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Second chances


SECONDCHANCES

ASouthernComfortNovel
BookOne




BriaMarche



Copyright©2015
AllRightsReserved


AUTHOR’SNOTE
This book isawork offictionbyBriaMarche.Names,characters,places,and
incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used solely for
entertainment. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is

entirelycoincidental.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or any
othermeanswithoutthepermissionofthepublisherisillegalandpunishableby
law.Pleasepurchaseonlyauthorizedelectroniceditions,anddonotparticipate
inorencourageelectronicpiracyofcopyrightedmaterials.Yoursupportofthe
author’srightsisappreciated.


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SecondChances:SouthernComfortSeries,Book1

LifesailsalongsmoothlyonbeautifulSt.ThomasforAbbyMelroseBellavance,
or so she thinks. That is, until her husband Remy steals her trust fund and
disappears for parts unknown. Now, with five million reasons to write off men
forgood,shereturnstoCharleston,brokeandgrovelingathermother’sfeet.
Living again in the opulent mansion on South Battery, Abby is thrown
another curve ball. Her mother passes away, leaving Abby with an enormous
homebutnomoneytosupportit.
Turning the mansion into a boardinghouse has its advantage—immediate
cash—anddisadvantage—twoofthehottestmeninCharlestonarenowAbby’s
tenants.
Abbywantsloveagain,especiallywithhunkyErik,thehandyman,andsexy
Brandon, the prominent attorney, living in the mansion with her. They are so
different,yetthey’resimilarinonewaysheneedstoavoid—theyaremen,and
sheshouldkeepherdistance.
As the southern summer blazes on, Abby’s life becomes even more
complicated. Personal secrets are revealed, and fate deals her one final blow.
Shewondersifshewilleverbegivenasecondchanceatfallinginlove.

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TableofContents
ABOUTTHEAUTHOR
ChapterOne
ChapterTwo
ChapterThree
ChapterFour
ChapterFive
ChapterSix
ChapterSeven
ChapterEight
ChapterNine
ChapterTen
ChapterEleven
ChapterTwelve
ChapterThirteen
ChapterFourteen
ChapterFifteen
ChapterSixteen
ChapterSeventeen
ChapterEighteen
ChapterNineteen
ChapterTwenty
ChapterTwenty-One
ChapterTwenty-Two
ChapterTwenty-Three
ChapterTwenty-Four
ChapterTwenty-Five
ChapterTwenty-Six
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


ChapterOne
Sleepeludedheragainasithadeverynightforthepastweek.Abbylayinthe
dark, her piercing blue eyes fixated on the shadowy image of the spinning
ceilingfan.Shehopedstaringateachrotatingbladewouldhelpherdozeoffas
countingsheepdid—butitdidn’t.Remywasinherthoughtsandinthepitofher
stomach.Evenafterallhe’ddone,hestillhadafirmgriponherheart.
“Ihateyou…Ihateyou…Iloveyou.Whereareyou,andwhydidyoudo
thistome?”
Tearsdampenedthesatinpillowcaseundertheunrulycoilsofblackhairshe
had worn since she was a toddler. Anger and heartache had begun to feel the
sametoher.Shetossedthelightweightblankettothesideofherbedandrose.In
thedarkenedroom,shefeltforherrobeatthefootofthebedandslippediton.
The balcony’s sliding doors were only steps away, where she’d find fresh air,
whereshecouldsitandthink.Thesoundofcrashingwavesinthedistanceused
tosootheherbutnotanymore.Theonlycalmshefoundcamefromabottleof
anti-anxietypillsinthemedicinecabinet.
Chimessoundedfromanantiquegrandfatherclockinthefoyer.Shecounted
thestrikesinherhead—sixo’clock,andthesunwouldsoonrise.Theautomatic
brewsettingonthe coffeemakerwouldhavefourcupsofsteamingColombian
roastwaitingforherwhenshewentdownstairs.
She opened the double doors to the walk-in closet, accustomed to dressing
nicely for Remy—something instilled in her by her mother—then reminded
herselfhewasgone.Apairofshorts,aT-shirt,andflip-flopswasallsheneeded
anymore.Withacupofcoffee inhandandtwentyminutesbeforesunrise,she
walked out with a beach towel slung over her shoulder and locked the door
behindher.Apathcarvedthroughthedensecanopywouldendatthesugarsand
beach,whereshecouldsit,watchthesunrise,andcry.
The sky lightened gradually until a burst of brilliance hit the horizon and
began its ascent. The glowing orange ball cast rays upward and outward,
illuminatingtheCaribbean,makingthewaterdanceandshimmer.Black-headed
laughing gulls scurried about on the beach, looking for an early morning
delectable morsel. She was sure by the sound of their call, they were indeed
laughing at her foolishness, for putting her trust in someone like Remy
Bellavance.
ThereonthebeachatMagensBay,shespreadouthertowelandsat.Other


