It’s a new week! Thank you so much for all of the well wishes for He’s Always Been the One! I’m so excited to finally have it released so you can read it and so I can really get going on what I’ve started writing. 🙂 If you haven’t previewed the first chapters yet, you can read Chapter 1 here, Chapter 2 here, and Chapter 3 here. If you want to follow along with my inspiration board, here is the link to the Pinterest board.
Since this has been a fly by the seat of my pants release, of course I waited until now to have a giveaway! I’ll be giving away 3 Kindle copies of He’s Always Been the One so don’t forget to leave a comment below to enter! If you entered on Austen Variations, you can comment here for a second chance to enter. 🙂 If you didn’t enter at Austen Variations, make sure you click on the link to chapter 3 above to enter there.
I’d just opened my closet on Saturday morning when a sound downstairs made me step back and be as quiet as I could manage. Was that sound what I thought it was? The knock repeated itself as Gram called me from her perch on the sofa. I hurried down the stairs to the front door, wrapping my robe around myself before I glanced through the peephole.
I drew back with a jerk. What was he doing here, and so early on a Saturday?
“Who is it?” asked Gram.
When I opened the door, Elliot smiled and held out a cup of coffee. “Good morning.”
My hand wrapped around the warm cup from Starlight and pulled it closer. “Thanks,” I said slowly. “Did I forget something?”
I’d seen Elliot at the gym twice this week and once at the grocery store. We always talked whenever we bumped into one another. Of course, some days we chatted more than others. Lately, he asked about Gram and Harper, and I’d made sure I’d asked if his license had come through. Nothing was mentioned about dropping by on Saturday morning.
“We’d discussed finishing up the stairs this weekend. I didn’t consider that you might have plans.” His eyes traced over my face. “Based on your hair and make-up, I’d guess something special.”
My hand flew to my hair, which Gram had managed to tame and pull back into a braided up-do. “Jena’s wedding is today. I assumed you were going?”
He shrugged and leaned against the door frame. “I’ve met her, of course, but I don’t know her very well.”
Gram called over from her comfortable sofa corner. “Margaret, where are your manners? Invite the young man inside.”
I stepped back from the door as Elliot peered around me. “Good morning, Mrs. Dashwood.”
“Oh, call me Cora.” Gram’s eyelashes practically batted as she smiled. I barely kept myself from rolling my eyes.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said as I motioned for him step across the threshold. “How are you feeling, Mrs. Dashwood?”
“I’d be much better if Maggie would let me do something around this house. Do you know she won’t even let me load the dishwasher? I can walk well with the walker, but she still won’t hear of it.”
He nodded and stepped over to Gram while I closed the door. “I’m sure you’re capable, but you’ll heal more fully if you don’t resume all of your usual activities right away.”
This time, Gram rolled her eyes and huffed. Elliot’s shoulders shook while his smile grew wider. “How are your physical therapy exercises going?”
“She hasn’t been doing them,” said Harper from the kitchen table. “My mommy was fussing at her for it yesterday.”
My grandmother crossed her arms over her chest and gave Harper a stern glare over her glasses. “Thank you for that.” She turned back to Elliot. “I’d like them better if they didn’t make me sore.”
He sat across from her and propped his elbows on his knees. “Those exercises are meant to strengthen your hip so you don’t injure it again. Am I going to have to come by and make sure you’re following doctor’s orders?”
Gram’s eyes made this slight shift to me. Oh, crap! That woman would love nothing more than to have a handsome man helping with her physical therapy several times a week. I also suspected that she’d use this in an effort to set me up with a man she happens to like. She’d never liked Sawyer, even before we broke up, though she’d never said why.
I gulped hard as he stood from the sofa and my eyes honed in on his toned rear end. I was in big trouble. If my grandmother agreed to his help with her physical therapy, and he wore shorts like he was wearing today, I might have to take a huge bite out of his ass.
“Sweetheart,” said Gram with a wide-eyed smile. That look was one worthy of convincing a priest she’d never sinned in her life. I knew better.
“Maybe Elliot could go with you to the wedding.”
Why did I suddenly feel like Samantha in Sixteen Candles when her grandparents insisted she take Long Duck Dong to the dance? “He may not want to go. Besides, I’m not simply a guest. I’m also coordinating everything.”
“I know, but wouldn’t it be nice to have company for the reception?”
“It’s okay, Cora,” said Elliot with a smile. “I think Maggie would rather go on her own.” He lightly rested that fine ass on the back of my sofa while he spoke to me. “What about Harper and your grandmother? Do you have someone coming over for them?”
I crossed my arms over my chest, even though I still held my coffee in my hand. “Gram and Harper will be fine. Mei and her daughter Lu, who’s Harper’s best friend, are coming over around lunchtime to bring them food. Mei said they’d stay for an hour or two so the girls can play.”
“Well, if it’s okay, I’ll work on the steps and the ramp. That concrete should be good and cured by now.”
