New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author

of Contemporary Women's Fiction, Romantic Comedies, and Historical Romances

 

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 When summer ends, everything else begins for...

Summer Breeze
by Jacquie D'Alessandro

ELISE: THE ONE WHO GAVE IT UP

A new town, a new house and new start for the kids--everything widow Elise Stanford needed.  But she doesn't quite recall ordering Seth McGuire, a green-eyed contractor ten years her junior.

Sweeter Than Wine
by Cathy Yardley

CHAD: THE ONE WHO AVOIDED IT

Hedonistic playboy Chad McFee was ready to sell the winery he inherited, until winemaker Leila Fairmont hands him a challenge he can't resist.  And he'll show her--as soon as his muscles stop aching.

Ice Cream Kisses
by Stephanie Doyle

AND GRACE: THE ONE WHO STOPPED LOOKING

Ice-cream-shop owner Gracie McMullen lives for Labor Day.  Goodbye tourists, hello winter!  But writer and city-boy Dean Wright is about to add entirely new flavor to Gracie's off-season.

 

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Excerpt

 

Seth grabbed Elise’s hand and led her toward the dance floor.  Some guardian angel must have been looking out for him because as soon as they arrived, the band switched to a slow song. 

Sliding one arm around her waist, he splayed his hand low on her back then drew her slowly in, until their bodies lightly bumped.  Heat sizzled through him at the contact and while she rested one hand on his shoulder, he raised her other hand and settled it against his chest, right over the spot where his heart thudded like he’d sprinted the length of Long Island.

He wanted to say something witty, something intelligent, maybe even something flirtatious, or romantic, but she looked up at him with those big blue eyes and all he could do was look back.  And absorb how perfect she felt in his arms.  Their thighs brushed, shooting desire through him, desire that doubled when he saw her pupils dilate.

Unable to stop himself, he pulled her closer, until they touched from chest to knee.  The feel of her soft curves, her full breasts, pressed against him, even through the layers of their clothes, dragged a low groan from his throat.

He was helpless to stop his body’s swift reaction, but instead of pulling away as he feared, she snuggled closer and rested her cheek against his shoulder.  Tenderness and desire and want and need all swirled inside him, creating a tornado of feelings the likes of which he’d never experienced.

Lowering his head, he closed his eyes and brushed his lips over her soft hair, breathing in the subtle, clean scent of her shampoo and the delicate floral fragrance clinging to her skin.  God, she smelled so good.  Felt so good.

Lifting his head, he slipped his hand from atop hers where it lay against his chest and gently nudged her chin up until their gazes met.  The heated look in her eyes told him everything he needed to know, and with his heart rapping against his ribs, he lowered his head.

He brushed his mouth over hers, once, twice, savoring the warm softness.  Her lips parted, and he sank slowly deeper into the kiss, a soft, leisurely glide into heaven.  His tongue touched hers and everything faded away...the music, the crowd, the din of voices.  Everything except Elise, who wrapped her arms around his neck and rose up on her toes, pressing herself tighter against him.

God help him, no woman had ever felt like this.  Felt this good.  This right.  He slid one hand into her silky hair while the other hand skimmed lower on her back to cup the curve of her bottom while his tongue explored the delicious, velvety smoothness of her mouth.  She rubbed her tongue against his and he moaned, low and deep, pressing her tighter against his erection.

She squirmed against him and he swore he was going to lose his mind.  As slowly as their kiss had begun, he ended it, lifting his head and opening his eyes. 

She looked at him with a dazed, glazed, utterly aroused expression that perfectly reflected how he felt.  And if he’d been capable of stringing together a coherent sentence, he would have told her so.  Instead he framed her flushed face in his not-quite-steady hands, brushed his thumbs over her soft cheeks, and said the only two words he could manage--and prayed she’d agree.

“Let’s go.” 

 

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Chapter One

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Chapter One

 

        Elise Stanford surveyed the veritable mountain of cardboard moving boxes stacked in what would, after the unpacking, be the family room, and inhaled what felt like her first easy breath in months.  Finally, after all the pain, she was ready to start over.  A fresh beginning.  Exactly what her and the kids needed.

        Picking her way through the boxes, she walked into the kitchen then leaned her shoulder against the backdoor jamb.  A gentle breeze, scented with a slight whiff of salt courtesy of the Long Island sound, ruffled her hair through the screen door.  Bright, early summer sunshine warmed her skin and she lifted her face, catching the golden rays.  Before she’d decided to buy this house, she hadn’t been to Gateshead in fifteen years, yet she knew, in her heart, she was home.  She’d always felt safe and happy, warm and loved here.  In this small, sleepy, town on the northeast end of Long Island where her family had vacationed for two weeks every summer when she was a kid.  Here, in this outwardly unremarkable house whose kitchen and bathrooms and floors were thirty years out of date, and in no way resembled the executive house in the upscale gated community she’d sold in Westchester.  A beautiful house, yet one too filled with ghosts of the past.  Of happy times that would never be again.  Even after almost five years, every corner of that house reminded her Ian.  Of what they’d had.  And what they’d lost. 

