A single mom, enemies to lovers, small town Christmas sweet romance.
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This is a special story about Coach Louis–as requested by my reader group on Facebook!
The last thing Hannah needs is to have the hunky bane of her existence move in next door.
And just in time to witness the collapse of the perfect life she’d always said she’d have. She’s divorced, her youngest son keeps sticking his tongue out at the town gossip, her job doesn’t pay enough, and if she wants to keep her broken family in the same time zone, she’s going to have to move halfway across the planet.But her new neighbor Louis, an NHL coach, insists that Hannah’s still that take-charge woman with big dreams he used to know, and that now is a perfect time to reinvent herself. And possibly even find some room in her heart for a man like him…Will these two old rivals find a chance to not only see eye-to-eye, but heart-to-heart as well?
Find out in this charming small town sweet romance about the guy next door, a single mom, second chances, and a heartwarming Christmas romance.
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“Love this series” –GnomeLover
“…can’t resist the chemistry between them. This is a quick read but it has lots of emotions and great characters.” –MCLReads
SNEAK PEEK FROM CHAPTER ONE
There was no way Louis Bellmore was her new neighbor.
Hannah was going to toss that thought straight from her mind and keep hanging her outdoor Christmas lights and ignore the tall figure in the yard behind her. She adored the month of December, and thinking about that man would ruin her mood with fabulous efficiency.
Think about Christmas. Think about the way the holidays bring people together, highlighting their innate kindness and generosity.
Unlike Louis, who had been horrible to her in high school. Always judging, always acting as though her plan to marry her high school sweetheart wasn’t enough.
Hannah yanked at her lights. They were too loose. How had Calvin always made them look so perfect?
As she struggled with the tangle of wires she caught a glimpse of her seven-year-old tearing by with his elbow out—a sure sign he was attempting another wrestling move on the inflatable snowman in the front yard.
“Thomas, cut it out! You’re going to wreck poor Frosty.”
“He had it coming! He’s a wily, frozen-headed monster!”’
Hannah readjusted the ladder, shifting it around the corner, then did a double-take as she peeked back at Thomas, who was now running in the opposite direction.
“Tom-Tom, you better not have done that!”
There was a telling silence and Hannah groaned. She was fairly certain he’d just stuck his tongue out at Mrs. Fisher, the Longhorn Diner’s waitress. She was a good woman, but very efficient in spreading gossip. The last thing Hannah needed was word getting out that, as a day care worker, she couldn’t keep her own kids under control.
“What have I said about being polite?” Hannah called into the yard.
“Okay. I will.”
“Apologize. Right now.”
“She didn’t see me.”
“Do it anyway.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Fisher!” he yelled.
Hannah waited to hear the woman reply, then climbed the ladder. Where had Thomas learned his wrestling moves? Surely not from his father, who was mild-mannered and on the same parenting page as she was. Other single moms might worry about the impact of their ex’s lax rules and schedules, but Thomas was given the same boundaries when he was at Calvin’s house, which meant no wrestling. No sticking out of tongues, either.
Maybe Thomas was picking up things from his older brother Wade? Ever since the separation a year and a half ago, and then the subsequent divorce, Wade had been more physical in expressing himself.
From the ladder, Hannah could see that Thomas had managed to wrangle the seven-foot-tall snowman into a headlock. Their golden retriever, a rescued dog that Thomas had renamed Obi-Wan Kenobi after the Star Wars character, was barking and dancing as though a stranger had entered the yard.
“What was I thinking, buying that snowman?” she muttered. Wade had been in love with the idea of snow, and he’d requested the yard decoration as well as mitts so he could pretend he lived in Alaska instead of sunny Texas. She’d quickly got on board, hoping to coax more smiles from her eldest. Instead he’d rejected it all once Thomas got excited about it.
“Obi, hush!” Hannah called. “And Thomas, cut it out. You’re getting the dog excited!”
Something caught her eye as the canine continued to bark. There was a stranger, although not in their yard. The new neighbor, who’d moved in a few weeks ago, was rolling some fancy grill, which had likely cost as much as all the furniture in her living room, from his truck. She watched him go behind the fence and hedge that separated the two yards, and around to the back of his house.
This man had the same lanky build and improbably wide shoulders, but it couldn’t be Louis. There was no way he’d move back home to Sweetheart Creek. Like she and Calvin, and so many of their classmates, he’d left town after high school. In fact, the last time she’d seen Louis he’d been across the street from the police station, smirking, as she’d shuffled out with her parents, shoulders hunched and completely mortified.
