Shannon O'Toole isn't looking for romance. After her fiancé's death, she closed off her heart. But she can't deny the spark between her and a sexy stranger at a friend's wedding. Shannon has her own secrets and has no place in her life for a private detective, even one who moves her as much as Daniel. But when the pair are thrown together on a case, the magic of Eternity Springs just might give them a second chance.
CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT:
TEN YEARS AGO SUBURBAN BOSTON Daniel Garrett’s eyes flew open to darkness and an unholy sensation of dread slithering in the pit of his stomach. He’d like to think it was due to the greasy plate of ribs he’d eaten with his dad last night at the Patriots game, but he knew better. Something was off. His universe just wasn’t right. The feeling had plagued him for the better part of a week. So what was it? What had yanked him out of a sound sleep at—he glanced at the bedside clock—4:57 in the morning, a full hour before the alarm was due to go off? He took stock of his surroundings. Beside him, his wife lay sleeping peacefully, smelling of the rose-scented lotion she’d lathered on after her shower, the blocks of ice that doubled as her feet burrowed beneath his legs. Lifting his head from his pillow, he turned his ear toward the doorway and listened intently for any sound coming from the bedroom down the hall. No. Nothing from Justin. Nothing from the puppy who slept in his son’s room. No creaks from the staircase or chime from the clock downstairs in the living room. No howl of wind or ping of sleet outside. The winter storm that had chewed its way across the Eastern seaboard last night as they went to bed had moved on as evidenced by the stars visible through the sliver of space between the white eyelet window curtains of the master bedroom. No, nothing external had disturbed his sleep. The trouble was in his mind … his intuition … his gut. He’d seen something. Sensed something. But what? He lifted his arms, laced his fingers behind his head, and stared up toward the ceiling. Maybe it was work. Maybe he was about to be laid off. Rumors of budget cuts abounded, and he was the youngest detective with the fewest years on the force. Last in, first out would get him. Or at least get him bumped back to patrol. He hadn’t helped himself by failing to hide his disdain for department politics, either. Daniel didn’t play games. He didn’t like people who did. As a result, he didn’t get along with his boss or his boss’s boss. They put up with him because he was good at his job, which made them look better at theirs. But if heads had to roll … Wonder where his old uniforms were stored? Guest room closet, maybe? He hoped his wife hadn’t gotten rid of them. He tried to recall the last time Gail had gone into one of her closet-cleaning frenzies. If she’d done it since his promotion, the everyday uniforms were likely history. I don’t want to go back to patrol. He loved the job. Maybe he could get on as a detective somewhere else. They didn’t have to live near Boston. Gail’s family was spread all over creation. His parents would miss their regular Wednesday-night dinner with their only grandson, but they’d come to visit. They could fly free—one of the advantages of his mom having worked for an airline all these years. And his brothers … well … it might be good to put some distance between himself and those know-it-alls. Maybe he should put out some job feelers just in case. Maybe the job wasn’t the problem. Maybe this bad juju he was feeling had something to do with one of his family members. His dad had mentioned his angina last night. Daniel hadn’t liked hearing that. I’ll call him later and make sure Mom knows he’s having chest pain. She’ll make sure he sees the doctor like he promised me. Restless, Daniel rolled onto his side and pulled Gail over to spoon against him. She mumbled something about Soupy Lou and vegetables and managed to distract him from his dark thoughts. Daniel grinned into the darkness. He figured she was reliving last summer’s garden disaster. Gail had gone totally ballistic after their puppy had made the serious mistake of plucking green fruit off her plants and gnawing them just enough to ruin them. In her angry outburst upon discovering the crime, she’d threatened to give the dog away, which sent their four-year-old son into a panic. Daniel had known it to be an idle threat because Gail loved the six-month-old boxer as much as Justin did. Nevertheless, it had taken him half an hour and the promise to build a fence for their backyard garden to calm down both mother and son. So the following day when Soupy made a chew toy out of his favorite pair of sneakers, he’d chosen his own idle