“They’re flowers, not fish.” Marina took the hose, turned off the valve, and then dropped it on the lawn. “You need to tell me what’s up, Katrina, because in the past thirty minutes, I’ve witnessed you overfill Jake’s water dish, trip over your shovel, and drown your impatiens.”

“They’ll be fine.” Heart beating fast over her distracted stupidity, Katrina tipped the large bowl-shaped planter to drain excess water, and then lugged it from her porch to the lawn where July sun would dry the soil.

“What’s going on?”

Katrina straightened up and faced her mother, the most perceptive woman she knew. Sweat glistened on Marina’s brow while the breeze teased her long graying pony tail. A picture of Katrina in thirty years.

Marina tugged off her gardening gloves, sat on the bottom porch step, and then patted the spot next to her, welcoming Katrina to sit. “You’re not a klutz and you’re an ace gardener. Today you’re not you. Why?”

Katrina took a seat next to her mother and looked into her eyes. “Remember when you finally kicked out dad?”

“You’re thinking about your father?”

Katrina shook her head. “Back when you announced your decision to get divorced, I made myself a promise. I swore I’d work hard to achieve four things.” She gestured to Jake. “The easiest one sits at your feet. Own a German Shepherd to kept me safe.”

As if he knew she was speaking of him, Jake turned his head to watch her, his tongue lolling in efforts to cool himself.

“Two of the achievements were more work,” she continued. “I became a doctor and I own my own home. No man necessary.”

Warm smile reaching her eyes, Marina said, “You’re my intelligent, driven daughter. You’ve done well. Look at this property.” She waved her hand at Katrina’s acreage.

Katrina smiled at the crop of blue salvia dressing up her rock bed. Her gaze followed the rocks to the edge where red petunias lived.


Her mind flitted to the beach, the red bikini, and him, which sent her heart into flutters. He was her favorite distraction, just like when they were kids. Only now her fantasies were all grown up, full of muscles and heat and wanting. Given she was no longer a schoolgirl, she didn’t get to see him. Ever. But his continual presence in her thoughts was—

“I’m waiting for number four.” Marina stroked Jake’s head, which was resting on her knee.

Katrina drew a deep breath and released it along with some tension. “I promised myself one more thing, but it was a little girl’s dream. Silly, really, because its accomplishment relied on someone other than me.”

“Oooo. Did you hear that, Jake? A little girl’s silly dream.”

Jake perked up and looked at them.

Marina winked. “Silly dreams tend to be the most worthwhile.”

Another deep breath. “My fourth promise was to marry a man who’d never hurt me.”

“Well, I don’t see anything silly about that. After everything your father did, it’s the most sensible thing in the world.”

“But I picked Aaron Keller.”

Understanding lifted Marina’s countenance. “That’s a name I haven’t heard in ages.” Her eyes sparkled as if in celebration of renewed hope for her still-single 34-year-old daughter.

“Nothing’s going on, Mom.” Katrina’s reached over to stroke Jake’s head. “Of all my goals, that was the irrational one. A nonsense fantasy.”

“No. Not nonsense. He asked you out.”

Memory of that moment twisted the void left by Connor.

If she’d said yes to Aaron…

The void pulsed against her heart.

Aaron never had a chance to see how far she’d come because she’d never given him the opportunity.

Marina nudged her. “What’s got you thinking about Aaron?”

Warmth flowed through her core, reminding her of details best kept private. “After I found out he was married, I blocked him out of my mind. I swear I haven’t thought of him in years. I’ve been focused on work and my property. My life. But all of a sudden, a few months ago, I started having dreams of being with him. Vivid dreams. Intimate dreams.” Tears for ridiculous hopes pressed into her eyes.

“Ah.” Marina chuckled. “Aaron Keller strikes again. You know what this means, don’t you?”

Katrina nodded. “But I’m not ready to know. If he’s divorced, there’ll be baggage. If he’s still married, I’ll be disappointed again, which will hurt. If he’s dead, I’ll be devastated. I don’t want baggage or hurt or devastation. I want to be happy like I am right now. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Disappointment darkened Marina’s eyes. “Katrina…you’re wrong. I don’t regret anything. I loved your father and he gave me you and that goofball brother of yours. And because of his way, as upsetting as it was, you became a very strong woman. But you can’t keep hiding behind independence. You are ready to know. You are ready to deal with baggage and hurt and devastation because you’ve already done all that. And you’ve prevailed.” She squeezed Katrina’s hand. “Look. Him. Up.”

Tears blinked out of Katrina’s eyes.

Her heart was ready. It was crying for her to find out.

But her body…

Her mind…

She wiped away a tear.

Fear never goes away.


This post is part of a series under the page Prelude to a Love Story. 

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