Love Far Away (A Spicy Contemporary Romance)

Love Far Away

by

Leslie Cooper

Copyright © 2015 by Leslie Cooper

This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons,
living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely
coincidental.

Love Far Away

All rights reserved.

This book is protected under the copyright
laws of the United States of America. No part of this work may be used,
reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying, recording and faxing, or by any information
storage and retrieval system by anyone but the purchaser for their own personal
use.

This book may not be reproduced in any form
without the express written permission of Leslie Cooper, except in the case of
a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages for the sake of a review written
for inclusions in a magazine, newspaper, or journal—and these cases require
written approval from Leslie Cooper prior to publication. Any reproduction or
other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without
the express written permission of the author.

Chapter One

T
he day before my life changed forever was a
Friday like any other.

I was running around with a “to do” list a mile long, trying
to fit in all of my errands before I had to pick up Olivia at preschool. There
was the grocery shopping. I had to get Bradley’s shirts from the dry cleaners.
Pick up a package- probably a birthday present from Bradley’s sister in
Michigan- from the post office. I had to stop by the bakery to get the cake.
The party store to fill the balloons I’d chosen with helium. And at least one
other errand, too...I knew I was forgetting something.

At a stop light, I pulled out my phone and quickly scanned
through the notes I’d made on the calendar. There were no more errands written
down, but I still had that feeling that I had forgotten something. The phone
system of entering reminders in was supposed to make me more organized, but I
missed my old system of scattering Post-Its all over the refrigerator. We’d
gotten a brand new stainless steel fridge a few months ago and Bradley didn’t
like how cluttered it made the kitchen look to have Post-Its all over the place.

It was funny how your life circumstances could change so
much in just a few short years, I mused to myself as I pulled the minivan in to
the parking lot of the dry cleaners. Five years ago, who would have thought
that Bradley and I would have been in a position to care about the appearance
of our brand new stainless steel appliances? We’d still been living in the
small two bedroom apartment on Wheeler Street back then, just two high school
sweethearts trying to cobble together a happy life.

We’d married young, right out of college. I’d finished a
diploma in Early Childhood Education and found a position at a daycare,
teaching in the toddler room. Call me crazy for wanting to spend my days with
two year olds, but I loved it. Those little people were hilarious and
insightful and full of such honest love that I knew without a doubt I wanted
one of my own. Bradley was working in charge of a team at a call center and we
were getting by, so we’d decided we were going to start our own family.

Finding out I was pregnant with our son had been one of the
happiest days of my life. When we first saw his little heartbeat in the
ultrasound, Bradley and I had clasped hands and gazed with teary eyes at the
tiny little life we’d created. Here was family. Here was love. Here was
happiness.

Our son, Henry Alexander Sutton, was born a few months
later. We didn’t have much money, but we had each other, and it still made my
heart ache with happiness to remember those first few years of our marriage.
The baby cuddles, the first steps and first words, the camaraderie that we’d
felt as we dealt with spit up and diapers and waking up in the middle of the
night. Little things, like Bradley making sure the bottles were all washed and
ready to go for daycare the night before, suddenly seemed like the most
romantic gestures.

And then it happened. Bradley’s boss had left the company to
spend time with his wife, who had been diagnosed with cancer. It was terribly
sad, and I hated to think what we would have done in that position, but Bradley
had been chosen as his successor. That promotion had meant everything to us.
More benefits. More work. More money.

Things had been so good that we’d bought a small house, and
decided that now was the time to have a second child. We’d gotten lucky, and
before we knew it we were back in the doctor’s office, holding hands and
watching a second tiny heartbeat. Olivia Rose had been born almost exactly four
years ago- four years ago tomorrow, in fact. Bradley’s job had meant that I
could stay home with the children and raise them, just like I’d always dreamed.

The last four years had been a happy blur of domestic bliss,
for the most part- work had been going so well for Bradley, with a promotion to
a comfortable management job at company headquarters and quarterly bonuses,
that we’d upgraded to a bigger house in one of the upscale suburbs that had
sprung up in the outskirts of our Ohio town. First Henry had started preschool,
and then regular school, and then before I knew it Olivia had been ready for preschool,
too. Suddenly I was faced with long days alone. I could have found ways to keep
myself busy- the gym, keeping an immaculate house, all the little errands that
seemed to build up- but I wanted to contribute somehow. I’d enjoyed staying
home, but I missed having my own money and my own sense of self.

