Repairing His Heart
Prodigal son Scott Barrett is back home in Barrett's Millwith plans to atone for his past mistakes and restore his future. But the quiet Virginia village feels like a different place since his return. The old cottage and chapel are crying out for repairmuch like Scott himself. Luckily, sensitive artist Jenna Reed offers to help. Jenna sees Scott without judgmentthough she reveals little about her own troubled past. As they work together to renovate the chapel, Scott begins to earn her trust, and soon he's envisioning life with the beautiful Jenna. Can the love of a good woman finally make him whole?
Barrett's Mill: In the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a family legacy leads to love
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
William Henry Barrett. Cherished on earth and in heaven.
Hands folded in front of him, Scott Barrett stared down at the granite headstone that marked his grandfather's resting place in the Barrett's Mill Cemetery. Solid and straightforward, in Scott's mind the stone and its message couldn't have summed up Granddad any better. A kind, hardworking man all his life, Will had given everything he had to his family and the sleepy Virginia town that bore their name.
And now he was gone.
Out of necessity, over the years Scott had learned to mask his emotions behind a cool facade that gave nothing away. But now, facing up to the consequences of bad choices he'd made long ago, a wave of remorse threatened to overwhelm him. If only he'd taken the high road, he lamented silently, he would've been able to get here in time to say goodbye.
Unfortunately, some mistakes took root in your life like weeds and spoiled what might have been a good thing if you'd tended to it properly from the start. That lesson, among many others, had been drummed into his head every day for the past three years. From his childhood through graduation day, his mother had complained to him and his four brothers that Barrett men never learned anything the easy way. And he was Barrett to the core.
Granddad had accepted that, Scott recalled as he sat down on the freshly turned ground in front of the stone. He'd seen all that in his headstrong grandson, and more.
I'm sad to see you go, he'd said the last time Scott left their tiny hometown in the Blue Ridge Mountains for some vague destination. But I'll be here waiting for you when you get back.
Leaning his head against the marker, Scott followed his memories back in time and dredged up a visual of Granddad, smiling and waving as he drove away. Closing his eyes, he swallowed hard around the sudden lump in his throat. "I'm sorry I missed out on seeing you again, Granddad. I got home as fast as I could."
The warm spring breeze ruffled through his hair, and he felt a small measure of calm settle over him. Even though he knew it was unlikely, he chose to believe it was his grandfather reaching down from heaven to let him know he understood.
An unfamiliar voice jolted him from his brooding, and he looked up to find a stranger looking down at him. A very pretty stranger, he noted with surprise. Dressed in a pink tank top and faded overalls spattered with every color imaginable, she had dark, curly hair and eyes that made him think of a flawless summer sky. She was holding a spade and a bushel basket filled with flowers, and she set them next to Granddad's grave as if she meant to stay.
In the interest of avoiding trouble, he'd developed a habit of ducking his head and avoiding eye contact whenever possible. But this was another place, he reminded himself, and here that kind of behavior would come across as rude. Recalling the manners his mother had insisted they all learn and use, he got to his feet and did his best to put on a friendly face. "That's me. I've been gone awhile, so I don't think we've met."
"Jenna Reed," she replied, offering a slender hand covered in flecks of purple and green. "I moved here last summer and started up Reed's Artworks. You may have seen my sign out on the highway on your way into town."
That explained her unusual clothes, and he tried to sound friendly. "I did, actually. How's business?"
"Oh, you know how it is," she said breezily, as if they'd known each other for months instead of mere seconds. "Up and down, depending on the day."
Like his life, Scott added silently. Meeting this lovely, outgoing woman in a cemetery had to qualify as an up, though. Maybe it was a sign of better things to come. "Yeah, I hear you. How'd you know who I was?"
"I've gotten to know your family since I've been here, and I recognized you from the picture of you and your brothers on your grandmother's mantel."
