Miranda Gabriel has finally hit rock-bottom. As a high-school drop-out, she fled Blue Moon Harbor and her shattered family life, and chased after love in all the wrong places. But now, as a single mom, her priority is her two-year-old daughter. Her only choice is to swallow her pride and return to the island she’s always hated. At least between working and studying, she’ll be too busy for romance—especially when the prospect is a nice guy, exactly the kind she knows she doesn’t deserve . . .
The island veterinarian, Luke Chandler is a widower raising four-year-old twin boys. In high school, he found bad girl Miranda fascinating—and though life has changed them both, he’s still intrigued. Luke has known true love, and something about Miranda makes him long to experience it again. Yet he’s wary of opening himself, and his boys, to hurt. But his heart may not give him a choice. And together, maybe he and Miranda can give each other the courage to believe in themselves, and to embrace a promising new future . . .
Praise for Susan Fox’s Caribou Crossing series
“The perfect sweep-you-away story—smart, sexy, funny and touching. Susan Fox delivers an unforgettable read.” --Susan Wiggs on Home on the Range
“One hot romance to remember.” --Publishers Weekly on Ring of Fire
“Fox’s honest storytelling is filled with sweet and raw moments that engage readers from the very first page.” –RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars on Ring of Fire
About the Author
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"Guess what?" Miranda Gabriel's brother cried, raising his girlfriend's left hand like a boxing referee proclaiming the champ. "We're engaged!"
Diamonds sparkled on Eden's finger, and when Miranda stared from the ring to Aaron's face and his fiancée's, their excitement was no less dazzling.
Miranda's heart sank like a heavy, cold stone.
She had been peeling sweet potatoes in the big kitchen at SkySong when Aaron and Eden burst into the room. Tonight's dinner at the serenity retreat was planned as a celebration of Eden's tidying up all the details around the sale of her family's home in Ottawa now that she, her parents, and her sister were becoming Destiny Island residents. Aaron, owner of Blue Moon Air, had flown over to Vancouver in his Cessna seaplane on this chilly, early December day to pick Eden up after her Ottawa flight. Now it seemed the celebration would be a dual-purpose one.
"He proposed on the dock," Eden said, her voice bubbly, neither she nor Aaron seeming to notice that their wet jackets were dripping on the terra-cotta-tiled floor. "Right there in the middle of Blue Moon Harbor." She laughed up at him, her amber eyes glowing with happiness and love. "In the rain, and it was the most romantic thing in the world."
Eden's aunt and uncle, Di and Seal SkySong, who owned this rustically lovely retreat on four acres of waterfront, rushed over to the happy couple, offering hugs and congratulations. Miranda's two-year-old daughter remained in her booster chair at the kitchen table, still absorbed in the tea party game she and Di had been playing with one of Ariana's cloth fairy dolls. And Miranda herself stood rooted at the teal-topped kitchen counter, her feet as leaden as her heart.
Of course she'd known where Aaron and Eden's relationship was heading. In truth, the depressed, pessimistic, defeated spot in her soul, the one she hated to surrender to, had known ever since that day back in June. The day when her pride had hit an all-time low. Evicted from her tiny apartment, without the funds to rent another, she'd felt worthless and powerless. For the sake of her precious daughter, she had phoned Aaron and admitted she had no choice but to accept his offer of help. There she'd been, more pathetic than ever before in her life. She'd had no strength left, no option but to leave Vancouver and drag herself and Ariana to Destiny Island, a place she'd always hated, to shelter under her big brother's roof.
But Aaron, the one person who'd always been there for her, was away in Ottawa, visiting a woman he'd just met.
Sight unseen, Miranda — selfish bitch that she was — had hated Eden Blaine for threatening the one bit of stability in her and Ariana's lives. But then she'd met the smart, sensitive, beautiful Eden, seen her with Aaron, listened to what her brother said and didn't say. She'd seen that despite the huge problems the two lovers had faced, Eden made him happy. And Aaron's happiness was the second-most important thing in the world to Miranda. Only the welfare of her daughter ranked higher.
Now, realizing she'd been silent too long, she forced herself to walk across the kitchen. Normally she found this room so warm and welcoming, with its white-painted wood and brick walls and cabinets, accented by a hodgepodge of vividly colored chairs, kitchen accessories, and artwork. But today her heart was a frozen lump in her chest and it would take a lot more than Di and Seal's cheerful, eclectic décor to warm it.
Throwing her arms around the happy couple, she squeezed both of them, but Aaron a little harder. Her handsome, dark-haired brother, her best and only real friend for all their lives, now belonged to someone else. "I'm so happy for you guys."
It wasn't a lie. Honestly, it wasn't. It was just a truth that jostled uneasily side by side with her selfishness and her envy. The guy who'd been so cynical — or, as he called it, realistic — about love had had, for the very first time, the guts to throw his heart into the ring. And what did he get? A freaking happy ending. As compared to her. She truly did believe in love and she'd been brave enough to go for it, to love and lose and try again, over and over. She'd been doing it ever since she was a tiny child hoping against hope that one day her mom would love her and be there for her. And yet here she was, twenty-seven years old and still alone.
