Home > Harvest Moon (Riverbend #3)(4)

Harvest Moon (Riverbend #3)(4)
Author: Denise Hunter


Chapter 3


As Laurel brushed past Gavin, a whiff of pine and woodsmoke took her back years, to happier days. But the sight of the stairs, leading to Emma’s room, yanked her right back to the present. Her gaze caught on the family photos stairstepping up the wall: Mallory and Mike on their wedding day, Mike holding a newborn Emma, Mallory tending the apple orchard that first year, her face glowing with hope and pride. She’d been such a good mother, despite the terrible example she’d had—maybe even because of it.

Laurel’s throat thickened with tears she would not allow to fall. At the hospital, shock had held her in its grips. On the forty-five-minute drive from Asheville, worry for Emma had taken precedence. But now, with her ex-husband nearby, was definitely not the time to give in to grief. She mentally locked her heart in a safe and threw away the key.

Sunny sidled up to Laurel, and she ruffled the dog’s ears. Poor girl. She wouldn’t understand what was happening either.

Laurel headed for the office, Sunny on her heels. She would find that will. It was true that Mallory hadn’t been the most organized woman, but she’d loved her daughter with a fierce love. She would’ve made sure there was a plan in place, though Laurel didn’t know what that would be. Mallory was estranged from her mother and only had an aunt left now. Mike’s parents? Laurel had never met them as they lived in Colorado, but she seemed to recall that they were older. Surely not too old to raise a child though.

“Do you know if they had a safe?” Gavin entered the room behind her.

The low timbre of his voice, so familiar, so missed, sent a shiver down her arms. “Not that I know of. If we can’t find anything, we can check with Darius Walker—that’s the attorney they used.” Her heart gave a hard squeeze at her use of past tense.

“I’ve already searched through the file cabinet.” Gavin knelt by an open desk drawer, its contents piled on the wood floor beside it. “The attorney’s office won’t be open tomorrow.”

“No.” Which meant what? That they might be on their own until Monday? She would stay with Emma until then. If she had to miss a day or two of work, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Her gaze flittered to the bookshelves with their row of cabinets beneath. “I’ll start there. Was Emma awake when you got here?”

“No, thank God.”

In the morning the child would awaken, expecting her parents to be home. Mallory and Mike had gone away overnight only once since she’d been born. Laurel had stayed with Emma while they’d celebrated their seventh anniversary. Mike traveled a bit with his job, but Mallory and Emma had been attached at the hip.

When Mallory had worked the orchard, Emma had been right there with her. At first in a stroller or worn in a sling around Mallory’s body. Then in a playpen situated in the shade. This year had been more challenging as Emma was more independent and wanted her freedom.

How could Emma understand her parents were never coming home? Laurel couldn’t even think about that right now.

The first cabinet turned up Mallory’s old memorabilia from high school. There would be photos of her and Laurel in those boxes, and she didn’t dare let herself go there tonight. She moved on to the second cabinet and found everything from old greeting cards to office supplies.

All the while Laurel sorted, she was aware of Gavin, only a few feet behind her. Her heart hadn’t settled into a normal rhythm since Cooper’s phone call, and the sight of Gavin at the door had done nothing to rectify that.

He looked so tired, those bright-blue eyes of his gone dull, the corners tugging down in that tragic way of his. His black hair had grown, falling in choppy waves around his face. He wore several days’ bristle on his jaw. He’d always been meticulously clean-shaven, had kept a standing monthly barber appointment. She used to tease him about it because his fastidious grooming habits were ironic when he was really such a man’s man.

But that was then. She didn’t know him anymore.

Her mind skipped to the night ahead. Was he planning to stay here? The thought played out in her head—the one spare bedroom. He’d insist she take it. He’d sleep on the sofa. No, that wouldn’t do at all. She’d send him home. She could stay with Emma. She would be the one to somehow answer the child’s questions.

She made a note to google that later. How to tell a toddler her parents are dead. Her skin broke out in a cold sweat. She squeezed her eyes shut.

“Found it.” Gavin’s voice jerked her from her thoughts.

She dropped a stack of yearbooks and scooted closer, edging around Sunny, who wasn’t budging. “A will?”


Thank God they’d planned for Emma.

Gavin sat back on his haunches and flipped through the pages of a stapled document. She couldn’t read from this distance and wasn’t about to get closer.

He stopped and locked in on a page, reading.

Laurel could hardly stand the tension. “What does it say?”

* * *

Gavin skimmed through the legalese, searching for the information he needed. As a contractor he’d dealt with his share of documents. But wills were a little different, he was finding. And with Laurel hovering over his shoulder, her familiar scent wafting around him, he was having trouble focusing.

Finally he came across the section he’d been searching for. His eyes zeroed in on the words. We, Mike and Mallory Clayton, residing at blah, blah, blah. He skipped down to the lines below.

To the names.

A flush of adrenaline tingled through his body. His breath quickened. His heart tried to keep pace. How could this be? Why would they—?

“Did you find it? What does it say?”

His eyes swept across the names once more, just to be certain he wasn’t seeing things. Nope. There they were, just as he’d read the first time. He closed the document as if doing so could make him unsee it.

“What? What’s wrong? Didn’t they name a guardian? Just tell me, for heaven’s sake.”

He cleared his throat. “No, they did.”

“Thank God. Who is it? Not her mom.”

Gavin looked up at her. “No.”

“Then who?” she fairly snapped. “Who did they name?”

He swallowed hard. No way to soften this blow. “Us,” he said finally. “They named us as Emma’s guardians.”



Chapter 4


It had not been love at first sight for Laurel and Gavin.

She’d noticed him right away when she entered biology class her first day of sophomore year at Riverbend Gap High School. She’d attended Hopewell Academy till now, but she’d seen Gavin before, knew of him. Everyone knew of the well-liked Robinson family.

Gavin was sitting at the desk closest to the teacher. He had short dark hair, and a pale-blue T-shirt clung to his lean, muscular frame. She was surprised he wasn’t sitting in the back where the other jocks would no doubt gather.

He sized her up as she took the empty desk beside him. She’d been something of a science and math whiz at her academically rigorous school. She’d hated the idea of transferring—a public school wouldn’t be as impressive on her college applications. But at least the classes would be easier—she planned to rise straight to the top. And not having to be the poor kid on scholarship was a bonus.

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