Forgiving Her First Love
BOOK 2 in the Raven's Cove Trilogy
They have a past they’d both rather forget…
When Logan Fraser arrives to save the marina she manages, Sophie Peterson is skeptical that she can count on him. She spent her childhood crushing on Logan, and they even had a brief affair when he came back to Raven’s Cove the summer she graduated high school, but he left again, breaking her heart.
Logan escaped Raven’s Cove to design luxury yachts. He was done with the relentless rain and a childhood of feeling responsible for other people’s unhappiness. His mother stuck out her difficult marriage for Logan’s sake, even when his father had yet another affair. By the time Sophie looked to Logan for happiness, he knew it was every man for himself.
Now Logan’s profligate father has died, leaving him an orphaned sister and a financial mess that demands a Herculean effort with with his estranged brothers to resolve. He needs Sophie’s help, but her priorities are her son, grandfather and sanity. Still, she needs the job, but she’ll never trust Logan again.
Forgiving Her First Love
BOOK 2 in the
Raven's Cove Trilogy
This book will begin shipping and
July 16, 2024.
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Why are you making this such a big deal? This house is close to the marina and the baby. It’s convenient. You and I are adults and there are two other people here. Surely, we can get along for three weeks.
— Logan, Forgiving Her First Love
If you love a good grovel, you will love this book. It’s basically one long comeuppance for the hero, Logan.
Sophie had a crush on Logan her whole life, from the first day of school when he picked up her sweater and brushed off the grass. It culminated in a brief affair the summer she graduated high school. Then he left Raven’s Cove without her.
Now he’s back and he needs her to keep working for him at the marina. She’s a single mom looking after her elderly grandfather. She needs her job, but she doesn’t need Logan and his playboy smile. Not anymore. Or does she?
This is my very favorite trope of two people who are so deep in love, they can’t even think straight, but they will not admit it. Enjoy!
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Forgiving Her First Love
As Logan Fraser stepped out into the overcast day, he wondered how he had thought getting pissed to the gills last night would help his situation. He was so hungover, he was liable to throw up in the weeds before he’d walked to the end of the driveway, let alone all the way to the marina.
Before he had crawled out of bed this morning, he had thought yesterday was the worst day of his life. That fact was, ‘worst days’ had been growing exponentially since he’d received the call three days ago that his father had been killed in a small plane crash.
Logan had immediately departed the sunny humidity of the Florida Keys to wake jet-lagged in the frigid damp of Victoria, BC. When he had arrived at the lawyer’s office yesterday, and met up with his two half brothers, Reid and Trystan, he’d had to let go of his dim hope that Wilf Fraser’s death was an April Fool’s Day prank. Their father’s death had become all too real, especially when they were introduced to their baby half sister.
Quarter sister? What did you call it when your father made a fourth child with yet another woman? No matter how they were related, Storm was literally a baby, one who had crapped all over a boardroom table and, metaphorically, all over their lives.
The reading of Wilf’s will had forced Logan to accept that his father was genuinely dead, and that he would never get to tell him what he really thought of him.
Maybe that was for the best, since what Logan thought kept changing. As the gravity of Dad’s finances had piled up, so had Logan’s acrimony. It had reached critical mass when they’d been forced to fly up here to Raven’s Cove, a tiny island among many in the middle of the BC coast.
Traipsing around the collection of buildings they had called home throughout their childhood, they had discovered things were far, far worse here than the lawyers and accountants in Victoria had warned. The house they’d grown up in was showing its age. Wilf’s almost wife, Tiffany, had started making updates, but the renovation had been halted mid-construction due to nonpayment of invoices.
It was the same story at the lodge where sports fisherman had always filled the utilitarian rooms, topping up the company coffers while they caught their limit. Tiffany had talked Wilf into upgrading the whole resort, hoping to draw higher-end visitors and ecotourism.
She was trying to gentrify a truck stop roadhouse on the otherwise desolate West Coast. Raven’s Cove was a place to gas up, restock the galley, or get an emergency repair. Plenty of summer traffic was leisure craft, sure, but they were headed to more populous places like Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii, and farther north to Alaska.
Raven’s Cove’s lifeblood was commercial fishing vessels or other working boats. No one flew this far for a family vacation that didn’t offer roller coasters or white sand beaches. There were more accessible places to go whale watching.
Tiffany seemed to have taken an “if you build it” attitude, but who knew what she had been thinking? She had lost her life in the same plane crash.
Logan and his brothers had flown here to Raven’s Cove expecting to use the days leading up to their father’s service to prepare this place for sale and extract an inheritance—not for themselves, but for their sister.
Wilf had given each of his sons money for school when they had left for university. They’d all used it wisely. Logan had expected Wilf to use his own money wisely, not throw it away on costly upgrades that left the whole place under water.
Selling Raven’s Cove wouldn’t cover it’s debts. No, they had to bring this place back into the black so they could sell it at a profit or there would be nothing for Storm’s upbringing and headstart as an adult. There was no one to physically look after her, either. Aside from the three of them, she had a nanny who trembled more than a chihuahua on a frosty morning, and an absent aunt who may or may not be in trouble with the law.
Logan didn’t know how they would turn this place around and find her a guardian, only that it had to be done. That overwhelming reality was sitting like radioactive waste in his stomach.
Of course, that curdled sensation might also be the cheap scotch and IPA chasers he’d downed last night. Or the guilt baked into hating a man who was beloved by all the people who had stuck around and spent time with him.