So many times, as the children of a cocaine-addicted prostitute, she and Aaron had been the kids left outside, looking in windows at happy families eating together, at stores full of shiny new toys and games, at grocery shelves stocked with more food than anyone could possibly eat in a lifetime. Wanting, always wanting, but not getting.
Now Aaron had crossed over and he was on the inside. And she was left outside, no longer shoulder to shoulder with her big brother but all by herself.
She drew in a long breath, trying to flush the sour gray tang of depression and self-pity from her mind and heart. The fact was, she wasn't alone; she had Ariana. Having a daughter made life so much richer and more wonderful but also created pressures so heavy that a few months back, Miranda had almost cracked under them. Because it was one thing to be strong and resourceful enough to look after yourself. It was quite another when you were responsible for a small, fragile human being who deserved so much more than you'd ever been able to give her.
Miranda went over to the table where her beloved black-haired fairy princess of a daughter had stopped playing with her doll and, it seemed, belatedly come to the realization that everyone's attention was focused elsewhere than on her. Her cute face had gone pouty, a warning that a TTT — terrible two tantrum, as Miranda called them — was threatening to explode, as so often happened when the toddler felt neglected or thwarted.
"Sweetie, this is so exciting," Miranda said, hoisting her mocha-skinned daughter, so unlike her own fair self, into her arms. The familiar weight and warmth, the delicate scent of the baby oil Di made from the petals of wild roses, soothed Miranda's nerves.
Forcing enthusiasm into her voice, she brought the little girl over to the newly engaged couple. "Uncle Aaron is getting married." She glanced at his fiancée, the walnut-haired lawyer who'd given up her entire life in Ottawa to move to Destiny Island. "I guess that's going to make you Aunt Eden?"
Eden beamed, her happiness so vivid that, if Miranda had been a normal woman rather than a seething mess of insecurities, she'd have found it contagious. "I can't think of a bigger honor." She took Ariana's small hand gently in hers. "What do you think, Fairy-ana?" The nickname had been bestowed by Aaron a few months before, when his niece became obsessed with fairies. "Will you let me be your aunt Eden?"
Now that the attention was back on her, Ariana was happy. "An-te-den?" she ventured.
"That sounds so good," Eden said, turning to put her arm around Aaron, as if she couldn't bear to go more than a moment without touching him.
"It sure does," he said.
Oh God, Miranda's big brother, the guy who'd taught her to shoplift and pick pockets as necessities of survival, had gone all schmaltzy. With a reluctant grin, she had to admit it was actually pretty adorable.
And it was high time she stopped being so freaking pathetic and looked on the bright side. Aaron's happiness proved he'd been wrong to say that love wasn't in the cards for either of them. She was right: they could find true love. They could beat their track record of being unloved by their mom, their two dads — because, in truth, she and Aaron were half siblings — and their grandparents.
But right now wasn't the time to muse about love. She had to think about her and Ariana's immediate future. They couldn't keep living in the guest room at Aaron's small log home. That arrangement wasn't fair to him and Eden.
Resting her right hand on her shirtsleeved left forearm, she summoned the power of the tattooed dragon that lay beneath the faded blue cotton. The dragon that symbolized her strength and ability to cope with whatever life tossed her way.
Eden's aunt and uncle got back to the dinner preparations, Seal taking over the sweet potatoes Miranda had abandoned. Eden and Aaron went into the mudroom to take off their jackets and boots, then returned, pulled out chairs at the table, and sat down side by side, hands linked.
Bouncing Ariana gently in her arms, Miranda listened to the conversation with half an ear while she formulated a plan for finding a new home for herself and her daughter.
"Eden, you've told your mom and dad?" Di asked.
"Yes, we stopped at their cabin first." Eden's parents and younger sister were living in one of the eight scenic log cabins at SkySong, though Helen and Jim planned to buy a house on Destiny Island in the spring. "Mom and Dad are thrilled to bits. They'll be over for dinner shortly. Kelsey was out for a run, so she doesn't know yet."
Eden went on, gushing about how she couldn't believe how wonderful the past year had been, finding her long-lost aunt Di, discovering this wonderful island, and best of all meeting the love of her life.
Helen and Di had been separated since their teens, when Di, the older sister, had run away from their Ottawa home along with her new, secret boyfriend, a member of the Mi'kmaq First Nation in Nova Scotia, who was also a teen runaway. They'd traveled west, all the way to Destiny Island, where they'd joined the Enchantery commune. Last summer, a long-lost letter had provided a clue that brought Eden here, and the rest was history. A family reunion, not to mention a new love.
Di, who'd been emptying glass canning jars of chopped tomatoes into a large pot on the stove, glanced over her shoulder. "Have you two talked about a wedding date?" The serene woman in her mid-sixties looked a bit like the hippie she'd once been, wearing one of the woven Guatemalan tops she loved, with her walnut-and-silver hair gathered into a long braid.
"Soon," Aaron said.
"But Aaron," Eden said, "I start my new job at Arbutus Lodge after New Year's. There'll be so much to do, and I need to concentrate on that rather than giving them short shrift."
Yeah, that was Eden. Superresponsible and organized.
