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The Misfit Inn

The Misfit Inn

Author:Kait Nolan

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General Romance

Introduction
A moment. A mistake. That's all it took for Kennedy Reynolds to lose her first love and her family. She's spent a decade traveling the world, building a life, hiding the truth, never looking back at the past—until her adopted mother's unexpected death pulls her back to the small town—and the secret—she left behind. A chance to apologize. That's all Xander Kincaid wants from the woman who ran away with his heart years ago. At least that's what he tells himself until he sees her again and that old flame flares bright. As she struggles to mend fences with her sisters and save the legacy and the foster child her mother left behind, Kennedy finds an expected ally in Xander. Falling back into his arms is beyond tempting, but accepting his support is dangerous. He can never know the truth about why she really left. Will Kennedy be able to bury the past or will secrets revealed destroy her 2nd chance? The Misfit Inn is created by Kait Nolan, an eGlobal Creative Publishing author.
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Chapter

VOLUME ONE: WHEN YOU GOT A GOOD THING

"WELCOME TO O'LEARY'S PUB. What can I get you?" The greeting rolled off Kennedy Reynolds' tongue as she continued to work the taps with deft hands.

The man on the other side of the long, polished bar gaped at her. "You're American."

Kennedy topped off the pint of Harp and slid it expertly into a patron's waiting hand. "So are you." She injected the lilt of Ireland into her voice instead of the faint twang of East Tennessee. "You'd be expectin' somethin' more along these lines, I'd wager. So what'll it be for a strapping Yank like yourself?"

The guy only blinked at her.

So she wasn't exactly typical of County Kerry, Ireland. Her sisters would be the first to say she wasn't exactly typical of anyone, anywhere. It didn't bother her. But there was a line stacking up behind this slack-jawed idiot, and she had work to do.

"Can I suggest a pint of Guinness? Or perhaps you'd prefer whiskey to warm you through? The night's still got a bit of a chill."

He seemed to shake himself. "Uh, Jameson."

She poured his drink, already looking past him to take the next order, when he spoke again.

"How's a girl from - is that Texas I hear in there? - wind up working in a pub in Ireland?"

This again? Really? Kennedy repressed the eye roll, determined to be polite and professional

A big, long-fingered hand slapped the guy on the shoulder hard enough to almost slosh the whiskey. "Well now, I suppose herself walked right in and answered the help wanted sign." The speaker shifted twinkling blue eyes to Kennedy's. "That was how it happened in Dublin, now wasn't it, darlin'?"

"And Galway," she added, shooting a grin in Flynn's direction. "I'd heard rumor you were playing tonight. Usual?"

"If you'd be so kind. It's good to see you, deifiúr beag." His voice was low and rich with affection, the kind of tone for greeting an old lover - which was laughable. Flynn Bohannon was about as far from her lover as he could get. But it did the trick.

With some relief, Kennedy saw the American wander away. "Thanks for that."

"All in a day's work," Flynn replied.

"I've missed your pretty face." She glanced at the nearly black beard now covering his cheeks as she began to pull his pint of Murphy's Irish Stout. "Even if you are hiding it these days."

He grinned, laying a hand over his heart. "Self preservation, love."

"You keep telling yourself that." Kennedy glanced at the line snaking back through the pub. "I'm slammed here, and you're starting your set shortly. Catch up later?"

Flynn lifted the beer and toasted her before making his way toward the tiny stage shoehorned beside the fireplace, where the other two members of his trio were waiting.

Mhairi, one of the waitstaff, wandered over, setting her tray on the bar as she all but drooled in his direction. "Well now, I'd not be kickin' that one out of bed for eating crisps."

"Wait 'til you hear him play."

Mhairi glanced back at Kennedy, lifting a brow in question. "Are you and he...?"

"No. Just friends. The way there is clear, so far as I know."

The waitress smiled. "Brilliant." She reeled off orders and it was back to the job at hand.

