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Shara's Happy New-foundland Year, страница 1

 

Shara's Happy New-foundland Year
 

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Shara's Happy New-foundland Year


  Shara’s Happy

  New-foundland Year

  By

  Tamie Dearen

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author. To the extent any real names of individuals, locations, businesses or organizations are included in the book, they are used fictitiously and not intended to be taken otherwise.

  Shara’s Happy New-foundland Year

  by Tamie Dearen

  Copyright © 2017

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means now known or hereafter invented, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

  Dedication

  To Stephanie, who showed me how God’s love can shine through hardship and peril.

  Acknowledgements

  Thanks to my awesome cover designer, Agape Author Services, and my fabulous editor, Laurie Penner. Thanks to my beta readers: William Turley, Evonne Hutton, Monica Parkhill, Diane Englehardt, Cindy Yake, Jolyn Safron, Geraldine Sullivan-Clark, Teresa Martin, Michelle Butler, and Wendalyn Park.

  Most of all, thank you to my patient and supportive husband. Fortunately, he is an amazing chef, so he keeps us both from starving to death while I write!

  From the Author

  In an attempt to give my readers a richer reading experience, each book in the Holiday, Inc. Christian Romance Series includes an original song, performed and recorded for your listening pleasure. If you are unable to access the link to hear the song on your reading device, you can listen, at no cost, at TamieDearen.com, under the heading, Music. I hope you enjoy Shara’s Happy New-foundland Year.

  Chapter One

  “This place is awesome.”

  “Mmmf.” Shara Lassiter nodded her agreement, her mouth too full to speak. She gave her coworker, Noelle Christian, an encouraging nod. Their table, in the back of the bustling restaurant, afforded a view of the indoor fountain and pond. Yet the calm setting did little to soothe Shara’s worries. So far, the conversation had been constrained to niceties, like the food and the weather. But somehow Shara needed to wheedle some information from her friend, without taking the conversation to uncomfortable places.

  “Aren’t those rolls the best?” Noelle took a bite and her expression transformed to one of utter ecstasy.

  “Mm-hmm.” Shara swallowed, savoring the sweet, buttery taste and struggling not to imagine her fat cells expanding. Noelle, a hygienist at the dental office where Shara worked as front desk manager, had married the stepbrother of the man Shara was hungry for information about... James Christian.

  “David’s been bragging about this restaurant,” Noelle continued. “He ate here with James twice last week. I think it’s their new favorite lunch spot in Denver.”

  “They eat here a lot?” Shara’s appetite disappeared as she scanned the restaurant. She missed James and wanted to hear about him, but she wasn’t ready to confront him. “Are they here today?”

  “I invited David to meet us today, but he said he had to work through lunch.”

  Shara’s bunched-up muscles relaxed. “How’s David doing?” she asked, though she really wanted to find out about his brother.

  “Oh, he’s great. He’s so excited about being a dad.” Noelle patted her rounded belly, and Shara repressed a shudder, imagining being pregnant with her body expanding out of control. Noelle and David hadn’t wasted any time starting a family. Only seven months since the wedding, she was five months along. Noelle fairly glowed with joy and Shara couldn’t help feeling a bit jealous, though she was happy for her friend.

  “And James?”

  Shara endeavored to keep a casual tone in her voice, but Noelle’s sharp gaze impaled her.

  “James? He’s keeping himself busy—traveling and jumping out of airplanes. He even took up hang gliding. Pretty much doing anything, in my opinion, to forget how depressed he is.” She dabbed a napkin on her lips and put her elbows on the table, leaning across, her laser eyes cutting through Shara’s shabby, defensive shroud. “I’d say he’s about as miserable as you are.”

  “Oh.” Her stomach suddenly churning, she squirmed and wished she had forgone lunch and stuck with the saltine crackers, which had become her staple as of late. “Maybe he’s just enjoying his freedom.”

  “If you’d come for Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday, you could’ve seen for yourself.”

  “I had to do Thanksgiving with Dad, but I appreciate the invitation.” In truth, her father had missed the turkey dinner she cooked at his dreary apartment. He spent the entire holiday searching for new investors in his latest business scheme, a process that entailed drinking beer all day at the local bar.

  “You never told me what happened with James.” Noelle’s voice welled with sympathy. “Why did you two break up?”

