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Wounded Warriors Series, Book 1: Reluctant Hearts
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Wounded Warriors Series, Book 1: Reluctant Hearts


Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
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Women who have faced pain, loss and heartache. They know the score and never back down. Women who aren't afraid to love with all their passion and all their strength, who risk everything for their own little piece of heaven...

Men who live their lives on the blade's edge. Knights in black armor. The only thing more dangerous than crossing these men is loving them...

What's a man to do when he's seen too much of life's dark side and suddenly finds himself believing in flesh-and-blood angels who can heal with a single touch? What's a girl to do when she believes in true love but can't trust the eyes of her own heart? Fall in love...reluctantly?

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  • Karen Wiesner
    Jan 7, 2018, 15:16
    2003 EPIC AWARD Finalist
    5 star review from Timeless Tales Book Reviews
    5 star review from The Romance Studio
    5 star review from Romance Reviews Today
    5 star review from WordWeaving
    5 star review from Coffee Time Romance
    5 star review from Single Titles
    4 1/2 star review from Dark Diva Reviews

    5 Stars! "Karen Wiesner pens a novel that will stay with long after you have turned the last page. It is very hard to write a summary of RELUCTANT HEARTS. There is so much in this one book that it defies an easy summary. Wiesner has penned a tale filled with love, romance, coming of age, the shattering of dreams, and then picking up and moving on. The dreams we have as teenagers require us to assess them and change them as we grow and mature. This shifting of reality is made more difficult when the people around us do not uphold our images of them. Wendy and Paul are so well developed that we feel their disappointments and their triumphs. We understand their motivations and they become our friends. Wiesner has penned a tale that will capture your attention and ensnare your heart as you cheer for Wendy and Paul, and cry for them as well. RELUCTANT HEARTS will not disappoint the reader as we engross ourselves in their wonderful story. Highly recommended but be sure to have tissues nearby.” ~Single Titles
    5 Cups! "Wendy is the responsible one. Maturing at an early age, she has become the rock everyone trusts and relies on. The one person she has always secretly wanted is her brother's friend, Paul. Paul has always been drawn to Wendy but in his eyes she has remained his friend's kid sister. That vision has been altered with the return of a new Wendy from a summer away, and she is an innocent, sexy woman. Wendy is determined; Paul is scared. They can no longer control an attraction that has simmered for too long and is about to burn out of control. Friends, family, life, and death will test the strength of their love, and only together can they withstand the test of life. I read this entire book in one sitting. The author's talent for telling a story is beyond compare. I was enthralled with all the characters from the very beginning. The investment that that the reader has in Wendy and Paul will bring on a wide range of emotions; I cried, laughed and cursed at them throughout the book. Karen Wiesner is a stupendous author with writing skills that should not to be missed." ~Coffee Time Romance & More
    5 Hearts! "Take a journey with two characters that discover the meaning of love, as Wendy and Paul explore an exceptional life they never imagined. Reluctant Hearts is a story about real people who love and lose, who find their faith only to lose it, then rediscover it again. It is magical how love has a way of surfacing back into the heart just when people really need it. Ms. Wiesner's creativity to compose true to life characters is amazing. She develops in-depth characters that spin in the reader's mind for a long time after the story is finished. Wendy and Paul start out as young people and grow into full-fledged adults that are loaded with kindness and tender emotion. They each encounter different needs only to learn that the truth lies within their hearts, drawing them closer together. Ms. Wiesner instills a lovely story of distress, victory and camaraderie that leaves a lump in your throat and keeps you glued until the incredible expedition is concluded. The story is inviting, powerful and completely captures. Bravo to Ms. Wiesner in the first of the Wounded Warrior Series!" ~The Romance Studio
    5 Stars! "Karen Wiesner has crafted a novel full of pathos and joy. She has blended pain and triumph and friendship in a way that grabs you by the throat and never lets go. All of her characters are heroes. Flawed and sometimes barely functioning... The group of friends are all humans, wounded by life, prone to misunderstandings and mistakes, yet all gaining the victory of survival. This tale reads like West Side Story. It is not your average, mid-sized e-book, but is a sprawling 150,000-word document that will rivet your attention and engage your emotions. The details of the group's interactions and background is presented in such a way as to facilitate the telling of the story. Nowhere did I stop and think, "get on with the story!" The action flows, twists and undulates and you are drawn in, swept up in the lives of these interesting people. RELUCTANT HEARTS, Book 1 of the Wounded Warriors Series is a "getter" as well as a keeper! If Karen Wiesner maintains the quality of writing she employed with this book, we have a treat to look forward to." ~Timeless Tales Book Reviews
