Teaser Tuesday: The Gift

Fate with a Helping Hand Holiday Romance

Sometimes fate needs a little hand…

Allison Jones knows what it's like to want. Or rather, she did. She'd spent the first few years of her life being shifted from one foster home to another, never really finding that special place to make her feel home. When she finds a small envelope on the ground on a side street in Boston, and opens it, her heart plummets. She recognizes the description of the contents and knows what it will mean to the little girl if the promise of this gift is not fulfilled. But when the CEO of Holden Industries, Derek Holden, accuses her of stealing the money inside the envelope, she's determined to go the distance and not only fulfill the gift herself, but to prove to the dashingly handsome millionaire that there is more to life than just money.

The day his family lost their fortune and his world fell apart, Derek Holden swore he'd make his family fortune back. All good things in life came with sacrifice and hard work and he wasn't afraid of it. He'd built a financial empire all on his own and didn't need the simple conventions of life...until he met Allison Jones. The incredibly sweet designer with beautiful hair flowing down her back was much more than he'd originally thought when he'd accused her of stealing the money from the envelope he'd given the courier earlier that day. He'd intended the money to be a small donation to a local charity event. But he soon learned that a bank account full of money was no match for a heart full of love...and there was only one special woman who could teach him.

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It was the wrong time of the year for her bank account to look so pathetic.

As she stepped off her bus on a Cambridge, Massachusetts side street, Allison Jones peered at the miniscule total in the text on her cell phone as if it would miraculously change right before her eyes to a higher number that would allow her to buy everything she wanted to get on her Christmas list.

Presto chango, money appear!

Her smartphone wasn’t cooperating.

Now filled with new passengers, the bus that had taken her from her Allston apartment to her job in Cambridge sped by her, leaving her in a cloud of exhaust.

She coughed as she looked at her cell phone again.

“I’d better learn to make some magic on my own or there are going to be a lot of disappointed faces Christmas morning,” she mumbled as she walked up the street toward the bank, passing the parking garage and her favorite coffee spot stop on her way to work. Her office building was across the street from The Coffee Drop so she had plenty of time to pick up a coffee for her and Cara before she headed to the studio.

Holidays in the Jones household were always a big deal. There were plenty of foster children she’d grown up with who still made it a point to spend the holidays together as if nature had made them a family, not circumstance. But that meant even getting a little something for everyone was going to be a stretch this season since she’d moved to the Boston area and her living expenses were now so high.

Walking toward the ATM on the corner, Allison stepped off the curb. A white object, snug up against the concrete slab above the storm drain caught her eye. She reached down and tugged the clean envelope where it was wedged between the metal grate and a deep crack in the road tar next to the sidewalk concrete. Upon inspection, the envelope looked too clean for it to have been laying on the road very long. It had rained the night before and surely the paper would be soft and damp by now. Instead the envelope was a crisp white color and virtually dry except for the small corner where it had been wedged.

Allison turned around to see if anyone was looking on the ground. Pushing her purse higher on her shoulder she used both hands to open the envelope. The seal had been torn, but something was still inside the envelope. She gasped as she pulled the little index card with the holiday emblem out and held it in her hand. She recognized the logo and it made her heart sink.

Some memories never faded and Allison knew this one would never leave her heart or her mind for the rest of her life, no matter how many Christmases went by. Allison had many, many wonderful Christmas memories from her teenage years filled with love and family. But the years before that had been difficult and something she chose to forget. She’d been just ten years old when she learned what the gift of kindness from a stranger could mean to a scared and lonely little child.

She read the words on the index card. Five year old, female, would like a doll, a fluffy pillow, and a bed of her own. Someone out there had been charged with purchasing this special gift for a child in need of a home. And because this envelope was now in her hands, not the hands of the recipient, that child may never receive that gift.

Allison’s heart hurt just as it had when she’d been a child. It was bad enough to feel different, knowing you didn’t have at least one loving parent who would be there for you no matter what. It was another thing to be forgotten altogether. Despite years of living in a loving home, that was one memory that Allison still remembered well.

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Teaser Tuesday: Under a Texas Star

Texas Hearts Book Nine

Military hero Tom Garrison is an expert in high intensity emergency situations. But after years of military service, all he wants to do is hide from the world. When single mom Jenna Atkins bangs on his door in the middle of the night begging for his help for her sick young son, Tom can't ignore it. He flies Jenna and her son to an emergency center that can help the sick child, but can he just walk away? Despite his efforts, Jenna and Brian capture his heart—just as he captures theirs. Both Jenna and Tom have battled life's surprises and been touched by tragedy.. Can they overcome the past to open their hearts to love again?

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“Please open up! It’s a matter of life and death!” Jenna Atkins, panting from her run through the rain, listened for movement inside the farmhouse. She hoped that the little slice of light she’d seen when she’d driven by at this late hour meant that her new neighbors had moved in and that they were awake.

