Jackson Koch had already lost his wife to cancer when the town’s coal mines shut down and his job was gone too. So, with a three-year-old daughter to care for and a broken heart to mend, he moved across the country to find a new life in Bridgeport, Ohio. Now he tends bar by night and tries to navigate life as a single dad by day. Luckily, his neighbor is happy to babysit while he works late nights. She’s great with little Kate, beautiful, kind … and lately he’s found himself smiling whenever he thinks about her.
Dani Brown also knows what it’s like to lose a spouse and raise a child on her own. Cleaning houses during the day, and taking online classes at night, she dreams of running her own preschool someday. And, since her fourteen-year-old son Jeremy’s baseball team requires a lot of money, she’s thrilled to earn some extra cash by watching her handsome neighbor’s adorable little girl. But even with two jobs, she’s having trouble making ends meet.
When Jackson sees Dani running herself ragged for her son’s baseball ambitions he decides it’s time to get the Bridgeport Social Club involved. Together they cook up a plan. They will run a charity poker tournament to support Jeremy’s dream and help out a hardworking single mom. But will Dani be able to accept help from the handsome neighbor she’s starting to feel more-than-friendly feelings for? And how far is she ready to let those feelings go?
Get ready to fall in love with Shelley Shepard Gray’s Bridgeport Social Club again, where a poker night is so much more than a game of cards and an extraordinary community of ordinary men and women come together to offer love, light, and hope to everyone they encounter.
About the Author
Shelley Shepard Gray is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of numerous romantic fiction series and mystery novels, including the Seasons of Sugarcreek series, the Sisters of the Heart series, the Families of Honor series, and others. She is a recipient of RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award.
Read an Excerpt
FROM LES LARKE'S YOU, TOO, CAN HOST A POKER TOURNEY:
Hosting a neighborhood poker tournament is a great way to get the guys to spend more time together. It can be a lot of fun — if you follow some basic advice.
"I'm really glad you're here," the slightly tipsy blond announced as Jackson Koch placed a third glass of merlot into her hands. "Until you came to town, I knew everybody. Having you around has shaken everything up." She paused. "In a good way, I mean." Leaning forward, she smiled while giving him an eyeful of cleavage.
Jackson knew that eyeful was a promise of a whole lot more — if he was inclined to take her up on the opportunity. He wasn't. Even if he was interested in a night with a pretty blond, he wouldn't pick one up where he worked.
"Glad I could help," he said at last. He turned and started on a pair of gin and tonics for the couple sitting next to her.
She frowned before getting up from the barstool. After a second, she smoothed her knit dress along her hips and stepped away. No doubt, she would be smiling brightly at someone else before the hour was up.
As he poured Bombay and filled the rest of the glasses with tonic water and added the lime wedges, he couldn't help but mentally finish his reply to the woman. He was glad he'd moved to Bridgeport, too, but she didn't know him.
Didn't know him at all.
If he was going to be real honest, sometimes he didn't even know himself anymore. Bartending at the Corner Bar in Bridgeport, Ohio, had never been in his plans.
The fact of the matter was that he'd never imagined that he would be living outside of Spartan, West Virginia. He had been settled there. His family had been part of the landscape for generations. He had a group of friends that he'd known since kindergarten and a thousand memories on practically every corner of that one-stoplight town.
He'd also had a good job.
He'd liked mining. Liked the camaraderie of the men he'd worked with. Liked feeling like he was providing something useful for the rest of the population. Something necessary to help them run their businesses and lives.
But two years ago, he and everyone else at Spartan Mine Number Nine learned that they might have thought they were doing something good, but the rest of America thought they were ruining the planet. Nobody wanted to use coal anymore. And though there were no doubt a hundred other reasons his mine had needed to close, Jackson had given up trying to figure out what they were. All he knew was that he — alongside four hundred other men — was out a good job.
He'd been laid off, given a severance package for his twelve years of hard work, and left behind. Forgotten.
"Hey, Jackson?" Genevieve Schuler prompted. Her voice was laced with concern. "You all right?"
Damn it. He'd done it again — let his mind go to places it shouldn't.
"Sorry, Gen." Luckily, she'd already passed the gin and tonics he'd poured to the couple who had been waiting. He turned, ready to help the next customers, but only saw his boss, still standing by his side.
