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ƞ ᝃ Defending Hearts hare ე PDF by Shannon Stacey ᄲ

ƞ  ᝃ Defending Hearts hare ე PDF by Shannon Stacey ᄲ ƞ ᝃ Defending Hearts hare ე PDF by Shannon Stacey ᄲ Praise for the novels of Shannon Stacey Jove titles by Shannon Stacey Title Page Copyright DedicationChapter 01Chapter 02Chapter 03Chapter 04Chapter 05Chapter 06Chapter 07Chapter 08Chapter 09Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18 Special Excerpt from Homecoming01Dodging bullets had a way of making a man realize he wasnt young any Dodging them for no good reason made the realization a lot harder to shove to the back of his mind.Alex Murphy sat on the thin mattress in his shitty motel room and looked at the photo on his phones screen again It wasnt one of the many hed taken during his week in the volatile region, using instincts and years of experience to capture on film a population on the brink of revolution It was one some random passerby had taken with his cell phone and it had gone viral It was the photo the world would remember.Alex would still sell his pictures They told the story in a way one viral camera shot couldnt But times and technology were constantly changing, and sometimes he felt like a dinosaur Photojournalismasaurus.Burnout As much as he didnt want to admit it, even to himself, a decade of freelancing and travelonly to be scooped by a teenager with a cell phone and an Instagram accounthad taken its toll, and it might be time to take a break The idea of going back to Rhode Island didnt appeal to him, though The apartment in Providence was a place to keep his stuff, but it had never felt like a home.Using his thumb, Alex navigated to a recent photo album hed set up on his phone, titled Stewart Mills, NH. After almost a decade and a half away, hed recently spent about ten days there and, when it was time to leave, hed found himself wishing he could stay a little longer.He flicked through the photos, pausing over each one Not with a technical eye, but to gauge his emotional response Old friends laughing People hed known most of his life, but who were practically strangers A town that had once been his entire world And Coach McDonnell, who had taken the ragtag group of boys making up the Stewart Mills Eagles football team and made them men.Alex had been on the first Stewart Mills Eagles football team to win the championship back in the day and, when the town cut the football teams funding, hed been one of the alumni players who returned to help out with a fund raising drive to save it Hed gone out of love for Coach McDonnell, but rediscovering his hometown had also reminded him of how nice it could be to have roots He hadnt felt grounded to any one place in a very long time.He wanted to go back.The plan was taking shape in his mind even as he closed out the photo app and pulled up his contacts Calculating time zones was second nature to him at this point, so he knew it was safe to call Kelly McDonnell, the coachs daughter and a police officer for the town Shed given him her cell number when he was in town, and he tapped it.She answered on the third ring Hey, Alex.Are you busy right now Nope Im actually sitting in my cruiser, making sure everybody slows down and doesnt hit the power company guys replacing a transformer Whats up Did you forget something He laughed Nope How are things in Stewart Mills Pretty good Everybodys still on a bit of a high from Eagles Fest, for which I can never thank you enough.The Eagles are why Im calling, actually, he said I was looking through the photographs I took while I was there, and the storys unfinished Im thinking about coming back for a while and following at least the opening of the teams season.Following them professionally, you mean Like for a story If I can get releases from everybody, Id like to do a story, yes Or maybe even a book There are a lot of towns going through what Stewart Mills has faced, and what you all did is pretty inspirational And Id like to broaden the angle, too Make it about the entire town and not just the team, though thats the core story, of course.Wow There were a few seconds of silence while she digested what hed said That sounds really great, as long as you respect privacy where its requested and recognize there are some things people wouldnt want shared.He chuckled Dont worry, Officer McDonnell I wont hurt anybody and I wont share anything people dont want shared.Shouldnt be a problem, then.Perfect I called you because Im hoping, since you know the community in and out, that you could recommend a place to stay I know the motels closed up, but maybe somebody is willing to rent an apartment or even a house on a month to month, short term basis With so many people losing their homes, the rental markets incredibly tight right now She sighed and he gave her a moment to think You know, Gretchen was talking to me about renting a room at the farm She hasnt because shes nervous about