Virgin River Book #5
November 26, 2013
Second Chance Pass
The community of Virgin River saw Vanessa Rutledge through her darkest days — now she’s looking to a bright future.
In the space of a few months Vanessa buried her husband, Matt, and gave birth to their son — breaking her heart while filling it with a whole new kind of love. But the one man she longs to share this love with now acts as if she doesn’t exist.
Paul Haggerty lives by the marine motto: Semper Fi. Ever faithful to his best friend, he’s done right by Matt’s widow as best he can…considering he’s been secretly in love with her for years. Now, just as he’s about to make his move, another woman has staked her claim on him — a claim that will be tough to escape.
With courage, humility and not a little meddling from the good folks of Virgin River, Vanni and Paul might just get a second chance to have the love they both desire and deserve.
Originally published February 2009.
Paul Haggerty was finally back in Grants Pass after almost six months in Virgin River and there was an ache in his chest he just couldn’t ease. The last six months had been hell.
Paul had gone to Virgin River back in the autumn to help finish Jack Sheridan’s new house. Much to his surprise, he discovered Vanessa Rutledge was living in Virgin River with her father and younger brother while her husband, Matt, served in Iraq. She was pregnant with Matt’s baby and looking more beautiful than ever. Seeing her had reminded Paul of the serious “thing” he’d had for Vanessa since first laying eyes on her all those years ago. But his best friend was the one she had married. Then life went into fast forward.
Just before the baby was born they all had a video conference with Matt. The call was mostly for Matt and Vanni as it was the first time in six months they’d seen one another. Then everyone else got to say a quick hi and when it was Paul’s turn Matt had said to him, “If anything goes wrong over here, look after Vanni.”
It couldn’t have gone more wrong. Matt was killed in an explosion in Baghdad the first week in December. It had been a terrible time and Vanni had asked Paul to stay until the baby came—another two months. Of course he agreed, and all that time he held it together so Vanni could lean on him. But the strain of the situation, his secret love for Vanni and his grief for his best friend ate him alive.
He thought going home to Grants Pass would ease the pain or at least distract him from it, but instead the pressure continued to build.A night out drinking with some of his construction crew and getting painfully loaded, only added a miserable headache to his breaking heart. He felt like a dead man, slogging through the days, tossing through the sleepless nights.
Without thinking too much about it, he called a woman he’d been out with a couple of times. Terri. He needed the distraction of someone who wasn’t already caught up in his drama. What qualified Terri was that their friendship had been easy; there was no clinging, no expectations. Plus, she used to make him laugh. She was simply a nice young woman, twenty-nine years to Paul’s thirty-six. Terri was the only woman he’d been out with in a couple of years, and he hadn’t talked to her in six months. That, if anything, should have told him something, but he hadn’t been paying attention.
He started out the conversation with, “Hey, Terri. Long time.” He asked her to dinner, but first confirmed that she wasn’t in a relationship—he didn’t want to complicate her life.
She laughed at that. “I wish,” she said. “No boyfriend, Paul. In fact, I’ve hardly gone out in the past few months. Let’s go someplace quiet and low-key, just catch up.” This was just the response he’d been hoping for and he’d been so grateful.
Paul rang her doorbell and when she came to her apartment door, he realized he had forgotten how pretty she was. Small of stature with shoulder-length dark brown hair and large eyes, she flashed him the bright, sexy smile that first got his attention a year ago. She laughed that wild laugh of hers and threw her arms around his neck. “God, it’s great to see you! I can’t wait to hear your excuse for disappearing for months!”
“Hey, remember Rosa’s? That hole-in-the-wall Mexican place? How about we go there?”
“Love it,” she said.
Paul stared straight ahead as he drove them to the restaurant, his jaw locked. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and shifted in his seat; maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, he thought. When they walked in the door, Terri pointed to a dark, corner booth and said, “Back there.” And when they sat down she said, “You’re not a real talkative guy, Paul, but it’s obvious something’s wrong.”
“I just got back to town from California. I’m a little behind on everything.”
She was shaking her head. “No, it’s more than that.You’re upset and nervous, and I wasn’t going to say anything, but you have dark circles, like you’re not sleeping. Since I haven’t seen or heard from you in a long time, I know it isn’t anything I did. You act like you just got out of prison. Go ahead—I’m a good listener.” That was all it took. He ordered himself a beer and a glass of wine for Terri and let it spill. Best friend, dead. Best friend’s wife pregnant. Him hanging around, trying his best to hold her up.