  What can I say? That I realized I’ll never be good enough for him? She’ll never understand because she doesn’t know what I’ve done. No one does.

  “We aren’t really compatible. Our backgrounds are too different.”

  “In whose opinion? His or yours?”

  Shara shrugged, twisting her napkin in her lap, unable to meet Noelle’s eyes. “We tried to make it work, but he...” He’s a genuinely great guy and I’m a fake. He would’ve broken up with me eventually. It was only a matter of time.

  “Did he do something to hurt you? I swear, if he did, I’m going to tear him apart. I told him to be careful with you.”

  “No, he didn’t do anything wrong.” Her cheeks burned with embarrassment. Of course Noelle had warned James about her. She knew Shara was damaged. James had treated her like precious, fragile glass—always uplifting, gentle, and encouraging—the opposite of her own family in every way. Shara played the roll of the girlfriend he deserved, but she knew her past would eventually catch up with her.

  “Tell me the truth, Shara. Do you regret breaking up with James?” Noelle took a bite of her pot roast, but her gaze was still fixed on Shara, whose appetite had vanished.

  “I’m positive I did the right thing.”

  She cocked her head to the side. “But you miss him, don’t you?”

  Shara swallowed a painful lump of air. “Not really. I mean, I care about James, but in a brotherly way.”

  “Shara—”

  “No, I mean it. James is a great guy, but he’s not for me.” The words shredded her heart as they came out. Surely that feeling was God punishing her for lying, but she couldn’t risk Noelle telling James she was still pining for him. Shara had no willpower where James was concerned. If he asked, she’d take him back. She wouldn’t be able to help herself. “I hope he moves on and finds someone else—someone who can really make him happy.”

  Noelle’s eyes widened. She must suspect Shara was covering up her true feelings. How could she convince her?

  “Shara, don’t say any more—”

  “Honestly, Noelle. It would never have lasted between James and me. He’s too afraid of commitment. He even talked me out of getting a puppy because it would be too much trouble.” At least the tale was true, even if Shara omitted the fact James had justly argued she couldn’t afford another mouth to feed on her tight budget.

  “Shara...” Noelle grimaced, her gaze focused above Shara’s left shoulder, as she silently mouthed, “He’s right behind you.”

  She felt his presence before she heard him speak. Though shocked at his arrival, chill bumps still rippled down her spine in reaction to his proximity. It had been over a month since she’d seen him, but she knew his face
better than her own. Her mind painted a perfect image of his piercing blue eyes framed by dark hair with an unruly wave on top. When he was around, the room seemed to shrink, as if his very presence demanded more space. She appreciated the hard muscles rippling underneath his shirts, and so far he’d never raised his hand in anger toward her. He was about as perfect a male specimen as she could imagine—so perfect she’d felt outclassed the entire ten months they dated. Self-conscious, her hand rose to smooth her hair, and she kept her gaze on Noelle.

  “Hello, Noelle... Shara.”

  His deep voice sounded tight, and she tasted acid in the back of her throat. How much did he hear?

  “Hi, James. David gave you credit for discovering this place. It’s really awesome.” Noelle painted a bright smile on her face. “Have you already eaten? Do you have time to sit down and join us?”

  “I’d love to join you, Noelle.” Sarcasm drizzled out with his words. “But I don’t think I could make such a huge commitment.”

  Guess that answers that question. Shara prayed the floor would open up and swallow her whole, but as usual, God didn’t seem to be listening.

  Let me get this straight.” James slid into the empty chair. “I’m afraid to commit and I hate puppies. What else has Shara been saying about me? Do I beat up on little old ladies? Or perhaps she reported my tendency to steal candy from babies?”

  Though she kept her eyes averted, Shara felt the heat of his glare. She might’ve answered, but her tongue was glued to the roof of her mouth.

  Undaunted, Noelle prattled on with a dismissive wave. “She was only teasing. None of that stuff is true, is it?”

  “Of course not,” he agreed.

  From the corner of her eye, Shara saw his chin lift high.

  Noelle pressed the issue. “You’re not afraid of commitment, are you?”

  “Not at all.”

  Shara bit her tongue. He truly had an aversion to commitment, but now wasn’t the time to argue about it.

  “And you love dogs, don’t you?” Noelle seemed to egg him on. “Especially puppies, right?”

  “Yes. Especially puppies.” With a smug smile, his eyes darted her direction, but she refused to look at him.

