Title: Love in a Small Town
Author: Joyce Zeller
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4
A lonely widower and his teenage step-daughter both find love in a small town.
When Chicagoan, David Martin, moves to Eureka Springs with his step-daughter, he is escaping urban America and all its violence, as well as memories of his deceased wife. A marriage of convenience ended in tragedy and left him to raise a fifteen-year-old daughter whom he has only known for two years. Both father and daughter are testing foreign waters: new home, school and work. Neither expected it, but where there is a will, there is love in a small town.
David Martin settled into the cushioned chaise on his front porch, waiting. His blonde good looks and lithe body, usually relaxed with the confidence of a successful man enjoying his domain, was taut with tension, ready for battle. Eyes narrowed, he searched for the quarry he knew was out there. Rampantly overgrown shrubbery provided a wealth of hiding places among the Victorian gingerbread cottages lining the narrow neighborhood street. Overhead, an unbroken canopy of massive shade trees kept the street dark.
Someone is stalking Sarah.
A shadow moved behind an oleander across the street. There he was, at it again, a strange boy lurking in the bushes, waiting for David's teenage stepdaughter to come walking home from school.
David thought he'd left behind the sick predators, the violence, and the dangers associated with big city living when he decided on the move to Eureka Springs, a Southern town only a day's drive from Chicago. Here they'd have all the peace and security of a small town. He should've known better. He should've listened to Sarah, but he had been in a panic at his sudden role of a widowed, single-parent dad to a daughter he hardly knew, and the responsibility it entailed.
Fortunately, making a living was no problem. As an investment specialist, a Certified Financial Analyst, he managed a small, but select client list of portfolios, which provided a very satisfactory income. He could do business anywhere the Internet was available. He'd chosen this area of the Arkansas Ozarks after learning of it from some of his clients who retired here. The added benefit of two major airports close-by for easy access to any major financial center made moving here a no brainer.
Sarah objected bitterly to leaving all her friends, but he ignored all her protests. Never mind. He knew best; had it all figured out. Well, he was wrong. Moving her away from a sheltered, privileged lifestyle in a private school to a rural environment where she had nothing in common with the people around her was a mistake. God, what a complacent ass he'd become. All he'd gained for his trouble was Sarah's misery.
Reaching for his glass of iced tea, ever-present in the southern, late September heat, he considered the situation as the liquid cooled his throat.
The boy following her home was about fifteen, Sarah's age, wearing dirty, wrinkled camos that should've been in the laundry days ago. His lank, dark hair hung over his face and down to his chin. Definitely a loser in David's mind.
The wild barking of the dog down the street heralded Sarah's arrival. David tensed, prepared to move at the first sign of trouble. There she was, trudging up the hill. He hated her look of defeat; the way she put one foot in front of the other, muttering to herself, kicking at the weeds growing through the broken sidewalk. Her misery, but all his fault.
Hell, Anne, what have I done to your beautiful daughter? Two years was not enough time to get to know her. She's become someone you wouldn't recognize, wearing those god-awful clothes, and the way she paints her face white, with dark circles around her eyes, dark lipstick, and black nail polish. What's that all about? She’d cut her long blonde hair too short, and colored it green, for God's sake.
She had him completely baffled. His own up-bringing as an only child raised in wealth, more by tutors than continually absent parents, was piss-poor preparation for single-parenthood, and thirty-five was too late to start, especially with a daughter who was virtually a stranger to him.
Sarah sensed the boy's presence, David was sure of it, because she'd stop at intervals, and look around, wary and ready to run. Big city fears, honed to a sharp edge by necessity, and carried as baggage to a new place, were hard to forget. Even in a town as small and old-world as Eureka Springs.
Damn, it's hot.
Greedily, he drank from his glass and watched Sarah approach. Though autumn nights in the south tended to be cool, the daytime heat and humidity held on relentlessly.
The boy moved, keeping pace with her, but remained hidden.
If he touches her, I'll kill him. She's had too much pain in her life to deserve this.
Sarah stopped across the street to talk to the neighbor's dog, an ugly mix of Australian Shepherd and beagle, but beautiful to his soft-hearted daughter. The ruckus of his barking didn't deter her from pulling a treat from the pocket of her sweater and giving it to the dog through the fancy wrought-iron fence, one like all those fronting the old-style houses on the street.
She turned, saw him, waved, and headed over.
Where the hell did she get that ratty old sweater? It sagged from her shoulders and hung to her knees.