Bourbon Falls, Book 3
Release Date:

Apr 4, 2024

ISBN:

978-1-961544-92-5

More From Kyra →

Once Upon a Summer Night

by

Kyra Jacobs

Home is a refuge—but is it always the right choice?

Hannah Brooks left home eight summers ago to help her friend Beth hide a surprise pregnancy. Their unplanned adventure also helped her escape from beneath her fire chief father’s thumb. Now Beth has died and Hannah faces a brewing custody battle for Noah, the boy she helped raise from birth. It’s time to return to Bourbon Falls and make amends with the family she loves and needs.

Chase Redding finally gave up hope of ever seeing Hannah again, and is focused on being part owner of Oak Barrel Farms and climbing the ranks in his firefighting career. But now that she’s back, he’ll do anything to convince her to stay in their hometown, even if it means sharing his beloved fire station.

But amid their budding romance at Brooks Farm, family tensions resurface and the custody suit takes a turn for the worst. It’s going to take a little summertime magic to keep Hannah and Chase’s happily ever after from slipping away a second time.

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Chapter One

Hannah Brooks cruised eastbound on US 30 the first Friday in June, brimming with excitement. It’d been two years since she’d taken any time off from work to relax and nearly a year since she’d had a legit girls’ night out. But this weekend she would refill her soul with some much-needed laughter, shopping, and winery visits. Who knew? Maybe she’d even meet the man of her dreams while they were out with the other night owls. And if that wasn’t reason enough to be in high spirits, the new position she’d been advocating for at work for nearly a year was finally happening. She was so close to having it now, she could practically taste it.

“Do I have to stay with them?”

Her gaze shifted to the shaggy-haired seven-year-old in her rearview mirror. “I thought you were looking forward to spending time with Grandma and Grandpa.”

“But I don’t know them very well,” Noah said. “Can’t you stay, too?”

Guilt pricked her heart. But this was for the best, for both of them. She needed the single-mom recharge, and he needed to bond with the grandparents that had just entered his life.

“They want to spend some quality time with just you, buddy. Besides, I’ll be back tomorrow night to pick you up and then we’ll have the rest of the week together to do whatever you want.”

His little shoulders fell. “Okay.”

“You’re going to have an awesome time, Noah, I promise. Why, you’ll probably be spoiled rotten by the time I see you tomorrow.”

“Do you think they’ll have ice cream?”

“I told them to stock up because you’re an ice cream monster.” She reached back to tickle his closest leg, which sent him into a fit of giggles. Oh, how that sound made her heart soar. “You getting hungry yet? I see signs for a Wendy’s up ahead.”

“Yes, please. And I gotta go.”

No shocker there. Seven or not, this kid had come with a chipmunk-sized bladder. No matter, the stop would let her reach out to Stan and Cindy Wiggman and let them know she and Noah were only about forty minutes away.

Hannah exited the highway and navigated her Jeep to their lunch destination. As Noah sprinted for the restroom, she pulled out her phone to send Stan a text. He’d been designated the point of contact when they first connected this spring, since Cindy didn’t carry her phone much. That’d been a relief to Hannah; Cindy seemed nice enough, but there was something in her tone that always left Hannah feeling a little…judged. Could be nothing, but she didn’t complain when Stan suggested she send her texts to him.

Oh, shoot, she’d missed a text from him an hour ago.

Really appreciate you remaining committed to our weekend visit. I can imagine that notice from the court was a bit of a surprise, but we feel it’s best for everyone.

Notice? What notice?

On a frown, Hannah dug into her purse and withdrew the stack of mail she’d grabbed from their mailbox on the way out. Getting the mail and paying the bills had always been Beth’s job. Though it’d been six months since her dear friend from high school—and Noah’s mother—had passed, Hannah was still struggling to incorporate mailbox duty into her new daily routine. As it was, she was lucky to empty that dumb box once a week.

She started flipping through the stack.

Bill.

Flier suggesting she switch internet providers.

Bill.

More fliers.

Large manilla envelope, folded to fit in the box. Her hands went clammy at the return address: Circuit Court of Kankakee County, Family Services Division.

“Did you order yet?”