    4 1/2 Delightful Divas! "At 400 pages, RELUCTANT HEARTS is almost intimidatingly long. It’s also a much grittier, almost difficult at times, story to read than I’m used to. But the final word is that this first book in Karen Wiesner’s Wounded Warriors Series is worth the time invested...and then some. Ms. Wiesner’s warriors are men and women who battle for survival and even try to find love in a world that often takes more than it gives. I usually prefer reading stories that are easier to read, but there’s something powerful in the storytelling that is not only compelling but rewarding as well. While this is Wendy and Paul’s story, we’re also getting to know the other people in their lives. Included in this group is Wendy’s older brother Steve, his best friend Tommie and Tommie’s younger sister, also Wendy’s friend, Jessie. There’s also Gwen, Brenda and Mitch. Some we get to know much better than others, but they’re all connected in some very basic, very intrinsic manner. Wendy is the peacemaker in her family; it’s a role she’s held for as long as she can remember. She adores her father who she’s placed on a pedestal; she soothes her mother and is more mother to her than daughter and between her father and brother Steve, she strives to keep peace. She’s a giver, but there’s something almost...hmmm, not dark, but not healthy either, about it. But family dynamics don’t have to make sense or be healthy; life doesn’t play fair, it just is. Paul has never, ever known love. He has no concept of it; as far as he’s concerned it’s nothing more than gloss, certainly it’s something that he’ll never believe in. But he has his friends and Steve’s younger sister has always appealed to him; she’s so very different from anyone else in their group--except for Tommie. But she’s always giving and again, that’s not something he’s had much experience with. Yet for all their differences, Paul and Wendy have much more in common than anyone would think.. especially them. For opposites, they’re strangely alike. I don’t usually reveal as much about a story, or about the characters I’m reviewing as I did here, but there’s something about these two people that calls to me. I strongly felt the need to explain just what it is about Wendy and Paul that affected me. This is not a light story, it’s often not even a happy place to be, but it’s about people, real people. People whose lives are not perfect and who, like so many of us at times, have to struggle to make it through another hour, another day. People with flaws, with good intentions that go wrong, with hope--or with no hope. They are also like many people around us, some that we may even know. And I think that’s the true strength of Karen Wiesner’s writing. With her guidance, we truly get to know who Paul and Wendy are; there are no secrets, no hidden facets. Karen Wiesner introduces us and takes us right into the lives, hearts and minds of the people in her book and I, for one, cannot look away; learning about other people can often lead us to insights about ourselves. This is the first book that I’ve read by this author and I’m extremely fortunate enough to have the other books in this series to read. And I must say being able to read a series right through--or perhaps with small breaks in between--is a real treat. RELUCTANT HEARTS is a stunning introduction to Ms. Wiesner’s Wounded Warriors Series and to her skillful recitation about the lives of those that she introduces us to. Bravo!" ~Kathy for Dark Diva Reviews
    4 Stars! "This book captivated me, hook, line and sinker. The storyline is compelling and I sensed a true connection between the author and her characters, who grow both in years and maturity within the read. I eagerly look forward to the next story in this series." ~Romantic Times BOOKreviews
    4 Delightful Divas! “RELUCTANT HEARTS is a long novel at 400 pages, and deals with real people dealing with very real problems. Karen has once again proven her masterful talent of creating realistic and compelling characters dealing with complex issues and emotions. As always, Karen knows her characters and their stories inside and out. She obviously has a true relationship with and a love for her characters. Paul and Wendy and their group of friends each have their own issues and problems to deal with. While not all of them came out on top, their stories of survival and even victory were enough to keep me pushing through this book, dying to know what would happen next. I have to admit that I finished nearly 300 pages in one sitting, and finished the rest the next morning, in one sitting. I was totally captivated by these people. Everything that Karen shared about these characters’ lives was a vital part of who they were, where they were in their life and relationship, and what they needed to do to heal and move forward. I always enjoy Karen Wiesner’s work and I look forward to reading the next book in this series.” ~Melissa for Dark Diva Reviews
    "RELUCTANT HEARTS will take you on a journey of two young adults reaching out for something they never believed possible for each other: love. RELUCTANT HEARTS will bring you a blast from the past as you relive some references of the eighties. Karen Wiesner has written a tale of two people with needs of different kinds that will blend together to make a perfect couple. Take the journey with Paul and Wendy as they search to find the missing pieces inside themselves. This reviewer enjoyed the story line. It was a well-written story, easy to follow. I didn't find myself reading things over to catch the point. Karen created two believable characters in Wendy and Paul. This reviewer believes Karen showed how easily people can lose their faith and beliefs, and how love can pull you back. I believe Karen Wiesner will have a long and prosperous career." ~Love Romances
    "After finishing WAITING FOR AN ECLIPSE, I was anxious to read Paul and Wendy's story. The magic they find in each other's arms is equally impressive. Karen Wiesner does a great job at building her characters and making them seem genuine to the reader." ~Round Table Reviews
    5 Stars! "RELUCTANT HEARTS is an atypical love story because of the attitude of the male lead character. Readers will have to wait a while to know whether Paul admits to Wendy he loves her, as Karen Wiesner concentrates on relationships that place Wendy in the center as the hub. The story starts slow in order for the audience to appreciate the cast, but those readers who are as patient as Wendy will happily find a tremendous drama that provides the saga over the years of a strong female and the "Wounded Warrior" she loves." ~Harriet Klausner
