“Beautifully written…a story you won’t forget. Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author
When tragedy destroys everything you've built, how do you find the strength to go on? In Jamie Pope’s powerful novel, one woman must come to terms with grief—and a passionate but uncertain chance at remaking her future.
In one shattering instant, schoolteacher Cassandra Miller lost everything that mattered to her. Stricken with guilt and sorrow, she has no reason to care about tomorrow. The last person she wants help from is the man she wants to forget. In childhood, Wylie Everett was her cherished best friend. In adulthood, he was the secret lover who left her without explanation. Now he’s the person who won’t let her go down without a fight. And as he renews her joy in small things, and challenges her to take a fresh perspective, the desire they once shared burns more fiercely than ever—and proves anything but safe.
An ex-Marine, Wylie has always loved Cass, though their backgrounds were as different as could be. Years ago, he walked away believing he could never be good enough for her. But he’s never stopped regretting his decision. Now, helping her heal is the only way he can make amends, and hopefully make up for lost time. But their rekindled passion will be tested by pain he's never resolved—and mistakes for which forgiveness may not be enough. Can he and Cass find one last way to move forward, and risk rebuilding their lives…together?
“Hope Blooms weaves a story of devastating loss, first love and the meaning of home….Deeply emotional, uplifting and ultimately joyful. Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author
|Product dimensions:||4.00(w) x 6.50(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Jamie Pope first fell in love with romance at thirteen when her mother placed a novel in her hands. She became addicted to love stories and has been writing them ever since. When she's not writing her next book, you can find her shopping for shoes or binge-watching shows. Visit her website at authorjamiepope.com/, find her on Facebook at facebook.com/sugarjamisonbooks, and follow her on Twitter @authorjamiepope.
Read an Excerpt
By Jamie Pope
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Jamie Pope
All rights reserved.
"Bring me my damn daughter!"
She shuddered. Her mouth went dry — that uneasy, indescribable feeling hitting the pit of Cassandra Miller's stomach. She knew that angry voice. She could hear the slightly slurred syllables of his words, even though she was down the hallway. She knew this day would come. She tried to deny it to herself. To put it out of her mind, but she knew this day was coming.
"Right fucking now!" There was a crash. Glass breaking. A bang. It was coming from the front office at the entrance of the school. Immediately her mind went to Mrs. Mortera, the school secretary, who was weeks away from retirement. And the principal who had just seen her firstborn graduate from college. She touched her own belly as her mind spun with so many thoughts she had trouble keeping them straight.
Her room was close. Just the third door down from the entrance.
There were seventeen kids in her class. She could put them in the closet. Some could squeeze into the bathroom.
Get up! Get going!
Her brain was shouting at her to take action, but she sat there almost paralyzed. She was waiting on the announcement: "Farnsworth Elementary is in lockdown."
She was supposed to lock down. To stay put. To follow the procedure she had practiced four times that year with her kids.
But the call for lockdown wasn't going to come.
It was too late already.
She couldn't just let them sit there and wait.
She looked at her aide, Mrs. Simmons, and then to her class. They were babies. Her children. Her babies. The kids she loved for seven hours a day. Kindergartners. She had been a teacher for almost ten years now. She had taught in this school, in this classroom, ever since she graduated from college. She was educated here as a child. This had always been her safe place.
Her youngest students were just four years old. They were looking up at her in question. They had heard. They knew that something was about to go wrong in their little worlds.
She couldn't let that happen.
He was coming to this room. He was coming to get Kayla. The little blonde with the missing teeth and beautiful, lopsided smile. Cassandra's eyes found hers. The little girl was frozen, paralyzed. It was more than fear on her face. It was her father. Her father who terrorized her family. Her father who almost killed her mother. He wasn't supposed to be there. He wasn't supposed to see her. The courts had ordered him to stay away.
