Pinecrest #3
July 21, 2020

Available in: eBook

Second Chance Forgiveness

Single dad Grady Reynolds finds raising two girls a difficult task, especially when one is a troubled teenager. He takes a new job in the small town of Pinecrest, Washington, with hope of starting over after his wife’s death. But he encounters his past in the form of new coworker Maria Sanchez, his late wife’s friend.

Maria’s plate is full with her job at her friend’s charitable foundation. Working with Grady only serves to remind her of their acrimonious last words at his wife’s funeral. How can she have a good working relationship with a man who has lost his faith and isn’t ready to give or receive forgiveness?

Can Maria and Grady’s daughters help him see the need for forgiveness and love?

Chapter One

The dreaded day had arrived. Maria Sanchez was finally facing Grady Reynolds, who sat across from her at a shiny cherry conference table. Twisting her hands in her lap, she gathered her courage and weighed her words. “Let’s just get the past out of the way.”

Grady narrowed his gaze. “And what do you mean by that?”

The forced smile Maria tried to hold in place faded as she read displeasure in the frown that creased his brow. “You know what I mean. About what happened when your wife died.”

“I don’t want to talk about Nina’s death. It doesn’t have anything to do with here and now.”

“Then you won’t let it interfere with our working together?”

“No. I believe we can make this a smooth transition. The past won’t interfere.”

She should have been satisfied with that answer, but his expression made her doubt his willingness to put their history behind them. “Okay, but why do I get the feeling you still hold some resentment?”

“Because I do. But it won’t be a problem.” He stared at her, his blue eyes and the set of his shoulders conveying his discomfort.

Could she convince him that tiptoeing around the past was only going to make things difficult later on? “Don’t you think we should clear the air?”

“Rehashing what happened isn’t going to change anything.” His chin jutted out. “So let’s drop it.”

Crossing her arms, Maria pressed her lips together in an effort to keep from saying something she’d regret. The last time they had spoken, the day of his wife’s funeral more than four years earlier, his cruel and untrue accusations about Maria’s part in his wife’s betrayal had crushed her heart. And she had made no attempt to defend herself against the grieving, angry man.

Now he didn’t want to talk. Possibly he was right, but she feared his view of what had taken place would interfere with their working relationship. Maybe she just needed to give it time—to get to know him again and see how things went. “If that’s how you feel, then I won’t discuss it. After all, I haven’t talked about it since then. Why should I start now?”

“I appreciate your silence.” Sitting back in his chair, he seemed to relax. “I’m trying to put the past behind me. Talking about it just resurrects the whole mess.”

How could she respond? She believed a person had to get the past out in the open, not shove it in some corner. But that was her way of dealing with the past, not Grady’s. With God’s help, she’d try to see things Grady’s way.

Maria watched as he opened a folder with the JMR Charitable Foundation logo on it. He looked much the same as he had the last time she’d seen him, except that the lines around his blue eyes had deepened. His light brown hair was still cut in the same short style, and his charcoal gray suit showed off his broad shoulders.

She had forgotten what a handsome man he was. Or maybe she had never seen him as attractive, because of his wife’s complaints that he was a man who cared more about his job than his family. That had struck a chord within her because her father had been that way, too.

Good looks couldn’t cover a flawed character. But no one else seemed to hold the opinion that he was flawed in any way. Everyone else thought he was wonderful. Ever since Jillian Lawson, her boss, had hired him as the administrator of the new assisted-living facility, everyone had sung the praises of the high-powered attorney.

Maria had been fretting about this day ever since she heard the news. Trying to manufacture some confidence about working with Grady, she opened her portfolio and pulled out several brochures. “Here’s the promotional material.”

Still not meeting her gaze, he picked up one of the brochures and studied it. He motioned to the other brochures on the table. “Could you bring me up to speed on the opening?”

“Okay.” Maria proceeded to tell him about the program that the hospital auxiliary had planned for the opening.

“Sounds like everything’s in order,” he said when she’d finished.

“Yes, it is. We have residents ready to move in as soon as they give us a certificate of occupancy.”

“When do you expect that to happen?”

“As soon as we pass the final inspection.” Standing, she opened a folder and spread its contents on the table. “Here’s a list of the inspections.”

