Second Chance at the Crossing

by

Fiona Marsden

They never dreamed of forever until their lives began falling apart.

Connor O’Brien knew he didn’t deserve happiness. He had cost his family too much. When he fell into a relationship with Daisy Litton, he gave as much as he dared. Every day she was with him was a win, and as long as they had the same vision of the future, he believed he could hold on to her.

And then it all changed.

Daisy Litton fell for Connor the first time they met. He was everything she didn’t deserve, everything she needed. So long as she didn’t need too much. Starting a family was the last thing on her mind.

Until everything changed and she knew she had to leave.

Five years later, Connor still feels responsible for all they lost, so if he can help make Daisy’s return to The Crossing easier, he will. When they recklessly revisit how good they are together, the consequences could ruin everything they are building. Or will it give them a reason to put their hearts on the line, this time forever?

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Prologue

Five years ago

Pregnant!

Daisy looked at the stick, willing the extra line to go away. It didn’t. With exaggerated care, she placed it on the edge of the sink, beside the one with the pink cross. Not good. Not good at all, at all.

For most couples, after nine years together, a surprise pregnancy might be welcome. Daisy was feeling oddly ambivalent. When she and Connor had got together, she’d been eighteen and still looking after her younger sister. She couldn’t imagine ever wanting that responsibility again. Long before their parents passed away, it had been Daisy looking after Molly, making sure she ate and dressed and went to school.

Connor had been up front, right at the beginning, before they were an established item, that children were not in his life plan. He’d never really talked about it, but she’d known from his sister, Moira, that he was the eldest of a big family who’d lost their mum. So he understood about the responsibility thing. They’d had that in common. Not that he wasn’t responsible. He’d helped with Molly as if she were his own kid sister. They’d almost become part of the O’Brien family over the years.

Maybe that was why she felt a sneaking pleasure at the news. The O’Brien family had changed how she looked at family. They were big and boisterous and teased each other, and her, mercilessly. But when it came to the crunch, they had each other’s backs.

It was Connor she was unsure about. Daisy wasn’t sure if he saw their relationship as permanent. Or maybe it was her who was unsure. He didn’t understand her need to pay her way, to be independent. Her fear of getting into debt. She’d felt his frustration in waves when she’d insisted on paying rent when she moved in with him.

The house was Connor’s, free and clear, but she’d had no intention of being a freeloader, just because they were having sex. He’d tried to insist she pay only a token amount, but she’d gone to the local real estate agent. Eleanor had told her what the normal rent was for a house that size, and after she’d cut back on other things, she’d managed to pay half the going rate without fail. It meant she’d had to wait to move in, until she was sure Molly was self-sufficient and settled in her tiny one-bedder.

Connor had stopped nagging then, putting the whole thing in the hands of his solicitor. Daisy had been suspicious at first, because Calvin Cruikshanks was the dad of one of Connor’s football buddies. His explanations of leases and equity and cotenancies had gone over her head. Rather than appear stupid, she’d just signed everything.

It seemed more complicated than the simple rental agreement her parents had had for the little two-bedroom place they’d lived in until Molly decided she wanted her own place. Daisy had simply taken over the lease after their father’s death by signing something at the real estate agent, proving her income, such as it was, along with the government benefits for schoolgirl Molly.

Eleanor had been so kind. They’d known each other at school, though the realtor was younger. Eleanor was just starting out in her parents’ firm, working part time in her last couple of years at school. Looking back, Daisy suspected that Eleanor had persuaded her parents to let them stay on, because Mr Cavallo was known to be tough.

The rent would be a problem. Her income was bound to drop if she had a child to care for. She was stretching as it was to make the lease payments. There was no way she wanted to go to Connor to ask him to change the agreement. It had been their first big fight. If you could call it that. Connor never fought. If voices rose, or someone was aggressive, he simply walked away.

That should have been a comfort, after the way her father had been. He might not have been physically violent, but he’d yelled. A lot. Fear did that to some people. Now, in this situation, she wanted more engagement, not walking away.

The rattle of his old Toyota Troopie coming up the drive sent her heart rate skittering. She scooped up the tests and the wrapping and headed for the kitchen.

It was still half renovated, and the big bin was by the back door. She buried the packaging under the boxes from the wall tiles and tucked the tests in the back pocket of her jeans.

When Connor came in, nose to his mobile phone, she was checking the quiche in the oven. Tell him now. Or wait until after he was fed? Coward.

“Hey, smells good.” He sat his phone on the charging pad on the timber hutch and started unpacking his backpack onto the battered pine table. Connor liked things neat and didn’t put off that kind of stuff. He must have registered her non-response because he looked up, narrow eyed. “Busy day?”

His voice melted her, as always, the warmth settling low in her belly. It wasn’t fair that he could affect her this way after all these years. “Kind of. I was looking after Ewan and Naomi’s kids while she went to the doctor. Naomi is pregnant again.” She tried to gulp back the words, but it was too late.

