To Trust Again by Kathryn Shay

Chapter 1


 

 

“I’m going to miss you so much, honey.”

Jordan held onto Brooke like he had when he was little and leaving for camp. “I don’t have to go, Mom. I can stay home for the school year.”

Over his younger brother’s shoulder, Grayson shook his head. “Me, too. I can still go to school closer. Elmwood College will take me this late.”

“No to both of you. But the offers warm my heart.” Brooke stepped back. “Now scoot. Anything you forgot to pack I can send to Italy.” Where he’d be studying architecture his senior year.

“I’ll be home at Christmas.”

“Maybe sooner for me,” Gray promised.

“We’ll see.”

“Love you, Mom.”

They watched Jordan go through security, her heart twisting in her chest. Please let him be all right.

“Now,” she said, turning to Gray. “Let’s get you a cab back to UCLA.”

Gray’s eyes misted. “It sucks leaving you alone. Dad wouldn’t approve of both of us taking off.”

“Dad would definitely approve. He’d want what’s best for you, as I do. We fulfilled all his wishes, so we have to move on.” Those had included scattering his ashes across the Pacific, which he loved to fly over.

“Don’t move too fast, though.” Gray adored his dad, and after a year, still mourned deeply over his death. “I’ll call once a week.”

“For a while you might. Then it’ll taper off so don’t worry about that either. I have a life, Gray, even though dad’s gone.”

“At least you’re better than you were a year ago, but I know Dad can’t be replaced in your heart.” Both boys had always resembled her and Zach, but it seemed that gradually Gray looked more like dad. He added, “I love you, Mom,” and walked out the door to grab transportation.

Brooke battled back tears. Eventually, she calmed, found her own gate and caught the redeye back east. She slept most of the night. When she arrived in Syracuse, she was in good enough shape to drive down to Crystal City and got to the fire academy in time for her ten o’clock meeting. Though she dreaded it. Could anything be more boring than fire engineering?

But the department did need to train in new systems that would meet the standards put in place by New York State. Brooke had no choice but to be on board. She’d meet with Patrick Patel, a rep for Fire Engineering Incorporated, which moved their headquarters to Elmwood recently.

With graciousness and feigned interest, she walked into the chief’s office.

“There she is,” Joe Redman said cheerfully. “Fresh off the plane, I think.”

She smiled at Redman. “Well, I did drive back from Syracuse, too.” She turned to the rep. But the man in the chair who’d been talking to the chief wasn’t Patrick Patel. Her heart began to gallop in her chest.

“Cord, this is Brooke Cartwright. Brooke, Cord Remington, the CEO of FEI.”

He stood.

Finally, she regained her composure. “Cord, nice to see you again.”

Always an attractive man, he still had dark, wavy hair, now shot through with strands of gray. His eyes were mesmerizing, almost silver, with dark rims of black.

“You too, Brooke. I understand you’re a Battalion Chief.”

“Yes.”

“You two know each other?” Redman asked.

“Yes. Decades ago.”

“We can catch up later.” Cord spoke with a strong, clear voice while hers came out shaky. “Let me tell you what services we provide.”

They sat. Cord talked, but Brooke didn’t hear anything but the sound of blood pounding in her ears…

It was twilight and Cord pulled her close to him on the front stoop of her small house. He smelled of the outdoors. “Time’s up, already.”

“I know. It goes by fast.” She kissed the hands that held hers.

“When can I see you again?”

“I’ll text you.”

His eyes glowed like mercury. “Honey, I’m getting sick of this dallying.”

“So am I.” A voice came from behind them. “At least I would be if I’d known about all this.”

Brooke froze, then she managed to turn around. Her husband Zach stood on the sidewalk in his pilot’s uniform of a crisp white hat, navy trousers and a white shirt.

Zach was home early from a trip.

“I want to know one thing.” Her husband’s voice was full of hurt and outrage. “Did you sleep with him?”

“No.”

“Then you have to choose, Brooke. Him or me…”

 

* * *

 

Redman frowned. “Brooke, are you all right? I think we lost you there for a minute.”

“Um, yeah, I’m all right. I guess I do have some jetlag.”

Cord’s gaze narrowed. She didn’t have any such thing. She was shocked to see him. What would he have done if he’d known she wasn’t aware that he owned the company? He’d assumed she read up on it for this meeting.

The chief added, “I’m afraid another meeting’s been scheduled by the mayor, so I’m out of time. Why don’t you two catch up and start talking about plans for training.”

