What won't he do for a second chance?
Former model Kelly Hurley has finally put the ashes of the past behind her. After a passionate but turbulent marriage to rock star Vaughan Hurley that ended in heartbreak and divorce, Kelly rebuilt her life in Portland, where she settled so their two young daughters could be close to their father. Just not so close Kelly couldn't truly make her own way without interference from the man who shattered her heart. Now Kelly's finally ready to move on, and she's planning to marry another man.
But not if Vaughan has anything to say about it.
Vaughan knows he was a fool all those years ago. A young, selfishand pridefulfool. Even as he buried himself in the fast, decadent rock-star lifestyle, he could never drown out the memory of Kelly's beauty and love. Or the sweet, searing heat whenever they touched. For years, he's had to deal with the pain of seeing her only because of their daughters, but it was never enough. Now Vaughan must prove that he's the only man Kelly needs, before he loses her for good. And there's only one way to do it
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Kelly's first instinct was to pretend she wasn't sure she heard Ross right. But it would have been a lie and she hated lying. Regardless, she didn't know how to answer.
She was thirty-three years old. She had two great kids, a successful professional life, and this man, whom she could see building a life with, had just asked her to marry him. Only less romantically, it was more of a we've been sleeping over at one another's houses for a year now. We should just get married because it's good for everyone and it would be more cost-efficient, don't you think?
What else could she do but say yes? It didn't matter that Ross wasn't Vaughan. Or, actually, it did matter that he wasn't the man who'd broken her heart into so many pieces she'd been uncertain she could ever get over it.
Kelly was pretty sure by that point that she wouldn't. So it was more like trying to figure out how to have a happy life even though she still ached for someone who didn't love her.
Eight years. She'd walked out on her ex-husband and the father of her children eight years before. And she'd waited. Waited for him to figure out she was amazing and that together they could have such a wonderful, loving family. If he just got his shit together.
Plenty of tears and lots of lonely nights later, all she'd gotten was the lesson that no matter how much she wished it wasn't true, Vaughan Hurley wasn't a stable, reliable bet.
Worse, Kelly wasn't sure he ever would be. Whether he'd ever grow the hell up and be a man worth her love wasn't something she could bet on anymore. What was she supposed to do? Be single forever? Wait for something that might never come to pass? Kelly didn't want to be alone anymore. She wanted to be married. Wanted to come home to someone every day.
Ross was a good man. He'd be a good husband. She had no right to expect superhot chemistry every single moment. She loved him. They could have a good life. He was exactly what she needed.
She had to stop waiting around and start living her future. She focused on Ross's warm, brown eyes. He was safe. "All right. Yes," a stranger seemed to say, though Kelly didn't take the words back or argue with them.
Ross smiled and hugged her tight.
Vaughan Hurley was finally home after being away for the past three months touring with his band, Sweet Hollow Ranch. Even before that, he'd been hard at work on their new album. It'd been a good move on his part, as his career and the band's sales and tour had done exceptionally well. But there'd been no denying he'd put pretty much his entire focus on work.
He was done with that for now. He had things to do. Things he'd avoided doing for years. Maybe too long.
And it had taken his ex-wife's being proposed to, to finally get him to admit it.
"I thought I should let you know Ross asked me to marry him and I accepted."
His heart lurched as he struggled to keep his composure. '"When are you getting married?"
"We haven't set a date yet, but not for another year or so." She waited. He needed to beg her not to do it.
She 'd nodded. "Thanks. Have a good tour." She 'd turned and left him there on her porch, and he 'd driven back home on autopilot.
Vaughan'd been thinking of little else over the past three months. Not just her engagement, but his ridiculous silence and the way she'd waited for him to say something, and when he didn't she'd walked away.
And here he was, after a show, amped up and missing something he hadn't realized he'd been blessed to have until he'd lost it.
They shared two beautiful daughters he adored like crazy, though. After three months on the road and not being able to kiss or hug them, he missed them. As they got older it was harder and harder to leave them each time. Because the next time he saw them, even if it was just a few weeks later, they'd have grown and lived and he'd missed all those moments.
Despite that, he was blessed that they loved him back. His little girls, smelling of that strawberry shampoo they loved, snuggling and kissing him good-night. When they looked at him with so much trust and love, it broke him apart and put him together anew every damned time.
