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My Last and Never

My Last and Never

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Joy Frost’s life is fine. It is! And if she says it enough, she'll believe it.

Will Cord and Joy be able to come their past over and find their way back to each other's hearts?

Main Tropes

  • Fake Relationship
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Single Parent
  • Small Town Romance
  • Runaway Bride
  • Fish Out of Water
  • Second Chance

Synopsis

Joy Frost’s life is fine. It is! And if she says it enough, she'll believe it.Sure, she’d come running back to her hometown, a heartbroken single mom,but since then, she’s carved out a life for herself and her young son, Peter.She has a decent job using her computer skills, and even though it isn’tthe most exciting career choice, at least she’s standing on her own two feet.So what if there’s no man in the picture? The last thing she needs is romance,anyway. Then, the guy who broke her heart shows up, asking for her help.Cord Barrett, Chief Information Officer of Butler Hotels, knows someone is stealingfrom his company, he even knows how, but he has no idea how to stop it.The authorities can’t do anything, so his only hope is to find a computer expertto find the thief and help him save his company. Problem is, the best hackerhe knows is Joy Frost, and he’s pretty sure she hates his guts. But as they work together to save his company from a thief, the spark between them reignites, leading to a hilarious journey filled with forgiveness and second chances.Will Cord and Joy be able to come their past over and find their way back to each other's hearts?

Intro into Chapter One

Chapter
One

 

“If
he’s got a shifty stance and a shifty attitude, then he’s shifty, and you can’t
trust him.”

Cord
“the devil” Barrett, CIO of Butler hotels, sat next to Jane Smith in the
hospital.  Liam and Travers had already
left for the day and would be back later. Three months ago, Jane had walked
into their lives literally from the street as well as into their hearts. Both she
and her dog were now full-time residents at the hotel. When she fell ill and
was rushed to the hospital, she and her dog Mr. Butterscotch were given the
best of care.

“I
know you had some reservations about Darren,” Cord began.

“Reservations?
Don’t go using them big words to try and throw me off the course. Did you hear
me stutter? No, you didn’t because I knew that boy was no good.”

It
was hard to argue with her in lieu of the current predicament he found himself
in. Cord had a thief in his company, and the worst of it was he was the one who
had brought him in.

“Jane,
you can roast me later. I need you to get better,” Cord said as he brushed her
hair back from her face.

“Pshaw!  You all went and got all scared and put Mr.
Butterscotch and me in this fancy hospital. Sometimes I just forget to eat. Now
that you all have someone else feeding Mr. Butterscotch, I forgot to feed
myself. You know, before when we were on the street we always ate together.”

Cord
sighed and gave her a faint smile.

“Before
you were living on the street. Now you live in one of the best hotels in the
city. There is enough staff in that hotel, so you don’t have to feed Mr.
Butterscotch.”

“And
it’s just that kind of thinking that has gotten us here. If I took care of my
baby like I normally do, I wouldn’t be here,” she snapped back as she crossed
her arms over her chest in the hospital bed.

Holding
his hands up and then gently laying them on her folded ones, he gave up.

“You’re
right. I’ll make sure only you take care of Mr. Butterscotch when you come
back.”

“You’re
going to handle that slimy toad you have working for you?”

“I
wish it were that easy.”

“He’s
wrong. He’s stealing business from the hotel. Get him! While you are at it, you
need to handle that woman, Roxanne too!”

“Again,
I wish. Darren is doing it in such a way that he could say it's just chance
that the other hotels underbid our best offers. As for Roxanne, there’s nothing
I can do with the mistakes that have been made.”

“Who’s
going to believe that foolishness, and who gives up hope?”

Cord
sat back in the visitor chair.

“A
lot of people want to believe there is hope, but sometimes a man just can’t
afford to hope.”

“You
talking about those stuff shirts that have been sniffing around the hotel.
There’s always going to be rats around, a good thing because everything has a
purpose. They are just waiting for scraps. You can’t let them in, though. You
build a good shelter to hold you through the night. You, Liam, and Travers, you
all get your heads together and figure it out. Hope isn’t optional, Cord. It
can make or break a person. You remember what I said now.”

Cord
never thought the day would come that he would find himself being lectured by a
senior woman in a bed on how to be the CIO of Butler hotels, but here he was,
and she was making sense.

“I’ll
find an answer, Jane,” Cord replied in a low voice.

Jane
reached out, and her cold weathered hands lifted his chin up.

“Boy,
don’t play this old lady. You know the answer to the questions, and all of them
start and end with a woman.”

