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The divorce was finalised even though Stephan was yet to be found and I was still coping with the loss. At least it was no longer hard for me to get up on a morning. Writing was a good form of therapy. I completed two short stories after Stephan left and they were both published to rave reviews from critics. The accomplishment gave me the confidence I needed to get my life back on track. I even got started on a romance novel and I hoped that it would become a bestseller once it was completed.

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With every day that passed it became less and less painful until I was finally able to take joy in things around me and in others’ happiness. Speaking of others’ happiness, my brother Felix found love! He always seemed to have poor luck with women so it was a relief when I learned he had a girlfriend and she started coming to the house.

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Her name was Louise Arnold and she was a music lover just like him. She worked at a restaurant in town as a bartender. They were so cute together. Sometimes they acted like they were high school sweethearts.

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One day while I was writing, Felix came to me to ask me something. He looked kind of nervous actually. “What do you want to talk about?” I finally asked him seeing the hesitation on his face.

“Well, Dani, I wanted to ask you if it’ll be ok to ask Louise to move in.”

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I understood why he was so nervous. Felix was a little mild mannered compared to Ethan so he was probably afraid I would say no. But I didn’t want him to move out. Dad was not going to be around forever and I was afraid of being all on my own, raising my daughters without a positive male figure in their lives. If I said no then his next step would have been to move in with her and I couldn’t let that happen. “I don’t see a problem. I mean, she has a job so as long as she knows she’ll be expected to help pay the bills then I’m fine with it. I like this whole bubbly attitude of yours so if she’s the cause of it then yeah, she can move in.”

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Leni aged up into a beautiful, green eyed, pony-tailed girl and reminded me so much of myself when I was her age. She even loved creative hobbies just like I did as a child.

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As soon as she grew up the first thing she asked for was a violin. She was a horrible player but I knew with more practice she would eventually play like a professional.

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There wasn’t enough space in Gemma’s bedroom to put a bed for Leni – not that she was willing to let us put one there in the first place – so Leni slept in my bedroom for the while. I was just one promotion away from renovating. The bonus money would give me the exact amount I needed to pay the contractors for the job of expanding our legacy house.

As much as Gemma didn’t want to share her room with Leni she certainly had no problem playing with her. I think Gemma liked having someone close to her age to play with since there were hardly any children living in our neighbourhood.

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A lot of changes were taking place within our family. One of them was Phoebe getting married. Phoebe met her beau Landon Avery around the time when I was pregnant with Leni and they were inseparable ever since. Her wedding took place on a Sunday afternoon at the Magnolia Blossom Park in her hometown of Willow Creek. It was a small family-only affair so we all traveled to Willow Creek for the nuptials.

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Leave it to Phoebe to get married in a black dress! I knew her dress would be unconventional since she was always a tomboy and because she said she wanted the theme of the wedding to be like an outdoor family picnic. I figured she might possibly wear a pants suit or a sundress that was at least white. It must be the Goth in her. The Goth family was famous for their fondness of dark shades. Seeing that Phoebe was the last remaining member of the Goth family I supposed it was her way of honouring her heritage.

The entire Sloane family was there in attendance with the exception of Ethan who had to work and said he would show up later. Even Christopher and Aunt Chloe were there in attendance. Gem and Leni were the flower girls but if I had known Phoebe’s dress was going to be black I would’ve put them in dark colours as well instead of pink and purple.

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It was a beautiful ceremony. They recited traditional vows and exchanged rings before sharing their first kiss as husband and wife. I didn’t know Landon that well but from the look on Phoebe’s face whenever he was around I knew he made her really happy and for that he got my approval. Phoebe had always been there for me and she deserved all the happiness in the world.

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And yet… at her wedding I was unhappy. While everyone else was cheerfully clapping at their union, I had started crying. Luckily no one saw me so all of the attention remained on Phoebe and Landon as it should.

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I was happy for her. I truly was! But seeing her get married and looking so blissfully happy reminded me of my wedding day with Stephan. That was one of the happiest days of my life but the knowledge of the person he later revealed himself to be and things he did tainted that day. I hated him for that! I couldn’t enjoy my cousin’s wedding the way I should because of him!

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I quickly recovered and wiped my face when they started to greet everyone and thank them for coming. I couldn’t let her see me in tears. “Congrats Pheebs! I’m so happy for you!” I said as I pulled her into a big hug.

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“Thank you. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world… are you okay?”

“Um…yeah of course I am. I got a little emotional because the ceremony was so beautiful!”

“You sure…?”

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“Yes, yes! Come let’s sit and get some food and chat. Tell me about where you guys are going for your honeymoon.”

I always enjoyed hanging out with my cousins since I rarely got to see them. Bentley told us stories about his teammates. He was an athlete and quite the ladies’ man too. He insisted he would never get married and Phoebe joked about him doing some woman a service by not committing her to a life of hell by becoming her husband. We all shared a good laugh at that one and it truly lifted my spirits. I stopped thinking about Stephan and how it all went wrong and began to have fun.

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A few days later Clay invited me over to his new house. He had recently moved out from his apartment in Magnolia Promenade and decided to move to Oasis Springs after hearing how cheap the housing is in comparison. He bought a one bedroom starter home which was perfect for a bachelor like him. “This place is really nice. There’s a lot of space so if you want to go up a story it will be easy to do.” I said to him.

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“I don’t think I’ll expand much since it’s just me and I’m rarely ever home anyways. I might just change up the décor a little, put some paint on the walls and definitely get a better sofa and a flat screen! So, how was your cousin’s wedding?”

I paused for a bit before responding as I forgot I even told him about that. “It was good.”

“But…?” He asked, sensing something more based on my tone.

I sighed. “It just brought up some old memories of when I was happy with…him.” Clay and I started talking more and we got really close. I was surprised by how frank I was able to be with him. No one else ever made me feel so comfortable sharing my feelings.

“You know you can still be happy. Stephan wasn’t your only chance at happiness and love. A man would be crazy to not want the chance at that job, trust me.”

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“You always know what to say to cheer me up.”

“I don’t like seeing you upset. I care about you Danielle.”

I shifted closer to him on the couch, not certain as to why I did it. “I care about you too.”

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We stared at each other in silence for a few seconds until I broke away and stood up. My mouth became dry and my heart was beating fast. I knew what was happening to me and because of that I needed to get out of there. “It’s getting late.”

“It is.”

“I should go home now.”

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“Ok. Thanks for stopping by. Do you want me to walk you out?” he asked.

I was going to say yes but for some odd reason I leaned forward and quickly pecked him on the lips.

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“Oh I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have done that!” I said after it was over and I came to my senses. “Forget that happened!”

“Don’t apologise. I’m glad you did it.”

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He then pulled me closer and kissed me so passionately I felt weak in the knees. His arms encircled my body making me feel safe and secure. His kisses were deep but gentle, the kind that made me want more.

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And that’s exactly what happened. It was like fireworks! The sensations I felt were delicious and intoxicating and in spite of that I had so many questions running through my mind. Were we still friends or were we a couple now? Did he love me or was this just lust? And if it was love, did I want that? Was I ready for another relationship? I didn’t know what it all meant but I didn’t want to stop to ask because right then and there I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time – real happiness – and even if it just lasted that night, I wanted to enjoy it.

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