        An image of him, the one she carried in her heart, of him, smiling, laughing, handsome, robust, before the cancer had robbed him of his vitality then finally his life, flashed through her mind.  Ian’s death had not only taken his life, but seemingly hers as well, leaving numbness where her heart used to beat.  His death had stolen the man with whom she’d fallen in love twenty years earlier.  The man who’d captivated her with his intelligence and infectious sense of humor.  The man who left behind a heartbroken son and a baby daughter he’d never see take her first steps.  But if not for Jamie and Maggie, the fact they needed her, that she was all they had left, she would have sunken into an abyss of grief from which she doubted she’d ever have emerged.

        Over the past five years she had slowly emerged, at a rate some of her friends considered a snail’s pace, but her grief support group had taught her that mourning is different for everyone, and requires different amounts of time for everyone.  That magic “one year” time period after Ian’s death simply hadn’t worked for her.  But after five years of living nearly exclusively for her children, she was finally ready to start living for herself again.  She’d made a few strides in that direction, had attempted several dates, and knew, in her heart, that this move was what she needed to step forward. 

        A shriek of childish laughter drew her attention and her gaze cut to Maggie, running across the backyard in pursuit of a soccer ball, her honey-colored curls flying behind her as Jamie chased her, purposely slowing his steps so as not to overtake his younger sister.

        A smile curved her lips even as a lump lodged in her throat.  Jamie seemed to have grown six inches since his eleventh birthday last month.  Clearly he’d be tall, like Ian, yet he didn’t just resemble his father in looks.  He possessed Ian’s intelligence and patience.  His compassion.  She watched him scoop up his sister and twirl her around twice before setting her back on her feet with a laugh.  His glasses slid down his nose and he pushed them up with an unconscious gesture.  He caught sight of her in the doorway and waved with one hand while executing a gentle pass kick to Maggie whose eyes shone with delight.

Maggie...How was it her baby was going to start kindergarten in the fall?  In some ways the past five years seemed to have lasted a lifetime, but as far as the children growing up, they’d flown by on wings.

Elise waved back, then called out, “Snack in about thirty minutes, okay?”

        Jamie shot her a thumbs up and Maggie yelled, “’Kay, Mommy.”

        Moving away from the door, she poured a cup of coffee then consulted the calendar she’d attached to the refrigerator yesterday, within an hour of the moving van leaving.  Her new bedroom furniture was scheduled to be delivered tomorrow, along with the kids’ new beds, her new washer and dryer, and the comfy sectional they’d all chosen.  Until then, they’d make due with folding chairs and the blow-up mattress she’d set up in their bedrooms.  When she’d sold the house in Westchester, she’d sold most of the furniture as well.  Maggie had been ready to move into something that looked less babyish while Jamie had wanted something more grown up with a desk and book cases.  And she had finally let go of the bed she’d shared with Ian, wanting a new start to go along with their new home and her new job.  The kids were excited about getting new furniture and they’d turned their sleeping-on-the-mattresses-in-Mom’s-room into a sleep-over sort of adventure.

        Glancing at the calendar, she noted that the phone and cable companies were due later this afternoon.  That gave her a few hours to get some more unpacking done.  In fact, no time like the present.  She’d just opened the nearest box, one labeled ‘kitchen’, when the doorbell rang. 

        Elise maneuvered her way through the boxes then opened the front door.  A smiling woman she judged to be in her sixties stood on the porch.  In her hands she held white square bakery box and a sheet of paper.

        “Good morning,” the woman said.  “I’m Frannie Cabot.  I live next door.  I know you must be swamped with unpacking, but I saw the moving van arrive yesterday and wanted to stop by to welcome you to Gateshead.”

        Elise opened the door wider, smiled, then introduced herself.  “This is so nice of you.  Would you like to come in?  I just made some fresh coffee.”

        “I’d love to, but I’m afraid I’ll need to take a rain check.  I’m on my way to the airport.  Spending two weeks with my daughter who lives in Dallas.  Love to see her and the grandkids, but hate to fly.”  She pulled a comical face.  “But when I get back, I’ll be sure to pop over.  In the meanwhile, this is from Carson’s, the best bakery in town.”  She handed Elise the white square box.  “Wish I could say it’s fat-free, but believe me, you’ve never consumed calories that were more worth the cellulite than those.”

