Hope for the Holidays

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Scroll down to read an excerpt from this brand new Hope Springs story!

Cary Browning walked out of Bread and Bean, a loaf of warm sourdough tucked in a brown paper sleeve held to his nose, and nearly ran into Priscilla Reddy.

A very pregnant Priscilla Reddy.

“Excuse me,” she said, sidestepping before their feet tangled and one of them, or both of them, tumbled to the sidewalk fronting the Fourth Street foodie boutiques.

Bread and Bean, Bliss, and Butters Bakery occupied the same block—a block that stayed pretty busy. Not a surprise considering the offerings: coffee, fresh-baked bread, artisanal chocolates, cookies, cakes…

It was a wonder there weren’t more foot-traffic accidents what with additional shops opening, others relocating to the growing business district, some, like Butters Bakery, being sold, the previous owners retiring, the new owners expanding.

Cary didn’t mind the change but then he was part of it. Because in addition to earning a reputation as a destination for antiques and crafts and even wine, the small Texas Hill Country town had seen a lot of folks returning for a second chance.

In his case, it was more of a first…

“Cilla?”

She looked up, blinking and rattled as if she’d forgotten that she’d spoken to him first. Her eyes were a dull sort of green. Flat. The same spruce he used for coloring Tabby Danger’s.

An uncomfortably aching heartbeat passed, then… “Cary? Are you kidding me?”

Her cheeks flushed and she reached up to brush her hair from her face. It was dull, too, though he was lost for a work-related comparison. He just remembered the way the fat blonde curls had bounced around her shoulders while she’d led pep rally cheers.

Her hair wasn’t bouncing now. It surprised him, her appearance. She had always been… perfect. Maybe the difference was being pregnant. Then again he’d heard expectant women were supposed to glow. Cilla looked about as bright as his favorite slate grey pencil.

“Not kidding,” he said, moving clear of the Bread and Bean door. It closed behind him with a Christmas-bell jingle from the overhead chime. “It’s me.”

“What are you doing here? I don’t mean here”—she waved a hand toward his purchase, her laugh strangely effervescent when the rest of her was so… drab—”because you’re obviously buying bread. But what are you doing in Hope Springs?”

Right. She wouldn’t have any reason to have kept up with him. “I’m living here again.”

Her face paled, what looked like regret—or guilt—etched at the corners of her unmade eyes. She wasn’t wearing makeup. That had to be part of why she looked so… not like Cilla. The last time he’d seen her face bare had to have been in grade school.

Had he actually known her that long?