How many times can someone say they're sorry before you are
forced to steel yourself for the inevitable hurt, bite the
bullet and walk the other way? What if you can't walk the
other way and you are stuck? Well that's the picture that
was developing for Liz Sutton when summoned to return to her
hometown of Fool's Gold California. Upon receiving an SOS
email from two nieces, she wasn't even aware of; there was
no choice. So she packed up just enough, for herself and her
son Tyler, to last a couple of weeks away from their real
home in San Francisco and set off for Fool's Gold. She knew
there was no way she was going to come out of this
unscathed. But she hoped that the years away would have
diminished the town's memory of her.
Her departure from the town was rather abrupt having
discovered she was pregnant with the child of her first and
enduring love, one of the town's golden-boys. She never had
the chance to even tell Ethan Hendrix that he was going to
a father. He made it apparent to all his closest friends
that she had never mattered and with that message burned
into her heart as well as brain she ran. Now she was back
and inevitably would have to face Ethan. She was certain
he wouldn't be interested in getting closer to a son that he
had shut the door on so many years ago but she knew that
Tyler would benefit from getting to know his father even for
the short time they would be there. But the longer she
stayed the more complicated the picture with Liz facing
harsh criticism every where she went because the townspeople
were siding with Ethan who believed he was denied time with
Ethan couldn't be convinced that Liz did indeed try to
contact him that he had a son and so he set out to make sure
that no more time was lost no matter the consequences. The
town was going to be divided into two camps. Question was
who would surface as the winner in this fight where winning
might make things even worse and there were now three
children that Liz had to consider. The easy solution for the
children would be the absolute worse one for Liz but
personal feelings aside she had to do what was right. Even
if it wasn't perfect.
I absolutely loved that Liz wrote murdered mysteries and
killed off Ethan in each one. Now that was perfect. That was
her catharsis for a difficult start in life and brought her
great success as an adult. This story continues the saga of
a town where the women sorely outnumber the men and it seems
like the few hometown men are lacking in the romance and
common sense department. Enjoy.
Back in high school, Liz Sutton was the girl from the
wrong side of the tracks. Then she’d stolen the heart of the
most popular boy in town, and their secret romance helped
her through the worst of times. Until Ethan Hendrix betrayed
her and everything they’d ever meant to each other.
Devastated and pregnant, Liz left Fool’s Gold, California –
forever, she thought…
Now Liz must return to town and
face the man who doesn’t know of their son’s existence. And
this time she won’t have the option of making a quick
getaway. Ethan and Liz can’t deny their passionate
attraction, even after all these years. But will their
desire be enough to spark a second chance at love?
Liz Sutton had always known the past was going to come
back and bite her in the butt—she just hadn’t known it was
going to happen today.
Her morning had started normally enough, with getting
her son off to school, then going down the hall to her
office, where she managed to write five fairly decent pages
before having to stop for some serious pacing, followed by
deleting three of the five pages. She was trying to figure
out who she was planning to murder in the first chapter of
her new book, not to mention how they would be murdered.
Was decapitation just too predictable? Luckily her
assistant knocked on her door, sparing her from making a
"Sorry to interrupt," Peggy said, frowning slightly as
she held out a piece of paper. "But I thought you’d want to
Liz took the single sheet. It was an e-mail, sent to her
website. There was a link there for fans to get in touch
with her. Peggy handled most of the e-mails, but every now
and then she found something she didn’t know what to do
"A crazed stalker type?" Liz asked, pathetically
grateful for the interruption. When the writing was going
slowly, even a death threat was more thrilling than the
current work in progress.
"Not exactly. She says she’s your niece."
Liz scanned the sheet.
Dear Aunt Liz,
My name is Melissa Sutton. My dad is your brother Roy.
I’m fourteen years old and my sister Abby is eleven. A few
months ago, our dad went to prison. His new wife, our
stepmom, said she would take care of us, but she changed
her mind and left. I thought Abby and me would be fine. I’m
really mature for my age. My teachers say that all the
She’s been gone a while now and I’m really scared. I
haven’t told Abby because she’s still a kid, but I don’t
know if we can make it. I don’t want to tell Dad what
happened because he really liked Bettina and he’ll be sad
she didn’t wait for him.
So I thought maybe you could help. I know we haven’t met
before, but I’ve read all your books and I really like
Hope to hear from you soon. Your niece, Melissa.
P.S. I’m using the computer at the library, so you can’t
e-mail me back. But here’s our phone number. Even though
the lights are off, the phone still works at home.
P.P.S. We’re living in your old house in Fool’s Gold.
Liz read the e-mail a second time, trying to get the
words to make sense. Roy was back in Fool’s Gold. Or at
least he had been, before heading off to prison.