Logan passed Moody, the short order cook, heading into the pub. He also looked worse for wear after last night, stubbled and heavy-lidded, but he smiled and waved. Last night, Moody had told Logan that Wilf had paid for him to go to Rupert for some much-needed dental work last year. Quinley, one of the servers, said Wilf had covered the consultation fee for a divorce lawyer, when her ex-husband had tried to move their kids to Nova Scotia.
Umi was coming out of the coffee shop as Logan passed it.
“Morning.” She waved and turned into the first door on the marina building, heading up the stairs inside to the resort office where she ran accounting. She had told them that Wilf had paid her salary without interruption, even when her pregnancy complications had forced her onto bedrest.
Randy, the apprentice marine mechanic, was opening the hardware store that fronted the machine shop. He had screwed up his dates and missed an exam, nearly putting his certification back a semester. Wilf had paid the fee to write the makeup test and arranged for him to get back to Nanaimo to do it.
Everyone seemed to have a story like that, and they had all been eager to share them with Logan and his brothers. Maybe they had thought it would help with the grief, but mostly they left Logan feeling more infuriated with his father than ever.
Wilf had always been a spendthrift. He had wanted to be loved, so he had purchased affection. How could they not see that? If he was so compassionate, how had he been so stupidly thoughtless so many times to the people he was supposed to love?
As he rounded the corner of the marina building and looked at the boatyard in the watery light of morning, all Logan saw was the giant mess that Wilf had left, one that he and his brothers would have to clean up.
Oh Christ. He wasn’t going to make it upstairs to the marina office. He’d only had coffee, but it refused to stay down. Better to lose it out here, rather than inside.
He hurried behind the brick building and leaned a hand against a tree trunk while he retched out all sorts of poor life decisions.
Above him, where the road rose up the bank toward the one-room schoolhouse, a young voice asked, “Are you okay?”
This was why he loathed this town. It wasn’t even a town. It was a hundred and fifty people living cheek by jowl in a cluster of houses around a marina. The military had built this place on First Nations land during World War II, to service the navy. It was still the only place to repair a boat within a day’s sail from anywhere. Nobody wanted to be here. If your boat broke down, you were stuck here. It shouldn’t be a sentence, but for most it was.
Not him, though. Nope. No way. He was giving it one week. That’s all.
Please let it only be one week.
“I’m fine,” he lied, spitting and straightening to look up at the boy of seven or eight. He wore a blue raincoat with dinosaur skeletons on it, rubber boots, and a red backpack.
“My mom gives me ginger ale when I’m sick. Do you want some?”
“You got some in your backpack?” Something in the kid’s big, earnest eyes tickled a memory in Logan’s chest.
“No.” He chuckled. “I can go to the store for you.”
“Thanks, but I’m not sick. I’m suffering the consequences of my actions.” A cold ginger ale sounded amazing, though.
“I thought you were having a hangover.”
“I do have a hangover. How do you know what a hangover is?”
“My grandpa has one. Mom is really mad.”
Oh shit. Now he was going to retch for an entirely different reason.
Those eyes. He knew those eyes way too well. And that helpful personality, the one that wanted to take care of him. His entire youth and a very hot angry week in his early twenties had been cushioned by big brown eyes exactly like those ones.
A piledriver had arrived to pound the knowledge into the back of his screaming skull, reminding him that yesterday was not the worst day of his life. That would be today, but he still asked with faint hope, “Who’s your grandpa, little man?”
“Thought so. I was drinking his scotch last night.” He regretted it even more now.
“Is that like butterscotch? Is it good?”
“Not really. Your mom is Sophie Hughes?”
“Mmm-hmm.” He nodded his head inside the hood of his raincoat.
“How old are you?” Logan was doing math that he’d done several times. The first time had been eight years ago, when his mother had told him Sophie was pregnant. He’d run the same figures four years later, when he’d seen her at his mother’s wedding. Sophie had been there with another man and a preschooler who had disappeared after an hour. She had ignored Logan the entire evening.
“And who’s your dad?”
“Nolan Yantz. Do you want to know my name?”
“Brian?” Logan recollected vaguely.
“Everyone thinks that. No. It’s Biyen. Bye-En,” he pronounced slowly. “My dad picked it.” In the distance, the school bell rang. He looked up the hill. “I should go or I’ll be marked late.”
“Okay. Seeya later.” I’m going to stand here and lose a little bit more of the guts your mother hates.
Sophie wouldn’t have lied to him about something as important as whether he was the father of her kid. He had to believe that. She wouldn’t have lied to her mother or his. Not to her grandfather, either. Or her own kid.
Which meant she really had leapt from his bed into another man’s, despite a crush on him that had lasted a decade. A crush he had crushed beneath his Nike runners on his way to the ferry slip.
He had no right to be hurt or disgusted or even curious about her life or her son. He was the one who had left. He would do it again inside of a week.
Whatever had been between him and Sophie back in the day was very much over.
But his belly twisted with one more spasm. He had another spit before he rallied himself to walk inside and face her.
Two and a half months later…
Like everything these days, Sophie was late putting in the potatoes. She should have been turning this soil three weeks ago, but the weather had been nothing but rain and work at the marina had been an equal deluge.
Today, however, she finally had dry weather and a full day off.
It wasn’t the worst way to spend it. She liked physical work. It was satisfying and gave her time to think. Or not. As she jumped on the shovel and levered the clumps out, the noise in her head faded. She absorbed the smell of the earth while a breeze meandered off the water down at the eastern edge of Gramps’s property, floating up the sun-warmed hill to caress her arms and legs. A raven squawked as it commuted overhead and bees buzzed into the nearby chives that came up all on their own.
“No,” she said reflexively. Belligerently, because she didn’t have to look to know who had spoken. Much to her chagrin, she had been reacting to Logan Fraser from the time he had picked up her sweater on the first day of school and brushed the grass from it before handing it back to her.
