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Lorana Hoopes

When Love Returns

When Love Returns

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Can a daughter's love rekindle an old flame?

When Love Returns brings a sweet romance between two childhood best friends who are reunited by a spontaneous twist of fate. Presley Hays was heartbroken when her best friend, Brandon Scott, chose Morgan over her. Five years later, Presley is back in Star Lake after a tough breakup, and Brandon unexpectedly returns home to aid his father, leading the two childhood friends to be reunited. Will they be able to forget the past and rekindle an old flame?
This book is full of emotion, humor, and heartache, and proves true love can never be forgotten. Read this stand-alone novel or as part of the series to start the journey today and find out if love will have a second chance.

First Chapter

There it was. The one stoplight Brandon thought he’d never see again, still blinking its irregular red pattern that no one ever paid attention to. As most of the shops were centrally located, few people drove in town. Their cars were used for driving to neighboring cities when what they wanted wasn’t available in town. There was no real need for the stop light, but the people had decided the town needed at least one stoplight to be called a proper town, and so it had been erected. 

There had been a huge ceremony the day it was christened; the whole town had shown up. The mayor had been forced to stand on a ladder to cut the red ribbon as someone had placed it too high. Once he was up the ladder, another member of the city board handed him a giant pair of silver scissors. Then it became a balancing act as the mayor tried to open the giant scissors without losing his balance – that had been comical – and the town had watched in awe as the stoplight blinked, blinked, long pause, blinked, blinked. 

The awe had faded quickly, and a squabble had broken out among the adults about the brand new broken light. The whole affair had been rather disappointing to a sixteen-year-old, who had been looking forward to getting his driver’s license. That day was the nail in the coffin that solidified Brandon’s idea of leaving the tiny backwards town and returning to normalcy. 

Then he had met Presley, and his life changed.

“Are we there yet, Daddy?” 

Brandon glanced in the rearview mirror at his daughter, Joy, strapped in her car seat. Her dark curls came from him, but her blue-grey eyes were her mother’s. Joy was the one good thing that came out of this town.

“Almost, Bug.”

She resumed her stare out the window as they continued down Main Street. The Diner still sat on the corner, probably still run by Max, the same uninspired owner who wore a ball cap and plaid flannel shirt to work every day. His choice of attire left a lot to be desired, but he was a good cook. To this day, Brandon was not sure he’d had a better burger.

Next to the diner was the small Post Office. Brandon had never spent much time there growing up, but he knew the man who worked there, Ned. An odd man to say the least – always trying out new ideas that never seemed to work. One year, he had tried raising chickens to supply eggs for the general store, but he had become attached to one of the chickens, naming her Stella and carrying her from place to place in a little bag like wealthy old women do with tiny dogs. The chicken had escaped the bag one day in the middle of The Diner and wreaked havoc, incensing Max. Stella disappeared after that, and Brandon was fairly certain she ended up on Max’s menu, but he could never prove it.

The general store appeared next. It carried groceries and a small selection of clothing and household goods. Brandon had been shocked by the meager selection when he first arrived, but the town wore on him and had a way of making him forget the outside world moving on around it. By the time he graduated high school, Brandon had been accustomed to the small offerings until he arrived in Dallas and felt like a total hick, at least three years behind the times.

“Daddy, look, cupcakes. Can we get one?”

Twisting in the black leather seat, Brandon followed her finger pointing out the opposite window. There had been no cupcake shop four years ago, but there was indeed a shop there now, where the laundromat had been, sporting a colorful cupcake sign and logo on the window. Sweet Treats. Not a highly original name, but neither were most of the stores in town.

“We’ll come back by later.” Brandon was curious about the owner. Who would choose to put up a new shop in this sleepy little town?

Her bottom lip turned out in an adorable pout, but she didn’t continue to fight him. For her, this trip was like a vacation to a new and unusual place. The two rarely ventured from Dallas, mainly because Brandon’s work kept him too busy for vacations. For him, it was a return to a past he had hoped to forget. Too much pain and too much sadness resided in this little town.

