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Isabella Coleman wasn’t looking for love when she attended her cousin Wade’s wedding in Boston, but she hadn’t counted on the bride’s father, Cabot Lodge. He’s older, wiser and one of the most handsome, charming and funny men she’s ever met. Izzie is instantly smitten, and after a wonderful time at the wedding, she’s certain she’ll hear from Cabot again soon. But she doesn’t hear a word from him until she’s back in Boston and invites him to dinner. After yet another fantastic time together, she’s once again optimistic—and once again disappointed when she gets nothing but silence from him.

Cabot has his reasons for keeping his distance. After his former wife took off with their baby daughter, he spent twenty-five years looking for Mia, who suddenly reappeared in his life as a grown woman with a new husband. He’s never been happier than since Mia returned, but those twenty-five years of searching left him with a deep well of bitterness that a sweet woman like Izzie doesn’t need in her life.

Until Izzy is seriously injured in a car accident, and all bets are off. Bitterness aside, Cabot can think of only getting to her as soon as he possibly can—and staying with her for as long as she’ll have him. Now Izzy and Cabot are hunkered down in her cozy home in Vermont, and things are starting to get real. They’ll both have to decide if their time together is a temporary interlude or the start of something lasting.

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Here, There and Everywhere

Butler, Vermont Series, Book 8

Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean. —Maya Angelou

Chapter 1

What the hell was Cabot Lodge doing in her kitchen? Izzy Coleman was still asking herself that question two days after coming home from the hospital with Cabot as her primary caregiver. This was the same man she’d spent time with before, who’d subsequently dropped off the face of the earth.

Until he heard she’d been badly injured in a car accident.

He’d shown up in her hospital room almost two weeks ago, the day after the accident, and had been by her side ever since, even insisting to her mom and siblings that he be the one to care for her once she came home, sparing her a trip to rehab by being willing to provide around-the-clock care.

Again, she wanted to ask him why he was putting his frantically busy work schedule on hold to nurse her back to health. His silence after their two previous meetings had sent a pretty clear message about his interest in her—or lack thereof. Yet there he was, washing her dishes and wiping her countertops like it was the most normal thing in the world for him to be staying in her house and taking care of her.

Why, why, why?

Izzy wasn’t known for being reticent, but Cabot had grabbed her attention at her cousin’s wedding last summer, which had also been his daughter’s wedding, and then hurt her feelings when he’d gone silent after that event and then again following a subsequent dinner in the fall. While the question burned at the tip of her tongue, she couldn’t bring herself to ask him, and that wasn’t like her at all.

“Your mom sent brownies with Henry,” he said. “You want one?”

“A small one. I need to be able to fit through the doorways after I eat all this food my family is sending over.”

“You can afford a few brownies before we have to worry about the doorways,” Cabot said with the sweet smile that made his brown eyes sparkle.

His hair had turned silvery gray early, but that only made him more handsome to her. From the first time she’d met him at Wade and Mia’s wedding, she’d been intrigued by him. The story of how his long-lost daughter had come back into his life twenty-five years after her mother had taken off with her had touched Izzy—and everyone else, for that matter—deeply.

Cabot had been an emotional basket case the day of his daughter’s wedding in Boston, which had only endeared him more to Izzy. They’d had a marvelous day dancing and celebrating the marriage of two people who truly deserved the best of everything.

And then… Nothing.

If she was being honest—and what was the point of lying to yourself?—Izzy would say she was surprised she hadn’t heard from Cabot after the wedding. She wasn’t used to men showing interest in her and then ghosting her, especially a man like Cabot, who didn’t seem the type to lead someone on and then disappear.

Not that he’d led her on, per se, but they’d spent an entire day dancing and talking and connecting. At thirty-five, Izzy had been around the block enough times to know that truly connecting with another human being didn’t happen every day, and when it did, it usually led to something special.

Except, in this case, all it had led to was confusion that persisted even as he bustled around her home like he lived there, which he apparently did for the time being. And why was that, exactly?

Her thoughts were officially spinning in circles as she shifted her broken left arm on the pillow it was propped on, looking for a more comfortable position. The movement caused the incision in her abdomen to pull, making her wince. Being injured like this sucked so bad, it wasn’t even funny.

Cabot brought a plate of brownies and a steaming mug of the lemon tea she loved when he came to sit with her on the sofa, moving carefully so as not to jar her.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Did you have a nice visit with Henry?”

“I did.”