"How's she doing?" When he realized he'd just admitted he hadn't gone to visit her yet, he mentally cringed. Acting without thinking had gotten him in a world of trouble, he cautioned himself. Now that he'd escaped the worst of it, he really needed to work on being less impulsive.
"You know Olivia. Everything's fine, even when the rest of us think it's falling apart. At the end, she was the most positive one in your whole family. I've never seen anyone so strong."
"Yup, that's Gram."
The conversation stalled right there, and he searched for a way to grind his rusty social skills back into gear. Then he remembered the shovel and flowers and nodded toward them. "Whatcha got there?"
It wasn't smooth, but judging by her quick smile, she either didn't notice his floundering or didn't mind. "Flowers for Will from the Crossroads Church. We thought he should have them year-round, so I volunteered to plant some perennials that will come up every spring."
"That's nice of you." He couldn't imagine why she'd do such a thing for someone she wasn't related to. In the world he'd been living in, it was everyone for himself, and people didn't help anyone else unless there was something in it for them. And then, out of nowhere, he heard himself ask, "Want a hand?"
He couldn't believe what he'd just done, but there was no way he could change his mind without looking like a total jerk. It wasn't as if he had anything pressing to do this morning, so he picked up the shovel and got to work turning the soil back for a small garden.
"Let's make an arch," she suggested, pointing in a semicircle. "That will look nicer, don't you think?"
It didn't matter much to him, since he thought the flowers were more than enough, but he appreciated her asking for his input. It had been a long time since he'd been treated with the kind of respect this perky stranger was showing him. "Sounds good."
"Your grandmother has the prettiest gardens," Jenna commented while she set peat pots of various flowers into a pattern that seemed to make sense to her. Apparently not satisfied, she rearranged them several times until she finally quit and sat back on the heels of her sneakers. "What do you think?"
Angling a look up at him, she gave him a teasing smile. "The flowers or me?"
He caught himself smiling back, and alarms started clanging in his head. Another hard-won lesson had taught him that women were nothing but trouble, and pretty ones were the worst of all. He had a feeling the worst of all were the artistic kind with freckles sprinkled across their noses.
Being drawn to her so quickly baffledand worriedhim, and he firmly put his conflicting reactions to her aside as he got back to his digging. She didn't say anything, but he could feel her watching him, studying him like some new species she'd discovered under a microscope. His movements allowed him to glance over at her every shovelful or so, and at one point he met those amazing eyes head-on.
Setting down the pot she was holding, she gave him a gentle smile. "Did you want to ask me something?"
A lot of somethings, he thought, but one zoomed to the top of his list. He plunged the shovel into the ground and leaned on the battered red handle. "How much do you know about me?"
"More than you'd like, I'm guessing." Another smile, this one tinged with compassion. "We all make mistakes, Scott."
"Most folks don't make the kind that land them in prison."
"I try not to judge people based on what they might have done before, but on what I see in them right now." Pausing, she gave him an assessing look. "I see a guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong crowd. He owned up to his part in what they did and took his punishment for it. Now he's come back to his hometown, where people care about him, hoping to put his life back together. How'm I doing?"
Those warnings in his mind blared again, but quieter this time. Despite his misgivings, Scott allowed himself a slight grin. "Fine. Makes me wonder how someone as young as you would come by that opinion, though."
"Just how young do you think I am?"
He wasn't touching that one, so he said, "Well, I'm twenty-seven, and I'm thinking you're a couple years younger than that. How'm I doing?" he added, echoing her earlier question.
"Fine," she parroted him with a little smirk, then got serious. "You're not the only person in the world who's had to shake off their past and start over again, y'know."
With that, she took a trowel from her basket and began digging in the earth he'd turned. It struck him as an odd thing to say, but she didn't volunteer anything more. Taking her silence as a hint that she was done discussing that topic, he began shaping the crescent she'd requested. "So how do you like it here?"
"It's a charming little town, and the people are really nice."
