Riley Fisher doesn't have time to chase after men. As a single mother working two jobs, she barely has time to eat or sleep. But a girl has needs. So when handsome veteran Sam Brooks asks her out, she decides she deserves some R&R. She doesn’t expect anything else from him—after all, he’s hardly the type to get serious.
Sam came back from Afghanistan lucky to be alive, despite PTSD that hits whenever he lets down his guard. His therapist told him to forget about relationships. When he meets Riley, he’s not planning on breaking the rules. She’s cute, petite, and a total smartass—not even his type. But she’s hard to forget. Especially once he runs into Riley and her toddler on a rustic mountain getaway and sees what he’s missing. Her kid makes him laugh all day. And Riley makes him burn all night.
Too bad a relationship is impossible. But they can enjoy the attraction. It’s not like they’re going to fall in love…
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Never Let Go
A Blue Ridge Romance
By Allison B. Hanson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Allison B. Hanson
All rights reserved.
There was nothing worse than being awakened from a very intense sex dream right at the best part. Riley squeezed her eyes shut and tried to go back to sleep, but there was no use. Her son was crying. With a sigh, she sat on the edge of her bed, taking a second to let reality return before she went across the hall to her two year old.
"Momma," he whimpered as she entered his room.
"What is it big guy?" He didn't waste any time climbing into her arms and winding his chubby arms around her neck.
He pointed, his face wet with tears. "Bad," he said.
Red and blue flashing lights reflected in the window throwing eerie shadows across the ceiling.
"That's from a police car," she said as she carried him to the window and pulled the curtain back so he could see. "Police are good guys. They protect us from bad things." Like the abusive boyfriend the woman across the street kept letting back into her life.
Riley hadn't had it easy, her ex had cheated on her and then left when Luca was only a few months old, but at least he'd never been abusive. But she was an optimist. Always able to find the good in any situation. The good in her failed marriage was in her arms at that moment with his sleepy head resting on her shoulder.
"Are you okay now?" she whispered and Luca nodded. "Let's get you back in bed." She tucked him back into his twin-size, big-boy bed and kissed his forehead.
"Momma," he said in that voice that melted her heart.
"You want me to stay with you for a little bit?" She knew exactly what he wanted.
He nodded and scooted over to make room for her in the bed. He had her wrapped around his little finger.
Fortunately, she wasn't a big person. Barely five feet tall, she could still wear clothes from the girls' section at the department store. She shifted to get comfortable as Luca nestled up against her, his thumb instantly going into his mouth as the fingers on his other hand found her hair. It was a routine they had perfected over the years.
"Love you, buddy," she said as he fell asleep.
She had only planned to stay until Luca drifted off, which was why she hadn't worried about an alarm. A mistake she wouldn't make again. The next morning Riley jerked out of bed and rushed to get them both ready to leave.
No time for a shower, she put her hair up in a twist and dabbed on some makeup while Luca ate dry cereal out of his Toy Story bowl.
She had planned to wear a nice spring dress to welcome May, but looking outside at the chilly drizzle reminded her how unpredictable May could be. Riley threw on a pair of khaki dress pants and a sweater before tossing Luca's clothes in his bag and leaving the house.
Guilt kept her speed under control as she crossed busy streets to get to her mother-in-law's. Technically, Anita Fisher was her ex-mother-in-law, but she had told Riley many times that her son was wrong and that she still saw Riley and Luca as family. That was why she was willing to watch her grandson for free every day while Riley worked at Valley Jewelers. And occasionally when Riley worked her second job at the Mountain Gate Hotel.
Riley's lawyer/brother-in-law Cooper had forced a garnishment against her ex to pay child support, making his payments more predictable. But it still didn't cover daycare along with her other expenses.
"Running late?" Anita asked as she came out on the porch to greet them.
"Yeah. I fell asleep in his bed and didn't hear the alarm in my room."
Anita just smiled and kissed Luca's head as Riley passed him over. "How's my boy today? Are we going to try the big-boy potty?"
"No," Luca said.
"Oh, come on," Riley said. "The potty is great. Much better than yucky diapers."
"No," Luca said, just as uninterested as ever.
With a frown she ruffled her son's white-blond hair and kissed his chubby cheek. "I'll see you later. Love you."
"Love you, Momma," he said in return. He waved as she backed out of her mother-in-law's driveway. It felt as if she was leaving half of herself behind with him.
"You're graduating?" Sam said as he sat at his sister's table for dinner.
"Yes," his niece said with a huffy air he didn't appreciate. "You knew that. Remember back in September when you said, 'You're in twelfth grade?'" She used a low voice he guessed was supposed to sound like him as she rolled her eyes.
He did remember that part. But apparently it hadn't registered that her being in twelfth grade last September meant she would be graduating this June. Sure he knew. He wasn't an idiot. It was just that he still saw her as the eleven-year-old she'd been when he got out of the service and came to Roanoke to live with his sister.
