Excerpt from Bluestone Homecoming

He hadn’t run outside since he lived in Excelsior. Back then, he’d run with an iPod blaring music so he’d keep a rhythm, blocking out everything else. Now he wanted to hear what was around him. Not sure if that was because of his time in a war zone or because he needed to appreciate his surroundings. He listened to the slow putter of a boat heading out for a day of fishing, the occasional splash of a fish. He jogged past Prater Landing, the launch company Lily’s family owned. He saw a couple of guys bundled up checking out the boats lashed to the dock, and he waved as he ran by.

Then he spotted a figure ahead of him on the path, someone sensible enough to wear sweats over her curvy bottom, her blonde ponytail swinging rhythmically as she jogged.

Trinity Madison. What were the odds? He hesitated, not sure if he should approach, what his welcome would be—the friendly flirt at the town hall meeting or the stern teacher. He pulled alongside her and she jumped a foot to the side. Too late, he saw she was listening to an iPod and hadn’t heard him. He reached out a hand to steady her on the uneven path.

“Sorry about that.” He gestured to the earbuds. “What are you listening to?”

“Maddox Bradley, since they were talking about him at the town hall meeting.”

“Do you remember him? Are you—did you grow up in Bluestone? He was a summer kid.” He didn’t remember her, but she was younger than him. So was Maddox, for that matter. He remembered the guy as a little prick, but the girls had had a different view.

“I vaguely remember him. He was a couple of years older. We moved here about fifteen years ago when my father was assigned to Bluestone Methodist, then I went away to school for a couple of years, and came back here to teach.”

“So you were, what, a freshman?”

“Eighth grade.”

He gestured to the bakery, with its neon “OPEN” sign. “Want some coffee?”

She glanced at the face of her iPod. “I guess I have a few minutes, if we get it to go.”

He guided her across the street with his hand at the small of her back. It had been so long since he’d touched a woman in such a way. Lily didn’t count—she was like the sister he never had, no matter what Quinn thought. And that zing of awareness didn’t buzz through his body when she was around.

They walked to the counter and ordered two coffees to go. While they waited, he turned to her. “So you’re pretty young for a counselor.”

She shrugged and placed her palms on the counter. “I went on and got my masters, since I was already in the swing of going to school. I put in a few years in the classroom before I decided I wanted focus on counseling.”

A smile canted his lips. “Come on, we’re in Bluestone. Do you really see that many problem kids?”

She leveled a look at him. “I also deal with testing and achievement data, as well as kids dealing with divorce, with the loss of family income, with the loss of a mother.”

Ow. He shifted back toward the counter, as if that would make him any less vulnerable to her words. “Does he talk to you? About her?”

She shook her head. “Does he talk to you?”

He frowned, wishing he hadn’t brought it up. It had been a surprisingly pleasant morning, and while the pain of losing Liv was no longer sharp, the pain of what his son was dealing with was.

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