A Second Chance at Love: A Hometown Hero Series Novel

 

 

 

 

 

A SECOND CHANCE AT LOVE

Clare Connelly

 

All the characters in this book are fictitious and have no existence outside the author’s imagination. They have no relation to anyone bearing the same name or names and are pure invention.
All rights reserved. The text of this publication or any part thereof may not be reprinted by any means without permission of the Author.

The illustration on the cover of this book features model/s and bears no relation to the characters described within.

 

First published 2015

 

(c) Clare Connelly

Photo Credit:   dollarphotoclub.com/CURAphotography and  Les Cunliffe

 

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http://www.clareconnelly.co.uk

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http://clarewriteslove.wordpress.com/

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CHAPTER ONE

A lone seagull flapped slowly along the shoreline, echoing Madeline May Howard’s own sense of complete and total oneness. A harsh wind tore off the Atlantic, threatening to pull loose some of her sophisticated blonde chignon.

It did not, though.

Madeline’s hair would never move without her express approval. She’d learned long ago that no good could come from obeying every whimsy and flippant fancy. And her hair, make up and clothing seemed to resonate with that same sense of obedience.

“You don’t want to get too close to the edge, ma’am.” A small voice was almost lost on the breeze, but Madeline caught the final word. It occurred to her that it was odd. For two reasons. Firstly, those common civilities she’d been raised with seemed to belong to a bygone era now. At only twenty eight, she often felt like a relic in the fast paced world in which anyone with a mobile phone could become a YouTube sensation. Six years in Ivy League colleges gaining an elite law degree, and her biggest professional successes came only when she sold a great sob story to the hungry followers of social networks. It was the place most people seemed to get their news, and now, her team went first to Facebook, twitter and YouTube, rather than CNN, if they wanted to get a case out to the world.

The other reason the polite term struck Madeline as odd was that it made her feel old. She looked wistfully at the churning waves, rendered lead-grey by the storm-plagued sky, and remembered the last time she’d been on this shoreline. Then, she’d run, as a free spirit. Barefoot, sand sticking to her exposed limbs, long hair flying disobediently and tangled in the breeze, a smile spreading from ear to ear on her fair face.

Not a trace of that girl remained now.

She trained her Louboutin pumps away from the stone wall that led to the sand beneath, and scanned the grass foreshore for the owner of the small voice. On one of the rickety old benches that had been placed throughout the township of Whitegate, Maine – the same benches that had been there for as far back as Madeline’s memory stretched – sat a small, dark haired girl.

Madeline was late. She’d taken her time in the town, picking out the changes here and there, and the overwhelming, saddening similarities everywhere. It had been a long time since she’d been in Whitegait. Several years. So she’d taken her time, and that time had made her very, very late. Her father abhorred lateness. Even in his current state, he would no doubt summon the energy from somewhere to deliver one last, biting lecture to her when she finally returned to the ranch. His lectures, delivered with a cold, unflinching cruelty, were as reliably unkind as Whitegait was beautiful.

It was ungenerous to think of Kenneth in that way. He was, after all, surely only days from death. That certainty did nothing to her heart. It certainly didn’t make her grieve. No. His inevitable passing was not something she was prepared to mourn, except perhaps in an abstract way, as it signalled the end, forever, of what could and should have been her life. It was a credit to her generous nature that she didn’t rejoice and swing her arms in the air, for only with the passing of Kenneth Bartlett the Fourth would Madeline finally start to think of herself as free.

“It’s a mighty big drop down to the sand,” the young girl said, as Madeline got closer. “And there’s no barrier to stop you from falling. I’ve seen strangers go down, you know.”

Madeline was so late. She knew she should keep walking.

She slowed her gait and came to a complete stop before the girl. Behind them, there was nothing. Just a stretch of green grass and a low-lying fog that made Madeline feel they were being pulled into the clouds. In a black Dior pantsuit with a Burberry trench coat, she looked completely out of place in the small town she’d once known as well as the back of her hand.

“As a matter of fact, I do know.” Her voice was husky from disuse. In the three days since arriving back in Whitegate, she hadn’t had much need for it. She cleared her throat and eased herself onto the bench beside the girl. It would probably leave wet marks against the fine wool. She didn’t care.

