“And then the fox said to the lion that there was no more room for him to…” Sara’s voice trailed off when she saw her munchkins were both sound asleep. She closed the book and slumped against the padded headboard.
Tonight had been a record ten-book night, blowing the previous record holder of six books out of the water. Her kids had been more wound up after the first three than they were before they got in bed thanks to Austin’s voices and ever-entertaining storytelling prowess. Once he got one laugh, he’d turned up the performance, not understanding the goal of the reading was to lull—bore—the children to sleep. It was a rookie move.
She grinned as she thought about his Baloo impression as he’d read one of the kids’ all-time favorites, The Jungle Book. Honestly, to look at him, no one would ever guess behind the tough, alpha, Marine sniper, tattooed exterior lay such an impressive performer. In fact, she’d been tempted to film it on her phone so she could send it to Shelby. Her sister would definitely appreciate the irony. She’d resisted, but just barely.
Unfortunately, she’d had to be the bad guy who put an end to his book-reading show when she saw it was having the same effect on her kids as snorting Pixy Stix. Both Charlotte and Trevor had protested, but Austin had stepped up and had her back. He told them he actually had work he had to go do, but he’d read to them tomorrow. During the day. Then he mouthed the words I’m sorry as he left.
Honestly, could this man get any more perfect?
Sitting up, she turned so her feet were hanging off the bed. She would pace herself, but her ankle was still a little sore. She felt like her life was a ticking clock. A countdown to when she’d be driving away from the first place and the first man who’d ever felt like home to her, and it was making her crazy.
The past couple of days had been amazing, but the truth was, the entire time had been a vacation from her real life. At the beginning, her intention had been to enjoy herself but then distance herself from Austin once the kids came back. That way the kids wouldn’t get even more attached to him. She knew she was a lost cause. Even if she never spent one more second with him, it wouldn’t change the way she felt about him. But as a mom, she wanted to protect her kids from the pain sure to come when their lives were Austin-less.
She’d even decided at lunch today to ask him to keep his distance. Just until they figured out what they were doing. But thanks to the kids coming home early, she hadn’t gotten the chance. After Jack had announced he wanted to speak to her privately, the kids were spending time with him before she’d even wrapped her head around the fact they were home.
And thanks to her ankle injury, he’d spent the day not only taking care of her, but also the kids. When they’d arrived home with breakfast, Austin had watched the kids while she took a bath. After that, he’d wrapped her foot in an ACE bandage and taken a shower that had lasted a grand total of two—yes, two—minutes. Before his hair was even dry, he’d been playing board games with the kids. Followed by watching two movies and then taking Trevor with him to get take out from Lanterns for dinner while Charlotte and Sara watched, wait for it, Frozen.
The entire day, he’d brought her ice for her foot and reminded her to elevate it. He’d made jokes about her injury to lighten the mood so the kids wouldn’t be worried about her, while simultaneously keeping a watchful eye to make sure they weren’t getting too close or being too rowdy around her.
And she was leaving in two days.
Tears filled her eyes and she sniffed. Wiping her cheeks, she told herself to suck it up. This was her real life, not a fairytale. This wasn’t going to have a happy ending, no matter how badly she wished it would.
She couldn’t stay here, even if he wanted her to. What kind of example would that be for her kids? What kind of a mother uproots her children’s lives and moves them to a town where they don’t know anyone? For a man?
You do know people, her inner voice piped in. She did. She knew Ali, Jess, Brynn, and Chrissy. Trevor was “best friends” with Cassidy and Kimber. And Charlotte told her today that she and Sally had decided that they were sisters. They were even going to be doing a dance on the final day of the summer program during the talent show. Charlotte had been hesitant at first, but after she found out they were dancing to “Let it Go”, she’d been all in. Her daughter had only been able to attend one practice on Tuesday, but one of the teens, Axel’s sister Izzy, who was running the talent show, assured Sara if she could make it to the Saturday rehearsal, she would be fine.
She loved it here. Her kids loved it here.
A heavy sigh fell from her lips and she ran her hands through her hair. Was she crazy to even be entertaining the idea of staying here in Whisper Lake?1yyy9
Jack doesn’t think so. A voice that sounded suspiciously like her sister’s piped up in her head.
In fact, that was what their private talk had been about.
He’d told her he’d never seen her as happy as she was when she looked at Austin. And that he’d liked him in the brief meeting that they’d had. He said that all the kids had talked about was Austin this and Austin that. And that he’d done some digging, using his military security clearance, just to make sure the guy was what he seemed. What he’d found had only impressed him more.
Apparently, Austin was a war hero and his marksmanship had garnered him several awards. Jack’s exact words to describe him had been bad-ass sniper.
It’d been the oddest experience having that discussion with her ex-husband. When Sara had asked him why he was telling her all this, he’d told her it was because he didn’t want her to make the mistake of walking away from something that could finally be the right thing for her because she was trying to do the right thing.
Then he’d hugged her and said goodbye.
Sara had stood there dumbfounded as she’d watched him drive away. Wobbling up the steps to the B&B, she was hit by the fact her ex had just driven away from her knowing she had a hurt ankle, and the only reason Austin wasn’t there helping her was because he was trying to make her life easier by taking care of the kids.
If that wasn’t an Oprah aha moment, she didn’t know what was.
Still, her mind was so cluttered with what ifs.
What if she stayed and things didn’t work out?
What if she left and things could’ve worked out?
What if she never met another man like Austin?
That wasn’t even a question. She knew there was no other man on this earth like Austin. And even though he was the cause of her confusion, she also knew he was the solution.
She needed to see him. To hold him. To kiss him. To let him drive.