“Hey,” Rocco greeted, stepping into the garage. He stuffed his hands in his jean pockets as though to warm his fingers. He walked around to the front of the vehicle and looked over the engine. The weather was typical of January, drizzly and miserable. It was a good complement to Sam’s mood, which had been dark since the day he split with Beth.

“Hey,” Sam returned. He straightened and looked to his friend, wiping his hand with cloth.

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” Rocco commented.

“Been busy.” Sam suspected this was more than a social visit. Without it being said, he understood Nichole had sent Rocco on a fact-finding mission. Sam had nothing to say, and he’d make sure Rocco knew it in quick order.

“Owen’s jar is empty,” Rocco said. “He’s asking about you.”

Sam grinned. “You should bring him by; I’ll fill it up for him.”

Rocco bent over the car and examined the engine. “You okay?” he asked without looking at Sam.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” The question was defensive.

Straightening, Rocco shrugged. “Heard you and Beth split.”

“Yeah, well, all good things must come to an end, right?” He placed his hands on both sides of the engine and leaned forward, as if the answers to the questions of the universe were revealed there.

“Not all good things,” Rocco countered.

“It was time,” Sam said, unwilling to add anything more.

Rocco nodded as though he understood. “Thought that way once myself. Learned otherwise. You two were good together, complemented each other. Thing is, Sam, I don’t ever remember you being as happy or content as when you were with Beth.”

“Appreciate the words, Roc, but not your business.”

Rocco raised his hands as if surrendering. “I had my say and as far as I’m concerned, from here on out it’s a closed subject.”

“Good. Keep it that way.” Sam straightened and relaxed. He didn’t want to lose a good friend because of Beth. These first few weeks would be the most difficult. It would get easier in time. All he had to do was wait it out.

“Heard Beth’s—”

Sam stopped him. “Do me a favor.”

“Sure,” Rocco said. “What do you need?”

“If you hear of her …”

“You mean Beth.”

Who else did he think it would be? “Yeah, Beth. If you hear anything she’s said or if she’s dating again, I’d rather not know about it. Better yet, don’t mention her name anytime I’m around. Understand?”

Rocco grinned like he knew something Sam didn’t.

“Can you do that?” he asked, letting his irritation show.

“Sure thing.”


Rocco hung around for another thirty minutes and then took off on an errand for Nichole. When Sam finished adjusting the carburetor on the 1970 Chevy Impala, he fixed himself a bologna sandwich and stood at the kitchen counter, wolfing it down. Funny how even the little things like a countertop in his kitchen reminded him of Beth. He’d stood right here when Beth had delivered the cookies for his poker night with the guys.

He didn’t dare let Rocco know how bad off he was without her. It’d been only three weeks since he’d last seen her—three dark weeks—and every day was a challenge. Countless times he’d thought to reach out to her. It took every bit of restraint he could manage to not give in. What held him back was knowing something like what happened at Christmas was likely to happen again. She couldn’t help herself. It was part of her nature to fix things. To make everything right. He’d seen it more than once.

What Beth failed to understand was that Sam didn’t need fixing.

He didn’t need her sticking her nose in where it didn’t belong, dragging up the past he was determined to push to the farthest reaches of his mind. After Trish, he’d decided never to trust another woman again. Circumstances had brought him and Beth together and for a time it had been good.

Real good.

He’d let his heart rule his head and it had nearly ended in disaster. He could only imagine what would have happened if Trish had happened to see him at that recital. And worse, far, far worse, was seeing Luci. Seeing his daughter. She was everything he had imagined, everything he’d hoped.

Pain hit him square in the chest and he closed his eyes while his body adjusted to the emotional hit.

His daughter.

His child.

Just thinking about her and his head felt like it would implode. He could never be part of her life. He didn’t need to be reminded that his chance of being a father had been taken away from him.

No, letting go of Beth was a protection. Hard as it was, he was determined to be free of her—this time for good.

Chapter 38


Sunshine had always enjoyed her visits to Chicago and was happy to accept the Lindstrom Art Museum’s invitation to display her work. The reception held in her honor was to take place late afternoon on a Saturday. Her sister had agreed to accompany her, and Sunshine could see how well Ellie enjoyed introducing herself as the sister of the artist.

The compliments flowed as smoothly and freely as the champagne. By the end of the viewing, Sunshine was tired and more than ready to return to her hotel room for downtime. Ellie and Phillip had left, and she was about to thank the curator and head out herself when she noticed a lone man remained. His back was to her, but even then she recognized who it was.


After a short hesitation, she joined him. Standing at his side she said, “I didn’t realize you were here.”

He set his empty champagne glass down on the tray provided and smiled. “Your work is breathtaking, Sunshine.”

Her paintings had received praise and adulation all afternoon, but none meant more to her than Peter’s kind words. “Thank you.” She was afraid to say anything more not knowing his mood. Their past two conversations had left her feeling wounded.

The curator approached and was about to tell Peter the showing had come to an end when she stopped him. “This is a personal friend of mine,” she explained.

“Ah, of course. Please, stay as long as you like.”

“I appreciate it.”

He left them.

Peter stood by her side. “Are you tired?” he asked.

These receptions drained her of energy. Generally, all she wanted to do was return to her hotel room and put up her feet. “A little,” she admitted.

“Would you consider dining with me?”

She hesitated, unsure they could spend time together without both of them coming away bleeding and battered.

“It’s a simple question,” he said when she didn’t answer. “Yes or no?”

There was a slight edge to his voice as if he half expected her to make an excuse.

“Yes,” she said, not wanting to risk losing the opportunity to spend more time with him even if it did end up bringing her pain.

He grinned then, almost sheepishly. “I know this quaint Mexican place that serves fish tacos.”

“Peter.” She breathed his name, hardly able to believe it. “Is our restaurant still open? After all these years?”

“Not the same one, a bit different, but with the same owners.”

“No.” Her fingertips hugged her lips. “Impossible.”

“It took some investigating to find that couple. I was happy to learn they are still in the restaurant business.”

“I can’t believe it. Have you been?”

“No, I decided to wait until you could join me. Will you?”

She nodded, feeling almost giddy with delight.

The curator supplied her purse and coat and then escorted them from the museum. He gushed with enthusiasm and praise along with appreciation as Sunshine walked out the door, embarrassing her with his continuous compliments. When she was with Peter she was no longer the artist, she was a woman spending time with a man.

Peter led her to a waiting car.

“You have a driver?” she asked.

“The firm supplies one for special clients.”

“Am I a client?”

“No,” he agreed, “but you’re special.”

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