Kevin glanced out the window of his
childhood bedroom. The yard that sloped down toward the
Chesapeake Bay was decorated with balloons. Piles of
presents sat on a picnic table next to a cake decorated with
toy trucks, Davy's favorite things. All of the
O'Briens had gathered to celebrate his son's second
birthday, but Kevin could barely summon the energy to get
out of bed. Despite his resolve to be strong for Davy,
he'd pretty much been a wreck since Georgia's death,
not able to get a fix on anything, unable to make even the
most basic decisions about his life.
He had made
three decisions, though. He'd quit his job as a
paramedic, he'd sold the town house, which was filled
with memories of his too-brief marriage, and he'd moved
home. At least here, he knew there were plenty of people who
would love and look out for his son while he figured out
what came next. That was something he really needed to get
one of these days.
Someone pounded on the
door of his roomhis younger brother from the sound of
"Get your butt downstairs!" Connor
bellowed. "The party's about to
Given his choice, Kevin would have
crawled back into bed and pulled the pillow over his head to
block out the sound of laughter coming from outside. He
wouldn't, though. For one thing, even if nothing else in
his life made sense, his son was the most important person
in it. Kevin wouldn't let him down. For another, either
Gram or his dad would be up here next, and either one of
them had the power to shame him into doing what was right
for the occasion.
"On my way," he assured
He showered in record time, pulled on jeans
and a T-shirt and slid his feet into an old pair of
sneakers, then went downstairs. Only his youngest sister,
Jess, was in the kitchen. She surveyed him, then shook her
"You're a mess," she
"I showered. These clothes are
clean," he protested.
"Did you lose your
razor? And maybe your comb?"
you?" he grumbled. "The fashion
"Just calling it like I see it, big
brother. Everyone else spruced up for the party. Turning two
is a big deal."
"Do you honestly think
Davy's going to care if I shaved?" he asked as he
rubbed his hand over his unshaven jaw. He had shaved
yesterdayor was it the day before? He couldn't
recall. Mostly the days slipped by in a
"No, Davy won't care today, but
you'll look like some derelict in the pictures. Is that
the memory you want him to carry with him throughout his
life? Last year on his first birthday it made sense that you
looked ragged. It was only a few weeks after
"Don't mention her
name," he snapped.
"Someone has to," she
said, looking him directly in the eye without backing down.
"You loved her, Kev. I get that. You're hurting and
angry because she's gone, but you can't pretend she
didn't exist. She was that little boy's mom. What
are you planning to do, let him go through his entire life
with the subject of his mother off-limits? What about his
grandparents? Do you expect them never to mention their
" I can't
talk about her. Not yet." He knew it was irrational, but
somehow he thought if he didn't talk about Georgia or
her death, it wouldn't be real. She'd still be out
there, on the other side of the world, saving lives.
She'd still walk through the door one day, back into his
"When, then?" Jess asked, her gaze
If he hadn't been so annoyed, he
might have admired her persistence. For a woman who rarely
stuck with anything for long, Jess had certainly dug in her
heels on this. Just his freaking luck.
you expect me to say?" he snapped again. "A day? A
month? Hell if I know when I'll be ready." Even as
he spoke, he felt the sting of tears in his eyes. He hated
the sign of weakness almost as much as he hated this whole
conversation. "Just drop it, okay?"
she didn't. "Sit down," she ordered, not cutting
him any slack.
He didn't like that Jess was
turning the tables on him. His little sister had always come
to him for advice. Now she was obviously planning to dole it
out. Just like Georgia, once Jess got stirred up, she was
going to speak her mind, whether anyone wanted to listen or
not. Apparently this was one of those times. Kevin sat,
mostly because he was too shaky not to and because she'd
plunked a cup of much-needed coffee on the table to go with
whatever words she was intent on dishing out.
pulled a chair close and sat so that her knees were brushing
his. She covered one of his hands with hers. The show of
sympathy was almost his undoing.
