In Emily March’s new novel set in her beloved Eternity Springs, a woman who has given up on dreams of a family meets a man who needs her to complete his own.
Town physician Rose Anderson hides a well of sadness behind her cheerful and capable professionalism. Heartbreak has only reinforced her belief that marriage and children aren’t in her future. Yet she’s a woman with a pulse—and when sexy, brooding artist Hunt Cicero shows up at her office with his young nephew, the sheer physical attraction he ignites in her is both exciting and unsettling.
Hunt has an artist’s passionate temperament and a bachelor’s lifestyle. So when he becomes guardian to his sister’s children, he’s riddled with conflict—and in way over his head. Without Rose and her warm maternal instincts, he’d be lost. Still, she’s a woman who guards her own heart, and he’s a novice when it comes to commitment. Can the healing magic of Eternity Springs shine on this patchwork family and allow Hunt and Rose to trust that love is the fabric holding them together?
Praise for the Eternity Springs series
“With passion, romance, and revealing moments that will touch your heart, [March] takes readers on an unhurried journey where past mistakes are redeemed and a more beautiful future is forged—one miracle at a time.”—USA Today
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March / TEAR DROP LANE
The throbbing beat of U2 blasted from speakers mounted on the metal rafters of the old warehouse as Cicero extended the long metal blowpipe into the crucible and gathered glass. Heat from the furnace burning at two thousand degrees hit like a fist, but he didn’t notice. The image of the sculpture drawn in pencil on the top sheet of his sketch-pad filled his mind.
A long strand of hair, black as midnight, slipped from the leather cord tied at the nape of his neck and fell forward across his face, absorbing the bead of sweat that dribbled across the chiseled ridge of his cheekbone. Cicero ignored the moisture, just as he disregarded the visitors who entered his studio as he dipped the gather of molten glass in rock crystals of color.
Wondering why Gabi Romano had shown up with his friend and her lover, Flynn Brogan, in tow, when she was supposed to be in Italy serving as an apprentice to the master glass artist, Alessandro Bovér, could wait. The image burning in his brain took precedence over everything.
As he closed his lips around the end of the pipe and blew life into his work with a first puff of air, Gabi pulled her long, dark hair into a ponytail and stepped into the role of gaffer. Wordlessly, he accepted her assistance and blocked out everything but the work, losing himself in the seductive and compelling fog of creativity. For a stretch of time unmarked, the two worked in a silent and practiced ballet of motion, molding the glass, applying heat, shaping and blending and blowing.
Hunter Cicero played with fire for a living and he was very, very good at it.
The graceful figure in his mind gradually took shape in the glass. He vaguely noted when his own apprentice, Mitch Frazier, sauntered through the door and stopped in surprise upon seeing Flynn leaning against the wall, his arms casually folded. Mitch’s gaze swept from Flynn, toward the workbench where Cicero sat, and then to Gabi as she confidently extended the blowpipe into the furnace to reheat the glass. Mitch observed the work for a full two minutes before nodding with approval. He stepped forward and seamlessly joined the creative effort.
The trio spent another forty minutes at work before Cicero decided the piece had taken final form. With a well-placed tap from a pair of metal jacks, he separated his sculpture from the punty, and it fell into Gabi’s gloved hands. He set the punty aside while his gaffer placed the work into the annealing oven to slowly cool to room temperature. Rising from his workbench, he grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and drained it in one long draw.
He switched off the music and spoke to Mitch first. “You were late.”
“Sorry, Boss.” Mitch pulled the rubber band from his long Rastafarian braids, which allowed them to swing freely down past his shoulder blades. “I stayed out late last night and overslept.”
“Use your alarm next time. Better yet, save the late nights for weekends. I don’t want you here when you’re tired. You’ll be careless and have an accident, and your mother will kill me.”
The woman would do it, too. Cicero had barely made it off Bella Vita Isle alive after he’d convinced his apprentice to accompany to him to Galveston to help establish a hand-blown-glass studio that catered to the tourist trade.
Cicero finally turned his gaze on Gabi, who stood twirling a long, dark curl around her finger, the light in her clear blue eyes timid. She offered him a tentative smile, and he scowled at her. The woman was too smart to be nervous; seeing her here did not make him happy.
“Did you get lost on your way back to Italy?”
Gabi visibly braced herself. “No, Cicero. I’m not sure I’m going back.”
Her statement came as no real surprise. Cicero wasn’t stupid. Obviously, she and Flynn had reconciled, and she’d decided to cut her yearlong apprenticeship short— by nine months. Was she about to bail on the Eternity Springs project, too?
