Sample Sunday, what a fabulous idea! I hope you enjoy the first chapter of A Fair Of the Heart, Book 1 of the Welcome To Redemption series I wrote with my friend and critique partner, Stacey Joy Netzel. And check out the July deal we're offering at the end of the chapter. :-)
Single mother, and work-at-home beautician, Lauren Frazier can barely keep a roof over her head, let alone stop it from falling down around her. When handyman Caleb Hunter shows up at her door for a haircut, he’s the answer to her prayers—and the attraction is instantaneous. Too bad her troublesome ten-year-old son isn’t quite as thrilled to have Caleb hanging around.
Old wounds have kept Caleb from returning to Redemption permanently. When he receives word of his mother’s unexpected death, guilt and regret bring him home again, but will the love of a good woman keep him there? Beautiful, witty, and strong, Lauren excites Caleb like no woman ever has, but she’s a package deal, and he’s not sure he’s prepared to take on a ready-made family.
“I believe this is yours.”
Lauren Frazier met the teasing gaze of the handsome stranger standing on her porch as he handed over the knob to her front door. She promptly burst out laughing, examining the ancient piece of crap with a shake of her head.
“Sorry,” she said, bringing it down to a chuckle. “But the handle on my back door fell off earlier this morning.”
The stranger grinned. “I might stay home today, if I were you.”
“Ya think?” She tossed the knob on the floor beside the shoe rack and stepped back. “So, what can I do for you?”
His keen brown eyes searched her living room and then the kitchen, his confusion obvious. “I’m not sure if I’m in the right place…do you cut hair?”
“I do. Sorry, the beauty shop sign fell off the house a few weeks ago.”
His lips twitched. “I need a trim. The librarian recommended you. Said you work out of your home.” He held out his hand. “Caleb Hunter.”
“I’ll have to send Matt a thank-you note. Lauren Frazier.” She shook his hand, and then gestured him inside. “I work out of my mud room. It’s just off the kitchen.”
He followed her through the house into the mudroom, which doubled as both her laundry room and her single-chair hair salon.
After a quick glance around, he sat down in the barber chair and leaned back with his long legs sprawled out. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these in someone’s house before.”
“I got a deal on it from a salon in
Thank you, Matt.
She stepped up behind him and covered him with the cape, securing it with a hair clip. His heady masculine scent assailed her senses, and Lauren resisted the urge to lean in and get a big whiff of his spicy aftershave. Whoa, girl, get a grip. He met her gaze in the mirror, and she swore she saw blatant interest in his eyes. She ran a comb through his hair. “You’ve got a gorgeous head of hair, Caleb Hunter. So, who’s to thank, your mom or dad?”
He cleared his throat, and if Lauren didn’t know any better, she’d swear her innocent little question had upset him.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to pry. It’s part of the job, you know? Make small talk.”
“I know. It’s just...I lost my mother recently.”
Lauren’s hands froze. “I’m so sorry. Open mouth, insert foot. That’s me.”
“You couldn’t have known. Don’t worry about it.”
Lauren nodded and got back to work on his hair. She’d love to ask him a few more questions, like what’s his sign, boxers or briefs, top or bottom, but thought better of it. Good God, the man’s mother just died. Not to mention, the last thing she wanted or needed was a man in her life—although if Bob Vila showed up on her doorstep right about now, she’d drop down on bended knee so fast it’d make his head spin.
She met Caleb’s gaze in the mirror again. “So, are you planning to go to the fair this weekend?”
“I hadn’t thought about it,” he admitted. “Guess I might take a walk through.”
After brushing the hair clippings from his neck and shoulders, Lauren swept the cape away and tried to hand him a mirror.
He waved it away and pulled out his wallet. “I’m sure it’s fine. So what do I owe you?”
“Ten bucks.” She accepted the twenty he handed her and opened her cashbox to pull out a ten.
“Keep it,” he said. “Put it toward a new doorknob.”
With a grateful nod, she stuck the bill back in the box. “Thanks.”
Caleb winked at her and turned to leave. He stepped on a loose floorboard on his way to the door. “Your husband’s not much of a handyman, is he?”
“I’m divorced. And, no, he never was much of a handyman. Philandering? Now, there’s a sport he excelled at.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”
She waved him off. “Consider us even in the foot-in-mouth department.”