"Do not tell me we're going to wait a year," Aaron said, sounding a little panicky.
"No, no, of course not. It's just, this is such a surprise. I need to get my head around it, and planning a wedding does take some time and effort."
He groaned, and Miranda gave him a sympathetic smile. Just wait until the poor guy found himself being dragged into discussions about flowers, music, and catering.
The scent of cooking tomatoes and herbs drifted across from the stove, stirring guilt in Miranda. She always tried to pull her weight and really should be helping with the meal. But right now something else was more important. She plunked down on a sky-blue chair across from Aaron and Eden, with her daughter in her lap.
Eden, gazing at Aaron, said, "How about the spring? April or May?"
"I guess I can live with that. After all, we'll be living together anyhow."
And there was Miranda's cue. "Ariana and I will clear out of the house as soon as I can find a place." She'd been in denial, should have done this back when Eden decided to move to the island.
Cuddling her daughter, she said, "I'll talk to Iris at Dreamspinner. She and her family know everyone on the island." The Yakimuras' bookstore and coffee shop were the heart of Blue Moon Harbor village. "I bet some of the summer folks would be willing to rent their place at least until May or June, and by then I'll have found —"
"Whoa," Aaron said, casting a quick sideways glance at Eden.
"That's for sure," his fiancée said. "Miranda, Aaron's place is your home, yours and Ariana's, just as much as it's mine. We don't want you to leave."
Even as she appreciated Eden's generosity, Miranda's heart gave a twinge at the we. Already, Aaron and Eden were a we who made decisions together.
"Besides," Aaron said, "if you pay rent somewhere, you'll have to increase your work hours, and that won't give you as much time for your studies."
For years he'd been urging her to further her education. As an eleventh-grade dropout who'd never done well in school, she'd had no desire to go back to the books. And she'd been busy, what with the waitressing and retail jobs she'd held, and her pre-Ariana active life as a young single woman in a dynamic city. But then she'd gotten pregnant and life had changed.
Last summer it had sunk in that, if she was going to give her daughter the kind of life she deserved, she needed higher-paying work. So she'd worked her butt off for the past few months and almost finished her GED online. Turned out, she wasn't all that bad at schoolwork if she applied herself. In the new year, she'd start the online courses to get certified as an early childhood educator. Even if she busted her butt on those, too, which she fully intended to do, it would take her more than a year. "I'll still study," she said grimly.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
She'd have snapped at him for his lack of faith, except he had plenty of reason to doubt her. But now she was committed to building a better future for herself and the precious girl whose weight and stillness now indicated she'd dozed off on her mom's lap. "Yes, I'm sure." Somehow she'd find the time.
"And you guys need privacy," she said firmly. "Stop being so nice and generous and all that good stuff and be realistic." She managed a one-sided grin for her brother. "Isn't that what you've been telling me all these years? To be realistic?"
"Yeah, but —" he started.
"I have an idea." The calm voice was Di's, reminding Miranda that she and her brother had an audience.
Miranda glanced over her shoulder to see that Eden's aunt had turned away from the stove, where a pot of spicy tomato sauce now simmered. "Stay here, Miranda," Di said warmly.
"Here? At SkySong?"
The teen runaways had been together forever now. Never married, they'd rechristened themselves, changing the first names their parents had given them and taking the surname SkySong, and over the years they'd created this retreat by the same name. In addition to the lovely old wooden two-story home where Di and Seal lived, the scenic property included log guest cabins and a huge organic garden.
"We'd be happy to have you," Seal agreed, looking up from spreading something on a loaf of homemade French bread. Garlic and herb butter, from the delicious smell of it. He, like his partner, showed his hippie roots, clad in faded tie-dye and wearing his graying black hair in a ponytail secured by a leather thong. His deep brown eyes were sincere behind wire-framed glasses.
"I can't take your charity."
"It's not charity," Di said firmly. "Nor is having Helen, Jim, and Kelsey in a cabin."
"No, of course it's not, with them," Miranda said. "I mean, they're your family." Not to mention the SkySongs were assisting in Helen's recovery after surgery and treatment for a recurrence of breast cancer.
"You're family, too," Seal said.
"No, I'm not." Aaron and Ariana were her only family.
"Of course you are," Di said, coming over and resting a hand on her shoulder. "Aaron's about to be our ... uh, nephew-in-law and you're his sister. Besides, you sure can't accuse Seal and me of being sticklers for convention, can you?" Her bright blue eyes danced.
Miranda's lips twitched. "I wouldn't dare."
"For us," Di said, "it's the family of our hearts that counts. You and Ariana most definitely have a place in our hearts."
"It's the truth," Seal said.
Miranda swallowed, trying to clear away the lump that had formed in her throat. If she could believe them, she might cry. It was more acceptance and support than she'd had from her own grandparents, not to mention the unknown father who'd knocked up her mother. Or the mom who'd put her next fix or her current boyfriend ahead of her children's welfare.
"We're never full up in winter," Di went on. "You and your sweet girl can have a cabin for the next four or five months at least. You'll have lots of able babysitters, so —"
Excerpted from "Come Home With Me"
Copyright © 2018 Susan Lyons.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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