Revel (Second Chance Romance #1)(3)

By: Alison Ryan



Vanessa wrapped her slender arms around Charlotte’s shoulders, “To the moon and back.”



********



Just hearing Vanessa say Declan’s name out loud had shaken Charlotte up. Of the two huge ghosts in her life, he was the one still walking around, still alive, and the memory of him haunted her ever since the last time she saw him. But this wasn’t really the time to think about that. She had hundreds of miles in the car ahead of her. Nashville was a good eight and half hours from Charleston. It would be a long day.

She had been driving for two hours without the radio, lost in her thoughts from the past and her time with the only man she’d ever loved. As much as she wanted to protest that she hadn’t considered him when planning this trip, she couldn’t. Vanessa was right. Declan was Charleston.

And the DeGraffs were Charleston royalty. With Declan the sole heir.

But, in truth, Charleston was so much more than any of them. Or all of them.

Charlotte had always been drawn to the Holy City. She, Vanessa, and their parents had vacationed there when she was young, always renting the same house on Folly Beach. They’d get up early and go to the pier every day and watch the sun rise together. Eat crab legs and all you can eat shrimp at The Crab Shack. Her mother would take the girls downtown to King Street and they’d wander in and out of shops while eating large Styrofoam cups full of Italian Ice that they’d buy from a vendor on the corner. It was so hot that the ice would turn into “sugar soup” as her mother called it, before they could even finish it all.

The city represented both the best times of her life and the worst.

When Charlotte was thirteen years old, they’d come to Folly Beach later in the summer than usual, in August, right before school was starting up. The high season was over by then and their rental was a little cheaper.

On their first night there, Charlotte’s mother said she needed to go to the store.

“I have such a headache,” she’d said. “And I forgot to pack Tylenol. Your daddy is sleeping the drive off so I’m going to slip out and pick some up. I’ll be gone just a few. Charlotte, do you want to go with me?”

Charlotte rolled her eyes, “Uh, no thanks. Vanessa just painted my nails. I want them to dry.”

“Okay, baby,” her mother said, kissing her on the forehead. “You stay here and dry those little toes of yours. I love you. See you soon.”

Charlotte thought about that conversation all the time. At least once a week. She thought about how if she’d only said yes and taken her time to put her shoes on, or grab her purse, or really add any time to her mother’s journey, the whole tragedy could have been prevented.

The sudden, tragic things are often determined by chance and seconds of time.

Her mother had left to go to the store and had not returned. On her way back she’d been t-boned at a stop light, waiting to turn onto the road that led to their cottage.

The driver who hit her had fled the scene.

Charlotte remembered someone telling her that her mother had felt no pain. That the accident had taken her instantly. It was what was told to comfort her and her father, who had been destroyed by the news, and angry that she’d gone alone at night to the store. Her mother’s entire life was lived just to end over a tension headache.

“You should have woken me up!” he yelled at Charlotte that terrible night.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” Charlotte tearfully said.

“Daddy, it’s not her fault,” Vanessa defended her sister. “Mom was a grown woman. It was a horrible accident.”

But what was said couldn’t be unsaid.

Her father never again set foot in Charleston, or even in the state of South Carolina. And when Charlotte decided to go to College of Charleston he’d been angry and confused.

“Why would you want to go to college there?” he’d said. “After what we lost in that damn town? How can you go back?”

Charlotte could never have explained it. But for her Charleston was the great ellipsis of her life. In a way she would always feel that was where her mother still was, trapped in a time and place where things had been good and right with the world.

She could also never have been able to describe it, but Charlotte was drawn to it. Like an invisible force was beckoning her back. For reasons unknown to her then, something was waiting for her in Charleston.

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