Authors: Ruth Cardello
Author Ruth Cardello
Wealthy, talented, fiercely loyal. He’s the glue that holds his family together, but every man has a breaking point. When he heads to Ohio to attend a funeral, he does so with the intention of taking time off to clear his head. The very last thing he expects to do is meet a woman.
Scarred, but not broken. She’s recreating herself in a small town far away from her painful childhood.
He’s angry with the world and himself. She finally has something she’s afraid to lose. They couldn’t have met at a worse time.
Luke and Cassie are about to discover love often happens somewhere along the way, and usually, when one least expects it.
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An original work of Ruth Cardello.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, events, business establishments or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover art provided by Trevino Creative
To all of the lovely women in Defiance, Ohio, who welcomed me so warmly when I flew out there to meet their book club. Although the people and places in Somewhere Along the Way are purely fictional, I hope I captured the essence of your small-town warmth and sense of community.
For me, Defiance is a great place to fall in love.
Cassie Daiver knelt on the cushioned bench in front of the casket. She lowered her eyes to her folded hands and took a deep, fortifying breath.
What a way to finally meet, Emma.
I don’t know what happens to us after we die, but I hope you can hear me.
Thank you. That’s primarily what I came here to say. Thank you for being the kind of person a whole town could love—so much so they wanted the best for you even after you moved to New York.
It doesn’t feel like two years could have passed since I saw you on the news. I remember exactly where I was, though. I was working a double shift at the sandwich shop near the tenement I grew up in—feeling trapped and helpless. Then I heard your voice. It didn’t matter that you were talking about going through something no one your age should have to. There was a hope in your tone, a refusal to give up, that stopped me in my tracks.
I dropped an overflowing cup of coffee and turned to watch you describe how you had gone to the East Coast in search of a cure and stayed partly because you fell in love with the area. You were a beacon of positive energy, even in what must have been a dark time for you. Your strength made me see I hadn’t fought hard enough for my own life.
I won’t bore you with the details. You’re probably busy doing whatever people do when they cross over, but I needed to tell you I wish you’d found your cure.
I wish we could have had this conversation in person. I considered contacting you—about a hundred times. I didn’t know how to thank you for giving me hope.
For showing me there are places filled with good people. I didn’t have to settle for what I grew up in.
Cassie gripped the velvet-covered armrest.
Can I tell you something I haven’t announced to anyone yet?
Cassie closed her eyes for a moment.
It’s not like you can spill the secret. Oh, my God, I’m babbling. Sorry, that joke was in poor taste. I say stupid things when I get nervous.
Cassie slipped a hand into the pocket of her coat and lovingly pulled out an envelope that contained a photo of a man.
I also had a selfish reason for coming to see you today. Meet sperm donor #57. Two unsuccessful cycles of IUI so far. This is his last chance before I try fertility drugs, another donor, or go more invasive with the methods. It could be a year before I can afford something like that.
If you have any pull over there, can you put in a good word for me? I really want a baby.
Blinking back tears, Cassie bowed her head.
I’ve heard women talk like that before, and I always thought they were crazy. But here I am, begging whoever is listening to help me start my family.
Even though we never met, you guided me to a better place. Is it wrong to ask you to help me one last time?
I’ve made a stable life for myself here.
And I have so much love to give.
A woman in line behind Cassie cleared her throat. Cassie glanced over her shoulder and realized there was a long line of people waiting for her to move on.
She looked down at the peaceful expression on the woman in the casket.
I should go. Thank you for listening.
I will always be grateful that our paths crossed, even if distantly. Tell everyone in heaven you made a difference. I hope one day to be able to say the same.
Cassie stood and wiped tears from her cheeks. She gave her condolences to each family member in line after the casket. If some of them knew she’d never met Emma, they didn’t say. They shook her hand warmly and seemed pleased when Cassie described how Emma had inspired her.
Cassie was making her way to the exit of the funeral home, lost in her thoughts, when she walked into a tall wall of muscle. She mumbled, “Excuse me,” and took a step aside without looking up. Her emotions were raw, and her stomach churned with nerves. She stumbled.
