My Way Back to You (Harlequin Large Print Super Romance)

BOOK: My Way Back to You (Harlequin Large Print Super Romance)
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Married too young, divorced too soon?

Jeff Wells hasn’t seen his ex-wife, Maggie Russell, in years. Yet as they reunite to settle their son into his college dorm, Jeff discovers the attraction between them is still present—and very strong. Yet so are the reasons they shouldn’t be together…

Still, what’s the harm in giving in to their desire for a few days? No expectations, no strings. But the affair is so passionate, soon Jeff wants more. He wants what they used to have, only better. First he needs to convince Maggie this is their second chance at love and not simply a repeat of the past.

If there was some way…

“Stop.” Jeff spoke the word aloud, opening his eyes to stifle the images forming in his head. He and Maggie had no reason to give things another try. Not even the lingering shades of love were enough to dispel the fear and doubt. And neither of them was willing to enter into another possible failure.

Too many miles and too many years separated him and Mags.

He pushed to his feet and headed back to the house. He would enjoy the time they’d been given. He would facilitate fun memories. He would be Mags’s sexual fantasies come to life…and let her be his.

And Sunday, when they parted ways, he would leave a part of his heart behind—the part that lay deep in the pit of his stomach right then. The part that ached from its burden.

Dear Reader,

I’m a sucker for “how we met” stories. I enjoy coming up with creative ways to bring the heroes and heroines together that first time. But I’m an even bigger sucker for reunion stories.

Couples who enter a relationship with a history hanging over them jerk our heartstrings. From that instant they see each other for the first time in years, we feel the pull of that old attraction, but with it comes the stomach-churning fear of repeating past mistakes. We want so badly to believe they’ve learned and have changed enough to make things work this time.

We want them to prove true love
is
forever.

Making a new start isn’t easy for Maggie and Jeff—their history is riddled with mistakes. The Kentucky woman and California man aren’t the kids they once were, and they’re miles apart in more ways than the distance between their homes. So when history starts repeating itself? Well, I hope you laugh, cry and cheer them on as much as I did!

Until next time,

Pamela Hearon

PAMELA
HEARON

My Way Back to You

Pamela Hearon
grew up in Paducah, Kentucky, a place that infuses its inhabitants with Southern values and hospitality. Here she finds inspiration for her quirky characters, her stories’ backdrops and her narrative voice. Pamela was a 2013 RITA® Award finalist and a Maggie Award finalist for her first Harlequin Superromance story,
Out of the Depths
.
The Summer Place
was a 2014 National Readers’ Choice Award finalist. Visit Pamela at
pamelahearon.com
, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Books by Pamela Hearon

HARLEQUIN SUPERROMANCE

Out of the Depths
The Summer Place
Moonlight in Paris
His Kind of Perfection

Visit the Author Profile page
at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

To Nathan and Misty, whose love for each other is the stuff of romance legends.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to the people who willingly share ideas and nuggets of insight, which give my characters depth and realism. I appreciate how they allow me to “pick their brains” when I’m writing a story—and I do it often. With that in mind, a special thanks goes out to certain individuals: my daughter, Heather Blackston, and my friend, Rita Dodd, for their help with Chicago locations; my friends, Dishona and Wesley Wright for the inspiration behind a particularly fun plot device; and my critique partners at WriteRomance—Sandra Jones, Maggie Van Well and Angela Campbell—for their time, influence, suggestions, encouragement and belief in my writing ability.

Thanks to my editor, Karen Reid, at Harlequin Superromance, for her generous time and patience, which transform a good story into a great one.

Thanks to my agent, Jennifer Weltz of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, for her perseverance on my behalf and her guidance along this journey.

And thanks to my husband, Dick, whose love and encouragement keep the belief of forever love strong in my mind and in my heart…and keeps these stories coming.

CHAPTER ONE

N
INETEEN
DOLLARS
...
AND
a divorce.

That was what the green jersey knit palazzo pants outfit ended up costing Maggie Russell in the long run, even though it had been on sale.

Of course, the purchase was frivolous. But, at the time, it represented the chance to step out of motherhood for a night and feel sexy again, an opportunity to celebrate turning twenty-one and finally reaching legal age despite the fact she was already married and the mother of a one-year-old.

More importantly, it was the perfect way to shove in Jeff’s face that he couldn’t control every single teeny tiny aspect of her life—and every penny she spent.

He couldn’t control
her.

At least, that had been the plan.

