WRITING ABOUT CHRISTMAS IN THE SUMMER AND BEGINNING ANEW

A Merry Mountain Christmas web low resI wrote a novel and a novella this summer. A Merry Mountain Christmas was created as the temperatures soared to near nineties every day and humidity nearly has high. I had to close my eyes and imagine what it looked like in the mountains with a soft coating of snow. It wasn’t as difficult as you might imagine.

Mountain Miracles (release date: September 13) and A Merry Mountain Christmas, Books 3 and 4 in my Smoky Mountain Romance series, gave me a unique opportunity as a writer. The Christmas book was written for the new Christmas Pets and Kisses 2 box set (release date:  October 11)CPK2-3D-transparent and had a hard deadline. Mountain Miracles was written to provide the gap between the last one, Misty Mountain, and the new one for the set. The deadline was all my own.

mountainmiraclesnewSo I began Mountain Miracles with an idea of where I wanted it to end up for A Merry Mountain Christmas. Except it didn’t go as quickly as I had anticipated. I had written three-quarters of the novel when I looked at the calendar and realized I had only a month to write the Christmas novella. So I left the work in progress and moved forward and wrote A Merry Mountain Christmas. The plots depend on one another so it was actually easier than I thought and helped me write a richer storyline for both of the books. At least I hope I accomplished that for the reader. It feels that way as the writer.

I’ll be posting more about both of these books and the box set in the coming weeks. Usually, I like to take a break between projects, but that’s not possible this year. I’m working on another Christmas novella, but I’m having trouble getting into it. I can’t say much about it because it’s for another group project and still a secret, but it’s due December 1 so I better get inspired. The first chapters are written and characters established. It will come.

Then just when I thought I’d be fine, I did something really crazy. I accepted an offer to write a new Valentine story featuring a pet for the Valentine’s Pets and Kisses box set. Due date? December 1.

I’m blessed to have so many projects. Let’s just hope my muse agrees.

Smoky Mountain Romances

Minty's Kiss draft 1_edited-1Minty’s Kiss – Kindle, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Paperback

Misty Mountain – Kindle, B&N, Apple, Kobo, PaperbackMISTY_MOUNTAIN_small

Mountain Miracles – Kindle Unlimited (Preorder, Release: September 13), Paperback

A Merry Mountain Christmas – Paperback only

Christmas Pets & Kisses (2015) – Kindle, B&N, Apple, Kobo

Christmas Pets & Kisses 2 (Release date: October 11, 2016) – Kindle, B&N, Apple, Kobo

 

JOIN THE FUN WITH CHRISTMAS IN JULY

I’m so happy to announce the new box set Christmas Pets and Kisses 2 which is now available for pre-orders. All new books and all featuring romance and an adorable pet.

Join us today, July 25, for a fun-filled Pre-release Facebook party where there will be giveaways and contests. Join the party now by clicking here! And don’t forget to enter the rafflecopter below!

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LOOSE ENDS FOR NOW

A Merry Mountain Christmas web low resOn Monday, I finished my Christmas novella A Merry Mountain Christmas for the Christmas Pets & Kisses 2 box set that will be released in October.

I did something a little different these past few months, and it’s probably good for me because I’m a very linear person. I began writing the third book in my romance series back in February. Mountain Miracles was intended for release this spring and follows on the heels of Misty Mountain that I released in February.

Life had other plans for me. But the story was evolving as I kept an eye on the next story, A Merry Mountain Christmas. The two plots are intimately connected through the storyline and the characters. By the beginning of June, the first one was proceeding nicely. Then I looked at the calendar and realized the Christmas story had to be written because it had a hard deadline. So I stopped Mountain Miracles and dove into A Merry Mountain Christmas. It turned out to be an odd experience, but not a bad one. In fact, some of the plot twists I hadn’t yet established in the first book were decided (and sometimes created) with the writing of the second one. Hopefully, I’ll be able to finish Mountain Miracles very soon now. And then I will have four books in my Smoky Mountain Romance series.

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But a funny happened on the way to writing today. I’m at loose ends and can’t settle down to any project. This often happens after I finish the first draft of a book, and I should expect it. But with the other book looming, and so many projects waiting, I was certain this time I would be able to settle my rear end in the chair and write. Not so.

When I recognized the restlessness yesterday, I suggested that my husband and I take a ride to seek waterfalls. And so that’s exactly what we did. Not that it helped. I’m reduced to making lists today because my mind won’t stop jumping around. Ah well. Enjoy the beauty that we found in the Cherokee National Forest yesterday while I attempt to quiet all the swirling ideas and thoughts!

