Rose Richardson is on the run from her dangerous ex-husband, a crime she didn’t commit—and the embarrassment of being an advice columnist with a disastrous personal life. Donning a fake identity, she escapes to a lovely lake house rental in rural Connecticut…only to discover her refuge is already occupied. Leo Drake is devastatingly handsome–and clearly wants to be alone. Rose stands her ground, even while she fears being found out for the fugitive she is. Plus, her sweet dog, Bella, seems to like the brooding widower, so how bad could he be?
A prize winning novelist, Leo lost everything after he lost his wife. But his mysterious housemate just might be the muse he needs to reignite his writing career. Despite his misgivings, Rose has secrets that only draw him closer, firing his imagination, even as his heart struggles with the attraction building between them. Plus, he kind of likes the quirky pooch. And as he tries to untangle his unusual predicament, Bella’s antics just might be the key to showing the loner that love is the only inspiration he needs…
Praise for Sharon Struth
“Struth has a gift for layering stories within stories while keeping them all connected.” --Library Journal
“Struth is an author to watch!” --Laura Drake, author of RITA-award winner The Sweet Spot
“Sharon Struth writes a good story about love and loss. She knows her characters and has a path she wants them to take.” --Eye on Romance
“The plot is refreshing and will definitely keep the reader turning page after page." --Fresh Fiction
About the Author
When she’s not working, she and her husband happily sip their way through the scenic towns of the Connecticut Wine Trail, travel the world, and enjoy spending time with their precious pets and two grown daughters. She writes from the friendliest place she’s ever lived, Bethel, Connecticut. For more information, including where to find her published essays, please visit www.sharonstruth.com or visit her blog, Musings from the Middle Ages & More at www.sharonstruth.wordpress.com
Read an Excerpt
A Blue Moon Lake Romance
By Sharon Struth
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Sharon Struth
All rights reserved.
Rose Richardson stared beyond the car's swishing wiper blades and whispered, "If anybody is up there listening, please send a sign this isn't the biggest mistake of my life."
She held her breath, not sure if the request might mistakenly rouse an onslaught of locusts. Nothing happened.
Through the wet windshield, her gaze drifted to the front of Blue Moon Lake Realty. The rural Connecticut real estate office could've been a home, based on the green awning over a picture window and potted petunias on the stoop. Weatherworn, salmon-colored paint peeled in places and the awning flap had a slight tear. Only a bright neon sign reading Open hinted to the building's business purpose.
A sign. Any sign. Nobody walked out and gave her a thumbs-up, even though lights inside indicated someone was there. She glanced around the near-empty parking lot. A breeze blew a candy bar wrapper from the roadside onto the nearby lawn, not exactly sign-worthy.
Guess she'd have to trust her gut on this decision. How long had it been since she'd put her faith in anybody else, anyway? Ten years? Twenty? More like never.
Rose flipped on the inside light and adjusted the rearview mirror to get another peek at herself. A near stranger stared back. Just as she'd planned.
A shuffling noise made her turn around. Bella stretched lengthwise in the Ford Escort, hogging most of the bench seat.
"What do you think of me as a redhead, Bella?"
The five-year-old basset hound yawned.
Rose could only hope others reacted with the same disinterest. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves and faced back out the front windshield.
Rain danced on the car's roof, a dreary end to her two-day journey. The trip started twenty-four hours ago, when she still had shoulder-length dirty-blond hair, and her integrity. Now everything had changed.
Besides applying a hair rinse that left her with copper-red locks, she'd stopped at a Smartcuts in Virginia for a different style. Newly purchased black-framed fashion glasses fit loosely on the bridge of her nose and slipped for the umpteenth time today. She shoved them back up with her index finger. Okay, so they didn't really work for Clark Kent, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
She opened her purse to search for a pack of gum.
Tap, tap, tap.
Rose's heart startled and she jerked her head toward the window.
"Emma? Emma Morris?" A voluptuous woman with an auburn bob cut and wide green eyes stared back. She wore a navy jacket with the real estate office logo on the lapel.
Rose rolled down the window and crossed her fingers that she passed this first critical test using her made-up identity. "Yes, I'm sorry I'm late." Her heartbeat pounded wildly, but she forced a smile. "Are you Meg?"
