Love At Last

Lily’s Story Book Three

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After surviving a traumatic battle with her husband Trevor, Lily and her six-month-old daughter are finally safe. Ready to move forward with her life, Lily has settled into the daily routine of the small town in the California Central Valley where she’s made her home. Her former neighbor, Marcus, has been a good friend to her, and has stood by her side as she’s recovered from the terror she so recently experienced. Lily’s feelings for Marcus have deepened and she’s ready for more, but when he tells her they are better off as friends, she is devastated.

Complicating matters, Trevor’s family wants to get to know his daughter. Not only does Lily feel obligated to comply with their wishes even though some members of Trevor’s family blame her for what happened, but with no family of her own, she strongly desires to have a surrogate family for herself and her daughter.

After struggling for so long, will Lily finally find the happiness she so desperately craves?

Scroll down to read the first chapter.

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Chapter 1

Four months after my husband nearly strangled me to death, I received a letter from his mother. Standing next to the mailbox, I stared at Marcy Caldwell’s neat handwriting on the envelope, and recalled the lie Trevor had told her about me after our wedding when she’d discovered a bottle of vodka had been stolen from her house. Lily has a drinking problem. When I’d tried to explain to her that it was actually her son who had the problem, she hadn’t believed me.

I hadn’t spoken to her since I’d gone into hiding from Trevor. And I certainly hadn’t been in contact with her since my dog had saved my life by crushing Trevor’s windpipe. Adrenaline pulsed through me as the unpleasant memories assaulted me.

What did she want?

With shaking hands, I tore open the envelope and read the letter as I stood in the street.

Dear Lily,

It has taken me a long time to gather the courage to write to you. I don’t know all the details of what happened between you and Trevor, but regardless, John and I would really like to get to know Trevor’s child—our grandchild.

On the Fourth of July we will be having our annual family get-together and we would like to invite you and your baby to join us. It will be John and me, along with Trevor’s brothers and their families. I’ve included a check to cover the cost of your flight. Please let me know when your flight will be arriving and we will meet you at the airport.

Looking forward to seeing you and the baby,


I looked in the envelope and pulled out the check, then felt guilt lance through me. In the six months since I’d had Natalie, I’d never so much as sent Trevor’s parents a picture of their grandchild. In truth, I’d hardly thought about them at all. I’d only met them twice—on the Christmas I’d accepted Trevor’s proposal, and at the wedding. They’d been kind to me when they’d seen me, and I’d had hopes Trevor’s parents could become my surrogate parents. But I’d left Trevor and gone into hiding so soon after the wedding that I’d never had the chance to spend time with them.

I walked back up the gravel driveway to the house and thought about the invitation. The get-together was only a few weeks away, so I needed to decide soon if I would go. I pictured myself and Natalie arriving at the airport, and then seeing the faces of Trevor’s parents. Would they truly be happy to see me? Did they blame me for their youngest son’s death? What if things got uncomfortable and I wanted to leave?

“I could just drive there,” I muttered as I walked into the house, pausing to listen for the sound of Natalie waking from her nap. All was quiet, and I closed the door and locked it—a habit I’d developed since moving there—then sat on the couch. I reread the letter, visualizing Natalie playing with her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and knew I had to go. John and Marcy Caldwell were Natalie’s only living grandparents and it wasn’t fair to them or Natalie to keep them apart. I had fond memories of my grandparents, and I wanted Natalie to have the same kinds of memories.

I grabbed my laptop and pulled up Google maps. It was a seven hour drive to their house in Las Vegas. Not too bad, although with Natalie being only six months old it might be a little more difficult, but hopefully she’d sleep for much of the drive. My decision made, I needed to let Marcy know I would be coming and that she wouldn’t have to pick me up from the airport. I didn’t have the Caldwell’s phone number or an email address, so I decided to write a letter, using the return address on the letter she’d sent me. I would have to buy stamps before I could mail it as I rarely sent anything through snail mail, and decided to drive to the post office after Natalie woke from her nap.

I went into the kitchen to straighten up, and moments later Greta, my sweet German-Shepherd, came bounding through her dog door and into the room. With her tail wagging, she rushed over to me, looking for attention.

I squatted next to her and gave her a good scratching. “Hi there, you good girl.”

She seemed to smile at me as her tail wagged even harder.

“You’re such a good girl, aren’t you?” I cooed to her. “I’ll have to see if Marcus will take care of you while I’m gone.” Thinking of Marcus made me smile. Over the last few months he’d grown to mean so much to me and Natalie, but when I thought about the day I’d met him, I felt my face heat with remembrance. 

