Read an Excerpt
By Stacy Finz
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Stacy Finz
All rights reserved.
Colin Burke pulled over to the shoulder, watched a car he didn't recognize struggle to make it up the steep grade, and shook his head. What kind of moron uses a Mini Cooper to tow a twelve-hundred-pound U-Haul trailer on a narrow, rutted dirt road?
The road was definitely too tight for the both of them. So he sat waiting, observing in dismay as the driver took the hairpin turn too wide, causing the trailer to plunge over the side of the embankment, dragging half the car with it. For a split second Colin sat paralyzed while the tail of the Mini Cooper hung suspended in midair.
Then he jumped out of his truck, shouting, "Don't get out!"
But it was too late. The motorist had already left the driver's seat and was now crouched down at the top of the embankment assessing the damage. Colin couldn't believe that the shift in weight hadn't resulted in the car tumbling completely over the side. Given that the embankment was slippery from the last rain, it could still happen.
"You okay?" he asked, making his way to the car.
"Yeah. But my trailer may be stuck."
The words were just about to leave his lips, when Colin was struck dumb. The driver might be incompetent behind the wheel, but she was extremely pretty. He wasn't used to seeing attractive women on Grizzly Peak. Hell, he wasn't used to seeing anyone up here. That's why he'd chosen the remote spot.
"Where were you headed with the trailer?" he asked, assuming that she had gotten lost and had been trying to turn around when she'd lurched over the side.
"My cabin." The woman dusted some dirt off her black pants, which Colin couldn't help noticing hugged a pair of truly awesome legs. She wore a fluffy sweater that looked expensive and a pair of leather boots—more fashionable than practical. Not exactly dressed for the back country, he noted as he quickly averted his eyes to keep from ogling her.
"Where's that?" he asked, presuming that most likely she'd been headed for town.
Surprisingly, she pointed down the driveway to an A-frame. Other than his, it was the only other house on the desolate road. For the three years that Colin had lived here, the cabin had been vacant.
"You think I should try to gun it?" she asked, turning her attention back to the Mini Cooper. "Maybe if I hit the gas hard enough I can pull the trailer back up."
He shook his head. "Nah. That little car doesn't have the horsepower. I think we should unhitch it and I can try to pull the trailer out with my truck."
"Okay." She was already scrambling down the hill, preparing to disconnect the receiver from the tow package.
"Hang on a sec. I want to think about this for a minute." He walked back and forth alongside the car, studying its precarious position. "This is the deal: We unlatch it and run the risk of the car taking a free fall."
"I can get back in and hit the gas the minute you unfasten the trailer," she suggested.
It seemed like a shaky idea to him. But Colin didn't think his truck had the juice to lug both the car and trailer out of the mud at the same time. So he supposed it was worth a shot.
"Yeah, okay." Before she could respond, Colin got inside the Mini, gingerly adjusting the driver's seat to give him leg room. The car had been made for Lilliputians—his head practically hit the roof.
"What are you doing?" the woman shouted up to him.
"I'll punch it, while you unhook the trailer. I'm pretty sure my weight will hold the car. But get out of there fast ... just in case."
"You sure you don't want me to do it?"
"I got it." He found the keys in the ignition and started the engine.
Colin watched her through the rearview as she undid the safety chains and pulled up on the coupler latch with one hand while turning the handwheel counterclockwise about ten times with the other. He figured she either moved around a lot or had gotten really good instructions at the U-Haul store. When she lifted the bar, effectively releasing the trailer from the Mini Cooper, Colin pressed the pedal to the metal until he felt all four wheels find purchase on firm ground. He nosed the car forward and turned it back onto the driveway so that it faced the cabin. When he looked back, she was still standing next to the trailer.
He used the opportunity to surreptitiously check her out. She was about five-five, curvy, with pale skin, hair so dark it was almost black, and the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. An Irishman's dream.
She climbed back up the hill and waved to him. "You did it." Her bright smile pierced him like a bullet. Damn.