"I am." Meg held an enormous golf umbrella. "Glad you made it. I've been worried."
"Sorry. Traffic coming out of Boston was bad." Rose swallowed the lie, glad she'd given the car dealer a little extra cash to give her an old Massachusetts plate he happened to have. Money could buy anything.
"Don't worry at all, sweetie. Sit tight. Let me grab the house key so you don't have to come out in this rain." She hurried back inside.
Rose admired the agent's A-line skirt. All Rose's Ann Taylor clothes still hung in her closet back in North Carolina, replaced with items off the clearance rack from the junior's department at the Roanoke, Virginia Target during her drive north. Her new style said "thirty-eight-year-old woman who wishes she was still eighteen," not "senator's wife and nationally known advice columnist."
Meg exited the shabby ranch home and returned to the car, this time on her cell phone. "Just finish your homework. I'll be home soon." She hung up and slipped the phone in her jacket pocket. "Kids. They always call when you're in the middle of something."
Rose nodded, but she didn't understand. Thank God she and John had never had children. With the news that had sent her running from him, her soul felt as uncared for as the house before her. Pain over his actions was a hard stab at her heart, but she lifted her chin in a defiant gesture he'd never see.
Meg handed Rose an envelope. "Everything you need is in here. Two house keys and a signed copy of the lease from Mr. Drake." She placed a hand on Rose's arm. "You're getting a great deal on this place. It's lakefront. The last tenant took off before the lease ended." She dropped her voice and glanced around, even though the area was deserted. "Mr. Drake was furious. He likes having someone in the house, you know? Makes him worry less about the place being empty."
"I don't blame him. Is it far from here?"
"A stone's toss away." Meg grinned.
"Oh, so it's nearby?"
"A few miles. Follow Lake Shore Drive out of town going toward Southbridge. Go past the Litchfield Hills Vineyard. About two miles beyond that, you'll turn. Be careful. Potholes are everywhere. It's been a rough winter, and they still haven't patched the road. I mean, it's May! What are they waiting for?" She shook her head. "Oh, it's rained for the past two days, so hopefully the driveway leading to the estate isn't flooded. There's a town map inside the envelope and a booklet with local services and businesses. Anything goes wrong, you call me right away. One of my cards is in there with my cell number. Mr. Drake is a good landlord and handles problems quickly."
"Thank you, Meg. Hold on." Rose leaned over to the passenger seat and searched her purse for the envelope holding all her cash. Her lifeline. The only way to remain hidden from the lies of her ex-husband. Her hatred for John swelled, but she held it in check and removed enough to cover rent. "Here you go. For the first month."
"I'll print a receipt tomorrow, if it's okay? The computers are shut off."
"Remember, call if you need me."
Rose waited until Meg disappeared inside the office, then tipped her head against the headrest and blew out a relieved sigh.
Maybe she hadn't seen a sign, but she'd gone too far to turn back now.
* * *
After a quick stop at the local market for a few essentials, Rose navigated the dark lake road. In the distance, twinkling lights from houses scattered along the hills sparkled. The ad for her rental house had said it had water views and solitude.
A perfect place to remain invisible. A perfect place to hide.
There were so many layers to John's dishonesty she didn't know which one had made her run. Five days ago, their divorce had become final. All she had to do, by the terms of their divorce agreement, was live in the same house and stay silent about their split until the elections were over. A nasty trade on her ex-husband's part, but a small price to pay to get what she needed from him. Six months of hell, then she'd be home free.
Or so she'd thought.
An approaching car flicked their high beams and Rose lowered hers. She yawned, tired but anxious to reach the private house rental. The call to her college friend Joanne had been a stab in the dark, but she lived up the eastern seaboard in Connecticut, far away from John's threats and offenses. Joanne had put out her feelers for a rental in a remote area and, within an hour, someone mentioned a quiet house in the northwest corner of the state on a lake. The miracle of social media. Rose would never complain about it being a waste of time again.
The car's headlights brightened a white sign for the vineyard Meg had mentioned. Rose's worries lightened and she forged ahead, eventually making a turn. The narrow road twisted like a curious snake between the trees. Every so often she'd pass a driveway, proving civilization did exist.
At a mailbox with the name Drake in black letters on the side, she slowed. A rusted No Trespassing sign had been nailed to a thick tree trunk. She turned in, thankful to arrive.
