With the release of my next book just around the corner, I thought it would be fun to give you a little sneak peek at book 1 of the Pleasant Gap Romance series!
About the Book
Single mom, Eisley Barrett, prefers to keep romance safely between the pages of a book, on the silver screen, or locked within a 400-year-old mystery. But when she leaves her safe Blue Ridge Mountain home to research a family secret in England, an actor with a sordid past tempts her to step outside her fictional world and trust her heart to this reformed British baddy.
Wes Harrison has a past he’s ashamed to confess. Suspicious and cynical, the last thing he needs is an American guest staying with his parents in their quiet cottage, but Eisley Barrett isn’t like anyone he’s ever met. Her authenticity and country charm set his embittered presumptions on their heads and offer him a second chance at love.
When his past threatens the present, will the truth drive her away? Can this unexpected romance have a happily ever after? With some match-making parents, a quirky Appalachian heritage, and love letters from the grave – anything is possible.
From the beautiful Peak District in England to the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the Jenkins family discovers that God dreams big for his kids – and second chances are His specialty.
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“Per chance, would you be Eisley Barrett?”
His question clinked into place. She leaned back and really looked at him. She should have known him from his picture, but the whole squishing scene had been way too distracting for little things like recognition. He had one of those distinguished-grandfather appearances: dressed in a suit, salt-and-pepper hair neatly trimmed, with a sliver of moustache to add a sense of renown. Just like she’d expected, except the hair was a bit erratic after his near-concussion.
“Yes, Daniel Harrison. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Eisley.” Her name rolled off his tongue as if James Bond said it himself. Something inside of her melted.
“A pleasure to survive me might be more like it.” She shook her head and groaned. “I’m so sorry about the fall. I knew I shouldn’t have worn heels.”
“Don’t worry yourself, Luv. Accidents do happen. My wife has a habit of stepping on my feet.”
Eisley winced at the memory of her coma-inducing footwork. “I bet she never tackled you in an airport.”
He chuckled. “That wasn’t a typical Appalachian greeting?”
She really shouldn’t smile. After all, she’d nearly suffocated, possibly flattened, a senior citizen, but he was so downright charming it was difficult to maintain a guilty expression.
“Tackling is one of my family’s traditions, but we usually call it hugging. It takes all the fun out if you clue strangers in on the attack.” Eisley sighed. “Come on, Mr. Harrison, let’s get you off the floor and into a chair. At least then, we won’t add trampled to your list of possible injuries.” She helped him to his feet. “And maybe we should pray for your wrist. That’s what I do with my kids, anyway.”
“Have you traveled without your children before?”
“Never more than a night or two, so this is definitely an adjustment.” She placed her hand against her quivering stomach. Every inch of those four thousand miles pressed in on her heart like eating way too much of Aunt Tilley’s Mastermind Meatloaf. She tossed a glance to the outgoing flights display. A fleeting thought to return home inched to mind.
No. She’d made a promise. Uncle Joe. She swallowed down the worry bubble in her throat and guided Mr. Harrison to a chair.
“But the kids are in great hands.” She babbled on as if words would assuage mommy-guilt. “Christmas break’s a week away and my parents are as excited as the kids. With my dad in charge, I’ll be lucky if my seven-year-old isn’t toting a rifle and my daughter isn’t biting off bottle tops with her baby teeth within a week.”
Mr. Harrison’s sudden laugh pricked at Eisley’s smile and curbed the mommy-ache.
“Yeah, it sounds pretty crazy, doesn’t it? But my parents wouldn’t let me turn down Cousin Lizzie’s offer to come do research for Uncle Joe.” She gave her eyebrows a playful wiggle. “And get a good dose of England in the process. The trip was their Christmas gift to me. Single moms need big holidays, they said.”
His kind gaze held hers a moment. “No doubt.”
She settled Mr. Harrison in a chair and detoured her high-octane emotions by gathering her various paraphernalia scattered across the floor. Her kids would be okay. They would still remember her name, and surely her Dad wouldn’t have them chewing tobacco by the time she got home.
She stuffed her items back into her bag and sat down next to Mr. Harrison. “I can’t thank you and Eleanor enough for letting me stay with you while I’m here.”
“It’s the very least we could do for one of our oldest and dearest friends. We were happy to offer our home. With Lizzie’s father’s ill health, it wouldn’t have been suitable for you to stay at Lornegrave.”
“Right.” Lizzie’s emails hinted about her father’s dementia and psychosis, but everything else seemed as much a secret as Eisley’s mysterious ancestor. Oh, this story kept getting better and better, nibbling at Eisley’s lifelong obsession with great romance. Fictional, of course. The less painful kind.
Maybe hidden behind five hundred years of unsolved stories, she could discover what happened to Julia Ramsden, find the name of the man she married, and make her uncle’s dying wish come true in the process. She drew in a deep breath of renewed determination. “It was very sweet of you to come to London for me.”
