Authors: Alexis Morgan
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #Romance, #Contemporary
PRAISE FOR THE SNOWBERRY CREEK NOVELS
More Than a Touch
“This story is lightened by witty banter yet realistically deals with tragic, timely issues. A hanky or three might come in handy.”
“With strong storytelling and a tender plot, this tale is equal parts heartwarming, romantic, and genuine.”
A Time for Home
“An enchanting tale about believing in love, forgiveness, and acceptance.”
—Reader to Reader Reviews
“An emotional roller coaster. I couldn’t put it down! Loved it!”
New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF ALEXIS MORGAN
“A bit of mystery, lots of action, plenty of passion, and a story line that will grab your attention from the get-go.”
—Romance Reviews Today
“Suspicions, lust, loyalty, and love create a heavy mix of emotions.”
“Magically adventurous and fervently romantic.”
“Whew! A unique paranormal story line that sizzles with every page.”
“This book sucked me in, and I didn’t want to stop reading.”
—Queue My Review
“Morgan delivers a great read that sparks with humor, action, and . . . great storytelling.”
—Night Owl Reviews (5 stars, top pick)
“Will keep readers entranced.”
—Nocturne Romance Reads
“This action-packed paranormal romance has a little bit of everything—especially if you love interesting immortal warriors who are sexy as all get-out—and enough action and suspense to keep you riveted until the last page.”
—Black Lagoon Reviews
“The spellbinding combination of passionate desires, fateful consequences, and the supernatural . . . [is] totally captivating throughout every enthralling scene.”
The Snowberry Creek Novels
A Time for Home
More Than a Touch
A Soldier’s Heart
(a Penguin digital special)
“The Christmas Gift” (The
Christmas on Main Street
The Warriors of the Mist Novels
My Lady Mage
Her Knight’s Quest
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Copyright © Patricia L. Pritchard, 2014
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
I want to dedicate this book to all of my son’s friends: Hey, guys, thanks for growing up so great! We are so proud of the men you’ve become.
last name shouldn’t be a burden, but Melanie’s sat as a heavy weight on her shoulders as she strolled through the cemetery. The pressure increased dramatically as she passed the neat rows of nearly identical markers, all bearing the familiar inscription: Wolfe.
The library in town had the same name carved in the arch over the front door, and the name appeared on the local high school as well. As the sun edged its way down toward the western horizon, Melanie moved on down the hillside, taking her time to enjoy the fresh air and the last of the warm sunshine.
There was no escaping her family heritage here in Snowberry Creek. Her great-great-grandfather Josiah Wolfe had parked his covered wagon next to a small stream tumbling down through the foothills of the Cascades and planted the family’s roots down deep into the rocky soil. He’d been an ambitious man, one determined to make his mark in the world—and the town of Snowberry Creek was his creation.
There, under his firm hand, the family had proudly flourished in both number and wealth for two generations. Even the stock market crash and the Great Depression had been mere setbacks. Since that time, the size of the family had dwindled dramatically until now there were only two Wolfes left in town: Melanie and her mother. At least their family fortune was rock solid.
Or at least that was the fairy tale Melanie had always been told.
She reluctantly started down the slope to where a new granite headstone had been set in place. Her mother had instructed Melanie to ensure that everything had been done properly. Melanie had bitten back the suggestion that if her mother was worried about it, she could always come back to check it out for herself. After all, there were other more pressing things on Melanie’s to-do list screaming for her attention right now.
Instead, here she was, playing the dutiful daughter again. It was a role she’d never been well suited for, but right now she had no other choice. Not when something inside her mother had shattered the day her husband’s heart stopped beating. Three weeks after the funeral, the reality of their changed circumstances had come crashing down. She’d immediately left town on an extended visit with her sister, Marcia, down in Oregon, abandoning Melanie to deal with the fallout from her father’s death alone.
It would take a better person than Melanie not to resent having her whole life uprooted, especially when she’d worked so hard to escape the confines of Snowberry Creek in the first place. But unfortunately, according to Melanie’s aunt, Sandra Wolfe had become little more than a shadow of herself and only rarely left the house. Figuring out what to do about that was also on Melanie’s list.
She coasted to a stop a short distance from her father’s grave. From afar, the gray granite marker blended in seamlessly with all the others. It was only on closer inspection that she could see the polished stone was a little shinier than those on either side of it.
Edmond Wolfe would’ve approved. Even in life, he’d preferred to maintain a quiet, dignified lifestyle. The only anomaly had been a bright red pickup truck that he’d loved to drive around town. Looking back, Melanie should’ve known something was wrong when he’d sold it only days before he died. What other signs had she missed that all was not as it should be? She’d grown up believing her parents were financially secure and that her father had inherited her great-great-grandfather’s head for business. It had never occurred to her to doubt that.
As it turned out, she’d been wrong on both counts.
