Finding Pride, p.1Jill Sanders
~ The Pride Series ~
Megan & Todd
© 2012 Jill Sanders
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This book is dedicated to the woman who read me my first book. In loving memory of a great woman and teacher…Thank you, Mom.
Megan Kimble has finally freed herself from years of abuse at the hands of her ex. Now she can finally start a new life and figure out just who she really is. When her brother Matt dies suddenly, she takes a big risk and moves cross-country to live in his house and take over his new business. This could be the chance she needs. There’s only one problem now. She can’t seem to escape the irresistible charm of her departed brother’s best friend.
Todd Jordan just lost his best friend and business partner. When Matt’s sister moves into town, his attraction to her is instant. Can he prove to her that all men are not the same and resist his own desires as she learns to trust again? Overcoming the odds is just part of their journey. The two must first survive a fateful visit from Megan’s ex to have any chance at happiness.
As the sun disappeared behind a dark cloud, a white sedan crept slowly down the winding road. A wall of trees on either side gave the impression that the only way out was to forge ahead. The black pavement weaved around tight bends, up and down rolling hills. If you could witness the scene from above, it would appear similar to a white mouse running through a maze on its way to find some cheese.
Several minutes had passed since the last open field. Every now and then a quick glance of a farmhouse or a barn would appear. But for now, the only view was the gray of the sky, the green of the trees, and the dark surface of the road.
The car was traveling towards freedom that had come at the worst price: death. Megan Kimble had just lost the last of her family.
Hours later, the sun peeked out of the clouds, landing on the small crowd gathered around a casket. Mist and fog hung in the afternoon air. The sun’s rays made the hill overlooking the small town of Pride, Oregon, appear to be cut off from civilization, like an island floating in a sea of fog. Not a sound came from the gathered mourners. Each person stood with their head down, looking at the dark, wet wood of the casket.
Megan stood in front of the crowd dressed in a dark skirt and a black raincoat. She looked down as tears silently rolled down her cheeks. Her long blonde hair was neatly tied back with a clip. The right sleeve of her coat hung empty, and her arm was tucked close to her body, encased in a white cast from her upper arm to just above her wrist.
Looking up, she gazed around the cemetery, not really noticing the people, only the old and crumbled headstones. Her eyes paused on a tall figure in the distance that appeared to hover above the mist. Blinking a few times to clear the moisture from her eyes, she realized it was a huge headstone in the shape of an angel with arms outstretched towards the heavens. It seemed to be reaching up in desperation, in need of a helping hand to ascend above.
Her thoughts drifted to Matt, and she looked back down at the casket. He had always called her his little angel. Looking at the simple wooden casket through teary eyes, she remembered her brother’s face as it looked fifteen years ago when she had awakened in a hospital bed with her young body covered in bruises, the memories of violence by her father’s hand gone, along with their parents’ lives.
Matt’s was the first face she had seen in the cold sterile room. His face had been streaked with tears, his eyes red as he’d comforted her. “Little Meg, everything will be okay. I’ll take care of you now. Don’t worry my little angel.”
Her thoughts snapped back to the cemetery as they lowered the casket into the wet ground. What had she ever done to deserve such a great brother? What had she ever given back to him? He’d given up everything for her, yet she couldn’t think of one thing she’d given him except lies.
Feeling hopeless and isolated, she began to wonder what she had left to live for. Why continue? She was all alone now; there was no one left to share her life with. Realizing it was probably Derek’s influence causing her dark thoughts, she tensed. Lifting her head, she tried to dismiss the thoughts of her ex-husband. He didn’t matter anymore, she told herself. He was out of her life forever.
As she stood in the old cemetery surrounded by a hundred strangers, she felt utterly alone. Matt had been her family, the only family that had really mattered. She had an aunt somewhere, but she hadn’t seen or heard from the woman in over fifteen years.
Glancing over, she noticed the priest walking towards her and quickly wiped the tears from her face. He was a short, stout man who was dressed in long, black robes. He wore a wide-brimmed hat that covered his curly silver hair. His face seemed gentle and kind. She could see that his eyes were red from his own tears. He had been very generous in the words he’d spoken about her brother during the short service.
She wasn’t Catholic. Neither was her brother, but at this point she wasn’t going to object. It had been a wonderful service and so many people had turned out. She didn’t know who had organized the service, but she was sure that the priest had had a big hand in it.
“Hello, dear, I’m Father Michael. We spoke on the phone a few days ago,” he said, as he took her by the hand. His hands were warm and comforting. “Matt was such a nice young man. I’ll miss him dearly.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get here sooner. I would have helped you plan his service—”
“Don’t mention it. We all pitched in to help. That’s the wonderful thing about small towns.” He smiled and patted her hand a little. “The people in Pride don’t usually take to strangers, but Matt just fit in. He became part of the family, you might say. I know he wasn’t Catholic, but he did enjoy a good sermon and always attended our social events. Your brother was very well liked around here.”
