Saved by Love
Saved by Love
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- New Beginnings
- Opposites Attract
- First Responder
Abby Stewart is finally putting her life back together after tragedy ripped it apart, and she’s determined never to be put in a vulnerable position again. Making a new home in Willow Valley is the perfect solution to find the safe and secure life she needs—until Ethan Barnes comes into the picture and upends her solidly laid plans.
Having his own fair share of heartbreak, Ethan is all about living life to the fullest and finding adventure in everyday life. A relationship is the last thing he’s interested in—especially with someone as cautious as Abby. But there’s something about her that calls to him. He sees beneath the surface to the woman hiding behind the carefully built walls.
The baggage they both carry threatens to keep them apart, but their attraction is undeniable. Are they willing to take a chance on love and discover that the passion between them is strong enough to save them both?
Read Chapter One
Read Chapter One
As she dropped the last box of her belongings on the nearly empty floor of the living room, Abby Stewart was glad for once that she didn't have a lot of personal effects. Climbing the flight of stairs from her car to her new apartment on the town square wasn't bad. At least not the first few times. But after the sixth trip of unloading her car she wondered how movers did this all day every day.
Speaking of which, the delivery truck with her new pillow-top bed should arrive any minute. It was the one indulgence she was allowing herself. Abby glanced out the window, and seeing no sign of the truck, grabbed a box and carried it into the bedroom.
Having brought no furniture whatsoever with her when she came to Willow Valley a few months back, she was grateful that her brand new sister-in-law Lissa had left a few things in her old apartment for her when she'd moved out. The dresser and nightstand weren't much, but they'd suit her needs just fine.
Abby set the box on the dresser and started unpacking it slowly. This was the only box of sentimental items that she'd brought along when she'd left California in search of her father last spring. Lifting a picture frame out of the box, she brushed her fingertips across the glass-covered photo.
"Well, Mom, bet you never would have guessed I'd end up here," she murmured as she set the picture at an angle on the dresser. She never would have imagined that she'd be settling down in small town like Willow Valley either, but as she was intimately aware of, life had a way of doling out the unexpected. Like a brother she never knew existed until she got here.
Hands shaking, she reached back into the box for her mother's jewelry box, a Chinese antique made of lacquered wood with inlaid mother of pearl accents, and placed it next to the picture. She lifted the lid and stared mutely at the simple gold band that stood out in stark contrast among her mother's more elegant gemstone rings, her throat constricting painfully.
Nearly jumping out of her skin, Abby slammed the lid to the jewelry box and whirled around to find Lissa walking into the bedroom.
"Sorry to startle you, hon. The door wasn't shut all the way so I figured you were still bringing things up and I just let myself in." Lissa's smile was warm, but Abby didn't miss the look of concern in her eyes, or the way her gaze darted curiously to the jewelry box as she came over to give Abby a hug.
"This is gorgeous. Is it an antique?" Lissa ran her finger along the smooth wood.
"Um, yeah, it was my mom's." She reached out a hand to rest it protectively on the box, hoping Lissa wouldn't notice the way her fingers shook. It was ridiculous to think that Lissa would start poking through her things, or that even if she did see the ring inside that she could ever possibly guess it was Abby's. But she wasn't ready to let her new family in on all of her past secrets just yet.
"So, how was the honeymoon?" she asked, hoping to distract Lissa from what she knew was awkward behavior.
Lissa sighed dreamily. "Everything a honeymoon should be. Tropical, private, relaxing."
"So where is Jesse? I was hoping I could put my brother to good use by having him assemble my new bed." Abby glanced at her watch. She was about ready to prop her feet up and get some rest.
Lissa waved her hand. "You know him. He had to go check on the store to make sure everything went smoothly while we were in St. Lucia."
Rolling her eyes, Abby said, "That sounds about right. But I told him not to worry. Everything was under control." Jesse owned the farm supply store in town, and Abby had begun working there a few months back, thanks to Lissa, who hired her to help run the western wear boutique they'd also opened there. "I'm surprised you weren't right there with him. The boutique is your baby after all."
"Yeah, but I'm going to have to trust that you can manage it on your own soon anyway. It won't be long before I'll have more than enough babies to look after." Lissa rested her hands around her blossoming belly, a look of contentment crossing her face. As happy as she was for her brother and Lissa that they were expecting not one, but two baby girls, she couldn't entirely suppress the pang of jealousy and long-suppressed heartache that sprang up.
"Speaking of things I won't be able to do soon, I was thinking we need to get together with Cassie for a girls' night to—"
A shout from outside drew their attention, cutting Lissa's invitation short, and they hurried into the living room and out the front door to peer over the railing. Down below, the driver of the furniture delivery truck was standing behind his truck, which he'd left idling right in the middle of the road, and was waving his arms dramatically as he yelled at two firemen who were climbing out of their own truck to check the hydrant directly in front of the apartment building.
"I don't have time to wait around," he yelled. "I still have more deliveries to make and I have to get back to civilization before dark. I need you to get your truck out of my way." The man sneered in the direction of the firemen, and Abby raised her eyebrows at Lissa. Civilization? And what were they then?
