The Abundance Series Book 4
He’s struggling in his new role as a single parent to his twin nine-month-old nieces. She’d do anything to help those orphaned little girls, even if it means being around her former fiancé. Can Clay and Kristen move beyond past mistakes and rekindle their romance?
One way or another, freelance editor Kristen Hamlin will keep her word. She promised to raise her best friend’s baby girls, should the need ever arise, and she meant it. Obviously, the twins should never be given to their workaholic uncle. After all, he’s the same man who broke his engagement to Kristen so he could spend more time with his real love—computers. But when tragedy strikes, leaving the twins as orphans, Kristen discovers that the paperwork was never done. He’s the legal guardian.
Entrepreneur Clay Norris has his hands full, taking care of his twin nine-month-old nieces, not to mention running his computer-gaming company. To make matters worse, his former fiancée claims she should have been given custody of the twins—not him—and has now moved in next door. Coincidence? He thinks not.
The more time Clay and Kristen spend together, the more he realizes their breakup was a mistake. Can he convince her to give their love a second chance?
Read an Excerpt: Chapter One
Anyone could—if he or she put half a mind to it—leave the past behind and focus on the future. At least that’s what the self-help books all said.
It’s also what Kristen Hamlin kept telling herself as she climbed the porch steps of her sister’s antique shop.
And what she’d told herself for weeks, ever since she finished reading A Better You in Ninety Days.
But it didn’t feel like anything about her had changed.
At least not yet.
She blew out a long breath and opened the door of the shop, forcing her mood to lighten. After all, her sister was back in Missouri after her honeymoon, and it would be great to catch up with her again.
She stepped over the threshold, entering the former Victorian home that was now a shop filled with antiques. A blur of pink satin sped toward her.
“Aunt Kristen!” Five-year-old Emma, wearing a princess dress, long white gloves, and silver flip-flops, barreled down the hallway from the kitchen.
Kristen’s heart swelled with love as she knelt and gathered Emma into a hug, pressing a kiss into her red curls. “Hey, there, cutie pie.”
“Mommy and Nate are back!” Emma’s blue eyes danced. “They brought me seashells and a T-shirt and—”
“And she’s decided we should go on a honeymoon every June.” Abby came around a display of milk glass. “I get the impression Mom might have spoiled her a little while we were away.”
Yeah, Mom might have. Kristen might even have helped. But she wasn’t about to confess that to Abby.
“I’ve been sworn to secrecy,” Kristen said. “All I can report is that I watered the plants at your new house and kept the shop.” Which she’d enjoyed. The store was soothing, with its artfully arranged reminders of a simpler time, faint scent of furniture polish, and the gentle tick of the mantle clock in the front. No wonder customers frequently stopped in simply to look once more at a beautiful dresser or peruse the glass cases of antique costume jewelry.
“But I’m here, as promised, bright and early Monday morning, to give you an update on how sales went,” she said.
And putting her own work schedule on hold for a few hours while she did so. But since she worked as a freelance textbook editor, her hours were fairly flexible. If she couldn’t make time for her sister, what was the point of having that freedom?
Abby straightened a set of milk-glass punch cups that surrounded a matching punch bowl on a large Demilune table.
Kristen peered closer at her older sister. Shouldn’t Abby be glowing after a whole week alone with her handsome groom? And be happy that she and Nate and Emma had moved into their new house on the outskirts of Abundance?
Abby adjusted one more cup, then rested a hand on Emma’s shoulder and smiled down at her. “Sweetheart, why don’t you run upstairs and show your stuffed animals all your pretty new shells?”
“Okay, Mommy.” Emma picked up a turquoise beach pail and scampered up the stairs.
Abby’s gaze followed her, but her smile faded as the slap of Emma’s flip-flops grew fainter. “We need to talk,” she said quietly.
“Was there a problem on your trip?”
Abby’s hazel eyes lit. “No, it was lovely. Really lovely, but…” She led the way to a small seating area near the front of the store, a spot designed for weary shoppers to rest. “I popped over to Cassidy’s Diner to get us a treat.” She gestured to a carry-out container and glasses of ice tea on the coffee table. “And I heard all the latest here in Abundance. Including some bad news.”
Kristen sat on one end of a maroon velvet loveseat and picked up a napkin. “What is it?” She opened the carry-out box and put a cinnamon roll on a delicate, flowered plate.
Abby pulled her light-brown hair—almost blond after a week at the beach—between her hands at the base of her neck and smoothed it over one shoulder. “It’s about Gwen.” She sat down next to Kristen.
“Gwen?” Kristen put her plate on the table. Her high school best friend had recently planned a trip to Hawaii for her family and parents. “Was it the flight over? Was it too exhausting for her mom? Too hard with the babies?”
Abby shook her head, glanced down, then looked back up at Kristen, her eyes troubled. “I don’t know how to tell you this, sis, but Gwen…Gwen and her husband were both killed.”
Kristen’s mouth gaped. “What?”
“I’m so sorry.” Abby rested a hand on Kristen’s arm.
Kristen’s throat tightened, and her eyes stung. She numbly wiped frosting off the side of one finger and onto a napkin. “Killed? How?” This had to be a horrible mistake.
