THE REDEMPTION OF LILLIE ROURKE
Bestselling Author Loree Lough
Series: By Way of the Lighthouse Series Book 3
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Heartwarming
Publication Date: April 1, 2018
She'd worked for that second chance, but will he believe she has changed?
When she fled Baltimore after a near-fatal accident that left her dependent on painkillers, Lillie Rourke lost everything. Now, physically and emotionally healed, sheâs ready to make amends and start over. But Jase Yeager has moved on, and who can blame him? Yet Lillie isnât giving upâon her--or them. Earning back Jaseâs trust wonât be easy, but Lillieâs no stranger to challengesâ¦
The kid whoâd offered to help him earlier now pecked keys on the register. âThis sheet music is on sale,â he said, running the book across the scanner screen. âAre you a kindergarten teacher or something?â
Lillie grinned. âNo, nothing like that. I volunteer at Hopkins Childrenâs Oncology every couple of weeks, and my material is getting stale. Those kids are going through enough without me, adding boredom to their list of complaints. Not that they complain. Theyâre the bravest little souls Iâve ever met.â
Lillie tended to ramble when nervous, and he felt bad that his nearness made her feel that way.
âMy cousin was in there a few years ago,â the kid said, sliding another songbook over the screen. âLeukemia won.â
Jase watched as Lillie, ever the caring comforter, lay a hand atop his.
âIâm so sorry,â she said. âHow old was he?â
Her shoulders rose, then fell with a sympathetic sigh. How many times had he told her that her heart was bigger than her head? Too many times to count.
The cashier bagged her music, hit the register button to ring up her total. âItâs really nice, what youâre doing,â he said, handing her the receipt. âThe thing Lance hated most about that place was how long the days were with nothing to do but watch TV and listen to his monitor beep.â
Jase had to agreeâ¦it was a nice thing sheâd been doing.
She thanked the kid and turned to face Jase. âWell, it was a nice surprise, seeing you again.â
âCan you hang around a minute, just until I pay for this stuff?â
She looked surprised by his invitation. In truth, heâd surprised himself, extending it. But he couldnât just let her leave.
âOkay,â she said. âIâll wait for you over by the door.â
There was a time when, as she looked up at him that way, his heart had beat doubletime. But who was he kidding? It was happening, right now.
The kid made smalltalk with him, too, but Jase barely heard a word as he watched her from the corner of his eye. Silhouetted against the bright sunshine on the other side of the window, he couldnât help but notice the way her chin-length hair curved and curled above her shoulders. She used to dress like a tomboy. Sneakers and jeans with comfy t-shirts, like sheâd worn to plant flowers that day in her parentsâ yard. But that little dressâ
âAll set,â the kid said, holding up Jaseâs bag.
He thanked the boy and wasted no time, joining Lillie.
âYou want to grab a cup of coffee?â He held open the door, hoping that slight frown didnât mean sheâd say no. âItâs only a short walk to CafÃ© Latteâdaâ¦â
âOn Aliceanna Street. I remember.â
Of course she did, because before her addiction destroyed them they used to go there at least once a week to decide the order of the songs theyâd sing at Three-Eyed Joeâs.
âSo what do you say? Iâll treat you to a sandwich. Or pie. Or both.â Recalling her penchant for eating small portions, he added, âWe could shareâ¦â
Her sweet, sad smile told him she, too, remembered all the meals theyâd shared. And again, it made his heart beat a bit harder.
âI donât have to be at work until six, so okay, pie and coffee it is.â
They were waiting for the light to change at Fleet and Aliceanna when she said, âThis wonât upset Whitney, will it?â
âWhy would it upset her?â
âI, well, that day at The Flower Basket, I got the impression she knows that we were a couple.â
âI havenât been seeing her long, so I doubt she cares enough to be jealous.â
The image of that candlelit table flashed in his mind, proof that she cared. Clamping his jaw against a twinge of guilt, Jase said, âSo how long have you had this Hopkins gig?â
âCouple months now.â
The light changed, and he pressed a hand to her back to guide her across the street. Not that she needed his assistance. Lillie had been walking to and from her folksâ inn to the restaurant and hotel for months. Still, it felt good, felt right, being this close to her again.
