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First and Again
 


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First and Again


  First and Again

  By Jana Richards

  Bridget Grant is back in Paradise. Paradise, North Dakota, that is.

  She’s swallowed her pride and moved back to her hometown with her daughter after her divorce and the loss of her catering company. Now she’s trying to navigate the strained relationships she’d left behind—including her first love, Jack Davison.

  Jack never forgot Bridget, or the day she left town—and him. When Bridget caters a lunch at Jack’s tourist ranch, old flames reignite. They have more in common than ever—Jack’s also a single parent. Though they both try to keep things casual, Bridget, Jack and their girls are starting to look a lot like a family.

  But Bridget’s only planning to stay in Paradise until she’s saved enough to relaunch her business. Jack’s invested too much in his ranch to leave. And with their daughters involved, both have a lot more at stake than heartbreak. How can they risk falling in love?

  87,000 words

  Dear Reader,

  It’s possible I say this every year, but I love October. To me, this is the month that signals the start of a season of hot apple cider, evenings by the fire, and curling up on the sofa with a good book, dressed warmly in sweatpants and a comfy shirt and snuggled under my favorite fuzzy blanket. We at Carina Press can’t provide most of those things, but we can provide the good books, and this month we have more than a few good books!

  In Running Back, the highly anticipated sequel to Allison Parr’s new-adult contemporary romance Rush Me, Natalie Sullivan is on the verge of a breakthrough most archaeology grad students only dream of: discovering a lost city. Her research points to a farm in Ireland, but to excavate she needs permission from the new owner: the Michael O’Connor, popular NFL running back.

  If you’re like me, there are certain tropes in romance that you fall for every time. One of mine is the main theme of Christi Barth’s newest book, Friends to Lovers. (Gee, can you guess what it is?) Daphne struggles with revealing her longtime lust for Gib, sparking it all off with a midnight kiss on New Year’s Eve—only Gib doesn’t know it’s Daphne he’s kissed! Also in the contemporary romance category is First and Again by Jana Richards, which has a special place in my heart because this emotional story takes place in my home state of North Dakota.

  For months, this Red Cross head nurse has been aiding Allied soldiers caught behind enemy lines, helping them flee into the neutral Netherlands. It’s only a matter of time until she’s caught in Aiding the Enemy, a historical romance by Julie Rowe. If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, be sure to check out the rest of Julie’s historical romances.

  We have two mysteries for readers to solve this month. British crime author Shirley Wells returns to the sleepy northern town of Dawson’s Clough with her popular Dylan Scott Mystery series in the next book, Deadly Shadows. And in Julie Anne Lindsey’s Murder by the Seaside, counseling is murder, but it’s never been this much fun.

  Erotic romance author Christine d’Abo brings us the story of Alice’s obsession with a brooding lawyer at her firm, which takes Alice on a journey of self-discovery through the rabbit hole and into the world of BDSM in Club Wonderland. Also this month, the Love Letters ladies, Ginny Glass, Christina Thacher, Emily Cale and Maggie Wells, round up five sizzling-hot stories to finish off their sexy stampede through the alphabet with Love Letters Volume 6: Cowboy’s Command.

  Edgar Mason is losing Agamemnon Frost despite everything they’ve been through—the passion, the torture, the heat. Frost’s fiancée Theodora is back, and Mason can feel his lover gravitating toward her. Every day he sees them together, it tears at his heart. Don’t miss Agamemnon Frost and the Crown of Towers, the conclusion to Kim Knox’s male/male historical science fiction trilogy.

  Because October is the perfect month for the paranormal, we have a wide selection of fantasy, urban fantasy and paranormal to share with you. In Jeffe Kennedy’s fantasy romance, Rogue’s Possession, neuroscientist Gwynn’s adventures in Faerie continue in the long-awaited sequel to Rogue’s Pawn. And in the sequel to Soul Sucker, a powerful magic user is stealing people’s faces in San Francisco, and empath Ella Walsh and shifter Vadim Morosov have been called in to investigate in Death Bringer by Kate Pearce. Also returning with another book in her Blood of the Pride series is Sheryl Nantus, with her paranormal romance Battle Scars.

  Combining futuristic fiction, fantasy and urban fantasy, Trancehack by Sonya Clark is a compelling cross-genre romance. In a dystopian future where magic is out in the open and witches are segregated, a high-profile murder case brings together a police detective and a witch with unusual powers that combine magic and technology. But dangerous secrets, a political cover-up, and the law itself stand between them. Don’t miss this exciting new world of witchpunk!

  Carina Press is pleased to introduce three debut authors this October. Science fiction erotic romance author Renae Jones gives us a Taste of Passion when lust strikes hard for Fedni, an empath who can taste emotion, but her off-worlder neighbor is horrified by the caste system that the former courtesan holds dear.

  Two urban fantasy authors debut with us this month. In Kathleen Collins’s Realm Walker, a realm walker hunts a demon intent on destroying both her and the mate who left her seven years ago. Also debuting in urban fantasy is Joshua Roots with his book Undead Chaos. When warlock Marcus Shifter performs a simple zombie beheading, he soon finds that the accidental framing of an innocent necromancer, falling in lust, and burning down a bar are just the beginning of his troubles.

