SECOND CHANCE FAMILY
Harlequin Love Inspired Historicals
Mitch Hammond is a man of his word. And as far as Cora Beth Collins is concerned, that's a problem. The stubborn sheriff has vowed never to love again, for fear of wounding someone else. The most he can offer Cora Beth is marriage in name only. And with no other way to adopt two runaway orphans and keep her patchwork family together, she accepts.
Mitch is doing the honorable thing. So why does it feel so wrong? Despite his intentions, Mitch is starting to want more from Cora Beth…and from himself. For in her trusting eyes he sees everything he hopes to be—as a lawman, a father and a husband.
September 1893 Knotty Pine, Texas
Hey, let me go! I ain't done nothing wrong."
Sheriff Mitchell Hammond wasn't buying that for a minute. The furtive way the boy had been sneaking out of the boardinghouse garden had guilt written all over it. In fact, Mitch's gut told him this kid was more than likely the culprit responsible for the rash of petty thefts that had plagued the town the past week or so. "Stop your squirming, son. I think maybe we need to talk about that bunch of carrots you have stuffed in your shirt."
"Them's my carrots."
The kid's voice had more than a touch of bluster to it.
Mitch tightened his hold on the boy's collar. "You don't say? Well, here comes Mrs. Collins now. Since she runs this boardinghouse and this here is her garden, why don't we see what she has to say about that."
Cora Beth Collins was hurrying toward them. Even in the early morning light, he could make out the concerned look on her oh-so-readable face, could tell that her honey-brown hair was pulled back in its usual tidy bun, could appreciate the way her crisply starched apron was tied around her trim waist.
Mitch frowned as he realized where his thoughts had strayed. He'd always considered Cora Beth a fine lady and a good friend. But lately he'd begun to feel something a little warmer than mere friendship when he caught sight of her.
And that was definitely not a good thing.
"What's all this commotion about?" Her breathless voice held an accusing tone that he was certain was aimed more at him than at the young scoundrel in his grasp.
Mitch tipped his hat with his free hand. "Morning, Cora Beth. Sorry if we disturbed you." He tilted his head toward his still-squirming captive. "I caught this boy raiding your garden."
Consternation flitted across her face and then she gave Mitch a challenging look. "It's not raiding if he has my permission."
He wasn't surprised by her quick defense of the boy. Cora Beth had the softest heart in town—she'd give up her last crust of bread if she thought someone else needed it more. Especially if that someone was a kid. But he also noted that she hadn't actually claimed to have given the kid permission. And he hadn't missed the surprise and relief that flashed across the boy's face—a dead giveaway that his captive hadn't expected her to back him up.
"And did he?" It would be interesting to see how she answered him—she was too honest to out-and-out lie, no matter how much she wanted to rise to the kid's defense.
But to his surprise, she looked him straight in the eye, her expression free of evasiveness. "Actually, he's been weeding the garden in exchange for whatever produce he can carry." Then she glanced back at the boy and gave him an encouraging smile. "And a fine job you've been doing of it, too, young man."
That gave Mitch pause. Had he been a little too quick to judgment with the kid?
The boy mumbled something that might have been a thank-you, then glared up at Mitch, renewing his efforts to get free. "See, I told you I wasn't stealing. So, you gonna let me go now, mister?"
But despite Cora Beth's staunch defense, Mitch wasn't quite ready to believe the boy was totally innocent. "It's sheriff, not mister. And hold still. I'm not through with you just yet."
"Go easy." Cora Beth put out a hand but stopped short of touching either of them. "He's just a boy, not some hardened criminal." Her expression softened as she turned to his captive. "What's your name?"
Mitch raised a brow. "Now that's mighty interesting. He works for you, but you didn't bother to learn his name."
Cora Beth's expression reflected a mix of guilt and bravado, but she refrained from responding.
Keeping his amusement in check, Mitch turned his attention back to the closemouthed youth. "The lady asked you for your name, son."
"Ethan." The boy dug a toe into the ground and his tone was surly, grudging.
"Got a last name to go with that?" Mitch asked.
No response other than a tightening of the lips.
Cora Beth placed a hand on her supposed-gardener's shoulder. "You know, my brother Danny is twelve years old. I'll bet you're just about the same age, maybe a little older."
"I'm eleven." The boy's suddenly straighter posture bespoke a pride that was no doubt due to the fact that she'd erred on the plus side.
Which, knowing Cora Beth, she'd likely done deliberately.