“It’s my day off,” she added, even though her irritation was more about the fact he’d caught her in cut-off bib overalls with only a faded tank top beneath. She was wearing gloves and heavy boots and hadn’t made any effort to tame her hair before rolling it into a messy topknot.
Why did she care? She had never been a girly girl, didn’t wear makeup, and he saw her in shapeless coveralls every day at work.
Also, he didn’t care. He’d made that so clear, so many times.
“I promised Gramps I’d get the potatoes in.” She jumped on the blade of her shovel again.
“It’s not work. It’s something else.”
“Then definitely no. I only talk to you about work.” At twenty-six, she was finally learning how to set clear boundaries.
“I need to stay here.”
The dirt rolled off the blade of her shovel. She held the handle in her lax hand as she turned to look at him.
He was annoyingly sexy, of course, wearing a striped button-down shirt with his sleeves rolled up his forearms. His linen trousers had a knife-sharp crease pressed into them and were rolled up to reveal his naked ankles in deck shoes. Being summer, he only allowed his stubble to grow in for a few days before shaving it off. This morning it was a light coat of glinting bronze, tidily precise down the slope of his cheeks and clean on his neck and under his jaw. His blue eyes were not the least bit apologetic or even entreating as he met her affronted gaze.
“This isn’t a B and B anymore.” Her mother had run it as one on and off, but that had been years ago. Much as Sophie would greedily accept extra cash working overtime at the marina, she didn’t have the bandwidth for cooking and cleaning up after strangers or making the necessary chitchat.
“There’s nowhere else. Not at this time of year. The lodge is buried in renovations, the completed rooms are booked. Anything else has to be used for contractors so they can stay and finish the rest.”
“Is this because Reid and Emma are married now? Are they asking for privacy or something?” She glanced up the hill toward the house on the bluff where the Fraser boys had grown up.
Logan’s older brother had married Sophie’s best friend, Emma, a month ago. Initially they’d been trying to turn Emma from Storm’s nanny into her stepmother, but they’d fallen in love, and good for Emma. She deserved to be loved by someone great. Reid was uptight and wore a resting-glower face, but he seemed to think Em was the cat’s pajamas so that’s all that mattered to Sophie.
“I wish they’d start giving a shit about privacy,” Logan muttered.
Sophie bit back a smirk. She had noticed the pair locked lips a lot, no longer caring if they had an audience. Reid couldn’t seem to walk by his new wife without rubbing her ass like it was a magic lantern, and Emma had taken to wearing low-cut tops and lip gloss on her way to see him at the office.
“Emma’s family is coming,” Logan continued. “Her mom and niece and nephew. They need the beds at the house.”
Oh. Right. Sophie had forgotten about that.
“Don’t you have a fancy boat you can sleep on?”
“Much as I would love to go back to Florida and sleep in my own bed on my own yacht, I can’t. I leased it to help pay for all of this shit.” He waved to indicate the marina and resort, out of sight behind the hillock where the road at the end of her driveway meandered toward the village.
Sophie had meant the shiny new tour boats that also belonged to the resort, but the casual way he threw out “my own yacht” irritated her. She ought to be proud of him and his brothers. They were local boys who had done well. They’d grown up here with roughly the same start she’d had. Granted, Wilf had handed them a six-figure check to get them through school and on their way to building a life. She hadn’t had that leg up, but she could have had a very different life right now if she had made some smarter choices along the way.
Don’t, her inner mama bear warned. She would never regret Biyen and would never ever regret that her mother had lived long enough to hold her grandson. Still, Sophie had caught some really shitty breaks over the years while Logan had lived his best life after refusing to bring her into it.
Which was for the best, she insisted to herself. If a man wasn’t prepared to build a life with you, then the best thing to do was walk away from him. She’d learned that with Biyen’s father.
“I’ll still take my shifts with Storm,” Logan said.
“You guys are still doing that?” Days after they had arrived, Logan’s mother, Glenda, had come along with her nursing background and no-nonsense parenting. She had laid out a schedule for the men to look after their sister in twelve-hour rotations. As much as Emma wanted to be Storm’s mother, she had been hired as a nanny, so they could only rely on her for a standard forty hours a week.
“As my mother has made very clear”—Logan looked for his patience in the fluffy clouds overhead—“Emma marrying Reid does not miraculously give her more time in her day for childcare. I don’t mind,” he conceded with a twist of his lips. “The little turnip is growing on me.”
Storm was cute as a bowtie on a bunny, that was a true fact. Seeing one of these grown-ass men wandering around with her in a sling put a smile on faces all over the village, but Sophie was determined to remain impervious to whatever paternal instincts Logan was developing. They were transitory. He was transitory.
“Between Storm and work, I’ll only be here to sleep,” he pressed. “It’s only for a few weeks.”
“That’s what you said when you showed up here ten weeks ago! ‘It’s only for a week.’” She stomped the shovel back into the dirt.
“You think I don’t know that? Look.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “As much as I would love to fuck right off, I can’t. There’s a chance that Tiffany’s sister will show up and try to take custody of Storm.”
“What?” Sophie almost dropped the shovel altogether.
Logan gave a shrug-nod that said, Yeah, can you believe that shit?
“But Reid and Emma are adopting her.”
“Not until Em’s immigration papers are sorted. It’s a whole thing.” He sighed heavily. “Trys and I have agreed to stay the rest of the summer. We might need money for a court challenge so we have to get this place turning a profit, in case we need to sell it like that.” He snapped his fingers.
