Love Comes Around releases September 19, and is the fourth story in the Senses series/ It was one of the hardest stories for me to write. This book has so many emotions wrapped up in it that they tended to carry me away. As a writer those are the experiences that I love the best. It can make it hard to get the words on the page sometimes because the emotions seem so important and the words need to be just right. But when it happens, it can be magical.
Dan was a throwaway child and learned to take care of himself in foster care. As an adult, he devotes his life to the business he started and his heart to raising children no one else wants. Dan has already adopted six-year-old Lila, who walks on crutches, and then decides to adopt eight-year-old Jerry, who suffers from MD and is confined to a wheelchair.
Also abandoned as a child, Connor ended up on his own and retreated into himself. He works as a carpenter and woodcarver and is the perfect man to ensure Dan’s home becomes wheelchair accessible.
When Dan hires Connor, neither of the men are ready to open their hearts to the possibility of love. As they learn how much they have in common, both of them must weigh the possibility of family and a future against the risks of getting hurt again.
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CONNOR BOUNCED up the stairs of the Pleasanton Home for Children and pulled open the door. He knew that “home” was a more modern way of saying orphanage, and whenever he got a call to come here and make repairs, he always rushed over and made sure he had extra time to spend with the kids. Inside, he took a few steps into the hall, and the door thunked closed ominously behind him. That sound always struck him as having a note of finality about it, as if the door only worked one way and then there was no turning back.
“Connor O’Malley,” the woman behind the counter said as she looked up from her computer. “They told me you’d be in today. The railing on the main staircase is loose, and we’re afraid one of the kids might get hurt. This old place is held together with duct tape, super glue, and whatever magic you seem to be able to work.”
“Hey, Maggie,” he said with a smile. “I’ll take a look and then go get what I need.” He went toward the back and to the main staircase. The boys in particular loved to slide down the old thing. Connor had to admit it was a great banister for sliding, and if he were younger, he’d give it a try. He climbed the stairs, testing the banister as he went. He found the weak spot and searched for the source. Two spindles in a row had given up the ghost. He looked for more and found nothing else.
“How bad is it?” Maggie asked when he approached the desk.
“Just two spindles. I’ll have to go back to the shop and fabricate them for you. I don’t have anything to match. But I’ll get some temporary replacements and have them in place within the hour.” He smiled at her and she returned it. Then her phone rang. Connor headed toward the door, letting her answer it. He had things to get done and his to-do list kept getting longer. He got in his truck and drove to the hardware store, where he picked out two standard turned spindles he could use to shore up the banister. He also bought the wood he would need for the final ones he’d fabricate, along with the other items he needed for projects he had underway back at the shop.
He parked in front of the home and carried the supplies he needed inside. He waved at Maggie as he passed the desk and headed right to the stairs. It didn’t take him long before he had the old spindles out and had placed the temporary ones. He’d use the ones he’d removed as the models for the new ones. Then he cleaned up everything and began carrying his tools back out to his truck. “Why is it so quiet?”
Maggie smiled. “We don’t have many kids right now, thank God.” She was a kind, sweet soul. Connor remembered her from high school. She was smart and always willing to help others, no matter what. Maybe that was why she was working here. “But it never stays that way.”
The front doors opened and a man strode in, pushing a child in a wheelchair. “Hey, Jerry. Honey, did you have a good time?” she asked, directing her question to the boy in the chair.
“You bet,” he answered brightly, his eyes huge. When he smiled, it was a little lopsided, and his teeth were extremely crooked, but Connor couldn’t help but see the joy and sparkle in the kid’s eyes.
“Why don’t you go on down to your room, and I’ll be in to see how you’re doing in a few minutes. I need to talk with Mr. Harrington.” Maggie smiled at him, and Jerry headed down the hall before turning around in his chair.
“Thank you, Mr. Harrington. I had a great time.”