threats more carefully. Remembering how Gail’s eyes had sparkled as she and Justin stood united in defense of Soupy had Daniel giving the clock a second glance. He’d burned almost forty minutes with all his worrying. Still left twenty minutes before the alarm. A good husband woke his wife from her nightmares, didn’t he? He shifted his arm and slipped his hand beneath the clingy knit of her pajama top. Cupping her breast, he trailed his thumb back and forth across her nipple until she stirred and sighed his name. He nipped the soft, sensitive skin of her neck, and when she shivered in response, murmured, “I love you, Gail Garrett.” “Love you, too,” she sleepily replied. Daniel made love to his wife, and the heat they created together chased the cold from his soul. Temporarily. Sex as a distraction worked only until the worries came rolling back as he stood beneath a pelting hot shower at quarter after seven. Dammit, maybe he should come right out and ask Captain Hill about the downsizing rumor. Not that his boss would give him a straight answer, but his body language would betray him. In the first few seconds after posing a question to the man, Daniel could read him like a book. However, if layoffs weren’t on the horizon, Daniel didn’t want to give his captain any ideas. Another solution might be to fess up to his partner that he had the heebie-jeebies. James Reichs had twenty-seven years under his belt; he would respect hunches. Wouldn’t he? Maybe. Maybe not. He might tell me I’m an inexperienced idiot. “Well, kiddo,” Daniel could picture Reichs saying as he rubbed his jaw in his habitual gesture. “I don’t know. There’s a fortune teller over by the waterfront. Maybe we should go ask her. She could read her tarot cards and tell you what you’re gonna be when you grow up.” On second thought, maybe he wouldn’t say anything to Reichs. Not that Daniel didn’t give card and tea-leaf readers their due. He had some Gypsy blood in him from his father’s side. His mother was full-blooded Irish. His heritage made him predisposed to accepting the reality of premonitions. That’s why he added an accessory to his workday ensemble when he dressed. He pulled on his Kevlar vest before he slipped into his sport coat and did his best not to feel foolish about it. Exiting his bedroom, he glanced down the hallway toward Justin’s room. The closed door and faint sound of local news turned low on the television downstairs meant that Justin was still asleep. Soundlessly, he pushed open his son’s bedroom door. Soupy Lou immediately jumped down from the bed—where she knew she didn’t belong—and into the dog bed at the foot of the boy’s twin-sized bed. Daniel scolded the dog with a look, then turned his attention to his son. An active sleeper, Justin invariably kicked off his covers so they dressed him in blanket sleepers on winter nights. He had a variety of cartoon-character versions, and the blue and gold of Daniel’s collegiate team. Last night he’d chosen a green and orange Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles selection to wear, and now he lay with his knees scrunched up under him and his butt in the air. A tsunami of love rolled through Daniel as he gazed at the softly snoring boy. Justin was a fabulous kid. Good-natured, except when he was hungry and then he turned into Godzilla-boy ravaging the pantry. The kid was curious about everything. He’d started talking a little late, but once the floodgates had opened, the questions never stopped. All boy—the rhyme about snakes and snails and puppy dog tails fit him to a tee. Give him the Nature Channel and a show about spiders, and he was one little happy man. A happy little fearless man. The boy was entirely too daring for Daniel’s peace of mind. Last Saturday was the perfect example. While visiting his grandfather’s barbershop, Justin had taken advantage of the adults’ momentary distraction when Pitt scored a last second touchdown to clinch a come-from-behind victory over Virginia Tech. He’d fastened a barber cape around his neck, climbed onto the back of a barber chair, and jumped off à la Batman. His hand knocked scissors off a shelf on his way down, and the point missed hitting his eye by a hair. “You will be the death of your mother and me, son,” Daniel whispered now as he tucked the covers back over the boy. He leaned down, pressed a light kiss against Justin’s cheek, then trailed his knuckle across the dusting of freckles on his nose. Angel kisses, Gail called them. We’d better hope your guardian angel covers your face in them. Daniel took a couple steps toward the door and his right shoe wobbled as he stepped on something. Glancing down, he spied Justin’s Batman action figure. His favorite. Now, sporting a broken