He held her gaze for a moment, and then casually glanced around. Lauren inwardly cringed. By the time her ex had left her for greener pastures of the big-boobed variety, the house had pretty much been falling down around her ears. And with only one income to pay the bills, mortgage, and take care of her two kids, there wasn’t much leftover for home repairs.
“I’m not very handy either, as you can see.” She shrugged, making no apologies for her lack of carpentry skills.
He surprised her with a soft chuckle. “Yep. Got that. Listen, I have some free time later this afternoon. It wouldn’t take me long to do some general repairs.”
Lauren stared at him for several heartbeats, at a loss for words. No one had ever offered to help before. “I appreciate it, but...well, truth is I wouldn’t be able to pay you much. And by much, I mean nothing.” She gave him a cheeky grin.
“I wouldn’t accept your money anyway. I was thinking more along the lines of old-fashioned bartering.”
She crossed her arms and cocked a brow. “You’re entering dangerous territory, Mr. Hunter.” Okay, so the guy was a hottie. Didn’t mean she’d jump into bed with him to get a few doorknobs reattached or a few loose boards nailed down. Or the closet door in Emma’s room put back on track, or the screen in Max’s bedroom window patched, or replacing the vanity door hinges in the upstairs bathroom, or—
“I meant supper, Ms. Frazier. As in a home-cooked meal? Haven’t had one in years and thought a couple hours of home repairs might be worth some meatloaf and mashed potatoes, maybe some buttered rolls.”
Lauren’s cheeks grew hot, surprising her. Blushing? Her? Now there’s a novelty. “I can do supper. Although my son, Max, might run away from home if I made meatloaf. How about chicken and rice bake, and some of those pop-open crescent rolls?”
“Throw in dessert, and it’s a deal.”
Lauren leaned a hip against the wall. “Well, now, dessert is a whole other ballgame. Especially ‘home-cooked’ dessert.”
He grinned. “Name your price.”
“Max’s bottom dresser drawer. It’s been stuck shut for months.”
He stuck out his hand. “Deal.”
* * *
Caleb stopped at the library on his way back to Lauren’s house to recheck-out the Electrician’s Handbook. Matt Jacobs looked up when he entered, a grin replacing his studious frown.
“Finally got that mop trimmed, I see. So, did you end up going to Lauren or old man Krause?”
Caleb set the book on the counter and browsed through the stack waiting to be put back on the shelves. “I got called into the barbershop to fix some shelving yesterday. Old man Krause’s hand was shaking so hard, it’s a miracle he didn’t clip his customer’s ear off. I went to Lauren’s.”
Matt laughed. He walked over and picked up the handbook. “What do you think? Ready for the exam?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be. I’d like to check it back out, though, read it one last time before I take the exam. Probably next Friday.”
“Thinking about staying in Redemption then?”
Caleb swiped his hand through his newly shorn hair. After returning to the states from active duty, he hadn’t felt...comfortable returning to his hometown. He’d ended up heading to
But stay in Redemption permanently? Truth be told, he was torn. He’d only meant to stay for a few days, but upon returning home for his mother’s funeral, Caleb had felt the strongest sense of peace. Usually, he couldn’t wait to get the hell outta Dodge.
He’d talked to his boss just the night before, and the gruff old codger had made it clear—Caleb had one week to return, or he wouldn’t have a job waiting for him when he did. And yet, despite the warning, Caleb took on two more jobs just that morning, extending his stay in Redemption indefinitely.
It wasn’t as if he had anyone special waiting for him back in
“It’s a definite possibility.” Caleb tossed his keys and caught them with a jingle. “Catch you later, Matt.”
He arrived at Lauren’s house around three-thirty. She stood on the front porch waving a brand new doorknob assembly, still in the package, and sporting a huge grin. A white tank top and stonewashed low rider Levis showed off a great tan and incredible body. Her shoulder-length, honey blond curls were held up on either side of her beautiful face by gold barrettes, and small hoops hung from her earlobes. Eyes as blue as
“Love the tool belt,” she said, gesturing him inside.
“I have backup in my car. Electric drill, power saw, grenades.”
He stepped inside and sniffed the air. “Wow, if chicken bake tastes as good as it smells, I may start breaking your furniture myself.”
“No need. I make it at least once a week. Both my kids love it.”