    Rating: You need to read! "This was a wonderfully enjoyable and deeply moving story of the complexity of young love. The story follows the emotional growth from innocence to disillusion of Wendy Thomas and from cynicism to acceptance by Paul Randall. The story follows this couple for six years as they try to go their separate ways, joyously come together, and then withdraw due to different fears. Their story is intertwined with several of their close friends who play important roles, all helping to shape the strengths and weaknesses of each other. The angst of learning to love and trust isn’t always pretty and easy, but it did move on to the interaction between the couple, I did not want to stop reading. Ms. Wiesner is an expert storyteller keeping you engaged to find out what happens! I am sure that the other books in the series, about the various friends, will be wonderfully full emotional reads as well. If you are prepared for heartache and joy, this is a book you will enjoy!" ~You Gotta Read Reviews
    "On the surface, [RELUCTANT HEARTS] is a common good-rich-girl, bad-poor-boy romance. It goes a little deeper than that: the facets of Paul's total lack of self-esteem and Wendy's belief in him, the fact that he wants to be worthy of her, all create a very romantic story. The emotions are kept at a pretty high boil the whole time as their obsession becomes eclipsed by a tragedy neither of them can deal with easily... The meaning of sex and its real attachment to love is one of the main themes and is handled well. This is a fairly strong romance with some very magical moments, the first in a series of romances featuring characters introduced in this book." ~Affaire de Coeur
    5 Stars! "RELUCTANT HEARTS is a full-sized work of fiction that makes good use of interior monologues and remembrances to give depth to the inner conflicts of the characters. In answer to the question of whether the book is character-driven or plot-driven, I'd have to say it's life-driven. The author holds nothing back in depicting a sometimes--grim reality, and I often wondered as I read whether it was truly a romance. In the end, it is, and I strongly recommend it. Paul and Wendy live a powerful love story that can't help but move the coolest reader." ~Romance Reviews Today
    5 Stars! "RELUCTANT HEARTS kicks off Karen Wiesner's new Wounded Warrior Series. As the magic and mystery of innocence give way to the disenchantment of experience, Wendy and Paul battle inner demons and outward challenges in a tale that is poignant and yet realistic. Disappointment, disillusionment and surprising hope give RELUCTANT HEARTS a universal appeal. Wiesner wisely captures the nuances and struggles of young people with self-worth and love, maintaining tenderness and grittiness in equal measure. Her powerful story-telling gift builds sympathy even as characters self-destruct, and creates hope in the midst of despair. A fantastic beginning to what promises to be an outstanding series, RELUCTANT HEARTS comes very highly recommended." ~Wordweaving
    4 Books! "Alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking, RELUCTANT HEARTS by Karen Wiesner is an evocative contemporary romance. The introduction of Paul is wonderful. You will be moved to sympathy. The depth and warmth of characters--and well-depicted joys as well as pain, makes this read worthwhile. The depth and range of emotion Wiesner develops is amazing." ~Long and Short Romance Reviews
    4 Stars! "To most, Wendy seemed too good to be true. No one could ever be her equal. Even the man she was desperately in love with since she was only sixteen... Coming from a poor, you-are-not-wanted existence, Paul has a low self-esteem. Wendy and their friend Tommie boost him upwards but it was never enough... Spanning years, this tale is heartbreaking... Just as the reader thinks the story is near the end, a storm blows through Wendy and Paul's lives spiraling straight for destruction... Paul is unable to voice his thoughts and is terrified to be close to anyone or let anyone in his wayward heart. Wendy has her battles from her self-destructive friend, her brother who may have made a bad choice, and her parents, in addition to her own health problems. It doesn't seem possible for Wendy and Paul to come out of this unscathed. Before their RELUCTANT HEARTS find the right path, be prepared for laughter, love, heartache, and tears. Wiesner ties the strings together neatly weaving in multiple threads pushing the tale forward, closing the chapter of Wendy and Paul and opening another." ~eBook Reviews Weekly
    "RELUCTANT HEARTS is a heart-rending account of a woman in love trying to teach her Wounded Warrior that love does exist and that he is worthy of her love. Paul must realize that sex is not all the females of the species have to offer and that Wendy is the one to teach him how to love and believe in himself. Wendy makes him whole. She sees through his wounds and his pain and together they complete each other." ~The Word on Romance
    "With RELUCTANT HEARTS, Karen Wiesner, the new voice of women's fiction, proves yet again that she's a top-notch storyteller. No one explores the complexities of relationships and the yearnings of woman's heart better than she does." ~award-winning Author Michele Bardsley
    "Fans of romance with a gritty, Romeo and Juliet type of story will enjoy the first part of this book. The sexual tension will steam your glasses. The plot and the way the protagonists relate to each other takes a 180-degree turn in the middle of the book. Don't be surprised when the tone of the story changes, but the characters stay true to themselves and to each other. RELUCTANT HEARTS is the first in a series about the circle of friends introduced in this story. If a series with interweaving characters is what you enjoy, keep on the lookout for Karen's next offering." ~Inscriptions Magazine
    "With her enthralling romance RELUCTANT HEARTS, Karen Wiesner has set a new standard in the genre. Wendy's pain is so real, her love so deep, her soul so tender, that I found new strength and trust alongside her. What a powerful drama!" ~award-winning author Christine Spindler
    4 Roses! "Karen Wiesner has totally swept me into her Wounded Warriors Series. The characters of future novels are well established--flaws and all--in the first book. I can't wait for Book II: WAITING FOR AN ECLIPSE." ~Escape to Romance
    "...I'm definitely a sucker for a hero who's a cat lover, and the more I got to know this hero, the more I liked him... The growth and development of the characters, the disappointments, the sorrows, and trials they have to overcome, made it an intriguing story." ~Sensual Romance

