“Owen thinks of him as the best uncle ever. My two sisters live in Washington state and we don’t see them often, so the only men in his life are Rocco and his father. My ex-husband tries, but he has trouble understanding the needs of a six-year-old. It’s Rocco and Sam who taught Owen how to ride a bike and throw a softball. Sam has attended every one of his T-ball games along with Rocco.”

“You mentioned how good he is with Matthew.”

“He’s amazing with the baby. That’s the reason I wanted the two of you to meet. Like I said earlier, Sam’s a bit of a character and he seems to have trouble with meaningful relationships with women, but with a little patience I think he could be a real catch.”

After all he’d done to help her, Beth found she was willing to be open-minded about Sam, something she hadn’t been earlier. “What’s his problem with relationships? Did he have a bad experience that left him bitter?”

Nichole released a slow breath. “Before I put together the dinner I asked Rocco about that very thing. He said as far as he knew Sam had only been involved in one serious relationship, and that was years ago. I’ll see if Rocco will give me a few more details. I know Sam’s not currently involved; if he is, he doesn’t talk about it and I’ve never met her.”

Beth couldn’t help wondering. “He told me he didn’t do relationships.”

“That’s the impression I get, too. But seeing how great he is with our family and how much the kids love him, I felt I had to try. My romantic heart believes he would make a wonderful husband and father.”

“I appreciate that you thought of me, but I don’t know if I’m up to taking on this grizzly bear of a man. Plus, there’s no indication he has any feelings for me. Well, other than pity.”

A smile blossomed in Nichole. “Au contraire. I’ve never known Sam to buy a woman flowers.”

“It’s a single flower,” Beth reminded her.

“A rose,” Nichole said, as if that was of major significance. “A red rose.”

“From the hospital gift shop. They probably only have red roses.”

“Still, Sam isn’t the kind of guy to buy a woman flowers. He did for you, though.”

Beth smiled, remembering how he quickly set it down on the table, as if holding it had burned his fingers. He’d felt awkward with it. At the time she hadn’t fully appreciated the gesture.

“Did Sam say when he was coming back?”

“No … but I assume it’s tonight, as I’m being transferred to the care facility sometime tomorrow.”

Nichole frowned.

“What?” Beth asked.

Lifting her arm, Nichole gently brushed Beth’s dark hair from her forehead.

It didn’t take Beth long to understand what her friend was too kind to put into words. “I look terrible, don’t I?”

Nichole smiled.

“My hair is a mess. I don’t have any makeup here.” She was definitely at her all-time worst. If there was anything to be grateful for it was the fact that she hadn’t seen herself in a mirror.

“I know just the thing.” Nichole’s eyes brightened as she spoke. Hurrying to her feet, she reached for her purse.

“Where are you going?”

“I’ll be back.”

Before Beth could say another word, Nichole left, a woman on a mission.

Thirty minutes later she returned, her cheeks flushed with excitement. She set a plastic sack from a local chain drugstore down on the foot of the bed. As if unveiling a work of art, Nichole withdrew each item from the bag one at a time. “Dry shampoo.” She placed that on the tray in front of Beth. “A brush and comb,” followed by a curling iron.

“Nichole!” Beth couldn’t believe anyone would do this.

“I’m just getting started.” Next came a bevy of cosmetics. It appeared her shopping trip had yielded everything Beth would need and more to help her feel more like a woman again.

Pleased with herself, Nichole giggled like a teenager. “I swear Sam isn’t going to know what hit him when he stops by this evening.”

An hour later, Beth felt a hundred times better. Her hair was styled, and while these weren’t her normal choices when it came to makeup, Nichole surprised her with how well she did matching up colors to complement her skin tone.

“You’ll let me know what happens when Sam sees you?”

“I will,” Beth promised. She’d been miserable and in awful pain the last two days. She hadn’t complained while Nichole fussed over her, but by the time her friend left, Beth was both exhausted and exhilarated. She rested for the remainder of the day, counting down the hours until she would see Sam again.

At five-thirty, she wondered if he’d come directly from work the way he had the day before. Wanting to look her best, she sat up in bed despite the discomfort.

At six-thirty she realized he’d probably gone home to shower and change clothes. Perhaps he felt he wanted to look his best for her, too. The thought pleased Beth, although it was probably silly to put any significance into the timing.

At seven-thirty she started to grow concerned.

At eight-thirty she realized he hadn’t said when he intended to return, only that he would. She was the one who’d made the assumption it would be that night.

By ten she was depressed, miserable, and fighting self-pity. Sunshine hadn’t been able to stop by, as she’d left town for a gallery event. She hadn’t wanted to, but Beth had insisted her aunt go. Beth’s hip ached, and the incision where her spleen had been removed was a constant source of discomfort, not to mention the terrible ache in her ribs.

Struggling to hold back tears, Beth was furious with herself for putting stock in a few careless words Sam had said on his way out the door. Embarrassed that she’d asked him to visit, she resisted covering her face with her hands. Her cheeks burned with regret.

Beth had to accept that her move to Portland had turned into a disaster. Her mother was right. She was naïve and gullible and needed the protection of her family. All Beth wanted was to make her own way, her own decisions, and, most important of all, her own choices when it came to her life. Now it looked like she would be out of work for months, going through rehab. For the next several weeks she would be dependent on the charity of others. Her first taste of freedom and she’d royally screwed up. The temptation to pull the sheet over her head and sink into a pit of despair was almost irresistible.

Sleep was impossible. She sniffled and would have kicked some sense into herself if it wasn’t so painful to move her legs … to move at all. Shooting pain from her cracked ribs stabbed her every time she shifted in bed, and her hip throbbed with a constant dull ache despite the pain medication. She was a physical and emotional mess.

It must have been close to midnight and she was wallowing in depression, listening to music on her phone in an effort to ward off sinking any deeper into self-pity. When the door to her room opened, Beth assumed it was the nurse and, not wanting to talk, she turned her music off and kept her eyes closed.


Her eyes shot open. “Sam?” He’d come at midnight! The man was nuts. She pulled the earbuds free and blinked at him in astonishment.

“Did I wake you?” he whispered. He stood just inside the doorway with his guitar in hand.

For a long moment all she could do was stare at him, convinced she was hallucinating. “What are you doing here this time of night?” she whispered back when she was able to talk.

He walked over to her side and set his guitar on the end of her bed. “You said the nights were the worst and you had a hard time sleeping.”

She blinked up at him in the dim light.

“I thought I’d sing you to sleep.”

Beth really did feel like weeping then. “Oh Sam,” she whispered, nearly choking on her words. “I thought … I thought …” She couldn’t make herself say it.

“What did you think?” he asked, his gaze warm and gentle.

“That you weren’t coming.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” he returned. He seemed surprised that she’d doubted him. “I told you I’d be back.”

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