Whenever You Come Around - Robin Lee Hatcher

Chapter 1

CHARITY ANDERSON PULLED INTO THE DRIVEWAY OF her parents’ home early on a Wednesday morning. The wood shutters were closed over all the main-floor windows. Her parents might as well have put up a sign: Owners Away! Help Yourselves! Then again, this was Kings Meadow. Neighbors looked out for neighbors and their property. It wasn’t like in the city where you could live next door to people for a decade and not even know their names.

Taking a deep breath, she exited her automobile. Cocoa, her brindle-colored dog—a Heinz 57 mixed breed with a stocky body and short coat—jumped out right behind her and began to sniff around.

“Your nose must think it’s in heaven.” Charity headed for the front door. “Come on, girl. Let’s check things out.”

The calendar said June, but the cold, dreary interior of the darkened house felt more like February. The first thing Charity did was turn up the thermostat to get some heat pumping into the rooms. The next was to open all of the shutters to let in the light.

“Well now, that helps. Doesn’t seem quite as desolate, does it?”

She stopped a moment and looked around, realizing it was the first time she’d ever stayed here by herself. It would feel strange without either her parents or her older sister, Terri, for company. Their parents were on a three-month tour of Europe and the Mediterranean. “The trip of a lifetime,” her mom had called it. “We’re finally going.” Her parents had scrimped and saved for the extended tour for the last thirty-five years.

As for Terri, she lived with her husband and daughter near Sun Valley, close to a three-hour drive from Kings Meadow. Charity didn’t expect to see much of her over the summer.

“Well, I’m not in Kings Meadow for visiting, anyway,” she said to Cocoa, who was exploring the house as if she’d never been in it before. “I guess you haven’t been here often. Have you, girl?”

A desperate need for solitude and silence had brought Charity to Kings Meadow. Her Victorian-era home on the Boise River—the one she’d bought several years earlier because of its charm and interesting floor plan—had been flooded this spring when the river overflowed its banks. The water damage had been serious enough, but the cleanup had also revealed significant structural issues that would require months of remodeling work.

Maybe you shouldn’t have bought the place without getting another inspection. Maybe you shouldn’t make snap decisions all the time. Maybe if you’d follow Mom’s advice every now and then . . .

“I’m trying,” she whispered, “but it isn’t easy.”

Setting her jaw, she threw off her troubled thoughts and headed up the stairs. The second-floor bedroom she’d shared with her sister up until Terri got married—right out of high school—hadn’t changed much. It still bore many of the traces of teenaged girls—possessions Terri and Charity hadn’t wanted to take with them when they moved out, things their mother had been unable to get rid of.

She picked up a glass figurine from the nightstand and turned it over in the palm of her hand. She’d won the crystal horse at the fair the summer before her senior year. The whole family had been there that night—Mom and Dad; Terri and her husband, Rick, and their new baby; and Charity. She remembered the lights from the carnival rides, the loud music, the smells of hamburgers, grilled onions, and chorizos along Food Row, and the laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.

The pleasant memories made Charity smile as she unpacked her suitcases, placing some clothes in the old chest of drawers and hanging other items in the closet. There wasn’t a lot of room in the latter. It had become a storage area for whatever size clothes her mother couldn’t fit into at present.

When Charity’s suitcases were emptied at last, she stowed them under her old bed. As she straightened, she looked out the window . . . and saw Buck Malone exit the house next door.

Buck Malone.

Her heart gave a crazy and unexpected flutter. She hadn’t seen Buck in ages. Not even from a distance. But her old high school classmate—and secret heartthrob—was just as drop-dead gorgeous as he’d ever been. Perhaps more so. His shoulders were broader, and he looked taller too. Was he taller or was it a figment of her imagination?

Stop it, she mentally berated herself. It didn’t matter. Buck was no one to her now. Just someone from her distant past. One of many someones from her distant past.

She watched him