Second Chances (Woodburn Book 1)(7)

By: Rhea Madison

Mark had been a charismatic frat boy when she’d met him, and he’d easily swept Ellen off her feet. He was show-stoppingly gorgeous, not as much as John Bramlett perhaps, but gorgeous all the same. She’d been sucked in by his honey-colored eyes and witty charm. He even had a sprinkling of freckles across his nose that Ellen had found utterly irresistible. His floofy frat-boy hair had disappeared about two weeks before he’d gotten his undergrad, and with the entrance of law school into their lives, Mark had lost much of the lightheartedness and fun that had drawn Ellen to him in the first place. It all sounded so damned cliche.

With a sigh, she tossed down her napkin and swallowed a mouthful of the vanilla Coke.

“Not giving up already, are you?” John teased, taking another fry.

“No... I’m still hungry, just... thinking.”

“Woodburn is a nice place to do that,” he told her, voice warm and inviting. John thanked Rhys when she set his food in front of him, and Ellen took a couple of his fries as repayment. His eyes glimmered with humor. “So what’s your story Ellen Hastings-but-not-much-longer? No, wait... let me see if I can guess.”

Ellen cocked an eyebrow at him and ate a few more of her fries. They really were incredible.

“You already told me you’re from Atlanta. I’m guessing you’re some rich businesswoman... maybe an interior designer or something equally high-falutin’. Your husband must have done something horrible or there’d be no reason for you to give up a name like Hastings. Even this far north of Atlanta that name carries weight. And now you’re running away from him and whatever entrapments his name and money afford you.”

She frowned at him. Her father-in-law, Oliver Hastings the Third, was a property mogul, and Ellen knew he owned land all over the southeast. She hadn’t guessed that his name was known outside the rich and snooty so-and-so’s of Atlanta, though. “Basically,” she said, not wanting to admit just how close to the mark he’d gotten. “I’d prefer not to talk about it if you don’t mind.”

Picking up her burger, she took another bite, but in the wake of John’s assessment, it seemed to have lost some of its luster. The fries were getting cold now and the Coke watery.

“Well, what would you like to talk about?”

“What makes you think I want to talk at all?”

“Because you look lonely.”

“I’m alone. Doesn’t it stand to reason that I’d be lonely?”

“Alone and lonely aren’t the same thing, Ellen,” he said, then cleared his throat. “If it’s all right with you, I’ll wait till morning to take a look at your car. It’s late and it’s been a long day.”

Ellen nodded, yawning and propping her cheek on her fist while listlessly picking at the fries on her plate. She frowned again when she realized that typically she didn’t give people like John Bramlett the time of day. He was a nice man, though. Easy on the eyes, to be sure. The thought made her heart race, and she glanced up to find him watching her with a mixture of concern and amusement. “Something funny?”

“Not a thing,” he promised, polishing off the last bite of his dinner. “Want me to get Rhys to box that up for you?”

“Sure,” she said, then reached for his hand as he made to stand. “Thank you, John. I mean it. You have been very kind to me when you didn’t have to be, and I... I really appreciate that.”

“My pleasure,” he said with a genuine smile. “Let me take care of this, and-”

“Oh, no! No, you don’t have to pay for my dinner, I-”

He held up a piece of paper and waved it at her. “This one’s mine,” he told her, then pointed to its twin on the table. “Yours is there.”

“Oh. Oh... sorry,” she said sheepishly.

John chuckled. “Let’s take care of this and I’ll give you a lift to the inn.”


John Bramlett tapped his fingers against the steering wheel of his truck as he waited to see what would happen to Ellen Hastings. He and his father had spent the summer before his sixteenth birthday restoring the ‘76 F-150. He loved this truck. Every time he sat behind the wheel, he thought about those long summer nights with his dad in the garage behind his childhood home. Besides repairing the truck, those nights had been filled with conversations about everything from the best bait for catching bass to advice about love and relationships. All those conversations were even more important for him to remember now that his dad was gone. His parents had been killed in a car accident just two months after his sixteenth birthday.