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Appears in the print edition of I Saw Her Standing There.

There’s a budding romance on Butler Mountain, but in the hornets nest known as the Abbott family, keeping a secret is no easy feat…

Colton Abbott and Lucy Mulvaney have a secret. Colton’s nosy siblings have begun to put the pieces together, but it’s not like Lucy to keep things from those closest to her—especially her best friend, Cameron, who recently moved to Vermont to live with her true love, Will. But Lucy isn’t about to tell Cam she’s having a fling…with Will’s brother. Flitting between New York and Vermont is exhausting, so Lucy is looking forward to a long weekend with Colton at the Abbott family lake house in Burlington. Too bad Will and Cameron have the same idea, and once Colton and Lucy are caught red-handed (and red-faced), will their clandestine romance lose its appeal or will their secret beginnings be the start of something lasting?

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A Day in the Life

A Green Mountain Series Novella

By Marie Force

Chapter 1

Hunter Abbott loved to sleep in on Sunday, his favorite day of the week. It was the one morning he didn’t have anywhere to be, no one looking to him to solve all their problems, no one needing him for anything until late-afternoon dinner with his family. Lately, he loved his Sundays even more because of his Saturday nights with his fiancée, Megan.

Since she’d moved in with him a couple of weeks ago, every day felt like Sunday. Hell, every day felt like Sunday and Christmas and his birthday all rolled up into one big dose of perfection. Sleeping with her in his arms every night was the best thing to ever happen to him. If only she didn’t have to be up and out so early to get to the diner.

So far she seemed to love her new role there, managing the business and making it her own. She’d even implemented one of his ideas by offering prepared take-out meals during the day rather than staying open for dinner service. That one small change had resulted in a significant boost to the bottom line, which Hunter kept a close eye on as the chief financial officer for his family’s businesses. It also got her home much earlier in the day, which suited his desire to spend every possible minute with her.

Thanks to his grandfather, the diner was now one of their family businesses, and Hunter was looking forward to watching it grow under Megan’s leadership. Fortunately, the waitresses who’d once covered the dinner shift had been willing to move to mornings, so she hadn’t had to hire new help.

It was all working out rather well so far, and she seemed happy, which was the most important thing to Hunter. He was happy if she was happy, although he’d be a lot happier if she didn’t have to get up so damned early every day.

Shifting onto her pillow, he breathed in the jasmine scent of her shampoo and thought about their night together. He was officially addicted to her and couldn’t get enough of everything about her. From talking to laughing to cooking to working to sleeping to making love to driving in the car . . . It didn’t matter what they did as long as they did it together.

The ringing phone jarred him out of his thoughts to wonder who would be calling him so early on his day to sleep in. He reached for the extension on the bedside table. “Hello?”

“Hunter.” The frantic way Megan said his name had him sitting up in bed. “I need you.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Paige and Delia are both sick and Petey, the dishwasher, got arrested last night. I thought I could handle it on my own, but we’re getting killed with leaf peepers. Can you come?”

He was up and moving before she’d finished talking. “I’ll be right there.”

“Thank you.” The line went dead.

Tossing the phone on the unmade bed that would stay that way for once, he ran for the closet to find jeans and a T-shirt. He splashed water on his face, brushed his teeth and ran a comb through his hair and was out the door less than five minutes after she called.

He parked in the lot behind his family’s store and jogged across Elm Street, where patrons were in a line outside the door. He’d never seen that before. Since there was no way to push through the crowd at the front door, he went around to the back and in through the kitchen.

“Good of you to show up, CFO,” Butch grumbled, calling him by the nickname he’d bestowed upon Hunter after the Abbott family acquired the diner.

“What can I do?”

Butch gestured to a mountain of dishes surrounding the deep sink. “Better start there. We’re almost out of plates.”

Was it his imagination or did Butch seem to relish the idea of putting him on dish duty? Whatever. After growing up with nine younger siblings, Hunter certainly knew how to do dishes. He started with the plates and moved as fast as he could to get them clean.

Megan came in with an armload of dirty dishes. “Thank God you’re here.” She stole a quick kiss as she deposited the dishes and spun around to head back into battle.

