HERE TOMORROW 7 PM PST. NICOLE JACQUELYN AUTHOR OF: HEART OF GLASS (SEE EXCERPT)
7 PM PST.
Henry Harris was living his dream as a staff sergeant in the Marines. When he’s killed in action, his devastated family is in for one more shock: he had a daughter they never knew about.
Morgan Riley has been raising Etta on her own, and that’s always been fine by her – until Henry’s brother Trevor arrives on her doorstep, willing to do anything to help and make up for his brother’s mistakes. Their attraction feels wrong, but Morgan can’t seem to turn him away.
Trevor is suddenly in too deep. He has always wanted a family, but Etta and Morgan come with complications. Yet as Etta brings them closer together, Trevor begins to imagine giving Morgan and Etta the life his brother never could. But he wonders if Morgan will ever learn to trust another man with her heart, especially a man whose last name is Harris.
Even months after his death, my little brother was still the first person I thought about when I woke up in the morning and my last thought before falling asleep at night. He was everywhere I looked, in every conversation I had even when his name wasn't mentioned. It was ironic, really, that he took up so much headspace when in the last few years before his death I could go days without thinking about him at all.
Henry had always been like that. He showed up at the least opportune moments, like the night I'd finally asked Kristen Preston out my junior year of high school and he'd plopped down beside us in the movie theater like I'd invited him along. When I should have been thinking about him and talking to him, we'd both been too busy to catch up, and now that he was gone and I'd do anything to erase that fact from my mind, he was all I could think about.
I missed him like hell. I was also so angry with him that I wanted to punch something.
I wondered if other siblings, ones who'd been born into the same family by accident of birth, felt the same way toward each other as I did toward Henry. Did they get so angry that they wanted to shake sense into their little brothers, or was it easier to give up on someone they'd never had to fight for to begin with? When he'd come into our lives, Henry's placement had been temporary. It was months before we'd known that he might stay forever. As a boy who had watched numerous other children move in and out of our house, knowing that Henry would stay had been difficult for me. I'd had to make a conscious choice to think of him as family. Once that shift had been made, though, I'd known that nothing would ever sever that bond. Even after all of the things I'd found out about Henry after his death, I still felt myself fighting for the memory I had of him, searching for the answers that would show that his decisions in life had made any type of sense.
"Mom?" I called out as I pushed the door open without knocking. "You home?"
"I'm back here," she yelled back from somewhere in the bowels of the house I'd grown up in.
I followed the sound of her voice down the hallway and found her seated at the long table in her craft room, gluing little sheets of paper on to a scrapbook page.
"Hey, Trev," she said, lifting her head to smile at me. "Everything okay?"
Guilt hit me hard and fast. A few months ago, a random visit wouldn't have garnered that type of question, but my mom seemed to have aged by years in less than a few months. Losing Henry, a boy she'd raised as her own since he was only two, had been a blow she hadn't recovered from, but the revelation that he'd abandoned his own child seemed to have completely broken her.
"Just wanted to see you," I said, smiling back. I stepped into the room and looked over the scrapbook she was making. It was covered in photos of my cousin Kate and foster brother Shane's kids. It had been a few years, but I still couldn't believe that my foster brother and cousin had fallen in love. The page Mom was working on had snapshots of their four oldest running through a sprinkler. "Lookin' good."
"Thanks," she said, picking up a glue stick. "I swear, I can't keep up with the pictures. These are from last year."
I pulled up a chair from the side of the little room and spun it around, stretching out my long legs as I sat down beside her. My mom was so petite that I always felt like a giant when I was near her. From the time I was thirteen, I'd been taller than she was, and we'd gotten a lot of speculating looks when she'd taken me into town for school clothes or other random shit, the small pale white woman bossing around the dark-skinned black kid who dwarfed her.
She'd never let those looks bother her, so I hadn't, either—at least not out loud. I'd just raised my chin a little and walked a step closer, making sure that any comments directed toward her would have to go through me first. When I was a kid, it had worked. People had backed off a bit, unwilling to cause problems. As I'd gotten older, though, it seemed to have become harder for the population just to accept shit as none of their business. I never knew if it had been the change in my appearance or the social changes that had risen up around us, forcing people to take a second look and choose which side they wanted to be on. As if there were fucking sides, to begin with.
"Dad should be home in a little bit," Mom said, pulling my attention away from how her delicate hands placed small letters in an arch across the top of the page. "We're grilling burgers if you want to stay."
"Maybe," I replied. "I actually wanted to talk to you guys."