thanthesoundofthegullsandthewavescrashingagainsttherockstoherleft,
the beach was silent. The tourists never showed up before ten o’clock, and by
then,she’dbehomecontemplatingherfuture.
“Abby?”
Shespunaround,startledbythesoundofavoicesoearlyinthemorning.He
stoodtoherrightwithabeachrakeinhishand.Abigailshieldedhereyeswith
herhand,blockingthemorningsun.
“Hi,John.Whatbringsyououtthisearly?Thebarcouldn’tpossiblybeopen
yet,couldit?”Shewipedhertear-stainedcheeks,hopinghewouldn’tnotice.
“Naw… it’s Monday. The cruise ships are coming in. Gotta rake the beach
andgetthekayaksandsailboardssetup.I’vegottostockthebar,too.Thereal
questionis,whyareyououthere?It’sbarelydaylight.Doesn’tRemythinkit’s
weirdthatyou’dbeherealonethisearly?Whydidn’thecomewithyou?”
“Remy left, almost a week ago today. I’ve been coming out here every
morningbeforesunupto clearmyhead.Thequiethelpsmostofthetime.I’m
usuallybackhomebyseventhirty.”
“I didn’t mean to disturb you, but as long as I’m here…” He gave her a
raised-eyebrowstare,concernetchedinhisforeheadashesatonthesandnextto
her.
With a small branch from a turpentine tree gripped tightly in her hand,
Abigaildrewaninfinitycircleinthesandastheytalked.Drawingthatcirclewas
ahabitsheandRemyhadshared.Thethoughtmadeherkickthecirclewithher
foot,lettingthetidereclaimtheimage.
“Whatdoyoumean,Remyleft?IshesettingupgigsfortheIslandGuys?I
hearthetouristsliketheirmusic.Didn’ttheyplayatBeachTimeonSt.Johna
fewweeksago?”
“Yeah,theydid.Ishouldgetgoing.I’vegotalotofplanningtodo.”
“Planningforwhat?Comeonuptothebar.I’llmakeapotofcoffee.”
“Ithoughtyouwerebusy.Ican’ttieupyourmorningwithmyproblems.”
“Whatarefriendsfor?Itseemslikeyouneedtogetsomethingoffyourchest.
I’llgiveyouthirtyminutes,”hejoked.“Afterthat,we’llhavetomeetatsome
clandestinelocationwhenIgetoffworktotalkfurther.”
AbbybecameacquaintedwithJohnaftershemovedtoSt.Thomaseighteen
monthsagoandmarriedRemy.ANebraskatransplant,JohnRichmondhadbeen
livingontheislandforfifteenyearsandhadinsideinformationabouteverything
that went on throughout the islands. He gave her a heads-up when he heard
about a beautiful two-bedroom bungalow up for sale and located just minutes
fromMagensBaybeach.Abbycontactedtheownersbeforetheylistedthehouse
andboughtitfromthemdirectly.


Shesatatthebaronawell-wornrattanstoolandcozieduptotherail.John
pouredtwocupsofcoffeeandhandedherone.
“Okay,spill.What’sgoingonbetweenyouandRemy?”
“Remyisyourfriend.Doyoureallywanttogetinvolved?”
“Idon’thavetobeinvolvedtolisten.”Hesetoutthecreamandsugarthen
camearoundthebartositonthestooltoherright.
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning. You know me only as
Abby Bellavance, Remy’s wife. I met Remy on a vacation two years ago in
CharlotteAmalie.TheIslandGuyswereplayingattheFatTurtlethatnight.Of
course, Remy was doing his thing, handing out free drink vouchers to all the
tourists gettingoffthecruiseships—mebeing oneofthem. Heprobably gota
kickbackfromthebartobringthecrowdsin.Iwasdrawntohimlikeamothto
light, with his enormous smile, dark golden skin, and those crazy dreadlocks.”
Shelaughedinhindsightastearspooledinhereyes.“Idon’twanttodragthis
explanation out, but the bottom line is, Remy emptied out the bank account,
liquidated all my stocks, and sold the house and furnishings. I didn’t know
anything was going on until I got a knock on my door last week from a
contractorsayingthenewownerswantedanestimatetoenlargethebalcony.Can
youimaginemysurprisewhenIheardthat?Mysuspicionswereright.Ichecked
thebankaccountandmystocks,andtheywerecleanedout…vanished,justlike
Remy.”
“He’s a native, Abby, and quite the player. Women never could resist him,
and he took advantage of that constantly. In the past, women have paid for
everythingandanythinghewanted.Remyhasacertaincharisma,charmifyou
will,thatworkswellforhim.Goodlooksdon’thurteither.There’vebeenplenty
ofladiesinhislifethathavecomeandgone,probablybecausehetookthemfor
everythingtheyhad.Heworethatabilitylikeabadgeofhonor.Ireallythought
he’dchangedwhenheaskedyoutomarryhimthough.That’sabigstepforhim,
toactuallycommittosomeone.”
“Maybe the other women were filler until his ship came in… literally. The
shipthatwouldmakeRemyarichmanjusthappenedtobetheoneIwason.I
doubtithadanythingtodowithcommitment,butithadeverythingtodowith
mylastname.”
“Whichwas?”
“Melrose. A common name unless you do the research. I’m sure Remy did
aftermeetingmymomandseeingourhomeinthenicestareaofCharleston.My
dadbuilthiscomputerprocessorbusinessfromthegroundup.Iknowitdoesn’t
soundsexy,buthegotinattherighttimeandmadeafortune.Itwasnewmoney,
andheearneditallonhisown.Myfamilywasjustthethreeofus—mydad,my


mom,andme—butmydadwaskilledinNewYorkafewyearsagoinarandom
mugging.”
“I’msosorry,Abby.Thatmusthavebeenheartbreaking.”
Shetracedtheoutlineofhercoffeemugandgaveawistfulshrug.“Nowit’s
justmymomandme,unlessshe’salreadydisownedme.Inhindsight,Iwouldn’t
blameherifshedid.Shewasveryprotective,especiallyaftermydaddied,and
Remysentupeveryredflagpossible.Momthreatenedtocutmeoutofthewill
ifImarriedhim,whichofcourseIdidtospiteher.Iwasasmart-assthenand
calledherbluff,yetIhavenoideaifshewasactuallybluffingornot.AllIdo
know is the five million dollars I received from my trust fund when I turned
twenty-fiveiscompletelygone.Obviously,MomreadRemyandhisintentions
muchbetterthanIdid.I’mgoinghometoseeifIcanfixthingswithher.She
hasn’tspokentomesinceIgotmarried.Ineedtofindajobandtrytogetonmy
feet, unless my mom reconsiders and welcomes me back into the fold.” Abby
smiledwearilyandsippedhertepidcoffee.
“Needawarm-up?”Johnaskedashereachedforthepot.
“Sure,thanks,butIthinkmythirtyminutesisup.Anyway,Ihavetobeoutof
thehouseintwoweeks.IhaveaprivateinvestigatorlookingforRemyandmy
money,butwhoknowsifanythingwilleverturnup.He’sprobablydrinkinga
piña colada on some remote island that doesn’t have extradition laws with the
UnitedStates.Whydidn’tIlistentomymomwhensheinsistedIgetaprenup?”
“Itsoundslikeyouwerebuttingheadswithherandtryingtoliveyourown
life,especiallywithfivemillionbucksinyourpocket.Haveyoueverworked?
Whatwillyoudotosupportyourselfifyoutwocan’tmakeamends?”
“Well,IdidworkbeforeIgotmarriedjustsoIwouldn’tseemlikeadeadbeat
daughter. Actually, I had my master’s degree and interned as a relationship
counselor.Whatajoke,right?Onlyreallifecanbethatironic.It’simpossibleto
makeupstufflikethat.”
“Let’stalksomemorebeforeyougo.I’mreallysorrythishappened,andI’m
sorry Remy did this to you. He’s your husband, so I don’t know if he actually
committed a crime or not, but I think he did. Someday, karma will come back
and bite him in the butt. The world has a way of righting itself, and I hope
everything eventually turns out right for you. You’re a great person, and you
didn’t deserve this. Stop by for coffee before the crowds show up in the
mornings.I’malwaysherebynineo’clock.”
“Thanks. I guess I needed to get that off my chest. I’ll stop by later this
week.”
Abby shook the sand out of the towel and draped it over her forearm. She
waved goodbye and followed the path through the mahogany and turpentine