She hadn’t seen her brother in nearly eighteen years. He
was a lot older and had left the summer she’d turned
twelve. She’d never heard from him again. Apparently he’d
married a couple of times and had kids. Daughters. Girls
who were living alone in a house that had been rundown and
disgusting twelve years ago. She doubted there had been
many improvements since.
Questions tumbled through her brain. Questions about her
brother and why he’d returned to Fool’s Gold after being
gone so long. Why he was in prison and what on earth was
she supposed to do with two nieces she’d never met?
She glanced at her watch. It was barely eleven. As it
was Tyler’s last day before summer vacation, he was getting
out at twelve-thirty. If she got the car packed in time,
they could leave directly from his school and be in Fool’s
Gold in about four hours.
"I need to deal with this," Liz told her assistant, as
she wrote an address on a piece of paper. "Call the
electric company in Fool’s Gold and get the power turned
back on. They should take a credit card for payment. Do the
same with the other utilities. I’ll call the girls and let
them know I’m coming."
"Are they really your nieces?" Peggy asked.
"I guess. I haven’t seen my brother since I was their
age, but I can’t let them stay there alone." She shook her
head, trying to figure out what else had to be done. Her
next book wouldn’t be published until the fall, she so
didn’t have to worry about publicity and book tours. She
could work on her new story anywhere she had her laptop. At
least that was the theory.
"I don’t know how long we’ll be gone," she
continued. "I’m guessing it will take a couple of weeks to
get everything straightened out."
Peggy stared at her. "Just like that?"
"What do you mean?"
"Aren’t you going to think about it? Most people would
hesitate. You don’t even know these girls."
True, Liz thought. But what choice did she
have? "They’re kids, by themselves and family. I have to do
"Which is just like you," Peggy said. "You leap in and
do what you think is right."
"Someone has to." Besides, she’d grown up having to take
care of things. Her mother hadn’t bothered. "With luck, I
won’t be gone too long."
"Don’t worry either way. I can handle things here."
Liz forced a smile. "I know you can. I’m going to pack
and then go get Tyler. We’ll drive to Fool’s Gold today."
"Maybe it will be nice to go home."
Liz did her best to look normal. "Sure. Okay, I’ll call
She waited until Peggy had left before picking up the
phone. She dialed the familiar number, then let it ring
eight times before hanging up. No answer. Of course, it was
a weekday. The girls were probably still in school. She
would try again later, from her cell.
She had to pack for herself and her son, phone a few of
friends and let them know she would be gone for a couple of
weeks, e-mail her editor and agent to tell them the same.
Logistics, she thought as she collected the notes she’d
made on her current novel. She was good at logistics. The
ability to plan and deal with problems was part of the
reason she enjoyed writing her detective mystery series.
She’d always been good at the work. It was the rest of life
that caused her to stumble time after time.
"Introspection later," she murmured aloud. "Action now."
She powered off her laptop, then disconnected it from
the docking station. After collecting her notes, a few
pens, pads of paper and her address book, she went down the
hall to her bedroom.
An hour and a half later, she’d packed what she hoped
was enough, loaded the car and gone over everything with
Peggy. Her assistant would take care of the house and make
sure the bills were paid.
"Are you all right?" Peggy asked.
"Sure. Great. Why?"
Peggy, a forty-something former executive assistant,
frowned. "Just checking. This is a lot to take in." She
hesitated. "You know if there’s no one else to take care of
Liz might suddenly be responsible for two nieces she’d
never met. "I know. I’ll deal with that when I have more
"Mac and I went to Fool’s Gold on our honeymoon. Back
when I thought marriage was a good thing. I didn’t know you
were from there."
No one did, Liz thought grimly. She found life easier
when she didn’t talk about her past. "I left right after
high school. Moved here. San Francisco is my home now."
Peggy smiled at her. "If you need anything, call me."
Liz went downstairs to the single car garage and got
into her Lexus RX350. She’d packed four suitcases, a couple
of boxes with Tyler’s favorite movies, his Xbox, and a
handful of books. She went over the inventory because that
was easier than thinking about what she was doing. Going
back to the one place she never wanted to be. The town
where she’d grown up.
For a second she wondered if she really had to do this.
Go rescue a couple of kids she’d never met. Then she shook
off the thought. Right now there wasn’t anyone else. She
couldn’t leave the two girls on their own. She would deal
with the problem, get it resolve and return to her life.
Staying was not an option.
Midday traffic was relatively light and she made it to
Tyler’s school in about twenty minutes. He was talking to
his friends, probably making plans for hanging out. When he
saw her small SUV, he waved and hurried over.
"Jason says his family’s for sure going to Disneyland in
August and they’re gonna call and talk to you about me
going with them," he said as he climbed into the passenger
"Hello to you, too," she said with a smile.