Hannah looked up to find Noah had returned. “Uh, no, I was waiting on you. Did you wash your hands?”

He dropped his head and made an about-face for the restroom, giving Hannah time to tear open the envelope. Maybe it was an update on her filing to move from being Noah’s legal guardian to his adoptive mother. It was possible the whole thing had gone through faster than expected, wasn’t it?

The first page proved both notions wrong.

Hannah sank into the closest booth, trying to process it all. The Wiggmans had filed to block her adoption request, citing an intention to adopt their grandson themselves. Stan and Cindy were trying to take Noah from her. But she was the only remaining person in this world that had been a part of his life since day one! The one who knew his favorite cartoons, his favorite things to do at the park. Knew which words he struggled to spell and which types of math problems he excelled at. Knew which bedtime stories to read and which were still off limits.

All the things Beth’s baby daddy should have known but never wanted to. Never wanted to accept responsibility for, either. And now his parents suddenly wanted to step in and try to take Noah away?

She pounded a fist on the table before her. “Sonofabitch!”

Heads turned in the order line, but Hannah didn’t care. They weren’t the ones about to lose the one person in this world that mattered most to them. She was.

Like hell I am. If the Wiggmans think I’m going down without a fight, they have another thing coming.

But how? How was she going to fight this? She didn’t have an attorney or a bunch of extra cash lying around to hire one. Heck, most of the extra money she did have socked away had gone to taking care of Beth toward the end.

It was times like these, Hannah missed her the most. Beth would know what to do. Damned cancer. Why couldn’t it have taken her instead? Not stolen Noah’s mother and the level-headed adult among them.

“All clean. See?” He reappeared at her side, two clean and still visibly damp hands extended before him.

Hannah forced a smile as she shoved the mail back into her purse. No way was she sharing this news with Noah, not until she’d had time to process it herself. “Much better, thank you. Come on, let’s get some food.”

The line ahead of them was longer now—a few businessmen on their lunch break, a mother and father with two wiggly toddlers, and a white-haired grandma with her granddaughter. That image had Hannah seeing red again. She’d trusted the Wiggmans, had agreed to connect with them because it was what Beth would have wanted. Lord knew, their son never had. So, Hannah had acted in good faith, and what had it gotten her?

Stabbed in the back.

Noah asked her a question and wrapped his arms around her waist. She glanced down to find him batting his eyes, and she knew without asking that he’d just requested a Frosty with his meal. Lord, he looked so much like his mama with his green eyes and freckle-dotted nose. Like she could ever tell the kid no.

Nor could she ever willingly hand him off to anyone else. Regardless of biology, Hannah was his family, not the Wiggmans. There had to be a way to keep him, to see her adoption through. But how?

There’s nothing more important than family. Nothing…

Echoes of the last conversation she’d had with her father sent a shiver down her spine. Hannah looked to the restaurant’s broad, east-facing windows. Their travels today had brought them uncomfortably close to her hometown, the place she couldn’t wait to escape eight summers ago. It was also a place that, in the past, had been full of family and support. And damn, she could sure use a little of both right now.

But could she do it? Could she go back and face the family she’d run from to now ask for their forgiveness and help?

Did she even have a choice?

Standing in the middle of a Wendy’s restaurant with a giant question mark dangling over her future with Noah, Hannah knew she was in over her head. She needed help, needed someone to throw her a lifeline, and there was only one person left in her life she could count on to do it without condemnation. The calmest, strongest woman she knew, able to handle anything life threw at her without so much as flinching.

Aunt Faye.

She gave Noah’s sleeve a tug and stepped out of line. “Hey, buddy, I just remembered there’s an even better place to eat lunch not too far from here.”

“But—”

“And they have desserts with real ice cream.”

That was all it took to get Noah angling for the door. Soon they were back on the highway, her pulse quickening with every mile they drew nearer to State Road 331. Suddenly, it was there, opening to the right…and she was easing her Jeep off the interstate.

God, was she really doing this? Was she really going back?

Yes, she had to. They would stop and see Aunt Faye before grabbing a bite at the Sweet Mash. There was no one in this world that she trusted more, which is why she’d secretly kept in touch with her over the years. Surely, her aunt could offer Hannah some advice on how to handle this custody mess, and how to word her response to Stan that Noah would, in fact, not be staying with them this weekend.

