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Second chances show up when you’re not looking for them…

Cindy Lawry needs a new roommate now that her sister Julia has moved in with her fiancé, Deacon. When she can’t find anyone, she puts up a flyer in the window of the Curl Up & Dye salon where she works as a hair stylist and at other places around town. With the summer season ending, she can’t afford to live alone, and she doesn’t want to move in with her mom and her new husband. So the roommate search is on, but she’s not getting many inquiries. After growing up in an abusive household, she’s anxious about letting a stranger into her home and her life.

Jace Carson needs to find a new place to live. The employee housing at the Beachcomer is right out of Animal House, and he’s way past the point in life where living like that is fun. All he wants is a quiet place to be in between working as a bartender at the Beachcomber and visits with his young sons, who live on the island. When he sends a text to the number a friend gave him, he doesn’t expect the recipient to be Cindy, the woman he’s been flirting with for weeks at the Beachcomber bar. She comes in and orders water because she suffers from migraines and apologizes for taking up a seat at his bar. He loves having her and her sweet smile at his bar, but he’s not sure that living with her would be such a good idea, especially since all he thinks about every time he sees her is how much he’d like to kiss her.

It’s autumn on Gansett Island, and the residents are settling in for another long winter of cold days and cozy nights. Celebrate the 25th book in the Gansett Island Series, and catch up with some of your favorite characters from past books while Cindy and Jace struggle to overcome demons from the past that threaten their chance at happily ever after.

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Resilience After Dark

(Gansett Island Series, Book 25)

 

Chapter 1

Gansett Island residents counted down to Labor Day for weeks, during the frenetic last rush of tourists before the island shut down for the long winter. Jace Carson had loved being there during the season, had enjoyed his bartending job at the Beachcomber and was concerned about making enough money to survive the off-season.

His first order of business, after his daily AA meeting, would be to start looking for a place to live, since the Beachcomber housing was only available to summer employees. He was more than ready to get out of there, after enduring weeks of the crazy partying that went on with the summer employees, many of whom had already headed back to college. The only good thing about the housing was that it had been free.

He’d been counting down to today for another reason. A few weeks ago, he’d told Nina, the AA facilitator, that he’d have something to say by Labor Day. As she glanced his way now, he knew it was time for him to step up for the group the way they had for him since he first joined them in July.

Jace had gotten to know several of the regulars, including Dr. Quinn James, his wife Mallory James, the fire chief, Mason Johns, and Jeff Lawry through the stories they’d told about their addiction struggles and how they’d overcome them to lead a sober life. He appreciated everyone in the group who’d talked through challenges and supported each other throughout the busy season.

Now it was his turn. Telling his story would never come easily to him, but he’d been in the program long enough now to know that sharing the tough stuff was critical to maintaining his recovery and supporting the others.

“I, ah, want to thank you all for welcoming me into your group this summer and for all the wisdom you’ve shared,” Jace said. “It’s made a difference for me as I became part of a new community.”

“We’ve enjoyed having you, Jace,” Nina said with the same warm smile she’d extended to him since his first meeting.

“Well, thank you again. I came here to Gansett because my boys live here. Some of you may know them, Jackson and Kyle. They’re being raised by Seamus and Carolina O’Grady.”

Mallory gasped.

“Don’t worry,” Jace said. “Seamus and Carolina know I’m here and have been generous about allowing me to spend time with the boys, although, the boys don’t know I’m their biological father. Not yet, anyway. We thought it best to hold that back for now until they’re a little older and able to understand things that are too big for them after losing their mom so recently.”

“She was a lovely person,” Mallory said.

“Yes, she was, and she deserved way better than what she got from me.” Overwhelmed by memories of the only woman he’d ever loved, Jace took a moment to get his thoughts together. “I can’t remember when exactly it was that I started messing around with heroin and meth. I think it was probably middle school. My older brother ran with a crowd that was into everything we were told to avoid, and I thought I was so lucky that he would take me with him. Our parents encouraged it. They thought it was great that we were growing up as close brothers, but we were drug addicts and criminals.

“You couldn’t tell us that, though. In our minds, we were just having fun, doing what kids do. Except, over time, we needed much more than we could afford. That’s when we started stealing from our parents, grandparents, friends, strangers. We did whatever we had to do to support our habit.

