Home > Deserving Henley (The Refuge #2)

Deserving Henley (The Refuge #2)
Author: Susan Stoker






Henley McClure had just finished a particularly emotional group session at The Refuge, and while she was tired, she was also filled with satisfaction. That always happened when one of her clients had a breakthrough in a session.

Being a psychologist was her calling, and she loved it. She worked for a thriving practice in Los Alamos, but in recent years, she’d actually reduced her hours at the office in town in order to spend more time at The Refuge. Working with the men and women who visited the nationally renowned retreat in the mountains of New Mexico was more satisfying than she’d ever dreamed. Even though she didn’t get to know her patients very well, since she usually only saw them for a few sessions, knowing she was helping them come to terms with the traumatic events they’d been through—events that had led them to The Refuge in the first place—filled her heart with gratification.

She also had the highest respect for the seven men who owned and ran the retreat. They were all former military, each having gone through their own traumas, which had led them to want to help others dealing with PTSD.

Of course, there was one owner she was drawn to more than the others.

Finn “Tonka” Matlick had caught her eye from the first moment they’d met. Not because he was extremely handsome—which he was. In fact, all of the owners were.

No…it was because of the hurt she saw deep in his eyes. One that matched her own when she looked in the mirror some mornings. Where she’d had the benefit of many more years and excellent therapy to help manage her anguish, Finn’s was still raw and visceral. He did his best to hide his pain from the world, but it was there. Lurking in the depths of his soul.

In the couple years that she’d known him, Henley had never tried to talk to Finn about what had put that agony in his gaze, despite being qualified to do so. He was extremely standoffish, preferring to tend to the animals at The Refuge rather than talk to the guests, or even hang out with his friends.

He’d attended many of the group sessions Henley offered to the guests, but he never contributed, never spoke about his past. Still, just having him there when she shared her own traumatic past with her patients made it a little easier to tell the tale. Seeing sorrow and empathy in his eyes made her anger and grief over what she’d endured feel just a little less sharp. But that was as deep as their relationship went.

She’d actually thought maybe things between them would change after the horrible incident from two weeks ago, when a man came onto the retreat’s property with the intent of kidnapping Alaska, the girlfriend of owner Drake Vandine. During that scary event, Henley and Finn had connected on a level they hadn’t before…or at least Henley had thought so.

But since that night—the night he’d cried in her arms in the barn as they protected the animals from the intruder—he hadn’t treated her any differently, which was a huge disappointment. Her only consolation was that she would swear Finn was now hanging around the lodge more often. At least when she was there.

She wanted to think it was because maybe he wanted to talk to her, but whenever their eyes met, he’d inevitably turn away.

She was frustrated with the man. Even more so with herself. She was a competent psychologist and an independent woman. Despite that, she couldn’t find the courage to make the first move toward seeing if they could maybe have more than an acquaintance.

In addition, years of single motherhood were beginning to take a bit of a toll. Stress was a constant companion, what with two jobs and Jasna fast approaching an age when she wouldn’t want Henley’s relentless protection much longer. And last but not least, since the night in the barn with Finn, Henley’s growing loneliness was also thrown into sharp focus. She hadn’t been in a relationship in years.

She was growing more and more exasperated with herself, and with Finn. Every day, she swore she’d talk to him. See if maybe he was interested in developing something more…or if she should turn her attention elsewhere.

Doing her best to push away thoughts of Finn, Henley reached into her purse and grabbed her phone to make sure her daughter hadn’t texted while she’d been in her session. As soon as she grabbed the cell, it began to vibrate, scaring the crap out of her. Huffing out a laugh at her jumpiness, Henley brought the phone up to her ear. She didn’t recognize the number, only that it was local.


“Is this Henley McClure?”


“This is Betty Turner, the nurse at Mountain Elementary School.”

Henley’s heart rate sped up. It was only eleven in the morning. Her daughter, Jasna, had seemed a little off this morning, but they’d been running late and her daughter wasn’t a morning person, so she hadn’t thought too much about it. “What’s wrong? Is Jasna all right?” she asked the nurse.

“She has a fever. She threw up as well and says her stomach hurts. It’s probably the bug that’s going around, but because of the fever, we’re going to need you to come pick her up.”

Henley frowned. Jasna was a fairly quiet kid. She had a couple friends in the apartment complex where they lived, though for the most part, she was content to play by herself or read. But she was rarely sick. And she never complained. She was tough and easygoing, so if she was saying her stomach hurt, it had to really hurt.

Looking at her watch, Henley thought she had just enough time to pick up her daughter, drop her off with a neighbor, then get back to The Refuge for the afternoon session she’d scheduled with a guest. From what she understood, while in the Army, the woman had been captured and held for a month before being rescued. Understandably, she was having a hard time with everything she’d been through, and Henley didn’t want to let her down or postpone the session. With a trip to town and back, she’d be cutting it close.

“I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”

“Don’t rush. Jasna’s safe here. She’s napping on the cot in my office.”

“Thank you. See you soon.”

Jasna was Henley’s entire world. She was an old soul. Twelve going on forty-five. She’d been conceived while Henley was slogging through a decade of schooling. Not when she would have chosen to have a child, but…between her class schedules, work, and the demons from her past, she’d used men in a bid to ease her stress. Instead, she’d added to it with motherhood. But she wouldn’t change it for the world.

Getting pregnant had been the wake-up call Henley needed to get her shit together. It hadn’t been easy to be a single mother—and it still wasn’t—but she’d done it. Henley was extremely proud of how she and Jasna had managed to overcome every obstacle thrown in their path—so far.

Still, what she wouldn’t give for a shoulder to lean on. A companion. A partner. Especially at times like this.

She couldn’t help but think about the fact her daughter was only slightly older than Henley had been when she’d lost her own mother. She didn’t want Jasna to ever go through something so traumatic. She’d do whatever it took to protect her. Anything.

With that thought in mind, she gripped her phone and grabbed her purse as she headed out of the room she usually used to meet with clients at The Refuge. She needed to call Mrs. Singleton, her neighbor, and see if she’d be willing to watch over Jasna for a while until she could get home later.

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