Happy Holidays to all my readers out there. In the spirit of this giving season, this is a FREE READ for you, written as part of the Seasons and Seashells anthology from me and my Petit Fours and Hot Tamales blog sisters. This portion picks up at about 1/3 of the way through the story. To read the beginning, start HERE.
By Carol Burnside
Sometimes, the past merits repeating…
(cont’d from the PFHT blog) … They’d been lovers and shortly after their breakup, she’d had Seth. Those last weeks, she’d been distracted, worried, but refused to talk about it. His palms began to sweat, and he wiped them on his jeans.
“Seth, take Noah and go play in your room for a while, okay? Mommy needs grownup time.”
“Seth William Coker.” Her tone held a granite warning.
“Okay, okay.” The kid scrambled to pull his brother out of the room. Dark hair like Sherri. Gray eyes like his own. T.J. had trouble breathing. He turned an accusing stare on Sherri.
She shook her head and pointed at the couch. “It’s not what you’re thinking. Let’s sit down. You look a little unsteady.”
He made no move to sit. Wasn’t sure his legs would take him there. “He’s mine. How could you not tell me?”
“Keep your voice down.” She shot a worried glance toward the hallway, then exhaled and speared a hand through her hair. “You’ve got it all wrong.”
He kept his tone quiet, but determined. “I can see the resemblance. You had to have known how I felt about you. Why didn’t you tell me, Sherri? I would’ve married you in a heartbeat.” Except for that last semester, they’d been great. Then, just before winter break, she’d said it was over, that they wanted different things in life and she was transferring to another college. He’d been hurt, but pride and a hectic academic schedule kept him from chasing after her.
“You’re seeing what you want to, T.J. He’s not… It’s a long story.”
“I’ve got time.”
“Wait.” Her face flooded with color. “You wanted to marry me?”
“You sound surprised. Weren’t we headed there? We talked about what we wanted in life, remember? Careers, kids, a house in the ’burbs.”
“And I changed all that with one decision.” She gestured toward the couch, a vague second invitation to sit, and sank onto the nearest cushion as if her knees had given way.
This time he followed her, sticking close. “What happened, Sherri? I deserve to know the truth.”
She closed her eyes for several heartbeats, took a deep breath and began. “If you recall, I had, uhm…, monthly cycle problems.”
An understatement if he’d ever heard one. She’d suffered and sex hadn’t always been comfortable for her. They’d had to get creative a time or two. “Endometriosis, wasn’t it?”
Sherri nodded. Her fingers traced a necklace that disappeared between her breasts. “My doctor advised me to start trying for a family fast if I wanted one, but the timing was all wrong. We were in college. We had big plans. I thought there’d be more time.”
“But somehow we got pregnant anyway?”
“No. My cousin did.” She held up a hand to halt his questions. “She was fragile. Emotionally. Mentally. The pregnancy meant she couldn’t be on her regular meds. Growing up, we’d been pretty close, so my aunt requested I spend time with her.”
“The sudden trips.”
“Actually, those were to my doctor and the news wasn’t good. He’d done all he could to preserve my ability to conceive.”
“No. Let me finish. I left college that winter and had yet another surgery to remove endometrial tissue. It was during my recovery that I heard my cousin was pregnant. Over the summer, her behavior became erratic to the point we had to watch her ’round the clock. She delivered Seth in the fall, but swallowed a lethal dose of pills shortly after. Her mother couldn’t cope with the loss and a newborn, so I adopted him. Noah is adopted too.”
Sherri couldn’t seem to get enough air as she waited for T.J.’s reaction. His face gave away nothing as he digested the information. He was so familiar and yet different. He’d matured, both in body and looks. His jeans and light blue dress shirt with the cuffs turned back to reveal strong, tanned forearms, was sexy as hell, in her book.
A part of her sang with the knowledge he’d wanted to marry her, but that was before. Before she’d shut him out, lost the ability to carry his children, and way before she’d burst his hopeful bubble of fatherhood.
That alone told her she’d made the right decision years ago. He wanted kids of his own and who could blame him? She understood, but for her, it wasn’t to be. It was as if she’d gone from vibrant spring time with T.J. to a barren winter. The boys had brought sunshine back into her life. It was enough. It had to be.
