Cover & Excerpt Reveal
Rocky Hill Romances Book One
Single mother Samantha Dean doesn't have time for Christmas. Or romance, for that matter. She is weeks away from opening her own catering business, the most important part of her plan to provide her certified genius daughter Patty with all the wonderful things she deserves.
Except Patty doesn't want to go to a fancy boarding school. She wants a father and when she meets bartender Murphy O'Rourke at her fourth grade Career Day presentation, she knows she's met the man of her mother's dreams!
But can she convince her Mrs. Scrooge of a mom that it was time to give Christmas — and love — a second chance?
Originally published in print by Harlequin American
Genre: Contemporary Romance
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Book Two in the series is now available as well. See it below the following excerpt.
Patricia Mary Elizabeth Dean knew all about biology and how marriage and babies didn't always go hand-in-hand the way they did in old movies and television sitcoms. She'd heard stories about the days when a young girl had to leave home if she became pregnant out of wedlock but those days were long gone by the time it happened to her mother Samantha.
Sam had stayed right where she was, safe and secure in her parents' house in Rocky Hill, New Jersey. She finished her senior year of high school and, nine months pregnant with Patty, she marched up to get her diploma then marched back out of the auditorium and headed for the hospital in Princeton. Five hours later Patty was born, and it seemed that from her very first breath she had been looking for a man to be her father.
Her best friend Susan couldn't understand it at all. "My dad is always telling me I can't stay up to watch Letterman," Susan had complained just last week. "He won't let me wear nail polish or get a tattoo or even think about going to the movies with Bobby Andretti until I'm twenty-one. You're really a whole lot better off with just your mom."
Patty knew her mom was pretty special. Sam was independent and ambitious and she had always managed to keep a roof over their heads and good food on the table, even while she juggled school and work and taking care of Patty. But there was one thing Sam wasn't very good at and that was romance.
Her mom said she didn't have time for boyfriends and dating and maybe that was true but it seemed to Patty that it wouldn't be long before she ran out of time. Patty had heard women her mother's age talking about their biological clocks and how all the good men had been snapped up while they were busy building careers and she hated to think her mom would end up old and lonely with a dozen cats.
Not that Patty didn't like cats but . . .
And so it was that she decided to take over the quest.
There had been a few good prospects but nobody she could imagine becoming part of her family until the day Murphy O'Rourke walked into the classroom to give his career-day presentation, and she knew her search was over.
Murphy O'Rourke wasn't handsome, although his sandy brown hair was shiny and his hazel eyes held a friendly twinkle. He wore a brown polo shirt with a corduroy sport coat that was frayed at the elbows—and Patty couldn't imagine him sewing on those wimpy patches Susan's dad had on his corduroy sport coat. He didn't have a fistful of gold rings or ugly puffs of chest hair sticking out of his shirt, and his voice didn't go all oily when he talked to women. When Mrs. Venturella introduced him to the class he didn't try to be funny or cool or any of the thousand other things that would have been the kiss of death as far as Patty was concerned.
He smiled at them as if they were real live people and said, "Good morning. I'm Murphy O'Rourke," and something inside Patty's heart popped like a birthday balloon.
"That's the one!" she whispered to Susan. "He's perfect."
Susan's round gray eyes widened. "Him?" The girl looked down at the fact sheet in front of her. "He hasn't even been to college."
"I don't care. He's exactly what I've been looking for."
Susan wrinkled her nose. "He's old."
"So is my mother. That's what makes him so perfect."
"I liked the fireman," said Susan. "Did you see those muscles!" The girl sighed deeply and fluttered her eyelashes, and Patty could barely keep from hitting her best friend over the head with her math notebook.
"The fireman was stupid," said Patty. "He didn't even understand the theory behind water-pressure problems encountered fighting high-rise fires."
"Patty, nobody understands things like that except you."
"The nuclear physicist from M.I.T. understood."
"Then why don't you think he's the right man?"
"Because he called me 'little lady' when he answered my question on the feasibility of nuclear power near major urban centers."
"But he was cute," said Susan. "He had the most darling red suspenders and bow tie."
"I hate bow ties."
Susan made a face. "Oh, you hate everything, Patty Dean. I think you're about the snobbiest girl I've ever—"
"Patricia! Susan!" Mrs. Venturella rapped her knuckles sharply against the chalkboard at the front of the room. "If your conversation is so fascinating, perhaps you'd be willing to share it with the rest of the class."
