Futures Entwined (Ardor Creek #6)
Futures Entwined (Ardor Creek #6)
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- Single Dad
- Second Chance
- Later in Life Romance
- Steamy Small Town Romance
USA Today bestselling author Rebecca Hefner writing as Ayla Asher
Does a former mean girl deserve a happy ever after?
Heather Combs grew up in Ardor Creek, stuck in a home with zero love or emotional support. In response, she lashed out, becoming a popular but cold ice-queen. Hoping to escape her unstable home, she married her high school boyfriend, only to realize she’d entered into another emotionally unfulfilling relationship. Convinced she didn’t possess the capacity to love, she divorced her ex and left Ardor Creek.
Years later, Jeremy Kramer, a successful author and single dad to twin girls, moves to Ardor Creek and instantly falls for the small-town charm. His busy life leaves little room for love, even if newly-returned former bad girl Heather Combs continually catches his eye.
When Heather and Jeremy become neighbors, they quickly realize their chemistry is off the charts. But he’s a dad who prefers serious relationships and she detests feelings. After all, love has never been her forte, but in the hidden corners of her soul, she can’t deny her yearning for her handsome neighbor and his sweet, precocious girls…
Intro Into Chapter 1
Intro Into Chapter 1
Heather Combs, formerly Connors, strolled down the bustling Philadelphia sidewalk. The early-summer heat was sweltering and she thanked all the gods she didn’t believe in that she’d remembered her hat. Like most of her clothing and accessories, it was fashionable and shielded her from the glaring sun. Her two-inch heels clicked on the sidewalk as she strode toward her apartment after another day in paradise…
If one considered working as an office assistant to a misogynistic ass “paradise.”
Smirking at the sardonic thought, she glanced down to step over a crack and plowed into another passerby with a solid thunk.
“Whoa, there,” he said, steadying her as he gently clutched her upper arms. “I’m so sorry. Didn’t see you.”
Pushing her hat off her face, Heather opened her mouth, ready to lay into him or utter an epic curse, unsure which option would fly from her lips. Scowling, she lifted her gaze and froze. “Brian?”
“Holy shit! Heather? Heather Conners? How are you?”
Grinning, she relaxed and shrugged. “I don’t think you broke any bones,” she teased, drawing back and running her hands over her forearms. “I’m okay. How are you? How’s Terry? What are you doing in Philly?”
Chuckling, he rested his hand on his hip. “Terry’s great. Still working at the pub where I imagine she’ll work until retirement. I’m good too. Here for a work meeting and can’t wait to get back to Ardor Creek. I’m just not a big city guy.” Sympathy entered his brown eyes. “I heard about your divorce from Butch before you left town. Sorry to hear it.”
“I think we were always doomed,” she said, shrugging. “He was kind of a dick and I stayed with him too long, but that’s what happens when you get married when you’re eighteen, right?”
“Terry and I married young but, thankfully, we’ve made it so far.”
“True. You two were always meant for each other.”
“So, I’m assuming it’s Heather Combs again?”
“Yep. Took back my maiden name when we divorced. Not that it ever did me any favors but it’s better than being associated with my ex for the rest of my life.”
Brian’s deep eyes assessed her, reminding Heather how kind he’d been in high school. His wife, Terry, had been on the cheerleading squad too and she was one of the few people Heather had liked at Ardor Creek High.
“I’m assuming you’ve heard Butch is engaged to Cynthia Andrews,” he said softly.
Heather could barely contain her eye roll. “Yep. I figured she was going to try and seduce Chad but he shot her down to date Abby. Although I wasn’t a fan of Abby’s, I’m glad Chad chose someone who wasn’t a Grade A hoe bag. Of course, now my ex-husband is with said hoe bag, which honestly seems quite fitting.” She rubbed her chin as she considered. “They deserve each other.”
His breathy laugh surrounded her. “You’ve still got that sharp tongue, Heather.”
She shot him a droll glare. “If you’re saying I’m still a bitch, it’s true and I’m proud of it. I never had time to develop a filter. Too late now.”
“I think a filter would be boring on you. The blatant honesty and forthright opinions are endearing in a weird way.”