“I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions.” T.J. took her hand, kissed the palm and threaded his fingers through hers. “And I’m sorry you had to go through all that alone. I should have been there for you.”
Her skin was on fire. Unable to bear the memories flooding through her at his touch, Sherri withdrew her hand.
He lifted his gaze, but it stuck at her chest area. Her heart thudded in her throat as he reached toward the thin silver chain.
Sherry shied away. “What are you…?” She trailed off, feeling as flustered as he looked.
“I wasn’t… Your necklace clasp is sliding around. Oddly enough, that reminds me. I brought you something.” He pulled a delicate seashell from his chest pocket, a larger replica of the silver one he’d once given her. A rather sad smile played across his lips. “It reminded me of the vacations we used to dream up when the drudgery of school made us crazy to escape. Remember?”
She shrugged, pretending she didn’t. “Vaguely. I really don’t have much time for daydreaming anymore.”
He placed the shell in her palm and she closed her fingers around it. His hand covered hers. “I’ve never found anything like we had. I’ve missed that…you, for a long time. Do you think—”
“We live in different cities, have separate lives. We’re different people now, T.J.,” she rushed to remind him because it would never work. No matter how much she wished things were different, they just weren’t.
“Are we?” His gaze searched her face, and for one crazy moment she wanted to leap into his arms and pretend.
A squeal of pain she recognized as Noah’s ended her moment of weakness. She shot off the sofa, the edges of the shell biting into her hand. She shoved it into her pocket and met the boys at the entrance to the hallway. Noah was full-on bawling now, his tears echoing the ones in her heart. She bent down and swung him into her embrace. “What’s wrong, baby? Show me.”
A chubby, reddened index finger narrowly missed her eye.
“He pinched his finger in the dump truck.” Seth reported.
Sherri captured the injured digit and, seeing no blood, began kissing it madly until the little guy’s tears ceased. Knowing what he expected next, she buried her nose in Noah’s neck and made horrid farting noises against his skin until he giggled and pushed away. “Love you, punkin’.”
With tears still coating his cheeks, Noah grinned and bestowed a sloppy tongue and slobber kiss across her cheek. The ordeal forgotten, he squirmed to be released.
Once the boys had disappeared down the hall again, Sherri turned to find T.J. shaking his head, watching her with a smug expression. She grabbed a tissue from a decorative dispenser she kept nearby and mopped her cheek. “What’s with that face?”
“You’re such a fraud, Sherri Coker.”
“We’re different people now.” T.J. mimicked her brush-off line. His gaze focused over her shoulder and she knew he could see straight into her bedroom and its beach-inspired decor. Oh, God. Her eyes burned. She squeezed them shut.
“Look at me, Sherri. I need you to see me, to know I mean what I’m about to say.”
The longing was so thick in his gaze, she could hardly breathe. “Please don’t do this.”
“You walked away from me once, and I let you, because I wasn’t mature enough to see past my own hurt to yours. I buried myself in getting a degree and then work. Even convinced myself you didn’t care. Tried to forget. Failed.” Without breaking eye contact, he lifted the pendant off her tank top.
Too late, she realized it must have been freed when she bent down to lift Noah.
“This tells me I was a fool.”
“It’s just jewelry. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Liar,” he whispered, so close now she could see the dark blue rings at the outer edge of his irises. “It’s a promise you keep close to your heart. I bet if I kissed you right now, you’d melt in my arms.”
She shook her head, no longer trusting her voice not to squeak or break.
“Let’s put it to the test, shall we?” He drew her closer, tugging the length of her against him until she felt the perfect fit of their bodies again. The result of his desire pressed against her belly, heating her core with a swiftness that left her trembling.
He cupped her face and touched his lips to hers with such tenderness her knees gave way.
Her lips parted and he took full advantage, deepening the kiss for long, drugging moments. Slowly, sounds of the boys playing down the hall penetrated the fog, but before she could gather herself to push away, T.J. ended the kiss.
“I should go while I still have the willpower.” He touched his lips to her forehead, took a step back and hooked his thumbs in his pockets. “But I’ll be back. I’m moving my business offices to Little Rock. There’s more construction here, room for growth, so we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”
Temporarily stunned, Sherri digested the information. There was the ambitious side of him she remembered with a good measure of audacity thrown in. She raised her chin.“You think so, do you? I might have something to say about that.”
