The Weaver Sisters, Book 3
Release Date:

Oct 23, 2023

ISBN:

978-1-961544-16-1

More From Nan →

Christmas in River’s Edge

by

Nan Reinhardt

You can go home again…

After a painful divorce from her high school sweetheart, triplet Jenny Weaver returns to River’s Edge with her young son. While happy to be reunited with her sisters and working at the family’s marina, she has no intention of jumping into the dating pool, especially going into the holidays. Then Gabe Dawson, once a shy nerd who tutored her in history classes, arrives home transformed into a handsome hunk who makes her pulse race.

Archeologist and history professor Gabe Dawson thought he’d long ago outgrown his teen crush on Jenny. Back in town for a few months to help his mom post surgery, he can’t resist reaching out to Jenny. She’s as beautiful, warm, and funny as he remembered and soon Gabe is reconsidering his future.

Gabe is determined to seize this second chance, but can he convince a very wary Jenny that a globe-trotter is ready to come home for good this Christmas?

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Chapter One

“I can’t believe this is our last Monday night supper together until Christmas.” Blinking back the tears that stung her eyes, Jennifer Weaver gazed at her two sisters. “Jo, I hate that you’re leaving right before Halloween Hoopla. It’s always so much fun to dress alike and confuse everyone.”

The Weaver sisters—Jasmine, Joanna, and Jennifer—were identical triplets, although they rarely dressed alike. Most of the folks in River’s Edge, Indiana, could tell them apart, but Halloween was the one time of the year they loved to try to fool their friends.

Jo’s contented smile warmed Jen’s heart, despite how much she wished her sister wasn’t moving to Durham, North Carolina, with her scientist boyfriend, Alex Briggs. “You and Jazz are going to have to do the disguise honors this year. Alex needs to get the boat to dry dock before it gets too cold, so our first stop is Pittsburgh to drop it off, and after that, we’re off to Duke. But I’ll expect pictures, so take plenty, okay?”

“You’re sure, really sure, this move is what you want?” Jazz’s golden-brown eyes sparkled with unshed tears too. This was farewell for a while, and even though the Weaver triplets had done plenty of good-byes, it never got easier.

Jo rose from her seat on the top step of Jen’s porch and gave each of her sisters a hearty hug before nabbing a slice of summer sausage and plopping back down. “I’ve never been surer of anything in my whole life,” she declared with a smile, then sobered. “I feel bad about leaving Dad in the lurch, but Xavier is home from the Navy, which thrills me no end because he’s back in the shop, using all that great mechanical knowledge he learned aboard ship. He can winterize an engine in no time flat.”

Jen smiled. “God, that kid grew up mighty fine those four years away. He took his shirt off the other day and I almost fainted. He looks so much like that guy from the Bridgerton series—Regé something. Remember him from the first season of that show?”

“He is a good-looking guy,” Jo agreed, as Jazz nodded, her eyes wide.

Jazz grinned. “There you go, Jenny. A new hot guy in town. Go for it.”

Jen chuckled. “Interesting idea, if I weren’t old enough to be his mother.”

“Older sister, maybe.” Jo giggled and took a sip of wine. “Could be he’s into cougars.”

The conversation had taken a ridiculous turn, which was fine with Jenny; it took her mind off Jo’s imminent departure, and the fact that she’d be down a confidant and Weaver’s Landing Marina would be minus one boat mechanic. Jo had been working hard all fall, winterizing and storing boats at the family business, trying to get as many done as possible before she left, but there would be a big hole in the works and in the family when she was gone. They would all miss her terribly. It was hard to feel bad, though, when they saw how Jo glowed simply at the mention of Alex Briggs. She was happy, and in Jenny’s opinion, no one deserved that happiness more than her six-minutes-older sister.

Jazz refilled all three wineglasses—the Four Irish Brothers pinot noir was going down pretty easily with the charcuterie board of fruit, meats, cheeses, olives, and the warm crusty bread. They’d nearly demolished it all in the time they’d been sitting on Jen’s porch, enjoying the crisp early October evening. “Jo and I are both in love, Jen, so now it’s your turn.”

Jen shrugged. “Oh, I’m pretty content here with Luke. He’s all I need.” The thought of her young son brought a smile to her lips. He was currently up at the marina, helping his grandfather and great-grandfather detail boats, but should be home any minute since he needed to get showered and into bed. Tomorrow was a school day.

“Luke’s terrific, but he’s an eight-year-old kid,” Jazz scoffed. “You need a man, Jen.”