“Well, that reminds me of how nice you are.” She flashed a grin. “So, what are they saying about me in ol’ Ardor Creek? I know the rumor mill is rampant, especially since Butch and Cynthia live there.”
“You know…” he said, shrugging. “Same old shit.”
“Just tell me. Did Butch share that he cheated on me?”
Brian cleared his throat. “Um, not exactly.”
“Well, he did. Guess he’d want to keep it secret so people didn’t know what an ass he was.”
Brian rubbed the back of his neck as she tilted her head.
“What is it?”
“Actually, Heather, he told everyone you cheated on him.”
Bristling, she felt the anger rush in. “Excuse me? I did no such thing.”
“And he also told everyone you…um…”
“Go on,” she said, circling her hand. “Might as well spit it all out now.”
His eyes darted to the neckline of her shirt before quickly rising. “He said you got…uh…breast surgery…and it was lopsided.”
Sucking in a breath, Heather felt the rage surge as she imagined strangling her ex-husband. Closing her eyes, she steadied herself before setting the record straight. “Number one,” she said, holding up a finger, “that bastard cheated on me, not the other way around. And number two, I did get a boob job. It was a breast reduction because I’m not twenty-five anymore and those things were heavy as shit and hell on my back. And I can assure you, they are not lopsided.”
“Hey, I believe you,” he said, showing her his palms. “You told me to be honest.”
Huffing a breath, she crossed her arms over her perfectly proportioned breasts and tapped her foot. “I wish I could say I was surprised. This is what I get for leaving Butch in Ardor Creek and moving to Philly. I was just so ready to leave it all behind. In my absence, I left Butch to tell the story of what happened. The false story.” Tugging off her hat, she ran a hand through her blond curls. “Bastard.”
“Well, I’ll be happy to tell Carrie I saw you and what we discussed. You know she’ll set the record straight in five minutes.”
Huffing a laugh, Heather nodded. “Biggest gossip in Ardor Creek. I heard she and Peter are finally happy. Took them long enough.”
Brian’s eyebrows lifted, indicating she was one to talk considering her divorce.
“Okay, you don’t have to stare me down. I get it. I’m the biggest train wreck of all. How happy it must make everyone in Ardor Creek to hear these awful stories Butch is spreading about me. The bitch finally gets her due.”
“I think you’re being hard on yourself, Heather,” he said, cupping her arm. “No one wishes you ill will.”
“Even Abby?” She lifted a sardonic brow.
He squinted as he pondered. “Okay, not too many people.”
Laughing, she replaced her hat and patted it to settle her hair underneath. “Hell, I deserve it. I was terrible to her. But I learned a long time ago it’s futile to waste time on things you can’t change.” Glancing at the ground, she acknowledged the yearning that simmered in her gut. The desire to go back to Ardor Creek—the place with so many failures and bad memories—and rewrite the narrative. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t return but could she really let Butch spread his lies without a fight?
“What are you thinking?”
“That it might be time to come home,” she said, eyes narrowed as she reclaimed his gaze. “It’s been several years. Do you think Ardor Creek could handle me?”
His lips formed a reverent smile. “We’d love to have you, Heather. You could always stay with me and Terry. We have a guest bedroom and it would certainly bring some excitement to Ardor Creek.”
“Oh, I bet it would.”
Brian’s eyes sparkled with mirth before he glanced at his watch. “Well, it’s been great running into you but I have to get to happy hour with my co-workers. Want to exchange numbers?”
Lifting her phone from her purse, she nodded. “I’d ask if Terry would get jealous but you’ve never had eyes for anyone but her and she damn well knows it.”
He chuckled before they texted each other to exchange numbers. “It’s true. I think I could bring Heidi Klum home and Terry would just pat my cheek and offer to cook dinner for all three of us. The woman knows I’m mad for her.”
Heather smiled at him, wishing she understood the first damn thing about love. Unfortunately, some people just weren’t wired for love—whether it be platonically or romantically—and she’d accepted long ago she was one of those people. “You two always had it figured out. I’m so glad I ran into you.”
“Me too. Hope to see you in town one day soon. Take care, Heather.” He gave her one last supportive squeeze on her arm before continuing down the sidewalk and out of sight. Heather stood firm for a moment before repositioning her bag over her forearm to resume the walk home.
