“So what do we do now?” Hannah asked. When she’d reopened the boutique, customers flooded the store. Russell had offered to help her until things slowed down. One hour had turned into two and in the blink of an eye the entire day had passed. She’d appreciated the help, but when she’d told him she felt guilty for keeping him from seeing his family, he’d waved away her concern like it was no big deal. She’d wondered if he was avoiding them, then dismissed the idea as ridiculous. Unlike her, he had a loving, supportive family. And for a man who’d never worked in retail and who hadn’t had a clue about women’s fashion, he’d done incredibly well.
A woman who’d come into the boutique looking for the perfect blouse had left with three dresses, two pairs of pants and three pairs of earrings in addition to that blouse, all because Russell had said she’d looked nice in them. He’d also given thumbs down on two other dresses and the woman had left without them.
More than providing her customers with a male’s perspective, Russell had served as the muscle she’d needed, carrying boxes for her. He’d also unpacked and steamed wrinkled clothes that had arrived from the factory, something Talia would have done had she been there, and cleaned fingerprints from the window three times.
“About what?” Russell asked, leaning back in the guest chair in her tiny office. After the physical work he’d done, he should have been tired, but he looked as if he’d spent the past hours relaxing. But then he was a soldier so no doubt today had been easier than most of his days.
“About our plan. You know, pretending to date.” She still felt a little bit embarrassed saying the words. It sounded desperate.
Russell had clear brown skin, beautiful dark eyes and a dimple in his left cheek. With his muscular body—broad shoulders, trim waist and strong legs—he’d probably had women chasing him most of his life. He’d never have to enter a fake relationship. She must look pitiful to him.
“I don’t know. What do you usually do when you’re involved with a guy? What places do you hang out here in town? Or do you generally go out of town on your dates?”
Dates? Sadly, her dates had been few and far between. It wasn’t as if she was heartbroken over Gerald. She hadn’t given him a thought in years. But his betrayal had hurt her badly and she wasn’t ready to trust a man with her heart. She hadn’t wanted to lead anyone on either, so she’d just skipped dating altogether. Life was so much more uncomplicated that way. After the chaos of her formative years, uncomplicated suited her just fine. One day there would be a place in her life for excitement and love. But not now.
“I’m up for doing anything. How about we play it by ear?”
“That sounds like a plan.” Russell was silent for a moment and she wondered if he was getting cold feet. “But there is still the slight problem of how I’m staying at the same B&B as your family and whatever it is Gerald claims to be.”
She couldn’t fault Russell for his choice. Kristina Harrison owned the Sunrise B&B, one of two in Sweet Briar. In Hannah’s estimation, the Sunrise B&B was nicer than the Come On Inn, but she could be biased. Kristina was one of Hannah’s good friends and often referred her guests to the boutique. But something about Russell’s arrangement puzzled her.
“I still don’t understand why you’re staying there. Brandon and Joni live in town. Don’t you usually stay with one of them?”
A shadow suddenly crossed his face and for a moment he seemed sad. Then he blinked and his expression cleared. “I do if I’m only staying for a day or two. I’ll be here for two weeks. That’s too long to impose. They each have their own families. Spouses and children. The last thing they need is to have a third party getting in the way. Especially at this time of year.”
“I know them, and I don’t think they would mind.”
He shrugged. “Probably not. But that’s not the only reason I’m staying at the B&B. There’s a lot going on in my life right now and I need some time on my own to think. I couldn’t do that on my base, so I came here early. I love my family, but we’re nothing if not opinionated. Myself included. But this is one time where I need to make a decision without everyone’s input.”
“It must be an important decision.”
“Yes. I need to decide the next step in my future.” He breathed out a long sigh. “To be honest, right now I don’t know which way is up. A little peace and quiet would go a long way toward helping me find my way forward.”
She could understand that. When she’d ended things with Gerald, her entire life had been in disarray. That’s why she’d moved to Sweet Briar to start over. Russell’s situation wasn’t entirely the same, but she could relate to his need for space and time on his own to come up with a plan for his future.
“Are you going to tell them you’re in town??”
“Only if I have to. They aren’t expecting me until next week. My parents are coming to town then too so we can celebrate Christmas together as a family. Since there’s no way I can stay at the same bed and breakfast as your people without making them doubt that we’re committed to each other, I have to find somewhere else to stay. After all, if we’re involved, why wouldn’t I just stay with you?”
Now she had a better understanding of his situation and realized just how much having privacy at this time meant to him. Though she hadn’t asked him to interfere, she was asking him to continue the charade. Right or wrong, she felt a bit responsible for helping him find a place to stay where he could have the time alone he wanted. “There’s another B&B in Sweet Briar. Let’s try and get you a room there.”
(C) Kathy Douglass, Harlequin Special Edition, 2020. Used with permission by the publisher.
Sweet Briar Sweethearts Book 8
Tis the season. . . for a second shot at love.
Could a fake boyfriend be
her real hero this Christmas?
When her ex-fiance shows up at her shop–engaged to her sister!–dress designer Hannah Carpenter doesn’t know what to do. Especially when her former fling Russell Danielson sees her plight and rides to the rescue, offering a fake relationship to foil her rude relations. The thing is, there’s nothing fake about his kiss. . . But when things get real, will the sexy soldier once again stop short of commitment?
From Harlequin Special Edition: Believe in love. Overcome obstacles. Find happiness.
Sweet Briar Sweethearts
Book 1: How to Steal the Lawman’s Heart
Book 2: The Waitress’s Secret
Book 3: The Rancher and the City Girl
Book 4: Winning Charlotte Back
Book 5: The Rancher’s Return
Book 6: A Baby Between Friends
Book 7: The Single Mom’s Second Chance
Book 8: A Soldier Under Her Tree
About Kathy Douglass
Kathy Douglass came by her love of reading naturally – both of her parents were readers. She would finish one book and pick up another. Then she attended law school and traded romances for legal opinions. After the birth of her two children, her love of reading turned into a love of writing. Kathy now spends her days writing the small-town contemporary novels she enjoys reading. Kathy loves to hear from her readers and can be found on Facebook. Feel free to visit her website, kathydouglassbooks.com, and sign up for her newsletter.