As Kennedy continued to pour drinks, Flynn and his band tuned instruments. They weren't the same pair who'd been with him in Dublin, whom she'd traveled with for several weeks as an extra voice. That wasn't much of a surprise. It'd been - what? - a year or so since they'd parted in Scotland. Flynn would, she knew, go where the music took him. And that sometimes meant changing up his companions. He was as much an unfettered gypsy as she was, which was why they'd become such fast friends. But whereas he didn't mind a different city or village every night, she preferred to take a more leisurely pace, picking up seasonal work and staying put for two or three months at a stretch. Really immersing herself in the culture of a place. The ability to pause and soak in each new environment gave her both the thrill of the new and kept her from feeling that incessant, terrified rush of not being able to fit in everything she wanted to see or do. It was important to her to avoid that, to take the time to be still in a place and find out what it really had to teach her.

The itinerant lifestyle worked for her. She'd seen huge chunks of the world over the past decade, made friends of every stripe, picked up bits and pieces of more than a dozen languages. Many people saw her life as unstable. She preferred to think of it as an endless adventure. What did their stability give them? Consistent money in the bank, yes. But also boredom and stress and a suffocating sameness. No, thank you. Kennedy would take her unique experiences any day. Never mind that the desk jobs and business suits had never even been a possibility for her. She'd been ill-suited for the education that led to those anyway.

Across the pub, Flynn drew his bow across his fiddle and launched into a lively jig. The crowd immediately shifted its focus. Those who knew the tune began to clap or stomp in time, and a handful of patrons leapt up and into the dance. Kennedy loved the spontaneity of it, the unreserved joy and fun. As jig rolled into reel and reel into hornpipe, she found herself in her own kind of dance as she moved behind the bar. Flynn switched instruments with the ease of shaking hands, playing or lifting his voice as the tune dictated. He even dragged Kennedy in for a couple of duets that made her nostalgic for their touring days. His music made the night pass quickly, so she didn't feel the ache in her feet until she'd shut the door behind the last patron.

Flynn kicked back against the bar. "A good night, I'd say."

"A very good night," Kennedy agreed.

"Help you clean up?"

"I wouldn't say no."

They went through the motions with the other staff, clearing tables, wiping down, sweeping up. Mhairi went on home - disappointed. And Kennedy promised Seamus, the pub's owner, that she'd lock up on her way out. Then, at long last, she settled in beside the remains of the fire with her own pint.

Flynn lifted his. "To unexpected encounters with old friends."

"Why unexpected?"

"You said yourself you rarely stay more than three months in a place. You've already been from one coast of Ireland to the other. I didn't expect you back."

"I always seem pulled back here," she admitted. "The people. The culture. As a whole, I suppose Ireland has been as close as I've had to a home base over the past ten years. I've spent more collective time in this country than anywhere else combined since I started traveling."

"How long have you been in Kerry?"

"Coming up on three months."

"Thinking of settling?" he asked.

Was she? No. She still felt that vague itch between her shoulder blades that she got every time she'd been long enough in a place. She knew she'd be moving on soon, searching for the next place to quiet the yearning she refused to acknowledge. "Not exactly. I haven't decided where I want to go next. Which isn't the same thing." She took a breath and spilled out the news she'd told no one. "I've been contacted by a book editor in New York. She wants me to turn my blog into a book."

"Really?" Flynn's grin spread wide and sparkling as the River Liffey. "That's grand!"

It was the most exciting thing to ever happen to her, and she was glad to finally get a chance to share it. "I haven't said yes."

"Why not? Are the terms not to your liking?"

"We haven't gotten that far. I'm still thinking about it." Still looking for reasons to talk herself out of it.

"What's there to think about?" Flynn prodded.

"A book means deadlines and criticism and working on other people's schedules. None of those are exactly my strong suit."

"Bollocks. Every job you've had has been on someone else's schedule. As to deadlines, how hard can it be to take what you've already written and turn it into a book? Not All Who Wander is well-written, engaging, and personal. You're a talented writer."