I sagged back against the door. I couldn’t have him doing manual labor around the house without my help. Just the thought of leaving him here to work made me feel guilty. “Would you like to go to the wedding with me?”
“You don’t have to take me. I’m a big boy, you know.” One side of his lips curved up in this wicked grin. Damn if he wasn’t flirting with me. I certainly hadn’t needed him to point that fact out to me. I’d known he was a full-grown man for a while now.
“I know that. It’s one thing for you to help me with fixing the deck, but I’m not going to leave you to do it on your own. You aren’t slave labor.”
He glanced at his watch. “What time do you have to be at the wedding?”
I stepped around so I could see Gram’s antique clock on the shelf. “Shit! Twenty minutes.”
“Mommy, you have to put a dollar in the swear jar!”
As I shook my head, I pointed at Harper. “I’ll do it when I get home. I have to get dressed and go.”
Before Gram could say a word, I ran up the stairs two at a time and threw on my cornflower blue wrap dress with white flowers. I loved the flowy skirt which worked perfectly for my height when I wore my platform sandals.
I grabbed my purse and booked it downstairs where I slipped on my heels and grabbed my gift from the kitchen table. When I turned, Elliot sat on the sofa, near Gram, sipping his coffee.
“Don’t worry about us, dear,” said Gram with a sly grin. “We’ll be here when you get back.”
I pointed at Elliot and levelled my sternest glare. “Don’t work on the deck without me.” He merely waved me off as I closed the porch door behind me.
Three hours later, I stood on the pavers that made up the patio behind the office. We’d done a lot to the spacious yard in the past few years, adding a gazebo in one corner as well as more potted plants and flower beds. We didn’t have clients use the space often, but it was a great spot for small weddings and receptions when the rare occasion presented itself.
The ceremony had been beautiful. Jena glowed in her ivory satin gown, and Freya, Jena’s niece and Ellie’s daughter, stared at her aunt as though she were a fairy princess.
While I stood to one side with a glass of champagne, Charlie stepped up beside me, rubbing her belly as she did almost constantly these days. “Look at my brother,” she said, flicking her chin in Brandon’s direction. “He hasn’t stopped grinning since he woke up this morning. If his mouth keeps stretching, it’s going to crack his face in two.”
We both giggled while Brandon remained oblivious, twirling his new wife out and back in for a dip. “He’s happy. They both are. At least they’re old enough to know exactly what they want and who makes them happy.”
Charlie’s arm looped through mine. “I don’t think it’s a matter of age. I knew I wanted Jensen, and he knew he wanted me when we were sixteen. We simply had a difference of opinion as to when that was supposed to occur.”
I took a sip of my champagne and swallowed while I watched the bride and groom continue to dance and kiss in the middle of the make-shift dance floor.
“Do you think you and Sawyer were too young?”
“I suppose I wasn’t,” I said. “I just didn’t realize he was. I thought he would be there for whatever was thrown our way.”
“You’ve never told me why you broke up.” Charlie’s voice was soft. “I think everyone simply assumed it was because of Harper.”
“More because I wouldn’t put her up for adoption. After he signed away his rights, he did his best to convince me to do the same.”
“You’ve said enough for me to know you don’t regret it,” said Charlie. “You’re an amazing mother. You work your ass off for her to have whatever she needs. I admire you for it.”
My eyes burned and watered. I wasn’t going to cry! “Thanks.”
Charlie’s finger on her free hand pointed at me. “Don’t you dare start blubbering because I’ll join you before the first tear hits your chin.” Her hand wrapped around to her back and rubbed some more. “Damn if these Braxton-Hicks aren’t killing me today.” She blew out a heavy breath as I shifted around to face her.
“Are you sure they’re false labor?”
“I’m still three weeks away from my due date,” she gritted out through her teeth. “It’s just with the back pain I’ve had for the last month, Braxton-Hicks make me miserable.”
I set down my glass on a nearby table. “Humor me and let’s time them.”
“It’s not labor, Maggie.”
“Like I said, humor me.” After I steered her to a nearby chair, I pulled up another, facing her, and opened the stopwatch on my phone. “Let me know when the next one starts.”
After watching the happy couple for a time, Charlie gripped my free hand. “Mother trucker,” she said, squeezing as though she were trying with all of her strength to amputate my fingers. I touched “start” on my phone but it was the clock that concerned me. It’d only been three minutes since I unlocked my phone.
Her grip let up, and she relaxed when it ended. “I’m so tired. I can’t wait to have him and hold him in my arms instead of him pressing on my sciatic nerve.”
“He’ll be here sooner than you think. I promise. If we didn’t have the swollen feet and uncomfortable parts to make us crazy, we’d want to stay pregnant forever.”
My eyes met Jensen’s. He’d been talking to William, Ellie’s husband, by the bar for a while, though he’d stopped paying attention to William. His forehead furrowed. “Is she okay?” he mouthed.
I shrugged as best I could without Charlie seeing. She’d raise hell if I scared Jensen out of his wits. Right as I turned back to her, she gripped my hand again. I may not have had a perfect time from earlier, but it gave me a close enough time to compare.