Susan's cheeks turned a bright red and she slumped down in her chair. "Sorry, Mrs. Venturella," she mumbled.
Patty found herself staring up at the twinkling hazel eyes of Murphy O'Rourke and suddenly unable to speak.
"Patricia," warned Mrs. Venturella. "Do you have something to say?"
Murphy O'Rourke winked at her and before she knew it, the words came tumbling out. "Are you married?"
All around her the class was laughing but Patty didn't care. This was important.
O'Rourke looked her straight in the eye. "No, I'm not."
"Do you have any kids?"
"That's enough, Patricia." Mrs. Venturella turned to O'Rourke and gave him one of those cute little "I'm sorry" shrugs Patty had seen the woman give Mr. MacMahon, the phys ed teacher with the hairy chest. "I apologize, Mr. O'Rourke. Patricia is one of our advanced students and she has an active curiosity."
"I make my living being curious," he said, then crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against Mrs. Venturella's desk. He looked straight at Patty. "Go ahead. Ask me anything you want."
"On the newspaper business," said Mrs. Venturella, with a stern look for Patty, who still couldn't speak.
"Do you make a lot of money?" Craig Haley, class treasurer, asked.
"Enough to pay my rent," said O'Rourke.
"Did you ever go to China?" asked Sasha D'Amato.
"Twice." He grinned. "And I was thrown out once."
Danielle Meyer held up a copy of the New York Telegram. "How come I don't see your name anywhere?"
"Because I quit."
Patty was extremely impressed: he didn't so much as bat an eye when Mrs. Venturella gasped in horror. "What do you do now?" Patty asked.
"I'm a bartender."
The only sound in the classroom was the pop of Susan's bubble gum.
"Look," he said, dragging his hand through his sandy brown hair, "I didn't mean to misrepresent anything. When you guys called and asked me to speak at the school, I was still a reporter for the Telegram. This is a pretty new development."
"Why'd you quit?" Patty asked. If there was anything her mom hated, it was a quitter. She hoped Murphy O'Rourke had a good reason for giving up a glamorous job as a New York City reporter and becoming a run-of-the-mill bartender, or it was all over.
"Artistic freedom," said Murphy O'Rourke.
"Bingo!" said Patty.
She'd finally found her man.
MURPHY O'ROURKE had faced hostile fire in the desert war. He had stared danger in the face everywhere from the subways of New York City to the back alleys of Hong Kong to the mean streets of Los Angeles and never broken a sweat.
He'd been lied to, cursed at, beaten up and knocked down a time or two but he'd never, not ever, encountered anything like facing sixty curious New Jersey school kids on career day at Harborfields Elementary School in Montgomery Township.
All in all, it made running naked down the Turnpike backward in a blizzard seem like a day at the park.
They asked him about passports and phone taps. They asked him about deadlines and drug busts and protecting his sources. Those kids had more questions than the White House press corps and he had a hell of a time keeping up with them.
Why had he let his old man talk him into this, anyway? His father had always been big on community participation and had agreed to this command performance a few months before the massive heart attack that laid him low. When Murphy stepped in to take care of things for Bill, he hadn't expected his job description would include a visit to Sesame Street.
Funny how quickly it all came back to you with the first whiff of chalk dust. The pencils and the rulers; the big jars of library paste and gold stars for perfect attendance; blackboards and erasers and the unmistakable smell of wet boots on a snowy morning. Of course today there was also the hum of computers and the friendly LCD glow of hand-held calculators, but except for a few different trappings, it was still the same.
Even though it had been over twenty-five years since he'd been in the fourth grade, he found that a few things never changed. It wasn't tough at all to peg that dark-haired boy in the first row as the class wise guy, or the pretty little blonde near the window as the class flirt. The clown and the jock and most-likely-to-end-up-at-trade-school were just as easy to pick out.
But that serious-looking girl with the bright red hair and big blue eyes—damned if he could figure out where she fit in the scheme of things. She didn't ask the usual questions about the glamorous life of a reporter. Instead of giggling when he told his best "I interviewed Justin Bieber" story, she asked him if he'd ever been married. Hell, even after he told her he'd never taken the plunge, she went right ahead and asked him if he had kids, and she never so much as blushed. In fact she seemed more interested in knowing the details of his after-hours life than the details of his headline-making rescue of an Iranian hostage last year.