There was another crash, another scream. Another bang. She jumped, knowing what that sound was. Knowing that the clock had long ago started ticking. "Boys and girls." She crossed her classroom to the large sliding glass window. The protocol going right out of her head. She was supposed to lock her door. Shut her blinds. Hide the kids. But she knew that wasn't good enough. She knew he would get in. A simple door wouldn't stop him.
"We're going to do something different." She tried to keep her voice calm. She tried to keep the trembling that was overtaking her body at bay. "We are going to go out the window and across the stream, and we are not going to stop until we get to the fire station."
For once, nobody questioned her. Maybe they sensed it. Maybe they knew. Maybe it was divine intervention that caused them to rise and line up at the window. Mrs. Simmons helped without question, but she was shaking as they lifted the kids up and placed them outside. Cassandra left her for a moment to get her purse.
Another bang. The voice was louder. Screaming. She couldn't make out the words this time. But she didn't know if it was because they were incoherent or because the blood was rushing too loudly in her ears.
"Sir, please. Come with me." It was Terrance's voice in the hallway. She would know the sound of her husband's voice anywhere. He was the school's psychologist. Always so thoughtful and kind and gentle. Always sacrificing himself. He knew Mr. Hammond. He knew Kayla's history. He knew how bad the situation had gotten. But she tried not to think about how scared she was for him as she dialed 911.
"Hello." She took a breath and prepared to say the hardest words she ever had to say. "There is an intruder at Farnsworth Elementary. Shots have been fired. Please send help."
The operator was questioning her, but she didn't understand a word the woman was saying, because she heard another blast from his gun. She heard Mr. Hammond's ranting voice as it got closer.
Only half her class was out the window. Only half of those brave little souls were on their way down the hill toward safety. Kayla wasn't one of them. Cassandra knew he would be there before she got them all out.
She couldn't let that happen.
She grabbed Kayla and kissed the small child's head before she placed her out the window. "I want you to hurry," she told the rest of her class. "I want you to walk as fast as you can."
She handed Mrs. Simmons her phone. "Make sure they get there."
"Cassandra." The older woman's eyes flashed with tears. "You come with us!"
"I'll be there."
She attempted a smile, but couldn't manage it. And then she walked out of her classroom. Locking her door behind her. Praying she could stall him long enough till they got away.
He was just thirty feet from her door. His head turned away from her. His hunting rifle pointed at Terrance.
"Mr. Hammond." She stepped away from her door. Away from her life and toward him. Her hands raised.
"Cassandra, get away from here," Terrance hissed at her. He was holding his limp shoulder. It kind of dangled there, the blood pouring through his fingers, the pain twisting his face. Her stomach dropped, but she kept moving. Away from her door. Away from her students.
"How can I help you?"
"How can you help me? How can you help me!" He screamed the words. His eyes shook back and forth. There was a gleam to them that she couldn't describe, and she knew he was too far gone. Too broken to ever be fixed.
"You called Child Protective Services on me. You got them people in my house. You caused them to take my kids away from me."
She did. She had noticed the bruises on Kayla. The marks on her arms that looked like fingerprints. She noticed that Kayla had gone silent, too afraid to speak, to move without permission, too traumatized to be a kid. "Talk to me about it."
She tried not to look behind her, to see if they had all made it out, instead she looked at him. Studied him, unshaven, in a stained white T-shirt and cargo pants.
"You bitch!" he spat at her. "You cost me everything. My job. My family."
"Why did you beat her? She's five."
"She's a pain in the ass sometimes! But she's mine and I love her. It's none of your damn business how I discipline my children."
"What about your wife? Were you disciplining her too?"
"Cassandra." Her husband's warning tone didn't stop her.
"She's my damn wife! Mine. I'll do what I want to her."
"But she loved you. Your kids love you. And you're here with a gun. Don't you want her back? Don't you want them back?"
"That's why I'm here. I've come to get what's mine."
"This is not the way, Mr. Hammond." She took another step closer. "We can help you. We can get you counseling. All you have to do is let us help you. You can get them back. But this is not the way."