One day she might think the graduation prank had been funny. Her friends April and Jackie already did, but that was likely because they’d been the ones to dare her to join them and hadn’t been caught. Their horses had been faster, their riding skills impressive. In their identity-masking costumes they’d ridden through the school hallways, vanishing almost as fast as they’d appeared.
Hannah less so. Once inside, her horse had balked, and she’d been so afraid of hitting her head on a door jamb that she’d been busted almost immediately.
That would have been okay, but one of the teachers had spooked her horse, which promptly kicked in the football trophy case, then left behind a stinky, steaming pile.
One of the many cowboy students had settled the horse and led it back outside with her astride, inadvertently delivering her to the waiting sheriff.
She’d earned a bit of street cred for performing the dare, and would have felt proud if Louis hadn’t been there, waiting and smirking outside the police station when her parents had sprung her loose.
If it really was him next door, it would only figure that he’d return to town now, when she was working on cleaning up the implosion of her meticulously planned life. The plans he’d scoffed at.
It had over a decade, but just thinking about Louis still had the power to rile her.
It couldn’t be him next door, though. Sure, her neighbor had that same tightly-packed brawn, but Louis was coaching for the NHL now. He wouldn’t choose to live in a small house beside her old cabin. He had the means to buy something nicer. Much nicer.
Plus he was a man of adventure, and Sweetheart Creek was so quiet. There wasn’t much more than barn dances and a cranky armadillo that chased people down Main Street when it came to entertainment.
And since it couldn’t be Louis, she needed to shove aside her introverted nature and bring him a plate of her semi-famous chocolate cherry cookies. Not the burned ones, or the ones where Thomas had gone nuts with the chocolate chips, but the nice ones.
The neighbor came back through his side yard, causing Obi to bark again. His jacket was zipped up to his chin, and Hannah couldn’t quite make out his features even from her perch on the ladder. But when the dog let out another bark, the man turned, and Hannah caught a very familiar blue-eyed gaze. She let out a yelp as her foot slipped on the rung, nearly sending her tumbling to the ground.
It was Louis. Louis Bellmore.
No, no, no, no. No! What had she done to deserve him as her neighbor? She was a good person. Karma should be on her side, not working against her!
She didn’t dare look back his way, but with her head spinning, carefully climbed down to the safety of the dry earth. It was simply her imagination playing games with her. There was no reason for Louis to return to this small, quiet town when he was all about flash and adventure. Sure, his dad still lived here, but he could visit between coaching games for the San Antonio Dragons, based a little more than an hour away.
Maybe he’d bought the house to rent it out, or flip it.
Yes, that must be what he was doing. It would all be okay.
He was just spending a lot of time here working on it and moving stuff into it because…
Hannah sighed, unable to deny the truth any longer.
Louis Bellmore, her former nemesis, was her neighbor, and nearly falling off the ladder had likely given him something to laugh about.
* * *
Louis smiled and began heading toward Hannah Murphy’s yard. Finally a chance to meet. He’d seen her peeking through the crack in her curtains when the moving truck arrived with his stuff a few weeks ago. She’d done a good job of avoiding bumping into him, always in a rush to or from her car.
Truthfully, he’d been avoiding her, too. Sure, he was busy coaching and trying to resuscitate a poorly ranked hockey team, and could use that as an excuse. It was more than that, though. If he didn’t see her, he could pretend she’d gotten over whatever it was that had set her off all those years ago. He could imagine a chance to make a new first impression with her and even picture them becoming friends.
He came around the edge of the white fence that separated the two properties, counting his blessings with his job, his new house in the town he considered home, being closer to his dad, who lived only a few blocks away—and Hannah.
Be polite. Be nice, he reminded himself. Don’t share your thoughts on her life unless nagged to. And even then, try to avoid opening your mouth.
His straight-down-the-pipe opinions worked in the national hockey league, but they weren’t as well received by women—and especially Hannah.
Her dog was barking, but stayed at a distance as Louis approached Hannah and her ladder. Then, as if it couldn’t help itself, it started wagging its tail and came closer.
“Hannah Murphy?” Louis said.
