I have a new book out! Pieced Together is now available for purchase on Amazon and for FREE with your Kindle Unlimited subscription. I think you’re really going to love Wyatt and Caroline’s story, and I’ve been so eager to share the first part with you. Ready?! Here it is!
She wasn’t sure how much she’d had to drink before arriving at the wedding, but she was certain of this – it had been just enough to get her to the party that she wasn’t invited to but not nearly enough to propel her to enter into the venue and make a scene.
“Venue,” she muttered to herself as she tottered around unsteadily on her high heels, making her way around the building and attempting to jump up enough to see in some of the higher windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of the festivities. “As if anyone with any sense would have their wedding reception here.”
Here, at an Elvis tribute theater, of all places. How did someone even have a reception at a theater, much less one with Elvis’s ridiculous mug splashed onto all surfaces?
She scowled at the mural on the outside of the building, at Elvis as he sneered back at her, no doubt crooning about love on the microphone he held –
“Oh shut up,” she said to the painting. “Love is a farce. Like you would know any different with your own broken marriage, you, you…” She tried to think of a witty comeback to Elvis’s know-it-all smirk, realizing as she struggled to do so that she might have had a little too much to drink.
“Oh, yeah, well I hate your music,” she said, half expecting that Elvis would gasp in response. (He didn’t, of course, since he was inanimate.)
Caroline shook her head at this, redirecting her attention back to the party inside the building. If she stood on that bench, the one just over to the side near the parking lot, she might be tall enough to look into the far southern window, maybe catch a glimpse of the bride and groom…
Her heart hurt at the thought even as she sauntered over there, weaving unsteadily, even more so as she stepped onto the bench, not entirely certain that she could balance. Worth a try, though, she told herself, raising her head just enough to see in.
There was Edie, dressed all in white, dancing away to some Elvis song that Caroline didn’t recognize, laughing as the groom leaned in and whispered something into her ear.
Tate. Oh, Tate.
Caroline could just imagine what he was saying.
Aren’t you glad I ditched my girlfriend to be with you? You’re so much better than Caroline. We’re going to be so, so, so happy together while Caroline lives a miserably wretched life all by herself with no family, no one to love her, no one to care about her, just loads and loads of cats, and –
“I don’t even like cats!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. She slammed a hand onto her mouth, realizing that she’d been louder than intended. Not loud enough that they could hear her inside, fortunately, but the sudden movement caused her to begin to lose her balance. She caught herself at the last minute, though, her hands clutching the back of the bench with desperation, her feet still planted firmly on the seat, and her butt now up in the air, probably flashing her panties to all the world –
“Cats do in fact suck, but I hardly think that’s worth breaking your neck over.”
Caroline froze at the deep voice, cognizant enough of her situation that she cursed inwardly at the view she was freely giving to the stranger who’d just found her in this unflattering position.
Without letting go of the bench (or lowering her butt either one), she turned her head to the side, following the voice, and took him in.
And there he was. A stranger, dressed in a suit, studying her with interest.
He wasn’t looking at her butt, which was good. But he was grinning like the thought had certainly crossed his mind, making Caroline frown.
“I’m not going to break my neck,” she said evenly. “And this has nothing to do with cats.”
He shrugged. “I’m not the one who was yelling about them,” he said dismissively. “And I’m certainly not the one who was about to fall on my face like you are. You need some help getting down from there? Maybe going inside and getting something to drink?”
“I’ve got it,” she said, gingerly getting herself down. “And I think I’ve had enough to drink as it is.”
As if to punctuate her statement, she stumbled off, nearly hitting the ground if it hadn’t been for the stranger’s quick reaction, his arms as they came around her, setting her on her feet.
“You speak the truth, lady,” he said, letting her go slowly.
“About drinking and cats both,” she said, trying to remember what all she’d just said, trying desperately to hold onto something from this night, even as it all seemed so blurry. “And Elvis. I hate Elvis. And the groom. I despise the groom.”
The stranger smiled even more at this. “You don’t say.”
“I do say,” she said. “Which is why I’m not going in there. Elvis and Tate. Bleh.”
That and she wasn’t invited. Wouldn’t have even known about this wedding had she not been stalking Tate online, seeing how just a few months after they’d broken up he’d been engaged to Edie, how they’d rushed this wedding, how it had all gone so fast –
“She’s pregnant, isn’t she?” Caroline hissed, looking back to the man. “Serves them both right.”
“Not pregnant,” he answered.
“Ugh,” she groaned. Maybe it was love then. Maybe Tate loved Edie so much that he’d rushed a decision with her that he’d never made with Caroline even after years together.