“We were happy to collect you. We were already in town for our annual Charity Christmas gala. It is Eleanor’s favorite charity and we never miss.” He gave her hand a comforting pat. “Not one wit of trouble.”
She peered around him in search of some elegant British counterpart. “Where is your wife?”
“Ah, yes. Eleanor felt peaked this morning.”
Peaked? “Is she okay?”
His smile crinkled at the corners of his eyes. “I’m certain she’ll be fit as a fiddle for the gala tonight. Social events always encourage her health. She’s not fond of London morning traffic, I’m afraid, but she’s quick to raise money for her cause at any given moment.”
“Sounds like I’m going to really like her.” Eisley shrugged. “As if there was any doubt about that. Do you feel ready to walk after I mauled you? I guess we’re taking the Tube or maybe we can catch a taxi?
“Actually, my son is to drive us. Wes is quite capable. He lives on the West End.” Mr. Harrison nodded toward the doorway. “And here he comes now.”
Eisley followed Mr. Harrison’s gaze across the expanse of the meeting area, past the red bucket chairs and rows of people, and right into the eyes of a Greek god. Her vision zoomed in like a camera, blocking out everything else – sounds, noises, her phobia of Prince Charming look-alikes.
A taller, younger version of Mr. Harrison walked toward them, as if directly from a Google search for swoon-worthy. His gray-blue gaze blazed through her, igniting fireworks in her chest and heat in her cheeks. Unfamiliar sparks burned through years of avoidance and splintered directly into her pulse. The emotion flashed into recognition with a harsh light. She held in a whimper. Attraction?
Lord, really? Are you joking?
She tried to adjust her expression. The last thing she needed was to look like a three-year-old in a candy store. Too much eye candy is bad for a wounded heart. Very bad. It might lead to thoughts of hope—or worse, possibilities.
She stumbled to a stand and bent to help Mr. Harrison from his chair.
“Eisley,” he whispered. “It would be wise not to mention the falling incident to Wes.”
She jerked her gaze to his. “What?”
“Wes.” Mr. Harrison stepped forward and greeted his son. “This is Eisley Barrett. Our guest for the next few weeks.”
Wes’ gaze trailed over her, leaving a splash of warmth on her face and a knot in the pit of her stomach. Calm. Distant. Glacial. The perfect coolant for her overactive imagination.
The dutiful son offered his hand, somewhat reluctantly. “A pleasure, Ms. Barrett.”
His hot-fudge smooth voice swept all words right out of her head and melted any images of icecaps. The perfect combination – fascinating eyes, a British accent, and chocolate. Yep, he was Ghirardelli in human form. She gave her wayward thoughts a mental slap.
Pull yourself together, woman. No man is worth a Marshall-sequel.
She peeled her tongue off the roof of her mouth, took his hand, and pushed all the giddy, junior-high feelings down to her pinkie toe. “It’s nice to meet you.”
A fake smile showed off his perfectly straight teeth. His taciturn expression proved he remained completely unimpressed with what he saw. Ah, the story of her life. Add a mile-high stack of comparisons to her twin brother and it was an instant flashback to high school.
She pulled her pink rolling bag to her side and shrugged off the sting of the disappointment she refused to embrace.
His smoky gaze skimmed down to her luggage. “Your baggage?”
“Pink is easier to find in the baggage check.”
Sarcasm? Daggone it, that just made him more attractive. Oh, what a pickle. Why here and now? The hopeless romantic she’d crammed underneath her busy-working-mother mask and three years of hardened resentment scrambled to the surface in full agonizing volume, hands opened wide to the daydream. The timing was horrible. There was nowhere to hide. No family excuses. Thankfully, Mr. Frosty-and-Fabulous curbed her lack of self-control with a solid dose of reality. He looked annoyed, maybe a bit bored, and definitely not carrying on an internal monologue to rival Bridget Jones.
Wes lifted her bags and started toward the doors. “Well, Ms. Barrett, Father’s told me very little about you.” A look passed between the two men, and Eisley stepped back from the glare. “You are from Virginia, yes?”
“Yes, a teeny tiny place in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Not too far from North Carolina and the Smokies. A great place to call home.”
Wes remained stiff as a hardbound bookbinding, but – Hark! Was that a faint light of interest flickering behind his dull expression?
“The Blue Ridge Mountains? North Carolina?” His intense stare flipped to Mr. H.
What about either of those topics could possibly interest a handsome and aloof British guy?
She liked him better as rude and unavailable. Married would be even better. She took a quick glance at his left hand. Bare as the Jenkinses’ table after a meal.
Hope plummeted to the heels of her unsteady shoes and self-control teetered in a frightening direction. No, no, no – she couldn’t afford daydreams with real possibilities. Attraction held empty promises. All hormones – no heart. She’d learned the hard way how different those two were. She would not screw up her life again.
And now a teaser for When You Look at Me….