Yes it’s only the beginning of September, but the holidays are right around the corner. So is the latest holiday box set from your Sweet Romance Authors. Sweet Christmas Kisses 3 officially launches September 27th (but you can pre-order now on Amazon, iTunes, Kobo & Google Play). This year’s bundle features 17 sweet tales from NYT, USA Today and National Bestselling authors for only 99 cents. There settings range from small town America and London to the beaches of Florida and even Africa.
My contribution is FALLING FOR YOU AT CHRISTMAS, part of my Shellwater Key Tales series. Cassie Stephens is about to become a single mother. She’s alone at Christmas so she decides to take a little vacation before her baby is born. She chooses the tiny Florida town of Shellwater Key and a charming inn on the beach owned by the most gorgeous innkeeper you can imagine, single father Jared Latham.
Here’s an excerpt
Cassie Stevens knew she’d chosen the right place to stay the minute she spotted the trio of plastic flamingos decked out in Santa hats on the front lawn. Daddy, mommy, and baby sported a jaunty, red
“Come in for a visit.” they announced. “We’ll give you all the Christmas cheer you can stand.”
Since Cassie needed a lot of Christmas cheer this year, she welcomed the invitation. She pulled into an empty spot in the parking lot of the “Original Inn on the Strip”. The “Original” part of the sign was slightly above and at an angle from the “Inn on the Strip” portion, looking as if it had been tacked on at a later date for some reason.
Cassie got out of the car and took a deep breath, enjoying the slight tang of salt air filling her lungs. She swore she could hear the waves crashing on the beach. Of course, the water was past the two-lane road in front of the inn, a boardwalk, and then a wide expanse of sand, so the sound might have been more her imagination than reality, but she didn’t care.
To either side, the wide boulevard was lined with shops, restaurants, and businesses as far as she could see. In honor of Christmas, the old-fashioned street lamps were decorated with festive wreaths and big red bows. The inn’s website had said The Strip stretched for two miles along the Gulf of Mexico. The boardwalk across the way was a popular gathering spot to watch the sunset at night, a ritual Cassie fully intended to take part in.
Yes, she had definitely chosen the right place.
She shut her car door and started up the walkway toward the inn, and with each step her excitement grew. There were beautiful poinsettias planted in the garden, and a thick, red ribbon weaved along the top of the railing, which framed the front porch. Two gigantic wreaths hung on the double doors and to the right was a three-foot Santa-slash-Butler with a tray where someone could presumably place a calling card.
If one had a calling card to leave, obviously.
Cassie would have taken more time to drink in the sights except for the fact that she had to pee. Of course, the urge to seek a restroom was always with her these days. She needed to find the facilities ASAP.
She quickened her steps and swept inside, nearly barreling into an older lady, with silver hair and a kind smile.
Cassie yelped and just managed to avoid crushing the lady’s foot. “Excuse me.”
“Not to worry,” the sweet-looking woman said. “I’m fine.”
“I’m sorry. I was running for the bathroom and—”
The lady chuckled and held up a hand. “Say no more. I remember my sister telling me she once resorted to carrying around an empty milk bottle in case she couldn’t make it.”
Reflex had Cassie putting a hand over her extended stomach. “Thankfully, I haven’t had to resort to that.”
The woman’s gaze drifted down. “Pardon my rudeness, but you look like you’re about to pop. When are you due?”
Four weeks until Cassie’s life changed forever. Well, it had actually changed when the little stick turned blue. So many changes. So many disappointments and losses. Changes that had brought her to the doorstep of the Original Inn on the Strip in the sleepy town of Shellwater Key, Florida four days before Christmas.
The silver-haired lady tilted her head, making her look like a curious dog. “Oh honey, I’m not sure you’ll make it that long.”
Cassie’s hands tightened across her stomach, as if to keep her child safe. “Are you psychic?”
“No,” the lady said on a tickling laugh. “I’m a retired labor and delivery nurse.”
“Oh…well…” Cassie swallowed down the bolt of panic. “I’m sure I’ll make it. I’m not due till after the holidays, and I’ll be home by then. My doctor is there. I’ve done the tour of the maternity ward. Plus, the paperwork and insurance forms are already filled out.”
Cassie had dotted every ‘I’ and crossed all the ‘T’s’. She’d already messed up the most important part of her child’s future, and she was determined to do everything right from now on.
The woman chuckled again. “I’m sure you did, but you’ll find kids do everything on their own schedule. My sister is a control freak, and it used to drive her nuts.”
“Well, I’m trying to go more with the flow,” Cassie said, trying to edge past the woman. “Right now, I need to go to the bathroom before I flow all over the front entry.”
“Oh, of course. Sorry to hold you up.” The woman patted her shoulder. “I’m sure we’ll run into each other again. I’m staying here, too.”
“That’s great…” She gave an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Cassie Stevens, and now I really have to go,” she said, before running full tilt through the lobby. “Bathroom?” she called out to the wide-eyed man standing behind the check-in desk.
His mouth dropped open as he pointed to the left. “That way.”
“Thanks! I’ll be right back,” she said, without slowing down.
“Hey!” he called up, but Cassie couldn’t stop now.
Once in the bathroom, she did her business with a sigh of relief. As she was finishing up, she heard a door open outside the stall.
“Hello? Ma’am?” a young voice called.
“Yes?” Cassie answered.