treesthatledtoherhouseoverlookingthebay.


ChapterTwo
Thankfulthatshehadafewthousanddollarsstashedinthebackofhercloset,
Abbycheckedtheairlineschedulesandfaresandpreparedtoleavetheparadise
she had known for two years and return to her home and the familiarity of
Charleston,SouthCarolina.ThecheapestflightshefoundleftonaThursdayand
hadtwoconnections.Shetappedthe“buynow”buttononthescreenandclosed
herlaptop.Withafreshcupofcoffee,shesatonthebalconywithapadofpaper
inhandandapenlodgedaboveherleftear.Remywasgoneforgood.Itwasn’ta
joke, he wouldn’t return, and it was time to start that to-do list. In two weeks,
beautifulSt.ThomasandtheturquoiseCaribbeanwouldbehistory.
The ringing cell phone brought Abby out of her deep concentration. The
callerwasMelanieDavis,Abby’sdearestfriendsincechildhood.
DoIfeelliketalkingtoMelrightnowornot?Notwantingthedramabutstill
needingherbestfriend,Abbypickedup.“Hi,Mel.What’sup?”Shestaredout
throughthetreecanopytoseetheglorious,vibrantseabeforeher.Tearssprung
tohereyesassheheardMel’sfamiliarvoice.
“Hey,Abby.Howareyoudoing?”
“Youknow.Samething,differentday.”
“I think it would be a good idea if I flew down and helped you pack up
everythingyou’rebringinghome.Whatdoyousay?”
“Idon’tthinkthat’snecessary.AllIhavearemyclothesandafewpersonal
belongings. I’m going to box everything up this week and ship it back home.
Haveyouseenmymomrecently?”
“IsawherlastFridaynightattheartwalkonBroadStreet.Shemadesmall
talk with me, probably because there was a crowd. She didn’t look too happy.
Haveyouheardfromhersinceyoutoldherwhathappened?”
“No, not a peep. After the scolding and the ‘I told you sos,’ she’s been
keeping herself pretty scarce. I think she wants me to grovel. Unfortunately,
that’sexactlywhatI’llhavetodountilIgetonmyfeet.Thiswasreallyarude
awakening.Ijustwishitwasayearfromnowandallofthiswasbehindme.I
guessI’llfindoutwhereIstandafterIgethome.”
Thelistoffriendsandacquaintancestosaygoodbyetowasshort.Itseemed
as though Abby had spent the last year and a half keeping Remy happy and
being his wife instead of making friends of her own. Most of the people she
knewwerethroughRemyandtheIslandGuys.Johnseemedliketheonlyperson


thatwasn’toneoftheirgroupies.
ThenewsofRemy’sbetrayalhadspreadthroughtheislandlikethemorning
sun.Abbywantedtogetawayfromthehumiliationassoonaspossible.Today,
herintentionsweretotieuplooseends,saygoodbyetoanyoneshecaredabout,
and reconnect with her mom before the flight out tomorrow morning. With a
shortstopinPuertoRicoandatwo-hourlayoverinMiami,she’dhaveplentyof
timetoregroupandcalmdownbeforearrivinginCharleston.Melanieofferedto
pick her up at the airport and take her home. Abby would enter through the
wrought-iron gates of the pink Italianate mansion on South Battery. Charlotte
Melrose,andAbby’sfate,wouldbewaitingontheothersideofthedoor.
***
Her seat was near the tail of the airplane, a bumpy, noisy area next to the
lavatories, and since the seat didn’t recline, she would be sitting in a very
uncomfortable,uprightpositionuntiltheyreachedPuertoRico.
Life may be a lot different going forward. No more first class, at least for
now, she thought as the plane lifted skyward. She looked out the window and
stared down at the island she was leaving, the place she had called home for
nearlytwoyears.Shewonderedifshewouldeverreturn.Wouldthememoriesof
Remyruinanyhappinessofafuturevisit,orcouldsheseparatethetwo?Didshe
even dare to imagine being there again, sometime down the road, with a man
thatreallylovedher?Iguesstimewilltell.Fornow,goodbye,St.Thomas.I’ll
missyou.
Abbytookadvantageofthetwo-and-a-half-hourflightbetweenSanJuanand
Miami to catch a nap. She would be too amped up to rest on the flight to
Charleston.
“Goodmorning,ladiesandgentlemen.Thisisthecaptainspeaking.We’llbe
landing in Charleston right at the noon hour. The weather is a balmy eighty
degrees with light winds and good visibility. Please return your seats to the
upright position and lock your tray tables. The flight attendants will be by to
collectanylast-minuteitemsyouwanttodiscard.Thankyou,andhaveagreat
afternoon.We’llbeonthegroundintwentyminutes.”
Ishouldhaveorderedastiffdrink,shethought.Herheartwaspoundingatan
alarmingrateattherealizationshewasabouttobebackinCharleston.I’ll ask
Melanie to stop somewhere before we get home. I definitely need a drink… or
two.
ThereMelaniestood,wearingthathugesmileshewasknownforandwaving
asAbbywalkeduptheconcoursetowardher.Melaniewashappy,carefree,and