Gravel crunched beneath her tires. She inched up the incline of a stone-paved driveway centered between thick trees. The Ford Escort hit each bump as if nothing rested between Rose's rump and the ground. She'd needed to use the bathroom since leaving the real estate office. With each jolt, she paid the price of not stopping sooner.
At a clearing, her headlights illuminated a huge white colonial looming before her, larger than she'd imagined. Pillars marked the sides of a portico entrance and symmetrical darkened windows with black shutters lined the façade. She parked near the walkway, turning off the car and plunging into total darkness.
She turned on the inside light. "We made it, Bella."
Bella stood, flattened her stubby legs in front of her, and arched her behind high in the air. A good yoga stretch. "I know, girl. It's been a long drive."
Rose searched the envelope from Meg and removed a key. She took a deep breath, slipped her purse over her shoulder, and got out. Drizzle misted in the air. Bella hopped out of the back seat and sniffed, her tail high and nose pressed to the ground like a Hoover.
Rose popped the trunk. The light inside glowed, highlighting the darkness of the property. A twig snapped in the nearby woods, making her jump. The tree cluster was thick and ominous, worthy of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale setting. Beyond the house, a clearing in the backyard showed dotted lights from houses across the way — maybe the other side of the lake.
Grabbing her backpack, she decided to take the rest in tomorrow. All she wanted after such a long drive was to eat and go to sleep.
She opened her Target bags, searching for a nightshirt and toothbrush amongst the new items. While she looked, her purse slipped off her shoulder into the trunk and several things fell out. She ignored them to continue her search. The quiet in the secluded yard got creepier by the second. A little chill spiraled up her spine. Hastening her search, she stuffed her findings into her backpack, and replaced the spilled items from her purse. After a quick neatening of the trunk, she slammed it shut.
"Let's go, Bella." Bella sniffed a nearby patch of tulips and ignored Rose, who snapped on the leash and gave her a tug.
Using the dim beam of a cheap key-ring flashlight, she followed a slate walkway to the door. It took a minute to work the key, but the lock finally clicked and she pushed the door open.
Her eyes adjusted to the pitch-black entrance. Shadows teased her already jumpy nerves as she dropped her belongings on the floor and patted the wall. It took a few seconds to locate the switches, and she flipped them up.
An overhead light brightened a large foyer facing a staircase and hallway. The inside felt warm, considering Meg had said nobody lived here for the past two months.
She inhaled, catching a familiar scent. Coffee?
Rose shut the door and removed the dog's leash, dropping it on an old olive-green table with black scrolled decorative swirls, stationed against the foyer wall. Above the table hung a long mirror, a peacock etched in the glass taking up half the space.
Rose studied herself in the reflection, still shocked by the altered image. Circles under her eyes matched the tiredness taking over her body. Sleep had never sounded so good.
Rose stopped, tilting her head toward the upstairs.
A loud creak sounded from above. Her heartbeat picked up speed. Another creak. Footsteps? A light upstairs flashed on and cut a beam to the staircase wall. Bella's ears perked at the same moment the slow rise of panic crawled through Rose's veins.
Move. Move! Only she stood still, frozen in fear as her mind raced with images from vagrants to serial killers.
The dog emitted a guttural growl.
Slow creaks of the floorboards above magnified in the silent house. Rose stretched her trembling hand, snatched the leash off the table, and leaned over, just shy of snapping it on Bella so they could race like hell out the door.
Footsteps pounded. Fast and hard, they hit the staircase. Before she could grab the dog's collar, Bella bolted.
Bella's howl echoed in the silent house. She stopped at the bottom step and stared fearlessly into the face of danger. Terror, however, had cemented Rose's feet in place.
A dark-haired man reached the bottom, gripping a baseball bat in a ready-to-launch position over his shoulder. "Don't move!" He stood at the last step, too close for her to make a quick dash out the door.
Rose's heart pounded against her ribs and her mouth went dry. She raised her hands in the air. "Please. Don't hurt me!"
The intruder blinked back at her through sleepy eyes. Thick tresses of messy hair jutted from his head. The rugged edges of an unshaven shadow highlighted his tight, angled jaw. Her gaze traveled past his wrinkled, loosely buttoned plaid shirt, his baggy sweatpants, and stopped at his bare feet.
