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Maggie felt as if her eyes might bulge out of her head. “Really?” The question slipped out of her mouth before she could rein it back in.

Hmm. How had the women in this town allowed an Alaskan hottie like Finn to stay single? It seemed as if he would be a hot commodity in Love.

“Is that so hard to believe?” he asked, raising his eyebrows in her direction.

“I’m just surprised. You have so much to offer. And the way you are with Oliver and Aidan, I can’t imagine you not being a father.”

“Some things just aren’t meant to be. I don’t relish that type of responsibility.” The tone of Finn’s voice sounded resigned.

“Is this about your father and the way he walked away from you and Declan?” she asked, shocking herself by asking the probing question. If Finn hadn’t been a childhood pal she would never have dared. But she couldn’t deny her curiosity about his family. Back in the day Maggie had been envious of his picture-perfect family. How had it all fallen apart so disastrously?

Finn looked startled for a moment. His jaw looked tight. He seemed to be struggling to answer her question. “Yes, I’m sure that has something to do with it. I’ve always been aware that it comes with a huge responsibility—one I’m not looking to assume.”

The forlorn tone of his voice made her wish she hadn’t been so nosy. No doubt she’d stirred up painful issues from the past. How would she like it if someone started probing into Sam’s death? All of her family skeletons would come tumbling out of the closet. If the truth came out it was possible the townsfolk would treat her like a pariah, just as they had in Boston. She shivered at the thought, knowing Oliver’s future could be compromised if that happened.

“I’m sorry for asking. It’s none of my business,” she said in a brisk tone. “I didn’t mean to open any old wounds.”

Finn met her gaze from across the room. “You should know something. In a town this small you’ll probably hear it at some point.” Finn let out a ragged sigh. “My mother was killed accidentally by my father. They were fooling around in our backyard one night with a shotgun and they’d had a few too many beers. One minute they were joking around and the next moment the gun went off by mistake. She di

ed right there at our house.”

Maggie felt as if she’d been holding her breath the entire time Finn spoke. His revelation was shocking. Her heart broke for him and the entire O’Rourke family and all they’d lost because of such a senseless tragedy. This whole time she’d been wondering about the adult version of Finn and trying to pinpoint all the ways in which he had changed. Now it was all clear. The little boy who had been filled with such mischief and light and heart didn’t exist anymore. Trauma had forever changed him.

“Finn! I’m so sorry you went through that heartache. I know how much you loved her. She was such a beautiful and kindhearted woman. And she loved you all so very much.”

Maggie remembered Finn’s mother. Cindy O’Rourke. She’d been gentle and kind and her laughter had filled up their home. She had baked peanut butter cookies and made rocky-road fudge. Maggie had often wished that her own mother could be a lot more like Finn’s.

Maggie had experienced her own share of hard knocks in her childhood, but nothing like what Finn had endured. Loss after loss after loss. It was heartbreaking.

Finn broke eye contact with her and looked down at one of the boxes. “It was unimaginable. Truth to be told, losing her almost broke me. It definitely tore my father apart. He ran away from Love because he couldn’t bear the pain of what happened. He ended up spending some time in jail for petty crimes.” His voice softened. “I understand why he left us and why everything in his life fell apart. It still hurts though. To lose our mother and then our father—” His voice became clogged with emotion. He cleared his throat, then began to rummage around in one of the boxes.

“And then your grandfather passed,” she said as memories of a sweet, round-faced man with a deep-throated laugh sprang to mind. Killian O’Rourke had been such a source of pride and inspiration. Everyone in town had adored him.

“Yep. It was like a domino effect,” he said, his head still bowed. “That one nearly did me in. When he got sick I left town. It was too painful for me to stay here and watch him die.”

Maggie felt a chill sweep across her back. She felt Finn’s agony acutely. It was infused in his voice. It radiated from every pore on his body. “It must have been agonizing.”

“And Declan had to deal with yet another loss. Only this time he was all alone. I bailed on him.”

Maggie didn’t know what to say to try to make it all better. Maggie had been widowed before she even turned thirty years old. So she kept quiet, knowing all too well some things couldn’t be fixed or smoothed over.

“So you see, Maggie, I’m the last person who feels the need to get married and raise a family. I’m not exactly dependable. When Declan really needed me to help care for our grandfather, I was exploring Yosemite and backpacking my way through life.” He let out a bitter-sounding laugh. “Nice, huh?”

She shrugged. “You did what you had to do to get by. No one has the right to judge you.”

“Except myself,” he muttered.

They both settled back into digging through inventory. Maggie tried to focus on the job at hand, but her thoughts kept veering back toward Finn and his tragic past. It made her chest tighten to imagine the ten-year-old Finn having to deal with such horror. Sam’s death had put Oliver through the wringer, but Maggie had been by his side steadfastly throughout the whole ordeal.

She now knew a whole lot more about the adult Finn than she’d ever imagined discovering. He associated family with loss. Heartache. He hadn’t put it into those exact words, but she sensed he was still running away. Although he was physically here in his hometown, he was afraid to attach himself to anything significant.

She didn’t blame him. Finn O’Rourke had lost a lot in his life. She imagined he didn’t have a whole lot more to give of his heart. She knew a little bit about how it felt to feel so beaten down and jaded. Frankly it was a shame. Because something told her that like his childhood self, Finn had more heart and soul in his little pinkie than most had in their entire bodies.

Chapter Six

Finn loved Christmas. It was one of his most closely kept secrets. Although he hardly ever showed it, on the inside he was like a little kid bubbling with excitement in anticipation of the holiday season. Finn wasn’t sure even Declan knew how much he loved the hoopla and the decorations and the feeling of goodwill toward humankind. As a man who had messed up a lot in his life, he deeply appreciated the idea of reconciliation at Christmas. It was the perfect time to embrace the Lord. He was deeply flawed, but God still loved him.

Ever since he was a kid, Finn had thought it was pretty awesome how he could mess up a million times, but it didn’t change the way God felt about him.

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