vibrant—the woman Abby had always wanted to be like. She lived life on her
owntermsandsaidtohellwithanyonewhotriedtochangeanythingabouther.
A single woman not looking for anyone to complete her, Mel was the most
upbeat, positive person Abby knew. People gravitated toward her. Abby was
certainMelwasself-medicatingtoalwaysbeinthatgoodamood.
“Thereyouare!I’msohappyyou’rehome,safeandsound.We’regoingto
getyoubackontrack,justlikethat.”Melaniesnappedherfingerstoemphasize
howquicklyAbby’slifewouldbebacktonormal.“Considerthelasttwoyears
asnothingmorethanasmallspeedbumpinyourjourneythroughtime.It’sall
good.Let’sgetyourluggageandgohome.”Melaniegrabbedthebackpackoff
Abby’s shoulder and slung it across her back. She air-kissed Abby’s cheeks,
Europeanstyle,andtookherbythehandbeforeleadingherdowntheescalator
towardbaggageclaim.
“I’mgladthere’sonepersonthat’shappyI’mback.Ican’tsayIamsinceI’m
scaredtodeath,andmymomwon’tanswerthephone.IhavenoideawhatI’m
goingtowalkinto.You’recomingintohelpbreaktheice,right?”Theconveyor
belt started, and Abby watched each piece of luggage drop onto the carousel.
Hereyesscannedthemultitudeofsuitcasesasshelookedforthemonogrammed
leatherLouisVuittonduffelbagshewassofondof.
“Sure,if youthinkitwillhelp.I wouldn’twanttobethatpoor soulonthe
wrongsideofyourmom…she’skindofscary.”
“Yathink?Iknowonethingforsure,”Abbysaidwhilestrugglingtograbthe
leatherhandlesoftheheavyduffelbagandpullitoffthebelt.
“We’restoppingsomewhereforadrinkfirst?”
“You’vegotthatright.HowaboutCrabby’sShackonKingStreet?”
Melanieparkedher2011ToyotaCamryalongthecurb,andtheyenteredthe
darkenedestablishmentthathadbeentheirgo-toplacesincetheyturnedtwentyone. The food was great, and Louis Dillard wasn’t too bad either. He was
gorgeouswithacapitalG,buthappilymarried.Louisdidmakethebestcocktails
in Charleston though. Strong yet smooth, just like him. He was co-owner of
Crabby’sandagoodfriendtoanyonepassingthroughthelouveredfrontdoors.
The girls grabbed vinyl barstools and sat, waiting for him to notice Abby
Melrosewasbackintown.
“Abby,Ican’tbelieveyou’rehome!Areyoustayingforgoodthistime?”
“Itkindoflooksthatway.Howhaveyoubeen,Louis?”Shereachedforthe
drinkmenu,knowingsheneededsomethingstrong.
“I’mgreat.We’reexpectingourfirstbabyinamonth.It’sgoingtobeagirl,
andDianaismorethanstoked.Prettyexcitingstuff,right?”
ThesincerityinhisvoicewarmedAbby’sheart.Shewashappyforhim.She


tookinadeepbreathandletitoutslowly.“That’ssocool.Congrats.I’llhavea
GypsyGirl,andmakeitstrong.”
“I’llhavethesamebutweak.I’mdriving.”
“Mel, it’s thirteen blocks to my house from here. That’s less than seven
minutes by car,” Abby said, laughing at Melanie’s responsible yet fun-loving
nature.
“Well, whatever… the streets are always full of tourists darting around. I
wouldn’twanttohitanyonebecauseIwaswasted.”
“Really,ononeweakdrink?You’renuts.Youknowthat,right?”
ShesmiledatAbbywithperfectlyalignedsparkling-whiteteeth.“Iknow,but
youlovemeanyway.”
“Whodoesn’t?”
Aftertwodrinkseach,theysettledthetabandpromisedtobebacksoon.
“Areyoureadyforthis?”Melaskedastheyclimbedintothecarandbelted
themselvesin.
“No,butIdon’thaveachoice.It’stimetofacethemusic.Iwaswrong,and
mymomwasright.It’sreallyjustthatsimple.AllIneedtoknowrightnowisif
she’sgoingtowelcomemehomeornot.”
MeldrovethetwelveshortblocksdownKingStreetandturnedleftonSouth
Battery.Shepulledintothesidedrivewayahalfblockupandkilledtheengine.
Theornateirongatesthatledtotheinnercourtyardwithitsenormousfountain
weretwentyfeettoherleft.Bothwomenstaredatthehouse,feelingasifthey
werebeingwatched,andquicklydidtheiryogabreathingexercises.
“Okay,there’snosenseinprolongingthisanymore,butmyheartisgoinga
hundredmilesanhour.Let’sgo,”Abbysaid.
Mel popped the trunk then grabbed the backpack off the back seat. Abby
pulledtheduffelbagoutofthetrunk,closedit,andpunchedthecodeintothe
keypadonthegate,allowingthemtopassthrough.Thechandeliersintheparlor
glowed as the women walked by the open window. Charlotte was home, and
they saw her watch their arrival from her vantage point on the widow’s walk.
Withasolemnlookonherface,Abbyopenedthefrontdoor.Mittens,theblack
cat with white feet, greeted the women as they entered. She meowed loudly,
brushingagainsttheirlegswithhertailheldhigh.Abbydroppedherbagonthe
walnut floor of the foyer and knelt to pet the cat. The sound of high heels
clicking on the second-level hallway told Abby her mother was approaching.
CharlotteMelrosedescendedthecircularstaircase,obviouslyexpectingalleyes
to be on her, and they were. She wore a hot pink Lilly Pulitzer knit shift with
palegoldtrim.Charlottewasamemberofupper-classsocietyandwasperceived
bymanyasolder, butatonlyforty-nine,shewasfartooyoungtodresslike a


