Second Chances

Second Chances 

Trying to escape their painful past, Anne and Pete move to the middle of nowhere…and find each other.

Anne McClain Bradley has returned to Legend, Tennessee after a personal tragedy sent her successful, well-ordered life reeling. Midnight Shelby McClain has offered Anne the apartment over The Emporium, and Anne is cautiously hopeful that her heart, and her family connections in Legend, can heal.

Pete Garrity is new in Legend, having been hired as the general manager of The Legend Post-Dispatch by the newspaper’s elderly owner. Pete has a past he won’t discuss, and hasn’t gotten close to anybody in town. As a hideaway, Legend seemed perfect.

But now Pete finds himself stuck in Legend with no way out, and worries that his career is finished. What a surprise when Anne Bradley turns up in Legend–she might be just the answer to his dilemma.

But every time Anne looks at Pete, she’s reminded of the pain she came here to escape.

Legend has a way of healing broken hearts, no matter how longstanding the brokenness. But first one must believe in possibilities…for second chances, and for moving forward with hope. 

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Prologue

Legend Post-Dispatch

Mrs. Adeline Hamilton Bynum, 83, known to the Legend community as Ms. Addie, passed away on April 8 in the comfort of her home after a yearlong illness. A lifelong resident of Legend, she was preceded in death by an infant daughter Caroline, and her husband Roger Bynum, the owner of the Post-Dispatch and other community businesses.
Ms. Addie was a member of the Legend United Methodist Church where a public celebration of her life will be held on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. In life, Ms. Addie was a private woman, who enjoyed her rose garden and grew championship roses. Over the years, she also touched the lives of many children, participating in the county foster family program and giving part-time work to deserving teens. She also had a soft heart for stray animals. Cats were her favorite, but she also contributed to the local animal rescue charities.
Ms. Addie is survived by a great-nephew, Jeremy Hamilton of Louisville, Kentucky. Memorial gifts can be made to the Legend Animal Shelter or Alley Cat Advocates alleycatadvocates.org.
Chapter One
Back in Legend, Tennessee, after so many years, Anne was putting her trust in this little town and its people to help heal her heart.
She parked her car in a spot just off the alley and killed the engine. Leaning back against the headrest, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She’d made it! She had driven more than one thousand miles with only short breaks, so eager to reach Legend, Tennessee, once she had decided to make the trip. She pulled the keys and slipped them into the pocket of her jacket. No more nagging worry about the location of her keys, which might mean being locked out of the house or her car in an emergency. She was in Legend now—a town where many people never locked their doors. She slid her cell phone out of the console and into the side pocket of her handbag. The little phone had served as her connection to the world, her lifeline. Now it would be just a convenience.
The location of her keys and phone was no longer a cause for panic. She wouldn’t need to make a rushed trip to the emergency room or call the nurse line for advice. Memories started to flood her mind, and Anne shook her head to block them. That was the past. She had to let go of it as much as possible and move forward, or she knew there was a dangerous chance she’d be consumed by the depression that awaited her in the shadows.
She’d done her very best for Steven, and now she needed to be concerned with her own well-being. Everyone had told her what an amazing caregiver she’d been. But Anne didn’t feel amazing. She felt exhausted, as if she’d been walking in a thick fog for a very long time. She checked the makeup mirror on the visor and did a little repair work. Of course makeup couldn’t hide all evidence of her recent history, but it helped. She didn’t want pity.
She stretched for a moment standing by the car. The fresh breeze was full of rhododendron scent, mingled with a light whiff of pine. The riot of brightly colored rhododendron bushes grew along the alley, escaping from the vacant lot where a house had once sat, the work of some long-forgotten gardener. Anne raised her face to the sun, felt its warmth on her skin.
Spring had always been her favorite time of year in the Smoky Mountains, the vibrant color a welcome surprise to the senses after the grey and brown of winter. As she needed a renewal herself, the timing of her arrival seemed perfect. Anne was dead-tired of making one hard decision after another. Literally thousands of decisions in the last few years, most of them tinged with pain and loss. But she had no doubt this one—coming back to Legend, at least temporarily—was definitely right. Being here after such a long absence could well be awkward, but she was determined to make it work.
