Second Chances (Woodburn Book 1)(3)

By: Rhea Madison

“All I have is my purse. I left... in a hurry this morning.”

A question burned in John’s eyes, but he kept his mouth shut, gesturing for her to go fetch her things. Ellen did, and moments later, she was thanking God for trucks with working heaters as she warmed her hands over the dashboard vents. “That storm brought the chill with it,” John told her. “But it’ll be nice for the festival tomorrow. Are you far from home?”

“Atlanta,” she said, futilely trying to wipe the wetness out of her eyes. Her mascara burned, and she figured she probably looked like a raccoon.

“Napkins in the glove-box,” John said, steadfastly keeping his attention on the road. “So you’re hours away from home without a change of clothes? Where were you headed?”

“Away from Atlanta,” Ellen admitted. The only thought in her mind after seeing Mark like that had been to get away, as far and fast as she could. She’d have to go back, eventually. All her belongings were there in that two-story monstrosity that Mark had insisted they needed. Ellen always hated that damn house - a brick Georgian with the curb appeal of a shack. She’d always dreamed of a white lap-board with a wrap around porch, a few kids scampering about the yard, and a man to share it all with who loved her more than life.

The mechanic gave a nod of understanding. “Not much of a fan of big cities, myself. You got a name?”

Ellen frustrated herself by trying to remove her excess eye makeup in the little visor mirror. “Ellen Hastings,” she said, giving up on making herself look more presentable. “Well... shit,” she slumped back in her seat, lip quivering and tears threatening to fall anew. “I guess I won’t be ‘Hastings’ for much longer.”

John’s eyebrows rose in surprise, but he didn’t ask for details. He informed her that there was a Walmart on their way to the diner, and that he’d be happy to make a stop so that she could purchase enough things for an overnight stay. Ellen accepted his offer, and an hour later, she was seated in Jack’s Diner in a cheap pair of jeans and an equally horrible hoodie and sneakers. At least she was dry and warm.



Devon Tatum listened to his best friend’s distracted voice through his cell. John “ever-focused workaholic” Bramlett... distracted. Devon hadn’t thought he’d ever live to see the day.

“What’s going on, buddy?”

“There’s a woman...”

Devon waited for John to continue, though he could hardly believe the man had uttered the words. For John, sex and the opposite gender had all but ceased to exist since his wife had died five years ago. Sometimes Devon didn’t know how the man handled it. “A woman?” he prompted.

“Looks like her car’s broken down, I should-”

“Look at you! Getting to be the hero! Saving the damsel in distress! Is she hot?”

“It’s pouring down rain. She’s wet!”

Devon snickered and could practically hear John rolling his eyes. The sound of John’s old Ford rolling into the gravel was followed by a quiet curse.

“Shit. She’s hot.”

For a brief moment, Devon let himself rejoice that his friend still had a pulse. The man was long overdue to get laid, and what better prospect than a beautiful mystery woman who needed rescuing? “Are you gonna go for it?”

“Go for what? I’m going to see if I can fix her car, and if not, I’m going to offer her a ride into town. Then-”

“John, man, come on! You are killing me! You need to tap that.” Silence. “John?”

Devon sighed as he realized his friend had hung up on him. Sometimes he missed the finality of old-fashioned phones. There was something so satisfying about the resounding clang as you slammed the phone onto the receiver. Something so startling about hearing it from your end of the line.

Dropping his cell phone onto the table, he looked over the menu. He’d probably just get his usual - the patty melt with sweet potato fries. Then again, he could get the chili-cheese fries. Jack’s Diner boasted the best ones within a hundred mile radius, if not in the world. Devon had tried for years to get Jack to divulge his secret chili ingredient. The rumor was that he’d wheedled it out of Rhys once years ago when the two of them had had a brief love affair.

Suddenly the chili-cheese fries didn’t seem quite so appealing.

He was still studying the menu when he heard her. “Hey there!”

How Rhys Cameron always managed to reduce him to a quivering puddle of ineptitude, Devon had no idea, but she’d been doing it since they were in the second grade. The sound of her voice, the sight of her retreating head, the faintest whiff of her jasmine perfume had all his faculties refusing to function. The worst part was that Rhys might flirt with him all day long, but she’d never consent to go out with him. Not since that disastrous month they’d tried dating eight or nine years ago. Devon had blown what was likely his one and only chance with Rhys.