Always in My Heart by Catherine Anderson

Chapter One

Ellie Grant tugged her son Kody’s basketball jersey from between the cream-colored sofa cushions. The white knit was streaked with mud and covered with black dog hair, and the team name, TROJANS, in green lettering across the front was smeared with what appeared to be mustard. Scrunching the nylon in her fist, she almost lifted it to her nose—and then caught herself. What on earth was she doing? Granted, she missed her boys, but they’d be gone only until tomorrow night. She could survive another weekend without them, no shirt sniffing allowed.

Turning, she stared at the television, which was usually on and blaring when the kids were home. Light from the adjoining dining room reflected off the dusty screen, highlighting the words, WASH ME. Ellie grinned in spite of herself. The brats. In the time it had taken one of them to scrawl that message, he could have polished the glass.

Her smile slowly faded. The quiet inside the house seemed to echo against her eardrums. Most mothers would probably take advantage of the reprieve to read a good book or take a luxurious bubble bath, but Ellie just felt lost. For two weeks straight, she hadn’t had a second to call her own. Now she suddenly had twenty-four hours of emptiness stretching before her.

It was always this way when Tucker had the boys. She never knew quite what to do with the time. She stared at the dog hair on the mauve carpet and considered hauling out her old Kirby, but like a recovered alcoholic tempted by drink, she shoved the thought away. Instead, she stepped to the entertainment center and punched on the stereo. Zach, her fourteen-year-old, kept the CD player filled with his favorite country and western disks. Garth Brooks would chase away the silence and lift her spirits in short order.

She cranked up the volume, grabbed the portable phone from the end table, and headed toward the kitchen. As she passed through the dining room, the first strains of “Every Breath You Take” by The Police thrummed in the air. She stopped dead in her tracks. In July of her sixteenth year, that song had been blaring on the radio of Tucker’s rattletrap Chevy when she lost her virginity. She hadn’t listened to it since the divorce, and she knew Zach hadn’t, either. He disdainfully called all songs from his parents’ era “oldie moldies.”

Ellie almost swung around to change the selection. But, no, she assured herself, it wasn’t a problem. Two years ago, she might have fallen apart if she’d listened to that song, but she could handle it now. A stroll down memory lane might even be good for her, proof at long last that she was completely and forever over Tucker Grant.

Continuing toward the kitchen, she let the music carry her back to that summer night nineteen years ago. The details came so clear in her mind that it might have happened yesterday. She could almost smell the breeze rolling in off the river, redolent with the perfume of wildflowers and the scent of pine. She and Tucker had climbed into the back, where they could stretch out on the seat without the steering wheel and gearshift getting in their way. Heads bent, hands shaking with nerves, they’d shyly undressed, neither of them completely sure how to proceed once they got naked. Finally, Tucker had simply taken her in his arms. Don’t be scared, Ellie girl, he’d whispered. I’ll love you forever—until the rivers stop flowing and the ocean goes dry.

Snapped back to the present by the coldness of the worn kitchen linoleum under her bare feet, Ellie sighed and shook her head. Talk about a sappy line. She was surprised she hadn’t giggled. Back then, of course, it had seemed terribly romantic, just the sort of thing a young girl yearned to hear.

She shifted her gaze to the stack of bills on the breakfast bar, a fair third of which were due. Then she stared at the broken faucet, which she couldn’t afford to replace until well after Christmas. Since there was no sign of Tucker Grant in this charming picture, the rivers must have stopped flowing and the oceans gone dry. Or maybe Tucker was just lousy at keeping promises.

Ah, well—who needed him? Judging by things the boys had told her, he hadn’t changed a bit. After ten years with the state, he was still a field biologist, turning down promotions because he didn’t want a desk job. At the top of the pay scale for that position, he received occasional cost-of-living raises, but that was it. She, on the other hand, was the big kahuna at the House of Interior Design, and she’d gotten two salary increases in the eleven months since she’d been hired. In short, she was on her way up, and he was dead in the water.

Though she’d never been inside his new house, the boys had given her a sketchy description. Instead of investing his half of their marital-home equity into a solidly built older place that could have been renovated, he’d bought on the cheap in a modest housing development with cookie-cutter floor plans and lots the size of postage stamps. No big surprise. The only time in Tucker’s life that he’d ever shown good taste was when he married her.