Jo’s dark-brown eyes lit up. “Alex’s brother, Four, is single, and he’s a really nice guy.”

Jazz giggled. “Even though I know that the guy’s name is actually Byron Briggs the Fourth, it still sounds weird to hear you guys call him Four. He is pretty hot, though.”

Jen narrowed her eyes. “I’m sure he is, but he lives in Pittsburgh. Not really into the whole long-distance thing.”

Jo quirked a brow. “Is that not working well for you and the good Dr. Dawson?”

A shiver traveled down Jenny’s spine at the thought of Gabriel Dawson, their geeky classmate who’d come back during the summer for their fifteenth high school reunion and blown every woman there away with how much he’d changed. His bristly crewcut had grown out to lush, longish dark hair that made her long to run her fingers through it, and his deep-brown eyes, no longer hidden behind thick-lensed glasses, gave him a bit of a mysterious and brooding Heathcliff air.

Gabe and Jen had hit it off over reunion weekend and had exchanged a few emails and texts since he’d returned to Williamsburg, Virginia, where he was an adjunct professor of Archaeology and Colonial History at William and Mary University. But that weekend had been rushed and as the seasons had transitioned, classes kept him occupied, while summer, with fall a close second, was the busiest time at Weaver’s Landing Marina, where Jenny worked as bookkeeper/webmaster. “Gabe and I aren’t a thing. Again, long distance. It was fun to get to know him again at the reunion, though. We realized that the last time he and I had spoken to each other was finals week senior year when he drilled me on history facts to get me through Mr. Cooper’s American history class.” She shook her head, remembering teenaged and very nerdy Gabe sitting on the counter in the marina store, repeating dates and places while she restocked the spinner bait display.

“Too bad there was no chemistry back in the day,” Jazz observed wryly. “You could’ve avoided years of misery with Tuff.”

Jen only half smiled. Her life with her high school sweetheart and now ex-husband, Ryan “Tuff” Tuffington, hadn’t been all bad. At first, it had been kind of wonderful. Until it wasn’t anymore. She made a little dismissive sound. “Yeah, but then I wouldn’t have Lucas, and I’d be living far away from here.” Turning to Jo, she gave her sister wide eyes and teased, “Like you’re getting ready to do!”

The kid in question came through the front gate before Jo could respond, dragging his heels and looking beat down to his socks. Jenny’s heart turned mushy at Luke’s disheveled appearance, his chestnut hair awry, his sweatshirt damp and grubby. He was earning video game money helping out at the marina, and knowing her grandfather, Roy Weaver, she was certain he’d worked hard for it. “Hey, dude. Looks like you could use a shower and some food.”

“I’m wiped.” Luke dropped down on the step next to Jo. “Grandpa Mark isn’t so tough, but Grandpa-Great sure is.”

Jen chuckled. “Yeah, I remember. Grandpa Roy can be a real fierce boss.”

Jo ruffled Luke’s hair. “Detailing boats is hard work, kiddo. What did he have you on?”

Luke leaned his head against the porch post. “The shop vac.” He closed his eyes briefly. “Man, if I missed a tiny piece of anything, he made me go back and redo the whole carpet. Nine boats, Mom. Nine. My shoulders hurt.”

Jenny rose. “Shower first or food? We have some stuff left.” She tilted her head toward the charcuterie board on the low table in front of the settee.

Luke brightened up, but only slightly. “Any of that sausage left?”

Jazz held up the tray. “A few slices. Come get something to eat.”

Jen patted his back as he slipped past her to plop on the sofa next to his auntie Jazz and started picking at what was left on the board.

With an affectionate smile, Jenny sat back down, reached into the small cooler beside her, and handed her son a frosty bottle of water. “Here, babe, drink up. Then you can get a shower and fall into bed. Do you have any homework?”

His mouth full of sausage and cheese, he simply shook his head, and Jenny watched in amazement as her son finished off everything left on the tray, except the pickles, which he hated.

Lucas was built exactly like his father—tall for his age and sturdy, already showing signs of the burly man he would one day become. Jen felt a moment of regret that Tuff was missing out on so much of his son’s life, but she’d had no choice. She simply could no longer be near Tuff in Florida. He’d made Lucas’s and her lives miserable with his cruel rebukes, followed by weepy, drunken apologies, making promises and then never showing up to get Luke when it was his time to have his son. He’d made only half-hearted objections when she’d floated the idea of returning to River’s Edge to be near her family. Both she and Luke were so much happier here.