"About what?" She looked at me curiously.
"I think it's time I head down to California," I said quietly, watching her eyes flicker in barely disguised pain. "It's been a few months and we've all cooled off—"
"You know I don't think that's a good idea," she cut me off, her hands gone motionless on the table.
"Someone's gotta go down there, Mom."
"I should go," she replied stubbornly.
"No," I said with a swift shake of my head. I couldn't imagine my mom going very far from home, to begin with, but I refused to imagine her going to California to see Henry's kid and getting shot down by the kid's mother, or, even worse, being manipulated in order to have a relationship with the baby. It would completely devastate her.
"Trevor," she said in warning, her back straightening away from her chair back. "I know you worry, son, but you have no idea how to handle situations like this. Birth mothers are—"
"Yes," she said patiently, reaching out to pat my knee. "They're protective."
"And adoptive mothers aren't?" I argued, clenching my jaw.
Mom laughed. "Please," she joked. "I'd fight a mountain lion for my sons."
"Then what are you—"
She stopped my sentence with a raised hand. "I should have said 'mothers,' okay?" she said with a small smile. "I meant all mothers. They're protective. And if you go down there, being abrasive and throwing your weight around, she's not going to want anything to do with us."
"When am I ever abrasive?" I argued.
"You mean other than right now?" she asked dryly.
"I don't think it's a good idea for you to go down there, Ma," I said softly, unsure how to describe my reservations without insulting her.
"Agreed," my dad said from the doorway behind us. "You know how I feel about it, El."
"I'm not some piece of China," Mom said in exasperation, glaring at her husband.
"You don't know the woman—"
"I know her name. I know that she knew my boy—quite well if they had a child together. I know she's raising that child without the help of my son, and has apparently been doing that since before he died!" I followed my mom as she rose indignantly to her feet.
"Trevor can go down and introduce himself," my dad said, his eyes tightening at the corners and his voice deepening. "And you can be pissed all you want. I wanna meet Henry's child as much as you do, but you are my priority, sweetheart."
The worry in my dad's eyes must have hit a switch inside my mom, because one second she was standing rigidly in the middle of the room preparing for battle, and the next she'd softened and was walking slowly toward my dad, wrapping her arms around his middle as he stood with his arms braced on each side of the door frame.
"When you thinking about heading down?" Dad asked as his arms wound around Mom's shoulders.
"Next week," I replied, leaning my hip against the craft table. "I'm gonna drive down so I've got my truck."
"Shitty drive," Dad said in commiseration. "You gonna stay with Shane and Katie? Maybe they'd come with you to meet the baby."
"You're kidding, right?" I answered, my lips twitching. "I thought we didn't want to scare the mom off."
My dad guffawed as Mom shook her head.
"Everyone loves Kate," she said in admonishment. "If anything, she'd probably become best friends with the girl."
"Let's just wait and make sure she's worth being best friends with, huh?" I said as we moved out of the craft room and down the hallway toward the kitchen. "We don't know anything about her."
"Henry clearly liked her."
"Not necessarily," I said, embarrassment making heat race up the back of my neck. "We don't know if there was a relationship."
"Clearly not an important one if Hen didn't ever mention her," my dad said as he pulled food out of the fridge.
"What?" my mom asked, glancing between the two of us. "Are you saying she was a—a one-night stand?" She sounded so scandalized that my dad snorted out a laugh, while I wanted to sink through the floor. Having any conversation about sex with my mother ranked at about the same level of discomfort as having my balls waxed…actually, I'd rather be having my balls waxed.
"Not sure that Henry really had relationships," I muttered when she continued to stare at me as if waiting for an answer.
"Well, that's just great," she barked as she stomped toward the kitchen sink. "And what about you?"
My eyes widened in horror as I stood there frozen, too afraid to move in case a sound would make her turn in my direction.
"Quit," Dad said, slapping my mom's hip lightly. "He doesn't want to talk about that shit with you, crazy woman."
"I thought I raised them to respect women," she replied as if I wasn't even in the room. "I thought I taught them that sex was a gift and shouldn't be taken lightly, but accepted with gratefulness."
"Now you're saying our sons should be grateful to women willing to have sex with them?" Dad asked dubiously as I looked around, frantically trying to figure out the best escape route.
"Well, aren't you grateful I have sex with you?" my mom snapped.
"Fair enough," Dad said in agreement.
Oh, fuck this. I needed to get the hell out of there.
"Trevor Raymond Harris, don't even think about it," Mom said without turning in my direction. I'd taken only one step backward.
"I need a beer," I said, inching my way toward the back door. My dad always kept his brews in a cooler out back so Mom had enough room in the fridge for food.
"You see what happens when you have sex willy-nilly?" Mom asked, spinning to stop my movement with a glare. "You see?"
"I've never gotten anyone pregnant," I said sharply, my shoulders snapping straight. "And I wouldn't."
"You can't know that for certain."
"I can damn sure do my best," I retorted, standing my ground. "I'm careful, always."
"Careful doesn't mean shit—"
"Ellie," Dad interrupted. "That's enough."
Mom's mouth snapped closed.
"It's not Trev you're mad at. Quit harping on him."
Mom's body practically quivered with suppressed anger, but she nodded shortly. "Go get your beer," she ordered, her voice softening a little. She left the room without another word.
"Jesus," I mumbled once she was out of earshot.
"She's dealing with a lot," Dad said, turning back to the onion he was slicing. "But you know that wasn't meant for you, right?"
"Yeah, I know."
"She's trying to understand what your brother was thinking, leaving that baby," he said without turning to look at me. "After all we've been through, those years of hoping and realizing that it just wasn't gonna happen for us, and then finding a different way to build our family…hell, I don't understand it, either."
"Just because it might've been a one-night stand," I said, shaking my head even though he couldn't see me. "That isn't a reason. Wouldn't be a reason for me."
"I know that Trev," he said, looking over his shoulder at me and nodding. "I know you, son."
"I don't understand it either."
"You and Henry have never been the same person," Dad said, going back to his onion. "You and Shane and Henry have always been as different as chalk and cheese and steak, and that doesn't have nothing to do with how you look or when you came to live with us. Your personalities just couldn't be more different."
"I never would have thought that he'd do something like this," I said in disgust, stepping outside to grab a couple beers. When I stepped back inside, Dad was rinsing off his hands.
"I couldn't have imagined it either," Dad said, accepting his beer with a nod of thanks. "But shit. You're all grown men now. Gotta make your own decisions and live your own lives. I just keep telling myself that we've got no idea what the circumstances were around Henry leaving that baby."
"It's bullshit," I replied stubbornly.
Dad reached out and gave my shoulder a squeeze. "Remember one thing, Trev, while you're being pissed at your brother. He might not have taken care of his responsibilities the way we would've, but he still set up that life insurance to take care of them in case anything happened to him."
"You're not angry?" I asked as he picked up the platter of raw hamburgers.
Dad scoffed. "If he was here, I'd throttle the little asshole," he mumbled as he took the platter outside.
* * *
I rode my four-wheeler home late that night. I'd always enjoyed hanging out at my parents' place when I had the time. Even after my mom had lost her shit in the kitchen, I'd still stay long after dinner bullshitting with the two of them. She'd seemed to have calmed down after a little time to herself, and I was thankful.
I'd always been really sensitive to my mom's moods. The moment I met her, I'd fallen in love with her. I'd been seven, standing on the front porch, surrounded by more trees than I'd ever seen in my life, with my social worker's hand on my shoulder and a ratty backpack strap hanging from my hand. And when the door had opened and the small white woman with her soft smile and pretty-smelling perfume invited us in, I'd felt like I'd hit the jackpot. I'd been in a lot of foster homes by then—more than I could remember or count—but for some reason, I'd felt instantly like I'd found where I belonged.
I hadn't even minded much when her barrel-chested husband had come into the room and rubbed his hand over the small of her back in greeting. No, that was a lie. At first, I'd wanted Mike gone. The pretty lady who smelled like vanilla was mine, and I'd had a hard time watching him move around her and kiss her. I'd had few good experiences with men at that point, and the big man seemed like trouble.
As weeks had passed and I never witnessed Mike raise his voice, much less his hand, toward Ellie, he began to grow on me. I'd eventually even begun to spend time with him, tromping through the woods and fishing in the creek that ran through the property. Over time, our bond had strengthened into something that was lasting and irreplaceable.
But if I was honest with myself, even after I'd begun to call the two my parents, and even after Mike had wiped at his eyes during my adoption hearing—the first time I'd ever seen a grown man cry—my first love, and my biggest love, had always been Ellie. My mom.
So when Ellie cried, I felt it deep in my gut. When she was happy, it was like my entire body lightened until I felt like I could run for miles. I felt her emotions almost as if they were my own, and I'd spent a lifetime adjusting to her moods even though it drove her crazy. She'd never understand the way I felt about her. She couldn't.
She'd taken in a seven-year-old boy who'd never had a damn thing in his entire life, and she'd loved him. Her love hadn't been something I had to earn, and it had never been conditional. She loved me because I existed. It was that simple. And because it was so simple, I'd spent my life loving her back.
I think, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, my love for Mom was the reason why I couldn't forgive Henry. Beyond the fact that he'd gotten some woman pregnant and hadn't told me, his brother, and beyond the fact that he'd left that woman high and dry and had abandoned his child, I couldn't forgive him for the way Ellie's face had fallen when I'd given her the news. And I couldn't forget that he'd made me the bearer of that news by setting it up so that his will was given to me. The little asshole.
My house was dark and quiet as I stepped inside, and I wished for the millionth time that I had a dog. It would be nice to have someone to hang out with, someone who was waiting and happy to see me when I got home. But I just couldn't justify bringing a pup home when I was usually working late and it would be by itself all day.
I shoved out of my boots and pulled off my coat as I ambled into the living room and dropped onto the couch. Summer was coming, so there wasn't shit on TV, but I found a new action movie that I hadn't seen and threw my feet up on the coffee table. I needed a reprieve from the thoughts of Henry and my upcoming trip.
* * *
The next week passed in a blur of taking care of things that wouldn't wait at work and getting my house ready to close up for a while. I wasn't sure how long I'd be in California getting to know Henry's little girl and her mother, but I sure as hell didn't want to come back to a messy house and a fridge full of rotten food.
My house was built on my parents' property, so I knew it would be easy for them to run over and take care of things while I was gone, but I didn't want to bother them with it. I'd built my house on that piece of land partly because I couldn't imagine leaving the forest that had saved me when I was a kid and partly because I knew my parents would never leave, and eventually they'd need me close. Both my mom and dad were still young and getting around fine, but my dad had been a logger for thirty years before he'd partially retired, and I knew that the day was coming when he'd have trouble. Logging wasn't easy on a body. The pure physicality of the job would ensure that my dad's joints and bones wouldn't age gracefully, even if that same job had kept him fit well into his fifties.
My phone rang as I was cooking dinner with what was left in my fridge, and I answered it without picking it up off the counter.
"Hello?" I answered, barely paying attention.
"Trev?" Anita called. "Why can I barely hear you?"
"You're on speakerphone, what's up?" I asked, wrinkling my nose as I realized the broccoli I'd been ready to throw in the skillet was slimy on the bottom. Shit.
They’ve spent their lives pushing each other away, but what will happen when they need each other most?
Anita Martin doesn’t expect much from life. Growing up on the street, bouncing from one foster home to another, she learned to rely only on herself. Even after she finally found a loving family to take her in, she was still an outsider-something Abraham, one of the family’s older sons, never let her forget.
Abraham Evans doesn’t know how Ani always manages to get under his skin, only that’s she’s been doing it since they were teens. She is and always has been-undeniably gorgeous. But he’s never met anyone as pissed off at the world as Ani.
For fifteen years, Ani and Bram have agreed on exactly one thing: they can’t stand each other until one night when their anger gives way to passion. Yet even as Ani and Bram begin to secretly seek comfort in one another’s arms, they remain emotionally worlds apart. When Ani’s life takes a dramatic turn and she realizes she needs more than Bram can give, their fragile, no-strings relationship unravels. One way or another, Ani is determined to survive. But when Bram finally admits his true feelings, he may discover Ani has moved on without him . . .
Sixteen years old
People always hid the good shit in their bedrooms.
It was like they believed that some invisible force field kept others from finding the huge dildo or the small stash of weed in their top dresser drawer. Wrong. The only things that kept me from snooping were padlocks and Dobermans—and even those could be bypassed.
I never looked for the expensive things. Most of the foster homes I'd lived in didn't have expensive things, and even if they did, I had no use for them. What was I going to do, try and pawn stolen jewelry? I wasn't that stupid.
I also wasn't planning on living on the streets. I'd tried that once.
A fourteen-year-old girl who was a little over five feet tall and less than a hundred pounds didn't have a chance living out there without getting the shit kicked out of her by other homeless people who were bigger, stronger, and had been doing it a lot longer than she had. I didn't even want to remember the others, the ones who'd been a little too nice to me.
No, I'd stay in foster care. For the most part, the families I'd lived with weren't so bad. Sure, a lot of them were in it for the money the state gave them for my upkeep, and there might have been the occasional drinking problem or porn addiction, but in the seven houses I'd lived in, there was only one that I'd left on purpose. I'd felt no guilt over calling the police when I found the overly handsy foster dad's stash of heroin. Boom—new foster home for me.
