It’s finally here! Release day for FIRST AND AGAIN, my first novel with Carina Press. FIRST AND AGAIN is set in a small town in North Dakota. I wanted to write a small town romance because having grown up in one, I feel like I known small towns. I understand their foibles and their strengths. They can drive you crazy one minute because no one respects your privacy and everyone talks about your personal business. And then in the next minute, when you really need help, your community rallies around you.
My heroine Bridget only sees the foibles of small town life.Twenty years ago she couldn’t wait to leave her hometown, even though it meant leaving Jack, her first love. And now that she’s been forced by circumstances to return to Paradise, she resents what she thinks of as ‘the fishbowl’, her life on display for everyone to see.
In this excerpt, Bridget has recently arrived in her hometown of Paradise, North Dakota and has just experienced an anxiety attack, something she’d been doing a lot lately. She took a hike down a country road to cool off and is now working her way back to town:
The sound of an approaching vehicle made her cringe. The driver would likely stop and ask what had happened and whether she was all right. The thought of having to explain her actions made her feel slightly queasy. She prayed for the person to keep on going, to ignore the woman in a pink apron walking alone down a gravel road.
No such luck.
She heard the vehicle slow to a crawl as it pulled next to her. Righteous anger bubbled in her chest when she glanced over and saw Jack Davison roll down his window.
“Going for a walk?” he asked.
“Something like that.”
“Need a ride back to the motel?”
“No thanks. I don’t accept rides from people who laugh at me.”
She kept on walking, her head high. To her dismay Jack continued to follow her slowly with his truck.
“When did I laugh at you? I’ve only seen you once since you got here.”
“Once was enough.”
“You mean the night Tina gave you a hard time?”
Bridget didn’t answer. Perhaps it seemed petty to others, but Tina and Celia had humiliated her, and Jack had laughed at her. She wasn’t likely to get over it quickly.
“I wasn’t laughing at you. I enjoyed seeing Tina get taken down a peg. It doesn’t happen often, and frankly, I was impressed.” He paused a moment. “Are you sure you don’t want a ride?”
She glanced toward Jack and he grinned back, all innocence and boyish charm. Despite herself, she returned his smile. He was a hard man to stay angry with, and she really didn’t want to walk back to the motel and risk having other people pass her on the road.
“Fine. I’ll ride with you.”
He stopped the truck and gestured toward the passenger door of his half-ton. “Hop in.”
She climbed into the cab, slammed the door shut, then buckled her seat belt. She smoothed the apron over her lap, suddenly feeling stupid and regretting her decision to accept the ride. Jack probably thought she was crazy, or at best, unbalanced. There was no way she could explain the fear that had controlled her life the last two years.
“I have a punching bag,” he said, his eyes on the road ahead.
“Excuse me?” she said, confused. Had she missed part of this conversation?
“When I can’t get things or people to do what I want them to do, or when I’m just plain pissed off, I go down into my basement and beat the hell out of Bozo the Clown.”
She stared at his profile. “Bozo the Clown?”
“I have an old Bozo punching bag, you know, one of those toys that’s weighted on the bottom so it keeps popping back up. Bozo takes a licking and keeps coming back for more.”
“Oh, I see,” she said cautiously.
He turned and flashed a dazzling smile. “No, I’m not crazy. At least no crazier than you. Everybody needs some way of getting out their frustrations or they’ll eat you alive. Mine happens to be beating the crap out of Bozo, and I suspect that yours is walking briskly down country roads.”
She relaxed against the seat. “Maybe.”
“Next time lose the apron. You can’t pretend you’re a serious jogger if you’re wearing a frilly pink apron.”
“No, I suppose not.” She grinned, the weight of embarrassment lifting from her shoulders. Jack’s quirky sense of humor had always intrigued and delighted her. “Next time I feel the urge to take a hike I’ll throw on some jogging pants and tell everyone I’m training for a marathon. That ought to stop the gossiping.”
“Sorry to disillusion you, but nothing’s likely to do that. Gossip and Paradise go together like peanut butter and jam. Most of the time it’s harmless, but if you’re smart you’ll try not to draw too much attention to yourself.”
“Trust me, that’s the last thing I want to do.” She untied the apron and pulled it over her head. “Doesn’t it ever get to you? The life in the fishbowl? Are you and your wife happy living in Paradise?”
He glanced at her, and she saw a momentary look of surprise in his expression before he turned his attention back to his driving.
“I’m happy enough. The fishbowl thing doesn’t bother me.”“That’s good.”
“But if you’re going to live in a small town, you’d better get up to date on your gossip. I’ve been single the last ten years.”
The news took her by surprise. Was he single because of divorce or because his wife had died? “Oh, I’m sorry. Celia didn’t tell me.” She wondered why her sister hadn’t filled her in after all this time.
Jack shrugged. “Don’t worry about it.”
He offered no further information and she decided not to ask any more questions. After all, she barely knew him anymore.
Bridget Grant is back in Paradise. Paradise, North Dakota, that is.
She’s swallowed her pride and moved back to her hometown with her daughter after her divorce and the loss of her catering company. Now she’s trying to navigate the strained relationships she’d left behind – including her first love, Jack Davison.
Jack never forgot Bridget, or the day she left town – and him. When Bridget caters a lunch at Jack’s tourist ranch, old flames reignite. They have more in common than ever – Jack’s also a single parent. Though they both try to keep things casual, Bridget, Jack and their girls are starting to look a lot like a family.
But Bridget’s only planning to stay in Paradise until she’s saved enough to relaunch her business. Jack’s invested too much in his ranch to leave. And with their daughters involved both have a lot more at stake than heartbreak. How can they risk falling in love?
I’m beginning a blog tour today to celebrate FIRST AND AGAIN’s release, and I’m giving away a grand prize of a $25 Amazon Gift Certificate. For a full schedule, check out my News Page on my blog. I hope to see you on tour!