It didn’t sound like he was talking about her brother. Matt had always been somewhat of a loner and had never really taken to crowds. But then again, they’d grown apart from each other when he’d moved out west to Oregon.
As the priest continued talking to her about Matt and the town of Pride, she looked around at the crowd of strangers in the muddy cemetery. It appeared that the whole town had braved the wet weather for her brother’s funeral. There were numerous faces, both young and old, many weatherworn from years on local fishing boats. She was used to being in crowds, having lived in a large city most of her life, but now it felt like every set of eyes were on her.
Shaking her head clear and taking another look around, she could see that, in fact, almost no one was looking directly at her. As her eyes scanned around, something else caught her gaze. A pair of the lightest silver-blue eyes she’d ever seen looked back at her through the crowd. The man stood a head taller than everyone else around him, and he was staring directly at her. For a moment, she forgot everything, including blinking.
The man had dark brown wavy hair, which was a little long and reached over his coat collar. From what she could see of him under his leather coat, he appeared to be thin. His face could have easily been etched in marble and put on display. His jaw was strong with the smallest of clefts in his chin. His lips were full and his nose was straight, but it was his eyes that caught her attention again. He was staring at her like he wanted to say something to her from across the crowded cemetery.
When Father Michael stepped between them, he broke the trance she’d been in. Blinking, she tried to refocus on the short priest. He was attempting to encourage
“Megan, I feel like you’re already part of the flock. I’m sure we’ll be seeing you next week. If there is anything we can do for you, just let me know,” the father said while patting her hand. “You will let us know if you need any help moving in, what with your hurt arm and all.”
She looked down at her right arm enclosed in the white cast. She had it tucked closely under her raincoat, which she had left unzipped. The pain was a dull throb now, but that didn’t make the terrible memories go away.
“The Jordans are your nearest neighbors. They were very good friends of Matt’s. The two boys are young and strong. I’m sure they’ll be glad to come down and help you move in your things.” There was a matchmaking look in the man’s eyes, and she tried to take a step backwards, but her hand was still engulfed by his larger one. “And I’m sure their sister is looking forward to getting them out of her hair for a few hours,” he said with a wink.
“Thank you, Father. I’ll try to stop by the church for services. I don’t have much to move in, only a few bags, but thank you for offering.” It was the truth. Megan had sold what little furniture she had left. In fact, she’d been living out of her suitcase for the past few weeks.
“Well, now, if you change your mind, let me know,” he said, patting her hand one more time.
Just then a large woman walked up to them. She had on a very bright blue dress covered in white flowers. Over it, she had a slick black raincoat that covered only half of the dress and half of the woman. She reminded Megan of a peacock all dressed up with its feathers ruffled.
“Father Michael, you let go of that girl’s hand so I can shake it. It’s a great pleasure to finally meet you, Megan,” the woman said while shaking her hand with a firm, warm grip. “I’m Patty O’Neil. I run the local grocery store. I’ve heard lots about you from your dear departed brother, God bless him.” The woman quickly crossed herself and continued. “I’m sure proud to finally meet you. O’Neil’s Grocery. It’s right down on Main Street. You can’t miss it,” she said. “It’s been in my family for generations. Well, if there is anything we can do…” She trailed off as the next person approached her.
And so it went, the entire town shaking her hand and offering their help in any manner possible.
Todd Jordan silently watched Matt’s younger sister. He’d recognized her instantly from the picture Matt had kept on his desk. She was a lot thinner now and very pale. She looked lost. Her broken arm, which she held against her tiny body, made her look even more so. He’d scanned her from head to toe when she’d arrived at the cemetery. The raincoat she wore reached halfway down her slender body, and her heels looked very sensible as they sat halfway sunk in the mud.
He remembered Matt telling him that she was recently divorced but couldn’t remember any more details. All he knew was that his friend hadn’t been happy about the circumstances. His thoughts were interrupted when Father Michael approached him.
“Well, now, young Todd.” The father always called him “young” even though he was now in his mid-thirties. “It’s a shame, yes, sir. Her heart is broken. It is your duty as Matt’s best friend to make sure you and your family help her settle in. Such a lovely thing, too. To think she’ll be living in that old, drafty house all by herself.” The father shook his head.
Matt’s house wasn’t drafty. If anything, it was in better shape than his own. He could tell the good father was probably up to his old matchmaking schemes.
“And to think, the poor girl will be moving in all by herself, and in the state she’s in, too. She could hardly shake my hand.” Here it comes, he thought, as his gaze once again swept over to where the object of their conversation stood. She was now surrounded by half the town and looked very lost.
“You need to do the right thing by Matt and make sure his little sister gets settled in safely. God has some answers for her. She’s come halfway across the world all alone to bury her poor brother.” Father Michael shook his head. “I want you to promise me that you and your family will stop by the house often, you hear me?” he said with a sad look on his face.
Todd’s gaze swept back to the priest. He knew that look. It was the same look he and a friend had gotten in high school after sneaking in to the cemetery with the Blake girls to try to scare them on Halloween night. The father had tried to scold them, but the entire time, he had been laughing at them, instead.