Sophie reflexively shoved aside that disturbing possibility. Wilf had been a wildcard of a boss, but he’d been the devil she knew, and he had said many times that this was his home and he intended to die here. Which he kind of had.
The threat of selling had been hanging over her head since the Fraser brothers had returned, though. She had pushed it onto a back burner, unwilling to stress about it until it happened.
“When did you learn this?”
“A few days ago.”
“How’s Emma?” Sophie tightened her grip on the shovel as she looked to the house on the hill again. Em had fallen hard for the baby she had been hired to nanny six months ago. When Wilf and Tiffany had died on the way to their elopement, Emma’s first words to Sophie had been a fearful, What will happen to Storm? A custody challenge must be freaking her out.
“She’s handling it, now that she knows we’re all committed to keeping her and Storm, together. It’ll take time for everything to iron out, though. Meanwhile, I need a room.”
“Why here?” she demanded.
“For Christ’s sake, Sophie. Why are you making this such a big deal? This house is close to the marina and the baby. It’s convenient. You and I are adults and there are two other people here. Surely, we can get along for three weeks. I’ll pay rent,” Logan said with exasperation.
“I pay rent! I buy groceries and cook and clean for Gramps. Him. It’s his house, in case you didn’t know.”
“I do know. He’s the one who said I could stay. This is a courtesy call, not a request.”
Seriously, Gramps? Seriously?
She stabbed the shovel into the dirt and stomped on it. “I guess I could quit and leave. There’s a job in Comox I was thinking of applying for.”
“You’re not quitting,” he said tiredly. “You won’t leave Art. He won’t leave the island. You’re stuck here, same as me. Let’s both accept that and move on.”
“Oh, you’re very good at that, aren’t you?” she muttered.
“Are you really saying that to me?”
They held a glower a little too long. Something squirmed in her stomach that was both culpable and defiant, burning hot and uncomfortably cold. There was a sting of shame, yet a dark pride in having provoked that small show of resentment from him.
But aside from antagonistic bickering, they didn’t talk about the past.
Boundaries. Good fences and all that.
He was supposed to stay on his side, though, in that house up on the hill, not in her freaking attic bedroom.
“How long is Emma’s family staying?” she asked begrudgingly.
“Three weeks,” he repeated.
“Is Reid likely to survive that?”
“It’ll be fun to watch and see.”
“Where is Trystan staying while they’re here?”
“On the Storm Ridge.” It was one of the pair of tour boats that had been part of Tiffany’s Great Revitalization Plan. Poor Trys, who was a loner at heart, was now hosting tourists on five-day cruises.
“It’s booked to the gunwales and gone half the week so I can’t stay there with him,” Logan reminded her. “But Reid and Emma are taking her family on one of the tours so I’ll stay at the house with Storm while they’re gone. See? Once the math shakes out, I’ll be here for ten sleeps. Max.”
“Are they leaving Storm with you?” She pulled her bottom lip in a wide, Yikes.
“I thought we agreed to keep things civil.”
She rolled her eyes.
“I’m not cooking for you,” she stated. “I’m not picking up your socks and washing your underwear.”
She was accepting her fate was what she was doing. Damn it, Gramps.
“Buy your own groceries,” she added. “Don’t swear in front of Biyen. Don’t even think of getting between the two of us. Ever,” she warned in a dangerous voice. “And don’t get Gramps drunk. A beer at the end of the day is fine, but—”
“That was one time. I’ve barely had anything to drink myself since then.”
“That is not the story those flats of beer cans told when Biyen did his bottle drive for school last Saturday.”
“Those were Emma’s,” he lied shamelessly. Sophie knew Emma drank wine because they often polished a bottle between them. There wasn’t a lot to do here. Drinking was a popular hobby.
“I’m saying if you want to have a piss-up, do it elsewhere,” she warned. “This isn’t a party house.”
“Aye-aye, Cap’n. Anything else?”
“No shop talk. If you want my professional opinion, call me in and pay me for it. But not today. It’s my day off. And who is minding the hardware store if you’re here?”
“Trys. I’m going to give that kid a try, by the way. The one you said was looking for a summer job. But Trystan has Storm so I should get back. I’ll bring my stuff over Sunday.”
“Can’t wait,” she muttered, and stomped the shovel into the earth once more.
If there was one thing that revved Logan’s engine, it was a scantily clad woman wielding tools. Heavy gloves and a low-neck top; naked arms operating a hammer drill; safety goggles and a ponytail… They all did it for him. When a tanned, flexed calf muscle wore a smudge of dirt above a steel-toed boot, he was pretty much done. Cooked like Sunday dinner.
When it was Sophie? That got complicated real fast. She worked for him, among other reasons.
But she was objectively hot with a figure toned by physical labor. She twisted wrenches and carried propellers and machined drive shafts all day. She had the confidence to stare him down and she had so many freckles. When he looked at her kinky red hair, he always remembered the way it had caught in his combing fingers back when—
Don’t, he warned himself for the millionth time.
In fact, her grandfather had made it clear there would be no funny business on his watch.
You need a bed, you always have one under my roof, Art had said. But you aren’t sharing Sophie’s. Not unless she invites you, and you damned well better be fixing to stay there if that happens. I won’t have a repeat of eight years ago.
Had he meant Sophie getting pregnant? Logan didn’t intend to make any kids, ever. He wasn’t his father, willy-nilly with his willy. His resolve had been strengthened by these last weeks of caring for his little sister. Babies were a complete pain in the ass.
He pulled the door open on the hardware store and heard Storm let out a cry of genuine pain.
A jolt of alarm went through him because babies were also helpless and fragile and wormed their way into the rotten-cored apple of your heart even when you wished they wouldn’t.
