By Jen Gilroy
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She has a million reasons to leave.
Can he give her the one she needs to stay?
Cat McGuire’s return to Firefly Lake is turning into much more than she bargained for. Sure, she missed the crisp pine-scented air and the comfort of having her family around her. But being home makes her feel less like the successful single mom she is–and more like the awkward teen who never fit in. It doesn’t help that hockey-pro Luc Simard is back in town, too. Luc was her childhood crush, the hometown hero who never noticed her, and yet somehow he still makes her heart skip a beat.
Luc’s homecoming has been bittersweet. He’s lost his wife and his career, but there’s no better place to start over than Firefly Lake. Coaching the local kids’ hockey team makes him feel alive again, and he thinks his life is complete–until Cat arrives. The shy girl he always wanted to protect is now the gorgeous woman who’s stealing his heart and making him believe in second chances. But how can he convince Cat that Firefly Lake is where she truly belongs?
In the tradition of New York Times bestselling authors Susan Wiggs and RaeAnne Thayne comes an emotional story about finding love in the most unexpected of places from Jen Gilroy.
Thanks to my editor, Michele Bidelspach, who makes my books better, and the entire team at Grand Central Forever for their enthusiasm, hard work, and support of the Firefly Lake series.
I’m grateful to my agent, Dawn Dowdle at Blue Ridge Literary Agency, who continues to guide my career with skill, kindness, and compassion.
An appreciative shout-out to Jennifer Brodie, who helped me when I’d fallen into a “plot hole” with this book, and Hope Ramsay, whose discerning critique of an early part of the manuscript (which I won from the wonderful Ruby Slippered Sisterhood) made me think about the story in new ways.
As in the other books in this series, the dragonfly reference is for my Romance Writers of America (RWA) class of 2015 Golden Heart finalists, the Dragonflies. I’m glad you’re part of my writing journey.
I’m also grateful for my many supportive friends in the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA).
To Tracy Brody and Arlene McFarlane, thank you for the friendship, prayers, and all-round awesomeness in both life and writing.
To Susanna Bavin, thank you for the encouragement, “hwyl,” wise advice, and always being there with a virtual cup of tea and fab biscuits.
As always, thank you to my husband, daughter, and Heidi, the sister of my heart, who put up with the highs and lows of my writing life with humor and grace, love me unconditionally, and who always believe in me.
And to all the readers who pick up this book and others in the Firefly Lake series. Thank you for reading and taking my characters into your lives and hearts. I’m so very grateful for each and every one of you.
Next.” The high-pitched, perky voice came from the woman behind the arena’s reception desk.
Cat McGuire moved forward and wrinkled her nose. The pungent cocktail of stale beer, sweat, and hockey equipment invaded her senses. “Hi. I’m here to register my daughter for hockey.” She glanced at twelve-year-old Amy beside her. Under the harsh, fluorescent light, Amy’s dark-blond hair was limp and colorless, and above her Pittsburgh Penguins jersey her expression was sulky.
“Firefly Lake doesn’t have any hockey teams for girls.” The woman’s tone was curt, her face unsmiling. She had long, highlighted brown hair and shiny pink lips, and wore a too-tight white sweater.
“But when I called before Christmas, the man I spoke to said we could register today in person.” Cat dug her nails into her damp palms. “I told him Amy was a girl.”
“That would’ve been the skate sharpening guy. He always gets mixed up. It doesn’t matter, though, because girl or boy, this registration is only for kids five and under. The main hockey registration closed in September.” She shuffled papers, brisk and officious. “No exceptions, not even for you.” As the woman looked her up and down, faint recognition tugged at the edge of Cat’s consciousness.
“Not even…” Cat stopped. “Stephanie?”
Stephanie Larocque, the girl Cat had envied and hated from kindergarten on, nodded and tossed her hair over her shoulders like she’d done in high school. “I heard you were back in town.”
Cat didn’t need to ask how. Although she’d been in Firefly Lake less than twenty-four hours, it was a small town and news traveled with the efficiency of a bush telegraph in the Australian outback.
“Then you also know I wasn’t here in September.” Cat tried to keep her voice even. She was an adult, Stephanie was too, and their school days were long behind them. “Are there any other options? Amy loves hockey.”
“No.” Stephanie gave her best cheerleader smile. “Rules are rules.”
“Mom.” Amy’s voice was a whine mixed with an anguished wail. “It’s bad enough you made me move to Vermont, but if I can’t play hockey I’ll die.”
Cat’s heart pounded. She had to fix this—and fast. “Sweetie, we’ll work something out, I—”
“I can’t have any kid dying on my watch.” The voice was deep, male, and familiar. “Hey, Cat.”