Inside CafÃ© Latte Da, Jase admitted that heâd skipped breakfast.
âThe guy whoâs forever reminding people itâs the most important meal of the day?â Lillie laughed. âWhy!â
âJust got back from Florida, and didnât have time to make a grocery run. My cupboards are as bare as Mother Hubbardâs.â
âI caught the last few minutes of the casserole demonstration. You were born to be a TV host.â
âYeah, wellâ¦ So I think Iâll get the chicken wrap. What about you? In the mood for something more substantial than pie?â
âThought I heard your belly growl earlierâ¦â
Instinct made her press a palm to her stomach. âAn espresso is plenty for now. Iâll whip up a sandwich or something before I clock in at the hotel.â
When sheâd paid for the sheet music, Jase saw a lone ten dollar bill in her wallet. He knew her well enough to explain why sheâd said no: Lillie had decided that until he could deposit every dime sheâd borrowed, she wouldnât take anything more from him. Unnecessary as that was, Jase respected her decision.
The sat at an empty table near the doorâa rare occurrence on a Saturday afternoonâand settled in.
âTell me about this volunteer work. When did you sign on for that?â
âA week or so after I got home, I gave in to a moment of self-pity.â She stared out the window. âIt was time to stop focusing on me, and start focusing on others.â Eyes locked to his, she added, âBestâand worstâthing I have ever done.â
He didnât get it, and said so.
âLife has put those kids through the wringer. Some of them are barely hanging on, but theyâre hanging on. A person canât help but admire the fight in them.â She sipped her espresso. âHard to feel sorry for yourself after spending time with them.â
It made sense, considering how sheâd always said that self-pity was the most dangerous of all human emotions.
âMust be tough, though, working that closely with them.â
âOnly during the drive home.â
Her eyes shimmered with unshed tears. âBecause I never know which of them wonât be there when I go back.â
And not because theyâd gone home, healthy, he surmised.
She started talking about individual kids, the conditions that put them into Hopkins, the parents and siblings that supported them, and the staff that cared for and comforted them. Hands folded on the table, Lillie said, âAnd then thereâs Jason, the sweetest, cutest ten year old boy youâll ever meet. He told me the other day that he wants to marry one of the girlsâSallyâbecause his momâs biggest regret is that sheâll never see him walk down the aisle with the girl of his dreams.â
Wiping away a wayward tear, she added, âThen he asked me if Iâd sing at their wedding, and help him make arrangements. Flowers. Streamers. Punch and a cake.â
And he knew that sheâd agreed to everything. Jase wanted nothing more at that moment than to take her in his arms, tell her what a terrific person she was. But he sat back, instead, and said, âHow can I help?â
âHey. Quit looking so shocked. I do nice stuff once in a while, you know.â
âI know that better than almost anyone,â was her quiet reply.
âMaybe we can work up a couple of tunes, two or three of the things weâd sing at Three-Eyed Joeâs when people were celebrating anniversariesâ¦â
It meant spending time with her, alone, and Jase hoped the offer hadnât been a big mistake.
âI think the kids might like that.â
She thought the kids might like it? Why the hesitation? And then it hit him: She was as afraid of being so close, of reliving warm and wonderful moments as he was.
âThen letâs put our heads together, figure outâ¦ When is this ceremony, anyway?â
âIn two weeks.â There wasnât a trace of a smile on her face when she added, âIf he makes it that long.â
âKeep a good thought, Lill. If the kid is half as determined to do this for his mom, heâll make it. And who knows? Maybe itâs just what he needs to push him closer to a cure.â
She brought the espresso cup to her lips and, nodding, met his eyes.
