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Always On His Mind (Man From Yesterday 2)
 

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Always On His Mind (Man From Yesterday 2)


  Table of Contents

  Always on His Mind

  Licensing Rights

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Epilogue

  Coming Home to You

  Other Books by Barbara Lohr

  Acknowledgements

  About the Author

  Always on His Mind

  Copyright © 2016 Barbara Lohr

  All rights reserved.

  ebook ISBN: 978-0-9908642-8-8

  print ISBN: 978-0-9908642-9-5

  Purple Egret Press

  Savannah, Georgia 31411

  Cover Art: The Killion Group

  Editor: The Editing Hall

  Licensing Rights

  All Rights Reserved. This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be resold or given away to other people. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems. With the exception of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews, this work may not be reproduced without written permission granted by the author

  This book is a work of fiction. The characters, events and places in the book are products of the author’s imagination and are either fictitious or used fictitiously. Any similarity of real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Dedication

  for

  Ted

  Chapter 1

  Mercedes missed Manhattan. Missed the fast pace and crazy excitement like she missed the Prada sunglasses she’d left on the subway. Sometimes she still felt those phantom glasses pushed up on her forehead. Now home in Gull Harbor, the pulse of New York City echoed inside her. Pulling into a parking spot along Whittaker Street, she strained to hear blaring car horns, smell a pork taco or rub dirt particles from her eyes after a bus wheezed past.

  How pathetic. She even missed the annoying parts.

  When she stepped out into the searing August sunshine, a Lake Michigan breeze ruffled her hair with the rich beachy smell. This street held a lot of memories. If she closed her eyes, she’d be homecoming queen again, waving to the cheering crowd from the white Olds convertible. Today her ears rang with the silence. Mercedes Kennedy had fallen in the crack between the past and the future.

  No career. No luxurious condo. Nothing.

  Well, except for Stephan but he was still in New York.

  Smoothing back her rebellious blonde bob, Mercedes studied Michiana Thyme. The former gift shop now housed the town’s PR department, with her sister Kate in charge. In the back of the green frame building sat an attached restaurant. A smile teased Mercedes’ lips when she remembered camping out in that cafe with her girlfriends on lazy Saturday afternoons. They’d sip root beer floats, giggle and trade lipsticks until Loretta, the owner, shooed them out. After all, they were townies taking up valuable tourist space.

  It felt strange to see the empty windows without mannequins or sale signs. A curious choice for the public relations office. But Kate’s fiancé, Cole Campbell, was handling the renovation and repurposing of the shop.

  The day was heating up, and Mercedes unbuttoned her black Donna Karan jacket. Even though this was just her sister, she’d dressed for a business call. Head down, she hitched up her Hermes shoulder bag and headed to The Full Cup across the street. In Manhattan, no one arrived for a cold call empty-handed. Kate’s friend Sarah now ran her parents’ coffee shop and bakery. She’d know what Kate liked.

  The bell over the door jingled when Mercedes opened it and she tensed. Being unemployed had made her short-tempered, even though she’d been getting a disgusting amount of sleep since arriving in Gull Harbor last week. The past year had chewed her up and spit her out, not that she’d admit it. Mercedes smiled as a young family with two little kids brushed past. Their summer shorts and tank tops made her Donna Karan separates feel out of place. The mother couldn’t have been much older than Mercedes, and they exchanged a smile.

  “Mercedes Kennedy, as I live and breathe.” Face flushed, Sarah smiled at her from behind the glass counter. “Kate told me you were coming home. Staying long?”

  “For a while. Nothing definite.” Mercedes basked in the unconditional approval Sarah always sprinkled with a giant sifter.

  “Aw, that’s so nice. Probably help with the wedding, right? Wasn’t that great news about Kate and Cole? Your mom must be so thrilled.”

  “Ecstatic is more like it. About the only thing I can remember is that Cole and my little sister were in the debate club together, right? It’s been ten years.” The details were fuzzy in Mercedes’ mind.