Bradley had been unenthusiastic about it. “You don’t need to
go back to teaching daycare, Julia,” he’d told me, almost offended. “I can
provide for our family. Anything we need, and anything we want, too.”

“It’s not just about the money,” I’d tried to explain. “I
just- I need to do something to contribute to society, to the community, to
something other than our family. I need to find myself again. I’ve spent the
past few years doing everything for Henry and Olivia and for you, and I love
you all so much, but I need to do something for me.”

“Why can’t you volunteer at the animal shelter or
something?” Bradley had asked.

I sighed. “I’m allergic to cats,” I reminded him.

“Oh. Right.”

In the end, I’d gotten out the fancy DSLR camera I’d
received last Christmas and tried my hand at photography. I’d never been any
good at painting or music or dance or anything artistic at school, but I
discovered I really loved photography. Something about capturing a special
moment in time for immortality really spoke to me. I’d taken a course at a
local community college, and practiced nonstop on my two adorable subjects, and
only then had I felt confident enough to try my hand at photographing other
peoples’ children.

Once I started, I’d found I had a real knack for it. Slowly,
I built up a bit of a portfolio, passed my business cards around, and word of
mouth got around. I wasn’t going to get rich doing it, but I had built up
enough of a following of loyal clients that I stayed relatively busy. And best
of all, I had a purpose again- places to go, people to see, pictures to take.
Bradley was outwardly supportive enough, but I suspected that he secretly
thought my little side business was just a silly pastime.

I had a home filled with beautiful pictures of my children,
though, and that was what was important right now. I’d taken a beautiful shot
of Olivia at the park a few weeks ago, her hair blowing loose around her face
as she closed her eyes and blew on dandelion fluff. I’d been planning to blow
it up and frame it for guests to sign.

That was it! I almost fist pumped in line at the dry
cleaners. The missing errand. I had to pick up both the picture and the custom
mat I’d ordered for it so I could set it up at her birthday party tomorrow.
Before I could forget, I whipped my phone out of my purse and added that to the
list of errands I had to run this morning.

I collected Bradley’s shirts, then I headed back to the
minivan. I quickly swung by the post office to pick up the box waiting there
(it was indeed a present for Olivia), and stopped by the craft store to get a
photo mat and a fresh box of Sharpie markers for guests to use. Next up was the
grocery store, and I hurried through as quickly as I could. My stomach was
growling and when I checked the time I was shocked to see it was half past
twelve. Where had the time gone? I had just a little over two hours to get
everything done and then stop by preschool to get Olivia. Grocery shopping on a
hungry stomach was a terrible idea, I had a list of food to pick up for the
party, but I kept being tempted by treats I didn’t need to buy. Cheese,
muffins, a can of Pringles...my stomach rumbled at it all.

I focused on my list. Burgers, buns, fruit, the makings of a
salad. My mom was going to bring over her famous pasta salad, and my best
friend Megan had told me she’d bring over a plate of brownies. We were
expecting around thirty people- my parents, Bradley’s parents, my brother and
his family, Bradley’s younger sister, some of my friends, and a few of Olivia’s
preschool classmates. Better have some food left over than not enough, I
decided, and added an extra five pounds of ground beef. A case of beer, and I
had to make a punch too. Juice for the kids. Did we have enough pitchers? Maybe
I’d get one of those beverage dispensers to sit on the table to make it easier
for the kids to use. This party had a budget, I reminded myself. It was just a
casual backyard barbecue.

After the grocery store, I was so hungry I had to go through
the drive-thru to get myself something to eat. I turned up the music in the car
and spent a few minutes alone, just enjoying the greasy goodness of a burger
and fries by myself. This might be my only chance at relaxing today.

I pulled up my phone to see if there were any messages from
Bradley. Often we’d text each other during the day- silly jokes, random
observations, a cute picture of the kids, a flirty message- but there was
nothing. I sent him a quick update:
Out running errands, just finished @
supermarket. About to head to get cake and balloons. Need me to pick up
anything for you while I’m out?