Instead, they’d gotten into a hellacious argument because her purchase overdrew their account. Jeff had yelled about her irresponsibility. She’d cried about his insensitivity. He’d stormed out, and she’d taken little Russ and run home to Mama and Daddy—all the way next door.

That fight had been the one that put her and Jeff over their limit—not that they’d ever specified a number. In fact, it was actually the same argument rehashed so many times they had the lines perfected and didn’t need to go through the whole thing again. Everything had been said countless times before. And nothing said was heard. Nothing said was listened to. Not even fabulous makeup sex could assuage the deep-seated anger, frustration and hurt of not being understood. Not this time.

Two months later they filed for divorce. Six months after that, the decree was finalized—three weeks after Russ turned two.

Sometimes, during flights of fancy, usually during the summers when Russ left her in Taylor’s Grove, Kentucky, to visit his dad in California, she’d allow herself to wonder what would’ve happened if she’d never spent that nineteen dollars? What if she hadn’t accidentally gotten pregnant at nineteen? What if...?

“Mom, you need to get over. You’re about to miss the exit.” Russ’s impatient tone jerked her back to the present
and
across two lanes of traffic. She may have taught their son to drive, but the backseat stuff was all Jeff, the control freak.

“Jeez, where were you, anyway?” A grin accompanied Russ’s eye roll, the combination perfected by the time he’d turned eleven.

“Just thinking about when you were little.” She reached out and ruffled the top of his wavy black hair, a mournful sigh escaping her lips. “Here you are, going off to college, but in my mind’s eye you’re still eight instead of eighteen.”

A brief look of panic shot from his black-as-coffee eyes. “You’re not gonna cry again, are you?”

“Only about this traffic.” She flipped on the blinker and nosed the car into the bumper-to-bumper line of vehicles inching down the ramp to Chicago’s O’Hare International.

Russ’s panicked look may have been an overreaction but not totally ungrounded. His senior year of high school had been a rough one for Maggie. As each of his activities came to an end, she bawled her way through the ordeal of Senior Nights, and when his name was called at graduation she blubbered aloud.

Her baby. Seven hours away from home. All by himself in this city of three million people. Her heart squeezed, and she felt the familiar pang she’d first noticed when she read the positive pregnancy test nineteen years ago and had reiterated itself on a daily basis ever since. Her dad’s sage words followed on its heels.
The nine months before aren’t the problem,
he’d say.
It’s the ninety-nine years after that kill you.

No doubt about it, saying goodbye once parent orientation ended two days from now might just do her in.

The only good part about that ominous event was that it made today’s excursion to pick up her ex-husband, whom she hadn’t seen in person since Russ’s kindergarten graduation, pale in comparison.

Russ’s phone beeped, and he glanced at the text. “Dad says he’s curbside at Terminal 1.”

“Tell him traffic’s awful, and we’ll be there as soon as we can.”

“You gotta be more aggressive, Mom.” Russ’s thumbs flew on the tiny keyboard as he talked. “Quit letting people in ahead of you. We could be there by now.”

Quite a way up the road, Maggie spotted the Terminal 1 sign and started easing her way over to the far right-hand lane. “Two months of driving in San Diego each summer makes you the expert in city traffic, huh?”

“Well...yeah, actually.” Russ shrugged and shot her a mischievous grin. “Or maybe I’m just more anxious to see Dad than you are.”

“I’m sure you are, but I’m still getting there as quickly
and
safely
as I can.”

While it was true she wasn’t exactly looking forward to the reunion, she wasn’t horrified by the idea, either. Picking Jeff up from the airport on their way saved him the expense of renting a car. And since the next couple of days would require a lot of togetherness, it seemed like the easiest, most practical solution for everybody.

For sixteen years, they’d made joint custody work despite the distance and the expense.

They could survive this.

“There he is!” Russ rolled down his window, and the ensuing gust of heat caused a burst of perspiration to break out across Maggie’s forehead, cheeks and chin.

She grabbed a tissue and dabbed her face, careful not to smudge her lipstick, as she searched the throng of faces lining the curb of Terminal 1, looking for the one that would hold a vague familiarity. Eagerness marked the faces as they waited for the ride that would take them from this temporary gathering place to their next destination, making it all the more fitting she and Jeff should be together again to cross this milestone.

Surely it was that thought—not the sight of her ex standing at the curb, looking trim and fit, white teeth shining against his tanned face, and dark eyes glowing with joy at the sight of their son—that caused her stomach and her heart to clench involuntarily...along with various other parts of her body.

