Paige Tanner grew up in the small town of Singletree—but she knows she has to leave to find what she really wants. Singletree might have other plans for her…
I did everything right—got engaged to my high school boyfriend, stayed faithful through college and med school, came home and got married. That was how I’d always thought my life would go. What I didn’t realize was that my husband wasn’t super clear on that whole monogamy thing.
Finding myself over thirty and divorced, living in the same small town where I grew up, I realized I needed a new plan. So I took action. I landed a job with a bigger practice in a big city where I’ll find more opportunities at work, and hopefully in my social life. I was ready to move on.
But when Cormac Whitewood and his adorable daughters come into my life, suddenly my big plans don’t seem so shiny and exciting. Suddenly, I’m finding myself drawn to the lonely widower, wishing for more time with him—even though he seems to have a strange fascination with exotic taxidermy. I can overlook a lot for a pair of deep golden eyes and strong broad shoulders.
The thing is, Cormac’s made it clear he isn’t over his late wife—and I’d never force my way into someone else’s family. And I’ve already made my plans.
So why do they feel so wrong?
Second Chance Spring is a full-length novel with an HEA about second chances, spring, and taxidermy. Okay, not really. It’s about the plans life makes for you while you’re busy making plans for yourself, and it’s full of snort laughs, touching moments, cake, and maybe a kangaroo or two.
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“How are you, Mom?”
She crossed her arms and swayed a bit, turning back and forth like a little girl. “Good, Cormac’s been keeping me company lately. Such a nice man.”
“He is,” I confirmed. I wanted to say something else, but didn’t know quite what, so instead, I asked for a pumpkin muffin. “And tea,” I finished.
“Actually,” Mom said, a little sparkle coming into her eye. “Come back here. I need your help with something.” She bustled toward the swinging door separating the kitchen from the shop.
“You want me in the kitchen?” I asked, coming around the counter. I hadn’t been planning on helping out with baking, but I guessed I could. I helped sometimes when things got busy or if Mom was baking for a special occasion. I glanced longingly at the pumpkin muffins, all orange and plump behind the glass, and then followed my mother.
“Yes, and oh, you know, I’m going to need another opinion too.” She pushed past me again, leaving me standing in the kitchen before a long metal table full of little plates with cookies and muffins cut into fourths all lined up. She’d clearly been planning this, and I wondered if she’d sprung into action, formulating her plan the second I’d texted her that I might stop by.
A moment later, she was dragging a confused-looking Cormac through the swinging door and pushing him to stand at my side. She went around the other side of the table and grinned at us both. “I need you to taste test a few things,” she said, and she wrung her hands dramatically. “I just can’t decide which of these I should offer as my Cherry Blossom special.”
Cormac laughed, a hint of discomfort in his voice. “What’s the Cherry Blossom special?”
I turned to face him, swallowing hard before I was able to speak as the full force of his presence hit me. “Mom makes a big deal out of the annual Cherry Blossom festival. She bakes like ninety cakes for the cakewalk, and she always makes a special cookie or muffin for the week of the festival.”
“So these are all cherry-themed?” Cormac asked, pointing at the assorted baked goods.
Mom clapped her hands. “Exactly!” But then she frowned. “But they’re not all cherry flavored,” she clarified. “Like this one is chocolate hazelnut because I have it on good authority that George Washington enjoyed a nice bit of Nutella now and then. You know he cut down a cherry tree.”
“Um,” Cormac said, and it seemed he might be about to question my mother’s ‘good authority’ about that Nutella thing.
“Best not to ask,” I suggested, leaning close to him with a stage whisper.
Mom shot me a narrow-eyed gaze, but then went on. “So the Washington cookie is here. This one is a cherry-vanilla blondie. This one here is the cherry crumb muffin, and that one is a Kahlua cookie.”
“Kahlua, Mom? What’s the cherry relationship there?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I had a bit of Kahlua back here for inspiration. I spilled a cup into the first batch, but they were so good, I went with it.”
“You drink Kahlua while you’re working?” Cormac asked, grinning.
“It’s my bakery,” Mom said. “I do what I want.”
Cormac burst out laughing at that. “As you should,” he told her.
“Okay, I’m leaving you to it. Come out and tell me which one wins when you’re done.”
And then Cormac and I were alone, faced with a long table of baked goods and my mother’s obvious and embarrassing attempts at matchmaking.
“If you need to get going, you totally don’t have to do this. She’s a little bit … manipulative.”
He laughed again, the sound rolling through me like warm sand churning under gentle waves. “I like baked goods, actually. And I like your mom.”
“She means well,” I agreed, looking up at him to find those gold eyes on me. I cleared my throat as heat rose to my cheeks. “She’s just always trying so hard …”
I couldn’t hold his eyes, so I picked up a piece of Washington cookie instead. I popped a piece in my mouth and then said, “to set me up.” I hoped the muffled words would be enough of an answer for Cormac to drop it and that he might have the grace to pretend he’d understood me. What I’d said had sounded a lot more like, “oo fett be aaa.”
He picked up a piece of muffin and shoved it between his lips and then mimicked me, saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that last part.” But his words were closer to, “I arrrey, I ninny ett aa ass mar.”
I burst out laughing, bringing my hand to my mouth to keep from spitting cookie, and was relieved when Cormac’s shoulders shook to match mine, both of us laughing over a childish joke. But it took off the edge.
“She’s always trying to set me up,” I said, my mouth clear now.
He looked down at the table and then glanced at me sideways, that little smile lifting one side of his mouth again and sending my heart racing. “Your mom is trying to set you up with me?”
Oh man, this was embarrassing. “Yeah. But you can just ignore it. She does this all the time.” I popped a piece of cherry vanilla muffin in my mouth and chewed, leaning against the table. “She’s worried I’ll die old and alone, since my marriage failed.” He might as well know I was a withering divorcee, if he didn’t already.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, looking back up at me. “I didn’t realize you’d been married.”
“My husband also pretty much had no idea he was married,” I told him, having long since moved past the hurt that came with Adam’s unfaithfulness.
“Oh no,” Cormac said, trying not to laugh.
“Yeah, it didn’t go all that well. I’m better off.” I shrugged.
For a minute, we just tasted cookies and muffins, comparing our opinions of each. And then, Cormac turned to face me again.
“Well, for the record,” he said, not quite meeting my eye. “If I were in a position to be set up, this would definitely have worked.”
It felt like the breath was sucked out of my lungs. What had I expected? That my mother’s ridiculous scheming would actually work? Of course, he had a girlfriend or something. “You’re not, though,” I said. It was only kind of a question. “In a position like that,” I clarified.
“I wish I were,” he said, and I almost believed him, based on the wistful tone of his voice.
I looked at my neighbor then, allowing my appreciation for his charm, his rugged good looks, and his clear affinity for family to color my voice. “I kind of wish you were too,” I said.
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Delancey Stewart is an award-winning author who writes fiction with humor, heart and heat!
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