I waited a few minutes in the car to see if he’d text me
back, but I didn’t get a reply. Well, it was over his lunch break- sometimes he
had lunch meetings he had to go to. If he really needed something, he’d reply.

I debated getting cake or balloons next- obviously the less
time the cake spent in the hot car the better, but I didn’t want to be driving
around with a backseat filled with helium balloons any longer than I had to
either. I decided the cake was the lesser of the two, and I could always crank
the air conditioning up as high as it would go. I usually preferred to keep the
windows rolled down and have fresh air circulating since the air conditioner
gave me a headache after a while, but I’d make the sacrifice for Olivia’s cake.

Inside the bakery, I admired the three dozen cookie favors
and
Frozen
themed cake I’d chosen. It was beautiful- two layers of
shimmery blue fondant with icicles and candy snowflakes dripping down the
sides. Figurines of Anna and Elsa stood on the top, bookending the words
Happy
Birthday, Olivia!
She would go bananas for it and I couldn’t wait for
Bradley and I to watch her little face light up with joy.

“She’ll love it,” I told the young baker’s assistant,
handing over my credit card.

“Would you like some help carrying it to the car?” asked the
girl. She carried the box of cookie favors while I balanced the cake carefully,
placing it on the floor of the passenger side. I wished I’d thought to bring
pillows to tuck around it to stay safe, but I was almost done with my errands.
I’d drive carefully and once we got home, the cake would be safe.

I checked my phone again once I had buckled my seatbelt, to
check if there were any messages from Bradley. There was nothing, but he was
very busy at work these days. There was one hour left before I had to go pick
up Olivia at preschool, followed by Henry at his elementary school. I made a
quick stop to pick up the print I’d ordered of Olivia’s picture, and then I made
my final errand stop at the party supply store. We had most of the supplies we
needed for a
Frozen
themed party at home already- party hats, blowers,
plates, napkins, cups, plastic cutlery, goody bags for the children, balloons
and crepe paper streamers- but I couldn’t resist picking up a box of sparkly
snowflake pinwheels to add to the goody bags. I smiled again at the
juxtaposition of doing a
Frozen
birthday party in the first heat of the
summer. I’d asked Olivia a few times if she’d consider any other theme- the
beach, dolphins, maybe a luau theme- but she’d been stubborn.
Frozen
was
what she’d been obsessed with over a year, and she was stubborn like her mama,
so
Frozen
it was.

I’d been prepared for transporting helium balloons, and had
brought a heavy blanket to put over them so they didn’t float around inside the
minivan. When I checked the time after my final errand, I had one beautiful
half hour of freedom before I had to make the run to preschool and elementary
school. I stopped at Starbucks for a lemonade and sat in the parking lot again,
windows up, music and air conditioning on, trying to clear my mind.

It was hard. I kept running through my to-do list for the
party tomorrow, and wondering if I’d missed the deadline for signing Henry up
for swimming lessons this summer. A week from today was the last week of
school, and then I’d have both of them home with me full time. I’d tried my
best to sign each of them up for a few activities and day camps, and my parents
had agreed to take them for a week so that hopefully at some point Bradley and
I could get away somewhere by ourselves. Nowhere fancy- we never did big fancy
vacations- but a bed and breakfast in the country, or maybe a few days of
museums and fancy restaurants in the big city a few hours away. I hated to
admit it, but even though I loved him with all my heart I’d been feeling a bit
disconnect in our marriage over the past few weeks. Months? It was hard to
pinpoint when I’d first felt it. Either way, it would be nice to escape from
the daily monotony of work and preschool and birthday party planning and soccer
and karate and ballet and just be Bradley and Julia once again.

My wandering thoughts were interrupted by the
ping
notification on my phone. I grabbed it, hoping to see a message from Bradley,
but it was just Megan asking what time the party began. At eleven, I reminded
her. She’d be able to make it, right?

“Of course,” she replied, and I hoped she was right. Bradley
and I had moved to the next town over when we’d bought our new house, but I was
still friends with the same girls I’d been close with in high school. I was the
only one who was married and settled, though, and so I felt left out of the
girls nights they sometimes had when I couldn’t get a babysitter, or Henry had
the flu, or Olivia had a dance recital. I knew they didn’t really understand
the responsibilities that came with having a family, but for my baby’s birthday
party they’d all assured me they would be able to make it.

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