Read Riverstar (3) Online

Authors: Tess Thompson

Tags: #Romance, #Suspense

Riverstar (3)

BOOK: Riverstar (3)
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R
IVERSTAR

 

 

T
ESS
T
HOMPSON

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Booktrope Editions

Seattle WA 2013

 

Copyright 2013 Tess Thompson

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License
.

Attribution
— You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

Noncommercial
— You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

No Derivative Works
— You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.

Inquiries about additional permissions should be directed to:
[email protected]

 

Cover Design by Greg Simanson

Edited by Jennifer D. Munro

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to similarly named places or to persons living or deceased is unintentional.

 

 

PRINT ISBN 978-1-62015-146-4

EPUB ISBN 978-1-62015-242-3

 

For further information regarding permissions, please contact
[email protected]

 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2013914983

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For my beautiful and talented

star in the making, Ella Caroline.

 

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
 

First and foremost, thank you to my editor Jennifer D. Munro for her careful and insightful guidance. Greg Simanson for the beautiful cover; it is perfect, as they always are. My daughters, Ella and Emerson, for being more mature than you should have to be, for all the times you entertain yourselves while I work, and for your tenacity and resilience during this painful year. To Jesse James Freeman, Marni Mann, Steven Luna, and Tracey Frazier for helping me fight this war of words. To Katherine Sears for making sure my stories make it out of the drawer. And to Heather Ludviksson for your unflappable belief in me. To Ronald and Alex Gallacher for spreading love despite your unimaginable loss—Ella is forever changed by your extraordinary gesture on an ordinary day. Finally, to my readers, thank you for the letters and notes and requests for more books. You are beacons of light on dark and lonely days. I write for you, always.

 

PROLOGUE
 

IT WAS THE GIRL’S AGE
that crawled under Bella Webber’s skin like an unseen but insufferable rash. Not the fact that the girl was attached to Ben Fleck in a python grip. No, it was that she was a girl, barely legal, and had no right to even be here. The wedding of her brother Drake and Annie was a small affair, intimate, not for strangers. One had only to look at the white chairs, rented for this simple outdoor wedding on the lawn of Drake’s house, to know this. There were only a dozen, three on each side, arranged in two rows for the bride’s close circle of friends—Annie’s
gang of misfits
. Ben should have had the common decency, at least, to know this. He was an insensitive womanizer. That was all there was to it. What had Bella seen in him, anyway? Lust. That was all. It was nothing real, despite the fact that two months ago he’d so expertly made love to
her for sixteen hours that she’d temporarily forgotten everything about her real life, including her married lover lingering in California with empty promises that he would someday leave his
wife.

Stop
, she told herself, hearing the voice of her therapist in her mind.
Just stop trying to mask your pain by telling yourself lies or making excuses.
This condemnation of Ben Fleck was not the truth. Surely she’d learned enough in her copious visits to the therapist to admit this to herself. Her feelings for Ben were more than lust. He was a good man, a man to be trusted and to trust. It was her fault he was not sitting next to her now, with his strong arm draped around her shoulders, sheltering her from any storm that might come her way and from the thoughts of the past that haunted her.

She’d created this chasm between them. This was the undeniable truth.

And why? Graham Rouse: movie producer, power broker, dealmaker in the inexplicable world of Hollywood. They’d met on
the set of one of his movies three years ago; Bella was the makeup artist for two of the main actresses in the film, and Graham was the head producer. With his polished looks and smooth tongue, he’d
made it his mission to get Bella to fall for him. Unfortunately, she had, despite his situation: married with two little boys.
I just need a little more time
, he said, time and time again. Or,
I can’t leave now because of my boys. Soon. Next month. After the holidays. Just one more birthday.
There were three years of lies she’d clung to during endless
dark nights, asking God why and how and please, all the while knowing this was not the life He wanted for her or envisioned for
her when He created her from nothing. Finally, she said,
enough
. One afternoon last spring, during a walk through her Westwood neighborhood in Los Angeles, she’d stumbled into an empty
Catholic church that smelled of incense and candle wax and roses. She’d gone down on her knees to pray.
I’m on my knees, Lord. I need
help.
And
the answer had come, swift and clear, like a voice in her head.
Go
north.

