Blessings linger at a fork in the road as the winds of change whisper…
Jaxon Briscoe has enjoyed a decade as the beloved star center of the Chicago Blackhawks. But off the ice, a string of reckless relationships has resulted in an accusation that he's fathered a child. As Jaxon's conscience is tossed into a firestorm, he learns his nephew, Grayson, has been expelled from school, and Jax is blindsided when Gray shows up on his doorstep—for good.
Adrienne Price carries a heavy secret...pregnant at a young age, she gave up her daughter for adoption in the hopes that the child might have a better life. Now, Adrienne's vowed to help teens rise above unsavory situations. As a result of God's grace, her project, Second Chances Day School, has prospered beyond her wildest imagination. But when Jax's troubled nephew enrolls at Second Chances, Adrianne is faced with a big challenge in the form of a hockey player with a bad reputation and a lot of boyish charm.
Can Adrienne and Jax finally find real love?
Jaxon swung open French doors leading to a corner balcony and let the warmth of late-spring air wash over him. Sunlight played hide and seek with a quilt of rain clouds, and he sucked in a gentle breeze laced with the sweet, musky scent of impending rain. Along the river, Bradford Pears peaked to full bloom. The pollen wreaked havoc with his allergies, but at the moment he didn’t mind.
I’m not a father…the baby is not mine. Thanks to negative test results, he wouldn’t be bound to Shayla for the remainder of his life.
But someone would. Obviously, she’d had more than one fish in the tank, so to speak. Jaxon didn’t know why it crawled under his skin to imagine her with someone else. He certainly had enjoyed more than his fair share of the female persuasion, never giving a second thought to the flip side of that perspective. His encounters had always been laid back and easy…no strings attached and certainly no expectations. He wasn’t sure why, but he’d never considered the women he enjoyed might be dabbling in more than him.
But now that that gear was turning, Jaxon couldn’t shove the idea from his mind. And suddenly the images he conjured bothered him—very much. And the oath he’d muttered in his weakest moment came back to haunt him.
I swear I’ll do anything You ask, God, if you just let this paternity test come back negative.
Surely God wouldn’t hold him to such an oath, would He? Jaxon shook off the thought as he punched a series of numbers into the phone. Calhoun’s didn’t usually deliver this time of day but he was sure they would make an exception…for him.
Gray trembled as he pressed his back against the wall so tight Jaxon thought he might meld into the plaster. His eyes, round and wide, filled with tears as he surveyed the ruined picture and its shattered frame. Beneath the light, shards of glass shimmered across the wood like a minefield.
Unfazed by the mess, Kara flopped onto the couch. “I’m done talking. It’s not getting us anywhere.” She eyed the Calhoun’s delivery bag and then reached for it. “I wash my hands of it.”
Jaxon watched her lift the bag to her nose, sniff. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m losing my mind.” Kara raked a hand through her hair and then opened the bag, took a look at the contents, and without further hesitation delved inside. She found the sandwich, unwrapped it and bit off a healthy hunk. She spoke through a mouthful of pork. “You have no idea how bad it’s been, Jax. While you’re gallivanting around the globe, I’m all by myself, just trying to hang on. You have to take the kid, Jax. I need a break.”
“What? Wait a minute.” Jaxon’s heart pounded in his chest. To keep his hands busy, he knelt and began to pick up shards of glass. “You’re being unreasonable. Finish the sandwich, calm down a little and we’ll clean up the mess, work this out. But Grayson staying here with me, well, that’s not an option. You know I travel, Kara.”
“Not during the off season.”
“I’m in negotiations, navigating appearances and promotional events. I might be called away at any time.”
“Doesn’t that make you sound all oh-so-uppity?” Another healthy bite and the sandwich nearly disappeared. “Come on, Jaxon, get real.”
“I am being real. I might have to leave on a moment’s notice. Then what?”
“Hire a babysitter. You have plenty of bucks. It won’t even put a dent in your piggy bank.”