The last thing Cord wanted was to be alone with her. They’d have to clear the air and he hated emotional scenes. Still, he followed her. When they walked into her office, she gestured him to a chair, and she took the seat at her desk.

He wouldn’t try to put her at ease. “Why didn’t you review the information on our website? I sent the address to Redman. I also provided literature so you’d be prepared. Even to see me.”

“I’ve been out of town for two weeks. My oldest son’s attending UCLA and we all went out early. My youngest is spending his senior year abroad. He flew out of California. So the three of us had time together before they left.”

She had two sons? He’d purposely never found out anything about her life. He watched her unflinchingly. “Zach didn’t go for such a momentous occasion?”

She swiveled in her chair and raised her chin. “Zach died over a year ago of cancer.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Brooke.” Against his will, his tone softened some.

“Thank you. In any case, I missed the planning for our meeting. The chief texted me to ask if I could make one about the new training with Patrick Patel. He didn’t say it was with you.”

“Unfortunate. Patel’s my assistant.” He glanced out the window so he didn’t stare at her. Time had been kind to this woman. Her face was barely lined, her hair steel blond and down past her shoulders, still thick and fluffy. Her eyes had always reminded him of a blue lagoon. “Is it going to be a problem that we’ll be working together?”

“I don’t know. It’s a shock.”

“You’ll have adjust.”

“Hmm.”

Emotions battled to get out but he quelled them.

“I’d like to know more about your products and the procedure for training line firefighters. You think you can handle the line guys?”

“I was a firefighter for ten years—three here and seven in Chicago. Then I got interested in fire engineering. It was a different way to be involved in the service. I took courses in fire science, then interned at a company out there. I started FEI when I was thirty-five.”

“In Chicago?”

“Yes.”

“What are you doing back in New York?”

“Originally, I set up a satellite office here, with Patrick Patel running it. I’d come occasionally, and I could see my family.”

“You said originally?”

“Yes. My plans changed. For personal reasons, I’m making my corporate offices in Elmwood and I’ve moved east.”

“Why on earth are you doing that?”

“I assure you this had nothing to do with you.”

“I didn’t think it did.”

“As I said, for personal reasons, that I don’t care to share, especially with you. Now, when do you think you can get up to speed enough about Fire Engineering and our products? You can’t be of any help until you are.”

“I’m a quick learner. I’ll study. I’ll be all alone in the house anyway.”

The sorrow in her voice rolled off his back.

“Can you meet on Wednesday?” she asked.

He took his phone out. Checked his schedule. “I have free time at 4 o’clock.”

She called up hers on the computer. “That’s doable for me.”

“Then it’s settled.” He stood. So did she. “I’ll see you then.”

He got to the door but before he could open it, she said, “Cord?”

He turned.

“Aren’t you affected by seeing me after all these years?”

He gave her a confused look. “Why would I be? That episode with you was a blip on the radar of my life. I barely remember it.” Briefly he held her gaze. “Goodbye.”

Cord strode out of the office. He didn’t lie often, but he couldn’t possibly let on that his breakup with Brooke Cartwright almost destroyed him.

 

* * *

 

“Beat you to the raft out there.” Lynne spoke the words as they stood in the refreshing lake water facing out to the horizon. The sun blistered down on them.

“You always beat me.” Brooke had to hide her amusement.

“Because you don’t try. Now, go.”

Brooke tried. And kept up with her friend in long, sure strokes. They touched the anchored wooden raft at the same time. “I knew you were sandbagging me.”

“Hmm.”

They climbed up and stretched out flat. Lynne asked, “How did it go with the boys?” She and her friend hadn’t seen each other since Brooke returned from California.

“One of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I can’t believe they both aren’t living under my roof. You’ll find out when Phillip, Melody and Emma go off to college.”

“That’s a long way away. It’s bad enough that Mel became a teenager and is acting like one.”

“Ah, but she can babysit.”

“Not something Phillip likes to do. But the girls urge us to go out and leave them alone.”

“My boys wanted us gone, too. Brady doing well?”

Lynne had married a minister, of all things, after moving to Crystal Corners. She wanted a different life and got one, but not what she expected.

“He is. He’s such a doll, Brooke. I love him more every day.”

“And the church?”

“They’ve embraced us. And Melody’s thriving there.”

