Fighting For Bailey
Granite Falls Book 2 – A small-town, sweet, second-chance Romance!
Fighting to keep his daughter, a single dad must accept help from the woman who broke his heart.
The crows were back—those monster birds with their oily black wings and dark beady eyes. Eight to ten of them sat in a large tree in the field across the street from Gillian’s parents’ house—ever-present sentinels keeping watch. Gillian forced back a repulsed shudder as the car followed the gravel road along the front of the empty field. She started to turn away, but a movement in the tree line caught her attention.
She swiveled in her seat, staring out the car window, her gaze searching the dense woods, and then she saw it again, a movement hidden in the gloom. Gillian caught her breath as a tall dark-haired man in a long black overcoat stepped out of the shadows within the trees.
An uneasy sensation pricked her spine as he watched them pull into the driveway in front of her parents house. Her father parked the car. “We’re home.”
She gave him a smile then turned back toward the woods. Whoever she’d seen was gone. It was nothing to worry about, she assured herself, but at the same time wondered who he was. She shook off her growing trepidation and forced herself to focus on the old farmhouse she’d grown up in.
Her gaze moved to the window that had once been hers and, like so many times in her youth, swung across the yard to his window in the only other house at the end of the road. The curtains moved. Nick? She swallowed and blinked, but when she looked again, all she saw was the reflection of clouds moving across a gray sky.
She was seeing things. Her father brought the wheelchair around the car to the passenger door. She stared at it and let out a sigh. This was only temporary, just for a few weeks until her injured shoulder and ankle healed. She’d been incredibly lucky, the doctors and nurses said. So lucky.
Her father helped her out of the car and into the chair. “Thanks, Dad.”
Gillian stared at the new ramp leading to the front door—the very non-temporary-looking ramp.
“Nick put it in for you yesterday,” her mother said as she hurried in front of them up the ramp and toward the front door. Her keys in her hand.
“Nick?” Gillian glanced back across the yard at the house next door. She had seen him. Her heart lurched. Of all the times she’d imagined what it would be like to see him again, to try and explain, to face him after the way she’d left him, this wasn’t how she’d imagined it.
“He’s back home, too,” her dad said. “Started himself a renovation business in their shop out back. He’s a real fine carpenter.”
Gillian closed her eyes as Nick’s handsome, bad-boy face filled her mind—unruly dark hair, scruffy stubble covering a strong jaw, and intense green eyes that seemed to know her every thought even before she did. She couldn’t face him again now. She didn’t want him to see her so broken.
“You’ll have to thank him for me,” she muttered as her father wheeled her up the ramp and into the house. He pushed her into what used to be the den that now had a twin bed set where the sofa used to be. “Wow, you brought down my old bed.”
“We figured this would be easier for you,” her mom said and fussed with the pillows.
The flutter of wings drew her attention to the ornate iron cage in the corner of the room. Annie and Andy were inside.
“Oh, you got my birds. They’re okay,” she cried and wheeled herself to the cage.
“The vet said they were a little banged up, but they’re going to be fine,” her mom said.
“The rest of your things from the trailer are in the garage,” her dad added.
“Except for the clothes and other personal things, they’re in there.” Her mom pointed to the armoire that used to hold games and puzzles. “The rest is there next to it.”
“Hear that guys? Everything is going to be okay.” Gillian grinned, her fingers reaching through the bars to stroke Annie’s feathers. She instantly felt better until her eyes fell on the panda on the floor beside her bed. Her eyes drifted closed for a long moment.
“Rest for a while,” her dad said and started to close the lace-covered French doors.
Gillian opened her mouth to protest but stopped herself. She could tell by the look on his face and the worry on her mother’s that they needed to do this for her. “Thanks for everything. I really appreciate it.”
“We’re just glad you’re home and safe,” her mother said and closed the door.
She was so lucky to have them. It felt good to be home, but she couldn’t stay too long. She’d get her own place as soon as she was back on her feet and had the energy and the strength to rebuild her life, whatever that looked like. She wheeled the chair over to the pile of her belongings in the corner next to the armoire and grabbed her computer bag. She set up her laptop on the table. She’d been offline for days.
She logged in and viewed her social media accounts. She was surprised by all of the people wishing her well after hearing about her accident. As she read the posts, disjointed images swam before her eyes—the deer frozen in her headlights, the squeal of tires… the pain. She pushed the thoughts away and then checked her email.
There was a slew of messages from Paul’s attorneys, from hers, and from the FBI. She started to read their demands, then opened the last one from her attorney. Paul refused to give her a divorce. As long as they were married, she couldn’t testify against him. She closed her laptop. She couldn’t deal with any of them right now.
She wheeled herself over to the bed, but the thought of trying to get out of the chair suddenly seemed more than she could handle. Her eyes once more fell on the panda. She reached for it, but as she touched the fur her eyes filled with tears. How had her life gotten so off course? Not even a year ago, she’d been so happy. She swiped her eyes. How could she have been so wrong about everything, so blind? She needed air and to see the sky. She needed out.
She headed for the den doors and peeked through the lace. All clear. As quietly as possible, she slipped out of the den and out of the house. Her parents wouldn’t want her rolling off on her own, but they didn’t know what she’d been through with Paul’s arrest, and she wasn’t ready to explain it all to them. Not yet. Not when she didn’t even understand it herself. All she knew was that as long as she was tied to him, with the threat of being linked in his crimes, she couldn’t move on with her life. Couldn’t start over.
She blew out a relieved breath as the front door clicked shut behind her, then wheeled the chair across the porch, stopping at the edge of the ramp that Nick had built for her. Nick. How different would her life be if she hadn’t run from Granite Falls. If all this would have been enough? She’d never know what could have been and that was probably for the best. She had to face her mistakes, her bad decisions, and the utter failure she’d made of her life. For better or worse, what Nicholas Carr represented, was the road not taken.
Gillian looked at his house again and wondered what he was like now. Was he happy? What had brought him back to his dad’s door? A bird squawked and fluttered his wings. Storm clouds chased each other, blotting out the sun and casting a dark pallor over the swollen sky.
Perfect, she thought and hoped it didn’t rain.
She stared at the barren field across the street and shuddered. The green-tipped weeds didn’t look quite as tall as she remembered, though she still imagined the perils they concealed within their dark depths. She recalled when it rained how the mud would thicken and suck at her shoes, trying to pull her down beneath the long waving grass.
A crow screamed and burst from a treetop. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then looked past the field to the line of trees that stood guard over the stream that in the winter became a raging river. Her secret place where she stole a kiss and made a promise she would break. Like her heart, the field and the trees looked dead under the gray sky, and as uninviting and desolate as a graveyard.
Gillian turned her gaze to the ramp. From this angle it was steep, and she wasn’t sure she could make it down on her own. Nor was she sure she should try. Slowly, she pushed the chair onto the ramp, clinging tightly to the wheels to keep them from rolling too fast. It took all her strength, but she was able to move halfway down the ramp before the sky opened up and the rain started to pour. The crows in the trees fluttered their wings in a hiss.
She looked behind her at the front door, then up at the sky, and groaned in frustration. She couldn’t go back without first going down and turning around. She moved a little farther, then thinking it was far enough, released the wheels. The chair plummeted down the ramp and onto the walk leading to the driveway.
As wood gave way to cement, the chair wobbled. She screamed as it tipped over and sent her sprawling into the wet grass. She bit her tongue as mud and dirt scraped the side of her face and pain ripped through her injured shoulder. Tears filled her eyes, and she gasped a deep breath.
Footsteps quickly approached. “Gillian! Are you all right?”
Her stomach clenched as mortification tore through her. No, please, not now.
Strong, familiar hands turned her over. “Gillian?”
Nick’s voice filled with concern sliced through her resolve, and all her hard-won determination to be strong, to go it on her own, evaporated. “I’m fine,” she blurted, blinking back tears. She couldn’t let him see her cry.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” He scooped her up into his arms and carried her back toward the house.
She clung to him and tried to ignore her injured pride and the assault of his familiar scent on her senses. Unwanted memories rushed forward. She was helpless against the onslaught and the feelings they evoked—desire, hope, excitement. He was everything she’d always wanted until she met Paul and was swept away by his false promises.
“Where were you going? You just got out of the hospital,” he demanded as he set her down in one of the rocking chairs on the porch.
She couldn’t say she liked the way he was looking at her—the narrowing of his green eyes, the twist of his lips, lips she could still feel the impression of if she allowed herself to remember. He gestured toward her chair lying on its side in the grass, the wheels still spinning in the rain. “What was so important you had to strike out on your own like that?”
She gave him a hard stare. “I was taking a… walk. So to speak.”
His eyes widened in astonishment.
“Don’t look at me like that. The walls were closing in on me, and I needed some air.”
The corner of his mouth lifted in a smirk.
A smirk she remembered had always managed to set her teeth on edge. And still did. He retrieved her chair and set it up for her next to the rocking chair. “I’ll leave you to it then, but maybe you can get your fresh air from here. At least until the rain stops.” He turned to go.
She drew in a deep breath and before she could stop herself said, “No, Nick, wait.”
He turned back.
She looked past the edge of the porch at the rain falling in sheets and drenching the sidewalk. “Can you give me a lift?”
He stepped closer, looking surprised as his gaze held hers, trapping her more than the wheelchair ever could. “Where do you want to go?”
“I… I just need to go. Somewhere. Anywhere.” She barely recognized her voice—soft, breathy, pleading.
His eyebrows lifted in that familiar cocky tilt. Her heart gave a sudden skip
“Sorry,” he said, dashing her hopes, “but I don’t think that’s a good idea.”