This book is the sequel to Letting Go.
Back cover copy
Twenty-six-year-old Kylie Killian is enjoying her life in Michigan with her new boyfriend, Lance Mallock, until he asks her to return to their hometown to celebrate Christmas with his parents—the people who helped steal her infant son eleven years ago.
Unwilling to spend yet another Christmas alone, Kylie agrees to return to Minnesota despite her misgivings. Their homecoming, the holidays, and especially the arrival of Tom Mallock (Lance’s brother and Kylie’s ex-boyfriend) throws Kylie off-kilter. As she struggles to move forward, her past keeps rearing its ugly head, forcing her to deal with her feelings for the Mallocks, her family, her son which she never had a chance to know, and other secrets she has struggled to forget.
Sometimes it’s hard to know when to hold on and when to let go.
Hearing a key in the lock of the apartment door, Kylie Killian grimaced and slid the Christmas card from her ex-boyfriend, Tom Mallock, into her art textbook. She ran her hands over her face and smoothed her hair, hoping to hide the fact that she’d been sitting there daydreaming about her past with Tom, when Lance Mallock walked into their apartment.
“Hey. Where have you been?” she asked from the worn couch that had come with the furnished apartment the school had found for her in Traverse City, Michigan.
He held up a plastic shopping bag. “I needed a few things for supper.”
“I could have stopped at the store on my way home if you’d told me.”
He set the bag on the harvest-gold kitchen counter and crossed to the couch in three strides. “I wanted some air.”
When he bent to kiss her, she reached up to twine her fingers behind his neck and pull him closer. She loved having him with her, loved having someone to talk to about her daily life, and loved having someone who cared about her. I love having someone to take my mind off… Instead of finishing her thought about Tom and their son, she shifted closer to Lance and caressed the side of his throat.
After a few moments, Lance shifted away and ran his hand through his short brown hair. “I need to get supper started.”
“Why? I thought things were already cooking.” Kylie caught his wrist and tugged, hoping he would join her on the couch and wipe all thoughts of his brother from her mind.
He shook his head and backed away. “I know how cranky you get when you’re hungry. I have everything ready to go except the salad.”
She frowned but stood. “What are we having, and what should I do to help?”
“You can set the table while I get the chicken out of the oven.”
Kylie began gathering the dishes and silverware. “How was your day?”
“Okay. My mom called.”
Her eyebrows arched, but she carefully smoothed her expression before facing him. “What’s new with her?”
He set the roasted chicken on a cutting board and selected a knife from the drawer. “She wanted to know if I was coming home to Minnesota for Christmas.”
She leaned against the counter and crossed her arms. “Are you?”
They hadn’t discussed Christmas even though it was less than two weeks away. She was perfectly content to stay right there with Lance. It would be the first Christmas in eleven years that she hadn’t been alone. Except maybe he would go back to Chinkapin—the tiny town where they had grown up in northeastern Minnesota, and she would be alone in Michigan. Maybe he would choose his lying, child-stealing parents over her.
His brow wrinkled as he shifted his gaze away. “I haven’t decided.”
She pressed her lips together and nodded. “I see.” All her thoughts and excitement about spending the holidays with him in their crappy little apartment crumbled as she straightened and moved away from the counter. Crossing to the living room window, Kylie stared out at the snowflakes floating past the lights in the parking lot.
“What do you want to do for Christmas?”
“I hadn’t given it much thought.” She didn’t want to tell him she’d been obsessively fantasizing about spending it with him since Thanksgiving. She’d pictured the two of them cuddling under a blanket on the ratty couch with twinkling lights on a tree, while they watched The Yule Log. After making love, they would fall asleep on the couch and wake in the morning when the sun shone through their tiny second-story window.
“Well, come sit down. We’ll talk about it while we eat.”
Forcing a smile, she returned to the table. Even with her churning stomach, she would force herself to eat. He’d cooked chicken because it was her favorite. “If you want to go to your parents’, it’s fine. I understand.”
“You’re invited too. You know that, right?”
She met his gaze. “Why would they invite me? Why would they think I’d have anything to do with them after what they did to Tom and I?”
“They invited you because I love you. I assume they want to make amends.”
“Make amends? How does that happen?”
“I don’t know, Kylie, but you were invited.” He reached across the tiny table to take her hand in his. “I know they hurt you, and I know you’re still angry, but they’re my family.”