Realizing that they were experiencing a momentary break, he looked around, already anticipating what Gen needed. "What do you want me to do? Wash glasses?"
Gen shook her head, the slight motion causing the tail of her long blond ponytail to brush along her shoulder blades. "I was thinking you could go on home."
After glancing at his phone, he looked at her in confusion. Gen was a couple years younger than him, had started this bar two years ago, and would have been able to put any worker at Spartan Mine Number Nine in his place with one withering look. She also seemed to have a soft spot for men down on their luck. She'd hired him even though his only bartending experience was sitting at one with his buddies.
"It's only midnight." It was also a Saturday night. They didn't start shutting it down until one at the earliest. More often than not, two a.m. was last call. Given that the crowd was having a good time, he was pretty sure that that was going to be this evening's scenario.
Still staring at him through gold wire rims, Gen explained further. "Kimmy's working tonight, and she just got on at six. Brad's working the door and Melissa's doing just fine out on the patio. You've been on since four. Go on home. We've got this, Cookie."
"I'm starting to wish I never told you about my high school nickname."
She laughed. "You might as well wish for something else, because it's cemented in my mind now." Making a shooing motion with her hand, she said, "Go on, now. I'll add up your tips and have them for you after you wash up."
He nodded again as he slid out from the gate and headed toward the back rooms. As he walked, the blond he'd served earlier and her two girlfriends smiled up at him. One of them might have said something, too. He wasn't sure. All he knew was that he'd be out of there soon.
As soon as he got to the back room, he washed his hands and arms with soap, as thoroughly as he could, and switched out his T-shirt. He hated to walk into his apartment smelling like stale beer. After he changed, he grabbed his backpack and strode back into the main bar.
Gen handed him an envelope, his portion of the tips for the night. "See you Tuesday night. You're on from seven till close."
"Yep. See you then." He pocketed the envelope then headed out the side door and started his five-minute commute home.
The minute he walked outside, the dark silence soothed him like a balm. Though mining wasn't the quietest job in the world, a lot of his old job had been spent in relative silence. Some guys had worn headphones, needing something to distract themselves from the repetitious sounds and hard labor. He had never been one of them. He'd gotten used to the sounds and had even come to rely on them. Plus, he liked being able to hear if one of his men had a problem.
Like an old friend, memories of being something more than a mediocre bartender flashed through his mind. He'd been a crew leader, responsible not only for his team's output but their well-being. He'd enjoyed it. Just as he'd enjoyed being responsible for his women at home.
Before more painful memories surfaced, he shut down that train of thought. Tight.
"That part of your life is over, Jackson," he reminded himself as he walked down the sidewalk to the entrance of his apartment building. He needed to stop thinking of his old life. Stop thinking of Beth. Stop thinking of how things used to be.
Using his key card, he let himself in the main door, then headed up the one flight to the apartment he shared with his daughter, Kate. He really hoped she'd had a good night with Dani.
His key clicked softly as he turned the lock and then shut the door behind him. Waited.
But he didn't hear anything.
Concern snaked through him. Suddenly, he was torn between looking through the two-bedroom apartment and pulling out his cell phone. Damn. When was the last time he'd checked it? Maybe around eight or nine?
Over three hours ago.
He cursed himself again as he started toward Kate's bedroom door. What if something happened? What if Dani had been trying to get ahold of him and had finally given up and taken Kate to the hospital? What if —
"Jackson! Oh my gosh! You scared the heck out of me!" Dani exclaimed. Looking like she'd been caught doing something bad, his babysitter shot to her feet.
His neighbor — and part-time babysitter — had been sitting at the little nook in the back of his kitchen. He hadn't even noticed her. "Sorry, Dani. I guess I should have let you know I was getting off early."
She was looking down at her phone. "Did you text me, and I didn't see it?"
"Nah. I forgot. Like I said, I'm sorry about that."
"It's okay. I think I fell asleep reading anyway." She pulled a pair of headphones off her head and then shook her hair slightly. Her curly dark-blond hair bounced with the motion. "So, you got off a little early, huh?"
"Yeah. At first, I was kind of bummed about losing the money, but I got over that real quick. It's good to be home early for once."
