s a win-win.”
“You say that now… I’m going to be tied up for months, if not years, in the case against Brody.”
“We’ll take it one day at a time until it’s in the past and we never have to think about that again.”
“I’ll understand if you want me to sign something that protects you and your assets for after.”
“For after what?”
“After our marriage ends, of course.”
“Sweetheart, let’s get one thing perfectly clear. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure you never want to be anywhere but with me for the rest of your life. So let’s not talk about how it’s going to end. Let’s talk about how we’re going to make it work.”
“We’ve never even been on a date.”
“Every time we sat across from each other in a coffee shop was better than any date I’ve ever been on with anyone else. But if you want an official date, you got it. As many as you want—after we get a ring on your finger so no one can try to take you away from me.”
Her eyes flooded with new tears. She closed them to contain the flood.
“What?” he asked, alarmed.
“I was so afraid you would’ve forgotten about me,” she said in a whisper.
“I could never, ever, ever forget about you. I never want you to be afraid again. You’ve got me now, and we’re going to face whatever comes head on, until the bad stuff is so far in the past, you can’t even remember it. We’ll make so many happy new memories that you won’t have the space in your brain to accommodate the bad stuff anymore.”
“You make me believe that’s actually possible.”
“It’s more than possible.” He snuggled her in close to him. “Close your eyes and get some rest. You’re safe now. I’ve got you, and I’m never letting you go.”
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