Helping to take care of McKenna had kept him sane when he came back to the States after three tours in Afghanistan. It was easier to forget about explosions and the friends he'd lost while watching SpongeBob, playing Candy Land, and teaching a kid how to divide fractions. It put things into perspective.
It didn't, however, stop the bad dreams, or the way he still over-reacted to loud noises, but he felt like he was doing pretty well considering. After all, he was alive.
"So what do you want for a graduation present?" he asked.
"A car?" McKenna's eyes lit up with excitement.
"Hello, I'm Sam Brooks, your uncle who believes you should get off your ass and get your own car. Nice to meet you."
She laughed and rolled her eyes again before she took the dishes to the kitchen.
"I'm worried her eyes might actually fall out of her head from all the rolling," he whispered to his sister when McKenna was out of range.
"It's a possibility," Georgie said with a laugh.
"So what kind of car do you think she wants?" he asked. He had money put aside. He had a pretty good job and a low cost of living since he traveled a lot. His apartment was small and cheap.
"No car," Georgie said firmly.
"Come on. She's going to need one for college."
"You know how I feel about it, Sam," she snapped.
He did. Georgie's husband had been killed in a car accident eight years ago, turning her into a single mother. It was one of the reasons Sam moved in when he first got back. So he could help. It turned out they had all helped each other.
"Georgie, she's going to drive someday. You can't protect her from everything."
She nodded and rubbed her temples.
"I know. But I still think it's important for her to buy things for herself. She'll appreciate and respect it more if she pays for it with her own money."
That was an excuse he could get behind, but he was sure it was just that. An excuse.
"How about if she comes up with half, and then I front her the other half?" he compromised. "I don't want her driving around in something unsafe." He had learned how to manipulate people from the best. Namely Georgie.
Georgie was technically his half-sister, and was ten years older than him. Her father left their mother when she was six. When their mother started dating Julio Alvarez a few years later, Georgie latched on, happy to have a father again.
They were married and a year later Samuel Alvarez was born. Georgie always said those were the "good years" when her mother was happy and her Dominican father made mangu on Sunday mornings.
Julio died in a work accident when Sam was four. He had only two distinct memories of his father. One was riding on his shoulders during the fireworks display, and the other was of him singing in Spanish while dancing with Sam's mother.
When Sam was seven, his mother married again. This time it was more for security than love. Even Sam could tell. But Wayne Brooks adopted Georgie and Sam, giving them all the same last name and uniting them as an official family. Wayne wasn't a bad guy, he encouraged Sam to go into the service and he walked Georgie down the aisle at her wedding. But after their mother died, he drifted away, leaving only his name behind.
"I don't want her driving something unsafe either," Georgie said, giving in. "What mother would want that?"
McKenna left to meet a friend after the dishes were done.
"What should I get her for graduation until I can help with the car?" he asked Georgie as he got ready to leave.
"I'm sure if you tell her the plan she'll be happy with that."
"But I have to get her a gift on the actual day."
"Another memento?" She laughed. "She has a whole box full of stuff you've sent her over the years."
"Really? She kept all that?"
Georgie went down the hall and came back with a blue plastic box. She pulled up the lid, exposing all the treasures he'd sent his niece over the years.
"She always asked me to send her something when I left." He remembered as he picked up a rock, knowing exactly where it had come from.
"I know." She plucked out a piece of china he'd picked up from the wreckage of a house in Iraq. He dropped the stone and pulled out a small bottle full of sand from Qatar. "I think you'd be hard pressed to get her anything that means more to her than this junk."
"Hmm. Do you think she'd notice if this box was missing for a few days?" He had an idea.
"Probably not. Why?"
"No reason." He took the box and with a kiss on the top of her head and a 'thanks for dinner' he left to go home to his lonely apartment.
He had just gotten back from a long job in Mississippi, and would be spending a few weeks at home. He didn't mind traveling. It kept him busy — and kept him from noticing how pathetic his life was. It wasn't that he didn't want more. He'd often thought it would be nice to have someone to come home to. But he'd tried that when he first got out of the military, and it hadn't worked out so well.
He spent the rest of the evening working on plans for an addition for his friends Ian and Lexi Montgomery. They'd just adopted three kids and with the one they already had, they had outgrown their cabin in the mountains.
He pulled into the Montgomery driveway the next morning, proud of the results of his labor the night before.
The sounds of laughter and noise escaped when Lexi opened the door looking a little ragged, but smiling. "Hi Sam, come in. Do you want some coffee?" she offered as two little kids went running past him.
"Uh, sure." He followed her into the kitchen taking in the mess. There was cereal all over the table, mixed in with crayons and an abandoned sock.