On her better days, Kennedy could admit that. But it was one thing having her little travel blog, with its admittedly solid online following, be read and commented on via the anonymity of the internet. It was a whole other animal turning that into a book that lots of people could read. Or not read, as the case might be. That was opening herself up to a level of failure she didn't even want to contemplate.

"She's offered to fly me to New York to meet with her, and I'm thinking about taking her up on the offer. I might feel better about the idea of the project if we talk about it in person."

"And if you go back across the pond, will you finally take a detour home?"

At the mention of Eden's Ridge, Kennedy felt some of her pleasure in the evening dim. "It hasn't really been on my radar as an option."

"Maybe it should be."

She lifted a brow. "This from the man who's been on the go nearly as long as I have?"

"I travel and often, yes, but I've been home. I've seen my family. You've been running."

"I'm not running," she insisted.

"All right, not running. Searching, then. For something. In all your travels, have you found it?"

"How can I even answer that? I don't know what I'm looking for." But that was a lie. She knew what she was looking for and knew she wouldn't find it in any new country, on any new adventure.

"I'd say that's an answer in and of itself."

Kennedy scowled into her beer. "I've had my reasons for staying away from home."

"They aren't family. You've seen them since you left. So who?"

Her gaze shot to his.

Flynn jerked his shoulders and gave an easy smile. "Deduction, deifiúr beag. Who was he?"

Someone better off without me.

She was saved from answering by the ringing of her mobile phone. "Late for a call." Fishing it out of her pocket, she saw her mother's number flash across the screen. "Not so late back in Tennessee." She hit answer. "Hey, Mom."

"Kennedy."

At the sound of her name, she felt her stomach clench into knots. Because it wasn't her mother, and the strain in her eldest sister's voice was palpable. "Pru?"

"Are you sitting down?"

Absolutely nothing good could follow those words. "What?"

Beside her, Flynn straightened, setting his pint to the side.

"You're not on the street where you can accidentally walk into traffic or something are you?"

"I'm sitting. What the hell is going on? Where's Mom?"

Her sister took a shaky breath. "Kennedy, Mom was in an accident. Her car was in the shop, and she was in a loaner. We've had a cold snap."

"What?" Kennedy whispered.

"She..." Pru gave a hiccuping sort of sob. "She didn't make it."

The earth fell out from beneath Kennedy's chair, and she curled her hand tighter around the phone, as if that pitiful anchor would help. She didn't even recognize her own voice as she asked, "Mom's dead?"

She wasn't aware of Flynn moving, but suddenly he was there, his strong hand curling around hers.

"The doctors said it was all but instant. She didn't suffer. I...we need to make arrangements."

"Arrangements." She needed to get the hell off the phone. She needed to move, to throw something, to rail at the Universe because this...this shouldn't be happening. "I have to go."

"Kennedy, I know this is hard but - "

"I'm coming home. I'll be there absolutely as soon as I can. Call you back as soon as I know when." She hung up before Pru could answer.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Flynn asked.

He would. He'd cancel whatever bookings he had and fly across an ocean with her to face the grief and demons that waited in Eden's Ridge. But this was for her to do.

"No. I... No." Lifting her eyes to his, she felt the weight of grief land on her chest like a boulder. She'd never again hear her mother's laugh. Never smell her mother's favorite perfume. Never get a chance to tell her the truth about why she'd walked away. "Flynn."

Without word, without question, he tugged her into his arms, holding tight as the first wave crashed over her, and she fell apart, the phantom scent of violets on the air.

* * *

Chief Deputy Xander Kincaid parked his cruiser in front of the rambling Victorian that had been Joan Reynolds' home. He retrieved the covered dish of chicken enchiladas sent by his mama - the first wave of death casseroles that would soon fill the old kitchen to bursting - and headed for the front door. Despite its size, with its muted gray paint, the house tended to blend into the woods and mountains around it. Joan had loved this house. She'd always said it was a peaceful spot, a good place to heal and a good place to love. And she'd done exactly that for nearly twenty-five of her sixty-two years, filling the over-sized house with foster children who'd needed a home and someone to love them.