arm. Kid needs to learn to keep his toys picked up. Thinking to teach the boy a lesson, he scooped the small plastic doll up with its arm and stuck them in his pocket. Downstairs in the kitchen, Gail had breakfast ready and waiting. He savored his first sip of coffee, but despite the early-morning exercise, his normally healthy appetite had disappeared. He had to force himself to eat the bacon and eggs. “What’s the matter, Daniel?” his wife asked when he declined a third strip of bacon. “I can tell something’s been bothering you.” He took another sip of coffee to buy time to frame his response. Gail knew him better than he knew himself. High school sweethearts, they’d married young and had Justin before they’d intended to start a family—a blessing, they’d discovered recently when Gail developed fertility issues. She’d always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and though money was tight, they’d made it work. The promotion to detective had darn sure come in handy. “I don’t like that sound the heater’s been making. Really hope we can make it through the winter without having to buy a new unit.” She gave him a measured look over the top of her coffee mug. Because the statement was true enough, Daniel managed to hold her gaze. Gail didn’t need the burden of this nameless worry of his. For a cop’s wife, anxiousness came with the territory, but if fretting were a sport, she’d be a pro. On the All-Star team. She’d been more relaxed the past couple of months since he made detective and moved off patrol, but he saw no sense in causing her concern. Besides, the problem could very well be the furnace. They didn’t need the financial hit for that right now. Not as long as they were making the hefty payments to the fertility clinic. “What plans do you have for today?” he asked in hopes of shifting the topic of conversation. “We have a big day planned. We’re going grocery shopping this morning, then meeting Jeremy Tate and his mom at the mall for a matinee. The new Disney movie. If your day goes okay, want to meet us afterward for dinner?” “Sure. Sounds like fun. I’ll do my best to make it.” Maybe he’d see about taking a half day of personal time and catch the movie with them, too. Two hours of feel-good entertainment might help him shake this funk. If he could talk her into ending their day the way they’d started it, he might put this weird mood behind him for good. Daniel wiped his mouth with his napkin and stood. He leaned down, kissed his wife good-bye, then headed for the mudroom where he pulled on his overcoat and unlocked the gun safe to retrieve his weapon. As he slipped the revolver into the holster beneath his jacket, he heard the rattle of Soupy’s tags and the thud of Justin’s footsteps on the stairs. He almost turned back to greet his son, but a glance at his watch convinced him otherwise. A five-minute delay now meant another twenty minutes in traffic. He second-guessed that decision minutes later as he accelerated on the ramp onto the interstate that would take him downtown. The chill that skittered down his spine had little to do with the crisp November weather.You should have taken the time. Being a few minutes late to work won’t hurt anything. Sure. Right up until the moment they started choosing warm bodies for layoffs. Nevertheless, the urge to see and speak to Justin was so strong that he almost took the first exit and turned around. He might have done it, too, had his phone not rung. Two minutes later, any thought of taking a personal day had evaporated. He called Gail. “I’m not going to make it this afternoon. We caught a homicide.” “Oh, no. I just told Justin you said you’d try to join us. He’ll be disappointed.” “Tell him I’ll take him kite flying this weekend to make up for it. The weather’s supposed to be perfect for it.” “He’s standing right here. Why don’t you tell him?” She handed the phone to Justin who spoke with a whine in his little voice. “Daddy, come to the movie with us!” “I can’t, buddy. Daddy’s got to work.” “But I don’t want you to work. I want you to come to the movies!” “I’m sorry, kiddo. Tell you what. You be a good boy for your mother today, and Saturday, you and I will go to the park and fly a kite.” “Promise, Daddy? Cross your heart promise?” “Cross my heart promise.” “I love kites even more than movies. Except for the popcorn.” “Hey, we’ll get us some popcorn, too.” “Yippee. Bye, Daddy.” The dial tone sounded in Daniel’s ear and he chuckled. Needed to work with the little guy on phone etiquette. Then Daniel tossed his phone onto the passenger seat and turned his attention toward murder. It was a grisly, all-consuming business, though he did manage to steal a few minutes to call his father and nag him to make the