"Listen to me,
Kev. You need to get out of this house."
shot through him. "Why? Has Gram said something? Is
having Davy underfoot too much for her? Do she and Dad want
me out of here?"
She rolled her eyes. "You
know better," she said impatiently. "This is your
home. I wasn't saying you should move. I was saying you
need to get a life." Her gaze, locked with his, was
filled with compassion. "I know this is going to sound
harsh, but somebody needs to say it. Georgia died. You
didn't. And Davy needs his dad, the real one, not the
one who walks around here all day in a daze."
frowned at her. "I'm not drinking, if that's
what you're suggesting."
"Nobody said you
were. Look, I'm saying all this now, before everyone
else has a chance to gang up on you. You know it's
coming. You must. This family can't keep their opinions
to themselves worth a damn. It's amazing we've all
been so quiet for this long."
He smiled, despite
his sour mood. "You're right about
"Will you at least think about what
I've said? If you promise to do that much, I'll run
interference and keep the others at bay a while longer.
Abby, the mother hen, is champing at the bit to offer her
own special brand of tough love. She's worried sick that
you haven't snapped out of this dark
Since he would do just about anything to
keep from being surrounded by all that well-meaning concern,
especially from his oldest sister, he nodded.
"There's just one
have any idea at all what to do with
"You're a paramedic," she
reminded him at once. "There are openings right here in
town. I've checked."
He shook his head.
"No. I'll never do that again." His career was
all twisted up in his mind with Georgia and how she'd
died on a call to a market in Baghdad after an explosive
device had been triggered, killing and wounding a bunch of
innocent civilians. She and her team had arrived just in
time for the second bomb to be detonated. Kevin knew his
reaction, his refusal to put his EMT training to good use,
wasn't rational, but then he wasn't operating much
on reason these days.
"You sure about that?"
"A hundred percent."
expression brightened. "Then I have an even better
He didn't like the glint in her eyes
one bit. Jess had always had a knack for getting into
mischief. Ideas came fast and furiously with her. It was the
follow-through that was lacking. Or had been, anyway, until
she'd opened The Inn at Eagle Point. That seemed to have
captured her complete attention. After a shaky start, she
had the place running smoothly and
"What's your idea?" he
"A fishing charter," she said
at once, then rushed in before he could utter an immediate
objection. "You could lease dock space at the Harbor
Lights Marina. Come on, Kev, at least think about it. You
spent half your life on the water as a kid. You always
claimed it calmed you, even if you didn't come home with
a single rockfish or croaker. And naturally, because you
didn't really give two hoots about catching them, the
fish practically jumped into your boat."
want me to become a waterman?" he asked incredulously.
It was a hard, demanding life, especially with the impact
that farming and other human misdeeds were having on fish,
crabs and oysters in the bay's waters, to say nothing of
what skyrocketing fuel costs had done to profit
"Not exactly. I want you to take people
out on your boat to fish."
He gave her a wry
look. "The only boat I currently own is barely big
enough for me and one passenger, and I wind up rowing home
more often than not because the motor's
"Which is exactly why you'll
spend some of that trust fund money that's sitting in
the bank on a bigger, more reliable boat. Dad set up those
funds for us to buy a home or start a business. I know you
haven't touched yours, so the start-up money's
"And you think this can become
an actual career?" he asked
"It's not up there with saving
lives," she said pointedly. "But I get requests
practically every day from guests at the inn who want to go
fishing. There's no one in town who does charters. Once
in a while I can convince George Jenkins to take someone
out, but he has the conversational skills of a
Kevin thought about the long, lazy days he
and Connor had spent on the bay as boys. They were some of
the best in his life. He hadn't cared a fig about
catching fish, just as Jess said, but he'd loved the
peace and quiet of being on the water. Of course, if he had
a boat full of strangers along, the tranquillity would
pretty much be shattered. Yet somehow the idea took
Jess regarded him hopefully. "You'll
think about it?"
There were a thousand practical
things to be considered, but the idea held promise. He'd
have to take classes to become licensed to be a captain, for
example, and that would get him out of the house. Maybe that
alone would be enough to keep everyone off his
He nodded slowly. "I'll think about
"Good! Now let's go outside and
spoil that son of yours rotten," Jess said, dragging him
to his feet. "You should see his haul of presents.
They're piled high. Davy doesn't entirely understand
yet that they're his, so this should be
Fun wasn't something Kevin had had in
his life for a while now, but when he saw Davy running
around on his chubby little legs, his mouth already streaked
with chocolate frosting, he couldn't help but feel a
little lighter. And when Davy spotted his father and a smile
spread across his face, Kevin felt a split second of pure
joy. It was Georgia's smile, as bright and carefree as
she had been.
For the first time since his wife had
died, the sorrow lifted briefly and he felt hopeful
Despite his promise to Jess, Kevin spent two
more weeks holed up at home, passing his days with Davy and
his evenings hiding out in his room away from Gram's
pitying looks and his father's increasing impatience.
Mick clearly had plenty to say to him, Kevin could tell, but
apparently an edict from Gram had kept his father silent. He
doubted that would last much longer.
To his surprise,
it was Gram herself who broke the silence first. She joined
him on the porch at dusk one evening, handed him a glass of
iced tea and a plate of his favorite oatmeal raisin cookies
and said, "We need to talk."
Kevin asked, even more wary than he had been when Jess had
made the same announcement. If Jess was good at
uncomfortable, straight talk, it was because she'd
learned from a mastertheir grandmother. Nell
O'Brien had stepped in to raise them after their mother
and father had divorced. She had a huge heart and a tart
"The way you're moping around this
house day in and day out," she replied. "It's
not good for you, and it's certainly not good for your
boy. A child needs to expand his world, to see other
Kevin frowned at that. "His
cousins are here all the time."
Carrie are almost eight now, and while they love playing
with Davy, he needs to be with some youngsters his own
age." She gave him a penetrating look. "He needs to
laugh, Kevin. When was the last time you got down on the
ground and rough-housed with him, made him
"Seems to me that Dad's filling
that role." In fact, Mick seemed to delight in
"It's his father who ought to be doing
it, not his grandfather. When was the last time you took
Davy into town for an ice-cream cone?"
took him just yesterday," Kevin reminded
Gram gave him an impatient look. "Is that
what I asked? I want to know when you took
"I haven't," he admitted.
"But I don't see why that's such a big deal.
Davy's got plenty of attention around here. That's
why I moved back to Chesapeake Shores."
we could raise him for you?" she asked. The question was
pointed, though her tone was gentle.
course not," he retorted, then regretted his tone and
"Kevin, we all know
you're grieving over Georgia, and there's not a
thing we wouldn't do to help out, but you have to start
living again. You have to give Davy a more normal life. I
know Jess has talked to you about this, so I waited, but
you're showing no signs of changing. I can't go on
watching you shortchange Davy or yourself like this.
It's just plain wrong. You're a vital young man with
a lot of years ahead of you. Don't waste them and live
to regret it."
As much as he hated to admit it,
Kevin knew she was right. He just had no idea precisely what
he could do about it, not when he was filled with so many
conflicting emotions. He was angry about a war that had
taken a child's mother and left him a single dad. He was
guilt-ridden about not having tried harder to make Georgia
reconsider taking another tour in Iraq, even after just
about everyone in his family had begged him to. And he was
grieving for a vibrant young woman who would never know her
son, who wouldn't be there for his first day of school,
his college graduation, his wedding.
lifted his head and faced his grandmother. "Gram, I have
no idea what to do. Some days just getting out of bed seems
like a triumph."
She nodded knowingly.
"That's the way I felt when your grandfather died.
I'm sure it's the way Mick felt when your mother
left him alone with all of you children to raise. You know
how he handled that."