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Handle with Care

Handle with Care

Audiobook(MP3 on CD)

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Available for Pre-Order. This item will be available on January 22, 2019

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781721366583
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 01/22/2019
Series: Saddlers Cove Series , #1
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Growing up in the cold, wet, north of England, Nina Croft spent a lot of time dreaming of faraway sunnier places and ponies. When she discovered both, along with a whole load of other things, could be found between the covers of a book, her life changed forever.

Later, she headed south, picked up the perfect husband along the way, and together they volunteered to work in Africa. There they discovered a love of exotic places and a dislike of 9-5 work. Afterward they spent a number of years travelling (whenever possible) intermingled with working (whenever necessary.) Eventually they stumbled upon a remote area in the mountains of southern Spain and the small almond farm they now call home.

Nina spends her days reading, writing and riding her mare, Gencianna, under the blue Spanish skies—sunshine and ponies. She reckons this is proof that dreams really can come true if you want them enough.

Nina's writing mixes romance with elements of the paranormal and science fiction
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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Was she crazy?

Mimi Delaney paused, her hand half raised to open the door to O'Connor's Motorcycles. At the last moment, she was having a crisis of conscience.

Mimi was quite aware that through her long life — she'd be seventy in a couple of weeks' time — a lot of people had considered her crazy. But for the first time, she suspected they might be right.

She reminded herself that she was doing this for Emily, the sweetest granddaughter a woman could want. Taking a deep breath, she pushed open the door to the motorcycle shop.

And really, this was just a reconnoitering mission. If the boy was truly as bad as everyone said — though honestly, no one could be as bad as they said Tanner O'Connor was — then she'd walk away, no harm done, and find another way to bring a little adventure into her granddaughter's life.

The garage and shop were in the center of town — prime real estate. Rumor had it the O'Connor boys had bought it with a payout from their daddy dying in some sort of industrial accident while working in a factory in Virginia Beach. Others were sure it was bought from ill-gotten gains, drugs or prostitution, or worse. The money must have come from somewhere. The family had been dirt poor.

The door opened into a showroom, empty but for a single motorcycle on a podium in the center. She approached it cautiously, as she would an unknown stallion. It was huge, but the seat was quite low, so she could probably touch the ground — the women in her family had always been known for being tall — except poor Emily, who was knee-high to a flea. Probably from her father's side.

She walked around the monster machine, then reached out a hand and stroked a finger over the black and silver metal.

"Can I help you?"

The voice almost made her jump, but she was made of sterner stuff. She composed herself and turned around. And blew out her breath. This was her prey. But she was already having second thoughts. Dressed in faded jeans and a sleeveless white tank, he was big and muscular — and exuded an air of danger.

Now she was being fanciful.

He was also quite the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

Something twisted inside her. Mimi hadn't had a man in thirty years, not since her husband had inconveniently died on her just before her fortieth birthday. She'd never thought much about sex in that time, but standing in front of this beautiful man, she felt every one of her seventy years. And a sense of melancholy and regret washed over her as she realized that she might never again feel a man's touch. That part of her life was over. Finished.

As she remained silent, his gaze wandered over her, one eyebrow raised, and she gathered her thoughts.

The idea had come to her last Sunday. She'd been walking back to the truck with Emily after lunch in town, when a low growling roar had approached from behind. They'd turned together as a huge dark red motorcycle had cruised past them.

And she'd caught a look in Emily's eyes. Longing.

Who would have thought her sweet granddaughter would have the hots for a tattooed ex-con who rode a Harley?

Of course Emily would never do anything about it. She was far too sensible and had never put a foot wrong. Mimi should be pleased about that. Because the boy was trouble. But seriously gorgeous trouble. If she was fifty years younger ...

He cleared his throat.

Time to move on. "Mr. O'Connor?" Of course she knew who he was. Everyone knew Tanner O'Connor. But her brain had turned to mush.