I’d gone next door to see if Trish’s husband could help me carry in the crib I’d just bought, but a man with the most incredible green eyes answered her door. It turned out that Trish’s son, Marcus, had just come home from Afghanistan. He’d carried the crib into the house, then set it up for me. Since I wasn’t obviously pregnant yet, it had been a bit embarrassing for me to have him discover my pregnancy that way.

After a bumpy start to our friendship, recently we’d become closer. I still regretted that I’d had to lie to him about my real name and the fact that I’d been in hiding from my husband, but I hoped he’d truly forgiven me. We hadn’t taken our relationship past friendship yet, but I felt like we were on the verge of that next step, and I was eager for Marcus to feel the same way.

Greta perked up her ears and I heard sounds coming from Natalie’s room upstairs. I stood, listening to her baby sounds, and smiled, then headed toward the stairs. I paused at the bottom, suddenly recalling the horrible day four months before when Trevor had knocked me unconscious and taken Natalie with the intention of letting his girlfriend, Amanda, become Natalie’s mother. My heart contracted in anger and terror at the memory. That day had been the worst day of my life.

Why was I thinking about that now? Then I realized it must be due to the letter from Trevor’s mother. Ever since Trevor’s death, I’d tried very hard to put the events of that day behind me, but hearing from Trevor’s mother had dredged up many of the bad memories, broadcasting them in vivid high definition pictures in my mind.

Closing my eyes, I shook my head, forcing the images away, then I opened them and hurried up the stairs to my baby girl’s room. When I opened the door my gaze went directly to Natalie, who lay on her back, her little fingers wrapped around her toes as she watched the bright colors on the mobile above her head.

“Hi, baby,” I murmured to her as I approached her crib. 

Her head turned in my direction and her face lit up with a smile. Every time she did that, my heart brimmed with love—my baby girl knew I was her mommy, and once again gratitude flooded my body that Trevor had failed in his attempt to take her away from me.

I reached down and lifted her from her crib and held her close, breathing in her precious baby scent. “My sweet, sweet, Natalie,” I whispered in her ear.

She giggled and I kissed her soft neck, bringing on more peals of laughter. I gazed into her vivid blue eyes—one trait she inherited from Trevor—and smiled. “I love you so much.” Warm tears filled my eyes as I gazed at her. This little baby was my absolute world and I’d do anything for her. I blinked the tears away, then changed Natalie and fed her. 

A short time later I carried her out to the car and set her car seat in its base. “In a few weeks you’re going to meet your grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles.” As I said the words, I realized that without Trevor’s family, the number of people in Natalie’s life was tiny—just me and Marcus. And Marcus was just a good friend.

I stroked Natalie’s cheek—she deserved to have lots of people in her life who loved her—then climbed into the car and drove to the post office. After mailing the letter, we went to the park and I pushed her on a baby swing for a while, pushing her from the front. She smiled brightly as the swing brought her closer to me, then giggled loudly as the wind blew across her face.

There were very few people at this park and it felt like I had the place to myself. Across town was another park, one that was much more popular, but I hadn’t been able to make myself go there. It was the park where I’d met Trevor to make an exchange: He would give me Natalie if I gave him the money I’d found buried in the Nevada desert. 

Against all odds, I’d managed to get Natalie back that night, but I’d had to fight for my very life, and would have died if Greta hadn’t intervened. Pushing the painful memories aside, I focused on my baby, who smiled with innocent joy, completely unaware that she’d been at the center of such a dramatic event. 

After a while the heat of the June day became uncomfortable, and we headed home. When we pulled up to the house, I was pleased to see Marcus’s Jeep parked out front, although I didn’t see Marcus. I brought Natalie into the house, and when Greta didn’t meet me at the door, I knew where Marcus must be. Holding Natalie on my hip, I smiled as I went to the kitchen door and out into the backyard. My smile widened as I watched Marcus playing with Greta. His back was to me, but when Greta ignored him to race over to Natalie and me, he turned around and saw us.

“Hi, Lily.” He strode toward us, smiling. “I hope you don’t mind that I let myself into the backyard.”

I smiled in return. “You know I’m fine with that.” I sat on the porch steps with Natalie balanced on my lap.

Marcus squatted in front of me and put his finger in Natalie’s hand, then gazed into her face. “Hi, baby girl. Were you out with your mommy?”