He joined her and glanced at the papers, then looked at her. “In a week?”

“Yes.” Despite the past conflicts between her and Grady, she had to admit that having him on board made her job a lot easier. He could deal with the assisted-living facility, and she could now concentrate on her own responsibilities with the foundation.

“There’s nothing like plunging into the job,” he said.

“It’ll keep you busy.” Was he the same workaholic he’d been when Nina was alive? Hoping to gain insight into his present circumstances, Maria asked, “Where are your girls?”

“Amanda and Kelsey are staying with Nina’s mother. I’m going back at the end of the week to get them. They aren’t very excited about leaving California and all their friends.”

“I can understand that. It’s hard for kids to move. Where are you staying while you’re here?”

Grady straightened the papers in the folder, then glanced at her. “At Clay’s. Little brother’s letting me stay in his apartment since his family went with him on his consulting job.”

Maria’s heart sank. “I guess Clay told you I live in the upstairs apartment.”

“Yeah, he mentioned it.”

“You’re staying there now?” She wondered how she would work with him and have him living so close, too. But he didn’t seem bothered at all. “I didn’t see your car. How did I miss you?”

“I got into town after midnight and got up very early this morning to come to the office.”

“Are you planning to rent the apartment after Clay and Beth move out?”

“Yeah, until we find something more permanent.” He picked up one of the brochures and put it in his briefcase. “And it’ll have to be soon, because I’m not sure how long the girls can survive sharing a room. Sometimes there’s no love lost between them. Maybe it’s the age difference.”

“I wouldn’t know. I didn’t have a sister, just brothers. Four of them. Growing up, I often wished for a sister.”

“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “Sometimes when my girls fight with each other, I think they wish they didn’t have a sibling.”

“They’ll outgrow that.” Maria remembered the last time she’d seen Amanda and Kelsey. Amanda had been nine, Kelsey only four. Now Amanda was a teenager. Hard to believe. “So they’re not looking forward to the move?”

“No, but I bribed them. I told them they could learn to ski and ride horses.” He smiled wryly, and a dimple appeared in his right cheek.

Maria didn’t want to admit this man was absolutely gorgeous when he looked at her that way. And she’d been worried about not getting along with him? Now she had to worry about gaping at him when he entered the room. She gave herself a mental shake, reminding herself that his good looks wouldn’t make up for the way he’d treated her.

“It’ll be nice to see them again. I’m sure they’ve grown a lot since…” She bit her lip and glanced out the window. Here was the past again, intruding even when the subject seemed safe.

He finished the sentence for her. “Since their mother died.”

“Yeah, since Nina died.” Turning, Maria looked at him. What must it be like for those little girls to grow up without a mother? Her heart ached for them. “I wanted to know how they were coping. I prayed for them. And for you.”

He stared back, his expression blank. “Maybe your prayers helped them, but they didn’t do much for me.”

“Prayers always help in some way.”

“Maybe you think so.”

“Yes, I do.”

He gripped the back of the chair, his knuckles white. “Well, I don’t.”

“Even if you don’t agree with me about prayer, I think you have to agree that the past is going to be an issue for us. All I did was ask about your girls, and there it was. The past.”

Silence filled the room. Reading animosity in Grady’s gaze, Maria turned away again to look out the window at the streets of the town of Pinecrest. A cloud momentarily cast a shadow across the landscape. What should she say now? She and Grady were the only ones who knew the awful truth about the death of his wife. Not even Clay knew about her affair with another man. And as far as Maria was concerned, no one ever needed to know.

Still, she wanted answers about why Grady was willing to work with her when he’d told her back then that he never wanted to see her again. Did she dare ask? God, please help me say the right things. I don’t want to alienate Grady.

Maria pivoted on her heel and faced him. “Why did you take this job when you knew I was working here? You made it quite clear at Nina’s funeral that you didn’t approve of me.”

Before he could answer, a jangling ring captured their attention. She glanced at the phone on the conference table, then back at him. With a sigh she picked up the receiver. “Maria Sanchez. May I help you?” She paused and listened. “I see. I’ll take care of it right away.”

“Problems?”

“Yes, with the inspection.” She gathered her papers and shoved them into her portfolio. “We need to go over to the site right away.”

“What’s wrong?”