Part I: THE AGE OF INNOCENCE


"....how shall I explain? I - it's always so. Each time you happen to me all over again."

~Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence


One


Wendy Thomas sighed as soon as she exited off the interstate, anticipating how good it would feel to get out of the confines of her car and really stretch. She'd been on the road for the better part of the day with minimal stops.

Better yet, I'll just shower and hit the sack, and unpack tomorrow. Yeah, much better plan.

Something caught her eye in the rearview mirror, and she turned to look over her right shoulder to see a car barreling past her on the exit ramp toward the turn lane. She edged her car farther to the left protectively. "What...?"

The car passed and entered the turn lane, barely stopping to check traffic before speeding on.

"Idiot," Wendy said under her breath, clenching her jaw in anger and disbelief.

One thing I didn't miss--Milwaukee's insane, defensive driving. More like offensive! She'd lived in Milwaukee all her life and she'd learned to merge, dodge, edge out, rev on the line like a race car driver, shoot forward and barrel down with the rest of them. But it'd been nice for a little while to be in a town where everyone drove the speed limit, sometimes slower, and actually obeyed safety and traffic laws instead of creating their own, like those in Milwaukee, so they'd become the rule instead of the exception.

This morning, in the cabin, while she and the other female counselors had packed their things, she'd felt a twinge of sadness at the end of her summer job. She'd been away from home for a little more than a month, teaching at a camp for blind children in a small town in Nebraska. At eighteen, she'd been the youngest counselor in the program, but she'd garnered a lot of high recommendations from her previous volunteer work.

Even now, remembering the children and her peers, Wendy smiled sadly. She would miss everyone. They'd formed a strong bond, even though she'd learned from experience to detach herself slightly or drown. She'd helped the kids, in some small way, to lead more productive, happy lives. In a way I can never help those I know, she added to herself, her thoughts on her mother and her best friend, Jessie Nelson.

She put her mind back on that hot shower and sleep as she neared her home. No more thinking today. Too soon she'd be back into the old groove. Right now she didn't want to experience guilt for feeling that sometimes she'd just like to be Wendy, the daughter, the friend, the individual.

