Title: Life’s Too Short for White Walls
Author: Liz Flaherty
Genre: Contemporary Romance (sweet)
Still reeling from her divorce, Joss Murphy flees to Banjo Bend, Kentucky, where she'd been safe and happy as a child. The family farm is now a campground. Weary and discouraged, she talks owner Ezra McIntire into renting her a not-quite-ready cabin.
With PTSD keeping him company, Ez thrives on the seclusion of the campground. The redhead in Cabin Three adds suggestions to his improvement plans, urging color and vibrancy where there was none.
Neither is looking for love, yet the attraction they share is undeniable. Can the comfort of campfires, hayrides, and sweet kisses bring these two lost souls together?
“Do you ever wonder if it’s all been worth it?” He hadn’t meant to ask, but the words were there anyway, lying between them.
Her answer was instant. “No.” She lifted a shoulder in a small shrug, and he felt her warmth in his arm where she brushed against it even through the sweater she wore. “But I have kids. I’m not one of those who thinks you can’t have a full life if you’re not a parent, but they’re the best thing that ever happened in mine.”
“But were they enough even when they were home and your whole life?”
She laughed. “They were never my whole life—they wouldn’t have stood for that for an instant. Even as babies, they weren’t cuddlers—if I hadn’t been a food source, they wouldn’t even have missed me. If there was a needy one in the relationship, it was probably me, and I couldn’t let them see that. I never wanted them to feel responsible for me—still don’t—but I loved being responsible for them. However—” She held up a hand when he started to interrupt. “When they left home, I also loved not being responsible for them.”
That surprised him. “How did you turn it off?”
“I didn’t turn anything off. I didn’t love them any less, and I’d still be there in a heartbeat if they needed me, but the truth is they don’t need me anymore—at least not in the all-encompassing parent-child way. I like being busy, but being needed isn’t all that important to me.” She grinned, and there was a cynical edge to it. “It was one of the revelations that came with being single not-by-choice.”
“I’ve never thought about being needed, maybe because I don’t have kids, but I still feel responsible for…too many things, I guess.” There was no guessing to it—he knew he did. But he didn’t know how not to bear that weight. No amount of counseling or bourbon-born wisdom had taught him that.
“You need to answer your own question,” she said, her voice quiet in the darkness. “Do you wonder if it’s all been worth it?”
“Every single day.” The words burst forth, as if they’d been waiting for a long time to be said. The alarm came and went on her face so quickly he wasn’t sure he’d seen it, but her hand taking his and holding on hard told him it had been real.
“Not…I don’t think about suicide.” That wasn’t true. He thought about it frequently, but not with any intent in mind. “There was sniper fire in Iraq—” Nothing like jumping into the middle of the story. “I should have been prepared. It was my team, my responsibility to keep them safe. I didn’t do it. Two people died.” He still woke in the middle of the night seeing their faces. No one had blamed him―even the team members’ wives hadn’t. They’d offered him more comfort at their husbands’ funerals than he’d deserved.
It should have been him. He was the pilot. It was his team.
It should have been him.
“Please.” Just the one word, spoken softly beside him, gave pause to the siege of his thoughts. He turned just enough to see her face and catch a glimpse of shimmer in her eyes. “I value you,” she said. “All the people here do. You give them a safe place and sometimes, like when we’re gathered up at the pavilion, you’re an instrument of hope for some of them. You need to value yourself, Ezra McIntire.”
Before he could look away, she lifted her hands…small, warm, and capable…to frame his face. Her eyes, still damp, still shimmering, held his gaze for a moment before they drifted closed and her lips touched his. Timorously at first, as if she were doing something she hadn’t in a long time, and then deeper. Warmer.
Ez didn’t know, as she pulled away and he drew her in for more, if knowing her…holding her…would allow him to value himself. But he did understand, from that first suggestion of a kiss, that he valued her, and that these moments shared on the porch of the old farmhouse were the best ones he’d had in more time than he could remember. Value. Yes, value.
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Joss and Ez are…seasoned. Joss has raised kids and survived the ending of a long marriage. Ez has “a little” PTSD from both the military and a shooter incident at the college where he taught. So they’re scarred, their hearts have healed with sharp edges, and they learn together how to smooth those edges, how to seek tenderness even at the risk of being hurt. I love their journey so much, and I want readers to love it, too.
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Retired from the post office, Liz Flaherty spends non-writing time sewing, traveling, and doing whatever else she wants to. She and her husband Duane live in the old farmhouse in North Central Indiana they moved to in 1977. They’ve talked about moving, but really…40-plus years’ worth of stuff? It’s not happening. It would require removing old baseball trophies from the attic and dusting the pictures of the Magnificent Seven, their grandchildren.
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