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Second Chance at Love (MF)

All or Nothing

Etopia Press

Heat Rating: SENSUAL
Word Count: 57,648
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Only the heart truly knows when it is ready to love again.

Alex Popovich has been reluctant to open himself to love again after the death of his wife years ago. Instead, the dedicated doctor has thrown himself into caring for his kids and his patients. But when an opportunity arises to be the head of cardiology at a state-of-the-art hospital in California, Alex decides it's a great time for a fresh start. Things are beginning to look up for him...until a fender bender with Peyton, a spirited art teacher, throws his life for a loop. She's beautiful, talented, and fiery. Having a social life, much less a new romance, is the last thing Alex wants right now, but he can't help being drawn to her. Now he must decide whether to continue living in the past or risk taking a chance on an unexpected future...

Peyton Colfax is having a difficult year. She's left New York City for a small town in California, putting a failed relationship behind her as she searches for new inspiration for her struggling art career. To make ends meet, she's substituting as an art teacher while hoping to score an artist residency in Maine. After a minor car accident on the way to her job interview sends the handsome Alex Popovich crashing into her life, she realizes he's trouble right away. The minute she sees him, she's reluctantly attracted to the hot, single dad who is obviously a terrible driver. Too bad he also has an ego the size of California. Although she tries to keep her distance, no matter where she goes in the sleepy small town, he always seems to be around, being both infuriating...and sexy. She's not sure if she wants to risk losing her heart to a man who might not be ready to commit. Especially if she's not sure she'll be staying in town long enough to put down roots...

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Alex Popovich ran a hand over his face as he walked into his new kitchen to make breakfast. He’d just finished five miles on the treadmill, showered, and was anxious to get the day started. He opened a cabinet looking for the pancake mix but realized it was now kept on a different shelf and the mixing bowls were now under the counter. They’d been living there a week, and it was still taking some time to get used to the layout of their spacious new home that was almost double the size of their last one.

While he searched for the griddle pan, his phone pinged. It was a text from his brother Derek saying they were on schedule for their visit and should be there in the afternoon. Even though they had busy schedules, Derek and Charisma insisted on visiting to help them settle into their new place. He wasn’t complaining, that meant he’d get to see his niece, Alexis. It had only been a few months since she’d been born, but it seemed like she’d been part of the family much longer. The day she was born, she changed the family in so many ways. For starters, his brother had gone from a rough-and-tumble hockey player to the mushiest man on the planet. Charisma had already decided Derek was a lost cause, as he doted on his daughter, and she’d have to be the disciplinarian.

Alex shook his head, thinking of the day he and Rachel brought Noah home. It was so long ago, but it still felt like yesterday. He was anxious and excited about being a dad. He’d seen that look on Derek’s face when he looked at his little girl. It was an exciting time in a couple’s life. Embracing all the love and anxiety that came along with being new parents. Knowing that someone else depended on you for their happiness and well-being.

Not a day went by when he didn’t think about his deceased wife, Rachel. He’d fallen in love with her the day he’d met her in college, and it had been fate that they’d both wanted to study medicine. He wanted to focus on the heart, while she wanted to work with eyes. She was a brilliant ophthalmologist whose field of expertise was macular degeneration treatment. She said there was no greater crime than someone losing their sight. They were both driven and dedicated to their fields of medicine. She understood the intensity he often slipped into when he was concerned about treating a patient or performing a complicated surgery. She understood because she was the same way. He often said she was his eyes to the world and kept a careful watch over his heart.

He laughed, thinking about the cheesy line he used on her the day they met. She had the most beautiful eyes. She was gorgeous, but there was something about her eyes that held him captive, and it seemed like he’d never looked away until the day she died. The car accident that claimed her life was the most devastating day of his life.

I won’t be long. I’ll be right back. Those were the last words she’d said to him. She’d been on her way to the airport to join a team of doctors consulting on a complicated case in Ohio when someone hit the shuttle transport that had picked her up. He often cursed himself for not driving her to the airport that day. It didn’t make him feel any better when people told him that if he had, he and the kids would probably be dead too.

He cracked the eggs and poured the batter, trying to push thoughts of the past away by whisking faster than he needed to. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t wallow in bad memories just days after moving into their new home.

They’d gotten a lot accomplished the past week, but there was still a lot to be done. But the most important things, like enrolling the kids in school and getting a new driver’s license, were already finished. It was fun tootling around the small but picturesque town nestled in the middle of nowhere California. It had taken some persuasion from his old college friend Grayson, plastic surgeon to the stars, to get him to come out, but once he arrived, there was a sense of tranquility in the air that he couldn’t deny was welcoming. He’d be working at a hospital that had the most cutting-edge medical tools and accomplished staff. Serenity Springs Medical was fast building a reputation for superior health care in a prestigious backdrop. In addition to the auspicious medical buildings on the campus, there was also a full-service spa and cosmetic surgery and physical therapy facilities.

He put the bacon on and poured the pancake batter, then scrolled his emails on his phone. Patty, the home association secretary in the expertly landscaped subdivision, relayed her apologies for not meeting them when they arrived. She’d been very enthusiastic and helpful since the purchase of the house, but he really didn’t want the attention. He had no intention of getting involved with his neighbors. The house and the surrounding property was a half-acre of land, just enough space that he didn’t have to worry about someone’s dog or Frisbee coming into his yard.

“Kids, breakfast is ready!” he yelled up the stairs. “Wash those hands before you come down.”

A few minutes later, Chloe came thundering down the stairs in her pajamas.

“Good morning, Dad.” Chloe wiped at her eyes as she took her seat at the table.

“Good morning, sweetie.” He kissed her on the top of her head. “Orange or cranberry juice?”

“Orange, please.”

He knew Chloe would be the first downstairs. It took a little more prodding to get Noah in gear. A minute later, he walked into the room.

“Noah, bud. How about you?”

“I’m feeling like cranberry today.” Noah slid into his seat.

“And I’ll do half cranberry, half orange.” Alex retrieved both containers from the fridge and poured.


“Don’t knock it until you try it.” He reached for his cell phone, then sat down.

Chloe gave him a stern look. “Dad, no technology at the table.”

“I know. My apologies.” Alex winced as his fingers flew over the screen. It was a cardinal rule in the house. “I was just responding to a text message from Uncle Derek. They should be here by the afternoon.”


“Thank you both for staying up to help me put the crib together. Alexis is going to love it.”

“No problem.”

The doorbell rang.

“Who’s that?” Noah munched on a piece of bacon.

“Maybe it’s Uncle Grayson.” He hadn’t seen his friend all week. “Finish your breakfast. We have a big day ahead of us.”

Alex walked toward the door. He could see what looked like a crowd through the frosted, crystal glass side panels of the huge mahogany door. It was probably a few of the neighbors. He’d gotten a few waves from passersby walking past the house when they were unloading the car the other day. He hated mingling. Rachel was always great with things like that. He’d nod and smile while she socialized and made connections. They’d been a great team.

The crowd on his doorstep didn’t appear to be wielding pitchforks. As a matter of fact, it looked like some of them had food containers in their hands. Alex opened the door to find five perfectly coiffed women standing there in a cloud of various perfumes. They were pretty glammed up for housewives. He couldn’t help but notice that some of them looked surgically enhanced. He wondered how many of them were Grayson’s patients. His friend had mentioned some of his best sculpting work was living in the neighborhood.

“Hello, ladies.”

The woman with the leopard top spoke.

“Hi there, Dr. Popovich. I’m Patty Smythe, head of the homeowner’s association. So sorry I couldn’t be here on move-in day. The ladies and I thought we’d come over and welcome you and the kids to the neighborhood.” She handed off a thick manual to him.

“Thanks, Patty. It’s very nice of you to take the time. We’ve been so busy unpacking I haven’t had time to stop by the office.” Alex smiled and placed the book on the bench next to the front door. “Please call me Alex.”

“We’ve spoken on the phone so much the last two months. I feel like we’re already good friends,” Patty gushed. “And I must say you have a beautiful telephone voice.”

The woman wearing the short pink dress cleared her throat. “Patty, aren’t you going to introduce the rest of us?”

Patty shot her a dirty look. “This is Mona, Adrian, Evie, and Brenda.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Alex stepped forward and as he shook each of the lady’s hands, Adrian and Brenda held on a little longer.

“You’re definitely going to spruce up our burg.” Mona gave him a sly smile. “We don’t get many gorgeous men around here.”

“Your photo doesn’t do you any justice.” Evie giggled as she peered at him through her eyeglasses and pushed them up with her free hand.

Mona’s jaw ticked. “For heaven’s sake, Evie, get the laser eye surgery. That whimsical, schoolgirl look is getting old.”

Alex furrowed his eyebrows. “What photo?”

“We looked you up on the Internet.” Brenda grinned. “You have quite a reputation. Alex Popovich, superstar heart surgeon and brother of hockey player Derek Popovich. Good looks run in the family.”

“You two looked very dashing in your brother’s wedding photos.” Mona played with her hair. “Is it true he’s really married and has a daughter?”

They’d certainly done their homework.

He laughed. “I think the wedding photos are proof.”

“I was hoping it was a publicity stunt. The hot ones are dropping like flies.” Adrian rolled her eyes.

“I assure you he’s happily married to a remarkable woman, and they have a beautiful little girl.”

Patty kept going. “It must be quite a culture shock to move from Portland to Harper’s Grove.”

“Not really. But I am looking forward to less rain. Otherwise, the grass is just as green and the sun is shining just as brightly. The neighbors are friendly and they bring food.” Alex plastered on a tight smile as he glanced at the dishes.

“We thought you might be hungry from all the moving, so we thought we’d all give you a sample of what we have to offer.” Adrian gave him a jaw-breaking grin as she held up her casserole dish.

“Yeah, it must be tough raising the kids on your own,” Brenda added.

Before he could answer, they started in on each other again.

Patty rolled her eyes. “Adrian, is that your chicken and pasta casserole? I know your husband, Rick, can’t get enough of it, but I always thought it needed a bit more salt.”

“Funny, Patty, I thought Walt left you because you were too salty,” Adrian fired back.

“Who needs a heavy, sloppy casserole when you can have fresh-baked zucchini bread?” Mona winked. “It’s obvious Alex likes to keep fit.”

Alex watched like a spectator at a boxing ring as the ladies went at each other. So much for trying to make a good impression on him. There seemed to be no end in sight to the bickering, so he finally stepped in. He had things to do before his family arrived.

“Ladies, I think it’s awfully sweet that you cooked for us, but I can assure you that I am a pretty good cook and my children never go hungry.” He could hear the chairs being moved around in the kitchen, followed by footsteps to the front door. “These are my two partners in crime, Noah and Chloe. Kids, say hello to our new neighbors.”

“Hi.” Noah and Chloe waved.

“What beautiful children.” Patty reached to pinch their cheeks, but they stepped out of the way. “Noah, you’ll be in the same class as my Sebastian.”

“We have a great school system,” Brenda said, “and we’ve created a buddy system of watching each other’s kids. We’d be happy to have Noah and Chloe hang out at one of our houses until you get off work.”

Noah and Chloe looked up at him in horror.

Alex knew where this was going. “I have it covered, thanks.”

“We didn’t mean anything by it.” Patty bit her lip. “We just know that part of a community keeping everyone safe is being involved and looking out for each other. It can’t be easy being a single parent and a doctor.”

He didn’t think of himself that way. It was hard to explain that he didn’t feel alone without someone thinking he was nuts. Rachel was still with them. He had to get rid of them nicely, but he had to get rid of them all the same.

“You have the right idea, Patty.” He nodded, flashing them all another smile that felt fake. “It’s comforting to know we’ve moved into a close-knit neighborhood, and once we get settled, we would love to participate in some of the activities.”

