Would she ever get used to this cold, damp weather? Candy pulled at the collar of her thick wool sweater and rubbed her arms as a chill went through her. She pulled back the curtains and took in the steady drizzle of rain over the brown fields, which she supposed would be green come spring. These were fields Neil had promised to fence in, where her horse and donkey could one day graze. As she took in the heavy blanket of clouds that filled the sky, turning it a dreary gray, she wondered how long it would take her horse and donkey to acclimatize. After the hot days of Cancun, Mexico, life in Washington would be a rude shock, she was sure. Would they miss the sun as she did? It had been so long since she’d seen it. After endless days of rain, she missed the brightness of it against the crystal blue ocean, the warmth, and her animals. Even though this property was oceanfront, it was darker, different—colder.
Neil had been on the phone, making arrangements to close up their Arizona apartment and to have everything shipped to their new home, an acreage outside Hoquiam, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest. It was close to Brad and Emily and to the family home where Neil had grown up. This was a new beginning for them and their children, and she never questioned his need for a fresh start. She could leave everything behind, except for her horse, Sable, and her donkey, Ambrose, whom she’d rescued as a newborn after his mother was killed on the side of the road. She still couldn’t believe all the hoops Neil had to jump through to move her animals up here. Passports for animals? She’d never heard of such a thing, and Neil was just ending his call with a customs broker, compiling all the paperwork that was involved.
“Candy, didn’t you hear me call you?” Neil was standing in the middle of their sparse living room. It was finished in light woods and currently held a lone black easy chair, which was the only furniture they had. It had been brought over by Neil’s brother Brad to tide them over until their furniture arrived. They could have stayed with Brad and Emily, but Neil insisted after purchasing this house that they all needed space, they needed their own home. Not for the first time, Candy disagreed, but she said nothing. There was something about Neil: Once he set his mind to something, no one could change it. She sensed this was more about his needs, as there was a tension she couldn’t put her finger on between him and his brother.
“Sorry,” she replied. She swallowed as she watched Neil, his dark hair a little on the longish side, touching the top of his ears with a natural wave she hadn’t seen when he kept his hair short. Threads of gray were now woven through his thick hair—even more this morning, as if it had happened overnight.
“The kids asleep?” He glanced at the carpeted stairs and the open railing leading to the second floor.
“Cat’s sleeping in our bed,” Candy said, referring to an air mattress on the floor. Their new bed, along with a kitchen table, a living room suite, and a bed for Cat, would be here Friday. Just two more nights of rambling through an empty house. “Michael’s only been quiet a few moments,” she continued. “I hope he’s sleeping. He’s been so fussy lately. He didn’t sleep much last night.” At least he was sleeping in his own bed, a crib, the one given to them by Brad and Emily.
Neil didn’t say anything about the baby. If it had been Cat having trouble, he probably would’ve gone to check on her. The difference wasn’t lost on Candy. He seemed so distracted as he glanced down at the paper he was holding. “The broker needs papers on Sable—registration, birth date. Since there aren’t any, I need to at least know where you purchased him so that I can trace the paperwork. Ambrose, since you had him from birth and found him abandoned, is a little trickier…”
She had her back to Neil and parted the sheers again, looking out at the steady rain. The day was so gray and depressing. Maybe it was the lingering silence that made her realize Neil was no longer talking. When she faced him, he was watching her in that way he had when he was trying to get into her head.
“What’s wrong?” he said. He knew her too well, and sometimes she supposed that wasn’t a good thing. There were times she needed space, but Neil wasn’t a man who would give it to her.
“Tired is all, and cold.” She shivered again.
Neil, too, was wearing a thick dark blue sweater and faded jeans. “We’re just not acclimatized yet. You’ll get used to it.” He glanced at the fireplace. “A fire will help cut through the dampness. I’ll call Brad later, get some wood from him.” He went over to the wall, plain white, and touched the thermostat. “I can turn up the heat, but it’s already as high as it should be.”
“No, it’s fine. It’ll get too warm upstairs. Neil, even if there was paperwork for Sable, everything would have been lost in the storm. He was a gift from my dad. I don’t know where he purchased him. Is that a problem?” She hoped it wasn’t. Worry nagged at her. Would she ever see her horse and donkey again?