When Mrs. Venturella introduced the lawyer—"Anne Arvoti, divorce specialist"—Murphy breathed easily for the first time since he entered the classroom. He nodded at Mrs. Venturella, then was making a beeline toward the door when a small hand snaked out and grabbed him by the coat tails.
The red-haired girl with the ponytail. He should've known.
"You can't leave," she whispered, her freckled face earnest and eager. "There's a party afterward."
"I've got a bar to run," he whispered back, wondering why he felt like he'd been caught playing hooky and she was the truant officer.
"You have to stay," she insisted, clutching his coat more tightly. "I have to make sure that you—"
"Patty!" Mrs. Venturella's voice sounded to his right. "A bit more respect for Ms. Arvoti's presentation, if you will."
He had to hand it to the kid. Her cheeks reddened but not for a second did she look away. "Please!" she mouthed, turning her head slightly so her teacher couldn't see. "You have to stay!"
Murphy hesitated. He hated schools. He hated school parties. He hated the thought of answering a thousand questions while he juggled milk and cookies and longed for a stiff Scotch. He had to get back to the bar and take over from Jack so the guy could grab himself some dinner. There was a meeting of the Tri-County Small Business Association at 7:00 p.m., then back to the bar for the usual late-night crowd. The last thing he had time for was playing Captain Kangaroo for a roomful of ten-year-olds.
But this kid was looking up at him with such unabashed eagerness that the rock that had passed for his heart for longer than he cared to remember thawed a bit.
"Christmas cookies," she whispered, her blue eyes eager and bright behind her wire-rimmed glasses. "My mom made them."
"It's only December first," he whispered back. "Aren't you rushing things?"
"Christmas can't come soon enough for me. Besides, I have a deal for you
Murphy O'Rourke knew when he had been bested and he was okay with it. She was probably a Girl Scout pushing chocolate mint cookies. He could handle that.
"Why not?" he said, shrugging his shoulders and taking a seat near the blackboard. A glass of milk, a few Santa Claus cookies, and he'd be out of there.
An hour, give or take. What difference could one more hour possibly make?
IT TOOK MURPHY exactly fifteen minutes to find out. The kid was some piece of work.
"Fifty dollars," Murphy said, meeting her fierce blue eyes. "Not a penny more."
"Sixty-five dollars a tray," Patty Dean stated in a voice Lee Iacocca would envy. "Anything less and we'd be running in the red."
Murphy threw his head back and laughed out loud. "I don't think you've ever run in the red in your life. You're one tough negotiator."
"Thank you." She didn't even blink. "But it will still be sixty-five dollars a tray. My mother is an expert chef, and food doesn't come cheap."
"Does your father have you on his payroll? You're better at this than most Harvard MBAs."
He caught the swift glitter of braces as a smile flickered across her freckled face. "My mother will be glad to hear that."
"And your dad?"
She shrugged her bony shoulders. "I wouldn't know. The last time I saw him I was two years old."
"Yes," she said. "My long-term memory is excellent and I remember him quite clearly."
Murphy wouldn't have thought it possible but his battle-scarred heart again showed signs of life. He'd grown up without his mother, and he knew that the emptiness never left, no matter how old you got or how successful. "Yeah, well, then tell your mom she has one hell of a businesswoman on her hands."
"Sixty-two fifty," Patty said. "Take it or leave it."
"Sixty-three," said Murphy, extending his right hand and engulfing the girl's hand in his. "Not a penny less."
Patty's auburn brows rose above the tops of her eyeglasses. "Sixty-three? Are you certain?"
"Take it or leave it."
"You're got yourself a deal, Mr. O'Rourke."
Patty gave him her mother's business card and promised that Samantha Dean would be at the TriCounty meeting later that evening to finalize the arrangements. Feeling smug and self-satisfied, Murphy grabbed an extra cookie and headed out toward his car in the rainswept parking lot.
It wasn't until he was halfway back to the bar that he realized he'd just made a deal with a ten-year-old budding corporate shark whose mother might take a dim view of handshake agreements with unemployed gonzo journalists who were now pulling drafts for a living.
And, all things considered, he wouldn't blame her one bit.