“They were on a helicopter tour with her parents, and the helicopter crashed. Her parents and the pilot survived, but Gwen and John…didn’t.”
Kristen’s eyes filled with tears.
Abby pulled her into a hug, holding her as teardrops streamed down her cheeks.
How could this be true? How could Gwen and John be gone? Just like that? She tried to recall her last words to her best friend. Maybe something like “Have a good time in Hawaii. Remember, I want a video of you trying to do the hula!” The last time they’d spoken, and she’d made fun of Gwen’s lack of dancing skills? Why couldn’t she have said how much their friendship meant to her?
After a few moments, Kristen drew in a ragged breath and scooted back. “Did you learn anything more?”
“Grace at the diner said Gwen’s dad broke both his legs. Her mom was pretty much okay. I mean, as okay as she was before.”
Kristen nodded slowly. Mrs. Norris had multiple sclerosis and had been having more issues lately. Gwen had planned the trip because her mom had always wanted to see Hawaii but wasn’t sure she’d have the energy or mobility to enjoy some of the sights for much longer.
“I—I—” Kristen dug a tissue from her pocket and wiped her eyes. “I can’t believe Gwen’s gone. What about the babies?”
“They’re fine. Apparently Gwen and her family were staying with one of her mom’s oldest friends. The woman was watching the twins while the rest of the family went up in the helicopter.”
Kristen’s mouth fell open. If the twins had survived and Gwen and John were both dead, that meant… meant…
Her pulse began to pound. Snippets of a recent conversation with Gwen swirled through her mind. Gwen had been so angry with her brother, Clay. So concerned about her girls’ future after she saw a story online about a young couple who tragically died within two months of each other, both from rare medical conditions, leaving three children. With Gwen’s being such a close friend, there was no way Kristen could refuse when Gwen asked. With her own history with Clay, with the way he’d broken off their engagement, Kristen could understand perfectly…but—
She swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Kristen grabbed a glass of iced tea from the table and took a drink.
“You’ve gone kind of pale.”
“With good reason.” She set the glass on the table and watched a rivulet of condensation race down the side. “I…I think I’m supposed to be raising Gwen and John’s girls.” She looked back up at Abby.
“You?” Abby leaned forward. “Why not her parents? Or Clay?”
“Gwen told me her mom’s health is too unpredictable to ask her parents to care for small children.”
Abby dipped her chin slightly, as if she understood. “But what about Clay? He’s her brother.”
“Gwen and John listed Clay as the guardian when they made up wills right after the girls were born. But lately Gwen’s realized he’s too wrapped up in his work to be a good parent.”
“Oh.” Abby’s voice held an awkward note.
Even after ten years, it was awkward. Clay’s obsession with work hadn’t been a newsflash to Kristen. She, more than anyone, knew that Clay Norris cared more about computers than he did about people. But even for Clay, losing his sister and almost losing his parents had to be hard. The whole situation was simply awful.
“What about Gwen’s husband’s family?”
“He doesn’t—I mean, didn’t—really have any family. He was an only child, and his parents were both only children, and they died while he was in college.”
“So she asked you to be the guardian?”
“Yeah.” Kristen took another drink of her tea, put the glass back on the table, and wiped the moisture from her fingers on her shorts. “About a week ago. And I agreed. I mean, I never thought it would matter. I just thought it would give her some peace of mind if I said yes. But she took it really seriously, talking about how they had a big life insurance policy and how I wouldn’t need to worry about money for housing or clothes or food or college. She sounded as if they were going to make the changes immediately.”
“Wow,” Abby said, “that’s a lot to ask of someone who doesn’t already have kids.”
“I was honored.” Kristen sank back in her chair. “But it is a pretty big thing to wrap my mind around.”
Abby grabbed her hands. “I’ll help you. Mom and Dad will too. You’ll do a great job.”
“Thanks. That means a lot coming from you, the World’s Most Perfect Mom.”
Abby gave a soft laugh. “Hardly.”
Kristen lowered her chin and looked her sister in the eye. The question wasn’t worth debating. Abby was an amazing mom and the nicest sister a person could have.
If Kristen sometimes felt a little less than in comparison, if her chest had ached as she watched Abby get married last weekend, it certainly wasn’t Abby’s fault.
Besides, the inadequacies in Kristen’s life wouldn’t really matter now. She would be too busy managing her editing projects and figuring out how to take care of twins.
But how could Gwen and John be gone? John was such a nice guy, and Gwen… Gwen had been so special, the kind of person who lived life to the fullest, who believed in others and encouraged them to chase their dreams. Just being around her always made Kristen happier. And now she’d never get to talk to her again…
She sat up taller. Her grief would have to wait. “Gwen wouldn’t have asked me if she didn’t think I could do this. And I can. I can make sure those little girls are brought up with love and attention. Exactly how she wanted.”
Abby squeezed Kristen’s hand, her eyes filled with what looked like a spark of approval. “You’ll be wonderful with them.”
“Thank you.” Kristen got up. One thing at a time. “The only number I know for Gwen’s mom is their old landline from when they used to live here in Abundance. But I’m pretty sure a friend of mine has a cell number from when we were planning her shower. I’ll text her.”
Then she’d call Mrs. Norris and figure out what to do next.
Two nine-month-old girls were counting on her.