He could tell she’d heard him by the way her body stiffened, but she acted like she was too focused on untangling her lights to have heard him. He sighed inwardly. She still held a grudge. It looked as though this was where his good luck, second chances, karma and all that good energy that had brought him home again ran out.
He stopped beside her.
“Hey, Louis. How’s it going?” she said casually—too casually. She glanced over at his house and swallowed hard.
“Uh, good. And you?”
“Good,” she said evenly. “Really good.”
He had a feeling she’d lie through her teeth about how good things were due to how hard he’d been on her during high school. But what had he expected? She’d had every bone in the human body memorized long before he’d ever met her in the tenth grade.
Then she’d given it all up for that doofus Calvin Kendrick. Louis had noticed the guy zip up in a fancy car the other night, then take off with two young boys. Her sons, he guessed, and Calvin the father. But were they divorced? It looked that way. Plus, she hadn’t corrected him when he’d called her by her maiden name. And she definitely would have corrected him if she was still married.
“Are you…?” Hannah gestured vaguely in the direction of Louis’s new place.
“Am I your neighbor? Yeah.” He crossed his arms, watching her reaction, realizing he was echoing her body language. The familiar old standoff. Defensive mechanisms engaged.
Louis sighed. He’d stupidly thought this would be so much easier, due to the passing of time. Just walk in, smile, show her he wasn’t actually that bad of a human being, and convince her to be friends.
Then at some point she’d realize he was actually kind of handsome and nice to have around, and within a few years—or months—they’d be married.
In reality, he seemed to still be firmly inked in on her enemies list.
“Well then, welcome to the neighborhood,” she said with that Texas drawl that tickled his insides. It left him feeling warm even when she was miffed at him.
She gave what might have passed as a friendly smile among T. rexes, and turned to deal with her dangling lights.
Her dog, who had been creeping closer and closer, was finally leaning against Louis’s shin, and he bent to give him a vigorous ear rub. The animal grinned up at him, pink tongue lolling to the side, but then its ears perked up and it zipped off around the corner of the house.
Louis figured he should probably go. Hannah’s welcome was about as awesome-feeling as the moment she’d pulled his name out of Mr. Chen’s hat in biology class and locked herself in as his secret Santa. He’d known she had his name the moment she’d sagged in her seat, eyes closing.
She’d got him something good, though. Thoughtful. A pocket knife even nicer than the cheap T-shirt she’d bought for Calvin, her boyfriend. Louis had never been able to acknowledge the gift, though. She hadn’t fessed up to it, and he’d pretended he thought it was from one of his admirers.
Not wanting to head back to his house and cement in this awkward moment as the basis for their future relationship, as Hannah climbed the ladder, Louis fed her the string of lights so she could attach them to the eaves.
“How long have you been back in town?” he asked, wincing at her handiwork. The strand hung unevenly, and she hadn’t put the ladder in the right spot. She was having to reach farther out than was safe. He untangled a few knots while she worked above, doing his best to brace the wobbling ladder at the same time.
“A year,” she muttered.
“How’s Sweetheart Creek? Has it changed much? I noticed there’s an armadillo on the welcome sign now.”
“Yeah,” she said, after a moment of silence. “That’s Bill. Best to avoid him.”
Kind of like his hockey team’s PR squad, headed by Nuvella. Best to avoid her when possible.
“Other than that,” Hannah was saying, “it’s the same. Changed, but the same.”
“Kind of sums up life, right?” Louis said, squinting up at her.
He’d lived in the small town only a few years, but it had felt more like home than where he’d grown up in Colorado. He’d left hockey behind when he’d moved here as a teen, but the game had now brought him back, like the completion of a circle.
He’d been bitter moving away from the life he’d known, away from hockey, but attention from the local girls had been a salve to his teen ego. Moving to town as an athletic sixteen-year-old had been like walking into a tiger’s den, as fresh meat.
Louis had thought he would play the field, but then he’d met Hannah. Smart, quiet, kind. With big dreams for medical school. The longer she’d dated Calvin, the more that dream had seemed to fade, until all she talked about was marriage.
Louis hated that he’d called her complaisant. That he’d made it crystal clear to her that he believed she did things to please others and not herself. He’d hated it even more that she’d known the difference between complacent and complaisant, and that she’d known exactly what he’d been calling her in that moment. The word had hit her like an insult, taking her down a peg.
It still made him itch with discomfort.
But Calvin? Come on. She could have done so much better.
© Copyright Jean Oram 2019, 2022
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