Her Forever Hero

By: Melody Anne

PROLOGUE



It was quite the welcome home. The railing and eaves of the porch were decorated thickly with spiderwebs, and weeds were doing their bit, too, creeping up between the now rickety boards to act almost like potted plants. Mother Nature had pulled out all the stops in her honor.

Grace picked up a dull gray stone, tossed it upward, then felt its expected weight as it landed back in the palm of her hand. She did the same thing over and over, her mind adrift and haunted.

Why was she here? Why was she tormenting herself?

Because she had nowhere else to go. Her life had been in shambles for the past ten years, ever since she’d left Sterling, Montana. She could fix up her childhood home. The spacious rooms could be cleaned, the rotten boards replaced, the cobwebs torn down. But she didn’t have any desire to live in a house—never a home—with no pleasant memories within its emotionless walls.

Her happiest times in Sterling had been outside this house, this mausoleum that had been her mother’s pride and joy. No, they hadn’t been the wealthiest family in town, but they’d had a lot, and Mrs. Sinclair felt true love for her possessions, especially the six-thousand-square-foot home now standing nearly empty before her daughter.

Her journey down memory lane—tiptoeing through the funeral tulips—wasn’t finished yet, though. Letting the rock drop to the ground, Grace pulled out her key and walked up the rickety steps, cautiously avoiding the sticky cobwebs. She tested the door handle, only to find it locked. She hoped the key still worked.

It took several tries but, by twisting it a little this way and that, she finally managed to get the lock to free itself, and then, with the help of a strong push, the door was swinging open. Sunlight filtered in through dust-coated windows, showing years’ worth of grime covering the floors, counters, and the few pieces of furniture that had been left behind.

“Somebody should call Better Homes & Gardens!” she said out loud to break through the gloom. It didn’t work.

Her father had said he wouldn’t sell the home, that someday she might want to return to it. This property had once belonged to her grandfather, and to her grandfather’s grandfather before that. They had moved to Sterling in the 1800s and had made a beautiful settlement for themselves.

Her mother had wanted to tear down the original homestead, a quaint one-room cabin with a woodstove and loft. Her father had refused and restored it instead. That was where Grace had created some of her best memories, because they had been outside the walls of her jail, the Big House. She and her best friend Sage had spent many nights sleeping in that small cabin, telling each other their hopes and dreams for the future.

Never had she thought back then that her life would turn out this way. Never had she thought she’d become a bitter, broken woman. No. She wasn’t broken. She was too strong for that. As soon as she had time to heal, she would be back to normal. Her zest for life would return, and she would once again show the world that Grace Sinclair was a fighter.

The old piano she had spent so many hours playing sat forlornly in the corner of the family room. Damn! Even thinking the word family made Grace laugh bitterly. Her father had once tried to be a good man, but he was so focused on making the next dollar for her mother that he wasn’t capable of real love, and her mother—well, her mother was the proverbial . . . okay, the Total Bitch of the West. Grace had tried to escape them every chance she got, once she’d learned that, on the outside, away from this house, real families existed. But her parents always managed to get their chains back around her, making sure she knew exactly the limits of her freedom.

Although her father had wanted a son—all men did, didn’t they?—she ended up being his only child, so once every few years he would try to do something fatherly, such as giving her the title to the land and house he knew he’d never return to. Her parents’ displays of affection always involved money. Hugs were unheard-of in her family, and real emotion was to be held inside. They had a reputation to maintain, after all.

Drawn to the piano, Grace trailed her fingers absently along its lid, smearing them with dust. She lifted the curved wooden cover of the ebony and ivory keys only to discover more filth. The instrument was out of tune, but it at least brought up good memories. She’d taken lessons her entire childhood, and although she was no master, she still enjoyed the soothing music a piano could create.

Sitting down on the bench, she hung her head. “It’s time for a new start. First of all, this house needs to go—though I think I’ll keep the piano,” she said aloud, her eyes closed as she fought emotion. There would never be a day she could live within these walls again, never a day she could start thinking of this house as her home. She’d rather live in the tiny cabin tucked in the trees behind this monstrous monument to hypocrisy.

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