“What happened?” Logan hurried to the counter where Trystan stood with their seven-month-old sister strapped in the sling against his chest. She faced out and her face was crumpled up while her staccato cries pierced the air.
Tall, dark, and unflappable Trystan was holding her hand, examining her tiny, wet finger while a customer stood before the counter wearing a look of tested patience. The customer glanced hopefully at Logan, but Logan was more concerned about Storm.
“You have more teeth now,” Trystan chided the baby. “It’s going to hurt if you chew whatever you put in your mouth.”
Storm sniffled down to a whimper as she noticed Logan. She gave him a very pitiful look as she held out her hand to him, entreating him to fix it since Trystan had failed her.
She was their father’s daughter, very quick to switch affections, always willing to love the one she was with, especially if they loved her back.
Logan was starting to think he might, damn it.
The customer held up a valve, asking Trystan. “So, this one?”
“That should do it.” Trystan nodded. “If you need to come back and exchange it, that’s no problem.” Trystan rang it through, then gave Storm’s tummy a comforting pat as the man left. “Okay now, Jaws? If you’d quit dropping your teething ring in the dirt, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
“Want me take her?” Logan held out his hands.
Storm smiled and kicked with excitement, exactly as he had known she would.
Trystan grunted and caught her feet.
“I don’t think that game is as funny as you do.” He clasped her in one firm arm while he released the buckles on the sling. “I need to adjust these straps again. Either she’s growing or your balls are a lot droopier than mine. How come you never get sacked when you wear this thing?”
“I wear a cup.” He didn’t. And he got sacked on the regular when he carried her.
Logan took Storm while Trystan fiddled with the straps and buckles.
They’d been here ten weeks, Sophie had said. In some ways it sounded like forever, but he couldn’t believe how much this mix of sunshine and vinegar had changed in that time. She moved nonstop and was grabbing at everything. When she was on the floor, she scooted around, trying to crawl. She knew their names because when he said, “Where’s Trystan?” she turned her head to look for him.
She was strong enough to hold herself in a plank like a figure skater when Logan held her over his head—careful to watch for sudden spills out of those grinning lips.
“How’d it go?” Trystan asked.
Logan had asked him to cover for him while he went to “see a man about a room.” He had known Sophie would rather dig him a grave to sleep in. That’s why he’d walked over to tell her himself, away from work while her kid was at school. It had gone exactly as well as he’d expected.
“Art’s letting me stay with them,” he said very casually.
Trystan dropped the carrier back onto the counter. “No.”
“Tell me about my options.” Logan refused to sound defensive. “I could couch-surf, but we’re trying to make people believe we have our shit together. The lodge is overbooked. We need every contractor and laborer housed here so they can solve that problem for us. I looked into sleeping in one of the salvage boats in the boneyard. They all smell like rotten kelp and lung disease. Art was here yesterday, I asked him if he knew of anyone renting a room and he said I could stay in Biyen’s playroom. It has a bed. Mom slept there when she was here for Dad’s service.”
“What about Sophie?”
“What about her? Why are you so possessive of her?” He scowled at Trystan as Trys took Storm. “Maybe you’re the one we should be worried about where she’s concerned.”
“So we agree she ought to be worried about? I’m not possessive, I’m protective. She’s my friend.”
“She’s my friend, too.”
“She has never been your friend.” Trystan was pulling the sling back into place with one arm, firmly holding Storm against his chest with the other. “She had a hard case of hero worship that you encouraged because it fed your ego. Then you screwed her and left. That’s not how I treat my friends.”
“Is that what she said happened?”
“She didn’t have to.”
“Well, you have your facts wrong.” Not that wrong. He’d been immature and selfish. He knew that. But, “I’m not talking about her with you. Especially when you left this place on your own high horse, same as Reid and I did. Quit acting like your loyalty runs any deeper than our shallow ponds. Sophie and I are fine. That’s all you need to know.”
They were not fine. They got on with it, as Emma would say. They behaved like grown-ups when talking about work, bickered when it wasn’t, and spent a lot of time ignoring the elephant that took up all the air in any room they occupied together.
It was kind of exhausting to keep everything so filtered and corralled, to be honest. Hopefully, they could alleviate some of that while he was staying with her.
“I also told her we’re staying longer,” he admitted.
That decision had only happened a couple of days ago, on the heels of the news about Tiffany’s family. Or rather, the sister who seemed to comprise all that remained of Tiffany’s family.
“I thought Emma would have told her by now.”
“Sophie’s been busy at work.” The marina was nonstop this time of year. “Randy went back to Nanaimo for his final semester and exams.” When Logan had realized Sophie hadn’t had a proper day off in more than two weeks, he had insisted she take today.
Had he hoped that would put her in a slightly more receptive mood to his moving in? Sure. But he was also trying to at least glance at the labor standard laws.
Trystan did a safety check, running his hands across all the catches on the sling, ensuring Storm was firmly secured to his front before he released her and gathered her diaper bag onto his shoulder.
“I wish I wasn’t going to be away half the summer, but I guess we’re doing what we can, right?”
“Get those tours turning a profit. Or at least breaking even.” It would take years for the boats to be paid for, but they were already taking bookings for next season, which was promising.
Logan gave a quick wipe of his fingertip across Storm’s drooling chin, no longer squeamish about all the goop that came out of this kid.
No, he was far more apprehensive of what might happen with her aunt. And disturbed by how relieved he’d been when he and Trystan had agreed to stay.
He didn’t like it here. He wanted to go back to Florida. Didn’t he?
Storm, the little piranha, grabbed his finger and bit it.
Sophie hurried to finish planting the potatoes, not even showering before she hiked up the trail to the Fraser house.
