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Forgiveness Found in Honey Grove

Forgiveness Found in Honey Grove

A Braxton Brothers Romance, Book 4

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I'm trying to make the best of my situation. I should be happy, after all, I'm about to get married. But my fiancé seems to want to spend most of his time away from Honey Grove there here planning our wedding.

I'm surviving until James Braxton walks back into my life and offers to help me with the wedding plans. 

Enough time has passed, my feelings should be gone...at least, I hope they are. 

MAIN TROPES

  • Protective Hero
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Body Guard
  • Road Trip
  • Only One Bed
  • Family

Synopsis

James is broken and running from a past he can’t face. He’s fine living his solitary life, away from anyone who he could hurt. Love was the last thing he deserved.

Layla is finished with her no good, ex-fiancé. Just when she thought she’d rid him from her life, James shows up claiming that she’s in danger and must come with him.

Confused and hurt, Layla discovers that her world is destroyed. Despite warning bells, she agrees to travel with James down to his hometown of Honey Grove.

Determined to keep himself closed off, James tries to fight his feelings for Layla. But she’s sweet and gentle and just the thing that's been missing in his life.

If he could only find a way to forgive himself from his past mistakes, he’d love her like she deserves.

Chapter One Look Inside

James

James stared at the suitcase that sat on his bed. A nervous, frustrated feeling rose up inside of him. He couldn’t go back to that place. Not right now. He couldn’t face his family and their calm, peaceful life as broken as he was.  

They would never understand. 

Ever since being honorably discharged from the Marines, he hadn’t been able to return home. How could he pretend that his life was fine when it obviously was not? Sure, his staff sergeant said that the accident hadn’t been his fault, but he knew better. 

There was nothing honorable about what had happened. He’d made a mistake and lives were forever affected by that. 

Turning, he focused on his reflection in the mirror. He needed to get his head on straight. This was a simple trip, that was all. His nephew, Jordan, had asked for him to come to his birthday party. And even though James had tried to get out of it, his mom, Sondra, wouldn’t hear it. 

So, despite the warning bells sounding in his mind, he’d agreed to return to Honey Grove, South Carolina. After all, he hadn’t been back since he was a kid. No one there knew what had happened in Afghanistan. 

His phone rang, drawing his attention toward the top of his dresser. Reaching over, he grabbed it and pressed the green talk button. 

“Hello?”

“Jimmy?” Juan, James’s friend since he’d moved to New York a year ago, sounded panicked. 

“Juan? What’s going on?”

There was some static on Juan’s end. James pulled the phone from his ear and checked to make sure they hadn’t been disconnected. 

“I need you to do me a solid.” Juan’s voice broke up a few times.

“Okay?”

“I need you to pick up Layla and bring her to the airport. I’ll text you the address she should be at.”

“Your sister? Why?”

There was a long pause before Juan answered. “I can’t really talk about it right now. Just please, pick her up and bring her here as soon as you can. Things have gotten…dicey.”

Juan hung up before James could respond. He glanced down at his phone as the screen went black. An uneasy feeling rose up in his gut as Juan’s words replayed in his mind. 

Juan had kept his work a secret for as long as James had known him. They’d become friends when Juan had saved James’s life—forever earning him James’s loyalty. 

And even though they kept secrets from each other, it worked for them. 

Pushing his hands through his hair, James made his way over to his suitcase, zipped it up, and then grabbed the handle. A few minutes later, he was on the curb outside of his building with his hand up, signaling a taxi. Once he picked up Layla and delivered her to Juan, he’d rent a car and drive the 12 hours to Honey Grove. He’d thought about flying, but the thought of a confined space for that long made his chest feel as if it were constricting. 

He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t grateful for the distraction that picking Layla up was giving him. 

Five minutes later, James found himself sitting in a cab, tapping his fingers nervously on his leg. He hated confined spaces, and sitting in a car was not helping his nerves. The cab driver’s incessant honking and shouting wasn’t helping either. 

