Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sweet Christmas Kisses 4 Sneak Peek! First Chapter of Saving Mistletoe by Shanna Hatfield

Sweet Christmas Kisses 4  will releasing next week on September 26! I'm super excited to share my contribution to the boxed set with you today. You can read the first chapter of Saving Mistletoe below! Enjoy!

Chapter One

Portland, Oregon

“No, no, no, no,” Ellen Meade chanted, glaring at the blank, black screen of her cell phone in disgust. Hadn’t she charged it just a few hours ago?  With her luck, the charger hadn’t been fully plugged in and she’d failed to notice in her haste to get out the door.

What else could go wrong? This day, this whole disastrous week, or was it year, might give her ulcers if she survived it.

She stopped on the downtown Portland sidewalk and glanced around. Although she was only a dozen or so blocks from her office, she hadn’t visited this particular part of town for a long time and had no idea how to find her client.

With the client’s address and phone number trapped in her dead phone, along with directions on how to find Mr. Smith’s office, she experienced a moment of panic. Situations like this never happened to her. Ellen was always organized. Always. She planned everything with care and foresight, leaving no room for surprises or failures.

Yet, despite her best efforts, nothing had gone according to plan recently.

Last year, her best friend had gone to Atlanta for a brief visit, fallen in love with some hunky horse wrangler who turned out to be a wealthy plantation owner, and married him a short time later. Tara and Brett were the epitome of wedded bliss, especially with a baby on the way.

Not that Ellen begrudged her friend a single second of happiness. Truly, she was thrilled Tara was living out her happily ever after, even if it was in Georgia and Ellen remained in Oregon.

When they were younger, dreaming of how they would take life by storm, Ellen had set her goals and achieved them with startling precision. The list of achievements she pursued wasn’t long or complicated: graduate from high school with honors, earn a full scholarship to college, graduate at the top of her class, pass the bar exam, take a job with a firm that guaranteed promotions and prestige, earn a partnership and get married — all before she turned twenty-six.

After celebrating her birthday two weeks ago, she’d felt the twinges of disappointment plucking at her soul. She’d failed to live up to her own expectations. Without a boyfriend in sight, the possibility of getting married seemed even more far-fetched than gaining a partnership at the firm where she worked.

The partnership that opened up last month went, of course, to the nephew of one of the founding partners. The man was severely lacking brain cells, but Ellen couldn’t very well tell her boss that. She supposed they’d figure it out soon enough. In the meantime, she assumed additional responsibilities in her already overwhelming workload, including meeting with this client whom she had no idea how to find.

A quick glimpse at her watch confirmed she had less than ten minutes to find the building or she’d be late.

What she wouldn’t give for the good old days when public telephones, and telephone books, could be found every few blocks. If she had access to one, she could call her client. As it was, she knew she should have written down the address instead of relying solely on her phone.

The July sun beat down on her in an unexpected heat wave. Sweat trickled between her shoulder blades and slithered along her spine, increasing her discomfort. She should have taken a cab, one with air conditioning. Instead, she’d decided to enjoy the beautiful weather and take in the blue skies, blooming flowers, and sweetness of summer on a stroll to meet Mr. Smith. Now she was overheated, anxiety-plagued, dripping sweat, and about to be unforgivably late.

“This is just perfect,” she muttered, dropping her phone inside the leather bag she carried over her shoulder before adjusting the bag’s strap.

“Think, think, think,” she said, rubbing her temple with one hand and closing her eyes.

Her mind drew a blank. Not so much as a hint of the address came to her.  No sudden recall pointed her in the right direction. No burst of brilliance helped her remember the client’s phone number.

Frustrated and resolved to returning to her office to retrieve the information she needed, she spun around and smacked into something warm and extremely solid. Momentarily stunned, she was afraid of what she’d hit. She cringed as she considered the possibilities of what she’d done.

The scent of leather and a man’s masculine fragrance mingled with an aroma she vaguely recalled from summer camp when she was thirteen. She’d spent six weeks learning how to ride a horse among the other activities.

What in the world was a horse doing in downtown Portland and how had she blindly smacked into it?

Slowly opening her eyes, she glanced up at the scowling, tanned face of a police officer as he sat astride his large chestnut mount. The horse shook his mane and glanced back at her, as though he measured her worth and found her severely lacking.

She pushed against the man’s muscled thigh to regain her balance and took a step back. The contact with his leg left her further unsettled than she’d been mere seconds before.

Who had muscles like that, anyway? His thigh felt like it was made of steel. What was the guy, a fitness nut? The short sleeves of his uniform shirt only accented his biceps and broad shoulders.
A brief perusal that started at the top of his hat and ended at the toes of his shiny leather riding boots confirmed that the man was, indeed, in prime physical shape.

His gaze held a hint of scorn as he continued to stare at her with a disapproving frown.

“May I help you, miss?” he asked in a smooth voice that held the hint of a drawl. He didn’t sound Southern, exactly, but he wasn’t from Portland, that was for sure. The man had a rugged, outdoorsy look to him. His seat on the back of the tall horse only accentuated the persona.

“No, thank you,” she said. Another step back nearly carried her into two businessmen walking past her. One of them gave her a cool glare while the other shot her an interested glance.