She studied him carefully, her concern making him warm inside — reminding him that he might be lonely here in Bridgeport, but he wasn't alone. Seeing that she was gathering her books, he grabbed her backpack and started putting her laptop and notebooks inside. "How was Kate tonight?"
"Perfect." She smiled, her brown eyes conveying a wealth of information with just one look. "We played princess, then watched Frozen, then read her bunny book. She went to sleep around eight."
He chuckled. "You getting tired of playing princess yet?"
Pulling out her keys, she gave him a look of mock horror. "Are you kidding? Not on your life. Jeremy had me playing trucks for hours when he was four. I was constantly sitting in the dirt. Bugs got on me! Playing dress-up and acting all girlie never gets old."
He smiled at her, thinking that she was one of the most feminine women he'd ever met. Her long blond hair. That pretty smile. The kindness that radiated from nearly everything she did. There was something about Dani that he couldn't seem to ignore — no matter how hard he tried. "I'll take your word for it. I still can't imagine you being all that pleased to be playing in the dirt."
"Well, Kate tells me she likes to play princess with me almost as much as she does her daddy." She raised her eyebrows. "I think that means we're all doing things we never intended to do."
She had him there. "Do me a favor and don't picture me in a tiara."
"What? You afraid you'll ruin your street cred?"
Dani chuckled as she walked toward his door, her bright-red backpack slung over one shoulder. "Don't worry, your secret's safe with me. How about we simply agree that good parents will do just about anything for their children instead?" Thinking about his sacrifices, and the ones that both of their former spouses had made, Jackson swallowed hard. "Agreed."
Turning back toward him, Dani paused. "I'm sorry. Did I say something wrong?"
"Not at all. What you said was everything right." Just as he opened the door for her, he realized that he'd been so busy bantering with her that he'd forgotten to get out his tip envelope and pay her. "Dan, crap. Hold on. I forgot to pay you."
"Don't worry about it. You can pay me next time you work." She paused. "When is that, again? I know you gave me next week's schedule ... but I didn't look at it real good. Are you working on Tuesday?"
"Yep. I work seven till close."
"I'll come up around six thirty then."
When she yawned, he realized that she'd been standing there holding a heavy backpack. Where the heck was his head? "Let me walk you up."
She waved him off. "No need. I'm good."
"Please, Jackson. If you don't mind, I'd rather go on my own. I'll see you later."
"See you." He let her go but stayed in place as he watched her walk down the hall and then take the stairs up to the next flight. Even when she was out of sight, he stayed there. Remembering.
Suddenly overcome with memories of when he walked another woman to her door. Then, years later, walking her to their door.
All after making vows before God and everyone — they all knew that he'd never let her go.
It was too bad Beth's cancer had had other plans.CHAPTER 2
FROM LES LARKE'S YOU, TOO, CAN HOST A POKER TOURNEY:
First off, make sure you have the proper poker supplies on hand. You're gonna need a deck of cards, chips, and a table to play on. If you have these three things, you're on your way.
All Danielle Brown cared about was entering her apartment as quietly as possible.
Jeremy was the only fourteen-year-old on earth she'd ever heard of who didn't sleep like the dead. She'd learned the hard way the dangers of microwaving a snack in the middle of the night or watching a movie on television without headphones. Even slight noises triggered an instant reaction.
When he was little, he would pop right up out of his Star Wars sheets and come find her after the slightest noise. That greeting would be followed by at least another hour of conversation and gentle coaxing before he went back to sleep.
Now he didn't bother waking her up, which was almost worse, as far as she was concerned. He stayed in his bed and read or played on his computer or phone for hours, only to be groggy in the morning and running on empty by the time he was halfway through his school day.
Jeremy's light sleeping habits were the exact opposite of her own. Unless her alarm blared or her boy pushed her shoulder, Dani slept through practically anything.
At least she didn't have to worry about waking him up tonight. She'd gotten home earlier than expected, and since it was a Saturday night, it wouldn't have even been a serious issue if she had disturbed him. They could sleep in until nine. Church didn't start until a quarter after ten. Getting the chance to sleep past six or seven in the morning always felt like a gift.
Just as she opened the refrigerator, contemplating the pros and cons of having a glass of icy chardonnay, her son walked into the kitchen.
"Please don't tell me that I woke you up."