He got out of the car, trying to cover up how flustered he felt. It wasn't just her. People in general made him uncomfortable. Usually, if he stayed focused on a task, no one noticed his awkwardness. At least he hoped that was the case.
"We're only half done," he said, looking up at the sky. The days were getting shorter. "We'll have to move if we want to pull the trailer out while there's still daylight."
"Okay. What should I do?"
"Why don't you drive your car down to the house and park it out of the way. I'll hook up my truck to the trailer."
"Sure." She got into the Mini Cooper and slowly navigated it down the uneven driveway.
He backed his truck as close as he could get it to the trailer without going over the embankment, hoping the tow bar would reach. By the time his new neighbor had hiked back up the hill, he had the U-Haul hitched to his rig. "Here goes," he called, as he climbed into the cab and revved the engine.
But the trailer wouldn't budge, just spun its wheels deeper into the mud. Colin got out, jumped into the bed of his truck, found two four-by-four scraps of wood, and wedged them under the front tires of the trailer.
This time when he hit the gas, the trailer came with it. He pulled it over the embankment onto the road and slowly towed it down the driveway, swinging his truck around so he could back the trailer in as close to the house as possible. When he looked up, she was jogging down the hill.
"Thank you." She beamed, and this time his face flushed.
He considered unhooking the hitch and driving away—his good deed done for the day. But it seemed unchivalrous. As far as he could tell she was alone, and the trailer had felt heavy, like it was jammed full of stuff. She could probably use a hand unloading, especially the big items.
"I'm Harlee Roberts, by the way." She stuck out her hand. When he just stood there, his hands stuffed inside his jacket, she peered up at him. "And you are?"
"Your parents named you after a motorcycle?" he blurted. "I mean, it's a really nice name. I actually have one. Uh ... a Harley, that is."
She laughed. "I get that a lot. Different spelling. My dad's name is Harvey. My mom's name is Leigh. H-A-R-L-E-E."
A little out there, but he liked it. "Cool," he said, and immediately busied himself with opening the back of the trailer, pulling out the loading ramp and reaching for a heavy wardrobe box.
"You don't have to help me with that." She stopped him before he carried anything into the house.
Now that the crisis had been averted, she seemed much more cautious. Here in the mountains everyone helped each other out, but Colin understood why she might be leery of a stranger. Once or twice he'd caught her looking at his license plate and sizing him up. He imagined he looked a little grungy, but that's the way guys looked up here.
"I'm safe. I swear," he said, holding up his hands. "I'm your neighbor—just live over the hill."
She gave him a contrite smile. "At least tell me your name."
"Colin Burke," he said, hoisting the unwieldy carton into his arms. "Where do you want this?"
She unlocked the front door and pointed down a long foyer off the entryway. "The master bedroom, I guess."
He faltered for a second, eyeing the large picture windows. As long as the house felt open, he'd be okay. Colin carried the load into the bedroom and returned for a second. There were five more wardrobe boxes in the trailer.
"I've got a lot of clothes," she said apologetically. "It's sort of an addiction of mine. That and footwear."
She wouldn't need much in Nugget. Just a sturdy pair of jeans, a few sweaters, snow boots, and a good down jacket. And if she'd come for the shopping, she'd be sorely disappointed. There weren't a lot of retail options, unless you counted the farm supply store. But she didn't look the Western-wear type.
He continued to carry carton after carton into the cabin. She tried to keep pace by lugging as much as she could lift.
"So where's your house?"
Harlee followed him up into the loft, where she'd asked him to set her computer. The ceilings were lower up here, but plenty of glass let in the outdoors. As long as he could see the sky.
"Just up the road," he said, and gave her the address.
"Really? There didn't used to be a house up there."
"How long has it been since you were here last?" He pointed at her computer. "You want me to hook that up for you?"
"Sure. If you don't mind."
"I don't mind."
"I guess it's been five, six years ... Maybe even more," she said.
"My family used to come all the time. Now, it's mostly my brother. He comes with his buddies to fish or to vacation with his wife and my niece."
"Your parents don't use it anymore?" He'd always been curious about why the place sat empty.