"Excuse the mess. We went from having one handful to four. It's only been a week and a half, and we haven't worked out our schedules yet. But we'll get there." She was still smiling as if this was the best thing in the world.
A shout in another language from the other room made Sam jump.
"Sasha! English please!" Lexi called.
"Jamie bit me."
"Jamie! Don't bite your new brother!" She was still smiling as if she didn't notice she was caught up in the middle of a hurricane. "Are those the plans?" She pushed some things aside on the cluttered island. After she wiped up some jelly, he rolled them out.
Ian came into the kitchen with a giggling little girl hanging over his shoulder.
"It looks like you got a little something on your shirt," Sam joked.
"Really? I don't see anything?" Ian spun around quickly making the little girl laugh even more. He righted her and as soon as her feet hit the floor she ran off in the direction of the living room where all the noise was coming from. "What do we have?"
The Montgomerys looked over the plans, oohing and ahhing appropriately. Even though they had been impressed with his work in their master bathroom, Sam was surprised when they'd asked him to do the work instead of his boss Dalton.
He made note of the changes they requested and then rolled up the drawing. The necklace hanging around Lexi's neck caught his eye, and he thought of his idea for McKenna.
"Do you know where I might be able to get a chain and some kind of charm thing I could put sand in to make a necklace?" he asked while pointing at her jewelry.
"You should go see my friend Riley at Valley Jewelers. She'll help you, and if you tell her you know me, she'll even be nice to you."
"She's not normally nice?"
"It depends —" Lexi was interrupted by the sound of crying from the other room. Looked like Sam would have to figure this one out himself.
"That no good, low-life asshole," Riley muttered as she slammed her car door and walked up to her mother-in-law's house to retrieve her son. She didn't feel a moment of guilt trashing her ex-husband on his mother's very doorstep. Bastard.
Evan had visited her at work, asking once again if she could have the garnishment stopped for child support. The reason Cooper had to set the automatic payment up in the first place was because Evan wasn't paying. Anything. Today he'd promised not to let it happen again.
As if she could believe his promises. She remembered about five years ago when he promised to love her for the rest of his life, forsaking all others. Turned out he didn't forsake very well.
Evan had promised that once he got out of college, he would support Riley so she could finish school. That also never happened.
The more she thought about it, everything he'd ever promised had gone unfulfilled. Even that one night after their first anniversary dinner when he promised he was going to make her feel so good her head would explode. As she recalled, nothing exploded at all.
"That mother —"
"Momma!" Luca ran up to her, interrupting her expletive about his father.
"Hey baby! How was your day? Did you go in the potty?" She hoped.
"No." He laughed as if her expectations were entertaining.
"You know you can't stay in diapers forever, Luc. One day you're going to want a girlfriend, and she's not going to be interested in a guy who goes in his pants." Luca laughed again as his grandmother came out. "What is his problem?"
"They do it when they want to. Kind of like everything else." Anita chuckled. "Evan was three and a half before he started."
Riley twitched at the sound of Evan's name. She was still full of rage.
"Uh-oh." Anita winced. "Did something happen?"
"Go clean up the toys," she said to Luca who ran off obediently. Since Anita asked, she decided to share. "Evan asked me to stop the wage garnishments. He said he would pay it on his own. He just doesn't like it coming out of his paycheck."
"It would be coming out of his paycheck anyway," Anita mentioned.
"Do you think I'm being unreasonable?" She watched her son picking up blocks in the other room. "Please tell me if I am. He left me with a baby after I put him through college. Now I don't have a degree to get a higher-paying job. I can't support Luca on my own. Shouldn't he have to help? Isn't he responsible?" Riley hated crying more than almost anything, besides feeling sorry for herself. The fact she was doing both in front of her mother-in-law pissed her off even more.
"You're not being unreasonable, sweetie. He has a responsibility to you and Luca. It's his own fault he also made a responsibility to Celia and their daughter. He doesn't get to pick which of his children he supports. He needs to take care of both of them." She stepped away and came back with a handful of coupons. "Here, I clipped these for you. There are two good ones for diapers."
Mrs. Fisher was retired and living off the pension her husband had from the Department of Transportation. She helped where she could, but money was tight for her too.
"Thank you, these will come in handy." Riley put the coupons in her bag and gave the woman a hug. As she gathered Luca's things to go home, the anger and frustration she'd felt all afternoon faded away. She might not be rich, but as she drove home listening to Luca tell her about the kitty next door, she felt lucky. Whatever struggles she was faced with, she had the love of the little boy in the backseat. She would make it through anything for him.
Sam stepped into the small jewelry shop late the next morning. There were two women behind the counter. A cute blonde was smiling at him in greeting, while the other woman was older with a sour expression.
He silently hoped for the blonde.
"I'll go check the back stock. You have things out here?" the older woman asked. The short girl nodded and turned back to Sam. It was going to be a good day.