“Is there any way we could go faster?” James asked, leaning forward so he knew the driver could hear him. 

The man flicked his gaze back to James with a hint of irritation. “Do you see this traffic?” the man asked, waving his hand towards the cars that were boxing them in. 

Frustrated, James threw a twenty in the man’s direction and then pulled on the door handle and stepped out onto the road. A few cars honked as he made his way to the trunk to grab his suitcase. 

He was too anxious to sit in the cab any longer, and walking would probably get him to Layla’s building faster. Even though Juan hadn’t given him specifics, James had understood that he needed to get her there sooner rather than later. 

It took fifteen minutes to get to the address that Juan had texted him. Glancing up, James saw the numbers 579 across the top. This was the building. He climbed the steps and pulled open a door that led into a large foyer. Along the far wall was an elevator. Layla should be on the fourth floor. 

After pressing the up button, the doors opened and James boarded. The elevator hummed to life, and James tapped his leg as he watched the numbers climb. Hopefully, Juan had warned Layla that he was coming, and it would be an easy in and out. 

The elevator stopped and the doors opened on a small hallway. James stepped out and glanced down both sides, wondering which way he should go. A large man stood at the far end of the hall to the left, so James made his way over. 

“Name?” the man asked as he glanced down at the clipboard he was holding. 

James furrowed his brow. This was strange. “James. James Braxton.”

The man harrumphed as he flipped through a few pages. “There’s no James Braxton on my list.” 

Confused, James stepped forward as a woman approached. “That’s okay, Billy, he’s with us.”

Billy eyed James and then nodded toward the woman who was pursing her lips. 

“Follow me,” she said, turning and waving him down the adjacent hallway. 

“The flyer said ten o’clock. Not ten thirty. You’re lucky we are short on people or I would have had Billy kick you out.”

James leaned forward, hoping that the woman would say something that made sense. “I’m sorry, what?”

The woman sighed with annoyance. “You’re late, and I’m going to get my rear end handed to me if I don’t get you ready in time.” She paused in front of a door and ran her gaze over him. “It’s nice to see Layla is upping her game. I’m tired of dressing anorexic models.” Her words lingered in the air as she opened a door to expose a large room filled with people rushing around. 

Several mirrors lined the wall with occupied chairs in front of them. People swarmed in front of them, fiddling with their hair or applying makeup. Half-naked models rushed around, grabbing items from a rack. 

It felt like stepping into an alternative universe. James glanced around, trying to process what was happening. 

“I’m not a model,” he said as he caught up with the woman. 

She glanced at him and snorted. “I know, honey. None of the models are. You’re all actors. I get it.” She raised her hand and waved at a woman with blue hair who was standing over by the mirrors. “We’re so glad you decided to grace us with your presence.”

“This a new one, Olivia?” the woman with blue hair asked as she ran her gaze over James. 

“Yes. Please take him and do something with…that,” Olivia said as she motioned toward James. 

Frustrated that things were slipping out of his control, James stepped up to Olivia, despite the blue-haired girl’s protests. “I’m here for Layla.”

Olivia glanced up at him through her dark spectacles. She sighed as she nodded and hugged the clipboard she held against her chest. “I know. We all are.” Then she stabbed her finger against his chest. “If you want to see her, you need to get dressed. That’s the only way to the top floor.”

James stared as she gave him an annoyed smile and turned to make her way over to a man who was waving her down. He let out his breath slowly as he glanced down at the expectant gaze of the blue-haired makeup artist. 

“You ready, hulk?” she asked as she reached out and pressed her finger against his arm. “I mean, I know Layla wanted a different look this time, but I didn’t think she wanted all of this.”

Suddenly feeling like he was being scrutinized, James just nodded and folded his arms. “I’m here for Layla and that’s all.”

The woman snapped her gum as she nodded. “Aren’t we all. Come on, let’s get you ready so you can meet the fashion queen.”