Hunter washed dishes until his hands were sore and his back ached, but he never stopped, even when the elbow he’d fractured in a recent climbing accident began to fight back against the constant activity. The cast was long gone, his elbow was healing well according to his orthopedic doctor and he’d been undergoing physical therapy to get it working properly again. He probably shouldn’t be putting it through such a workout, but he tried not to think about what it would feel like later as he kept working.

“CFO,” Butch barked at him. “Grab a bin and start busing. We need tables, man.”

Judging by the gleam in his eyes, Butch was definitely enjoying giving him orders.

Hunter dried his hands and took a bin with him into the carnage that was the diner. “Holy shit,” he whispered as he took in the sight of dirty tables everywhere he looked. He started at the far end and filled the bin with the dishes from two tables. When he went to pick it up, his elbow fought back, and he nearly dropped it.

From out of nowhere, Megan swooped in, grabbed the bin and carted it away without a word to him.

Wow, talk about feeling like a useless dick! He wiped down the table and moved on to the next one.

Megan returned with an empty bin, handing it to him with a saucy smile before she went to seat new customers at the table he’d just cleaned. She seemed to be everywhere, acting as hostess, waitress and cashier all at once while also doing the heavy lifting for him. Despite the crazy day, she never lost her smile or her sparkle as she moved effortlessly from one task to another. She was in her element here and kept everything running smoothly even in the midst of madness.

“CFO!” Butch barked through the window that separated the kitchen from the restaurant. “Need more plates!”

Hunter finished the table he was clearing, wiped it down and was able to cart a lighter load of dishes to the kitchen by himself this time. Thank goodness his elbow didn’t decide to suddenly give out. He could only imagine what Butch would have to say if he dropped a bin full of dishes.

Back at the sink, he had twenty plates washed and stacked next to the grill within ten minutes.

Megan came rushing into the kitchen. “Need mugs, stat.”

“On it,” Hunter said, falling into a groove now.

“Silverware, too,” Megan called over her shoulder.

Hunter was sweating as he worked harder than he ever had in his life over the next hour. He rotated between dishwashing and busing as the people kept coming and coming. Surely they’d fed everyone in a ten-mile radius by now, hadn’t they? He’d be hearing the ring of Butch’s bell and his bark of “Megan, pickup” in his sleep.

“Are we having fun, boys?” Megan asked when she came into the kitchen with more dishes.

“Best day I ever had,” Butch said sarcastically.

“Time of my life,” Hunter said with equal sarcasm. For once he and Butch were in total agreement about something.

By the time the rush began to die down, it was after noon and Hunter felt like he’d run a marathon. His lower back ached, his recently concussed brain throbbed and his elbow might never bend correctly again. How did Megan do this every day? He had a whole new respect for her, Butch and the others who worked here. His job was a piece of cake compared to theirs.

At the thought of cake, he realized he hadn’t eaten anything all day and was absolutely starving. Since Butch was still frantically filling orders, Hunter didn’t dare ask him for food. In two hours, they’d close down and he could eat then. If he lived that long.

Megan couldn’t remember a busier day at the diner than this one had been, and it figured that her two waitresses, who were roommates, had caught the same bug, on the day that Petey, her dishwasher, had been arrested for disorderly conduct. After the diner closed, she’d have to see about getting him out of jail. Or she’d send Butch.

She smiled at Hunter as he hauled yet another bin full of dirty dishes into the kitchen. She’d owe him big for this. Her adorable, sexy, GQ fiancé reduced to washing dishes and cleaning tables. Wait until his family heard about his shift at the diner.

The next time she looked up, Hunter’s grandfather, Elmer Stillman, was coming through the door with his best friends Cletus and Percy.

“What in the devil is going on here today?” Elmer asked after he’d given her a kiss on the cheek. Ever since she’d accepted Hunter’s proposal, he’d treated her like a member of his family, and she loved him for it.

“The leaves are what’s going on here. We’re at peak this weekend.”

“Damned peeper season,” Cletus muttered under his breath. “Never had to wait in a line to get in here before.”

“Sorry you had to wait, boys,” Megan said as she poured coffee for them, hoping to soothe their ruffled feathers. “Wait till you see the hottie busboy I’ve got working today.” She left them with a smile and moved on to refresh coffee at other tables.