The streets she knew so well brought her closer to the two-story home she'd grown up in. While the front exterior was classic Georgian, the inside and back were ultramodern. As she zipped onto the three-car garage approach, she sighed again.

Home. Yeah, this is good.

Turning off her car, she forced her cramped muscles to cooperate in getting her out and on her feet. When Grace, the Thomas' long-time maid rushed out, Wendy started to smile in greeting. But then Grace thrust a yellow slip at her. "Can you pick up the dry cleaning? Your daddy needs his tuxedo for tonight. Your mother's got me doing half-dozen things at once. Quisdale annual cocktail party, you know. Insanity."

In shock, Wendy watched as Grace scurried toward the house. She stopped and turned back before reaching the front door. "Oh."

Wendy waited expectantly for a real greeting.

"Can you also stop by and grab a bottle of wine? I already called it in and they know you. They shouldn't card you."

Well, glad to see you, too! Wendy wondered why she was surprised. But then Grace rushed back and hugged her, just as quickly as she'd run out and dropped a load of errands in her lap. "It's good to see you home again, hon. I don't know how this house runs without you."

Grace smiled at her, her plump, familiar face too sweet for Wendy to remain wounded.

"Your mom has been asking all day if you're home yet. I'm sure she'll want to see you right away when you get back."

Grace zipped back into the house, and Wendy scolded herself for frowning at her parting words. People needed her. She'd rather have that than the alternative. Not being needed or wanted by your own parents was something her neighbor and life-long friend Jessie had faced all her life.

With a heavy sigh of disappointment, Wendy opened the door of her car again and slid back into the cramped confines.

Well, I'm glad to be almost home, she thought with good-natured acceptance.

* * * *

"Tuxedo. And Chablis," Wendy said when she stepped into the kitchen from the garage door.

Grace looked up from folding laundry. "You're an absolute doll."

Wendy smiled as Grace took the offerings from her. Despite knowing Grace most of her life, she hadn't always noticed how different she was from other people. Grace reminded her of Nana, the housekeeper in Disney's animated cartoon 101 Dalmatians, or Edith Bunker. Grace didn't walk. She rushed, scurried, darted. Wendy wasn't sure if she'd always been that way or if the mistress of the Thomas' house caused it with near-constant needs. Wendy's mother had a subtle way of making it seem that if something didn't get done, she'd suffer excruciating torment inside her own body at the prospect.

"She asked for you again while you were gone," Grace imparted, and Wendy nodded.

"I'll get my luggage out of my car and head right up." Another fifteen minutes, and you'll be standing under a steaming spray that'll work all these kinks out, she told herself as she lugged her three, oversize duffel bags up the winding staircase.

With an "Uh", she hefted the bags off her shoulders outside her bedroom door, without entering, and headed toward her parents' room at the end of the hall. Her neck, shoulders, back and legs all ached horribly, yet she put on a smile after she tapped on the bedroom door and her mother called out a welcome.

"I can't even dress myself without you," Felicia--as she'd insisted on being called by her children--looked at her reflection in the mirror of her vanity. "I spent the whole social season looking like a frumpy old maid."

Wendy shook her head as she glanced at the pile of cocktail dresses on the bed. Her mother sat in a satin slip. "Ah, so Dad locked you in the closet the whole while, huh?"

Her mother laughed as she removed the necklace she'd apparently put on with the last discarded dress. As much as she said she hated social activities, Felicia constantly thrust herself into them with her charity activities. Wendy understood why she volunteered so much, but her attempts to feel better about herself rarely worked. The only thing she really enjoyed, just for herself, was her work at Nelson Cosmetics. She worked in the lab, creating fragrances. It was where she'd met Wendy's father, who was vice president of the company.

The annual Quisdale cocktail party was an event put on by one of Nelson Cosmetics' biggest clients.

"I just don't have your confidence and poise for these things," her mother said, and Wendy temporarily took the comment in the way she initially would a skipping record. Let it go and maybe it would fix itself. "I wish you could go, too, like you did when you were little. You were so sophisticated in those velvet cocktail dresses. You captivated everyone."

Wendy remembered those times clearly. She'd felt like a super-computer on display. Show them how smart you are, Wendy. You can out-think anybody here. Isn't she amazing? And she's only seven!

She'd been glad when her parents allowed her autonomy to decide pretty much her whole life at the age of eleven. The first thing to go had been attending those ridiculous, outshine-the-Jones' cocktail parties.

