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Once Oliver headed toward the kitchen with Jasper and Sophie, Hazel turned toward Maggie. Compassion flared in her eyes.

“There’s no need to fret, Maggie. I’m the only one here in town who knows the truth about the holdup. And I’m not about to share your personal business with anyone, not even my husband,” Hazel said in a reassuring tone. “It’s not my story to tell.”

Maggie looked over her shoulder to make sure no one might overhear her conversation. “Thank you, Hazel. I appreciate you keeping it in confidence. I really don’t want everyone to know Sam was killed while holding up the store,” Maggie said in a soft voice. “I just want a clean slate.”

Hazel reached out and patted her on the shoulder. “Everyone deserves a shot at getting their life back on track. God loves you, Maggie. And pretty soon, this whole town will consider you and Oliver as one of our own.”

One of our own. Just the idea of it caused tears to pool in Maggie’s eyes. It was the very thing she hoped to establish for her son here in Love. She let out a sigh. Hazel knew her shameful secret, but thankfully she wasn’t going to divulge it to anyone.

Rather than being an innocent victim, her husband, Sam, had been the gunman holding up the grocery store. And he’d been shot in the process, losing his life and making their son fatherless. The ensuing media attention had been a vicious whirlwind. Maggie had been the recipient of hate mail, harassing phone calls and even a few death threats. She had been fired from her job and they had lost their housing.

This opportunity for a fresh start was a blessing from God. And Uncle Tobias. He had loved Maggie so much he’d laid out all the groundwork for her to rebuild her life in his hometown.

Most people wouldn’t believe it, but Maggie had been totally clueless about Sam’s illegal activities. In the end, she had paid dearly for believing in her husband. For loving him so much she’d had blinders on.

“Never again,” she murmured to herself as Hazel led her toward a table. In her humble opinion, love led to hurt and pain, loss and disillusionment. She had no interest in going down that road again. She was going to focus on her son and his well-being. She would be both mother and father for Oliver. Maggie wouldn’t be looking for love in this small fishing village.

Romance could go knock on someone else’s door.

Chapter Three

By the time Finn made his way to the Moose Café, his stomach was grumbling like a grizzly bear. Even though he was short on money these days, his belly hadn’t gotten the message.

Finn tried to stuff down the feelings of frustration with himself. In many ways it felt as if the past year had been about starting over from scratch. Although he had made positive strides, he was still miles away from where he wanted to be in his life. He couldn’t help but envy Declan.

While he’d been backpacking his way around the country and avoiding any hint of responsibility, Declan had been building up his company and cementing his ties here in Love. Now his younger brother was a newlywed and soon-to-be father. For a man like himself, who had always rejected the notion of settling down, Declan’s life looked pretty idyllic.

You’re not cut out for all that, he reminded himself. It would all just fall apart, just like everything else.

Finn smiled at the reindeer-and-candy-cane wreath gracing the door of Cameron’s establishment. He knew his friend had a zany sense of humor. Everyone in town had gone holiday crazy right after Thanksgiving, even though Christmas was still a few weeks away. He sauntered into the Moose Café, eager to grab a bite to eat. Although his stomach urged him to order a big meal, he knew his budget wouldn’t allow it. Every extra nickel he had would go into his savings account.

The moment he entered Cameron’s establishment, a warm feeling came over him. Even though the food was stellar, Finn knew he frequented the Moose Café for the cozy, down-home atmosphere. It was a feeling he’d been seeking his entire life but hadn’t yet found on a personal level. A place to call home.

The sound of hearty laughter drew his attention to a table dead center in the dining area. His eyes went straight toward Maggie. She was laughing and he could see the graceful slope of her neck as she reared her head back.

Maggie was one of the most attractive women Finn had ever encountered. He felt a stab of discomfort as he realized she might soon be joining the ranks of Operation Love. After all, most women who arrived in the small fishing village came to town in the pursuit of a romantic match.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that men would line up in droves for an opportunity to date the beautiful single mother. Beauty was in the eye of the beholder, but in Finn’s humble estimation, Maggie Richards was the most stunning woman who had ever stepped foot in Love, Alaska.

He shrugged off thoughts of Maggie. She was way out of his league and he needed to keep his eye on the prize and not get distracted by thoughts of sweet-faced, green-eyed women. It had been a long time since he’d been romantically involved with anyone. Way too long according to Declan.

So far Finn himself had rejected the idea of being paired up with anyone. Although he didn’t disapprove of Jasper’s matchmaking program, Finn had learned a long time ago that he wasn’t the home-and-hearth type. His fractured childhood was proof enough for him.

“Hey, Finn!” Hazel called out to him, waving him over toward her table. “Come over and join us.”

Finn walked over to the table, greeting Sophie along the way as she gracefully carried a tray full of food and drinks. “I’ll be right over to take your order, Finn,” Sophie said with a nod.

“Just bring me a bowl of the soup of the day and a coffee,” Finn said.

The only available seat at the table was right next to Maggie. Finn tried not to stare at her as he sat down. It was a near-impossible task. The light scent of her perfume rose to his nostrils. It smelled like vanilla and roses. He couldn’t think of the last time a woman had sparked such a response in him. For so long now he’d just been going through the motions and avoiding getting close to anyone. Even his family.

Maggie leaned a bit toward him. Her voice flowed over him like a warm breeze. “I forgot my manners earlier, Finn. Thank you for getting us safely to Love on your seaplane. You’re an amazing pilot.”

He locked gazes with her, marveling at the deep green color of her eyes. “You’re quite welcome. It was my pleasure. I think it’s safe to say flying is in my DNA.”

She grinned at him, showcasing dimples on either side of her mouth. “Your parents must be very proud, as well as your grandfather. Back when we were kids he really fawned over you and Declan. Killian thought the two of you had hung the moon.”

Finn felt his face fall. Maggie had no idea about his mother’s death or the circumstances surrounding it. He felt a little ache at the prospect of dredging up painful memories. There was no point in dodging it. Sooner or later, someone would tell Maggie about it and she would wonder why he hadn’t mentioned it.

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