For the Bradshaw brothers, coming back to their hometown is the last thing they wanted. But to cope with family tragedy, they're reuniting in Benevolence, Washington—a place of hope, caring, and ever-surprising love . . .
It’s ex-Navy SEAL Porter Bradshaw’s toughest challenge ever—six grieving nieces and nephews. With his brother, Matthias, killed in a car crash, and his sister-in-law, Sunday, hospitalized, Porter must take his turn looking after their children and the ancestral farm. He doesn't know much about parenting. Still, Porter is used to going it alone professionally—and personally. But warm-hearted teacher Clementine Warren is a complication he can’t resist . . .
For Clementine, Benevolence is where her hopes for a real home and family crashed and burned. But as Sunday's friend and former neighbor, she promised to always be there for the children. And as she and Porter work to comfort the young Bradshaws, his sense of duty and passionate commitment are rekindling more than Clementine’s dreams. Now with trouble coming, she'll face down her fears to prove to Porter, and herself, that together they can make a future full of love . . .
Praise for Shirlee McCoy’s Sweet Haven
“Fans of Debbie Macomber will appreciate McCoy’s sweet, funny, heartwarming
romance with its friendly, small-town setting.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“A delicious small‑town treat.” —Library Journal
Read an Excerpt
Words had power.
Clementine Warren had always known that.
Words woven together in just the right way captured the imagination, bridged divides, healed hearts and, sometimes, broke them. They convicted and absolved, created chaos and calmed it.
Words opened doors to other worlds and, then, pointed the way back home.
Wherever the hell that was.
Once upon a time, home had been Seattle, but that had been before. This was after.
Currently, Clementine was living in someone else's house doing someone else's work. Fixing someone else's problem. Which was a lot easier than fixing the mess Sim had made. Bills. Bill collectors. Clementine had paid and explained and paid some more. Thank God, she'd been socking money away in a secret account during the entirety of her marriage. She'd planted that tiny financial seed a few months before the wedding and tended it carefully. Every time she'd given a guest lecture on Native American lore or shared Native stories with captive college audiences, she'd taken half the money she'd earned and put it in that account. At the beginning of her marriage, she'd intended to use the money to pay for a surprise anniversary trip to Ireland — a place she and Sim had both wanted to visit. At the end of it, she'd been saving it just in case.
She'd told herself she might need it for a rainy day. She hadn't expected a monsoon, but she'd gotten one.
After Sim left, there'd been just enough money to pay off the loans and credit cards he'd taken out in her name.
Like Clementine, he'd had his secrets.
Unlike her, his hadn't been altruistic ones.
She'd been surprised by his betrayal, but she shouldn't have been. They'd been together for twelve years. Married for just under ten. She knew his priorities, and she knew his weaknesses.
She'd chosen to ignore both, because she'd been desperate to do what her mother said was impossible — maintain a loving, monogamous, long-term relationship. To her, that had seemed like the Promised Land — milk and honey and all things good.
Unfortunately, Sim didn't believe in monogamy. Something he'd forgotten to mention when he'd asked her to marry him. Something she hadn't bothered to ask, because monogamy, faithfulness, companionship, and permanence were the things that marriage was built on. At least, in her mind they were.
It had never occurred to her that Sim didn't see things the same way.
"Idiot," she muttered.
She wasn't sure if she was referring to herself or her ex-husband. Maybe ... probably ... both.
She tightened the last lug nut on the used tractor tire she'd bartered six skeins of hand-pulled alpaca yarn for and tossed the tire iron into a rusty toolbox she'd salvaged from the barn. If she'd had money, she would have bought a new tire and purchased tools to replace the ones that were nearly rusted through. She might have even hired a couple of people to help with the work, but — thanks to Sim — everything she'd worked for was gone. She was at square one again — empty savings account, empty checking account.
That, at least, she didn't worry about. She and her empty heart would be just fine. She didn't need a man in her life to be fulfilled and happy.
She didn't want a man in her life.
She wanted peace and a chance to rebuild what she'd lost.
Not just money — eventually, her finances would rebound. Friendships. Professional relationships. The sweet little Sears and Roebuck house she and Sim had bought six months before they'd married and sold three years ago to finance his dream.
She longed for those things the way parched earth longed for rain.
Right now, though ...
She had this: Pleasant Valley Organic Farm and a bunch of old farm equipment that she'd managed to duct tape into semi-working order. It had taken weeks, but she was finally ready to prep the fields for planting. The owner of the farm, Sunday Bradshaw, had been a generous landlady and a good friend. At a time when things had been going to hell in a handbasket, Sunday's kindness had seemed nearly miraculous.
Funny how things happened.
Clementine and Sim had been driving through Benevolence on their way to somewhere else. In Clementine's mind, somewhere else had been Seattle. After all, they'd already spent two years attempting to farmstead property in Idaho, because that had been Sim's dream. In Sim's mind somewhere else had been the West Coast. He'd wanted to buy a storefront and sell Clementine's hand-pulled wool and hand-dyed yarn. They'd been arguing about it over breakfast in a tiny diner in an itty-bitty town, and Clementine had grabbed a newspaper off a rack near the door just so she'd have an excuse to end the conversation. She'd seen Sunday's ad there. House for rent.
