World War II has ended and the soldiers are coming home. After years of following her crop worker father, motherless Claire Flanagan is also coming home. If she can keep her father in one place long enough, she plans to follow her dreams to Hollywood. Until she meets Benjamin.
Benjamin Russell has been working since he was fifteen to support his mother and siblings. What he most wants in life is to own a construction business and take care of the family his father abandoned. The last thing he expects is to fall for his younger sister’s best friend.
Life, however, throws cruel twists and turns into the path of romance. And when an unrequited love seeks revenge against Claire, and Benjamin learns his ex-girlfriend is pregnant, will lost dreams of a future together be the only thing they have left?
“But…but you can’t love Susan.” My voice, soft as a whisper, didn’t betray the rising fear boiling up from the pit of my stomach.
He gripped my arms with emphasis. “No, I don’t.”
My stomach calmed a bit, the fear at a simmer. “Does she love you?” I had to convince him his thinking had clearly gotten off course.
“No. I mean I don’t think so.”
“Is she demanding you love her?” Love was everything. Without love, this wasn’t our problem.
His hesitation cheered me on. My panic churned barely below the surface as I led him down the path of reason. “Well, then, Benjamin, why—”
“Claire, I’ll have to marry her.”
“Marry?” I choked on the word. Fear and panic erupted. “Oh, God, no. Benjamin!” The tears toppled and flooded my cheeks.
“It’s the only thing to do.” His voice shook and his eyes were pools of darkness.
“No, it’s not!” As more tears flowed, Benjamin’s mournful face grew sadder. “This is her problem.”
“You know it isn’t, Claire.” His words were thick and strained. “I have to take responsibility.”
“No, Benjamin, no!” I slapped my palms to his chest as if I could stop this madness with a physical barrier. “No, you don’t.”
He encircled my waist, gently caressed, but held me firm until my tantrum played out.
I folded into his chest, but my anger still had some steam. I balled one hand into a fist and hit his chest. “Why? Why do you always have to do the right thing? Why?” I swiped away tears so I could see his reaction when I glared into his face.
His chest heaved as he stared into my hostility with calmness. “You wouldn’t love me if I didn’t.”
A sob broke free, and I collapsed back onto his chest.
“I’m sorry, Claire. I’m so sorry.” He rubbed my back and spoke softly into my hair. “I’m sorry.” He repeated it over and over, until my sobs subsided and I rested, spent.
When at last I found the strength to leave the comfort of his arms, I moved to sit up, but he held me close.
“I want you to know, honey, I will forever be sorry I’ve hurt you.” He kissed the top of my head. “Know I will always hurt, always, when I think of what might’ve been.” He let go of me, took my arms and righted me against the seat. He took the wheel, face rigid, then turned the engine key with shaking hands.
My arms hung limp at my sides. My legs ached as if I’d run for miles in circles. I had an overwhelming urge to go to sleep and my head bobbed with the effort to stay upright. “Take me home.”
He didn’t argue.
Exhausted, cried out, I rode quietly beside him, and stared blindly out the window. Numbness stilled my heart, and my mind went blank. My world stood silent, my life empty. Like looking out a small, round porthole, only a portion of the landscape was visible from my small, dark space…tree, street, house.
When he stopped the car in the drive, I opened the door without glancing at him. As I walked away, his voice sounded like a distant echo behind me.
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