When trauma shapes your life, how do you risk making a change—and finding love?
As a child, Sunny Gibson was abandoned by her mentally-ill mother, who left no trace behind. Now a social worker, Sunny is dedicated to helping children find loving homes—though she's still haunted by the past. So when she finds clues that her newest charge might be her younger sister, she sets out to track down the little girl’s mother. But the powerful attorney she needs for the search is proving as inexplicable and distant as he is irresistible . . .
From pro football player to high-powered lawyer, Julian King has succeeded at everything he’s aspired to. But he still needs to make partner. Not only does he know nothing about family law, Sunny can’t even pay him. If only her irrepressible caring and sweetness wasn't drawing him much too close—or making him hunger to keep her in his life. And as wrenching remembered pain on both sides threatens to shatter the delicate trust he and Sunny begin to forge, they will need more than courage to face down their pasts—and seize forever together.
Praise for Jamie Pope’s Hope Blooms
“Beautifully written . . . a story you won’t forget.”
—Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.10(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 jamiepopebooks.com, find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sugarjamisonbooks, and follow her on Twitter @sugarjamison.
Read an Excerpt
It had been so dark in the closet that Sunny couldn't see her hand in front of her face. She didn't know how long she had been in there. Mama had made her get in again.
Stay where you'll be safe, baby.
It was the same thing she had always told her before she made her go in there. But this time Sunny had been in there for a long time. So long that she had lost track of the days. So long she thought her eyes had stopped working and she couldn't see anymore. She could still hear things. The muffled noises coming from the next-door neighbors, the ambulance sirens that went by the apartment every so often. She could hear herself breathing and her heart beating. She could hear her stomach growl because she ran out of the food Mama had left for her. She could smell herself, and feel the stickiness of her skin.
But she couldn't see.
Mama had always thought they were safer in the dark because no one could see them.
She wanted to make sure no one could see Sunny in particular.
And if no one could see her, no one could hurt her again.
She scratched the scab on her shoulder. Mama told her it would never heal as long as she kept picking at it, but she couldn't help picking at it because the more of her skin she picked off, the less of the round scars she would see. And then she wouldn't have to remember what happened to her. The thing that made Mama even sicker. The thing that made Mama move them out of the last apartment and into this place. The thing that made Mama lock her in a closet every time she left the building.
She heard the jingle of keys at the door and voices. Too many voices. Two men and a woman. Even through the wall she recognized the super's voice. The walls were so thin there. She could almost make out what he was saying, but not quite. Her mama told her to always be quiet because they never knew who was listening.
The people must be going in the apartment next door. Whenever she heard the keys she thought it might be Mama coming home, but she hadn't come. Sunny was starting to think she would never come.
But then she heard the door open. And then she heard the heavy footsteps on the floor and then she heard the voices again.
"The lady down the hall says she knows that a little girl lives here. That the woman who rents the apartment never lets her out. She says the little girl used to come to her at night and she was always dirty and hungry."
"And you say that the woman who lives here hasn't been back in three days?"
"No sign of her. Her rent is two months late. We're going to evict her. Can you just make sure she doesn't have a kid stashed here?"
Sunny was listening so hard her head hurt. It had been three days? Mama had never been gone three days. Something was wrong. Something had happened to her. Mama wouldn't leave her this long unless she had to. Unless there was a reason.
Sometimes Mama needed a break. She needed to be free like a hummingbird. If she was caged too long she would start to vibrate and move and get all jumpy like there was somebody behind her trying to scare her. It was hard to live with her when she got like that. She did things like cover all the windows with thick blankets so the light couldn't come in. She made Sunny stop going to school. She made them move again and again.
But the breaks made her calmer. Better to live with.
Sometimes she was gone for a few hours. Sometimes it was a day. Sometimes a little more. But she always came back for her.
But this time it was more than a day. This time Sunny was worried that her mama had turned into the hummingbird she called herself and flown away.
She wanted to say something. To call out and let them know where she was, but her mouth was so dry and her throat hurt and she was scared. Scared for Mama. Scared that someone had hurt her. Scared that someone was going to hurt Sunny.
The closet door opened and immediately her eyes stung as the light hit them.
"Shit," she heard a man say but her eyes hurt so bad she couldn't see his face. "Call for an ambulance," he ordered.
She was lifted into the arms of a man in a dark blue uniform and he held her like she was a baby, like Mama used to when she was smaller. His hand felt warm on her back. His smell was clean.
Her eyes focused on him for a moment before they started to go blurry again. Her throat was burning so badly.
It had been so long since she had seen anyone but Mama.
Mama had told her not to trust men. She had told her that most of them were bad, but Sunny had to trust this one. He was taking her out of here. She never wanted to be in there again.
Her eyes finally cleared up enough so that she could see him. He had brown skin like hers but his eyes were so sad.
"Hello," she said to him. Her voice cracked. It had been so long since she had used it.
