An excerpt from an upcoming novella

My novella, Snowbound with the Stork, will be featured in an upcoming anthology. Some of the other authors contributing stories will be Harlequin Escape author, MA Grant, and Harlequin Carina UK author Gina Rochelle.

Here’s an excerpt from Snowbound with the Stork. Enjoy and I hope you’ll purchase the anthology and leave a review.

 

Chapter One

Hadley Bishop set her phone and bottled water on a picnic table in front of the convenience store. A hundred yards away, cars and trucks zipped and zoomed along the highway like those migrating hummingbirds that darted around her feeders every fall. Not exactly fine dining. At least the January sun was warm on her hands as she peeled the banana she’d bought while paying for gas. So what if her healthy snack was a stalling tactic? She’d needed gas and making a phone call while stopped was safer. Especially this call.

She brushed a cigarette butt off the table. Yup, this was the closest the forlorn spot had come to an actual picnic. Going by the lipstick-stained filters scattered on the ground the store’s female employees used this spot for smoke breaks. Even the sprigs of grass that had forced their way through the hard Georgia clay were brown and stiff, as if they’d taken the easy way out and surrendered.

Picnic over too soon, she tossed the banana skin into the trash, polished off the water and dropped the empty bottle into a plastic bag to recycle later. Too bad she couldn’t recycle her dwindling courage until it was new, strong, repurposed.

With a heavy sigh, she picked up the phone, scrolled through her contacts and stopped when his name came up. Quinn Gallagher. She shivered from the dropping temperature. Not because of Quinn. It had nothing at all to do with him. The morning had begun unseasonably warm and she’d dressed accordingly. End of story.

Oh God, she didn’t want to do this. But she couldn’t chicken out, no matter the personal consequences. She swiped the call icon. Stupid conscience.

The phone rang and her pulse raced. What if he didn’t answer? She’d changed her number when she’d changed carriers, for a fresh start. It had nothing to do with checking that old phone a thousand times a day to see if he’d called. So why program the number into the new phone?

“Gallagher.” His deep, gruff—impersonal—voice made the back of her throat burn.

“Quinn, it’s me…Hadley.” Dammit. You knew this wouldn’t be easy. “We need to talk…it’s really important.”

A long pause, then. “Okay. So talk.”

“I’d prefer to do it in person.” She fidgeted with the collar of her shirt.

A rustling sound and he said “give me five”, obviously speaking with someone in his office. Something squeaked and he was back. “What could you have to say to me that can’t be said over the phone?”

“Use your imagination,” she snapped. God, he could be the most infuriating—

“Darlin’, have you forgotten how fertile my imagination can be?” He chuckled low in his throat and she pushed away the image of his espresso-brown eyes darkening with desire.

“No.” And that was part of the problem. She shifted and the wooden bench creaked. “Is a few moments of your time too much to ask?”

“Do you think it’s easy for me to rearrange my busy schedule at a moment’s notice to suit the whims of an ex?”

Despite knowing Quinn tended to strike out when challenged, his words stung, like alcohol on a fresh wound. A car door slammed and she squeezed her eyes tighter to stem the flow of tears. Damn. Crying? And in a public place.

“Ma’am? Are you okay? Do you need assistance?” a male voice asked.

Her eyes flew open. A middle-aged man stood a few feet away from the picnic table, the light breeze wreaking havoc with his comb-over. She gave him a I-don’t-normally-fall-apart-in-front-of- convenience-stores smile. “No, I’m fine. Really. But thank you.”

The stranger turned toward the store’s entrance, paused in front of the glass door to rearrange his hair, then went inside.

“Who is that? Where are you? Are you okay?” Annoyed concern laced Quinn’s tone.

Damn, she was not keeping her cool the way she had rehearsed. Of course not. Quinn had always managed to throw her off balance. Evidently that hadn’t changed in the eight months they’d been apart.

She’d driven this far so she may as well see this through. Is that why she’d waited to call until now? She could kid herself all she wanted, but she’d known good and well she’d made the drive so she couldn’t chicken out.

“Hadley? Answer me. Is everything okay?” There was a pause then a muffled curse. “Please.”

Her stomach dropped. Please? How much had it cost him to say that? “It was just some guy here at Big Hearted Smitty’s.”

“Smitty’s?,” he choked on the word. “Darlin’, are you sure you don’t need a bail bondsman?”

“Be serious. I stopped to eat my…banana and—” God have mercy, she did not just tell him she was eating fruit. She pressed her fist to her mouth. Too late. Much needed brain cells had already escaped.

“Banana? Hadley, what the hell is going on?”

This outing had been a bad idea from the beginning. Maybe she should learn how to live with her conscience. Quickly. “You’re right. There’s nothing left to say. Just forget I—”

“Come to the station. We can talk in my office.”

“No.” Not in front of all those prying eyes. Quinn’s deputies gossiped worse than Rose Leland on bingo night. “I’d rather meet somewhere else. What about Starbucks?”

Something that sounded like a snort was followed by, “You haven’t been gone that long. No Starbucks in Granger yet.”

“Right. I wasn’t thinking straight. Look, maybe this whole—“

“Day and Night?”

She rubbed her temple. “Day and Night?”

There was an impatient sigh, as if she were a thorn in his side he couldn’t wait to be rid of. “Carla’s.”

The comb-over exited the store and made his way to the gas pumps. He nodded and she lifted a hand in acknowledgment.

“Hadley? Meet me there?”

She must be imagining things because Quinn Gallagher didn’t ask, he barked orders. At six feet three with shoulders like a linebacker, he could be physically intimidating, but his air of self-assurance made him a leader. At one time she’d admired all that self-confidence and take-charge attitude since she tended to over-think everything. But, as she had discovered, giving up control could, like chocolate, have adverse effects in large quantities.

“Hadley?”

His voice, laced with genuine concern, snapped her back from her drifting thoughts. “Okay, the Day and Night sounds good. I’ve been dreaming about Carla’s giant cardamom cinnamon buns.” She rubbed her belly.

He made a noise that sounded like a grunt then cleared his throat. “How’s traffic?”

“Traffic?” Her mind was still processing the fact Quinn had sounded concerned. The hormones coursing through her body were responsible for a lot of things, but her hearing was fine. At least she’d thought so…before this phone call.

He sighed. “So I’ll know how long it should take you to get here.”

How did he manage to make her feel a fool just by exhaling? “I’ll be there in half an hour, forty-five minutes tops.” She clicked off without waiting for a reply and dropped the phone into her black leather purse.

She winced when a tiny foot jabbed her hard under the ribs.

“It’s okay, Sweetie, we’re almost there,” she crooned and massaged her protruding belly.

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