NOTE: This isn’t a final proofread version so you might spot a few typos… consider them an early reader bonus!
Yet another email I’ll never send you.
I was offered an acting job yesterday by one of Malcolm’s old clients. It’s just a minor part. A fill-in, really, but it pays well. We’re not hurting for money, but only a year after Malcolm and Mom died, I’ve already gone through a scary amount of what should be saved for the kids’ college funds. Maybe I should start working to make sure I don’t inadvertently limit their options. But then, is it better for them to have that money in future, or for them to have me around 24/7 now?
I’ve got no idea. You’d know better than I would. Your family has always been so strong. I feel like I screw up every day, and I worry I won’t give them what they need. I wish I could talk to you about it.
I miss you.
I drove into Destiny Falls as dusk was settling over the township. The last rays of sunlight gilded the colonial style shopfronts of Centennial Street in gold. To the right, an older lady wrapped in a fluffy purple jersey and a matching knit hat brought in the Open sign outside Destiny Fibers. I smiled. Desdemona Smith. It was nice to know some things hadn’t changed.
The street was mostly empty of people, with a few gathered outside Drunken Destiny, which looked to have been repainted during the eleven years I’d been gone, and several others clustered around a cafe a couple of buildings down from Desdemona’s shop. That was new. I glanced at signwriting on the window. Taste of Destiny. My lips curved into a smile. I’d always loved the way the locals played up to the town’s name.
For a brief moment, I considered pulling over for a coffee. I’d flown from Los Angeles to New Zealand the day before yesterday, and then I’d been driving all day yesterday as well as today. Prior to leaving, I’d been rushing through a tourist Visa application. Now, I was exhausted and not in the mood to deal with the possibility of tourists at the cafe recognizing me. Being a successful actress had its perks—I never needed to worry about money again—but it had downsides too.
A shiver ran through me. Serious downsides.
Like the stalker who’d been hassling me with anonymous social media messages, disturbing videos, and had escalated to infiltrating my house. I still didn’t know who the person was, but that shouldn’t matter, since they’d surely never follow me halfway around the world—assuming they’d be able to locate me in the first place.
Not that the stalker was the reason I’d decided to return to Destiny Falls. They—and my friend, Gray—had just prompted me to look at my life, and I hadn’t liked what I’d seen. Beneath the glitz and glam, I wasn’t happy. Hadn’t been in a long time. Blair, Mina, Joel, and Jamie had all moved out, so for once, I’d been able to put myself first and come back to the place my heart had yearned for since the accident that changed everything.
Back to the man I’d never stopped loving.
I didn’t know anything about Liam’s life now. He could be married with kids. He might have moved away, although I highly doubted it. He’d always been so determined to stay in Destiny Falls. Even if he was single and still in town, he probably wouldn’t want anything to do with me. But I was no stranger to adversity. I’d raised my half-siblings when I wasn’t much more than a child myself. I wasn’t afraid of working hard for forgiveness and a second chance.
I pulled onto a side road and followed it for a couple of blocks until I arrived at the cottage I used to rent from Grace Smith, a woman a couple of years older than me. I scanned the outside. The weathered boards were the same shade of white they used to be, with no sign of wear and tear. Perhaps they’d been repainted over the years, or maybe Grace had simply maintained them in pristine condition. The door was a muted green with a metal flap for letters to be pushed through and an old-fashioned brass ringer. The tiled roof had the same cozy appeal that had once drawn me to it. In short, it looked like I’d never left.
Pocketing the keys, I got out of the car and headed for the main house. As far as I could tell, Grace still ran the operation here. I’d made my booking through an automated online system under a different name—partly because I was worried she’d cancel it if she knew who I really was and partly because it was just good sense to do that as a celebrity. Hopefully Grace wouldn’t be too angry about the deception. I paused for a moment to gather my courage, then pressed the doorbell. I could hear it ring through the house, and I gnawed on my lower lip, preparing for a hostile welcome.
The door swung inward, and there she was, as beautiful as I remembered. Her face had more maturity, but nothing else seemed to have changed. I fought the urge to hug her, knowing she probably wouldn’t return the affection.
Her smile faltered, and she stopped abruptly, crossing her arms over her chest. “Let me guess. Katy?”