stuffy socialite. She hadn’t seen Abby for eighteen months, yet she offered no
motherlyembrace.
“Mom,youlookgood.Howhaveyoubeen?”Abbyasked,tryingtobreakthe
tensionhangingheavilyintheair.
“Hello,Mrs.Melrose.Nicetoseeyouagain,”Melaniesaidasshefollowed
Abbyandhermothertotheparlor,whereteaandfingersandwicheswaitedon
theQueenAnnetable.
CharlotteMelrosewasn’tsnootybynature.ShewasangryandhurtthatAbby
hadgoneagainstherbymarryingRemy.Herintentionwastoprotectheronly
daughterfromthatpredator,yetAbbycouldn’tseeitatthetime.Themarriage
forced a permanent wedge between mother and daughter, ruining the close
relationshiptheyoncehad.Theybothknewitwouldtakealotofworktorepair
thedamage.
“Melanie, thank you for picking up Abigail at the airport, I’ve been busy.
Please,havesometeaandasandwich.”
Charlotte was accustomed to wearing dresses every day. “One might have
unexpected guests,” she’d always say. Before the money, twenty years earlier,
they were just another family living a common middle-class lifestyle far from
the likes of the upper-crust families in Charleston, south of Broad Street. That
waswherethesocietypeoplelived,aplacecommonpeopleonlydreamedabout.
CharlotteusedtotakethecitybuswithAbigailandastrollerintow.Shewould
walk Meeting Street, Bay Street, and East and South Battery. She’d daydream
aboutthepeoplelivingthereandwhattheirimportantlivesmustbelike.Dothey
hostpartieswithservantscateringtotheireveryneed?Dotheyattendgalasand
artexhibits regularly? Back then, those questions consumed her whenever she
strolledpastthegorgeousmansions,eachmorefabulousthantheonebefore.
Buttodaylifewasdifferent.Charlottewaswealthy,andshewantedtoprotect
that wealth, especially since Edward was gone. And because of Abby’s bad
judgment,Charlottehadfivemillionreasonstobefuriouswithher.
Melanie said goodbye and graciously left. Abby and Charlotte needed time
alone to sort out what the future would bring. Abby wasn’t due another
withdrawalfromhertrustfunduntilshewasthirty,andshestillhadthreeyears
togo.
“Abigail,let’ssitinthedrawingroom,shallwe?Wehaveplentytodiscuss.”
CharlotteinstructedBetsy,themaid,tobringatraywithcoffee,cream,and
sugar into the drawing room, along with pen and paper. Abby followed her
motherlikeascoldedadolescent,waitingforthewreckingballtodrop.
The drawing room was always one of Abby’s favorite places to sit and
reflect.Thewallsworearichbutsubtlecreampalettetoensurethepaintingshad


no competition. Antique Chippendale furniture filled the room, and a vibrant
Persianrugwithfour-inchcream-coloredfringelayoverthewalnutfloors.The
crystalpendantshangingfrombrasssconcescreatedbrilliantcolorsthatdanced
against the walls every time the lights were turned on. Two matching brocade
wingbackchairsbeckonedthemtosit.
Betsyplacedthecoffeetrayonatablebetweenthechairs.“Welcomehome,
Miss Abigail. May I get you anything else, Mrs. Melrose?” she asked as she
steppedbacktowardthepocketdoors.
“No, thank you. I think we’re fine for now. Please close the doors on your
wayout.”
“Yes,ma’am.”
“Is there any new information on your missing husband and money,
Abigail?”
“No, Mom, there isn’t. I’m pretty sure I’ll never see either of them again.
From what I’ve been told, it isn’t illegal for a spouse to withdraw as much
moneyfromabankorstockaccountastheywant.”
“Butitwasyourmoney,nothis.”
“After we got married, it belonged to both of us. I put his name on all the
accountstomakelifeeasier.Ididn’tfeelitwasrighttohavemyhusbandasking
meformoneyeverytimeheneededsome.”
“So the con artist had no money of his own until you made life easier for
him?Iguesshe’slivingoneasystreetnow,andyou’retheonewithnothing.I
wascertainyouweresmarterthanthat,butobviouslyIwaswrong.”
“Thanks,Mom.Don’tyouthinkIfeelbadenough?”
“You do remember what I said when you threatened to marry that vagrant,
don’tyou?”Charlottestiffenedandsatupright.Sheheldtheporcelaincupinthe
BlueMagnoliapatterninherrighthand,herpinkiefingerpointingupward.She
handed Abby the paper and pen. “Here, figure out your life. Tomorrow at
breakfast, I want to see what you wrote. If it’s reasonable and makes financial
sense,I’llspeaktomyattorney.Ifnot,you’reonyourown.Breakfastisateight
o’clock sharp. I suggest you get to it.” Charlotte patted her mouth with the
hemstitched linen napkin, stood, left the room, and closed the pocket doors
behindher.
Abbystaredattheblanksheetofpaper,holdingthefountainpeninherhand.
“Ihatethesedamnthings.”Shefoundherbackpack,stilllyinginthefoyerwith
her duffel bag, and brought it into the parlor. A dozen hotel pens were in the
zipped side pocket. “Good enough.” After pouring another cup of coffee, she
curleduponthechairandbegantochartherfuture.Abbywonderedifshecould
everbeinarelationshiportrustmenagainafterRemy.Didheruinanychance


shemighthavehadtofallinlovewithsomebodyelse?Atthemoment,shehad
tofocusonherimmediateneed.Mencouldwait.She’dcheckoutjobpostings
online, hopefully in the only field she knew—relationship counseling. If there
weren’t any jobs available working for somebody else, she’d start her own
practice,somehow,somewhere.
Thisoutlinehastolooksincere,likeIputalotofthoughtintoit.I’llneedto
takesomerefreshercoursesandfindoutifmycertificationisstillgood.Maybeif
Itakethisseriously,I’llbeabletoreadpeoplebetter.
AftertwohoursofInternetsearchesandnotetaking,Abbyhadaviableplan
ofactiontopresenthermotheratbreakfast.Sherosefromthechair,stretched,
androlledherneck.Poppingsoundsfromherknottedmusclestoldherjusthow
tenseshereallywas.Withadeepsigh,sheopenedthepocketdoorsandwalked
out of the drawing room. Her duffel bag still lay untouched in the quiet foyer.
Seeing it lying there made her wince with anxiety and remorse. Her mother
wasn’twelcomingherhome,anddeepdown,Abbyknewreconnectingwithher
wouldn’tbeeasy.Betsynormallywouldhavetakenherbagupstairs,butitwas
likelyCharlottehadtoldhernotto.Abbywouldhavetoearnbackherplacein
hermother’shome,evenifitwastemporary.
Shewonderediftheywouldeverbecloseagainorifallchancesofthatwere
goneforgood.