“How?” The girl asked, turning her chocolate brown eyes on Madeline with curiosity.

Madeline frowned. “How do I know? When I was your age, I used to play here. A lot.”

The girl wrinkled her nose in a gesture that was somehow familiar to Madeline. Perhaps it reminded her of herself as a little, innocent being. “I’ve never seen you before, ma’am.”

Madeline nodded. “I moved away a long time ago. Before you were even born,” she added with a small smile. “I haven’t been back since.”

“Where do you live now?” The girl asked, kicking the gravel beneath their feet with her bright red converse sneakers. Little plumes of dust flew up and then wisped away in the wind.

“D.C.”

“The White House?” The girl asked in awe, her eyes forming big round orbs in her sweet face.

“No. Near there, though.” She could see the little girl’s swift kick of disappointment and she rushed to remedy it. “My husband works there, sometimes, though.”

“He does?” Her jaw dropped. “For real?”

“Uh huh.”

Madeline turned her head and looked out at the ocean. The view that had once afforded her such solace, and total pleasure, now left her with the same sense of numbness she’d been carrying around for most of her adult life.

“Does he know the president?”

Madeline’s smile was thin. “He does.” She leaned a little closer, so that their faces were only inches apart. “And so do I.”

The little girl was struck silent, her big black eyes peering at Madeline sceptically, as if deciding whether to believe her or not. “My name is Ivy,” she said finally. Madeline took it as a sign that Ivy had decided that Maddie was being honest.

“Very nice to meet you, Ivy,” Madeline responded earnestly. “My name’s Madeline.”

“Madeline. That’s pretty.” She frowned. “You’re pretty.”

Madeline laughed. How long had it been since she’d laughed? She lifted her sunglasses from her face and held them between two fingers in her lap. They weren’t necessary on that bleak October morning, but she had slipped them on out of habit. “Thank you, Ivy. How old are you?”

“I’m almost six.” She grinned. “But everyone says I’m small for my age.”

Madeline made a show of regarding her thoughtfully. “I don’t think you’re too small. I think you definitely look six.”

“Oh, really?” Madeline could tell Ivy was delighted with this information.

Madeline’s nod was considered. “And I know the president. He’d agree with me.”

Ivy appeared to glow with pleasure. “Woah.”

Madeline knew she should leave the sweet little girl. Her Mercedes convertible was still a little walk away.

“Why’d you leave Whitegate?”

Madeline’s heart turned over painfully in her chest. Why, indeed? Which answer would be the most palatable to an almost six year old? Blackmail? Heart break? Pride? Snobbery? Betrayal? Crime? She was a senator’s daughter and a congressman’s wife. Keeping emotion off her face was a skill she had mastered long ago. “To go to college.”

Ivy nodded. “No good colleges in Whitegait.”

It was such a serious observation that Madeline had to hide her smile. She suspected Ivy wouldn’t like to be a source of amusement.

The lone seagull flapped heavily in the sky and landed just in front of them. Ivy reached into a little handbag and pulled out a piece of bread. She broke off a crust and threw it at the bird. It squawked noisily as it caught it in its beak.

“Where’s your husband now?” The young girl asked, pulling another piece of bread out and tossing it towards the flock of gulls that had appeared out of nowhere.

“Still in Washington.” Dean would come when it was time. Not before. No need for both of them to sit vigil at the bedside of a dying man they couldn’t stand.

“Did he give you this? It’s really nice.” Ivy was pointing at Madeline’s engagement ring.

Out of habit, Madeline twisted it around, spinning the enormous diamond so that it was concealed in the palm of her hand. The size was perfectly appropriate for a Congressman’s wife, but it had always made Madeline self-conscious. No one needed a six carat diamond on their finger. And then, out of nowhere, she thought of her first engagement ring. The tiny little cluster of imperfect gems, bound into the shape of a star, on a thin piece of gold. How she had loved that ring. Giving it back had been like knifing herself in the stomach.

“It is, isn’t it,” Madeline forced herself to agree, even though the ring had never suited her. She wouldn’t be wearing it much longer. Soon, Kenneth Bartlett would be dead, and Dean and Madeline could end their farce of a marriage.