He drove the short distance, waiting until he was parked at the curb in front of the house his ex-wife raised their children in. Their home. A place he had to ask to visit.
All his goddamned choice. His divorce had been the epitome of being sorry you got what you wished for.
The lights appeared to be on upstairs so he had hope that he could at least poke his head in on the girls if they were asleep and drop presents off.
And see her.
He pulled his phone out and texted her that he was outside. But she didn't text him a reply. Instead Kelly appeared on the porch and waved him inside. He moved to obey and that's when he noted her urgency.
Fear seized his heart as he rushed to her. "What is it?"
"It's Maddie. She's got a really high fever and abdominal pain that when it happens is so bad she can't stand through it. I'm just about to take her to the emergency room. Can you come?"
Vaughan looked at her, truly looked at her for the first time in a while. She still made his heart skip a beat but right then, it was totally clear she needed him. He shook himself loose and focused on the problem. "Yes, yes, of course. Tell me what you need."
Kelly paused. Just a slight one, and drew a quick breath. She licked her lips and then pointed him upstairs. "I just finished getting her dressed. I have her shoes in my purse. Can you bring her down? I'm going to get the car unlocked and ready. Take her out the front door." Her delivery was clipped and very precise, and that moment of intimacy between them passed. He took some comfort in her apparent self-control and got his shit together, too.
Halfway up the stairs, he remembered their younger daughter. "Kensey?"
"She's spending the night with a friend. Hurry, Vaughan."
He did, jogging to the bedroom at the end of the hall. His baby smiled up at him briefly. "Daddy? You're here. I'm glad. I have a fever."
Vaughan bent, picking her up, the heat of her burning against his skin. Panic licked at the edges of his consciousness. He dug deep and got it under control. His child needed him. "I heard. Come on, baby. Your mom is getting the car ready."
She nodded sleepily, her pale green eyes glossy with fever.
Kelly was at the door and she led him to the car where he loaded Maddie in, sliding next to her.
"Settle in, noodle. We're going to the doctor now. Lean on Daddy." Kelly met his gaze in the rearview mirror. He noted her fear. Thank God he'd been there, and she and Maddie hadn't had to go through this alone.
No one spoke much as they hurried to the hospital not too very far from Kelly's place. Once during the ride Maddie tightened up with a hiss as the pain shot through her abdomen, but it was fleeting.
When she pulled up under the awning outside the ER, Kelly came around to his door. "I'm going to take her inside. I have all her medical info and they know me here. So I need you to park the car and join me inside afterward. Can you do that?"
Her tone was exactly what he needed to hear. No nonsense. In charge and efficient. He got out, transferred Maddie to Kelly's arms and she went inside.
Vaughan didn't waste any more time looking longingly at her. He jumped back into her SUV and found a place to park as quickly as possible. His phone to his ear as he called his parents, he also managed to grab his hoodie and Maddie's stuffed pig before hurrying back toward the double doors leading to the emergency room.
Vaughan stood across from Kelly, on the other side of the gurney their daughter lay on. They were preparing to roll her into the operating room, and Kelly paused to press a kiss to Maddie's forehead after brushing the hair away from her eyes, already heavy with the first step of sedation.
She looked so small, so vulnerable. Fear sent Kelly's heart pounding fast, but she worked to keep her tone upbeat. To hold it together because that was her job. "I love you. I'll be waiting right here when you get out."
That her daughter already knew that meant everything to Kelly. And when Maddie murmured, "Love you, Mommy," that was enough to get through and be the person her children could always depend on.
Vaughan whispered that he loved Maddie and would see her soon before he stepped back, standing next to Kelly as the hospital staff wheeled the gurney down the hall and through another set of double doors.
She kept her gaze on the spot Maddie had been. A sob tried to escape the pit of her stomach and she wrestled it back. But not before Vaughan heard it. He took her hand then, squeezing it. "She's going to be aces, Kel. You know it."
That made it a lot harder to wrestle tears away, but finally, Kelly nodded, hearing the fear in his tone, adjusting her tone to soothe. He needed her, too. She'd dealt with stitches and middle-of-the-night croup-driven sessions in a foggy bathroom with the hot water running. That kind of parenting had taught Kelly just how amazing and resilient kids could be. Maddie would be just fine and she needed to keep her focus on that.