ChapterThree
Shewoketoanentirelydifferentfeeling—lifehadchangedagain.Gonewerethe
tropicalbirdcallsandsoundsofthesurfcrashingagainsttheshoreline.Shelayin
the bed she had used while growing up, sleeping alone, just as she had then.
Abby rolled over, rubbed her eyes, and checked the time on her cell phone.
Crap!Ihavetobedressedandatbreakfastinfortyminutes.Luckily,hercloset
stillheldtheclothesshe’dleftbehindalmosttwoyearsago,andhersuitehada
private bath. She dove out of bed with no time to wake up slowly and lazily.
Withtheshowerrunningandthewaterheating,sherifledthroughtheclosetand
picked out a simple peach-colored sheath. Abby pinned her mass of curls up
withahairclipandsteppedintotheblissfullyhotwater.Shedidn’thaveenough
timetobotherwithherhairthatmorning.ShehadtoprovetoCharlottethatshe
wasresponsiblebyarrivinginthebreakfastroomateighto’clocksharpwithdry
hairandwearingarespectabledressinoneofhermother’sfavoritecolors.
Abbygrabbedtheoutlineshehadpreparedthenightbefore,inhaleddeeply,
and descended the staircase. Her mother sat at the table in the breakfast room,
waiting. Charlotte glanced at the antique mantel clock sitting on the sideboard
andgaveanapprovingnodwhenAbbywalkedthroughtheFrenchdoors.
“Goodmorning,Abigail.Ihopeyousleptwell.”
“Goodmorning,Mom.Isleptfine,andthecoffeesmellsgreat.”
Abby sat across from Charlotte, with White Point Garden directly out the
large window in front of her. Betsy poured coffee for both of them, placed a
bowloffruitandaplateofcroissantsonthetable,andexitedtheroom.Abbyset
heroutlineonthetable,hopinghermotherwouldn’twanttoseeitquiteyet.Her
stomach growled, indicating food and coffee were necessary before anything
else.
Oncebreakfastwasover,Charlotteaskedtoseetheoutline.Abbynervously
handedthepaperworktohermother,waitingtofindoutherfate.Afterliftingthe
reading glasses that hung from the beaded lanyard and perching them on her
nose, Charlotte read the four-page outline. Abby already had her master’s
degree,butshewouldneedtotakecontinuingeducationcoursesandbecomea
licensed counselor if she wanted to start her own practice in marriage, family,
and relationship counseling. She had been disappointed that she couldn’t find
anyjobopeningsinanexistingpracticeduringheronlinesearchlastnight.She
researchedthecostandlengthoftimeitwouldtakebeforeshecouldopenher


practice.Shewassurehermotherwouldfindthatarespectableoccupation.All
Abbyneededwasaloanfromhermothertomakeitareality.
“It looks like you’re taking this seriously with all the work you’ve put into
this outline,” Charlotte said. “The only problem is, it will take a year to
accomplish, and you want a twenty-thousand-dollar loan. What will you do in
themeantime?”
“I’llfindsomethingtoprovemyself.I’llworkinadaycarecenterornursing
homeduringthedayandtakemycoursesatnight.AllIneedisaroofovermy
head,andI’mhopingitwillbehere.I’mtrulysorryforallthegriefI’vecaused
theselastfewyears.I’llevenaccompanyyoutothegalasandartevents.Itcan
belikeoldtimesagain.”
“Wedidhavefun,didn’twe?Allright,I’llgiveyouanotherchancetodothe
right thing. I’ll stop in at my attorney’s office this afternoon and have him
changethewillbackasitwasbeforetheRemyfiasco.I’mhavinglunchwiththe
board members of my favorite charity anyway, so I’ll be in the general
neighborhood.”Charlottepouredeachofthemanothercupofcoffeeandbitinto
achocolatecroissant.
“Soyoureallydidchangethewill?”Abbywasshockedbutnotsurprisedthat
hermotherhadliveduptoherword.
“OfcourseIdid,dear.Youdefiedme.Ihadnochoice.Iwantanotheroutline
tonight at dinner of the school you’re going to enroll in and places you’ve
contactedtodayforemployment.Afteryougetajobandstartschool,I’llloan
youthemoney.”
Abbyfelttheflushofangerpricklethebackofherneck.Hermotherwasa
control freak, but there was nothing she could do about it yet. Sure, she could
workformeagerwagessomewhere,butthatincomewouldbeeatenupbyrent
andlivingexpenses.Forthetimebeing,she’dhavetoconformtohermother’s
demandseventhoughtheyinfuriatedher.Abbyretreatedtoherbedroomtoget
started on her assignment. She felt like a schoolkid again, having to obey her
mother.Thisissuchcrap.I’llcallMelandseewhatshe’supto.Hopefully,she
hastimetodolunch.
At twenty-seven, Abby felt like an irresponsible child, not having much
moneyorevenacartocallherown.
“Mel,whatareyoudoingtoday?Ireallyneedsomeonetotalkto,andafew
beers.I’llbuylunchifyou’refree,butyou’llhavetopickmeup.”
“Sure,noproblem,doyouwanttogotoCrabby’sagain?”
“Yeah,Ilikethevibethere.Itisn’tatouristtrap.Dotheystillofferthebest
CrabLouieSaladintown?”
“They sure do, and the largest choice of beers. Okay, I’ll pick you up at