As Charlie let up four contractions later, Jensen appeared at her side. “What’s up, buttercup?”
“Dear, Lord,” she said breathlessly. “How much have you had to drink?”
He laughed and kissed her hair. “One glass of champagne. I promise.” She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, and Jensen lifted his eyebrows in my direction. I’d been using the stopwatch and hitting lap for each contraction, so it listed the times for each gap. He took a deep breath when he saw them, but fortunately, it wasn’t loud.
“How’s our little slugger?” He sat in the chair beside her and flattened his hand against her stomach. When she gripped my hand again, he kissed her temple. “Breathe, Charlie.”
“I’m not in labor.”
“Your last four contractions have been exactly four minutes apart, and your stomach is hard as a rock. We’re going to the hospital.”
“It’s a wasted trip. I don’t want to miss Jena and Brandon leaving,” she whined.
After approximately five minutes of coaxing and another pain, we finally managed to get Charlie’s grumbling surrender, but when Jensen helped her stand, she nearly crumpled in front of him.
“Fuckity-fuck-fuck,” she muttered.
Jensen whispered in her ear while she breathed heavily and leaned against him. “Don’t forget that you aren’t supposed to use that word anymore, Mrs. Worth.”
“Shut the fuck up.” She managed to pant out between breaths.
When the pain subsided, she lifted the bottom of her maxi-dress where a small puddle was now soaking into the stone pavers. “My water broke.”
The next five minutes were a flurry of excitement as Jensen hustled Charlie toward their car while I informed Jena and Brandon as well as the Taylors, Charlie and Brandon’s parents. Jena and Brandon departed not long after, and the rest of the reception didn’t take long to follow.
Greta and I hauled all of the gifts upstairs to Jena and Brandon’s home, which was above our office in that historic brick house. We also locked up once the caterers finished cleaning and the rental company had loaded the tables and chairs.
As soon as I arrived home, I kicked off my shoes and dropped back against the door. “You look exhausted—beautiful but exhausted.”
My eyes shot open to Elliot sitting on the sofa watching Disney channel with Harper, who was more interested in the television than who walked through the door. “Where’s Gram?”
“She’s taking a nap. Working on her physical therapy tired her out.”
“Thanks for helping with that.”
“It’s no bother. She does like flirting, which is something I should get used to with some ladies.”
“Oh, Lord,” I sighed. “I’m almost afraid to ask.”
“Nothing bad. Just some blushing and batting her eyelashes.”
I blew out a loud exhale and stepped into the room, dropping into the sage-colored arm chair. “Well, it definitely could’ve been worse.”
“How was the wedding?”
“Beautiful, except the reception wrapped up a bit early because Charlie went into labor.”
He sat forward and turned more to face me. “Are you serious?”
“As a quadruple bypass. She insisted it was Braxton-Hicks until her water broke.”
With a snicker, he leaned back again. “With that hard head of hers, I’m not surprised. Still, isn’t it a somewhat early?”
“She has three more weeks until her due date. From what I remember, the lungs should be developed by thirty-seven weeks. He should be okay.”
“Good,” he said. “She’s a good friend. I want to see her and Jensen happy. They deserve it.”
“Yes, they do. Mrs. Taylor said she’d call when there was news. I think the entire family followed Charlie and Jensen to the hospital.” I brushed a few curls back from my face. No matter how we pulled it back, my hair always did have a mind of its own.
“Have you eaten?”
I propped an elbow on the side of the chair and supported my head. “I ate a little at the reception before the caterer needed me for something. By the time I’d returned, my plate had been picked up.”
“Your friend Mei left food for you when she came.”
“But then I’d have to get up,” I said with a weak chuckle.
Elliot stood and stepped around the sofa. “If you want, I can heat it up for you while you change.”
I laid my head on the back of the chair as he walked toward the kitchen. “You would do that?”
“Of course.” He walked back and held out his hands. “Come on. Up! Before you fall asleep in your dress.”
My hands tingled like they’d been asleep when his fingers closed around them. After he helped haul my butt out of the chair, I caught his eye. “Just out of curiosity. Why are you still here?”
“Your grandmother kept insisting I stay. I also thought having someone here in the event your grandmother fell again wouldn’t be such a bad idea.”
“They wouldn’t have been alone for long.”
His one shoulder shrugged as he looked down to our hands where they were still joined between us. “I know, and I’m sure they would’ve been fine. I simply didn’t want to take any chances.”
“No, no, no.” He groaned and shook his head. “A grown man isn’t sweet or cute. He’s ruggedly handsome or hot as hell. Sweet is the kiss of death.”
I rolled my eyes before I rose on my tiptoes and planted a kiss to his cheek. “I happen to like sweet,” I whispered near his ear.
His eyebrows were nearly in his hairline when I pulled back, but I waited until I turned away and was climbing the stairs before I smiled. If only Elliot knew some of the dialogue that rattled around my brain, he might not have been so disappointed in “sweet.”