He'd known enough women to hear a qualifier in there somewhere, and he nudged. "But?"
After hesitating for a few moments, she sighed. "I've been here almost a year. The summer art fairs will be starting up soon, and I'll be on my way."
Her tone had a tinge of resignation in it, and he frowned. He'd just met her, but the thought of this cheerful painter being unhappy bothered him for some reason. "You don't sound thrilled with that."
"It's the way it is," she replied with a shrug. "I've learned that things go better for me if I'm not in one place too long."
Scott understood that philosophy all too well. It had governed his life for years, and at first it had been fun. The excitement of drifting around the country, working at this job or that one, following the good weather, had given him some great memories. Then, one steamy Houston afternoon, the thing he valued most had been wrenched away from him.
That fateful day, he'd lost his freedom. It had taken him a long time to get it back, and he'd die before he would let anyone take it from him again.
Jenna knew a mess when she saw one.
Wearing tattered jeans and a well-loved rock-concert T-shirt that hung loosely on his tall frame, Scott Barrett definitely fit the bill. While they worked, she noticed he was careful to keep his distance from her. She'd never been to prison herself, but it wasn't hard to imagine why he'd become so guarded about his personal space. There was something about him that spoke to her, though, and it was more than the slightly shaggy brown hair and determined set of his jaw. When he glanced over at her, she finally pegged what had snared her attention.
His eyes. Dark and wary, they connected with hers for a moment before flitting away. It was as if he didn't want her to catch him observing her. She did a lot of portrait work for clients, and it had made her adept at reading people. Her instincts told her he wasn't eyeing her in a creepy, stalkerish kind of way. Because she moved around so much, she knew how it felt to be an outsider in a community, but for him it was different. He should have felt at home here in the place where he'd grown up, but he didn't. Knowing that made her feel sad for him, and she hunted for a way to ease his mind.
Hoping to draw him out a little, she attempted to resuscitate their lapsed conversation. "So, it must be nice to be back in your hometown."
"Didn't have anywhere else to go," he muttered, stabbing at fresh ground with the spade.
He was digging outside the area she'd shown him for Will's garden, but out of respect for his current attitude she chose not to point that out. Instead, she tried again. "I've lived in lots of different places myself. I think Denver was my favorite with the mountains and so many interesting spots to paint. How 'bout you?"
"I liked Texas. Till they told me I couldn't leave," he added with a wry grin.
The dark gallows humor caught her by surprise, and she couldn't help laughing. "I can't believe you can joke about that."
"You give a man enough time alone with his thoughts, one of two things happenshe either goes crazy or he comes to terms with what happened. I'm not the loony-bin type."
"I'm glad," she said reflexively, getting a questioning look in reply. "I mean, for your family. They've all missed you so much."
"I missed them, too." Staring at his grandfather's marker, he sighed. "More than you could possibly know."
He had the same rangy, muscular build as his brothers, but there was something different about him she couldn't quite identify. An artist as much by nature as profession, she'd always been inquisitive about everything and everyone around her. What made them unique, what made them tick. While she recognized that Scott was an individual with his own qualities, she couldn't help comparing him to the Barretts she'd gotten to know. There was no denying he had his own vibe, and she searched for a way to define it.
Out of nowhere, it hit her: he was wounded. Judging by his pragmatic way of looking at life, it wasn't from being locked up, at least not entirely. Since they'd just met, she didn't want to pry into what was certainly very personal business, so she tamped down her curiosity and turned her attention to the cluster of forget-me-nots she was planting.
They didn't talk at all, but he seemed to understand where she needed the soil dug out and stayed a few shovelfuls ahead of her while she worked. When she'd planted the last of the flowers, she stood and wiped the dirt off her palms onto her overalls. Holding out a hand, she smiled. "Thanks for the help, Scott. It was great to meet you, but I should be getting back to my studio."