having a stranger living with her grandmother, but renting to a friend can end badly when theres money involved.Im not a stranger, but Im not exactly a friend, either He remembered Gretchen Walker from school and hed had a chance to talk to her a few times during Eagles Fest She was an attractive woman, but she was definitely a closed book All I need is a place to sleep and it wouldnt be long term, so maybe Im a good opportunity for a trial run.Thats what I was thinking The room has its own bathroom and youd have access to the kitchen, not that her grandmother would let you go hungry Ill talk to Gretchen and have her get back to you Shell have to talk it over with Gram, too Can she call you at this number The time zones will be a horror show for the next few days, so emails the best bet When she said she was ready, he gave her his email address It sounds perfect on my end, so Ill look forward to hearing from her.Once he hung up with Kelly, Alex flopped back on the mattress and stared up at the peeling ceiling Maybe it was the professional version of a midlife crisis, but he needed a break, and Stewart Mills seemed like the perfect place to regroup and make a plan for his future.Chronicling the current state of his hometown and the Eagles while rediscovering his roots would simply be a bonus.You have to stop trying to sit on Grams lap, Gretchen Walker told the sixty pound chocolate Lab looking up at her with adoring eyes Youre not good for the circulation in her legs.Cocoa tilted her head sideways and blinked before raising her paw for a high five Gretchen sighed and gave her one It seemed to be the only trick the newest member of the Walker family knew, so it was her answer to everything.It had been the nurse at her grandmothers doctors office who suggested a dog might be good company for Gram, since Gretchen had her hands full trying to work the farm, and Gram had immediately agreed Gretchen had driven her to the shelter in the city, anticipating a fluffy little lapdog who would be content to curl up with Gram and watch her knit the days away.Instead, Gram had fallen in love with a big Lab the color of rich hot chocolate, and Gretchen had to admit she felt an immediate connection with the dog, too The entire household budget had to be recalculated to accommodate the beasts food costs, but it was nice to get a high five every once in a while And Cocoa seemed to love the sound of Grams voice, so everybody was happy.My rocking chair isnt big enough for both of us, Gram pointed out Maybe we should trade it for one of those leather love seats with the double recliner ends and the built in cup holders.Sure they should What furniture store wouldnt want to trade a fancy leather love seat for a decades old glider rocker with a cushion perfectly molded to Grams skinny behind Well see.You sound just like your grandfather when you say that Well see means we cant afford it and you dont want to flat out tell me no.Gretchen didnt bother denying it For now, you need to train her to curl up next to your feet on the floor Shes too heavy to be on your lap Its not good for you.Go wash up, Gram said without making any promises Breakfast is ready.With a sigh, Gretchen went to the sink and washed her hands Shed already gathered eggs from the chickens and fed the three horses they boarded for a family that lived in the southern part of the state Shed have to clean their stalls and work in the gardens later, but at the moment she was starving.Maybe we can afford a new love seat, since the Murphy boys going to be living here, Gram said while Gretchen took a seat at the table and took a scalding swallow of the coffee waiting for her.Im still not sure this is a good idea It had seemed like a great idea when Kelly brought it to her and through multiple emails with Alex over the last two weeks but, now that it was actually going to happen, she couldnt help but have second thoughts.Gram set a plate of biscuits and sausage gravy in front of her Wouldnt be fair to change your mind at this point Hell be here in a few hours.I know Itll be strange having a man in the house again, though It had been nine years since her grandfather passed away, and it had been only her and Gram since.At least hell have his own bathroom so we wont have to worry about falling in the toilet in the middle of the night if he leaves the seat up.Yeah, Gretchen thought Hed have his own bathroom Hed have her bathroom, the one her grandfather had built into her room years before when he realized he was going to have a teenage girl hogging the only upstairs bathroom And Alex would also have the bedroom shed had since she was a little girl But giving him his own space, except for the kitchen, made sense than sharing a bathroom with him Gretchen had never shared a bathroom with any man, and it seemed very intimate Intimacy was definitely not what she was going for.I was thinking about making a ham tonight, Gram continued And maybe my