“Chase’s back in town.”
Those words, once upon a time, might have toppled the very foundation of her world.
Once upon a time…thirteen, fourteen years ago.
But Zoe didn’t believe in fairy tales anymore.
Glancing up at Beth, she cocked a brow. “Is he?” Then she focused on the glass cabinet and finished wiping it down. Damned fingerprints. She couldn’t keep them off.
“Yeah.” Beth leaned on the counter and sighed, a familiar look in her eyes. “Damn, Zo. He still looks…wow. Just…wow. Came riding into town this morning on a Harley, and man, may I say, I think my heart stopped.”
“Hmmm.” Zoe scraped her nail over something sticky and opaque. It looked suspiciously like some sort of candy residue. Like some little child had been sucking on something sweet, and then went and touched their fingers to her display cases. Absently, she grabbed the glass cleaner. Before she could do anything, Beth reached up and caught her hands.
“Are you hearing me?” Beth said, staring at her. “Chase is back.”
Zoe frowned. “Yes. I hear you. But what does it have to do with me?” She looked down at her hands. At the gold band on her left hand. The diamond anniversary band had been a gift for her tenth anniversary. Just the sight of it made her smile.
She was married.
To the man who’d been Chase’s best friend in high school.
Neither of them had spoken a word to Chase since he’d up and disappeared the day after graduation. He’d just…left. Just like that.
Glancing up, she smiled at Beth. “Honey, it’s been fifteen years. I’m married. I love my husband—he loves me. You know this. Chase…well, we don’t even know each other anymore. It’s not like he could have expected me to wait around, right?”
Even if her gut was all in tangles over her husband lately.
The town of Warren hadn’t changed much in fifteen years.
But Chase Cochran hadn’t much expected it to.
Honestly, he had hoped it wouldn’t. He’d returned here hoping to find…home.
And so far, that was just what he’d found.
He didn’t realize it, but he was smiling as he strolled through the town square.
He hadn’t thought he’d miss it.
When he left here right after graduation, all he had been able to think about was getting out, as fast as he could, as quick as he could, as far away as he could. Getting away from his dad, this town, all of it.
Not because he didn’t love the old man. He had. His dad had been everything. Mom had decided she couldn’t be a mom, after all, a decision she came to right before Chase had turned a year old and she walked out on them both. Ever since then, it had just been Chase and his dad.
And then Chase had gone and done the same thing, walking away without much more than an, “It’s been fun”.
Chase couldn’t have stayed, though. He’d been strangling here—strangling, choking. Getting out had been paramount. At the time, it had been the right decision for him. The only decision for him.
Still, it had been a selfish one.
He didn’t doubt his dad would welcome him back. They’d kept in contact and Chase was still amazed that his dad didn’t have some leftover resentment for him. Walking away like he’d done—walking…hell, he’d run.
Sometimes, Chase wished he had more of his dad in him. But that was part of the reason he’d left…he could see himself spending his entire life in the same small town, doing the same job.
It had taken him fifteen years to realize that really wouldn’t have been such a bum deal.
Slowing to a stop, he studied the small town hall.
Dipping a hand in his pocket, he pulled out the gold necklace in there.
The stylized gold Z still gleamed.
Was she still here?
Dad would know.
After he’d left, it had taken him a year to call back home, but since that first call, he had kept in touch with his dad. Regular calls, letters—hell, they were closer now than they’d been when he was growing up, and they’d had a pretty good relationship then.
But Zoe had always been off limits in those conversations.
His dad wouldn’t discuss her. Period. But now that he was home…well, hell. His dad would have to discuss her.
Chase closed his eyes and blew out a breath. Shit. Rubbing a thumb over the smooth surface of the Z, he looked up at the town hall. He needed to prepare himself for the fact that he just might find out that Zoe wasn’t here.
That she was here…and married.
Considering how he had left, he really didn’t have any right to expect much of anything different.
He hadn’t warned her, hadn’t told her. Not until the day he left. He’d gone by there, told her he was going, kissed her… And that was it.
He had left her behind, even though he had loved her like crazy.
But he’d just needed to get away. He’d been eighteen, edgy and restless, and the girl who had looked at him with her heart in her eyes had…hell. It had made it worse somehow, because part of him had wanted to stay. Wanted to give her everything she’d wanted and never asked for.
“Get it over with,” he muttered, rubbing a hand up and down his face. “Just get it over with.”
Setting his jaw, he jogged up the steps.
Dad wasn’t expecting him, but that didn’t concern Chase.
The mayor’s office was quiet—half of the staff out to lunch.
The secretary, though, she recognized Chase and with a beaming smile, ushered him in.
In his dad’s office, a faint smile curling his lips, he studied the certificates, plaques and pictures on the walls.
His dad, the mayor. From small town police officer, to chief of police, to mayor.
What the hell.
One picture caught his eye and he narrowed his eyes, moved closer.
Roger. Roger Kirkbride. “I’ll be damned,” Chase murmured. He skimmed the article below and then started to laugh.
Roger had been his best friend in high school. Apparently the guy had decided small town life—and politics—was his thing.
He was Dad’s right-hand man.
Still smirking, Chase set the picture and moved on, studying the rest of the framed pictures.
The third one he picked up wiped the smile from his face and just about knocked the breath right out of his lungs.
His right fist clenched. A sharp pain jabbed into his palm and he looked down, opened it. Dazed, he realized he’d still been holding the necklace.
The door opened and he turned, stared at the man in the doorway.
All of a sudden, he understood why Zoe had been off limits.
“Chase…” A smile creased the older man’s face and he crossed the room.
His father hugged him and Chase briefly returned the embrace.
But then he eased back and looked at the picture he had yet to put down.
Zoe’s wedding picture.
© Shiloh Walker
A Forever Kind of Love
Author: Shiloh Walker
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Sweet Romance
You can always come home. Second chances come a little harder.
Chase and Zoe were the high school golden couple. Football captain, cheerleader, prom royalty. After graduation, though, Chase couldn’t resist the urge to experience life outside their small town. He didn’t exactly expect Zoe to wait twelve years for him, but now that he’s back, he finds some small part of him hoping she did.
It’s no big surprise she’s married. The kick in the face is she married his best friend.
Zoe was devastated when Chase left, but she’s filed those bittersweet memories under “Moved On”. She loves her life, and loves her husband. She has all she needs. And Chase keeps an honorable distance.
One cold, wet, miserable day, tragedy turns Zoe’s world upside down. Chase never expected her to simply fall into his arms, but a man can dream. Except his dream doesn’t include the fact that this time, she’s the one hitting the road…and he’s the one left behind.