After being apart for many years, Nick learns of the death of Ashley's parents, and flies back to his old hometown to be by her side. Concerned over how distraught Ashley is, he decides to bring her back home with him, where their relationship picks back up and heats up in a hurry. However, Nick has a secret but jealous admirer, and when Ashley is kidnapped, Nick discovers that Ashley is pregnant. Will they get to her in time? What will become of Ashley and her baby?
“Oh my God.” Nicholas Donovan set his coffee cup down and ran his hand across the black and white photo in the newspaper. The story had made the front headlines, a story he’d been unaware of. Until now. His heart ached as he read the news of the latest tragedy, but this time it hit a little too close to home. There, on the front page of the paper, was the girl-turned-woman he’d once been best friends with--had once loved, and had never stopped loving. She was as beautiful as he remembered her, even more so now that she’d matured into a woman. However, the stark pain on her face and in her posture seemed to call out to him, and Nicholas knew what he had to do. He read the entire story of the plane crash that had claimed her parents’ lives, then carefully folded the paper and glanced at the clock. The time would be the same in Atlanta as it was in Willow Bay, and without a moment’s hesitation he got to his feet and picked up the phone. Fifteen minutes later he headed to his room and packed enough clothes and other items for at least a week, then grabbed his keys and locked the house. Within two hours he would be in Atlanta.
The flight to Atlanta was uneventful, but Nick had spent the entire time thinking about the newspaper story. He hadn’t seen Ashley in nine years, and he wondered if she would even recognize him. He also wondered if she would welcome his presence or resent it. Even though they had parted on good terms, he knew that he had hurt her. But she’d been only 16, and Nick had known that she’d had an entire lifetime ahead of her. He wasn’t going to jeopardize her future just because he had feelings for her. And she’d been so young. Too young to be involved in a serious relationship, and too young to really know what she’d wanted out of life. So he’d all but forced her to accept the fact that he was moving to accept a prestigious job in a big city, but he’d hated the pain on her face and the tears that she’d refused to let fall. They had exchanged a few token letters, but that had been the end of it. He’d assumed that she’d gone to college and found a boyfriend, perhaps even a husband, and even though the thought made his heart sink a little he’d known it was for the best. Now he wondered if there was indeed a boyfriend or husband. For the first time he doubted his impulsive actions, then decided that there was no harm in offering his support to an old friend during a time of crisis such as this. He’d been so deep in thought that he hadn’t realized he was the last one sitting on the plane, and when the flight attendant approached him he blushed a little and quickly disembarked.
The Atlanta airport was exactly as he remembered it, all hustle and bustle and noise. He entered the terminal and walked straight to the car rental desk, then rented a Lexus and walked out into the huge parking lot to find it. Moments later, he was sitting behind the wheel with the odd feeling that he had come home. However, he was also aware of the saying that once you leave home you can never really go back. He shook his head and shrugged the tension out of his broad shoulders, then started the engine and carefully drove out of the parking lot. The traffic was as he remembered it too, a nightmare as usual, but his memory didn’t fail him as he carefully drove along the streets he hadn’t visited in years. He finally found a hotel close to the funeral home that was handling the arrangements, then checked in and put his things in his room. Once he was settled in, he sat down on the bed and glanced at his watch. He had no idea where Ashley was staying, and nothing was scheduled to happen at the funeral home until later in the evening. He pulled the newspaper out again and studied Ashley’s photo on the front page, then turned to the obituary page and read the information there. At the very bottom he discovered that friends and family were also meeting at the home of her parents, and the address was one he knew well. He set the paper aside and took a quick shower, then dressed in dark slacks, a white silk shirt, and a suit jacket. He donned a tie and black wingtips before checking his reflection in the mirror. Satisfied that he was dressed appropriately for the somber occasion, he grabbed his keys and wallet and headed downstairs.
The drive to the house took half an hour, and he wasn’t surprised to find that the entire yard was full of cars. Ashley’s parents had been well-known and respected, and as he got out of the car he searched the small group of people in the yard and on the porch for Ashley. He assumed she was inside, and without a moment’s hesitation he strode toward the large, screened-in porch and entered the house. There were clusters of people everywhere, but there was still no sign of Ashley. He made his way through the entire downstairs area until he spotted a lone figure sitting on the swing in the backyard. He went out the back door and slowly walked toward her. As he drew closer, he could literally feel the pain emanating from her. Her head was down and her hands were clasped tightly in her lap, and she didn’t even look up when he stopped directly in front of her. He cleared his throat and murmured, “Ashley.”
Ashley slowly looked up at him, and her eyes widened in shock when she realized who had spoken her name. “Oh my God. Nick?”
Also by Beverly Cialone
The Gift | Sangria Nights | True Confessions | Song of the South | In The Eye of the Beholder