Shuffling through the stack of dresses on the bed, Wendy chose an off-the-shoulder, white one that shimmered like diamonds. It brought out the sparkle in her mother's beautiful eyes and emphasized her shining, dark hair. As soon as she held it out, Felicia stood, took the dress and put it on immediately.

While she dressed, Wendy chose jewelry, knowing her mother would ask her to pick that out for her, too.

"Is Dad still at work?" Wendy remembered how she'd watched her mother get ready for a party when she was a little girl. To Wendy, her mother had always been the most beautiful creature on two legs. She still was. Her name fit her perfectly. Felicia, tiny, lovely and so very, very fragile.

Her mother nodded, turning her back so Wendy could put the multi-tiered, diamond teardrop necklace on her.

"I think he's having an affair."

The only thing that surprised Wendy about the admission was that her mother had said it so soon. She'd uttered the words so often in the past, there were times Wendy wanted to shake her and scream, "You're the one who's paranoid. You're creating a delusion with it because you're so insecure. Dad would never, ever cheat on you. He's too good a man. And what woman could ever compare to you?"

Felicia seemed to think every other woman in the world was more attractive and a better catch. Wendy's father treated his wife like royalty and loved her more than anything else in the world. In his daughter's mind, he was the perfect man.

Wendy could never confront her mother about her misconceptions though. Felicia would probably shatter if Wendy ever thrust a psychological microscope on her. Instead, she turned her mother toward the full-length mirror and said, "Why would Dad ever want someone else? Look at you. You're absolutely stunning. Every other woman turns to dust in your wake."

Wendy had said the one thing that could temporarily subdue her mother. Felicia's need for reassurance was chronic. She had no inner strength at all.

Felicia smiled slightly. "Do you really think so?"

Swallowing hard at the ache of realizing every fix was temporary and she could never help her mother permanently, Wendy nodded with tears in her eyes. "With all my heart."

Her mother turned to her, kissing her cheek and hugging her with a long sigh. "It's good to have you back. I missed you, sweetie. I don't know what I'd do without you. You're my stronghold and guardian angel."

Wendy took a deep breath, seeing herself in the mirror as if from multiple déjà vu angles. As long as she could remember, she'd been supporting her mother emotionally and building her back up. Felicia couldn't let go and help herself in any way. It'd been hard enough for her to finally concede to allow Wendy to start school--months from the age of seven. She'd been a mother to her own mother all her life.

When Felicia backed up, she said, "Well, I better finish getting ready or I'll give your father another reason to look elsewhere for companionship."

Knowing her mother felt a twinge of embarrassment for her own neediness, Wendy left the room without comment, her chest heavy with the need to cry or roar her frustration. Her father came down the hallway toward her with his tuxedo in hand. Relieved to have something to distract her from her own sense of helplessness, she grinned at him widely.

Her parents really did make a gorgeous couple. She'd spent her life thinking her father was the most handsome man in the world, though she'd outgrown that in favor of guys closer to her age--ones a little less clean-cut, a little more wild. She still thought he looked better the older he got, with the silver streaking his temples and his smile buried in deep, attractive grooves around his mouth.

"Is your mother ready?"

"Yup."

He hugged her lingeringly, allowing her to relax for the first time since she got home. "It's good to have you back, sweetheart. Among the dozens of reasons why is that we're never late for anything when you're around."

"I run a tight ship," Wendy said, laughing.

He pulled back slightly. "You're welcome to join us tonight."

She shook her head. Positively, she wasn't going. "I'll probably have a hard enough time getting Steve to relent in throwing me a welcome home party. I really just want to sleep."

At the mention of Steve, Wendy's brother and his own son, her father's face darkened. Trying not to let his ridiculous disapproval of Steve's choice of college and his class load of music courses instead of business annoy her, she bent to pick up her duffel bags one by one, hoisting them over her shoulders again.

"Would you mind calling the limousine service to confirm, sweetheart? I didn't get a chance to yet, and I still have to get ready."

He handed her the phone number and time of arrival, and Wendy took a deep breath before letting the heavy bags slide off her shoulders once more. "Sure. No problem."

He started off down the hall, tossing back almost carelessly, "Have some fun, Wendy. Sleep tomorrow. You work too hard. You deserve a night out once in a while."

"Look who's talking," Wendy called back, and he laughed before entering the bedroom and closing the door behind him.

Wendy looked down at the scrap of paper in her hand. Get this over with and then maybe I can at least shower.

As she went to the phone on the pickled pine table in the hall, she realized no one had even bothered to ask her how her summer went.


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