The Soldier's Legacy

By: Gina Wilkins

CHAPTER ONE

ALWAYS-PRACTICAL SINGLE MOM Jade Evans had made detailed plans for the coming weeks for herself and her three children. A fire ignited by a careless construction worker had sent that carefully-crafted schedule up in smoke along with the kitchen of their new home, only days before they were to have moved in. Their furniture and most of their belongings had already been delivered before the fire, though fortunately most of the damage had been confined to the kitchen and roof.

“Wow.” Twelve-year-old Caleb stood with his mother and two sisters in a soaring entryway with a dining room on the left side and a front parlor on the right. Glass sliders at the back of the big den ahead looked out over a spacious deck, a glistening pool and a beautifully landscaped lawn that sloped gracefully down to a private dock on the Intracoastal Waterway. His brown eyes wide, Caleb pushed his floppy brown hair off the top of his glasses. “Nice place, huh, Mom?”

“Yes, it’s lovely.”

Jade could understand why her son was impressed. It was hard to imagine that this spacious house was home to only one man—Trevor Farrell, the son of her mother’s closest friend. An army veteran and now-successful resort owner, Trevor had been tragically widowed at just twenty-eight—almost a decade ago while he was deployed overseas. Jade didn’t think he’d owned this place when he was married. So, he’d bought it after his wife’s death, either as a private escape or as an investment. Perhaps he had plans to remarry eventually. His mother hadn’t given up hope for grandchildren to enjoy as much as Jade’s mom. Linda McGill relished being Nanna to Jade’s children.

Mary Pat Rayburn, the short, pleasantly rounded woman who’d opened the door and ushered them inside waved a hand toward the staircase in a warm welcome. “Let me show you up to your rooms.”

“We’re going to live here?” six-year-old Bella asked, slipping her hand into Jade’s. With her golden curls and huge amber eyes, Bella was the youngest and most skittish of the children, the one Jade thought of as her “loving little worrier.”

Notoriously impatient, ten-year-old Erin sighed as she pushed back her darker blond hair to focus on her sister. “We talked about this, Bella. This is Ms. Hester’s son’s house. We’re only staying here until our new house is fixed so we can move in. Right, Mama?”

“Yes, that’s right.” Jade agreed rather reluctantly. She was still finding it hard to believe that she and her children would be sharing Trevor’s home for the next couple of weeks.

Having accepted a job here in Shorty’s Landing, Jade had recently sold the house she’d owned, close to her mother’s home in Columbia, South Carolina.

She and the children could have stayed with her mother until the repairs on their new house here were completed, but school would begin in less than a week. It would’ve been difficult to get the kids back and forth with a ninety-minute drive each way, especially with Jade starting her new job. It was hard enough for them that they’d be in new schools, and now they had to deal with their home in upheaval, as well.

When she’d learned Jade needed temporary lodgings in the area, Hester Farrell had railroaded Jade into occupying Trevor’s rarely used second floor until the repairs were completed. Suspicious about Hester’s motives, Jade had initially resisted the offer. When it came to Jade and Trevor, Hester was no more subtle a matchmaker than Jade’s own mom.

Jade had been forced to inform her mother more than once that she wasn’t interested in being pushed into a romance with Hester’s handsome and successful son—despite hints that grew more pointed each time Jade’s path crossed Trevor’s. As if both being widowed early and having mothers who were close friends formed the basis for a lasting relationship between her and Trevor, Jade often thought in exasperation.

She didn’t want to do anything that would throw more fuel on that particular fire. And accepting charity was difficult for someone who’d become accustomed to relying on no one but herself.

Still, the intimidatingly efficient Hester had forged on with her proposition. Both Hester and Jade’s mother had implied that it would be ungrateful of Jade to refuse the generous offer. So now here they were, being welcomed into Trevor’s home by his housekeeper less than two full days after Hester had extended the invitation on her son’s behalf. Jade couldn’t help wondering if Trevor was any more enthused about the situation than she was.

She and Trevor had been introduced for the first time only three years ago during a party at his parents’ house to celebrate Jade’s mother’s sixtieth birthday. Coincidentally in town for a class reunion      , Trevor had dropped in to give his regards. Jade and Trevor had interacted on only a few occasions since, most recently when he’d accompanied his parents to Jade’s father’s funeral last year. Jade couldn’t claim to know Trevor well, but when she thought of him, she always recalled his impeccable manners and his charming, but unrevealing, smile. Despite his deeply ingrained courtesy, she’d had the sense that wherever he was at the time, he felt as though he should be somewhere else—a busy man with divided loyalties pulling him in many directions.

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