“Anne! I thought I’d heard a car door back here. How wonderful to see you!” Midnight Shelby McClain emerged from the back door of her shop and left it standing wide open. Her impossibly black hair shone almost blue in the sun, and she was dressed in slim jeans, black kid flats, and a white V-neck knit shirt. Midnight made simple items look like designer clothes just because they were on her. She stopped and her black eyes searched Anne’s.
“I’m so glad you’re home. This will be wonderful.” Gentle arms went around her, pulling her close.
It felt good to be held, to have simple human contact after such a long time of being physically alone. Out of pure relief and gratitude, Anne relaxed against her, the hug a balm to her soul. In a moment, she cleared her throat, gave Midnight a brief tight squeeze, and took a half step backward. She pulled her bag back onto her shoulder from her elbow where it had slipped, and forced a smile.
“Thank you for that, Midnight. I needed a hug.” Looking closer, she said, “Uh-oh. Some of my makeup smeared onto your perfect white shirt. I’m so sorry!”
Midnight shook her head. “I’m sure it’ll wash out. If not, who cares? What’s a little smeared makeup between friends—or family?” She flashed her brilliant smile. “We’re all so glad to have you back home. Let me show you the apartment. Martin will be over in a while to carry up your things.” From the back seat Anne pulled out an overnight bag, which Midnight took. She put her arm through
Anne’s and led her to the fire escape-style stairway. “This isn’t your only entrance, but it’s one of them. Game for this, or should we go up through the shop?”
Anne looked overhead at the open stairway that weaved back on itself a couple of times as it climbed to the small balcony on the second floor level. “I’m game.” She started up the stairs. “I take it you’ve upgraded quite a bit since buying the building.”
Midnight laughed. “Yes, over time we’ve done more upgrading than I realized a building could ever need. It’s been worth it, though.” She joined Anne on the balcony. “Just look!” She waved her arm at the view of downtown Legend, cozy and inviting as a picture postcard. “No matter how many times I see our little town, or from what angle, it always tugs at my heart.” She sighed and smiled at Anne. “I really never had a home ‘til I found Legend. It was just what I needed—where I needed to be, so my heart and mind could finish healing.”
Anne remembered Midnight had found Legend by way of an online real estate ad posted by McClain Realty. It hadn’t been long after her purchase of the building and arrival in Legend—in that order—that she’d started spending time with realtor Martin McClain. The rest, as they say, was history. And a beautiful history it had been for Midnight and Martin so far. Beautiful, too, for Martin’s son Daniel, who had immediately become close to Midnight. She was the mother he’d never had.
Anne held onto the railing and inhaled deeply. Could it be the town smelled even more Legend-ish from up here? She thought she was getting a stronger pine scent. “How are Martin and Daniel?”
“Martin is well, and business is better than ever. Daniel is thriving now he’s taking some college classes online. High school was so dull for him until he had that extra work to keep his mind busy.”
Anne chuckled. “You mean you and Martin are trying to keep him busy with school so he’s not too caught up with girls.”
Midnight smiled but shook her head, her black hair streaming across her shoulders. “No. That’s not it. He has lots of friends, but not a particular girlfriend. He’s so focused on getting out of school so he can go into business for himself. He wants to have his own IT consulting firm. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but working toward the goal makes him happy.” She touched Anne’s hand on the railing. “Ready to look inside? Or should we pull the bed out here so you can take a nap in this lovely breeze?”
“Tempting. This is the most perfect weather, isn’t it?”
“Sure is. That’s why I opened the place up when I knew you’d arrive today.” Midnight walked through the open doorway, and after a moment Anne pulled herself away from the breeze and the view, and followed.
The sweet fresh air was circulating through the apartment since Midnight had also opened windows on the opposite end.
“You’ve renovated up here too?”
“Yes. Martin says I ‘had my way’ with it. It’s fun to make the place available for friends or family. While I lived up here, it felt a little boxed in, so we removed the non-load bearing walls and put up these posts.” She ran a hand along a wooden column. “I love the open plan! Greg Andrews and his guys did the work. They’re amazing. You know Mike McClain works for Greg?”
Anne nodded, reasonably certain she had heard this about her nephew Mike. The young man had made a mess of his life for a while, but seemed to have found his way, and regained his wife and daughter in the process.
“Mike actually did most of the apartment renovation. He has talent.” Midnight walked to the kitchen area, an L-shape with maple cabinets and black granite countertop. “He did this too.” She ran her hand along the countertop. “I love the black granite, but you’ll find it shows every speck. I probably wouldn’t choose it again. Our kitchen at the cabin still has Martin’s old fake butcher block countertop.”