This house had seemed like a castle the first time she’d seen it, when her mother had brought her here twenty years ago. Gramps’s house was a modest homestead on the flats above the high-water mark, accessed by a lane that wound behind the bluff from the village. This one was perched to overlook the cove and marina.
After losing her husband to a logging accident, Janine Hughes had brought her young daughter to Raven’s Cove, where her father, Art, had been running the marina. Janine had taken a job at the general store, and Sophie had started kindergarten at the one-room schoolhouse up the hill.
Sophie could still remember how awed she had been when she had learned that boy lived in this house. Heading into her very first day of school, she had been intimidated by the rambunctious kids who were big and loud and all knew each other’s names. She had accidentally dropped her sweater and that boy had picked it up to give it back to her.
When school let out that day, on the teacher’s instruction, he had escorted her to the general store. The only other child her age, Trystan, had come with them.
“We live up there,” Trystan had said, pointing to where Reid was striding up the driveway ahead of them, moving with purpose and ignoring his younger brothers.
Reid had never been mean, but he’d never been warm or friendly, mostly keeping to himself. Trystan had become her playmate, disappearing regularly to spend time with his mother’s family, but always paired up with her for lessons, becoming a reliable companion and confidante.
Logan had been godlike, outgoing, and full of jokes. He’d been allowed to say, “Let’s go look at the boats,” and run down to the wharf with his little brother.
Sophie had had to sit at a table by the window in the general store, practicing her printing while her mother finished her shift.
Those early memories of watching Logan disappear down the ramp had ignited her interest in boats and their engines. Her grandfather had nurtured it, eventually taking her down to the wharf himself, then bringing her into the repair shop. Had he ever guessed the real source of her passion for marine mechanics?
Working alongside her grandfather meant seeing Logan. His passion for watercraft—how they were shaped and crafted and propelled—was in his DNA.
She had fallen in love with Logan the way a puppy imprinted on an alpha dog. She cringed thinking of how obvious she’d been with her terminal case of adoration. It had lasted all through their school years and might have been killed by teasing from her schoolmates if Reid and Trystan hadn’t stepped in at different times, telling other kids to, “Shut up. She can like who she wants.”
The fact her mother had been best friends with Glenda, Logan’s mother, had made it worse. So had her close friendship with Trystan. Sophie’s life had been so intertwined with Logan’s, it had made a romantic connection with him seem sensible and feasible. Inevitable. As though they were meant to be together.
She had completely taken for granted that they would marry and live happily ever after.
Meanwhile, he had left the minute he could, same as Reid had done before him. Same as Trystan did after him. All without any intention of coming back.
Glenda had put it nicely, saying the Fraser boys were “restless spirits.” A more accurate statement was that they had had a very complicated relationship with their father and each other. That was no surprise, given they had all been born from different mothers and crammed into the same house where Logan’s mother, Glenda, insisted they all get along. They had done their best for her sake, then got the hell out the minute they could.
Sophie had been convinced, deep in her heart, that Logan would come back for her, though.
Sure enough, as he was heading into his final year at university, he had returned. Glenda had finally had enough of Wilf’s cheating. Logan came back to help her move to Port Hardy.
Sophie had just graduated high school. She had been accepted at a trade school in Nanaimo, planning to become a marine mechanic. In some ways, it was a formality. Like Logan, she’d been learning at Art’s knee, sent into diesel-infused engine rooms from the time she could hold a wrench. Maybe she didn’t love boats the way Logan did, but she liked the work. She was good at it. It was a solid living, especially for a woman, and she found the work satisfying.
Three long, yearning years had slipped by at that point. Her feelings toward Logan hadn’t shifted one iota. If anything, they’d been fed and watered by fantasies of their making a future together.
The day he returned, he saw her. Really saw her. She had reveled in his surprise and sudden interest. They talked like equals. He asked her about her plans, and she told him she was leaving Raven’s Cove. He had congratulated her as though it was a huge accomplishment to move south seven hundred kilometers despite the fact he had chosen a school back east.
Their long catch-up that day had turned into a good night kiss. Several. They were as potent a match as Sophie had always believed they would be. She had always wanted him to be her first and, during a walk on the beach the next day, she asked him if he would be.
Logan had seemed startled but touched.
“Are you sure?” he had asked her a thousand times.
She had been more than certain. They were meant to be, weren’t they?
He had initiated her in a way that had seemed utterly perfect. Sexy and playful, tender and passionate. Maybe it hadn’t been exactly the way all those romance novels of her mother’s played out, but afterward, she’d been more in love than ever.
Then, two days later, when Glenda had flown to her new home in Port Hardy, and the trailer Logan was driving onto the ferry was loaded and locked, he had said good-bye.
Good luck at school. Make yourself a good life.
Sophie had packed a bag and caught up to him at the ferry slip. She would live with Logan while he finished university and go with him if he got into that program in Italy he was applying for. Trade school? Who needed it! She wanted their future together to start now.
Oh, to be that young and naïve. She had been so excited to surprise him with her decision. It was romantic, wasn’t it?
No, it definitely was not.
He had been floored that she thought he wanted her to come with him. Uncomfortable.
“You asked me to be your first, Sophie. Not your last.”
She shuddered, shaking off the ice water of that memory as she knocked on the door of the Fraser house.
She cracked the door seconds later, calling out, “Emma? You here? It’s me.”
“I’m downstairs,” Emma called.
The split level made the most of its position overlooking the cove and marina. It had plenty of windows and jutting decks, but stairs. Man, did it have stairs.
Sophie left her dirty boots on the stoop and slipped from the foyer through the living room to the kitchen, then down the stairs to the basement where Emma was folding laundry that she piled onto a bench press with a barbell across it.