doctor’s appointment. Throughout the morning, his sense of foreboding continued to simmer. They made a one o’clock appointment with the deceased’s grieving sister at her home in a Boston suburb. During the drive there after a swing through a fast food drive-through at Reichs’s request, Daniel brought up the possibility of layoffs. Reichs squirted a packet of ketchup onto his fries. “Forget about it. Ain’t happening. You’re not getting out of this job that easy. You’re gonna have to suffer along at least until you get your twenty years like the rest of us poor saps. Is that what’s been gnawing at you this week?” “Yeah. No.” Daniel watched his partner lick ketchup from his thumb, and his mind returned to the bloody scene where they’d spent much of the morning. “The husband did it.” “Yeah.” “We’ll prove it.” “Considering the history of domestic violence, we’ll close it by the end of the week.” Reichs popped another fry into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “What’s eating you, Garrett? Have a fight with the wife?” “No. Gail and I are good.” Daniel sucked in a breath, then exhaled a heavy sigh. “I don’t know. I’m being paranoid. But … something’s off. I have this spider crawling up my spine.” “That’s why you’re wearing your vest?” Of course his partner had noticed. Very little got past James Reichs. Daniel described the sense of foreboding hanging over him like a storm cloud. “I don’t know if it’s all in my imagination or if I’m picking up on something that’s real.” Reichs shook a fry at Daniel. “Doesn’t matter. That’s a lesson I learned many moons ago. You listen to your gut. It just might save your life.” Daniel’s lips twisted in a rueful frown. “I’m listening. I just wish my gut would speak more clearly. At least let me know if this whole thing is business or personal.” “Be a detective, Garrett. Figure it out.” “Easier said than done,” Daniel muttered. Reichs finished his fry, then polished off half his burger before he spoke again. “You’re still green, but you’re smart. You’re tenacious. You have great instincts. With a little experience, you’ll be a damned fine investigator. When you’re in a situation like this, you have to be methodical in your approach. Nine times out of ten, there’s something there, something you’re seeing but don’t realize you’re seeing. The place to start is your files. Take a stack of them home with you tonight.” Daniel nodded, glad to have a direction. He’d lucked out getting Reichs for a partner. The guy was a legend in the department, and Daniel knew he could learn a lot from him. When they arrived for their appointment, Reichs grabbed a vest from the trunk and slipped into it before pulling on his suit jacket. The action made Daniel feel less foolish for having mentioned his concerns. The interview provided helpful background information about their suspect, and they left with a new lead to follow that took them downtown. Congestion in traffic ahead caused Daniel to alter the route he’d intended to take, so chance put them on the narrow streets in the industrial area of town when all hell broke loose in front of them. Sirens screamed from police cars pursuing a gray Mercedes sedan that turned onto the street ahead of Daniel’s car. As Reichs got on the radio to report their position as half a block away, the sedan screeched to a stop and a young man bailed from the driver’s seat and ran toward them. Reichs listened intently to the radio. “Carjacking. Dragged a woman from the car. Her baby’s in the backseat.” Daniel slammed on his brakes and threw the car into park even as he saw the man dart into a narrow alley. Two of the uniformed cops stopped by the Mercedes and tended to the child. Two others joined Daniel and Reichs in pursuit of the suspect. Young and fit, Daniel outran the others, and he was the only one who saw which way the suspect turned in the narrow, twisting maze of streets and alleys. Daniel was fast, but so was the suspect, and he obviously knew this part of the city well. Just as Daniel began to believe that he’d lose his man, the suspect stopped and whirled around. Gun. He has a gun in his gloved hand. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. Daniel saw the muzzle flash and tried to react, but the kick at his chest knocked the breath from his lungs and propelled him off his feet. He shot me. I’m shot. He clapped a hand over his chest. The suspect turned into another alley and disappeared. Before Daniel caught his breath, Reichs was at his side, waving the patrolmen to continue on after the suspect while he stayed with his partner. “You hit? Show me.” Daniel shook his head. “Okay. I’m okay. The Kevlar stopped it.” He moved his hand away from his chest and revealed the hole in his overcoat. Holes, he silently corrected because the bullet had pierced his shirt, too. The temptation to stick his pinky finger through them was strong, but he resisted. Barely. Looking down at the tears in the fabric, he exhaled a heavy breath. “Holy hell, son,” Reichs breathed. “Remind me to always listen to your hunches. Your guardian angel was on the job today.” “Yeah.” Thinking of his family, Daniel sent up a shaky prayer of thanks. Reichs helped Daniel to his feet just as the two patrol officers returned empty-handed, the shooter having managed to lose them in the matrix of warehouses and shipping hubs. “Did you get a good look at him?” one of the patrolmen asked Daniel. He nodded. “I’ll recognize him when I see him again.” “And that will happen,” Reichs said. “We’ll find him.” When they walked back to their cars, they discovered the scene filled with a whole host of newcomers—an ambulance, fire truck, a half-dozen more patrol cars, and even the SWAT van. “How’s the baby?” he asked a paramedic. “Appears to be just fine. He never took her out of her car seat.” “The mom?” “She’s on the way.” Daniel nodded, relieved. How frightened that poor woman must have been. Someone handed him a bottle of water, and as he twisted off the plastic cap and took a long, welcome sip of cool water, the reality of the past twenty minutes sank in. He’d dodged a bullet. More or less. He’d dodged that bullet because he’d listened to his gut. The sound of his partner’s voice echoed through his mind. It just might save your life. He dragged the back of his hand across his mouth and willed the weakness out of his knees. He was fine. He was okay. He’d listened, so he’d lived. A lesson for a lifetime. Excellent. Guess I don’t have to comb through files now. His lips quirked at the thought. Tension rolled off him in waves and exhaustion began tugging at his bones. Adrenaline drain, he thought, just as a silver-haired man wearing a brown pin-striped suit beneath his khaki trench coat approached with his hand outstretched. “Detective Garrett? I’m Todd Barnhill. I’ll be lead on this boondoggle. If you’re comfortable skipping the ambulance, I’ll give you a ride to the hospital and take your statement there.” “I don’t need to go—” He shook his head. “Regulations, Detective. You know that.” Yes, he did. Daniel nodded his acquiescence and glanced around. “My partner…” “Detective Reichs is giving his statement to my partner. They’ll meet us at the hospital when they’re done.” Barnhill hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “That’s my SUV over there if you want to get out of the weather. I need to finish up with Officer Maxwell, but I’ll be ready to leave in five.” “Thanks.” Daniel nodded and walked toward the late-model SUV. For the first time since bailing out of his own car, he took notice of the winter chill in the air. The temperature couldn’t have climbed above freezing yet. He rubbed his arms, and when Barnhill used remote ignition to unlock his vehicle, Daniel waved a thanks. He climbed into the truck and settled wearily into the passenger seat as the last of the adrenaline drained away, leaving him exhausted. He hoped he slept better tonight. He should. Surely getting shot qualified as the big bad hanging over his head. No need to worry about layoffs or the furnace now. Not until the next time he experienced … what … a hunch? A premonition? A sixth sense inherited from his Irish/Gypsy heritage? A warning from his guardian angel? Well, whatever. The name didn’t matter. He was a believer. He would never attempt to ignore or dismiss those feelings again. At this particular moment, he felt like the luckiest man in the world. Maybe after Barnhill finished with him, he’d stop and buy a lottery ticket. And roses for Gail. Maybe a bottle of wine. After Justin was in bed, he’d put on some big band music and coax her into dancing with him. He’d sing to her, give them both the gift of a little romance. Maybe tonight they’d hit the jackpot in the getting-pregnant department. Why not, this was his lucky day, wasn’t it? Daniel warmed to the idea even as he held his fingers up to the heated air flowing from the vents. He also realized he needed to call Gail ASAP. News trucks would probably start showing up here any minute, and if she heard about today’s events from anybody other than him, he could forget about getting any luckier. He reached into his pocket for his cell phone, but his fingers found Justin’s little Batman figure first. He pulled the doll from his pocket and studied it, newly aware of an elemental truth about himself. He didn’t want to die, but he didn’t really fear death. However, the thought of leaving Justin without his father cut him off at the knees. He rubbed his thumb