His high school Lit teacher had made the class memorize what sheâd termed âlove poems.â It surprised him that, after all this time, he was able to zero in on a line from Sir Walter Scottâs âLochinvarâ: Sheâd lookâd down to blush, and sheâd lookâd up to sigh, with a smile on her lips and a tear in her eyeâ¦â
Yet again, Jase had to fight the urge to draw her into a comforting hug.
He cleared his throat. Sat up straighter. Downed a gulp of his iced tea. âSo where do you think we should get together? My place? Weâd have plenty of quiet and privacy there.â
Too much, too soon, he realized when her eyes grew big and round.
âThe acoustics are great in the innâs turret. Iâm sure Mom and Dad wonât mind. In fact, they were just asking about you the other day. Iâm sure theyâd love seeing you.â
âSounds good. Iâll be home for a month, so my schedule is pretty flexible. Youâre the one whoâs clocking a hundred hours a week, soâ¦â
âIâm happy to see you havenât changed much,â she said, laughing. âStill exaggerating like crazyâ¦one of the things that made me crazy about you.â
She gasped a little when that last line came out and, hands over her mouth, Lillie said, âGood grief. Iâm sorry, Jase. That was really inappropriate. And bad timing.â
âItâs neither, and itâs okay. Nothing wrong with concentrating on the good times. We had plenty of those beforeâ¦â
If heâd been standing, Jase might have kicked himself, because things had been going really well until he put his big foot in his mouth. Lillie shoved the espresso cup into the center of the table, her way of saying their meeting was over. Sheâd gathered her things and stood, and he did, too.
âSo should I call you? Or would you rather call me? About a time when we can get together. To rehearse, I mean.â
Rambling again. And again, he felt bad for raising her stress level. âDo you have a pen?â
Like magic, she produced one from her purse.
Leaning over the table, he scribbled three phone numbers on a napkin. âHome, cell, and office,â he said, âin that order. You can always get me on my cell. Call any time.â Call soon, he thought. As he pressed the napkin into her hand, their fingers touched. Not for longâa blink in time, if thatâbut long enough to send a current of longing straight to his heart.
Heâd been behaving like some guilt-ridden goofball whoâd dumped his best girl, when in reality, Lillie had ended them by choosing booze and pills over their relationship.
It hit him like a punch to the gut: Suggesting that they get together, for any reason, had been a bad idea. But maybe luck was on his side, and sheâd hesitated earlier because she felt the same way. Jase hoped she wouldnât call. And he hoped she would. Why had she come back, just when heâd gotten himself back on track, and turn order into chaos again?
Feeling miserable and confused, Jase held open the cafÃ© door.
A tiny frown furrowed her brow. âAre you okay?â
âYeah. Just remembered something I forgot to do.â Likeâ¦staying the heck away from her.
âOh. Because you lookâ¦different.â
âDonât mind me,â he said, leading the way across the street. âIâm a little annoyed with myself, is all, for forgettingâ¦â He let his sentence trail off.
âI remember what a perfectionist you are, and how frustrated you get with yourself when you let something, no matter how trivial, slip through the cracks.â
Yeah, she knew him, all right. Their closeness is what allowed her to use him, time and again, to suit her I love drugs more than you needs.
About Loree Lough
Bestselling author LOREE LOUGH once sang for her supper, performing across the U.S. and Canada. Now and then, she blows the dust from her 6-string to croon a tune or two, but mostly, she writes novels that have earned hundreds of industry and "Readers' Choice" awards, 4- and 5-star reviews, and 7 book-to-movie options. Her 115th book, 50 Hours, is her most personal to date, and released in June. More recently, The Man She Knew, book #1 in her âBy Way of the Lighthouseâ series (Harlequin Heartwarming) and Bringing Rosie Home. Next, #3 in the series, The Redemption of Lillie Rourkeâ¦and additional surprises for 2018, 2019, and beyondâ¦.
Official website: http://www.loreelough.com
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