“The plumbing. They’ll show us when we get there.” Maria sighed again. “I’m not sure how this will affect the people who are ready to move in and the opening celebration. We’ve built in extra time, but if this turns into something major, all those plans may have to be axed. That’s the last thing we need.”

“We’ll get it worked out.” Grady picked up his briefcase and followed her into the hallway.

“I hope you’re right.” She turned to look at him. “Did Jillian issue you a hard hat?”

He shook his head. “Do I need one?”

“Yes, when we get to the site. I keep mine in my car, but I have an extra in my office. I’ll get it. And I’ll get you a list of phone numbers for the contractors you’ll be dealing with on the project.”

“Great.” He held up his briefcase and the brochures. “I need to put this stuff away and make a phone call before we go.”

“Okay. I’ll come down to your office after I pick up the hard hat.”

Minutes later, Maria walked down the corridor, her footsteps echoing in the quiet. The door to Grady’s office was open, and she hesitated before entering. With his back to the door, he was standing in front of his office window and talking on a cell phone. Not wanting to interrupt his conversation, she stepped away. Even at a distance, she could hear his part of the exchange.

“I have to leave the office. I’m not sure when I’ll be back. So if you need me, you can reach me on my cell phone.” Then there was silence. Maria moved toward the door but came to a sudden stop when she heard his voice again. “I love you, too. I miss you. I’ll call you when I get home. Bye.”

Maria wondered about the object of his affection. His kids? A girlfriend? Shaking off the speculation, she knocked lightly on the doorframe and poked her head into the room. “Ready?”

Turning, he shoved the cell phone into his pocket. “Sure.”

“Here’s your hard hat,” she said, noticing that he had discarded his tie and suit coat. It made him seem more approachable. Maybe it was a sign that their working relationship could get off to a good start.

“Thanks.” Smiling, he took the hard hat and draped his coat and tie over his arm. “That was my girls on the phone.”

“How are they?” Maria didn’t want to think about her relief that it wasn’t a girlfriend. She forced herself to think about something other than the way his smile made her feel.

He closed his office door. “Fighting as usual.”

“Didn’t you fight with your brothers and sister while you were growing up?
Shrugging, he headed for the exit. “Could be, but I really don’t remember fighting like that.”

“I had some really awful fights with my older brothers, but we’re all friends now. Though they still think of me as their little sister.”

He looked down at her and grinned. “I can understand why.”

She met his gaze. Although she was five and a half feet tall, he still stood a head taller than she did. He kept grinning at her. She glanced away. “Just because you’re tall, that doesn’t mean I’m little.”

She strode quickly across the parking. His good-natured friendliness was something she hadn’t expected. She knew this man as stern and standoffish. Why was he suddenly acting like they were friends? Was he just trying to make the best of their working relationship?

He laughed as he matched her pace. “Seems you’re a little sensitive about your brothers’ kidding.”

“Maybe.” She punched the keyless remote to unlock her car, opened the back door and placed her computer case and hardhat on the seat. Then she turned to Grady, who was still grinning at her, and forced herself to smile at him. “We might as well ride together.”

***

Grady glanced in Maria’s direction as she drove out of the parking lot. What was she thinking? Had the construction problems made her forget her unanswered question? He hadn’t forgotten it. He’d tried to lighten the mood, but he sensed wariness in her response. He probably wasn’t handling this well at all.

He’d thought leaving his hometown and settling in this quiet, little town would mean leaving the past behind as well. Somehow he’d made himself believe Maria wouldn’t mention the hostility at Nina’s funeral, but she’d brought it up without hesitation. How was he going to deal with it?

Even though he reported to Jillian Lawson, the founder of the charitable foundation, Maria wielded a lot of influence in the organization. Her navy blue power suit reminded him that she was a no-nonsense businesswoman. Animosity between them wouldn’t help their working relationship. He didn’t want to see disapproval over their last encounter in her dark chocolate-brown eyes. He’d thought being around her again wouldn’t be a problem, but he’d been wrong. All the pain surrounding his wife’s death had come rushing back like the gray clouds gathering just above the horizon in the western sky.

When Maria stopped at a red light in the middle of town, she looked his way. “I’d still like to know why you took this job when you knew I worked for Jillian.”

