Bryce Witherspoon’s heart races every time she sees Kaegan Chambray. Everyone in town knows they can’t stand each other, but the truth is, even though the man broke her heart ten years ago, she still feels that irresistible, oh-so-familiar jolt of desire.
When Kaegan returned to Catalina Cove to run the family business, he knew there’d be no avoiding Bryce. The woman he thought he’d one day marry was instead the biggest heartbreak of his life. But when Bryce lets slip a devastating secret, he discovers just how wrong he was to let her go all those years ago.
He knows they both still feel the spark between them, but it’ll take more than attraction to convince her. Kaegan will pull out all the stops to show Bryce he’s the man who can give her the future they once dreamed of—if only they give love a second chance.
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Bryce Witherspoon moved around the party intent on enjoying herself, although the host was the last person she wanted to be around. However, she knew Kaegan Chambray felt the same way about her. Yet, as always whenever he hosted one of his acclaimed cookouts, he'd included her on the guest list. They both knew the reason why.
Since moving back to town, their childhood friend Vashti Alcindor-Grisham, forever the peacemaker, had let them know she was best friend to them both and wouldn't take sides. Nor would she allow either of them to pit her against the other. So whenever Vashti was invited to one of his cookouts, Kaegan sent Bryce an invitation, as well, to keep the peace. Vashti's motto was There Are Things That Happen In The Past That Are Best Left There.
Bryce figured she could make things easier on Kaegan by not coming, but then, why should she? He certainly didn't try making things easier for her by coming into her parents' café regularly. Kaegan would arrive every morning at the Witherspoon Café for blueberry muffins and coffee, knowing she would be there and, more likely than not, be the one to wait on him.
It wouldn't be so bad if she could forget what he once meant to her. It had been ten years since their breakup. She wasn't twenty-two anymore. Since then she'd dated, but what she'd shared with Kaegan had been special. At least she'd thought it had been. He'd been her first in a number of things and on so many levels. That was why the pain of their breakup still managed to linger even after all this time.
And it hadn't helped matters when he'd returned to the cove four years ago with a chip on his shoulder, still believing he was the one who'd been wronged. She'd decided to show him that he wasn't the only one who could carry around a chip, and at this stage of the game he could believe whatever he wanted about her. All those years ago she'd tried proving her innocence and he hadn't wanted to listen to what she had to say, so what he thought now didn't matter.
Coming to his parties let him know she could be in the same room with him and feel absolutely nothing. She figured he was determined to prove the same thing to her, which was probably why he frequented the café every day.
Okay, she knew there was another reason why he patronized the café. He might not like her, but he loved her parents and they loved him. He was good friends with her two older brothers. But they didn't know the whole story. She'd never told anyone what had happened between them to end things. In fact, she'd only just told Vashti last year.
One night when Vashti's husband, Sawyer, was out of town, Bryce had stopped by her best friend's home. Once Vashti had put her newborn son, Cutter, to bed, they'd opened a bottle of wine and put on a sappy movie, and Bryce had told Vashti everything.
She could recall her conversation from that night like it had been yesterday ...
"Kaegan and I decided we wanted to be more than friends while you were gone to that home for unwed mothers to have your baby, Vash. That's when we be- came girlfriend and boyfriend."
Vashti nodded. "But he left here two years before we finished school and rarely came back. How did the two of you keep the relationship going?"
Bryce took a sip of her wine. "You recall my mom's youngest sister, Janice?"
"The one who moved from Canada to live in DC?"
"Yes. I would make the trip by catching the bus to see her and would spend time with Kaegan, as well, since he was stationed in Maryland."
Vashti seemed to mull over that admission. "I remember in our senior year how you would occasionally take the bus on the weekends to visit your aunt. I can't believe you never told me what you were doing and where you were going," Vashti said in an accusing tone.
"I wanted to tell you, Vash, but you were in your own little world during that time. You were still grieving after losing your baby. The last thing I wanted to do was overwhelm you with my happiness when you were so unhappy ..."
That same night she'd also told Vashti the reason she and Kaegan had broken up. Instead of the sympathy Bryce had expected, Vashti claimed she could see both sides and felt they were letting their stubbornness get in the way of them sitting down and talking through their issues.
As far as Bryce was concerned, there was nothing to talk about. His lack of trust in her was unforgivable. Had he believed in her and known she could never betray him, none of this would have happened. A part of her wished the hurt he'd caused could somehow eradicate her attraction to him. It didn't. Whenever she saw him she had to put up with seeing a man who turned feminine heads wherever he went. Including hers.
Kaegan was part of the Pointe-au-Chien Native American tribe. He was ultrahandsome and the mass of silky black hair that flowed around his shoulders made him look wild, untamed and absolutely gorgeous. She recalled the times she would part his hair down the middle and braid it for him, making him look even more alluring.
Usually he wore it in a ponytail, but not tonight. Bryce recalled telling him just what seeing all that hair flowing around his face did to her. How hot it made her feel. How so turned-on she would get. That had been years ago, but she, of all people, knew Kaegan never forgot a thing. That made her wonder if he'd worn it down purposely to make her remember.
Over the years his features had matured. He no longer had the look of the cute boy she'd fallen in love with so many years ago. His eyes appeared to have darkened somewhat but were perfect for his brown skin tone. His high cheekbones had always been his most captivating asset. They still were. Even with that dimple in his chin that couldn't be ignored. The dimple became even more defined whenever he smiled, which was rare when he saw her. She had a tendency to elicit his frowns.
She would be the first to admit that a younger Kaegan Chambray had been a heartthrob, but the older version of that heartthrob was now just too breathtaking for words. Whether she liked him or not, she had to give him that. Deciding she'd both scowled at him and lusted after him long enough, she glanced around.
Two years ago, Kaegan had torn down the house he and his parents had lived in to build this one. She knew the painful memories within the walls of his childhood home. His father had been an alcoholic. Most of the time, he managed to stay sober during the week to run his business. But on the weekends he would drink himself into a stupor.
It was during those times Kaegan would use the small boat he kept hidden away in the underbrush of the bayou and escape through the swamps to a place he considered his hideaway, a deserted, uninhabitable island called Eagle Bend Inlet. Bryce had feared for his safety, worrying that one of those huge alligators was going to eat him alive.
She continued to study his home. She'd never been given a grand tour, like a number of others, but she liked the parts she'd seen. It was right on the bayou, on land that had been in the Chambray family for generations. She could imagine waking up here every morning to such a gorgeous view. According to Vashti, due to the risk of hurricanes, Kaegan had built a home that could withstand up to four-hundred-mile-an-hour winds. And the tilt of the foundation, which wasn't even noticeable, was a deterrence to flooding.
She thought the place was huge for just one man but he'd always said that one day he would grow up and build a mansion ... for them. Well, he had certainly built a monstrosity of a house, but it hadn't been with her in mind. When he'd returned to town it had been quite obvious he hadn't wanted her in his life any more than she wanted him in hers.
"Here you are."
She turned to greet Vashti. "Yes, here I am on a Friday night. I could be somewhere else, you know, and would be if I thought for one minute that I wouldn't hear about it from you tomorrow. One day you're going to realize that no matter what you think, Vash, all Kaegan and I feel for each other now is contempt. Total dislike."
Vashti rolled her eyes. "If you say so. By the way, did you see Ashley? She looks great pregnant. Ray wasn't messing around. Who comes back from their honeymoon pregnant?"
Bryce took a sip of her wine knowing Vashti had deliberately changed the subject, but she was fine with her doing so. "A person who comes from their honeymoon pregnant is someone who'd intended to get pregnant. According to Ashley, they spent the entire time trying and it was all about a promise Ray had made her. They've been through a lot, and I'm happy for them."
A friend of theirs, Ray Sullivan, had married Ashley Ryan six months ago. Last month the couple shared the news they were having twins. A boy and a girl. They'd even selected the names. The boy would be named Devon and the girl Ryan.
A smile touched Vashti's lips. "I'm happy for them, as well. I love happy endings."
Bryce rolled her eyes. "You also love torturing your two best friends. Why do you put me and Kaegan through this every time he gives a party? I don't have to be here and we both know that he doesn't want me here. The only reason he invites me and the only reason I come is because neither of us want to hear you bitch about it."
"Hey, it's not my fault that my two best friends fell in love behind my back."
Bryce rolled her eyes again. "That's what you get for leaving us alone for those six months."
"Like I had a choice."
Bryce knew at the time her best friend hadn't had a choice. Vashti had gotten pregnant at sixteen. Her parents had sent her away. While she was gone Bryce and Kaegan had grown closer, and all the love Bryce had secretly felt for Kaegan suddenly blossomed.
She tried to recall a time when Kaegan hadn't been a part of Bryce's and Vashti's lives and couldn't. Neither could she recall a time she hadn't loved him. K-Gee was what everyone called him. The descendants of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe mostly made their home on the west side of the bayou. Kaegan's family's ties to the cove and the bayou went back generations, even before the first American settlers. A few of the simpleminded townsfolk of Catalina Cove had never recognized the tribe, except when it was time to pay city taxes.
Although Kaegan was two years older than her and Vashti, the three of them had hung together while growing up since Kaegan hadn't officially started school until he was almost nine. Dempsey Chambray felt his only son was more useful working in the family seafood business and for years had claimed Kaegan was being homeschooled. When the Catalina Cove school board discovered otherwise, they presented the Chambrays with a court order that stated Kaegan was to be put in public school immediately.
Kaegan was a supersmart and intelligent kid, and it didn't take him long to catch up with the rest of the class. However, he couldn't be put in his right grade because he began missing a lot of days from school to help his father on the boat. It was Mr. Chambray's way of showing the school board that although they may have ordered that his son attend school, Kaegan was entitled to sick days. Most people knew that the days Mr. Chambray claimed Kaegan couldn't come to school because he was ill, Kaegan was out on the water working in the family business. It was only when the school board threatened to file a lawsuit against Mr. Chambray's business that he allowed his son to attend school without any further interruptions.
When Vashti returned to town after her pregnancy, Kaegan had advanced enough in his studies to be placed in his correct grade, leaving them two grades behind. But he didn't forget them. Although his school day ended half an hour sooner than theirs, he would hang around just to walk Vashti and Bryce home every day.
It was one of the times he could be with her. He would reach Bryce's house first and then cut through the woods to get to Vashti's place. On some days before she got home, she and Kaegan would take the small boat he kept hidden over to Eagle Bend Inlet. It was there that Kaegan had taught her how to kiss and where they'd made love for the very first time.
"You've gotten quiet, Bryce. What are you thinking about?"
She glanced over at Vashti. Instead of answering, she asked a question of her own. "Where's your husband? Shouldn't you be with him instead of here pestering me?"
Vashti laughed. "I am not pestering you and you know it. But to answer your question, Sawyer got a call and had to leave, so I'm going to need a ride home."
Vashti was married to the town's sheriff. "No problem. Just let me know when you're ready to go."
"Hmm, there might be a problem."
Bryce lifted an eyebrow. "What?"
"After Kaegan's parties, Sawyer and I usually stay behind and help him put stuff away and clean up. So that means ..."
Bryce frowned, having an idea where this conversation was going. "It means nothing. Kaegan can tidy up his own place. Besides, I'm sure that woman over there in the white top and jeans would be glad to stay back and help him. She's been keeping her eyes on him the entire night."
"You noticed, I see."
"How could I not notice?" Bryce refused to consider the tinge of resentment she was feeling had anything to do with jealousy. She dated and so did Kaegan. They meant nothing to each other anymore.
"I noticed you've been keeping your eyes on him a lot tonight, as well," Vashti pointed out. Deciding not to give Bryce time to say anything, since it was obvious that she was in one of those bash-Kaegan moods, she said, "Now back to the issue of helping Kaegan tidy up. With the three of us working together it won't take long to get his place back in order. You and I can pack up the food while Kaegan breaks down all the patio tables and tents."
"Why can't he do it by himself?" Bryce asked.
"Because we're his friends and should help him."
"Speak for yourself, Vash."
"No, I'm speaking for the both of us, Bryce. Stop being difficult."
"I'm not being difficult."
"Yes, you are."
Okay, maybe she was, but when it came to Kaegan Chambray, she felt she had every right to be difficult. She'd told Vashti some of what had happened, but she hadn't told her all of it. Bryce frowned at Vashti. "Honestly, Vash. There are times when you really do push the bounds of our friendship."
"I do not."
"Yes, you do."
"What's the big deal, since you claim you're over Kaegan?" Vashti quipped.
"I am over him."
"Then act like it and not like a woman still carrying a torch after ten years."
Bryce didn't say anything. Did she really act that way? That was the last impression she wanted to give anyone, especially Kaegan. "Fine, but I still plan to ignore him."
Vashti shook her head and smiled. "You always do."
Kaegan Chambray glanced around and saw that everyone had left. It had been another great party. The food was good and there had been plenty of it. The September weather had cooperated. Tents had been set up outside, and huge buckets of seafood — blue crabs, shrimp, crawfish and lobster — had been served, as well as ribs cooked on the grill.
When he had a cookout, it was for his employees, although he always included his friends. He liked rewarding his workers whenever they broke sales records or if the company got a big business deal. He felt it was a good incentive. He also believed in giving his employees bonuses. That pretty much assured he was able to retain workers who were dependable and loyal.
He turned to look out at the bayou, which was practically in his backyard. As far as he was concerned, there was no better place to live. Those who called the bayou their home had a culture all their own. The people were a mixture of influences, such as Spanish, French, German, African, Irish and, in his case, Native American. Those with predominantly French ancestry still spoke the language. Together all the various groups made up the foundation of the Cajun culture.
"If you need help with anything, Kaegan, I will be glad to stay behind and help."
Kaegan turned to find Sasha Johnson. He thought she'd left. Her brother, Farley, worked on one of his boats. Sasha had moved to the cove a few months ago after a bitter divorce to live with Farley. Kaegan had invited both siblings to the party, but Farley was battling a cold. Sasha had come alone. "Thanks for the offer, but I can manage."
"It was a nice party, Kaegan."
"Thanks." Landing the Chappell account had given him a reason to celebrate. His representative had been courting the huge restaurant chain for years, as Kaegan wanted to get in as their seafood supplier. Then out of the clear blue sky he'd gotten a call this summer. The Chappell Group needed more fresh seafood than their present supplier could provide and wanted to know if Chambray Seafood Shipping Company could deliver. Kaegan had said that he could and he had.
It had taken a full week of long harvesting hours, but in the end he and his crew had delivered, and the Chappell Group had remembered. When their contract with the other supplier ended, they had come to him with an awesome deal.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Finding Home Again"
Copyright © 2019 Brenda Streater Jackson.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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