“Luc.” Cat’s head jerked up.
Next to her, Amy sucked in a breath.
The man who stood behind Stephanie smiled at them. The same easygoing smile Luc Simard had always given Cat, the one that had graced a thousand sports pages. He still had the same hair, too, dark golden brown like maple syrup. “It’s great news about the research grant. I never thought we’d see you back living in Firefly Lake.”
Cat hadn’t either, but desperate times called for desperate measures. If things worked out like she planned, she wouldn’t have to live here permanently. Her stomach knotted. “Life can surprise you.”
“It sure can.” Luc’s smile slipped and his blue eyes clouded.
Cat’s face heated. More than anyone, Luc knew how life could throw you a curve.
“So what’s the problem?” His voice was gruff.
“I…” Cat swallowed.
“The problem,” Stephanie interjected, “is that Cat wants to register her daughter for hockey. I already told her we don’t offer girls’ hockey, but even if we did, registration for any child older than five closed in September.” Stephanie’s voice had the same smug tone as in first grade when she’d told Cat the whole class had seen her underwear. She glanced at Luc and her expression warmed. “It’s nothing for you to worry about, sugar.”
Cat blinked. Stephanie had the same mix of Vermont and Quebec roots she did. As far as she could remember, nobody under the age of seventy had ever called anybody else “sugar” around here.
“Hockey spaces fill up fast.” Luc rested one blue-jeaned leg against the desk. “I hear Amy’s a good little player.” His gaze shifted from Cat to her daughter. “Your grandma has told me lots about you.”
“She has?” Amy’s eyes widened.
“Absolutely. She’s real proud of you.” Luc reached over Stephanie’s head of pageant hair and scooped several sheets of paper from the desk. “The girls here are into figure skating, not hockey, but there’s nothing to say a girl who wants to play hockey can’t. Since Amy’s only turned twelve, if you give the go-ahead, she can play on the boys’ team. One more kid won’t make a difference.”
“But… but…” Stephanie stuttered. “It says right here, no exceptions.” She waved a blue binder. “You could get me fired. I need this job and—”
“You won’t get fired.” Luc’s gaze swiveled from Stephanie to Cat and held. She trembled and her breath quickened. “No exceptions unless at the coach’s discretion. Since Coach MacPherson fell off a ladder hanging up decorations for a New Year’s Eve party and broke his leg in three places, I’m filling in. In this case, I’m making an exception.” He quirked an eyebrow, and his smile was sweet and way too sexy for comfort.
“Mom?” The yearning in Amy’s voice punched Cat’s chest. “Please? You promised I could play, no matter what, remember? It’s not as if there’s anything else here for me.” Her face was white, her expression strained and etched with desperation.
Cat had promised, and she’d already taken Amy away from the only home she remembered, her team, and the hockey tournament. She drew in a breath. “There’s family here and a good school for you.” Cat had to get Amy back on track academically. And she had to give them both a better chance for stability and future financial security.
“School’s a waste of time for me.” Amy stared at her feet, but not before Cat caught the flicker of uncertainty in her light blue eyes, as well as the fear.
Her stomach clenched. Had she put that look in Amy’s eyes? “I guess you can play with the boys, at least for now.” She forced the words out and glanced up at Luc. “Thank you.” The backs of her eyes burned. Luc was still kind, and although he hadn’t been a real part of her life for years, he’d slipped right back in to looking out for her like he always had.
“Mom!” This time, Amy’s voice was an excited yelp. She jumped up and down, and her winter boots squeaked on the scuffed tile. “You’re amazing. He’s amazing. This is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me. I promise you won’t regret it.”
Cat regretted it already, but she couldn’t deny Amy something that would make her this happy and help her feel good about herself, too.
Luc pivoted away from Stephanie with surprising grace, and Cat’s tongue got stuck to the roof of her mouth. She always forgot how big he was, and how he filled whatever space he was in and seemed to suck the air out of it—at least her air.
“Since there’s a line of folks waiting to do whatever it is they need to do before we close, you go on and help them, and I’ll handle Amy’s registration.” He smiled again, and Cat’s heart skipped a beat.
“I… you…” Stephanie’s face was a mottled red.
“Sometimes everyone needs a helping hand. No man or woman is an island.” Luc’s blue gaze drilled into Cat, the same blue as his crewneck Henley. The T-shirt molded to his broad chest and powerful forearms before it dipped below the waistband of his jeans to rest against…
Cat’s hands tingled as warmth spread through her chest. She wouldn’t go there. Not with anyone, but especially not with Luc. As toddlers, they’d gone to the same playgroup and attended the same birthday parties. He’d seen her with cake on her face and ice cream in her hair. He’d been her lab partner in chemistry senior year, and he’d rented her old bedroom in her mom’s house for the past four months.