Her head hurt. And was the ground spinning, just a little?
She was thankful when the stranger reached out to steady her again. She should probably be less trusting, but she was so tired…
“How are you drunk when there’s no alcohol being served at this wedding?” he asked, his voice low in her ear.
She reared back and gave him a scathing look. “Drunk? I’m not drunk.”
He grinned, his piercing eyes pinned on her. “Oh, sweetheart, you’re beyond drunk. You’re completely sloshed.”
Great. Just great. She wasn’t a drinker. Not usually. But a glass of wine from time to time took the edge off, and she’d needed something to smooth off all the edges tonight. So she’d upgraded from her normal beverage of choice to something stronger.
She just hadn’t thought to drink less of the stronger stuff, glugging it like it was as potent as the wine, not more potent. And now…
Now she was drunk.
How had she gone from a pastor’s wife – almost – to a raging jealous drunk crashing a wedding?
“I had a drink or two before coming here,” she muttered.
“Did you drive yourself?”
What business was this of his?
“No,” she said, telling him anyway.
“How did you get here?” he asked.
“I took an Uber, thank you very much.”
He nodded. “Good. How about I get another one to take you home? I think you’re just about done.”
“Is this because I said I hate the groom?”
“This is because you’re drunk,” he said, pulling his phone out. “What’s your address?”
She could feel herself swaying again. He reached out and held her close this time, God bless him. Or not. Because he was a complete stranger.
“I’ll give it to the driver,” she said, suddenly very suspicious of this man and his intentions. “It’ll be my secret. And his. The Uber driver you call.”
He watched her for a long moment.
“The more you talk the less inclined I am to put you into a stranger’s car,” he said thoughtfully. “I’m not sure you’re going to even be conscious for much longer. Maybe you should give me your address right now, just in case you black out.”
What was her address?
Caroline looked at him blankly.
“Really?” he asked, his exasperation very thinly veiled. “You can’t remember?”
No. No, she couldn’t.
“Give me your purse, then,” he said bluntly.
Was he mugging her?
“Are you mugging me?” she asked.
He heaved a great sigh. “Lady, I’m not mugging you. I’m going to take you home –”
“I’m not going home with a man I don’t know,” she said, even more aghast at this than she’d been by the thought of him being some seedy mugger.
“Then let me introduce myself,” he said, still holding her close. “I’m Wyatt Huntington.”
“Huntington,” she said, wrinkling her nose at him.
He wrinkled his right back at her. “What’s that for?”
“You’re related to the bride,” she said. “Evie…”
“Edie,” he corrected her. “But yeah. She’s my cousin.”
“And see,” he said. “Now you know a couple of things about me. My name and that the bride is my cousin.”
Had he told her his name?
“What’s your name again?” she asked.
“Good grief,” he sighed, still smiling. “Wyatt. Say it with me. Wyatt.”
“Wyatt,” she repeated, her stomach rolling now. Maybe she was drunk. And maybe she was about to be sick.
Wyatt had his phone out and was sending a text with one hand, his other hand still holding her steady. Up close like this, she finally felt like she was getting a good look at him.
A good, long look at him. And even though she was drunk, she could tell a thing or two, the first and most important being this…
He was tall, dark, and handsome. Every last one of those. She marveled at this and at the firmness of his chest beneath her hands and the tight, sculpted arm that wound around her waist as though she weighed nothing at all. She mentally added strong to her list – tall, dark, handsome, and strong – leaving her to draw one last conclusion.
Wyatt Huntington was hot.
“Wyatt Huntington, you’re hot,” she said unapologetically. She couldn’t help herself.
“Thanks for that,” he murmured, his attention still on his phone.
Great. Yet another uninterested man. Caroline was unlucky in love, that was for sure. She put her head onto his chest, hating this thought, biting her lip, her nausea so extreme…
“Just making sure my parents can get my son home,” he said reassuringly as he kept typing with his thumb.
“Your son?” she murmured, looking up at him. Darn it. He was married.
“Yep,” he said. “Cooper. He’s four.”
“Why doesn’t your wife take your son home?” she asked, closing her eyes again, not even bothering taking her head off his chest, even with this new information about a wife. Were all the good guys out there married? First Tate. Now this guy… this guy…
What was his name again?
“I’m not married,” he said to her.
But she hardly caught that because just then, she leaned over and threw up all over his shoes.
“You sure know how to make a good first impression,” Wyatt murmured, holding her hair back, even as she threw up again.
Well, this was a problem.
“Ughhhh,” the mystery woman moaned as she stood back up to her full height, her legs visibly shaking.
