For the Love of Chloe - Chapter One

Writing this book has been hard. I went into it with my usual gusto, but then Covid 19 happened, and the country went into lockdown. The whole situation plays havoc with your mental health, and I found myself with the story writing itself in my head and me unable to write it. But as things got better here, and restrictions eased, the story began to flow.


This is very different to Common Ground in tone and content. It's a story of two people who have been broken by different things finding each other and trying to work out how to be together. It's about how to remember the past without it controlling your future. And it's about a man whose weakness is one woman he'd do anything for. Anyway. Here's chapter one. It's unedited and subject to change. <3


Chapter One Chloe


Every muscle in my body aches.


And I really resent the fact that I’m the only one in my family who can drive.


“Mum, how much longer?”


It’s Braden’s turn riding shotgun, and I’m so over being asked that question that it takes everything in me not to stop the car and shove him out the door.


I love my son, but right now him and his brother are driving me insane.


“We’re nearly there.”


“You said that half an hour ago.” Xander says from the back seat.


“I meant it then, and I mean it now. Don’t make me go the long way.”


“There’s a long way?” He groans, slumping as much as the seatbelt will allow.


“I can make one.”


He sighs.


“Why don’t we drive past the new house on the way to Grandma’s place?”


“Yes.” Braden grins.


There’s no answer from Xander, but he’s probably ignoring me after our last exchange. Braden’s the sweet, optimistic one. Xander’s the moody, serious child. For identical twins, they’re very different.


“It’s just a small detour. Xander? What do you think?”


“Whatever.”


I roll my eyes, and take the next turn, heading toward the house. My heart pounds as we grow closer. This house means a lot to me, and I’m sure my boys will love it too. But it’s hard making a fresh start, even if I am back in my home town.


It takes a few more minutes, but I slow as I approach and then pull up outside our new home.


“Is this it?” Xander asks.


I lick my lips. “No. I just thought I’d stop at some random house to prank you even though I’m exhausted and just want to collapse into bed.”


He shoots me the side-eye. “So … this is it.”


“Xander Cooper, you’ve seen the photos. You’re smarter than this.”


“I’m not sure about that.” Braden ruffles his twin brother’s hair, and Xander slaps his arm with a laugh.


“Let’s go to your grandmother’s. She’ll be excited to see you two.”


“Can’t we stay here?”


I sigh. “We could, but there are beds at her place and I can get some sleep without having to find the linen and make our beds. Plus, she’ll have food.”


“I’m hungry,” Braden says.


“Of course you are.” I smile. “We’ll come back in the morning and start unpacking.”


“This is the house dad wanted, right?” Xander asks.


A lump forms in my throat. “Uh huh.”


“Why this house?”


“Catch up, Chloe.”

Scott cycles faster than I do. School starts in half an hour, and as usual, I’m lagging behind.

He stops by the side of the road to wait for me.

“Slow down.” I moan as I pull up beside him.

He grins. “Do you know why I stopped here?”

“No. Why?” He’s up to something. There’s that cheeky grin on his face that I adore.

“One day, I’m going to buy this house.”

He points and I look at the white, two storey, Victorian style house.

“What are you talking about?”

“One day we’ll come back here and raise our family, Chlo. And this house is so us. There’s a swimming pool and everything.”

I look back at the house. It’s got a basic front garden, and I can’t see anything behind it.

“How do you know?”

“My mum was the agent. She just sold it.”

I laugh. “So how do you know it’ll ever go up for sale again?”

He shrugs. “Because it’s our dream home. And I plan on making all your dreams come true.”

Leaning over as far as my bike will allow, I plant a kiss on his lips. He grabs my arm to steady us, and I laugh despite his lips being on mine.

“Get a room, you guys.”

Hunter Emerson flies past us on his bike.

“Let’s see if we can beat him to school,” Scott says.

I laugh as he takes off, shaking my head while I set off at my own speed.


“Mum? Why this house?”


“Your dad thought it was perfect for raising a family. And I need all the space I can get with two sixteen year olds as big as you two are.”


Xan laughs. “I can’t wait to see inside.”


For a moment, I’m tempted to take them in, but my aching back reminds me that I have an appointment with an already made bed at Mum’s.


“We’ll be back in the morning. Then you can move into your rooms and make them your own.”


“Can we stop for takeaways on the way to Gran’s place?”


I shake my head. “She’s cooking dinner for us. Let’s get going because I really need to stretch my legs.”


“Thanks for bringing us past here, Mum,” Braden says.


“You’re welcome. Tomorrow we’ll make it all our own.”


“I wish Dad was here to see it.”


I play my bottom lip between my teeth. “So do I, honey. So do I.”

