BY: JA SMITH

When Tessa Andrews’s husband Tom is killed in car accident, her dreams of being a mother died with him. Devastated by the loss, she vowed she would never let her heart be broken again. Now, three years later, Tess lives alone in the big empty house she and Tom had planned to fill with children, love, and laughter. Struggling to make ends meet, she realizes she can no longer afford the mortgage, but she can’t bear to part with their dream home. In desperation, she decides to rent out a room. But when Chris Stevenson and his adorable son Jake answer her ad for the rental, Tess is unprepared for both the desire she feels toward Chris and the love she has for his son. Although Chris is adamant that he doesn’t want another relationship after Jake’s mother abandoned them, he can’t resist Tess any more than she can resist him, and their relationship blossoms—until his gorgeous ex-wife returns, wanting her family back. Just when Tess thinks the pain of Tom’s death might be fading, she’s reminded, once again, how much it hurts to have a broken heart…

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Reluctant Hearts by JA Smith, Tessa Andrews’s husband died and, with him, her dreams of having four children to fill their big house. Now, three years later, financial problems force Tess to rent out rooms to make ends meet. She rents two rooms to Chris Stevenson and his six-year-old son Jake. Tess is delighted to have a child in her big lonely house, but her attraction to Jake’s father alarms her. She was devastated by the loss of her husband, and she doesn’t want to risk falling in love again. Chris, on the other hand, had his wife walk out on him and Jake and he is reluctant to get involved in another relationship for fear it will confuse and hurt Jake if things don’t work out. But Jake has his own agenda, and this little boy is determined to get what he wants—a mother.

A lighthearted, heart-warming story that leaves you with a smile and lifted spirits, Reluctant Hearts will brighten your world. A wonderful book.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Reluctant Hearts by JA Smith is the story of two lonely people who have been badly hurt and don’t want to experience that kind of pain again. Tessa Andrews, who lost her husband in a traffic accident, and Chris Stevenson, who lost his wife when she left him and their son for another man, are thrown together by Tessa’s need for additional income to make ends meet and Chris’s need for a place to live as he takes a new job in her town. Tess rents two rooms in her four-bedroom house to Chris and his young son Jake. But while she appreciates the extra money and is glad to have a child in the house, she is leery of the instant physical attraction she feels toward Chris. He feels it too, and they both try to ignore it, though that is harder than either one imagined. Complicating the issue is Tessa’s growing affection for Jake, who loves her in return and wants her for his mother.

Reluctant Hearts is a sweet, sexy romance with marvelous characters and a strong solid plot. You’ll want to keep it on your shelf to read over again whenever the world gets too dreary. I’m looking forward to the next book in what appears to be a charming series.

Prologue

Three years earlier:

“I’ll see you in a little bit, Tessa.” Tom smiled sweetly at her as he shrugged his coat on. “You sure you don’t need anything else from the store?”

Tess kissed him softly. “Nope. I should be good. Be safe, babe. I love you.”

“Love you, too. See you soon.”

Tess stood and watched as Tom left for the store. She felt silly sending him to the store when all she needed was a carton of eggs. She had just gone to the store, not even twenty-four hours ago, and gotten everything she needed…

Except the eggs.

How was she to know then that there’d be a wreck on the highway and that, for a carton of eggs, she would lose her husband?

***

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Tess heard that line from everyone, in one form or another. Sorry. Everyone was so sorry. As if her whole world could be fixed by an apology. As though it were an error they could apologize for and then fix later.

If only.

She gave a tight smile, that probably didn’t come close to reaching her eyes, and softly gave her thanks to those that felt the need to apologize. All she really wanted to do was to scream at them to just leave her alone in her misery, but she knew that would be rude.

She knew they meant well. They didn’t mean to crowd her. They didn’t mean to remind her over and over that it was her fault her husband was gone. They all told her it wasn’t her fault, but she knew the truth. She knew that Tom would still be alive if she had just gotten the damn eggs herself when she had been at the store.