Grady glanced at her for a moment, then turned to look out the window at the drugstore, post office and gas station on the main street. Had she been reading his thoughts? He wished he could escape her scrutiny, but he couldn’t run away from the question. “I didn’t know you still worked for Jillian,” he replied without looking at her. “I thought you’d left your position with the foundation when she moved her office here.”

“I did take a year’s leave of absence at the time of the move, but technically I still worked for Jillian. I had the opportunity to spend a year helping with one of the foundation’s mission projects in El Salvador. Jillian urged me to go and promised that my job would be waiting for me when I returned.”

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about Jillian and her foundation.” He finally looked at Maria, but she was looking straight ahead when the light turned green.

“Jillian’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I can’t tell you what she means to me.” She glanced his way for a moment, then turned her gaze forward again as she drove past the Pinecrest Café.

The disapproval he had been so worried about wasn’t in her eyes. Instead, they shone brightly. With tears? He wasn’t sure. Maybe it was the sunlight filtering through the clouds. He’d been prepared to continue despising her, but something tugged at his heart when she blinked and said, “You’ll like working for her.”

“That’s what Clay said when he persuaded me to apply for this job.”

“And you thought I was gone?”

“That’s right.” Grady nodded. “Last Thanksgiving, when I told Clay I was planning to close the law firm, he suggested I talk to Jillian about the assisted-living facility. When I met with her, she had me convinced to take the job in an instant.”

A genuine smile curved Maria’s generous lips. “Jillian is quite persuasive when it comes to one of her projects.”

Grady nodded. “Especially the Alzheimer’s unit.”

“Yes, since her mother suffers from the disease.” The breeze from the open window blew a strand of sable-brown hair across Maria’s face. She reached up and pushed it behind one ear. “Why would you close the law firm?”

Grady furrowed his brow. How did he answer that question? There were lots of reasons. But he couldn’t tell her about the most pressing one.

He didn’t want to explain that he’d found a nearly empty bottle of vodka in Amanda’s closet. She’d insisted it belonged to a friend, but Grady didn’t know whether to believe her. And even if it did belong to a friend, that was a good enough reason to consider moving. She needed different friends.

Looking down, he rubbed his forehead. “It was a family decision. After Dad died, we kids kept the firm going. But after my sister had her first child, she didn’t want to work full time. My brother Trent was tired of the long days. He wanted to teach at a nearby college. And Clay was never interested in being part of the firm. So it was a mutual decision to finish the cases we had, then close.”

“This will be a different kind of work for you.”

Grady wondered what she meant by that. Did she think he didn’t have the necessary qualifications? “Yes, but many of my cases were in the healthcare industry.”

“I know, but you’ll be seeing it from a different perspective now. Jillian told me about your experience. That’s why she was excited about hiring you.”

“But you don’t share her excitement?”

Maria shook her head. “I didn’t say that. I just thought you would’ve changed your mind when you found out I still worked for Jillian. Clay must’ve told you.”

Grady laughed halfheartedly. “Yeah, after I had gone on and on about this being the perfect opportunity. I couldn’t very well back out then.”

“You could’ve.” She raised an eyebrow. “If the girls don’t want to move, and you’ve got reservations about working with me, seems to me it wouldn’t be worth it to take the job.”

Grady wondered just how much he could reveal about his reasons for wanting to leave his hometown. “Yeah, but I decided having a good job was more important than worrying about you. And I needed to get the girls away from Nina’s mother.”

Maria frowned. “Why would you want to deprive the girls of their grandmother?”

Grady knew as soon as the words had left his mouth that he had said way too much. How was he going to explain? What was there about this woman that had him explaining himself when there was no need? And now she was expecting an answer.

“I’m not.” Pressing his fingers to his forehead, he searched for the right words. “I just can’t go on pretending Nina was a fine, upstanding woman who met a tragic death in a car accident. When her mother starts praising Nina to Amanda and Kelsey—and wants me to give affirmation to what she says—it kills me. I don’t want to denigrate Nina in front of the girls, but I hate pretending she was a wonderful person.”

“She was a good mother,” Maria said, her voice full of conviction.

“In your opinion.” He shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about Nina. It won’t accomplish anything.”