scalloped potatoes and creamed corn.Gretchen never turned down her grandmothers creamed corn, but she didnt like the way this was going, and the man hadnt even arrived yet Alex isnt going to be a guest Its a business arrangement.Gram sat across the table from her with her own bowl of biscuits and gravy Hes paying extra to eat meals with us Thats what you said.Normal meals You dont have to cook anything special for him.Ill worry about what Im cooking Did you finish getting his room ready Gretchen nodded, shoving a forkful of gravy soaked biscuit into her mouth Shed moved all of her belongings into the room next to Grams, and everything from her bathroom into the one theyd be sharing For Alex, theyd put on fresh bedding and placed brand new towels and washcloths in the bathroom.Between Cocoa and Alex Murphy, theyd shelled out a lot of cash recently Gretchen rubbed at the back of her neck The room and board hed be paying would help, but things were still a little tighter than shed like.Youre going to come in early, right Gram asked You should clean up before Alex gets here Maybe take a shower Put on a little lipstick.Gretchen stared across the table What are you talking about I dont even own lipstick, Gram.You can borrow some of mine Oh, Cherry Hot Pants would be a great shade on you with that dark hair of yours.I am not putting Cherry Hot Pants on my lips Gretchen didnt even know what else to say about that Ill probably say hi and point him in the direction of his room, and then Im going back to work.Youre never going to find a husband.Gretchen pushed her chair back and carried her dishes to the sink This wasnt good Not good at all Im not putting on red lipstick Im not looking for a husband Alex Murphy is going to be our tenant and nothing I mean it, Gram.The older woman smiled My great grandmother ran a boardinghouse in London, and she took in an Irish boarder who fell head over heels for my grandmother It was very romantic.I dont have time for romance, Gretchen said, shoving her feet into the barn boots shed taken off at the back door Ive got horseshit to shovel.Alex hit the brake pedal hard, and the used Jeep Cherokee hed owned for three days skidded to a stop The Jeeps nose was about three feet past the stop sign.Now that he wasnt an honored fund raiser guest and therefore exempt from minor traffic mistakes, he glanced around to make sure he wasnt about to be busted by any of Stewart Mills finest.Several stop signs had been added between the time Alex and the others had graduated and gone off to college and their return for Eagles Fest, and those werent the only changes The recession had hit hard, the mills had closed, and things had gotten really hard for the people of Stewart Mills As he drove through town, he noticed again the number of empty storefronts and real estate signs There seemed to be fewer foreclosure auction signs, though, which was hopefully a sign the worst was behind them.He found the turnoff to the Walker farm by memory and drove slowly up the long and bumpy dirt driveway The big white farmhouse needed a little TLC, but it was a long way from being run down He knew from his last visit to town that Gretchen had been running the place alone since her grandfather died, and that her grandmother had had some health issues Nothing serious, but basically it was a one woman show, so hed been expecting it to be a little rough.He got out of the Jeep and was greeted by a chocolate Lab who immediately made it clear they were going to be the very best of friends Behind the dog was Gretchen Walker, though her greeting was a little reserved.Welcome back, she said, giving him a tight smile.Thanks Im looking forward to spending some time here.She nodded, folding her arms across her chest Gretchen was tall and lean, with long dark hair in a thick braid down her back Old jeans tucked into even older barn boots hugged her legs, and shed thrown a faded flannel shirt over a T shirt. Strong. As the dog sat at her feet, Alex composed a mental snapshot of her, and that was the word that popped into his head Not only did she have physical strength, but she also had an air of resolve and determination about her He had no doubt when something anythingneeded doing, Gretchen would quietly step up and get it done.Pretty dog, he said, remembering she wasnt the chatty type and it might be up to him to carry conversations.Thanks Her names Cocoa.Alex smiled I cant imagine why.Yeah, its not the most original name for a chocolate Lab, but she came with it and she seems to like it Right, Cocoa The dog put up her paw and he watched Gretchen give her a high five She also likes high fives A lot She knows the basics, like sit or down Stay is a little iffy She has no idea what get off the couch or no dogs on the bed means, but if youre looking for somebody to celebrate with a high five, Cocoas your girl.Who doesnt love a high five, right he asked the dog, who trotted back to him so they could slap palm