noon.”
Abby checked the time. She still had two hours to kill. She’d get to her
mother’sdemandslater.Rightthen,shewantedtoreconnectwiththebeautiful
city she used to call home. She followed the sound of voices she heard from
downstairsatthebackofthehouse.Hermothermightcomelookingforher,so
it was best to be upfront and say she was going out to clear her mind. Abby
foundCharlotteandBetsyinthelushwalledgardenbehindthehouse.Charlotte
satatthewrought-irontable,pagingthroughtheMeyer’sNurserycatalog.She
waschoosingtheannualsshewanteddeliveredandplanted.Betsywasincharge
ofcontactingthelocalnurseryandmakingCharlotte’severywishareality.
“Hi,Mom.I’mgoingforashortwalkaroundtheneighborhoodtogathermy
thoughts.I’llbebackinahalfhour.”
“All right. Just remember what you need to do later. Don’t disappoint me,
dear.”
“Iwouldn’tthinkofit.I’llbebacksoon.”
Abby left, feeling more deflated than ever, wondering how long she could
tolerate Charlotte’s stranglehold on her every movement. She walked up East
BatterytoRainbowRow,tryingtoenjoythemoment.Shehadalwayslovedthe
colorful homes and the beautiful private gardens behind each gate. She
rememberedcomingtotheneighborhoodasachildandbehavingthesameway
the tourists did, gasping with excitement and clicking cameras at every lovely
home and historical monument they passed. That was long before her family
moved there themselves. She turned west on Elliot Street and followed it to
MeetingStreet,whereshewentsouth.AbbystoppedatTwoMeetingStreetand
wentinside the beautifulbed-and-breakfasttosayhelloto theproprietors.The
ownerswereclosefriendsofCharlotte’s—awelcomingcouplewhohadbeena
mainstayinCharlestonforyears.Onherwayhome,shestoppedatWhitePoint
Gardenandfoundanemptybenchtositon.She’dgonethereoftenbeforeshe
metRemyandmovedtoSt.Thomas.Sheinhaledtheoceanairdeeply,thankful
thatnothingabouttheareahadchanged.
BackinherroombeforemeetingMel,Abbysearchedthejobpostingsonline
andjotteddownanythingshethoughtmightbeapossibility.Shecaughtsightof
theflashingredlightonherchargingcellphonelyingonthenighttablenextto
herbed.JohnatMagensBayhadleftamessagethatsaidhe’dheardthroughthe
grapevinethatRemywasinEcuadorlivingitup.ThatwasallJohnknew,except
that Ecuador didn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States. He
apologizedagainforAbby’smisfortunewithRemyandassuredherthatshewas
missedbyeveryoneinMagensBay.
AbbywasthankfulCharlottehadleftthehousebeforeMelaniearrived.The


lastthingshewantedwastobeinterrogatedbyhermotherinfrontofherbest
friend.Abbypulledthesheersbackandwatchedfromherbedroomwindowas
CharlottedroveawayinherblackMercedessedantomeetwithboardmembers
from one of her many charities. Charlotte was involved with a dozen
organizations throughout Charleston. Abby wondered if her mother was really
that philanthropic or if she just enjoyed the attention, inflating her already
oversizedego.Withasigh,Abbyploppeddownonherantiquemahoganybed,
causing the springs to squeak, and began searching the online job sites. She
foundfourpossibilitiesshewouldcheckintoafterlunch.Shebookmarkedeach
site and powered down her laptop. Mel would be out front any minute. Abby
grabbed her purse, checked her reflection in the gilded mirror hanging in the
foyer, then went outside to sit on the columned, covered veranda to watch for
Melanie.
***
“Seriously,areyoureallygoingtoworkatafast-foodjointforsevenbucksan
hourjusttopleaseyourmom?”Melasked.Sheslurpedherclamchowderwith
fishcrackersfloatingontop.
“No,I’mnotgoingtothoseextremes,butI’vesavedfourjobsI’mgoingto
call about later this afternoon. Two of the jobs are in daycare centers, one is a
hostess position in a downtown restaurant, and one is a job as a helper in a
retirementcenter.Iknownoneofthemaregoingtopaywell,butIneedtoprove
tomymomthatI’mmakinganeffort.IhavetodosomethingwhileI’mgoingto
schoolorshewon’tloanmethemoneytoopenmypractice.”
“Soyoureallywanttobearelationshipcounselor?That’syourdesireinlife,
somethingyou’vealwayswantedtodo?”Melaniechuckledandshookherhead.
Afterdowningherfirstbeer,shehelduphermugtogetthewaitress’sattention.
“TwomoreBullsBayOysterStouts,please.”
“No Louis today?” Abby noticed behind the bar several people she didn’t
recognize.
“Naw…Iguesshe’sbeenremodelingoneoftheirbedroomsintoacutepink
nursery.Businessisreallygoodhere,sohecantakeoffwheneverhewantsto.
Hey,whydon’tyouaskLouisforajob?”
“I don’t know about that, especially since he knows my mom has money.
Don’tyouthinkitwouldseemweirdtohimthatI’mbeggingforajob?Atleast
ifIworkinaplacewherenobodyknowsme,Iwon’tcomeoffaspathetic.”
“Iguessyou’reright,butIcanaskaround,too.Iknowalotofmoversand
shakersinthefashionindustry,plusmyjobisactuallyfun.”


“True. I’d much rather work in some high-end fashion house than give old
peoplespongebaths.”


ChapterFour
AftershefinishedherCrabLouieandbeer,Abbycheckedthetime.“Ibetterget
homebeforemymomdoes.Idon’treallywantherknowingI’vebeenout.I’ll
get another lecture, and believe me, I’ve had enough for this week.” Abby got
theattentionofthewaitressandaskedforthecheck.
“Abs,ifit’sreallythatbad,justmoveinwithme.Wecanmakeitwork.”
“Thanks, but two people living in a one-bedroom apartment the size of my
roomathomeisnexttoimpossible.Youbarelyhaveenoughroomforyourown
clothes,fashionistathatyouare.I’lldealwithmymomforaslongasIcan.”
The women left Crabby’s and headed south on King Street. Several blocks
down, a police officer stood in the street redirecting traffic. He motioned for
themtoturnleftontoTraddStreetwiththeothercarsaheadofthem.Theycould
catch Meeting Street from Tradd and continue to South Battery. They craned
their necks, trying to look farther down King Street before they turned left.
Sirensblaredandlightsflashedseveralblocksaheadastheytriedtoseewhatthe
commotion was about. An ambulance and two squad cars zoomed past before
theymadetheturn.
“I remember hearing sirens while we were eating, don’t you?” Abby
squinted,tryingtogetabetterlookbeforetheyturnedoffKingStreet.
“Nowthatyoumentionit,yeah,Ido.Iwonderwhattheheckisgoingon.”
TheyreachedthehomeofCharlotteMelrose,andAbbygotout.“I’dinvite
youin,butuntilIfindemploymentforpay,Ibetterlaylow.Thanksfordoing
lunchwithmeandlisteningtomywoes.I’llletyouknowhowmyjobsearchis
going.”
“Don’tforget,I’mgoingtoworkmymagiconyourbehalf.MaybeIcanfind
yousomethingbetterthanchangingbedpans.”Melanielaughedatthescowling
expressionAbbymade.
“Thanks for that visual. Now I’ll probably dream about it.” Abby punched
thecodeintothekeypadandenteredthecourtyard.ShewavedtoMelandclosed
theheavyouterdoorbehindher.Sittingonthebenchinthefoyer,Abbykicked
off her shoes. The habit was long ago instilled in her because she was never
allowedtowearoutdoorshoesinsidethehouse.Onlyhighheelswereallowed
onthefloors,andthatwaspermittedonlywhenexitingthehomeonthewayto
anelegantaffair.
Betsycalledout,“MissAbigail,wouldyoulikesomesweettea?”


