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Change of Heart
 

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Change of Heart


  Table of Contents

  Excerpt

  Praise for Jennifer Moore

  Change of Heart

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Epilogue

  A word about the author…

  Thank you for purchasing this publication of The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

  Val clung to him,

  feeling utterly ridiculous, and at the same time completely content in his arms. “I’m sorry,” she said, once she trusted her voice.

  “The summer’s been good, hasn’t it?” Nathaniel laid his cheek on the top of her head and held her tighter. “I’ll miss this porch most of all.”

  “Me, too.” She pressed her face against his chest, a fresh wave of tears rushing into her eyes. She’d sat in this very place, unloading her darkest secrets, her greatest fears, been comforted and listened, and even… The memory of Nathaniel’s kiss was nearly more than she could take. Her heart felt like it was being squeezed, and she gasped for air. She took a step back, releasing her grip.

  “Val?”

  Swallowing against her tight throat, she raised her gaze to his.

  He lifted a wet strand of hair from her face, and his gaze dropped to her lips before returning to hers.

  If only she could look into those blue eyes every day, be held by him every time she cried, if only…

  “Daddy! Val!”

  The sound of Ruby’s voice broke Val’s blissful bubble. She must have gotten impatient and unbuckled her carseat.

  “We’re on the porch, Ruby.” Nathaniel’s gaze didn’t leave Val’s face.

  Val rubbed her fingers over her cheeks one more time before hurrying to meet Ruby. She glanced back and saw Nathaniel still watching her until she rounded the side of the house.

  Praise for Jennifer Moore

  “Caution: Reading this sweet romance of two people of different backgrounds strengthening each other’s weaknesses and appreciating their strengths will make you yearn for a beautiful beach house with a porch overlooking the ocean. CHANGE OF HEART left me smiling and happy. Another great book from Moore!”

  ~Amy Nelson

  ~*~

  “CHANGE OF HEART is a fantastic read, it grabs you right from the start.”

  ~Becky Smith

  ~*~

  “A heart-warming story about learning to accept help and love again, we all deserve a second chance! My heart caught hold of Val and Nathaniel, cheering them on silently as I followed their journey in Jennifer Moore’s beautiful tale CHANGE OF HEART.”

  ~Ashley Eddy

  Change of Heart

  by

  Jennifer Moore

  The Lobster Cove Series

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

  Change Of Heart

  COPYRIGHT © 2016 by Jennifer Moore

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

  Contact Information: [email protected]

  Cover Art by Tina Lynn Stout

  The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

  PO Box 708

  Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708

  Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com

  Publishing History

  First Sweetheart Rose Edition, 2016

  Print ISBN 978-1-5092-0665-0

  Digital ISBN 978-1-5092-0666-7

  The Lobster Cove Series

  Published in the United States of America

  Dedication

  For my sister Allison

  And all single parents everywhere.

  Yours is the toughest job in the world,

  and you do it splendidly.

  Chapter One

  Nathaniel ignored the buzzing in his pocket and gazed across the park where the morning sun shimmered on the waves in the harbor. He inhaled a deep breath of fresh sea air but let it out in a huff of irritation as his phone vibrated again. This vacation had seemed like such a good idea when he’d rented the cottage for the summer in Lobster Cove, Maine, but if his office didn’t stop bothering him, this trip wouldn’t be a vacation at all. He needed a change of scenery. They all did.

  He finished the last sip of his coffee and threw the paper cup in the trash. He rubbed his thumb over the callous where his wedding ring had been, and the familiar guilt twisted in his stomach. Guilt that he didn’t feel devastated every time he thought of Clara, guilt that what had begun as a fairy tale had become anything but. He shook off the thoughts and turned his attention to his two children, Ruby Sophia and Finn Charles, playing near the gazebo in the park by the post office.

  Ruby threw bits of her muffin to the seagulls, watching as they edged their way close to snatch the pieces.