A lot of things were done to James that he’d never had done before. By the time he was dressed in cutoff pants and a skin-tight T-shirt—the woman who had handed him clothes complaining about his size—he didn’t even recognize himself. His skin felt caked with makeup, and his hair was standing up on end. 

Whoever called this fashion had to be on something. 

Olivia came back around to gather the models. She ushered them to an elevator that they took to the top floor. Once the doors opened, everyone spilled out into a huge room. It reminded James of a gymnasium. People dressed in suits and ties were walking around while a photographer stood in front of a backdrop, lights flashing around him. 

James stayed toward the back as his gaze roamed the room. He needed to find Layla, get back into his normal clothes, and get the heck out of here. He definitely didn’t belong here. 

“You!” the photographer yelled in a thick French accent. He waved his hand toward James. 

Not sure what to do, James pressed his hand to his chest. “Me?”

The photographer was not shy about his annoyance with James and nodded. “No, the tree behind you.”

Not wanting to look like an idiot, James stepped forward. “I’m sorry.”

The photographer had moved on already as he waved at a group of female models who were standing around in leather jumpsuits. 

Before James knew what was happening, he was standing in the middle of them in front of the backdrop. The photographer was shouting instructions as the models fawned around James. 

Pushing aside the complete embarrassment he felt, James forced a smile, to which the photographer yelled things in French at him. From the tone of voice, James realized that whatever he was saying wasn’t good. 

Anger grew inside of him as he scanned the crowd for Layla. He was ready to get out of here with or without her. Dark hair drew his attention over by refreshment table, and relief flooded him. He pushed away from a particularly clingy model and walked off the set. 

The photographer shouted at him, but James didn’t care. He was ready to leave, and it looked as if he’d just located Layla. 

Even though he felt ridiculous in the clothes he was wearing, he reached out and grabbed the woman’s elbow. She jumped as she whipped around, her eyebrows shooting up as she studied him. 

“Layla?” he asked. Even though he recognized her deep brown eyes and olive skin from the few photographs that Juan had shown him, he still wanted to confirm. 

“Yes. And who are you?”

Relieved that he was going to get the heck out of this place, James moved closer to her. He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Name’s James. I’m here to pick you up.” 

Layla took a step back. “Excuse me?”

James furrowed his brow. “Did Juan not tell you?”

Her skin paled as she glanced around. “You need to leave,” she said, the tone in her voice sounded threatening. 

“Leave? I’m here to get you. Juan said something about things getting dicey. I’m not sure what that means, but it can’t be good.” He reached forward and wrapped his hand around her arm, hoping she’d comply. 

Layla’s gaze dropped to his hand and then back up to him. Anger burned in her eyes as she shook her head. “It’s not safe with him,” she said, pulling her arm up and breaking their contact.

James watched as she inched farther away from him. “Listen, I know you and your brother have had issues in the past, but I don’t think this is something you should ignore. He sounded genuinely worried about you.”

Layla stopped moving and turned to study him, her eyebrows creased as she met his gaze. “My what?” She tucked some hair behind her ear and glanced around. “Did you just say my brother?”

“Yes.”

She scoffed. “Typical.” Then she turned to study him. “Who are you?”

James felt more confused than he had all morning. He stared at her. “I’m his friend.”

Layla folded her arms and studied him. “You are, are you? You’re such good friends that he would lie to you?”

“Lie?”

“I’m not his sister, I’m his ex-fiancée.” She turned on her heel and started to walk away from him. 

Confusion clouded his mind as he watched her. She was Juan’s ex? Why would he lie about something like that? Before James got lost in trying to figure out what was going on, he followed Layla. This time, he stepped in front of her, halting her. 

“I don’t know what’s going on, but from the sound of Juan’s voice, this is a threat that you can’t take lightly. Please, come with me and we can figure this out.” He lowered his voice, hoping she’d hear his concern. He wasn’t sure why Juan would lie to him, but he had learned over the years to trust his gut, and his gut was telling him Layla was in trouble. 