Also? Her aunt always gave the best hugs and Hannah could really use one right now, especially with her long-awaited weekend plans getting hijacked. But she’d sacrifice her plans before risking the Wiggmans taking Noah and not giving him back, any day. Surely, her friends would understand.

“Bourbon Falls?” said Noah, reading the town’s welcome sign.

“Yep. It’s where I lived when I was your age.”

“Really?”

She nodded as fields of soybeans gave way to suburban properties. “Sure is. Smaller than Kankakee, but lots of train stuff here, too.”

“Cool.”

Hannah swallowed hard as the all-too-familiar intersection of 11B came into view. If she took a right, a mile to the west it would tee into Elm—the road she’d grown up on and where her father and aunt still lived. Faye said they had ducklings on the farm now, which Noah would love. For now, Hanna stayed on 331, which would soon turn into Main Street, Brooks Books her intended destination before grabbing lunch at the Sweet Mash. She just prayed her father wasn’t at either location.

Eight years, and she still wasn’t ready to face him.

The old brick buildings downtown looked mostly the same, though a few of the shops had changed names. Mrs. Thompson’s bakery had received a facelift and was now someplace called the Coffey Still, and the bank had changed names again, though that used to happen every couple of years. And were those updated streetlamps?

Soon the two-story brick building came into view that housed Haines Hardware on one side and her family’s bookstore on the other—a place Hannah had spent many, many hours at as a child. She eased into an angled parking space before it and drank in the view; it was one of the few places she’d missed while away.

The front door to Brooks Books was still the same Wedgwood blue their father had painted it all those years ago, but someone had since painted the display casing trim on either side of it to match. Longing gave her heart a squeeze at the sight of her mother’s beloved rocking chair in one of the cases, a beautiful patchwork quilt draped over its back and a stack of Golden Books on its seat. In the display window on the door’s other side was a small wooden table with neatly arranged collections for their adult audience: romances, mysteries, Westerns, and more.

“Hey, this place has your name on it!”

“Gonna be your name soon, too, buddy,” she said, struggling to keep her voice even. “Come on, let’s go see if my Aunt Faye is working.”

“Is she nice?”

“My Aunt Faye?” The question made her smile. “She’s the nicest. And she’s going to love you, I promise. They all will.”

Noah, she was certain, would be instantly adored by her entire family. Even her father, once he got past the shock. Hannah, on the other hand, had no idea what any of their responses would be to her unexpected return. Heck, she hadn’t even had time to process how she would feel about it.

Just as she pushed her Jeep door open, the front door to Brooks Books swung wide. A tall, lean man stepped out, his sandy-blond hair brushing the collar of his gray logo’d T-shirt. Hannah froze in her seat.

He was a fireman, just like her father.

“Thanks again, Faye!” the man called with a wave, sliding aviator sunglasses into place. He looked Hannah’s way, tipped his head in acknowledgment with a smile, and continued north toward the firehouse. A few steps farther, he looked back, caught her watching, and faced forward once more on a grin.

She stared after him for another half block, trying to shake the feeling of recognition. It couldn’t be who she thought it was. He’d never have let his hair get that long.

Hannah pushed those thoughts aside and stepped from her Jeep, thankful nonetheless for her own dark sunglasses. With her dark hair no longer trailing to the small of her back but rather to the nape of her neck, and more muscle on her frame than when she’d last lived here, she doubted anyone would recognize her with shades on. Besides, it was her eyes that always gave her away.

Irises green on the outside and blue at their centers—just like her mother’s.

She helped Noah from the back and, taking his hand, led him to the front door of Brooks Books. There, she paused to take a fortifying breath.

“It’s okay, Hannah. She’s the nicest, remember?”

She looked to sweet Noah and mustered a brave smile for her little boy. “That she is. Come on, I’d love for you to meet her.”