***

It’s been a long time since I’ve been home.


Scott and I managed to get through teenage parenthood while he qualified as a lawyer, and then we went to the UK for the first few years before coming back to New Zealand.


I flew back to Napier a couple of times with the boys, but when we returned, we settled into a life in Auckland and didn’t really travel a lot after that.


And then we lost Scott.


It’s bittersweet being here. This is the house where we spent hours hanging out together

when we were kids, and where he’d sneak over to see me when we were teenagers. He kissed me for the first time in this yard.


Not having him here with us is cruel.


I blow out a long breath to stop myself from tearing up as I stop the car.


“This is it. This is where I grew up,” I say.


“It’s so small. Did you really live here?” Braden asks.


I laugh. “I did. It was just Mum, Dad, and your Uncle Caleb. It’s a three bedroom house. You’re just spoiled.”


“I’m just glad we’ve got a big house. And a pool. I can’t wait to go for a swim.”


“I’ve got no idea what condition the pool is in, so that might have to wait a while.”


He rolls his eyes, and I shake my head.


Mum appears at the back door. Her smile warms my heart, and just makes me feel even more at home.


I unclick my seatbelt, open the door and step out of the car.


“Chloe.” My mother beams, walking across the back yard. I all but fall into her arms—it’s so good to be home. “How was the drive?”


“Long. I’m exhausted. I just want to sleep.”


She smiles. “The beds are made. You’ve got your own room, and the boys are together if that’s okay.”


“Probably not, but it’s only one night so they’ll have to deal with it.” I laugh.


Her gaze shifts to Braden and Xander, who have got out of the car and are standing behind me. “Oh, it’s so good to see you two. You’ve grown so much.”


She lets go of me, and both boys step forward to hug her. I have to smile at the sight. She looks tiny compared to my sons, but they take after their father in height, not me.


They’re so much like him, and it makes my heart ache.


Mum looks happy as a pig in mud, she’s so pleased to see them both. I’m glad we came here for the night so she could see them before we spend however long unpacking.


“Come in, all of you. I’ve cooked a beef roast with all the trimmings. I’m sure you’re all hungry.”


I nod, despite knowing the beef will be dryer than the Sahara. My mum’s never been the best cook. But I appreciate the effort more than I can say.


Dad is just inside the door, and he hugs me tight as the others walk past us and into the kitchen.


“It’s good to see you, love. Drive okay?”


I nod. “Just long.”


“Caleb passes on his regards. He had other plans for the night, but he’ll come and visit you at the new house.”


I bite down my smirk. If I know my brother at all, his regards will involve the words ‘fuck you.’ He loves me really, but never stops giving me a hard time. It helps me keep sane, even at a distance.


“Thanks, Dad. I’m sure we’ll catch up soon. He’ll be ‘round once the swimming pool is up

and running.”


He chuckles. “No doubt.”


“Well, if everyone gets washed up, I’ll serve dinner. Boys, go wash your hands.”


I catch Xander and then Braden’s gazes. “Come on you two. Let’s get cleaned up.”


I’d kill for a shower, but my stomach grumbles and reminds me that I refused to stop for food earlier. The drive is long enough without extending it.


By the time we get back to the table, Mum’s put the food out and I breathe in the familiar

smell of her cooking. It’s not that great, but right now I’d eat a horse and the rider if I had to.


Dad carves the roast, and we pile our plates high with food.


“Gravy?” Mum asks.


My boys both shake their heads while I roll my eyes at them.


“You should have the gravy,” I say.


“Muuum.” Braden moans. He’s not usually a whiner, but it’s been a big week of packing and moving and we’ll all be happy to be settled.


“Trust me. You should have the gravy.” It’s the only moisture the meat’s going to get, and Xander at least picks up my suggestion and takes the offered gravy boat from his grandmother. Braden follows suit, exchanging a glance with his brother.


But regardless of how dry it is, we all plough into it and eat until we’re full. I lean back in my seat and let out a loud burp.


“Mum.” Xander laughs. He’s such a moody kid that it goes my heart good to hear it.


“Pardon me. Thanks, Mum.”


My mother laughs. “You’re welcome. Do you want dessert? I’ve got ice cream.”


“The boys might. I’m fine. I’ll make a coffee.”


I get up and take my plate to the kitchen, placing it in the dishwasher before turning on the jug.


For a moment, I look out the window to the back yard.


“What are you doing?” I laugh.

“You know I like you, Chloe. Don’t you?” He’s so goofy when he’s nervous. I don’t even know why he’s nervous. We’ve been friends since we were little kids.

“I like you too.”