“Are you sure, miss? You seem to be a little lost.” The officer’s expression didn’t soften as he held her gaze with eyes that were a surprisingly clear shade of blue. In spite of his gruffness, Ellen couldn’t help but notice the sculpted firmness of his lips, particularly the top one.

Unbidden, thoughts of kissing it flew into her head. The only explanation she could latch onto was the possibility she had lost her mind. That had to be it. Stress, too many hours on the job, and the fact her last real date had been back in college definitely contributed to her current enthralled state.

The officer leaned down from the saddle, studying her. “Are you an attorney?” The frown lines on his forehead deepened and angry sparks ignited in his eyes.

Shocked by his question, Ellen mutely nodded.

“Did you defend Jonathan Westmont a few months ago?” he asked, a hard edge seeping into his tone.

“As a matter of fact, I did.” Ellen couldn’t think of any reason this officer would know who she was, unless… She took a moment to picture him in a dress uniform, with fury riding his features as he offered testimony at the trial. If his hostile glares could have brought about her demise, she wouldn’t have made it out of the courtroom alive. The high-profile case and the fact she’d won earned her a hefty promotion and a promise she’d be considered the next time a partnership became available.

Ellen had experienced her share of doubts about her client’s innocence. However, her job wasn’t to judge him, but defend him. She’d done her job exceptionally well. Hopefully, her client would learn from his near miss with a prison cell as his abode and not find himself in a similar mess in the future.

“Johnnie Westmont is as guilty as sin and thanks to you the people he cheated won’t ever get their money back, or have any closure on the devastation he caused.” The officer straightened and gave her a loathsome look. “Not only that, but it’s just a matter of time before he does it again. You should feel proud of yourself for making certain a criminal was allowed to go free. If he’s the poster child for the types of people you represent, how do you sleep at night?”

“Why do you seem to have such a vested, personal interest in him, sir?” Ellen asked, affronted. In spite of her irritation, her curiosity sought satisfaction.  What did it matter to Officer Handsome-And-Hotheaded? How dare he condemn her for doing her best for the client?

“I don’t have a personal interest in him, but anyone smarter than an idiot could see he was guilty. One of his victims just happens to be a friend of mine. And I’m the one who found out about his scheme, which is why I testified.” He gave her a long, observant glance. “Is there some reason you’re wandering around here? Do you need assistance? Escorted somewhere? Arrested for assaulting an officer?”

From the dark look on his face, she got the idea helping her might give the man an acute case of indigestion. No doubt lingered in her mind that he’d take great pleasure in hauling her in and locking her in a jail cell.

“No thank you, Officer,” she snapped and turned back in the direction she’d originally headed. 

Conscience pricked by his condemnation, she didn’t want to think about all the concerns his questions stirred.

In fact, sleep had become an elusive wish at night since she’d accepted her first promotion at the firm. The higher up the ladder she climbed, the more she felt urged to leave behind the moral and ethical compasses that had always guided her. She didn’t like representing clients she thought were guilty, but when her boss told her to take a case, she took it without question.

Lately, it was getting harder and harder to help clients she knew were scamming, cheating, lying scum dressed in expensive suits.

Ellen had such big dreams, such high hopes about being a high-powered, successful attorney. Now, her dreams inched toward delusions while the power she’d fought hard to gain seemed false and empty at best.

Regardless, it wasn’t any of the police officer’s business and today wasn’t the day to allow her mind and heart to engage in a heated debate.

 Even if she was lost, she refused to admit to him how badly she needed to find her client’s office. Her boss had stressed the importance of keeping Mr. Smith happy. Ellen had a feeling showing up late wouldn’t sit well with the man.

The clip clop of the horse’s hooves on the sidewalk kept step behind her as she marched forward, with no idea where she needed to go. Half a block later, she tossed a glance over her shoulder to find the officer and horse right behind her. She took a step to the right and stopped, turning back with an accusatory glower.

“Is there some reason you are following me?” she asked, indignant and growing annoyed.

“Who says I’m following you. I’m on duty and this is part of the area I’m patrolling today.” He smirked. “Are you sure you don’t need help?”

Ellen swallowed her pride and narrowed her gaze. “Do you know where to find the office of Smith and Matlock? They have an investment firm somewhere in this area.”

The officer nodded. “I sure do.”

Out of patience, Ellen wanted to stamp her foot. “And? Where can I find it?”

Those enticing lips curved upward in an almost grin as he pointed to a building across the street. “Right there.”

“Oh.” Ellen looked at the building, noticing the sign out front and the street numbers that jangled in her memory. “Thank you, Officer…”

“Tipton, miss. Burke Tipton.” With surprising politeness, he tipped his hat to her then rode away.

Ellen watched him until he turned a corner before racing across the street. As she hurried onto the elevator, she pondered if she’d see the cranky officer again and felt vexed that she wanted to.

Pre-order Sweet Christmas Kisses 4 today for just 99 cents and have it delivered to your e-reader on September 26th!

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After spending her formative years on a farm in Eastern Oregon, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield turns her rural experiences into sweet historical and contemporary romances filled with sarcasm, humor, and hunky heroes.
When this USA Today bestselling author isn’t writing or covertly hiding decadent chocolate from the other occupants of her home, Shanna hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.