They stepped inside, the subtle smell of old books greeting her senses. Hannah scanned the bookstore, and though the new arrivals table held different books, its layout was virtually identical to how she remembered it. Fond memories called to her from every inch of the room. Playing hide-and-seek behind those island shelves. Reading for hours on that braided carpet in the kids’ section. Sneaking ice cream cones in after closing time with Chase, who was forever stalling going home after his shift next door at Haines.

“Welcome to Brooks Books,” called a familiar voice from deeper inside the store. “I’ll be right with you.”

Joy bubbled up inside Hannah. She hurried forward to find Aunt Faye with her back to them, on a small step stool and reaching for something on a high shelf behind the checkout counter. Her aunt’s dark-auburn hair had a significant amount of gray now woven through it—a reminder that the clock hadn’t stopped in Bourbon Falls while she’d been away.

“I was actually wondering if you had a book on the history of this store?” Hannah asked.

“You know, I was just telling my niece on the phone a while back that I should write that book.” She finished what she was doing, returned to ground level, and turned to find Hannah grinning at her. Faye’s hand flew to her chest. “Oh, my heavens. Hannah!”

She raced around the counter to pull Hannah into a tight hug. There, encircled in the arms that had helped her through her own loss at Noah’s age, Hannah felt safe. Optimistic. Hopeful. Like maybe returning to Bourbon Falls hadn’t been such a bad idea after all.

She prayed that feeling would continue.

Chase Redding handed the newly purchased T. G. Wolff mystery over to his buddy at the firehouse and walked back to the front window, unable to shake the feeling that he knew the woman in the Jeep from somewhere. He hadn’t gotten the best look at her, with the sun blinding him as he stepped out of Brooks Books, but the drop to her jaw made him think maybe she recognized him, too. Which made zero sense—that purple Jeep was as unfamiliar to him as its driver.

A former cadet, maybe? Or someone he’d taken ballooning, before Delaney Brooks had approached him about going into business together at Oak Barrel Farms Landscaping? Old man Tipfer had worked him to the bone those few years he’d done the hot air balloon schtick, taking hundreds of people up, up, and away.

And there had been some lookers among them, too. Oh, yes. Lookers he hadn’t wanted to chase back then because Hannah Brooks still owned his heart. But as the years passed and she hadn’t returned to Bourbon Falls, her hold on him had waned. Unfortunately, no one had yet to make him feel like she ever did.

Maybe this woman would be different.

“Any word on the chief?”

Chase turned to find Joey Martinez approaching, a dishtowel over his shoulder. It was Joey’s day to do the cooking, which the firehouse always benefited from. “Not yet. I think his appointment over in Warsaw isn’t until three.”

Chase said a quick prayer for Chief Brooks’s daughter Mia, who had bravely volunteered to transport him to the follow-up. She had the mothering experience to get him there safely and the patience needed to deal with her old man, whose fuse was shorter than usual after last week’s fall. Considering his accident happened at the biggest industrial fire this town had seen in decades; the chief was lucky to have gotten out at all.

Even so, that still didn’t seem to make the chief any less irritated about his broken femur, or the fact that he was stuck at a rehab facility for at least another week. Possibly more, depending on how today’s recheck went.

Joey nodded but didn’t leave, instead turning to face the front window with his arms crossed over his chest. “Any news on whether they’re sending a temp to fill in for him?”

“Not yet.” Hopefully, there wouldn’t be one. Chase felt he was holding down the fort just fine. Besides, this was the perfect opportunity to show the higher ups that he was primed and ready to step into Stephen Brooks’s role when their chief finally decided to retire. When that would be, though, no one seemed to know. Chase met his buddy’s gaze. “But if they do, I need everyone to play nice so we can keep the big dogs out of here. Too many cooks spoil the pot, remember?”

“It’s still gonna suck,” Joey murmured.

“With an attitude like that, I’m sure it will.” Chase leveled a look at his buddy…and they both broke into laughter.

“You had to go and get all schoolteacher on me, didn’t ya?” Joe said.

Chase shrugged. “It’s what us sorry saps wanting to climb the ladder do.”

“Pfft, that coaching stuff is all you, man. I’ll stay behind the wheel, away from all that paperwork and crap.”