  “Made for each other.” Sarah’s face got all dreamy. “A perfect couple.”

  “I’m glad Kate’s happy. Mom is too.” Her voice softened. The Kennedy family had been short on happiness in recent years. And her own business failure? She hadn’t really gone into any detail with her mom and sister.

  The smell of sugar hung in the air like the Goodyear blimp. Mercedes could almost feel her thighs swell. But her sister loved this stuff. She motioned toward the display. “Do you know what Kate likes?”

  “Cheese crowns,” Sarah said without any hesitation.

  “Great. Could you give me a half dozen or so?” Did Kate have a staff in her office? Mercedes had never asked.

  “Coming right up.” Reaching behind her, Sarah swept up a waxed tissue. “So you’re headed across the street to visit your sister?”

  “Right, want to see what’s happening in that PR department.”

  “She must be so happy to have you home.” Sarah carefully chose six enormous pastries. The overhead lighting bounced off the thick glaze.

  “Truth is, Kate’s so busy. She hardly knows I’m here.”

  “Her big sister? Kate always adored you.” Sarah struggled with the flaps of the bulging box. “Gull Harbor really needed a marketer. Why, summer’s almost over and then comes a sharp drop in business. Can you believe it?”

  “No.” Fall was advancing on Mercedes like a client deadline.

  Only she didn’t have clients. Not anymore.

  “How’s your mom doing?” Finished, Sarah nudged the box across the counter.

  “Still recovering from the stroke but she seems happy.” The shiny box felt smooth and cool in her hands, uncomplicated like Gull Harbor. Her sister Kate had come home to recoup following that messy divorce. Maybe Mercedes was doing the same thing after her embarrassing bankruptcy.

  “Well the way things worked out, your mom needed her anyway. The stroke and everything.”

  “Right. Kate carried the ball when I couldn’t get back here last spring.”

  While Sarah rang up the sale, Mercedes studied the pictures of men in uniform taped on the register. A handsome guy in a Marine uniform was in several shots. “That your husband?”

  Sarah glowed. “Yeah, that’s Jamie. Remember him from high school?”

  She squinted at the picture. “Not really.”

  “Jamie was in our class but didn’t play varsity football until his junior year. You’d graduated by that time.”

  “Right
.” This trip home had become a Scrabble game in another language. For now, that felt fine. Mercedes wanted to keep to herself. No sense in having the whole town know their success story had failed.

  Failure. The thought turned her tongue tinny and she swallowed. Dropping her head, she checked her Rolex. What if Kate left for an early lunch? “Guess I should be off. Nice seeing you, Sarah.” In high school Sarah had been one of the girls who sprawled on their screen porch with Kate. Giggles would drift up to Mercedes’ window while she got ready for a date.

  “Say, maybe you’d want to join our book club?”

  “Don’t know how long I’ll be here.” Mercedes edged toward the door.

  “You’re always welcome. Kate has the schedule.”

  “Thanks, Sarah. I might have my hands full for a while.”

  “Sure...the wedding and everything.” Sarah squeezed her shoulders together. “Busy, busy.”

  “See you later. I’ll think about the book club.”

  Outside, the morning sun blinded her. No cars, so she could jaywalk without being mowed down by a crazed cabbie. She didn’t see the strip of tar in the street until her shoe was sucked into stubborn softness. Mercedes was stuck.

  “Oh, my Louboutins!” Six hundred dollars down the drain. And that wasn’t the only problem. One wrong step and she could break her ankle. Cissy Grantham ended up on crutches after snagging her heel in a grate on Fifth Avenue. Mercedes couldn’t afford to be laid up.

  That did it. She lurched out of the shoe.

  The road blistered the bottom of her foot while she struggled to keep her balance. When she threw her hands out, the box sailed through the air. The tearing sound of her kick pleat was the last straw.

  She would not cry. She just would not.