"Is that right?" she said. "Well then, you're a very mature eleven." She cocked her head to one side. "Have you had your breakfast yet?"
The boy shook his head, and his rebellious expression shifted to hunger for a flash before he guarded it once more.
From the looks of the kid, Mitch guessed it'd been a while since he'd had a decent meal. But he'd landed on the right doorstep, figuratively speaking, to take care of that. If there was one thing Cora Beth could do exceptionally well, it was cook.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
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WINNIE GRIGGS is a small town girl born and raised in Southeast Louisiana’s Cajun Country who grew up to marry a country boy from the piney hills of Northwest Louisiana. Though her Prince Charming (who often wears the guise of a cattle rancher) is more comfortable riding a tractor than a white steed, the two of them have been living out their own happily-ever-after for 30+ years. During that time they raised four proud-to-call-them-mine children and a too-numerous-to-count assortment of dogs, cats, fish, hamsters, turtles and 4-H sheep.
Winnie has a BS degree in mathematics and is recently (and very happily) retired from a day job in the electric utility industry. She is active in several writing organizations and has served a number of years on the board of her local chapter of Romance Writers of America and her local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers.
Her favorite activities, outside of writing and reading, are cooking, exploring flea markets and pretending the growing army of dust bunnies who have invaded her home will disappear if she just ignores them long enough.
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QUESTIONS BY ANGI / ANSWERS BY WINNIE
ANGI: How often to you get lost in a story?
WINNIE: Unfortunately, I don’t get the opportunity to read as often as I used to. But I still try to fit in 1-2 books a month, more when I’m not on deadline.
ANGI: What turns you off like nothing else?
WINNIE: Rudeness. There’s absolutely no excuse for it.
ANGI: What sound or noise do you love?
WINNIE: I find the sound of gently running water, like a fountain or brook, extremely soothing. And, believe it or not, I also find the sound of my husband’s snoring oddly comforting.
ANGI: Fairy Tale or Action Adventure?
WINNIE: Fairy tale - I’m a die-hard romantic. Besides, you can always find a touch of adventure inside any fairy tale :)
ANGI: Han Solo or Indiana Jones?
WINNIE: Definitely Indy. There’s something I find very sexy about the combination of easily-flustered college professor and brash adventurer that he embodies.
ANGI: Did you watch the royal wedding?
WINNIE: Not live, but I watched bits and pieces of it that ran later in the day.
ANGI: Clouds or a sunny day and why?
WINNIE: Why choose? I like a sunny day, but one that sports a sky dotted with fluffy, white clouds. It’s always fun to try to find pictures formed by the clouds
ANGI: What’s something you’d like to tell your fans?
WINNIE: In Second Chance Family, my hero, who’s a bit nervous around kids, sings a lullaby in an effort to soothe a sick little girl. It’s one I made up - my first effort at that sort of thing, and I really enjoyed it.
ANGI’S GOTTA ASK: So, Winnie, you’ve been writing for quite a while...what’s the best fan letter you’ve ever received?
WINNIE’S GOTTA ANSWER: Hmmm - that’s a hard one. I always feel extremely honored whenever I find that a reader has actually taken the time to write to me about one of my stories. I guess one of the letters that stands out for me though, is a hand written note I received from someone who’d read The Heart’s Song. She told me about the recent loss of her husband (this book deals with issues faced by both a widow and a widower) and how reading this story touched her on a very personal level and made her feel less alone.
WINNIE HAS A QUESTION: I mentioned above that my hero sings a lullaby to a sick child. Lullabies have always been important to me - I sang them to my younger sisters when I was growing up and later to my own children as a nightly ritual. Do you have a favorite lullaby that you remember either from your own childhood or one you sang to your own children?
WINNIE HAS A DRAWING FROM THOSE LEAVING COMMENTS: I’ll be drawing for one copy of Second Chance Family or a choice from my backlist.
Note: Offer void where prohibited. Prizes will be mailed to North America addresses only. If an electronic Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) is available, the author may utilize that option for International participants. Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.
WINNIE LOVES TO HEAR from readers. Find her on the Internet at www.winniegriggs.com to learn more about her, her books, sign up for her newsletter, and enter monthly giveaways. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend her on facebook.
DON’T FORGET to LIKE us on FACEBOOK and FOLLOW us on TWITTER or just stop by every day to catch all our guests and their new releases. We’ll be back tomorrow when Cat hosts Mira Lyn Kelly. Until next week when I host Jane Graves. Have a great week! ~Angi