 

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Conasauga Falls, Tellico Plains, Tennessee

 

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Bald River Falls, Tellico River, Tennessee

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CHRISTMAS IN JULY – LOAD UP ON SOME SPECIAL #DEALS ‪#‎JulyChristmas

ChristmasinJuly1Click here to get some wonderful deals on eBooks July 15-17.

Minty’s Kiss is one of the featured deals offered for only 99 cents.

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About Minty’s Kiss – When Molly retreats to North Carolina with Gracie, her ten-year-old daughter, she’s surprised to find her childhood crush, Nick, still living in the area. Months before her retreat, Molly’s husband announces he’s leaving to sail around the world with his best friend. She divorces him and takes Gracie and Harold, her seventeen-year-old cat, to the Smoky Mountains where she spent many happy childhood vacations. The morning after her arrival, Nick shows up on her porch, and he is even more handsome than she remembered. She feels the flush of her adolescent crush heating up. Minty’s Kiss is a sweet romantic novella, filled with holiday cheer brought to life by an adorable kitten.

Excerpt: 

“Mommy, Harold isn’t here.”

Molly’s daughter Gracie jumped onto her bed, forcing her eyes open. It felt as if she’d only been sleeping for a few minutes. Molly sat up, rubbing her eyes.

“He’s probably hiding in a closet or under a bed.”

“No, he’s out in the woods somewhere. He ran outside when I opened the door to go out on the porch.”

Molly wondered how Harold managed to run anywhere these days, but he’d always been a bolter when a door opened. He loved being outside, particularly when he came to the mountains where he’d been born.

“He won’t go far. He’s too slow these days.”

“He wasn’t slow when he pushed past me and jumped off the porch.”

Molly got out of bed and pulled on her sweats that she’d peeled off the night before, dead tired after an eight-hour drive to the cabin from Jacksonville, Florida. Pulling a trailer behind her truck proved to be more challenging than she imagined. But they’d made it back to the place where Molly first fell in love and always felt safe. She inherited the cabin when her father died in May. When Molly’s husband announced a few months later that sailing the world with his best friend was more important than being a father to their daughter and a husband to her, the cabin provided Molly a lifeline. So she’d done what her own mother had done eighteen years earlier and moved her daughter and herself back to the cabin in North Carolina after her divorce. She vowed not to follow her mother’s example and kept her bitterness at Derek’s abandonment from Gracie. Besides, she loved Murphy, the mountains, and the small cabin that her father had neglected during his years of battling cancer. And more importantly, Molly made the decision to divorce Derek once she gazed into the huge gap in how each envisioned their relationship. Often on the drive from Jacksonville to Murphy, she wondered about Nick. She hadn’t seen him since she was a teenager, and he had girls his own age hanging all over him. He was probably married with two kids, so she put him out of her mind.

Molly walked out to the broad porch that ran the length of the cabin. She breathed in the mountain air and looked out at the fog masking the view of the Smokies. She’d always loved watching the “smoke” glide away in wisps of clouds, slowly revealing the tree-covered mountains.

“Harold, here kitty. Come on, Harold. Breakfast time.” She whistled her special call, which usually brought the old cat rambling in his walk of old age to find out what the fuss was.

“Hello, Molly.”

Molly turned sharply toward the driveway and watched as a tall man with blonde hair walked around the trailer she’d driven from Jacksonville. She knew instantly who it was, and immediately she felt safe. Nick Johnson. Her one-time best friend and childhood crush. The man she vowed to marry one day.

“Nick? Is it really you?” He took the four steps up to the porch in one giant leap and then he engulfed her in his arms.

“You’re all grown up, Molly, but I’d recognize you anywhere.”

“Same for you. It’s good to see you.”

“I heard about your dad. He was a good man.”

“Thank you. He was sick for a long time with cancer, so it was really a blessing when he passed.”

Nick nodded. “Did I hear you calling for Harold? You still have Harold?”

“Sure do. He’s an old man now, but he made the trip with us.”

“Us?”

Just then the front door opened, and Gracie came out onto the porch.

“Mommy, did he come back?”

 

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Click on photo to be taken away for some special treats!

 

AUTHOR WEDNESDAY – ENTER HERE!

The Christmas Carol (Box Collection) Contest 

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ENTER HERE!

 Calling all Christmas lovers!

Do you love the music of the holiday season? If so, the Authors’ Billboard needs your attention! This coming 2016 Christmas, twenty of our authors—New York Times and USA Today Bestsellers—will be putting together a multi-author box collection of brand new, never before published stories to dazzle everyone, but we require your participation.

