Four years ago John Howard made the biggest mistake of his life. He walked away from the only woman he’d ever loved. Now he’s back, older and wiser, and all he needs is a little forgiveness and a second chance.
The last thing Megan Carter needs is to be reminded how much John hurt her. When she literally falls into his arms, the pain of his rejection resurfaces with a vengeance. John is best friends with Meg’s brother-in-law, making it impossible to avoid him so Meg agrees to put her anger aside. That, however, doesn’t mean she’s forgotten.
Despite John’s attempts to fix their relationship, Meg is determined not to give him another chance to break her heart. But how can she possibly resist him when all her heart wants is the love she lost so long ago?
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Meg cursed, sliding on the ice as she walked up Steven and Suzanna’s sidewalk. All dressed up for a Christmas dinner party and she was going to kill herself before she even got there.
She wasn’t sure how well the party was actually going. She was at least fifteen minutes late and her car was the only one that didn’t belong in the driveway. Hopefully Suzanna wasn’t sitting in a puddle of hormone-induced tears.
Pregnancy had not been kind to Meg’s older sister. Suzanna’s emotions were off the chart crazy and her decision-making wasn’t far behind. Who has a last minute dinner party the week before Christmas and thinks people are actually going to have time to show up? A pregnant Suzanna, that’s who.
Meg had first suspected something had changed in her sister when Suzanna got the wrong kind of cheese on her sandwich at the drive-through and sobbed uncontrollably over the missing cheddar.
Meg immediately dragged Suzanna to the drugstore, bought a stick test, and made her pee on it—all before their lunch hour had even ended.
Suzanna hadn’t stopped crying since.
Easing her way up the slippery stairs and onto the front porch, Meg made it to the door without falling on her ass. She smiled when Steven pulled the door open and nearly ran over him to get out of the bitter cold. She should have known better than to wear a skirt. Iowa was not kind in the winter.
“You need to put salt on your sidewalk,” she said.
“You didn’t fall down did you?”
She shook her head as he helped her with her coat. “I have impeccable balance. Even on ice.”
She lowered her voice. “Where is everyone?”
“Suzanna said you were having a dinner party.”
Steven’s gray eyes widened and his mouth opened and closed several times, reminding Meg of a fish out of water. “Uh, it’s not so much a dinner party as just…dinner.”
She looked at him in his slacks and button down shirt and then at herself in dangerously high heels and tight black dress. “Then why did we have to dress up?”
Steven sighed. “Because Suzanna said so.”
Meg grinned. “Never argue with a pregnant woman. Wise man.”
“She said you have a friend staying with you for a while.”
He had that look again. A panicked fish. “Uh. He’s, uh…” Steven ran a hand through his brown hair and exhaled a long slow breath.
“Uh, you know, Suzanna is in the kitchen trying to make lasagna or something. She probably needs you.”
Meg took a moment to process Steven’s discomfort. “So am I the only guest then? Me and your friend?”
Steven stuffed his hands in his pockets and nodded slightly.
Meg closed her eyes and sighed. “Tell me you are not trying to set me up.”
His hands flew from his pockets and he held them up as if to defend himself from the impending attack. “I am completely innocent in this. I swear. Take it up with Suzanna. I’m just the man of the house, and I assure you, that means nothing here.”
“Damn her. Well, is he at least cute?”
“I think…he’s…you know…your type.”
Whatever that was. Her last few so-called serious relationships were with men as different as Chinese and Italian food. Madman, the badass biker, had let her go a bit crazy but his irresponsibility got old fast. She’d slipped out of his bed in the middle of the night and never heard from him again. Zach, the supersensitive guy, had sent her flowers and candy on a near daily basis. He also cried more than her pregnant sister did now, which was more than straight arrow Megan Carter could handle. She’d taken a box of tissues with her the night she broke up with him. He used half the box.
Then there was Ben, the hippie who preached the benefits of living off nothing but what Mother Nature offered. He’d left her when he caught her eating a Big Mac. He said he could never spend his life with someone who was so disrespectful to her body. Meg had finished her fries as she watched him pack.
And John. She refused to think about John. The last time she’d seen him, he was walking out of her life so he could do his residency in New York. Without her. He got to move forward in his career in an exciting new location. She was left alone to mend a broken heart.
Meg frowned at her brother-in-law. “I’ll give you a pass this time because I know how frightening Suz is at the moment, but as soon as she has that kid, the gloves come off. If you ever set me up on a date again—”
“Will never happen.” He crossed his heart.
“I can’t believe this.” She walked to the kitchen and pushed open the swinging door. She stopped long enough to see Suzanna hiss as she touched a hot pan. “What do you think you are doing?”
“Oh, hey. I didn’t hear you come in.”
Suzanna rubbed her burned fingers together. “I’m making lasagna.”
“And burning yourself.” Meg moved into the kitchen, letting the door close behind her. “Move.” Using a potholder to hold the pan, she picked up the utensil Suzanna had been using and finished cutting the pasta. “You said this was a dinner party. That entails guests. More than one.”
“It’s not so much a dinner party as just dinner.”
Meg rolled her eyes. “So I heard. I also heard that you’re setting me up on a date without me even knowing it.”
“It’s not a date. Did Steven say it was a date? Jeez.” She picked a piece of cheese off the lasagna and shoved it in her mouth. “It’s just dinner.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I just wanted to, you know…” Suzanna turned on the faucet to wash her hands.
Meg opened a cabinet and pulled out four plates. “I told you, I am taking a dating hiatus. I don’t need a man in my life right now.”
