Heart of the Storm
Brody Rollins is back in Tucker’s Point, Maine, for the first time in five years, but he’s not staying long. His plan is to go in, meet his new baby nephew, and get out. Then a winter storm takes a turn for the worse, and Brody can’t escape…from former neighbors, old regrets or painful glimpses of his ex-fiancée.
When Delaney Westcott runs into Brody at the town’s emergency shelter, she’s shaken. She wants nothing to do with the man who left her—and Tucker’s Point—without so much as a goodbye. Being cooped up with him in a high school gym is stirring up more than just bad memories, though, and soon Delaney finds herself confiding in Brody. But will he have any reason to stay once the blizzard ends?
NOTHING MADE DELANEY WESTCOTT happier than four o’clock coming around on the last business day of December.
Being the deputy municipal clerk in her hometown of Tucker’s Point, Maine, was usually a low-key job she enjoyed, but the stampede of people who’d realized it was the last day to register their vehicles would try the patience of a saint. And Delaney was no saint. Even after four years in the office, she had to brace herself for the panicked rush between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
“Highway robbery if you ask me,” Mrs. Keller muttered, slapping her checkbook down on the counter, just as she did every single year.
Delaney half expected the leather checkbook cover to creak and release a plume of dust and moths when the woman opened it. “How was your Christmas, Mrs. Keller?”
“I would have spent less on presents if I’d remembered you were going to rob me blind again.”
Every year, Delaney thought again. “Did your grandbabies enjoy the holiday?”
Mrs. Keller’s face, as worn and creased as her checkbook cover, softened. “They sure did.”
“I heard Courtney had the croup again. Is she feeling better?”
“That baby takes after her mother,” she said, shaking her head. “I swear my Becky spent half her childhood bent over a pan of hot water with a towel draped over her head. Now she has to do the same thing with Courtney.”
By the time Delaney finished processing Mrs. Keller’s registration renewal, the woman had forgotten her complaints and she even offered a “Happy New Year” on her way out. When you worked with the public in the town you’d grown up in, it didn’t take very long to get everybody’s numbers. Mrs. Keller had a reputation for being cantankerous, but she was a marshmallow when it came to her grandchildren.
Ten minutes later, Delaney looked up to take the paperwork from the last customer of the year and almost laughed. Mike Huckins had a rumpled and frazzled look about him that went beyond the post-holiday haze the rest of the town was in. Having a two-week-old baby would do that to a man.
“Sandy called me in a panic,” Mike said. “She totally forgot we had to register the car this month.”
“At least you guys have a good excuse.” Delaney took the handful of crumpled papers from him and smoothed them out. “How’s Noah?”
“Loud. But he’s doing good.”
Mike sighed. “She’s exhausted, of course. But she’s doing good. You should stop in and visit for a while if you get a chance.”
“I will. New moms don’t get a lot of company.”
“They sure don’t. Brody’s coming in Sunday, though, for an overnight visit.”
Delaney froze, except for her fingers, which curled into fists and crumpled a paper she’d just smoothed.
“Sandy hasn’t seen her brother since we all went to Vegas for our wedding,” Mike continued, “so you can just imagine how excited she is.”
Unlike Delaney, who hadn’t seen him in the five years since his mother handed her the note he’d left, telling Delaney he loved her, but he was leaving town and wasn’t coming back. So sorry.
But now he was coming back to Tucker’s Point.
She went through the very familiar process of renewing Mike’s registration while he talked about their new baby, but part of her mind couldn’t let go of the fact Brody was returning to town.
Even through locking up the office and driving to the market, she couldn’t stop thinking about him, which made her angry. He hadn’t cared enough to tell her he was leaving town, so he wasn’t worth thinking about. She’d done enough of that crying herself to sleep every night for weeks after he’d left. So he was going to his sister’s overnight. Big deal. Delaney would simply put off visiting Sandy until she was sure he was gone and, since she planned to spend the weekend curled up in front of her television, there was no chance she’d run into him.
She was surprised to see how full the parking lot was, even for a Friday afternoon. Then she remembered it was New Year’s Eve and figured there was a run on booze and snacks. Surprisingly, there had also been a run on bread and milk, she found as she wandered up and down the aisles a bit.
“Did the weather forecast change while I was at work?” she asked Cindy, the cashier, when it was her turn to check out.
Cindy rolled her eyes. “Not that I’ve heard. A little snow, but everybody’s stocking up like the ice storm of ’98’s on its way back through.”
“That was a doozy, for sure.” And now that she was a volunteer for the town emergency shelter, should it need to be open, she hoped they wouldn’t have another storm like that anytime soon.
She took the scenic road home, which took her along the coast for a few miles before turning back inland to the house she’d grown up in and had rented from her parents since they made the decision to move to Florida three years before. Driving calmed her and she desperately needed that. She needed to leave thoughts of Brody in her past, where they belonged.
Pulling off into a scenic area, she pulled a granola bar out of one of her grocery bags but, after a moment’s hesitation, she traded it for the candy bar she’d bought on impulse. This day definitely called for chocolate therapy.
Unfortunately, off in the distance beyond the gray winter ocean, she could make out part of the roof of the Ambroise estate, which never failed to make her think of Brody. It was a beautiful place, set out