“I won’t go back with her, Uncle Jax.” Grayson pushed off the wall, his hands clenching into fists. “I’ll run away before I go back.”
“Run away?” Jaxon sidestepped shards of glass. “Where would you go?”
“Who cares? Anywhere is better than home—with her and all the creeps that come around.” He tugged the ball cap even lower, hiding eyes that overflowed with tears. “And I’m standing right here, you know. I hear every word you’re saying, Uncle Jax. You don’t want me, either.”
“I didn’t say that.” Jaxon crossed to the kitchen, tossed broken pieces into the trash can beneath the sink and returned with a broom and dustpan. “You’re putting words in my mouth. Just…hang on a minute.”
“I don’t want to go back. You can’t make me go back.” The tears coursed down Gray’s cheeks as his voice caught. “Please, let me stay.”
Adrienne sipped from her coffee cup, studying him carefully over the rim, before setting it aside. “As was mentioned, I spoke with Gray’s mother on the phone yesterday, so I’m wondering why you’re here today instead of her.”
“Like I said, she carries enough baggage to fill a box truck. It’s a long story.”
“It always is.” Adrienne glanced up, clicked the pen in her hand, and with that single flick something inside Jaxon stumbled. His pulse did a weird little salsa before the brakes kicked in, easing it back down to a normal cadence. It was as if the world belched, and then drew a deep, cleansing breath before continuing to spin on its axis. “I have plenty of time to listen. It’s part of the whole paying-attention thing.”
“I’m paying attention, too.”
“And what do you see?”
“No verdict yet. You’ve got me puzzled, Miss Price—may I call you Adrienne—and I’m still summing it all up.”
“I’ve got you puzzled? Why?”
“What’s a woman like you doing in a place like this, spending your days with kids who’d rather have every tooth yanked without anesthesia than go to school?”
“A woman like me? And just what kind of woman am I?”
“Still figuring that out, too.”
“Keep me posted.”
“Oh, I will.” Jaxon wondered what it was about Adrienne that piqued his desire for a closer look. She certainly didn’t fit the bill for the tall, curvy women that most often captured his attention. She was, in effect, the polar opposite with a frame that he figured barely hit the five-foot mark and was more on the slender side that sculpted. Her shorter-length hair wasn’t much of a turn-on for him. He liked something he could run his fingers through. And the whole prayer thing…Gray was on the mark there. Jax did look at the whole church experience as a sort of mumbo jumbo led by men who were, at best, imperfect. Why should he listen to their thoughts—their direction—on God? He had his act together, didn’t he?
Yet, there was something ever-so-subtle about the woman sitting across from him that called for a double-take…maybe her eyes?
The very thought almost caused Jaxon to laugh out loud. Her eyes? Really? He thought back to Shayla and Margo and the string of women in his past. If he was asked to provide a firing squad with the eye color of any one of those women, he’d be destined to suffer a sure and quick death.
Grayson’s words drifted back to haunt him.
“…I want to be like you, Uncle Jax, just having fun, traveling all the time for hockey games and walking around with a hot chick on each arm. It’s so cool.”
A sudden wave of nausea swept Jaxon. Cool? The coffee soured in his gut and he turned from the desk…and Adrienne’s watchful eye.
“Mr. Briscoe, are you OK?”
“Jaxon…” He waved off Adrienne as beads of perspiration dampened his shirt along the small of his back. “And, just give me a minute.”
What was happening to him? Maybe Coach was right about the concussion. Maybe his brains were scrambled. Music on the radio segued to the adrenaline rush of an over-enthused car salesman touting used vehicles, grating his frazzled nerves.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Adrienne prodded, “I’d like to hear more about Grayson and his mother, and about how you all came to be at this juncture.”
This juncture…was he truly at a juncture in his life? The roiling in his gut was all the answer he needed.
“Maybe Second Chances isn’t the place for you and your nephew. Maybe you should look elsewhere. I’m not interested in media hounds or negative publicity here, and both seem to follow you like a shadow.”