Vaughan hadn't had to deal with an emergency in the middle of the night, she reminded herself. Empathy was something she could give him freely and it wouldn't harm her. Kelly smiled at her ridiculously beautiful ex-husband. "Thanks."
They headed out to the small waiting room and she slumped into one of the chairs with a sigh. It was nearly one in the morning and the adrenaline was beginning to wear off, leaving her exhausted and jittery at the same time.
Thank God Kensey was safely elsewhere so she wouldn't need to be disturbed and Kelly could be there at the hospital without worry. She ticked off her mental checklist, making sure she hadn't missed anything important.
Vaughan looked her over critically, looking a little more settled. "How long has it been since you've eaten?"
It flustered her when he was like this. It was easier when he was gone from her life for long periods of time. She could not love the man who'd chosen to let go of his family so he could keep from growing up. Kelly had two children; she didn't need a third. Didn't need to chase after the fleeting moments of true connection when she had something good with Ross.
Her fiancé, she reminded herself when she started to think about the way it sounded when Vaughan said her name. Eight years after her heart had been broken and she finally had the chance to make a family with someone else.
"I made Maddie dinner at five. She hadn't been feeling well so I made her tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich. She didn't eat much."
"My mom used to make me that when I was sick." He smiled and her stomach did a little flippy thing. Probably just because she was worried. "I noticed you told me when Maddie ate, but not if you did."
"I had soup and a sandwich, too. Did you eat? You just got off stage. I remember what you were like." She colored, though she tried not to. After a show he'd be starving. For food and for sex. No one had ever made her feel like Vaughan had. She'd wait for him in his dressing room and he'd head straight to her. It would be raw, hard. He left bite marks on places only he would see. It had been overwhelmingly hot. So sexy and intensely pleasurable she'd gotten lost in it. And in the end it hadn't been a good thing. She shook her head to release her memories. Because it had never been more than that to him, while for her it had been part of the everything he'd been.
"You can go if you want to. I'll keep you updated on her status. You've got to be exhausted."
Vaughan looked at her for a really long time. Long enough she'd started to squirm. Finally, he said, "I'm done going."
She knew he meant something other than just Maddie. She forced herself to ask, though she wasn't entirely sure she was ready for whatever he might answer.
He shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere, Kelly. I'm just glad I stopped at your place. I'm here. This is our child. We can do this together."
Maybe she was projecting and he hadn't meant anything more than that. She was too tired to push. Her eyes burned. Her stomach hurt and she was jittery and emotional.
He was Maddie's dad. And Kelly always encouraged the girls' relationship with their dad and his family. Here was Vaughan trying and she decided to let him and be grateful. "Okay. I'm glad you're here, too."
"I have a proposal. There's a twenty-four-hour joint not too far away. Nothing fancy, but I stop there with the girls sometimes before I bring them home. How about I go and pick some food up and bring it back?"
Her hands had started to shake a little so she balled them into fists a few times before shoving them into her pockets. Food would be good, especially since they'd be up hours more.
She also needed some time alone to get herself together and make some calls.
"Yeah, that'd be great. Thanks."
"I'll call it in so it's ready when I get there. I should be back in half an hour or less." Vaughan smiled for a second. "I said this already, but I'll say it again. I'm glad I stopped by tonight." He handed her his sweatshirt. "Here, you look a little chilly."
He left quickly and she leaned her head back, closing her eyes.
She'd given up on Vaughan being there when she'd needed him at all a long time ago. Wished it didn't matter that he'd been there that night.
It made a difference. And she was a fool to let it.
It seemed as if she'd been trying to get over Vaughan Hurley since before they divorced. Of all the people she'd sought attention and affection from in her life, only Vaughan still had a hold on her heart and it made her so stupid, but love did that.
With a groan, Kelly sat up and pulled out her phone to text her best friend. Stacey was across the country in Manhattan. She was attending some conference where she was presenting a paper. As much as Kelly wished Stacey could be there with her right then, this paper was a big deal.
So she kept her text pretty light. Gave the basic details and urged her to stay in New York. There really was nothing Stacey could do at that point, but Kelly would keep her updated.
That done, she texted Ross. He didn't like Vaughan, though he never showed that in front of the girls. He was resentful of any time Kelly spent with him, even for family events, and jealous that Vaughan had a connection to Kelly through their children. She filled him in about the situation with Maddie and said she'd talk to him when he got up.