He looked insulted by that idea. "I wasn't asleep. It's only twelve thirty."
"It's a legitimate question. You were yawning around three this afternoon."
In typical Jeremy fashion, he smirked but didn't say anything about that. "You wanna watch Ice Road Truckers?"
"Sure. Let me get a glass of wine and I'll meet you on the couch. And then I want to hear about your night."
He turned away without replying, sending a shiver of warning through her as the questions started to race in her head. Was he avoiding the question ... or just avoiding answering because the answer didn't matter?
Half the time she never knew. About a year ago, he'd started pulling away from her, which she knew was natural but hard for her heart to accept.
After pouring herself a half-glass of wine, she joined him on the tan suede couch that she hadn't wanted to spend the money on, but Brian had insisted was worth the investment.
"So, what did you do tonight?"
He shrugged. "Nothing. Just hung out."
"Oh, Jackson gave me his schedule for next week. He's off next Saturday night!"
Jeremy shrugged as if it didn't matter to him.
"That means you can make some plans, Jer." Like it was a new idea, she said, "Hey, maybe you could invite someone over to spend the night. You haven't done that in a while."
"I'm a little old to have sleepovers, Mom."
"Oh. Hey, I know. We could do something fun, just the two of us," she continued, hoping her voice didn't sound as eager as she felt. "We could go to the movies."
"On Saturday night? I don't know, Mom."
Obviously fourteen-year-old boys did not want to be seen out on Saturday nights with their mothers. Thinking back to when she and Brian were a high school item, she realized she should have known that.
No, she should have remembered that.
"Sorry. I was just thinking it would be fun to spend time with you instead of a three-year-old for a change."
"How was Kate?"
There is was. The first warmth and interest in his voice. She would never have guessed it, but the first real spark of life that had appeared in his eyes after his father's death had been brought on by a dark-haired, blue-eyed little girl.
Dani smiled. "She wanted to play princess all night and watch Frozen."
"I know. I think I now know every word in that movie." "Kate's so silly."
"She really is," she murmured, though she was thinking that little Kate was a blessing, too. Jeremy's eyes had lit up. There really wasn't much that girl could do that he didn't seem to find appealing. "She did ask if you could come over to play, by the way."
The smile that had been playing on his lips turned into a full-blown grin. "What did you tell her?"
"The truth. That you had other things to do besides play princess."
"Uh-oh. What did she say to that?"
"What do you think? She asked again if 'Jimmy' could come over to play soon."
As she'd hoped, Jeremy chuckled at Kate's butchering of his name. "Do you think Jackson does all that girlie stuff?" "I know he does." She smiled at him. "Kate's got her daddy wrapped around her pinkie." Seeing the wistfulness in Jeremy's eyes, she added, "Just like you did with yours. Your dad could never tell you no."
And just like that, all of the warmth that had been settling in his expression evaporated. "You know what? I'm getting kind of tired. I'm gonna go to bed."
"But what about Ice Road Truckers?"
"It's just a repeat. No reason for us to watch a repeat."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hold On Tight"
Copyright © 2019 Shelley Shepard Gray.
Excerpted by permission of Blackstone Publishing.
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've been waiting and waiting for this book, and then for the chance to have time to read it! My wait was rewarded!!! What I have loved about the Bridgeport Social Club series is that it features real people who don't have it all together. They're not "have all the answer" Christians, some of them aren't Christians at all. That makes this series all the more valuable, because some of the characters are "Velveteen Rabbit" type Christians: the ones who have had real hardships in life, love and faith and who are searching and seeking and real with others about their doubts and failings. Their knees are calloused because they do fall, and they fall to their knees asking for answers. The series also points to the value of having friends in life, friends who have your back. Friends who care about your friends because YOU care about them. Friends who are willing to step in and step up in both the everyday issues, the crises and the joys of life. I do badly at sharing with others. These books give me hope to keep trying to reach out and be real and to develop my friendships into more than casual, how-are-you relationships. Thank you, Shelley, for stepping out of the norm and trying something different. You rocked it!!! I was given a copy of the book by the author in exchange for my opinion, which I am happy to give, obviously!!!
This is a beautiful story about finding love again after loss. It is very well written and holds your attention from the beginning until the end. It is not a sugar coated story, it reads true to life. Thank you Blackstone Publishing via NetGalley for the copy of this book. All opinions expressed are my own.