“Yes, Father,” he murmured. Father Michael nodded his head and turned away to greet another group of people.
Todd looked back over at Megan and saw that she was even paler than before. He grabbed his sister’s arm as she was walking past him and nodded in Megan’s direction.
“Someone needs to go save her,” he said under his breath.
“What do you suggest I do?” Lacey said with a stern look, placing both hands on her small hips.
“I don’t know. You’re the one who’s good at breaking things…up,” he added after his sister’s eyes heated. Then he grabbed her shoulders and pointed her in Megan’s direction.
He saw Lacey’s shoulders slump a little after taking in the sight of Megan being swamped by the whole of Pride.
“Humph,” Lacey grunted and started marching towards the growing crowd. His sister may be small, but she packed the biggest punch in town.
Megan stood there as an older gentleman talked to her. She hadn’t caught his name when he’d barged to the front of the line and grabbed her hand.
“I didn’t know Matt all that well, but he was a nice young man. He always had wonderful things to say about my bar, never once starting a brawl. Broke a couple up, though,” the bar owner said with a crooked grin. “Always such a nice m-m-m,” he started to stutter.
Concerned, she quickly looked up from the man’s hand, which was tightly gripping her own. Standing beside the bar owner was a pixie. Megan didn’t believe in fairy tales, but there was no other way to describe the woman. Megan had a strong urge to walk around the petite creature and see if wings were tucked under her dark purple raincoat. The woman was perfect, from the tip of her pixie-cut black hair to the toes of her green galoshes. Galoshes, Megan noted, that didn’t have a speck of dirt on them. She was shorter than Megan and very petite with rounder curves. Her skin was fair and her eyes were a crystal gray blue. She had a cute nose that turned up slightly at the end and full lips that were a light shade of pink. She also had a commanding look on her face.
The bar owner literally backed away without even finishing his sentence, then he quickly walked away without so much as a glance back. Within seconds, everyone who’d gathered around her had wandered off, all without a single word from the pixie.
“How…?” Megan’s voice squeaked, so she cleared her throat and started again, “How did you do that?”
“Well, it takes years of practice,” the pixie said with a smile. “I’m Lacey Jordan.” Her voice was smoky and laced with sexuality. “I was very good friends with your brother. I’m sorry he’s gone.”
The simple words touched something inside Megan. She could tell there was truth behind them. Lacey reached over and lightly grabbed Megan’s good arm and then led her towards a row of parked cars.
“I’m also your neighbor. Shall we get you in out of the weather and home where you belong? We’ve made some meat pie for dinner, and I’m sure by the time we get there, the whole town will be right behind us. We’ll go get my brothers and take you home.”
“Oh, please, I don’t want to be a bother. I’ll be fine.” Megan felt compelled to follow the small woman who still had a light hold on her arm and an air of command that surrounded her.
“Nonsense! It’s no bother at all. Plus, if you turn down dinner,” she said with a slight smile, “my brother Iian might get his feelings hurt. It’s not every day he makes the family’s famous dish.” She continued walking towards the row of cars. “Come on then, let’s get you out
Megan looked up at the skies and at that exact moment, it started to lightly rain. Her mouth fell open in shock, but when a big fat drop landed on her bottom lip, she quickly closed it. Lacey was still lightly holding her arm and pulling her towards the parked cars near the side of the small white church.
Having not eaten before her flight to Portland, Megan felt her stomach growl. Exhaustion was settling in, and she felt a chill come over her bones. She wasn’t sure what meat pie was, but if it had meat in it, she knew she could tolerate it.
“Oh! I’m sorry.” She stopped walking, and Lacey turned and looked at her. “I forgot to mention that I have a rental car over there.” She pointed slightly with her injured arm towards a small white sedan that she’d hastily rented at the airport four hours earlier.
“Give me the keys and my brothers can drive it over to the house for you,” Lacey said, waving towards a man who had the same rich black hair. He’d been standing towards the back of the buildings in the shadows, so far back that Megan hadn’t even noticed he was there.
As he stepped out, she saw that his hair was longer than his sister’s. The man strolled over, appearing to be in no hurry, and he looked like he rather enjoyed the nasty weather and his surroundings. To say that he was tall would be an understatement; he must have been six and half feet and it only took him a couple of strides to reach where they stood.
Megan had to crane her neck to look up into his face, and she noticed that he had the same light eyes as his sister. His chin was strong with a tiny cleft, and his lips held a lazy smile that made him look rather harmless. Lacey handed him the keys to the rental car, then waved her hands in a sequence of patterns in front of her.
Lacey turned back to her. “Megan, this is my brother Iian. He’s hearing impaired and uses sign language to communicate, but he can also read lips really well,” she said while continuing to sign. Then turning her face away from his she said, “He likes to eavesdrop, so be careful what you say while facing him.”
Finding Pride by Jill Sanders / Romance & Love have rating 2.7 out of 5 / Based on40 votes