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Authors: Melody Anne

Finding Forever

Table of Contents

Finding Forever

by

Melody Anne

Copyright

© 2015 Melody Anne
Previously Published as Once Upon a Dream for the Diabetes Benefit Sweet Talk Box Set in 2015

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Printed and published in the United States of America.

Published by Eternal Dreams

Editing by Alison

Cover Art by Edward

Dedication

This is dedicated to my baby girl Makayla. Only a year old and still such a blessing in Auntie’s life. Your smile is contagious. I adore you!

Other Books by Melody Anne

Available at all Major Online Retailers

Billionaire Bachelors:

The Billionaire Wins the Game

The Billionaire’s Dance

The Billionaire Falls

The Billionaire’s Marriage Proposal

Blackmailing the Billionaire

Run Away Heiress

The Billionaire’s Final Stand

The Lost Andersons

Unexpected Treasure

Hidden Treasure

Holiday Treasure

Priceless Treasure -
October 20th, 2015

Baby for the Billionaire:

The Tycoon’s Revenge

The Tycoon’s Vacation

The Tycoon’s Proposal

The Tycoon’s Secret

The Lost Tycoon

Surrender Series:

Surrender - Book One

Submit - Book Two

Seduced - Book Three

Scorched - Book Four

Forbidden Series:

Bound -Book One

Broken - Book Two

Betrayed - Book Three

Burned - Book Four

Rise of the Dark Angel:

Midnight Fire: Rise of the Dark Angel - Book One

Midnight Moon: Rise of the Dark Angel - Book Two

Midnight Storm: Rise of the Dark Angel - Book Three

Midnight Eclipse: Rise of the Dark Angel - Book Four -
November 10th, 2015

Unexpected Heroes:

Her Unexpected Hero

Her Hometown Hero

Her Forever Hero -
February 23rd, 2016

Safe in His Arms - Novella - Baby, It’s Cold Outside Anthology

Who I am With You - Novella

Following Her - Novella -
September 14th, 2015

Taken by a Trillionaire

Collection of Three Novellas - Melody Anne, Ruth Cardello, J.S. Scott

Novellas

Following Her

Safe in His Arms -
November 30th, 2015

Prologue

A
re you Whitney
Steele?”

Whitney was struggling to wake up fully, and also shivering from the frigid air drifting inside her open front door. A police officer was standing before her with an expression she couldn’t read. All she was aware of was that it was three in the freaking morning, and this intrusion was unacceptable.

“Yes, I am. How can I help you?” Her tone was anything but polite.

The officer looked away for the briefest of moments, and suddenly her sleepiness vanished. Maybe this wasn’t news she wanted to hear. When his eyes finally reconnected with hers, the sympathy she saw made her certain of that.

“No news at this hour is good news,” she said, and she started to shut the door in his face.

He put his hand out to keep the door open. “Ma’am, I’m so sorry … but there’s been a terrible accident.”

She stopped listening. Nothing else he could say would be worth hearing.

“No …” She could stop him from continuing with what he was trying to say. She would.

“Your sister and her husband were in an auto accident at 12:06 a.m.” He paused, and the very air seemed to throb. “They didn’t survive it.”

It took a moment for the words to sink in, and when they did, Whitney’s knees began to give out, and she felt blackness overtaking her. Her knees grew week but somehow she managed to keep from blacking out.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Steele,” the officer told her again an instant before he caught her.

“No, you’re wrong,” Whitney pleaded. Christmas was less than two months away, and she couldn’t possibly live in a world where Maxine didn’t exist.

The officer simply looked at her with kindly but regretful eyes, and she knew he was speaking the truth. If only she could wake up from this nightmare.

“Are you going to be okay?” the officer asked. “Do you have someone you can call?”

“There’s no one. My sister was all I had left,” she said in a panic. How would she get through all of this without Maxine to guide her? “But … where are my niece and nephew?”

“They are home with a babysitter. Another officer just spoke with them. I was sent here to inform you of the accident — you are listed as the only adult next of kin.”