“The two of you were very cute when I came out of the office, and his head was resting on your leg as you ran your fingers through his hair.”

“He’s my baby brother and needed advice about a woman named Sierra who he might be in love with, except she doesn’t want him to be in love with her. Not yet, anyway.”

“Ah, a conundrum to be certain. What’s he going to do?”

“He was heading back to Boston to try to figure that out. I’ve never seen him so forlorn over a girl before. Or I should say a woman. It’s hard to believe he’s all grown up.”

“It’s sweet the way they all come to you for advice.”

“They always have.” Sarah, the youngest of the eight Colemans, had been by to see her in the hospital before she headed back to school at Northeastern, where she was in the fourth year of a five-year nursing program and wasn’t sure she still wanted to be a nurse. That was a situation Izzy planned to keep tabs on in the weeks to come.

“My mom had a lot on her plate taking care of all of us after my dad left. I sort of stepped into the role of counselor-in-chief to the younger ones, and it’s a title I’ve retained as they became adults.”

Ally was working way too much and had no life otherwise. Vanessa was at loose ends after leaving her job. Jackson continued to play the field while bartending and wasn’t in any apparent rush to grow up. And Henry had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. Despite the three-hour drive between her and her siblings in Boston, Izzy stayed in close touch with them and wasn’t at all surprised that they’d come running home when they heard about her accident.

“They’re lucky to have you.”

“I love them very much.” Izzy eyed him over the mug of tea. “What’re you doing here?” The question popped out of her mouth before she took even so much as a second to ponder whether she should come right out and ask it.

His brows lifted in surprise. “Uh, I believe I’m helping to keep you out of rehab.”

“I have a mother, seven siblings, ten first cousins, an aunt and uncle and a grandfather—all of whom would’ve moved in to stay with me.”

“Oh, well, if you’d rather have one of them, I’d certainly understand. I can go—”

“Cabot! I’d rather have you, but what I don’t understand is why you’re doing all this when you didn’t call me after the wedding or after we had dinner in Boston. I really thought you’d call me both times, and when you didn’t… I was very disappointed.” She’d waited days, during which family members had often been around, to have the chance to say those words.

“I’m sorry. I wanted to call you. Both times.” He released a huff of laughter. “You have no idea how much I wanted to call you.”

“Why didn’t you?”

He looked down at his mug full of the black coffee he drank throughout the day. That was something she’d learned about him since they’d come home from the hospital. “You see, the thing is… I’m not relationship material, and you… You deserve to be with someone who can give you all the things you deserve. That’s not me.”

If possible, Izzy was more confused now than she was before. Pre-accident Izzy might’ve let it go and chalked it up to two people who were on different wavelengths. Post-accident Izzy, who was giving thanks for having survived an accident that probably should’ve killed her, wasn’t willing to let it go that easily. “I don’t know what that means.”

He was quiet for so long that she began to wonder if he was going to say anything else. “I, uh… The last relationship I was in was with my wife.”

Izzy did some fast math in her head. Mia was twenty-seven and had been missing for twenty-five years… “Seriously?

“Yep. She did a real number on me, as you can imagine.”

“So there hasn’t been anyone since then?”

He shook his head.

“At all?”

“Here and there, you know… Encounters. One-night stands. Surface stuff, which was how I wanted it.”

“Oh.” She had no idea what to say to that. He hadn’t been serious with anyone… “How old are you?” She’d never gotten around to asking him that question before now, but knew he was at least a decade older than her.

“Forty-eight. I had Mia when I was twenty-one, probably too young to be having kids, but I loved her mother and thought we were happy together. When she left me and took Mia with her… There is no way for me to properly articulate the horror of that. She took my child. I was a young father, but I was very hands-on with her. I got up with her every morning, changed her and fed her and played with her. I took her on long walks in the woods and built snowmen for her. I adored her with all my heart, but the marriage wasn’t working out. My wife was very unhappy. We fought all the time, until she finally said she wanted a divorce.”

Izzy had heard bits and pieces of the story from Wade and Mia, but hearing Cabot’s side of it was like hearing it for the first time.

“I was young and stupid and went directly to the law firm that had handled my family’s legal business for decades. They played hardball with her, which was a mistake. I see that now, but at the time, I just wanted out of the marriage and to gain custody of my daughter. She couldn’t afford a lawyer, so I’m sure it seemed to her that I was steamrolling her. Which was why she ran. She took off with Mia, and I never saw either of them again until I got the call that Mia wanted to see me.”