* * *

“Crusty
Crone, do you think that fits you?”

There
was no way this conversation was going to go well. The only thing that kept her
from yelling was that it was coming from her 10-year-old son, Peter. She
couldn’t very well get upset with the question when she claimed to have an open
discussion household, could she?

Well,
she could, but as Joy Frost, the anchor of the church community and a single
mom trying to balance it all, she had learned that having moments of
impropriety were not allowed. But she had to admit today did feel like it might
be an exception.

“Why
do you ask dear?” Joy said as she sat down at the small circular table big
enough for three but currently set for just her and Peter. Peter was shoveling
his cereal into his mouth. Joy felt like her smile was plastered on her face.

“You’ve
got that look, mom.”

“What
look?”

“It’s
the look that says you are smiling so hard you start to look like the joker,”
he said through mouthfuls of cheerios.

Joy
blew out a breath and tried again.

“Okay,
who said I was a Crusty Crone, and what is that anyway?”

Peter
swallowed the cereal and then wiped his hand across his mouth.

“The
Crusty Crone is the end boss in a video game. It’s when you’re playing a video
game, and you’re on the final quest. She’s the baddest of them all. She starts
out pretty but the longer you fight her, the more she changes, and she
eventually becomes the Crone.”

Joy
just moved the spoon next to her bowl to the right.

“And
they say I’m the Crusty Crone?”

“Some
people do. Do you think you’re becoming the crusty crone?”

Joy
could feel the need to jump up and say, ‘give me their names, every one of
them, and their friends, and I’ll get their little doggie too!”  As soon as she heard the doggie part, she
stopped and sat back in her chair.

“Doesn’t
look good.”

Joy
looked back to her son, who resumed shoveling cereal into his mouth.

“What
do you mean that it doesn’t look good?”

“I’m
just saying when you aren’t sure about something, you sit back and sigh a lot!”

“Are
the kids at school bothering you?” Joys asked in the most neutral tone she
could find.

“No,
besides, they talk all the time, and it goes away. Besides, our science teacher
explained to us about changes in the body,” Peter said as he slurped the milk
in the bowl. Changes in the body? Joy
was not prepared to have a conversation about sex with her son. In fact, she wondered
if she had missed the notice that this was going to be covered.

Clearing
her throat, Joy sat up and looked at Peter, wondering how he could be thinking
about changes in the body. His dark swath of brown hair covered his head. He
barely had the physic to play basketball and would probably never have the bulk
needed for football, much less anything else, but here we are.

“Peter,
did you have any questions about the changes in the body?” Joy heard the words
come out of her mouth, but internally she was praying. Lord, please let him have no questions and no interest. I’ll find a way
to do more to help the flock; I just don’t think I’m ready for this yet.

“No,
I don’t have any questions. Mr. Johansen explained it all. He said that it may
seem like you are the Crusty Crone now, but you wouldn’t turn ugly. You’re just
going through hormonal issues. Girls get them all the time, and that’s what
makes them special and unpredictable.”

Just
then, a car honked outside. Peter jumped up from the table and kissed Joy on
the cheek.

“It’s
my ride. I’ll see you after school. Love you, mom.”

Joy
was still sitting in the chair, looking at Peter’s vacant chair, thinking over
what her son had said. Her? She was the
one going through body changes?
Joy mulled the thought over in her head.
Breathe, she had to remember to breathe in and to breathe out.

“Crusty
Crone,” she murmured to no one in the house. Joy had to take a hard look at
herself. She didn’t lead an inspiring life. She woke up, got Peter ready for
school. Cleaned up the kitchen and then went to the church to take care of its
electronic records, that any high schooler could review, were up to date and
the data entry done. She walked through the church tried to help out as much as
she could. Joy came back home, readied dinner, waited for Peter. They did his
homework, ate together, watched television, bathed, and went to bed.

Joy
dropped her head into her hands. She had just itemized the last 11 years of her
life. Peter was a gift in her life, and most times, he was her sanity, but Joy,
the woman, was dying and, if the crusty crone comment was correct, becoming
bitter in little snippets. Joy wished she could say she didn’t know what they
were referring to, but when Joy thought about how mean spirited she had been to
Elissa and Liam not even a couple of months ago, it wasn’t so hard to believe.

The
evidence was staring her in the face. She couldn’t refute them because the
longer she thought about it, the more the evidence of how the crusty crone
would poke her head out at church functions stacked up, forming a brick wall of
accusation.

