Sweet Home, Alaska, was once a thriving, idyllic town, where A Stone's Throw Hardware and Haberdashery and the Sisterhood of the Quilt were the cornerstones of the community. Then, in one fatal moment, two young lives were cut short, and everything changed. Now the Stone family businesses have closed, the diner is in the red, and the population has dwindled to 573.
After the tragic accident that took her sister's life, Hope McKnight discovered she was pregnant, and gave up her dreams of college to raise her daughter. When Donovan Stone returns to sell his family's properties and to cut final ties with Sweet Home, he's shocked to find Hope still there--and a single mother. The pull between Hope and Donovan is as powerful as ever. But so are the secrets and lies stemming from that long-ago tragedy. Will they be able to overcome the past, or will the heartbreak of bygone days destroy their love again?
Donovan scanned Hope, comparing his memory of seventeen-year-old Hope to current Hope. Current Hope needed to eat more, smile more, and get more rest, if the dark circles under her eyes were any indication. What happened to her after he left? “So you’re still in Sweet Home?” It was a leading question but he wanted answers . . . whether she wanted to give them or not.
Her lips turned into a stubborn straight line, letting him know she wasn’t going to respond. She pointed to the other room. “How does Rick know who I am?”
“Intuition,” Donovan deadpanned.
“I don’t think so,” Hope said.
She was all attitude, no longer the sweet go-along-with-anything-he-said-girl. And the weird thing was, he kind of liked her this way.
Hope straightened her shoulders and stared him down. “Where’s your wife?”
Once again, she’d caught him off guard.
“I left her at home,” Donovan lied, trying to be as brazen as Hope.
Rick hollered from the kitchen, “Don’t let him fool you, Hope. He’s not married.” He stuck his head around the corner. “Never found the right woman.”
Donovan raised an eyebrow at Rick. “I think you should go outside and check for bears. Take some food with you. They like that.” Which reminded Donovan that he should pick up bear repellent if they were going to be here for a few days. Maybe a rifle, too. And Grandpa used to keep a soup can filled with marbles on the porch to scare them away.
“I’ll pass,” Rick said. “The kitchen is calling me.”
“What’s your dog’s name?” Hope nuzzled the dog, not meeting Donovan’s eye.
He frowned at his charge. “He’s not necessarily my dog.”
“Yes, he is,” came from the kitchen. “And the dog’s name is Boomer.”
Hope smiled and pointed to the other room. “I like your business manager.” Her face was contorted, as if she couldn’t comprehend why anyone would need a business manager.
“He’s worthless,” Donovan said loud enough for Rick to hear. “I really should fire him.” Donovan moved closer to the fireplace, where Hope stood. “What’s your daughter’s name?”
She stared at him wide-eyed but finally answered, “Ella.”
The name rocked him. “For Isabella?” Hope’s sister.
She nodded, this time with all the sadness in the world. “Yes.”
He went to a safer subject. “How’s your dad doing?”
Misery filled Hope’s eyes and they began to mist. “He’s gone. Heart attack, last month.”
He reached out to touch her but stopped himself. “Oh, Hope. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
She moved her head as if trying to shake off the grief. “I heard about your grandfather. He meant a lot to all of us. As did your grandmother.”
For a moment, mutual grief filled the room. That one small connection felt like old times. Hope had always been so empathetic—issuing compassion as easily as if sharing a Ziploc bag of Oreos during lunch period. But they weren’t kids anymore and he wasn’t in the mood.
He stepped away. “Rick, what are you doing in there?”
A second later, Rick came into the room with a tray of chips, Pop-Tarts, and nuts, arranged like hors d’oeuvres.
“Are you kidding me?” Donovan exclaimed. The guy had been an elite Marine Force Recon and now he was acting like Martha Stewart.
Rick set the tray on the side table closest to Hope. “You have a guest. It’s only right you feed her.”
Hope did need to gain some weight. “Eat,” Donovan said.
Rick sighed heavily. “Sorry about him. He usually has manners.” He snatched a Pop-Tart before taking the seat across from her. “So Donovan tells me you were a better shot than him when you were kids.”
Surprised, she glanced at Donovan for a split second before answering Rick. “I just have better depth perception.”
“I’m the one who taught her how to shoot!” Donovan complained. He could’ve told her he’d qualified for Expert in the Corps but he didn’t share that info about himself.
Rick nudged the tray toward her. “Please have something. I don’t like to eat alone.”
Yeah, Donovan had heard his friend use that line many times on unsuspecting females. Rick oozed charm. And suddenly, Donovan got worried. If Rick spent too much time around Hope, she’d fall for him, like all women did.
“She better go.” Donovan approached Hope, not to hug her good-bye but to take the dog.
“Yes. I need to get home.” Reluctantly, she handed over Boomer before starting for the door.
“Hold up,” Rick said. “Donovan will see you out.”
Donovan gave Rick the I’ll-set-you-straight-when-I-get-back look before handing the puppy off to him.
“Yeah, I’ll walk you out,” he said, following her. “For protection.”
“I can take care of myself,” Hope said over her shoulder.
“Humor me, then.” Donovan hurried around her and held the door open.
He walked her out to her beat-up Honda Civic. “It was good to see you.” It wasn’t, really. The encounter made him feel uncomfortable on so many levels.
“Sure.” She knew he didn’t mean it. “Good-bye, Donovan.”
Her words were firm and felt final.
Fine by me. He walked back to the lodge, shivering from the cold.
Rick was waiting at the door. “Now that girl is a good reason to stay.”
For you or for me? Donovan shook the thought away. Long ago, he’d told Rick all about Hope, and he was certain Rick would never go after someone Donovan was interested in.
But Donovan wasn’t interested in Hope. Not since the day his brother Beau died.