I loved the first two books in this series and this one shows that Gray knows how to keep delivering. Both Dani and Jackson have experienced hardships in their lives and are just doing the best they can for their kids. The easy way these two manage to create a kind of friendship and then something more is very appealing. And realistic. There are so many ways that this could have gone sideways but Gray manages to keep things real and relatively drama free. Dani has spent so many years having only herself to rely on that it is hard for her to accept someone else’s offer of help. She can’t get past the feeling of owing someone and while Jackson is ready to be there for her it takes a bit for her to get to the point of being able to accept it. Jackson has been struggling with losing both his wife and his job in a short amount of time. He had a little problem with depression (understandably) for a while and getting him & his daughter out of their small town was the best for both of them. It’s just super hard to accept a life where he is now a bartender – a good job just not what he imagined for himself. But he has good friends and with a little self-examination he’s starting to feel a better about his situation. You aren’t going to find a lot of drama moments with this series. It’s just realistic characters, living their lives and trying to figure things out – pretty much like you and me :) Instead, go into it with a relaxed mind and an attitude of just enjoying the ride. You’ll find plenty to appreciate about the well-crafted characters and the normality of their lives. **Review given honestly and freely after receipt of a reader copy. This opinion is completely my own and was not influenced in any way.**
Jackson Koch and Dani Brown have some things in common. For starters, they have both lost their marriage mates in death. Further, they each have a child, he with three-year-old Kate, and her son, Jeremy is fourteen. They live in the same building and Dani watches over Kate while Jackson tends bar at night. Jackson has had it rough. He lost his wife and his job as a miner in a very close span of time and he is doing his best to be there for Kate, even if being a bartender is far from his dream job. Dani is struggling. She is working at cleaning houses, taking classes, caring for Jeremy and his dream of baseball, and, as mentioned, watching little Kate. Jackson is the perfect guy who spots a situation that he just feels impelled to rectify. Can he be there for Dani as more than a friend? Especially when it comes to Jeremy? Meanwhile, will Dani be able to accept growing feelings for Jackson without losing her hard-won independence? Hold on Tight is the third book in the Bridgeport Social Club series. In each story, relationships thrived between deserving couples. One thing I really like about this story, and the trio of books in the series, is the fact that there are children in each story. That is something that always warms my heart. Friendship and community also play huge roles. I have read each book in the series, and enjoy the continuity of characters, especially with their situations and growth. This is definitely a character-driven story, with a slow burn romance, and it is quite fulfilling. This is especially so because it is quite an emotional read that I would gladly recommend. Although part of a series, this story can serve well as a standalone novel. Many thanks to Blackstone Publishing and to NetGalley, as well as Edelweiss, for this ARC to review in exchange for my honest opinion.
Hold On Tight ( Bridgeport Social Club # 3 ) By: Shelley Shepard Gray Hold On Tight is book three in Bridgeport Social Club Series and it was my favorite. I love the story and the characters, both were well written and realistic. This is Dani and Jackson’s story. Both have had hurt in their past and both are struggling as a single parent. Dani has a teenage boy and Jackson has a three year old daughter. Dani watches Jackson’s daughter while he works at night. These two become good friends. This is a second chance story that will touch your heart. I felt sorry for both of them. I was given a complimentary copy of this book, but was not told that I had to give a positive review. All opinions are my own.
I have enjoyed the previous books in this series, but I think this one is my favorite. The story centers around widowed, single Mom, Danielle/Dani Brown, and single widower Dad, Jackson Koch. Both have suffered great loses and are still trying to find their way in life as a single parent and an individual. But instead of giving you a summary of the story , I will go a different way. This story is about the loss of a spouse and finding your way back to the living. About having to take a step forward everyday for your children , whom you want to give the best life can offer. About overcoming the sadness and finding hope . About realizing that the life you had before is gone forever , but also that the one in front of you, is opened to opportunities ,and maybe love. A touching story that at times is heartbreaking but in the end heartwarming. Lastly, I enjoyed getting a chance to “visit” with the characters of previous books and seeing how they were all doing. Another winner by this talented author. I was entrusted a copy of this book by Netgalley. The opinions expressed are solely my own.