Do you like second chances? How about funny dogs? A love story featuring a heroine who is trying to make her life better while making a difference and hero who is a good man working to be a better father? I mean, WHO DOESN’T? Heart’s Refuge is out today! You will not be disappointed.
Back in high school, Sarah Hillman was a rich girl who protected herself by always being on the attack. Now her father’s skipped town, the money’s gone and she’s sleeping in her office. Too bad the only person she can turn to has every reason to reject her.
Will Barnes isn’t a gangly math nerd anymore. He’s a financial advisor and a father, and when Sarah shows up in his office, he threatens to kick her out. And yet, Will agrees to help. But if Sarah falls for this kind, strong man, she’ll have to stay in Holly Heights, a town where everyone knows her…and hates her.
Instead of exaggerating the shelter’s needs, Sarah might have been downplaying them. Could he walk away and get the petty revenge he wanted when it was clear this place and the animals it saved needed real help?
Could he play with the puppies and not pull out a checkbook?
“All right. Fifteen minutes, twenty tops. Then we’ll do something fun. You can pick.” Will opened his door and slid out. Chloe hopped out, as if this might have been the promise she’d been waiting for.
“Good. The lake. We’re going. We’ll swim.” She pointed a finger. “No phone calls.”
“We could rent a boat. Pick up lunch.” He saluted her to acknowledge the excellent plan. “You should be in charge every day.”
She held up her hand for a high five, something she’d picked up on the soccer field. He smacked her hand, grabbed it, and pulled her close for a squirmy hug.
“Twenty minutes…and go.” Squaring his shoulders, Will walked over to the door, held it open, and stepped inside right behind Chloe. “Hello? Anybody here?” The place was unexpected on the inside, too. Clean, if ragged, with a nice pine scent.
Bub ambled around the corner first, followed by Sarah. “Sorry, we were out back cleaning up the yard now that the animals are inside.”
The surprises kept coming. Instead of ridiculously expensive clothes and seriously hot shoes, she was wearing denim and cotton and the kind of black boots he imagined farmers wore to milk the cows. Even in weekend casual jeans and a polo, he was overdressed for this tour.
Sarah fidgeted with her ponytail, waiting for him to say something, but he was stumped. Then he realized she was wearing no makeup, no lipstick, no nothing. The only hint of the seductress was in the red nails that tapped on the scratched linoleum counter.
“Introduce me to the rest of the committee?” Sarah pointed to Chloe, who’d stopped as close to the door as she could.
“This is my daughter, Chloe. We’re on our way to the lake.” When he felt a weight on his foot, Will glanced down to see Bub perched on his sneaker. The dog sighed as he leaned against Will’s leg and glanced up at him, tongue dangling out of his mouth.
Should he object? Unseat the dog? He glanced up to see both Sarah and Chloe watching him.
Moving Bub could wait.
Chloe stepped forward to shake Sarah’s hand.
Like an adult. A serious, fully grown woman.
Except she was wearing pink shorts and black sneakers that squeaked with each step.
For a brief second, Sarah’s lips flattened, but she pasted on a smile. “It’s a beautiful day out there. I won’t take much of your time.”
“Twenty minutes.” Chloe motioned over her shoulder. “He promised. The guy works all the time. It’s Saturday.” The exasperated expression on her face was a carbon copy of his ex-wife’s.
He’d heard similar complaints from Olivia regularly.
Sarah clasped her hands in front of her and nodded seriously. “Sure, but does his work always include cute cats?”
“No, that’s new.” Chloe pursed her lips. “Where are they?”
“Ah, someone who likes to cut to the chase. I wonder where you get that?” When Sarah’s eyes met his, he could see she was teasing him.
They weren’t friends. Maybe they weren’t enemies either.
Sarah pointed at the hallway. “Follow me?”
“Show me your cats.” Chloe marched around the corner, pulling Sarah and Will along in her wake.
Giant miscalculation, Barnes. A kid, surrounded by cats and dogs ready for adoption. What are you going to say when she finds the one that has to come home with you?
He’d say no. When Chloe was in Austin, he would be working. All the time. No animal would be happy or healthy with a setup like that.
He was a person and didn’t really enjoy it.
But it was too late for sound judgment now.
“Realizing you didn’t think everything through?” Sarah wrinkled her nose, the teasing glint in her eyes returning. “Kids love pets.”
Will nodded. “Yeah. Let’s get on with the tour.”
Sarah saluted. “Bathroom. Cramped conference room.” They paused in front of a door with a large glass window. Inside he could see concrete floors, cinder block pens with chain-link gates. Everything was fresh and clean. “Prepare yourself. There will be barking.”
She was right. Inside the room, conversation was impossible. He walked down the line and read the cards. “Good with kids. Needs special care. Housetrained.”
Sarah motioned them to follow and then stopped in front of a large window. The room on the other side held a few smaller cages, an interesting jungle gym, and cats of different colors and sizes. “Cats don’t cause much fuss,” she said. Where the dogs rushed their gates to speak to him, the cats sat back and eyed him coolly.
Chloe immediately stepped close to the glass, her breath fogging the window.
Sarah shot him a sympathetic glance. “You can go inside if you like.”
“No” burned on the tip of his tongue, but Chloe’s pleading eyes made it impossible to say. He waved a hand at the door. Chloe slipped inside so fast that she missed him say, “Don’t get too attached. We aren’t taking one home.”
He shoved his hands in his pockets as he watched Chloe carefully approach a fat orange cat. They stared at each other for a long minute before Chloe reached out slowly to run a finger over the cat’s head. A dog would have probably knocked her to the ground and licked her from head to toe at this point.
“I think I must be a cat person.” He appreciated the quiet and reserve. “Although, Bub is nice, too.”
Sarah blinked at him for a minute. “I did not expect you to say that. Better take a look at your pants before you commit.”
He glanced down to see the white hairs dotting his pants. “How does a brown dog leave white hairs?”
“Unsolved mystery,” Sarah said.