Connor watched as Jerry disappeared down the hall. Then he carried his tools out to the truck and stowed them in the back. He knew the man inside from somewhere, but he just couldn’t place him. He pushed it out of his mind and went back inside for the rest of his things. He smiled at Maggie, who was still talking to the man in the perfectly pressed pants and shirt. He looked like something out of a magazine, with his hair done just so.
“It was so kind of you to take Jerry for a few weeks. He really needed some time away from here,” Maggie said. “The chances of him being placed are so small….” Connor forced his legs to continue moving as anger welled inside him. How in the hell could someone take a kid like that for two weeks and just bring him back? What was he—a used car? No, he was a child. Connor picked up the spindles and the last of his things to carry back to his truck.
“I’ll see you later, Maggie,” he said when he saw she was still talking to Dan. That was it, Dan Harrington. Connor remembered him from school, but he hadn’t seen him in years. He stopped and let his gaze roam over him for a few seconds. He remembered Dan as really smart in school, but very quiet. Dan had only been at Pleasanton High for a year. Sophomore year, if his memory served. Their junior year he hadn’t come back. From the looks of him, he must be doing very well. Not that it mattered. Connor reminded himself of what he’d just seen and continued on his way out to his truck. He had a job to do, and it was to help make sure these kids were safe. Maggie returned his wave as Connor left the building; he needed to get back out into the sunshine and clean air. After taking a few huge breaths, he placed the old spindles in the back of the truck with a clang before hurrying around to the driver’s side and taking off toward home and the work waiting for him—and there was plenty of it.
Connor drove out to the edge of town, where he lived, and around to the back of the house. He then parked outside his workshop. He got out and slammed the truck door behind him. Connor knew there was really no need for him to get upset. Maggie didn’t seem angry or disappointed, and he could always tell with her. But that little scene with Jerry had touched a nerve in him, one he thought had healed a long time ago. Connor took a deep breath and tried to put that out of his mind. He walked around to the back of the truck and pulled down the tailgate with more force than was necessary.
His phone rang and he was tempted to ignore it. Connor pulled it out of his pocket, knowing that if he didn’t, she’d only continue to call. “What’s up, Maggie? There isn’t something else you need, is there?”
“Nothing other than to know why you took off out of here like a bat out of hell. You usually stay and do things with the kids.” She didn’t say that they’d been asking, which Connor was grateful for.
“I have a lot of work out here that I need to get done.” That wasn’t a complete lie. He did have plenty of work, but nothing was pressing other than completing the banister work, and he’d get to that first. The rest were commissions and jobs he had time to finish.
“Please. I know you, remember? You always leave extra time when you’re here, and when was the last time you didn’t finish something early?” He heard mild scolding in her voice. “You spend hours in your shop, working way past when most folks are in bed. When was the last time you went out and had some fun?”
Connor thought for a few seconds. “I enjoy my work. It’s fun for me,” he countered.
“It’s still work. You need to go out, find yourself someone, and start a family. There’s more to life than just work.”
She was probably right, but Connor was settled. He’d bought the property he had for many reasons, including the fact that it was set away from other people and he could work all he wanted without being disturbed. Besides, he wasn’t interested in women and, well, he’d learned that it was best if he stuck to himself and did what he loved. No one got hurt that way, and some of his first lessons in life had been how not to get hurt. “Maybe, but it’s what I love. There’s nothing like working with your hands, taking wood, forming and shaping it with care in order to bring your vision to life.”
“Okay, I understand. You want to be alone and you don’t want others to bother you. That’s fine. But I won’t stop pestering you, and when you come in next time, I expect you to have a few minutes for a cup of coffee.”
The tension in his back and arms began to release. “I certainly will, just the two of us.” He added the last part because Maggie had a habit of saying they were going for coffee and then he’d end up with her and one of Maggie’s girlfriends that she’d push his way. He wasn’t interested in anyone, women especially. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings—she was a good friend, if pushy—but he just wanted to live his life peacefully and without a million emotional complications.