Chase watched Joey retreat to the kitchen, then turned his gaze to the window once more. Upper management wasn’t for everyone, and he didn’t judge his peers for the choices they made—each had their reasons behind why they did what they did. His had everything to do with the man who’d been more of a father to him growing up than his own had been. Chief Brooks was his mentor and his friend, and he couldn’t think of a better way to honor him than following in his footsteps at the station.

A grin tugged at his lips. Funny, growing up he’d only ever dreamed of getting the hell out of this town and away from his shitty upbringing. All it took was shadowing the chief for one day after high school, though, and he’d been hooked. Firefighting was what he’d been born to do.

Now all he needed was to find that special someone and start a family of his own. So far, no fairy godmother had appeared to fix all of that with a swish of her magic wand. But he hadn’t given up looking yet.

His thoughts wandered back to the woman in the Jeep. Was she new to town? Just passing through?

And why did he feel so strongly that he’d seen her somewhere before?

He mumbled an excuse to the others and headed back out the door. It was a perfect Indiana summer day—not a cloud in the sky or firecracker in the air. The only likely reason they’d get called out on a run was for a car accident, and since it was nearly two in the afternoon, the chances of that were slim.

The walk to Brooks Books passed quickly, and soon he was ducking out of the bright sunlight and back into Faye’s cozy shop. She’d sure done her sister-in-law proud, carrying on Gretchen’s legacy with their little bookstore. It was a staple in town, drawing people in from all over the region during their fundraisers and charity events. The big box stores had definitely taken a bite out of her revenue, but somehow Brooks Books always seemed to pull through.

Chase removed his sunglasses and moseyed farther inside, his eyes slowly adjusting to the dimmer lighting. As luck would have it, the mystery woman was up at the front counter talking with Faye. She was petite but lean, those denim shorts showing off some mighty fine curves. All he had to do was walk up there and pretend to need to talk with Faye, too, and he’d finally get a good look at her face. Curiosity pushed him forward.

“Hi.”

Chase’s gaze followed the sound to a small, freckle-nosed boy seated cross-legged on the rug in the children’s book section.

“Hey, buddy,” Chase said with a nod, on a mission to get to that front counter before the mystery woman could disappear.

“Are you a fireman?”

Chase paused. He was in uniform; it was his duty to always make a good impression on the townsfolk, especially the young ones. “I’m Captain Redding,” he said with a nod. “But you can call me Chase.”

The little boy pointed to the logo on Chase’s shirt. “My mom’s a captain in our town, too. Well, my new mom. My real mom is in heaven now.”

It never ceased to amaze Chase how kids just said whatever was on their mind, no beating around the bush. And man, this little dude had clearly been through a lot. It brought back memories of his own crumby childhood. He knelt beside the boy and offered him a kind smile. “I’m sorry to hear that, buddy. I bet you miss her, don’t you?”

The little boy looked to the floor with a nod. “Yeah. But Hannah says she’s not hurting anymore in heaven, and that I’ll get to see her when I get there, too.”

Chases’s heart clenched as it always did when he heard that name. Would he ever stop missing her? “Well, your Hannah sounds like a very smart lady.”

“She sure is.” The little boy’s eyes lit up. “Wanna meet her? She’s right over here.”

He hopped to his feet and made for the front counter, Chase following on a chuckle.

“Hannah, look—I found a fireman!”

Up ahead, the brunette across from Faye turned to face them. Surprise had Chase stopping in his tracks. It wasn’t just any Hannah who was opening her arms to welcome the little boy. It was their Hannah, all grown up.

“Han?”

Her eyes widened. “Chase?”

On a squeal, she ran to him and jumped into his outstretched arms. He swung her around, and for a moment they were kids again, the best of friends with their whole lives ahead of them. Lives they’d planned to stay connected in no matter what.

“You know him?” the boy asked.

“Know him?” she said, laughing as Chase lowered her to the ground. “Are you kidding? This big oaf was my best friend growing up! We did everything together!”

God, she looked amazing. Vibrant. Full of life. Then again, Hannah always had.

“So, wait—the kid said you’re a fire captain, too?” he asked. Beside them, her aunt grinned and Chase’s jaw dropped. “And you knew?”

“Sure am. And don’t be mad at Aunt Faye. I had her sworn to secrecy,” said Hannah, laughing. “Besides, at least when I reached out to her, she wrote me back.”