“I met Lisa when I was eighteen and already a full-blown junkie. But she didn’t know that. I’d gotten very good at hiding it from everyone. Even our parents had no clue what we were really doing. We got married young, had the boys one right after the other, and my struggle intensified when I had three more people depending on me.”

Jace’s heart beat so fast, he worried it might burst. The anxiety was familiar to him, though, as it happened whenever he revisited things he’d much rather forget. “My brother got the big idea to rob a convenience store. He promised me it would be just once, and then we’d have what we needed to get by for a year. I tried to talk him out of it, but he was determined. One big score, he said, and then we’ll be golden. He was going to do it with or without me, so I decided to go with him to try to keep him out of trouble.”

Jace ran his hand through his hair repeatedly, until he realized he was doing it and stopped, folding his shaky hands between his knees. “The owner of the store figured us out before Jess had the chance to use the gun that I didn’t even know he had. The owner pulled one on us. Told us to get the fuck out of there before someone got hurt. But Jess… He was desperate for the money and the score. When I saw he had a gun, I was stunned, but still tried to stop him. He tossed me aside and aimed the gun at the guy. The store owner shot him in the chest.”

Jace took a shaky deep breath and released it slowly, clinging to his composure. “I’ll never forget the sound he made when the bullet hit him or how hard he landed on the floor. I think he probably died instantly, but I was so shocked that I stayed with him, screaming at him not to die, not to leave me. I was still there when the cops came. They called the coroner for him and took me to jail. I was convicted of armed robbery, sentenced to ten years and released on probation after six. By then, my wife and kids were long gone, and no one knew where they were. I heard from Lisa once—when I was served with divorce and custody papers. I worked hard on myself in prison. I attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings, took college classes, learned a trade. If you ever need a plumber, give me a call.”

A ripple of laughter went through the group.

“When I got out six months ago and finally found my family, it was too late. Lisa had died of lung cancer, and the boys were happily settled with people who truly love them. I lost everything to my addiction—the woman I loved, the sons I adored, my reputation. I’ll always be a convicted felon and have to live with the memories of the day my brother was killed right in front of me. I’m focused now on rebuilding my life. I wanted so badly to see my kids, but it was important to me not to disrupt their lives any more than I already had, even if they don’t remember the really bad stuff.”

The emotional wallop that came with recalling everything he’d lost was familiar by now. His throat tightened around a lump that brought tears to his eyes. “They’re such great little guys, so cute and funny and smart. Lisa did an amazing job with them. Seamus and Carolina have been so good to them, and I’m grateful that they have a nice, normal life. They deserve that. I hate that Lisa died before I could tell her… Before I could say how sorry I was for putting her through hell and forcing her to make a new life for herself and the boys without me. I hate that she suffered with her illness and that I wasn’t there to take care of her and our kids. I should’ve been there.”

He wiped tears from his face. “I’ll never forgive myself for what I put her through. Ever. And that she died without knowing how much I loved her…” Jace shook his head. “I’ll never forgive myself for that either.” After a pause, he said, “I’ve learned in the program that we can’t change the past. We can only focus on today and tomorrow and trying to do the best we can with the time we have left, to make amends to the people we hurt. I hope that wherever Lisa is now, she knows how sorry I am for what I did.

“I’ve tried to repair my relationship with my parents and sister, but they’re reluctant to let me back into their lives, which I certainly understand. They lost both their sons and brothers in one dreadful night. I don’t blame them for being cautious toward me. We talk on the phone occasionally, but they haven’t been willing to see me. Not yet, anyway. I hope maybe someday they will. In the meantime, I plan to stick around here so I can at least be close to my kids and see them once in a while. My next challenge is to find a year-round place to live on the island, so if you hear of anything, let me know. Other than that, one day at a time, right?”

“Thank you for sharing your story, Jace,” Nina said. “You’re doing all the right things to tend to your sobriety and make amends. We all make mistakes we regret, often terrible, awful mistakes. I hope you’ll also find the grace to forgive yourself at some point.”

Jace didn’t see that happening anytime soon, but he nodded in acknowledgment.

After the meeting, the regulars came up to hug him and thank him for sharing.

Mallory and Quinn invited him out for coffee, but he asked for a raincheck.