“Fine, I get the message. But someday, Connor O’Malley, I am going to send just the right person your way and you are going to thank me for the rest of your life.” He heard the smile in her tone.
“You can be as delusional as you want. I’m happy the way I am, and I don’t intend to change.” He sounded more gruff than he intended.
“Now who’s delusional?” Maggie retorted.
“You’re just blissfully happy because you finally got Ethan to ask you to marry him.” He couldn’t help smiling. Maggie and Ethan had been high school sweethearts. He’d moved away for college, but she’d never given up on him, and after she’d gone to school herself, he’d returned, and Maggie had pursued him with the tenacity of a mother grizzly. The story had been all over town, especially when it had a happy ending. Connor, on the other hand, had listened to her bemoan her fortunes in the romance department the entire time Ethan was gone, and even for a while after he returned. That had firmed up his belief that romantic entanglements only complicated things and were definitely something he didn’t need.
“Yes, I am. We haven’t set a firm date, but it will be about this time next year.” She paused, and he heard her talking to someone else. “I have to go, but I’ll see you when you come back to finish the repairs.” She spoke in a soft tone generally reserved for Ethan or one of the children. “And for God’s sake, don’t work too hard.” She hung up, and he shoved the phone back into his pocket, then unloaded the back of his truck into the workshop.
Connor turned on the lights and put everything away in its place. He set the old spindles on the side of the workbench and then unloaded the dowels of pristine wood he’d use to replace what had worn out. That was what he loved most—taking what was old and damaged to work on it and bring it back to life. He also designed and made custom furniture that he sold through a few furniture stores downstate. That part of the business paid for most of the other things he wanted to do. He had a number of pieces in various states of completion. Most of them were at the stage where they needed time for glue to dry or were ready for finish. So he decided to start work on the spindles right away and then finish up construction so all the finishing could be done at the same time.
Connor got to work. When he was in the zone, time always seemed to get away from him, and today was no exception. He planned how he was going to make the spindles and then measured the old ones, cut the dowels to length, set up the lathe for turning, and prepared the wood. When he was done with what he could do on each project, he moved on to the next one, slowly progressing through the process from raw wood to a finished project that he could be proud of.
After hours of thinking only about the task at hand, his stomach interrupted him. Connor looked at the clock above his workbench and grimaced. It was nearly ten at night, and he hadn’t eaten since lunch. He set the projects aside, pleased with his progress, and went through the process of cleaning up. Then he turned out the lights and closed the shop door behind him before walking to the back door of the house.
It was silent once he shut the back door. No one greeted him. He’d thought of getting a dog, but the poor thing would starve for hours while he was working. Connor tended to forget everything, including to feed himself, let alone another creature. Connor turned on the light over his old kitchen table and opened the refrigerator. He pulled out the stuff for sandwiches and began making himself stacks of ham and salami on rye bread. Once he had his sandwiches made, he reached into the refrigerator for a can of beer, but decided on milk instead. He hadn’t had any today, and if he didn’t drink it up, it would spoil. After pouring a glass, he closed the refrigerator door and went into his living room.
For a man who made furniture into works of art, his own living room looked like something out of a grandmother’s attic. Connor didn’t even notice it any longer, but the pieces were mostly things he found at secondhand stores or things he’d gotten because he thought he might restore them someday to their original splendor. Instead, they remained in their tatty state and graced his living room. Not that it mattered to him. Connor sat down in his favorite chair and turned on the television. He set the plate and glass on the table next to him, and then watched and ate without paying much attention to either.
Like he did most nights, Connor took his dishes to the sink, rinsed them, and put them in the dishwasher, which he ran once or twice a week. After returning to his chair, he turned off the lights and sat in the dark watching whatever was on, and eventually he closed his eyes.
At some point, he woke up, looked at the old flip-number clock near his chair and groaned. He stood up and worked the crick out of his back from falling asleep in his chair again. Then he turned out the light and walked down the hallway to the bathroom. He cleaned up and got undressed, then threw his clothes in the full hamper. He told himself he had to do a load of laundry in the morning. Then he padded across the wood floor to his bedroom, pulled down the covers, and climbed in. He closed his eyes and expected to quickly fall to sleep. But he didn’t.
