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Excerpt from Autumn Wish by Stacey Joy Netzel
He’d just reached into the refrigerator for a beer when the doorbell chimed. The cheery summons grated across his nerves, making him cringe. Could he ignore this unwanted visitor who appeared to have practically been waiting in the bushes for him?
A glance over his shoulder gave him the answer. Nope. His bare windows, glaring lights, and the volume of the TV made it impossible to pretend he wasn’t home. Curtains and blinds seemed a great investment right about now.
Kicking the fridge shut, he twisted the cap from the bottle. The doorbell went off again, twice as long as before, as if the person on the other side held it down. Damn it. If this was another married woman bringing him pie, he was going to—
Smile, and say, “Thank you.” That’s what neighbors did, right?
He took a long, fortifying pull off his beer, then thumped it on the counter on his way to answer the door. Too bad his neighbor right next door hadn’t been one of those pie-wielding visitors. He’d have invited her inside.
Then he got a glimpse through the window...of her standing on his front porch.
“Well, whaddaya know,” he murmured with a sudden grin of anticipation. Maybe she’d come in and watch the game with him. Hell, he wouldn’t even care if she held a pie in her hands.
He swung the door open and smiled his welcome at the pretty blond. His gaze dropped, then froze. Where he would’ve preferred a pie, she held a baby carrier—complete with baby.
Damn, she had a kid. After what his mother put him and his sister through, he didn’t do women with kids.
He lifted his gaze up from all that pink to a pair of guarded blue eyes. Forcing his lips to maintain their upward curve, he answered, “I prefer Sam. And you’re Nicole, right?”
“Nikki.” She frowned. “How’d you—”
“I had some of your mail in my box yesterday,” he admitted.
Her wry smile was appealing enough to make him forget about the baby. But it faded fast as she took a breath, shifted her stance, then extended her arms, carrier and all.
“Sam, this is yours.”
There was a crumpled envelope clutched between the fingers of her right hand. Tilting his head, he read his name in the crinkled address field and removed it from her grasp with a laugh. He liked that she’d chosen to bring his mail over personally. If he’d been thinking, he’d have done it first—and found out about the kid.
“Thanks,” he said as her baby began to fuss. “I just put your stuff in your mailbox.”
Nikki lifted the carrier higher with an exasperated huff. “You don’t understand. She is yours.”
In the middle of stuffing the folded envelope into his back pocket, his gaze dropped to the baby. Blue eyes, just like her momma. It took his brain a moment to make the connection, and then his pulse jumped as his eyebrows shot skyward. “Uh...I don’t think so.”
The baby sucked hard on a pacifier, her eyes shifting back and forth as she squirmed in the confined seat. Oh, hell no. He lifted his gaze once more, taking note of the woman’s curves on the way up. Yeah, she was pretty, but not worth this level of crazy. He’d have much preferred another pie.
“May I come in?”
“No,” he stated. “She’s not mine.”
He fumbled for the edge of the door. The woman stepped forward as he began to shut her out.
Her chin lifted and those blue eyes of hers glittered with determination. “Her name is Ella. She’s three and a half months old.”
He broke off as she shouldered her way past, into his living room. Sam closed the door and followed her to the couch where she set the carrier and an overflowing diaper bag. He glanced toward the kitchen, searching out his cell phone on the counter. Was he going to have to call the cops to get rid of her?
The baby started to cry, so Nikki picked her up and rocked her while speaking in a soft, crooning voice. The gentle sound soothed his nerves until common sense returned with a vengeance.
Denial shook his head as he moved to stand in front of her. “Listen, I don’t know what you think you’re going to get out of this, but we’ve never met before, much less done what we would’ve needed to do to create that baby.”
Excerpt from Revival by Noelle Adams
So Baron had to climb a tree. In his business suit. On the edge of a college campus.
It wasn’t exactly the way he would have chosen to spend the afternoon.
He probably shouldn’t have suggested the girls play around the tree, though, and the little girl was being remarkably brave. Plus, there wasn’t anyone else around who could climb up there after her.
So he climbed. He talked to her casually as he did, telling her about Robin Hood, Will Scarlett, and Maid Marion and about how, when she got down, she could play a lot better.
When he reached a high enough branch, he braced himself against the trunk to assess the situation. He didn’t want to put much weight on the branch Charlotte was hanging onto, so he balanced on the large branch beneath it and stepped out toward her.
“You ripped your sleeve,” Charlotte informed him, as he grabbed her and hauled her over toward the tree trunk.
“So I did.” Baron hadn’t just ripped up one of the sleeves of his jacket. He had also scratched the back of his neck. “You’ll have to pay for it, I guess.”
Charlotte giggled, not for a moment believing he was serious.
They managed to climb down to the lower branches, and Baron swung himself down to the ground and reached up to take Charlotte.
The girl extended her arms toward him, but he didn’t expect her to jump off the branch toward him at the same time.
She did jump, and the momentum threw him off balance.
The next thing he knew he was sprawled flat on the ground with a blond child on top of him.
He opened his eyes to see the other girl peering down at him with wide green eyes that suddenly looked eerily familiar. “You fell down.”
This was definitely not turning out to be one of his better days.
Charlotte was trying to pick herself up, but unfortunately that included elbowing him in the chest and kneeing him in the stomach. She stared down at him too with those same green eyes.
And suddenly Baron knew who the eyes belonged to. He knew who these disastrous girls belonged to.
Another pair of green eyes stared down at him, paired with an adult face and a very adult body.
“And I’ve told them over and over again that they’re not supposed to tackle strangers,” Leila said. Her voice was light, but her face was kind of pale, and he wondered how much of the dramatics she’d seen.
Now that he knew, the resemblance was glaringly obvious. These girls couldn’t belong to anyone except Leila. It had never even crossed his mind before, though.
“It was nice of you to play Will Scarlett for us,” Jane said, brushing away the remnants of her tears. “But I think we should play Therm-o-ply instead.”
Charlotte patted Baron on the chest, just as he was trying to sit up. “We’ll even let you be the Spartans!”
Baron finally managed to regain his feet, dirty, bruised, and torn in more than one place. He angled a look over at Leila, who had pulled Charlotte into a hug but was gazing at him with eyes that were mostly apologetic.
But a tiny part of her expression, Baron was convinced, reflected faint amusement. At him.
Not—not—his best day.
About the Authors
Noelle handwrote her first romance novel in a spiral-bound notebook when she was twelve, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. She has lived in eight different states and currently resides in Virginia, where she teaches English, reads any book she can get her hands on, and offers tribute to a very spoiled cocker spaniel. She loves travel, art, history, and ice cream. After spending far too many years of her life in graduate school, she has decided to reorient her priorities and focus on writing contemporary romances.
Stacey Joy Netzel
I fell in love with books at a young age, so for me it seemed only natural to graduate to writing them. I credit my parents for encouraging my dreams of becoming a published author, as well as the very talented friends I've made in Romance Writers of America (RWA) and Wisconsin Romance Writers (WisRWA). An avid reader and fan of movies with a happily ever after, I live in Wisconsin with my husband and three children, a couple horses and some barn cats. In my limited free time I enjoy gardening and canning, and visiting my parents up north at the cabin on the lake with the whole family.
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