over the head of the Caped Crusader, smiling crookedly. He suddenly quite desperately wanted to talk to his wife and his son. What a day this has been. He shifted one-armed Batman from his right hand to his left and searched once more for his phone. He dialed Gail’s number and was disappointed when his call went straight to voice mail. “Hey, babe. Just calling to give you a heads-up. Had a little excitement today. You might hear about it on the news. I’m fine. Wasn’t hurt. The good guys are winning. I’ll tell you the whole story when I get home. Love you.” He disconnected the call and returned his phone to his pocket. He still wanted to talk to his family, but leaving a message worked out okay, he decided. Gail would give him credit for having called, but he’d be spared having to break the news to her. A win-win. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to take her flowers when he went home. Something bright and cheerful. Sunflowers, maybe. Gail always went gooey over flowers. Then they could celebrate life, and if his good luck held just a little longer, make a new one. His fist closed around Batman, and he subconsciously brought it to his mouth and kissed it as a patrol screeched to a halt in front of him. A wild-eyed woman vaulted from the backseat, and Daniel watched the reunion of mother and daughter with a lump in his throat. To be part of this … even though they had yet to catch Joker … all in all … “A good day.” His phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket. His eyes on a toddler’s puffy pink jacket, he answered saying, “Garrett.” His wife’s panicked, fear-filled, and babbling voice chilled his soul. “I can’t find Justin! Oh, God, Daniel. Somebody stole our son!” * * * Four days later, a jogger discovered Justin Garrett’s battered and abused body in a pumpkin field two hours away from the mall. Seven months after that, Daniel returned home from work to find his wife dead from an overdose of sleeping pills. That evening, Daniel threw his Kevlar vest off the Tobin Bridge, wishing he had the courage to jump in after it.
Heartsong Cottage by Emily March
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Heartsong Cottage (Eternity Springs # 10) by Emily March is a 2015 St. Martin's Press publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This tenth installment in the popular Eternity Springs series begins with Daniel's harrowing story of how he lost his son ten years prior. Fast forward to present day, and Daniel is coming to Eternal Springs to attend the wedding of a very special friend where he meets a mysterious new lady in town named Shannon. These two lost and lonely souls reach out to one another in a haze of wedding blues and champagne. But in the light of day, Shannon soon discovers there are now some huge ramifications stemming from their impulsiveness and that she's made a terrible mistake because Daniel apparently isn't the hero everyone thinks he is.
This story is classic Emily March in many ways, with the trademark emotional story line. But of course holiday stories usually require an added dose of sugar and inspiration, topping it all off with a cozy and heartwarming ending. However, this story has a little bit of an edge to it because Shannon is running away from a dark past and of course Daniel's background is just heartbreaking.
I enjoy reading love stories with more mature couples because the hormonal angst isn't at a fever pitch, and I can relate to the characters a lot more. In this story, the romance is a sweet one on many levels because Daniel really deserves to find love again, and of course, Shannon's life has been fraught with anxiety and danger and its time for her to find peace. Both of these characters exuded a deep loneliness that made me root for them even more. Their romance was not filled with grand gestures or explicit bedroom scenes, even though they got off to a rip roaring start in that area, at first, but, as the story unfolds they take a slower, more cautious approach, building a strong emotional bond, along the way. There are misunderstandings, conflict, suspense, and danger, but as the Christmas holidays draw nearer, Eternity Springs will once again work its magic.
This was not exactly what I was expecting from this holiday themed novel, but it was a welcome change from the many other syrupy tales that usually come out around the holidays. I enjoyed the romantic suspense element very much, and for those who are looking for those heart-tugging and touching moments, there are plenty of those to go around too.
This is a series that is dependable, and this author always weaves an interesting tale, so you can't go wrong with this one.
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