Bringing Home the Bad Boy

By: Jessica Lemmon



The very least, she thought bitterly at the time, but now she didn’t feel bitter. She considered herself blessed things had ended before she’d thrown good years after bad into a relationship doomed to fail.

Russell was a software developer, a pragmatic thinker, and ten years older than Charlie. She met him at a wedding—prior to her photography career, so rather than the photographer, she’d been the bridesmaid at this particular event. A guest of the groom, Russell had sought her out, danced with her, and practically begged her to take his phone number.

After several dates she learned he didn’t want to be married, and he didn’t want children. She had always wanted children and assumed children were the natural path following marriage. But when it became clear they were serious, she’d decided both marriage and children were things she could live without. With the right person, sacrifices were unavoidable. Forever would be worth it.

But her relationship didn’t last forever, making the six-year compromise she’d made much harder to live with now.

After the kitchen conversation over coffee, he’d arranged for movers to extricate her from the house and then Russell had eloped with a woman with three children. One going into college and twin boys in the sixth grade. He gave no explanation for what changed his mind, but she knew. The other woman, Darian.

Darian had changed his mind.

Which had the unpleasant side effect of making Charlie feel like she hadn’t been enough.

She’d taken what was behind door number two and moved on as intact as she could. Some nights, the hurt and the fear of being alone lingered. The fact she’d been unable to achieve the seemingly simple goal of having a family and settling down had haunted her enough that on those nights she became practically nocturnal.

Taking in a deep, humid breath, Charlie centered herself on the here and now. June was nearly July and the hot and sticky had both settled in at the Cove for the long haul. Sunlight danced on the surface of the lake, sending waves rippling in the wind. Behind the lake, in the sea of evergreens lining the hills, there were a few hidden homes, but that was too “deep woods” for her taste.

From her coveted porch—yes, even her fancy neighbors with their large, enviable homes admitted to coveting her porch—a patch of grass gave way to shore and led into the water. Her aquatic neighbor, Earl, stepped out onto the deck of his beaten houseboat off to the left where it was anchored in the deep, and raised a hand to wave. She could make out his pipe, handlebar white mustache, and sunglasses from here. He was tanned and brawny and made the best clam chowder she’d ever tasted.

Murmuring from the side of her house brought her to her feet as the smile spread her mouth.

Finally!

The voices grew louder as they closed in and she strode across the porch to meet them. She couldn’t make out the exact words, but she knew the boy’s voice as if he were her own.

“Aunt Charlie!” Lyon appeared around the corner and burst into a run. Before she had a chance to take the three steps to the grass to meet him, he bounded up them and straight into her arms. She caught him against her, savoring how small he was, knowing it was a battle with time she’d lose, and bent to kiss his head. His tight curls had grown out some since she saw him last. They tickled her nose.

Pulling away, she flattened his hair with both hands. It sprang up again, refusing to be tamed.

“You need a haircut,” she teased.

“I knoooooow.” He rolled his green-blue eyes. Lionel Downey was a stunning kid. He had Rae’s chocolate-brown skin, a touch lighter than hers had been, and her genuine, full smile. He had his father to thank for his eye color: ocean blue so striking against his dark features.

“That’s a tired subject, if you can’t tell.”

Her eyes went to Evan, who’d crossed his bare arms over his chest and leaned a hip into the column at the bottom of the steps to watch their interaction. His presence wasn’t overbearing or intimidating, but easy. Evan matched his laid-back, live-and-let-live attitude with a lazy swagger that was anything but. He’d worked hard his entire life and as a result, confidence oozed from every pore. The thinning pair of Levi’s, the casual T-shirt hugging his chest, his array of tattoos, and devil-may-care smile he showed to the world were him through and through, but Charlie knew Evan ran deeper than his outer layer.

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