to paw.Do you need help carrying things in He shook his head I dont have much I figured Id say hello first and meet your grandmother Im sure weve met before, but its been a long time.Shes waiting inside.Alex followed her around the house to the back door, which opened into the kitchen He hadnt been away from New England so long that hed forgotten that front doors were for company and political door knockers After shed kicked off her boots, she led him into the living room, where her grandmother was sitting in an old glider rocker She set her knitting aside just in time for the big Lab to hop up in her lap It took Cocoa a few seconds to wedge herself into a comfortable position, and he heard Gretchen sigh before she reintroduced them to each other.Sit for a few minutes, her grandmother said Lets chat.He perched on the edge of the sofa Thank you for letting me rent a room in your home, Mrs Walker.Call me Ida Or Gram Do you like scalloped potatoes Um He tried to keep up Yes, maam Ida Gram Yes, I like scalloped potatoes.Im going back to work, Gretchen said Let me know if you need anything.Youll need to write the Internet password down for him, Ida told her before looking back to him Speaking of the Internet, you dont have any weird proclivities, do you Gram Gretchen stopped walking and turned back, holding her hands up in a what are you doing gesture.If hes going to live under the same roof as my granddaughter, I have a right to know.No, you dont, Gretchen said in a low voice.I guess Id wonder what your definition of weird is, Alex said at the same time.Dont answer that, Gram.Because they were technically his new landlords, the question could be totally illegal as far as he knew But he wasnt particularly outraged by the turn in the conversation Ive never received any complaints about weirdness with regard to my proclivities.Good Ida gave him an approving look You can never be too careful.Thats so true He turned his gaze back to her granddaughter So tell me, Gretchen, do you have any weird proclivities I am not discussing my proclivities with you.If Im going to live under the same roof with you, dont I have a right to know She shook her head, but he could see her struggling not to smile You have a right to know the dishwasher hasnt worked for almost a year and a half and where the extra toilet papers kept My proclivities, weird or not, are off limits.If not for the fact that her grandmother was watching them, Alex might have been tempted to poke at her a little and try to get a reaction Hed seen her during Eagles Fest, mostly from a distance, and he knew she had an infectious, musical laugh that seemed at odds with her stern exterior When she was with Kelly McDonnell and their friend Jen Cooper, the high school guidance counselor, Gretchen had no problem letting her sense of humor show through He could see glimpses of it now, and he wanted to draw it out.But she escaped into the kitchen before he could say , and a minute later he heard the kitchen door close with a thump Alex turned his attention back to Ida, who was rubbing between a sleeping Cocoas ears.He would be in Stewart Mills for a while, so he had plenty of time to get under Gretchen Walkers skin and make her laugh.02Gretchen went to the detached garage because it was the closest thing she had to whatever the female equivalent of a man cave was It had actually served as a man cave when her grandfather was alive, though it grew to be a lot when his eleven year old granddaughter had become his constant shadow.She usually raised the overhead door to let a little of the outside come in, but the rollers needed some maintenance and it was starting to stick three quarters of the way up Rather than wrestle with it, she went through the side door and flipped on the overhead light.Breathing in the scent of old wood and grease, she perched on the tall wooden stool in front of the workbench The carburetor from the old pain in the ass lawn mower sat on an oil soaked bed of cardboard, waiting to be rebuilt, but she didnt pick it up She just looked around at the tools hanging from pegboard lining the walls, and the boxes and bins of garage debris her grandfather had accumulated over his lifetime on the Walker farm.This was where shed learned everything that mattered in her life Shed learned the concepts of family and home Stability and routine Gramps had taught her to face problems head on and that the only way to get things done was to suck it up and do them And hed taught her that, with determination and a little elbow grease, anything that was broken could be fixed.He hadnt been the kind of man who showed emotion Love and kissing boo boos and wiping her very rare tears had come from Gram, but Gretchen had felt how much Gramps loved her It showed in the hours hed spent teaching her how to use a grinding wheel and tend to a cow with mastitis and prepare Grams gardens for planting With a steady hand and pride in his eyes, hed quietly