“I need to talk to them right away,” she said. She couldn’t even look at this officer anymore. After all, he’d been the one to bring her the worst news of her life, and didn’t people always want to shoot the messenger, irrational as that was? So without another word, she stepped back into her house and closed the door. She stumbled to the phone and dialed her sister’s house.

On the third ring, the babysitter picked up. The girl didn’t know what to do. She’d been so shaky after just being informed about the accident that she hadn’t even been able to pick up the phone to call Whitney.

Damn the officer for just leaving her there. What had he been thinking? The poor kid was sobbing uncontrollably.

Whitney gathered herself together and headed over. She had to stay strong for Maxine’s children. This wasn’t the time for her to fall apart.

As she made the drive, all she could think of was that she was about to bring these two children the worst news of their life. Would they hate her the way she’d hated that unfortunate officer? But what did that matter? What mattered was them. Her floods of tears made driving difficult, but she had no choice but to keep on going.

Once she arrived, she sat in the car for a moment, composed herself, brushed away her tears, and took a deep breath. She and the children would all somehow make it through this tragedy.

At least they had each other. It was all they had now.

She walked through the darkened doorway and heard a mewling cry coming from the living room. The house seemed so empty, though nothing had changed about it — physically. But this time she knew her sister would never again grace the halls with her laughter or come rushing around the corner.

With great effort, Whitney held in the tears that wanted to fall once more. “Thanks for staying, Ginny. Do you have a ride home?”

“Yes, I called my dad. He should be here any minute,” she sobbed.

Just then a knock sounded on the door, and Ginny looked at it in relief.

“It’s okay, sweetie, I’ve got the kids,” Whitney said.

Ginny jumped up gratefully and rushed from the house without another word. She was only a teenager, and she’d probably be too frightened to ever babysit again.

Whitney made her way up the stairs and quietly looked in on both children in turn. They were sleeping soundly and she didn’t want to wake them. They’d gone to bed full of hopes and dreams of the upcoming holidays, and when they awoke, their entire world would be changed forever. Talk about cruelty.

She crept back down the stairs and sat motionless on the living room couch. When the morning light started peeking through the windows, her six-year-old niece, Ally, wandered into the room, still gripping her blanket. She was rubbing her eyes, and she smiled when she spotted Whitney sitting there.

“This is great! You’re here so early!” the girl exclaimed before cuddling up in her aunt’s lap.

Whitney smoothed her niece’s hair while the two of them waited for Brayden to join them.

When he finally appeared, Whitney had no choice but to be the bearer of bad news. How could they possibly move forward?

Chapter One

One year later

W
hitney gazed out
the window, watching as snowflakes drifted down on top of one another, creating a blanket of white. At one time, this had brought her joy. Now, it only brought sorrow.

She sat back down at the counter of her temporary customer service job, watching the clock for closing time. She wanted to get home to her nephew and niece. They had become her one and only focus over the past year. At least it was a focus she loved with all her heart.

They’d all had a year to grieve. Now it was time for that to stop. — they had to build new memories. Though it would be difficult to let go of the pain, that was exactly what they needed to do.

She would at least have time to do that, since this would be her last day at this job. And her prospects weren’t great. Finding a good job that offered a flexible work schedule was much easier said than done. She’d been surprised to find how few people were sympathetic to her situation. Employers just didn’t seem to understand that her niece and nephew always came first. She’d certainly have to go looking for another job soon, but she decided to spend the Christmas holidays with the kids first.

Because their parents had died at this time last year, it was especially hard on all of them. But she couldn’t extend her vacation for too long. They needed the income that she provided.

She had to sigh. So many changes in such a short period of time — taking care of two young children, putting her education on hold, and trying to hide the pain she felt at losing her sister.

Sometimes she felt selfish that she worried about where her life would end up, especially since connecting with her nephew had been difficult if not impossible. He was bitter and angry at the loss of his parents, and he seemed to feel that he should have done something to prevent it, that it was somehow his fault. He was now ten and acted like an adult. It frightened her.