Brandon made a right down Cooper Street, the road that led to his parent’s house. Though it had been years since he had been back, he could drive the route blindfolded, partly because it was a simple route, and partly because he walked it so many times as a teenager. 

The two-story yellow house looked exactly as he remembered it, though the paint was chipping in a few more places and faded in others. The gravel of the driveway crunched under the tires as he pulled in. Brandon parked the car and took a deep breath.

“Let me out Daddy,” Joy called from the back seat. 

Sighing, he opened her door and then reached in to unbuckle her. Though five, she was still too small to qualify for a booster seat, and Brandon felt safer having her in the bigger car seat anyway. No one ever told him that when he became a parent, he would have crazy nightmares about all the ways he could lose his daughter. The car accident was always the worst.

Joy scurried out of the car, her faded pink bunny clutched in one petite hand. On the day she was born, Brandon’s mother had given her a soft pink cuddle bunny. Joy latched onto it, sleeping with it every night. When she began crawling, she would often pick up the bunny in her mouth, dragging it across the floors. Even after she began walking, the bunny would go outside with her to play in the dirt or be flung around the room. The bunny had seen better days, but she refused to part with it for any longer than an occasional trip in the washing machine, and of course, no one sold this bunny any longer. Brandon had scoured the internet one day looking for a replacement, but come up empty. He dreaded the day it fell apart, and he couldn’t replace it.

As Joy scrambled up the wooden porch, Brandon popped the trunk and grabbed the two suitcases he packed the night before. His hope was that they’d only be here a week, but he had no guarantee and therefore packed for at least two. 

Joy was banging on the door when Brandon reached her side. She hadn’t been around his parents much, as Brandon had moved to Dallas shortly after Joy’s first birthday, but they had visited a few times. Joy always clung to them when they did as if she knew the time wouldn’t be for very long. Now, she had created this idea in her head of what they would be like while she was here and regaled Brandon with it the last few days. He hoped she wouldn’t be disappointed but was afraid she might. His mother probably wouldn’t be able to spend much time with her as she would be taking care of his father, at least when he got released from the hospital.

Brandon’s mother opened the door and broke into a smile. She looked older than he remembered. More lines crossed her face and more grey streaks colored her hair, but her eyes still twinkled the way they always had. 

“Joy.” She bent down with her arms out. 

“Nana.” Joy ran into her arms, squeezing the woman tightly about the neck. “You smell like cookies.”

A smile played across Brandon’s lips. His mother always smelled of vanilla and sugar, and while she had often had a plate of cookies waiting for him when he arrived home from school, she hadn’t every day, and he wondered how she still smelled of cookies on those days.  

“That’s because I have some in the kitchen.” She tapped the end of Joy’s nose, earning a giggle. “Now, come in, and let’s get you settled.” 

“Then can we have cookies?” Joy bounced up and down, sending the lights in her pink sneakers into overdrive. His mother nodded, smiling at her enthusiasm.

Brandon pulled the two suitcases into the homey entrance and shut the door behind him. 

The house hadn’t changed a bit. A wooden coatrack still sat just to the right of the front door, holding his father’s derby cap and a few coats, and the sign, announcing “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” still hung prominently on the wall. Brandon shed his coat, adding it to the rack and then removed Joy’s as well.

“Let me show you to your room.” His mother grabbed Joy’s free hand and led her down the beige carpeted hallway. Pictures of Brandon and his sister, Anna, lined the walls. His mother never let an opportunity to take a picture go by, and Brandon was almost certain she bought every school picture they ever had so she could display them all on the walls. He had tried to remove one once and replace it with something else, but she noticed right away and forced him to rehang the picture.

His mother opened the door to the guest room. She had obviously added some decorations for a younger child to enjoy. The daybed had been covered with a flowery pink and purple bedspread, and a blonde doll sat propped on top. An old dollhouse was near the dresser along with a faded toy box filled with toys.