Two strong hands steadied her. “Are you okay?”
With tears still blurring her vision, Cassie nodded automatically and pulled away from the man. “Yes, sorry.”
“Did you know her well?” the man asked softly in a deep, cultured voice.
It was only then that Cassie looked up at him. Although she’d never seen him in town, he felt familiar. She frowned. It didn’t matter. “No, but she’s why I’m here.”
“Me, too,” he said simply.
The pain and yearning in his eyes called out to Cassie. Shook her. His eyes were dark and tormented. Who was he? His expensive suit and perfectly trimmed jet-black hair implied wealth at a level above anyone in town.
Emma had been single and had lived in New York City for a long time. Was he a lover of hers, there to pay his respects to her family?
If so, Emma, you had good taste.
It was hard not to appreciate the man’s broad shoulders, his imposing height, and the deliciously toned abs Cassie had brushed against.
What is wrong with me? I’m at a funeral.
And I could already be pregnant.
Without saying another word, Cassie stepped around the man and hastily exited the funeral home. She walked through the parking lot without looking back. The cold winter air bit at her bare hands as she unlocked her car.
Like someone leaving the scene of a crime, she drove off and raced back to the bed and breakfast she owned. It was only after she had donned her apron and was kneading bread dough that she began to relax.
Everything was going to work out. She simply had to stay focused. Luckily she had several hours of baking to occupy her thoughts that night. Money had been tight when she’d first purchased the bed and breakfast, Home Sweet Home, and she’d brought in extra money by baking cupcakes, sweets, and breads for some of the local restaurants. She’d named her side business, Cassie’s Creations. Perhaps not the most creative, but people seemed to like it.
She wondered where Mr. Expensive Suit had chosen to spend the night. He looked like someone who would rent a suite at one of the posh hotels in Toledo.
He’s probably already flying back to wherever he came from.
“So, I’ll be staying at my son’s tonight,” a cranky female voice said from the doorway of the kitchen.
Cassie kept kneading the dough without looking up. “Should I expect you back tomorrow?”
“Not if this storm gets worse. I don’t know if I like the idea of you staying here, either. Why don’t you come home with me?”
Cassie looked up then and smiled gently. “You know I have to bake for tomorrow.”
Matilda Cameron buttoned the front of her coat and gave her short gray hair a pat. “Who’s going to pick up their orders in a blizzard?”
“It’s just a little snow, Tilly.”
“My old bones don’t lie. The weatherman will be calling it a blizzard by the time we set our heads down on our pillows tonight.”
Cassie began to knead the dough again with determination. “I’ll be fine. Besides, if the airports close, who knows, I may get guests tonight.”
“And what am I?” the older woman asked with a harrumph.
Cassie smiled gently. “A friend.”
“I offered to pay you.”
“Tilly, I can’t take your money. You live down the street.”
“You’re too proud. Trust me, it would be worth every penny. You don’t know what it’s like over there. The older I get, the bossier my son becomes. Now he doesn’t think I should drive. He took my keys. Can you believe that? What’s he going to do next? Ground me for missing curfew?”
“Didn’t you run over Mr. Landry’s mailbox twice this month?”
Tilly pulled her knit hat down low on her head and glowered at Cassie. “If someone keeps crashing into his mailbox, you’d think he’d realize it’s poorly placed. No, instead he just ratfinks me out to Jimmy.”
“You’re lucky Mr. Landry has a crush on you, or he’d be calling the police instead of your family.”
Tilly blushed. “Crush? What nonsense. Besides, he’s too young for me.”
“And I’m eighty. I was out of high school by the time Myron started shaving.”
Cassie held back a chuckle. There was no denying Mr. Landry had carried a torch for Tilly most of his life. It was sweet and a little sad at the same time. Why some things came easily for people, while others waited and yearned, was a topic too close to another subject she was trying not to think about. “You’re right, the town would label you a cougar in no time. Your reputation would be shot.”
Tilly cocked her head to one side while resting a hand on the door handle behind her. “You’re lucky I like you, Cassie. Should I have my son bring by some firewood?”