The price had been right, and Clementine had decided that staying in a neutral location until she'd figured out exactly what was going to happen to her marriage was the most practical option.
So, she and Sim had ended up in the small ranch-style house on Sunday's property. One acre of land to plant and harvest, and acres of farm surrounding it. Bucolic location, charming people. And, Sim ... Still spending money like they had an endless supply when all they really had was Clementine's teaching income. Three online college classes a semester barely paid the bills. Sometimes, she'd been late with the rent. Sometimes, she'd been really late. Sunday had never made an issue of it. She'd been kindness personified. And, Clementine had vowed to return the favor.
This was her opportunity, but it wasn't going to be easy.
Pleasant Valley Organic Farm had been mostly-fallow for years.
Clementine eyed the tractor, nudging the tire with the toe of her scuffed work boot. Used, but not threadbare. She hoped it would last until the end of planting season.
"It's going to have to," she said, climbing onto the seat, feeling the familiar predawn chill, hearing the quiet rustle of leaves as the wind whispered through them. It all felt familiar and, oddly, more right than anything had in a very long time. She'd done this hundreds of times while she was growing up. She knew her way around farmland and fields. She knew how to fix broken equipment. Maybe she should have stuck to that instead of leaving her father's farm and heading off to her mother's world of academia. If she had, she'd have avoided meeting and marrying Sim. She'd have avoided all those years of trying so hard to make something right out of something that was obviously wrong. She'd have saved herself a lot of trouble and a fair amount of frustration.
"No sense crying over spilled milk," she muttered, turning the key in the ignition. The tractor roared to life. Just like she'd expected it to. It might have been old, beaten up, and forgotten, but it had been built well.
She pulled out of the barn, the tractor's headlights illuminating dry yellow grass. A few feet ahead, the gate yawned open, daring her to enter the rocky, weed-infested field that would soon be planted with alfalfa. Once she finished bringing the farm back to life, she'd return to Seattle and the things she'd given up when she'd agreed to Sim's cockamamie scheme. A full-time professorship at the University of Washington. A nice group of friends.
Thank God, she hadn't completely cut ties with the university. For the past three years, she'd been teaching online classes, because she hadn't been nearly as excited by Sim's midlife crisis as he'd been. And, maybe, because she'd been just a little too unsure of Sim and their marriage. No matter how many pretty lies she'd told herself about how they'd weather the storm and come out stronger because of it, she'd been pretty sure their relationship was doomed long before Sim had emptied their bank account and walked away.
Whatever the case, she hadn't burned any bridges when she'd left Seattle three and a half years ago. The head of the anthropology department at the university had assured Clementine that she could return when she was ready.
She was ready now.
She needed something besides a couple of online classes to distract herself from the wreck her life had become. Tinkering with farm machinery and coming up with creative solutions to monetary limitations was okay, but she wanted to lose herself in academic life the way she used to, forget her problems while she delved into the traditions and myths of people who'd come before her.
Plus, a full-time job would give her the money she needed to start over. It was the practical solution to the problem Sim had created. The one she'd allowed him to create.
A few months ago, she'd returned to Seattle to start the long process of rebuilding herself. Not her finances. Not her career. Just ... her, the woman she'd been before she'd spent all those years with Sim. She'd met with the department head, agreed to begin teaching full-time in the fall, looked at apartments near campus while she crashed on a friend's couch. She'd had everything figured out — how she'd get her own place and start living life on her terms again.
And, then, she'd gotten a call from Heavenly Bradshaw, Sunday's oldest and newest daughter. Just a message left on voice mail when she'd been touring an apartment complex, but it had changed everything.
Clementine? It's me. Heavenly. Bradshaw. Matt's dead. Sunday's in the hospital. They're saying she might not make it. You're her friend. I thought you should know.
The twelve-year-old's voice had been steady and unemotional. She hadn't asked for anything. She hadn't needed to. Clementine owed Sunday a lot, and she wasn't going to repay her by allowing the farm to fall to ruin while Sunday was recovering.
If she recovered.
Currently, Sunday was in a rehab facility, hovering somewhere between coma and consciousness — not quite in this world and not quite in another. God willing, she'd improve. God willing, she'd return home. Clementine was going to make sure that if she did — when she did — she'd return to lush fields and beautiful apple orchards.
Or, at least, the beginning of those things.
Farming took time.
Clementine had months before she needed to return to Seattle and her professorship.
Fortunately, she had a good foundation to build on. In its heyday, Pleasant Valley Organic Farm had been a robust working farm, the land tilled and tended. Sunday had let Clementine read a history of the farm written by her grandfather, and she'd worried aloud that she'd be the generation forced to sell land that had been in her family for over a hundred years.
Her worry had been well-founded.
