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Healed by Love

By:Melissa Foster

Chapter One

“ARE YOU SURE you don’t want me to come back after they leave?” Jewel Fisher grabbed her purse from beneath the cash register and checked the posted work schedule one more time, confirming that she wasn’t due back until Monday.

“Yes. Positive. Go have fun. You haven’t had a weekend off for months.” Chelsea Helms, Jewel’s boss and the owner of Chelsea’s Boutique, gently nudged her away from the register. Jewel had worked for Chelsea for two years, although she’d known her much longer. Chelsea had gone to high school with Rick, Jewel’s older brother, who had died two years earlier while serving in Afghanistan.

“I had a weekend off in March.” Jewel walked toward the front of the store, straightening the display tables along the way.

Chelsea rolled her eyes. “That was two months ago, and you know I don’t mean from here. Retail hours are always crazy. I mean from your family and work. Go do something crazy like lose that V-card of yours.”

Jewel had about as much interest in losing her virginity as she did in taking time off from helping her family. It wasn’t that she thought her virginity was something special or worth hanging on to. It wasn’t something she thought about one way or another. Between helping her mother with her younger siblings for the past several years while going to school and now working full-time, she rarely had free time. Even though sex wasn’t something Jewel thought about often, she could feel it all around her. When she was in college, Jewel had lived at home so she could help with the kids, avoiding the nightly peer pressure of living in the dorms, where sex hovered in the eyes of every guy and in the seductive smiles of the girls. Since college, the few dates she had gone on—all set up by Chelsea—had been duds. At least in Jewel’s eyes. Guys her age were too immature, and she didn’t exactly have the time or the desire to go out and meet older guys.

And then there was the kiss…

The kiss that kept her up at night and did make her think about lying beneath a certain man, feeling his hands touch her body in ways that made it hum.

“Earth to Jewel.” Chelsea’s furrowed brow told Jewel she’d been waiting for a response.

“Sorry. I, um…” Have one thing on my mind, and he’s six foot two and a million miles away, fighting the war that stole my brother’s life. “I want to go for a long hike and clear my head. I feel like I’ve been running on full speed forever.”

“You have, Jewel. Go. Take a hike. Read a book. Do whatever will help you relax.” Chelsea raised her brows. “But I still think sex is the greatest stress reliever around.”

Chelsea waved her off to answer the phone, and Jewel headed out the door. She climbed into her Jeep and drove across town to her mother’s house, trying not to think about Nate Braden, because thinking of Nate only confused her. The kiss they’d shared had been at a New Year’s Eve party at his parents’ microbrewery, Mr. B’s. He could have easily turned at the stroke of midnight and grabbed any other woman in the room. She’d just been the one in arm’s reach—and it was a good thing he’d put his strong arms around her and held her tight, because the kiss had turned her entire body to melted butter.

She pushed thoughts of Nate away as she parked in front of her mother’s house and found her younger sister Krissy pouting on the front stoop. Her chin rested in her palm, and her eyes were trained on the ground. Their mother was taking Krissy and their other siblings to their aunt’s in the next town over for the weekend.

Jewel sat beside her on the stoop. “What’s wrong, Krissy?” At twelve, Krissy was almost as moody as fifteen-year-old Patrick.

“I didn’t get the part I wanted in the recital.” Their father had died when Krissy was four. When their eldest brother, Rick, had joined the military two years later, Krissy was so distraught over his leaving, their mother had thought she needed something fun to focus on besides the gaping hole their father and brother had left behind. It was a good call. Krissy was a natural dancer, and when Rick was killed, Krissy had clung to dance like a lifeline.

Jewel stroked Krissy’s straight blond hair. With ten years between them, Jewel often felt like a favorite aunt rather than an older sister. As sad as it made her to know that Krissy had lost a coveted part in the recital, she was immensely glad that the issues her siblings faced were normal problems for kids their ages. She’d worked hard to make sure they didn’t grow up with the same sense of responsibility for their family as she and Rick had. She didn’t rue her family for her complicated lifestyle, but she wouldn’t wish the responsibility of three younger siblings at sixteen on anyone else. She’d missed out on a lot over the last six years.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll get the next one,” Jewel reassured her sister.