She was failing on every count. Dealing with the world had always been easier for her sister, who had made life in general look effortless. Her sister had been the perfect daughter, sister, wife, and mother. There wasn’t anything Maxine couldn’t do. What had gone wrong with her own DNA, Whitney had to wonder? She hoped that her sister wasn’t looking down upon her and shaking her head.

The final customers walked from the store and Whitney moved to the front door, locking it for the last time while her co-worker counted out the till. It didn’t take long, and then the two of them left the store together before separating and rushing to their cars.

The roads were icy, but Whitney didn’t mind much. At least having to drive slowly gave her a few extra minutes to paste on the smile she needed to have in place when she stepped through the front doors of her home.

Her sister and brother-in-law had left the fully paid off house and custody of the children to her. There had been a modest life insurance policy, but that was the children’s money, and the only reason they were able to stay in the private school they’d attended since they’d begun their education. She wouldn’t tap into any more of the fund than she needed to. Enough had been taken from the kids already.

Even though she was making as few changes in the children’s lives as she possibly could, the one thing she wanted to change but couldn’t was the never-ending ache.

“Time …,” she murmured. She’d been saying this same thing over and over again for more than three hundred and sixty-five days. Everyone told her that all she needed was time, that time healed everything. Maybe one day that would turn out to be true.

She squared her shoulders and stepped into the house. The home was eerily quiet, which immediately worried her. She knew beyond a doubt that if the kids were quiet, they were most likely up to no good. She tossed her purse onto the chair and went in search of the two. She stepped into the kitchen and felt her feet slip out from under her.

“What the heck?” she yelled as her tailbone connected with the ground and she thrust her hands out to stop herself from sliding. What in the world was on the floor? She rubbed her fingers against it and smelled. Was it cooking oil? Yes, and worse. There was a mixture of flour and oil all over the place. What had the kids done now? And where in the heck was the sitter?

The babysitter came flying around the corner.

“I am done watching these children,” the woman yelled. “They don’t listen, they purposely make messes and then tell me I have to clean them up, and they’re the most ungrateful brats I’ve ever met in my entire existence.” She grabbed her purse and went running out the front door. She didn’t even stop to ask for money, which made Whitney almost thankful.

After the door slammed, Whitney turned toward the kids, who were looking guiltily at the floor.

“What happened?”

“I’m sorry, Aunt Whitney,” Ally said with tears streaming down her cheeks.

“We don’t need a stupid babysitter,” Brayden snapped. “I’m ten and Ally is seven, but you still treat us like babies.”

“You’re
only
ten, Brayden. Yes, you need a sitter, or I’d be in serious trouble with social services,” Whitney told him. “I know you’re lashing out because you’re hurt, but we’re going to be okay. I promise you.”

She reached out toward Brayden, but he jerked backward.

“On what planet is everything going to be okay? Or are you talking about a parallel universe? Sheesh.”

“Brayden, it’s December, the season of magic and dreams,” his aunt said. “We have each other, and that’s so much more than many others have.”

Ally broke in, saying, “Maybe we should be a little better, Bray, or Christmas will be ruined.” Her sweet niece continued pleading with her brother; the mention of the big holiday brought a hint of magic back to her eyes.

“Christmas is over forever, Ally. You need to figure that out, because there’s no magic, there’s no Mom and Dad, and there’s certainly no Santa Claus,” he growled. “Only stupid little girls believe in him. You really need to grow up.”

“Sweetie, you can’t think like that,” Whitney said to the boy before turning to her niece. “Don’t give up, Ally. Everything about Christmas is enchantment and light, and the day represents the good still in this world.”

“Whatever. I hate all of this,” Brayden shouted before he stomped from the room.

Whitney cringed when he slammed his bedroom door violently enough to shake the walls. But she took a deep breath. She could tackle only one problem at a time.

“I’m sorry, Auntie,” Ally said in between sobs.

Whitney dropped to her knees and pulled her niece into her arms.

“Oh, baby, it’s okay. I know how hard things are for you right now.” She then looked at the floor with a sigh. “Did you and your brother make this mess?”

Ally’s guilty eyes were her answer.