“Good God,” she said, shaking her head. “You could have called me, you know. I mean, going through something horrible and not having anyone to talk to can make things so much worse.”
“I feel like a real jerk dumping on you now,” he said.
“Well, save it. I’m a girl, girls talk about their tragedies and heartaches. And if you don’t get it out, it’s going to eat a hole in you.”
“That’s how it feels,” Paul admitted. “Like I swallowed acid. Matt and I became best friends in junior high. I have two brothers but Matt was an only child, so he spent more time at my house than his own. We served in the Marine Corps together—he stayed active while I went to the reserves. I think my mom and dad were hit as hard by his death as I was. But his wife… Aw, Terri. I’ve never seen anything so painful. Here she was, about to have their first child, and she would cry until she was weak and dry. All I could do was hold her. But it was worse at night when the only sound in the house was Vanni sobbing in bed.”
Terri reached for his hand. “Paul…”
He held her hand while he talked. “When the baby came, she wanted me with her. Because Matt couldn’t be, I guess. It was the worst and best thing I’ve ever done, seeing that baby being born. It made me so proud to hold Matt’s baby.” He looked away and blinked back emotion. “On his headstone they put Matt Rutledge, beloved husband, father, brother, son, friend. That brother part—that was for me, for us, the brothers in arms. It just doesn’t feel like he’s gone. But he’s so gone and I just can’t seem to get over it. And if I’m feeling this way then Vanni must be torn to pieces.”
Right then the food was delivered, but they didn’t eat much. Paul had another beer and told her stories of growing up with Matt, playing football, driving their parents’ cars too fast, trying to hustle girls with little success, enlisting in the Corps after two years of college and Matt’s parents going absolutely, totally, cosmically nuts. “My parents weren’t happy, but Matt’s were out of their minds. Matt’s mother was convinced that I’d talked Matt into it, but the truth is, that’s what he wanted. Period. I went along because I didn’t want him going in alone. Or maybe I didn’t want to stay behind without him. My mom used to say we were joined at the hip.”
Their plates were taken away, and they lingered over coffee while Paul continued to reminisce. Pretty soon they’d been in that corner booth for a couple of hours.
“I’ve never lost anyone that close,”Terri said, her eyes liquid. “I can’t imagine how hard it must be. You should have called me, Paul. You shouldn’t have shouldered that alone, without support.”
He squeezed her hand. “When I called you, I didn’t have any intention of dumping all this on you. At least not consciously. I thought you’d take my mind off it for a while. But talking to someone who isn’t in the middle of it helps,” he said. “The whole bunch of ’em in Virgin River are so frickin’ torn up— Vanni, her dad, her little brother—I couldn’t let down my guard for a second. Even around my own family—my mom starts crying the second Matt’s name comes up.”
“You must feel like you’re going to explode,” she said.
“You know what I wish?” Paul said. “I know this is nuts—I wish I’d been there with him. I wish it had been me instead of him.”
She was shaking her head. “No. Oh, Jesus, no.”
“He’s got a family. He should be with them. You just have no idea the kind of man he was—he took loyalty to the next level. I could always count on Matt.”
“He counted on you, too. He asked you to look out for his wife…”
“He wouldn’t have had to ask.”
“Paul, you did for Matt what he would have done for you.”
Paul was reflective for a few moments realizing that this woman he’d been out with a few times, slept with a couple of times on a mutually agreed to “friends with privileges” status, could bring him this degree of comfort and understanding. “I owe you, Terri,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much I needed to talk to someone about this.”
She smiled. “Men,” she said, shaking her head. “All that stoicism wrecks your stomach. And usually causes migraines.”
He grinned at her, feeling almost human. “I’ve never had a migraine, but I think my headache’s letting up. For the first time in a while.”
“Look around,” she said. “There’s only one other couple in here, and they’re eating. Let’s get out of here before they start putting the chairs upside down on the tables and mopping the floor.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I’ve put you through enough. And thanks. For listening.”
When he walked her up the stairs to her second floor apartment, she turned and asked, “Would you like to come in?”
He shook his head immediately. Terri had done a lot for him tonight, just giving him a place to unload. He wasn’t about to take advantage of that. “I don’t think so. But thanks.”
