Once upon a time, he was just a hopeless cause from the wrong side of Glory, Kansas. And he'll be damned if he'll let anyone drag him back down after finally clawing his way out.
Everyone knows that Gina Townsend is a saint, always taking care of everyone around her. And now she's trying to be a mother to her six-year-old niece, Amanda Jane. But the girl's biological father isn't helping matters. The scruffy, gangly boy Gina remembers has returned to Glory a sexy, successful man, but Reed Hollingsworth is the only thing standing between her and losing Amanda Jane to foster care.
Betrayed that neither Townsend sister bothered to tell him he was a father until he had money, Reed's still not about to shirk his responsibilities. So when he demands Gina move in with him as part of Amanda Jane's custody agreement, he tries not to notice pretty much everything about herespecially the way his solemn-faced daughter laughs when they play together.
Raising a child together, Reed and Gina learn that some dreams come and go, but some are a spark that burns eternal
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A lacy collar lay expertly arranged atop the judge's black robes, like the doily positioned just so underneath the orange carnival glass bowl that held an endless supply of her grandmother's hard, ribbon candy. The kind Gina had chipped her front tooth on when she was eight. Seeing it perched there, so crisp, so proper, caused a heavy knot to turn in on itself in her gut.
"Sit up straight," Maudine Townsend whispered in Gina's ear. "Just because I've played pinochle with Helga Gunderson every Saturday for as long as I can remember doesn't mean she's going to look kindly on you. She'll be fair."
"How is it fair to judge someone by their posture? Especially when I know that you two have never played pinochle. You play five-card stud and shoot whiskey," Gina whispered back to her blue-haired grandmother. The woman's hair was literally a light shade of blue. She'd dyed it for the street carnival two weeks back and temporary had turned out to be more permanent. But she'd accessorized nicely, striking an imposing figure in a white vintage Chanel suit circa 1963. Somehow, she'd made it work.
Maudine raised a perfectly drawn eyebrow. "Don't be tart."
"Yes, ma'am." Gina straightened her posture. She was a grown woman, former army, and her grandmother still had the power to make her jump to. She didn't mind it much. Her grandmother was the reason she was a fighter. Her grandmother was the reason she'd made it through high school after her mother died.
And her grandmother was the reason that Gina believed she could be a good mother to her niece, Amanda Jane, after Crystal died a year ago.
There'd been a lot of loss and a lot of sorrow in the past few years. It was a lot for anyone to bear, especially a six-year-old girl.
Suddenly, her grandmother's fingers tightened around hers, the cool metal of her mailorder costume rings digging into Gina's palms.
She looked up and saw him.
Gina thought she'd prepared herself for thisfor seeing him after all these years. For facing him and demanding he do what was right.
No, faced with him, she felt like she'd opened the door to confront the monster in the closet and found out he was real. No, no Reed wasn't a monster. He was just a guy. A man like any other, even if he didn't think so anymore.
He smelled of money, or she could tell that he would from across the courtroom.
Reed was ushered into the court by some shark masquerading as a man in a suit. They each had haircuts that probably cost more than all the shoes in her closet combined. Of course, that probably wasn't saying much.
His hair gleamed, perfect and golden under the light. Too perfect, she wanted to muss it, push her fingers through it and disturb its perfection. She wanted proof that he was still Reed underneath this shiny veneer. Still the same boy, at heart. Because if he wasn't, how would she survive this?
She'd survive anything, because she had to, she reassured herself.
Gina crossed her ankles and tucked her dollar-store flats underneath her, self-conscious of her hand-me-down dress and the slightly gnawed tips of her unpolished fingernails.
"I'm not worried about the judge, I'm worried about him. Don't give him the satisfaction," her best friend and lawyer, Emma Grimes, said from the seat next to her. "I don't doubt he's going to try to pull something here. That attack dog he's got with him looks much too smug."
"Good thing you're better than an attack dog. You're a nuclear weapon." Or so Gina hoped. She'd need it to stand her own.
Gina had never been so angry as the day she found out that Reed had bought a house on Snob Hill. He had money for houses, for fancy cars, for whatever he wanted. Not just what he needed, but wanted. Any little thingespecially coming back to Glory and showing everyone he'd succeeded even when the world had been against him.