“He must love you. Like, a lot.”

Madeline arched her brow and fixed the girl with a curious look. “You know a lot about how the world works, don’t you, Ivy?”

Ivy nodded sagely. “I spend a lotta time with grown ups. I pay attention.”

“I see,” Madeline’s expression was shrewd. “And where are your grown ups now?”

“Working,” she said simply. “Over there.” She pointed in the direction of the town’s main street. A baker, a general store, a hardware and a gift shop-cum-art gallery that catered to the Summer tourist, trade lined the pretty little street.

“Do you… are you meant to be out here on your own?”

Ivy rolled her eyes in a way that was so perfectly dismissive, Madeline thought it would take her years to perfect an imitation. “I’m almost six. Not four.”

“Of course.” Whitegait was a whole other world. That feeling of freedom… most of her friends had felt that. Growing up as a Bartlett had complicated matters for Madeline.

As if she could read her thoughts, Ivy asked, “Why? What did you do when you were my age?”

“Hmmm,” She frowned. There had been lots of time with grown ups too, but it had involved wearing very uncomfortable, restrictive dresses and sitting quietly in the corner, pretending to read books that held little interest for her. She’d stared out at the glistening ocean in the distance and wished, wished with all her heart, that she’d been born to a normal family. “I used to play at home.”

“Our home’s nice, but I like being here more.”

Madeline looked out at the sludgy grey sea. “What do you like about it?’

“Because Daddy told me that if I squint really hard, I might be able to see all the way to Portugal.” She grinned. “I keep squinting, but at most I see boats.”

Madeline had to laugh. “Maybe one day it will be Portugal?”

Ivy rolled her eyes again. “Maybe a boat from Portugal.”

“Maybe.” She looked at the girl with the silk dark hair, studying her features in detail. “I should get going.”

Ivy returned the direct stare. “You don’t sound like you wanna.”

Madeline’s stomach clenched with anxiety. “We have to do things we don’t want, sometimes.”

“Daddy says that all the time.” She let out a huff; a perfect, grown up sigh. “
Life isn’t just about fun, Ivy Louise
.”

“Well, your daddy sounds like a smart man.”

Ivy nodded. “He is. Why don’t you wanna go?”

Madeline turned away from Ivy’s darkly inquisitive gaze. A trawler in the distance bobbed up and down, looking like a tiny piece of red flotsam on the surface of the ocean, from where she sat. “This is my favourite place to sit, too.”

“It is?” Ivy raised her eyebrows. “Why?”

It was where she’d been, when he’d proposed. She allowed herself the rare indulgence of closing her eyes and remembering that perfect, perfect moment. All the more spectacularly wonderful for how short lived her pleasure had been. He’d gone down on bended knee, and in the late afternoon sun, his blonde hair had caught the dusk, showing shades of orange and peach. His skin had been golden, his eyes glowing as blue as the sky. And he’d promised to love her forever and always, and asked her to become his wife. Only he hadn’t loved her forever and always, and she hadn’t become his wife. She’d said yes, but fate and destiny had apparently had other ideas.

She blinked, as if the sheer force of her eyelashes batting against her cheeks could push the memories away. “Because someone very wise once told me that if you squint, you can see all the way to Portugal.”

Ivy laughed now, a sweet sound, like popcorn bursting in the microwave. “No, silly. That’s me.”

“Oh! So it is.” She grinned. “It’s the best seat in town. Have you ever watched a sunrise from here?”

“Nope.” She shook her head from side to side.

Madeline ground one of her pumps into the gravel, enjoying the way it made a crackling sound beneath her feet. “I have.” She was talking to Ivy, but sinking inexorably back in time. “I used to make myself a thermos of tea and ride my bike to town, when the sky was still black, and the stars were still shining. I loved sitting here, and watching the first bits of pink streak across the sky. Like fingers reaching for something they can never quite touch. Then there’s orange, flame bright, and insistent, and finally, the sun. An enormous fiery ball that comes from nowhere and burns into the blackness of the night.” She sighed. “I used to sit here and sip my tea, and wonder how many times the sun had made that same journey. How many times I’d get to see it in my lifetime.”

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