“I hope so. Selina got the part this time. She’s really good, and she deserves it, but I really wanted it. It’s dancing opposite Tray Martino, and he’s the cutest boy in dance class.”

How could a twelve-year-old have more interest in boys than Jewel did at twenty-two?

She turned at the sound of the door opening behind her. Their mother, Anita, whipped past them carrying a suitcase in one hand and a grocery bag in the other, a messy ponytail perched high on her head.

“Jewel, honey, you didn’t have to come by. I told you we were all set.” Her mother looked closer to thirty-seven than forty-seven in her faded jeans and T-shirt. She’d had Rick when she was just twenty, and despite losing both her husband and her son in the span of six years, she’d somehow not only kept her sanity, but she was an amazing mother—even if tight on time. She’d worked from home as a part-time bookkeeper before their father died and had taken a full-time office job a month afterward. She’d recently been promoted to senior bookkeeper, and now she was taking classes to finish the accounting degree she hadn’t had a chance to complete before they’d started their family.

Jewel patted Krissy’s shoulder. “Keep dancing your heart out. You’ll get the next part.” She rose and grabbed two bags from just inside the door. “I wanted to make sure Patrick remembered his science project and Taylor had the lines she needs to study for her play.”

Anita helped her put the bags in the car and wrinkled her brow. “Science project? He said he finished that earlier this week.”

“Did you check?” Jewel asked.

Patrick lumbered out the front door. He was tall and lanky, like Rick had been as a teenager, with a mop of blond hair and the same almond-shaped blue eyes their father’d had. Patrick had sported a perpetual brooding attitude these past few months, and it worried Jewel.

“I’m his mother. Of course I checked.”

“I don’t need either of you checking after me.” Patrick threw open the car door and sank into the passenger seat.

“Did you pack the book you have to read for English?” Jewel asked.

He sighed, ignoring her question.

Jewel shot a look to her mother, who pulled the book out of the side pocket of his suitcase.

“Jewel, we’ve got this,” her mother insisted. Her mother always worked hard to make ends meet, but how was a mother with young kids at home and living on a limited income supposed to be in an office and taking kids where they needed to be at the same time? Not to mention grocery shopping, doctor appointments, and simply trying to survive after losing the man she’d loved since high school. Rick had quit college after their father died and had come home to help with whatever their mother couldn’t manage without jeopardizing her new job. When Rick joined the military two years later, Jewel took over all of those responsibilities, and she’d been handling them ever since.

“I know, Mom, but an extra set of eyes never hurts.”

The front door flung open and Taylor stepped outside. She put her hands on her hips and hollered across the yard, “Jewel? Where are my red Converse?”

Jewel shaded her eyes from the sun. Taylor’s long blond hair hung in loose waves almost to her waist. She wore a pair of cute red shorts and a white scoop-neck T-shirt, and looked thirteen instead of ten.

“Front hall closet. You wore them to Katie’s the other night, remember?”

“Oh, right.” She ran back into the house.

“Honey, what are your plans for the next two days?” her mother asked.

“I’m going for a hike this afternoon, and tomorrow I’m cooking dinners for the week. I’ll put them in the freezer, and I’ll probably start that book you lent me.”

Her mother pressed her lips together. “Why don’t you call a girlfriend and go out? Have a drink, get some dinner. Do something fun. You know you don’t need to keep cooking for us, Jewel. I am the mother. I can handle it.”

“I know, and you’re the best mother around. I don’t mind helping. Besides, between classes and work, you barely have time to breathe.” Her mother was too proud to ask for help. In fact, she’d fought both Rick’s and Jewel’s efforts at first, until she’d realized that they were going to help no matter what. Their mother worked just as hard during her off hours as she did the hours she was paid for, and that made Jewel want to try even harder to help in the ways she could.