“Thatsoundsdelicious,butI’llcomeandgetit.Noneedtobringituptomy
room.” Abby entered the kitchen and sat at the small table nestled in the bay
windowalcove.Sittingtherebroughtbackfondchildhoodmemories.Theyhad
moved to the mansion on South Battery when Abby was ten years old. She
rememberedmorningswithherdadatthatverytable.Theywouldhavetoaster
wafflesswimminginthickmaplesyrupseveraltimesaweekbeforeheleftfor
work.ThoseweretheearlydaysbeforeBetsy,whenEdwardMelrosewasonthe
fasttracktobecomingamillionaire.Theyhadjustpurchasedthepinkmansion,
still pinching themselves in disbelief that they could live in such an opulent
homeinthebestneighborhoodofCharleston.Backthen,thethoughtofamaid
orhousekeeperhadn’tenteredtheirminds.“Betsy,comeandsitwithme.”
“Oh, Miss Abigail, I should really start preparing dinner. Your mother said
she wanted to eat at six o’clock sharp. She has a fund-raiser to go to at seven
thirtytonight.”Betsyfilledacut-glasstumblerandcarriedittothetable,setting
it down in front of Abby. Beads of condensation rolled down the glass to the
linennapkinbelow.
“Pleasesitwithmeforjustoneglassofsweettea.You’llhaveplentyoftime
tomakedinner.Didmymomsaywhenshewouldbehome?”
“No,ma’am,butI’dexpectherbacksoon.”Betsyreachedforanotherglass
fromthewhiteuppercabinet.“I’llsitfortenminutes.”ShegaveAbbyatoothy
grinandpouredherselfaglassofsweettea.
“WoulditbotheryoutoomuchtojustcallmeAbby?I’dratherbeinformal,
atleastwhenmymomisn’there.”
“Yes,MissAbigail,butI’llhavetopracticebeinginformal.Itdoesn’tcome
naturalforme,beingamaidmostofmylife.I’llcallyouMissAbbyifyoulike.
Whenyourmotherisn’there,thatis.”
“Thanks,I’dreallylikethat.Letmepourusbothanotherglassoftea.”
At three o’clock, Abby retreated to her room to begin making phone calls.
She hoped to schedule at least two interviews before the weekend and more
beginning the next week. She also wanted to research what was required to
changeherlastname.ThatwouldmeaninvolvingCharlotte,though,something
Abbydreaded.Shedidn’twanttobecalledAbbyBellavanceanymore,yetshe
hadseriousreservationsaboutgoingbacktotheMelrosename.Thereweretoo
many predators out there, people that had one and only one intention—to take
the money and run. Abby would be far smarter than that next time around, if
thereeverwasanexttime.Shewouldconsultwithhermom,likeitornot.Abby
wasseriouslyconsideringusinghermother’smaidenname.Hopefully,withher
mom’sblessing,she’dchangehernametoAbigailMarieJohnstone.Iftherewas
another marriage in her future, Abby would be prepared—with a different last


nameandaprenup.
***
With one interview set up at Children’s Hour Daycare Center for tomorrow at
tena.m.andanotherinterviewforaserverpositionatTheWickedHopBrewery
atonethirty,Abbyhappilyrandownstairstograbanothersweettea.Surprisedto
find Charlotte hadn’t yet returned at four o’clock, Abby sat in the backyard,
feeling a little deflated. She was anxious to tell her mother she had interviews
scheduled. They weren’t overwhelming opportunities, but they were jobs
nonetheless.
The sound of the doorbell and voices in the foyer were enough to pique
Abby’scuriosity.Sherosetogoinside,butmetBetsyandtwouniformedpolice
officersinthedoorway.AquicklookatBetsytoldAbbysomethingwasterribly
wrong. Tears streamed down Betsy’s caramel-colored face. The officers wore
somberexpressions.
“Betsy,what’swrong?What’sgoingon?”
“Miss Abby, it’s your mother.” Betsy took two steps and collapsed at the
tableonthepatiowithherfaceinherhandsandsobbed.
“Ma’am,I’mOfficerRhine,andthisisOfficerBouton.”Theolderpoliceman
pointedtotheyoungermanbesidehim.“IsCharlotteMelroseyourmother?”
“Yes.” The quivering lower lip was involuntary, but Abby couldn’t help
herself.Sheknewbadnewswascoming.ShesatnexttoBetsyandgrabbedher
hand.Tearssprangfromhereyesaswordsshedidn’twanttohearwerespoken.
Sheknewtheycouldn’tbetakenbackoncetheyweresaid.
“Ma’am, we’re sorry to inform you that your mother passed away in a car
accidentafewhoursago.ThefiredepartmenthadtousetheJawsofLifetopry
open the car. That’s why it took so long to identify her. Ma’am… Miss
Melrose?”
“What?Areyousure…areyoucertainitwasher?Couldyoubemistaken?
Thiscan’tbehappening.NotMom,too.”TearsstungAbby’seyesastheyrolled
downherchinandfelltohershirt.“Whatkindofcarwasit?Areyousureitwas
hers?Wherewastheaccident?”Thequestionsseemedirrelevant,butshehadto
besure.
“It was a black 2014 Mercedes E-Class sedan. The accident happened on
KingStreetandPrice’sAlley.Agarbagetruckbroadsidedhercarasitcameout
of the alley. Apparently, the driver had a massive heart attack and died at the
scene,too.”
“No,itcan’tbe.Iwasdetouredawayfromthataccidentearliertoday.Ican’t


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