Second Chances (Woodburn Book 1)(8)

By: Rhea Madison

Shaking the memory away, he glanced at the door to the inn. He’d warned Ellen that, with the blueberry festival in town this weekend, there was a possibility that all the rooms would be full. With the amount of time it was taking her to get back out to the truck, he thought there might be an ounce of hope that something was left. He couldn’t help feeling sorry for the woman. Her day had obviously been trash, but the way she handled herself impressed him. If he’d been in that situation, he’d be ready to tear someone’s arms off by this point. It seemed like everything that could go wrong for her had.

Whatever had happened with her husband had shaken her. It didn’t take a ton of imagination to guess what that could have been. If whoever this Hastings guy was had cheated on a woman like Ellen, then he was an idiot. Plain and simple. Ellen was the prettiest girl he’d seen in a long while, even with her smudged makeup and limp, wet hair. Big, blue eyes nestled into her heart-shaped face, and her lips were so full and plump, it was impossible not to imagine himself kissing them.

Rolling his eyes, he flicked the radio on, letting John Mellencamp pull him out of his own head. John had been alone, by his own choices, since his wife, Leslie, had died five years ago. They’d been high school sweethearts, listed in the senior yearbook as the couple most likely to get married. He’d proposed to her the night before she’d left to go to college at UNC in Chapel Hill - over five hours away from him. But they’d managed the long distance thing well, and when she’d returned as a nurse four years later, they’d gotten married in Woodburn’s First Baptist church and never looked back. John had loved her like no one else, and five years after her death, he still wasn’t sure he was able to move on. Ellen Hastings may be beautiful, but she wasn’t Leslie. No one ever would be.

He was busy humming along to Pink Houses when the door to the truck opened, and Ellen Hastings hopped back into the seat a look of pure defeat marring her pretty features. “No rooms?”

“No rooms,” she sighed, and he didn’t miss the way her lower lip quivered. “The lady at the desk, Livvy, tried calling every inn, motel, and bed and breakfast in town. Every single room is booked solid. The Regan’s even have someone sleeping on their couch.” Ellen scrubbed her face with her hands. “I don’t know what to do.” The words were almost a whisper, and John was nearly overcome with the sudden urge to pull her into his arms.

“You can stay with me,” he said firmly, putting the truck in drive and rolling toward the road before she had the chance to protest. “I have a spare room, and I think I’ve proven that I’m not a serial killer.” He flashed her a grin that had her huffing a reluctant chuckle.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, fingers twisting in her lap.

“For what?” he asked, glancing over at her in the passenger seat.

“For putting you out like this, but you have no idea how grateful I am.”

“No problem. I’m just sorry it’s been such a shit day for you. But I have plenty of whiskey if you need to take your mind off things.”

Ellen gave another short laugh. “I should probably just go to bed, but a glass or three of something strong enough to burn the memories of today away sounds pretty damn good right now.”

He watched as she stared out the window, worrying her bottom lip between her finger and thumb. It was too dark to take in the scenery, but he suspected that she was merely using the time to think about everything that had happened that day. John waited, unsure if he should even ask her about this, but curiosity burned. “Ready to talk about it?”

“Wait until I’ve had some of that whiskey you promised me.” Ellen smiled dimly at him, and he was struck by how, even in her sadness, the act lit her face. It amazed him that, despite all her problems, she could still offer such a heartfelt smile. Instead of commenting, he nodded at her and concentrated on making the short drive home.

His garage was located at the edge of Woodburn’s town limits, taken over from old man Wilson, whom he’d worked for since he was sixteen. Wilson’s sons had no interest in hanging around Woodburn working in their dad’s garage and had bolted the first opportunity they’d been given. John had been both surprised and humbled when Wilson had given him the opportunity to buy the place for a song just a few months before he’d passed away. Wilson's sons had been less than happy, but the papers had already been signed by the time they’d found out about it. There was nothing they could do.

An old log home sat behind the shop, barely big enough for two people to live inside, but it had been home for John since he was eighteen.