"I know your way. You want all them people coming through my house. Watching me when I'm with my kids. Telling me how I should live my life. They don't know nothing. I'm a goddamn man! You want me treated like a boy."
No, she wanted him in prison. Where he should be. She didn't know why he wasn't there.
Terrance was inching closer, but she wasn't sure what he was going to do. He was a gentle soul. She never saw him angry. Never saw him do a violent thing, and now he was walking toward a man with a gun. She looked at him, willing him to stop, knowing he couldn't overpower this bear of a man.
The sound of sirens in the distance hit her ears. Help was coming. It was all going to be over soon. But she didn't feel relieved.
Hammond had heard them too. His eyes widened, beads of sweat dripped from his lip. He reminded her of a rabid animal that was about to be caged.
And he was about to be caged, but Terrance moved again. He reached for the gun, and in that moment she loved and hated her husband so much.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Hammond turned and fired. It wasn't a distant bang this time. It was like an explosion and suddenly all the noise stopped. Her world stopped.
Terrance fell to the floor. His hand over his heart, blood staining his white shirt. She moved toward him. Not thinking. Not caring anymore.
He was her best friend.
Flashes of gray and black invaded her vision. State troopers, SWAT. Help was here. But it was too late.
Hammond lifted his gun and fired it one last time. At her. She didn't feel the pain as she clutched her belly. She couldn't see the blood. But she smelled it. That metallic smell she would never forget. She felt it too, the warm thickness as it seeped through her hands. She looked up at him, at the man who murdered her family, only to see a police officer's bullet smash through his brain.
* * *
Cassandra gasped, ripping the blankets from her sweaty body as her nightmare released her from its grip.
She looked around her quiet bedroom. Looked beside her to the left side of the bed.
It was empty.
It had been empty. For almost a year now.
Terrance wasn't there.
And her nightmare wasn't a nightmare. It was her mind making her relive that day. That last day. That last day her life was livable.
Some nights, some blessed nights, she would escape it, the reliving of it, the dreaming about it. Some nights she would fall into a blank, restless sleep. But most nights she didn't get that relief. Most nights she saw it happen again, like she was a witness to that day, like she was floating over herself.
Every time she would see the pained look on her husband's face as the bullet tore through him. She could hear that his last word was her name. She could smell the scent of her own blood.
And every time, after the panic had subsided and the pain eased its choke hold, she would realize that she was alone again. That her husband was gone. That five people had died that day, including the little baby she had just found out she was carrying.
And then the numbness would take over. And then she would lay back in her bed, knowing that her life wasn't going to get any better than it was, that she no longer had anything to look forward to, to be happy about.
"Cassandra? Are you okay?"
Her mother was there, standing in her bedroom door, wearing the same pink bathrobe she had worn since Cassandra was a small girl. She was looking at her as she had done every night since she'd moved into her daughter's house two weeks ago. Staring at her with that same expression on her face that she'd had since Cassandra woke up from her coma.
"Cassandra, don't just stare at me. Answer me!"
She forgot to do that. Most days she forgot to speak; it seemed like too much effort.
She swallowed, her mouth dry, underused. "Mother."
Her mother, Cora, came over to her bedside, sitting beside her, brushing her daughter's damp hair away from her face.
"You dreamed about it again, didn't you?" Her eyes searched her face. "I heard you cry out for Terrance."
She said nothing to that. There was nothing she could say. Terrance wasn't just her husband. He was her friend. Her conscience. He died that day because she had called Child Protective Services. He died that day because Mr. Hammond was angry with her.
"He wouldn't want you to be like this."
"He would want to be alive if he had a choice." She rolled over, away from her mother's touch, her worried eyes. Suddenly the exhaustion returned again. It was the only thing she felt anymore. Tired and heavy.
"You can't go on like this. You haven't left the house in weeks. You haven't smiled since it happened. You didn't die that day. Your life is meant to be lived."
"No," she said softly as the heaviness took over her eyes. "I don't think so."