        Elise laughed.  “Thank you.”  She lifted the box then breathed in.  “Oh, yum.  It smells like cheesecake.  My favorite.”

        “And not just any cheesecake.  It’s called Chocolate Angel Silk Cheesecake and just so you know, it’s addicting.  We keep telling Gerald--he’s the bakery owner--that he needs to start a twelve-step program.  This is also for you,” Frannie continued, holding out the sheet of paper.  “It’s a copy of what I call my ‘Best of Everything’ list.  Best Chinese take-out, best pizza, best deli, best farm stand--all the food things.  It also has all the best useful homey stuff as well, like best electrician, best painter, best general contractor.  Of course, maybe you have a husband who’s handy with that sort of thing--in which case, let me know and I’ll add him to my list.”

        “No husband,” Elise said.  “I’m a widow.”

        Sympathy instantly filled Frannie’s eyes and she reached out and laid her hand on Elise’s arm.  “Me, too, Honey.  Two years.”

        “Five years ago for me.”

        Frannie blew out a breath.  “Everyone tells me it gets easier.”

        “The hole in your heart, in your life, eventually mends, but I don’t think the scar ever truly goes away.”

        “Well, we wouldn’t want to forget the good things, the good people who have touched our lives, now would we?”

        Elise shook her head.  “No.”  Her gaze lowered to the list.  “Thank you so much for this.  There’s so much work I want to do with this house--updating the kitchen and bathrooms, building a deck.”

        “I saw your children playing in the backyard,” Frannie said.  “Wish I had their energy.  They’ll love it here.  There’re loads of kids in this neighborhood and the schools are great.”

        “The great schools are one of the reasons we moved here.  I’ll be teaching math at the high school starting this fall.”

        Frannie’s smile widened.  “Then you’ll have a lot in common with Deidre Nelson who lives on the next block.  She teaches science at the high school.  If you haven’t met her by the time I get back from Dallas, I’ll introduce you.  In the meanwhile, about those renovations, call Seth McGuire.  He’s the best contractor around.  Very reliable and does great work.  Nothing slipshod with him.  He’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for.”

        Elise’s brows rose at the name, which, while familiar, she hadn’t heard in years.  “Seth McGuire?  I wonder if it’s the same Seth McGuire I used to know when my family spent summers here.  He was just a kid the last time I saw him, but that was fifteen years ago.  I was friendlier with his two older sisters, Patti and Audrey.”

        “Yes, that’s the same Seth McGuire,” Frannie said.  “One sister lives out west somewhere, and the other one’s in Florida.  His mother moved to Florida, too.  The father died about ten years ago.”

        An image of Adam McGuire flashed in Elise’s mind, his ready smile and even readier laugh.  “I’m sorry to hear that.  When my parents moved to South Carolina, we stopped spending summer vacation here and we lost touch with McGuires.”

        “Didn’t know him myself as I only moved here six years ago, but if his son is any indication, he was a good man.  Give Seth a call.  He recently finished the Culpepper’s deck--they live just across the street--and it’s beautiful.”  Frannie glanced down at her watch and made a tsking noise.  “I need to get going.  I’ll hold you to that cup of coffee when I get back from Dallas.”

        “I’m looking forward to it,” Elise said.  “And thank you for the cake and ‘Best’ list.”

        She watched Frannie cross the driveway, then settle herself into a dark blue Honda Accord.  After a quick wave goodbye, Elise headed back to the kitchen where she slipped the bakery box into the fridge, then looked at the list Frannie had given her.  She ran her finger down the typed words until she came to Seth McGuire, general contractor.  She instantly recalled the last time she’d him.  It was the last summer she’d visited Gateshead with her family.  She’d been twenty-four, her newly minted master’s degree and teaching certificate in hand, and on the brink of becoming engaged to Ian.  Seth had been about fourteen, a cute, lanky kid with unruly dark hair who loved the water and fishing and whose freckled nose was always sunburned.  She’d watched him grow up over those summer vacations and vividly recalled how she’d barely recognized him that last summer as he’d grown so tall.  She remembered teasing him about it and the bright shade of red he’d turned.  She also recalled that he’d harbored a bit of a crush on her.

        And now he was the best contractor in the area--exactly what she needed.  With a smile, she reached for her cell phone.  Time to see to getting the house remodeled and the rest of her life going. 

 

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Chapter One

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Reviews

 


 

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Excerpt

Chapter One

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Reader Comments

 

Coming Soon

 

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Chapter One

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Awards

 

RITA finalist for Best Novella 2006
 

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Excerpt

Chapter One

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You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and blogging with the Whine Sisters -- stop by and say hi!

         

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