She smiled up at him. She pulled on his hand, drawing him into the apartment. “I’d better not,” he said again, but he said it more softly. And when the door closed, he found his hands were on her waist, his mouth seeking her mouth. And just like the last time he’d been with her, she was up on her toes to reach him, circling his neck with her arms, leaning in to him.
“No,” he said against her mouth. “I’m all screwed up. Tell me no.”
She pressed against him, tonguing his lips apart. “I would hate doing that.”
And he was gone. Brain freeze took over. He had no judgment, no willpower. He was all raw need and pain and gratitude. This was as unburdened as he’d felt in months and he was weak from having carried that grievous load for so long. Before a whole minute had passed, he had Terri down on the couch, kissing her, touching her, hearing her say, yes, yes, yes, yes.
He had one moment of sanity before he slipped his hand under her knit shirt. “Terri, this isn’t a good idea… I didn’t call you for this… I didn’t plan on this…”
“I didn’t, either,” she whispered, letting her eyes fall closed. “God, I missed you.”
Paul’s brain took a hike. He was all physical sensation. He was hard; she was soft. He was desperate, she was hot and willing, and beneath him she seemed as needy as he felt. He ground against her, her bare breast in his hand, his tongue licking its way along her neck. Her hands were on his belt buckle, then his zipper; his hands were tugging at her clothes while she squirmed and moaned. His lips were on her nipple; her hand wrapped around him and he almost lost it. He grabbed for his pocket, pulled an old condom from his wallet and, in a hoarse, desperate whisper he asked, “You have your side covered?”
“The pill, remember?” she answered breathlessly. “Oh God, oh God, oh God.”
Paul felt his pulse slow just slightly. The gentleman in him had to be sure she wasn’t left hanging so he took a moment, slid a finger along that erogenous knot in her very center while his lips tugged at her breast and when her sighs turned into near cries, he entered her, pumped his hips, waited for pleasure to lock her hips against him and steal her breath away, and he let months of misery spill out of him.
The first thing he felt, while he panted and tried to catch his breath, was overwhelming relief. Basic, primal, physical relief, as potent as a narcotic. The next thing he felt was regret. He shouldn’t have done that. Even though they had an understanding he could sense that she cared about him. Why else would she listen to him with such sensitivity; draw him inside and welcome this encounter.
But he loved someone else.
Haggerty, you are a brainless fool! he thought to himself. But he put a hand against the hair at her temple and brushed it back over her ear while she drifted slowly back to earth and her eyes opened. “Okay?” he asked.
She nodded and smiled. “God, I missed you so much.”
He gently kissed her lips. “I shouldn’t have let that happen. I’m too messed up. But thank you.”
She put a palm against his cheek. “My pleasure,” she said softly, smiling.
He held his weight off her and even though he felt stupid and guilty, he managed to smile at her. When a respectable length of time had passed, he said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t stay. I’d better get going.”
“I know. But maybe it won’t be six months until you call me again.”
“It won’t be,” he said. He would call her again, take her out for a drink, and try to explain that even though he didn’t have any reason to be optimistic, his heart was tied up elsewhere. And as long as that was the case, it was wrong for him to be intimate with Terri. She was a good person. She deserved better.
© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Keep Readingback to Top
Vanessa (Vanni) Rutledge—Giving birth to her son, Matthew, after her husband dies fighting in Iraq, Vanni comes to love Paul Haggerty but has a hard time convincing him he isn’t dishonoring his buddy by loving her in return. A former flight attendant and roommate of Nikki’s, daughter of General Walt Booth.
Joe Benson—Paul Haggerty’s best friend, an architect from Grant’s Pass, who falls in love with Nikki Jorgensen in Virgin River.
Nikki Jorgensen—The flight attendant friend of Vanessa’s, Nikki is based in San Francisco and has a fling with Joe Benson in Virgin River.
Muriel St. Claire—This 56-year-old movie star, expert horsewoman and lover of dogs is the romantic interest of her new neighbor back home in Virgin River, Walt Booth.
Terri—When she learns she’s pregnant, she tries to convince Paul Haggerty that the child is his.
Emma Sheridan—Mel and Jack Sheridan’s second child is born.
Dana Marie Middleton—Paige’s little girl is born.