  Her brother ran through the flock of birds, scattering them in a flurry of feathers and squawking. Just the thing a three year old would find entertaining.

  Nathaniel’s chest filled with warmth as he watched them. All the fighting with Clara, the tension, growing apart, and bitterness, he would do it over in a heartbeat because of the two beautiful children the marriage had produced. He never would have imagined he could love two people as much as he loved Ruby and Finn. The twist of guilt returned—tighter this time. He should have felt the same sentiments for his wife. Should feel empty at her loss. His phone buzzed again and this time, he answered. The marriage counselor had told him that any time his emotions became too complex to handle, he buried himself in work. She was right.

  “Cavanaugh here.”

  “Sorry to bother you, Mr. Cavanaugh, but Mr. Knox insisted you be part of the call with Mr. Pennington.” The paralegal’s voice squeaked.

  It should. The whiny kid had bothered Nathaniel at least five times a day since his vacation began last week. He gritted his teeth. He didn’t have the patience for this. When he got back to Boston, he would address this issue with the new staff member. “Patch me in.” Nathaniel stood at the edge of the park near the post office where tourists waited for the trolley. He figured it must be getting close because the group was growing.

  The idea of a trolley ride and a visit to Martin Lighthouse thrilled Ruby and Finn.

  And Nathaniel was determined not to let work keep him from spending a long overdue day sight-seeing with his kids.

  As he listened to the conference call and made the occasional comment, he studied the people that gathered: retired couples sporting golf visors and shopping bags, families that talked excitedly and took pictures, sunburned teenagers poking at smart phones.

  He wondered how many of them were just going through the motions. When his family had been together, Nathaniel had felt as if they were always pretending. In ten years, would his children be distant and annoyed with him? Ruby wasn’t far from that attitude now. He’d hoped this vacation would change all of that. They’d reconnect and start to move past their mother’s death. A fresh start. A change of scenery. After all, Clara’s death had been nearly nine months ago.

  A young woman caught his eye as she walked unsteadily across First Street in high stilettos that she was clearly unused to wearing.

  Nathaniel tried not to stare, but found it virtually impossible. Everything about he
r was extreme. Her fingernails and lips were the brightest shade he’d seen on anyone, and her purse—was it made of pink fur? Her skirt was too tight, her hair too big, her blouse too low, her curves too—

  Nathaniel reined in his thoughts, realizing he hadn’t been paying attention to his partner and their client. He muttered something into the phone to indicate he still listened and scanned the park, locating Ruby and Finn near the gazebo.

  The young woman sat on a bench in the shade of the Captain’s Library and kicked off her shoes, bending and flexing her toes.

  Though he stood at least twenty feet away, he could see dark red blisters forming. Why did women insist upon wearing shoes that hurt their feet?

  Even among the tourists who didn’t dress in the conservative New England style, the woman stood out. She tugged on her skirt, as if she was uncomfortable, and kept checking her pink, rhinestone-encrusted watch, looking as nervous as a defendant during sentencing. He wondered if she was meeting someone. The sound of his name brought his thoughts back to the conversation. He made a flimsy excuse about his wireless connection as his mind scrambled to come up with something to say to reassure his client that he had matters well in hand. Even though he didn’t.

  Nathaniel wondered again why he thought he could leave Boston for the summer and work remotely from the little office in the vacation cottage. He rested his hand in the crook of his elbow, pressing his arm tight against his chest and shifted from one foot to the other. His stress level rose.

  Finn ran past, squealing as seagulls flapped frantically to get out of his way.

  As she watched him, the woman on the bench smiled.

  Nathaniel had to admit she had a lovely smile, and if her face wasn’t covered in an entire rainbow of make-up, she would be quite attractive. The thought surprised him. He’d definitely been alone too long.

  After a moment, she checked her tacky glittering watch again and slipped her feet back into her shoes, wincing as she stood. She brushed her hands over the back of her skirt and shouldered her furry purse. She started walking then hesitated, changing her path slightly to step off the curb.

  Nathaniel figured she must have decided to cross the street since the crowd waiting for the trolley blocked the sidewalk.

  The group shifted. The trolley must be approaching.

  Nathaniel looked around to gather his children. He called and waved to Ruby who joined him right away. Where was Finn?

  Birds screeched. Nathaniel snapped his gaze in their direction just as Finn jumped off the curb and chased the squawking seagulls into the street. Pain compressed his gut, and Nathaniel choked on his breath. Finn was directly in the path of the trolley!

  ****

  Val looked up the street toward The Venus Gallery, feeling a rush of nerves. As she clicked-clacked across the road, she again cursed her choice of shoes. Her feet were killing her. She glanced down at her watch—even though she’d checked the time just a few seconds earlier. She was five minutes early for her job interview. Perfect timing. She wanted to appear prompt and reliable, but not desperate. A flock of birds flapped past in a rush startling her, and Val glanced back, hearing the ringing of the trolley bell.

  The dark-haired boy she’d watched in the park jumped off the curb behind her and ran after them. At the rate the trolley was moving, there was no way the boy would avoid getting hit.

  Val felt her muscles tingle as panic shot through them. People in the crowd screamed and pointed, but Val was the only one close enough to do anything. She whirled, dropped her purse, and pulled up her tight skirt a few inches, darting in front of the trolley. Her heel caught in the tracks, and she stumbled. She lifted the boy into her arms as the trolley brakes screeched. She wasn’t fast enough to avoid the slow-moving, but heavy, vehicle. It slammed into her left hip and spun her, throwing her across the ground. Val held the boy against her tightly, absorbing the shock of the impact. Burning pain shot up her leg as she took the brunt of the skid on her right elbow and thigh.

  Once she stopped sliding, Val righted herself into a sitting position, blinking for a moment, her thoughts fuzzy. The realization she held a sobbing child made her instantly alert. She leaned her lower back against the curb and examined the boy to make sure he hadn’t been hurt.

  He appeared unharmed, only scared. She brushed the tears from his cheeks. “Hey, buddy, you’re all right.”

  The man she assumed to be the boy’s father ran toward her, followed by the trolley driver, a little girl, and a whole group of curious onlookers—some of whom snapped pictures of the scene.

  The father knelt and placed his hand on the boy’s back. His face was chalky and his jaw clenched. “Finn, are you hurt?” He turned to Val. “Is he hurt? Are you…”

  His gaze moved to her elbow, and then down, she assumed, to her thigh.

  His lips pulled back in a slight grimace. He tried to lift the boy, but he, Finn?, clung to Val and buried his face against her chest. Daddy looked from the boy to Val. “You may need a doctor.” He pulled out his phone, tapping the screen.

  Val assumed he sent a text.

  “My friend works at the clinic just down the street.” His phone buzzed, and he glanced down at the screen again. “He’s on his way.”

  Val held onto Finn while she twisted her arm, tipping her head to take a better look at her stinging elbow. Her skin was raw and bleeding. Pieces of gravel were imbedded in deeper scrapes. She leaned around the boy, and although she couldn’t see much with him sitting on her lap, she got enough of a glimpse to see her thigh was in the same condition. Val sucked in a breath through her teeth. Now that the adrenaline was wearing off, pain throbbed through her injuries. She shook her head. “It’s just a little road rash.”

  “The injuries look worse than that.” His brows pinched together. “I—”

  “You saw them jump out in front of me.” The sputtering trolley driver cut in. “There was no way I could have stopped in time. I have all these witnesses.”

  The trolley driver stood in the way of a police officer as he pled his case.

  Val squinted at the men. Does he really think the cop can’t see us?

  The police officer stepped around the trolley driver and knelt next to Val. He moved his gaze quickly over her and Finn. “I’m Officer Harris. Can you tell me your name, miss?”

  “Val McKinley.”

  Daddy knelt on her other side. “I contacted Seth Goodwyn,” he told Officer Harris. “He’ll be here soon.”

  The officer glanced at him and nodded, and then turned his attention back to Val. “Miss McKinley, just relax. A doctor’s on the way.”

  “I don’t need a doctor, sir, thank you.” Although she knew he was just doing his job, Val’s frustration grew “Once I’m certain that Finn is calmed down, I’ll need to get going. I have an appointment.”

  Officer Harris glanced over his shoulder at the commotion the trolley driver created. “Sit tight, Miss McKinley. I need to take care of this.” He excused himself and walked toward the trolley driver.

  Finn’s father placed his hand on his son’s back. “You’re all right now. Seth is coming.” He spoke in a soft voice, but the boy did not release his hold on Val.

  Val closed her eyes against the pain that spread like fire over her skin.

  As he spoke to the officer, the trolley driver moved again, blocking the view of Val and Finn while he told his story. His voice rose, and along with the increase in volume, it became higher and squeaky.

  Witnesses argued about where they had been and what they had seen.

  The police officer put out his hands to quiet them. “Listen, we’ll get to all your testimonies soon enough. I’ve got a deputy on the way who would love to listen to each and every one of you. But right now, I’m gonna need you to cooperate. So, everybody, back up.”

  In spite of Officer Harris’ warning, the trolley driver continued his diatribe.

  The officer raised his voice again.

  Finn’s crying, which had been nearly calmed, start
ed once more and despite his father’s comforting words, he buried his face against her neck.

  Val’s body temperature rose along with her headache. She’d had enough of these bickering men. Can’t they see they’re upsetting Finn? “Do y’all mind?” Val said in a loud voice.

  The men stopped arguing and turned.

  “Take it somewhere else.” She jerked up her chin. “This boy is scared enough without having to listen to y’all fighting like stray cats in an alley.”

  The officer and trolley driver moved a bit away, ducking their heads as they walked.

  Val turned her attention back to Finn, murmuring, “There we go. They’ll be quiet now.” She kicked off her stilettos. The leather had torn off of the heel of one when she caught it in the trolley tracks. The sight made her stomach sink. She’d loved those shoes, even though they were a half-size too small.

  The young girl Val had seen earlier stood behind her father, wide eyed. “Your skirt is ripped,” she said.

  Val hadn’t even noticed her skirt. Again, she twisted to the side and shifted Finn so she could see the full extent of the damage. Great. The tight skirt had nearly torn completely up one side and the thin fabric had done little to protect her thigh and rear end from the asphalt. Now she’d have to return to her apartment, clean up, and change outfits before she went to the gallery. That would take at least two hours. Beside the fact that the shoes and skirt from the sale rack in a local consignment store had cost a huge chunk of her savings. And now, both were ruined.

  She looked around for her purse and spotted it near the tracks. If I could just call the gallery…but she didn’t want to move and dislodge the boy from her lap. Besides, if she stood, her rear end would be in full view of everyone on the street.

  “And I can see your panties.” The girl pointed, hiding a smile behind her hand.

  “Ruby!” Her father’s face reddened. “That is certainly not appropriate.”

  “I appreciate it, Miss Ruby.” Val smiled to let her know she wasn’t offended. “Us girls need to stick together, and tell each other when our panties are showing.” She shifted again, searching for a position that didn’t hurt or show more of her underwear, while still maintaining her hold on Finn. She scooted up awkwardly onto the curb, resting all of her weight on the side of her rear that wasn’t churned up like road kill. As she moved, her other hip started to throb in the spot where the trolley had struck her. An ugly bruise was probably forming. She scowled. Waiting for a bruise to fade and the scrapes on her leg to heal would keep her from lying out on the beach anytime soon. And she had a hot pink bikini to debut.

 
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