"Hello, little one. My name is Officer Rodgers." He nodded toward the badge on his chest so that she could see. "That's my partner, Officer Martinez." He looked behind him at a woman who looked just as sad as he did. "We're here to see if you're okay. Can you tell me your name?"
"I'm Sunny. It's nice to meet you."
"It's nice to meet you too." He smiled softly at her and glanced back at the lady that was with him and shook his head. "Are you hurt?"
"My shoulder is almost better now. But I'm thirsty. I tried to save the water, but I couldn't."
"We'll get you something to drink, Sunny," Officer Martinez said. "Anything you want."
"Can I have soda?"
"I think so." Officer Rodgers nodded.
"And a hot dog? I hid two dollars in my book. I can pay for it."
Officer Rodgers looked even sadder if it was possible. "You don't have to pay for it. We'll buy it for you."
Sunny shook her head. "Mama said I'm not supposed to take things from people. Please, don't tell her."
"You don't have to worry about that." He took a deep breath. "Where is your mama, Sunny?"
"I don't know. She'll come back. She said she was coming back."
"Oh, sweetheart," Officer Martinez touched her face. "I don't think your mama will be back this time."
* * *
Sunshine Gibson snapped out of her daze and looked up at her supervisor. "Yes?"
Maxine was standing just in front of her with that concerned motherly expression that she sometimes had. "I called you three times. You were gone for a moment."
That was the right word for it. She didn't often think about the day she was found. She was one of those always-look-forward-never-look-back kind of people, but today had been hard. She had gotten an invitation to Officer Rodgers's retirement party. She shouldn't call him officer anymore. He had been promoted to detective years ago. And he was more than just a police officer to her. He was one of the few people in her life who was special to her.
He had kept up with her after the day he took her from that closet. Kept up were not the right words to describe what he had done. They weren't strong enough. She still remembered how he had stayed with her while the doctors checked her out in the hospital. How he rubbed his hand over her back while she slept on his shoulder. He had made her feel safe when her world was spinning so far out of control.
He had come with her to her first foster home and every other foster home she had been placed in until she had emancipated herself at seventeen. He was in the stands at her college graduation. He called her at least once a month to see how she was. He had cared about her. He was the steadiest person in her life.
She wouldn't call them close though. She had always kept her distance because she didn't want to impose on his time. He had his own life, his own children to care for. He shouldn't feel obligated to look after her. But still he meant a lot to her and now he was retiring. Moving to Florida with his family. He was starting a new chapter of his life, but it made Sunny feel like it was the end of an era.
She was an adult now. Nearly thirty. She had her own place that no one could take her away from. She had a small group of friends that were more like family, but her first protector was leaving and she couldn't shake the heaviness that settled on her shoulders.
"I'm sorry." She smiled at Maxine, trying to inject some happiness into her voice. "I was just thinking."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Of course." Sunny started to tidy the stacks of papers on her desk. "What did you need?"
"Ms. Romano called and asked if we could put off her home visit again."
"Why?" Annoyance rose inside her and she tried to push the feeling away but it was too hard.
She was a social worker in the Family and Children Services department for the city of New York. She had worked her butt off in school to get good grades but when it came time to choose a career she chose to go into social work. She had been with so many foster families that her social workers were the other constant in her life, her safe place when the world felt so damn scary.
She wanted to be that person for someone else. She worked mostly with children in foster care. She got to witness the joy of seeing some of them leave the system when they were adopted. But she also saw the other side of it. The children who had to be removed from their parents. The older kids that were no longer cute and nobody wanted.
She had been one of those kids. One of those sad statistics. Kids like her usually ended up in jail or dead. She tried to prevent her kids from being the ones who fell through the cracks.
"She made some excuse about having an appointment."
"Appointment my ass." She stood up and grabbed her purse. "That's the second time she's rescheduled. I'm making a surprise visit right now. She's hiding something."
"Don't bother." Maxine put her hand on her shoulder. "She's not at home. She took Kev to New Jersey this weekend. And it's after five on a Friday. Go home. Enjoy your weekend. Do something fun."
"I'm a social worker. I can't afford to have any fun," she said, grinning at her boss.
"Don't I know it." Maxine grinned back, but the smile didn't stay too long. The concern never left her eyes. "You need to tell me what's up. And don't lie and tell me nothing. I've been doing this job for thirty years. There's nothing you can tell me that I haven't seen, heard, or experienced before."
"Detective Rodgers is retiring and it's put me in a weird space. It made me think about Soren."
Soren was one of her kids. Or clients, or consumers, whatever the politically correct term was for the people Sunny worked with. She was a little girl with caramel-colored skin who had been abandoned by her mother on the footsteps of their office. She was frail and terrified and wouldn't talk for almost an entire year. But she did start to speak eventually. To Sunny, and Sunny learned that they had a lot more in common than the way they looked.
"We're not supposed to have favorites, but she's yours."
"I will neither confirm nor deny that," Sunny said, trying to prevent the smile from creeping across her face. "I love her so much though."
"Yes. You've done a great job with her. You shouldn't be worried. She's one of the kids I know will turn out fine and I don't say that a lot. You found her a great foster family who is going to adopt her. Cases like these are why we do what we do."
She nodded. "You're right. I'm in a funky mood. I think I just need to get out of this place. I've got spring fever or something."
"Yes. Have a nice dinner. Drink an extra glass of wine."
"I know by nice dinner you mean have something with multiple courses that looks pretty on a plate. But a nice dinner for me is getting dollar slices and a hot dog with those red onions I immediately regret eating."
Maxine shook her head. "I'm surprised you don't have an ulcer. At least tell me you buy decent wine."
"No wine. Milkshakes. I'll spend a whole five dollars for a good one."
"You can come home with me to Westchester. My husband is making chicken marsala. My daughter will be coming home from school this weekend. She loves you. You could stay over and I can cook breakfast in the morning. I would have two girls to mother and would be in heaven."
Sunny was tempted to take Maxine up on her offer. She hadn't been mothered much in her life. Even with her own mother. Sunny was the one who took care of her. But Sunny would feel too ... too ... in the way, if she went to Maxine's. Like she wasn't really wanted. Like she was there just because she had no place else to go. It was one of the side effects of spending most of her life in foster care.
"Maybe another time. My best friend is nearing the end of her first pregnancy and I'm going to stop by to see her."
Spending time with her friends sounded like a good idea, but Sunny just didn't feel like being social. Instead, she returned to her tiny hole in the wall apartment, the one that was in a less than desirable neighborhood, with the rent that was too high, and dined on leftovers and chocolate ice cream.
Her mama had moved them to New York when she was four. She tried hard to remember her life before they had come here but her memories only came to her in small snatches and what she could remember was blurry. It was almost as if she was looking back at her life through frosted glass.
She did remember her preschool. It had been inside of a small church in a town that was near the ocean. The people were nice there. She remembered the warmth of the place. She remembered the smell of the sea.
Her mother used to take her to the beach after school. They used to take their shoes off and run through the waves. But then something happened and there was no more school with the kind people, story time, and friends. And there were no more trips to the beach. No more feeling the sand between her toes. There was no more home.
There was sleeping in the car and eating fast food if there was any food at all. There was constant moving. Constant restlessness.
Her mama had turned them into gypsies. At first it had been fun, but then it got hard. She never made friends, never felt grounded, never felt like she had a place to call home.
She had missed school and people and everything that was normal.
"Don't be sad, baby," Mama would coo when she saw Sunny's spirits crash. "You don't want to be one of them. You are an original. You are phenomenal."
"Yes, Mama." It was all she could say.
A little twinge of resentment toward her mama would start to grow, but then Mama would let her do something outrageous like color on the walls with permanent marker, and Sunny would forgive her.
Her mama kept popping into her head lately almost every day, and Sunny would hear her voice, maybe it wasn't her mama's voice. She hadn't seen her mama since she was seven, and as time passed she was beginning to forget little things about her like the way she smelled, her smile and, most important, her voice. The woman in her mind always sounded like Claire Huxtable, which wasn't right because Sunny's mama was white, with light blue eyes and long, blond hair that stopped right above her behind. Sunny wasn't white; her skin was caramel, her hair was neither straight nor down her back. She never knew her father but she supposed he was black. Mama only told her that her daddy was a soldier, a beautiful dark man with full lips, straight white teeth, and no hair. She would always ask for more.
"What's his name, Mama? Where is he now? Did he love me?" Mama would never answer her directly. Instead she would simply reply in her Claire Huxtable voice, "Why do you need to know about your daddy? You've got me and I've got you."
Sunny now realized why her mother sounded like Claire Huxtable. As a child she watched the sitcoms religiously before her mama got sicker and shut everything off. She clung to them like it was her lifeline. Those women were her fantasy mothers, smart, beautiful, caring, and most important stable. They were married to men who loved them. The families ate dinner together every night and their house had paintings on the walls instead of marker. They had roots. Each child, no matter how foolish they had been, could come home to a mother and father and feel safe. Sunny never felt safe. Sunny longed for that, so much that it hurt sometimes. Still, she missed Mama even after everything she had put her through, even after the constant moves, the paranoia, the extreme mood changes and the abandonment. She missed her, ached for her, and on days like today wondered what ever happened to her. She had never gotten the real story. She only knew that she was gone and that she never came back.
Sunny only had a few pieces of her mama that she kept as mementos, a crystal barrette, a tiny jade statue of Buddha that she let Sunny hold when she was afraid, and two letters that she had sent on her thirteenth and eighteenth birthdays.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mostly Sunny"
Copyright © 2018 Jamie Pope.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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