Natalie squealed with happiness, kicking her feet, and held on to his finger. I watched Marcus’s face and felt my attraction to him grow. He’d been there when Natalie had been born—the most important moment of my life—and after he’d gotten past the lies I’d told him about my true identity, he’d been part of our lives ever since. For all intents and purposes, he was the closest thing to a father Natalie had. 

As I watched him watching my baby, my heart filled with warmth. He was a good man and my feelings were deepening all the time. A couple of months before I’d thought he was feeling the same thing, but then he’d seemed to back away into the friend zone. I knew he’d been hurt by an old girlfriend, but I thought he should be over that by now.

His gaze shifted from Natalie’s face to mine, and the intensity of his gorgeous green eyes drew me in. “How’s your day going?” he asked.

“It’s been . . . interesting.”

His eyebrows went up in question. “Yeah? How so?”

On the night Greta killed Trevor, Marcus had arrived at my house just after the awful event had happened. He’d seen the aftermath of Trevor’s attack and had stayed by my side as the police had questioned me, but in all that time we’d never talked about Trevor. I had no desire to talk about my late husband with Marcus—there were too many painful memories—and Marcus had never brought it up either, so it was with hesitation that I broached the subject of the letter I received.

“Today I got a letter from Marcy Caldwell.”

Marcus looked at me blankly. “Who?”

I bit my lip, realizing he wouldn’t know who the Caldwell’s were—I’d never told him Trevor’s last name. “She’s Trevor’s mother.”

His eyes widened slightly, then settled back to normal. “What did she want?”

“She wants to meet Natalie.”

His gaze went to the baby on my lap, then back to me. “What are you going to do?” He moved from his squatting position to sit next to me on the porch step.

“I’m going to go.”

He pressed his lips together and slowly nodded. “Where do they live?”

“Las Vegas.”

“So you’re going there? To Vegas?”

“Yes. They’re having a family get-together over the Fourth of July and she invited me to come.”

“Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

My brows pulled together. “Why wouldn’t it be? They’re Natalie’s family.”

“I know that. It’s just . . .” He shook his head. “Never mind.”

“What? What were you going to say?”

He shook his head again. “It’s really not my place to say anything.”

I disagreed. Marcus was very important to both Natalie and me and his opinion mattered greatly. “Please, Marcus. Tell me.”

He sighed. “From the little you’ve told me about Natalie’s father, well, I just wonder what his family is really like.”

I relaxed. “They’re nice people.”

“How much time have you spent with them?”

“Some. Not a lot.”

He nodded. “Okay.” Then he smiled, but it seemed forced. “Good. It will be good.”

His hesitation in my decision made me rethink it, but I’d already told Marcy I was coming. “Can you take care of Greta while I’m gone?”

“Sure, of course.”

“Thank you.”

He looked at me with sudden intensity. “You know you can always count on me, don’t you, Lily?”

I nodded, taken aback by the emotion in his eyes. It was at moments like this that he confused me the most. One moment he was advising me as a friend, and the next his eyes seemed to convey that his feelings ran deeper than mere friendship. “Yes.” I looked at him and tried to express with my eyes that I cared for him as well. I debated whether the time was right to tell him exactly how I felt, but something held me back.

“Marcus?” a voice called from the gate. “Marcus, are you back there?”

I recognized the voice of Trish, my neighbor and Marcus’s mother, and held back a frown. She’d been a good neighbor, but I’d felt a strain between us ever since the truth of my situation had come out. Even before that though, she’d asked me not to encourage Marcus’s attention. But once she found out I’d lied about being widowed—although it was true now—she’d been even more standoffish. 

“Yeah, Mom. I’m back here.”

“Can you stop by the house, please?” She stayed on the other side of the gate, never coming in to the backyard.


Then all was quiet, and I assumed she’d walked back to her house, which was a short distance away.

Marcus smiled at me and I could tell he felt embarrassed by the behavior of his mother—she hadn’t even said hello to me.

“It’s okay,” I said in response to his unspoken message. “I can’t blame her for being upset with me.”

“It’s not her place to judge you, Lily. She has no idea what you’ve been through.”

Though I appreciated his support, I didn’t want to come between him and his family. “You’d better go see what she wants.”

He sighed. “I already know what she wants.”

I raised my eyebrows in question.

“She’s going to tell me I shouldn’t spend so much time with you and Natalie,” he said. “But I’ve already told her that we’re just good friends.”

I felt my heart break a little at his words and was glad I’d held back from telling him that I thought I was falling in love with him.

* * *

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