“Feel better?” he asked, seriously doubting it and questioning his sanity in engaging this woman in conversation. Why was he forever trying to be someone’s hero, swooping in to save the day, to rescue people from their own mess? He couldn’t even save himself or right all the wrongs in his own life, but when it came to other people, he just couldn’t seem to help himself.
The woman blinked at him as if she herself was wondering why he was still around, still holding her –
And then she slumped over, right onto his shoulder.
Out. She was totally and completely out, just like he’d predicted. He’d seen this kind of thing more times than he cared to remember, had been in this same state himself from time to time a long time ago, and affirmed, after checking to make sure that she was still breathing, that she was getting what she needed most right now.
Rest. Sobering rest.
But what was he supposed to do? He couldn’t leave her here now, any more than he could have put her in an Uber with some stranger and –
“Oh, well, that is a problem.”
He turned his head in the direction of the familiar voice, hoisting the drunk woman a little closer even as his eyes met his mother’s assessing gaze.
“Well, it’s not what you’re thinking,” he said, imagining just what she might be thinking.
“I think you’ve encountered a problem,” Faith Huntington said, moving closer to him, “just like you said in your text.”
“I only texted that so you’d keep Cooper with you for a while,” he said.
“That goes without saying,” Faith murmured, looking at the mystery woman and picking up her purse from the ground.
Wyatt felt himself bristle slightly at these words. His parents, Faith particularly, had been there for Cooper more fully than he’d been for the majority of his son’s life. It couldn’t be helped, honestly, not when Wyatt was in the middle of a commitment to the Marines, unable to get out of the service and the frequent deployments and the work that kept him from home. It was part of the reason why he’d enlisted to begin with, knowing that he could travel, that he could see the world and find himself, relishing the freedom.
But choices made in that imagined freedom tied him down in reality. He didn’t resent Cooper, only himself and the cavalier way he’d been living, the way it had forced his parents – again, particularly his mother – into being who she was even now, a parent to the next generation, cleaning up his messes for him.
“He’s going home with me,” Wyatt said, insistent on this. “There’s no reason for Cooper to stay at your house tonight.”
Their house, where he’d been staying the majority of his life. Wyatt had gotten out of the Marines instead of reenlisting a few months ago. He’d gotten his own place, full of optimism about the future, about being a dad for real, only to discover that the transition was difficult for Cooper, who felt like he was losing the only home he’d ever known.
Difficult for them all, his mother included.
But they had to do it. Cooper had to come live with him. Wyatt began to curse himself for ever sending the text he’d sent just moments earlier, checking to make sure that his parents could watch Cooper for however long it took to take care of this woman. He was giving them false hope, putting them back in a place of care that they were all working so hard to move on from.
And he was making them question some of his choices with the opposite sex, no doubt wondering if he had changed at all, if he wasn’t falling into the same patterns that had characterized so much of his young adult life.
Patterns that had led to Cooper.
He could see it all reflected in his mother’s eyes as she held the other woman’s purse and studied him for a long moment. He could also see all the wrong conclusions she was drawing.
“I have no idea who she is,” he said very bluntly. “I was coming back from my truck, grabbing my phone, which I misplaced in the insanity of getting Cooper and his stuff into the reception –”
“He needs his bag of stuff,” Faith said softly.
Wyatt very much doubted this. Cooper didn’t need a bag of snacks and books and toys for every location he went to, but he’d been raised by his grandparents, raised in a situation where being unintentionally babied and spoiled was the norm.
One bad habit broken at a time, Wyatt chided himself, not wanting to argue the point with his mother.
“Anyway,” he said, “I was on my way back in when I saw this woman nearly fall flat on her face.”
“And then she vomited on you,” Faith noted, looking at his shoes.
“That she did,” he said, working to kick them off even now. He’d never wear them again, and he could get around barefoot tonight, gladly leaving behind the mess and his ruined shoes.
“And you said that you don’t know her, right?” Faith asked.
“I don’t,” he said. “And I was going to call her an Uber, but –”
“You didn’t want to put her in a stranger’s car,” Faith said, understanding. “And this is her purse, I’m assuming.”
“Well, no harm in us looking through it and finding out some pertinent information,” she said with a sigh, opening the purse up and searching for a wallet.
For all the tension between him and his parents during this strange season of their lives, Wyatt was thankful for his mother and her ability to think through this situation, doing what he himself had been uncomfortable to do. As he continued to hold the sleeping woman, he waited as Faith found a wallet and a driver’s license, which she held up triumphantly.
“Caroline Reeves,” she said. “And I have her address here as well.”
Wyatt looked down at Caroline, putting the name to the face as she continued to sleep. And snore a little.
“I should take her home,” he said.