raised Gretchen to love the farm and be as capable a caretaker of it as he was.And thats why shed do whatever she had to for the Walker farm, including letting a man she barely knew live in the house An insanely attractive man with short dark hair, who smelled good and looked at her with light brown eyes warm with intelligence and humor.Gretchen pulled her cell phone out of her pocket She thought about texting Kelly or Jen, but she had an old flip style phone and having to push the number keys multiple times just to make one word was frustrating Instead she flipped it open and hit Jens assigned speed dial number.Jen Cooper was the guidance counselor at the high school and, though school wouldnt start for a few weeks, Gretchen knew shed be in her office Kelly, being on the police force, had a erratic schedule and was less likely to be available this time of day.Jen answered on the third ring Hey, Gretchen Whats up You busy Nope Im eating a yogurt, wondering how the pile of crap on my desk is so tall when the kids arent even here yet.Did Kelly tell you Alex Murphy was coming today Oh, thats right Hows that going Right off the bat, Gram asked him if he has any weird proclivities.There were a few seconds when it sounded like Jen might be choking on her yogurt That sounds like Gram It probably would have been better to ask him that before he moved in, though.It didnt come up in our emails.Well Well what Jens annoyed sigh made her sigh Does he have any weird proclivities Do you really think he would have told Gram if he did Thats disappointing.Gretchen laughed He didnt say he didnt have any, actually Just that he hasnt received any complaints. Really And its only the first day This could be interesting.I didnt call you to talk about Alexs proclivities, weird or not.Then you shouldnt have opened with them.I was opening with Grams outrageousness Youre not going to believe what she suggested I do before he got here.Let me guess, Jen said You should do up your hair and maybe put on a little lip gloss.Lip gloss She wanted me to slap on her Cherry Hot Pants lipstick.Thats disturbing The name of that shade, I mean.Thats disturbing than her trying to hook me up with our new I guess tenant isnt the right word Boarder That sounds old fashioned.Jen chuckled Right now picturing Gram in Cherry Hot Pants red is disturbing than almost anything.She should have called Kelly instead I cant even remember the last time I saw her in makeup If the stuff has an expiration date, it was probably in the nineties.Okay, in all seriousness, you need to shut Gram down right away, Jen said Itll be hard enough having a man you barely know living in your house Your grandmother trying to play matchmaker will make things awkward for everybody Especially if shes opening with fetish questions How the hell did that come up in conversation, anyway She reminded me to give him the Wi Fi password, Gretchen told her Which apparently reminded her that she was concerned about what he might look at on the Internet.Hopefully taking pictures and working on his storyor book or whatever it iswill keep him out of the house for most of the hours Grams awake Since she doesnt have Facebook, her ability to do damage is limited to face to face time Jen paused She doesnt have Facebook, right Not as far as I know None of her friends do, so Ive managed to convince her its nothing shed want, but a friend of a friend got an account to see pictures of her grandkid, so its probably only a matter of time.Luckily youre her only shot for grandkids, and you live in the same house, so she doesnt need social media for that.Yeah Luckily was one word for it Challenging was perhaps a better one Finding a guy who loved her enough to want to move into an old farmhouse with her and her grandmother wasnt easy Especially since she rarely strayed far from the farm.We should get together soon, Jen said I dont think the three of us have had a chance to sit down and relax since Eagles Fest.That sounded like a great idea to Gretchen And shed probably be ready to get out of the houseand away from the weirdness of a man living with thembefore too long If you see Kelly, try to set up a day for lunch or something.Ill let you know In the meantime, try to peek over Alexs shoulder now and then when hes on the Internet We need better gossip in this town.Funny.After she ended the call, Gretchen got off the stool and grabbed the key to the ancient ATV off the hook over the bench It was time to head out and check the field shed given over to pumpkins a few years back, and the four wheeler would be faster than the tractor.As the number of businesses who wanted to buy Walker pumpkins to resell to their customers had grown, so had the amount of land Gretchen allotted to the planting, and now it was substantial Checking for powdery mildew and pests would keep her busy until it was time for afternoon chores and dinner.Busy was good The busier she was, the less time she had to think