The Road Back Home

Second Chances, Book 5
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Can her family forgive what she can’t forgive herself?

(A companion to The House That Love Built, a different perspective of the story seen through Ria’s eyes and going beyond)

Ria Channing ran from a tragedy of her own making six years ago, a pariah in the family and home that were once perfect…until she destroyed them.

But a deathbed promise to her only friend forces her to return for the sake of the grandson her parents have never met. Homeless, hungry and worn out from fighting for survival, she carries with her no expectation of forgiveness—only heartfelt hope that the house that love built will welcome and care for her child, if not his bad seed mother.

Sandor Wolfe owes much to Ria’s mother Cleo Channing after she gave him a job and space to work on his sculpting. There is nothing he wouldn’t do to protect her from the thankless daughter who has hurt her so deeply and now threatens the life she has rebuilt from the ashes of the old.

What he doesn’t expect from the demon daughter is to find a vulnerability that touches him and an unexpected courage as she valiantly tries to make up for all she has cost the family she destroyed.

The battle is one she seems destined to lose, and Sandor finds himself torn between love and loyalty, with the stakes being his friend’s broken heart and a valiant, fragile woman’s survival.

Click here to read an excerpt

The first thousand miles out of L.A., Ria Channing spun tales of thrilling adventures in store for her bright-eyed four-year-old son, Benjy.

The next five hundred, she tried to convince herself.

The last leg of the endless trip, head achy and light from denying herself food so her child could eat, Ria alternated between terror and fury.

It won’t work, Dog Boy. You shouldn’t have made me promise. My parents have never forgiven me, and that won’t change. The wrong child had died six years ago, the golden one, David. The Son.

But her only friend was beyond hearing now.

Unfortunately, she could still hear him.

Go home. Make…your peace, He’d gasped. Carrot curls, dark with sweat. Pale eyes fever shiny.

The mere thought of returning had her blood roaring in her ears. I can’t. They hate me.

Your son has no father.  Benjy needs…family. Safe…place. Go home, Ria, back to Austin. Promise.

You don’t understand what you’re asking. After a lifetime of mistakes, I committed the final, unpardonable one: I killed their favorite.

Try, Ria. Give them a chance. Grant yourself one.

She’d wanted so badly to ignore him. To run away. Again.

But she owed him everything. He’d saved her life. Preserved her son’s.

On the long-ago night, she’d fled from home with no idea of her destination.  At the Austin bus station, she’d met Dog Boy, who was headed to L.A. Though barely seventeen to her twenty-one, he was streetwise beyond his age; he’d been her mentor, teaching her how to maneuver through a world her protected existence had never even imagined. He’d been brother and friend and father when no one else cared.

At his bedside six weeks ago, she’d pleaded again, but his eyes had been merciless in those final moments; he knew the strength of her love for him. They’d never been physically intimate; their bond was far closer than that. The only person she cherished more was the boy now asleep in the back seat, surrounded by their pitiful few belongings.

Damn you. She’d smiled as tears rolled down her cheeks. You couldn’t ask for ice cream or a mariachi band?

The fear was back now, full force, as she navigated the tree-shaded streets in the early-morning hours. Temptation grinned and lured…taunted and seduced, willing her to fail Dog Boy, as she’d let down everyone else.

Her breath was coming in pants, her heart beating too fast as she rolled up to the curb across from the house where she’d grown up.

Two-story, Victorian, exquisite. Wraparound porch, gingerbread trim, a gracious lady nestled in the embrace of live oaks, magnolias and azaleas. “There it is, Dog Boy,” she murmured. “Home.” The very picture that should be in the dictionary beside the word.

But not for her, never again.

“Where are we, Mom?” A small, sleepy voice spoke.

Ria glanced in the mirror at Benjy’s precious face, his black hair—her hair, David’s hair…her mother’s hair—standing up in spikes.

Eyes the melted-chocolate brown of her father’s blinked. “Mom?”