"They bought the cabin back when we were kids so we could spend weekends and vacations here. Now we're grown, with our own lives. It's just not the same for them. You know how it is?"
Actually, he didn't. But he nodded his head anyway. "I bought my property about three years ago. It took me more than two years to build."
"Wow. You live here full-time?" She sat on the floor next to him while he tried to untangle the cords of her monitor and printer.
"Yeah. You? I mean are you moving in full-time?"
"I am," she said. He stopped what he was doing and looked at her. "Really?"
"Yep. I'm ready for some mountain living." She kept nodding her head as if trying to convince herself.
Dusty sheets covered the furniture, but the cabin seemed cozy enough. He couldn't tell whether it was winterized. For her sake, he hoped it was, because she sure didn't seem like the roughing-it type. In fact, she seemed altogether too glamorous for Nugget.
"You might want to order a couple cords of wood before it starts snowing," he said.
"That's a good idea. You have a contact for that?"
"Yeah, I'll bring by some numbers for you."
"So what do you do around here, Colin Burke?"
His name rolled off her tongue sort of singsongy. It sounded nice—the nicest he'd ever heard anyone say it before. "I make furniture and pick up a little carpentry and construction work on the side."
"Furniture, huh?" She unpacked several framed photographs from a box and arranged them on an end table near the desk with her computer. "You married? Kids?"
"Me neither," she volunteered. He got the impression she was just making idle conversation. She was good at it, because he'd talked more than he usually did.
Colin wanted to ask about her deal—why she'd come to Nugget. The town, being small and isolated, wasn't exactly a mecca for young, single people. The only jobs to speak of were on the railroad or as ranch hands. Most of the other businesses were small, employing just the folks who owned them. But where he'd come from, you didn't ask a lot of personal questions.
After hooking up her computer, he tested it to make sure it was working. She must've called ahead to get her cable turned on. "Looks like you're set," he said. "If you don't need any more help, I should probably get going."
She jumped up. "Okay. You want to exchange numbers? You know, in case of an emergency."
Harlee raced down the stairs, grabbed her purse from the kitchen counter, and rifled through it until she found her phone. "Shoot." She programmed in his numbers and he did the same.
"Thanks for all your help, Colin."
"No problem." He started for the door and suddenly remembered that her trailer was still hitched to his truck. "What are you planning to do with the U-Haul?"
"I have to return it in Reno." Reno was the closest city to Nugget, about fifty minutes away. "But I have until tomorrow."
He didn't like the idea of her hauling that thing down Grizzly Peak. "I'll take it," he offered.
"That's incredibly nice of you, but I couldn't let you go to all that trouble."
"It's already hooked up and I have to hit Home Depot in the morning anyway."
"Really? You're sure?"
"Yep," he said, and got her U-Haul paperwork before he left.
When he got in his truck he looked at the contract. She'd rented the trailer in San Francisco. Must be where she was moving from. It explained the city clothes.
Instead of going to the grocery store, where he'd originally been headed, Colin decided to settle for canned soup for dinner and went home.
It was cold inside. He turned up the thermostat and got to work building a fire. Even though the temperature hovered around the low forties, the weather had been unseasonably mild for early November. Usually this time of year in the Sierra Nevada they got snow. And lots of it. But Colin wasn't complaining. He and the crew had almost finished framing Sophie and Mariah's new house and hoped to get walls up and a roof on before the weather turned bad. The couple owned the Ponderosa, a combination bowling alley, saloon, and restaurant on the town's commercial square, and were due to have a baby in December. Currently they lived above their business, but were anxious to move into the large home they'd designed.
After the fire blazed, he went inside the office to check his website. He had another order for a rocking chair. The business wasn't making him rich, but it got him by. Good thing, because the money he'd inherited from the sale of his mother's house was almost gone.
He'd used much of it to buy his property, twenty acres of forest and rolling hills, in a foreclosure sale. He'd stumbled upon it and the old railroad town by accident while delivering his brother-in-law's custom furniture to a ski resort not far away, and fell in love. The former owner, a Bay Area businessman, had planned to build his dream vacation home on the plot. But when the economy went south, he'd lost his job and couldn't afford to make the payments. A pad had already been cleared and architectural plans for a rambling rancher came with the property.