about Alex Murphy.Alex set the last of his bags on the worn hardwood floor and used his foot to close the door behind him So this bedroom would be his world for the near future Hed stayed in worse Much worse.The furnishings were definitely about function than dcor, which he didnt mind at all The full sized mattress was firm and framed by a brass rail headboard and footboard, and there was a nightstand with a lamp next to it A solid maple dresser stood next to the open closet, and there was a comfortable looking armchair next to the window.During their email exchanges prior to his arrival, Gretchen had asked if he needed a desk or anything else for working, but hed told her not to bother He didnt want to put her out, plus hed trained himself years before not to tie his process to any particular work conditions Sometimes he was in a hotel room with a desk and sometimes he was in a nylon tent with a laptop balanced on his knees He could work under almost any conditions and this bedroom, plain and old fashioned as it may be, was certainly no hardship.Unpacking took him about twenty minutes, and he plugged his laptop in to charge Later hed start closely reviewing the photos hed taken during Eagles Fest and decide which hed like to include in his new work Then hed have to see about obtaining permission from the subjects to use them in a commercial project.He also needed to get in touch with Coach McDonnell about Saturday Tryouts for the football team would start at nine and he wanted to be there to capture the emotion of the morning When the citizens reluctantly voted to cut the budget for the team at the town meeting in the spring, it was a hard blow to the boys Playing football kept some out of trouble and gave others a reason to keep their grades up, especially when things were hard at home due to the economic downturn.Things had looked bleak until Kelly McDonnell, Jen Cooper and Gretchen Walker got together and made the Eagles Fest fund raiser happen With the help of some grants and donations, theyd announced in July that Eagles football had been saved, and Alex knew their return to the field on Saturday would be even exciting than usual He intended to be there with his camera, with Coachs permission.Alex walked to the window to check out the view His room was at the back of the house and looked out toward the barn He could barely make out a garage to the left and a rutted dirt road that passed between the two buildings and disappeared through a break in a line of trees He assumed it led to fields, though he wasnt sure.The view was considerably improved when Gretchen stepped out of the garages side door and headed for the barn She had a long stride and he admired the way she looked so natural and confident in her environment.His hand itched for his camera, but he didnt give in to the urge to pull it out of his bag It was bad enough he was watching her from the window Taking photographs would cross a personal line of ethics that was sometimes blurry and a moving target, but was always there.He allowed himself to watch her for a few seconds, admiring the way the sun lit up the highlights in her hair In normal lighting, it was solidly dark, though not black But when the sun hit the thick braid just right, subtle red undertones shone through and drew his eye He wanted to unravel her braid and run his fingers through the strands just to watch the light play with the colors.Gretchen disappeared on the far side of the barn and then, a few moments later, emerged again on a four wheeler that had seen better days Sitting on the machine, with her long legs drawn up so her feet rested on the running boards, pulled the worn denim of her jeans across her thighs in a way that drew his eye in a way that was far personal than professional.Before he stared long enough to tip over into creeper territory, Alex turned away from the window and went downstairs With all the travel hed donewhich included staying in bed and breakfasts or sometimes with host familieshe didnt have a lot of trouble making himself feel at home wherever he was But for people like Ida and Gretchen, who werent accustomed to having a boarder, it could feel awkward The less time he spent holed up in his room, the faster theyd come to feel comfortable around him.Gretchens grandmother was at the computer when he walked into the living room It was an older model perched on a big corner desk, and Ida was writing in a notebook in front of the monitor.When he stepped on a floorboard that squeaked under his weight, she turned and gave him a smile Hows your room Its perfect And thats a beautiful quilt on the bed Did you make it As tempting as it is to lie and take the credit, I never had the patience for quilting All those tiny stitches I enjoy knitting, though Did you get on the Internet okay Yes, maam.Good Every month when she pays the bill, Gretchen makes that same growly frustrated noise my husband made when he thought something was