Well, that was just lovely for him, but what about his daughter? What about Crystal? And what about herself?
Gina didn't begrudge him his success and she didn't want a handout. She was more than happy to work for everything she had, but it wasn't fair that she was back to waiting tables, working as an EMT and trying to get through premed, all while raising his daughter with no help from him.
If he didn't want to know the beautiful girl his daughter was, fine. But helping pay for her education, for her food and the clothes on her back was his responsibility, too, not Gina's alone. She'd be damned if she'd let him waltz back into town and lord his money and success over everyone while Gina went without so Amanda Jane could have the things she neededlet alone anything she just wanted.
It was wrong that when they went to the store Amanda Jane never asked for anything. That when she made her Christmas list she put things on it like school supplies for Gina. It was kind, yes. She had a large heart, but Amanda Jane had gotten to know nothing of being a child. Even when she played on the swings, it was done with the grim determination of a chore. Something she was supposed to do.
All because she'd had a mother who loved her high more than her daughter and Reed couldn't be bothered to be a father.
That thought sat cold and false in her mind. Even though she'd seen the proof in his absence, she'd never thought he'd be that way. In fact, when she'd played pretend in her head, she was the sister he'd fallen for, and he was always a wonderful dad.
But in those pretend schemes, he'd never been a junkie, either. Not that he was now; he was clean and sober.
Damn him, anyway.
Why did he have to be so handsome?
Why did he have to come back?
Why did he have to be Amanda Jane's father?
She supposed if she were going to get stuck on that endless loop, she could ask the universe a lot of questions. Why did her mother have to die It was what it was and the only thing she had control over was the here and now.
Sort of. She had control of her actions. That was it.
Judge Gunderson's voice yanked her out of her thoughts. "Before I officially hear this case" she peered down at them meaningfully, her presence heavy in the small room "I want to offer you both a solution that has been suggested to me by concerned parties."
Concerned parties? That would equal one Maudine Townsend. Gina forced herself to keep her eyes forward on the judge and not glaring at her grandmother.
She loved the woman.
She admired her.
Couldn't live without her.
But she liked to meddle where she oughtn't.
"Consider giving the child the stability and permanence marriage will provide."
Maybe the judge was her grandmother's best friend, but damn it.
"I object," Gina said.
"Shh!" Emma and her grandmother said at the same time.
"Of course you do." Judge Gunderson addressed her. "I wouldn't want to marry a man I didn't love, either. But you could do it for Amanda Jane."
Reed's gaze was hot on her, as if she'd just come into the sight of some heat-seeking missile. Well, she wasn't going to look at him and give him the satisfaction.
"So my client is good enough to provide for you, but not good enough to marry? Noted," the shark replied.
"Young man," Helga Gunderson began as she turned her chilly stare on him. "Maybe your theatrics are appreciated in other courts. But you are in my courtroom. Being a smart aleck isn't going to win you any favors."
The shark grinned, not at all put off by her words. "Yes, ma'am." He was almost handsome, that predator in a suit, with his boyish grin.
"And, Miss Grimes, please remind your client that she isn't the one who gets to object." Helga looked at them both pointedly.
"Yes, ma'am." Emma nudged her under the table like she had those years ago in study hall.
And her grandmother pinched her on the other side.
"You don't get to object, either. Stop it," she grumbled under her breath at the woman who looked more pleased with herself than she should.
"Miss Grimes, Mr. James, confer with your clients."
Emma leaned over. "It costs us nothing to say you'll consider it. In fact, it could gain us some leverage if we have to appeal. You look agreeable and motivated to do what's best for Amanda Jane."
She snuck a glance at Reed and felt as if she was in high school all over again. She didn't want to be the one to put herself out there. To say yes before he did. It was like admitting she didn't think boys had cooties in the fourth grade. That was so stupid.
"You need every advantage you can get here. He's her father. Crystal may have wanted you to have custody, but legally" Emma whispered.