“The Girl’s Group going well?” Her husband ran a Boy’s Group and it wasn’t long after their marriage six months ago that Phillip joined it. Then Brady drafted Lynne for the female teens in the congregation.

“It’s going pretty well, though I’m still feeling my way.”

“Mel in it?”

“Yeah. We’re getting into deeper topics. Sex is next.”

“A big one.”

“Well, we’ve been frank and honest with the girls all along. Even when we get to the big question of when to do it, they’ll be fine.”

Brooke laughed.

“That’s good to hear.”

“Good to be able to laugh again. We did a lot of it in California.”

A companionable silence followed. Then Lynne asked, “How’s work?”

“I was looking forward to teaching again, even though there was no recruit class in the fall.”

“Yeah, you said you’d be training front-line workers, mostly on the new equipment the state is requiring. I’ll be one of the students.”

Brooke swallowed back a moan.

“Wait a sec. You said was looking forward.Lynne sat up and raised her sunglasses. “What’s wrong? And don’t say nothing. You were preoccupied on the drive out and you’ve been tense since you got here.”

“I have?”

“Brooke, cut the crap. This is me, your best friend. We have intuition with each other when it comes to things.”

After a moment, Brooke sat up, too. “I don’t even know where to begin.”

“Now you’re worrying me.”

Through her own dark glasses, she stared out at crystalline Dannerville Lake. “There-there’s something about my life, that happened before I met you or any of the Sisters of Fire.”

“What?”

“I-I had an emotional affair with another man a few years after Zach and I got married.”

Lynne was agape. “With who?”

“A guy I met in our recruit class. We got close. Then we were assigned to the same fire house.”

“You used to say you and Zach had an ideal marriage.”

“I know. And we did, after this happened. We learned a lot from a very painful situation and worked hard on our relationship.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The man and I were friends but it changed the last three months. I couldn’t sleep with him because of Zach, but when Zach found out the depth of our relationship, he said it was worse than physical intimacy.”

“Was it that deep?”

“Uh-huh. Friendship turned into love of a different kind.”

“Sweetie, I love you unconditionally but how did that happen?”

“The early days of our marriage were hard, trying to merge two lives. Zach was building his own career, took extra shifts to get in his flying hours, then kept doing it. I complained and he told me he was working for both of us.”

“Was he?”

“Probably. Other things happened, though. He married me knowing I was a firefighter, but he started to worry about me. He nagged at me. Wanted me to take a desk job. I planned to become a battalion chief, and couldn’t do that from inside a fire house. Hell, I didn’t want to do that. We had knock-down-drag-outs about it.”

“And you turned to another guy.”

“I-I…” Her eyes filled. “I regretted that the rest of my life. But as I said, Zach and I worked on our marriage after that and got back on track.”

“Zach never knew about…what’s his name, anyway?”

“Cord Remington. Zach knew we were friends. But at the end, he caught us together and gave me an ultimatum. I picked my husband, of course.”

“That must have been so painful for all of you. Did Zach object to you working with him?”

“I didn’t. After Zach and I had it out, Cord quit the CCFD the next day and went to Chicago. I never heard from him again. Zach wouldn’t agree to us seeing each other one last time so I could find out how he was. Zach stood over my shoulder while I blocked him on Facebook and email.”

“Stood over you?”

“Yeah.” She shivered, even in this heat. “The reconciliation was bad before it got better. I saw a side of Zach I never did before. I slept in the spare room for a month, at his insistence.”

“How awful.”

“I hated—hated what he did. That was one of the things we worked on.”

Reaching out, Lynne took her hand. “I’m so, so sorry.”

“Thanks.” They both laid back down.

Eventually, Lynne sat up again. “Why is Cord Remington’s name familiar to me?”

“Because he’s moved back to Elmwood where his family is from. He’s the one doing the new training we’re implementing to teach fire engineering and equipment usage. The department has to be schooled in the new developments.”

“Did you agree to work with him?”

“I didn’t know it was him.” She explained how she’d been in California, hadn’t read the literature and only agreed on assisting in the training with a man named Patrick Patel. “I didn’t even know that he left the Chicago fire department and started his own company.”

“Oh, Brooke. Can you manage to work with each other again?”

“He can. He told me that his time with me was a blip on the radar of his life.”

“That’s a shitty thing to say.”

“I broke his heart, Lynne. I deserve his animosity.”

“I don’t think so. But what are you going to do?”

“Nothing. Endure the next few weeks. What else can I do?”