Eliza Ester Sweet Romance Memories on Main Street (EBOOK)
Hearts of Maplewood Grove Book 1

Memories on Main Street (EBOOK)

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Cleo, a city-dweller and successful beauty entrepreneur, finds herself at a crossroads when life pulls her back to Maplewood Grove, the hometown she vowed to leave behind. Returning to care for her father with early-onset dementia, she confronts the life and love she missed in the hustle of the city.

York, with his feet firmly planted in the soil of his farm, lives a life of simple pleasures, yet yearns for a connection that's eluded him. When Cleo walks back into town, it's as if a missing piece of his world snaps into place. Her beauty is evident, but it's her resilience, intelligence, and compassion that captivate him completely.

Together, Cleo and York discover a shared longing for something more, something deeper. As they navigate the tender, sometimes turbulent waters of their growing love, they find themselves facing the complexities of life at a mature age—family pressures, grief, career ambitions, and the pursuit of personal fulfillment.

Will Cleo and York seize their chance at happiness, embracing the love they've found against all odds? Or will the realities of life dim the flame that burns between them?

Chapter One


“You’ll have to postpone Michael, too,” Cleo said, clamping her phone between her shoulder and cheek while she zipped up the last of her bags. “I don’t know how long I’ll be gone, so if it can wait, let it.”

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Lydia asked.

Cleo sighed and straightened, taking the phone in hand. Of course, she would rather have stayed and handled business herself. “There’s nothing I can do about it now. My family needs me.”

“I understand,” Lydia said sympathetically. “It’s going to be okay.”

“I hope so. If anything comes up, you know you can contact me. I’ll check my emails every day and call if there’s anything that isn’t as it should be.”

“I meant with your dad,” Lydia whispered.

Right. Cleo didn’t know if it was something she could bank on. Her dad’s condition had been getting worse, and these things just didn’t get better with time.

“We’ll see how it goes. You’ll keep in touch as much as you can?”

“I will,” Lydia promised, not for the first time, and Cleo finally ended the call. She dropped the phone on the bed and mentally ticked off her list of things to remember one more time. She’d made sure she had cleared the perishables out of the fridge, turned off water and gas, and set the thermostat to energy-saving. 

Nothing else needed to be done—it was time to leave. Cleo couldn’t find any more reasons to postpone the trip. She knew she had to go. Her dad needed her. It had been too long since she’d seen him, and from what her mom had told her, he was getting worse. 

Dementia was an ugly beast, dragging away loved ones in bits and pieces, stealing parts of what made them who they were. 

Cleo had to go before it was too late. 

That didn’t mean it was a simple trip to make. She’d left Maplewood Grove, her childhood town, behind her a long time ago, and going back now… her stomach twisted with nerves. 

She shook them off. Lydia could handle all the admin for Windy City Glow, the company Cleo had started from scratch all those years ago. If anything went wrong, she could always hop on the next flight and be back in a couple of hours. 

It’s going to be okay, she told herself. It’s going to be just fine.

She picked up her luggage and carried it to the cab that waited for her. The drive to Midway was a short one, and as soon as she was on the plane, Cleo opened her laptop again to focus on a few last-minute business emails. A two-hour flight to Nashville wasn’t long, but keeping busy stopped her mind from wandering, from obsessing over what it would be like to see her mother again. 

Elaine Tanner wasn’t an easy woman to deal with. She was the reason Cleo had left Maplewood Grove in the first place, and going back to see her dad meant Cleo had to face her mom again, too. 

The emails on the flight didn’t take up nearly enough time. Cleo was done before she was halfway to her destination. She ordered a bottle of water and sipped it while she looked out over the clouds that created thick puffs around them. The weather was beautiful this time of year, and although the summer heat would be tapering down, Maplewood Grove would still be hotter than the weather she’d grown accustomed to in Chicago over the past two decades. 

When they landed, Cleo pulled out her phone and dialed the number her mom had sent her the day before.

“Cleo,” Elaine answered.

“Mom,” Cleo said, already feeling a knot form in her throat.

“Are you here yet?” Elaine sounded nervous.

“Just got off the plane. I have to pick up my luggage and hire a car. It should be three hours just about, then I’m there.”

“Your room is ready. Do you have everything you need? Did you eat on the plane? It’s almost time for lunch, but you’ll miss that.”

“I’m not hungry,” Cleo said.

“I’ll keep something for you,” Elaine answered. 

Cleo shook her head. “I’m fine. I’ll see you soon.”

Elaine was quiet for a moment, and when she spoke, her voice was thick. “Good. See you soon.”

Cleo hung up the phone and slipped it into her purse, pulling the strap over her shoulder before making her way to the luggage carousel. There weren’t many people waiting, and Cleo soon grabbed her suitcase and rolled it out to the parking lot. She found the right car rental stall and collected the Audi A6 that had been reserved for her.

Maplewood Grove was only a three-hour drive, and the landscape gradually transformed from city life to country roads, green grass, and blue skies. She settled back and let her mind wander. 

It had been years since she’d been back home. Sure, she’d come back for the occasional Thanksgiving or Christmas when her job allowed—which it usually didn’t since she owned Windy City Glow and there was always something to do. Cleo could have taken the time off, but it was easier to focus on work than have to deal with her mother and the past. 

She’d left Maplewood Grove the first time when she was eighteen. She’d felt stifled, her dreams crushed, and she’d realized the only way she’d be able to spread her wings and fly was if she did it somewhere other than home. 

Chicago had become her business hub, the place where she felt she could be herself the most, and her career had taken off. It had taken precedence above all else. 

Relationships. 

