Everyone has secrets.
Claramae Howards is no exception. Her secret is seven years old and starting to ask about his dad—the love she could never get over. Pursuing her love of art brings her a world of surprise and heartache…otherwise known as Julian’s father.
Reid Nyte gave up his heart for a chance at the Majors, but a shattered knee sends his future down the drain. Now he’s taken over the family business, putting him on a path back to Claramae.
Not everyone is happy that the old flames have found their way to each other again, and dormant threats turn deadly. Claramae and Reid struggle to work through their past while protecting their present and building a future.
Fate brought the couple back together, but will the threats looming over them tear them apart forever?
It took twice as long, but it’s finally over! Time to get the fuck on with our lives.
Claramae Howards beamed with pride as Carleton University’s graduating class tossed their caps into the air. Turning around, she scanned the guests’ faces one last time, hoping beyond hope that he’d somehow be here.
This is stupid. It doesn’t matter anymore. He doesn’t matter anymore. Who the fuck do you think you’re kidding? He’ll always matter.
Struggling to swallow past the lump of despair in her throat, Claramae twirled her rose gold arrow-tipped bracelet in the hopes of finding some comfort. It was the last gift he’d intentionally given her, and at times like this, she wished he were still here, in her corner.
Today was supposed to be a day of celebration. It had come as no surprise when her mother called to tell her she’d be missing her only daughter’s graduation for a cruise, but Claramae’s desire to have him around cast a shadow over the whole affair. It took seven gruelling years, but she finally had her Bachelor of Arts degree in hand.
Shedding her graduation cap and gown, Claramae walked over to her son, Julian, who stood off to the side. Decked out in a crisp grey suit and polka dot bowtie, roses cradled in his arm, the image of mini him made her tear up, and she struggled to blink away the waterworks. She didn’t want to ruin the gunk on her face. His shaggy golden hair fell into cerulean blue eyes that matched her own. Why didn’t he stay in touch like he promised?
Pasting a smile on her face, Claramae held her arms out and wrapped her son in a tight hug, mentally planning the next phase of their lives. Once Julian finished grade one, they’d be moving back to her hometown of Belldale. Maybe she’d even sign him up for hockey camp like she promised every year, only to forget and miss the registration deadline.
“Congrats, Mom! I knew you could do it.” Julian flashed her a brilliant smile as they headed toward the auditorium’s exit.
The Mom Song caused Claramae to jump, and she dug through her purse for her phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, dear, how is everything? How’s my favourite grandson?” her mother yelled.
No matter how many times Claramae told her mother to use her inside voice, she never did. Claramae looped her arm around Julian’s shoulder, and they strolled through campus toward their apartment building, phone on speaker.
“We’re fine. Just celebrating me getting my degree, no big deal.” Her mom was never one to call out of the blue—she always had an agenda. “How’s the cruise, Mother?”
“Oh! That’s right. Congratulations, sweetheart!”
“Hi, Grandma!” Julian yelled into the phone.
“Was that Julian? Tell him I said hi.” Her speech came out slurred. Or had Claramae imagined it?
“Was there a point to this call? It’s been a long day, and we’re about to get some dinner.” Claramae struggled to contain her annoyance.
“Just wanted to remind you I’ll be home next week.”
“Got it. Talk to you later, Mom.” Without a second thought, she hung up.
Back at the apartment, Julian pulled out his phone and sat on the couch while Claramae searched through the sparse cupboards for something to cook.
“Wanna see the photos I took? I think I got some really good ones.” His knee bounced with his excitement.
“You made sure to get my good side, right?” Claramae teased as she fell into a heap on the couch beside him. The images her son captured astonished her—she looked so poised and put together, confident and sure of herself. Everything Claramae was not.
The black and red tutu dress hugged her curves in all the right places. The grey and red pumps she paired with it gave her a much needed—in her opinion—height boost, and the magenta painting her lips and eyelids completed the look perfectly. Her auburn hair framed her face in loose waves and still managed to make her look elegant. The watercolour cupcake with a cherry on top tattoo—that she’d designed herself—stood out against her pale skin. She had two other originals, but the cupcake would always be her favourite. It was designed with him in mind, and with it smack dab in the middle of her forearm, you couldn’t miss it.
“Holy hell, kiddo. These are amazing!” Pride warmed her from the inside. Photos of her walking to the podium, accepting her degree, and waving to friends were captured with a wide smile and happiness in her eyes. The thought that one day it would be Julian up there accepting a degree for something he loved pulled at her heartstrings, causing her to tear up again. “Hey, Julian?”
“Promise me you won’t grow up too fast, okay? Or too slow. Just save some time for dreaming, yeah?”
Julian gave her an odd look but nodded. “Okay, Mom.”
Claramae pulled him to her chest and held on tight. How did she get so lucky to have the most thoughtful, sweet, and kind son in the whole world? Maybe she didn’t need him after all. Seven years was too long to wait around. What more of a sign did she need? It was time to move on.
Three Months Later