Sunday's husband, Matthias, had been a fun guy. A nice guy. The kind of guy that everyone in the little town of Benevolence, Washington, loved.
He'd also been better at playing at farming than doing it.
Better at playing at work, too.
Not that Clementine had ever said that to Sunday.
She'd kept her mouth shut. Partially because she hadn't felt like she'd known Sunday long enough to say anything. Partially because, compared to Sim, Matthias was a winner.
He'd loved Sunday.
He'd loved their kids.
He'd have given a stranger the shirt off his back.
So what if he spent more time dreaming than actually working? At least he'd cared about his family.
Sim, on the other hand, hadn't cared about anybody but himself.
"So, why are you wasting your time thinking about him?" she muttered, annoyed with her inability to get Sim out of her head for good and forever.
She didn't want him back.
God knew she was better off without him.
But her mind liked to toss random memories at her, taunting her with all the things she'd known but chosen to ignore about her ex.
Regret made a poor bedfellow.
She had a lot of it.
She also had a lot of work to do.
It wasn't getting done while she dwelled on the past.
A doe crashed through the weeds in front of her, white tail high, spindly legs barely touching the ground. It stopped a dozen yards away, turning its head and looking straight into Clementine's eyes before it took off again. If she'd been a different kind of person, she might have thought the doe was an omen or a visitor from beyond the grave — the specter of an ancestor long gone. Maybe even her father returning to encourage or to chastise.
More than likely to chastise.
Elliot Warren had been a lot of things, but a sympathetic, supportive parent wasn't one of them. He'd loved all fifteen of his children, but he hadn't had time for pep talks or fatherly advice sessions. He'd been a storyteller, a word-weaver, a guest lecturer, and, by the time Clementine had been born, a professor emeritus at the University of Wyoming. He'd raised his kids on a hundred acres of land just outside the reservation where he'd been born. He'd taught them how to till and plant and harvest, how to hunt and how to survive, but he hadn't taught them a whole hell of a lot about how to protect their hearts from lying, stealing, two- timing bastards like Sim.
Fortunately, life had done what Elliot hadn't.
Clementine might have learned the hard way, but she'd learned.
The tractor bounced across the field, its dim headlights barely illuminating the rich brown earth and tangled weeds. Plowing before dawn wasn't ideal, but she had a schedule to keep. The seasons waited for no one.
The first pass across the field was easy. The old-school tractor did its job without a bunch of modern technology. She focused on the distant horizon and the band of gold creeping above the mountains as she aimed for the edge of the plot and the stake she'd set earlier in the week. She plowed the second row and then the third, shivering as a cold breeze blew across the field. The mountains were still capped with snow, the chill of winter still in the air, and the ground was just barely thawed enough to use the old harrow on it. The tilling should have been done at the end of harvest, old growth turned over to fertilize the ground beneath, but Matthias hadn't prepped for this year's planting. She doubted he'd prepped in previous years.
Maybe he'd planned to.
Probably he had. That was Matthias. Big plans. Little action. His three brothers didn't seem to be the same way. Not that she'd seen much of them. They'd stepped in to take over the care of Sunday and Matt's kids. Or, at least, one of them had. The other two visited almost every weekend.
She avoided them whenever possible.
She didn't need complications in her already complicated life, and the Bradshaw men had the potential to be that.
The Bradshaw boys.
That's what people in town called them.
As if, somehow, the three had never grown up, left Benevolence, and made lives for themselves. Nearly every conversation Clementine had at the feed store, the grocery store, or the diner began with Those Bradshaw boys and ended with a story about the havoc the three had wreaked on the town.
Matthias had apparently been the good brother.
The other three were hellions, rebels, and troublemakers.
Or so the stories went.
Clementine had taken to listening with half an ear.
In the month since she'd returned to the farm and taken up residence in the little ranch-style house on the edge of the property, she'd kept her distance from the Bradshaw kids and their uncles. Life was easier that way, and she'd decided after Sim walked out on her that easy was what she wanted.
No more emotional drama.
No more entanglement in other people's issues.
Just simple, peaceful living.
She reached the end of another row and turned the tractor again, the loud chug of the engine masking sounds of waking birds and scurrying animals. In the distance, Sunday's house loomed up against the indigo sky. No lights. Just the dark facade of it shadowed by early morning.
She turned the tractor again, her heart jumping as a small light danced through the field to her left. She let the tractor idle as she watched it skip across the dried- out husks of a never-harvested corn crop. The stalks moved, swishing as something darted between them.
Clementine cut the engine.
The morning was silent except for the dry rasp and crackle of breaking branches and twigs.
"Who's there?" she called, climbing off the tractor and heading toward the still-moving light.
It cut off. The old cornstalks stilled. Whoever it was had either decided to move more carefully or wasn't moving at all.
She waited, listening to the silence.
Even Elvis was quiet, the young rooster forgoing his normal sunrise greeting.
"I said, who's there?" she repeated, pushing her way toward the place where the light had disappeared.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Home Again"
Copyright © 2018 Shirlee McCoy.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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