The title of our collection will be LOVE, CHRISTMAS and the theme of this bundle will be Christmas carols. We want to use YOUR favorite holiday songs. If you and your song title are chosen, one of the 20 novellas will be dedicated to you.

Sound like fun? Please enter the contest by naming your special carols in the contest entry form by clicking here.

You may enter as many times as you like. So what are you waiting for?

Here’s what the winners will receive:

  1. Twenty winners will have his/her favorite song chosen as the title and possibly the theme for one of the novellas.
  2. That particular story will be dedicated to the winner— twenty in total.
  3. And the winners will receive a free copy of the box set (eBook only).

Ho, ho, ho! And good luck!

The authors involved in this great contest are:

Leanne Banks – NY Times & USAToday, National #1 Best-selling author

Mimi Barbour – NY Times & USA Today, Best-selling author

Nina Bruhns – NY Times & USA Today, Best-selling author

Joan Reeves – NY Times & USAToday, Best-selling author

Mona Risk – NY Times & USA Today, Best-selling author

Patricia Rosemoor – NY Times & USA Today, Best-selling author

Rebecca York – NY Times & USA Today, Best-selling author

Denise Devine – USA Today, Best-selling author

Donna Fasano – USA Today,Best-selling author

Traci Hall – USA Today,Best-selling author

Taylor Lee – USA Today,Best-selling author

Stephanie Queen – USA Today,Best-selling author

Jennifer St. Giles – USA Today,Best-selling author

Alicia Street – USA Today,Best-selling author

Ari Thatcher – USA Today,Best-selling author

Rachelle Ayala – Best-selling author

Jacquie Biggar – Best-selling author

Michele Hauf – Best-selling author

Dani Haviland – Best-selling author

Nancy Radke – Best-selling author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday News and Warm Wishes

 

Here we are once again, right in the middle of the holiday season. It’s been a transitional year for me as my husband and I head into an entirely new life. He’s retiring, and I’m not. We’ve been in the process of moving for six months, but I’ve still managed to write several books. It’s my release from a chaotic life.

Since it’s the holiday season, here’s my holiday offering to you – my sweet Christmas novella, Minty’s Kiss. This is my first work set in the Smoky Mountains, where I’ve recently relocated.

 

Following up on the Smoky Mountain Romance theme, I’ve written a full-length romance, which follows the same characters from Minty’s Kiss. Misty Mountain is now available for pre-ordering, with a release date of January 19, 2016.MISTY_MOUNTAIN_med

 

 

 

 

 

I’m also very excited about another project. Trails in the Sand, one of my Florida fiction books, is being made into an audible book and will be available soon. Trails in the Sand follows the saga of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as the main characters deal with disasters in their own lives. For the next three days, Trails in the Sand may be downloaded on Kindle for free.

Click here to get your copy.

 

 

 

