Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Read an #Excerpt from The Forever Farmhouse by Lee Tobin McClain





About the Book

The Forever Farmhouse
(Hometown Brothers #1)
by Lee Tobin McClain 

ebook, 384 pages
Published September 6th 2022 by HQN Books
ISBN0369722132
A Chesapeake island homecoming—and a life-changing discovery

When Ryan Hastings first came to Teaberry Island, he was a troubled teen on his last chance. He’s returning as a renowned scientist, checking in on his widowed foster mother. But one thing hasn’t changed—Ryan’s feelings for the girl next door whom he loved…and left. Mellie Anderson has a son now, and a good life that Ryan believes he’s still too damaged to share. But he knows he can help young Alfie, who’s getting picked on at his new school.

Mellie is grateful her gifted son is getting extra support, and torn about where it’s coming from. Ryan has no idea he’s Alfie’s father. No matter how valid her reasons were, could Ryan ever understand why she didn’t tell him? But in this close-knit community, friendship and forgiveness are always near at hand, and forever love might be waiting just next door.



Excerpt


CHAPTER ONE

“Stop it right there. I have a weapon.”
The female voice was pitched low, but Ryan would have known it anywhere. Static sparking up and down his spine, he dropped the knife, lifted his hands and turned to face his would-be assailant. “Mellie. It’s Ryan.” 
She went still, her features hidden by moon shad¬ows. “Ryan…Hastings?”
“It’s me.” Slowly, he lowered his hands and stood, but didn’t move toward her even though longing tugged at him, strong as an ocean’s riptide.
It was something he shouldn’t feel.
A whole, healthy man would have moved on from his first love. Met other women, gotten married, started a family. But Ryan wasn’t healthy or whole, not in his heart where it mattered.
For the first time her weapon registered: a base¬ball bat. His lips twitched, even on top of his deeper feelings. Mellie had always been a great hitter, driv¬ing balls way into the marshland when it was her turn at bat.
She could have packed a wallop if he had been a real intruder, even though—from what he could see in the dark—she still looked as slender as she’d been in high school.
A dark figure moved behind her. “Mom? What’s going on?”
“Everything’s fine, hon.” She reached out and put an arm around a young boy, maybe ten. “Go back to bed.”
“Who’s he?” The boy pointed at Ryan, yawning, leaning against Mellie.
“This is…Mr. Ryan.” It was the island’s respect¬ful, slightly Southern way kids were taught to ad¬dress adults. “Ryan, this is my son, Alfie.”
Ryan’s image of Mellie reconfigured to include this new information. She had a son? 
He can’t find out the truth about Alfie.
Mellie Anderson stared at Ryan, her body going from hot to cold and back again. Of all the people breaking into her neighbor’s house, Ryan Hastings was the last one she’d expected. He hadn’t been back to the island for several years, and before that, his rare visits had been planned and spoken of in ad¬vance. She’d been able to make sure she and Alfie were away.
Even in the dim moonlight, she could see his brown hair, square jaw and muscular build. He’d filled out since his teenage years. Grown up. Got¬ten sophisticated.
A light flicked on upstairs. A window opened. “Somebody out there?” Betty called, her voice nighttime-scratchy.
“It’s me, Mellie.” Her own voice came out shaky and she consciously relaxed her shoulders. “Thought I heard something. Everything’s fine.”
“Hi, Miss Betty,” Alfie sang out. “There’s a—”
“You okay?” Mellie called up to the window, si¬lencing Alfie with a firm hand on his shoulder. Her son was sweet-natured and adored their older neigh¬bor, but he tended to be a blurter.
“Fine. Trying to sleep.”
“Sorry. See you tomorrow.”
“Good night.” The window creaked down and banged shut.
And then Mellie beckoned Ryan away from the porch, playacting calm. “Come on, she hasn’t been sleeping well. Show up unexpected, and she’ll be up all night. You can talk to her tomorrow if it’s not an emergency.”
“It’s not.” He picked up his small suitcase. “This was a bad idea. I’ll walk into town and stay at the inn.”
“Is it open this late?” Alfie, who’d inherited Mel¬lie’s caretaker gene, looked worried.
“Not likely.” She double-checked the time. No way was Ryan getting a room this late. The inn’s of¬fice closed down once the last ferry had come and gone. Nobody showed up after that, anyway.
Well, unless they had the funds to pay for a pri¬vate charter and a reason to arrive at night.
Mellie should just go back inside and let him and Betty deal with it. She didn’t have to shoulder every burden, take everything on.
Except where would Ryan stay if she didn’t help out?
Concern for him outweighed her worries that he’d learn the truth. “Too late for the inn. And you weren’t wrong to check on Betty.” She sucked in a breath and said what she did not want to say. “Come on over. You can sleep on my couch.”
After she’d gotten Alfie back into bed, Mellie took deep breaths and wrapped her arms around herself, standing outside the door of her son’s room.
Ryan was here. In her house. Spending the night.
Why, oh, why had she let her impulse to help and protect Betty send her out into the night, there to encounter the man who’d broken her heart and kicked it aside on his way off the island?
And given how much he’d hurt her, why had she invited him to sleep on her couch?
Every minute he stayed made it more likely he’d find out the truth about Alfie. The possible conse-quences of that tried to push their way into her mind, clamoring for attention, but she firmly shoved them back into the dark cellar where they usually lived.
Then she straightened her shoulders and walked down the stairs to face Ryan.
He’d remained standing and was looking at the pictures on her mantel. He’d always been intense and focused, even when, as now, he was doing some¬thing mundane like looking at family pictures. “Em had a baby?”
Mellie forced a smile, nodded. “Not a baby any¬more. John Junior’s three.”
“They live off-island?”