Bella bared her teeth, glaring at him bravely as he towered over the short basset hound. Her nose lifted and she inhaled a sharp breath. Owoooooooooooo! Owooooooooo!
The dog's war cry got the stranger's attention for a split second, but he quickly returned his narrowed gaze to Rose. "I don't know who you are, but you'd better have a damn good reason for breaking into my house."
* * *
Leo Drake's head ached. He couldn't shake off his disorientation, certain he walked around in some awful dream.
"Your house?" Disbelief showed in the woman's rich blue eyes as they widened. Her gaze drifted to his arms. "Could you please lower the bat? I didn't break in. I have a key." She lifted a key on a plastic ring he didn't recognize.
Shit. He lowered the bat and took the last step down into the foyer. Goddamn Everett must've rented the place again.
She dropped her arms. "Wh-who are you?"
"This is my house. Who are you?"
"Emma. Emma Morris." She hesitated a brief second then jutted out her chin, her heart-shaped face shifting into a more confident pose. "I have papers showing I'm renting this place." She lifted a manila envelope off the table near the door. "For at least this month, possibly longer. Are you Everett?"
He clenched his jaw at the mention of his brother's name. "No. Leo Drake. My brother and I share ownership of the house. I'm sorry, but you'll have to find somewhere else to stay."
Her shoulders slumped. Uncertainty crossed her face as she reached up and tucked one side of her wispy, Lucille Ball–red hair behind her ear, highlighting a faded red stain on her neck near her lobe, perhaps from hair dye.
"Leave?" She shook her head. "No, I can't." She straightened her posture and a razor-sharp edge glistened in her determined eyes. "I signed a lease. My options are limited, so we'd better get this straightened out."
Leo took a step closer to her, his height a good head above hers. She didn't back away, only stared back with unyielding determination. Moxie when the going got tough always impressed him. A quality Camille had never possessed; his deceased wife had been so afraid of conflict she'd rather pretend to be happy. Even if it meant avoiding health concerns, from her mental health issues that had worsened over time, to allowing a cancer diagnosis to have its way. Further proof he was powerless to save those he loved.
He swept aside the wave of grief and studied the stranger from top to toe. Mickey Mouse struck his trademark kicked-back pose on her chest. Patterned pants lined her legs, looking more like they belonged on a clown or someone still in high school. Not this grown woman, whose age he guessed at over thirty and who spoke with more polish than her bad wardrobe taste would suggest.
She pulled out her cell phone from her windbreaker pocket. "Does Meg know you're staying here?"
"The real estate agent." She searched through an envelope and removed a business card. "I'm calling her."
"Well, it's pointless. Everett shouldn't have leased this place again."
She ignored him and dialed. He glanced at the dog, who threatened him with bloodshot eyes and a wagging tail. Some watchdog. He resisted the urge to bend over and pet the cute guy.
Leo lifted his gaze to the uninvited guest. "There's no way I'm leaving my own house."
"Listen —" He paused, already forgetting the stranger's name. "You can't —"
She turned her back on him. "Hello, Meg ..."
Excerpted from Bella Luna by Sharon Struth. Copyright © 2016 Sharon Struth. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved Bella Luna - the romance and intrigue, the reclusive writer and the mysterious columnist on the lam, a house haunting (faked) and an adorable pooch, the small town setting complete with and winery and fun, fast friends, but mostly a beautiful love story that unfolds through it all.
