♥ ♥ ♥ “It was like stepping into a Hallmark Christmas Romance… Just what you want for a cold winter’s night.” ♥ ♥ ♥ –Bestselling Romance Author, George H. McVey
Coming home for the holidays was never supposed to mean falling in love.
Charlotte Wilson is in her very last semester of college. Distractions are completely out of the question, which is what makes everything about Oliver Hull a very bad idea. The local firefighter is so far out of Charlotte’s league that he should be classified as a different species. Handsome, charming, and dangerously persistent, Oliver is everything Charlotte cannot handle right now.
The small town of Unity Springs is overflowing with Christmas Spirit, and Oliver’s work at the fire station is keeping him more than busy. Then along comes Charlotte Wilson, and Oliver’s aspirations fall to the wayside in his pursuit of just. One. More. Kiss.
When tragedy strikes, Oliver and Charlotte’s budding relationship is put to an unexpected test. Why does Charlotte keep running away from everything that makes her heart glow? Love and happiness are within her grasp. Is she strong enough to reach out and take it?
There’s always something happening in a town as small as Unity Springs. Immerse yourself in a snowy wonderland filled with love and laughter this holiday season as Bestselling Author, JOSEPHINE BLAKE, crafts a BRAND NEW SERIES that will steal your heart and warm your soul.
Love in Unity Springs, Book Two, SECOND-CHANCE SANTA arrives on December 20th, 2019
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The taxi driver turned down Forest Lane, and Charlotte felt her heart pitter-patter with excitement. All along the street, the houses they passed were preparing for the upcoming holiday festivities. She saw more snowmen than people that Friday morning. Memories of frozen fingers and laughter flooded into her mind as the taxi’s tires slushed through the myriad of sloppy puddles.
Charlotte couldn’t wait to be back home with her family. This semester had been one of her most difficult ones, which was expected since she was nearing her final year of college. Money was tight.
She’d spoken to her father Wednesday morning and told him she would be arriving in Unity Springs late on Friday, but she had just managed to snag a cheaper ticket. Her plane had landed at seven AM, and Charlotte was hoping to surprise her dad before he left for work.
A familiar dull ache enveloped her heart, leading Charlotte to tug her phone from her back pocket. She scrolled idly through her photos, looking at all the images she often turned to when she was feeling homesick. There was one photo of her father, her grandma, her sister and herself, that always made her smile. Charlotte and her older sister, Emily, had the same bright blue eyes as their father. They seemed to gleam at her out of the photo, as though they were speckled by snow. And her sister had her father’s dimples—small pinpricks that dotted the very center of both of their cheeks.
The four of them had been through so much in their lives. Her father was partly why Charlotte worked so hard in school, so that she could eventually give back to him for all he had done. He had raised her and Emily alone, without their mother, and he never once made either of them feel like a burden. Charlotte felt her eyes start to glisten, but she fanned them and took a deep breath instead. This was a happy moment, a return home after a whole semester away.
Unity Springs was so beautiful this time of year. It was the kind of city that felt lost in time. People greeted one another in the street as they walked to get their coffee in shining white mugs from the diner on Main Street. They brought vats of Margie’s fix-it-all chicken soup to anyone that was rumored to have a cold. Store fronts bore the same signs they had had twenty years ago. Nothing ever seemed to change here, and Charlotte reveled in the familiar comfort of being back in the town she loved.
Every year, as November came to a close, every home on every street pulled out all of their old holiday decorations. The street where Charlotte had grown up, Forest Lane, was especially dedicated to the decorating. It seemed as though her father had some new, giant, inflatable figure each year. But Charlotte always looked forward to seeing what it would be. She looked forward too, to their walks along the twinkling street, with a thermos of hot cocoa to pass between them.
The driver pulled up to a small Victorian-style house. It was more modest than many of the other homes on the street, but what it lacked in size, it more than made up for in festive energy.
Charlotte grinned at the massive, inflatable Santa perched beside the chimney.
“This the one?”
The taxi driver, a scruffy man who looked rather like a grungy sort of Santa Claus himself, turned back to face Charlotte. She tucked her chocolate brown hair behind her ear, glanced at the large wreath dangling from the stained-glass front door, and nodded.
“Yep!” She opened the door and clambered out, avoiding puddles of slush. The driver trudged around to the trunk and opened it, lifting out her checkered suitcase. He set it down heavily on a sidewalk that was already sparkling with fresh snowflakes. “Thank you!” Charlotte handed him a tip. The man grinned toothily, nodded to her, and climbed back in his car.
“Merry Christmas!” she called as the taxi scooted off down the street.
“Charlotte?!” She turned at the sound of her name and saw her father, Michael Wilson, haphazardly trying to zip up his jacket. He skittered out onto the front porch, his feet half-shoved into a pair of loosely-laced boots. A stout man in his early forties, her father had dark hair that was already speckled with silver. He was taller than Charlotte’s five foot and six inches by at least a head, and at this moment, he was beaming in a way that told Charlotte he had missed her just as much as she had missed him.
“Daddy!” Charlotte let go of her suitcase and ran to him.
Her father met her at the base of the front steps and tugged her into a hug that nearly cracked her ribs. “You’re not supposed to be here until this afternoon!!”
“I thought I’d surprise you.” She pulled back to examine him critically, taking in the darkened circles around his eyes. “The earlier flight was a better deal.”
They grinned at one another, Charlotte breathing in the warm, familiar scent of her father’s aftershave. Home, she thought. It’s so good to be home.
“It’s freezing out here! Go on in.” Her father shivered dramatically and winked. “Get yourself a cup of coffee. I’ll bring your suitcase in. You’re just in time. I’ve got some bacon on the stovetop.”