If she’d been just a little closer to the Silverado Cattle Company ranch, she would have called on the Gentrys for help because she’d known the family her whole life and knew they’d help.  But the run down the road and then up their long driveway was too far.  This small ranch, which had been empty for several years, was much closer.

With the heel of her wet palm, she banged on the door again and waited, peeking through the sheer curtain for signs of movement. Cupping her hands against the windowpane, she strained to see. There was still a light on inside. Someone had to be awake.

Finally, the thud of feet hitting the floor let Jenna know she’d been heard. Her lips quivered and her body trembled from the cold seeping into her bones. She had only a moment to notice the curtain in the porch window lifting and then falling back into place before the person suddenly disappeared from view.

Within seconds the porch light blazed and the door swung open wide. Shielding her eyes from the sudden blast of light, she found a man standing at the thresh¬old, taking up every inch of space in the doorway with intimidating height that was only slightly less menacing than his eyes. She couldn’t make out their color, but the dark outline that puffed beneath them was telling, letting her know she’d interrupted his sleep. His dusty blue sweatshirt was slightly hiked up on one side. He probably wasn’t even fully awake.

Guilt invaded her, but she instantly pushed it aside. Her baby needed her.

“Please, help me. It’s an emergency!”

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Teaser Tuesday: Lone Star Lady

Texas Hearts Book Eight

Taos, New Mexico wasn't far enough from home for Theresa Morales to run to. But this Texas girl didn't think there was anything that could wipe away the pain of her mistakes, even in the arms of Dr. Dennis Harrington the local doctor at the Taos ski resort where she sought refuge. But the past quickly caught up to her when a local kid, Dennis's nephew, becomes traumatized by a fatal New Year's Eve accident that has left him feeling responsible. Dennis couldn't deny he was immediately taken by Theresa the moment they'd met. But the accident that pulled him away from the New Year's Eve gala where he'd danced with her and held her close, had change things for all of them. Now he's desperate for Theresa to help for his nephew, who is so fragile he fears the worst. The sadness Dennis sees in Theresa's brown eyes tells him she's running from something that happened in Texas. Something she can't face. When the past comes back and Theresa heals enough to return to Texas, will it leave both of them brokenhearted?

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New Year’s Day

“I didn’t know who else to go to. I really need your help.”

Teresa Morales listened to Dr. Dennis Harrington’s words as she sat curled up on the soft beige sofa in the lodge at the Taos Falls Mountain Ski Resort. The fire in the huge granite fireplace in the center of the room was burning hot—almost too hot for her comfort. Or maybe that was just her anxiety kicking in. This was supposed to be her vacation. No one was supposed to need her help here.

She bookmarked the page in the book she had been reading before Dennis’s abrupt arrival and closed it, setting it aside on the end table. With a swift motion, she untangled one long leg out from underneath her and brusquely hit her bare feet to the wide pine floor with a dull thud. If this was his idea of a joke, she wasn’t laughing.

“Dennis, I’m just a tourist here. What help could I possibly give you?”

“Last night...” His voice trailed off. His face looked stricken, and Teresa knew he wasn’t talking about the New Year’s Eve party they’d both attended—or the dance they’d shared. No, he was referring to what had happened afterward—the reason behind the beeper call that had pulled him out of her arms and away from the party after their dance. The horrible car crash on the bridge just a few hundred yards from the ski resort had been the only topic of conversation throughout Taos Falls today.

“I’m not sure you understand how severe the accident that took place last night really was.”

“I do,” she countered sympathetically. “I could see the whole awful mess right upstairs from my window after I left the party. And I saw what was left of it once the fog lifted this morning. Anyone with a condo facing the west side of the mountain had to have seen and heard what was going on after midnight. It must have been horrible.”

It was human nature to be curious in the wake of flashing emergency lights and sirens, and she certainly had been. After Dennis had left the New Year’s Eve party, she’d returned to her room intending to go to sleep. But the flashing lights below had drawn Teresa to the window. She’d stared wide-eyed into the night as the snow fell like ash from the dark sky. There were so many lights, so many emergency vehicles.

She hadn’t been able to bring herself to close the curtains, to shield herself from what little she could see through the snow. Soon after the storm subsided, the flashing red, white and blue lights still screamed out into what had been a festive evening. Dragging herself away from what was happening down in the valley didn’t seem right. She’d felt she couldn’t leave the window until the last tow truck had pulled away. The last of the vehicles, the one that had plunged into the icy water, had been the last to be towed away.

Five months ago, she probably would have been right out there on that road along with the rescue workers, trying to offer what help she could. As far as she knew, Dennis’s clinic didn’t have a psychologist on staff. Though she specialized in dealing with children, with her training and experience, she could have been there for the victims, for their families, helping them cope with the tragedy surrounding them.

At one time, maybe Teresa could have done some good. Her gentle guidance might have made a difference between choosing to deal with painful truths or run from them. Now she was the one who was running—running from the events that had shattered her confidence and from the tormenting truth that she had failed.

He shrugged. “It was a tough night. I’ll give you that.”