She yearned for her bottle of Jack and a full bathtub. Numb. That’s what she wanted to be. She was already broken inside. What would a little numbness hurt? Surely, that was allowed.

“Tess.” Cassie’s tentative touch on her shoulder brought her back from the thoughts spinning in her head. “How are you holding up, sweetie?”

“Okay,” Tess managed to say instead of screaming.

“Do you need anything?”

She closed her eyes and briefly considered the question. Was it too soon to ask for a bottle of Jack and for everyone to go away? Did it really matter? If she didn’t do it soon, she was probably going to snap.

“Honestly, Cass?”

“Of course. Anything you need. I’ve got ya.”

“I just want to be alone.”

“Oh, honey.” Cassie softly pushed a strand of Tessa’s hair behind her ear, as she looked her in the eyes. “Why don’t I get rid of everyone for you and then you and I can open that bottle of Jack you’ve been eyeballing?”

“Oh, god. Please.”

“Hang tight, hon.”

Tess watched in a detached fog as Cassie went to work, thanking people on her behalf and–gently, for those that willingly went, and bluntly, for those that were being stubborn–started clearing people out of her house in record time.

Her house. Her house that was now too big where she would now live alone. Her house that had five bedrooms in anticipation of the four children Tom and she would no longer be having. Her house that she had no idea what she was going to do with now that she was alone.

A sob broke free as she tried desperately to hold herself together physically and mentally. She felt Cassie wrap her arms around her before she sank to the floor. Her agony washed over her, wracking her body from the heaving sobs. Rocking her in her arms, Cassie held her tight as Tess sobbed uncontrollably until she had nothing left in her and darkness swallowed her in its gentle embrace.

***

“What do you mean you’re done?”

“I told you, Christopher. I quit.”

“This isn’t a job, Sam. You can’t ‘quit’ being a mother!”

“Don’t you yell at me! I just can’t do it, okay? I’m not cut out for this…this life!”

“This life? What the hell do you mean?”

“I’m not mommy material, Christopher. I just don’t want to be a mom. Or your wife.”

He tried to suck in a deep breath through his clenched teeth, but as he watched her throwing her clothes into a suitcase, the tenuous grip he had on his temper was slipping.

“Samantha! Please. Let’s talk about this. If you want a divorce, then, okay. We can work that out if that’s what you want. You can’t just leave Jake, though. He loves you. He needs his mother!”

“Dammit, Chris. Don’t you dare try to guilt me again! I never wanted this. I told you that from the beginning. You were the one who wanted to try this whole ‘happy family’ life. I never wanted kids. I told you that! I don’t love him.”

He watched as she picked up the picture of the three of them taken just last year where they were all smiling and happy.

Or so he thought.

She rolled her eyes and put the photo face down on the dresser. “I don’t love him and I don’t love you. You both deserve better than that. You’re a good man and a good father, Chris. You’ll find someone who’ll be better to you and better to Jake.”

“What am I supposed to tell him, Sam? When he asks me tomorrow where his mom is, what should I tell him?”

“I don’t know. Tell him whatever you like. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m sorry, Chris. I tried. I really wanted to love you both. I just don’t know how. Here–” She handed him a folder full of papers. “–just sign these and mail them in. Larry wrote up the divorce papers for us. I’m not asking for anything. I’m only taking my things. The rest is yours, including Jacob. I’ve signed over all my rights of parenthood to you. You are his sole guardian as soon as you turn everything in.”

“Just like that, huh? You and Larry are finally running off together, I take it? Does he make enough money for you, Sam?”

“Christopher, this isn’t about Larry.”

“Are you seeing him, Sam?”

“Christopher, don’t.”

“He makes the kind of money you’ve always wanted. That makes sense. Have you slept with him yet?”

“Christopher.”

“Have you, Sam?”

“Yes! Dammit, Christopher. Yes. I am leaving you for him. Yes. He makes the kind of money I deserve. He also doesn’t want fucking children that whine and cry and need attention all the time.”

“I see.”

“Goodbye, Christopher. I’m sorry. This isn’t how I wanted this to happen.”

“I see,” he repeated numbly.

He stood in the center of their bedroom as she packed the rest of her things. He felt an odd detached calm spread over him. Shock, maybe? All he kept thinking about was Jake. How would a three-year-old boy handle his mother walking out on him? What could he tell him?

Time felt like it stood still as Chris continued to stand there, unmoving and not speaking. Sam kissed him goodbye on his cheek. She waited there a moment. She must have realized he wasn’t going to say or do anything else because she finally walked away. The front door closing sounded hollow and so final.

What was he going to tell Jake?

Chapter 1

Present Day:

“Are you sure about this?” Cassie glanced over Tess’s shoulder, at the ad she was typing, as she joined her at her kitchen table with a bag of doughnuts and two Lotta Java coffees.

Tess rolled her eyes at her friend’s worried expression. She had to find someone to rent a room. She was rapidly running out the meager savings Tom and her had saved before…Well, before the accident. If she wanted to keep their house, the house they had designed together, then she had to find someone to help her with the bills.

“I have to, Cass. I either find a roommate or sell my house. And that’s not even a possibility for me.”

“I could move in here and help you out,” Cassie offered.

“No offence, Cass.” Tess stopped typing to shoot Cassie a look that clearly said she hated that idea. “You know I love you–”

“But,” Cassie said slowly with a wave of her hand.

“But you are just a little too…fun loving?”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Cassie scoffed in indignation while swiping Tessa’s coffee and doughnuts out of her reach.

“I don’t want someone coming and going at all hours of the night and having wild hanky panky sex right next to my room.”

Cassie scoffed in indignation again but then shrugged and nodded in agreement. “I guess that’s true enough.”

“Besides.” Tess took a bite of the doughnut and rolled her eyes in ecstasy. “Damn. These are amazing!”

“Thanks. I was thinking we might be able to add them to the menu at Lotta Java?”

“That’s definitely a possibility.” Taking a sip of her coffee to wash it down, Tess nodded. “Consider it added. Either get me the recipe or be prepared to get to work early three days a week. I want these to run on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.”

“Sweet! I’ll be there!”

“Great. You can open those days too. So now I can sleep in on those days.”

Cassie laughed. “You got it, boss.”

“Now. As I was saying–”

“Right.”

“I don’t want you to rent a room from me because we already see each other every single day and I don’t want to risk ruining our friendship. You’re my best friend.”

“I get it. I do.”

“Good.”

“But, are you sure about posting ‘room for rent’ on the damn internet? Girl, you are a single woman living by yourself. What if you get a serial killer or something?”

“Then I guess my time will be up,” Tess answered with a shrug.

Cassie glared at her. “What if you get a rapist?”

“Then I’ll finally get laid like you’ve been wanting me to,” Tess mumbled.

“Damn, Tess. I thought I was the twisted one. The only reason you haven’t had any action is because you refuse to date.”

“Who exactly would I date, Cass? Jason Hardy, the butcher?”

“That’s just silly. Why would you date him? He’s gay.”

“Or. How about Johnny Gardner?”

“He’s married. No.”

“My point, exactly, Cass. Let’s face it. All the men in town are either taken or…well, single for a reason.”

“Not all the men. Surely there’s at least one guy that you could…you know…rock the boat with?”

“You did not just say that.” Tessa laughed. “I’m just not interested, Cass.”

“What about Jackson?”

Tess took one last look at her ad before hitting submit. Sighing, she gave Cassie a look that fell somewhere between annoyed and hopeless. “Jackson Carter?”

“He’s fine and he’s into you.”

“And I’m not interested.” Tess sighed in annoyance. She cut a look at Cassie that clearly said, Back off.

“Now all we have to do is pray that you get a handsome prince as a renter then.” Cassie’s voice was thick with sarcasm.

“Cassie.” Tess sighed again. “I either get a renter or I sell my house. You know I can’t afford this place on my own anymore. Almost everything in the savings account is gone. So is the life insurance. To top all of that off, I don’t make enough to cover the monthly mortgage at Lotta Java yet. I want to keep my home. This is the house that Tom and I designed together. Our dream house.”

“I know, sweetie.” Cassie sat down next to her and put her hands over hers. “I know,” she said more gently. “I just worry about you is all. At least let me interview possible tenants with you?” She smiled mischievously at Tess to lighten the heavy mood. “Then I’ll at least be able to describe what they look like to the police if you go missing.”

Tess laughed and nodded, since she didn’t trust her voice enough to respond without crying as well. She squeezed Cassie’s hands back before getting up to start on their dinner.

“You hungry tonight,” she asked, grateful that her voice came out even. She pulled two steaks from her refrigerator.

“Always.”

“I figured as much. Can you toss the lettuce for me while I get these bad boys on the grill? Oh, and can you call Jackson and see if he plans to drop by tonight? That way I will know how many steaks to cook.”

“You mean you want to know whether to cook two or seven steaks?” Cassie laughed. “Oh,” she moaned. “Why, oh why, weren’t you born a man? I would happily marry you!”

“Blame my parents. I would be any ugly man, Cass. You’d be a much better man than me. And then I would ravish you.”

Both girls laughed as they began preparing their meal and pouring the wine generously.

***

“Mr. Stevenson?”

“Speaking.”

“This is Daniel at Ackerman & Sons.”

“Oh. Hello, sir. How can I help you?”

“How about accepting the job as our new concierge accountant?”

“Seriously?”

“Very.”

“Oh, man. Thank you so much, sir! When do I start?”

“I’d like you here in two weeks at orientation. Can you do it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We understand you will have some travel expenses moving, so we are giving you an advance bonus that should arrive in the mail within the week. Welcome to the team, Mr. Stevenson.”

“Thank you, sir. Thank you so much.”

Chris mentally cringed at the upcoming conversation he was about to have with his son. He knew Jake wouldn’t like moving. It was going to be difficult on him, but it would be better for them in the end. The new job meant more money and less hours at work, which meant more hours at home with his boy.

Chris knocked on the door before letting himself in. Normally, he waited until Jake asked him to enter, but it was too important a conversation this time to put it off because Jake was playing games.

Chris smiled as he sat next to Jake on the bed. “Hey, buddy.”

Jake sent him a suspicious look. “Whatcha doin’, dad?”

“Well, buddy, we need to talk.”

“Okay,” Jake said slowly.

God, it was as if he knew bad news was coming. Perhaps he did. This was pretty similar to the start of the conversation they’d had when Chris told Jake that Sam had left them.

“Well…” How did he say this? “You remember how I told you that if I got a new job it would have to be for more money and less work hours so we could have more time together?”

“Yeah…”

“Okay. Well, those jobs are few and far between.” Jake gave him a look of confusion so Chris clarified for him. “That means they are very rare and hard to get.”

Jake’s look of suspicion returned. “Okay.”

“Okay. Well, I got one, squirt!”

“Wow! Congrats, Dad!”

Jake gave Chris a big bear hug and Chris felt like the worst dad in history for the next bit of information he was going to have to give him.

“Thanks, squirt. There is one hitch, though.”

Jake flopped back with a glare at Chris. “I knew you had bad news.”

“It’s not bad news,” Chris assured him. “Not entirely, anyway. Maybe just a small bit of bad news.”

“Spit it out, Dad.”

“Okay. We have to move for this job. Like, this week.”

“Do we have to?”

Chris cringed at Jake’s whining. “Afraid so, buddy.”

“But why?”

“Well…” Chris sat on the bed next to him. “It pays better.”

“Do we need more money?”

Chris paused at the question. Was there a way to describe finances in a way that a six-year-old boy would understand? “More money means a better life for us, buddy.”

Jake seemed to ponder this point hard. For a moment, he seemed much older. Until, that was, he spoke again. “You mean I get bigger presents at Christmas?”

Chris sighed and spared a glance toward the ceiling in silent prayer for patience. “That’s one way to look at it, among others.”

“But–” Jake’s voice returned to a whine. “What about my friends here?”

“We have their telephone numbers and addresses. I’ll help you write to them as often as you like.” Jake still looked upset, so Chris added quickly, “And, maybe during summer you can come spend a couple weeks with Tony and his folks if they don’t mind?”

Jake looked a little doubtful. “You mean it?”

“If they don’t mind, then I don’t mind. Besides, Jake. We won’t be that far away. We can visit during long weekends, too. They can also come stay with us as well.”

Chris braced for the next line of questioning, but to his shock, Jake nodded his approval and held out his hand expectantly.

At the questioning look on Chris’s face, Jake rolled his eyes as though saying, Duh, Dad.

“You gotta shake on it, Dad.”

Chris felt himself smile for what felt like the first time all week. “You got it, squirt.” Shaking his son’s hand, he was struck once more by how tiny Jake was. He felt his heart squeeze in affection for his son. “Need help packing, tiger?”

“Nah, Dad. I gots a system.”

Laughing, Chris simply nodded and closed the door behind him, leaving his son to his “system.”

Chris had no idea where they’d be staying. He knew he wanted to stay in Sapphire Lake, which was about an hour away from the corporate office of Ackerman and Sons. It was a small town of a little over one thousand people.

The heart of the town was around the giant lake, Sapphire Lake, which the town was named for. It was a beautiful town that had the feel of home to it. No crime rate to speak of either. It would be the perfect place to raise his son.

Chris opened his laptop and got online to look at rentals in the area again. So far, not one had sounded like a good fit. All of them were either too small, too expensive, or just…didn’t feel right.

He figured they could stay in a hotel in the next town over for a month or two if needed, but he was hoping they wouldn’t have to. He wanted to get Jake into school as soon as possible and he wanted it to be in Sapphire Lake.

His end goal was to be able to buy a house down there within the next year or two. Hopefully, they would settle in easily and quickly. Jake would date some girls, not get them pregnant, go to college, meet the girl, and settle down and raise a family.

After about an hour of calling numbers and getting nowhere, Chris was about to call it quits for the night. His neck was stiff, and he figured Jake would be coming out to ask about dinner before too long.

He decided to call one more before checking on his little man. Dialing a number, he tapped his pencil like a drumstick as it rang.

“Hello?” He didn’t know who he was expecting to answer the phone, but he knew he was not expecting the sexy feminine voice he got.

“Hi. Hello.” He rolled his eyes at his smooth start and realized she was waiting for him to continue with who or why he was calling. “I’m, uh, calling in answer to the ad online for a roommate. Is this Mrs. Andrews?”

“Oh! Hi! Shit. Shoot. Sorry. Hold for one moment, please?”

“Sure.” He couldn’t help but laugh at her flustered answer. It sounded like something, the phone maybe, dropped to the ground as another curse came across the line. Damn, but her voice was sexy. Mrs. though. Married. Damn. Probably for the best since he didn’t want to date anyone, anyway, and especially not a roommate.

“Hi. Are you still there?” Her voice was husky and she sounded out of breath.

He smiled as he leaned back in his chair and kicked his feet out in front of him. He could listen to that voice all night long. “I’m still here.”

“Sorry about that.” She chuckled. “I was reading and when I sat up the book–it’s actually my kindle–well, it fell right on my foot and you probably don’t need or want to know any of that.”

“Your foot okay?” he asked, biting back his laugh.

“Yeah. Sorry. Anyway. I don’t normally cuss. Truly. Sorry about that. It just hurt. A lot. Anyway, my name is Tess and yes, I have a room for rent.”

“Hi, Tess. My name’s Chris and I have a few questions. Do you mind?”

“Not at all. Shoot.”

“Okay. Do you have a fenced in yard?”

“Yes…” She sounded a little hesitant. “But I don’t want any pets in my house.”

“Wonderful. We don’t have any pets.”

“Great. We? You and…”

“My son.” He bit his lip, hoping that it wasn’t a deal breaker in getting a room. He wasn’t sure why, but he really wanted this to be the one. Ah, hell. He knew why. He wanted to meet Tess. See if she looked as good as she sounded. Even if he didn’t end up renting from her, he wanted to meet her and this was the perfect excuse.

“You and your son? How old is he?”

“Just turned six last Sunday,” he answered, grinning. Not that she could see him. It was just a natural reaction when he talked about Jake.

“Aw.” She laughed, a rich sound that felt like smooth whiskey running through him. “Happy belated birthday to him.”

“Thanks.”

“Will anyone else be joining you two later? A wife? Or a girlfriend?”

Even though she couldn’t see him, he raised one eyebrow in speculation. Was she fishing to see if he was single? He shook the thought off almost as soon as he thought it. Of course, she would want to know how many people would be staying in her home. That made sense. Only he was thinking inappropriate thoughts here.

“No. Just the squirt and I.”

“Oh, good. I mean. Not that that’s good. I mean, it’s not a bad thing or a good thing. I just–”

He barked out a laugh before he could stop himself.

She laughed and groaned at the same time. “I’m not usually this bad at conversation.”

“No worries. Tess, right?”

“Yes.”

“The majority of my conversation skills are with my son these days, so just the fact that I’m speaking to an adult is wonderful.”

“Thanks.” She laughed again and he wanted to make her laugh more just to feel the warmth of it. “So…you and your son will be in town, when?”

“We will be hitting the road tomorrow afternoon, actually, and will be arriving bright and early the following day.”

“Wow. And you’re just now looking for a place?”

“Well, I’ve been looking for a while, but, honestly, I just hadn’t found the place that I thought was a good fit for us, yet. Besides, I just got the job at Ackerman & Sons officially about, oh, three hours ago.”

“Oh, wow! Congratulations!”

“Thanks.” He rose and began looking in the fridge for something to make for dinner for Jake and himself as they talked.

“I’m sorry, but I have to ask–your income? Starting a new job–”

“I have a lot in savings, so you don’t need to fear me being able to pay. Plus, I’ll be making pretty good money, and I’ve been an accountant for almost ten years now. I’m good for it.”

“Sorry. That sounded horrible, huh?”

“Not at all. Perfectly reasonable question. You don’t want to rent to some hobo who can’t pay you.”

“True. Thanks for understanding. Oh. Did you see the pictures of the house and rooms yet?”

“You have pictures?”

“Yes. What’s your email? I can send them to you now.”

As she sent an email with the pictures, she curled back into her chair and briefly wondered what he looked like. His voice was deep and smooth. Did he look anywhere near as good as he sounded?

Good lord. Where had that thought come from? No, she mentally chastised herself. Not going there, especially not with a tenant. Damn that Cass. She’s the one that put those thoughts there!

“Wow. That’s a real nice house you have there, Tess.”

“Thanks.” Blushing, she smiled at the compliment. “My husband and I designed it together.”

“Oh.”

Was that disappointment she heard?

“You and your husband have some great taste.”

“Thanks,” she said softly, unable to hide the pain.

“Did I say something wrong?”

“No. It’s just, my husband had good taste. He passed away a few years ago.”

“Oh, man. I’m sorry.”

Way to go, she thought. Bring a downer to the party, Tess. He’s sure to want to rent your room now.

“No need to be sorry. Did you have any more questions about renting?” She mentally shook herself and forced her attention back on the conversation she was having instead of the memories that were threatening to invade her mind. Again. She refused to cry. She focused instead on the sound of his voice.

“Do you have one room for rent, or a couple?”

“Oh. Well, I was only planning to rent out one, but I have a few spare rooms really. Technically speaking, I have four rooms that I’m not using.”

“Well, then. I believe we should meet, Tess.”

“What?”

“We should meet up in person. To make sure we are compatible.”

“Compatible?” She squeezed her eyes shut as she realized she was sounding like a parrot repeating him.

“How much are you charging?”

Thank God, a question she could answer. “For one room I was going to charge five-hundred a month. That includes full access to a bathroom all your own and the kitchen, dining room, and living room. There’s room in the garage for one car, as well.”

“Sounds reasonable,” he said and she sagged in relief. “And for two rooms, what would you charge?”

“Two?”

“If you wouldn’t mind renting out two? I’d rather not share a room with Jake.”

He laughed at what she assumed must be an inside joke. The sound of his voice, so deep and smooth, it was wonderful to listen to.

“I don’t mind. Um…” She hesitated. She had planned to rent a single room. She had no clue what to ask for two rooms that would be fair.

“Sorry. I’m putting you on the spot, aren’t I?”

“No, that’s fine. I just, honestly, I have no idea what would be a fair price to ask for two rooms.”

“I don’t think you’re supposed to admit that to a potential renter.”

She bit lower lip in an attempt to hold back her grin. “Probably not.”

“Well, what do you think is fair?”

“Maybe…Half the price of the first room for the second room? So, how about seven-hundred and fifty?”

“That sounds fair to me, but I’m going to say eight-hundred.”

She chuckled in disbelief. “Why would you do that?”

“Six-year-olds are messy.”

Laughing fully now, she realized she was looking forward to meeting him. “Okay. Fair enough. Eight-hundred for two rooms. How long will you two be renting?”

“Not really sure, yet.” She heard him sigh heavily. All the humor seemed to evaporate and it felt as though she could physically feel his stress. “I’m hoping to buy a house up there within the next year or two. Is that a problem?”

“Oh. No. Not at all.” She smiled. A year or two with people living in her house with her. A child actually living in her house at long last. Even if it wasn’t her child, there would be cute children’s laughter ringing through the big empty space.

“Thank goodness.” He sighed and she could feel his smile return. “You wouldn’t believe how many people only want a renter for a few months.”

“Around here, I believe it.”

And she did. Sapphire Lake had a lot of people who owned property just for vacations. They rented their homes out during the unfavorable seasons of fall and spring and would vacation there in summer, for the water activities on the lake, or winter for the ice skating on the lake or the skiing and snowboarding in the mountains fifteen minutes from town.

“Well, I’d love to meet you and your son.”

“Can’t wait. We’ll be there day after tomorrow. What time would be good for you?”

“Well, I work at the coffee stand in the mornings, so whenever you get into town, just come by the coffee stand Lotta Java. I’ll take my break when you get there.”

“Sounds great. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you, Tess.”

“You too, Chris.”

“Goodnight.”

“Night.”

***

Chris smiled as he hung up the phone. He had a good feeling about this move. Hopefully, it would be the last time he would have to move Jake. This position he was taking was one he would, hopefully, retire from.

“Jake, buddy. Are you hungry, my man?”

“Yeah!”

His son’s voice carried down the hall causing Chris to grin. “What are you in the mood for?” He opened his son’s door and stood silent in shock for a moment.

Somehow, in the last couple hours, his son had packed his entire room into boxes, except for the fantasy book about wizards he was currently digesting and his blanket and pillow. Chris was afraid to see how haphazardly things were packed, but proud of his son’s accomplishment.

“Jake? I thought you were going to let me pack up your breakables, bud.”

“I got ’em.”

“I see that. Did you wrap them up?”

“In my clothes. You showed me how last move, Dad. ’Member?”

“Okay. Good.” Shrugging, Chris realized he could deal with any broken items later. Jake didn’t have many, and those that were, weren’t irreplaceable. “So, do you know what you want to eat, my little man?”

“Yeah!” Jake jumped up and down on his bed giving Chris just enough warning in his mischievous little grin, before leaping off in an exercise of trust, to catch him. “Dad? Can we have some tacos?”

“You bet, slick.”

© 2017 by JA Smith