Cora gripped her face, forcing her to look into her eyes. "I won't let this happen to you. I won't let you slip away. You didn't die that day, damn it. I almost lost you. I could have lost you, but I didn't. There's a reason you lived. I'm going to make sure you know that."CHAPTER 2
He promised himself he wouldn't come back here. To this place where he had been his happiest and most miserable. The place where he lost both his family and his best friend on the same day. But as Wylie James Everett drove up to the quiet little neighborhood where he spent the end of his childhood, he realized that he would have come back eventually. His soul, his conscience, wouldn't have let him rest until he did. He just never thought he would return here for this reason.
Harmony Falls hadn't changed much in the ten years since he had last seen it. It was one of those perfect Northeast towns. The kind of place one imagined when thinking of New England, of Connecticut. Manicured green lawns and stately Colonial homes. It seemed like a place that violence wouldn't touch; and as he passed another sign that read, GOD BLESS FARNSWORTH ELEMENTARY, he knew that wasn't true.
This town was their home. Terrance and Cass had never moved from here. He should have known that they wouldn't. They were this town. They were everything that it represented. They were the children that every parent wanted to have. Prom queen and homecoming king. Smart, good-looking, polite kids who grew up to be smart, good-looking, well-mannered adults. They were so opposite from Wylie's trailer-park-trash beginnings. Sometimes he thought back on his life and wondered how he ended up in Harmony Falls, Connecticut. How his father, a landscaper, became best friends with the son of a judge. Before his old man died, he never got to ask how it happened, but in the end the reason wasn't important. Wylie had been a U.S. Marine. He had fought in two wars. He had been to Iraq. Lived in the mountains of Afghanistan. He had beat death a half-dozen times, but none of that stuff had half as much impact as Cassandra Miller had had on his life.
He had been on the road for nearly four hours now, but as he turned down Southington Drive, time seemed to slow down and his stomach grew tighter with every foot he drove. It was the same feeling he got the day of the rocket attack. The day he lost nearly every man in his unit. That was one of the hardest days of his life. But for some reason coming back to Harmony Falls, seeing the girl he had walked away from once again, knowing that the man who was once his best friend and brother wasn't going to be there, was harder.
He spotted Miss Cora, Cassandra's mama, waiting for him on the front porch as he pulled up to the simple white house that Cassandra and Terrance had shared.
Their house. Their life. Theirs.
He shook off his conflicting feelings and focused on the woman in the baby doll–pink sweater before him. Seeing her again was like stepping back in time for Wylie. Like he was twelve years old again and scared shitless that he wasn't clean enough, smart enough, good enough, to be in the presence of such a fine-looking lady. But unlike twenty years ago he was no longer a boy. And this time, instead of being some charity case to be looked after, he had been invited here. Called back to Harmony Falls by Miss Cora.
He stepped out of his truck, but instead of moving forward he just stood there. Stood there and stared at Cora, who hadn't aged much in the past ten years since he had seen her. Her skin was still smooth and the color of milk chocolate, her clothes still so feminine and pretty. Her hair was white now, but that only added to that air of regality that she always carried around with her. He knew that Cassandra had inherited some of that from her mother. But he also knew that there was more to Cassandra than that. There was a side of her that only he ever got to see.
"Are you going to stand there all day, Wylie James, or are you going to come here and hug an old lady?"
"Ma'am." Her words spurred him into action and his feet ate up the ground between them until he had the woman off her feet and in his arms. He missed her. Almost as much as he missed Cass. Terrance's mother never liked him, only tolerated him. His own mother had disappeared from his life when he was a kid. But he always had Miss Cora, who never seemed to think any less of him. Miss Cora who mothered him when he needed it. "You're not an old lady," he said softly after a few moments. "You still look the same."
"You are a liar, but a good one, so I will forgive you." She let go of him and stood back to study him. "My goodness, you've grown into a big man. And handsome too. Did the Marines do that to you?"
Excerpted from Hope Blooms by Jamie Pope. Copyright © 2017 Jamie Pope. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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