SAMANTHA DEAN stifled a yawn as the New Jersey Transit train rumbled toward the station at Princeton Junction. The railroad car was cold and damp and it took every ounce of imagination in Sam's body to conjure up visions of hot soup and a roaring fire. Before she knew it she'd be home with Patty, the two of them snug in their favorite robes as they watched Monday Night Football.
"One more day," she said to her best friend Caroline. "Twenty-four hours and I never have to ride this blasted cattle car again."
"Speak for yourself," said Caroline, eyeing the handsome businessmen sitting opposite the two women. "I rather enjoy riding the train."
Sam resisted the urge to kick Caroline in her fashionable ankle. "You wouldn't mind a trek through the Sahara if there was a man involved."
"Try it some time," Caroline said, her dimples deepening. "You might find you like it. Men are pleasant creatures, once you tame them."
Sam would rather tame a grizzly bear. At least grizzly bears hibernated six months of every year. She could never find time in her crazy daily schedule for a man, no matter how handsome. She turned and looked at her fluffy blond friend. "Do me a favor," she said, giving way to another yawn. "Why don't we just pretend you gave me matchmaking lecture number 378 and be done with it?" Caroline started to protest but Sam raised a hand to stop her. "It's not as if I haven't heard it all before."
Caroline leaned her head against the worn leather seat. Even at the end of a rainy, cold Monday she looked superb. If they weren't best friends, Sam just might hate the woman.
"You may think you've heard it all," Caroline said, "but I can tell you haven't paid attention. Patty needs a father, Sam."
Sam's jaw settled into a stubborn line. "Patty has a father," she snapped. "It's not my fault Ronald doesn't care that he has a daughter."
Caroline was as stubborn as Sam. "I'm not talking about Ronald Donovan and you know it. I'm talking about you, Sam. About your future."
"My future is fine, thank you. This time next month, I'll be open for business and from there the sky's the limit." For two years Sam had eaten, breathed, slept Fast Foods for the Fast Lane and she was finally on the eve of reaping the benefits of her backbreaking schedule of work and school and motherhood.
"There's more to life than your career, Sam."
"Easy for you to say. You already have a career. Mine hasn't started yet."
"There's Patty," Caroline said softly, tearing her limpid blue-eyed gaze away from the man in the gray flannel suit across the aisle. "You should think about her happiness."
Sam's fatigue disappeared in a quick blaze of anger. "That's exactly what I'm thinking about, Caroline. Patty needs more than I can give her waiting tables or typing envelopes. Fast Foods for the Fast Lane is my best hope."
Having a genius for a daughter wasn't your everyday occurrence. Patty was quickly outstripping the ability of Harborfields Elementary School to keep up with her. Unfortunately Patty's nimble mind was also quickly outstripping Sam's financial ability to provide tutors, books, and advanced courses her little girl deserved but didn't have.
Sam had no college degree, no inheritance to fall back upon, no friends in high places. What she had was a sharp mind, common sense, and the ability to turn the simplest of foods into the most extraordinary fare. With the area around Princeton booming with two-paycheck families and upscale life-styles, Sam realized that all the modern conveniences in the world couldn't compensate for the lack of a home-cooked meal made to order and ready when you were.
From that simple idea came her brainchild, Fast Foods for the Fast Lane and with it the hope that she would be able to give Patty every chance in the world to achieve her potential.
The tinny voice of the conductor blared from the loudspeaker: "Princeton Junction, next stop!"
Caroline, elegant as always in her timeless gray silk dress, stood up and reached for her parcels in the overhead rack. "I should be imprisoned for grand larceny," she said, sitting back down next to Sam, her lap piled high with loot. "Three vintage Bob Mackies and a Donna Karan and I didn't have to empty my bank account."
"I take it business is going well?" Sam asked, collecting her books and papers from the empty seat next to her. Caroline ran an offbeat boutique called Twice Over Lightly, where one-of-a-kind designer dresses could be rented for a night by New Jersey CinderelIas.
Caroline's broad smile told the tale. "It's going so well I can afford to wear the Schiaparelli to the TriCounty Masquerade Ball. Jeannie Tremont will be green with envy."
"No," said Sam, searching her briefcase for her car keys. "Absolutely not."
"Absolutely not what?" Caroline asked.
"I am absolutely not going to the Christmas party."