“I can’t imagine what that was like for you when it first happened.”

“I’ve never felt that kind of desperation, before or since. At first, I assumed they’d come back. That Deb would come to her senses and do the right thing, but she never did. They disappeared off the face of the earth. I spent a small fortune trying to find them, but we never had so much as a single lead that panned out.”

“I’m so sorry that was done to you, Cabot.”

“Thanks, but with hindsight, I can see how I played it all wrong by engaging hardball lawyers. But that didn’t give her the right to do what she did.”

“It certainly doesn’t.”

“You want to know the best part?”

Izzy nodded.

“In order to see my daughter, I had to agree to drop the kidnapping charges against her mother.”

“Oh God, I don’t know if I could’ve done that.”

“If you wanted to see your child as badly as I wanted to see mine, you would’ve done anything.” He cleared his throat and seemed to be battling intense emotion. “The last time I saw Mia, she was two, and the next time I saw her, she was a grown woman with a new husband. It was surreal.”

“It’s so very, very unfair.”

“That, too,” he said with a small smile. “What Deb did to me… She broke me on the inside, Izzy. That’s why there hasn’t been anyone else. Because I’m broken. I have issues trusting people who aren’t my immediate family. I’m constantly anticipating disaster. I’d never want to have more children over the fear of something like this happening again. What woman in her right mind would want to hitch her horse to my wagon?”

“I would.” Again, the words were said before she took so much as a second to consider them. She placed her hand on top of his. “I would hitch my horse to your wagon any day, Cabot Lodge.”

He turned his hand up to clasp hers. “You’re a beautiful, sweet, sexy, smart, talented woman, Izzy. You could have anyone you wanted. A broken-down wreck of a man is the last thing you need, and that’s why I didn’t call you after two magical days with you.”

Magical. That’s how she would’ve described both encounters as well. She could work with that.

“You’re not a broken-down wreck of a man, Cabot.”

“I am.”

“You’re not. Want to know what I see when I look at you?”

He shrugged.

“I see a man who had a terrible thing happen to him, but who still has a great capacity to love. I saw that the day of your daughter’s wedding when you were in tears for most of it because you were so damned happy. I really, really liked that guy, and I want to spend more time with him.”

“He made a one-day appearance for the wedding. Most of the time, he’s angry and bitter and plots ways to get revenge on the ex-wife who wronged him so terribly. On the outside, he projects light and love and forgiveness, but on the inside, his thoughts are dark and spiteful.”

“Those things make him human,” Izzy said. “Anyone would feel that way after what was done to you.”

“I just don’t think it would be fair to bring you or anyone else into my life, knowing what I’m really like. I don’t have anything to give you.”

“And yet, here you are, waiting on me hand and foot.”

“That’s no big deal.”

“It is to me. You’ve put your busy life on hold to take care of me, and again, I have to ask why. Why are you here, Cabot, if you don’t have anything to give me?”

“I’m here because after I heard you were hurt, I couldn’t stay away.”

“What does that mean?”

“I have no idea.”

“You know what I think?” Izzy asked, smiling.

“What’s that?”

“I think you might be ready to try again with someone else, or you wouldn’t be sitting on my sofa, walking me to the bathroom, helping me with that impossible jigsaw puzzle or tucking me into bed every night.”

“We’re friends. That’s what friends do for each other.”

Izzy shook her head. “I have a lot of friends—good, close friends. I have more siblings and cousins than I know what to do with. But you’re the only one who insisted on caring for me at home.”

“I wasn’t ready to leave you yet.”

“What does that mean?”

“Just what I said. I was so happy to see you after hearing you’d been badly hurt that I didn’t want to leave yet.”

“You were in New Jersey on business when you heard I was hurt.”

“Yes.”

“I assume it was important business.”

“It’s a deal we’ve been working on for two years.”

“And yet, when you heard I was hurt, you dropped what you were doing there, rented a car and drove to Vermont to be with me. Is that right?”

“Yes,” he said, looking away. “That’s how it happened.”

“Did you take two seconds to ask yourself why it was so urgent that you get to me in the hospital?”

“I didn’t. I just needed to get there.”

“Which goes back to my original question. Why, Cabot?”

“I don’t know. I just needed to get to you.”

Izzy gave him a satisfied smile. “Well, now we’re getting somewhere.”

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

~ Calvin Coolidge

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