Home > Harvest Moon (Riverbend #3)(3)

Harvest Moon (Riverbend #3)(3)
Author: Denise Hunter

Feeling somewhat reassured, he pulled the door closed and headed back downstairs. He’d arrived just after Chloe put Emma down. They’d seen each other before in passing, so the babysitter knew he was a close friend of the family. He’d simply told her the Claytons had been delayed and that he’d been sent to relieve her. He didn’t want word of Mike’s death spreading prematurely. Only when she stood awkwardly at the door did he realize she hadn’t been paid. Apologizing, he grabbed cash from his wallet and handed it over.

Gavin’s body felt heavy as he took the steps. He was profoundly glad Emma was already down for the night. He needed time to process what had happened before he answered the toddler’s questions about where her parents were. She was very verbal for a two-and-a-half-year-old, already stringing three and four words together. But what was he supposed to tell her? How could she possibly understand that her dad was gone forever when Gavin could barely process it?

He’d called his mom on the drive here and broken the news to her. She was informing the rest of the Robinson family. Praying for Mallory’s recovery. Shock had faded enough that he’d shed his first tears as they talked.

Gavin blinked. How long had he been standing at the bottom of the stairs, staring into the living room? Toys cluttered the space. He moved automatically toward the pile of magnetic blocks and began cleaning up. Sunny, the Claytons’ golden retriever, watched from her favorite spot near the hearth, head tilted, ears perked.

He was almost finished putting away the toys when his phone vibrated in his pocket. Cooper. He tapped the Accept button. “Hey, any news yet?”

“I just talked to someone at the hospital.” A beat of silence ushered in the bad news. “I’m sorry. Mallory didn’t make it.”

A chill swept through him. His legs gave way, and he sank onto the sofa. It couldn’t be true. Mike and Mallory just . . . gone? He would never see them again? His gaze swung upstairs, where Emma slept unaware that her world had just fallen apart.

“She didn’t make it through surgery,” Coop said. “The internal injuries were too extensive.”

“This can’t be happening.”

“I know, Gav. It’s awful.”

Poor Laurel. She’d never been one to open up easily. Had always kept her circle small. So small Gavin wasn’t sure there would be anyone left in it now.

“Is Emma all right?” Cooper asked.

“She’s sleeping.” He palmed the top of his head. “What am I going to tell her, Coop? What’s even going to happen to her?”

“Do you know if they had a plan? A will?”

“I—yes. I think Mike mentioned something about that a long time ago.” Gavin was executor, if he remembered right. But surely that was more than two years ago—before Emma was born.

“Is there a relative who might . . . ?”

“Mike’s parents. They’re older—they had him in their forties. But maybe they’d step in. Mallory’s got a mother, but they haven’t seen each other in years.”


“They’re both only children.” Were only children. Gavin scrubbed a hand over his face.

“Well . . . let’s hope they named a guardian then.”

“What’ll happen to Emma if they didn’t?” Dread swelled inside during the silence that followed.

“Child Protective Services will have to be notified in the morning—and Emma will become a ward of the state.”

“What? No. That can’t happen. They would never want that.” Who would?

“I’m afraid that’s the way it works when there’s no plan. Family will have the chance to petition for guardianship. But if no one steps forward, she’ll be put in foster care until a permanent home can be found. Hopefully it won’t come to that. Why don’t you go through their files and see what you can find?”

“I’m on it.” After Gavin disconnected the call, he headed to the home office, his mind whirling. What if they hadn’t named a guardian? What if Emma ended up with strangers? Shuffled through foster care the way Cooper’s wife, Katie, had been? No. Surely Mike and Mallory had a plan in place. He just had to find the papers.

Fifteen minutes later he was forced to acknowledge that organization had not been Mallory’s or Mike’s strong suit. The file drawers weren’t full of files at all, but rather stacks of papers, ranging from car titles to business contracts. How had they run Harvest Moon Orchards this way?

He sorted through the first drawer and was just getting started on the second when a knock sounded at the door. Probably Mom or Cooper. Thank God they hadn’t rung the bell and woken Emma. He hurried to the door and swept it open.

He froze at the sight of his ex-wife, standing beneath the glow of the porch light.

Her brown eyes widened. She blinked. “Gavin.”

She must’ve missed his Denali parked in the shadows at the side of the house. Grief was etched in the planes of her face, evident in the sag of her slender shoulders.

His heart squeezed tight. Her best friend had just died. And so had his. He reached out automatically, wanting to offer comfort.

Her shoulders stiffened and she crossed her arms. Full self-protection mode. It was a stance he’d seen a lot that last year.

He hadn’t thought his mood could sink any lower tonight, but he’d been wrong. He dropped his arms to his sides. It was a sign of just how bad things were between them that the tragic loss of their best friends hadn’t removed a single stone from that high wall of hers. Three years and a mountain of regret crouched between them.

“Where’s Emma?” she asked.

“She’s fine. She’s sleeping. What are you doing here?” He hadn’t meant to sound combative.

Her eyes flashed. “Same thing you are—making sure Emma’s okay.”

“She’s fine for now.”

Sunny brushed past him and crashed into Laurel’s side, tail wagging.

Laurel’s long brown hair tumbled over her shoulders as she bent down to rub the dog’s ears affectionately. Laurel had come to Riverbend Gap occasionally since the divorce. Her mom lived here, after all. But she always managed to avoid Gavin. No accident, he was certain.

She straightened, meeting his gaze. “Mallory . . . she didn’t make it.” There were no tears. But she was probably in shock. Also, she didn’t cry easily.

Although Gavin had managed to reduce her to a pile of tears in the middle of their king-size bed. He gave the memory a firm shove. “I know.”

“What’s going to happen to Emma?”

“Do you know if they had a plan in place?”

Something flickered in her eyes before they dropped to the dog. “I’m, uh, not sure.”

He didn’t know what that look was about, but he didn’t have the emotional reserves to decipher his ex-wife right now. “Maybe you can help me search. I just started going through their files. It’s a bit of a mess.”

“All right.”

He opened the door wider and let her inside. Seeing her so wrecked, he couldn’t quite bring himself to tell her what Cooper had said about CPS. Hopefully they’d find the papers and everything would sort itself out.


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