“I agree,” Faith said. “I think that’s for the best. And I’ll go with you. If she was my own daughter, I think I’d appreciate another mother being there to make sure she has everything that she needs, that she’s safe.”
“I hardly think that’s necessary,” Wyatt said, determined to handle this himself. “I can get it done alone.”
“And put yourself in that kind of situation?” Faith asked. “In this crazy world, where you can be accused of anything, you want to take an unconscious woman out of here on your own and let yourself into her home, uninvited?”
He hadn’t thought about it like that.
“It’ll be better if I’m there, too,” Faith said. “With neither one of us doing this alone.”
“When you put it like that, doesn’t it feel kind of creepy, us doing this at all?” Wyatt asked, knowing even as he said it that it would be far worse to just leave Caroline… what? Lying on the sidewalk unconscious?
Faith didn’t even have to answer him.
“Right,” he said. “Then let’s head that way.”
Fifteen minutes later, he was standing barefoot in Caroline Reeves’s apartment, while his mother leaned over the place where Wyatt had laid the sleeping woman on the couch, making some assessments, as she’d told him she would on the drive over.
“Unless she’s pregnant, I don’t know that you really know what you’re doing, Mom,” he said critically.
Faith turned to give him a look, then directed her attention back to Caroline.
“Would you believe that midwives know about more than just prenatal care and childbirth?” she murmured, her hand on Caroline’s forehead, even as the younger woman groaned. She’d made those breathy moaning sounds the entire drive, from the moment Wyatt buckled her into the passenger seat of his truck until he’d gathered her into his arms and carried her up the stairs at her apartment complex, his mother cautioning him to be careful even as Caroline had clung tighter to him, still out of it.
“She going to be okay?” he asked, figuring that she would. She’d sleep it off, probably wonder how she’d gotten back home. That is if she remembered leaving her apartment in the first place, going to the wedding –
She hadn’t been crashing the wedding, though, had she? Wyatt hadn’t seen her at the ceremony at the church, and he hadn’t seen her in the theater, at the actual reception. He’d only seen her when he’d gone outside, which meant that technically, she hadn’t crashed anything.
But she’d said plenty about how she felt about it all.
She moaned again, attempting to roll over on the couch.
“I think she’s going to be fine,” Faith said, standing now. “She’ll have a bad headache in the morning, but maybe that’ll deter her from getting herself in this situation again.”
This situation. Wyatt could see the conclusions in her mind as she looked at him.
Caroline could have been found by some other guy, some guy with bad intentions. Tonight could have ended very poorly for her.
“Praise God that it worked out this way,” Faith sighed.
Praise God. Wyatt wasn’t sure he could echo, struggling to find much to praise God over.
“Should we move her to a bed?” he asked, pushing the thought aside and watching as Caroline flopped again, precariously close to falling off the couch.
“I didn’t want to go into her bedroom,” Faith said. “That seems too personal, you know?”
“As if going through her purse and letting ourselves into her home wasn’t personal enough,” Wyatt said, stepping past his mother and lifting Caroline into his arms. “She’ll rest easier.”
“I’ll go get her some Tylenol and a glass of water, just in case she wakes up in the middle of the night,” Faith said, walking in the opposite direction toward the tiny kitchen as Wyatt moved to the back of the apartment.
It didn’t take much to figure out which bedroom was Caroline’s, and it took practically nothing at all to lay her out on her bed, taking her shoes off as he did so, pulling a cover onto her as she adjusted again, moaning.
It felt skeevy for him to be doing this uninvited, honestly. More skeevy than it already was that he’d let himself in without her knowing, that he was up in her space while she was unconscious.
He wondered briefly if he could get into some trouble here, thinking about his mother’s earlier words. Not that he would ever do anything to a woman so helpless, but he knew that there were men out there who would. How would Caroline know that he was any different? What would keep her from rightly freaking out on him if she suddenly woke up and saw that there was a strange man in her bedroom –
And like a horrible self-fulfilling prophecy unfurling before him, Wyatt cringed as he bumped into her bedside table, causing a horrible racket and waking her up in the process.
Her eyes were open now. Open and looking right at him.
She was awake. Awake and rightly horrified as she glanced around, taking in her surroundings and then, the strange man before her.
He watched as she sat up straight, her gaze fixed on him with shock.
Easy there, he cautioned himself, holding up his hands and backing away slowly, wondering if he should call his mother in here to put this woman more at ease.
No, he didn’t need his mother to save him yet again. He could handle this.
He took a deep breath, attempting a reassuring smile. “Hey, Caroline –”
“How do you know my name?” she gasped.