frivolous, but I need good Internet for my business.Alex moved a couple of magazines out of the armchair near the desk so he could sit in it If he sat on the couch, she wouldnt be able to resume what she was doing while still continuing their conversation unless she turned her back to him Do you mind if I ask what your business is I knit matching sweaters, hats and mittens for little girls and those fancy dolls from the different time periods in history Jenyou know Jen Cooper, right She helped set me up a little shop on a website that lets you sell handmade stuff People tell me what size the child wears and her favorite color, and I knit a set for her and a matching one for the doll I dont make a lot of money, but Id be knitting anyway and this way I feel useful in my own little way.Alex smiled, making a mental note to photograph Ida knitting and posing with her creations Her business would fit right into a story about weathering rough times Im sure Gretchen would say youre useful in countless ways.Shes a good girl I dont know what Id do without her.He suspected, in this case, it wasnt simply a common platitude While he hadnt seen a lot of the farm, hed seen enough to know it would be a lot for Ida to have taken care of on her own after her husband passed away Even without an expectation of the property providing a sustainable income for her, it would have been too much.I happened to glance out the window on my way down and saw her on a four wheeler, he said She works all day out there Ida nodded Shes probably on her way to check on the pumpkins.Pumpkins If you go shopping this fall and the stores are selling pumpkins, theres a good chance Gretchen grew them Shes always looking for ways to make the land earn money, and the pumpkins were even successful than shed hoped.Alex couldnt miss the pride in her voice I cant wait to see them.Hed been looking forward to delving into the emotional story of a town overcoming financial adversity, so it looked like hed picked the right place to stay Gretchen and her grandmother were perfect examples of Yankee resilience and ingenuity The fact that he wouldnt mind getting to know Gretchen a little better was just icing on the cake.Gretchen wasnt surprised to see ham, scalloped potatoes and creamed corn on the table when she walked into the kitchen Once Gram set her mind on a meal, she was rarely swayed Earlier in the day Gretchen had been concerned her grandmother would get carried away making company meals for Alex, but right now she was starving and it smelled delicious and she didnt care.Their new housemate came in from the living room as Gretchen was toeing off her boots, and he gave her a friendly smile She returned it, feeling slightly awkward She wasnt emotionally demonstrative to begin with and had what Jen and Kelly called resting bitch face, so randomly smiling at people wasnt really her thing.Sit down and dig in, Alex, Gram said from the stove We dont stand on ceremony around here.Gretchen watched as he gave her grandmother what the older woman would call a cheeky smile and shook his head I can wait for the ladies to sit.I knew you were raised right Gram gave him an approving nod I knew your parents, of course, before they moved away Well, your stepfather, though I knew your dad, too.Gretchen rolled up her sleeves and turned the faucet on to wash her hands You know everybody, Gram.Most everybody, I guess.Once they were seated and served, Alex scooped some scalloped potato and ham onto his fork and took a bite His eyes widened in appreciation, but he swallowed and wiped his lips before speaking This is delicious, Ida.Gram beamed Thank you Its one of my specialties.I hope you didnt go to any extra trouble for me.Not at all Youll find farmers wivesor grandmothers, as the case may belike putting hearty meals on the table.Gretchen was tempted to point out Gram hadnt made scalloped potatoes in months, even though it was one of her favorite dishes, but she shoved food in her mouth and chewed instead She took after her grandfather in most ways, and that included treating meals as times to eat, not chitchat But she didnt mind listening to Gram and Alex make small talk about the cuisine in various places where hed traveled.Gretchen had never heard of half the places, but it sounded like he led a pretty exciting life She wasnt sure why hed want to take pictures of the Eagles practicing when hed documented protests outside the Sudanese embassy for a big magazine, but it wasnt really her business as long as he paid his rent.What made you come back to Stewart Mills Gram asked, clearly not too worried about what was and what wasnt their business.I was a little burned out from the travel, Alex said Gretchen looked up from her plate in time to see him give a casual shrug, despite the fact that his expression was slightly introspective When I was here for Eagles Fest, I really felt like I was connecting again With I dont know With people With my