What was that supposed to mean? Before he could ask, the little boy came to stand beside Hannah, clearly trying to make sense of it all. That’s when Chase realized who the boy looked like. He tipped his head to the little guy.

“Hannah, is that who I think it is?”

Her smile sobered. “Yep, this is Beth’s baby, all grown up. Noah, meet Chase. Chase, this is Noah.”

“Nice to meet you, Noah.”

“Hi.”

My real mom is in heaven now…

Oh no. No, no, no. Maybe he’d heard wrong. Maybe he’d misunderstood. “But where is—?”

“Gone six months next week.” Hannah’s grip tightened on Noah, whose gaze fell to the floor. “Ugly rare cancer, just couldn’t beat it.”

“Oh no. Not sweet Beth.” He stepped forward to pull her into a gentler hug. “Han, I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks. Me, too.” She held on to him tightly with one arm, her other still holding on to Noah. Chase rested his cheek on her crown, wishing he could have seen Beth one more time. That he could have been there for them, even if it was only to visit. But after missing their runaway rendezvous point after graduation, the two girls had vanished into the night without a trace.

“So, you all lived together?” he asked, hoping to lighten the mood as he released Hannah.

She swiped a hand under each eye and forced a smile. “Sure did. Stayed in Indiana for a few years, worked a handful of jobs trying to find something I enjoyed. When Beth got tired of going fire chasing with me every time a siren rang out, she suggested I look at fire department openings. It only made sense. I mean, I’d grown up in a station, so my guess was I’d have a leg up on everyone. Turns out, I was right. Passed all my certifications in Kankakee, Illinois, when I turned twenty-one, so we found a cute little duplex on the edge of town near a small park and made that home these past five years.”

Ah yes, fire chasing. Hannah used to live for that. How many times had they hopped in his beater truck and sped after the fire trucks around here when they were in high school?

“Nice.” Chase met Noah’s gaze and asked in a whisper, “Does she still snore?”

A conspiratorial grin lit on the boy’s lips as he offered a sheepish nod.

“Hey!” Hannah jabbed Chase in the ribcage. “That’s the thanks I get for all those sleepovers? You making fun of me?”

“You know I’m only kidding.” He hauled her into a headlock, mussing her hair. “Besides, I haven’t been able to tease you in almost a decade. Have some catching up to—”

His cell phone came alive. On a soft curse, Chase realized he’d been gone a little longer than intended. He answered, hoping it was nothing.

“Hey, Mister Chief Wannabe, you planning on working today or just hanging out at the bookstore?” Joey asked.

“I’m on my way back, why?”

“Good, because we’ve got a single vehicle accident at Ecker and Center. Our guess is someone from third shift stayed a little too long at the Legion again.”

Damn drunks, this was starting to get out of hand. “Swing by and pick me up on the way, I’m heading outside.”

He disconnected and threw the others an apologetic smile.

“Go, we get it,” Hannah said.

“How long are you staying?” he asked, backing toward the door.

She shrugged. “Not sure yet.”

“Well, you know where I’ll be after this run. Just promise you won’t leave without telling me good-bye.”

She crossed her arms over her chest on a smirk. “I promise.”

Grinning, he hurried for the door. Fire engine one was just pulling to a stop along the curb as he stepped out into the blinding sunlight. He scrambled inside, chest swelling with pride—their crew had mobilization down to a science.

“What’s wrong with your face?” Dylan Campbell asked as Chase buckled up. “You’re smiling like a kid at Christmas.”

Maybe that was because today felt a whole lot like Christmas, and Santa had finally come through with the gift he’d been requesting for eight years now.

He played off his excitement with a shrug. “No reason.”

As the truck sped off, Chase watched the bookstore fade into the distance. Holy crap, Hannah was back. Even if it was just for today, that she’d come back at all was huge. Because one trip would hopefully open the door to more. Now they just needed to find a way to convince her to stay…and keep the chief from running her off a second time.

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping April 4, 2024

Once Upon a Summer Night is currently available in digital format only:

ISBN: 978-1-961544-92-5

April 4, 2024

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