He stiffened. “Already? I thought they were going to wait before thinking about another one.”

“She’s over five months gone, so it wasn’t just baby fat from the last one. It was an accident. At least, that’s what Naomi said when I saw her at lunchtime.”

Connor snorted. “She makes a habit of it. The other two were ‘accidents’ too.”

Big mistake to start Connor off on that. He’d been scathing about Naomi trapping Ewan into marriage when they were barely out of school. Said he didn’t believe in convenient accidents. She glanced at the clock, avoiding his eyes. “Are you ready to eat? It’s ready when you are.”

His scowl smoothed out and her heartbeat steadied, then kicked up again at the quirk at the corner of his mouth. “A shower first, if that’s okay? I’ve been a grease monkey most of the day. I feel like I’ve absorbed enough oil to lubricate the entire bus fleet.”

He headed for the hall, detouring to drop a light kiss on the top of her head. “I won’t be long.”

Her hand automatically reached out, but he was gone, his booted feet sounding on the polished wood of the floors.

Glad of the reprieve, she put out the salad and condiments, with the plates and cutlery already on the table. With her stomach in knots, eating was going to be a challenge.

True to his word, he was back in ten minutes. He was dressed for comfort in worn jeans that clung to his thighs and one of his green T-shirts with the band logo, that turned his hazel eyes green.

For the first couple of minutes, food absorbed his interest to the exclusion of anything else. “I missed lunch. One of the school buses broke down, and I had to fix it in time for the afternoon run. By then it was too busy to do anything else.”

It always surprised her that Connor got down and dirty with the bus engines. He ran the depot as part of the O’Brien conglomerate of local transport and he could have organised one of the other mechanics to do the grungy jobs. He’d told her he enjoyed it. Which she could understand in context. She derived just as much satisfaction from the messy and smelly parts of her leatherwork business, as she did from the fine detail work on the leather artefacts she made.

When he pushed his plate away, she knew she had run out of time. The longer she put it off, the worse it was going to be.

“Coffee?”

“Later. I’ll have some water now.” He poured some from the jug on the table and leaned back in his chair.

Daisy leapt to her feet and gathered the empty dishes and cutlery. “I’ll take your plate.”

Connor had completed the renovation of the sink and bench under the window only a week ago. It made it easier to busy herself with the washing up, conscious of Connor watching her with a crease to his brow.

Draining his glass, he brought it over to place it on the draining board. “What’s bugging you, Daiz?”

“I guess I was thinking about the future. About us.” She could see his features reflected in the window, surprisingly clear against the outside darkness.

His brows drew together. “What about us?”

“I was thinking about Naomi and her kids. Cor … another friend is pregnant too. Did you ever think about what it might be like to have a family, children?”

“You’re putting the cart before the horse, aren’t you?”

She turned to face him, leaning one hip against the bench. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“Doesn’t marriage usually come before having kids?”

“Not necessarily.” She grabbed the handtowel hooked over the cupboard doorknob. “It was a general question.”

“About having kids. I thought we’d gone through all this when we first moved in together. Before that, even.”

Right. “Except that was years ago. Things change. People change.”

He scraped a hand through his bristly short hair. He’d kept it short from his time in the army, and it made him look tough. Invulnerable. Especially as he wasn’t a smiley type. He always looked sombre. With his chin outthrust, like now, he was even a bit intimidating.

“Look, Daiz. That hasn’t changed for me. I told you I never wanted kids. If you’re getting clucky because all your friends are preggers, that’s your issue. I don’t want that kind of responsibility. I swore I’d never put a woman through pregnancy long before I met you. You know that. You’ve always known.”

“Yes. But … Never?”

“What the fuck has gotten into you? You agreed with me at the time. It was you who brought up the subject. No kids. You wouldn’t have full sex after that first night until you’d been to the doctor for medical protection. Even then, we always used condoms for backup if you were sick or something was out of kilter. Not that I’m complaining. We were both on the same page about kids. At least we were back then.”

And their diligence had worked for nine years. One slip-up and she was stuffed. “What would you have done if we messed up? If I’d got pregnant.”

His eyes glinted. He wasn’t exactly angry, but she could see the tension in the tucked-up corners of his mouth and the tic on the side of his jaw. “You better not be planning to pull that one on me. That’s fucking low, to trick a guy into being a parent.”

Nausea swirled in her stomach, sending the taste of bile to the back of her throat. At least he hadn’t mentioned termination, but he was still enough of an O’Brien to keep that choice off the table. Except that left no options that didn’t involve alienating Connor. She felt for the test cartridges with her fingers and pushed them deeper into her pocket.

She huffed out a sigh, letting it go. “No. I wouldn’t do that, Connor. I would never force you into something you don’t want.”

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping March 28, 2024

Second Chance at the Crossing is currently available in digital format only:

ISBN: 978-1-962707-27-5

March 28, 2024

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