“I’m perfectly well aware that they’re your family, but they sold my son. They paid someone at Middleton School for Girls to tell me Erick died so someone could adopt him.” She took a deep breath. “So I couldn’t raise him. So their precious son’s name wasn’t sullied by a girl from the wrong side of town.”
“You don’t know that.”
She freed her hand to rake her unruly red hair back then twisted it into a knot. “Fine. I don’t know what they did with Erick, but we both know they were in cahoots with Middleton. It’s been four months since we found out Erick is alive, and I still don’t know where he is.” Or if I even want to meet him.
Lance nodded. “Fair enough.”
“Have you heard anything from Tom lately?” She fought the urge to clamp a hand over her mouth and tell him to forget she asked, but she knew that would draw more suspicion than the question.
She thought of the card in her book. It was more than just a standard Christmas card that came twenty to a box. It was a single one Tom had selected from a display because it meant something. Or maybe he’d hoped it would mean something to her. He’d sent it to her at the school instead of there at the apartment. “I was curious how he’s doing after his accident. Is his leg better?” What she really wanted to know was whether or not he was going to Chinkapin for Christmas.
“Mom said that she’s been talking to Eva. Tom won’t talk to her or Dad.”
Kylie let out her breath. If Tom wasn’t talking to his parents, then he wouldn’t be in Chinkapin for Christmas.
“He’s still with Eva in Montana?”
“Yeah.” Lance took another bite of chicken.
“Good. She seemed like she really cares about him.” When Kylie had returned to Chinkapin the previous summer, she’d been nervous about seeing Tom but hopeful. It hadn’t gone well at all, and he’d refused to talk to her. Knowing he was happy with Eva should have made Kylie happier than it did.
Lance and Kylie ate in silence. After her plate was empty, she stood.
“Hang on. You never told me what you want to do. Or how you normally spend Christmas.”
She scraped her teeth over her bottom lip. “I normally spend Christmas alone, drawing.” She forced a grin. “Surprising, huh?”
Lance scratched the back of his neck. “Why?”
She laughed, hoping to hide how much it hurt to admit the truth. “What else would I do? My parents don’t invite me to join them.”
“What about Mira and Keefe?”
Mira had been Kylie’s best friend since elementary school. Just recently, Mira had reconnected with her high school boyfriend, Kylie’s cousin, Bryon O’Keefe. “What about them? They invited me, but they have their own things going on. I don’t want to intrude.”
“It’s not intruding if you’re invited.”
She set her dishes in the sink and turned on the hot water. “Mira goes to her grandparents’ place in Chicago, and Keefe goes to his mom’s. It’s awkward because his parents don’t know why my parents and I don’t get along. His mom hounds me the whole time about being distant from my mother.”
His chair scraped as he pushed back from table, and she tensed as she focused on scrubbing the dishes, afraid if she saw pity in his expression, she would cry. He stopped behind her and wrapped his arms around her in a hug. As he burrowed his face into the side of her neck, she relaxed.
“If you want to stay here, I’ll stay with you. No more lonely Christmases for you.”
Her hands stilled in the hot water. “What about your family?” She couldn’t imagine them not being upset with him. Every encounter she’d had with Lance and Tom’s parents had convinced her that they were selfish and used to having everything they wanted when they wanted it.
“What about them? I’ve spent twenty-six Christmases with them. They’ll survive one without me.”
She turned in his arms and met his gaze. “Really? You’d do that for me?”
“Of course. Just tell me what you want.”
She dried her hands on the dish towel from the counter then leaned against him to wrap her arms around his neck as she considered it. He was selfless enough to give up his traditions for her, and he’d come here with her. He hadn’t seen his family since they’d left Montana after Tom’s accident. It was only fair that she gave up something for him. She nodded. “My fellowship is done at the end of the week. Let’s go to Chinkapin for Christmas.”
His face broke into a smile, and he lifted her off her feet and twirled her in a circle. “Really?”
“Sure. We’re going back in February for Mira’s wedding, anyway. We can go to Chinkapin later this week and stay at my house until after the wedding.” She’d considered selling it but hadn’t contacted a realtor yet, so at least they had a comfortable place to stay while they were in Minnesota. There was no way she would ever consider staying with Lance’s parents. Dinner was already pushing the limits of how much time she wanted to spend with them. She doubted they would say anything that would help her find Erick, but maybe she could convince Lance to ask them what had happened.
His smile grew even wider. “That sounds awesome. Will you come with me to my parents’ house on Christmas Eve?”
She grimaced. “Probably, but even if I don’t, at least we’ll be in the same town.”