I winced. “I’m sorry.”
She shook her head. “I never thought I’d see you again. Not after all this time.”
I shifted from one foot to the other, unable to read her. She clearly wasn’t pleased, but she didn’t seem furious either. More… cautious.
“Things changed,” I said, knowing the weak excuse couldn’t possibly sum up the many ways in which my life had been tipped upside down over the past decade. I’d need hours to explain the whole painful story. “I can leave if you don’t want me here.”
Grace pursed her lips and was quiet for a long moment with her hand on the door, effectively barring me from entering the house. She searched my eyes. I didn’t know what she hoped to find, but I held her gaze.
Eventually, she spoke. “If you’re expecting to be welcomed back with open arms, you’re going to be disappointed.”
I released a bitter laugh. “I know. Believe me.”
“People are going to be upset,” she continued, her tone level despite her words. “They won’t be happy if I open my doors to you.”
I nodded. She was probably right.
“Why the subterfuge?” she asked. “I’m sure you have plenty enough money to buy your own place and not feel a pinch in the pocket. Why rent mine?”
Honestly, I’d wondered the same thing.
“Nostalgia, I guess.” It was the closest thing to the truth I could offer her. “I have a lot of good memories here.” I’d been happy in the cottage with its pink curtains and cute kitchen.
Grace’s hand dropped from the door. “You can stay,” she finally said, though she didn’t invite me in. “I always thought there was more to the story than what you told Liam.” She reached out to touch my shoulder, and I felt like crying just from that small gesture of acceptance. “You were smitten with him, and you never seemed homesick while you were here. I figured you must have your reasons for ending things with him and staying away, but others aren’t so open-minded. They’ll take a while to come around. Assuming you’re not just here for a visit?” She arched a brow.
“I’m here to stay.” No amount of frostiness would deter me.
“Good.” She withdrew her hand. “Don’t make me regret my decision.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
Grace passed me a key from the pocket of her jeans. “Here. Let me know if you need anything.”
A fraction of the tension that had gripped me eased. “Thanks. Is there anywhere new I can buy dinner?”
“No.” She looked sympathetic. “The cafe will be closing at any moment. Other than that, it’s just the pub, unless you want to drive to the resort. Tabitha extended their coffee shop into a full restaurant a few years ago.”
Damn. No avoiding confrontation, then.
“Okay.” I could do this. I needed to woman up and bite the bullet. There would be no driving to the resort, where I knew I’d get a warmer reception, just to avoid an uncomfortable situation that would have to happen sooner or later. It wouldn’t be easy, but if it was a choice between temporary ease and long-term disappointment, there was no contest. “Thanks, Grace.”
Next stop: Drunken Destiny.
Is it possible to love and hate someone at the same time? – Unsent text message from Liam to Kennedy
The pub was relatively quiet. But then, it was a Monday night, and most of the locals were at home, so that was no surprise. I sat at a table near the bar, cradling a pint of beer and listening to Toby brag about the hot tourist from the resort he’d been hooking up with. Apparently she was Swiss, blonde, and adventurous as hell, although I tuned out most of his colorful description. The state of my own sex life was nonexistent, and I didn’t need a reminder of how great his was. It would only make me feel pathetic.
I drank more beer. Thirty should be too young to feel this old. Toby was only five years my junior, and he was out there, playing the field. Why couldn’t I bring myself to do the same anymore?
I reached for a chip and popped it into my mouth, scanning the other occupants of the pub while Toby rhapsodized about his hookup’s killer body. Dad was behind the bar because it was Bailey’s night off. Mum and a couple of her friend sat on stools, chatting to each other and bringing him into their conversation every now and then. A group of weather-beaten men clustered in the back, alternating between drinking and playing darts. They were doing surprisingly well considering how much beer they’d drunk. But then, these craggy old guys could put booze away like no one’s business.
“Huh?” I snapped around. Toby and Asher, my best friend, were looking at me, both wearing wry smiles.
“I asked if you’ve been seeing anyone lately,” Toby said, apparently unconcerned that I’d zoned out.
I huffed. “No.”
“That makes….” Toby pretended to do math in his head. “A fucking long time without any action, am I right?”
