Home with you starlight.., p.1
Home with You (Starlight Valley Book 3), page 1
Home with You
Hunter J. Keane
Home with You
Perfect for fans of Bella Andre, Susan Mallery, and Melissa Foster, Home with You is a redeeming story about finding the power to love again when you’ve lost everything, including yourself.
Emery Scott thought that losing her fiancé was the worst thing that would ever happen to her. Then, just six months after his death, she learns that their entire relationship was built on a lie. Suddenly, she can’t make it through the day without being reminded of the life she wants to forget. Taking a leap of faith, she packs up her car and heads to Starlight Valley.
Lucas Cooper has been in love with Emery for years. When she agreed to marry her long-time boyfriend, he gave up hope that they would ever be together. Then, out of the blue, his phone rings and he has reason to hope again. This is the chance he’s been waiting for, but is Emery ready to open her heart?
Emery knows that Luke is everything her fiancé wasn’t– he’s kind, considerate, affectionate, and wants nothing more than to make her happy. But life is about to throw a curveball that neither of them is prepared to dodge.
Will Emery’s worst fear of losing Luke come true, or will their love weather the storm?
Find out in the new sweet and spicy small-town romance from Hunter J. Keane.
Copyright © 2019 by Hunter J. Keane
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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“Mother. Please stop. I’m fine.” I rolled my eyes at the phone. “Yes, I am aware of what day it is. I’m not going to fall apart.”
My mother continued to say a bunch of words that fell on deaf ears. The truth was that no matter what I said to her, I was falling apart inside and I’d never let her know. She was thousands of miles away and there was nothing she could say or do to make me feel better.
“I need to go. I’m meeting some friends for dinner in an hour and I still need to change.” The lie left my lips so easily that even I almost believed it.
“That’s good, honey. I’m glad you won’t be alone.” Mom sighed in relief. “You call me if you need to talk later.”
“I will,” I said. We both knew I wouldn’t call. The time difference between us always prevented me from calling her at night.
When my mother had announced three years ago that she was moving to Italy with her new boyfriend, it had been a shock. My father had only been dead for two years at the time. Now, the long-distance was just part of our new normal.
I hung up and took my glass of wine into the bedroom. I was in no hurry because I didn’t actually have dinner plans. What I did have was plans to do was to drink a bottle of wine and cry myself to sleep. I was already on my third glass of wine and feeling tipsy enough that I didn’t stop myself from removing the black garment bag from my closet. I hung it on the back of the door and then slowly unzipped it.
The dress inside was the purest white fabric I had ever seen. It was satiny and lacy and perfect. I’d spent six months searching for that dress and never even got to wear it. That seemed wrong and I decided to do something about it. I quickly stripped out of my clothes and slid into the dress. It fit perfectly, just as I remembered. As I stared at myself in the full-length mirror, the tears came in a sudden wave. I collapsed to the ground, sobbing uncontrollably.
Today was supposed to be my wedding day. My fiancé, Eric, had proposed eighteen months ago and I had never been so happy. We had been dating since high school, almost seven years of being in love before putting a ring on my finger. I had meticulously planned every detail of the wedding except for the most important thing– making sure my fiancé lived long enough to marry me.
Eric died in a freak accident six months ago. He was biking to work and was hit by a cab that ran a red light. I’d been slowly trying to piece my life together ever since. As hard as it had been in the beginning, I’d thought I was doing a little better recently. I no longer cried myself to sleep every night and I’d stopped calling Eric’s number just to hear his voice on the outgoing message. Today, I had felt myself spiraling down. I was supposed to become Mrs. Eric Bakerson at 3:00 today. That time had come and gone and I was still Emery Scott.
I managed to compose myself enough to tear away the wedding dress. It was now stained with my tears, but that didn’t matter. No one else was ever going to see that dress. I was cold sitting on the floor in just my underwear, so I grabbed the first thing I could from the closet. It was one of Eric’s old hoodies.
I hadn’t found the strength to go through his things yet. His clothes were still neatly hung in my closet, his toothbrush still next to mine by the sink. As I slipped on his hoodie, his familiar scent washed over me and I started crying again. I stuck a hand into a pocket and was surprised to find something there. It was a phone.
I knew that Eric’s phone had been with him when he died. The hospital had given it back to me in a bag with all his other possessions. The phone I had just found was not that phone. I tried to turn it on, but the battery was dead. I was too intrigued by this finding to give up that easily.
After plugging the phone in, I went to the kitchen and poured the last of the wine into my glass. When I went back into the bedroom, the phone had charged just enough for me to turn it on. A second later, it flashed with an alert that there were 137 unread text messages and 35 new voicemails.
