Kasey Griffin is determined to prove a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis is not going to ruin her life or define her expectations. Dedicated to running her bookstore, The Next Chapter, and her pregnant sister, Abby, she has everything she needs to live a full and satisfying life, the daily challenges of her condition notwithstanding.
Until musician Ben Salem rolls into town. Ben has a subtle charm that quickly reminds Kasey she is much more than a woman with a disease. She is a woman with a heart. And Ben wants it. But will Ben still desire her once he learns the terrible details of her condition?
Release Date: February 23, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance | Short Story
It should not be this difficult, Kasey Griffin decided, taking aim at the nail head once more. Missing, she nicked her thumb again and dropped the hammer. Swallowing another oath, she sucked tenderly at her bruised thumb, cursing the wave of dizziness that lead to making this such an impossible task. Honestly, hammering a few nails in the wall was all she wanted to do.
Well, not today at least. Temporarily admitting defeat, she returned the tools to the box and shoved them aside. Heading to the freezer, she withdrew a small bag of blended vegetables and a pint of ice cream. Sometimes chocolate chunk caramel ripple can have medicinal benefits.
Four bites later, the phone rang. Tempted to ignore it, she waited for the monotone caller identification.
“Call from Abbie,” the automated voice announced.
Setting her ice cream aside, she swept the phone up from the cradle. “Hey, Sis, what's up?” She hoped her tone sounded cheerful.
“Not much, thought I'd call and chat. Do you have a minute?”
“Yeah, of course. Everything okay with you and the baby?” Abbie was six months pregnant.
“Fine, a few less kicks today. How about you? You sound tired. Are you having a bad day, sweetie?”
Kasey sighed. Sometimes it was hard to tell. “I guess so,” she admitted, opting to tell her about the most recent failure.
“You know Bobby would have come over and done that for you.”
“Yes, but I want to be able to do things for myself.” She needed to be able to do things on her own, if only to prove to herself she could. That was one big difference between them. Abbie had no problems asking for help, whereas she'd rather swallow a toad than ask anyone for assistance. Character flaw? Probably. Did that make it necessarily bad? No. Just stubborn. But that was how she ran the daily affairs of The Next Chapter bookstore. And how she planned to keep running them.
“Baby,” Abbie said, her voice heavy. “You have MS. You can't do it all. No one expects you to do it all. And certainly not all the time. It's okay to lean on someone once in a while.”
Easy for Abbie to say. She had a wonderful husband to lean on. Bobby would do anything for her.
“So what are your plans for the weekend?” Abbie asked.
Kasey knew her sister was trying to lighten the heavy conversation by switching gears. “A few of us girls are going out Friday night to Austin's Alley to hear a band. Molly's cousin is one of the musicians. They're called Been All Around.”
“That sounds like a great time,” Abbie said, delight obvious in her tone. “Don't wear yourself out before you go. Tell me about it later, okay?”
“Sure, at lunch one day.” The sisters tried to get together once a week. It gave Kasey a break from the bookstore and, well, she wasn't sure what exactly Abbie got out of it, but it was their routine for three years now. Her Multiple Sclerosis support group said to stay active with family and friends so she looked forward to any outing she could get.
♥ ♥ ♥
Friday night and Austin's Alley was packed. A small band stood on stage, with a lead female belting out some mournful bluesy tune, as Kasey and her friends entered. They were shown to a round table up front.
“That's not them,” Molly said, waving to the band. “The lead singer, Ben, is a dreamy hunk. I’ve seen their pictures. It's his name they used when they formed the band.”
Candlelight flickered on the tables and a server came for their orders. Kasey opted for mineral water.
“Has he been all around?”
Molly shrugged. “I guess so. He was a singer and musician before he moved here. He's more experienced than some of the guys in the band. My cousin said he’d been in lots of bands and a solo artist for a long time before they joined up.”
What would make an experienced musician move to Portstown? Kasey wondered. It was not exactly well known for its musical opportunities. Maybe he had family nearby, though it didn’t seem likely. Someone would know. Since music wasn’t a huge industry here, what other reason did he have to come to their quaint Carolina seaside town?
The drinks and appetizers arrived and the female singer and her band finished their set, bowing and retreating back stage. A buzz filled the room during the wait. The curtain parted again and five men came on stage, carrying guitars and drumsticks. Molly punched Kasey's arm.
“That's them. Max is the one at the drums.”
But Kasey only had eyes for the man in the center. Tall with dark hair sweeping off his face, he adjusted the belt on his guitar, chocolate brown eyes studying the crowd. They seemed to stop at her, causing her breath to pause and then skip wildly forward a few beats. He gave the microphone an adjustment too and sent a small smile her way, making her heart skip a beat.
Long and lean, dressed in khakis and a gold t-shirt, he settled onto the bar stool and glanced around at his band mates. At their silent nods, he strummed his thumb over the guitar strings, sending a chill up Kasey's spine.
Moving to the microphone, he spoke in a purring rumble that sent a shiver up Kasey’s spine. “I'm Ben Salem and we are Been All Around.”
Applause lifted around the room as they each tested their instruments once more. Ben counted off the beats, swept the crowd until he found Kasey again, and started to sing. The tender ballad made her heart gallop in beat to their toe tapping. By the time he finished the song, she had to wipe a tear away.