No telling whose home it would become now. Pru had moved back in. As the only one of Joan's adopted girls who hadn't moved away, she'd immediately stepped in to take over guardianship of Ari Rosas, Joan's most recent - well, her last foster child. But he didn't imagine Pru could afford the upkeep of the place on her income as a massage therapist - especially after the death taxes and probate lawyer had their way with the place. And what, he wondered, would happen with Ari, whose adoption hadn't yet been finalized?

Juggling the casserole dish, he rang the bell and waited. And waited.

Backing up on the porch, he craned his head to peer around toward the barn. Pru's car was there. He tried the knob and found it unlocked. Making a mental note to have a word with her about security, even here on the Ridge, he stuck his head inside. "Pru?"

She appeared at the head of the stairs, her big brown eyes red-rimmed from crying. "Sorry. I was just..." She tailed off, waving a vague hand down the hall.

"It's fine." He lifted the enchiladas. "Mama wanted me to bring these by. She thought with your sisters coming in, the last thing you or any of them would want to do is cook."

Xander watched as manners kicked in. Her posture straightened, her expression smoothing out as she locked down the grief.

"That's so kind of her." She came down the stairs and reached for the dish. "I'll just go put this in the kitchen."

He followed her back.

"No one's here just yet," she said, a false bright note in her voice, as if everything was fine and her world wasn't falling apart.

Xander waited until she slid the casserole into the fridge before he simply wrapped his arms around her. "Pru. I'm so sorry."

For a long moment, she stood there like a wooden post. Then a shudder rippled through her as her control fractured. Her arms lifted and she burrowed in.

"This shouldn't have happened," she whispered. "If she'd been in her own car instead of that tin can loaner, it wouldn't have."

Xander wasn't sure Joan's SUV would've handled the patch of black ice any better, but he remained silent. The fact was, nobody expected black ice in east Tennessee in March. Not when daytime temperatures were almost to the sixties. Joan's hadn't been the only accident this week. But she'd been the only fatality.

He ran a hand down Pru's silky, dark brown hair, hoping to soothe, at least a little. But this wasn't like middle school, when he'd been able to pound Derek Pedretti into the ground for making Pru cry by calling her fat. There was no one he could take to task, no one to be punished. Grief simply had to be endured.

"There are all these arrangements to be made," she hiccupped.

And no one here to help her do them, with Maggie off in Los Angeles and Athena running her restaurant in Chicago. Xander deliberately avoided thinking about the final Reynolds sister, though he was sure that this would bring even her home. The idea of that caused his gut to tighten with a mix of old fury and guilt.

"What can I do to help?"

"Let me make you some coffee."

"Pru - "

"No really," she sniffed, pulling away. "I'm better when I'm doing something."

Xander didn't want coffee, but if she needed to keep her hands busy, he'd drink some. "Coffee'd be great."

She began puttering around the kitchen, pulling beans out of the freezer and scooping them into the grinder. Joan had loved her gourmet beans. It'd been one of the few luxuries she'd always allowed herself. As she went through the motions, Pru seemed to regain her control.

"Maggie's taking the red eye from LA, and Athena's flying out as soon as she closes down the restaurant tonight."

"Do either of them need to be picked up from the airport?"

"They're meeting in Nashville and driving up together in the morning, so they'll be here to help me finish planning the service. It's supposed to be on Thursday."

Xander didn't ask about Kennedy. Both because he didn't want to care whether she showed up, and if she wasn't coming, he didn't want to rub it in.

Pru set a steaming mug in front of him, adding the dollop of half and half he liked and giving it a stir. "Kennedy gets in day after tomorrow. There was some kind of issue getting a direct flight, so she's having to criss-cross Europe before she even makes it Stateside again. She's coming home, Xander."

He wasn't sure if that was supposed to be an announcement or a warning, but it cracked open the scab over a very old wound that had never quite healed.

