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Authors: Ava Miles

Tags: #mystery, #romantic suspense, #romance anthology, #sweet romance, #contemporary romance, #women’s fiction, #contemporary women, #small town, #alpha male, #hero, #billionaire, #family life, #friendship, #sister, #best friend, #falling in love, #love story, #beach read, #bestseller, #best selling romance, #award-winning romance, #empowerment, #coming of age, #feel good, #forgiveness, #romantic comedy, #humor, #inspirational, #may my books reach billions of people and inspire their lives with love and joy, #unlimited, #Collections & Anthologies, #series, #suspense, #new adult, #sagas

The Calendar of New Beginnings

BOOK: The Calendar of New Beginnings
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The Calendar of New Beginnings

~ Dare Valley ~

Lucy & Andy

© 2016 Ava Miles

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The last thing international photojournalist Lucy O’Brien expected when she returned to her hometown was for her mother to ask her to shoot photos for a ‘Calendar Girls’-like calendar…

Of course, it’s all for a good cause—raising money for breast cancer. Lucy agrees to help—ribald photos and all. It’s not like she’s told anyone her secret reason for coming home: that a recent trauma overseas threatens her livelihood. But her longtime BFF, Dr. Andy Hale, isn’t letting her keep secrets from him. He understands heartache. After losing the love of a lifetime, he’s now a widower raising a young son.
 

Everyone in town is wondering if the boy-next door and the zany traveler will finally move from friends to lovers. At first, the sparks of attraction fly amidst their easygoing banter over ice cream cones. But there are deeper feelings at work here, and both must uncover the seeds of their new beginnings together, realizing there’s nothing more powerful than love and friendship to pave the way.

To Aidan—for changing the course of my life and being an integral part of the new beginning I’ve been calling in.

And to my divine entourage, who supports me so beautifully living this new story.
 

Acknowledgements

Every one of my books is supported by the most amazing people ever:

My Dream Team of Sienna, Jade, Angela, Shannon, Emerald, Em, Hilary, and Alisha.
 

Lori Antonson of The Axelrod Agency for helping me expand even more globally.

Dr. Michael C. Chappell of Arkansas Ophthalmology Associates, whose work with veterans affected with severe eye trauma brought him to me via the best cheerleaders on the planet, Dr. Tabitha King and Dr. Richa Thapa.

Dr. Katie Defore for more medical brilliance.

Tracy Allan, an incredible global photographer, who gave me remarkable insights.

Jean Warrick, an old family friend from Nebraska, who told my parents she’d posed in Tilden’s racy “Better Half” Calendar to raise money for the local hospital, and sent me the calendar, which inspired this book.
 

To all my supporters—from my beloved readers to my representatives at all my distributors and beyond.

Chapter 1
      

Lucy O’Brien had never longed for the small town of Dare Valley while she was globetrotting as a photojournalist in the warring mountains of Afghanistan or the conflict-ridden plains of sub-Saharan Africa. She’d been too eager to explore the world and experience everything it had to offer. And she had. After leaving her hometown for college eighteen years ago with nothing more than a bright blue suitcase, Lucy had seen the full spectrum of life—ancient monuments and natural wonders, horrifying mass graves, and starving children.

But her life had changed dramatically a month ago when she was caught in an attack on a Congolese village. Her injuries had mostly healed, but the vision in her right eye hadn’t completely returned. Teaching at Emmits Merriam School of Journalism in Dare Valley for the fall semester would be her holding pattern until it did. Hopefully. As a photographer, she was right-eye dominant, so her whole career hung in the balance.

A thousand memories flittered through her mind as the red Lexus NX Hybrid she’d leased in Denver crested the rise of Sardine Canyon and her hometown came into view. Dare Valley stretched out before her as magical as morning mist on the savannah. The brick and wood-crafted buildings were organized as precisely as the inner workings of a Swiss timepiece. The imposing mountains rose up like sentries guarding the small town. The clouds surrounding the setting sun sunk into the mountains’ craggy ridges, softening the scene.
 

The billboard she passed on her way into town—a new addition since her last visit home, nine months ago for Christmas—made her smile.
Welcome to Dare Valley—A Sweet Home in the Mountains.

The town was still booming, from everything she could see. Progress had fashioned Dare Valley a new dress, a mix of modern fabric with an old-world hemline. Her dad’s Irish bar—the popular Hairy’s—was a town icon, but there were newer, trendier places lining Main Street. She passed Sleek Lines, where her mom exercised to Latin music, and Hot Cross Buns Bakery, which had replaced a long-time favorite.

Lucy turned off Main Street onto Ponderosa, crawling along the pavement like she was on a Sunday afternoon drive. In many ways, she was. With only partial vision in her right eye, she was still approved to drive, but she was careful to take it slow. Her brain was still learning how to combine the two very different images her eyes were seeing. Besides, she wanted to absorb everything in sight, hungry for old and new pictures of this place she’d once called home. This place she planned to call home again—although she didn’t know for how long. That made everything look and feel different somehow.

The Victorian she’d grown up in was painted yellow now with purple trim, something her parents had debated for a year until her dad finally caved. Harry and Ellen O’Brien might fight over everything from how to load the dishwasher to what kind of vodka her mother put in her cosmopolitans, but her mother usually came out on top.
 

