This Heart of MineBy: C. C. Hunter
To the donor and family of the donor from whom my husband received his kidney and his second chance at life: thank you for giving us the precious gift of time.
To Dr. Anna Kagan, my husband’s transplant nephrologist, whose bedside manner and caring nature inspired the fictional Dr. Hughes in this novel. Thank you for your kindness, and for all the effort in keeping my husband alive and kicking. Thank you for the heartfelt hug you gave me and my daughter that scary day when they moved my husband into ICU; it warmed my soul and speaks not only to your ability as a doctor, but to the caring person you are beneath the white coat.
To Dr. Bree, my husband’s cardiologist, who told us that if he got a kidney, his heart could improve. Your words gave us hope when others seemed to steal it from us.
To my husband, who went through it all and almost never complained. You set the bar of whining so high, I don’t know if I can meet those standards, but I’m going to try. Thank you for being the man you are. The man I love.
Writing a book requires such dedication that so often an author’s ability to do it stems from the support of those around her. So thank you to my family, to my friends. To my agent, Kim Lionetti, who after listening to this idea said, “You are going to write this book!” To my new editor, Sara Goodman, who took over This Heart of Mine midproject and helped make it what it is today—thank you for all your work. And to Rose Hilliard, who got the book up and going and whose belief in me and my career never wavered.
“It’s over, Eric. Accept it. Let it go, would you?” The words echo from a cell phone into the dark night.
Eric Kenner sits at the patio table in his backyard, listening over and over again to Cassie’s voicemail. Listening to the pool’s pump vibrate. Listening to the pain vibrate in his chest.
“I can’t let it go.” Pain tumbles out of him. It is so damn wrong. He can’t accept it.
Glancing back, he sees the light in his mom’s bedroom go off. It’s barely eight. She probably took another Xanax. His mom can’t accept things either.
Why did life have to be so damn hard? Was he cursed?
He hits replay on his phone. Hoping to hear a crack in Cassie’s voice, something that tells him she doesn’t mean it. There’s no crack in her voice, just the one in his heart.
He bolts up, sending the patio chair crashing into the concrete. Snatching the piece of furniture, he hurls it into the pool. The chair floats on top of the water. While he feels as if he’s sinking, drowning.
He swings around and shoots inside. Moving through the kitchen, then the living room, he stops in front of the forgotten space that was his father’s study.
His dad would have known what to do.
Eric walks in. The door clicking shut shatters the silence. The room smells dusty, musty, like old books. The streetlight from the front yard spills silver light through the window. The beige walls look aged. The space feels lonely and abandoned.
The huge clock on the wall no longer moves. In here, time has stopped—just like his dad’s life.
Eric’s gaze lands on the flag, the one the military handed him at his father’s funeral. The thing sits on the worn leather sofa, still folded, as if waiting for someone to put it away.
They called his dad a hero—as if remembering him that way would make his death easier. It hasn’t.
It would have been his dad’s last mission. The day he left, he’d doled out promises—camping trips, redoing the engine of the old Mustang in the garage. Promises that died with him.
Moving behind the mahogany desk, Eric drops into his dad’s chair. It creaks as if complaining he isn’t the man his dad was. Leaning forward, Eric opens the top drawer.
Swallowing a lump that feels like a piece of his broken heart, his eyes zoom in on one item. He reaches in and pulls it out. It’s heavy and cold against his palm.
He stares at the gun. Maybe he does know how to fix this.
If he can find the courage.
ONE MONTH EARLIER
“You lucky bitch!” I drop back down on my pink bedspread, phone to ear, knowing Brandy is dancing on cloud nine and I’m dancing with her. I glance at the door to make sure Mom isn’t hovering and about to freak over my language. Again.