"Okay, fine." Oh, God, could Reed really take Amanda Jane away from her? She'd never actually believed that could happen, but sitting here in the courtroom now, it was a sword of Damocles hanging over her head. He had more money, more advantages and no matter what Judge Gunderson's ruling was, Reed could appeal it forever.
Emma straightened and nodded to the judge.
Reed's eyes were on her again; she didn't need to look at him to know that he was the one who watched her. It was almost as if he was trying to see what was under her skin. Or maybe he was just trying to look through her and pretend she wasn't there.
"What about you, Mr. James? Your client's answer?"
"We agree to consider it."
Consider it. Marrying Reed Hollingsworth? That was just insane. The idea crashed into her, bruising her in places she didn't know were still sore.
He was "considering" it. As if he would deign to look down from the castle he'd built for himself and still found her lacking.
She snuck a glance at him and he was still watching her, his blue eyes sharp as blades slicing her to ribbons.
But Gina refused to look away, refused to back down. She'd fight for Amanda Jane with every breath in her body.
"If you decide to go forward, I want a prenup on my desk before next week. If not, we'll be revisiting this case to decide custody, visitation and support."
"This is wonderful news. What are your colors going to be?" Maudine asked. "I'm thinking blush and cream."
"I'm thinking you've lost your mind." She took her grandmother's hand. "If for some reason, this insanity happens, it will be just a signing of papers in Emma's office. No dress, no vows, no"
"Why would you deny an old woman her last wish?"
Gina snorted. "You're far from dying, Grams." She said it more to reassure herself than anyone else.
"You don't know that. I could get hit by a bus. Or choke on"
"Then I should never get married so you don't ever leave us." Gina hated how close to the truth that really was and her nose prickled.
"Hush with that." Maudine's thin arm came around her and pulled her close. She smelled like lavender and home. "Come on, now. Everything will be well. I know these things."
After the judge left, Gina wanted to do anything but be in the same room with Reed. She was afraid he'd speak to her; she was afraid he wouldn't. She didn't know how to act.
When she'd been thinking about taking him to court for child support, this part of it had never figured into the equation. This hadn't been real to her. It had been some fey idea in her head. When Emma asked her if she was sure about taking him to court, she'd been so steadfast. So sure. Now? She was drowning.
She didn't think she'd have to see him, hear him. She certainly hadn't thought she'd have to marry him.
As if that would happen, anyway. Not in a million years. The idea was preposterous.
But then what would she do if he wanted sole custody? Gina needed Amanda Jane as much as her niece needed her. She was her touchstone, her reason for fighting as hard as she had. She might have given up on med school last semester if not for her.
For a moment, Gina wondered if maybe that might be the best thing for Amanda Jane. Reed had all the advantages and she'd never want for anything.
But Reed didn't know how to be a family. His own had been more lacking than hers. She'd at least had her grandmother.
Now wasn't the time for self-doubt. It was the time to be decisive, to charge ahead with confidence, bravery and to never ever look back.
Reed's first reaction to the news that he was a father had been anger. Anger that he'd been denied the chance to really be a father. Anger that Crystal and Gina had taken that away from him. Anger that they didn't want anything from him except his money. Because he hadn't known he was a father until he'd been served with suit for child support.
Then under that anger, all the old pain, the old doubtall the baggage associated with the old Reedsurfaced. He was very much that same kid again who wanted so desperately to be enough.
But something akin to longing vied for top tier when he saw Gina sitting there next to her grandmother.
Beautiful, innocent Gina with her ethereal pale skin, her cloud of dark hair and her soft pink lips that always had a smile for him.
He remembered how smooth and soft her hands were on his forehead, the way she'd tenderly pushed his hair out of his face when he'd been racked with fever and chills the first time he'd tried to get clean. There had been no pity in her eyes, only her kindness to ease his suffering.
One of his darkest secrets was that single time he'd slept with Crystal. He'd thought it was Gina, and that made him all kinds of a bastard. Especially when once he'd realized it wasn't, it had been too good to stop. Something that finally felt good in a hazy world of pain and numbness.
He'd allow that he was still a bastard, but he wasn't that kid anymore. That kid who'd do anything to feel good, anything to belong, anything to feel like someone gave a damn about him.