Please. Hate me, but help me save him, she begged the people inside. But because she had no idea if they would, she hedged on their identities. “We’re going to visit the people who own this place.”

“Do we know them?”

Had she ever? Once she’d been a part of them, but not for many more years than she’d been gone. “Yes.” Then it hit her again, sheer terror. Could she even be sure that Mother and Daddy still resided here?

Of course they did. Their roots ran true and deep. They would only leave if carted out feet first. What her mother held, she never let go.

Except you, Victoria. She couldn’t wait to see you depart.

I can’t do this. Her fingers tightened on the key, and she began to turn it.

Nothing happened. The car, pushed to its limits just as she was, had caved. Ria barely contained the urge to drop her head to the steering wheel and give up. She was so tired she could barely see straight.

“Mom, I have to pee.”

She smiled, bubbles of hysteria welling upward. You stacked the deck, Dog Boy. What kind of guardian angel are you, anyway?

Only the best friend she’d ever had.

Sweet mercy, she missed him.

Benjy’s car seat buckle clicked. “Hey, I did it, Mom! All by myself!”

Ah, children. When you thought you couldn’t manage one more step, face one more day, they pulled you back into life, willing or not.

She unfastened her own seat belt and emerged. Dark dots danced before her eyes; she had to grab the door frame to remain standing.

Not now. Please. Let me get him inside. Just a few more steps. A smattering of minutes.

“Come on, tiger. Can you make it a bit longer?”

He crawled across the seat and held up his arms.

She wanted him close but was terrified she’d drop him, so instead of picking him up, she held out her hand. “Ready for the next stop on our adventure?”

“Yeah!” His head bobbed with enthusiasm at first, but he fell silent as they crossed the street. Moved up the sidewalk.

Just before they stepped up on the porch, he balked. “Mom.”

She could barely hear his voice over the pounding of her heart. The buzzing in her head. “What, sweetie?”

Earnest dark eyes turned up to hers. “Will these people like me?”

“Oh, honey.” She dropped to her knees, though she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to get up. “They’ll love you so much.” I hope.

They’d better, Dog Boy, or I’m gone, you hear me?

“Okay,” he said. “Want me to knock?”

She eyed the red front door her father had installed so many years ago, the brass knocker she’d never had to use, back when she’d belonged. “I’ll do it this time.” She smiled past her fear and rapped on the wood.

Please, oh, please…Mother, don’t punish him for my sins.

The door opened. Ria gawked. “Aunt Cammie?” Why was she here?

“Victoria?”  Stunned silence, then the tiny, gray-haired woman blinked.  “Oh, Lordy.  Just a minute.  I’ll go get—” Aunt Cammie vanished, leaving the door wide-open.

Ria clung to the frame. Wondered if she should enter, even as her head swum. Tried to think, to decide—

Chaos erupted. “My stars in heaven, he looks just like David,” said a voice that had be the former B-movie actress grandmother who would only answer to Lola.

“Oh, dear me, child, please come in,” she thought she heard Aunt Cammie say—

Hold on, hold on, she told herself, gripping Benjy’s hand.

Then, at last, there she was.

Ria’s nemesis.

Green eyes wide, camellia skin ashen. Statue still.  Her gaze filled with horror.

Ria wanted to weep as the truth sank in. Just as she’d feared, nothing had changed between them.

Her mother still hated her.

But then Cleo Channing caught sight of Benjy, and everything about her was transformed. The initial horror mutated into confusion and hurt…then into longing so sharp it was painful to witness.

He’s safe. Thank you, Dog Boy. Whatever her mother thought of her, she would cherish Ria’s baby. Save him. Fight the world to protect him, just as Daddy would.

Relief broke past the inky veil stealing over her vision. “Mother—” Ria reached out—

But the darkness swallowed her.

…Excerpt from THE ROAD BACK HOME by Jean Brashear © 2019

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