For the hundredth time, Lucy reminded herself to be patient with her mother. She already knew her mother would use this temporary return to Dare Valley as an opportunity to try and reshape her life. Ellen just couldn’t seem to help herself. Lucy understood. While she had gotten her Irish temper from her father, she’d inherited her hard head from her mother.
 

After all the battles she’d witnessed overseas, she had no desire to dive into a power struggle with her mother over being single at thirty-six. Ellen O’Brien wanted grandchildren from her only child and wasn’t shy about saying so. If that wasn’t enough pressure, Lucy knew her mother also wanted her to remain in Dare Valley as a permanent professor at the Emmits Merriam School of Journalism. How many times had her mother told her she should stop globetrotting and settle down? More than Lucy could count.
 

There weren’t any parking spaces on the street, so she pulled into her parents’ driveway and cut the engine. She took a moment to settle down, her nerves stretched tight from the drive.

Judging from all the cars on their slice of Ponderosa, someone was clearly having a Denver Raiders pre-season game party this Sunday night. One thing Lucy had missed about living in the States was the easy access to American football. She told herself that was another positive about her temporary return home.

No one rushed out of the house to greet her, but while she’d texted her parents before leaving Denver, they were probably watching the game too. They’d made noise about coming to pick her up last night, but that was one battle she had won. She’d needed to drive her long-term rental car to Dare Valley. What she hadn’t told them was that she’d wanted to prove to herself she could do normal things like driving.
 

Her parents didn’t know anything about her recent accident, let alone the doctor’s appointment she’d had in Denver this morning. They would freak out if they knew, and since she’d always edited the dangerous stories of her life, she hadn’t seen any need to change the status quo. All they knew was she was taking a much-needed break from the unrelenting pressure of her job.

Grabbing her purse, she walked to the front door. The leprechaun doorknocker greeted her, and she touched his rosy-red nose with a smile. She’d loved coming home from school to see that little man winking at her. The door was unlocked like she knew it would be, and she let herself inside.

“Mom. Dad. I’m here.” There was an odd scuffle of feet, so she cocked her ears. “Hello?”

A sudden flash off to her left had her head turning.

“Surprise!”
a chorus erupted.

Lucy jumped a foot as people rushed out from behind the French doors leading to the dining room. If she’d been anywhere other than Dare Valley, she would have dived for cover.

“Holy shit!” she cried out in reflex. Viewing the world with diminished visual acuity was still weird. She fought the urge to close her right eye so she could see perfectly, but that would give her away.

A few people were laughing. Her heart rapped in her chest as she surveyed the crowd. Her parents stood in the center of the Hale family, her longtime friends. Everyone was beaming sunshine at her.
 

“You guys scared the hell out of me.”

“Got ya,” her dad said with a wink as mischievous as the leprechaun on the door.

“You sure did,” she replied, trying to suck in oxygen.
 
A surprise party? What were they thinking?
Then again, they didn’t know why the timing was terrible, and that was on her.

Her mom charged toward her, wearing a billowy peasant top and a gypsy-style skirt. Her father was two steps behind, sporting a Raiders T-shirt and cargo shorts. Lucy braced herself for impact.
 

Her mom’s strong arms wrapped around her. “Oh, Lucy! We’re so glad you’re finally home.”

She pressed her head into her mother’s hair, inhaling the patchouli smell she wore like a hippie who’d never grown up. “Me too, Mom.” And she meant it. Mostly.

“Stop crushing the girl, Ellie,” her dad said, hovering. “Hand her over.”

“In a minute, you big oaf,” she shot back, raising her head and giving him the fish eye. “I gave birth to her.”

Harry O’Brien rolled his eyes at his wife like he’d been doing his whole life. “I’m counting to five, woman. One. Two.”

The crowd behind them chuckled, and Lucy made a quick scan of them. April Hale, her mom’s best friend, was flanked by two of her daughters, Moira and Caroline, near a dessert table loaded with chocolate chip cookies and her mom’s lemon squares. Arthur Hale, the man who’d put Dare Valley on the map for outstanding journalism, was leaning on his cane beside the makeshift bar her dad had stocked with everything from beer to her mom’s infamous cosmopolitans. His granddaughter, Meredith, and her husband, Tanner, stood next to him. Meredith was Moira and Caroline’s cousin.

Her mom cupped her face suddenly, making her look away from the other guests. “We’ve missed you, Lucy. So much. It’s past time you came home for good.”

Oh, heavens. Here she goes.
“I’ve missed you too, Mom.” Lucy finally noticed the light highlights in her mother’s hair. “The new look works.”

Her mom flicked one of her curls after wiping a stray tear. “I told your father I wanted to go blond to see if they have more fun.”

“And do they?” she asked, feeling a bit trapped by her mother’s grip.

“I’m working on it,” her mom said with a twinkle in her eye. “Now that you’re back, we’ll work on it together.”

That sounded ominous. Lucy had never liked wearing peasant blouses and gypsy skirts. She hoped that wasn’t what her mother had in mind.

“Enough, woman,” her dad bellowed. “You’re hogging our only child. Come here, Lucy Lu.”

There was another tug on her arm, and her mother thankfully relinquished her hold. Her dad’s big arms brought her to his massive chest. While Lucy had outgrown her mother by four inches while she was in high school, her dad still towered over her at six-foot-six. He might be a little softer around the middle, but he still had the body of a bruiser.

BOOK: The Calendar of New Beginnings
11.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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