Neil started toward her and touched her arm, sliding his large hand over her shoulder and caressing her. He was so close, and she loved when he touched her like this. He didn’t need to say anything to let her know how he felt about her. Their love was strong, and this bond between them…she knew deep in her soul that it was unbreakable. They’d been tested by things other couples hadn’t, and she believed that had made them stronger, more connected. Nothing could ever come between them. “Neil, am I going to get Sable and Ambrose back?”
“Of course.” The way he said it, she believed him. But then, Neil had this way about him. When he put his mind to something, he could move mountains. At the same time, she believed he’d do anything for her now. “I’ll just have to be creative, is all. Don’t worry about it. I’ll find a way.”
“Are you still planning on leaving Monday? What if you can’t get the paperwork together, what then?”
Neil rubbed her arm, touching her still. He was right in her space, taking over as he always did, trying to fix everything for her. He ran his hand under her chin, and she had to look up. He was so tall. So was she, but he was amazing. Strength oozed from him. “I’ll have it together,” he said. “Don’t worry. The guy I hired is good. Don’t lose faith in me.”
She had to hide her smile. Did he have no idea of how she believed in him? He was her hero, a man she looked up to, with all his flaws and bossiness. She truly believed that after finding their way back together, they wouldn’t allow anything to come between them again. Neil had done that once, and it had almost destroyed her, but she could see his regret and feel his determination. It was unsettling but comforting to know she was loved so much.
“Are we ever going back to Cancun?” she asked. It wasn’t that she wanted to go back. Cancun was filled with memories of hurt and betrayal—memories of the surrogate who had almost destroyed what Neil and Candy had.
Neil’s expression darkened. “No, it’s time for a new life here. We’re done in Mexico.”
She nodded. Maybe that was what she needed to hear, just a confirmation. At times, though, she couldn’t shake the sense that they were hiding from something. “What about the resort, Neil? You haven’t talked about it lately. Don’t you need to be there to run the day-to-day operations? I know this was a really big deal for you.”
The resort was being built on the oceanfront property that had once been hers. After a storm destroyed her home and she lost the land to her creditors, Neil had bought it and given it back to her. She had believed she couldn’t live without it, but she was wrong. Her family was more important, and her life with Neil.
“I wanted to talk to you about that,” he said. “It may be time to sell.”
Was he serious? She had never seen him look so disinterested. After all the years of wanting that property, obsessing about building his resort—a resort that had been the biggest obstacle between them— he wanted to walk away now?
“I don’t understand, Neil,” she said. “Why would you sell it? You promised me a part of the beachfront would always be mine. You know how much it means to me.”
“I won’t sell if you don’t want me to, Candy, but I don’t see a reason to keep it. Our life is here now. Think about it. I don’t plan on going back. We need to cut ties, sell, and move on with our lives.”
She could hear Michael whimpering from upstairs. She sighed, and maybe it came out sounding uneasy, but she hadn’t meant it to. She loved her baby, their baby, the little boy they’d adopted, but she was so tired. Michael had been more and more demanding as of late. “I’d better get him,” she said.
She knew he wouldn’t wake Cat, their deaf little girl, whom she’d found in a Mexican orphanage. Cat was such an inspiration to Candy, and she loved watching Neil with her, fussing over her, talking to her, reading to her when her cochlear implant was on. He did everything he could for a little girl he had wanted nothing to do with in the beginning. On the other hand, she’d yet to see him fuss over Michael, their baby, which was disconcerting. Maybe from the way Neil appeared distracted, not glancing at the stairs, she knew he wouldn’t go up—not for Michael. For Cat, he’d already be taking the stairs two at a time. She should talk to him about it and make him listen this time, make him tell her why he was so distant when he’d been the one so obsessed with the idea of having a baby.
He waved the paper in the air. “I need to make some more calls,” he said, then he left the empty living room through the kitchen, the floor creaking under his heavy footsteps to the small office at the back of the house, which still held a desk left by the prior owners. It was made of solid wood, old, probably something even Goodwill wouldn’t want.
“Coming, baby,” Candy called out as if that would reassure Michael, and she started up the stairs just as he let out a wail.
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