  Regardless of whether you’re discovering these books in October or in the middle of summer, any time is the perfect time for reading, and I hope you enjoy all these titles as much as we’ve enjoyed working on them.

  We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to [email protected] You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

  Happy reading!

  ~Angela James

  Executive Editor, Carina Press

  www.carinapress.com

  www.twitter.com/carinapress

  www.facebook.com/carinapress

  Dedication

  To Warren, Dana and Rachel, with love.

  Acknowledgements

  To my ever-patient editor, Alissa Davis, and to my

  husband for being my own personal patron of the arts. Couldn’t have done it without you.

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  About the Author

  Copyright

  Chapter One

  It was official. She’d hit rock bottom.

  Bridget Grant sighed as she wiped the sticky remains of spilled beer and nacho cheese sauce from one of the tables. Was this what her life had come down to? Serving wench in her mother’s bar?

  As she lifted her head, she caught several patrons staring at her. When she stared back with all the haughty pride she could muster, they quickly looked away. Less than a day in Paradise and she’d been stripped bare, as if she were swimming naked in the small-town fishbowl that was h
er hometown. Turning away from the gawkers, she gave the dirty table an angry swipe with her cloth.

  Suck it up, Bridget.

  She took a calming breath. It didn’t matter what she did for a living or what anyone thought of her. As long as her daughter stayed out of trouble, she’d gladly sling beer and wipe sticky tables.

  The front door opened and a group of people trooped in, their exuberance drowning out the scratchy music pumping out of the old jukebox. In the middle of the pack stood her sister Celia, looking relaxed and happy and full of life. Celia let out a squeal and left her group of friends when she saw Bridget, throwing her arms around her in a bear hug.

  “It’s so good to see you,” Celia said, kissing her cheek. “What has it been, five years since we’ve seen each other in the flesh?”

  “Something like that.” She examined her sister’s face, amazed at how much Celia now resembled their mother. She had inherited Mavis’s straight blond hair and blue eyes along with the petite stature that had always made Bridget, with her tall, lanky frame and wildly curling auburn hair, feel like the odd man out in her family. Celia’s face and bare arms were tanned from time spent working in the sun, and little laugh lines fanned out around her eyes. Bridget got the impression that Celia laughed a lot. Must be nice. Divorce and financial ruin had left her without much of a sense of humor.

  “Maybe if you hadn’t been so stubborn about visiting the city we’d have seen each other more often,” she said.

  Celia took a step away, her eyebrows rising. “Well, little sister. It’s awfully early in the evening to have your claws out, isn’t it?”

  Just because her life had gone to hell didn’t mean she had to take it out on Celia. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m glad to see you too.”

  “I know you are.” Celia smiled and took her hand. “I didn’t think you’d be working in the bar tonight. You just got here.”

  Bridget shrugged. “The girl who usually works Friday nights is sick and Mom asked if I would fill in.” Even though she was tired from days of driving, she was glad to have something to do. “I figured, what the hell. Might as well get started.”

  “Good for you. How’s Rebecca?”

  She sighed. Her fifteen-year-old daughter had remained sullen and silent the entire trip to Paradise. “Unhappy. But I can’t really blame her. I’ve uprooted her and plunked her down here.”

  “In the middle of nowhere,” Celia added.

  “I didn’t say that.”

  “You didn’t have to. It was there between the lines. It always has been.”

  “I’ve never fit in here.”

  “You’ve never let yourself fit in here.” Celia shook her head and took a step back. “Let’s not rehash old arguments. It’s your first night home. I don’t want to fight.”

  “Neither do I.” She was too exhausted to get into it with Celia.

  “I could get Megan and Mike to introduce her to some of their friends. Once Rebecca meets some kids her age she’ll feel better about the move.”

  “I don’t think anything’s going to make her feel better about coming here.” Bridget’s breath hitched. “She’s upset about the divorce. I know it’s my fault...”

  Hot tears stung her eyes and she was unable to speak around the lump in her throat. The last thing she needed was to start bawling in front of the bar crowd.

  Wouldn’t that be a juicy topic for coffee row gossip? Bridget Grant came crawling back to North Dakota with her tail tucked between her legs. That girl was always uppity, but you should have seen her crying her eyes out. How the snooty have fallen!

  Celia gave her shoulder a soothing rub. “I know coming here is tough for you and Rebecca. But you shouldn’t take all the blame for the divorce. Ben deserves his share.”

  The way Celia said Ben’s name, like it was something distasteful, made her feel a little better. But she couldn’t escape the truth. “I appreciate your support, but it really is my fault. The business went under because of me. After that, our marriage just unraveled.”

  The expression of sympathy in Celia’s eyes made her want to press her face to her sister’s shoulder and cry out all her hurts and worries. But she couldn’t do that. There was a room full of people watching them and she had work to do. Besides, she and Celia had never had a crying-on-each-other’s-shoulders kind of relationship.

  For one aching moment, she wished they had.