How
had she gotten here? Really? Joy
hated that little voice of truth that never left her alone and seemed to show
up at all the wrong times. Okay, she knew how she had gotten here. That was the
problem. She knew exactly what had happened, and it was the oldest story in the
book. She fell in love he dumped her. She ran into a rebound marriage, and when
she got pregnant, he dumped her too. Joy had been hiding in her hometown
instead of rebuilding her life, and it was starting to show how unhappy and
unfulfilled she was.

It
didn’t help that today was her wedding anniversary.  Just another reminder of something she
couldn’t keep together. There were days that if she didn’t have Peter, she
wouldn’t know what to do.

The
phone rang. Joy picked her head up and looked at her phone, but she couldn’t
pick up the phone because disbelief was staying her hand. She hadn’t even heard
his voice, and she was held in place. Then the ring went silent, and not even
twenty seconds later, she listened to the static and then the message.

“This
call is for Joy. You know who it is. I need you. Call me. My number hasn’t
changed.”

How
did Cord Barrett manage to pull that off? He just called her as if ten years
hadn’t passed since they last spoke. If memory and gossip served her correctly,
he was Mr. C.I.O of Butler hotels these days.

Cord
“the devil” Barrett.

He
had earned the nickname of the devil because he could negotiate with anyone.
When that man started to speak, he was like a magician weaving a spell. Joy had
fallen for those magnetic brown eyes that lured you in but promised nothing. He
was the man who taught her love wasn’t enough. Both of them were up and coming
coders working in the sweat pools of Butler hotels. They had been eager and
full of themselves. They never showed any interest in the office unless it was
competitive. Everyone had told her that she was good, and Joy had foolishly
believed that her accolades straight out of college would mean something in a
good old boy industry.

Then
an opportunity came, and Joy and Cord had worked on a new reservation system
that would give the company a competitive edge. Management promoted Cord. To
Cord’s credit, he had told them it was a team effort, and they had offered to
promote her as his assistant.

Pride
made her leave and go out on her own. Cord had asked her to be patient. He
asked her to think about them. Joy couldn’t see herself ever being able to
leave Cord’s shadow, and so she gave her two weeks' notice and went to work for
the competition.

She
left Cord and all of her girlish dreams of the two of them staying up late
nights coding together and having a family that would learn how to communicate
in the binary code of zeroes and ones before they learned how to speak.

She
had heard about his rise in Butler because Butler hotels was an up and coming
hotel chain. She’d even heard that he’d hooked up with one of his fraternity
buddies to improve her initial code and make the reservation system more
intuitive and streamlined to make decisions on profit and margins. After that,
if Joy were honest, she’d admit she had stopped reading about him. When Cord
picked up a “frat brother,” it just confirmed what she thought all along.

After
that final nail in the coffin, she focused on being the best she could be. She
put aside all thoughts of the devil. It went well for a while. She went to work
for the competition. They didn’t seem to care that she was missing a third leg,
and she moved on. Of course, in retrospect, Joy could see how she was a slow
learner when it came to men. She met Peter’s father, and once again, she was
part of a team making new code. When he found out that she was pregnant, he
told her to choose career and him or Peter, and that ended that.

Every
so often, she had spoken to her family in Chusada, and the only thing she asked
them was not to mention the Butler hotel. She eventually moved back and had
been licking her wounds and curling up from life ever since. She could see it
now, and it seems that others could too if the crusty crone jab was any
indication.

Joy
looked around the pale yellow kitchen. The refrigerator was covered with work
by Peter. His tests, pictures, and notes to her. The church had recently
offered her an office and a little more pay. It was steady and safe. It was
very stable, and more than what everyone thought about her, what really
mattered to Joy was what was best for Peter.

That
was the problem with Cord. He brought about second thoughts and doubt.

Despite the urge that she had to pick up the phone and give Cord a call,
she would have to ignore it. Peter was what was important here. Joy could take
a moment or two and languish in the dream of being able to pick up the phone
and tell Cord no. She might even spend a little time today daydreaming of what
it would be like to do a real job involving computers instead of the same
monotonous task she had been doing at the church. As the reality of the moment
settled about her, so did a cloak of hopelessness settle over her shoulders.
Just as she was about to get some coffee, the phone rang again. She wasn't
going to let this one go to voicemail. She was going to handle this upfront and
right away. 

“Hello, this is Joy Frost, and you are?” Joy waited for the modulated
tunes of the magician to come through the phone, and instead, she heard an
older gentleman saying I'm so glad I found you.