Sam's father had blessed him with dimples which he found came in handy when charming the ladies. He'd been told his caramel skin and muddy green eyes made him look exotic. Using all his assets had been drilled into him during basic training, so he flashed the blonde a smile, hoping for the best.
"Can I help you?" the girl asked, sounding friendly enough. He wasn't sure what to expect after Lexi's vague comment.
"I'm looking for Riley." He was surprised to see her shoulders fall as she closed her eyes and let her head fall forward.
With a sigh, she tilted her head to look up at him. "Are you serving me papers or something?" She eyed the box in his hand nervously.
"No. I actually need a special piece of jewelry made. My friend's wife said maybe you could help."
"Oh! I'm so sorry. Okay." The smile was back. "What is it you were looking for? Something for your wife?" Her gaze brushed up and down his body and he grinned as he did the same thing to her. Although his trip was somewhat shorter since she was probably only five feet tall.
"No. My niece. She's graduating from high school and I want to give her something special. At least until her mother will let me help her with a car."
Excerpted from Never Let Go by Allison B. Hanson. Copyright © 2016 Allison B. Hanson. 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
It was supposed to be one night when they forgot the real world existed and enjoyed one another without knowing more than each other's names. As far as one night stands go, Sam and Riley's approach was spot on. And it would have been the perfect one night stand if the attraction between them hadn't exploded off the page. But they each have their own problems, their own daily lives that they're just trying to get through. Riley's son, Luca, is the most adorable kid ever. He's truly the light of his mother's life, a fact that Ms. Hanson shows time and time again. The love between mother and son is undeniable and almost tangible. The issue of her cheating ex... Well, he's the thorn in her side. He's everything Riley doesn't want their son to mirror. Luca deserves a better example, but it's hard to get serious about another man when Riley's so busy. Sam doesn't have children or an ex hanging around in the shadows waiting to take jabs at him. He has PTSD and survivor's guilt. I have never experienced either. Reading about Sam and his struggles made me wonder: which is the lesser evil? Maybe there isn't one. A past relationship gone wrong, coupled with warnings from his therapist, keep him from forming a relationship with another woman. If he hadn't met Riley, he probably would've stuck to that thinking. Except he met her, then met her son, and he didn't stand a chance. This was a great story for me. It was slow from beginning to end. The passion between Sam and Riley ignited that first night but it simmered, slow and steady, throughout the rest of the book. Little by little and despite their best attempts at not wanting more, they got more. Luca added his own flair to their romance, bringing Sam a peace and calm he hadn't felt in so long. Sam, despite his issues, became Riley's rock, a man she could depend on, a man she wanted to have around her son. The pace, honestly, was surprising. In my experience, one night stand stories can be really fast. Everything happens at an increased rate from sex to the morning after to realizing you have to, want to, need to be with that person from that one night. Yet, every now and then, an author comes along who pens a story like this and slows it waaaaaaay down. The journey is incredible. For Sam, Riley, and Luca, their journey ended in a new world filled with admiration, affection, love, laughter, and happiness. Received from publisher for an honest review
Such an amazingly sweet story! Riley and Sam slowly build a relationship – it’s not something they are expecting but they have a connection and it’s hard to resist the pull. Both of them have some issues to overcome but they complement each other well. I think my favorite part is that Hanson has Sam get professional help to overcome his PTSD, instead of having it fix itself or having love conquer all. It’s not something that he can do by himself and having the chance at a real family with Riley is the motivation he finally needs to see someone about it. Riley has some concerns about getting involved with Sam. She hasn’t had the best of luck with men, but lucky for her this time she caught a good one. He’s caring and willing to do just about anything to take care of her and her son. Having a strong man in her life, willing to support her and help her, isn’t something she’s used to but definitely something she needs and it is great seeing her have something so good happen. I really liked watching these two fall in love and figure out a way around their hardships. It isn’t an easy road for them but one they need to go down to build a strong future together. (Complimentary copy provided in exchange for an honest review)
I really enjoyed this one! I thought the characters felt real and genuine. And the adorable Luca - just yummy! I didn't realize going in that this was part of a series but it was easily read standalone. Since I really enjoyed the writing style and storytelling abilities of this author I will definitely be reading the prior books in the series. In this book we have Riley who is the single mom of 2 yr old Luca. She's been on her own since Luca was 3 mo old and she found out her ex had been cheating on her. She plans to keep it that way too! Then there is Sam. PTSD and survivors guilt has plagued him for years so he has built himself a very solitary life. His one attempt at living a "normal" life didn't end so well so alone is the only way for him. That is until he meets Riley. She makes him crave more and the special bond he develops with Luca is heartwarming. Can they make things work even with the issues Sam has? I definitely recommend this one! It's a very entertaining read you don't want to miss.