After hesitating for a moment, he gently took her hand, shaking it as if it was made of glass. Those dark eyes connected directly with hers for the first time, and as hard as she tried, she couldn't make herself look away. There was that pain again, but now it was joined by the hopeful look of a lonely little boy who thought maybejust maybehe'd found a new friend.
While she knew it would be completely insane for her to get involved with this guy, she couldn't shake the feeling that he needed her. With every instinct screaming for her to back away and leave him be, she heard herself say, "All this digging sure is thirsty work. Can I buy you a glass of iced tea at The Whistlestop?"
At first, he didn't react at all. Then, slowly, as if something that had been frozen was thawing a bit, a slow grin worked its way across his chiseled features. "You're not from the South, are you?"
"Around here, we call it sweet tea. And you don't have to buy me any, 'cause I've got a gallon jug of Mom's at the house. No one makes it any better."
A quick glance around showed her nothing but trees and gravestones. "I don't see a car or a house for that matter. How far did you walk to get here?"
"Over that hill," he replied, pointing to a modest rise that led into the nearby woods. When she hesitated, he frowned. "Unless you'd rather not be alone out in the boonies with a guy you just met. I'd totally understand."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“Finding His Way Home” by Mia Ross is the third book in her 'Barrett's Mill' and I wonder if there will be another book in the series to come out later on for there seems to be a hint of it here especially towards the end. There are two characters who are introduced into the book that seem a little uncertain and for some reason I just get this feeling that they almost belong together. I would be interested to see if that is the case that is for sure. Jenna is a woman we have seen in the prior books and get a sense that she is her own her person with an interesting life. I have to say that now we get to see how truly interesting Jenna is for the life she has lead has been interesting. This is a character who has her doubts but at the same time her outlook at life is bright, while she also has learned a few things that really help her along her path. Jenna is a woman who is willing to make her own judgments in regards to other people which makes her a very special person for she waits to make those judgments while keeping herself open completely to the other people around her. Scott is a man who we have heard little about, but there was a reason why his story just wouldn't have been the same if it came from anyone else. I have to say that Scott, regardless of how he projects himself, is a pretty courageous character for he was pretty honest when asked about his problems in the past. He wasn't one to lie about it, while not exactly being completely upfront with people just for the sake of it. He understood some other people's reactions to him, but those reactions bothered him none-the-less. He learns several lessons throughout the story which helps him bring about to look at life differently. This is a story of second chances, forgiveness and rethinking life plans. Really both Jenna and Scott get those second chances. Jenna may not realize that she is getting her second chance but I could see it. She was so certain about how her life was going to be all because of her past, but her second chance was still there for the taking if she was willing, which of course has her rethinking the plans she made for her life. Scott, now his second chances are really quite easy to see if he was only willing to open up to those around him and reach for them. Because of his past he was so certain how his life was going to go forward in a certain way but life often laughs at our plans. The forgiveness is a subtle thing on how it was presented. One of the characters feels that they are in need of forgiveness from those around them, yet really it seems as if the forgiveness is needed only to be extended to themselves.
Mia Ross is my go to for sweet romances with some amazing characters and lots of emotion. She wraps up her Barrett's Mill series with a wonderful pair that you just fall in love with. I'd liked Jenna from the moment I met her in a previous book. She is the epitome of the wandering artist without a care in the world. Her carefree spirit was contagious, but she was still grounded enough to appreciate the community around her. Scott has a record in his past, quite literally. He's on parole and being stuck in his small home town where everyone knows everything is very difficult. He finds there are two groups of people - those that want to give him a chance to prove himself, and those that judge him and want nothing to do with him. As he isolates himself at his grandfather's "homestead", using his time to fix the place up, Jenna was exactly what he needed in his life. Watching the two of them bring out parts in each other that no one realizes were even there was so much fun. While there is a hint at religion here and there - do not let that scare you away from this series or from Mia Ross. There's no hitting you over the head with a bible in this one, just a sweet romance in a small town.