He grinned. "Hi, Mom. How was your day?"
"Great. Now can we talk about Disneyland?"
Her son was the brightest and best part of her life, she
thought as she stared into his dark brown eyes. He had her
smile, but everything else came from his father. As if her
DNA hadn’t been strong enough to overpower his.
Tyler was smart, funny, warm and caring. He had dozens
of friends, an easy-going disposition and plans to be an
architect when he grew up. She knew that everyone said the
early teen years were the worst with boys. That by thirteen
or fourteen, he would be making her life hell. But that was
a problem for another time. Today, Tyler was her world.
A world that had just been shifted off its axis and was
tumbling freely through space.
"Disneyland sounds like fun," she said. "I’ll talk to
Jason’s mom. If they want to take you and you want to go,
then we’ll arrange it."
His grinned widened. Then he glanced toward the back of
"Whoa, are we going somewhere? Road trip?"
She pulled into traffic, heading toward I-80. She would
take it east, until she turned off to drive into Fool’s
"Sort of," she said and tightened her grip on the
Over the years, she’d done her best not to lie to her
son. Not about her past or his father. For the most part,
she’d simply told him there were questions she wouldn’t
answer. At four or five, he’d been easily distracted. At
eight, he’d been determined to find out the truth. Now he
asked less, probably because he knew he couldn’t wear her
down. But she knew he wondered.
"I got an e-mail today," she told him. "You remember I
told you I have a brother?
"Uh huh. Roy. We don’t ever see him."
"I know. He’s a lot older and he took off when I was
twelve. I woke up one morning and he was gone. I never saw
She still remembered her mother’s sobs, made thicker and
louder by the alcohol lingering in her system. From that
moment on, her mother spent her life waiting for Roy to
return. Nothing else had mattered, certainly not Liz.
Liz had left town shortly after graduating high school.
She’d phoned home once, a few weeks later, saying she
thought she should check in and tell her mother where she
"Don’t bother calling again," had been the woman’s only
response before hanging up the phone.
"So Uncle Roy e-mailed you?"
"Not exactly." Liz didn’t know how much to reveal.
Telling the truth was one thing, but sharing details was
another. "He’s, um, in some trouble and I have to go help.
He has two girls. Your cousins. Melissa is fourteen and
Abby is your age."
"I have cousins? You didn’t tell me about cousins."
"I didn’t know about them until today."
"But they’re family."
True enough, she thought. And the word "family" implied
caring and connection. Maybe in most places, but not in the
Sutton household. At least not until Liz had had Tyler.
She’d done everything she could think of to break the cycle
of neglect. She’d been determined to be a warm, loving
mother, to offer her child a safe haven.
"I didn’t know where Roy was," she said. "He never got
in touch with me after he left." For six years, she’d
waited, hoping he would come get her and take her away.
Until he’d walked out, he’d always taken care of her. Been
a buffer between her and her mother. Protected her from the
worst of it.
By the time she’d been old enough to go looking, she
told herself she no longer cared.
"Do they know we’re coming?" Tyler asked. "Do they know
"Not yet, but they will. We’re going to stay with them
for a couple of weeks." She didn’t mention the fact that
Roy was in prison. Time enough for that later. Nor did she
go into the possibility of the girls having to live with
them permanently. Maybe there was other family who could
take care of them.
"I grew up in a small town called Fool’s Gold," she
said. "It’s in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada
"Do they get snow?" he asked eagerly. Because at eleven,
seeing snow was about the best it could be.
She laughed. "Probably not in June, but yes, they get
snow. There’s lots to do there. Hiking, swimming. There’s a
river and a lake."
"We could go camping."
She made a noncommittal noise in her throat, mostly
because the thought of camping ranked right up there with
being awake during open-heart surgery. Not even thinking
about it was pleasant. But then she wasn’t an eleven year-
old boy. She hadn’t been fascinated by worms and dirt and
play cars and plastic guns, either.
More traits she knew he got from his father. Which was
another problem. Not the traits, the man himself. Odds were
Ethan was still in Fool’s Gold. The one place he’d asked
her not to be. He’d made it clear he didn’t want her or his
Well, he was just going to have to get over it, she told
herself. This was an emergency. She wouldn’t make a big
deal about Tyler being in town and she certainly wouldn’t
tell her son about his father. Not when Ethan had rejected
them both so completely.
She would deal with the girls and get out as quickly as
possible. If she happened to run into Ethan, she would be
pleasant and distant. Nothing more. Because after all this
time and all the ways he’d managed to hurt her, there was
no way she was ever going to be vulnerable to him again.
She’d learned her lesson. Fool me once and all that.
She gripped the steering wheel more tightly and glanced
at her nav system screen. It showed the way to her
destination and she was counting on the little device to be
able to guide her back home when she was done.
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