hometown I have an apartment in Providence, but its mostly a place to keep my stuff and sleep once in a while I was on an assignment and I was tired, and it seemed like a great idea to come back and try to recapture how I felt during the fund raiser.And you think doing a story about the town will make you some money while youre here Gram asked.I hope so Its not just about the money, though I was looking through the Eagles Fest photos before I made the decision to come back, and the emotion in them spoke to me The story seemed unfinished, so Im here to finish it.Gretchen stopped herself from snorting at Its not just about the money and scraped up the last of the scalloped potatoes on her plate In her experience, people who said that had money to burn, and disposable income certainly wasnt something shed ever experienced.She really hoped her grandmother wouldnt take that as an opening to ask nosy questions about his finances Not directly, of course, but in that friendly and curious way small town folks had when it came to interrogating people.But Gram was distracted by Alexs almost empty plate Theres plenty enough for seconds, Alex Just help yourself.He made a show of patting his very flat stomach Ones plenty, Ida I dont want to have to buy new pants while Im here.Gretchen didnt think he was in any danger of an expanding waistline anytime soon He was tall and a big guy in general, but very fit Of course, she wasnt the one currently running her palm over his abdomen, but from where she was sitting, it all looked good Really, really good.Gram made a clucking sound with her tongue You need a wife to fix you good home cooked meals.Alex froze just as his lips closed over his fork, and Gretchen might have laughed at his expression if she wasnt expending all of her energy to keep herself from kicking her grandmother under the table As soon as she got a minute alone with Gram, they were going to have to have a talk about boundaries.After taking his time chewing and swallowing his food, Alex just plastered a polite smile on his face Maybe someday Ill try marriage again, but not anytime soon.Gretchen almost groaned aloud If he didnt want to share his whole life story over meals, hed have to learn not to open the door like that.Youve been married before Gram asked, and this time Gretchen did kick her under the table, though gently It was of a nudge, really.I was, but my traveling turned out to be of an issue than we thought it would, and eventually we just went our separate ways.Ah Gram nodded Sounds very amicable.I love Shannon Staceys voice New York Times bestselling author Nalini SinghPraise for Under the Lights Great story Shannon Stacey always takes readers on a compelling journey to happiness by writing the kind of characters you want to be best friends with and the types of places you want to call home With humor, emotion, and captivating characters, Under the Lights will make you believe in love, second chances, and happily ever after Take the journey to love with Shannon Stacey and enjoy the rideyou wont be disappointed.Jaci Burton, New York Times Bestselling Author Defending Against Precision whidco Defending Background In most versions of precision today, the opening bids that are different from Standard American or Childhood Trauma Changing Minds Traumatic stress can injure a child s brain But you help Learn science childhood trauma, and how Minds gestures heal Feminine Heart A Masculine Wall for God Daughters Jeff Voth on FREE shipping qualifying offers In, , exposes Satan tactics to destroy role masculinity Lesson For Bridge Players Main Basics U by Richard Pavlicek Lesson Defensive Play About half time your partner will be defenders Your objective is defeat contract played declarer Dharma Stephen Knapp Handling Christian Challenges Yajnavalkya Dasa FOREWORD Knapp This booklet especially deals with arguments Christians use often criticize demean Vedic tradition, discourage others being Hindus followers Sanatana dharma The Battle Belongs Lord The Power Scripture Our Faith K Scott Oliphint Apologetics considered hobby intellectuals, philosophical side dish truth we all need defend our faith apply concerns day Often Bible left out this task Jack Hearts Wikipedia Jack Hart fictional character, superhero appearing in comic books published Marvel ComicsThe character first appeared Deadly Hands Kung Fu was created writer Bill Mantlo artist Keith GiffenHe starred his own four issue mini series has been regular Iron Man comics as well at one point Sora Kingdom Wiki FANDOM powered Wikia Sora main protagonist series, Keyblade wielder He an upbeat teenager who may seem simple minded times, but very aware importance quest possesses strong sense justice 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    • Defending Hearts
    • 2.3
    • 151
    • Format Kindle
    • 293 pages
    • Shannon Stacey
    • Anglais
    • 08 December 2016

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