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Bountiful (True North #4)
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No last names. No life stories. Those were the rules.
Once upon a time a cocky, copper-haired tourist sauntered into Zara’s bar. And even though she knew better, Zara indulged in a cure for the small-town blues. It was supposed to be an uncomplicated fling—a few sizzling weeks before he went back to his life, and she moved on.
Until an accidental pregnancy changed her life.
Two years later, she’s made peace with the notion that Dave No-Last-Name will never be found. Until one summer day when he walks into her coffee shop, leveling her with the same hot smile that always renders her defenseless.
Dave Beringer has never forgotten the intense month he spent with prickly Zara. Their nights together were the first true intimacy he’d ever experienced. But the discovery of his child is the shock of a lifetime, and his ugly past puts relationships and family out of reach.
Or does it? Vermont’s countryside has a way of nurturing even tortured souls. The fields and the orchards—and hard won love—are Bountiful.
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The Friday night that changed my life started out like any other.
It was a summer evening, and the bar was doing a brisk business in local beer and conversation. I had a good playlist cranking over the stereo, which always helped to make the time fly. Vance Joy’s “Riptide” had a nice, fast rhythm that made tending bar feel more like a dance than a job.
Even better, there was a hot guy with hair the color of a darkened copper penny watching me from a barstool. I’d seen him around a few times. He and his friends liked the booth in the back corner. Mr. Hot liked Vermont ales, and when his friends were around, they sometimes drank tequila. The top-shelf stuff. And they were good tippers.
Tonight he was alone, though. And I felt a zing of interest every time he came into my line of sight. If I were a believer of that kind of thing, I might say that I felt a ruffle of awareness. Even a premonition.
But I wasn’t a believer, and I’ve never been good at predicting who would matter in my life and who was just passing through. So it was probably more fair to say that those tingles I felt from the hottie were plain old sexual attraction.
It wasn’t just me, either. I could feel his eyes on me as I made drinks and counted out change for other customers. His were nice eyes, too. Green, if I wasn’t mistaken. I didn’t mind the attention. His admiring gaze made me feel more like a pretty girl at a bar and less like an overworked single woman who’d recently been rejected.
I poured drinks. I smiled. I sent orders to the kitchen for my cook. Rinse and repeat. By eight o’clock, the biggest problem I’d faced was a group of drunk college boys who were a little too loud at the corner table.
“Guys? Can I ask you to use your indoor voices? Throwing coasters isn’t cool, all right? We have a dartboard in back if you really need to throw things.”
“Sorry,” the soberest of them said.
On my way back to the bar, I noticed that my redheaded friend had watched the whole encounter with interest. “Everything okay?”
“They are not a problem. See that?” I pointed at the shotgun on the wall behind me.
Green Eyes smiled. And, wow. His smile was something else. It softened up his rugged face and brought out his bone structure. On one side, there was even a hint of a dimple. As if this man were too tough for dimples, so it didn’t dare show itself. And his laugh was like a well-aged whiskey—deep and smooth. “I assumed the shotgun was just for show.”
I shook my head. “I don’t keep it loaded, because that’s just asking for trouble. But I could load, aim, and fire in a very short timeframe. So, no. Bessie is not just for show.”
“Bessie, huh? That’s my sister’s name. And she’s about as subtle as a shotgun. I didn’t know people named guns.”
I picked up the rag again and wiped down the bar. “Well, I have four brothers. They like to borrow stuff without asking. I gave my shotgun a girl’s name, hoping to discourage them from walking off with it.”
“Did it work?”
“No. But eventually I figured out that if my stuff was a girly color like pink or purple, they’d leave it alone. That’s how I came to own a pink bike and a pink phone. And I’m not even a fan of pink.”
And there was that laugh again—rich and heavy. But it was interrupted by one of the drunker college boys, who approached the bar for three shots of Jack Daniel’s.
Business first. I turned my back on Mr. Hot to grab three shot glasses. “Who’s driving?” I had to ask as I grabbed the whiskey bottle. I hovered the bottle over the rim of the first glass and studied the kid’s flushed face.
“My brother’s picking us up in forty minutes,” he said as his ears turned red.
“All right, then.” I poured.
“Can I buy you a drink?” the college boy asked suddenly. “That shirt is really pretty.”
“Aw, thank you. And that’s sweet of you,” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. “I can’t accept a drink. Company policy. But the offer is lovely.”
“You’re welcome,” the kid mumbled. Then he grabbed his three shots and disappeared as fast as you can say rejected.
When I chanced a glance at the copper-haired hottie, he shot me a knowing grin.
And once again that smile did funny things to my insides. Something told me the girls never turned this guy down. Not only was he a looker, he was slick in a way I couldn’t really put my finger on. Maybe it was the shiny watch on his wrist—the truly expensive kind the locals never wore. Or maybe it was just the confident glint in his eye.