"Yeah?" He'd obviously been working. Wiping his hands on a stained cloth, his body language screamed impatience. "As I said — can I help you?" His tone suggested he found it highly unlikely.

Like her, his dark blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail. The lower half of his face was covered by a short blond beard, his eyes were silver gray, and his cheekbones sharp. He was twenty-six but looked older — with a hardness to his features. Probably a couple of years in prison would do that.

She had another pang of doubt. She wanted Emily to have an adventure, but this might be the kind a woman never recovered from. Maybe she should just turn around and go.

"I'd ask if you were lost," he said, "but you're a local, so I'm guessing not."

"You know who I am?"

He raised a brow. "It's a small town, Mrs. Delaney. How could I not know one of our most prominent citizens? I'm guessing you've come to complain about something."

"You are?"

"That's usually what they come in here for."

"And do you do a lot of things worthy of complaint, Mr. O'Connor?"

He grinned then, and for a second the hard lines melted and he looked suddenly younger. Maybe what he would have been if life had treated him differently. "I do my best, ma'am. I don't like to disappoint the good folks of Saddler Cove."

She bit back a smile at that. How often did she have to stop herself from doing something just to aggravate the "good folks?" She reckoned they needed shaking up occasionally.

The grin was gone, his face settling back into its usual sullen lines. He tapped a foot, clearly trying to portray his impatience.

"I think your selling technique could use a little work, young man, if this is how you treat your customers."

Another lift of his brow. "You're a customer?" His tone reeked of disbelief.

"I am."

He scrubbed a hand over his beard as if to hide his expression. Was he finding her amusing?

"You need some work done. You have a motorcycle?"

"Not yet. Obviously, that's why I'm in here."

He cast her a look, then tossed the rag through the open door behind him and strolled toward her. He must have been half a foot taller than her, and for a brief moment she had to fight the urge to step back. Some of the stories she'd heard ran through her mind.

He'd stolen a car. Murdered his best friend in a drunken rampage. He'd killed a man in prison — though surely if that was the case, he'd still be locked up tight. No woman under the age of fifty was safe from him. Well, that left her out.

Small town gossip. She'd never given it any credence before, and she wasn't going to start now.

"So," he said, coming to a halt in front of her, "what sort of bike are you looking for?"

She waved a hand at the bike on the podium. "Something like this. Maybe in ... pink?"

"You want a Harley? Ever ridden one?"

"No. Perhaps you could give me a few lessons."

Was that a glimmer of amusement in his eyes? "You think you could handle her?"

She studied the machine again. "I was a little worried I might not be able to reach the ground, but the seat seems low enough. And while I might be getting on in years, Mr. O'Connor, I'm still strong."

He looked her up and down, from her scuffed boots to her messy ponytail. "I can see that, ma'am." He tugged at his lower lip while he considered what to say next. "You know the town will probably lynch me if I sell you a hog."

"A hog?" She wanted a bike, not a pig. Well, she didn't really want a bike, but he didn't need to know that.

He nodded to the gleaming motorcycle. "That's what we call 'em."

"How odd." She bit back a smile at the thought of how the town would react. "I doubt they'll actually lynch you. Though I'm sure there'll be plenty of those good folks mighty dismayed."

"You've almost convinced me it's a good idea."

It was that one comment that persuaded her to go ahead with her plan. She had a strange notion that Tanner O'Connor did a lot of things just to deliberately dismay the townsfolk of Saddler Cove. As motives went, it wasn't a bad one.

"Do you usually expect your customers to convince you to sell them something?" she asked. "Is my money not good enough for you?"

He rubbed at a grease spot on his forehead, then at the little line between his eyes. "I guess so. You know what one of these babies goes for?"

"I have no idea."

"This particular bike is twenty-five thousand. More if you want her customized. You still want to buy her?"

Twenty-five thousand? For a secondhand bike?

She swallowed her shock. It was for a good cause, after all. And she wasn't expecting to actually buy the thing. "It's my birthday in a couple of weeks, and a woman is only seventy once, Mr. O'Connor."

