I’ve missed him so much.
She looped her arms around his neck and leaned into him. The rhythm of his heartbeat steadied her, and as she calmed, her gratitude gave way to hypersensitivity. The plane of his chest was well-muscled from time spent in construction, hard beneath his shirt and against her body. He still used the same shampoo he always had, and she inhaled the familiar smell, letting the sense memory take her back. The soothing metronome of his pulse had picked up speed. She wasn’t the only one reacting to their embrace.
Nick’s breathing grew rougher. “Pam.”
One of the reasons I love writing for Harlequin American Romance is because I’m a firm believer in happy endings. I don’t think that happy endings only occur in fiction or that they happen magically. I’ve watched real people work toward their happy endings—whether it’s diligently pursuing a dream despite difficult odds or regularly expending the effort to keep marriages and other relationships strong. Some of the people in my life have overcome troubled pasts and addiction to create a happy ending.
I also believe in second chances, so it was very fulfilling to write about Pam Wilson. Despite mistakes Pam made in her past, she’s come home to Mimosa, Mississippi, to try to forgive her estranged mother and perhaps, finally, forgive herself. Pam’s trip doesn’t go at all as she’d planned, though. For one thing, she wasn’t expecting to see her high school sweetheart and ex-husband, Nick Shepard. And she certainly wasn’t prepared to see Faith Shepard, the daughter Pam gave up twelve years ago.
Are twelve years of regret and resentment too great a divide for three people to bridge? Not if forgiveness, love and genuine effort are involved. Second chances may not be easy, but they can lead to the happiest endings of all.
A Mother’s Homecoming
As part of her long overdue efforts to become a better person, Pamela Jo Wilson tried to find something positive about every situation. Right now the closest thing to a silver lining she could muster was: The car will probably break down before I get there. She could hope, anyway.
Or maybe the balding tires would simply melt in the muggy August heat, a painfully plausible scenario.
Even with the windows rolled down, heatstroke seemed imminent. The air-conditioning in her four-door compact had died last year, mere blocks from the used-car lot. She’d known better than to try to get a refund. In that neighborhood, she’d been lucky to get title and registration. But the dilapidated automobile had proven as stubborn as its owner, persevering all the way from California to the delta.
Now, Mississippi sun beat through her windshield with enough intensity to make her feel like an ant on the frying end of a juvenile delinquent’s magnifying glass. Though Pam wasn’t enjoying the heat—or the periodic stench of baked marshes and paper mills—she grudgingly appreciated the simple majesty of the azure sky above the rural stretches of untamed land she’d passed. Perfect, fluffy clouds dotted the horizon, looking more like they were from a painting than real life.
As her car chugged up the incline, a cheery wooden sign came into view. The paint job was so flawlessly fresh that she imagined some civic-minded volunteer in coveralls at the side of the road at dawn each day applying touch-ups with a can of aldermen-approved acrylic. Enjoy Your Stay in Beautiful Mimosa. Perfectly welcoming. Yet every molecule in Pam’s body shrieked, “Turn the heck around!”
Giving up swearing was a result of step number four. It had been dam … Darn difficult. But she’d done it, examined her many flaws and resolved to change. With a little bit of persistence and a whole lot of divine intervention, she could do this, too. When she’d left Mimosa almost thirteen years ago, sneaking away in the night to catch a Memphis-bound bus, she’d only imagined one scenario that could bring her back. The long dead fantasy now seemed both laughable and petty.
Having been assured her entire youth that she had “the voice of an angel,” she’d entertained a vindictive daydream of returning as—she tried not to wince, the memory felt so foolish—a country music superstar. She’d pictured arriving in town, a chart-topping American sweetheart, with just enough time in her packed schedule for a charitable concert and a shrug of indifference toward her mother … who would naturally beg forgiveness for all that had passed between them.
There was only one aspect of reality that even distantly matched her childish dream. Pam was indeed making this return trip to see Mae Danvers Wilson.
No matter what form of address Pam had been required to use aloud as a kid, she’d thought of the woman by her given name rather than Mom. Mae Wilson possessed all the warmth and maternal instincts of a cottonmouth. Oh, and you did any better? At thirty-one, Pam was no longer as judgmental as her teen self; she had a boatload of mistakes to keep her humble. Possibly an entire fleet’s worth.
Remembering some of those mistakes, including a disastrous flirtation with motherhood, Pam blinked hard. Don’t go there. She hadn’t driven this far just to come unglued and wrap her car around a white oak.
Within the official limits of Mimosa, the first two buildings were a gas station across the street that looked new and, to her right, Wade’s Watering Hole, a dive older than she was. At least it had been considered a disreputable dive over a decade ago. Now the siding and roof gleamed, and parking conditions were several evolutionary steps above the previous mud pit. Of course, one couldn’t make judgments based solely on an exterior. Who knew what lurked inside the belly of the beast?
Beer, she imagined with a sigh. Cold brew on tap with just enough bitterness to make a person smack her lips. And all her old friends standing in a proud line behind a teak bar—José, Jim, Jack.
Lord, she missed Jack.
Suddenly thirsty, she gripped the steering wheel and made a sharp turn toward the filling station. She could get herself a soda here. Or water, even healthier. Besides, a bucket of bolts like her car needed fuel just as much as any self-respecting automobile. As she shifted into Park, her lips spasmed in a fleeting smile of apology. She should be more appreciative of the bolt bucket. It was the most valuable thing she owned, next to a blue aluminum token and an old Gibson acoustic guitar she refused to play.
Digging through road-trip debris on the passenger seat, she located a green billed cap. Her blond hair was shorter and darker than the signature fall of corn silk it had once been, but her chin-length shag was still plenty long to be gnarled by humidity and a sixty-mile-per-hour airstream.
She got out of the car, marveling that the sensation of being slapped with damp heat even registered when she was already so hot and sweaty. It was like checking on baking biscuits—that first wave of unbearable heat when you opened the oven door didn’t keep you from flinching further as you leaned down into it. At the gas pump, she selected the “pay inside” option, then circled her vehicle to grab a twenty-dollar bill from the glove compartment.
Inside the station she was met with the overhead jangle of a cowbell and a nearly orgasmic blast of air-conditioning. If she stayed in town any length of time, maybe she’d apply for a job here just to bask in how cool it was. Her contented sigh reached the ears of the bearded, middle-aged man standing behind the counter a foot away.
He laughed. “Hot out there, isn’t it?”
She almost stumbled, nodding in response while keeping her face averted. Bucky? Until he’d spoken, she hadn’t recognized him, guessing him to be older than he was. She searched her