“Uhh,” he began hesitantly, wondering if it would make things worse to tell her that he’d been rifling through her purse earlier. “You told me that was your name.”
He probably shouldn’t lie, but once he got started –
“And I told you it reminded me of that song. You know the one.” He took a breath and began to sing. “Sweet Caroline…” He looked to her to finish the song, desperately trying to confuse her or distract her until she fell into another deep sleep and he could get out of here.
“Bum, bum, bum?” she finished, confused.
“That’s exactly it!” he said, willing her to start singing with him and nod off in the process, as if Neil Diamond was right there singing her a lullaby. “Good times never seemed so good – so good, so good, so –”
“Who are you?!” she practically screamed in his face.
Great. She wasn’t nodding off again. And more troubling, she didn’t remember anything. If she’d been that drunk, was it even possible that she was sober now? Or was she still completely out of it, so much so that she wouldn’t remember any of this, wouldn’t be able to form a coherent thought, couldn’t make a definitive decision either way –
Oh, except she could make a decision, and Wyatt could read it clearly in her eyes as she snatched something off her bedside table and pointed it at him menacingly.
A remote control. She was pointing a remote control at him.
He still admired her grit and determination to fight a strange man in her apartment even if her weapon of choice was questionable.
“I’m Wyatt Huntington,” he said, injecting as much calm peacefulness into his voice as he could. “We’ve met already.”
“I don’t know you,” she said, her voice even more suspicious. “And I don’t know how you got in here. Or why you’re singing a really awful song in my bedroom.”
Neither did he. That had been a bad idea.
“That song isn’t awful,” he said soothingly. “It’s a great song.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, that remote control still held up in her shaking hand.
“I brought you home from the wedding,” he said, answering her question. “Tate and Edie’s wedding. You were there, and you weren’t feeling well, and I…”
But he stopped, watching as tears filled her eyes, as she clutched the remote tighter, still pointing it at him.
“Tate and Edie,” she breathed. “Did he marry her? Did he really do it?”
He could hear the sorrow in the words, the sadness over how life had turned out.
He could relate. His life certainly hadn’t turned out like he’d originally hoped it would.
But this wasn’t the end for him. Things were going to get better. They were already on the way to better, with him easing Cooper back into his place and his life, with his plans for a better relationship with his little boy up ahead…
There had to be better for Caroline, too.
“You got sick at the reception,” he said softly, trying to soothe that pain in her eyes with his words. “Well, outside the reception. And I found you and figured out where you live. Brought you home so you could rest.”
But she’d put down the remote, resting her head in her empty hands, a sob escaping as she took a deep breath.
“Everything is always bad,” she moaned. “Why doesn’t anyone want me?”
Wyatt felt like he was invading her privacy, more so than he already had been, hearing these words, this heartfelt grief from this beautiful woman who clearly felt completely alone.
The hero in him couldn’t take it.
“That can’t be true,” he said, crouching down before her now, confident that she wasn’t going to pick the remote back up and attempt to beat him to death with it as she flopped back down onto her bed. “You’re sweet Caroline. Who wouldn’t want you?”
“No one does,” she cried, her hands over her face. “And I don’t even know what I’m doing with my life. I’m just lost. Completely lost…”
And those words pulled at him, just slightly. He’d grown up believing that there was an answer for the lostness that people felt, that people were created for a purpose, to know their place in the world, the meaning of it all. He’d grown up hearing about it all of his life, about God and His will, about grace and redemption, about a Lord who met the broken and put them back together.
For a while, he’d stopped believing it entirely. And now, now that he was uncertain where he was, somewhere between doubt and timid faith, Wyatt heard Caroline’s words and knew, given all that he’d known with certainty in his youth, what should be said in response.
You’re never so lost that God doesn’t know right where you are.
He couldn’t say it, though. He wouldn’t say it, wouldn’t invite himself any deeper into Caroline’s issues, because he didn’t need a woman and her issues at this point in his life. He had enough going on without worrying about someone else, without picking up their baggage and carrying it along with his own, and he knew – he knew – that his hero complex would have him doing just exactly that if he opened his mouth and said any lifegiving, affirming words to her.
So he didn’t say anything.
But it didn’t matter because she was asleep again.
And Wyatt, glad that he didn’t have to spend any more time thinking about such heavy things when he was already having enough trouble of his own, let himself out of her room, passing the responsibility of looking out for Caroline to his mother, determined to sit in the living room and wait for her, eager to escape now.
This wasn’t his mess. He had enough complications of his own.
And if God was who everyone around Wyatt said He was, God could handle whatever it was that Caroline Reeves was going through.
But that didn’t stop Wyatt from thinking about her, even long after they’d left her apartment that night.
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