He didn’t want them thinking he was antisocial. Back in their neighborhood in Portland, they had history there and people understood his need for privacy. Rachel said he always came off as standoffish, but she’d done what she could to balance the social scales. She’d mingled when necessary, and he hadn’t gone golfing with the fellows to prove he belonged. But this was a new setting, and word of his quirky personality hadn’t been somewhere on the Internet for them to look up. So he’d suck it up and find new footing again. The last thing he wanted to be was that weird single dad who wouldn’t let his children socialize.

“There’s plenty to do here. I included a list of activities for the next three months in your homeowner’s association manual. I also took the time to highlight some of the obvious things.”

“Such as?”

“The garbage cans should be out by no later than five a.m. on the curb in the regulation containers. We frown upon excessively watering the lawns. And as a side note, the security patrol is on the lookout for coyotes.”

Alex’s eyes widened. “Coyotes?”

“Felicity Myers down the road claims that coyotes have been getting into her garbage. But we think she just likes having the security patrol over to her house.” Brenda waggled her eyebrows.

“You better watch out for her.” Evie looked around to make sure the coast was clear, then leaned in. “She’s a cougar.”


Mona let out a dry laugh. “It’s terribly embarrassing the way she flirts with everyone.”

The ladies all looked at her as they grumbled under their breath. He thought he heard someone say the pot was calling the kettle something.

“Ladies, I hate to cut your visit short, but the kids and I have some things to do today. I’ll keep an eye out for all animals. Both real and imagined.” Alex winked.

“We’ll let you get to it.” Patty squeezed his hand. “When you have more time, I can stop by and go over the rest of the manual with you.”

Adrian moved closer and put her hand on his arm. “I can give you a tour of the town if you’re free one evening.”

Alex stepped back. “Thanks. I’m friends with Grayson Bennett. He’s expecting to give me the grand tour when he returns to town.”

“You’re friends with Dr. Bennett?” Mona's voice rose a bit.


“Oh.” Evie blushed. “He’s done work on half the—”

“Quiet, Evie.” Brenda nudged her gently in the ribs.

The ladies piled the meals into his arms and rambled off instructions on how to reheat the dishes. Once they’d loaded back into their golf carts and had pulled out of the driveway, he shut the door and headed into the kitchen with the kids in tow.

“Do you think there’s coyotes and cougars out there?” Chloe asked as she opened the dishwasher.

“I think it’s a case of ‘The Little Cougar Who Cried Coyote.’” Alex set the dishes down on the counter and inspected them. “The ladies were trying to find a nice way to say Mrs. Myers might be making up the coyote to get someone to spend time with her.”

“Oh. She’s lonely.” Noah sipped his cranberry juice as he began clearing the table.

“Something like that.” He surveyed the kitchen.

“I thought you said we wouldn’t be getting any more casseroles when we moved here?” Noah asked.

“I apparently misspoke, son.” He gave him a rub on the head. “Why don’t I finish up in here while you two get dressed? We’ll make another trip to the market and stock up on some things before Uncle Derek and Aunt Charisma get here.”

“OK, Dad.”

Alex smiled as the kids scampered out of the kitchen. They may have been getting used to their new home, but they kept up the teamwork. His thoughts skipped back to the strange introduction to the neighborhood that had showed up on his front porch. The welcoming committee definitely had a Desperate Housewives vibe and had done their homework on him. One sheet of baking instructions even had Mona’s phone number on it. The last thing he needed was another crop of women thinking he and the kids needed a woman’s touch. They were doing just fine, thank you very much.

Besides, no one could replace Rachel. She was one in a million and the love of his life.

No one could ever replace her. Sure, pangs of loneliness would creep up on him when he least expected. Watching a romantic movie and seeing a couple holding hands sent a dull pain through his heart. He missed caring for someone, talking about their day while fixing dinner, and making vacation plans. It was those simple moments that he missed so much. Rachel’s constant chatter had a way of soothing him, so much so she’d swear he wasn’t listening, but he’d really be hanging on to her every word.

But the thought of jumping back into the dating pool sent shivers down his spine. Now there was more at stake. He had the kid’s feelings to consider, and he didn’t want them getting attached to every woman he dated.

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