Chandra Valentine gripped the handle of her rolling carry-on luggage
as she watched the tiny regional plane taxi toward her gate at the Charlotte
Douglas International Airport. She honestly wished she hadn’t seen it. Then she
could pretend it was a larger plane. A stable plane. The kind she’d become
accustomed to flying in over her past thirty-nine years of life. Not one of
those little puddle jumpers she’d always taken great pains to avoid.
loosened her grip when she realized her nails were stabbing her palms. She
opened her hand, studying the row of angry semicircles that trailed across her
skin. Chandra took a deep breath, her eyes drifting closed momentarily. When
she opened them, she was greeted by a penetrating dark gaze.
incredibly handsome man tipped his chin in greeting as he rubbed his full
beard. Typically, she’d considered a full-grown beard a turnoff. Who knew
exactly what might be lurking in that thing? But for this brother, she’d make
was dressed in an unbuttoned, green and black plaid shirt over a black Henley
shirt, distressed jeans and brown Timberland boots. His lop-sided smile made
her belly flip in ways it hadn’t in longer than she cared to admit.
gave him a quick nod and an awkward wave before sauntering away.
man was . In ways
she could wax poetically about for days. But this wasn’t a girls’ trip to
Vegas. She was about to board a tuna can with wings so she could meet her dad
in some small mountain town in Tennessee.
she didn’t feel a sense of urgency to get to the little town of Magnolia Lake,
where her dad had summoned her and her five younger siblings, she would’ve
flown to the closest major airport then driven the remainder of the way through
the mountains. But she was worried about her dad.
Raymond Valentine had turned sixty-nine on his last birthday—which she’d missed
because she was at a company retreat in Utah. Her father had been in sort of a
funk since his mother had died a few years ago. It didn’t feel quite like
mourning, but something deeper. She hadn’t been able to figure out what it was,
and her dad wouldn’t open up about what he was feeling. He’d been grumpy and
evasive whenever she tried to broach the topic, which ruined the mood of their
weekly calls. So she’d stopped asking, hoping he’d eventually be ready to
confide in her.
two weeks ago, her father had called a big family meeting via teleconference to
inform them he needed to see all of them in person. Despite their pleading and
threatening, her father wouldn’t offer the slightest hint of what this was
about. Chandra was terrified about what might prompt her father to gather them
together like this for the first time since her grandmother's funeral.
taken three days and an online calendar for the six siblings to figure out when
their schedules would permit all of them to take time off their jobs and get
together for at least a week, preferably two—as her father had requested. But
here she was on her way to some tiny town in the Smoky Mountains where she only
hoped they had internet, cell phone service and indoor plumbing because hiking
in the woods was the limit of her outdoorsyness.
settled into a seat as far away as she could get from the handsome man with the
gorgeous dark eyes who was making her rethink her stance on beards. Because as
much as she’d like to get to know him up close and personal, she didn’t have
time for extracurricular activities on this trip.
was a problem solver. Had been since she was eight years old and returned from
school to discover the
letter her mother had left on the kitchen counter.
father had been gutted. She, Nolan, Sebastian and Alonzo had been devastated.
Just like that, she’d become the adult in the house as her father struggled to
deal with her mother’s abandonment. In some ways, she’d felt like the only
adult in the room with her family ever since.
rubbed her arms against the chill in the airport, still devastated by the
Handsome stared at her from across the wide expanse.
Chandra pulled the book on teambuilding she’d been reading from her purse and opened it. She couldn’t afford to be distracted by the man. She needed to get to the bottom of whatever was going on with her father, solve whatever problem needed to be solved then return to San Diego.