The silence in the cemetery was oppressive, but what could she say to a slab of granite? She settled for the obvious. “Well, Dad, looks like they got everything right on your headstone. It suits you.”
Considering all it contained was his full name and the years that spanned his life, there wasn’t much that could’ve gone wrong. The Wolfe family didn’t go in for inspirational sayings or emotional displays, in public or private. Melanie snapped a picture with her phone to text to her mother later. For now, she set down the small bouquet of lilies she’d brought for her father’s grave.
Staring down at the headstone, she whispered, “Dad, I’m doing my best to figure things out, but I’ve got so many questions I wish I could ask you right now.”
Not that he would’ve liked answering them. He’d never discussed finances with his wife, much less his only daughter. No, like his father before him, her father preferred to shelter women from the hard realities of the business world. Well, that train had left the station. Melanie now knew all too much about the precarious state of the family’s finances.
It was time to get moving. She had other, happier places to be this evening. But as she turned to leave, she realized she was no longer alone on the hillside. A man dressed in a camouflage uniform stood by a grave on the far side of the cemetery. He had his back to her as he stared down at one of the markers. From the slump in his shoulders, the name on the headstone had to be causing him great pain.
She knew why because she knew who was buried there: Spence Lang. Last summer, the whole town had turned out for his funeral to pay homage to one of their own. The war was being waged on the other side of the world, but that day it had come home to Snowberry Creek.
Although she’d been living in Spokane at the time, Melanie had taken the day off work and driven down to attend the service. She’d owed Spence that much. The solemn ceremony had been excruciatingly painful in its intensity. As the final strands of “Taps” faded away, the army honor guard had carefully folded the flag that had covered the coffin and presented it to Vince Locke, Spence’s uncle.
Melanie bet she hadn’t been the only one who had wanted to snatch it right back out of that bastard’s hands. Considering the despicable way the man had treated his nephew in life, Vince didn’t deserve the honor of claiming that last reminder of Spence’s service to their country. It had been a relief to see Callie, Spence’s best friend, take it away from him before he left the cemetery.
Even now, months later, the memory of watching Spence’s coffin being lowered into the ground still made Melanie’s heart ache. He’d been such a force of nature, always a bit wild but with an easy smile for everyone.
Even the shy daughter of the first family of Snowberry Creek.
God, she’d had such a crush on Spence back in their senior year, not that she’d ever admitted how she felt about him. If anyone had found out, it would only have embarrassed Melanie in front of the whole school. Not to mention her parents would’ve been horrified to learn their daughter was attracted to the town bad boy.
No doubt the soldier had come to town for the wedding, the same one Melanie was about to attend. Callie was marrying Nick Jenkins, who had served in Afghanistan with Spence. The couple had met when Nick drove across the country to bring Callie the dog their unit had adopted over there. The couple might have bonded first over their shared loss, but there was no doubt about how much they loved each other. In truth, Melanie was a little envious of the connection they shared.
It was time to get moving if she was going to arrive at the church on time. But before she left, the least she could do was introduce herself to the soldier and maybe nudge him along, too, since he hadn’t moved since she first spotted him. Visiting Spence’s grave was no doubt hard for the guy, and who could blame him? How many of his other friends had been wounded or killed over there?
As she made her way across the cemetery, she decided to do more than simply exchange names. For Spence’s sake, she would offer to show him the way to the church. If he was in town by himself, maybe she would even invite him to sit with her. That way he would have met at least one other person in the crowd of locals besides the groom and his best man, Leif, another member of Spence’s unit.
If the soldier was aware of Melanie’s approach, he gave no sign of it. He remained frozen in that one spot even though Melanie made no effort to be especially quiet as she approached. She stopped a few steps away, pausing right in front of the double headstone that marked the grave of Spence’s parents.
“Excuse me? I don’t mean to intrude, but I was wondering if you were in town for the Jenkins-Redding wedding. If so, I’m headed there myself and thought you might like to follow me to the church.”
The soldier’s shoulders snapped back as if he was coming to attention. He didn’t turn to face her, but something about his rigid stance and clenched fists bothered her. Melanie backed up a step, keenly aware that she was a woman alone with a strange man on an isolated hillside.
Suddenly, she didn’t want him to turn around even if she couldn’t pinpoint the reason for her misgivings. When he finally glanced back over his shoulder, her pulse went into overdrive as she tried to make sense of what she was seeing. That jawline. That profile. They were all too familiar even as her head tried to convince her heart that what she was seeing—no, make that
she was seeing—just wasn’t possible.
With that single word, her lungs quit working altogether as her knees buckled and the ground came rushing up. She heard a muttered curse as a pair of strong arms caught her right before she hit the ground. She stared up at the soldier’s face, blinking hard as if that would clear her vision. When that didn’t change the new reality of her world, she pointed out the obvious.