“Who let you off your overtime chain?” Emma teased.
“I know. Logan’s covering the office, the store, and all the callouts today. Good luck with that,” she said with an eye-roll. “I live in terror that Randy will fail his exam and have to stay for another rewrite. Or won’t come back at all. That would actually kill me.”
“You really think he wouldn’t come back?”
“Forty-sixty?” She wavered her hand to indicate she didn’t like the odds. “He would have to pay the company for his tuition and everything, since we sponsored him, but he has a girlfriend in Nanaimo. And he has a wedding to go to. This is probably my only day off until he gets back in July.”
“And you used it to come see me?” Emma clutched a sleeper to her chest. “I’m touched.”
“Logan told me Storm’s aunt might make a play for custody? What’s going on with that?” Sophie shifted a box of framed photos off a paint-spattered kitchen chair and sat on it.
“I’m trying not to think about it.” Emma grimaced and shook out a receiving blanket covered in yellow ducks, halved it, then halved it again, before she ironed it down her front. She rolled it to the size of a burrito, then added it to the ones already in the basket. “I thought you and Logan only talk about work?”
“That’s the deal, but he told me they’re all staying longer. Gramps told Logan he can stay in our house,” she added with outrage.
“Because my family’s coming?” Guilt flashed across Emma’s oval face. “I’m sorry, mate. Does Art not realize you two lock horns?”
“Gramps has a soft spot for him.” For all the Fraser boys, really, but especially Logan. Logan had been more than a willing pupil. He’d extracted every scrap of knowledge he could from Gramps, but she suspected he’d confided in him, too. “Gramps probably feels he owes something to Wilf. They were friends all those years. And Glenda, for that matter. She used to come up to cook for Gramps when Mom was sick.”
Glenda had been a godsend throughout Sophie’s life, but especially while Janine had been in treatment. Sophie had been stretched thin between her new baby and her terminal mother, unable to travel up here to look after Gramps as well.
Neighbors help neighbors, was Gramps’s view. Especially in a small community like this one. If Logan needed a bed, then Gramps would give him one.
Sophie was less inclined to be neighborly, especially to him.
“Maybe we can figure out something else,” Emma murmured, moving along to the rumpus room that Logan had been sharing with Trystan until Emma had married Reid and moved out of the room she’d been using upstairs.
The basement had yet to benefit from the updates upstairs. Everything was tidy, but dated. In here, there was a distressed dresser, a television with slots for VHS and DVDs, and a sofa that turned into a bed. If Logan’s muttered remarks were anything to go on, that sofabed was a medieval torture device.
“Logan was going to set up his desk in here but hasn’t found the time or the right place. This room is too small for his desk once the bed is pulled out. I was planning for the kids to stay in here. Trystan stays in my old room on his nights with Storm, which is actually the room he used to share with Logan,” Emma said with a chuckle. “He’s mostly on the Storm Ridge now, but I’ll need it for Mom. I guess Logan will be on the bed in Storm’s room when he’s on shift.”
“They arrive this weekend, don’t they? Have you decided whether you’re going to Vancouver to meet them?”
“I am.” Conflict had her squinching up her nose. “I hate to leave Storm, but I’m excited to see the kids. I’ve missed them so much.”
Emma didn’t say she missed much from her life in New Zealand, but her niece and nephew were the top of the list when she did.
She frowned with concern. “I also have to ease Mom into the idea of all this without, you know, putting Storm in her arms from the jump. That dinosaur exhibit you suggested hasn’t started yet, by the way. We’ll try to catch it on the way back, but we’re going to the suspension bridge and the aquarium. Then we’ll fly here, mess around for a few days, go on the boat tour with Trystan, another few days here, then back to Vancouver before they fly home. It will go fast.”
“Maybe from your perspective. Logan’s going to be at my house most of that time.” Sophie quickly waved off her acrimony. “I’m just having a whinge.” Having Logan under her roof would stir up old feelings, ones she didn’t want to allow.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Emma searched her expression.
“No. It makes me feel too stupid.”
“Been there,” Emma said with a faint smile of empathy. She planted her hands on her hips and looked to the stairs. “We thought about making our walk-in closet into a temporary nursery, but that’s a lot of work and once Storm is in there, she might not want to go back to her old room.”
“Honestly, Em, it’s fine.” Sophie gave in to the inevitable. She hadn’t come here to plead her case anyway. She was far more concerned about what would happen to Storm and thus Emma.
Before she could pry any further on how Emma was coping, Emma asked, “Did you ask Biyen if he’d like to play with Immy and Coop while they’re here?” Imogen was Biyen’s age and Cooper had just turned five.
“He does, but he’s supposed to go camping with Nolan as soon as school finishes.”
“Oh? I thought…”
“I know. They usually go later in the summer, after Biyen’s birthday, but Nolan and Karma aren’t getting along.”
“Metaphysically?” Emma lifted intrigued brows.
“Yes?” Sophie brought her shoulders up to her ears. “Karma is his girlfriend.”
“But Nolan has never bought into the idea of cause and effect. Most people understand that if you move in with your girlfriend, but never pay rent, eventually she’ll kick you out. That blindsides him every time.”
“How does she pay rent? I thought she sold oils and crystals and such.”
“She does. She also works for BC Ferries. She wants to quit and open a store. I’m getting all this through Biyen, reading between the lines. She thinks Nolan should get on with the ferries and support her while she opens her own business, rather than, you know, him doing odd jobs for beer money and smoking weed all day.”
“Maybe she should have consulted her runes before she let him move in.”