One of firemen shot the man a baleful glance but continued on with what he was there to do.
The other one caught Abby and Lissa watching and shot them a grin and a wink, then turned to the delivery guy, shrugging his shoulders comically. "Well, golly. I don't know nothin' 'bout no civilization, but this here hydrant best be in workin' order 'fore the sheriff comes 'round and has my job."
Abby couldn't control the bubble of laughter that escaped her lips at the man's ridiculous performance, but she clapped a hand over her mouth when the delivery man turned to find that not only was he the butt of a joke, but he had an audience. The fireman caught her eye and grinned again, and Abby felt a flush blaze its way up her neck to her cheeks, her stomach jumping up into her throat like she was riding the first drop of a roller coaster.
It had been a good long while since she was affected by a simple smile from a man. He did look like he could be a model in one of those firemen calendars, though. Still, it took her by surprise. She'd almost doubted she would ever feel anything like it again.
Lissa noticed her sudden embarrassment and elbowed her in the ribs, shooting her a wicked smile.
"Ethan Barnes, that's what." Lissa eyed her closely. "Not that I can blame you. I may have been known to have harbored a crush on him once upon a time. Of course, he was a few years older than me, and the only reason I ever saw him was when he was hanging out at Cassie's with her older sister's friends."
Abby shook her head. "I thought you were in love with my brother for as long as you could remember," she teased.
"Well, yeah, but that doesn't mean that I wasn't aware of other guys. I mean, how could you not be? Just look at him."
Oh, she was. It was kind of hard not to with the way his Willow Valley Fire Department t-shirt stretched tightly across his insanely broad shoulders, showing off ridiculous biceps that bunched and rippled as he went about his work. Standing up when he finished testing the hydrant, he flicked a dark wave of hair from his forehead and met her eyes again. Even from that distance she could see the bright blue-green irises that reminded her of the beach back in Cali.
"Oh my God, Abby!" Lissa gripped her arm so tightly it caused her to let out a little yelp.
Thinking she was about to be teased for mooning over Mr. January—or whatever month of the year the calendar saved for the hottest of fireman—she forced herself to tear her eyes away from Ethan. But Lissa wasn't looking at her. She was staring past her with a horrified look on her face.
"He just dumped your mattress on the ground and is taking off."
Sure enough, they'd been so distracted by watching the men at work that she hadn't even noticed the furniture delivery guy pull the mattress from his truck and leave it on the side of the road, precariously close to where the water from the hydrant was making its way into the gutter.
"You've got to be kidding me." Abby took off down the stairs at full speed. The guy was just now shutting the door to his truck. She may have time to catch him. And she had to, because if not, it looked like she'd be hauling the thing up the stairs herself. It wasn't like she would let Lissa help her when she was five months pregnant with twins.
"Hey!" she screamed at the guy as he revved the engine. "What do you think you're doing?" She reached the driver's side door just as he started to pull away.
He didn't even stop as he rolled his window down. "Sorry, lady. I don't have time to wait around."
"What am I supposed to do about that mattress?"
He shrugged. "Not my problem anymore." Then he was gone, leaving Abby standing in the middle of the street looking after him with her mouth agape.
Lissa reached the edge of the sidewalk just as Abby turned back around. "I can't believe this. I hope you plan on calling the company he works for."
They'd be hearing from her, that much was certain. But more pressing at the moment was how in the heck she was going to get a king-size mattress that probably weighed more than she did up that flight of stairs.
* * *
Ethan was just about as shocked as Lissa Winters and her friend looked as he watched the scene unfold before him. He'd been pretty irritated that the guy was so impatient in the first place. Yeah, he had a job to do, but so did Ethan. So the fact that he may have taken a little longer to get his own job done in the face of the other dude's rudeness weighed on him now that the poor woman had effectively had her mattress dumped in the gutter.
"Now what?" he heard her grumble as she moved toward the mattress and sat herself right down on top of it, propping an elbow on her knee and cradling her chin in her hand.
Without a second thought he made his way to her and knelt down in front of her.
"I am so sorry. If I had any idea that he would do that, I never would have provoked him." That was just who he was. Always joking and making light of a situation. This time it had gone wrong, and now she was suffering for it. "Here, let me help you up and I'll get this moved for you before it gets wet." He held out a hand to her.
The woman raised wary eyes to his and he was struck for a minute by the dark depths of them, nearly as dark as her hair that was piled in a messy bun atop her head, stray strands cascading down here and there. He had a sudden urge to reach out and brush one from her cheek.
He restrained himself, pretty sure that would be a bad move considering the way she lifted her brow and pursed her lips at him. She stood, ignoring the hand he offered her.
"I can handle it." She turned and stared at the mattress, frowning, then cut speculating eyes back to him, her gaze lingering on his arms.
He laughed. "Seriously, it's no problem. Braden, come give me a hand, will you?" he called over his shoulder, not bothering to look back at him. "I'm Ethan."
"Abby," she said, not meeting his eyes.