“This is all for me?” Joy’s eyes were wide as she looked up at Brandon’s mother.

The lines around his mother’s eyes grew more visible as she smiled. “Yep, all for you. A girl needs proper toys.”

“Especially in this town,” he said under his breath. Not quietly enough though as his mother shot a look full of daggers his direction. How quickly she could change from sugar to fire. Brandon held his hand up in silent apology. 

“Where is Daddy staying?”

“Right across the hall.” His mother opened the door to Brandon’s old room which looked very much like it had in high school. His football awards still lined the shelf, though a fine layer of dust coated them now, and the tattered posters of his favorite bands covered the walls.

“Didn’t feel like updating this one?” he asked.

His mother shrugged. “Maybe I would have if you came around more often.”

Brandon wanted to reply, but he didn’t want to start a fight, so he bit his tongue and carried the suitcase inside. After dropping off Joy’s suitcase as well, they followed his mother back towards the open living room and into the country-themed kitchen. Brandon hated the flowered wallpaper trim that circled the kitchen, but his mother hung it herself and had always loved it.

A plate of chocolate chip cookies sat in the middle of the scratched kitchen table. The usual wild flower display had been pushed to the side. Joy turned eager eyes on Brandon, the unasked question evident.

“You may have one.” He held up a finger. “I don’t want you to spoil your dinner.”

She climbed up in a chair and snatched a cookie off the top of the pile, shoving most of it in her mouth. 

Brandon shook his head. “You could chew more slowly.”

Her ravenous munching changed to a thoughtful chewing, and he joined her at the table, plucking a cookie for himself off the pile. 

“How is Dad?” Brandon asked before taking a bite. His father was the whole reason he was here. He was in the hospital after falling off a ladder and fracturing his skull. Though Brandon’s mother claimed he hadn’t needed to come, he couldn’t very well stay in Dallas if there was a chance this was life threatening, and brain bleeds often were. 

Plus, he figured his mother might need some help with his father when he got released. He would probably not be as active as he was before the accident.  However, Brandon was in the middle of a big presentation, one that could set him up for life with an even bigger company, so he had left strict instructions with his assistant to keep him in the loop. 

A flicker of doubt erased his mother’s twinkling eyes for a moment before she recovered. “He is doing better today. The nurses say he only had a few instances of confusion yesterday, but they want to run another CT tomorrow.”

“Any idea on when he’ll be released?” Brandon took a bite of the cookie, enjoying the warm chocolate goodness. He had missed his mom’s cooking.

“Probably another few days, but it depends on what the scan shows. He has a pretty big brain bleed.”

“Your brain can bleed?” Joy’s head popped up, her eyes as wide as saucers.

His mother shot an apologetic look and without saying it, the two agreed to finish the discussion later when little ears were not present.

“Don’t worry.” Brandon patted her arm. “The brain is amazing and can heal itself. When does Anna get in?” Anna, his younger sister, was away at college studying to become a nurse.

“She has finals this week, so she’s coming as soon as she finishes the last one. Oh, and guess who else is back in town?”

Brandon raised an eyebrow at her; he had never been a fan of the guessing game.

“Presley Hays.”

Presley Hays. The name knocked the wind out of him like a sucker punch. He hadn’t thought of her in years. In high school, Presley had been his best friend – the one person who had made this town bearable – but for some reason they had grown apart when Morgan entered the picture, and then one day Presley had come over to tell him she was going to France to attend Le Cordon Bleu.

“The cupcake shop?” Brandon said the words for himself, but his mother smiled and nodded. 

“Who’s Presley?” Joy looked from Brandon to his mother.

“Just an old friend,” Brandon said. Just an old friend.

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Lorana Hoopes

Lorana Hoopes is a USA Today Best Selling Author and now an Award Winning Author as well. She's had two books earn a Page Turner Award Finalist badge and she recently won the Reader's Favorite Book Award for Romantic Suspense.