T.J. tapped the shell pendant with his index finger and she flushed pink. He grinned. “Can’t fool me. I participated in that kiss and it was off the charts. You and I need…”
He drew her closer, touched her cheek, his eyes searching her face. “A do over.”
“A do over?” The warmth of his palm penetrated her cheek. If he meant a kiss, she wouldn’t object to another.
“Yeah. I think that’s exactly what we need. We’ll date, do family stuff.”
“Family stuff?” Sherri sounded like a parrot, but her mind was reeling too much for coherent responses.
“You. Me. The boys. Family stuff. I’d like to get to know them and vice versa. Okay?” His question was casual, in direct contrast to the look in his eyes.
Sherri couldn’t have been plainer with him before, but if he wanted her—warts and all—maybe there was hope for them. “Are you sure? You’d be giving up—”
“A lot less than what I’d gain.”
Aww, man. No wonder she’d stayed in love with him. She thought of the love, purpose and unexpected richness the boys had brought to her life. They’d made her a mother, but T.J. still had options. “Maybe, but—”
“You start bargaining with me and setting conditions, I’m gonna have to kiss you again. And if I do that, I might not stop. Could get awkward with the kids just down the hall.”
It appeared his big-hearted and determined traits were just as she’d remembered. Her heart swelled with emotion. She took a step forward, draped herself over him like hot fudge on a sundae, and kissed him with all the emotions yet too tender to put into words. When she was sure he’d received the full impact of her love-starved answer, she broke away and sighed. “Okay. A do over it is.”
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Like what you’ve read here? There’s more free stories coming in the next few days at the PFHT group blog. In addition, we’re giving away prizes and all you have to do to be entered into the drawings is comment on the stories at PFHT.
SEASONS AND SEASHELLS
Ten great stories. Ten great voices. Ten great reading choices. SEASONS AND SEASHELLS, an anthology from the Petit Fours and Hot Tamales bloggers, will leave you laughing, crying, sighing and wanting more. SEASONS AND SEASHELLS offers stories for every season. And best of all, they’re free!
Fall in love all over again with SEASONS AND SEASHELLS from:
Carol Burnside, Tami Brothers, Marilyn Baron, Lindy Chaffin Start, Linsey Lanier, Pam Asberry, and Maxine Davis
Stories by Sandra Elzie w/a Sandra McGregor, Sia Huff and Sally Kilpatrick will appear here on PetitFoursAndHotTamales.com.
Download your free copy of SEASONS AND SEASHELLS now.
Cover art by Linsey Lanier. Background photo of Gulf Coast Beach, a painting by Sharon Goldman, used with permission. Gulf Coast Beach can be viewed on Sharon’s gallery. – – – – –
Tune in again tomorrow at PFHT to read Babbet’s New Beginning by Tami Brothers.
And don’t forget: Comments on the stories at PFHT enters you to win excellent prizes!
- A $5 Starbucks gift card
- A PFHT cookbook
- A lovely pair of sterling silver seashell earrings from Nature’s Jewelry.
In addition, TODAY I’m giving away (on PFHT) a $5 Amazon gift card to one lucky reader who leaves a comment.
But that’s not all! We’re also offering additional prizes through the link below. More prizes mean more winners. Follow the instructions below to enter and the winners will be announced on the PFHT blog on December 31, 2012.
– – – – –
Clarification: Comments here are much appreciated and encouraged. However, comments here do not enter you for the giveaways. Comments on PFHT do. Thanks!
Loved the story, Carol! Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Maxine! I’m tickled that you enjoyed it.
I loved this story ever since I read it.
Thanks, Linsey! I’m happy to hear it resonated with you.
Great story, Carol! (happy sigh)…
Thanks, Pam. I gotta have that HEA.
Ahh, love a happy ending. Glad TJ and Sherri got their Do Over.
That’s what I love about romance, Sia – the happy ending. Of course, if the struggle wasn’t there before hand, the HEA wouldn’t be as sweet, would it? 😉
LOVED IT!!!!!!!! I had to jump over here before commenting on the other to see how it ended. LOVE IT!!!
Right back at ya, Tami. Such a strong anthology.
A great read. I want to see how it ends.