She nodded. “Both Em and Angela. Em’s in An¬napolis, so I see them some. Angela’s in Sedona find¬ing herself.” She smiled to make him think she didn’t worry about her youngest sister, although she did.
The normal thing. She needed to do the normal thing so he wouldn’t see her agitation and start to wonder about the cause of it. “What can I get you to drink? Coffee? Tea?”
“A cup of tea would be good. Thanks, Mellie. I really appreciate this.”
She fixed the tea and put slices of leftover pound cake on a plate. A plain snack, but the best she could do for unexpected company.
Especially when her hands were shaking.
How could Ryan be here? Wasn’t he supposed to be doing research in the Galápagos Islands? He’d missed his foster father’s funeral for that reason. And it was important research, too. He’d gotten grants and made discoveries; Betty had framed a maga¬zine cover with him on it, when he’d won a Young Scientist of the Year award.
He was brilliant, she’d always known that. And, unencumbered, he’d gone from the island and made something of himself. A lot.
Now this famous scientist whom she’d once thought she loved was in her living room. And she had a big secret to keep from him.
She carried in the plate and set it and the tea on a table beside the big, comfortable recliner. She cud-dled up in her rocker herself. Act normal, act normal.
He studied her in that precise, scientific way he had. Precise, and scientific, and intense. “You look good, Mellie.”
She looked down at her T-shirt and sleep shorts. “I didn’t exactly dress for visitors.”
“You didn’t know you’d have one.” He took a bite of the pound cake and smiled. “This is good. Thank you. You always did like to feed people, just like Betty.” Then his cheeks flushed a little.
Was he remembering the picnic when they’d fed each other strawberries? 
He cleared his throat. “Tell me about Betty,” he said. “She didn’t sound like herself. Is she all right?”
“Not exactly.” She was glad of the change of sub¬ject. “I was thinking of calling you guys. I’m in touch with Luis occasionally, but I didn’t want to bother him. And Cody’s back with his unit overseas.”
“And you didn’t call me? You know I’d have come.” His brow wrinkled.
“Well,” she hedged, “I thought you were still away for your research. Besides, Betty says she talks to you, so I figured you were aware.”
“I’m back in the States for good. And I knew something was wrong, but not what. That’s why I’m here.” He leaned forward. “What’s going on with her, Mellie?”
Mellie sipped tea. “She’s depressed. Which of course you’d expect, since she just lost her husband three months ago. Not even. But it seems more than normal. Like, she often won’t leave her house for days.”
He propped his chin on his hand, frowning. “Is she able to run the market?”
“No. She won’t go to work. I’m doing it for her. Which is okay for now, but there are decisions only the owner can make. She needs to get involved again.” As she described Betty’s issues, her overac¬tive mind hummed with worry.
If she portrayed to Ryan how badly Betty was coping, he wouldn’t feel okay about leaving. Know¬ing him, he might even stay and try to help her get out of her funk. 
Whereas if she downplayed it, he’d probably leave tomorrow, to get back to his important work.
“Thank you for doing that for her. She’s lucky to have you as an employee and friend.”
“I’m happy to help her. She’s helped me plenty.” Betty had always been her go-to babysitter for Alfie and her supportive friend when she was struggling with motherhood. She’d tried to give Mellie the day¬time shifts at the market, so she could work mostly when Alfie was at school.
In fact, Betty had been a wonderful neighbor ever since Mellie had been a child, growing up in this very house. How could she even think of hid¬ing the extent of the older woman’s problems from Ryan, who might be able to figure out how to help her? “The depression seems like it might be seri¬ous,” she said reluctantly. “And another thing. Her house is bad.”
He must have heard the concern in her voice, be¬cause he looked at her with a penetrating gaze. “How so?”
“It’s a mess. Really, really cluttered. I wouldn’t call it a hoarding situation, but Wayne didn’t like to throw anything away. She needs major help clean¬ing it out.”
He frowned. “Would a cleaning service be use¬ful? Because I would be glad to pay…” As Mellie shook her head, he trailed off.
“That’s a nice idea, but I don’t think she’d let strangers into her house. And the truth is, she needs more than a cleaning service. She needs counsel¬ing, most likely, but I’m almost positive she won’t accept it.” She hesitated. “I don’t want to overstep. You brothers are her family.”
Ryan’s quick nod showed her he appreciated that. “So, no strangers, and no counseling. That doesn’t leave a lot of options.”
“Maybe one of your brothers could come stay with her for a while. I know Cody’s overseas, but maybe Luis—”
Ryan shook his head. “He’s in the middle of a big business deal.” He frowned, looking at the floor, then nodded decisively. “Since I’m not teaching this se¬mester, there’s no reason I have to stay in Baltimore. I have a grant to write and getting more data from fieldwork here would only improve my application. I can come work on the island for a little while.”
“Oh, I’m sure she won’t want you to stall out your career.” Ryan couldn’t stay here. She couldn’t keep the agitation she felt from showing on her face.
He misunderstood the cause of her upset. “Don’t worry. If I did come, I’d stay at Betty’s. Not here.”
“Right,” she said faintly. Even having him next door would be way more than she could handle.
Because if he stayed close by, how could she keep him from finding out that he was Alfie’s father?

Excerpted from The Forever Farmhouse by Lee Tobin McClain. Copyright © 2022 by Lee Tobin McClain. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.





About the Author

Lee Tobin McClain is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels. A professor-turned-writer, she finds inspiration in her beautiful and brilliant daughter, her goofy goldendoodle, and her aptly named cat, Trouble. Learn more about her books at www.leetobinmcclain.com.



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