She laid a hand over his. "Are you okay?"

This woman had just lost her mother, and she was worried about whether he'd be okay with the fact that his high school girlfriend, whom he hadn't seen in a decade, was coming home.

"Why wouldn't I be?"

Pru leveled those deep, dark eyes on his. "I know there are unresolved issues between you."

God, if only she knew the truth - that he was the reason Kennedy had left - she wouldn't be so quick to offer sympathy.

"It was a long time ago, Pru. There's nothing to resolve." Kennedy had made her position clear without saying a word to him. At the memory, temper stirred, belying his words. There were things he needed to say to her, questions he wanted answered. But whatever her faults, Kennedy had just lost her mother, too, and Xander wasn't the kind of asshole who'd attack her and demand them while she was reeling from that. Chances were, she'd be gone before he had an opportunity to say a thing. He'd gotten used to living with disappointment on that front.

He laid a hand over Pru's. "Don't worry about me. How's Ari?"

She straightened. "Devastated. Terrified. And..." Pru sighed. "Not speaking."

"Not speaking?"

"Not since I told her. She'd come so far living here with Mom, and this is an enormous setback. No surprise. Especially having just lost her grandmother last year." Pru continued to bustle around the kitchen, pouring herself a cup of coffee and coming to sit with him at the table. Her long, capable fingers wrapped around the mug.

"She upstairs?"

"Yeah. I was trying to get her to eat something when you got here."

"Poor kid. Have you talked to the social worker yet?"

"Briefly. Mae wants to let us get through the funeral and all the stuff after before we all figure out what to do."

"Who would've been named her emergency guardian if the adoption had gone through?" Xander asked.

"The four of us, probably. I know it's what Mom would've wanted. But there are legal ramifications to the situation, and the fact is, I'm the only one still here." She sighed. "We'll have to talk about it after. The one thing I know we'll all be in agreement on is that we want what's best for Ari."

"All four of you have been in her shoes, and you turned into amazing women. I know you'll do the right thing." Whatever that turned out to be.

Xander polished off the coffee. "I'm on shift, so I need to be getting back. But, please, if you need anything, Pru, don't hesitate to call. I'm just down the road."

She rose as he did and laid a hand on his cheek. "You're a good stand-in brother, Xander. Mom always loved that about you."

He felt another prick of guilt, knowing his own involvement with this family had been heavily motivated by trying to make up for Kennedy's absence. "Yeah well, I ran as tame here as the rest of you when we were kids. Especially when Porter was around." Giving her another squeeze, he asked, "Can I do that for you? Notify the rest of her fosters? I know you've covered your sisters, but there were a lot of kids who went through here over the years. I'm sure they'd like to pay their respects."

Her face relaxed a fraction. "That would be amazing. I'm sure we'll have a houseful after the funeral, but I need a chance to gird my loins for the influx. Mom kept a list. I'll get it for you."

As she disappeared upstairs, he wandered into the living room. Little had changed over the years. The big, cushy sofas had rotated a time or two. And there'd been at least three rugs that he could remember. But photos of Joan and her charges were scattered everywhere. Xander eased along the wall, scanning faces. A lot of them he knew. A lot of them, he didn't.

A shot at the end caught his attention. The girl's face was turned away from the camera, looking out over the misty mountains. She was on the cusp of womanhood, her long, tanned legs crossed on the swing that still hung from the porch outside, a book forgotten in her lap. Her golden hair was caught in a loose tail at her nape. Xander's fingers itched with the memory of the silky strands flowing through his fingers. She'd been sixteen, gorgeous, and the center of his world. The sight of her still gave him a punch in the gut.

"Here it is."

At the sound of Pru's voice, Xander turned away from Kennedy's picture. Over and done.

He strode over and took the pages she'd printed. "I'll take care of it," he promised.

"Thank you, Xander. This means a lot."

"Anytime." With one last, affectionate tug on her hair, he stepped outside, away from memories and the looming specter of what might have been.