Maybe, he thought, his stomach sinking. If she and Flynn were together, why wouldn’t she? The man had more money than Midas. Mindful of his not insubstantial investment in the small Colorado mountain town, and the stack of bills piling up on his desk, Cicero felt his temper rise.
“What’s wrong with you, Legs? Working in Alessandro’s studio is the opportunity of a lifetime, one that countless other artists would kill for. What about all that talk you spouted about your dream and your passion? You’re going to throw it all away?”
“I don’t intend to throw anything away,” she replied, her chin coming up. “I said I wasn’t sure that I was returning to Italy. Cicero, last summer you came to me with a business proposal. Now I’m coming to you to propose a modification to that plan. Will you sit down and discuss it with me?”
Annoyed at the flash of relief over her assurance, he allowed his frown to deepen and shot a glance toward Flynn. “Are you part of her scheme?”
Flynn lifted his hands, palms out. “I’m an interested bystander, here to support you both.”
Honesty glimmered in his friend’s eyes, so Cicero hooked his thumb toward the small room off the studio where an old, gray metal desk and two ratty chairs sat piled high with paper. To Mitch, he said, “I need you to shift the Valentine’s Day goblets for Beachcomber’s Gifts to the top of your work list.”
“Really?” Surprise glinted in the young man’s brown eyes. “I delivered a dozen of them last week.”
“Yeah, well, yesterday a seven-year-old went on a rampage in the shop.”
“Oh, mon!” Mitch exclaimed, the Caribbean strong in his voice. “Kids are such a . . .” His words trailed off when he noted the pain in Cicero’s expression. “Wait. Was it—?”
“Keenan.” His seven-year-old menace of a nephew.
Mitch winced. “I’ll get right on ’em, boss. No worries.”
“No worries,” Cicero repeated in a mutter, as he followed Gabi and Flynn into his office. He cleared a stack of manila folders off a chair so Gabi could sit, then opened the small refrigerator and pulled out bottles of water. He tossed one to Flynn, another to Gabi, and took one for himself before clearing off the chair behind the desk and taking a seat. He twisted the lid off his water bottle, drained half of it in one drink, then said, “Bottom line it, Romano. What do you want?”
“First I’d like to explain why I want what I want. You see—”
Cicero interrupted. “It’s the middle of a workday and I have an appointment at two. I don’t have time for explanations. Cut to the chase, Gabriella.”
She wiped her palms on her jeans and despite himself, Cicero was tempted to smile. Ordinarily, Gabriella Romano was one of the most self-assured women he’d ever met. The only other time he’d seen her like this she’d been working up the nerve to ask him to teach her to blow glass.
“Spit it out.”
She nodded, then spoke in a rush. “Instead of returning to Italy to finish out my apprenticeship, I want to divide my time between Texas and Colorado. Here in Galveston I’ll work and learn with you and Mitch like I did on Bella Vita. I’ll use my time in Eternity Springs to concentrate on getting the retail shop ready to open in time for the upcoming tourist season.”
Cicero took another long sip from his water bottle while he considered her idea. His initial reaction was annoyance. He’d called in a favor to get her the spot in Alessandro’s studio. He didn’t like to see her bail. Scowling, he asked, “What does Alessandro say about that? You came home for Christmas, not for the Fourth of July. I trust you let him know your plane didn’t go down on your return flight?”
“Of course. I called him. He’s fine with the idea. He thinks you can teach me everything I’ll need to know because”—she paused, grimaced, and muttered—“this is more humiliating to repeat to you than I had anticipated.”
She inhaled deeply, exhaled in a rush, then said, “Alessandro tells me I’ll never be an artist, so I can learn everything I need to know from you.”
Cicero pursed his lips. “I can’t decide if that’s more an insult to me or to you.”
“Me, definitely,” she replied, a whine in her voice. “He thinks you’re the Second Coming of Chihuly, while I’m competent and enthusiastic, a hard worker, entertaining company and lovely to look at, but I don’t have fire for the fire.”
Sounded like Alessandro realized he wasn’t getting in her pants. Cicero had told him from the beginning not to expect a conquest.
He sat back in his chair and gave her a thorough once-over. Except for her obvious nervousness, she looked great. Her time in Italy had agreed with her, though he suspected that Flynn had more to do with her sparkle than anything. Had he been wrong in his judgment of her passion for glass?
“Do you agree with his assessment?”
“Absolutely not!” Gabi made no attempt to hide her annoyance. “I have plenty of fire. But I also have family. I missed them.”
He shouldn’t be surprised. By the end of her first week in his studio on the island, Cicero had known that Gabi came from a tight-knit clan. She talked about them incessantly. As someone who’d grown up in the foster care system, he’d been both attracted to and repelled by the way the Romanos appeared to live in one another’s pockets.