Most friendships. 

Family. 

The drive would offer a change in scenery and allow her to mentally prepare for what lay ahead. As Cleo drove, she thought of the times she’d done this drive before. It had always been the same. The closer she got to Maplewood Grove, the heavier her heart felt.

Cleo hadn’t planned to come back. She hadn’t planned to stay, either, but with her dad’s health declining, she wanted to be there. 

How many times had he asked her to come and she’d said she was too busy?

The town finally appeared on the horizon, and after a while, she drove past the sign that welcomed her to Maplewood Grove. 

The town was just as it had been years ago when she’d left it all behind. The courthouse-turned-museum just off the square was the same, with the fountain in front and the surrounding park, the library on the opposite side of the street, and the town’s main street stretching down the road, a row of shops on each side, and the square with its benches, potted plants, and trees.

The town looked almost the same. There was a new coffee shop next to the bookstore, and a florist had replaced a store that Cleo couldn’t remember the name of, but apart from that, the town still had that honeyed look about it, like it had been taken from the pages of a coloring book or directly from a postcard. 

“Wish you were here.” 

Cleo weaved her way through the maze of streets in the small town, knowing them by heart. Finally, she parked in front of her childhood home.

The white clapboard house had been repainted and the windows replaced, but the structure remained the same. It was a two-story house with a wraparound porch. Her mom’s car, a new Honda, was parked in the driveway. The house was surrounded by a small garden, a wooden fence encircling the property.

Here we go.

Cleo took a deep breath and stepped out of the car.

Her mother’s eyes were rimmed red, her skin pale, her dark hair streaked with gray. She opened the door before Cleo could reach it, and they stood a moment, taking each other in.

“It’s good to see you, Mom,” Cleo said, her voice hoarse.

“I’ve missed you, Cleo,” her mom said.

It was the closest they would ever get to a reunion scene, and Cleo knew it. She didn’t want to break the truce, so she just nodded.

“Come on, I’ll show you your room,” her mom said, stepping back.

“Is Dad awake?” Cleo asked. 

“He’s in the garden.”

Cleo followed her into the house, the air conditioning hitting her like a brick wall, and the smell of homemade food filling her nostrils.

The house was the same as well, as if no one had touched a thing in the years since Cleo had last set foot here. The wooden floors were covered with carpets, the same couches stood against the walls, and pictures of Cleo’s parents and Cleo when she was a child were framed and hanging on the walls.

The house had always been tidy, her mother’s pride and joy.

Elaine led Cleo upstairs and showed her to a room. The walls were papered, and the bedspread was a quilt made by her grandmother.

“I’ve laid out fresh towels for you,” Elaine said.

“Thanks, Mom.”

They stood together for a moment.

“You’ve lost weight,” Elaine finally said.

Cleo shrugged. “Work is busy.”

“Have you been eating well?”

“I just get busy,” Cleo said.

Her mother sighed. “You have to eat, Cleo. You can’t neglect yourself.”

Cleo wasn’t willing to be pulled into a discussion. The questions weren’t because her mom cared. It was because she was incredibly critical of everything Cleo did. Cleo would leave it for now. She didn’t have the energy to fight.

“I have to see Dad,” she said.

Her mom nodded.

Cleo walked down the stairs, following the hallway, and finally stepped out onto the patio.

Her father, Thomas, was in his rocking chair, the one he’d sat in ever since she could remember, looking over the garden.

“Hi, Dad,” she breathed.

“Cleo!” Her dad’s face lit up. He struggled to get out of the rocking chair, and she hurried over to help him. He threw his arms around her and squeezed her.

Cleo’s heart twisted, and she swallowed hard.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said, his voice rough. “It’s about time to start school again.”

Cleo frowned and glanced at her mom, who’d stepped out behind her. 

“I’m off for a few more days,” she said carefully.

“Of course,” her dad said, nodding, and he seemed confused.

“Why don’t we have something to eat?” her mom suggested.

Cleo nodded.

Her mom disappeared inside the house, and her dad motioned for Cleo to sit down next to him.

“Are you excited to see your friends again?” he asked. “It’s been a long summer. You know, the shop has been doing so well, I think I’ll close for the few days before the festival, spend some quality time with you. But tell me… have you given what you want to study any more thought?”

Cleo blinked at her dad.

His dementia was worse than her mom had let on. A lot worse. 

“I think I’ll go into cosmetics,” Cleo said. After all, that’s what she’d done.

“Oh, your mother might not like that,” Thomas said, lowering his voice.

Cleo nodded sadly. Her mother hadn’t liked it at all. It was the reason it had all fallen apart, but that had been decades ago. 

Why hadn’t Elaine mentioned how bad things had gotten? Cleo had thought she was coming home to spend time with her dad, to make up for lost time, but in his mind, clearly, time hadn’t even passed since she’d left. 

“How are you, Dad?” Cleo asked. 

“I think I want to take up hunting,” Thomas said firmly. “I don’t care what your mother says.”

She’d said no, all those years ago. 

“You should do it,” Cleo said with a smile. “It’s always good to follow your dreams. You just have to do it, and it will work out.”

Thomas smiled at her and nodded. “You’re right, you know. I’ll talk to your mom.”

Cleo’s mother stepped out onto the patio carrying a tray of drinks and plates with snacks.

“I don’t think she’ll like it, Cleo,” Thomas said. “But maybe you’ll help me convince her.”

Cleo glanced at her mom. The last person on earth who would convince Elaine was Cleo, but she wasn’t going to say that. Instead, she forced a smile and tried to push away the fact that she clearly had underestimated what was going on here. 

What a welcome home.

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