I totally loved this book! This heartwarming book kept me fully engaged and entertained! I was not able to put this book down! This book is about love, kindness, romance, healing, second chances, and fresh starts. This book has excellent character development! Rose/Emma, Leo, and adorable little Basset Hound, Bella, were enjoyable, genuine, and relatable. Both main characters, Rose/Emma and Leo have some major baggage and complicated pasts. Rose/Emma is running away from her ex, the law, and her job. Leo, a recent widower, is also running away from the world, trying to restart his writing career and work on his novel. Both are looking to be alone and for peace and quiet. Rose/Emma escapes to Blue Moon Lake and thinks she’ll have the house she rented to herself. However, that is anything but the case! Rose rented the house from Leo’s brother, not knowing that Leo would be there. These two instantly clash! They try to make the best out of the situation, and agree to share the house, but keep to their own space. There is definitely a spark between these two! it was fun to watch their story unfold and watch them try to fight their strong attraction. Rose/Emma and Leo are both quite stubborn and there is some hilarious witty banter between the two! Plus, you can’t forget about super cute little Bella who will absolutely win you over! Although this book is in the contemporary romance genre, there is a bit of mystery and suspense thrown in. This book is book three in the Blue Moon Lake Book Series. However, it can be read as a standalone. I had not read the first two books before reading this book, however, as much as I’ve enjoyed reading this book I definitely wish I had. I would absolutely recommend this book, this book series, and this author as I was truly impressed with the quality of writing, intriguing storylines, and excellent character development! I will definitely be checking out the other books in this series and other works by this author! **Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book and have voluntarily provided an honest, and unbiased review in accordance with FTC regulations.**
Who can resist Bella? “Bella Luna” by Sharon Struth is a contemporary romance with a bit of mystery that centers around Rose Richardson, who has fled her crumbling life and wants to hide out under an assumed identity in rural Connecticut. Her plans are complicated by an unwanted tenant in the house she is supposed to be leasing, but she and her Basset Hound Bella are going to stay in that house whether her new landlord, Leo Drake, objects or not. Leo is a writer who is struggling to finish his new novel and he doesn’t need any distractions, particularly not a woman who seems to have plenty of secrets. Neither wants any connection with the other, but something or someone seems to be forcing them together, until each has to decide whether to share painful elements from the past and explore the possibility of a future together. This was an enjoyable tale that builds slowly with a mysterious heroine and a brooding, inhospitable hero who get off to a bad start but grow on each other, despite some fairly hefty obstacles. Each has significant personal problems stemming from the past and there is the shadow of a ruthless man out to destroy all that she has built but this is not a heavy angst-filled tale. The lovely small-town feel and the leavening effect provided by the personable four-footed character allow the reader to feel compassion for the characters but not weighted down by their tragedies. I thought a few of the scenarios were a bit forced and the seasoning necessary for a true evolution of the relationship was a little out of sequence but I enjoyed the story anyway. This story is part of the ‘Blue Moon Lake Romance Book’ series but it can be read as a stand-alone tale without any problem. The secondary characters give hints of the other stories that are part of the series and make one curious about their tales and I am intrigued enough to want to read more books by this author. Those who enjoy gentle small town romances will appreciate getting to know these folks who allow one to boo at the villain and sigh happily at the lead characters getting a happy ever after. A copy of this title was provided to me for review
Although I have enjoyed all the books written by this author, possibly the best part of this newest release is the introduction of Bella, a basset hound who adds another layer of whimsy and humor to this easy-reading love story. Bella joins a cast of fun & relatable characters from previous books in this series, and was a perfect new addition. As with other books in the Blue Moon series, there are some twists and turns that keep you guessing to the very end, but never fear, love prevails Fun & easy read from start to finish.
What Sharon Struth does best is throw those darling pebbles at her characters and let them squirm their way through. One of the absolute best, most hilarious quirks of the book comes by way of adorable Bella. I won't spoil it, but it's fabulous. Struth also does what I, personally, appreciate in any protagonist--she saves herself. Not alone. Rose is not one of those stubborn characters who accepts nothing from no one, but she doesn't rely on being rescued. Not only doesn't she rely on it, but she takes definite steps, sometimes mis-steps, to getting it done HER way. Lovely romance. Great tension. Of course, it's what we expect from Sharon Struth by now. I probably say it with every book, but this might just be my favorite of the series. Leo is less the Prince Charming, and more of a Prince Curmudgeon, but a lovable one, with a profound backstory of his own. All in all, great read.
Fantastic read! It's a sweet story of two people needing to hide from the world for a while. Leo is an author who is struggling to finish his current book. Since his wife died, his writing seems to have died too. Going to Blue Moon Lake for a little solitude is his last ditch effort. Now that tranquility is shattered when an unexpected tenant shows up demanding she has a right to the house. Rose is on the run. She's running from her ex-husband, the law, and her job. She thought she found the perfect haven on Blue Moon Lake until she finds out she has an unexpected housemate. These two finding their way is humorous at times, heartwarming all the time, and just plain fun. I loved Bella and think she stole the story. I highly recommend this one. (