“You can’t mean that. This place—Second chances—has to be it. There’s nowhere else for Gray to go. I’m it and you’re definitely it. We’re the end of the line.”
“Good grief, Jaxon.” He tossed the soiled tissues into the trashcan and retrieved the scattered papers from the floor. “Here’s your contract.” He scribbled his signature on the dotted line before pressing the paper into her hands. “Signed and delivered. You’ll get your twenty percent volunteer days out of me and then some. Gray needs this place. He can’t go home, not with the way things stand with Kara. I’ll beg if I have to—just don’t punish him for my mistakes.”
“Begging is certainly not necessary.” Adrienne scanned the contract, smoothed a finger over his signature. “But, in that case…do you have any notable skills besides hockey and…engaging in pillow talk with women?”
“If you’re serious about that statement—the volunteer part, I mean—maybe we should discuss it over a decent cup of coffee. It appears we’ve managed to drain your pot.”
“More coffee?” Adrienne’s laughter filled the room. “You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, but I am. What better way to clear the air…and my reputation?”
“I’m afraid another cup of coffee would only serve to accomplish the opposite.”
“What’s the matter, do you have something against a little adult conversation coupled with a palatable cup of java?”
“No, nothing against the coffee. It’s merely you and your piranha-like tactics that throw a hitch in the second part.”
“Piranha…ouch. That smarts.”
“Sometimes the truth hurts. Maybe coffee with your agent would be a wiser move, considering what just hit the fan. Damage-control seems to be in order.”
“My reputation has weathered worse.” But Jaxon cringed as his cell phone vibrated in his back pocket.
“I can’t even begin to imagine.”
“You’ve got the wrong impression of me.” Jaxon didn’t know why her assertion bothered him, but the bottom line was, it did. He ignored the phone as it launched into a second set of convulsions.
“Time will tell.”
“The fact is, you want to hear the rest of the story…the truth about me.” Jax nodded. “I see it in your eyes, hear it in your voice. Like I said, I know how to pay attention, too.”
“Talk about a heaping side-dish of mumbo-jumbo.” Adrienne reached for her glasses, placed them back atop her nose. “This is nonsense. You’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of guy, aren’t you, Jaxon?”
“And you’re even-keel, by-the-book, no-detours sort of lady, right?” He switched the radio back on and music drifted. “Hmm…maybe I’m not the one with the story to tell. Maybe it’s all you, Adrienne.”
Her eyes shone huge, like two pools of rich caramel, through the lenses. “Excuse me for being blunt, Jaxon, but have you given any consideration whatsoever to the fact that you are now, without revocation, completely and solely responsible for Grayson’s care and welfare?” Adrienne leaned forward to splay both palms on the desktop. Her chin rose as her gaze met his. “And, have you given any thought at all to what you hope to accomplish—what you’d like him to learn from you—while he’s in your care?”
“I…well…” Good grief, she had him there. Slowly, Jaxon shook his head. He jammed his hands into his pockets. “It hasn’t even been twenty hours. This time yesterday, I was on the phone with…”
The doctor’s office. Really…really, had that been just twenty hours ago? In the course of less than a day’s time, his whole world had shifted. He didn’t like the feeling—not one bit. Where was he supposed to go from here?
God, if you’re listening, I’d like you to know how annoyed I am by your bizarre sense of humor.
There he went again, talking to the air.
Adrienne prodded him along. “You were saying?”
“Forget that. I’m not cut out for this. I can’t—”
“You can. You have to. Gray’s counting on you and watching every move you make. You might want to give that some consideration, Jaxon.” She tossed her empty coffee cup into the trash can and rose from her chair. “I think we should head to the gym now. Gray still has his paperwork to complete, and you, well…you’ve got business to take care of.”
“Wow.” Jaxon rose to face her, and realized she barely matched his chin in height. How did one so petite pack such a wallop of attitude? “You’re just a breath of fresh air, you know that?”
“Give it time.” She reached around him, unlatched the office door. “You’ll learn I’m more like a stage five hurricane.”