“Oh, oh, I'm so sorry I thought you were someone else.”

“So it seems. I'm glad I'm not that person because it seems like you
were ready for him.”

“And how do you know it was a man?”

“I'm a widow of 35 years, and I have daughters. I know that tone, and I
usually feel bad for the man who's on the receiving end.” 

“Forgive me for being rude, but may I ask who's calling?”

“My name is Gregory Butler, and I'm trying to reach out to you before
Cord Barrett does.”

The Butler name and Cord's mention in the same sentence was enough to
set Joy on edge.

“I'm sorry, Mr. Butler, you're late. When Cord wants to do something, he
usually doesn't wait, and he's already called me this morning.”

“Did he offer you a job?”

“He said he needed my help.”

“Well, I want you to know that while it's true, he is the CIO, the job
he's about to offer doesn't have any long-term prospects. I'm afraid Mr.
Barrett is just grasping at straws. I wanted to reach out to you just to make
sure that he wasn't pulling down innocent people with him at the same time.”

Joy could believe a lot of things about Cord, but that he would be one
to pull someone down with him wasn't one of them. 

“We haven't kept in close touch over the years, so I'm afraid I don't
know what you're talking about.”

“And that, my dear, should tell you everything that you really need to
know. It seems as though Mr. Barrett is having a problem at the company, and he
wants someone to take the fall for it. I'm sure that's why he decided to come
knocking on your door. I mean, we both know it's not as though there are a lot
of opportunities for computer jobs showing up at the church accountants’ door.”

 Before this phone call, Joy wouldn't have thought it was possible.
However, Mr. Butler had proven to her there was someone she could dislike more
than Cord. Whoever the older gentleman was on the other side of the phone, he
was someone who was seasoned and knew how to get straight to the matter and cut
a person to the quick. 

“My current workplace is my current choice, thank you. “

“Yes, well, I've been to the town of Chusada. My brother moved there after
he got married, actually. I suppose it takes all types of people in the world,
and if you're the type of person who likes to live there, then you definitely
would not have been a fit for Butler hotels.”

“You were calling about the job?” Joy said sweetly.

“Oh yes, the non-existence opportunity that Cord is trying to create.”

“Well, you don't have to worry about me. I have no intention of coming
to work for Butler hotels. I didn't before, and I have no intention of doing so
now.”

“Yes, this was just a goodwill reach out. If you're happy in Chusada,
like I said before, Butler wasn't the place for you anyway. Thank you for your
time Ms. Frost and again consider how ill-fitted you’d be when Mr. Barrett
wields his infamous persuasive ability on you that he's only looking for a
scapegoat, not for someone with talent.”

“I'll remember your words, Mr. Butler. Now you have a good day,
goodbye.” 

Joy didn't know Mr. Butler but his words hurt. They shouldn't have. She
was happy with her life. Joy Frost was just fine.  Now, if she said it
enough times, she might actually start to believe it. 

There was a little voice in her that made her look again at the phone.
She thought about Cord’s call.  If he was calling about a job, she could
take that job, and she could code like no other. If she did, she would finally
be able to show that Mr. Butler the truth about her skill set. She shook her
head and dropped her forehead into her hands. How could she be so sad and so
weak as to let one phone call push her to give up all of the stability she had
built for Peter?

 Taking a deep breath, she straightened up and looked around the
kitchen again. She needed to get out of the kitchen and the house and go for a
walk. That's all it was. She just needed to clear her head.

Joy grabbed her
pocketbook and then went to the door. She knew she would be fine. If she kept
repeating that to herself, she knew this period of regret would pass. In fact,
if she took a long enough walk by the time that she was done, she wouldn't have
to do her afternoon aerobics.

 She opened the
door, and before she could even take a step out, there he was. This was only a
confirmation to Joy that if it wasn't for bad luck, she wouldn't have any at
all. Age had been good to Cord Barrett. No man has a right to look that good.
And how could it be that he was standing in the Florida heat without a drop of
sweat on his forehead in a suit? 

“Joy?” There it was the
timbre of a magician. She had dreamed of that voice for so many nights that
when she heard it, it was like taking a sip of expensive wine. You didn't want
to go ahead and drink it too quickly, but you wanted to savor every moment. She
was torn between just listening to him say some of the words and realizing she
was standing star struck in her own doorway. 

“Cord?” Was that her
voice? She sounded like some strangled chicken. As far as first impressions
were going to go, she obviously would not hit this one out of the park. 

“I'm glad I caught you.”

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