Hunter chose that moment to come out of the kitchen looking sweaty and disheveled and absolutely adorable. She loved him more all the time, never more so than right now as he pitched in to help her out of a pinch.

“Are my eyes deceiving me?” Elmer asked his grandson.

“I wish they were.”

“Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” Percy said with a grunt of laughter.

Hunter’s good-natured grin never faltered. “Yeah, yeah. I’m taking one for the team today, and it’s all your fault, Gramps. It was your idea to buy this place.”

“I knew you were the right man for the job,” Elmer said.

“He’s saving our lives,” Megan added. She took a closer look at Hunter. After spending a full week with him following his climbing accident, she’d learned to tell when he was in pain. “Are you okay?”

“I’m good.”

“Did you eat anything?”

“Not yet.”

“Hey, Butch,” she called. “Get me a grilled corn muffin stat.”

“Fill out a slip.”

“Kiss my ass.”

Hunter let out a low growl that made her laugh. “No one kisses your ass but me.”

Elmer raised his hands to his head. “My ears, my ears.”

Megan introduced Hunter’s ribs to the sharp end of her elbow. “Not in front of the customers, Abbott. Get back to work.”

He leaned in close to her, so only she could hear him. “Revenge is a bitch, my love.”

Megan’s entire body flushed with heat as she thought about his particular brand of revenge.

“Whatever he said made her blush,” Percy said.

“Better that we couldn’t hear it,” Cletus said.

“When are you two kids tying the knot anyway?” Percy asked.

“Mind your business,” Elmer said.

“It’s fine.” Megan rested her hand on Elmer’s shoulder. “We’re hoping to set a date soon.” They didn’t want to wait to get married, but hadn’t been able to settle on a date despite weeks of going round and round about when to do it. She hoped they could figure it out soon because she couldn’t wait to be married to him.

Nolan and Skeeter came in from the garage, stopping short in their tracks when they saw Hunter clearing tables.

“Well, if this don’t beat all,” Skeeter said.

“No kidding,” Nolan said. “I’ve got to get Hannah over here to see this. Can I use the phone, Megan?”

“You know where it is.” The words were no sooner out of her mouth than the phone rang. “Take an order while you’re at it, Nolan.”

He waved to indicate he’d heard her.

With hardly a lull between the breakfast rush and lunch, they got busy again and had no time for the usual tomfoolery with the patrons.

Hannah arrived about twenty minutes after Nolan called her and went straight into the kitchen to see her twin brother washing dishes. Because Megan was right behind her with another full-to-overflowing bin, she got to watch Hannah whip out a camera and take some pictures.

“Go away, Hannah,” Hunter growled at her.

“In a minute,” she said, snapping away.

After she’d had her fun at her twin’s expense, Hannah went to join her husband and Skeeter in one of the booths.

“CFO,” Butch said, ringing the bell, “your muffin’s ready.”

“Took long enough,” Hunter said.

“I had real customers to take care of first.”

Hunter downed the muffin in four huge bites.

Megan handed him a large carryout cup of coffee, fixed with cream and two sugars the way he liked it.

He guzzled the coffee. “Thank you, Jesus—and Megan.”

She went to him and leaned against him, resting her hand against the damp fabric on the back of his T-shirt. “Are you okay? Really?”

“I’m fine, babe.” He kissed her.

“I’ll rub all your sore muscles later.”

His brown eyes widened with pleasure. “I’ll wash your dishes any time for that kind of service.”

“Thought you might say that.”

“One muscle in particular is really aching.”

She pinched his rear. “You are so predictable, CFO.”

“Only Butch is allowed to call me that. It’s his pet name for me.”

Butch grunted behind them. “Pet name. Whatever. Try pussy name.”

“I’m wounded,” Hunter said.

“Be nice to him, Butch,” Megan said on her way out of the kitchen. “He owns the place.”

“I wasn’t nice to your sister when she owned the place.”

“At least you’re consistent,” Hunter said, amused by Butch’s gruffness. During his five-minute “break” the dirty dishes seemed to have given birth to more. He dove in and kept at it until the dishes stopped coming shortly after two. Thanks to Hannah’s big mouth, most of his family stopped by before closing to take their digs at the diner’s new dishwasher.

