Then Came You
“Find your way to Compass Cove in this warm-hearted story of small towns and second chances, starting over and moving on. Mia and Adam will have you cheering them on as they navigate their way through this lovely romance.” —Susan Wiggs, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author
Mia DeAngelis knew it was time to make a change. Wanting to provide a better life for herself and her ten-year-old nephew, Ben, she took a chance and moved to the small town of Compass Cove. Now, the college librarian is adapting to a new job, a new town, and living with her feisty seventy-eight-year-old grandmother. Mia is determined to make it all work, hoping the coastal hamlet gives both her and Ben the sense of community, family and belonging they both want so much.
Adam Miller, a retired NFL quarterback, has come back to Compass Cove to start over after an injury puts an end to his high-octane life. Settling into the small town routine proves to be a challenge, but his job coaching at Jennings College gives him a sense of purpose, while keeping him connected to the game he loves.
There couldn’t be two people more different, yet the minute they meet sparks fly, setting friends and family on a mission to bring them together. Now if Mia and Adam can only get out of their own way and embrace a little home town magic, they can find the happy ever after they both crave…
Then Came You
In another life, Mia DeAngelis would have been a star. In this life, she was doing damage control.
It was another day, another disaster.
“Aunt Mia, wait up.”
Mia slowed and turned, doing all she could not to say anything until they got to the car. Ever since their move, Ben had been trying her patience. Three days in a new school, and she’d been called by the principal—twice. Today she’d had to leave work to come and pick him up.
“You’re mad,” he said.
Mia glanced down. It wasn’t easy to be ten, and new in school. It wasn’t easy to be ten, period. Mia had thought the rollercoaster tween years wouldn’t be something she had to worry about, since she wasn’t dealing with girl hormones. She couldn’t have been more wrong. Boys had plenty of growing pains; they were just different.
His sandy brown head was bowed; she could see he was sorry. He was always sorry, and it was times like this that Ben still looked like a little boy. Other times, the sheer size of him gave her a glimpse of what he would look like when he was a man.
“Ben, I’m annoyed. This isn’t a great way to start at a new school.” They walked together into the bright afternoon sunlight, the smell of a nearby salt marsh tingeing the air. The whole ordeal made Mia’s heart hurt. She wanted the move to be positive. So far, positive was a stretch. “Do you want to tell me what happened? I’d like to hear your take on it.”
Ben shook his head. “No,” he said. “The principal told you everything.”
Thank goodness, he knew if nothing else, he shouldn’t lie.
“Nothing to add? No excuses for your behavior?”
“Tyler was being a jerk, but I know I shouldn’t have pushed him.” Ben looked up at her, his blue eyes glassy. “The teachers think I’m a troublemaker now, don’t they?”
Mia blew out a breath as she searched for the right words. “You’re not a troublemaker, Benny. And the people at school know you’re settling into a new routine, so I’m guessing you’ll get a little slack.” She reached over and wrapped her arm around his shoulder. “But you know what I always say about first impressions? People remember, and you are the new kid. You’ll have to work at making things better.” He nodded and wiped his eyes, fighting back the tears Mia knew he thought he was too old to cry. “We’ll talk about it later. Do you have homework?” Mia was sure he did, there was just little chance he would actually do it. He was bright, but there was no denying he was a ten-year-old boy. A sometimes very unfocused ten-year-old boy.
“Uh huh. I’m going to work with you?”
“For a couple of hours,” she said. “Nana has her yoga class this afternoon. You can hang in my office or find a table and start your homework while I finish up.”
“Okay.” Ben buckled his seat belt and stared out the window. Something was on his mind, again. “Do you think my mom knew I would be a bad kid and that’s why she went away?”
Mia’s hands gripped the steering wheel as she considered her response. Went away. It was the euphemism she had used when he was younger to avoid telling him what happened, and he still used it when he was upset. Thinking about her sister’s death when Ben was a baby was something had Mia avoided for many years, but as Ben got older the questions came, and there was no way to soften a suicide. “Sweetie, there were many things that pushed your mother do what she did, but you were not one of them.” Mia doubted Sara was thinking about him at all. “And let’s get one thing straight. You aren’t a bad kid. You don’t always think before you act, but you aren’t bad.”
That seemed to satisfy him, at least for the moment. The day was so pretty, Mia almost wished the drive back to campus was longer. She could have used the time to clear her head. Whenever she visited Long Island as a girl, she’d always felt like she fit in, and that Compass Cove was her place. The gentle waves on the beach near her grandparents’ house, the people, the smells… everything felt like home. And now it was.
When her good friend called about the job as an instructional librarian at Jennings College, Mia jumped on it, knowing she could provide Ben with a better environment, better schools, and more opportunities. That Compass Cove and the surrounding areas were beautiful was a bonus.
Ben was everything. When she became his sole guardian two years ago, her life took a left turn she never would have anticipated. The drunk driver who had mowed down her parents as they left a restaurant in Bethesda had killed her father, and injured her mother. After that, life went into a tailspin.