“I was homesick,” Gabi continued. “Last year was—difficult.”
Flynn rested a supportive hand on Gabi’s shoulder, and said, “Difficult is an understatement. Gabi’s scars aren’t as visible as mine, but—”
“Last year was a bitch for you both,” Cicero interrupted. “I get that.”
It had been one of the factors behind his decision to approach Alessandro on Gabi’s behalf. In May, Gabi had been aboard Flynn’s sailing yacht in the Caribbean when it was set upon by pirates. She had taken one man’s life that day; Flynn had killed two. The fallout from the event had wounded Gabi’s heart, and all but destroyed Flynn, but they had fought their way back to health and now, apparently, to each other.
“You’ve been a great friend to both of us, Cicero,” Gabi said, her tone heartfelt. “Flynn and I both recognize and treasure that. And the opportunity you gave me—it’s been magical.”
“So magical that you’re ready to throw it aside?”
“Not at all. I’m not saying that at all. If you don’t get on board with this idea, then I’ll go back to Italy.”
“We will go,” Flynn said. “I can work anywhere.”
Gabi flashed Flynn a quick, intimate smile, then returned an imploring gaze to Cicero. “But I’d rather we be in Eternity Springs. It’s where my heart is whole and where my fire is free to burn. Alessandro is a fine teacher, Cicero, but so are you. Maybe he’s right and I’ll never produce gallery-quality work. But it’s also possible that he’s wrong. Maybe if I’m home and happy and surrounded by loved ones, I’ll be able to create something spectacular. Eternity Springs is a special place. Just ask Sage Rafferty. She’ll be the first to say that living in Eternity Springs inspires her work.”
Sage Rafferty owned the town’s art gallery and had made a name for herself in the art world for her boldly colored, whimsical paintings. She’d spoken enthusiastically about her hometown and its influence on her work in an interview he’d read in an art scene magazine recently. Cicero knew better than to dismiss the power of inner peace for an artist. Wasn’t the lack of it showing in his work these days?
And yet, his obligations to Jayne caused him to miss so much studio time lately that he didn’t see how he could commit to teaching Gabi anything.
“My hours here aren’t regular. It’ll take you eight years to learn from me what Alessandro would teach you in eight months.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you underestimate yourself, Cicero.”
That coaxed a grin from him. Underestimating himself had never been an issue of his.
“You also have more patience with your apprentices, and that makes it easier to learn.”
“You lose a point there. I’m not patient at all.”
“I didn’t say you had an abundance of patience. I said you had more than Alessandro.” She leaned forward in her chair, her blue eyes gleaming earnestly. “I know this plan slows down my progress, but it also allows me to be around to watch my nieces and nephew grow. I didn’t realize how much that mattered to me until I left home. They change so fast, especially that first year. I don’t want to miss it.”
“So you’re giving up your opportunity for kids? Somebody else’s kids, at that?”
“This from the man who traded the aquamarine of the Caribbean for Gulf of Mexico gray in order to be nearer to his sister and her children?”
Cicero’s gaze shifted to the stack of invoices on his desk. Houston Oncology. MD Anderson Cancer Center. Physician’s Services.
“The two situations are completely different.”
Gabi’s eyes softened with sympathy. “How is Jayne doing?”
“Good,” he replied, trying to believe it. “She’s good.” Then, to ward off any further questions about his sister, he added, “You can watch kids grow by viewing pictures on the Internet. You don’t have to be in the same town.”
“But I want to be in the same town. I recognize that it’s a trade-off. Life is a series of trade-offs. I can be passionate about glass and passionate about people, too. I’m searching for the right balance between the two. I know you understand that. You would never have left Bella Vita otherwise.”
No, balance had nothing to do with his return to the United States, though he did understand the concept.
“I can be of help to you here in Texas, Cicero. My training in Italy was intense. I’m good enough now for tourist work. You can shift things like Valentine’s Day goblets to me, and free Mitch up to help you with your work.”
Cicero sat back in his chair. “You have it all figured out, don’t you?”
“I’ve put a lot of thought into it, and—oh.” She snapped her fingers. “I forgot to mention one other applicable point. The remodel schedule. I know you’ve had trouble with the contractor you hired. Harold Benton does fabulous work but as he’s gotten older, he’s really slowed down. With someone on hand to encourage him, you’ll get better, faster results. Especially if that someone is me. He owes me.”
She pursed her lips. “Let’s just say that when I worked as a sheriff’s deputy, I used my discretionary power in his favor.”