When they finally and blessedly ushered out the last of the customers at two thirty, he helped Megan clean up the disaster that was the diner. They scrubbed tables and seats, the counter and then the floor. They even had to wash windows where little fingers had smeared maple syrup on the glass.

By four o’clock, they had refilled the creamers as well as the sugar, salt and pepper shakers and prepared for Tuesday morning when the diner would reopen. It was usually closed on Mondays.

“Is that everything?” Hunter asked Megan.

“Everything except for this.” She put her arms around him and hugged him tightly.

“I stink like shit,” he said, even as he returned her embrace.

“You couldn’t possibly stink like anything other than awesome.” She nuzzled into his neck. “Thank you so much for this. You totally saved my bacon in every possible way.”

“I can’t believe you do this six days a week.”

“It’s never like this.”

“If it’s even half of this I still don’t know how you do it.”

“You get used to it after a while.”

Butch rang the bell loudly and then grumbled with laughter when they sprang apart. “Made you lovebirds some lunch.” He pushed two turkey club sandwiches with fries and pickles through the window. “Good job today, CFO. You might not be as much of a pansy as I thought you were.”

“Aww, thanks, Butch, but I’m taken.”

“Eww. You’re not my type.”

Megan giggled at their banter. She brought the plates to the counter, poured a tall icy Coke for him and a Diet Coke for herself and sat next to him on one of the stools.

“Don’t get any ketchup on my clean counter,” Hunter said.

“I’ll do my best not to make a mess.”

“I’ve never been so hungry in my entire life.”

“Real work will do that to ya, sissy boy,” Butch said.

Hunter laughed. “You’re right about that. I’ve got it easy compared to you guys.”

“All you eggheads should do some time in the trenches to see what it’s like.”

“One of my business professors at UVM used to say that same thing. He’d tell us there’s something to be said for getting your hands dirty.” He took a closer look at the mess of shredded skin and blisters on his hands. “Nothing like a good dose of dishpan hands to better understand the business.”

“I got something that’ll fix you right up.” Butch disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a tub of something yellow and greasy. “Put that on them. Be good as new tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Butch,” Megan said for him. “Will you go see about getting Petey out of jail?”

“Yeah, I’ll take care it. Stupid kid needs to start using his brain instead of his mouth.”

“Do you need money to post the bail?”

“I got it.”

“Thanks for that and for busting ass today. See you Tuesday?”

“Where else would I be?” He waved as he headed out the door.

“Pleasant sort of guy,” Hunter said when they were alone.

“He’s an acquired taste.”

“I’ll take your word for that.”

“You earned his respect today—big-time. If you hadn’t, he wouldn’t have made lunch for you. That’s his way of saying you’re okay, sissy boy.”

Scowling playfully at her use of Butch’s term, Hunter said, “I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.”

She leaned in to nibble on his earlobe, and he went instantly hard. “I’ve got other ways of making you feel warm and fuzzy inside.”

“Let’s get out of here.”

“Not until you wash those dishes,” she said with a smile.


Chapter 2

Hunter was dying. That was the only possible explanation for the fact that his entire body was on fire, and not in a good way. And all he’d done was drive home from the diner after washing their lunch dishes like the boss demanded.

Megan was right behind him, pulling into the driveway a few minutes after he did. She approached his car and knocked on the glass.

Hunter was able to marshal the strength to push the button to lower the window, wincing at the pain in his hands. They’d never be the same even with Butch’s miracle cure.

“Why are you just sitting here?”

“Because I can’t move.”

“Aww, poor baby! Are you sore?”

“Sore, exhausted, depleted and aware of how easy I have it the rest of the time. I thought I was in good shape. How can a few hours of manual labor destroy me?”

“Um, maybe because you recently sustained some rather major injuries and haven’t been working out as much as you usually do?” She pulled open the door, reached over him to unbuckle his seatbelt and gave a gentle tug to get him out of his SUV. “Let’s go take a nice hot bath.”

He moaned from the idea of it until it occurred to him that he’d have to climb multiple stairs to get to the tub. Would she think less of him if he crawled up the stairs?

“I shouldn’t have called you,” she said regretfully. “You’ve been doing so great that I forget sometimes that you were hurt pretty badly not that long ago.”