As she stomped toward her apartment, she grew angrier with every click of her heels. She was practically chanting along with the firm clicks, shoring up the decision she was already sure she was going to make.
He. Doesn’t. Get. To. Write. Your. Story. Click, click, click.
Go. Home. And. Show. That. Town. Who. You. Are.
Who you’ve become…
After entering her apartment, she slung her bag on the chair and fell onto her living room couch. Leaning back on the soft cushions, she stared at the ceiling.
“You ran away because you hated Ardor Creek but you also hate it here, Heather,” she murmured. “You’re going to hate living anywhere until you figure out how to fix what’s broken inside.”
The words rang true, inspired by the multitude of self-help books and meditations she’d digested after her divorce. Unfortunately, even after all the psychobabble, she’d never really figured out how to be happy. How could someone who’d never experienced love or happiness begin to understand how to welcome it or even recognize it? Based on her childhood and terrible marriage, she only understood pain and heartache.
She’d moved to Philly years ago after her divorce, thinking it would usher in a new phase of her life. One where she would meet handsome men who would wine and dine her or whisk her away to Italy or Greece. Instead, she’d met a ton of man-children who were either divorced and drowning in emotional baggage, or young and dumb as a sack of rocks. The young ones had no idea how to sexually please her and the older ones just didn’t care to. She’d had lots of mediocre sex until recently when she’d discovered what she so reverently called “Netflix and vibing.” The “vibe” was battery-operated and always found the spot no one else could.
Sighing, she admitted how pathetic that sounded. Now, she was a washed-up single divorcée in her mid-forties who still looked pretty damn good but was rotten inside. As much as she’d tried to become a better person in recent years, Heather always wondered if she was destined to be a mean girl.
“You were in so much pain when you lived in Ardor Creek, you inflicted it on everyone else. You became the person everyone thought you would be. Way to go, Heather.”
Rolling her eyes, she expelled a huge breath, causing her lips to flap together as she pondered. Her job as an executive assistant to the most arrogant real estate agent in Philadelphia paid well but it didn’t fulfill her. However, she was a quick learner and had digested a ton about real estate during her tenure. Hell, she’d probably learned enough that she could secure a real estate license and become an agent herself.
The wheels in her mind churned as she recalled the newest agent that had joined her douchelord boss’ firm. He was in his early twenties and could barely spell without autocorrect. If he could become an agent, surely Heather could. Snickering, she reminded herself she was so freaking old she’d learned to type on a physical typewriter in high school. Back then, the words had to be spelled correctly or they were doused with White Out, which was a pain in the ass. Therefore, she was a damn spelling champion, in her mind, at least.
Sitting up, she rested her hand on her chin as she let the idea take hold. Yes, she could go to real estate school, get her license and move back to Ardor Creek. Chances were, the established broker in town, Chandler Grossman, was still practicing but close to retirement. He’d always glanced at her legs at church when she was a teenager—the creepy old geezer—and she bet she could charm her way into working at his firm. Hell, if she were going for gold, she probably could charm him into selling her the firm once he retired, allowing her to inherit his clients and his business’ solid reputation. Heather knew he only had one child, Nathan, who was a chef, so he wasn’t in the family real estate business.
It was a high aspiration but Heather had always barreled toward things once she made a decision. It would allow her to return to Ardor Creek, set the story straight, and perhaps begin the journey to healing the broken pieces inside that never quite fit together.
“It won’t be easy,” she murmured, rubbing her chin. “Half the people there probably hate you and you don’t have much love for the place either.”
Silence stretched before her lips slowly curled into a grin. “But how fun would it be to go back, reclaim your story and build a life that isn’t fucking miserable in Ardor Creek?” Rising, she formed a fist and squeezed. “You might fall flat on your face but it won’t be the first time. Butch doesn’t get to decide who you are, Heather. Not this time.”
Whirling around, she assessed her apartment, wondering how long it would take to wrap things up in Philly. A few weeks at most, and then she could return to the place that had always represented anguish and pain. Would it be different this time around? She had no idea. But one thing was for sure: it would always represent heartache if she didn’t go back and try one more time.
Straightening her spine, a muscle ticked in her jaw as she gave a firm nod. Hopefully, Ardor Creek was ready because Heather Combs was coming home.