Asher gave him a light shove. “Don’t be an asshole. We can’t all be as girl crazy as you. Some of us actually have to work around here.”
Toby launched into a protest about how being a ski instructor counted as a real job, even if he was technically only employed for half the year. I sent Asher a smile, grateful for the distraction. He knew I hated anyone prying into my affairs. Especially when there wasn’t anything to talk about.
I tuned back in to the conversation, and that was when the pub fell eerily silent. I looked around, expecting to see that someone had broken a plate or a chair, but nobody cursed or shouted an apology. Instead, all attention was focused on the door where a woman stood silhouetted against the rapidly descending darkness.
Fuck. It couldn’t be.
I stared, taking in the long blonde hair that was darker at the roots, the cute upturned nose, and the unique eyes I’d never thought I’d gaze into again for as long as I lived.
She was back in Destiny Falls. In the pub. Only a handful of yards away.
Why was she here?
Someone coughed, breaking the hush. Eyes burned into me as our audience waited to see how I’d react so they could follow my lead. The community had been a great source of support when she first made a name for herself in Hollywood. They’d rallied around me, boycotting everything Kennedy Carter. The store had refused to sell any tabloids with her picture on the front. The movie theater had never played films she starred in. And if someone ever happened to learn anything about her, they never mentioned it to my face. A few had gone further and helped shield me from reporters who’d come to town trying to dig up dirt about Kennedy’s time in Destiny Falls. Now, she was here. Inexplicably.
I had no doubt someone here would toss her out if I gave any indication that was what I wanted. Hell, either Asher or Toby would gladly volunteer for the job. I just needed to force myself to move.
“Liam.” Someone jostled my elbow. Firm fingers gripped it. “Let’s go, man.”
It was Asher, trying to get me to leave. But I couldn’t look away from the woman who’d crushed my heart and stolen my future.
“What the fuck is she doing here?” he muttered. “Come on.”
I stood up.
“Help me, Tobes,” Asher urged.
Before my brother could move, Kennedy lifted her chin and crossed the room. I caught a waft of her scent as she stopped in front of me. Slightly sweet but unfamiliar. My throat threatened to close over. I didn’t even know what she smelled like anymore. Somehow, that made me want to kick shit down.
I could still read her face though. She was nervous. Rightfully so.
Asher tugged my arm again. “Liam has nothing to say to you,” he snapped at her.
It wasn’t true. I’d had plenty to say to her over the years. Questions, angry rants, random observations I knew she’d have appreciated. But she hadn’t been around to share them with. Because she hadn’t wanted me enough to stay—or rather, to come back.
“Can we talk?” Her voice was deeper than it used to be. Smoother. That tiny discrepancy jolted me into action.
“I wanted to talk eleven years ago,” I bit out “But you weren’t interested. So no, we can’t talk.” I brushed past her, heading for the exit with Toby and Asher flanking me. As soon as the door swung shut behind me, I released a shaky exhale. “Did that just happen?”
“Yeah, mate.” Asher clapped me on the back. “Come on. We’re going back to your place.”
“She’s in Destiny Falls.” I could scarcely believe it. Kennedy had become something of an urban legend in these parts. The Hollywood It Girl who’d broken the hometown boy’s heart—discussed in whispers behind my back but never, ever to my face. “Why the fuck is she here?”
“Who cares?” Asher guided me to my Ute. “I’m driving. Toby, you get beer and meet us there. We’re going to need lots of it.”
Toby saluted. “Aye aye, captain.”
I climbed numbly into the passenger seat, registering that it felt odd not to be driving my own vehicle, but my whirring thoughts kept me from dwelling on it as Asher started the engine. Kennedy Carter—or Cox, whatever stage name she was calling herself these days—had a lot of nerve showing up in my father’s pub.
“She won’t stay,” I murmured to myself. I needed to remember that, and hold onto my anger at her for leaving without even giving me the chance to consider going with her. Many years had passed, but no matter what had brought her back here, I couldn’t afford to let her into my life. Kennedy was a chapter of my past that needed to remain closed.
You can pre-order the book here if you’d like more of Liam and Kennedy: https://books2read.com/come-back-to-you
Copyright 2018-2020 © Alexa Rivers