“I’m fine, or I was until I worked in your sweatshop for a few hours.” With her arm around his waist and his around her shoulders, they went up the stairs to the porch. “You have earned my endless, undying respect for what you do every day.”

“Does that mean I can expect a foot rub after work every night from now on?”

“If you so desire.”

“I do.” She slipped her hand into the back pocket of his jeans and gave a little squeeze that had him forgetting all about how sore and tired he was. “I desire.”

“I may not be able to service you today.”

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this. Even when you had a concussion you wanted to ‘service’ me.”

“This is what happens when you set your sights on an older man.”

“Older,” she said with a snort. “You’re only thirty-five. Stop acting like a geriatric.”

“I feel like one after my shift at the diner.”

“I’ll fix you right up with a hot bath and a rubdown.”

“I’m feeling better already.”

“Is all this moaning and groaning a ploy to get my hands on you?” she asked as she propelled him up the stairs with her hands cupping his ass.

“Whatever it takes.”

“You know you don’t have to resort to tricks to get my hands on you. They’re always happy to be on you.”

“No tricks, baby. I’m sore and tired as hell. Butch might be right about me.”

“No, he isn’t. You’re a stud, or I wouldn’t love you so much.”

“So you only love me for my hot bod?”

“It’s one of the many reasons I love you.”

“Oh, do tell.” He turned to her after he’d started the water in the tub. “This I’ve got to hear.”

She tilted her head and eyed him lovingly. “I love your sexy face, your sexy brain, your sexy mouth, your sexy bod, your sense of humor, your loyalty to your family, your business sense, the way you came running when I said I needed you and especially the way you refused to give up on us even when I was acting like a stupid idiot.”

He laughed at that last one and then kissed her. “You never acted like a stupid idiot.”

“Yes, I did. I refused to believe something so good could be real, and that was stupid. Because it’s real, and it’s incredible, and I love you because you’re the best thing to ever happen to me.”

“Megan,” he whispered, drawing her into a much more serious kiss. “I never thought I’d hear you say such things about me. For the longest time all I could do was wish and hope for what I have right now. And it’s all because of you. When you called me earlier? I was thinking about how much I love living with you and sleeping with you every night. I had a lot of fantasies where you’re concerned, but none of them came close to touching the reality of what we have.”

She wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his chest. “Love you. Thank you so much for what you did today.”

“It was my pleasure.”

“Now you’re just lying.”

“Yes, it was. I got to spend the day with you rather than waiting for you to get home from work. Being there with you was better than waiting for you.”

“You must really love me.”

“I really love you. Now, let’s take that bath.”

After a long soak in the tub and the rubdown Megan had promised him, Hunter fell into a deep sleep. He woke in a darkened room with Megan propped on one hand, looking down at him.

“You’re back.”

He rubbed his hand over his face, which was when he remembered his hands were destroyed. “What time is it?”

“Nearly seven.”

“Damn.” He shifted to find a more comfortable position and immediately regretted moving. If one shift at the diner could so thoroughly kick his ass, he’d be spending a lot more time in his home gym starting tomorrow. Or maybe the day after. “Did you sleep?”

“A little. Mostly I watched you sleep.”

“That must’ve been fun.”

“It’s very entertaining. You do this cute thing with your mouth. I could watch that all day.”

“What cute thing?”

She moved her lips from side to side, which was all it took to wake up another part of him.

“Come here,” he said, reaching for her with both arms, including the one that didn’t want to bend.

She came into his embrace, molding her naked body to his, making him forget all about his aches and pains.

“I have a surprise for you,” she said.

“What kind of surprise?”

“The kind you have to get up and get dressed for.”

“I like the naked kind of surprises better.”

“You’ll like this one, too.” Lifting her head from his chest, she bit her lip and glanced at him shyly. “At least I hope you will.”

“Why do you seem nervous?”

“Because I did something that affects both of us without talking to you about it first.”

“And you did this because you wanted to surprise me?”


“Whatever it is, I’m sure I’ll love it.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I love you, and if you went out of your way to arrange a surprise for me that you thought would make me happy, then I already love it.”

“I hope you’re still saying that when you see what it is.”

Curiosity piqued, Hunter got up slowly and painfully. It was daunting to realize he wasn’t as recovered from his injuries as he’d thought if a few hours of hard work could turn him into the Tin Man pre-oilcan.