Even before I read the first text, I knew that everything I had believed to be true about Eric was about to change. It took me an hour to read every message and listen to every voicemail. When I was done, I felt completely numb. I’d never believed that Eric and I had a perfect relationship, but I had thought we were both happy. I had thought we were both completely committed.
Now, I knew the truth. Eric had been seeing someone a woman named Claudia for three years and she was pregnant with his baby. Not only that, Claudia had no idea that Eric was dead.
I eventually opened a second bottle of wine and passed out halfway into finishing it. I woke up on the floor, wrapped in my wedding dress which was now stained with red wine. It was a Monday morning and I was late for work.
As much as I would’ve loved to take the day off and recover from my hangover and newfound trauma, I didn’t have that luxury. I’d already taken off too much time after Eric’s death and my work performance had been terrible. If I wanted to keep my job, I needed to at least put in an appearance.
Apparently, that wasn’t good enough for my boss. He called me into his office as I was attempting to sneak by to get to my desk. He started off nice enough, telling me again how sorry he was about my loss. That quickly turned into a diatribe about how much he hated the brutal nature of our industry and ended with me being handed an eight-week severance package and a polite suggestion that I pack my desk and l
That numbness lasted almost a week. I spent that time hiding out in my condo eating greasy food deliveries and watching bad television. Eventually, I decided to put a weak attempt into finding a new job.
As I was scanning job postings online, I distracted myself by messing around on social media sites. Nothing made you feel better about your current situation than seeing people you hadn’t spoken to in ten years boasting about their adorable children and perfect husbands. It was a very painful form of therapy.
One post caught my eye, probably because it didn’t include a picture of someone’s “best meal ever.” My old friend, Lucas Cooper, was looking to hire seasonal workers at his ski resort. Luke and I had been close friends in college. We had both been dating people who attended other colleges, so we spent a lot of time together when our other friends were busy trying to hook up.
Luke had come to Eric’s funeral, but I couldn’t remember if I even talked to him. I didn’t remember much from the days right after Eric died. Prior to that, I hadn’t seen Luke since graduation. He had moved back to his hometown, Starlight Valley, to take over his family business when his father died. We’d stayed in touch through occasional emails and texts, but even that had stopped once I got engaged.
I found myself clicking on the link to the resort’s website. It looked quaint and picturesque. The idea of living in a small mountain town was so different from my current situation that I found myself idealizing it in my head. Beautiful mountain homes, crisp white snow, and starry skies.
I knew I was crazy to even consider moving someplace like that. Starlight was far away and I didn’t know anyone in the area other than Luke. Any jobs at the resort would be season and minimum-wage, a far cry from my fancy corporate career. I had to be insane to even consider it, but somehow I was still emailing Luke.
Everything went fast from there. Luke was thrilled to hear from me and couldn’t wait to chat about a potential job at his resort. He asked if I had time for a quick all and since I had nothing but time, I told him yes.
When my phone rang, I felt breathless as I answered, “Luke?”
“Emery?” His voice brought back a million memories. Luke was one of those people that everyone loved to be around. He was smart, funny, a little nerdy, and had the most contagious smile I’d ever seen. He was also undeniably handsome and best of all, he had no idea that he was.
“It’s good to hear your voice,” I said.
“Same.” He cleared his throat. “How are you, Em?”
“I’m alright,” I said. “The days are getting easier.”
“Are you really thinking about moving to Starlight?” he asked skeptically. “You should know, we don’t even have a Starbucks.”
I laughed. “How do you survive?” I said. “Luke, I think I need a change. I can’t expect things to be different when everything around me stays the same.”
“Are you sure you aren’t just running from the things you don’t want to deal with?” he asked, incredibly astutely.
“Is that so wrong?” I asked quietly.
“No.” He paused before saying, “I think I might have something that would be a good fit for you. When are you looking to make the move?”
Luke chuckled. “How about we aim for the first Monday of December?”
“Sure. Whatever works for you.” I found myself smiling a rare smile. “What’s the job you have in mind?”
“We need a new manager at our shop. Someone to oversee staff, handle inventory, do some small marketing stuff. It won’t be the same as a fancy office job in the city, but you’ll get to work with some good people.” Luke added adorably, “Best of all, you’ll get to work with me.”
“Sounds like a dream job,” I said, my smile growing. “Do you need me to fill out an application or something?”
“I think I can make this hire on good faith. If you’re still the same Emery I remember from college, you’re more than qualified for this gig.” Luke said something to whoever was in the room with him. “Sorry to cut this short, but I need to be on another call soon. I’ll send you some information so you can make sure you want to do this.”
“I do,” I said quickly. “But I’ll look everything over.”
“Sounds good. We’ll talk soon, Em.”