One guess where I'd found that little nugget of escape. Yep, the bedroom.
I smirked to myself as I pulled open the drawer in the nightstand that sat to the right of my newest foster parents' king-sized bed. A pair of glasses, a string of condoms, a broken necklace, a few buttons, a romance novel, and lube greeted my eyes. I shuddered but slammed the drawer closed. Gross, but nothing out of the ordinary.
I'd already searched through the dresser and the matching nightstand and hadn't found anything. Where did they hide the juicy stuff? I needed leverage, dammit.
"What the fuck are you doing in here?" a deep voice said from behind me as I took a step toward the closet.
"Looking for the bathroom?" I replied in an overly innocent tone.
I spun slowly to meet the eyes of the guy standing in the bedroom doorway. Jesus, it was Bram. It was just my luck that the jackass adopted twin son of my foster parents had to be the one who'd caught me. The other twin, Alex, would have laughed, put me in a headlock that I was far too old for, and dragged me out of the room.
This brother, on the other hand, was going to be a problem. The two were so different it was amazing that they were brothers, not to mention identical twins. Not that anyone would ever mistake one for the other. Where Alex was fun and happy and smiling, Bram was a total asshole. And I meant that in the nicest possible way.
He was angry and scowling all the time. It was as if the entire world had let him down, and he no longer had the time to pretend to enjoy anything. Yeah, join the club, dude.
I stared at his face for a few seconds, wondering if I'd be able to talk myself out of the mess I'd gotten into, when Bram took one fast step forward and grabbed ahold of my wrist, jerking me back out of the bedroom.
Nope. I wasn't getting out of it.
"What did you take?" he hissed, glaring at me as he shoved me back a couple steps down the hallway.
"Nothing," I said back, rubbing my wrist.
I considered myself pretty street savvy, and I didn't think Bram was going to hurt me or anything, but the guy was really freaking intimidating. He was almost a foot taller than I was, with broad shoulders and a five-o'clock shadow that highlighted the fact that he was grown. At nineteen, neither of the boys lived in the house with us, but they shared an apartment in the detached garage, which meant I saw them pretty often.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, turning away from him to move toward the living room. Nervousness would look like guilt, and since I wasn't fucking guilty of anything but taking a quick look around, I wasn't going to let him know he intimidated me. "Aren't you supposed to be at work or something?"
I knew he was supposed to be at work. I knew everyone's schedule; that's why I'd thought it was safe to get the lay of the land. I'd only been in the Evans house for a little over two weeks, but everything seemed a bit too good to be true. So when my foster mom Liz took her daughter Katie into town for some Christmas shopping and the guys were at the logging office for the day, I'd thought I was in the clear.
I'd barely gotten to the living room entrance before hands were gripping me once again, halting my movement.
"What the hell did you take?" Bram asked again as I tried to pull away.
He gave me a little shake and jerked me around to face him, and all of my earlier bravado vanished in an instant.
"I didn't take anything," I whispered hoarsely, lifting my chin as I slapped at his hands.
"You think you're the first kid to pull this shit?" he asked harshly through clenched teeth. "My parents took you in, buy you shit, feed you—and you steal from them?"
"I didn't fucking take anything!" I repeated, swallowing hard.
I froze completely as one of Bram's hands dropped from my shoulder and slid down the front of my stomach, sliding around the edge of my hip and across my back. I didn't move away when he dropped to his knees and lifted up each pant leg to check the inside of my ratty dollar store socks, and I barely breathed as he wiggled his fingers into the front pockets of my jeans and then the back pockets.
When his hands moved back up, my eyesight began to grow hazy from lack of oxygen, and just as his palm slid down between my breasts, I took in a large gasp of air that turned into a loud sob.
"Anita?" Bram asked in confusion, dropping his hands as he took a frantic step backward, his hands in the air.
"I told you I didn't take anything," I murmured, staring at him through tear-blurred eyes. "I told you."
"I'm sorry. I—you were in my parents' room," he stuttered, his expression softer than I'd ever seen it before.
I wiped my face with the long sleeves of my T-shirt and moved backward, watching him closely for any indication that he would try and stop me. Then, when I'd finally gotten my breathing under control, I spoke. "If you ever touch me again, I'll kill you."
I turned and ran toward my room, never slowing even though I couldn't hear him following me.
Later, we pretended that nothing happened. He didn't rat me out, and I didn't tell his parents that he'd felt me up. Our silence wasn't a truce though; it was battle lines clearly drawn.
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