Layla held his gaze for a moment before she let her breath out. Then she swallowed, the frustration on her face disappearing. “Fine. Give me a few minutes to wrap this up, and then I’ll be ready.” Her gaze moved over him. “That should give you enough time to change.”

Relief washed over James as he nodded. He was ready to get out of these clothes and this place. “Thank you,” he said, giving her a small smile. 

She chewed her bottom lip as she pressed her hand to her stomach. James felt for her. He could only imagine what it must feel like to have something like this sprung on her. From the look on her face, she and Juan had not split amicably. 

Which he was determined to talk to his friend about once he was sure everyone was safe. 

“I’ll meet you in the dressing room in five minutes.”

“Perfect.”

He started to walk away but then stopped when he heard her call out his name. He turned to see her staring at him. 

“Why you?”

James furrowed his brow. What did that mean?

She sighed. “Why would Juan send you? He’s never talked about you before, and you don’t look like one of his regular goonies. So why did he send you?”

James blew out his breath and shrugged as he shoved his hands into his front pockets. “I don’t know. Lucky draw?”

Layla shook her head. “I’ve known Juan over five years, and he wouldn’t let his own mother walk his dog. Why would he ask you?”

James stared at her. He really didn’t know. By all accounts, he was broken. He didn’t have anything to give anyone. It was one of the things that he seemed to be able to connect with Juan about—the need to keep his distance from everything and everyone. Which was why James was standing in front of Juan’s ex-fiancée without knowing who she really was to him until right now.

Their real connection was the debt that James owed him. Perhaps that was the reason why Juan would trust the safety of his ex with James. That and the fact that James knew so little about what was actually going on. Juan had kept quite a few secrets from him.

“He saved my life,” James said, his voice more emotional than he liked. 

Layla’s eyebrows rose as she studied him. “So you owe him a debt…” She swallowed as she glanced to the ground. “Got it.”

Confused, James watched her. Why was that so upsetting to her? What did it matter how he knew Juan? “It that okay?” he asked, stepping forward.

Layla shrugged and wrapped her arms around her chest. She stepped away from him as if she were trying to shield herself from something. He just wished he knew what. 

“It’s fine. I’ll get ready and we can go.” She gave him a forced smile and then headed toward the back of the room. He watched her as she smiled at a woman with fire-red hair and pale skin. 

For someone who seemed to be hurting as much as she was, she was good at faking happiness. It was something James knew how to do as well. 

Put on a smile and no one could see his pain. 

Just before he turned to leave, Layla called to him again. She was staring over at him with a confused and hurt expression. “Did he really save your life?” she asked. 

James glanced at her. “Yes.”

She nodded and then she furrowed her brow. “How?” she asked, stepping closer to him. 

“If you want to know, I’ll tell you on the way.” There was an invisible string that seemed to be drawing him closer to her. 

She swallowed as her gaze hardened. “I don’t trust you.” 

James furrowed his brow. “That’s okay. You don’t have to.” He held her gaze. 

She closed her eyes for a second and then nodded. “I hope I don’t regret this.” 

“It’s just a ride to the airport,” James said. 

She sighed and shook her head. “With Juan, it’s never just a ride to the airport,” she said as she turned away from him. 

Realizing that they were done talking, James glanced over at her one more time before he cleared his throat and forced down his emotions. He made his way over to the elevator only to hear Olivia call out his name. Not wanting to talk to her again, he just waved his hand in her direction. He needed to change and get out of here while he still had a semblance of control. He had a feeling that once he was back in Layla’s presence, things were going to change for him whether he liked it or not.

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The Braxton Brothers Series

Fall in love in the small town of Honey Grove where each member of the Braxton family returns and through some meddling of their mother, fall in love and find their happily ever afters.