Contemporary Romance focusing on family, love, military, and overcoming loss.
Caroline and Daniel have been drifting apart. Leaving on frequent business trips, Daniel shows little affection for his wife. When the failing marriage leads to suspicions and unfulfilled needs become a longing for more, Caroline struggles to mend Torn Hearts. Sensing Daniel's emotional withdrawal and eager for peace, Caroline takes their nine-year-old daughter, Emily, for a summer visit to the grandmother who raised Caroline as her own. Gram provides a comforting stability and shares her own love story to Emily and her friend Rachel. Caroline's own story is just beginning. When she bumps into her high school friend Pete, his thoughtful ways soon endear him to her. Pete is everything she wants Daniel to be. He's sensitive, steady, and loves spending time with Emily. Discovering that Pete's feelings for her went beyond a high school friendship, Caroline finds herself becoming more and more attracted to him, and when it appears that Daniel's had an affair, Pete is reassuring and unwavering. But when Daniel returns to fight for their marriage, Caroline is torn between passion and obligation. Caroline must face the past she has run from and rise to meet the future before her. Can Caroline leave her daughter's father for a stronger love, or will duty bind her to a shell of a marriage? CaSondra Poulsen reveals the dawning of passion and the hidden depths of devotion in Torn Hearts.
In the fading candlelight my spine stiffened at the sound of the garage door opening. Another evening wasted on him, I thought. I stood from the table and crossed my arms as the door creaked open. Blood rushed to my head, and my temples throbbed as I prepared for battle. I watched as Daniel set down his briefcase and looked at the clock on the microwave.
“It’s ten forty-two,” I said.
Daniel dropped his head and put his hands in his front pockets. I walked to the wall and turned on the kitchen light, revealing the efforts I had put into myself for this evening. Daniel looked up briefly before lowering his head again.
“Where have you been?” I raised my mental shield.
“I had to work late,” he said, staring at the floor.
“Why didn’t you call?” I unsheathed my sword.
“I lost track of time.” He never looked up. I drew back my weapon.
“You knew I was planning a special dinner for the two of us.” This was his last chance; any remaining resolve I had was quickly vanishing.
“What do you want from me, Caroline? I have to pay the bills.” He raised his head and met my eyes.
“What do I want from you?” I charged into battle. “I’ll tell you what I want from you, Daniel!”
“Stop yelling. You’re going to wake up Emily.”
“Emily is spending the night with Rachel tonight. It was part of the plans I made for the romantic evening we were supposed to be having,” I yelled even louder to make my point. Daniel kicked his briefcase across the floor.
“Don’t mistreat the briefcase. It holds all that’s dear to you, doesn’t it?” I taunted him.
“Knock it off, Caroline. I’m not in the mood to fight with you.” He turned his back on me and opened the cabinet for a glass. My anger exploded.
“Don’t you turn your back on me! I went through a lot of work to make this evening special. I asked you last week if tonight would be a good night for us to have dinner together. You said yes! So what did I do? I made arrangements so we could have the house to ourselves. I made your favorite meal. I dolled myself up. I lit the candles. And I waited for over four hours for you!”
“I didn’t ask you to do this!”
“No, you didn’t. Stupid me thought you would like it! I thought you would want to spend some time with your wife. You didn’t even call. And you certainly didn’t answer when I called.” Tears ran down my cheeks; I violently wiped them away. He didn’t deserve to see my hurt feelings.
“What do you want from me? Do you want me to say I’m sorry? Fine! I’m sorry. Does that make you happy?” His cell phone rang, and he reached into his pocket.
“Don’t you answer that, Daniel.” The phone rang a second time.
“It’s work.” He shrugged and turned his back to me again.
“If you answer that, Daniel, I promise you, you’ll come home one day and I won’t be here. I’m tired of the way you’ve been treating me. I don’t deserve it.”
His back stiffened. The phone rang again. He huffed and lifted the phone to his ear. “Hello.”
What is it about our lives that catch us by surprise? I thought as I rushed to pack my bags on a beautiful, spring day. A light breeze blew through the open window with lilac fragrance on it. I could hear a blue jay from the oak tree in the backyard. By all accounts, a lovely day; I tried to let it lift my gloom.
“Em, are you packed? We need to go soon,” I yelled out my bedroom door as I zipped the suitcase closed.
“Just about, Mom. I can't find my backpack,” she yelled back, frustrated.
“Look next to the dining table—I think I saw it there.”
She ran down the hall and came to a sudden stop.
“You're welcome. Now are you ready to go?”
I wanted to leave before Daniel came home, it would just be easier if we did. Besides, we had a long drive ahead us.
I had taken Emily out of school early for summer break, but she wouldn't miss the last week; third grade bored her. She was a bright child, at a high school level in reading and math. Daniel and I were proud of her—that was one thing we could agree on.
I planned for us to spend some much needed time with my grandma, Mary, in St. Louis, Missouri. It had been almost a year since our last visit. I missed her and I didn’t want Emily to grow up without knowing her.
I looked at the clock; we were cutting this too close, and I wasn’t up for another fight. It would be better if Emily didn’t see us strained.
“Let's load up the van,” I hollered, dragging my suitcases to the front door.
“I'm right behind you, Mom.” She laughed while she adjusted the loaded backpack hung over her slender shoulder. She looked older than nine years, with long hair the color of straw, golden brown skin like her father's, violet-blue eyes like mine, and the cutest button nose; she had the best of us.
I smiled at her as I opened the front door and stepped forward, stumbling right into Daniel's chest. He looked amused as he held me up. Then, seeing the luggage, his smile disappeared.
“I planned to get a head start,” I murmured.
“I see. No good-bye?” he asked, strained. I couldn't meet his deep, brown eyes.
“I know you're busy, and I didn't want to bother you. I planned for Emily to call you later.” The words rushed out. I had hoped to avoid this whole scene. Obviously, I’d failed.
“Since Dad's home, he can help us load the van,” Emily said, letting her backpack fall from her shoulder.
Daniel forced a smile as he reached for the bags, and I surrendered them. I just wanted this over, fast.
“How long will you be gone?” he asked, opening the van's door, not turning to look at me. Was he disappointed?
“I don't know, Daniel. Does it even matter?” I traced the crack in the driveway with my eyes. I could feel the anger rising within me. Where had my patience gone? I seemed to always be at my limit with him. When did this begin?
“No, I suppose it doesn't. I'm glad I could see you off though. I'll miss you, Caroline.”
What is he trying to do? Does he want guilt? He wouldn't be around anyway. It's just a matter of time and he'll be off on another business trip, for who knows how long.
“Why did you come home early?” I chose to ignore his last comment.
“Is it okay to put these up front with us, Mom?” Em asked, skipping around the corner with a bag full of snacks. She didn't notice the tension between us.
“Dad, are you going to come see us at great-grandma's? You know she'll hope you do. I do too.”
“We'll see, Em. What books are you taking with you?”
“Well, I have two mysteries, The Wind and the Willows, and a few short biographies.” She rattled off the titles. “Mom said we can always go to the library or the bookstore while we're there.” She'd no doubt hold me to my word.
“That should keep you busy for a week,” he said, joking as he tousled her hair. He loved her, even if he hadn’t spent much time with her lately.
“We should be going,” I said in a low voice. I just wanted to get some distance between me and the mixed emotions I didn't want to deal with. I couldn't think straight.
Em leaned up on her tiptoes to kiss Daniel good-bye and skipped to the passenger seat. I looked up at Daniel before turning quickly away to walk to the driver's seat. He walked in silence behind me; I could feel his masculine presence near. I got in and lowered the window.
“Good-bye,” I said, trying to be natural but not quite pulling it off.
He leaned in, filling up the opening, and placed a soft kiss on the corner of my lips, lingering only a moment.
“Call me when you get there. I love you,” he whispered and stepped away from the van.
Daniel waved as I backed out the driveway and then turned to walk toward the house. I let out a deep sigh as Emily settled in for the long drive from Colorado Springs to St. Louis. She pulled out an MP3 player and Nancy Drew: Friends and Rivals. We planned to stay the night in Topeka, Kansas, to break up the drive, but neither of us looked forward to eight hours in the van.
I began to let my mind wander as I wove through the city streets, approaching US-24. Again, my mind flirted with questions for which I had no answers. Where did the time go? How did Daniel and I reach this lugubrious place in our marriage, where happiness seemed beyond our grasp? We put on a good show for Emily's sake, but it would be a relief to get away with no more pretenses.
What did they say about distance? Did it make the heart grow fonder? I doubt it. The amount Daniel traveled revealed otherwise, for his distance only fostered more distance. At times, I felt as though I lived with a stranger. I merged onto I-70. Emily took off the headphones and looked up at me.
“Do you still love Dad?” she whispered with measured reserve, catching me off guard.
“Well…” I started, trying to buy some time. What could I say? Certainly not the confused I don't know I actually feel. Not I'm afraid to love him anymore, because he doesn't appear to love me. She was just a kid, an innocent child caught up in our drama. I knew what she wanted me to say.
“Yes, I still love your dad.”
“You didn't say, 'I love you too,' when he said it in the driveway.”
“You're reading too much into it, Em.” I wondered if Daniel thought the same. “We've been married ten years. I don't think it's required to say it every time it's said to you.”
“You always say it back to me. You don't say it much to Dad at all. You seem sad when he says it to you,” she said matter-of-factly. Apparently, she didn't miss much.
I didn't want her to worry about us. Emily was the bright spot in my dismal life; she didn't deserve this pressure. How could I ease her mind? Before I could respond, she spoke again.
“Did you know Rachel's parents are getting a divorce? She told me her parents still yell at each other even though her dad moved out. Last week, Rachel told me her mom yelled at her for asking when her dad would be there. She thinks if she got better grades they wouldn't be getting a divorce. They fight about Rachel a lot.” Emily looked down, nervously twisting the cord to her headphones around her finger.
I could see the wheels turning inside her head. Clearing my throat to make sure I still had a voice, I started with a soft calm I did not feel.
“Em, I didn't know about Rachel's parents. I'm sorry for Rachel. It's a shame kids get caught up in the middle and end up thinking the divorce is their fault. That just isn't true.” I paused, making sure I still had her attention. She didn't move, her eyes were fixed on the book she held. “People divorce for many reasons. It's not a peaceful time for anyone.” I paused again, trying to find a way to reassure her. “Em, your dad and I are not talking about divorce. Please don't worry, okay?” Not yet anyway, I thought.
She stared at the book; tears filled her eyes. She was heartbroken for Rachel and concerned for Daniel and me; we hadn’t hid our friction at all. My heart broke at her pain. How do I fix this?
“Sweetheart, you're a good friend to let Rachel confide in you. You care for her a lot, don't you?” She nodded. “Rachel needs someone to talk to; maybe Janice does as well. I can call while we're in St. Louis. Would you like that?”
“I would, Mom. Rachel said she hears her mom crying every night, and she's so worried. Rachel's trying to be good.” Emily's so compassionate, so young, I thought. “Mom, be gentle. If Mrs. Johnson hasn't told you about the divorce, she might get mad at Rachel. Maybe this isn't a good idea after all. I just needed to try to help. I don't want to make it worse.” Emily sighed.