Embracing Her Heart

By: Melissa Foster

Sable and Amber both spun around.

“You’re here!” Amber, completely oblivious to the tension sparking between Grace and Sable, threw her arms around Grace, hugging her tight. Her seizure-alert necklace lay familiar and present between them. Pepper had developed the necklace when she was in graduate school and had since patented and sold it all over the country. It featured a button that Reno could push with his nose if Amber had a seizure and included an internal GPS system to alert family members and emergency services to Amber’s location. Their mother trained service dogs, and she trained each of the seizure-alert dogs she worked with to use the necklaces. Thankfully, the alert system had been needed only once, since Amber’s seizures were controlled well with medications.

Sable must have noticed Grace’s scowl, because she mouthed, Don’t be mad.

“When did you get in?” Amber asked.

“Late last night,” Grace said, surprised Sable and Brindle hadn’t already outed her for running off in a huff.

“I’m super excited about your class.” Amber’s hazel eyes sparked with excitement. “I’ve cleared out the office and brought in more seating for the lounge area in case you want to teach there. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this! It means the world to me.”

How could she burst Amber’s bubble by telling her she was going home? And really, why was she running away from Reed? She was a big girl. She could deal with being in the same town as him for a few weeks.

“I’m looking forward to it,” she said honestly. It wasn’t the class that made her stomach flutter. “How many people have signed up?”

“Only four so far, but that’s a start.”

“It’ll be a nice change. I’m used to working with big casts and crews. Where is everyone this morning?” Grace glanced out the window, catching sight of Reed’s broad back as he tore wooden planks from their tethers and tossed them aside like toothpicks. Gone was the lean teen she’d fallen in love with. She’d noticed the breadth of his shoulders, his muscular chest, and his thick thighs when he’d been breathing down her neck. When he’d grabbed her wrist, there had been a moment, a connection, so startling she’d been unable to breathe. No wonder her sisters were gawking. The man was built like a solid, intoxicatingly beautiful red oak.

“Mom’s at the store,” Sable explained. “Dad took Dolly and Reba to the park.” Dolly and Reba were ten-month-old golden retrievers their mother was raising to train as service dogs. “Brindle’s working on something for her drama class’s upcoming play, and Morgyn had to meet a supplier at her shop.” Brindle was a full-time teacher at the high school, and she also ran the drama club for the elementary school. Morgyn owned Life Reimagined, an eclectic store where she created her own fashions and accessories, as well as repurposed gently used items. “Brindle and Morgyn are going to the county fair later, and they’re coming by tonight to hear my band play. You’re coming tonight, too, girlie, so don’t even think about trying to back out.”

Sable tapped Grace’s shoulder, jolting her brain back into gear and reminding her that she was irritated with her secret-holding sister. But before she could get a word out, Reed reached over his shoulder, nimbly gathering his T-shirt, and tugged it over his head, unveiling planes of hard, tanned flesh. A collective gasp rose between them as he tossed the shirt aside. All his delicious muscles flexed as he picked up another plank and rested it on his shoulder. Grace’s fingers curled with the desire to touch him—confirming once again that it had been way too long since she’d been around a real man—and that she had to get the hell out of Oak Falls.

She opened her mouth to try to capture all the energy coming to life inside her and aim it at Sable for keeping Reed’s presence from her again, but her mouth had gone bone-dry.

“Girls! Give that poor man a break.”

Their mother’s voice cut through her Reed-induced trance. They spun around as their mother set two bags of groceries on the counter. Marilynn Montgomery was a strong woman. Some said it was from years of gardening, horseback riding, and training service dogs, but Grace thought it had more to do with raising seven complicated and often wild children.

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