Connor kept thinking back to what he’d seen and heard at the home earlier that day, and his anger rose once again. He had no reason to be angry, per se. It was just that to take a kid for two weeks and then return him like he was an unwanted toaster drove him crazy. He knew what it felt like to be passed around and not know where home was. He knew about a lot of the things those kids in the Pleasanton Home lived every day. Thankfully they had Maggie and Gert to look after them.
Gert Hansen was a middle-aged, grandmotherly type who, along with Maggie, was one of the kindest people he’d ever met. She could also stop a kid running down the hallway at full speed with only a look. Then there was Jerry. Just the thought of the boy’s curled hands and legs, huge eyes, and crooked smile made Connor’s eyes fill with tears. He’d thought of adopting from the home—he’d even considered taking Jerry—but he couldn’t. Those kids deserved better than him. A real family. Not a single guy who…. Connor sat up and shook his head, trying to get all these thoughts out of his head. He wanted them to stop. All that was behind him, and he’d made a life for himself, such as it was. Yes, he was alone, but he didn’t depend on anyone for anything, and no one depended on him.
Connor assuaged his rambling thoughts and what-ifs by promising himself that when he went back to make the repairs, he’d be sure to spend some extra time there, and he’d stop by the bakery and get a big box of cookies for all of them. He settled back on the mattress and took a deep cleansing breath. His mind quieted, and he closed his eyes once again.
A pair of shiny shoes flashed into his mind, followed by a set of legs in crisp pants. His view traveled to where the man leaned slightly forward, his butt filling the seat of his pants. Damn, that was a sight to see. He smiled and let his imagination run. It had been a while since he’d allowed himself the simple pleasure of fantasy, and it felt nice. His body tingled a little with excitement. The man turned around. Tight pants clasped his narrow hips, his hand worked at the opening, lowering the zipper just enough that Connor caught a glimpse of lightly olive-toned skin. He let his mind wander upward. The shirt that had been there was now gone, and Connor let his mind ghost over a pair of tight abs and the full chest that had once filled out the shirt. The man stroked over his chest, plucking his nipples lightly. Connor slid his own hand over his chest, making the same motion as his fantasy man. They liked the same things. He increased the pressure and pressed his head back against the pillow.
A smile formed on the full, thick lips of the man, and Connor wondered how they would feel kissing him. He slid his hand down to his cock, wrapped his fingers around it, and stroked lightly, just to get things warmed up. Then the rest of the face came into view and he groaned. What the hell was he doing fantasizing about Dan Harrington? Connor knew he needed an outlet for his repressed lust, but him?
He pulled his hand away and rolled onto his side, giving up for the night. What he needed was a good night’s sleep and not to be thinking about Dan and Jerry and orphans. Because as soon as he did, he’d start thinking about his childhood, and he’d be damned if he wanted to go there. Jesus, most nights he slept well, but now he was all worked up.
He needed to keep his mind occupied with something else, so he threw back the covers and pulled on a pair of old sweat pants, a T-shirt that had seen better days, and an old pair of sneakers. He walked through the dark house, grabbed the flashlight beside the back door, and left the house.
Instead of walking to his workshop, he headed across the yard to the building next door. He used the flashlight to illuminate the lock on the building and set the combination. When it sprang open, he opened the door and went inside. He didn’t bother switching on all the lights. Instead, he turned on the lamp he’d used the last time, grabbed his set of carving chisels and mallet, and got busy. Soon he had exactly what he wanted. His thoughts centered on his work.
Hours passed, and he made good progress on the curl he’d been trying to get right. It looked perfect, which made him smile. Once he was done, he stood up and admired his progress before turning out the light. After locking the building, Connor went back to the house to bed. This time he had dreams, but they were different, filled with happy music. He loved those dreams.