Scott leans in and pecks me on the lips. I blush and turn my head. But it seals the deal. I’m thirteen years old and Scott Cooper’s girlfriend.

I’m pretty sure this makes it official.


“Mum?”


I blink, and turn my head to see Braden giving me a curious look.


“Yes. Hello.”


“Xander and I are going to unpack the car after dessert. Do you want us to bring in your things?”


I nod. “Sure. That’d be great. Thank you.”


“Are you okay?”


I smile, and nod again. “I’m fine. Just tired. It’s been a long day. Both of you need to learn to drive.”


“Does that mean you’re buying us a car?” Xander asks.


I laugh. “Maybe I’ll make you drive me around in mine.”


His face falls, but I already have plans to do just that when the time is right. It won’t be anything too pricey, but Scott and I already talked about it before his death and planned to make sure whatever we bought or they bought was safe.


Although if I could make it so, neither of them will ever be on the road.


“We’ll talk about it when the time is right.”


I make my coffee and take it to the living room where I can sit in peace for a while and drink it. I’m in such a weird space right now. It’s been four years since my husband died, but this is the biggest move I’ve made so far to start a new life. But no matter where I go, he’s there too.


We’d made it. We were well past the newborn sleepless nights, and the nappies, and the breastfeeding. Scott and I had two beautiful pre-teens who were on the verge of puberty when he died. It was me who had to answer questions about their bodies, and me who held them when their hearts were broken for the first time.


For the last four years, it’s been me, and I’m tired.


Not only is our new home somewhere for the boys and me to settle into, and a house we dreamed of, but it’s a house that maybe I’ll grow old in. Whether with someone else or not. But the thought of someone else still terrifies me because I’m so far out of the dating loop. Not that I was ever in the dating loop when my husband knew me and loved me my whole life.


I’m scared of opening my heart again.


In the meantime I’ll get set up in the new house and we’ll make it our own. The boys are enrolled to start high school here next week, and I’ll be back to writing which has been sorely neglected lately.


My publisher is good to me, though, and understanding. They let me have an extension on the mystery thriller I’ve been working on with all the upheaval of moving, but the time will pass before I know it if I don’t buckle down.


I close my eyes. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since I was last in this house, but it’s home. And I’m glad I’m here for the night before we start the new chapter in our lives.

Being here eases the fear of it all.

***

With our things out of the car, and the boys in their room, I head to bed.


I close the door behind me and face plant into the rock hard mattress.


But I don’t care.


Standing, I drop my jeans to the floor and unhook my bra, pulling it off underneath my T-shirt.


And then I flop back onto the bed and pull the blanket over me.


The last few weeks have been exhausting.


There was no real plan to move back here. Scott and I had talked about it in a vague sense, and we’d kept an eye on the property market for years. Seeing the house come up for sale had seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.


It seemed like fate.


His life insurance payment was sitting in the bank just gathering interest, so I got to pocket the profit from our Auckland house as well as not having to worry about a mortgage here.

I’d swap it all for having him back in a heartbeat.


But as that’s not an option, I made my decision and the boys were surprisingly happy to go along with it. I thought I’d have more of a fight, but they were also struggling with the constant reminders of their father.


This is a fresh start for all three of us.


I can’t wait to get back to my own bed, but for the meantime, I’m going to sleep like a baby tonight. Braden as a baby, not Xander because he was a terrible sleeper.


It doesn’t take long to drift off, despite the hardness of the mattress and the pillow being too soft.


Nothing really matters right now.


“Mum?”


I’ve been a light sleeper since the day those boys were born, and I smile to myself through my sleepy haze.


“Braden.”


He pulls the blanket up and slides into bed with me. “I hate sharing rooms with Xander.”


“It’s only for one night, honey.”


He snuggles in against me. “Grandma can’t cook either. Dinner was awful.”


I chuckle. “I could have told you that.”


“You’re cooking tomorrow night, right?”


I roll over, slide my arm under his neck and press a kiss to his forehead. “It’s our first night in the house. Maybe we can order pizza.”


“I like that idea.”


The bed sinks behind me, and I shake my head. “Hello Xander.”


“Grandma’s cooking sucks.”


All I can do is laugh.


“Mum said we can get pizza tomorrow, Xan.”


“Thank God.”


“Can we all just get some sleep?” I pull my arm out from under Braden and roll onto my

back.


When they were little, the boys would always climb into bed between Scott and me. They insisted they’d grown out of it by the time they were nine. But since his death, they do it when they need reassurance. And it’s never just one. It’s always both of them.


Me? I still hate this mattress, but tomorrow I’ll be back in my soft king size bed. I’m too tired to even care about the fact that we’re squished into this double.


We’re home.

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