  “There’s my girls.”

  Bridget’s mother Mavis approached with a smile, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. “It’s so good to have both my daughters home again.”

  Celia smiled at Mavis and gave her cheek a little kiss. It was a simple gesture, but spoke volumes to Bridget. The special relationship between her mother and sister had made her feel like an outsider in her own family for years.

  Would things have been different if her father had remained in the picture?

  She brushed away the self-pity and moved out of Mavis’s embrace. “I’d better get back to work. What can I get you to drink, Celia?”

  “I’ll have a beer, but first I want you to meet some people. I think you’ll remember most of them.”

  Bridget took a deep breath, pasted a smile on her face and turned to greet Celia’s friends. Some were strangers to her but she recognized several of them. One face in particular was very familiar. Tina Marcotte, now Tina Wilson, had been one of the most popular girls in their class. She’d taken great delight in tormenting Bridget all through high school, teasing her about her hair, the glasses she’d worn back then, her clothes. She’d made fun of her opinions and ambitions, and had gossiped about her endlessly. Had Tina changed in the intervening years or was she the same bitch she’d been back then?

  Bridget took their order and brought their drinks. A short time later Celia’s husband Gavin joined them.

  “Hello, Gavin. It’s good to see you again.” She smiled and extended her hand. She’d always liked her sister’s husband. He was good-hearted and hardworking, a salt of the earth kind of guy. The exact opposite of Ben.

  “Welcome to Paradise, Bridget,” he said with a grin. He ignored her outstretched hand and enveloped her in a warm hug.

  The bell over the door tinkled and a man walked into the bar. Bridget almost dropped her tray. What the hell was Jack Davison doing here? He’d moved away from Paradise years ago.

  Surprise quickly gave way to embarrassment. If she had to meet Jack again after all these years, why did it have to be now, at the lowest point in her life?

  As he took a seat, her brother-in-law clapped him on the back.

  “Hey, you made it.” Gavin turned to her. “You remember my brother Jack, don’t you? I think he was a grade ahead of you in school.”

  “Of course Bridget remembers Jack,” Tina Wilson piped up. “They dated in high school, remember?”

  Trust Tina to remember ancient history.

  Memories flooded back. Clapping madly as Jack Davison scored the winning touchdown for their high school football team. Her heart racing when he singled her out to dance at the Fall Ball. The sweetness of their first kiss. The thrill of her first love and the anguish when it ended. When I ended it.

  His gaze locked with hers and she wondered how he remembered it, if he remembered it at all.

  Jack looked lean and fit and very attractive. His sandy-colored hair was free of gray, and though a few lines etched his face, they only made him more handsome. His eyes, fringed by thick, dark lashes, were still the same shade of cornflower blue she’d always loved. Back in the day, one look from those beautiful eyes could turn her knees to water.

  Damn it, why did he still have to look so good?

  “Hello, Jack.” She extended her hand.

  “Hello.” He clasped her hand in a firm shake.

  Nerves skittered down her spine. “So what are you doing in Paradise?” Celia had told her years ago that he had married a girl in Houston. Her telephone conversations with her sister had been brief over the years, mostly centering on their
husbands and children. She hadn’t wanted to hear news of her old life. “Are you here visiting Celia and Gavin?”

  “No, I moved back to Paradise a few years ago. Gavin tells me you’re going to be living here for awhile.”

  “Yes.” She started gathering empty glasses from the table, aware of the interested glances from Celia and Gavin’s friends. For the most part, they weren’t being malicious, just curious, but her private life was just that; private.

  Tina smiled and leaned forward. “And you’ve been living in San Francisco all these years, Bridget. It must be exciting to live in a big city. What did you do there?”

  “Lots of things, but mostly I helped run my ex-husband’s business.”

  “Bridget’s being modest,” Celia said. “She’s a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. She was head chef of the catering company she and her husband owned.”

  “Really?” Bridget detected a slightly mocking tone in Tina’s voice. “I imagine you catered a lot of fancy affairs.”

  “A few.” Was the emphasis on affairs some kind of dig, a double entendre? She rejected the idea. How could Tina know about Ben’s affair? She glanced toward her mother, mentally willing her to call so she’d have an excuse to leave. Unfortunately, her mother was engrossed in conversation with some older patrons, leaving her no means of escape.

  “So why did you leave your catering company?”

  “Tina, maybe Bridget doesn’t want to talk about it,” Celia said, a note of warning in her voice.

  Tina had always had a knack for finding her weak spots and going straight for the jugular. Bridget’s only hope was to show no fear.

  “That’s okay, Celia,” she said. She turned to Tina with what she hoped was a composed expression on her face. “The business went under.”

  “Really? What a shame. What went wrong?”

  The massive lawsuit might have had something to do with it. “It was probably the downturn in the economy.”

  “That’s too bad. And I understand your husband left you after that.”

  Her heart dropped into her stomach. She lifted her eyes to Tina’s and in that moment she hated the woman. Though Tina’s face was the picture of innocent inquiry, the predatory gleam in her eyes revealed the enjoyment she took in asking these humiliating questions.

 
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