* * *


D
AD
!”

His son’s voice, which had grown so deep over the past few years, still took Jeff Wells by surprise. Especially as he tried to connect the masculine sound with the juvenile antics of the kid hanging out the window of the black SUV, wildly waving his arms.

By the time the car rolled to a stop, Russ was out of the car and had Jeff locked in a bear hug that squeezed a laugh from his lungs. His son would never be one of those hands-off macho types, thank God.

The excitement of seeing Russ made Jeff momentarily forget the awkwardness about to descend on them. But when his eyes caught the hesitant smile of the woman standing beside them, it crashed down with full force.

“Jeff.”

“Hi, Mags.” The nickname fell from his lips as if he’d last seen her only yesterday.

He fought the urge but lost the battle as his eyes dropped for a quick scan of the woman next to him. The color and short haircut was different, and the body a bit fuller and rounder...curvier. The voice had grown a tad throatier, but the green eyes with their amber flecks remained untouched by time...as gorgeous as ever.

And those full lips. How well he remembered...

The image faded as Maggie thrust her hand forward in a gesture much too formal considering the shared intimacies that had created the fine young man standing between them. “Um...” The green eyes flashed with some kind of emotion as a deep pink flush imbued her fair complexion. “It’s good to see you, Jeff.”

“You, too.”

He ignored the extended hand and felt her stiffen as he pulled her into a hug. He’d been planning this moment for some time and had long ago decided to get past the cumbersome hellos and move into the we’ve-done-a-helluva-job phase as quickly as possible.

She didn’t give any ground. Keeping her feet firmly planted, she bent at the waist and leaned into him—a hug befitting the awkwardness of the moment. They straightened, and he saw his own wariness reflected in her eyes. But then their smiles collided, genuine and relieved they’d shared and lived through the moment.

Russ grabbed Jeff’s one piece of luggage. “I’ll get this, Dad.” He pointed toward the front seat he’d vacated. “You sit up front with Mom.”

Maggie’s eyebrow and one side of her mouth rose simultaneously. “That’ll give his backseat driving more authenticity.”

“Want me to drive?” Russ leaned to the side to flash her an impish grin as he slid the duffel into the back compartment.

“Emphatically no.” Mags hurried around to claim control of the driver’s seat before Russ could get there.

Jeff was already seated and buckled by the time his ex-wife climbed in, so he had a chance at another good look at her without gawking as she got situated. The years had been kinder than he’d expected, especially considering what she went through with Zeke two—no, make that three—years ago.

Fact was, she looked good.

Damn good.

“We’re meeting with Coach Brimley at four, Dad, at the Water Tower Campus. That’s downtown, close to your hotel. Tomorrow and the day after, we’ll be at the other campus—Loyola Lake Shore.” Russ’s chatter filled the car, as it did any space when the boy was around. “He said today’s session wouldn’t be very long. He just wants to meet the parents of the new guys before the official stuff starts tomorrow.”

Jeff checked his watch—12:52 p.m. “Plenty of time. Have you checked in yet?”

Maggie shook her head but kept her eyes glued to the windshield. “We came straight to the airport as soon as we got into town.”

“Mom’s afraid of the traffic. She puts her blinker on and thinks the lane next to her will just magically open up and invite her in.”

Mags peeled her eyes away from the road in front of them long enough to flash Russ a look in the rearview mirror. “I got us here right on time, didn’t I?”

Russ snorted in return. “We could’ve checked in and had lunch by now if you’d been driving, Dad.”

“You haven’t had lunch?” Jeff nudged the conversation away from the direction it was taking.

Maggie and Russ both shook their heads.

“I have some snacks in my bag.” Jeff pointed to the backpack he’d tossed into the backseat, and it took Russ no time to find the mother lode of trail mix, snack bars, peanut butter and crackers and mixed nuts he’d stashed.

“Cool!” Russ tore into a package and held it across the seat. “Want some, Mom?”

“No, thanks.”

Jeff couldn’t help but notice the white-knuckle grip Maggie had on the wheel. She was creeping along, obviously uncomfortable with city driving and they weren’t even out of the airport yet. At this pace, they wouldn’t get checked in until tomorrow.

“I’d be happy to drive,” he offered, and saw her jaw tighten in response.

“Thanks, but I’ve got it.” Her cool tone said she was already pissed, and they’d barely been together fifteen minutes.

Just like old times.

It was going to be three long days.

Three
very
long days.

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