“First, your brother is coming back down here, and then the two of you are going to clean it up. I’ve been too lenient and this is the result.” Yes, she had to try to be somewhat stern.

“I don’t think he will,” Ally told her.

“Yes, he will. Once the mess is cleaned up, then you and I will forget all about it and bake some cookies — the right way. This time, with far less mess.”

Ally’s dimple made an appearance, as her niece gave her a watery smile before nodding her head. Whitney kissed her on the forehead before going to get Brayden. Let the battle begin.

Brayden came down and helped his sister without even looking at Whitney. That broke her heart, but this was the right thing to do. She didn’t want her nephew to grow up into a monster, and they couldn’t let the tragedy dictate the rest of their lives.

As soon as the kids were finished, Brayden stormed back up the stairs and managed to slam his door with even greater force than before. Whitney decided to ignore that as she got out the ingredients for her and Ally to begin baking.

It didn’t take long for Ally to bring up the big holiday again.

“Is it bad for me to still believe?” she asked with achingly innocent eyes.

“Of course not. Believing is what keeps the magic alive,” Whitney told her.

“How do you know?” the girl asked, and she paused briefly in thought. “Why do bad things happen at Christmastime if all the good things about it are so real?”

“Ah, baby, the world is far from perfect, and sometimes bad things happen because people make wrong choices. And sometimes bad things happen even to good people, and we’ll never know why. There’s a divine plan. But good things happen too, and that’s the magic and the hope that we hold out for.”

“I want to believe that,” Ally whispered.

“It’s okay to feel happy, baby girl.”

“But Brayden says that if I feel happy, then I’m forgetting Mom and Dad,” Ally said, a tear falling down her cheek.

“That’s not true, Ally. I loved your mother and father more than anyone else in the world besides you and your brother. And I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt — it would break their hearts to know you were sad. They were never happier than when you and your brother smiled.”

“But if we keep on living and are happy, we’ll forget about all the time we had with them,” the little girl said, sounding so much older than seven years old.

“Don’t think that. Of course we keep living and we continue to build memories, but we never forget all the time we had with them before they were taken … far too soon. That’s why we keep pictures, and, even better, we lock images of them in our minds and our hearts.”

“I’ll try, Aunt Whitney,” Ally said. “For you.”

“I want you to try for yourself, too.”

After that, they lost themselves in mixing and baking. When the smell of the cookies didn’t bring Brayden out of his bedroom, Whitney decided it was time to face him again.

The boy was lying on his bed with his headphones cranked up so loud she could hear the thumping of the bass from the doorway. Sighing to herself, she stepped into the room and sank down onto his bed. He tensed, but didn’t turn off his music or acknowledge her presence.

Whitney waited. She knew he would switch it off in a little while; he was simply making sure she knew he was still in a brutal mood. She was way in over her head with the two kids, but she had always felt that the sun and moon rose on the two of them. After a few minutes, he did shut down his iPod and remove the headphones, but he still refused to look at her.

“I know how angry you are with the world right now, Brayden. I also know things haven’t been fair for you or your sister. But it’s almost Christmas and for your sister’s sake we need to make it as special as possible.”

“What’s the point? Mom and Dad are gone. Why should we celebrate anything anymore?”

“I would trade my very life for them to be here with you,” she told him in all honesty. “But they
are
gone, and now we have to live our lives so they can look down on us and feel proud.”

“I wouldn’t want you gone, Aunt Whitney. I love you, I just miss them so much it hurts.”

She had to pull him into her arms — she couldn’t help herself. He let her hold him without resisting, but she knew that wouldn’t last long.

“I love you, too, Brayden. I wish we could all be together, but sometimes we have to work with what we’re given. For now, we really need to do whatever we can to protect Ally.”

“I know. I’m just so mad all of the time,” he told her in a rare moment of weakness. “But I really am sorry.”

“Can you come downstairs and join your sister and me?”

“Okay,” he mumbled.

For the rest of the evening, there were no more problems, but Whitney wasn’t foolish enough to believe the rough days were over. No. If anything, they were only just beginning.

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