But Colin thought the landscape and logging history of the area called for something more dramatic and appropriate for the rugged winters. And the truth was he needed a house with tall ceilings and wide-open spaces—nothing that would ever make him feel hemmed in again.
So he'd ordered one of those chalet-style log-cabin kits and had modified it to include covered porches, stone fireplaces, and a curved staircase. It took more than two years to build, his hope being that by the time he finished, the place would bear no resemblance to the original mail-order, cookie-cutter plan.
His stepsister Fiona worried that he was drawn to the remote area—four hours from San Francisco—so he could live like a hermit.
The fact that Nugget was an excellent place to hide from society definitely had its advantages for the town, Colin admitted. But that wasn't the reason he'd settled here.
It was the feeling he got when he stepped outside and the smell of sweet pine sap stung his nose. It was the way the snow-capped mountains guarded the town like solemn sentries and how the distant wail of a train whistle lulled him to sleep at night.
But mostly it was the only place where he felt truly free. With its gold rush history, Nugget held the promise of a second chance.
And God knew he needed one.CHAPTER 2
At six in the morning Harlee's internal alarm clock went off. She started to roll out of bed to hit the gym and suddenly realized: This is not my Marina District apartment. And that's not my view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
And then it hit her in the gut, like a wallop from a 250-pound linebacker. She'd been fired from her dream job, stripped of her building access pass, marched out of the newsroom like a common criminal, and forced to live in her parents' cabin in the woods.
Away from her friends, away from Nordstrom, away from everything she loved.
There had been twelve of them laid off in total. HR had called it a "work force reduction."
As they'd been escorted out the door, the other newspaper reporters had stood at their desks, stomping their feet in a rhythmic tattoo of solidarity.
Unfortunately, they'd probably be canned in the next round of downsizing. The San Francisco Call, like most papers across the United States, was losing money faster than the presses churned out pages. Apparently only the terminally old cared about real news. The rest watched TMZ.
Six years earlier, straight out of SF State, she'd snagged a coveted internship at the paper. The other candidates had pedigrees from the country's top J-schools and impressive freelance clips from big magazines and newspapers. She'd had only a few articles printed in the Golden Gate Xpress, her student newspaper. So instead of trying to dazzle the Call's upper management with her portfolio, she'd memorized the bios of every senior editor on staff and spent her entire interview interviewing them. Naturally she'd landed the job.
Excerpted from Second Chances by Stacy Finz. Copyright © 2015 Stacy Finz. 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
Waiting for the next book!!!
I have been waiting awhile for this book, and it did not disappoint! Out of all the books in this series so far, I fell in love with Colin and Harlee...I must say they are my favorite couple. I'm really bummed that I read it so quickly, but I just couldn't put it down.
I have been anxiously awaiting this book, I mean checking my nook weekly w/anticipation. I was so impressed with the first 2 books I knew I would not be disappointed. I am not one to give away any details of the story but suffice it to say that more background details of the populace of Nugget, CA are revealed as well as new storylines developing. Thank you Stacy for doing a romance with just tje right amount of heat and tenderness. I am hooked and having read the book in one day find myself once again in the awful position of waiting again..oh well, gives me something more delicious to look forward to.
Love this series!
Totally awesome book. 261 pages of love, starting over and value of friends and family.
Great story. I strongly suggest reading the first book in this series as it will be helpful to keep up with all the people mentioned. The writer did do a good job backtracking for those who had not read the first book; but, it still will be easier if the first book is read first. I did get annoyed with Harlee as she kept saying what she was going to do, what she wanted to do and then when the opportunity came, she was upset Colin didn't ask her to stay. Also, because she said she was leaving Colin didn't revel his secret and then she ranted and became poor me.
Loved this book,romance, a little suspence, and some history thrown in. Just a great read.
Loved each book. Can't wait for book 4.Readers of Debbie Macomber will enjoy this authors work.