He gave a damn about himself and no one, not even Gina Townsend, was going to take that away from him.
Reed had come a long way since then and Gina obviously knew that. She and Crystal hadn't wanted anything to do with him, hadn't cared about Amanda Jane's paternity until that article about him had appeared in Finance Today touting his net worth.
Marriage. What the hell was Gina thinking?
Besides wanting his money?
"I'm on it, Reed. If this is just a money grab on her part, I'll get you custody of the child, and have her paying you child support before this is over. Parental alienation. It's a crime." Gray sounded almost cheerful.
That didn't make him feel any better. His ego may have wanted Gina and Crystal to suffer, but his heart didn't. No, he didn't want that for Gina and Crystal. Crystal's suffering was over. She'd died and Gina was trying to raise his daughter all on her own.
He was still all twisted up. It was like standing there naked. He'd built this persona around himself, made himself believe he was this successful billionaire, but inside, he was still that guy from a trailer park.
There were days he felt as if any minute someone was going to come tell him that it had all been a mistake and he had to give it back.
And sitting in court next to his lawyer in the town that only knew him as poor white trash kept reminding him that it was a possibility.
"I think we should go to the Bullhorn for lunch."
"Isn't that where she works? What are you doing?" Gray shoved his papers in his briefcase.
"I just I need to see her." Reed wanted to assure himself that despite all of this, everything they'd both been through, that she was still Gina. Gina of the soft eyes, the tender hands, Gina who would be a good mother.
"You just saw her."
"No. I need to see her." He hoped that Gray would understand.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
FINDING GLORY is a small-town story of two people who have overcome major challenges in their pasts coming together to create a family for a motherless child and finding love from that selflessness. Growing up on the wrong side of Glory, Kansas, Gina Townsend saw the despair and hopelessness drive some of those closest to her to the edge but she was determined to get out and she did. However, her sister's death brought her back to raise the daughter she left behind but struggling to raise her niece while working two jobs to make ends meet and trying to complete her college courses has become very difficult and she sues the father, local boy turned millionaire, Reed Hollingsworth for child support. Reed Hollingsworth grew up on the wrong side of Glory alongside Gina and her sister and that life pushed him to find escape in drugs, something he had in common with Gina's sister. Luckily for him, he clawed his way out and made his fortune in stocks. The child support suit is the first time he's aware of his daughter and marriage of convenience may be the only solution to their problem. Gina was in love with Reed when they were younger and while he's now off limits, she will marry him to give her niece the life she never had- family, the comfort of involved parents, a roof over her head and lots of love. Easier said than done because together in close proximity, Reed and Gina can't keep their feelings in check, but Ginass experiences have taught her that once an addict, always an addict and she fears that giving in to how she feels for Reed would end in her getting hurt. While I enjoyed reading FINDING GLORY, there were a few situations that required me to suspend belief in reality. However, Ms. Arden is on point with the small town vibe with the festivals and carnivals, the nosy and matchmaking grandmas, the struggles both Gina and Reed faced as they adjusted to their changing relationship as parents and also as a couple and their efforts to make it work. She captures the distrust and doubts that are commonplace when dealing with an addict as well as the disquiet that comes with loving one ad it's very obvious that loves is not always about hearts and roses. The pace is slow and the romance is more sensual than steamy. I didn't really care for Gina, though. Gina was too much of a goody-two shoes, all that was missing was the halo and her indecision about what she wanted from Reed was quite annoying. Her redeeming feature was her devotion to her niece. Reed was sweet and earnest about making things work, including dealing with his past and its effect on everyone around him. Overall, FINDING GLORY was a sweet and enjoyable book to read. Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Sweet small town romance. Two flawed individuals overcoming the past in different ways come together for the sake of a child. He has self-esteem issues that come with being a recovering addict no matter how successful you become you are still a recovering addict. She has lost her mother and her sister. She left the Army, her way out, to raise the child he made with her sister. To say she has trust issues would be an understatement. With the help of some wonderful secondary characters can these three learn to trust, love and become a family. The story is sweet, a bit predictable but worth the read. Complimentary copy provided by author/publisher for an honest review.