  Behind her, the doors of Rosie’s Breakfast Club burst open. Guys laughed, promising to “hit the links together.” To top it off, dogs yipped with excitement. She had to get out of here. If she could just reach that shoe.

  No luck. She couldn’t snag the shoe and her kick pleat tore higher. A breeze tickled the backs of her legs. Damn. She was blinking back frustrated tears when muscled arms closed around her and she fell onto a chest smelling of bacon and hash browns. Two small brown and white dogs barked at her heels. A wet tongue licked her leg.

  “Looks like you need some help, pretty lady.”

  She was unceremoniously swept up. The smiling grey eyes reminded Mercedes of her favorite winter jacket. “Th-Thank you.”

  “Don’t mention it. Shouldn’t jaywalk, you know.”

  The dogs wouldn’t quit.

  “Quiet, Elvis. Wiggy, no.” He gave them a stern look.

  “Elvis?”

  When he shrugged, she felt the ripple of a muscled chest. Blessed silence fell. “The crews don’t tar near the crossing so you’re safe there. Always cross at the light.” He sounded like a boy scout but looked like Super Man.

  “Why didn’t they just resurface the whole street?” She spread her fingers flat on his muscled chest.

  “No budget for it.” That smile could sell toothpaste. “Mercedes? Finn Wheeler. Remember me?”

  Heat shot up her cheeks. This was a man she should remember.

  “High school.” His arms cinched tighter. Like they had a right. “Chemistry class?”

  Her mind bounced back through the years like a beach ball. “Sure. Right. Finn.” Only the gawky teenager with that name had worn dark-rimmed glasses, framed by huge ears. He’d been skinny as a golf tee.

  Finn set her down, where she wobbled on one foot. Her whole world felt lopsided. The dog gave her another lick. “How’re you doing...Finn?”

  “Terrific, except an old friend is in trouble.”

  You have no idea. She sniffled.

  “I can take care of that.”

  Her heart stopped when he wrenched the shoe from the tar and handed it over. “Red soles, huh?”

  “Yes. Thank you.” She closed her fingers around the gooey mess.

  The dogs were nuzzling the pastries scattered on the ground. Finn snapped his fingers. “Sit.” They obeyed.

  Mercedes watched him tuck the cheese crowns into the box. She’d always had a thing about a man’s eyes and hands. They said it all. Was he kind? Callous? Finn knew how to treat a cheese crown with respect. Elvis and Wiggy panted but they stayed put.

  Mercedes wanted to pant too, but she was losing her balance and reached for his back. Very slowly Finn straightened, a steadying hand on her arm. “You need more help?”

  “I think I can stand on my own two feet.”

  “You always could, Mercedes.”

  “Right.” She planted her bare foot on the blazing hot street.

  “Where you headed?”

  Gritting her teeth, she pointed to Michiana Thyme.

  Handing her the box, Finn Wheeler swept her back into his arms. “Just a stone’s throw. Elvis, Wiggy? Come.” The dogs clicking along behind him, Finn marched down Whittaker Street. Mercedes hooked one arm around his broad shoulders, enjoying the view. At the stoplight, he pressed a button and she swallowed a chuckle while they waited. After all, not a car was in sight. When the light changed green, he took off toward Michiana Thyme. Kate would never believe this.

  “So, you in town for long, Mercedes?”

  “I don’t really know. Could you take me to the back door?”

  “No problem.” His strides lengthened. The dogs picked up their pace, little tails waving briskly.

  “So, you don’t believe in a leash for your dogs?”

  “No need. They obey me.” Finn grinned. “So, you don’t believe in stoplights?”

  Point taken. She’d forgotten the dry humor shot from the corner of his mouth. This was the boy who coached her through chemistry. Now Finn’s chest felt comforting, as if she hadn’t slept in months and he was a soft bed. Her head jerked up. But her wandering right hand crept back to his chest, tucked under the box so he wouldn’t see. Apparently he could feel. His eyes slid to hers with a naughty crinkle. A chill skittered down her spine.