After telling his story, he needed to move. If he sat still, the emotional storm might drag him so low, he wouldn’t resurface for days. He didn’t have that luxury. He needed to work.

Mallory handed him her card. “If you need to talk later, call me. Anytime, day or night.”

“Thank you,” Jace said, appreciative of her kindness.

He left the meeting and returned to his room at the Beachcomber to change into running clothes. Two laps around the island’s perimeter road was just over six miles that he ran at a punishing pace. Exercise had been his salvation in prison, where he’d run on the treadmill and lifted weights every chance he got. The freedom to run outdoors… That was something he’d never again take for granted.

As always, the physical exertion helped to center him. He found it ironic that he’d never been in better shape in his life than he’d been in prison. It took having his whole life taken from him to figure out what mattered and to regain his health. He’d lost things he could never get back, though… His wife and sons, his only brother, his parents, sister, niece and nephew.

Nina had encouraged him to forgive himself, but some things… Some things were simply unforgiveable.

 

Cindy Lawry was up early printing flyers to hang at the salon, the diner, the ferry landing and grocery store, all the places people on the island were most likely to see her appeal for a new roommate. Her sister Julia was officially moving out at the end of the month, not that she’d ever really lived in the tiny house they’d shared. She was madly in love with Deacon Taylor and was basically living with him at his place while still paying her half of the rent to Cindy.

It was foolish, Cindy had told her sister, to waste her money paying for a place she didn’t use, so she’d officially “kicked Julia out” as of September first. But with the season ending and business at the Curl Up and Dye salon slowing, Cindy needed a roommate ASAP.

Before work, she hung as many flyers as she could, thanking the shop owners for letting her post them and asking them to talk up the year-round room for rent. They were hard to come by on the island, so she was confident it would go quickly. However, she wasn’t going to settle for just anyone. It had to be a good fit. After growing up in a house with an abusive father, Cindy was all about peace and tranquility in her adult life.

Cindy had been hired to cut hair at Chloe Dennis’s salon after Chloe was asked to spearhead the new spa at the McCarthys’ hotel in North Harbor. Chloe suffered from rheumatoid arthritis that had impacted her hands, so she had said the job at the salon was Cindy’s for as long as she wanted it. With a thousand year-round residents on the island and no other haircut joint in town, Chloe had assured her she’d make enough to get through the winter after the tourists left.

She put the last flyer on the door to the salon and then flipped the sign from Closed to Open. Her first appointment of the day was a cut and color for Mallory James, the nurse practitioner who’d married Dr. Quinn James in August. They were the medical directors at the Marion Martinez Senior Care Facility.

Mallory came in bearing coffee and a corn muffin for Cindy.

“You’re too sweet. Thank you. I’ll enjoy that during my break.”

“Rebecca’s corn muffins are the best.” Mallory put her coffee on the counter and backtracked to take a photo of Cindy’s flyer on the door. “I have a friend who’s looking. Are you accepting men?”

“As long as they aren’t creepy, I’m fine.”

“He’s a good guy. I think he’d be a nice roommate.”

“Thanks for passing it along. I hope I can find someone soon. Julia has already moved out, but she’s hoping someone will move in right away and reimburse this month’s rent, which she insisted on paying so I wouldn’t be caught short. She wants to buy a car.”

“I’ll see him in the morning and will give him the info. Is it okay for him to text you to set up a time to see it?”

“Sure. That works.”

They got down to business with color to cover the few gray hairs Mallory had noticed, followed by a cut and blow dry of her dark hair.

“So how was the honeymoon?” Cindy asked as she cut two inches off the length and added some layers to the front.

“It was amazing. Neither of us had ever been to Ireland, and we loved every minute of it.”

“That’s on my bucket list, along with a hundred other places.” The Lawry family had moved frequently when her dad was on active duty, but none of the places they’d lived had been particularly interesting.

“I hope you get to go. It’s magical.”

“And your brother’s wife going into labor during the wedding. You McCarthys don’t do anything the easy way.”

“I know, right?” Mallory said with a laugh. “I wasn’t expecting the Life Flight helicopter to come to my wedding or for Maddie to have the babies on the chopper, but thankfully, the girls and Maddie are doing great, and Mac is adjusting to being a father of five.”

“Five kids,” Cindy said. “That’s a lot.”

“I know.”