“Always handy to have the law in one’s corner, I guess.” Cicero picked up a pen and drummed the tip against the desktop. Gabi, her arguments made, sat back in her seat and waited quietly, though judging by the nervous tapping of her toes, less than patiently. Flynn’s attention drifted to the studio where Mitch removed a gather of glass from the furnace.
Cicero surveyed the clutter on his desktop and mentally shifted his money around. No matter how many ways he shuffled, he always came up short. Times had certainly changed since last summer when he committed to the Colorado studio. As someone lucky enough to have had only rare dealings with the medical industry prior to this, he’d been woefully naïve about the financial costs of exceptional treatment. In hindsight, he should have never jumped into the Eternity Springs expansion so fast.
Getting the Eternity Springs store stocked and open for the tourist season could be a godsend to his cash flow. He’d already sunk a pretty penny into purchasing the old church property and starting the remodel. Most of the materials were paid for. He still had some credit left. Maybe once Harold Benton finished up the loft apartment where he’d planned to stay during his visits, he could rent it out. Get someplace cheap to live. He didn’t need much. Maybe—
Maybe he could think of something more self-serving than to agree to Gabi’s proposition, but he’d have to try damned hard.
Murano. Venice. Italy. The three years he’d spent there had molded him into the artist he was today. That training showed in every piece he produced. She simply didn’t know yet how important this time was to her art.
He tossed his pen onto the desk. “Gabi, I don’t agree with Alessandro. I’ve seen pictures of the work you’ve been producing, and I believe you do have the talent to be an exceptional glass artist. I would be doing you a disservice if I agreed to this. Alessandro is—”
“Not as good as you,” she interrupted. “He might have more experience and a flashier reputation and a studio in the most famous glass city in the world, but Alessandro isn’t as good as you are. He will never inspire me the way you do.”
The vehemence in her tone, along with the declaration itself, took him aback. What had Alessandro been thinking to say the woman lacked fire? Flynn Brogan is a lucky man. Then, just to goad her, he arched a brow toward Flynn. “You let your woman say such things to another man?”
“Let me!” Gabi exclaimed.
Flynn laughed. “Gabriella Romano is very much her own woman, as you well know. It’s one of the reasons why we both love her.”
“True enough.” He gave her a wolfish once-over and added, “I should never have yielded the field to you, Brogan.”
Flynn’s expression oozed self-satisfaction. “Doesn’t matter. You never stood a chance with her.”
“Confident of yourself, aren’t you?”
“Excuse me. I’m sitting right here!”
Both men ignored that.
Cicero recognized the instant when Flynn’s gaze went from amused to serious. He propped a hip on the corner of Cicero’s desk, and his voice resonated with sincerity as he said, “I’m confident in her. As so should you be. Our Gabi is loyal and honest and insightful. She has excellent instincts. She is passionate about her work and passionate about her world. Listen to her. Trust her. Believe in her.”
Cicero absently fanned the corner of the stack of invoices on his desk, and in an uncommon moment of openness replied, “I’m afraid I’ve lost the ability to believe in much of anything.”
Gabi reached out and covered his hand with hers. “In that case, you need to get to Colorado as quickly as possible. I know it sounds corny, but you can believe in the magic of Eternity Springs.”
“It changed my life,” Flynn agreed. “It can change yours, too.”
“I don’t need magic. I need a miracle.”
Gabi’s smile went as bright as the furnace. “Hey, we do miracles, too. Just ask my sister-in-law, Hope.”
Before Cicero could respond to that, a colorful whirlwind of noise and motion burst through the studio’s front door.
“Uncle Skunk!” Seven-year-old Keenan exclaimed. “Where are you, Uncle Skunk?”
“Hey, Uncle Hunk,” called nine-year-old Misty. “Wait until you hear what happened at school!”
The sister of his heart, Jayne Prochaska, carried two-year-old Daisy in her arms and offered him an apologetic smile. “Junior? I’m so sorry, but Amy isn’t answering her phone and I need to run into Houston. Could you watch the kids for a little bit?”
“Unc Nooner!” Five-year-old Galen exclaimed. “Do you have any candy?”
“Uncle Nooner?” Flynn repeated, his brows arched and his lips twitching. “Man, am I going to have fun with that.”
Cicero opened his mouth, then shut it. What could he possibly say? Some things that came from a four-year-old’s mouth simply went beyond explanation. He closed his eyes briefly, shook his head, then grasped the lifeline Gabi had offered. “I’ll agree to your proposal on one condition.”
Warily, she asked, “What’s that?”
She narrowed her eyes warily. “How much babysitting?”
“I won’t abuse you. Much.”
Gabi made a theatrical grimace, though he could tell her heart was singing. “All right, we have a deal, Uncle Hunk.”