Suddenly serious, Cassie shook her head. “You don’t have to do that. I have plenty. Do you want me to walk you home?”
“Nah, Jimmy’s coming to get me. You sure you don’t want to stay with us?”
Raising her chin, Cassie placed the dough into a bowl and covered it with a towel. “Thanks, Tilly, but I’m fine.”
More than fine.
Luke turned away from the door he’d been staring at absently. An image of the beautiful brunette who had literally run into him lingered in his mind. Although they’d barely said more than a few words to each other, he’d fought an irrational desire to chase after her. There was something about her . . .
When she’d looked up at him, he’d almost forgotten why he’d come to Ohio. The hum of subdued conversations around them had disappeared. For just a sliver of time, it had felt as if she were the reason he was there. Those dark brown eyes—beautiful even through the tears. The encounter had felt inexplicably important.
Luke shook his head to clear it. He was drawn back to the reality of his trip by the short, older woman who had taken his hand in hers. “You came.”
Smiling warmly down at Beverly Turner, Luke reminded himself this was the reason—the only reason—he’d come. “Did you doubt I would?”
Emotion gave a shine to Beverly’s eyes as she shook her head. “No. Emma spoke of you often. It was kind of you to stay in touch with her even after she was no longer your patient.”
Luke bowed his head at the memory. “I’d like to think we were friends.”
A quiet moment passed.
Beverly said, “You missed Dr. Andrews. He came by this morning to beat the storm. He mentioned you took the news of Emma’s passing hard.”
Luke wanted to look away, hide his pain, but he didn’t. He couldn’t give Beverly her daughter back, but he could give her something. “Your daughter touched more lives than you’ll likely ever know. I try not to get too involved in the lives of my patients, but Emma wouldn’t allow that. She met me several times before and after the surgery. I swear if she could have talked to me during her actual operation she would have.”
Beverly gave a teary smile. “She always did like meeting new people.”
Luke smiled. “She didn’t hold back her opinions either.”
“That’s for sure.” With a soft laugh at the memory, Beverly nodded. She let go of his hand and glanced around. “You do realize every woman here checked her makeup when you walked in, don’t you? We don’t get many single doctors passing through. You are still single, aren’t you, Dr. Andrade?”
Luke winked down at Beverly. “Only because your husband found you first.”
Beverly laughed, tucked a salt-and-pepper curl behind her ear, and blushed. “You’re so bad, but I can see why Emma adored you.” Her face sobered, and she said, “I called the hospital to settle our bill with them, and they said it had been paid in full. Emma had a private room and the best doctors in the country consulting on her case. Someone was very generous to my family.”
Luke ducked his head and looked away. “I’m not surprised. Whoever did that was likely inspired by her in the same way I was.”
Beverly laid a hand on Luke’s arm. “We know it was you.”
Luke placed a hand warmly over hers. “I only wish I could have done more.”
A tall, older man came up beside Beverly and placed an arm around her waist, while warmly offering a hand to Luke in greeting. “Dr. Andrade. Thank you for coming. It means a lot to our family that you flew out here.”
Luke shook the hand of Emma’s father. “Your daughter will be missed, sir. She touched a lot of lives.”
Quinn Turner’s lips thinned, and his face tightened with emotion. “She did. There was a woman here earlier who said the same thing. She’d never actually met Emma, but she said my daughter was the reason she’d moved to Defiance. She said Emma and our town gave her hope when she needed it.”
Luke glanced over his shoulder at the door, wondering if the woman Quinn was referring to could be the same woman he couldn’t stop thinking about. Luke forced himself to focus on Emma’s father. “I don’t doubt it. I remember the first time I met your family. I had never had a consult with an entire clan in attendance.”
Beverly hugged her husband and smiled up at him. “The town had had a fundraiser, remember? They raised enough to send us all to New York.”
Quinn smiled gently down at his wife. “I remember. The story made the news. We hated the attention at the time, but when I heard that woman talking about Emma like she was an angel sent to save her, I knew it had all happened for a reason.”