Saturday Spotlight – Christmas Pets and Kisses Boxed Set #XmasPets #CoverReveal

SIXTEEN ALL-NEW, NEVER-BEFORE-PUBLISHED SWEET (PG-rated) CHRISTMAS ROMANCES from NY Times, USA Today, and Award Winning Authors – 99c for a limited time!
Ring in the Christmas cheer with sixteen all-new sweet and heart-warming romances from New York Times, USA Today and National bestselling authors. Don’t miss out on this romantic collection of Christmas tails…uh, tales as adorable pets with fins, paws, feathers, and hooves bring holiday magic with the gift of true love
Golden Christmas – Helen Scott Taylor
Every Christmas Vicky hides so she doesn’t have to celebrate the date she lost her husband and son. She doesn’t want to see anyone but when she finds a dog’s lost ball she meets Jon, a wounded ex-soldier who’s struggling with his own problems. This brave man touches Vicky’s shattered heart and makes her realize she can’t hide forever. With his support, can she find the strength to love again?
Two Loves for Christmas – Mona Risk
Tabloid pictures of charming laywer, Josh Dutton, threaten his father’s senatorial campaign. The family decides he needs a sweet ‘temporary fiancée’ to repair the damage. With only her German shepherd for friend, Emma struggles with problems. Attraction sizzles between Josh and Emma but no one mentions the ‘fake fiancée’ detail. When the truth surfaces will Josh be able to prove that his kisses were not part of a charade?
Dog-Gone Christmas – Melinda Curtis
Widow Marnie Haywood wants Christmas hosting her in-laws to go smoothly. And it would – if her handsome neighbor and his friendly St. Bernard would stop coming over, mooching food, and stealing kisses.
His Christmas Promise – Alicia Street
A stray dog with a penchant for giving warm and fuzzy love finds refuge with an ex-Army helicopter pilot and helps restore his bedridden grandmother’s will to live. It seems like a Christmas miracle until the bachelor war vet discovers the mutt belongs to a little girl who wants him back—and a single mom who makes him rethink his freewheeling ways and maybe even believe in love.
We Wish You A Ferret Christmas – Nikki Lynn Barrett
Widower Lance Rossiter wants nothing to do with the pet ferret who caused his daughter to be hit by a car. Widow Cara McLean is shocked by the ferret her son finds and wants to keep. When Lance and Cara meet, sparks fly and love suddenly seems possible. Can a lost and found ferret bring two fractured families together?
Christmas Lovebirds – Rachelle Ayala
Melisa Hart has a soft spot for her brother Connor’s ex-best buddy, Rob Reed, who slept with Connor’s girlfriend. When her pet lovebird is mixed up with Rob’s, Melisa discovers he’s always cared about her. Can two little lovebirds and Christmas cheer open Melisa’s heart to giving Rob another chance?
Christmas on Cougar Mountain – Nancy Radke
Hard-working Zoey is dedicated to helping children learn, and has built her business to the neglect of having a family. When she rescues a dog on the freeway, she discovers that the escape artist brings a family with him, including a boy she would like to help, and as love grows, a man she would like to keep. But will Kellen ever trust her to help his son, much less give her his heart?
The Vet’s Christmas Pet – J.L. Campbell
The last thing Toni wants for Christmas is more responsibility, but her daughter has other ideas. A near accident not only brings them a dog in need of a home, but Matthias Laing, who Toni would prefer to keep in the past.
Tails, Time, and St. Nick – Mary Leo
Kris Timemaker has inherited a magical clock. Using the clock’s magic for anyone other than St. Nick on Christmas Eve has some grave consequences, but when his daughter’s beloved Westie goes missing, and his estranged wife asks for his help, Kris has no choice but to take a chance with time and try to win back his family in the process.
Graced – Jade Kerrion
Connor Bradley doesn’t have time for distractions, not while juggling single parenthood and his clinic on five hours of sleep a night. He most certainly doesn’t have time for Noelle, the high school flirt, who is prettier and more irresistible than he remembers. When Noelle’s father’s heart attack derails Connor’s plans for his first Christmas without his wife, Noelle wants to save the day for his adorable children, but can she also find her way into Connor’s guarded heart?
Unexpected Gift – Chantel Rhondeau
Aspiring decorator Cali Johnson moves to New York City—lonely, afraid, and far from home during the holidays. When she finds a lost cat in her apartment building, she strikes up an odd friendship with his reclusive owner, Marcus Ritz. If only she knew what he was hiding.

Minty’s Kiss – P.C. Zick
When newly divorced Molly retreats to a family cabin with Gracie, her ten-year-old daughter, she’s surprised to find her childhood crush, Nick, still living in the area. Can a small kitty named Minty help Gracie accept the love developing between Nick and Molly in time for her first Christmas in the mountains of North Carolina?
The Christmas Wish – Michele Shriver
Ashley McLaughlin is struggling to move on from her husband’s infidelity. Brennan wants to make amends for his transgression. Their young daughter, Hayley, has only one wish for Christmas- for her family to be together again. When Hayley suffers a head injury after a fall from her horse, will it help her get her wish? Or do the wounds from Brennan’s betrayal run too deep for Ashley to forgive?
Dante’s Gift – Aubrey Wynne
Seventy years ago, a collie mix brought two hearts together in war torn Italy. Will their story help their grandson find his own Christmas love?
Mavy’s Christmas Miracle – Sharon Coady
Anne Hurd returns to the Pocono’s to help her elderly grandfather. Six years earlier Kyle Shafer disappeared from her life. She rescues a kitten, takes her to a vet who turns out to be Kyle. Kyle can’t believe Anne walked back into his life. Will he scare her away, or will she give him another chance? Kyle decides to take a chance and try for the love he gave up on.
The Impossible Rescue – Annamaria Bazzi
Christmas is no joy for Julia who’s gambling husband comes around only to ask for money. When a handsome stranger and his cute Pomeranian puppy moves in next door, Julia feels guilty for their mutual attraction. Michael’s not the rescuing type, but when he spies Julia’s husband haranguing her for holiday cash, anger flares and he is determined to rescue Julia from another miserable Christmas.

What Early Reviewers Are Saying

Golden Christmas – Helen Scott Taylor
Two wounded hearts are brought together at Christmas by a golden retriever puppy.
“I found this to be well written and so heartwarming,… You are going to love this story as well as each one in this box-set.” – Cynthia, Page by Page Inside-Out Reviews
“I enjoyed this book so very much! It’s hard to go wrong with a hunky wounded warrior and not just one, but two precious pups!!” – Sandra D on Goodreads
“It is a really sweet story about second chances and it will touch your heart as it touched mine.” – Winnie Lim on Goodreads
Two Loves for Christmas – Mona Risk
Her German shepherd is her only friend until Josh teams up with Rino to love and protect her.
“This is not only a story featuring romance, but it has a touch of suspense too. Romance, suspense, danger and a German Shepherd – definitely a great combination. You’ll love this as much as I did.” ~ Winnie Lim
“This story is a romance story with a hint on danger and suspense. This story will definitely keep you interested.” ~ Julie Fowler
“Will Emma truly change Josh? Will they fall in love? This was a really enjoyable book!” ~ Kimberly Dawn
Dog-Gone Christmas – Melinda Curtis
A handsome neighbor and his friendly St. Bernard mooch food and kisses from a merry widow.
“It’s a sweet love story, with a bit of angst, a lot of humor, and some lovely kisses. I really enjoyed this story, and wouldn’t hesitate to read more from this author.” – Elizabeth Robbins from Goodreads
“Dog-Gone Christmas by Melinda Curtis is a sweet story. It is all about new beginnings and forgiveness.” – Julia David from Goodreads
“Dog-Gone Christmas is a sweet love story with some angst and humor involving a dog owner, his neighbor, and a dog — be prepared to laugh out loud at times.” – JoAnne from Goodreads
We Wish You A Ferret Christmas – Nikki Lynn Barrett
Can a lost and found ferret bring two fractured families together?
“As with every other Nikki Lynn Barrett book, I loved the characters and was drawn into the story immediately. You can’t go wrong reading a book by Mrs. Barrett and this is another example of that.”
“Nothing makes me happier than a book that deals with difficult issues and really gets down to the heart of the matter and how hard it can be…Such an amazing read and it really touches the heart!”
“We Wish you a Ferret Christmas is just the perfect story for getting us prepared for the holiday. Loved it.”
Christmas Lovebirds – Rachelle Ayala
Can two little lovebirds and Christmas cheer open Melisa’s heart to giving Rob another chance?
“I love it when authors add in a little animal love, too! It feels almost like 2 romances in one.” – Nikki from Goodreads
“This story is a great reminder of what the Christmas season is truly about…family and forgiveness.” – Julie Fowler
“It had laughter, love, heartache, forgiveness, and two little lovebirds that had their own thing going on.” – Lisa Longstreth
The Vet’s Christmas Pet – J.L. Campbell
A near accident brings Toni and her daughter a homeless dog and a man she’d prefer to keep in her past.
Ms. Campbell has hit the nail on the head with what love is all about. Bravo!—Rose Morales
The characters are lovely from the beginning and especially Jade and Ridley, the puppy, who actually steal the show.—Sally Stackhouse
It was sweet, refreshing and a good balance of how a blended family comes together.—Celeste Williams
Graced – Jade Kerrion
Noelle, armed with several goldfish and a kitten, brings Christmas cheer to a widower and his children.
“You definitely are on an emotional rollercoaster while reading Graced.”—Julie Fowler
“Graced is a must read that will pull on your heart strings.”—Terri Merkel
Unexpected Gift – Chantel Rhondeau
Far from home, a lonely young woman strikes up a friendship with a lost cat and his secretive owner.
“Unexpected Gift was truly heartwarming and a very different kind of love story. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop.” – Maria Diaz
“An emotionally turbulent, yet sweetly poignant, reminder that love has the power to heal all wounds.” – Liza Robbins
“What an incredible heart-warming story on true love that grows from the inside and not based on appearances.” – Rebecca Austin
Minty’s Kiss – P.C. Zick
One kitten, a broken-hearted girl, and long lost loves are brought together for a special mountain Christmas.
“I loved this novella. It is the first time I’ve read anything by this author and I liked her style of writing. This author has succeeded brilliantly.” ~Sally Stackhouse
“This story right here screamed made for TV. I love the Hallmark channel, and I could see this being played out there.” ~Celeste Williams
“This is a sweet story of love lost and regained, which will certainly put you in the Christmas spirit. If the rest of the stories are half as entertaining as this one, then readers will be well served.” ~David Lawlor
The Christmas Wish – Michele Shriver
Will a fall from a horse bring Hayley’s parents back together in time for Christmas?
“This was a great novella and I love the writing around it and how Hayley and Thunder showed Ashley and Brennan what really matters!”- Rebecca Austin
“Michele Shriver has once again given us another heartwarming story.”- Elizabeth Clinton
“This is another great read by Michele Shriver! Loved the sweet family story centered around Christmas!!”- Jill Snead
Dante’s Gift – Aubrey Wynne
Seventy years ago, a collie mix brought two hearts together in war torn Italy. Will their story help their grandson find his own Christmas love?
“Wynne has crafted a beautiful short story guaranteed to warm your heart and make you sigh.” ~ Kishan Paul, author of Blind Love and The Second Wife
“It is a story of romance…that will have you misty-eyed.” ~ Celeste Williams ~ Goodreads Reviewer
“This is a really beautiful love story that will touch everyone’s heart and brings tears to your eyes.” ~ Winnie Lim ~ Top Goodreads Reviewer
Mavy’s Christmas Miracle – Sharon Coady
Anne takes a rescue kitten to the vet, only to discover he’s the man who broke her heart.
“I just couldn’t put down! Very sweet, family oriented reading… A definite “feel good” story that is at home around the holidays or any season! I heartily recommend this story!” ~ Holly Lachman-Militello
“This story is full of Christmas hope, dreams of lost love found and family. I couldn’t put it down. A delightful tale you will read again.” ~ Karen Baird-Butler
“..this story is phenomenal. Love the characters and the plot is amazing. I couldn’t put it down. Would highly recommend this to anyone that loves a good romance!!” ~ Delina Parker
Available Now!

ONE DAY TO GO AND ONE LAST SNEAK PEEK AT CHRISTMAS PETS & KISSES

 
Golden Christmas by Helen Scott Taylor
Every Christmas Vicky hides so she doesn’t have to celebrate the date she lost her husband and son. She doesn’t want to see anyone but when she finds a dog’s lost ball she meets Jon, a wounded ex-soldier who’s struggling with his own problems. This brave man touches Vicky’s shattered heart and makes her realize she can’t hide forever. With his support, can she find the strength to love again?

Excerpt

Music pounded in Vicky’s head in time with the thud of her feet on the dirt path as she ran. She concentrated on the rhythm to fend off the memories that circled just below the surface, like demons trying to grab her ankles and drag her down.
Cold nipped her cheeks, and her breath billowed in smoky plumes as she ran up the incline to the higher path. The thermometer outside her rental property had indicated it was around freezing, even though the sky was bright blue and the sun was on her face.
As she reached the top of the ridge, the rolling English landscape of the North Cotswolds lay before her. Rosemoor Hall, a Jacobean manor house, presided majestically over its twelve acres of manicured gardens, the golden hues of its Cotswold stone walls shining in the sun.
Every year she rented an isolated country property a week before Christmas, and this year she was staying in the manor’s gatehouse. She stocked up on groceries and if she were lucky, could go for the whole time without seeing another living soul.
Fifty acres of gardens, parkland, and farmland lay around the manor house, and she had access to all the land. Apparently the house was open to the public during the summer season, but at this time of year it was closed up, giving her miles of empty paths to run.
Vicky surveyed the historic house and briefly imagined the interior—the huge fireplaces, the four-poster beds, and the antiques the house likely contained. Once she had a passion for old houses and loved visiting them. Her interest started at school when she did a history project on the Victorians. She’d even kept a journal of the visits she’d made to various historic houses around the country. But that felt like a lifetime ago now.
Her feet slapped against the frozen ground, giving a satisfying jolt with each step, and Vicky tried to focus on her music again. She managed for a few minutes before her attention wandered back to the scenery. Giving up on the monotonous tune, she pulled out her earbuds. The sun was surprisingly warm for December. Where it touched the whitened grass by the house, streaks of green appeared as the ice melted.
As she ran on, the front of the house came into view. A man with a golden Labrador stood on the half-acre rectangle of frosted grass outside the front door. Tall and lean, clad in jeans, a blue winter jacket, and a dark wool hat, the man drew back an arm and hurled a yellow tennis ball.
“Go on, girl. Fetch it.” His voice rang out, deep and cultured, a note of enthusiasm and pleasure in his tone.
The dog streaked off across the icy grass and grabbed the yellow tennis ball in its mouth, then loped back to the man, sat, and dropped the ball obediently into his outstretched hand.
“Good girl.” The man bent and smoothed the dog’s head, talking more softly so Vicky couldn’t make out the words. Then she realized her feet had stopped moving and she was standing still, watching.
She blew out a breath of irritation with herself. She didn’t want contact with anyone who might be happy and celebrating Christmas. She just wanted to be alone to mourn.
Pulling her attention away from the scene below, she continued, focusing instead on the distant trees dotted across the acres of parkland, huge old oaks and sweet chestnuts, their bare branches skeletal against the blue sky.
Yet the strange attraction of the man drew her attention again. In her peripheral vision, she saw him toss the ball a couple more times and pet his dog, but she made sure she kept running.
When she reached a fork in the path, she decided to take the right turn, away from the house and the unwanted distraction. Yet her feet went the other way, carrying her along the route that circled the house, keeping the man and dog in view.
She was closer to them now, only fifty yards away. Elevated on the bank in her bright pink-and-blue running gear as she was, he must have noticed her, but he didn’t look her way. He drew back his arm and tossed with incredible power. The tennis ball arced through the air, bounced on the chest-high stone wall surrounding the lawn, and hit a tree.
The Labrador took off after it, jumped up at the wall a few times, then stood with its front paws against the interlocking rocks and barked.
“Get the ball, Honey.” The man stared after the dog, but he didn’t move to retrieve the ball. Couldn’t he see he’d thrown it too hard and it was lost outside the wall?
Vicky halted and stepped off the path to get a better view. From up here, she could see the yellow ball was stuck in a tree, wedged between a branch and the trunk.
Should she say something? She didn’t want to get involved and have to talk to anyone, but the dog was frantically jumping up at the wall now. It had obviously seen the ball but couldn’t reach it.
“Go on, girl. Fetch it, Honey.” The guy bent and held out his hand to receive the ball.
What was he, some kind of idiot?
Vicky sucked in a chilly breath and shook her head. She should have taken the other path. “The ball’s in a tree,” she shouted.
The man’s head jerked up as if he hadn’t seen her. “Oh, thanks. I didn’t know.”
He reached behind him and grabbed something resting against the wall at his back—a white cane.
Vicky pressed a hand over her mouth with a burn of shamed surprise as he held the cane in front of him and walked forward slowly.
No wonder he hadn’t seen her. No wonder he hadn’t noticed the ball was out of his dog’s reach. She felt bad now for thinking he was an idiot.
“I know where the ball is,” she shouted. “I’ll get it for you.”
Vicky ran down some lichen-encrusted stone steps to the lower level and jogged across the crisp grass to where the dog was standing up against the wall, whining.
“Hey there, girl.” She pulled off her gloves and patted the dog’s silky head. Then getting a firm hold on top of the wall, she pushed her toe in a gap between the rocks, climbed up, and worked the ball loose from the tree before dropping it to the eager dog.
She jumped down and turned to face the man as he reached her. He was a good-looking guy, his lips curved in a friendly smile. His eyes were dark brown and looked perfectly all right, except they didn’t move normally. It was strange to be standing here in front of him and know he couldn’t see her.
“Thanks. I let rip a bit with that last throw. Usually when I do that, it bounces back off the wall. I must have aimed too high.” He pulled off a glove and held out his hand. “Jonathan Bramwell.” He nodded back over his shoulder. “I have an apartment in the house. I assume you’re staying in one of the estate cottages over Christmas.”
The word Christmas stung Vicky as she slipped her hand into his strong, warm grip. “Yes. I’m staying in the gatehouse.” To avoid Christmas, she added silently.
“This is Honey, who’s very grateful to have her ball back.” Jonathan’s smile widened as he stroked behind the dog’s ears. “Say thank you to…” His head came up, almost as if he were looking at her. “You didn’t tell me your name.”
“Vicky Jones.”
“Say thank you to Vicky, girl.”
Honey nuzzled Vicky’s hand, her tail wagging and her intelligent brown eyes warm and friendly.
“It was my pleasure, Honey.” Vicky stroked the dog’s velvet ears and realized it really was a pleasure to pet this sweet dog. Not much touched her these days. She was surprised such a simple thing affected her so much.
“Do you need to get back quickly?” Jonathan asked.
Vicky shook her head and realized he couldn’t see that. “No. I was out for a run.”
“Come inside and have a cup of tea, then,” he said, a hopeful note in his voice. “When you have time, I’ll give you the guided tour, if you like. I do that in the summer when we’re open to the public. I know Rosemoor Hall like the back of my hand, so I can do it from memory. The place hasn’t changed much since I was a kid,” he added with a laugh.
Vicky was already shaking her head again, the motion instinctive as she stepped back to distance herself. The old Vicky would have jumped at a private tour of such a beautiful manor house, but since the accident that took her husband and son, she couldn’t summon enthusiasm for anything. She didn’t want to have to make small talk because it invariably got around to family.
“You don’t have to stay long,” Jonathan said.
Honey pursued her, nudging Vicky’s leg with her nose, a pleading look in her eyes. Or perhaps Vicky imagined that.
“Thank you for the invitation, but I don’t want to cause you any inconvenience.”
“You won’t. It’ll be nice to have someone to talk to.” Jonathan pulled off his wool cap, revealing shaggy dark hair, and rubbed at a scar on his forehead. “Actually, you could do me a favor, if you don’t mind. I have a migraine coming on and I can’t find my medication. If you could spare a few minutes, I’d be eternally grateful if you’d take a look. I think the packet might have fallen down behind the cabinet.”
Vicky hesitated for a moment, but how could she refuse?
• • •
Three steps up from the grass to the gravel, then fifteen steps to the house. Jonathan counted silently, noticing the change in temperature as he moved from the sunny lawn to the shadow of Rosemoor Hall. He held his cane out and tapped the wall, a sharp ringing sound against the Cotswold stone, once, twice, three times before the corner, then he turned along the side and continued until the hollow tap of his cane on the wooden back door.
He reached for the handle and turned it. The fresh, clean, frosty air gave way to the familiar smell of polish and seasoned wood inside the house. The footsteps behind him stopped as he held the door open.
Jonathan felt bad asking a complete stranger for help, especially a woman who was reluctant; he could hear it in her voice and her hesitant steps. It went against every instinct he had to impose on others, but it was a matter of survival. The migraines were bad enough if he took the medication; he didn’t want to suffer twenty-four hours of even worse pain. He could call one of his cousins, but they both led busy lives and he didn’t want to impose.
“I’m sorry,” he said, catching Vicky’s subtle floral fragrance as she walked in and passed him. “It won’t take long.”
“It’s okay. I’m not in a hurry.”
He noticed the embarrassment in her voice. Even people he’d known before he lost his sight were uncomfortable around him now. Some didn’t know what to say, and he understood how they felt. In the old days, he’d have probably been the same way.
He caught Vicky’s fragrance again, and it summoned an image of a tall, slender woman wearing a yellow summer dress with flowing dark hair over her shoulders. Of course, Vicky wouldn’t be dressed like this in December. She’d said she was running. The image morphed, and the woman in his head now wore form-fitting Lycra.
He pressed the side of his fist to his mouth and cleared his throat as he banished the evocative image and the flash of desire. It had been four years since a woman who wasn’t either a member of staff, family, or a medical professional had entered his apartment. Sometimes he wondered if he’d ever meet a woman who was interested in him again. Not that Vicky was here for a social visit, of course. He was certain she’d much rather be outside running.
Four steps along the flagstone corridor, the grit on the soles of his shoes crunching. He’d forgotten to wipe his feet, but it was too late now. He tapped his cane on the wall and found the opening to the bottom of the narrow wooden staircase. This used to be the servants’ staircase when he was a boy—a lifetime ago.
He gripped the handrail, the wood sliding beneath his palm, polished smooth by thousands of hands over the last four hundred years. Familiar with the run and rise of each stair, he mounted them quickly and stepped onto the carpet in the upper hallway.
“My apartment is just down here.” With a hand to the wall, he took eight steps, then touched the varnished door that he only ever locked in the summer when members of the public visited the house.
Jonathan pushed on the door, and Honey’s sleek body brushed his leg. He angled his head and listened, half fearing Vicky had doubled back and gone, but the faint rustling of fabric and her sigh reassured him she was still there.
In his rooms, Jonathan could move about easily. He kept everything in its place and had a clear mental map of the space. “My medication is in a tray on my chest of drawers in the bedroom. If you want to follow me.” He’d thought he had a few hours before the headache got worse, but it was bad already.
An uncomfortable prickle of heat up his neck made him feel like a teenage boy asking a girl to his room for the first time, awkward and clumsy and not sure what to do.
His fingers rose to the scar on his forehead. He massaged the ridge of skin that marked the near-fatal head injury. He hated being blind and scarred. Sometimes he even forgot he was the lucky one. He’d escaped the twisted wreck of the Army Mastiff alive after it ran over an IED. Three of the men under his command had died there.
About the Author
 
NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Helen Scott Taylor lives in South West England near Plymouth in Devon between the windswept expanse of Dartmoor and the rocky Atlantic coast. As well as her wonderful, long-suffering husband, she shares her home with a Westie who digs up the garden searching for voles, and an elderly cat who adores treats.
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