She laughed. “He says it has a few more good years in it.” She turned around, gestured at maple door fronts. “Dishwasher, garbage disposal.” Nodding to the side, “The fridge has been cleaned. You may want to put new shelf paper in the cabinets.” She walked to the other side of the space to an open door. “Bathroom, of course. There are towels and some basics in that cabinet on the wall.” She turned and led the way to the other end of the space. “I bought this bed at an auction. Always thought Jenny Lind was sweet looking. I took my other bed to the cabin. Sentimental…”
She waved a hand toward a set of double doors. “And in there is the mother of all walk-in closets. I got a little carried away with it. I’ll let you prospect.” She shrugged. “Anyhow, lots of storage. You could empty a decent sized moving truck into that closet and not overfill it, I think. That’s a little embarrassing.” She walked to the center of the room, turned to face Anne. “Well? Will it work for you?”
Anne looked at her friend, the wife of her nephew Martin. Beautiful Midnight, who had somehow decided to love Legend more than many of its own inhabitants did, and who had done so much to get the town moving in the right direction, away from seeking salvation from corporations that didn’t care, to capitalizing on what Legend already had: A talented citizenry with lots of heart, and a setting in unsurpassed natural beauty.
“Legend has come a long way since we—since I was here last.”
Midnight’s smile was gentle. “Yes, it has. We’ve all worked together really well.”
“It’s wonderful to see the place thriving. It hasn’t done that since almost before I can remember. This apartment is gorgeous, Midnight. With all that’s going on in Legend, I’m sure you could rent it out to someone long-term.”
“But I don’t want that. I love having it here, furnished and ready at short notice, if someone needs it. I love having it ready for you, Anne. It’s centrally located to everything in town, and very easy to take care of. And you’ll be glad to know the shop downstairs doesn’t make too much noise.”
Anne laughed. “Much quieter than when it was Jim Bob’s Saloon! Of course back then, it was the owners, Jim Bob and Sylvie, and their daughter Lila Sue who lived up here. Oh my goodness! I hadn’t thought about Lila Sue in forever. She was just a couple years older than I. Wonder what ever happened to her.”
“I’ve been told the parents moved to Arizona when they sold out, but I don’t know about the daughter. No one seems to have heard from her.”
“Maybe once she left Legend, life changed for her. Lila Sue was spoiled and unpleasant, but was an intelligent, beautiful young woman who could have gone far. Maybe she did just that, and chose not to look back.” Anne walked to an open front window and looked down on Second Street. Several people walked along the sidewalks, and there was more traffic than when she’d grown up here. “Who could blame Lila Sue for not coming back to Legend, when our memory of her is like that? Pretty sad, really.” She turned back to Midnight. “Coming back is hard for me too, even though my memories of Legend are mostly good ones. I can’t get away from memories of Steven, no matter where I am. Not that I want to—Oh! I’m probably not making any sense.”
“Sure you are. Even happy memories can be painful for you, I’m sure.”
Anne’s throat constricted. “Yes. I now have a thorough understanding of the word bittersweet.”
“I think Legend, and this apartment, can be good for you, Anne. A bit of a retreat. If you want to invite people up, you can. Otherwise, you’ll have your privacy. No one is going to come knocking on your door, expecting things of you.”
Anne smiled. “It seems perfect, Midnight. Thank you so much for suggesting it to me. I had just sold the house and wasn’t sure where to go next. When you’re suddenly on your own after thirty-plus years of marriage… Well anyway, I was glad for your call.”
“Good. The place is yours for as long as you want it. Now I’m going to give you some time to yourself. Lie down if you want, take a shower, or have a glass of lemonade or sweet tea. They’re in the fridge, and glasses in that next cabinet. I’ll go down and make sure no customers have come in while I’ve been up here. I think I’d have heard the bell above the door, but maybe not. Poke around in the closet, see if there are any books you’d like to read, reorganize if you want. Make yourself at home.” She smiled and disappeared down the indoor staircase in the front corner of the apartment.

 

Anne shook her head, amazed at her good fortune. Midnight had provided a selection of current magazines on the low coffee table, and bookshelves offered classics, romance novels, and Agatha Christie. She chose The Man in the Brown Suit and poured a glass of sweet tea, then took them onto the little balcony and sat in the sun at the small table, breathing in Legend. Coming here had done wonders for Midnight, and for other women who’d been hurting when they arrived. Maybe Legend could work its magic for Anne, too. She sincerely hoped so.
End of Excerpt. Get your copy of Anne and Pete’s story here: