BY: ANNE LAWSON
Things are finally starting to fall into place for single mom Josie Kent. After getting pregnant her sophomore year in college, Josie dropped out of school and moved back in with her parents in Harbor Springs, Michigan. She worked hard waitressing and going to night school to finish up her bachelor’s degree. Over a year ago she started working for Andrea of Andrea’s bakery, and they became fast friends. Now Josie is hoping to expand on the bakery and add in catering. Then Josie’s happy, contented life is turned upside down when her three-year-old daughter’s father shows up, claiming he was a fool to have walked out on her when she told him she was pregnant and now he wants her back. Although he makes no outright threats, Josie still feels threatened, until she is rescued by an unlikely hero—a man with whom she has a mutual and immediate attraction. But Josie has sworn off men, focusing only on business and her daughter. And even if she could find room in her life—and her heart—for a new love, with her ex-stalking her, does she dare take the chance?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In First Love by Anne Lawson, we are reunited with the characters from Harbor Springs, Michigan. Josie Kent, single mom and caterer extraordinaire, has finally gotten her life back on track after being abandoned by the father of her child as soon as he heard she was pregnant. Now, Dave wants her back, but Josie wants no part of him. When she rejects him, he begins to stalk her. Meanwhile, Josie is attracted to another man who seems equally attracted to her, but can she trust him? She’s been there and done that once with Dave, and it didn’t end well. But Patrick, a local doctor, seems determined to win her over. Still how will he react when he finds out she not only has a three-year-old daughter, but a stalking ex-boyfriend as well?
With charming characters that you can’t help but root for, a solid plot with plenty of surprises, enough tension and suspense to make you bite your nails, and some spicy sex scenes, this is one that romance fans will love.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: First Love by Anne Lawson is the third book in her Harbor of Love series. This time the focus is on Josie Kent, single mom and sister of the town sheriff, Todd. When Josie got pregnant in her sophomore year in college, her boyfriend, Dave, walked away and left her high and dry. So Josie dropped out of school, went home to her family, and worked to support herself while going to night school and raising her daughter, Bryn. Now she is on the verge of starting her own catering business and maybe getting to know Patrick with whom she shares a mutual attraction, when who should show up but Dave, claiming he still loves her and wants her back. Josie tells him in no uncertain terms to stay away from her and Bryn, but Dave won’t listen. He begins to stalk her. Josie also resists getting involved with Patrick, fearing he will walk away too when he learns she is a single mom with a three-year-old daughter. Can she trust him? She isn’t sure, but her track record isn’t good, and she doesn’t know whether or not she can afford to chance it.
First Love is poignant, heartwarming, and intense. With marvelous character development, a suspense-filled, plot, and an intriguing mystery, Lawson has penned a tale will appeal to fans from several genres. This one’s a keeper.
Josie grabbed her notebook from the counter and shoved it into her purse. “Bryn, hurry up. Mommy needs to go to work.”
“I don’t want you to work.” Bryn pushed out her bottom lip in a very-practiced pout.
Josie’s heart melted looking at her daughter. She bent down so that she was eye level with Bryn. “Remember, Mommy wants to buy you a nice house to live in.”
“I like living with Grandma and Grandpa.”
“I know honey. But I want us to have a house all our own.” Josie kissed Bryn on the cheek. “Are you going to help me today?”
Bryn’s blue eyes grew large. “Do you have my apron?”
Josie stood up and held out for hand to her daughter. “It’s hanging right next to mine at the bakery. Let’s go honey.”
Josie shivered as the cold autumn wind whipped through the light sweater she had put on. “We’re driving to work today.” She hurried and got Bryn buckled in the backseat.
Her parents’ house was walking distance to downtown, and they normally would walk to the bakery.
“Can we go to the park later?” Bryn pleaded.
“I don’t have time, sweetie. I’m meeting with clients tonight.”
Josie hated the look of disappointment she saw on her daughter’s face in the rear-view mirror. She turned to look at her. “I promise after this wedding planning is finalized and I get the holiday baking under control, we’ll go to the park, go sledding, ice skating, and we’ll build snowmen too.”
Bryn’s face lit up with a smile. “And can we drink hot cocoa?”
Josie pulled around to the back of the bakery to park.
Bryn squealed. “Andrea is here.”
They hurried to the back door which opened into the kitchen. It was crowded, and it smelled wonderful.
Andrea held out her arms for Bryn to give her a hug. “Hey, kiddo.”
Josie was shocked to see Andrea, Jillian, and Rachel all crowded into the kitchen.
“Me, too.” Jillian held out her arms to pick Bryn up and swung her around before setting her down so that Rachel could do the same thing.
Josie looked at her friends frosting cookies around the big island in the middle. “What are you all doing here?”
“Since I’m still the proprietor of this bakery, I came to help with the new fall menu items. They’re selling out as soon as we get them made. I conned Rachel to come help too,” Andrea answered as she handed Bryn a cookie to sample.
Jillian put her hands on her hips at being left out. “What about me?”
“Let’s face it, Jillian, you’re good company, and you’re an excellent cookie taster, but there’s no way I’m letting you near my ovens. This is a business.”
Jillian opened her mouth to defend herself but instead nodded in agreement as they all laughed.
Josie addressed them all. “Thank you all for the help.”
“Holly and Graham are arriving shortly. I have the inn ready for their arrival, but I have a feeling this one is going to have me running the entire time she’s here.” Rachel rolled her eyes. “She called me three times this week to double and triple check things for this weekend. She told me you’re meeting with her this afternoon.”
Josie sighed in frustration. “Yes, she’s paying me to be her wedding coordinator as well as caterer, but she wants me on site if something goes wrong. She’s demanding, and the wedding is over two months away.”
“Tell me about it,” Rachel complained.
Bryn’s big blue eyes filled with tears. “Mommy, are you staying at the inn and not with me at Grandma and Grandpa’s?’
“No, sweetheart.” Josie picked Bryn up and perched her on her hip. “Mommy’s going to stay with you. I don’t need to stay at the inn to take care of everything.”
“I’ll help you deal with the wedding princess.” Rachel winked at her. “I taught high school. I can handle anything.”
Time flew by working in the kitchen and talking with the girls. Josie was sad when her phone alarm went off. “Bryn, that means that I need to get you back to Grandma and Grandpa’s before my meeting.”
“I’ll drop her off,” Jillian volunteered.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course, I don’t mind.” Jillian gave Josie a hug. “I’m headed back to my writing cave before your brother gets off work. Then I won’t get anything done.” She gave the girls a wink.
“Why did you wink?” Bryn asked Jillian.
Jillian choked on her laugh. She had been caught making a sexual innuendo by her boyfriend’s three-year-old niece. “I had a piece of dust in my eye, kiddo.” She changed the subject quickly to distract Bryn. “Why don’t you pick out some cookies to bring back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house?”
“Thank you,” Josie told Jillian. “For taking her home. That’s a big help. Try not to get caught making anymore dirty comments about my brother. I’ll tell the sheriff next time,” she teased. She went to Bryn and kissed her on the top of the head. Then she got out a bag and filled it up with the cookies Bryn had picked out. “You be good. I’ll check on you when I get home and give you a kiss.”
“Bye, Mommy. I love you.”
“I love you too, sweetheart.”
Josie smiled as she watched Bryn and Jillian walk out hand in hand.
“When’s your brother going to pop the question?” Andrea asked.
Josie wrinkled up her nose. “I don’t know. Todd better consult me so I can help him plan out the perfect proposal.”
“I bet he won’t tell anyone and surprise her,” Rachel remarked. “All right, I’ve got to get back too. I want the inn perfect.” She grabbed her purse and jacket from the peg, blew Josie and Andrea a kiss, and went out the door.
Josie let out her breath and went to the mirror to check her reflection. Her checks were flushed with excitement and stress. She had pulled her blonde curls back into a ponytail, but stray fly-aways had come out, framing her face. She didn’t have time to fix it now. She hadn’t bothered with makeup that morning. She now wished she would have put on at least some mascara to brighten up her appearance.
“Are you nervous?” Andrea asked.
Josie stared at her bright blue eyes in the mirror, searching for the right emotion. “I’m nervous, excited, and scared,” she confessed.
“Why are you scared? You’re an excellent baker and an amazing cook. You have nothing to fear.”
Josie took a deep breath. Tears burned her eyes. “I want to prove myself worthy.”
“Who are you proving yourself to?”
Josie sniffed back the tears and stood up straight. “Me.”
“I understand that feeling better than you think. I believe in you. After this is all over, I know you’ll believe in yourself too. I know this is a lot to take on, so remember you have friends who are happy to help.”
Josie gave Andrea a hug. “I know.”
Holly came bursting into the kitchen of the inn. “Josie, it’s so good to see you.”
Josie stood up to greet her old high school friend. “Hi, Holly, are you excited? You’re glowing.”
Holly smiled shyly, which Josie could tell was a practiced look for her. Holly was anything but shy. She was wearing a black pencil skirt that hugged her curves and three-inch red stilettos. She toped it off with a red-silk blouse. She was gorgeous, with long brown hair that was perfectly styled, and her nails were manicured and painted a bright red to match her blouse and stilettos.
She kissed Josie on the cheek. “This place is perfect, so quaint. Did you get my email this morning? I want to make a few changes to the menu for the wedding.”
Josie felt as if her blood was going to boil. This was the fourth time that Holly had changed the menu selections on her. “Again?”
Rachel followed Holly into the kitchen. She looked frazzled already, and Holly had only just arrived.
Josie gave Rachel a sympathetic glance. “After today, no more changes to the menu, Holly.” She gave her the same stern look she gave to Bryn when she wanted something that Josie had already said no to.
Holly gave Josie another kiss on the cheek. “You’ve got the mom look down. I can’t wait to meet your daughter.”
A tall attractive man with dark-brown hair came into the kitchen. “Hi, ladies.” He was older than Holly by at least five years, Josie guessed. He was dressed impeccably in black dress pants and a charcoal dress shirt. “There’s my bride to be.” His eyes sparkled as he looked at Holly. Then he turned to Josie, came over, and offered his hand. “You must be Josie. I’m Graham.”
Josie shook his hand in greeting. Then he went to Holly and gave her a quick kiss on the lips before sitting in the seat next to her. They held hands as they sat waiting for Josie to go over the menu.
Josie looked at their hands entwined and the way that they looked at one another and felt a twinge behind her eyes. She hadn’t felt that way in a long time. She was jealous of the intimacy.
Rachel cleared her throat. “Ahem, I’ve a few things to take care of. If you need anything, I’ll be in the dining room setting up for your bridal party meet and greet.” She smiled and left the kitchen.
After two hours of going around and around with Holly over the menu for the bridal tea party, as well as the wedding for the cake and desserts, Josie made Holly and Graham sign a final contract that they couldn’t make any major changes.
She pulled her long, curly blonde hair out of her ponytail and massaged her head before writing down a few last notes for herself. Then she got up from the table and stretched as she went to the sink to pour out her now-cold tea.
She heard the door to the kitchen swing open as she was washing out her mug. “Rachel, you’ll have your hands full with Holly when she’s here for the two weeks before the wedding.”
“If anyone can put up with Holly for two weeks straight before the wedding, they’re a saint.”
Josie spun around at the man’s voice that answered her. “I’m so sorry.” She faltered for the right words to say. She was glad that it wasn’t Graham, but he obviously knew Holly.
The man flashed Josie a grin. “I’m here for another champagne glass. Do you know where I could find one?” he asked.
She pointed at the cupboard where the wine and champagne glasses were kept. She couldn’t help but continue to stare at him. He was gorgeous. He had a great smile, but it was his eyes that captivated her. They were navy blue. He had light-brown hair spiked up at the front. He was tall and lean, dressed in khaki pants and a light-blue button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He looked relaxed and very confident.
“You’re really good looking.” Josie slapped her hand over her mouth as soon as the works came out. She didn’t mean to say it out loud.
“You’re pretty good looking, too, Blondie. You must be the cute-as-a-button little caterer-slash-baker that Holly was raving about.”
“I—ah, I–ah,” she stuttered.
He smiled her discomfort. “I do hope we’ll have time to chat again soon, but I better get back to the demanding Holly.” He winked and then went back out through the swinging door.
“He told me I was good looking too.” A smile spread across her face. She stared at the closed door leading out of the kitchen. He was in the wedding party, which meant she would see him again most likely. The thought made her chest constrict and put butterflies in her stomach. It made her feel like a teenager with a crush on the hot guy at school.
Josie shook off the thought and turned to get her coat and purse to head home and kiss her little girl before bed. She froze when she saw who was blocking the door to the back parking lot where her car was. She hadn’t heard anyone come in.
“Hi, Josie, you look great.” He stood across the kitchen from her and looked her up and down.
Josie felt the shiver run up her spine. “What are you doing here, Dave?” She couldn’t help the quiver in her voice as she spoke.
He didn’t respond at first. He leaned against the counter with the same cocky grin that Josie once fell for. Now she longed to slap the conceited look off his face. He folded his arms across his chest as he continued to check her out then took a step toward her. “I’m here for you and my daughter.”
Josie instinctively stepped back. “You don’t have a daughter.”
“I was twenty-two years old,” he snarled. “What did you expect?”
“I was nineteen. I expected you to be a man.” She noticed that he had aged a lot in the last four years. He looked hard and weary.
He put his arms out, as if he thought Josie should run into them thankful he was here. “I’m here now.”
“It’s too late. You don’t have any rights when it comes my daughter.”
Her voice had risen an octave. Her heart thudded in her chest. She was angry. She’d dreamed of this moment for so long, what she would say if she saw Dave again. But in the heat of the moment, all she wished was that he would turn around, walk away, and never look back.
The door to the kitchen swung open again, and the mystery man came back in. He quickly glanced at Dave and then went around the island up to Josie. Reaching out, he pulled her in close to him. She didn’t know how to react. She watched him wide-eyed as he leaned down toward her and kissed her on the lips. She felt a jolt of electricity from his touch.
“Darling, I’ll be ready to go in a minute. Let me get my coat.”
Although, she was a bit confused, she welcomed the interruption. It gave her time to collect herself and her emotions.
“Ahem.” Dave cleared his throat. He took a step back and glared at them both from across the room. “Who are you?”
The man beamed at Dave. “I’m Josie’s fiancé.”
Dave looked at Josie’s left hand. “I don’t see a ring on her finger.”
“I don’t wear it when I’m baking. And it’s none of your business, anyways.”
Her savior put his arm protectively around her shoulders. “Am I interrupting a business meeting with a client, sweetheart?”
Josie was grateful for his intrusion and for the look of disgust on Dave’s face that had replaced his cocky grin. “No, our business is over, he’s leaving now.” She emphasized the last part.
“I’ll see you again soon, Josie Pie.” Dave looked her up and down again before turning to leave.
Josie sighed in relief after Dave left through the back door. She looked up into the mystery man’s dark-blue eyes. “Thank you.”
“If he’s going to see you again soon, I better get a ring on your finger fast. What’re you doing tomorrow night?”
Josie couldn’t help the giggle that came out. She clasped her hands together to keep them from shaking.
He winked at her. “Do you want a spring wedding or summer? I personally would rather have a spring wedding. Summer is too hot.”
He helped to calm her down with his teasing. “What were you coming back into the kitchen for?” she asked.
She was trying to process all of what happened with Dave, but this incredibly good-looking man had just scrambled her thoughts. All she could think of was the way his lips felt on hers, and she wanted to feel that again.
He smirked. “To rescue you. I sensed that you were in danger.”
Josie giggled again. “Thank you, really.”
“I was coming in to get the princess a wine glass.” He rolled his eyes. “She can’t drink red wine in a white wine glass for heaven’s sake.”
“What’s my knight in shining armor’s name?” Josie asked as she went to the cupboard, got down a red wine glass, and handed it to him.
“I’m the best man, Patrick. At your service, madame.” He bowed to her and took her hand in his. Raising it to his lips, he gently placed a kiss on the back of her hand. “I’m glad I could come to your rescue.”
“Thank you. You really were a help to me.”
Josie’s face flushed with his nearness. She could still feel where his lips had touched her hand.
“Are you all right? I could see the tension in the way that you were standing, and you were shooting daggers out of your eyes at that man. I hope he deserved it.”
Josie’s thoughts went back to Dave. She held back the tears that pooled to the surface. “It would’ve been justified to have real daggers thrown at him.” She clenched her hands into fists at her side at the nerve of him for showing up here after four years. She wanted to avoid answering any questions about who Dave was to a stranger. Whether he saved her or not, she wasn’t willing to spill her life story. She didn’t want to see his expression change at the mention of a kid like all the other men she knew.
He looked concerned. “I hope I didn’t make a bad situation worse by my actions.”
“No, you were perfect. I’m sorry you now have to propose marriage to me in case he comes back around,” she said, trying to make light of the situation. “And I prefer to have a fall wedding. I love the change of colors.”
“I suppose I could deal with an autumn wedding.” His smirk was back. “I’ve always wanted to help a damsel in distress.”
Josie curtsied. “Well, now you have. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. The kiss made it all worth it. Holly doesn’t have plans for us tomorrow evening. How about you show me around town, and I’ll take you to dinner.”
“This is a really busy time at work for me. I’ve got to work tomorrow night.”
He took a step closer to her. “I might have to sweet talk your boss into giving you a night off.”
Their bodies were almost touching. Josie’s breath quickened. She looked up at his lips, wanting to feel them on hers again. “You could probably sweet talk my boss into a night off. But not tomorrow. I have to get caught up first.”
“It was nice to meet you, Josie.” He picked up a blonde curl from her shoulder and rubbed it between his fingers before gently dropping it. “Good night.”
Once again Josie stared dumbfounded at the closed kitchen door.
Josie placed a soft kiss on Bryn’s forehead and pulled the covers up around her shoulders. She stood back and looked at her daughter as tears flooded her eyes. Josie quietly left Bryn’s room, went down the hall to her own room, and closed the door. She sat down on the bed and took a deep breath. “What’s Dave doing in town?” she growled, punching the mattress.
Enraged, she got up and started to pace the floor. After four years, he had the nerve to show up and act like she should be happy to see him. All she wanted was for him to disappear and never come near her or Bryn again.
© 2018 by Anne Lawson
“Lawson’s cooked up more than a sweet romance in this small town bakery filled with loveable characters and drama.”
~ Linda Bradley, author of the Montana Bound Series
“Lawson delivers a sigh-worthy happy ending with a slice of suspense in her third installment of her “First” series, set on the banks of Lake Michigan. Lawson’s breezy style sweeps you in and there won’t be anyplace else you want to be! Already want the next book in this series.” ~ Tara Eldana, romance author of Reclaiming Lexi, Under the Riptides, Double Dare, In the Depths, On Thin Ice, Cabin Fever