He shook his head, then gave a shrug. "Let's go start the paperwork."

CHAPTER 2

Was she crazy?

Of course not — she was sensible.

Why hadn't she said yes? Maybe if she'd had a little warning. Ryan had told her he wanted to take her somewhere nice tonight, and she'd thought nothing of it. Her boyfriend was wealthy and often took her to nice places. Now, driving home afterward, Emily realized she should have read more into the comment.

As she headed up the long, curved drive that led to the ranch house, she caught sight of her grandmother entering the barn. Ryan had said he'd spotted her in town that afternoon. Leaving — of all places — the O'Connor's showroom. What would her grandmother be doing in a motorcycle shop?

Perhaps solving that mystery would take her mind off the catastrophe of her evening. She took the fork in the drive that led to the barn and pulled up in front of the wooden building. After switching off the engine, she sat for a moment. Mimi would no doubt want to know why she was back so early. It was only a little after eight. Maybe she should just go straight to the house — and hide.

But better to get it over with.

She climbed out of her sensible gray Honda and smoothed down her sensible tan linen dress.

Ryan had said she was "sensible." Just before he'd proposed. Apparently, it was what he liked best about her. She was sensible. Not beautiful. Not sassy and feisty and fun to be with. No, she was sensible.Agh!

Would she have said yes if he'd told her she was the most beautiful woman in the world? Of course that would have made him a liar — she wasn't beautiful, she was cute, and how she hated that word — but surely a little poetic license was allowed during a proposal.

The sweet smell of hay and horses filled her nostrils as she entered the barn, the familiar scents soothing her. Though it was only April, the weather had turned warm, and the horses were all out in the paddocks for the night, so the place was quiet and peaceful. She found Mimi in the tack room, sitting on an upturned feed bin and putting together a bridle. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, her long black hair pulled into a ponytail, she looked far younger than her sixty-nine years.

As Emily hovered in the doorway, her grandmother glanced up, one eyebrow raised — Emily had always wanted to be able to do that but had never managed it.

"I thought you were out with what's-his-name?"

Emily had been going out with Ryan for six months, and Mimi knew exactly what he was called. Though Mimi had never said it out loud, Emily knew her grandmother didn't like him. But Emily had no clue why — Ryan was rich, handsome, successful — Saddler Cove's most eligible bachelor. One day he would take over from his daddy as CEO of the family firm and no doubt from his uncle as head of the school board. If Saddler Cove had a first family, then Ryan's was it. He'd be his own boss.

He appeared the perfect boyfriend. Perfect husband material. A sensible woman would have said yes.

Grr.

She'd often wondered what Ryan saw in her. Now she knew.

"I left early," she said.

"Why? Are you not feeling well?" Mimi put the bridle down and stood up. She came over and put a hand to Emily's forehead. "You don't feel warm."

"I'm fine."

"Did you argue?"

Did she sound hopeful? "No, we didn't argue." Ryan had sort of been struck dumb, actually. An image flashed in her mind. Ryan sitting across from her, his mouth open, his hand still holding out the ring. It had clearly never occurred to him, not in a million years, that someone as sensible as Emily would turn such a catch down.

"So?"

She sighed. "Ryan asked me to marry him."

Mimi's eyes widened. She glanced past Emily as if to check that Ryan wasn't hovering somewhere behind her.

"I said no."

Mimi blew out her breath. "Praise the Lord."

Emily frowned. "Why don't you like him?"

"I don't dislike him, darling. He's just ... boring. And you'd be bored out of your mind in no time."

"There are worse things than being bored."

"For some people, maybe. But not for you. You're a dreamer, sweetheart. You've just forgotten how to dream."

She hadn't forgotten, she'd just put aside her old dreams and made some new ones. She didn't want excitement and passion. She wanted ... to be safe. And Mimi to be safe. And she wanted a family, babies. Lots of babies. And she'd keep them safe as well.