In all that time, he’d never looked at her, except as a friend of the family. The kid with the thick glasses who’d skipped fifth grade, and who was so bad at sports she was the last one picked for any team except when he took pity on her.
In their small-town world, Luc had been a god. The kind of guy who’d dated the pretty, popular girls. Even if Cat had been the kind of woman for a man like him, having feelings for him would be wrong on so many levels. Her life had changed almost beyond recognition since high school, but it hadn’t changed enough for that.
Luc opened the metal gate separating the reception desk from the arena foyer and waved Cat and Amy toward the cubbyhole that served as the coaching office. Even before Jim MacPherson’s accident, the hockey program had been in chaos, so one more kid truly wouldn’t make a difference. Even if it had, though, making that exception would have been worth it for the expression on Cat’s face. Relief, gratitude, and something he didn’t want to put a label on but that touched an emotion he’d forgotten he could feel.
As for Amy, he might not know much about kids, but her longing was palpable. She clearly needed to play hockey almost as much as she needed to breathe. “Take a seat.” He gestured to the two chairs in front of the coach’s desk, now his desk at least until the end of the season.
Cat nudged her daughter, who continued to stare at him like he’d sprouted an extra head.
“You… you’ll be coaching me… like for real?” Amy’s voice stuttered.
“Sure.” Luc moved a stack of paperwork and several fishing magazines aside to make a clear space on the desk for the registration package. “You think you can handle that?”
“Yeah.” Amy leaned forward. “You played in the NHL. You played for Tampa, and Chicago, and Vancouver, and Winnipeg. You were on the US Olympic team and World Juniors and you…” She stopped as Cat gave her a silencing look.
And Luc had the scars to prove it, not only the physical ones but also those that couldn’t be seen. “I retired after last season, so now I’m just a regular coach.” He pulled a plastic portfolio from atop a pile. “Why don’t you take a look at some of the player information while I talk to your mom? You can see the uniform, and there’s a bunch of pictures from games.”
Amy gave a quick nod and took the portfolio he held out.
Luc sat in the battered black vinyl chair and studied the woman across from him. Cat still had that serious look she’d had as a kid, and she wasn’t much taller than when she’d joined his sixth-grade class, almost two years younger but a whole lot smarter than everyone else. But she’d been a sweet kid, and he’d looked out for her when he could. He’d never have expected her to produce a hockey player, though. It must have something to do with Amy’s dad, a guy who’d never been in the picture and, unusually for Firefly Lake, nobody ever mentioned.
Cat glanced at her daughter, and her mouth tilted into a smile filled with so much love that Luc’s heart caught.
He cleared his throat. “I feel bad you and Amy aren’t staying at Harbor House with your mom. I already told her I can find another place to rent until the house I’m having built is ready.”
“Of course not.” Cat’s face went pink, and she tucked a strand of blond hair behind one ear. Why had he never noticed she had pretty ears? “Even if you weren’t staying there, Amy and I would still need our own space. Besides, I wouldn’t think of inflicting my cats on Pixie.” Her expression changed. Not defensive exactly, but watchful and tinged with apprehension.
“That little dog sure rules the roost at your mom’s place.” An unexpected prickle of sexual awareness whipped through him. Cat had a pretty face, too. Big blue eyes behind almost invisible glasses, delicate features, and a classic oval face. Why had he never noticed all that about her, either?
“I sublet my place in Boston and rented an apartment above the craft gallery on Main Street. I got a great deal on rent as part of helping the gallery owner. The winter months are quiet, but the gallery owner has a few buying trips coming up, so he needed to hire somebody to look after the store.” She glanced at her daughter again and her face softened. “Like I tell Amy, everything works out somehow. You have to keep the faith.”
Clearly, Cat was a glass-half-full person. The kind of person he used to be before he lost his wife and his hopes and dreams along with her.
Luc took a bulging folder from the bottom desk drawer and got his mind back on hockey, where it belonged. “The practice schedule is in here, along with the game dates and all the other information you need. The parent volunteer roster is already set, but if you want—”
“No.” Cat’s voice was laced with what might have been panic. “I’m not really a hockey mom. I help out when I’m needed, but…” She took the folder from him and set it on her lap on top of a bulky black tote. “I want to help Amy get settled at her new school first. It’s hard to change in the middle of the year.”
“Of course.” Luc’s heart gave a painful thud. His mom had been a big hockey mom. Like his wife would have been if she’d had the chance.
“Thanks.” Cat’s smile was sweet and genuine. It shouldn’t have been sexy but somehow was.
Luc tented his hands on the desk and tried to work moisture into his dry mouth. As far as women were concerned, he was off the market indefinitely and by choice. He shouldn’t look at Cat’s straight, blond hair and wonder how it would feel as it slipped through his fingers. And he definitely shouldn’t wonder about her petite figure beneath her chunky gray sweater and tailored black coat. Despite all the women who’d made it clear they’d be interested in whatever he offered, Luc wasn’t offering anything. Once the construction crew finished his new house in the spring, coaching and working alongside his dad and uncles at Simard’s Creamery would be his life— his whole life.
“Your mom’s real excited about your brother’s wedding.” He changed the subject with an effort. “She says it’s so romantic that Nick and Mia are getting married on New Year’s Eve.”
“Yes.” Cat smiled, and damn if the soft curve of her rosy lips didn’t take Luc’s thoughts right back to where they had no business going. “It’s great to see Mom so happy, and Nick and Mia, too. With Mia, it’s like I’m getting another sister.”
“Nick’s been a good friend to me.” And that was even more reason why Luc shouldn’t think about Cat like he’d been thinking about her. A guy didn’t have those kinds of thoughts about a buddy’s little sister.
Luc dragged his gaze away from Cat’s mouth to stare at the frost-fringed office window. The tall pine trees outside were etched in white, and the open field behind the arena slept in a blanket of snow as it sloped in a gentle hill to the shore of the ice-covered lake. In the distance, wisps of wood smoke curled from chimneys in the small town of Firefly Lake cradled between the dark-green Vermont hills.
Home, family, and community. Everything Luc needed to get his life stable and back on track was right here. Apart from his wife and professional hockey, everything he’d ever wanted was here, too.
“The uniform’s great.” Amy’s excited voice brought him back to the present. “Does Mom need to fill out some forms and pay?”
“Yeah, she does.” Luc’s voice hitched.
“While I do that, why don’t you go out to the rink?” Cat dug in her tote and pulled out a folded bill. “You can get yourself a hot chocolate and watch the figure skating practice.”
“Mom.” Amy made a disgusted face. “Figure skating’s for girlie girls.”
“Before she switched to hockey, my wife started out as a figure skater.” Luc pushed the words out through lips that were all of a sudden numb. When it came to sports, Maggie had been as driven as him and as competitive. Between his failings and hers, he hadn’t been with her when she needed him most. “My mom was a figure skater, too. You have to be real fit to do those routines. Unlike in hockey, you aren’t wearing gear to protect you from falls, either.”
“Sure, but you’d never get me into one of those costumes.” Amy gave him a dimpled grin. “I had to wear sequins for a school play once. I never itched so much in my whole entire life. Can you imagine skating in one of those outfits?”
“Nope.” The force of Amy’s smile kept the memories at bay and, despite himself, Luc managed a smile back. “Go on, we won’t be long.”
“Okay.” With another grin, Amy took the bill from Cat and tucked it into the front pocket of her jeans.
When Amy had left, shutting the office door behind her, Luc turned back to Cat. There was no mistaking the sympathy in her eyes.
“It must be hard to talk about your wife. Amy’s still a kid, so she doesn’t think before she speaks.”
“Life goes on.” His voice caught again. Maybe it did for everyone else, but his life had stopped two years ago. Although he went through the motions and did what his family and everyone expected, the biggest part of him was numb. Until today, he’d been fine with that numbness. Then Cat had poked through it with her big blue eyes and a smile that was like a warm hug on a cold day. He cleared his throat. “What’s up?”
“Nothing… I…” She fiddled with the strap of her bag. “Until my grant money comes through after New Year’s, money’s a bit tight. Amy needs new skates, and with our move, the holidays, and the wedding and all, I wondered… can I buy a secondhand pair anywhere?”
Luc’s throat closed as guilt needled him. If money was that tight, Cat and Amy should be staying at Harbor House, rent-free. Except they weren’t, and he couldn’t shake a sense it had something to do with him.
“Len’s Hardware on Main sells used gear, but it goes fast.” Although there was money in Firefly Lake, folks were thrifty New Englanders who could sniff out a bargain at twenty paces.
“Oh.” She pulled out her checkbook. “Amy will have to make do—”
“Hang on.” He stood and came around the desk to sit beside her in the chair Amy had vacated. “I can wait for the hockey registration fee. Put that money toward new skates instead. Len sells those, too, and he gives a discount to local kids. Show him Amy’s paperwork so she’ll qualify.” In the meantime, he’d square the registration fee with the arena manager. Cat would never have to know.