Megan came into the bathroom with a glass of water and two pills, which she dropped into his hand.

“Thank you, sweetheart.”

“I feel bad that you’re so achy.”

He took the pills and washed them down with a drink of water. “Don’t feel bad. It’s just a heads up that I wasn’t as recovered from the fall as I thought I was. Not to worry though. I’ll be back to fighting form in no time.”

“No more rock climbing for a while though, okay?”

“Ice season is coming soon, so we’ll be abandoning the rocks for other pursuits.”

Her brows furrowed. “Other dangerous pursuits.”

“Nah, we’re old pros.”

“Seems I’ve heard that before . . . Right around the last time you went rock climbing . . . Ringing any bells?”

Laughing, he kissed her nose and then her lips. “I love your sarcasm.”

“I love your body, especially when it’s all in one piece.”

The doorbell rang.

“Showtime,” she said. “I’ll get that. Come down when you’re ready.”

Since she was wearing a Vermont sweatshirt and flannel pajama pants, Hunter put on sweats and a long-sleeve T-shirt, wincing at the pain in his elbow when he jammed his arm into the sleeve. Praying for the pain pills to kick in quickly, he went downstairs slowly, like the old man he was.

In his living room were Dude Danforth and her “boyfriend,” Skeeter.

“Recovered from your shift as a busboy, Hunter?” Skeeter asked.

“Not really.” He glanced at Megan, wondering what was going on and why Skeeter and Dude had stopped by.

“Ready for your surprise?” Megan asked warily.

“Sure thing.”

“Be right back,” Dude said.

“You’re gonna love this, Hunter,” Skeeter said with a big dopey grin.

“It’s not a cat from your freezer, is it?” Everyone in town knew about the dead cat Skeeter had left in his mother’s freezer. For ten years.

Skeeter laughed. “Nah, that was a onetime case of forgetfulness that no one’s ever gonna let me forget.”

“Can you blame us?”

Dude came back in carrying a bundle close to her chest.

Next to him, Megan fairly vibrated with excitement and nerves.

“You want to tell him, Megan?”

“Okay,” she said, turning to face Hunter.

Whatever she had to tell him, he decided right then and there, he wanted to see her eyes glow with that kind of excitement every day for the rest of their lives.

“A week or so ago, Dude came into the diner and told me that one of the puppies in Homer Junior’s litter had been returned because the family had to move to another home, and they weren’t allowed to have dogs there. She said she could only think of one person who should have this particular puppy—you.”

“You got me a puppy?” He loved dogs and had been thinking about getting one of his own for some time now.

“Not just any puppy,” Dude said.

“Homer Junior’s twin,” Megan said.

Dude removed the squirming body from the lightweight blanket that covered him, revealing Homer Junior’s identical twin, right down to the all-brown face with the white circle over his left eye and paws in brown, black, white and white with brown spots.

“Oh my God.” Hunter took the wiggling little body from Dude. “Are you sure this isn’t Homer Junior?”

“Positive.” Dude beamed with pleasure at Hunter’s reaction to the puppy.

“I can’t believe you got me the twin of my twin’s dog.” With the puppy in his arms, he kissed Megan. “Best surprise ever.”

“Really? You’re not mad?”

“How could I be mad when—” He held the puppy away from him to reveal a huge patch of puppy pee on his T-shirt. Holding the little body up in the air, Hunter looked him in the eye. “Really? We just met!” The puppy seemed to grin at him, making him laugh as he fell madly in love.

Megan shook with silent laughter.

“There’s goes my nice, clean, orderly house,” Hunter said.

“A house that’s too clean means a life not being lived to its fullest,” Skeeter declared.

“Now you sound like my grandfather,” Hunter said.

“We brought him a bed and some food to get you through tonight,” Dude said. “I’ve also got a crate in the truck if you want it.”

Hunter glanced at Megan who shook her head.

“No crate,” Hunter said. “Hannah would never forgive me.”

“For what?” Hannah asked as she came into the living room holding Homer Junior, with Nolan following behind her.

“If I put him in a crate,” Hunter said.

“No crates,” Hannah said emphatically, squealing as she caught sight of her puppy’s twin.