A moment of awkward silence and the voice spoke again. “Um…my dad sent me in to make sure you’re okay?”
Cassie unlocked the stall door and walked out. A girl around ten with long, straight, brown hair and dark eyes stood next to the sink, her toes twisting into the tile as she waited for confirmation on Cassie’s state of health.
The moment Cassie emerged from the stall, the girl grinned. “You really are having a baby!”
“Pretty soon, yes.”
“Wow…that’s cool.” She drifted closer, gaze glued to Cassie’s stomach. “My friend Gina’s mom is having a baby. It’s her fourth. Gina wants a sister this time. She says her two brothers are a big pain.”
“I guess they can be.” Truthfully, right about now Cassie would have killed for any kind of sibling. Someone who would be thrilled that he or she was about to have a niece. Heck, she’d settle for mild interest from a second cousin once removed.
The girl finally dragged her gaze up. “So, you’re okay then? My dad was worried you might be having a baby in here or something.”
Oh, now wouldn’t that be lovely? She might wind up on the news for such a feat. Cassie sighed. “Not yet, but thank you for coming to check on me. What’s your name, sweetie?”
“Nice to meet you, Tara.”
“You too.” Tara nodded. “Well, I’ll go tell Dad you’re fine.”
“Sure. I’ll be right out after…” Cassie pointed to the sink.
Tara giggled. “Sure thing. See you in a sec.”
When Cassie walked out of the bathroom a minute later, she spotted the man who’d been behind the desk, pacing a few feet away. She hadn’t paid much attention to him earlier, but now she did and…wow!
Tara’s dad – it couldn’t be anyone else since he was wearing a groove in the wood floor with his frantic pacing – was drop-dead gorgeous. Men’s magazine cover-worthy hotness. He was tall, with tousled dark-blond hair falling over his forehead. Cassie’s gaze swept down, taking in the light-blue work shirt and molded jeans encasing a butt that was as close to perfection as she’d ever seen.
Her baby girl jumped in apparent excitement at the sight of the most beautiful male specimen she’d encountered in some time. So did Cassie’s heartbeat.
She rubbed her stomach. “Down girl,” Cassie murmured. “He doesn’t belong to us.”
No doubt Tara’s dad had an equally gorgeous wife somewhere. Probably waiting around the corner to make sure no predatory females tried to poach her delectable man.
Mr. Gorgeous stopped pacing and swung toward her. She was confronted with eyes the color of the summer sky on a clear day. Cassie almost shielded her own eyes lest the brilliance of those blue orbs damage her retinas or make her fantasize about things she had no right thinking. Not with a baby coming in a few weeks…and not when there had to be a Mrs. Gorgeous lurking in the shadows.
Right now, his beautiful eyes were staring at her with a mixture of panic and horror, which worked to break the haze of attraction. Right. Tara’s dad thought she’d been about to give birth in the bathroom stall.
“There you are.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I’ve been out of my mind.”
“I’m fine.” Cassie fought the urge to smooth his hair back into place. Or tousle it some more. Any excuse that would allow her to touch him. “No babies on the way yet.”
“Babies?” His gaze slid down to her belly. “You’re not having…”
Gah! Did she look like she was carrying multiples? Cassie felt as big as a horse these days, but she hoped that was mostly in her own mind.
“No, there’s only one,” Cassie said. “Unless Baby Girl Stevens is hiding a twin somehow.”
“Cool!” Tara appeared at her dad’s elbow. “You’re having a girl?”
“Do you have a name picked out yet?”
Cassie wrinkled her nose. “No.”
The name problem continued to plaque her. She’d been wracking her brain, reading baby name books, looking online, going through the Bible and every book of classic literature she could find, but so far she was stuck. Cassie had decided she’d probably have to wait until her daughter arrived and hope a name would come to her then.
Tara’s dad took a few steps closer. “Well, if you’re sure everything is fine, why don’t I get you checked in? I’m sure you want to go to your room and rest for a bit.”
Seriously? First, she was the size of a barn door, and now pale and sickly? The one quick glance in the mirror a moment ago had assured that her long dark hair still mostly remained in the bun she’d created this morning. Yes, she had purple smudges under her brown eyes, but nothing too alarming.
“Do I look like I’m about to keel over?” she asked, with a growing irritation. Here she was practically drooling over Mr. Gorgeous, and he thought she was a fat, tired-looking old hag.
“No, you look beautiful.”
The words seemed ripped from his mouth, and they hung in the air for a moment like a downed power line sizzling in the street. Mr. Gorgeous’ blue eyes went even wider, and he swallowed. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Cassie said. “I’ve been feeling like a beached whale for the last couple months. It’s nice to know I’m not totally hideous.”
His lips stretched into a grin that seemed connected to his eyes. “Definitely not hideous.”
Oh, he needed to stop doing that. A grinning Mr. Gorgeous threatened to fry all her brain cells, making it almost impossible to resist jumping him, something Mrs. Gorgeous might object to.
There you go…I hope you get a jump on your holiday reading by ordering Sweet Christmas Kisses 3. You can pre-order on: Amazon iTunes Kobo Google Plus
Kristin Wallace is the USA Today Best Selling Author of inspirational and contemporary romance,
and women’s fiction filled with “Love, Laughter and a Leap of Faith”. Kristin will have a second release this month, Book 2 in the Shellwater Key Tales, STRAIGHT ON TOWARD PARADISE, For more info visit her website at Kristin Wallace Author
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