“My mom had seven with a husband who deployed. How’d she do that?” Not that her father had been much help to anyone when he was home. They all preferred the deployments that had gotten less frequent as he rose through the ranks.

“Mothers are superheroes. Maddie sure is. She handles everything with good humor and sarcasm that makes me laugh. They’re blessed to have a wonderful nanny helping during Mac’s busy season, which makes such a big difference.”

“Will the nanny stay on in the off-season?”

“She promised Maddie she’d stay until the twins’ first birthday.”

“And how’s Abby doing?” Abby was married to Mallory’s brother Adam McCarthy.

“As well as can be expected with four babies onboard.”

Four. How does that even work, anyway?”

Mallory laughed. “You wouldn’t think it was possible, but it is. I expect her to be seriously uncomfortable in the last trimester.

“I can’t imagine that. They had to be so shocked to get that news.”

“They were, especially because she was told she had almost no chance of conceiving.”

“I had a friend in Texas with PCOS like Abby has, and it was miserable. She’s still hoping to get pregnant.” Polycystic ovary syndrome had caused fertility challenges for Abby.

“That’s so rough. Abby is trying to count her blessings while coping with the shock of it all. Considering her struggles, it’s hard to see this pregnancy as anything other than a miracle.”

“If you’re us, that is. For her, not so miraculous right now.”

“No,” Mallory said, smiling. “But it will be after the babies arrive.”

“Is everyone asking you when you’re going to have one since the wedding?”

“We’re old!” Mallory said with a snort, her dark eyes dancing with laughter. “I think that ship has sailed for us.”

“You’re not old!”

“We’re both forty-one.”

“Forty is the new thirty.”

“Tell that to my moldy old eggs as you’re coloring my gray hairs.”

Cindy laughed. “Stop that. You’re not old.”

“I guess we’ll see what happens. We’re not doing anything to stop it, so if it’s meant to be, it’ll be.”

“That’s very exciting. I’m so happy for you that everything worked out so well for you guys.”

“Thank you. We both had a lot of hard times before we got to the good stuff, but I guess all that makes what we have now that much sweeter.”

“I’m sure it does.”

“What about you? Have you met anyone on Gansett who interests you?”

Cindy thought immediately of the sexy bartender at the Beachcomber who’d become one of her closest friends on the island, as she sat one night at a time at his bar. “There’s this one guy…”

“Do tell!”

“He’s very nice, sexy as all hell and funny, too.”

“Sounds like the perfect man.”

Cindy shrugged. “Maybe.”

“What’s the hang-up?”

“I’m not sure.  We see each other just about every day.” Mostly because she couldn’t seem to work up the willpower to stay away from his bar. What did it say about her that she was sad to know she wouldn’t see him on his nights off? “Lots of subtle flirting and stuff like that, and I’m pretty sure he likes me, too, but it never goes beyond that.”

“Hmm. You could invite him to do something.”

“I could, but I guess I was sort of hoping he might be the one to ask.”

“We’re women of the new millennium, Cindy. It’s okay for us to do the asking.”

Cindy was aware that her outdated expectations came straight from her asshole father, who’d told his daughters never to be “forward” with men lest they be branded sluts. And yes, he’d used that word. She shook off that unpleasant memory to keep her focus on Mallory as she inspected her dry hair for uneven edges. Satisfied, she grabbed her hand mirror to show Mallory the back. “Everything look okay?”

“It looks great, as always. Thank you so much.”

Cindy removed the cape that had protected Mallory’s clothing. “My pleasure. Nice to see you, and thanks again for the muffin.”

Mallory gave her a quick hug. “You, too, and you’re welcome. Ask that man out. The worst that can happen is he says no—and I doubt he will.”

“I hear you.”

After Mallory had paid and set up her next appointment, Cindy waved her off, while thinking about what Mallory had said. If Cindy asked Jace out and he said no, that’d make everything between them so awkward, she might feel that she couldn’t hang out at the Beachcomber anymore. Since that had become her favorite part of the day, she’d hate to risk messing that up.

But the more time she spent with him, the more time she wanted to spend with him.

If only she knew if he felt the same way about her.

Ugh, this was like high school all over again—and that was bad enough the first time around. The last thing she needed was to mess up a nice friendship. If she’d learned anything in her life, it was to leave well enough alone.

 

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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