"Of course you are," Caroline said. "Don't be silly,"
"I hate Christmas parties and I refuse to go to one where all the adults wear Santa Claus masks. I have better things to do with my free time."
Caroline's elegant nose wrinkled in disdain. "Spare me your Mrs. Scrooge routine, Sam. It was old last year."
"I don't ask you to forgo your mistletoe, Caroline," Sam said evenly. "Don't go asking me to run around whistling Jingle Bells."
"You used to love Christmas," Caroline persisted. "You used to start decorating before Thanksgiving,"
"I used to wear braids and watch Saved by the Bell, too."
"You even celebrated Christmas the year you were expecting Patty and we both know what a rotten holiday that was."
"I was seventeen." Seventeen and filled with hope and promise despite the fact that she was about to become a single mother. She had decorated her parents' house from top to bottom and even lit the dozens of tiny candles that illuminated the driveway on Christmas Eve. Had there really been a time when setting up those tiny white candles outside had seemed so wondrous, so important? "I didn't know any better."
Leave it to Samantha Dean to fall in love with a boy from the right side of the tracks. A high school romance with a girl from Rocky Hill was one thing; marriage to that very same girl was something else entirely.
There would be no marriage, said the illustrious Donovan clan, not even to legitimize the baby Sam carried. And so it was on Christmas Eve that Ronald was whisked away from the temptation and sent west where he ended up in the United States Air Force Academy, on the road to a bright and shiny future as a pilot.
And good riddance.
Sam had done fine by Patty up until now and, God willing, she would do even better once her catering business got rolling.
"You should get out more," Caroline continued, as the train rattled into the station. "Socialize. Christmas soirees are all part of doing business in this town, Sam."
"Well, the soirees will have to go on without me, I have ten weeks' worth of work and only four weeks to accomplish it. Trust me: I don't have time for Christmas."
"Everyone has time for Christmas."
Sam laughed out loud. "You don't even have time for the Tri-County meeting tonight."
"That's different. The store is open tonight and Jeannie has the evening off." She narrowed her eyes in Sam's direction. "I hope you're going."
Sam glanced out at the cold rain lashing against the train windows. "Not me. I intend to stretch out on the sofa and watch Sex and the City reruns while Patty tackles nuclear fusion."
"Not a very businesslike attitude, Sam."
"I'm not in business yet, Caroline."
Caroline waved her words away. "A mere technicality. You should be out there spreading Christmas cheer. I don't think you're being fair to Patty." Caroline looked altogether too pleased with her logic for Sam's taste.
"Just because I don't turn all warm and mushy when I hear 'Deck the Halls,' doesn't mean I'm going to deny Patty her fun."
"Well, thank God for that," Caroline murmured.
"I would have kidnapped that girl for the holidays."
"Wait until I'm established," Sam said. "In a few more years I'll have plenty of time for Christmas celebrations?''
"I certainly hope so. Christmas is a time for miracles, honey, and there aren't many of them around these days. Who knows? For all you know, your big break might be waiting for you at the Tri-County meeting." Caroline patted Sam's hand. "You just have to believe."
"Oh, I believe," said Sam as the train stopped and the doors slid open. "I believe in peace on earth, joy to the world, and that not even the promise of a weekend in the Bahamas could tempt me to go to that meeting tonight.”
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by Barbara Bretton
Rocky Hill Romances Book Two
One man … One woman … One night … One big surprise
Everyone in town knew Caroline and Charlie just weren't meant for each other. Like oil and water or chalk and cheese, the ex-Navy cook and the beautiful shop owner were a bad match, and although the small New Jersey town was filled with inveterate matchmakers, even the most determined of the lot had to admit this was one match that would never happen.
But nobody had figured on Caroline and Charlie getting locked in a storage vault with an automatic timer set for the next morning . . .
And Caroline and Charlie definitely hadn't figured on the little surprise they got a few months later when they discovered there was a baby on the way!
Caroline is sure she can handle everything alone but Charlie has other ideas: a modern marriage of convenience!
At first there isn't anything convenient about living with the all-male Charlie Donohue but before long Caroline's defenses are down and her husband-in-name-only is sharing her bed.
Is there even the slightest chance this marriage of inconvenience could turn into the real thing?
Originally published in print by Harlequin American
Purchase links: Amazon Smashwords Kobo iTunes B&N
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