The hum of the motor filled the silence as Maria turned onto the highway that took them to the assisted-living facility on the far edge of town. He hoped there would be no more conversations about Nina or anything to do with the past. Maybe taking this job had been a bad idea after all. But he couldn’t back out now. Jillian was counting on him. Too many things had been set in motion. He had sold his house in California. There was no turning back. And besides, he always fulfilled his obligations.

Once the facility was opened, he would move his office there, and he probably wouldn’t see Maria very often. Right now, he needed her expertise to make the transition into the job. Her help was vital. Like today with the inspectors and contractors. He could deal with Maria in the few weeks they would be working together on this endeavor. Or could he? Would the past continued to haunt them? He was beginning to have second thoughts about his adamant refusal to talk about Nina. Maybe he should find out why Maria had helped his wife with her betrayal.

He glanced Maria’s way. His stomach lurched at the thought of discussing Nina. He didn’t have the courage today. Besides, Maria had slowed the car to turn into the newly paved parking lot at the facility. Landscapers scurried around, cutting and trimming the grass and planting shrubs along the foundation of the building. There wasn’t enough time for a discussion now.

After Maria got out of the car, she stared at him, her dark eyes filled with worry. “Let’s hope this turns out to be a small problem with a quick solution.”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking.” He turned and strode up the walk. With every step he realized he wanted to take away her worry. Why did he want to do that? To prove to Maria—and to himself—that he was the right man for this job?

***

Maria hurried after Grady. His long strides carried him to the front door in a few steps. He opened it and waited for her to go inside. He even smiled. A good thing.

She didn’t want to think about their disagreement over the past. That was the last thing she needed to be thinking about. They were both professionals. They could work together no matter the circumstances.

The smell of fresh paint greeted them as they stepped into what would eventually be the reception area. The clean fragrance of new construction filled the air. They donned their hard hats. The building looked complete, ready for furnishings and people, but nothing more would happen until all the inspections were done.

Maria glanced around, then turned to Grady. “The inspector said he’d meet us by the front door. Where is he?”

“Right here.” A small, wiry man wearing a white hard hat and carrying a clipboard hurried toward them.

After a flurry of introductions, the inspector showed them several apartments where the plumbing wasn’t up to code because the hot and cold faucets were reversed. Maria watched with reluctant appreciation as Grady took charge, making phone calls and taking notes. His charm and persuasive manner had people hopping to do whatever he said. Maria had never seen him work in the courtroom, but she was sure he had used these same skills to win many cases.

When Grady had finished talking with the inspector and making arrangements for a new inspection in a couple of days, they shook hands, and the inspector left.

Shoving his cell phone into his pocket, he looked at Maria. “Well, that wasn’t too bad.”

“Yeah.” Maria glanced at her watch. “Thankfully, that didn’t take much time. I’ve got a meeting at four o’clock. I need to get back to the office.”

Grady surveyed the room. “I’m going to hang around and wait for the plumbing contractor. That’ll give me a chance to take a tour of the place. I’ll catch a ride back to the office with someone.”

“Sure. See you later.” Relieved not to have to deal with Grady on her way back, Maria hurried out of the building. As she drove away, she caught a glimpse of him talking with a man who had just arrived. She tried to block thoughts of Grady from her mind, but without success. Making her way through the quiet streets of Pinecrest, she grudgingly admitted that the man knew how to take charge and get things done. She should be glad that he was here. It would lighten her workload. But she worried that bad feelings concerning Nina might spill over into their work, even though he’d said it wouldn’t.

Maria still wanted to set the record straight about Nina. Something told her the opportunity to tell her side of the story wouldn’t come easily. She didn’t want to force the issue.

For a moment this afternoon, Grady had been friendly, and she had forgotten how he had treated her at Nina’s funeral. His belligerence then had shown his unforgiving spirit. So much about him reminded her of her father. Her father’s workaholic nature had hurt her family. How many times had he promised to be at a sporting event, school play or birthday party, but not shown because something had come up at work? He’d left her heartbroken time after time. She’d seen the same thing in Nina’s life with Grady.

But Maria couldn’t hold that against him. No matter how he conducted his personal life, no matter how unforgiving he had been to her, God expected her to forgive. She had to remember not to be judgmental, but that was difficult to do where Grady Reynolds was concerned.

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