So she did. North to Oregon. North to her older brother. North to Drake’s enormous, chalet-like home perched on the side of a mountain, with the river below that curved and flowed in its natural cycles until it emptied, finally, into the sea. Yes, it was the river that had reminded her of her name, forgotten for three years in the embrace of a liar.
I must start a new life
, was her daily mantra, as she hiked the mountain and swam in the current and watched the stars from Drake’s deck
.
And slowly, she thought less and less of Graham, in a way she couldn’t have if she’d stayed in Los Angeles. Indeed, all through June and July she’d grown and healed, basking in the Oregon sun and submerging all the pain and heartbreak in the water of the river until she was ready to let go of the past and move forward into the life she dreamt of—one she was just learning to believe she deserved.

And then one night that summer there was Ben at her brother’s dinner table—just there, out of nowhere, visiting from Seattle on business—lean and blond with green eyes that looked as if he were about to burst into laughter at any moment. She’d fallen for him,
quickly and without provocation. But Graham had shown up in almost the next moment, confessing his devotion, saying her disappearance had awakened him to what he really wanted and
needed—her. And although her heart had been forever changed in the moments with Ben, she was compelled to explore, at least, if Graham was telling her the truth. Or, perhaps, just to have final closure.

Of course, as it turned out, he was still a liar. He hadn’t left his wife. It took only two days home in Los Angeles to understand it was yet another empty promise from a man who lied without apology as only a narcissist could. So she’d ended it once and for all. When she’d emptied her apartment of everything Graham had ever given her, she called Ben, apologizing, explaining that Graham had shown up unexpectedly and she’d had to figure it out without Ben’s influence, without him making her crazy in bed. He’d listened silently, and then, finally, just this: “My dance card’s full. I’m sorry.”

Dance card? Surely, she thought now, he hadn’t meant this child clinging to his arm? Who was she, anyway? Amanda, hostess at Riversong, the restaurant where Annie was head chef. Some trust-fund baby exploring her inner artist by moving to southern Oregon or some other equally ridiculous nonsense. Yes, she told herself again, it was the girl’s age that bothered her. Not that she herself was dateless, sitting alone across the aisle as beautiful Annie exchanged rings with Drake.

Annie’s ten-year-old son, Alder, stood with his mother and soon-to-be stepfather, included in a union that bonded them as a
new family. The sun was low in the sky, casting everything in an orange tinge. A slight breeze rustled in the firs surrounding the yard. The wooden swing tied to a thick branch of the large oak swayed slightly.

Bella crossed and uncrossed her legs, skirting her eyes just slightly to the right, stealing a glance at Ben, who sat across from her in the other aisle. And there it was. He was looking at her legs. Indeed,
her
legs, not the child’s legs. That was something, at least.

What had he said about her that night? The night?
Power in a tiny
package
, referring to her petite but tight and muscular body. He’d
splayed his fingers through her dark curls, worn short so they fell over her forehead and dangled just below her ears. He’d kissed the dimples
on the sides of her mouth and traced his fingers along her heart-
shaped jawline.
So beautiful
, he’d whispered with his mouth at her neck.
So very beautiful
.

Now she shook her head, as if that would dispel the memories. The vows were done; Annie’s dear friend Linus was pronouncing them Mr. and Mrs. Drake Webber. Alder clapped his hands together and let out a shout. The rest of them all jumped to their feet and clapped and cheered as well.

Then, as it sometimes did, out of nowhere, Bella remembered her little niece, Chloe, and Drake’s first wife, Esther, now buried side by side in the family plot. On the tombstone:
Always in our hearts
. Bella’s heart ached; tears came to her eyes.
Esther
, she said silently,
he’s happy with Annie and Alder but we’ll always love you. There’s room enough in our hearts to love you all.

The next thought was of her mother, gone since Bella was
sixteen.
How she would have loved to see this day. But they were all in heaven now; perhaps her mother was frolicking through a rose
garden holding Chloe’s hand. She reached into the small purse wrapped around her wrist and took out a tissue, dabbing at her eyes.

BOOK: Riverstar (3)
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