At that moment, an adorable little pipsqueak dashed in from the kitchen, blond curls bobbing all around. She wrapped her arms around Lauren’s legs and gazed up at him with wide-eyed curiosity. She was the spitting image of her mother, complete with a perfect Cupid’s bow mouth, flawless alabaster skin, and those same gorgeous blue eyes. In twenty years, she’d also have Lauren’s incredible figure—slim and sleek, yet curved in all the right places.
Caleb crouched down and winked at her. She couldn’t have been more than three years old. “Hey, punkin, my name’s Caleb. What’s yours?”
“Em-ma.” She glanced up at her mother. “I not puck’in.”
Lauren ruffled her daughter’s curls. “It just means cutie pie. Like what I call you.”
“Oh.” She turned back to Caleb and squinted thoughtfully. “Momma make choc’it cake. I helped.”
Caleb’s heart swelled in his chest. He had to clear his throat to speak. “And I bet it’s the yummiest chocolate cake ever.”
Emma gave a solemn nod, and then skipped off into the kitchen.
Caleb stood back up and met Lauren’s gaze. “Well? What should I tackle first?”
She held up the new doorknob package. “Being able to lock my doors at night is my number one priority. And thank you. Again.”
Caleb felt as if he were drowning in those big baby blues. “My pleasure. You did, after all, make ‘choc’it’ cake.”
Lauren grinned. “From scratch, too.”
“Well, then, guess I’d better go earn my supper.”
By the time he’d put the new knob on the front door and reattached the handle to the back screen door, supper was just about ready. He decided a stuck drawer would take all of five minutes, and had Lauren direct him to Max’s room.
Typical boy’s room, he thought as he glanced around. Basketball hoop hanging on the back of the door, unmade bed, sports paraphernalia everywhere. The kid was a huge Green Bay Packers fan: Packer curtains, Packer bedspread, Packer wallpaper border. The room was neater than Caleb would’ve expected, too—not so much as a dirty sock on the floor. No doubt Lauren’s doing.
Caleb located the dresser in question and knelt down to try the drawer. Yep, stuck shut. Once he pried it open, he’d plane it down a bit, which should do the trick. He worked the drawer back and forth, surprised when a couple of folded-up playing cards fell out. Hmm. And the drawer seemed to open and close fine now. A flash of red caught his eye. An all-too-familiar flash of red. Caleb exhaled a hard breath as he pulled out a flip-top box of cigarettes.
“Whad’ya think you’re doing?”
Caleb’s head snapped up. Standing in the doorway, hands fisted at his sides, was a blue-eyed boy who could only be Max. He looked to be about twelve or thirteen, with much darker hair than his mother’s, but just as curly. And he wore a scowl the size of
The kid’s eyes grew suspiciously red, but his expression remained mutinous. “You had no right going through my stuff!”
“Maybe not, but lucky for you I did. You’re too young to smoke, son, and—”
“Who the hell are you, and why are you even in my room?” the kid demanded.
The quick beat of feet on the stairs reached Caleb a second before Lauren burst into the room. “What in the world is going on up here? Max, what’s the problem?”
Caleb tucked the cigarette box in his back pocket while Lauren’s attention was on her son. Later, when they were alone, he’d show them to her. Caleb knew the kid was going through a rough time, and while he hated to be the bearer of bad news, Lauren needed to know so she could nip the problem in the bud.
“Nothin’,” Max snapped.
“Your son wasn’t too happy to find a stranger in his room, and he told me so. He thought I was snooping through his stuff.”
Max met Caleb’s gaze, some of his hostility dissipating. Not much, but some.
Lauren eyed them both with suspicion. “Supper’s on the table. Max, go wash your hands, please.”
Max stormed from the room, and a few seconds later a door slammed.
Lauren flinched. “I’m sorry. Ever since his father left, he’s been...different. He blames me. He’s too young to understand what really happened, and I guess it’s easier to make me the bad guy since I’m still here. Ten-year-old mentality,” she finished with a shrug.
“Ten? Wow, big kid.”
Caleb wished there was something he could do or say to ease her burden. And Max’s troubles were worse than she knew if the kid was smoking. “He’ll settle down, don’t worry. And I’ll help any way I can.”
Christ, what the hell was he thinking, offering to get involved in their family problems? He barely knew the woman. Though if he were being honest with himself, he wanted to get to know her better. Much better.
The thought scared the living tar out of him, but didn’t stop him from taking a step forward.
From now until
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