I hung up feeling a bit shell-shocked. In less than an hour, I had made a big decision that would alter the course of my life. Did I really want to go through with this? For so long, I had been sailing a charted course, always making the smart and practical choice, even when it didn’t feel right to me. I had rarely felt comfortable in my own skin and up until that moment, I’d had no idea how to fix that. But trying something new, even if it was a little crazy, terrified and excited me. It made me feel alive.
For the first time in my life, I was doing what I wanted to do regardless of what other people might think. If it didn’t work out, fine. But I owed it to myself to take a chance. I owed it to myself to try to be happy again.
I had three weeks to get my affairs in order. When I officially accepted the position that Luke had presented to me, he immediately offered to help me secure lodging. His grandparents’ home was available. They had moved to Florida a few years back and Luke usually rented it out to seasonal visitors. He’d just gotten done having some of it rehabbed and hadn’t gotten around to finding renters yet.
It was all going a little too smoothly. The house came furnished, so I was able to sell my furniture. I hired a company to come in and box up everything that I wouldn’t be needing immediately. A lot of that stuff was Eric’s things, which I still couldn’t bring myself to look at. I was afraid that I might find even more secrets that could destroy me.
Anything I thought I might need I packed in my car for the drive to Starlight. The Cooper Ski Resort was located at the base of Starlight’s mountain. I drove through the downtown area first and immediately fell in love with my new home. The town was already completely decked out for the holidays and completely covered in twinkling lights. People were strolling around with shopping bags and hot chocolate and it felt like I had gotten transported into a Christmas movie.
At the far edge of town, I took the exit that led up the mountain and drove for another mile before parking at the resort’s Welcome Center. It was still a little early in the day and many of the people I encountered on the way inside were workers, not guests. I asked one of them where I could find Luke and they pointed me toward the back of the building. I expected to find some sort of office but instead, I found one large room. A few desks were scattered around and I scanned them all before I found Luke in the far corner. He looked up just as I started to walk over.
“Emery.” A warm smile spread across his face. “You made it.”
“After only a few close calls,” I joked. I wasn’t sure how to greet him. Luke was my friend and a hug felt appropriate, but now he was also technically my boss. Luke didn’t have the same hesitation as he came over, throwing his arms around me in a tight embrace.
“I’m glad you’re here, Em.” He stepped back and gave me a closer look. “Even more beautiful than I remember.”
“Hush.” I slapped his arm. “I see you’ve fully embraced the mountain man lifestyle.”
In college, Luke had been clean-shaven and neatly groomed. It had very much fit the pre-med persona he’d given off back then. Now, rough stubble covered his strong jaw and chin. His hair was shaggy and he wore comfortable clothes– jeans and black sweatshirt that said Cooper Ski Resort in bold red letters.
“Too lazy to shave,” he said with a casual laugh.
I had to admit that it looked good on him. “You’re pulling it off.”
“Did you have a good trip?” he asked, sweeping an arm toward a nearby couch.
“It wasn’t bad.”
We sank onto the couch in perfect synch
“After you get settled in, I thought I could take you on a tour of the resort if you’re up for it.” His blue eyes shone when he smiled at me.
“That sounds nice.” I was surprised at the butterflies flapping up a windstorm in my stomach.
“The house is right at the base of the mountain,” he said, gesturing in a direction that I assumed was down the mountain. “I think you’ll like it. It’s not far from the downtown Starlight and an easy drive to the resort. Plus, you’ll have a great neighbor.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked with a smile.
“He’s a handsome, smart young man. I think you’ll enjoy living by him.” Luke was grinning adorably.
“Let me guess... it’s you?” I laughed when he nodded. “Just how close are we talking here?”
“Don’t panic. There’s a half-acre of land between our homes. You’ll have plenty of privacy, but it’s close enough that I can easily stop by if you need anything.”
“How’s your mom doing?” I hadn’t talked to Luke about anything personal since right after his father’s death. I knew that it had shocked his family.
His smile faded just a touch. “She’s doing pretty well these days. A few months back she decided she didn’t like living this far away from a city without my dad around, so she bought a place out in Denver.”
“You’re all alone up here?” I teased. “How very brave of you.”
“I’m not alone anymore,” he said meaningfully. “Ready to see your new home?”
I followed Luke back down the mountain, retracing the path I’d taken to the Welcome Center. He turned off the main road just before we reached the downtown area. The road we were on ended just a few yards later. I saw one house off to the right, but Luke turned to the left before parking in front of the second house.
The way Luke had described the house, I was picturing a tiny cabin. Instead, it was a winding, three-story house. The exterior was swathed in outdoor decks with beautiful views of the surrounding area.
by Hunter J. Keane have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes