Home > The Forever Formula (Hart Brothers #1)

The Forever Formula (Hart Brothers #1)
Author: Kendall Ryan




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After a full day of sitting in the driver’s seat of my little car, my entire body ached. But with each passing mile marker on the long stretch of highway, I knew I was being called home. And while home wasn’t a place I had been in a long time, I could use a little comfort, a little familiarity right now.

Not just because my life had completely imploded a few weeks ago when I broke off my engagement with Roger, or even when I’d been laid off from the hospital where I’d worked for the past seven years. It was so much bigger than that. I’d also recently lost my grandfather, the man who’d raised me, and some days . . . well, the realization that I was officially alone in the world made it hard to breathe.

I twisted the knob on the radio to turn up the volume on a country song I used to know all the words to, and that seemed to chase away some of my more somber thoughts. And if that didn’t totally do the trick, well, I had a five-pound bag of red licorice from my last gas-station stop sitting in my lap that should provide a much-needed jolt. Or at least a sugar rush.

I knew what my best friend Megan would say. Dust yourself off. Put on some lipstick and get on with it.

And that’s exactly what I intended to do.

It didn’t matter that Megan was three years younger than me . . . she had always been somehow wiser than her years. She was the one good thing I had left back at the hospital where we both had worked. We resuscitated a teenager from the brink of death the first day we met, and our friendship was instant after that.

Grabbing another licorice stick, I took a healthy bite and sang along to the twangy country song with my mouth full. Good manners didn’t necessarily matter when you’d been alone for going on sixteen hours.

But I was through with most of my trip now. I’d started off in Houston and driven west, appreciating all the details that I hadn’t in so long.

The pastures in West Texas. The little adobe-style pink houses in New Mexico. Gosh, even the smell of cow manure as I cruised along the highway was comfortingly familiar. Then, the changing landscape in Colorado, rugged and rocky and colorful. The trees were somehow greener here.

It had been muggy when I’d left Houston, but the humidity was no surprise. I’d gotten used to the Texas summers after living there for the past decade. Even the early morning rain hadn’t been enough to cool the air. It had only made it more oppressive—difficult to breathe. Now, though, the air was clean and fresh, and the sky was painted a brilliant robin’s egg blue.

I never expected to be ending an engagement at this age. I’d always felt like a late bloomer, and now I would be starting over from scratch. But that’s exactly what I hoped this was—a fresh start. A chance to reconnect with myself, nurse my wounds, and maybe even make some new goals for myself. There was no use in looking back.

Maybe that’s what my grandfather wanted when he left me his property in the mountains. It was a magical place, after all. Acreage and river access. Miles of hiking trails and towering pine trees. Also, thanks in large part to the family of brothers living next door, the place had always held a special intrigue.

My mouth twitched with a smile for the first time since I began this road trip.

The Hart brothers certainly inspired plenty of teenage fantasies and hope-filled daydreams. We’d spent summers chasing fireflies and catching bullfrogs, and winters building snowmen and sledding on the hills between our two neighboring properties. My first kiss was with the oldest brother, Jameson, which could have possibly led to more firsts had he not been such a gentleman.

With my curiosity piqued, my mind wandered freely.

Would they all be married now, maybe even with a few kids between them? Or maybe they’d all moved away to the city for work, just like I had.

There were four boys in their family. First, there was the stoic Jameson, whose smiles were rare and hard-won, followed by Austen, who was always kind to me. Then came Noah, with a mischievous streak that ran a mile wide, which meant we often got into trouble together—not that I minded much. I would have done anything he asked me to. The youngest of the four was Logan, and he’d followed us everywhere.

But when I thought about the Hart brothers, it was inevitable that my mind drifted to Noah. I still felt guilty about the fact I went away to college and never looked back, even though we’d both whispered promises of more. I was sure those were only wistful hormone-fueled things that teenagers said but didn’t really mean.

Weren’t they?

It didn’t matter now. There was a lifetime of experiences and broken promises and dreams that had taken detours between us. Even if Noah still lived next door, he probably didn’t even remember the silly secrets we’d once shared.

The road signs became increasingly concerning the closer I got to home.

Moose Crossing.

Beware of Falling Rock.

And then finally, Avalanche Area, Next 4 Miles.

But it was September. There certainly wasn’t any threat of an avalanche now.

Years ago, though, when I’d lived here, you’d occasionally hear of some accident up on the mountain—a skier who found trouble, an unfortunate snowmobile accident, or the infrequent, but always terrifying, avalanche.

Finally approaching Kodiak Canyon, I soaked in all the details, both familiar and new.

The little diner called Lotaburger was still there. It had easily been standing for three decades now, and it was starting to look its age. I recalled outings there with my grandfather, sitting in the sticky vinyl booths, and the green chili burgers on the menu.

A small pinch formed in my chest for the man who had raised me, along with disbelief that he was gone. It still didn’t seem real. Surely, he’d be out on the porch to greet me, just like always, when I arrived.

There was a new brick building with a sign that read Tribal Courthouse, and a few marijuana dispensaries that must have cropped up with the changing laws over the past several years. There was also a new veterinary clinic called Paradise Pet Hospital, and a vegetarian restaurant that I couldn’t imagine Grandpa Paul eating at.

He thought gravy was its own food group, smoked a pack a day, and ate aspirin like it was candy. It was a miracle he’d lived as long as he had. He’d survived two heart attacks and a bout with cancer. He’d had his knee replaced and was supposed to use a breathing machine when he slept. I don’t think he’d ever taken a vitamin in his entire life. And yet he seemed invincible like he’d live on forever.

Of course he hadn’t. Eighty-four years, and now he was gone.

I hated that we wouldn’t have any more long conversations, or Christmases spent together around an evergreen tree he’d cut down just for the occasion, the wood-burning fireplace crackling softly in the background.

Grandpa was completely unnerved by crying. He didn’t know how to react to tears, so it was something I learned not to do too often. Maybe that was the reason I hadn’t cried yet.

As I made the final turn off the main road that led to town onto the dirt mountain road, my nostalgia only deepened.

I finally pulled up to the cabin and parked in the gravel driveway, stepping out into the fresh mountain air. I stretched and let out a quiet groan. A squirrel dashed away at the sight of me.

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