Mimi studied her, head cocked to one side. "So why did you say no to Saddler Cove's most eligible bachelor?"

She shuffled her feet, staring at the floor for a moment, then forced herself to look at her grandmother. "He told me I was sensible."

Mimi's lips twitched. "Well, you do give that impression, darling."

"I'm a teacher," she snapped. "I'm supposed to be sensible."

Mimi patted her arm. "Of course you are."

Emily scowled. One of them had to be sensible. You certainly couldn't rely on Mimi for that. The only sensible thing she'd done in her life was marry Emily's grandfather. And that hadn't lasted very long. She'd been alone since he'd died, though through her own choice, as she was fond of telling Emily — she'd had plenty of offers. Emily could believe it. Unlike Emily, she was beautiful, like Scarlett O'Hara with her black hair and green eyes.

"So, was he shocked?" she asked.

Emily grinned. "Speechless."

"Hah. I would have loved to have seen that. I'm glad. You did the right thing. You wouldn't have been happy. And you're too young to settle down. What you need is a fling or two."

Never going to happen.

Men didn't have flings with girls like her. An image flashed in her mind, though. Tanner O'Connor. Six-feet-four of bad boy biker. As different from Ryan as it was possible to get.

She'd had secret fantasies about Tanner since she was old enough to know what boys were for. She'd cried when he was sent to prison, convinced it was a travesty of justice and he was innocent. She'd been sixteen and in love — okay, maybe not in love — she'd never even had a proper conversation with him — but she'd had a huge crush. He was two years older than her and the coolest, baddest boy around. She'd watched from afar as he'd gone through just about every pretty girl in town, treating them mean, and they'd no doubt loved it. Rumor had it that he only dated girls who put out. If that were true, there'd been a lot of girls putting out back then. Emily had dreamed about being treated mean by Tanner O'Connor, but he hadn't even known she existed. But then she was hardly his type, too short, too curvy ... too sensible.

More grr.

He'd been back six years, and he was badder than ever. She'd seen him last Sunday, and he was so hot she'd nearly melted in a puddle right there in front of Mimi. Definitely fling material, but sadly not for the town's first-grade teacher.

"Are you aware I have a morality clause in my contract?" she asked Mimi.

"You have? Is that even legal?"

"I suppose so. I never really thought about it. It never occurred to me that it would be an issue."

"Pity."

"Mimi!" But thinking about Tanner reminded her of something. "Ryan said he saw you in town this afternoon. Coming out of the O'Connor's shop."

"Yes. I might have dropped by."

When she didn't offer anything else, Emily frowned. "Why?"

"Why what, darling?"

"Why did you drop by the O'Connor's shop?"

Mimi wandered away, picked up the bridle she'd been working on, and hung it from one of the hooks around the room.

"What have you done?" Emily asked.

Mimi gave a small shrug of her shoulders. "I bought a hog."

A pig? "You're a vegetarian."

"Not that sort of hog. And really, I'd hardly buy a pig from the O'Connor's Motorcycle shop. A Harley Davidson."

"A Harley? A bike? You've bought a motorcycle?"

"It's a present to myself. I turn seventy next month and — "

"And that's just one reason why you shouldn't have bought a motorcycle. Seventy-year-old women do not ride Harleys."

"Says who?"

"Anyone. Everyone."

"Anyone sensible, you mean."

Low blow. "I don't believe this. You actually bought it."

"I handed over my check — which reminds me — I must talk to the bank tomorrow. Transfer some money. Hogs do not come cheap."

"How much?" Not that it mattered. The bike was going back.

"Twenty-five thousand."

"What?" The word came out as a shriek.

"I have the money, darling. It's just sitting in the bank. I might as well get some fun out of it."

Fun? She'd kill herself. Despite her height, Mimi weighed about a hundred and ten pounds. She'd never manage to handle a bike that size.

What sort of jackass would sell a seventy-year-old woman — who didn't even have a motorcycle license! — a Harley Davidson?

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Handle with Care"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Nina Croft.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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