“She should have consulted me,” Sophie said out of the side of her mouth, but they were both chuckling. God, she loved Emma for those deadpan dunks of hers.
“Does Nolan smoke pot around Biyen?” Emma tucked her chin with concern.
“No,” Sophie said firmly. “That’s a red line and he knows it. But it’s legal now and he used to bring it to Mom when she was in treatment so I can’t be too judgmental about him using it on his own time. Biyen knows what it is. I’ve talked to him about it and why I don’t want him to try it.”
Infuriatingly, Nolan was not a bad father. He might be lousy at paying taxes or even buying a cup of coffee if he could bum one, but he showed up regularly to take Biyen fishing or hiking or kite-flying. It might only be an afternoon, but his time with Biyen was almost always one-on-one, nurturing Biyen’s love of nature and sense of self-worth.
“Tell you what,” Emma said brightly. “After Mom and the kids leave, you and Biyen can move in here. Logan can stay with Art. Would that work?”
“I don’t hate that idea, but you might want to ask your husband first.”
“I’m just going to tell him. I want to see his face.”
They both knew Reid well enough that the mere idea had them bursting into laughter.
As Logan sat down with Reid, Trystan, and Emma, Emma said wistfully, “Our last dinner as a family for a while.”
She had roasted a prime rib, maybe to turn it into a bit of an occasion. Reid was pouring wine, looking for anyone else who wanted a glass.
“You sound like Glenda.” Trystan was offering spoonfuls of pureed carrot to Storm, but she was more interested in squashing the banana pieces on her tray.
“Because she called us a family?” Reid pointed a warning finger at Logan. “Do not accuse me of marrying your mother.”
“Glenda offered to come stay while I’m away,” Emma said as she passed the mashed potatoes.
“To look after us?” Logan asked dryly.
“Wait a minute. Are you our nanny?” Trystan circled his finger to indicate all three men. “Guys, we’ve had this all wrong.”
“To look after Storm,” Emma said impassively, ignoring their silliness.
“I’m insulted. Are you insulted?” Logan asked Reid.
“I feel my ability to parent has been slighted, yes,” Reid agreed.
“Glenda knows I won’t be here. Obviously, her faith in the two of you is somewhere below sea level.”
“She offered to clean the house and make some food so I could spend my time visiting with my family instead of cooking, but I’ll leave all of that in your capable hands, then.” Emma raised her brows at Logan in a silent, Ha. “Seeing as you don’t feel a need for assistance.”
“That is exactly something Mom would say,” Logan noted, curling his lip in annoyance.
“I take that as a compliment. I adore her.” Now Emma’s eyes were sparkling, her teeth flashing as she closed her smile over her fork.
“She’d probably like to meet your mom,” Reid said.
“She told me she would.” Emma nodded. “I explained we won’t have any spare beds once my family gets here.”
“She stayed with Art and Sophie when she was here for Dad’s service. They’d have her, wouldn’t they?”
Trystan’s cheeks went hollow. Emma gave the end of her nose a rub.
“What,” Reid demanded, looking at each of them in turn, ending up at Logan.
He refused to be a coward about it.
“Art invited me to stay with them while Emma’s family is here so there’s no room at that inn, either.”
Reid’s expression hardened. He slowly turned his attention back to Emma. “What does Sophie say about that?”
“Not much.” Emma shrugged.
“It’s nice that you all care so much about Sophie’s tender feelings but can we all take one step out of my private life and remember that it’s been eight years since Sophie and I—” Logan cut himself off as all eyes turned to look at him.
Even Storm turned her innocent, curious blue gaze onto him.
He refused to kiss and tell, but it was painfully obvious that Sophie wished him dead. He had thought she would have lightened up on her mad by now, but nope. That woman had a strong grip when it came to a grudge.
“Can we move on?” he said.
“You are her direct report,” Reid said without heat. “Moving into her home is a recipe for an HR issue.”
“Raven’s Cove is one long HR issue.” The hiring pool was microscopic. Even when they managed to recruit from afar, the isolation took a toll. Attrition was rampant, but hiring locals also had pitfalls. Firing someone who didn’t work out impacted their ability to pay rent, creating a domino effect through the community. Outside of work, affairs and personal conflicts were rife. “David Attenborough himself hasn’t seen this much raw, animal behavior.”
“You should set one of your episodes here, Trys,” Emma said with a wink.
“Too dangerous,” Trys assured her.
“There’s nothing else to rent,” Logan said, since Reid was continuing to glare at him. “You know what this place is like.”
“I know what Dad was like.”
“Says the guy who slept with our fucking nanny,” Logan shot back. “That apple fell right at the base of the tree, didn’t it?”
“As family dinners go, I’m starting to feel right at home,” Emma said with false brightness. “How are preparations coming for your first tour, Trys?”
Reid kept his gaze locked with Logan’s. “You’ll notice I married her.”
“Reid.” Emma touched his wrist. “Sophie is a grown-up. If she felt threatened by Logan being there, she would say so. Art wouldn’t put her in the way of harm.”
“Everything is done that can be done,” Trystan answered Emma. “Now we need to launch and work out the kinks. I’m glad we’ll have your bunch on board for one of our early trials. You’ll be more forgiving. And maybe do the dishes?”
Reid finally looked away, turning his attention to Trystan. He began quizzing him about staff. He was a big brother in the Orwellian sense sometimes, micromanaging in ways that drove Logan and Trystan nuts.
But as his brothers hashed out some fine points, Logan caught Emma watching him. Calm, sweet, compassionate Emma.
She didn’t say it, but he heard her all the same.
Watch your step, mate, or the next roast in my pan will be carved out of your sorry gut.