Finally, knowing things had to change, Mia took advantage of the chance to be close to family again—to give Ben what she knew he craved.
They pulled through the campus gates and Mia wondered if she’d ever stop noticing the elegant beauty of the college. Passing academic buildings and dormitories, remnants of the college’s gilded Gold Coast past were everywhere. Formal and informal gardens, sculptures, and charming outbuildings dotted the grounds. The old stables, which were still in use, dominated a substantial portion of the property. Mia always slowed so she could catch a glimpse of the grazing horses, loving the feel of the place, and extremely grateful that it was their new home. Continuing the drive along the perimeter road, it was just a few minutes before she reached the North Quad, which included her library.
The Miller Library shared this part of campus with the administration building and the student union. Sitting on top of a hill, the views from the large windows, including the ones in Mia’s office, were spectacular. Facing the Long Island Sound, she could see the gentle outline of the Connecticut shore. There was always a soft breeze, and on a warm day the smell of the salt water and the sound of the gulls were a perfect antidote for stress. It was the opposite of the congested city she’d left behind; exactly what she and Ben needed.
It was hard leaving Maryland, simply because it was familiar. But once her dad died, and Mom decided to move south to live near a pack of her friends who had also retired there, Mia didn’t have any good reason to stay. Her mother had grown up in Compass Cove, and Mia cherished the summers she’d spent here visiting her grandparents. Memories of going to the beach every day, eating Italian ices, playing with other kids and experiencing that perfect freedom that only comes during the summers of your childhood helped Mia see that Ben deserved nothing less.
The family house where her mother grew up was in the area known as North Harbor. While moving in with her widowed seventy-nine-year-old grandmother wasn’t the ideal situation for a single, twenty-nine-year-old woman, Mia did love that she had family. And Nana was hardly a typical little old lady. It had taken her a while to adjust to losing Mia’s Grandpa several years earlier, and then her parents’ accident had been another blow, but Nana fought to be happy and learned to love her life again. That included traveling to the most obscure places, working at a bustling indie bookstore, and doing yoga. She was busier in retirement than most people were in their working lives.
Mia adored her. It was Nana who’d really encouraged her to make a move, even before Mia had a job. She figured they had to stick together, especially since she’d been left alone to care for a ten-year-old.
The white Victorian where they lived had blue shutters, a colorful garden, and a big front porch. There was loads of room, inside and out, and it was right near a pretty beach. If Ben could settle himself down, he’d have a slew of playmates, because the neighborhood was crawling with kids.
Of course, if the kid Ben stood up to really was being a bully, Tyler probably deserved a lot more than a shove. Mia glanced at Ben and worry took over. He was tall for his age, with a strong athletic build; the problem with that was that other kids might see him as a challenge. Figuring he was built like his father, Mia also worried about his disposition. She’d never met Ben’s father, but Sara had told her stories. And the stories weren’t good.
As they walked up the main steps in front of the library, Mia knew she needed to find out more. More about the situation, more about what set Ben off.
“So, how did the whole argument start? All the principal could tell me was that you boys were on the playground and there was a lot of yelling and shoving.”
Ben answered in a low voice. “It was dumb. Tyler threw a pass, I intercepted it and he told everyone I broke the rules.”
“No one’s allowed to intercept anything when Tyler Jansen’s the quarterback. We’re supposed to let his team walk over the goal line.” Ben was really angry; he was just going on and on and on, and that’s when the pieces started to click into place. Mia stopped dead on the top step.
“You were playing football?”
The boy froze.
“It’s fun,” he grumbled.
“It’s against the school rules.” It was, too. Contact sports, tag—even hide and seek had been banned in some places—it seemed everything was against school rules nowadays, except maybe hopscotch and pick-up sticks. Mia tended to be overprotective, she knew that. She’d learned it from her own mother. But she was starting to wonder if some of the rules were going too far.
She couldn’t tell Ben that, though.
“We’ve discussed this. You can’t just do whatever you want—”
“It’s a stupid rule,” he snapped. “Football’s fun.”
“Really?” Mia felt her face flush as her temper flared. “How much fun was it today when you nearly got into a fight?”
Ben spun at her, snapping, “I got into a fight because a stupid kid thinks he can pick on me ‘cause I’m new.” He threw her a look that was pure arrogance. “I showed him different.”
Obviously, the principal didn’t know what triggered the pushing and shoving, but at this point Mia didn’t know if it mattered. She did wonder how the football detail had been missed.
“We’ll discuss this later.” Mia moved toward the doors and walked into the library lobby. She knew he didn’t understand. He couldn’t. It was her problem, her need to do everything right that sometimes made things hard for him. The problem was she sometimes didn’t know what was right. “But from now on, you will follow the playground rules. Is that clear?”
“You don’t get it.”
“What is there to get? It’s not allowed, you could get badly hurt and, obviously, in trouble. No football!”