"You must be Jesse's sister." He glanced back at Lissa, who was watching their interaction with obvious interest, and she nodded.
"Yes, this is Jesse's sister, Abigail Stewart. Abby, Ethan Barnes." Lissa had a gleam in her eye that told Ethan all he needed to know. She was already matchmaking. He barely refrained from rolling his eyes. He could handle things just fine on his own.
Abby let out an exasperated sigh. "I don't think I'll ever get used to everyone knowing everything about me. Even complete strangers. It's like I'm on display in the circus."
The way she said it had Ethan thinking there was more to her frustration than the lack of privacy that went along with living in a small town.
Just then Braden walked up. "Here, man, you grab that end and we'll get this knocked out."
Abby must have realized she'd be better off if she just let them take care of it because she stopped resisting his efforts to help and pointed up to the second floor where she'd been standing when he first spotted her.
"Number two-oh-four." She turned to Lissa and said, "I guess I've got it from here if you need to get going."
Lissa caught his eye before answering her. "Yeah, I do think I'll be on my way. Oh, and I was going to ask you about that girls' night."
Abby sighed. "I don't know."
"Well, I know it's not because you're exhausted from moving or unpacking. I won't take no for an answer." Lissa pitched her voice louder as Ethan made his way further from where they were still standing. "Tonight at eight. It's time I introduced you to the Old Gin."
Ethan shook his head, grinning. Could she be any more obvious?
Braden caught his eye as they braced the mattress to haul it up the stairs. "Looks like we're headed to the Old Gin tonight? Show the new girl in town how we do it in Willow Valley?"
Ethan frowned, just now noticing the way Braden was eying Abby, and not liking it. "What do you know about her?"
Braden shrugged as they topped the stairs and angled the mattress through the front door and sat it down. "Probably not much more than you. Just that she's been in town for months and nobody knows hardly anything about her. She never goes out, keeps to herself except for her family. Strange, if you ask me."
He wanted to ask more, but Abby walked through the door then, glancing between the two of them and pointing toward the only other door he saw in the apartment.
"Bedroom's through here. I guess just prop it up against the wall. I have to assemble the frame first."
Ethan felt a sudden urge to help her out, to finish the job. "Let me take care of it for you. It's the least I could do."
Abby frowned. "I think you've done enough. Thanks, but I've got it. I'm sure you need to get back to work."
"Actually, this is my last stop. I'm off for the day." He turned to Braden. "You go ahead and take the truck back. I'll find my way home."
"No, really," Abby said in a rush. "Don't go to any trouble on my part. I don't want you to not have a ride home."
Braden laughed. "I wouldn't be too worried about that. He lives downstairs." He clapped Ethan on the back. "See you tonight, man?"
Ethan was too distracted by the look on Abby's face to give him much more than a nod of affirmation. She seemed uneasy to find out that he just so happened to be her new neighbor.
"You live downstairs?" she croaked out when Braden had left. Her eyes darted all around the room, landing anywhere but on him. It was obvious she was nervous to be alone with him.
"I do. Hey, if it makes you uncomfortable for me to be here, I'll go. Freaking out a woman isn't really my style." He offered her an easy grin, hoping it would set her at ease.
Taking a deep breath, Abby squared her shoulders and looked him dead in the eye, the sudden change in her demeanor startling.
"I'm not so easily freaked out. It's fine. But I am ready to be done with this, so let's get on with it."
"You got any tools?"
She walked to the kitchen and rummaged through a box, coming out with a single screwdriver.
"Will this work?" She smiled ruefully. It was the first smile she'd actually given him since he'd first messed with the delivery man, and it hit him right in the gut. Suddenly he wanted to do whatever it took to be the one to keep that smile on her face.
"Maybe. If you want to keep me in your bedroom all night." He laughed at the look of shock that crossed her face.
Abby quickly composed herself. "You have a better suggestion?"
"Of how to keep me in your bedroom?" He knew he was pushing it, but he couldn't resist. And when she burst out in incredulous laughter, he gave her a comical leer.
She was the one that surprised him this time by saying, "Oh no. I don't need any help in that department."
He was at a loss for a moment, finally saying, "Well, in that case, let me go get my tools. I'll have your new bed ready to go in ten minutes flat."
He left her gaping after him as he made his way downstairs. He was always up for an adventure, and the more challenging the better, but he wasn't quite sure what to make of Abby Stewart. Braden was right, she did keep to herself a lot, though he'd not thought much about it before, not being one to concern himself too much with town gossip. And she was also distinctly uncomfortable being alone with him. What was that about? But then she'd done a one-eighty and shown a totally different side of herself. A funny, flirty side that he'd like to see a bit more of.
She was definitely a mystery. And perhaps a complicated one. Ethan made a habit of never getting involved with anyone complicated. There was too much fun to be had in life to be weighed down by unnecessary drama. That had earned him a bit of a reputation of being a wild one, the guy that no girl could tame. A woman like Abby—someone who obviously came with baggage—would typically be the furthest thing off his radar. So he couldn't quite understand why at the moment he couldn't wait to get back upstairs and find out more about her.