Charlotte beamed in thanks and maneuvered her way carefully up the icy stoop, through the front door, and into the house. The hardwood floor creaked as she moved into the kitchen, just as it always had. There were pine garlands draped along the fireplace and stair banister, more wreaths lining the walls, and a tall Christmas tree brushing the ceiling in the corner of the living room. The house smelled of cinnamon and honey, and every room seemed to twinkle with dancing Christmas lights. Charlotte found herself breathing very deeply. A feeling of sweet contentment washed over her.
For a single parent, Michael Wilson had always done a great job of keeping the house clean, organized, and most importantly, comfortable. Charlotte returned home for a visit as often as she could manage, just so she could relish the nostalgia of their lives. It wasn’t always easy, but no one and nowhere felt as comforting as their small home in Unity Springs, Oregon.
Charlotte heard her father roll her luggage inside and shut the door, shaking off the coat he had tossed on over his plaid flannel shirt. He paraded into the kitchen—still grinning—and then to the stovetop where he slid on an oven mitt. Shifting the cast iron pan that was reserved strictly for bacon and breakfast biscuits off the heat, he said: “It’s so good to see you, darlin’. We’ve missed you.”
Charlotte shrugged out of her own coat, gave him another brief hug, and set to work. She was never one to be catered to. She pulled out plates, grabbed the orange juice from the fridge, and made sure her father had a hot mug to drink from.
Pouring herself some coffee, Charlotte took a seat at the breakfast bar in the kitchen. Her father scraped bacon, eggs, and toast on plates for them both and sat down across from her.
“I’m sorry, but I didn’t get coverage at the store today. I thought you’d be in later, so I planned on closing early. You’ll be okay here though, right? You can meet me for lunch later if you’d like.” Charlotte saw the disappointment in the furrow of his brow at the idea of leaving her alone on her first day back.
“Actually, I have a better idea,” she said, grinning. “I’ll go with you. I can help you around the store like I did in high school. Then I’ll get us lunch, and you can close up early if you still want to.” She nibbled on a piece of toast, enjoying the delightful crunch of homemade bread.
“No, sweetheart, I couldn’t do that to you, not your first day back.”
Charlotte laughed. “Stop it! It’ll be fun.” She glanced at the clock, then said, “and, we should get a move on. You open at nine, right?” She piled bacon onto her second piece of toast and folded it in half to take on the road.
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Gravel crunched beneath the tires as Michael pulled his old red and white Chevy into his designated parking space behind the hardware store. Charlotte climbed out of the truck and stepped back to gaze up at the red-brick building on the corner of First and Main. The hardware store had been like a second home to her. She’d spent half of her childhood in the back office doing homework or waiting for her sister to get off work at the diner down the street. Her father had always brought them into the shop instead of leaving Charlotte and her sister home alone or with a babysitter who didn’t know how to care for them the way he did. People might scoff at the idea of children running around a hardware store, but it’d helped make her an independent woman in a lot of ways. Charlotte didn’t know many other college seniors who could name every tool in any given store, or tell you what type of nail to use with which kind of material. She was handier than the rest of her college friends put together, and she’d always felt a secret sense of pride in that fact.
Charlotte watched her father unlock the door and flip the sign from closed to open just as the clock struck nine.
“Alright. I gotta take care of some of the bookkeeping. Ya mind helping fill some of the shelves? I doubt anyone’ll be in this early, but if they do come in, I’m sure you’ll remember how to ring ‘em up?” He stepped behind the counter and reached across it to scuff her nose.
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “As if I could ever forget.”
Her father winked and sauntered cheerfully into the back room. “Give a shout if you need me!” he said over his shoulder.
Charlotte slid behind the counter and took count of all the boxes that needed to be stocked. After working so hard all semester, this work, though physical in nature, seemed much more relaxing than all the mental work she had been doing at school.
She was studying to get her masters in teaching, but Charlotte wanted to be the best teacher she could possibly be. She wanted to be a real support to children, so she was also double majoring in psychology.
Surveying the boxes behind the counter with her hands on her hips, Charlotte took mental notes and peered down each of the aisles ahead of her. She smiled. It looked as though her father hadn’t changed a single thing since she’d last stocked the shelves.
The first thing she did was sort bits and bobs into manageable piles, opening boxes and scooting them closer to where their fellows sat on the shelves. Next, she hefted a box onto the counter and began sorting hammers by size. As she made her way into the aisles and started settling them into place, a glint caught her eye. She winked one eye closed and peeked out the front window. The sunlight had hit an ornament on the swinging door of the diner across the way. As Charlotte watched, the door swung shut with a jingle behind a very tall, very handsome man.
Charlotte set down the hammer she was holding hard. It made a heavy thud on the shelf beside the others. She took a compulsive step toward the window. Oh. My.
The man was built like a professional athlete. Even with the thick, tan jacket over his shoulders, she could see the way the flannel button-up clung to him. He was grinning at something on his phone and sipping from the steaming mug of coffee in his hands. Her eyes latched onto his fingers—pale with cold—and for a moment, she could picture them sliding over her skin. A shiver made its involuntary way down her spine.
She stood there for a moment and watched him chuckle, smiling rather stupidly herself… Until he turned and headed right toward the hardware store. A car passed in front of him in the snowy street, its chains clinking against gritty asphalt, and it was in that moment that he looked up from his phone and glanced toward Charlotte. She blushed and ducked down behind the nearest shelf, smacking her knee against the stained concrete floor. He didn’t see you. No way. He couldn’t have seen you gawking at him like a moron.
What a great first impression that would make. She shook her head and peered through the shelving. He didn’t see you, she told herself. No way.