“You’ll regret that when he’s tearing up your house,” Nolan said.

Hannah rolled her eyes. “Don’t listen to him. These are the best-behaved puppies in the universe.”

Right,” Nolan said with an eye roll of his own.

“Mine’s already peed on me,” Hunter said.

Dude scratched the puppy behind his ears. “That’s him deciding you’re his person.”

“Am I your person, little buddy?”

The puppy let out an adorable little yelp that had Homer Junior straining to get free of Hannah so he could say hello to his brother.

Hunter put his puppy down on the floor so they could romp.

They fell into a gleeful wrestling match that had everyone laughing at their antics.

Hannah waved her hand in front of her face, as if she were trying not to cry. Thanks to pregnancy hormones, she cried at commercials these days, or so Nolan said. “They remember each other.”

“I knew they would,” Dude said proudly.

“Did you know about this?” Hunter asked his sister.

“Megan clued me in the other day. She wanted me to bring Homer over so you’d believe you had his twin and not him.”

“These are the only two from that litter who had this same exact coloring,” Dude said.

“Just like us and our litter,” Hunter said to Hannah.

“Exactly,” she said, laughing.

“Good surprise?” Megan asked.

Hunter put his arm around her and drew her in close to him. “Awesome surprise.”

“Don’t get puppy pee on me.”

“We’re in this together, sweetheart.”

Shrieking, she twirled out of his embrace.

“What’re you going to name him?” Hannah asked from her post on the floor with the dogs.

“It’s got to be an H name,” Nolan said. “Can’t be anything else.”

“How about Hector?” Hannah asked.

Hunter wrinkled his nose. “He’s not a Hector.” He picked up his new buddy—and he knew this one was his because he wasn’t wearing a collar. Note to self: Don’t get a red collar or you’ll never be able to tell him apart from his brother/cousin. Hunter looked him in the eye, falling more in love by the second with the sweet face that looked back at him. “Horace.”

“The nickname for that would be Hor,” Nolan said. “The other dogs at the dog park are likely to be ruthless with that name.”

Hunter looked up at Megan, seeking her approval.

She smiled and nodded. “We’ll take our chances.”

Later that night, in bed with Megan tucked up against one side of him and Horace snuggled up against the other, Hunter thought about how much his life had changed in the last few months. He’d gone from living a boring, somewhat staid existence, to falling in love, getting engaged, moving Megan into his house, even working at the diner and now adding Horace to their little family.

“What’re you thinking about?” she asked in a sleepy voice.

“Everything that’s happened in the last few months. Hard to believe how much has changed.”

“I wouldn’t believe it myself if I hadn’t had a front-row seat.”

“All good changes. The best kind of changes.”


“We need to set a wedding date,” he said.

“I’ve been thinking about that. What do you say about Christmas?”

“I love Christmas. What’s not to love about Christmas?”

“It’s been a tough time of year for me since my parents died. A wedding could give me some new memories of the season. Plus Nina and Brett will be home. What do you think?”

“I think,” he said, shifting slightly so he could kiss her while trying not to wake the puppy, “that’s a fantastic idea.”

“The weather might be an issue though.”

“Always a concern, but as long as we can get Nina, Brett and my family there, which shouldn’t be a problem, I’d be happy. How about you?”

“That’s all I need.”

“Where do you want to do it?”

“This is the part I feel sort of weird about.”

“How do you mean?”

“I’d love to do it at your parents’ house if you don’t think they’d mind. They’ve got that huge, beautiful family room with the fireplace. I bet your mom goes all out with the tree and the decorating. I can’t think of anywhere better, unless it would be too much to ask of them.”

“They’d love it. I don’t even have to ask to know they’d be all for it.”

“Still, we’re going to ask before we make any firm plans.”

“We’ll ask. They’ll say yes—emphatically—and we’ll make our plans.”

“You really like the idea of doing it there?”

“I love it. Almost as much as I love you.” He kissed her, lingering on the sweet softness of her lips. “This turned out to be one hell of a Sunday.”

In the darkness, he felt her smile against his lips. He fell asleep with a smile on his face, which was the only part of him that didn’t ache like hell. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. His heart was in pretty good shape these days, too.

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Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

~ Calvin Coolidge

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