“You don’t let me do anything fun.”
“Look, I’ll ask around. I’m sure there are other things... art classes… or maybe you’d like to try tennis?”
The second she said it, Mia knew she’d made a mistake.
“Art classes?” The disdain in his tone said it all. Art classes may have been fine for another kid, but not him.
As they walked into her office, Mia could feel his temper simmering.
“You don’t care what I think,” he growled.
Mia was doing her best to stay calm so the situation didn’t get worse, but he was making it very tough to do so. “Benjamin,” she began calmly. “I’ve had enough of your attitude. We’ll talk about this later.”
But Ben was the one who’d had enough. He threw his backpack across the room, causing Mia to jump as it crashed into a chair and the contents went flying in all directions.
“Hey! What was that all about?”
“I don’t want to play tennis or take art!” he screamed, kicking a notebook that had landed on his foot. He was furious.
“Ben, calm down!”
“No! You don’t listen! When are you going to listen?” And with a final shove at the door, he took off.
By the time Mia composed herself enough to go after him, Ben had disappeared.
Adam Miller conferred with his assistants and could only shake his head as he looked at his roster. Their first game was three days away, and the offensive line had more holes than a cheap hooker’s panties. The way things were going, he’d be down a quarterback by halftime on Saturday.
“I got almost 1500 pounds on that line, they should be able to block something,” Adam mumbled.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Drew Griffin, one of the assistants, said. “There’s no way we could have anticipated those two injuries.”
That was true. More than half of their starters from last year’s team had either graduated or were no longer eligible to play. Then two of his veteran offensive lineman got hurt within days of each other. He had to get used to the fact that his team was green, and the best he could hope for was that they would get better with experience.
He flipped the playbook closed and stuffed the pen into his pocket.
“Adam? Looks like we’ve got company.” Joe Rand, his defensive coordinator and best friend, pointed toward the end zone. There, sitting with his legs pulled up, was a kid. Alone.
“Damn.” The last thing Adam wanted to deal with right now was a misplaced kid. He hoped one of the other coaches would make a move to check things out, because there was no reason a kid should be on this part of campus by himself. But no, eight of them stood there, and suddenly not one member of his staff was making eye contact with him. No one even looked up. Great.
“Here, take this for me.” Handing off his binder to Joe, Adam walked down the field.
He guessed the boy was maybe eleven or twelve years old—hard to say, hunched over like that—but when the kid saw him coming, he scrambled to his feet and looked scared shitless. Adam had seen kids react to him in a lot of different ways, but this one was new. The boy shoved his hands in his pockets and when Adam got close enough, he could see the kid had been crying.
“Hey,” Adam said. “You okay?”
“Sorta?” The kid sure wasn’t giving much.
All Adam got this time was a shrug. He blew out a long breath and extended his hand. “I’m Coach Miller.”
The boy met his eyes and shook his hand. Still nothing.
“You got a name?” More silence.
Finally something. Maybe he could figure out who owned this kid. “So, Ben, where are you supposed to be?”
Adam realized he’d asked the million-dollar question when Ben looked down and moved his feet uncomfortably.
“With my aunt at the library.”
“Ah. She’s a student?”
“No, sir. She works there.”
“Does she know where you are?”
“No, sir,” Ben whispered.
Adam widened his stance, folded his arms, and stared down at the boy. Intimidation would go a long way with this kid. He was too respectful not to respond to an adult’s request. “What do you think you should do?” He gave Ben some time to think through what he wanted to say. Sure enough, it came eventually.
“Go back to the library.”
“Good answer.” Adam was relieved he wasn’t going to have to pressure the kid, but he had to regroup quickly as Ben turned to walk away. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen, not when Ben so much as admitted he was lost.
“Whoa.” He reached out and took him by the arm. “Come back to my office and you can call your aunt.”
Ben nodded and the two of them started toward the field house. Kids usually talked up a storm around him, but this kid wasn’t saying much. Maybe a little activity would get him to open up. Adam pointed to two footballs on the sideline. “Go grab those two balls and toss them to me.”
The kid’s eyes lit up and he ran to the side of the field. He picked up the first ball, turned it in his hand a little and threw it to Adam. Not bad.
The second throw was better.
When Ben returned to his side, Adam stopped walking, dropped one football, and handed Ben the other. “Let me show you something. Put your fingers here and here.” He moved the boy’s fingers into position over the laces and Adam marveled at the size of the kid’s hands. He was born to hold a football. “That’s good, but not so tight. You want to have a little space between your hand and the football.”
“Like this?” Ben had made an adjustment and the ball sat perfectly in his hand.
Adam nodded. “Good. Throw it.”
It was poetry in motion. Ben dropped back a couple of steps, planted his feet and threw. The ball took off like a rocket. Damn.
They watched the ball’s flight and Adam grinned at Ben’s stunned expression. “Much better.” Tossing him the other football, Adam said, “Now, do it again.”
End of Excerpt