Talk of the Town - By Beth Andrews Page 0,1


Neil really would need therapy after this visit.

“You were sleeping just fine when I tried to tell you someone was at the door,” Gerry said. “Why, it could’ve been a burglar come to rob us blind.”

“What kind of burglar knocks?” Carl asked.

“A polite one. Well? Aren’t you going to say hello to your son?”

“You’re my son when you piss her off,” Carl told Neil with a wink as he offered his hand. They shook, and Carl gave Neil an affectionate slap on the shoulder. “When you scored that winning goal in overtime in game three of the series, you were her son.”

“I should’ve called,” Neil said, shoving aside the weird sense of pride and longing Carl’s words had invoked. “Told you I was getting in early.”

But he wasn’t used to sharing his schedule or discussing his decisions with others. Had always had a hard time remembering to let his adoptive parents know where he was going or what he was doing after spending the first ten years of his life not accountable to anyone.

“Yes,” Gerry agreed, “you should have. But since you didn’t—and since we’re all up now—your father can make some coffee while I get breakfast.”

“That’s not nec—”

But she was already heading toward the kitchen.

“You know your mother,” Carl said with another slap to Neil’s shoulder, this one with enough behind it to have Neil taking a step forward to keep his balance. Though he was closing in on seventy, Carl was built like a bear and had the strength of a pro defenseman. “Always has to be doing something. Besides, it’s not like she gets a chance to fuss over you very often.”

Coming from anyone else, Neil would have thought he’d just been chastised. But Carl was as subtle as a knee to the groin. If he thought Neil should feel guilty about not coming back to Shady Grove very often, he’d come out and say so.

Or, more likely, demand that Neil get his sorry ass home.

Still, he considered trying to get out of the whole family reunion breakfast thing, but arguing with either Geraldine or Carl was a losing proposition. Getting your way when they were on the same side of an issue? Not going to happen.

And Neil didn’t fight battles he couldn’t win.

“Coffee sounds good,” he said, though a few hours of sleep sounded better.

While Carl went back upstairs to get dressed—thank you, God—Neil put his bag in the guest suite at the end of the hall. Hanging on to a few of the limited moments he’d have to himself until he got back to Seattle, he changed into a fresh shirt then went into the bathroom and splashed water on his face. By the time he walked back toward the kitchen, the scents of brewing coffee, frying bacon and something sweet and yeasty filled the air.

He would have been happy with cold cereal and toast, but Gerry was the epitome of Go Big or Go Home. She’d shown Neil the joy of taking on a challenge if only to prove you were a match for it. From Carl he’d learned that hard work had its own rewards and quitting wasn’t an option.

They’d taken in him and his younger sister, Fay, taught them what a normal, functional family was like and gave them both the tools they needed to become productive, successful adults.

Without them, he never would have been able to go from small-town kid with few prospects and no hope to one of the NHL’s highest-paid players.

He owed them. Big-time. And he’d never forget it.

Neil slowed as he approached the room, stood just outside the doorway taking in the scene. Gerry bustled from the stainless-steel refrigerator to the six-burner stove to the granite-topped island and back again while Carl sat at the table, the morning paper spread out in front of him. Their voices were both pitched low but, as always, Gerry’s words were quick and snappy while Carl’s responses were more languorous.

Yin and yang, Neil thought. If he believed in soul mates, he’d say they completed each other. But he’d stick with thinking that they complemented each other, kept the other balanced. Out of all they’d done for him, all they’d taught and given him, he most appreciated how they’d raised him and Fay in a calm, positive atmosphere. They’d shown what a healthy relationship looked like, that one was possible.

Even if he didn’t believe one was possible for himself.

Hearing footsteps on the stairs, he turned. Fay approached him slowly, as if unsure if