“I’m glad you know that, but that doesn’t mean you have to be single forever either. How long has it been since that hippie dumped you for not respecting your digestive system?”
Picking up the utensil again, Meg chuckled. “Can we not talk about that? That was not my finest hour.”
“Hey, you’re the one who dated him.”
“He was cute in a bohemian kind of way. Oh, my God, he was fantastic in bed,” she added almost mournfully.
“Are you going to rehash every relationship I’ve ever had? Because you dated some real losers before you married Steven.”
“Right. So, um…”
Suzanna was trying to sound casual, but it made Meg instantly suspicious. She stopped severing the lasagna and turned to face her sister.
“What?” Meg demanded.
“Well, what…what about…John?”
Meg’s heart fell to her stomach like a boulder plummeting off the top of the Empire State Building, twisting into a tight knot and exploding in a million pieces. His blue eyes flashed through her mind. She recalled his dark hair as clearly as she remembered his hands on her as they made love, the way his hot breath rushed over her as he promised to love her forever. Then, as always, she remembered the day he’d walked out on her.
She cleared her throat and shook her head. “What about John?”
“Well…do you still think he was a mistake?”
“Why are we even talking about him? We’re talking about tonight. Are you, or are you not, trying set me up on a date?”
Suzanna looked at her. “No, I’m not. I’m…helping you…face some things.”
Meg creased her brow but trying to read between Suzanna’s lines these days was like trying to read instructions from IKEA. In Arabic. “What things?”
“You know…whenever John comes to visit, you stay, like, ten miles away until you are certain he is gone.”
“Because I don’t want to see him.”
“Yeah, but…remember, I told you he’s moving back to town? Eventually you’re going to have to face him and…I think the sooner you do that, the better it will be for all of us.”
Meg narrowed her eyes into slits as she glared. “Oh. My. God. If you tell me that Steven’s friend is John, I will kill you.”
Suzanna started scooping salad into bowls as if she weren’t the least bit concerned about Meg’s reaction. “He needed a place to stay until he finds a house. He is Steven’s best friend.”
Suzanna continued as though Meg hadn’t spoken. “And you’re my sister so you guys are going to see each other. Especially after the baby is born, which could be any day now.” Suzanna stopped filling bowls and looked at Meg. “So. It’s time to make peace with the past and move on.”
“You could have warned me.”
“You wouldn’t have come.”
Suzanna sagged a bit. “You have to face him sometime. Why not here? Where Steven and I can offer some support and…refereeing if necessary.”
Meg swallowed, but her mouth was so dry it was almost painful. “Why would you do this?” Her voice was soft but strained. It was nearly impossible to breathe, let alone speak.
“Honey, I know better than anyone how much he hurt you. I am still angry at him for that. I will never forget how he broke your heart. But it was four years ago. You keep saying you’ve moved on, so go out there, face him, and actually move on.”
“This is way out of line, even for you.”
“I didn’t ask him to come home, Meg. He got sick of all the blood and gore in New York ERs and approached the clinic about working there. He just got back yesterday. I thought I’d save you the stress of trying to avoid him for the rest of your life.”
“I hate you so much.”
“You love me.” Suzanna gave Meg a bright smile. “Hey, you said business is slow. He’s going to need a real estate agent to find a house. I told him I happen to know the best one in town.”
“Does he know it’s me?”
Meg used the spatula to point to the living room. She ignored the sound of pasta sauce and chunks of melted cheese splattering on the tile floor. “You go in there right now and tell him.”
“Tell him what?”
“Oh, my God.” Meg rolled her head back and closed her eyes.
“Look at me. Meg.”
When Meg opened her eyes, she was surprised at the sheen of tears there.
“I’m not saying you have to like him, but you will have to learn how to be around him. Peacefully. And not just because this is a small town. I am not going to have my baby born with so much animosity in this family.”
“He is not your family. I am.”
“He’s the closest thing Steven has to a brother. That makes you guys aunt and uncle to this little one, and I will not have you hating each other around her.”
Meg dropped the spatula and started for the door. “I can’t. I can’t.”
Suzanna waddled after her sister. “Wait, damn it.”
Meg stopped abruptly. The sound of a deep familiar voice on the other side of the door sent a shiver running through her.
Suzanna, unable to stop as quickly, hit Meg in the back with her stomach. “Ugh. What now?”
Meg turned and said with a panicked whisper, “He’s out there.” She glanced around the kitchen desperately, like a trapped animal, until she spotted the back door. “I’ll go that way.”
“You don’t have your coat.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Or your car keys.”
Meg’s hope faded. “Damn you, Suzanna!”
“Just go out there and say hello.”
The urge to strangle Suzanna took over. It was a feeling Meg had fought for the better part of her life. She took a deep breath to calm herself. She was about to tell her sister to distract John so she could sneak out, but before Meg could speak, Suzanna put her hands to Meg’s shoulders and shoved. Meg squealed as she tumbled backwards through the swinging door.
The unexpected push from Suzanna and Meg’s extremely high heels were a near-lethal combination. Meg tripped over her own feet, reaching out for the door in a failed attempt to stop herself from falling. She was anticipating a hard landing on the pinewood floor, but instead, she fell into two arms. The strong limbs encircled her from behind and stopped her from bruising her ass.
Meg closed her eyes and exhaled slowly as a mix of relief and dread washed through her. The room was silent, and it seemed time had stopped until the man who had caught her gently lifted her to stand upright.
Meg held her breath as she slowly turned. As she expected, John was staring at her with his mouth hanging open.
Forever Yours is available at these retailers: