Tue
Oct 3 2017 11:08am

Manda Collins, Nancy Naigle, Donna Alward, Donna Grant, and Kieran Kramer Excerpt: Holiday 2017 Sampler

Manda Collins, Nancy Naigle, Donna Alward, Donna Grant and Kieran Kramer

SMP Sampler

If you want to get into the holiday spirit, but you're not quite ready for all the stress that comes with it then take a few minutes to read some holiday romance! Whether you prefer your holiday novels to be contemporary, have a historical flare, or be a little country, we have something for everyone with this holiday sampler. 




With This Christmas Ring by Manda Collins

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Miss Merry Parks makes a deathbed promise to a schoolfriend that her infant daughter will be taken to her absent father. There’s only one problem—to find the baby’s father, she’ll have to consult his cousin, Viscount Wrotham, the man she jilted five years ago. The man she couldn’t forget.

Alex Ponsonby, Viscount Wrotham, is stunned to find Merry Parks—looking more lovely than ever—on his doorstep with an infant in her arms. His shock soon turns to dismay when he learns his own cousin William is the man who abandoned his wife and child. As head of the family he’s duty bound to see right is done. But he can't let this opportunity pass. He’ll take Merry and the baby to his cousin, but he’ll woo her back in the process. Merry agrees to travel with Alex and the baby to Wrotham Castle, where the entire Ponsonby family has gathered for Christmas, but her plans to see the baby settled then leave are ruined by a snowstorm. After five years apart, Alex and Merry will spend the week getting reacquainted. Perhaps it’s the spirit of the holiday, or the magic of the season, but there could be something else in the air this Yuletide…A Christmas Reunion.

Read a selected scene:

Alex felt the moment she gave in to him and relaxed into the kiss. And he knew then that no matter what had persuaded her to leave him five years before, the fact was that whatever it was that had drawn them together was still there simmering between them.

Merry, Merry, Merry. His body felt every sensation of her soft curves against him as a repetition of her name. This was what he’d been missing. This woman, with her sweet mouth and enticing scent. He held her mouth to his and told her with his tongue against hers just how much he’d missed her. How much he still needed her.

It was her moan when he moved his hand to her breast that reminded him of just where they were. And reluctantly, with one last soft kiss of her lips, he pulled away, breathless as a cricketer running for the other side of the pitch.

He focused on a particularly ugly figurine of a shepherdess on the mantel for a moment, willing his desire to make it less rudely visible, while he felt Merry regaining her own composure beside him.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” he said, once he’d managed to get himself under control.

Merry stood abruptly, and he had no choice but to stand as well.

“No, you shouldn’t have,” she said, turning to face him. Her mouth, he noted with a sense of triumph, was swollen from his kisses, though it was now pursed with annoyance. “I cannot travel to Wrotham Keep with you if you cannot promise me you will keep your hands to yourself, my lord. I will admit that there is still some . . . attraction . . . between us, but what’s past is past. And I cannot allow my reputation to be put in danger by your rash behavior.”

He had no intention of making such a promise, Alex thought to himself. Not when it was obvious to him—and to her—that there was still attraction between them. And whatever her reasons for leaving five years ago, they had nothing to do with her lack of feelings for him.

And, he realized as he watched her scowling at him now, he still loved her.

Aloud, however, he said, “I will ride alongside the carriage on my own mount. You won’t even know I’m there except when we stop for refreshments. And, of course, you must bring your maid as chaperone.”

That would take care of the journey to the Keep, but he didn’t mention what might happen once they arrived. Because he was determined that whatever twist of fate had brought them together again, he would not squander this opportunity to convince her that they belonged together. And he would do whatever it took to make sure she remained at the Keep for the holidays.

“I suppose that will be acceptable,” she said stiffly. “And once I’ve assured myself that your cousin is as reformed as you say, I will return to London.”

Was that a hint of resignation in her tone, or had he imagined it?

Alex wanted to speak more about what had just happened between them, and more than anything he wanted to press her to tell him who it was that had made her leave him, but that could wait until they made it to the Keep.

Learn more about or order a copy of With This Christmas Ring by Manda Collins, available October, 3 2017:

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Hope at Christmas by Nancy Naigle

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Sydney Ragsdale is looking for a fresh start far away from her controlling ex-husband and the self-doubt that has plagued her since the divorce. Returning to her childhood home in Hopewell, North Carolina is just what her soul needs. Praying some Christmas magic will follow her she moves with her daughter to a farmhouse that once belonged to her grandparents. While there Sydney finds solace working at The Book Bea, her favorite bookstore.

Single dad Kevin MacAlea, Mac to his friends, is the local high school history teacher and baseball coach. He is also the towns best kept secret—he has been playing Santa since his son was born twelve years ago. Mac loves the enchantment of the season and wants his son to share in his joy.

When a catastrophe forces The Book Bea to close before the end of the year, everyone in the small town is feeling the loss. While Sydney is already off-balance by the bad news, her ex-husband breaks a promise to their daughter that sends her running away and threatens the relationship that she has begun with Mac.

As Sydney and Mac try to figure out what their next steps are together they will soon discover that there’s always hope at Christmas.

Read a selected scene:

Mac watched his son walk away. When he turned back his eyes connected with hers. “You’re new to town, so I was wondering if I might be able to show you around sometime. Nothing fancy. Just, ya know, I thought I could introduce you to some people. Someone said you were a single parent. I am too. Not like a date. Just being neighborly. I mean it’s not easy being a single parent. Or new to a town. I’m rambling.”

She laughed nervously. “Yes, you are. And yes.” Oh my gosh. She felt absolutely giddy.

“Yes?”

“We could do something some time.” She pointed to Seth and RayAnne. “Looks like our kids are hitting it off already.”

“Great. Then yes.”

“Okay.”

“So, I’ll show you around.”

“I guess I should tell you that I did just move to Hopewell, but I used to come here as a kid. My grandparents had a place on the edge of town. My grandmother brought me to The Book Bea all the time. I’d read more books over a summer than I could pack in a box to take home.”

“And now you’re back.”

“Yeah. I’m back. Time for a change.” Sydney’s cell phone rang. She pulled it from the back pocket of her jeans and immediately silenced it when she saw Jon’s name. This was not the time for him to be bugging her.

“It’s a good town to raise a kid. Looks like you’re already getting settled in with the job and all.”

She smiled and nodded. Bea closing was not her news to tell, and wanting to buy the store might be, but it would be awfully embarrassing if she started telling people that and then couldn’t afford to do it. So she said nothing.

“You probably know about the caroling night since you’re helping Miss Bea.”

“Yes. It sounds fabulous.”

“Why don’t you come along with us. We have a group of folks that go together every year. You know. Friends. Neighbors.”

“I’ll be helping Bea.”

“I thought of that. I could find someone to cover here if Bea needs the help, but she usually handles it alone, so I think she’d be okay.”

“And RayAnne leaves this Wednesday night to spend the holidays with her dad.”

“Wow. The whole Christmas break? That must be hard.”

“I don’t know. It’s my first one. But I’m dreading it.”

“All the more reason to be with new friends then. You can’t be alone at the holidays.”

“That’s what RayAnne said, too.”

“Then you really can’t say no. It’s Christmas. The whole neighborly thing is kind of a requirement around here.”

Was he flirting with her? she wondered.

“Too bad your daughter won’t be in town. I wasn’t sure what kinds of things a little girl would want to do, but I thought the caroling was a safe bet. Women, I know. Little girls, not my genre.”

“Genre, huh?”

“Poor attempt at a bookstore joke?”

“I get it. Cute.” She appreciated the effort. “Well, for the record, my little girl would probably rather be doing whatever your son likes to do. Catch frogs, jump over bike ramps. The child is fearless.”

His laugh was warm, reminding her of better days.

He leaned against the counter. The stammering had stopped. He was nice. Easy to talk to. He crossed one boot over the other. Nice boots, too. Western. Probably alligator or snake, but pretty.

“So, then we don’t have a date. And I’ll see you for Christmas caroling, if not sooner. I’ll pick you up here.”

“Okay. It’s not a date,” she confirmed. Only it felt kind of like a date. Which was just weird, because even if Jon was living with his mistress their divorce wasn’t final yet. There was still the custody stuff to settle, and there was just too much hanging over her head to deal with something like dating.

But friends was a whole different story. Bea had reminded her that she needed to open herself up to the right path, and what was the harm with people getting together for the holiday?

Over her shoulder she heard RayAnne call out. “This is it, Mom. This is the perfect place.”

And RayAnne may have been talking about where she wanted to put the Christmas tree, but boy did those words carry so much more meaning at that very moment.

Mac felt like a fumbling teenager. As a teacher he talked to parents all the time. Why was talking to Sydney any different? And yet when he’d come face to face with her he was blabbering and stuttering like a hormonal fourteen-year-old hoping for a first kiss.

“Good,” he said. “It’ll be good.”

“Yeah. I’m looking forward to it.” She shrugged, and smiled tentatively.

He could feel her anxiety too. Was that good? “Me too. The kids always like it.”

Learn more about or order a copy of Hope at Christmas by Nancy Naigle, available October 10, 2017:

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Deck the Halls by Donna Alward

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With shades of It’s a Wonderful Life, one man must face his past to find his future this Christmas.

In the last year, George's life has drastically changed. The formerly homeless veteran now has a job he likes, a family in the residents of Darling, VT, and for the first time in years, a home. But while his present is good, he's still haunted by the past, a past that appears shortly before Christmas when the older sister of his brother-in-arms hunts him down and finds him in Darling, working at the Ladybug Garden Center.

Amy’s looking for closure for her family after her brother's death in the Middle East, but the serious man she finds working in Vermont doesn’t resemble the soldier she remembers from years before. This man is hardened and yet somehow fragile, too, and in her desire to find out what really happened to her brother, she learns more about George than she ever expected.

With a little Christmas magic and the whole town supporting them, can these two bruised hearts make a future together?

Read a selected scene:

Amy didn’t know what had come over her back at the bridge, but she could still taste him on her lips and was still tingling all over from the possessive way he’d gripped her shoulders, keeping her from tipping over.

She’d kissed him. Kissed him! She couldn’t even really explain why, except that something had happened between one side of the bridge and the other. Nothing tangible, nothing specific she could put her finger on, nothing but a connection that ran between them, both poignant and sweet at what they’d lost and what they’d gained over the years since they’d last met.

And when she’d looked into his eyes she’d seen a flash of hunger there, a glimpse of the man he’d once been, who’d looked at her as if there was no one else in the world he’d rather be with at that moment. The same breathless feeling had overcome her.

Back then the kiss had been wild and reckless; this time it had been soft and sweet. But no less devastating.

Now, though, as they entered his apartment, she was reminded of the differences in their lives. Differences that would be impossible to overcome. The very thought was precipitous, wasn’t it? He certainly wasn’t in the market for romance, and neither was she.

“Home sweet home,” he said quietly, shutting the door.

“Indeed.” She tried a smile. “Before I dig out the ornaments, do you have a big pot we can use on the stove?”

He frowned, clearly puzzled. “A pot? What for?”

She had to restore some normalcy to their interaction or she was going to kiss him again. Once really didn’t seem like enough, and her voice of logic wasn’t speaking loudly enough tonight. Distraction was the only way she was going to keep from compounding her mistake of earlier . . . if it could be called a mistake. It didn’t really feel like it.

She reached into her tote and pulled out a bag of popcorn kernels. “We’re going to string popcorn for your tree.”

He stared at her with such a blank look that she burst out laughing. It helped to dispel a little of the tension still simmering between them. “What, you’ve never done it before?”

He shook his head. “Never.”

For the second time in as many days, she was incredibly thankful for her upbringing. She certainly didn’t pry further; she suspected his response would be that none of his homes had really done any of these activities. One day she’d like to talk to him more about his childhood. She knew foster parents, had grown up with foster kids in her neighborhood. Some had flourished, others not so much. It was sad to think that George was one of the ones who’d somehow fallen between the cracks. All Ian had ever said was that George had been bounced from home to home, and then when he’d turned eighteen he’d signed up and the army had become his home.

Which meant he’d been homeless in more than one way since he’d been discharged. She hadn’t considered that before.

“Well,” she said, shaking off the sad thoughts, “there’s a first time for everything. Our mom never let us put these on our main tree, but we had this little artificial bottle brush thing that we kept in the downstairs den, and she let Ian and I decorate it however we wanted. We went crazy every year with the tackiest decorations we could find, usually at a local dollar store. I’ve got everything here we need. Popcorn, needles, string, cranberries . . .”

“Cranberries?”

“And if there’s any popcorn left over, we can eat it.” She didn’t tell him that there was hardly ever any left and that they’d have to pop more than one batch. Baby steps.

Learn more about or order a copy of Deck the Halls by Donna Alward, available October 3, 2017:

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The Christmas Cowboy Hero by Donna Grant

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’Tis the season for ex-Navy SEAL Clayton East to come home for the holidays—even if the mood at home is anything but festive. His father is ill. The East Ranch is in financial trouble. And now it’s on Clayton, the prodigal son, to make sure his family doesn’t lose everything.

Headstrong Abby Harper is like a mother to her younger brothers, who she’s helped raise since she was a teenager. Keeping them in line is no small task while she’s also working toward her college degree. And now that one of her brothers has been arrested for stealing cattle at the East Ranch, Abby is at her wits’ end. But there is a silver lining: Clayton East. He believes in second chances, and is willing to give one to her brother this Christmas. Letting beautiful Abby—and the inescapable longing in his heart—off the hook, however, is a whole ’nother story. Could it be that the woman of this local hero’s dreams has been back at home all along?

Read a selected scene:

This shit couldn’t be happening. Abby Harper’s heart thumped against her ribs as she turned into the parking lot of the sheriff’s department. She parked and opened her car door, only to have her keys drop from her shaking hands. It took her three tries to pick them up because she couldn’t get her fingers to listen to what her brain was telling them.

Along with the fact that her brother had been arrested, her mind couldn’t stop thinking about the money she was losing for leaving her job early to find out what happened. Which meant that there was a real possibility that she would have to choose between paying for electricity or groceries next week.

She hunkered into her coat, bracing against a blast of cold air as she hurried to the door of the building. As soon as she was inside, the heat engulfed her.

Coming through the speakers overhead was the old Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings song Momma, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.

The irony wasn’t lost on her. The problem was, she’d done everything she could. But Clearview was in cattle country. That meant there were cowboys everywhere—as well as rodeos that happened too frequently to even count.

Abby licked her lips and walked up to the counter and the glass window. A man in a uniform slid back the pane and raised his blond brows in question. His look told her he didn’t care what had brought her there or what sad story she might have.

“Hi,” she said, her voice squeaking. Abby cleared her throat and tried again. “Hi. I’m here about Brice Harper.”

“You don’t look old enough to be his mother,” the man stated as he reached for a file.

After all these years, Abby should’ve been used to such a response. But she didn’t think a person ever got used to such things.

She forced a half smile. “I’m his sister, but also his legal guardian.”

“And your parents?”

If it had been anyone but a sheriff’s deputy, Abby would’ve told them it was none of their business.

“Dad died years ago, and our mother ran off. But not before she gave me legal guardianship of my brothers.”

The man’s dark eyes widened. “You have another brother?”

“Yes.”

As if she needed another reminder that she was failing at raising her siblings.

“Through that door,” the deputy said as he pointed to his left.

A loud beep sounded, and Abby dashed to open the door. She walked through it to find another police officer waiting for her. Despite Brice’s reckless nature and the rowdy crowd he hung with, this was her first time at a police station.

And, quite frankly, she prayed it was her last.

Nothing could prepare anyone for what awaited them once they entered. The plain white walls, thick doors, locks, and cameras everywhere made her feel as if the building were closing in on her. And that didn’t even take into account all the deputies watching her as she walked past.

She wasn’t sure if being taken back to see Brice was a good thing or not. Wasn’t there supposed to be something about bail? Not that she could pay it.

Her thoughts came to a halt when the deputy stopped by a door and opened it as he stepped aside. Abby glanced inside the room before she looked at him. He jerked his chin toward the door.

She hesitantly stepped to the entrance. Her gaze landed on a familiar figure, and relief swamped her. “Danny.”

“Hi, Abby,” he said as he rose from his seat at the table in the middle of the room.

His kind, hazel eyes crinkled at the corners with his smile. He walked to her then and guided her to the table. All her apprehension vanished. Not even the fact that he also wore a sheriff’s deputy uniform bothered her. Because she’d known Danny Oldman since they were in grade school.

He’d run with the popular crowd at school because he’d been one of the stars of the football team, but Danny never forgot that he’d grown up in the wrong part of town—next door to her.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” she said.

His smile slipped a little. “What Brice did is serious, Abby.”

She pulled out the chair, the metal scraping on the floor like a screech, and sat. “No one has told me anything. Brice refused to speak of it. He just told me to come.”

“Perhaps you should be more firm with him.”

The deep voice sent a shiver through her. She hadn’t realized anyone else was in the room. Abby looked over her shoulder to see a tall, lean man push away from the corner and walk toward her.

His black Stetson was pulled low over his face, but she got a glimpse of a clean-shaven jaw, square chin, and wide, thin lips. It wasn’t until he stopped across the table from her and flattened his hands on the surface that she remembered to breathe.

“Abby,” Danny said. “This is Clayton East. Clayton, Abby Harper.”

It was a good thing she was already sitting because Abby was sure her legs wouldn’t have held her. Everyone knew the Easts. Their ranch was the largest in the county. The family was known to be generous and welcoming, but that wasn’t the vibe she got from Clayton at the moment.

Then it hit her. Whatever Brice had done involved the East Ranch. Of all the people for her brother to piss off, it had to be them. There was no way she could compete with their wealth or influence. In other words, her family was screwed ten ways from Sunday.

Learn more about or order a copy of The Christmas Cowboy Hero by Donna Grant, available October 31, 2017:

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Christmas at Two Love Lane by Kieran Kramer

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The best gift of all is the one you share with someone else. . . From the moment he strode through the iron gate and into the offices of Two Love Lane on a crisp December day, it was obvious that Deacon Banks was something different. He wasn’t a Charleston native, not with that adorable Yankee accent. And unlike the usual client at the elegant matchmaking agency, he had no interest in finding a woman to marry—just a few no-strings dates while he was in town.

Macy Frost takes her professional services very seriously—how could she not, when she’s rumored to be a direct descendant of Cupid? Tech entrepreneur Deacon says he’s just trying to make his social-climbing aunt happy by being seen out and about with a few prominent beauties, but Macy insists she can make her client fall in love…for real. And Deacon can’t help but think she might be right. As charming as the palmetto trees and magnificent harbor may be, it’s the beautiful, breath-of-fresh-air Macy who’s become Deacon’s favorite part of the scenery. But can the hopelessly romantic Southern belle stop trying to fix him up and just let Cupid do his work on her own heart?

Read a selected scene:

Macy Frost was a sixth-generation Southern belle, a hard-working business owner, and an avid college basketball fan—and she wasn’t fond of pears. But she liked what pears meant on that sunny, cold afternoon in December, when the sound of Mariah Carey singing her famous Christmas anthem drifted in from Roastbusters, the tiny coffeehouse at the top of Love Lane.

Pears meant success!

When you were a founding partner at the most prosperous matchmaking agency in Charleston, South Carolina, a town made for romance, lots of satisfied clients sent holiday gifts. And since Thanksgiving, Macy had received four Harry & David fruit samplers, three boxes of Godiva chocolates, and a wall calendar featuring twelve state-of-the-art refrigerators from Joe, the Lowcountry’s most prosperous household appliance dealer.

Joe’s business calendar wasn’t very exciting, but she loved it anyway—because he was married now with two kids, thanks to Macy’s matchmaking skills, and Cupid.

She had an inside track, actually, when it came to the game of love. Thomas Winston Frost, the first of her ancestors to settle in Charleston in 1703, declared in a letter to his children that he was a direct descendant of Cupid himself. Thomas was a successful judge, well-loved, and skilled in matchmaking. He found a spouse for every one of his seven siblings and eight children.

So Macy liked to believe that she was Cupid’s direct descendant too, and took a special delight in wearing Thomas’s beautiful gold signet ring stamped with the family crest he’d brought over from England. The crest was emblazoned with a heart and arrow and the family motto in Latin: “Dives in caritate,” which meant “Rich in love.”

The Frost family tree was filled with people who had a spark for matchmaking. Macy’s father, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother were considered gifted in the love-and-marriage department. From the time she was a little girl, Macy had wanted to be Cupid’s assistant herself.

So what that she hadn’t found her soulmate yet? She’d barely noticed! She was having too much fun to worry about it.

That day—the pear day—she sat on the front edge of her massive desk, propped herself on her palm, slung one booted leg over the other, and bit into a juicy Anjou. A few pearls of juice trickled down her chin, and she let out a fake moan, fake because pear skin was always a little too bitter for her. But she didn’t care. She wanted to show Oscar, her orange tabby cat sprawled like a playboy across the desk blotter behind her, what luscious, in-your-face triumph looked like.

“Must be a really good pear,” a dry masculine voice announced from the door.

She stopped chewing. Whoever it was had said “pear” like someone from the Northeast—New York or Boston—and she was charmed. The voice woke her up the way an invigorating shower did, or an extra firm handshake. It occurred to her that she might not be having as much fun as she thought. She might be bored. Bored senseless! Showing off to a cat! Being happy about refrigerator calendars!

She turned toward the door.

A man channeling a young George Clooney—down to the amused expression in his eye—stood there in a black overcoat and a gray pinstriped suit, one broad shoulder on the doorjamb and his hands in his coat pockets. His bold stare beneath those jet eyebrows wasn’t exactly proper, according to Charleston standards. But Macy liked it, although she was loath to admit it. She tried not to imagine him lounging next to her and feeding her grapes on a long barge sailing down the Nile and then ravishing her beneath a blazing hot sun. But she gave up and let the thought bloom while she took in the rest of him.

Beneath his open coat and jacket, his tapered waist and flat stomach appealed to her. So did his black hair, cut above his collar but slightly unruly at his temples. And there was the merest glimmer of a five o’clock shadow on his jaw, which looked chiseled out of desert sandstone. Damn him for being so handsome and virile when she was making a fool of herself with Oscar who, let’s be frank, was one of her very best friends.

“So you’re Macy Frost.” Sexy. Bossy. Two words she’d write at the top of his file.

“Who are you?” She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of confirming his assumption, not until he introduced himself.

“Deacon Banks.” He crossed the threshold.

Learn more about or order a copy of Along Came Us by Nicole McLaughlin, available June 27, 2017:

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A Season of You by Emma Douglas

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The best gift of all is the one you share with someone else. . . From the moment he strode through the iron gate and into the offices of Two Love Lane on a crisp December day, it was obvious that Deacon Banks was something different. He wasn’t a Charleston native, not with that adorable Yankee accent. And unlike the usual client at the elegant matchmaking agency, he had no interest in finding a woman to marry—just a few no-strings dates while he was in town.

Macy Frost takes her professional services very seriously—how could she not, when she’s rumored to be a direct descendant of Cupid? Tech entrepreneur Deacon says he’s just trying to make his social-climbing aunt happy by being seen out and about with a few prominent beauties, but Macy insists she can make her client fall in love…for real. And Deacon can’t help but think she might be right. As charming as the palmetto trees and magnificent harbor may be, it’s the beautiful, breath-of-fresh-air Macy who’s become Deacon’s favorite part of the scenery. But can the hopelessly romantic Southern belle stop trying to fix him up and just let Cupid do his work on her own heart?

Read a selected scene:

When she had the light corralled to her satisfaction, she pulled a big black sketchbook out of a drawer in an old cabinet standing in one corner of the room and a handful of pencils out of another drawer and finally, finally came back to him, sinking onto the chair facing him.

“Am I meant to pose?” he asked, as her gaze settled on him again.

“No. I need to look for a little while.”

“Look all you want.” The words came out a little more fervently than he intended.

God, he was going to make an idiot out of himself.

Mina was here, focused on him. Interested in his face. Drawing him. He had no idea what it meant, but it was several steps past vaguely knowing who he was. Or inviting him to Thanksgiving. Him and his brother. That was politeness, he suspected. Possibly prompted by Lou. Sympathy for the outsiders combined with Mina wanting a way to make it up to him for Stewie damaging the car.

But this? This was just Mina and him. She’d asked him to pose for her. She wanted to draw him. Him. And he wasn’t willing to give up a single second of it. Even if the closest he ever got to her was her pencil tracing the lines of his face on paper. “I’m good,” he said, moving his hand.

“Sorry,” she said. “I get kind of lost in it. So yell if you get a cramp.”

Lost in it. He knew how that felt. He could get lost in her face. He didn’t think he’d ever really had a chance to just sit and look at her for quite this long. It wasn’t cool to stare at women and it was downright creepy when they were clearly involved with someone else, so he’d kept his eyes to himself.

He’d tried to forget everything he knew about Mina’s face. To erase the sharp chin and big eyes and the hair that was dark but threw reddish highlights like sun glinting off whiskey when she was in the light now that she’d stopped dyeing it black. He’d locked it away. Dated other women. Which hadn’t worked out.

And now here he was, alone with her. Able to watch her. To count the smattering of freckles across her nose. To see how her mouth curved as she focused on the paper, apparently pleased with whatever it was she was getting down. And just now, to envy the fact that she was able to get something down on paper to keep her memory alive. It was enough to make a man want to take up art. Unfortunately he knew his artistic limitations. Like he’d told Mina, stick figures were about it. He left the artistic side of the business to Stefan.

“I’ll try and hold your attention,” he said.

“Probably won’t have to try too hard,” Mina said, almost absently.

If he hadn’t have already been sitting still, he would have frozen in place.

What could he possibly say to that? Mina found him attention-worthy? Not what he’d expected to hear. And maybe she’d given away more than she’d intended—in fact, watching as pink stole over her cheeks and her teeth caught her bottom lip just for a second he was certain she had—but that little slip of her tongue had made his day. Though, watching the exact spot where her teeth dented the soft curve of her mouth, he wanted to make it even better.

He fought to keep still, to not rise out of his seat and pull her close and find out just what that lip tasted like. That way lay disaster. His fingers dug into his thigh, his gut tightening with the same force.

Mina Harper was dangerous up close it seemed.

If she could do this to him with just her gaze, then what might the rest be like?

Incendiary, if he had to guess. The kind of heat that left scorch marks and a hunger for more.

But he’d never know if he did something stupid and spooked her. She was a widow. She’d been wrecked by life once—twice when you counted losing her father—and had survived. He wasn’t going to be the one who wrecked her a third time. So he would tread cautiously. Treat her with the care she deserved. Wait and see what happened. Let her set the pace, if there was any pace to be set.

Even if it killed him.

Learn more about or order a copy of A Season of You by Emma Douglas, available October 3, 2017:

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Copyright © 2017 by Manda Collins, Nancy Naigle, Donna Alward, Donna Grant, Kieran Kramer & Emma Douglas
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