  “When did you get back?”

  “Last week.” Since when did she have a breathy voice?

  The back door of the building stuck from layers of green paint. No problem for this boy. Finn rammed it open with a shoulder and took the four stairs in two lunges. The dogs kept pace.

  Did Finn have strong thighs that matched his chest and arms? Her mind wandered, and she squeezed her eyes shut. How ridiculous.

  After all, there was Stephan in New York.

  Not answering her calls.

  Her sister’s handwriting was scrawled across a sign taped to the door. “Gull Harbor Public Relations Office.”

  He pushed the door open. “Hey, Kate. Look what I found.” Elvis trotted in ahead of them as if he owned the place. Wiggy followed, sniffing as she went.

  The scent of crisp summer linens and body creams still lingered in the empty shop. Hangers hung haphazardly from rods along the walls. The PR department didn’t look ready for prime time but at least Kate had a job. That was saying something.

  Reaching to pet Elvis, Kate turned from a desk set among the old wooden counters that needed dusting. “What happened?”

  “Jaywalking.” Finn set Mercedes on her feet.

  “I got stuck in the tar.” Mercedes kicked off the shoe still in decent condition. Now she could stand, but her toes curled on the carpet that needed cleaning.

  Finn studied her feet. “All women should paint their toenails pink in the summer.”

  Kate’s laugh echoed in the empty room. If Mercedes had been uncomfortable before, now she was in full-fledged blush. Finn set the bakery box on Kate’s desk and the two dogs continued exploring.

  “Is this what I think it is?” Her sister inhaled as if she were breathing in hallowed incense.

  Mercedes plopped down in a chair that tilted under her. “Sarah says they’re your favorite. Cheese crowns. Probably six hundred calories per bite.”

  “You can help Kate with those,
right?” When Finn put a hand on Mercedes’ shoulder, a crazy tickle raced down her spine. “You could use a pound or two, pretty lady.”

  She bristled. Staying a size two required painful vigilance.

  “Funny you should run into Finn right now…” Kate began, glancing down at the wires snaking across the worn carpet.

  But he raised a hand and backed toward the door. “Elvis, Wiggy? Come. See you later, Kate. You too, Mercedes. Later.”

  Would there be a later? The man didn’t know she was a walking train wreck. “Thanks so much, Finn. You’re really very h–helpful.” Good grief, she’d almost said hot. Was Kate giggling?

  The door closed behind him. “What the heck was that?” Kate’s eyes circled between Mercedes and the door.

  “My knight in shining armor, right?”

  “Finn Wheeler is all of that, and he definitely seemed interested.” Her baby sister was laughing at her.

  “Don’t be silly.”

  She was relieved when Kate’s attention dropped to her feet. “Do you think nail polish remover will take care of that tar?”

  “My feet? Probably. The shoes? Not so sure.”

  “We’ll work on that in a minute.” Kate’s attention shifted to the box on her desk.

  “Sure. Just a half for me, okay?” She was starving.

  Grabbing a plastic spoon from her desk, Kate hacked at the pastry and handed her a chunk. “Mom will know what to do. Those shoes cost a bundle, right?”

  “Louboutins? Of course.” Mercedes bit in. Layers of sweetness dazzled her taste buds. She chewed slowly, managing to croak out, “I never knew these were so good.”

  “You bought six, huh?”

  “I thought your staff might want some.”

  She thought Kate mumbled, “What staff?” Hard to tell when her sister had so much in her mouth. “If you don’t slow down, I might have to give you the Heimlich, Kate.”

  “What? So we’re back in grade school?” Her sister’s tongue darted out to capture the last crumbs.

  Mercedes eyed the empty room. “You’re in this all alone?”

  “Gull Harbor isn’t that big.”

  “I know.” That was becoming clear. “I thought maybe you might need some help.”

 
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