“Really?” Cat’s cheeks reddened. “That would be great. I don’t want to ask my mom or Nick. They’d both help me out, no question, but…” She gripped her bag and slid down in the chair.
Luc’s heart squeezed. She was embarrassed to ask her family for help, like he’d have been embarrassed asking his. Except, that would never be an issue because he had more money than he could spend in one lifetime. Money to finance the creamery expansion his dad had talked about for years, and to send his folks on that cruise they’d hankered after but could never afford because of the cost of raising four kids and putting most of them through college. Money for everything except what mattered most— taking care of his wife and their child like he’d planned.
“Pay for the hockey registration when your grant comes through.” He tried to smile. “I know you’re good for it.”
“Thanks.” Cat’s voice cracked and she took one hand away from her bag to rub it across her face. “Hockey means everything to Amy. I want her to be able to play, but she’s growing so fast right now.”
“Hockey’s an expensive sport.” He slid an arm around her shoulders and gave her a little squeeze. The same kind of friendly squeeze he’d given her all those times back in high school when she’d saved his butt in chemistry. Before today, however, his fingers had never tingled when he’d touched Cat. His body had never heated, either.
Cat started and pulled away at the same instant he did. “Hockey can be a dangerous sport, too, and now Amy will be playing with boys. She hasn’t played with boys since she was seven. She could get hurt.”
Like he had, hurt so bad it had ended his career. “Amy’s playing minor hockey. At her age, there is a rule about no body checking.” He tried to make his tone reassuring. “I promise I’ll keep a close eye on her.” It was his job as her coach, and he’d do the same for any kid. It had nothing to do with the strange and unexpected attraction he all of a sudden had for this woman he’d known his whole life, whom he’d never really looked at until today.
A woman who wasn’t Maggie. Luc’s stomach clenched in a tangled lump of guilt and grief, tied tight with a slippery ribbon of disloyalty. Maggie was never coming back, but that didn’t mean Luc could forget her. Or that he wanted to.
Cat pressed the bell-shaped cookie cutter into the rolled-out dough and reminded herself to breathe. It was only her third day back in Firefly Lake. Once Nick and Mia’s wedding was over and she and Amy were more settled, life would be normal again. At least a new version of normal.
“Who’d have thought we’d end the year with a wedding?” From the scrubbed pine table in Harbor House’s spacious country kitchen, her mom gestured with a wooden spoon. “I can’t remember the last time I was so excited. When did my whole family ever come here for New Year’s?”
“I don’t know.” Cat replaced the bell with a cutter shaped like a wedding dress. “When I was a kid, maybe.” Before her dad had left and hadn’t come back. Her chest got tight. As soon as she finished this last batch of cookies, she could go home for a few hours before the wedding rehearsal. If she was in her own little apartment, despite the boxes still piled everywhere, she wouldn’t feel so on edge, caught up in a vortex of memories as relentless as mosquitoes in a Vermont summer.
“What if your aunt forgets to bring the necklace with her?” Her mom’s blue eyes were worried. “It’s not like she’ll have enough time to drive all the way back to Montreal to get it at the last minute.”
"Has charm to spare...The delightful supporting cast...and expertly plotted story add depth and richness to this tale, leaving readers eager for another visit to Firefly Lake."
—Publishers Weekly on Summer on Firefly Lake
"Engaging...(a) fast paced page turner."
—RT Book Reviews on Summer on Firefly Lake
- "Memories, regrets and second chances are front and center in Gilroy's fantastic debut. The first book in the Firefly Lake series is complex and mired in secrets. The Vermont setting adds a genuine feel to the story, and the co-stars are highly entertaining. The homebody hero and world-traveling heroine must travel a long and bumpy road to happiness."—- RT Book Reviews on The Cottage at Firefly Lake
- "Packed with potent emotions...[Her] protagonists tug at the heartstrings from the beginning of the story and don't let go. The strong group of supporting characters includes Charlie's sister, Mia, and her daughter, Naomi, whose stories are to be later told. Long on charm, this story invites readers to come in and stay a while."—- Publishers Weekly on The Cottage at Firefly Lake
- "The story has all the elements in place to create an emotional and touching atmosphere. The pacing is steady and the writing is fluid, creating just the right amount of tension and emotion."—-Night Owl Reviews on The Cottage at Firefly Lake
- "This book is a lot of fun and is definitely for fans of Susan Mallery or Marina Adair."—-Katy Budget Books on The Cottage at Firefly Lake
- On Sale
- Dec 5, 2017
- Page Count
- 368 pages