And now her family was changing again. Jenny gazed over at her son’s tousled head before turning her eyes on her sister, Jo, whose countenance reflected exactly how blissful she was to be going off to Durham, North Carolina, with her love. Even through the tinge of envy that Jen couldn’t deny, she was truly happy for Jo and for her other sister, Jazz, whose life had turned upside down for the better when she returned to River’s Edge on New Year’s Eve and renewed her relationship with her high school sweetheart, Eli Walker. Everyone was in love. Everyone but her.

Professor Gabriel Dawson fidgeted in the St. Mark’s Emergency Room waiting area, anxious to get back to wherever his mom had been taken a half hour earlier. He rose and paced the length of the room, peering into the windows on the double swinging doors to the treatment rooms, wondering what would happen if he just stormed the place and demanded to see her.

“Gabe!” His sister, Christine, hurried toward him, her light-brown hair flying around her head like a halo. Clearly, she’d come straight from her job at Posey Pushers flower shop. A dark-green apron embroidered with the shop name covered her long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans, a bright orange flower drooped out of the apron’s deep front pouch, and a piece of some kind of fern dangled in her hair above her ear. “What happened? What are you doing here? How did you get contacted before me?” She threw her arms around him, even as she peppered him with questions.

Gabe tugged her into his arms, relishing the warm hug from his sister. Round as a wren and only reaching his shoulder, she was one of his very favorite people. Just being in Chris’s presence always had a magical calming effect. He held on a bit longer than he might have ordinarily, and when she pulled away, her green eyes were full of concern and more than a little fear. No doubt she wasn’t used to her brother seeming in the least needy.

He plucked the fern from her hair, handed it to her, and led her over to a row of vinyl chairs by the window, where the afternoon sun shone through onto the immaculate tile floor. “I got to the house just as the ambulance arrived,” he explained. “I’m here to check out a dig down the river a ways—some workman found what they think might be a Shawnee settlement or encampment in the cliffs while they were digging foundations for the new condos that are going in about a few miles east of town. What makes it interesting is they’re finding both indigenous and Colonial artifacts all over the place up there and—”

Chris squeezed his arm—hard. “Gabe? Mom?”

Gabe’s heart fell. Dammit. He hadn’t meant to lose track, but the discovery in the cliffs above the Ohio River was the most exciting archaeological find he’d heard about in several years, and he already knew Mom was hurt, but okay—Chris didn’t. He shook his head and came back to the here-and-now. “Right. She’s been back there for about thirty minutes. She was cleaning the gutters on the back of the house, which I told her last night I would take care of when I got here today.”

Chris cringed. “I told her Jeremy and I would do it this weekend. So she fell off the ladder?”

“Yeah, and landed half on the deck and half in the roses she’d just trimmed back. Fortunately, she turned instead of landing flat on her back, but her leg is definitely broken and possibly also her arm.”

“Oh, God.” Chris sighed. “Gabe. What are we going to do with her? She’s only fifty-four, but she still doesn’t belong up on a twelve-foot ladder, scraping crap out of her gutters. Daddy always did that and—”

“And she’s determined to do everything the way Dad would have done it. Even if it means she breaks her neck in the process,” Gabe finished with a sigh.

“She’s going to have to move in with me while she heals,” Chris declared, already strategizing, which was her way. As the older of the two and the one who’d stayed in River’s Edge, she’d always been mature for her age. She chewed her lower lip. “Maybe we can move a bed into the dining room, although, dammit, I don’t have a shower on the first floor. We’ll simply have to—”

He touched her arm. “Sis, slow down. If she’s broken both her arm and her leg, I imagine they’ll put her into rehab for a while. Wait until we know what’s going on. Besides, Mom is the one who decides what she wants to do.” He grinned. “She is a grown-up. We’ll figure it out . . . all three of us . . . together.”

Dr. Lauren Mitchell-Lange shoved through the double doors just then, her face unreadable. “Chris!” She came over to where they sat and tugged Chris up into a hug. Gabe rose too. He didn’t know Lauren well, although he’d graduated from River’s Edge High with her brother-in-law, Ryker Lange, and knew her husband, Rye’s younger brother, Max, slightly. He’d met her briefly when he was home for his fifteen-year high school reunion in June, and she seemed pleasant, although distracted and tired from doing her ER residency.

She released Chris and gave Gabe a nod and a smile. “Okay, here’s what we know for sure. Claire has fractured her tibia and possibly crushed her shoulder. She’s headed down to radiology so we can get some pictures of what we’re dealing with. The tibia isn’t a compound fracture. There’s no bone sticking through the skin, but we think it may be comminuted and”—she paused when Chris held up one hand for her to slow down—“broken in at least three places,” she clarified.

Gabe’s heart dropped to his socks. “Oh, God. She must be in agony.”

“We’ve given her a touch of pain med so she can get through the X-ray halfway comfortably,” Lauren assured him. “No signs of concussion—she’s awake and clear. She assured us she didn’t hit her head and she didn’t land on her back, which could’ve been disastrous.” She gave them an encouraging smile. “All in all, she’s been pretty lucky, given what could have happened in a fall from a twelve-foot extension ladder.”

Chris gripped Gabe’s bicep so hard, he winced, but he simply slipped his arm away, put it around her, and pulled her close to him. She had to be at least as panicked as he was, but they both needed to hold it together. “So, are we looking at surgery?” he asked.

Lauren nodded. “Most likely for the shoulder and possibly for the leg. We’ll know more when we see the X-rays. We’ve got Sam Carlyle, our ortho surgeon, on standby.” She extended an arm. “Why don’t you guys come back and see her real quick? Then give me your cell numbers and go get some coffee or a late lunch. It’s going to be a while.”

“Will you do surgery right away?” Chris’s eyes shimmered with tears.

“Depends on what we see in the pictures,” Lauren hedged, and Gabe didn’t blame her. They really didn’t have enough information yet. She tipped her blonde head toward the swinging doors. “Come with me.”

Gabe pulled his Land Rover up to the curb on Primrose Lane, slightly down from Jenny Tuffington’s cottage, and peered through the darkness. She was home. There were lights on in the house, which, of course, there would be. It wasn’t that late—only about eight thirty. It seemed late, though, because he’d been at the hospital for hours. This was probably a terrible idea, but he wanted to see Jenny—needed to see her—although he had no idea why. It was instinct, almost as if the Rover had turned up Primrose Lane of its own volition with an exhausted Gabe at the wheel.

A deep breath later, he was out of the car and headed up the sidewalk, leaves crunching under his feet when he opened the wrought iron gate at Jenny’s front yard. The porch light was on, and as he came up the steps, he noticed an empty wine bottle on the settee table, along with three glasses. The cushions on the chairs and settee were crushed and creased, as though folks had been lounging in them. She must have had company earlier—three glasses. Perhaps her sisters. Maybe he should’ve called or texted first.

Well, he was here now, and there was no point in lurking on the shadowed porch. He pressed the doorbell just as the sound of another car spun him around. A sleek, low-slung Corvette came to a stop right in front of the gate, bass thumping from its interior. The person inside—it was definitely a man’s silhouette—sat for a moment, shaking his head to the beat of the blaring music before turning the car off.

Gabe watched with interest as the guy opened the car and hopped out, hip-checked the door shut, and then vaulted over the low gate . . . sort of. Unfortunately, he’d misjudged the height and caught the back of his denim jacket on one of the spikes across the top. “Dammit!” He turned, trying futilely to release the fabric, but he was in an awkward position. With another muttered oath, he slipped his arms out of the sleeves and, as he yanked the jacket free, Gabe heard the sound of ripping denim. That jacket was probably a goner.

As the man drew nearer, he looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t place him—short brown hair, brawny shoulders, a baseball cap, and a belly that hung ever-so-slightly over his belt. Shrugging into his torn jacket, the guy clearly didn’t even realize Gabe was on the porch until he was halfway up the steps. He stopped dead and scowled. “Who the hell are you?”

Gabe squared his shoulders. “I might ask you the same question.”

The man lifted his chin and stepped onto the porch, his sneakers squeaking on the shiny wood floor. “This is Jennifer Tuffington’s house, right?”

“Who wants to know?”

The guy glared at him. “I’m her husband. Who are you?”

Ah-ha, that’s why he looks familiar. It was Ryan “Tuff” Tuffington, the uber-popular football hero in high school, who wouldn’t have so much as glanced in nerdy Gabe Dawson’s direction back then.

“Ex-husband?” Gabe reminded him with a dubious gaze. “I thought Jenny was divorced.”

Tuff merely looked down his nose at Gabe, an expression he’d no doubt mastered in high school and perfected in the ensuing years. “Look, dude, I don’t know who the hell—”

Suddenly, the front door swung open and there was Jenny, dressed in jeans and a Weaver’s Landing Marina sweatshirt, her long hair swept up into a messy bun, and her brandy-colored eyes flashing. “What the hell’s going on out here?”

End of Excerpt

Christmas in River’s Edge is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-961544-16-1

October 23, 2023

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