She was sure it’d been more than just tough for Dennis. He was the only doctor in town—the clinic that he ran was the only medical facility in nearly fifty miles. He’d probably been up all night tending to the victims of the accident.

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Teaser Tuesday: The Wedding Dress

Texas Hearts Book Seven

Eight years ago, Hannah Ward thought she’d found the perfect wedding dress to wear when she and her childhood sweetheart, Dane Bancroft, decided to elope right after graduation. But instead of walking down the aisle like she dreamed of, she was not only outbid on the wedding dress at the auction by an old billionaire who didn’t need the wedding dress like she did, but she never ended up getting married. Needing to escape Dane after the break-up, she enlisted in the military and left Liberty, Texas behind. But now she’s back, and not only does she have to face Dane, the deputy sheriff in town, but she’s just been willed the very wedding dress that was supposed to be the beginning of her and Dane’s happy life together. Can they both get a second chance so she can finally wear the wedding dress of her dreams and marry the only man she’s ever really loved?

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It was just a box with fabric inside.

Hannah gazed at the white box that had come with the letter with longing for time that has long since passed her by. Although she’d stared at the dress in the auction catalogue for hours before deciding to drive to San Antonio more than ten years ago, she’d only seen that wedding dress up close for just a few minutes before it had been snatched away from her by the higher bidder.

She was a smart women. She didn’t need the dress. Or the memories that were now tumbling through her mind. Good and bad, they were all there together. The wedding dress had been the start of it all. And the end.

Sighing, she got up from the bed and walked over to the box that sat like a tangled blanket at the foot of the bed after a rough night of sleep. The wide white organza ribbon was tied tightly around the box to keep it secure and then knotted into a pretty bow on top. With a quick tug of the organza, the ribbon untied and fell to each side of the box.

Her heart pounded as her fingers felt for the edges of the box. She didn’t want to see the dress. Not really. Why was she doing this? She should just put it in her car and drive right over to the consignment shop in the next town and let someone else buy the dress for their wedding. Get rid of it. Get rid of the memory.

She lifted the top of the box off and placed it carefully on the bed next to the box. Pink and white tissue paper covered the contents, keeping her from seeing inside.

“Ugh. For a soldier who has spent the last eight years in combat boots and fatigues, you’re being a wimp, Hannah.”

She reached for the tissue paper, then quickly stopped and looked at her hands, turning them over. Most days her hands were covered with grease and oil from working on a plane engine. Today her hands were clean. Even her fingernails showed the white half-moon nails that were clean.

Hannah held her breath as she pushed aside the tissue paper and had her first glimpse of the dress. A lump lodged in her throat as she thought of the day of the auction nearly ten years ago. This was supposed to be her wedding dress. If she’d married Dane back then, she would have worn this dress. Who knew what their lives would be like now? Maybe they’d have a house and a few kids. That had been her dream.

Taking a deep breath, she slipped out of her T-shirt, then unbuttoned her cut off shorts and let them drop to the floor. She carefully lifted the sleeveless dress out of the box, holding it by the shoulders and letting the fabric drop to the floor. There were a million buttons in the back and she knew she’d have a hard time fastening them all. But she had to see what she looked like in the dress.

It had haunted her all these years. Deep down, she hope when she put it on, she’d hate it. It would look ugly on her or wouldn’t fit right in the boobs. Or it would make her hips look as wide as Texas. She look at herself and hate it so much that what happened with Dane when she’d left Liberty would finally fade into the back of her mind and she could move on.

It took a while, but when the last button was fastened, she walked across the room to the mirror and looked at her reflection.

“This never would have fit me like this ten years ago,” Hannah said, staring at herself in the standing mirror. But now, it fit perfect. It was as if she needed to grow out of the young girl’s body and become the woman she was now in order for it to fit.

Tears filled her eyes but she refused to let them fall. Reaching behind her to undo the first button, she muttered, “It would have been nice.”

A gust of breeze came in through the open window. Along with it, Hannah heard the sound of male voices talking. Jackson had gone out for a ride earlier with Cole. There were other ranch hands here now.

Her stomach dropped. It wasn’t just Cole or Jackson. If she lived a thousand years, Hannah would always recognize the deep timber of Dane Bancroft’s voice.

Still wearing the dress, Hannah rushed to the window and pulled back the curtain just enough to see outside. She groaned.

“You would have to show up today. Of all days,” Hannah muttered to herself as her heart pounded in her chest. She gazed down from the window to the dirt driveway below. Dane Bancroft stood next to Jackson, talking about something interesting that made them both laugh.

He was as tall as Jackson, but he wasn’t the straight up and down young man she remembered. His police uniform did little to show off the muscles she knew were under his shirt.

Just when she thought she couldn’t take anymore, Dane lifted his face up in the direction of the window. Their eyes locked for a brief moment. It took a few seconds, but then he smiled, making Hannah’s heart remember what it was like to be close to him. To have his arms around her and love her the way he used to. She actually sighed.

Damn him.

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