  “Well, you’re in luck,” Noelle said. “I have the perfect puppy for you. Arrived this weekend at the shelter where I volunteer.” Noelle took a huge bite of pot roast, which was probably lukewarm, by now.

  “Wait a minute... I never said I wanted a dog. I don’t have time in my life to take care of a puppy.”

  Noelle held up her hand as she finished chewing and swallowed. “I have to admit, those excuses sound an awful lot like a commitaphobe who hates puppies.”

  “Sure does,” Shara agreed, her earlier humiliation forgotten while watching Noelle’s skillful manipulation of her brother-in-law.

  “That’s not fair,” James objected. “Why doesn’t Shara have to adopt this puppy to prove she’s not afraid of commitment?”

  “Because this is all about you, not me,” Shara chimed in, before she leaned back and crossed her arms.

  “Hmm...” Noelle took a drink of water. “No, I think James has a point.”

  “What?” Shara gaped at her duplicitous friend. “Whose side are you on?”

  “I have a great idea,” Noelle declared, holding up a finger and tapping her temple. “It can be a contest. You each pay half the pet adoption fee. Then the two of you can alternate weeks with the puppy, and on January first, whoever is the best parent gets to keep the pup.”

  If Shara hadn’t been clenching her hands together in her lap, she would’ve done a fist pump. Noelle wasn’t a traitor. She was a genius. It was the best of both worlds. Shara would get to see James at least once a week when they exchanged the puppy, but it would be a totally platonic, nonthreatening relationship. And in the end she would get to keep the dog, because there was no way James would be able to beat her. She knew good and well he didn’t want a puppy.

  She dared a glance at her grumpy ex-boyfriend before proclaiming, “It’s a deal!”

  “I NEVER AGREED TO THIS.” James should’ve known to be careful around his sister-in-law. She had done this type of thing before. One minute he’d be arguing against her, and the next he’d find himself defending her position. That she was customarily right when it happened was beside the point. Already, his initial anger at Shara’s remarks was melting away. It was hard to stay mad at her when her nearness made his heart race. Tall and blond, she had the most enchanting eyes he’d ever seen—mostly crystal blue, but sometimes green. Those magical orbs, like windows into her soul, revealed the kindest heart, hidden in a shroud of insecurity.

  “If you prefer, you could concede the contest right now. I’m sure Shara would gladly take this precious puppy home, competition or no.” A single eyebrow arched on Noelle’s face. Though her lips didn’t curve upward, he was fairly certain she concealed a multitude of mirth. She had him, and she knew it. He was desperate to date Shara again, and Noelle had provided him with a perfect excuse to spend time with her. He and Shara would have to interact to coordinate the puppy’s care. At some point, he would make her discuss the true reason she’d broken off their relationship and give him a second chance.

  “What kind of dog is it?” he asked.

  “He’s the absolute cutest puppy you’ve ever seen in your life,” Noelle gushed. “He’s a ball of black fluff!”

  “He sounds adorable,” said Shara.

  James recognized the eager anticipation in her eyes, an expression that was once aimed at him. He found himself jealous of the puppy, which would soon benefit from her cuddles and kisses. “But what breed is it?”

  “It’s a Newfoundland.” Noelle stabbed another piece of pot roast. “But don’t worry—he’s the runt.”

  “Those dogs are huge,” James protested. “We won’t be able to afford the dog food.” James had plenty of money to keep the dog fed with the income from his management position at Holiday, Inc. But he worried about Shara, who had little money to spare.

  “Already backing out of your commitment?” asked Noelle, with a wink so slight he wondered if he imagined it. A hint of a smile peeked out before she stuck the bite of meat in her mouth.

  “No,” he muttered, holding back his true thoughts. Commitment is highly overrated. Why would anyone want to commit to marriage, when it’s bound to fail?

  Of course Noelle wanted the two of them back together again. She and his brother, David, had been pleased as punch when he started dating Shara, mostly because she got him to join a Bible study and start attending church. Unlike David, James had wanted nothing to do with God or Jesus or the church or anything remotely religious. The subject had been closed—not even open for discussion. That is, until Shara came along.

  Shara had only shared a small bit about her past, but it was enough for him to admire her inner strength. She’d been through a lot more than James, having dealt with an alcoholic father and an absent mother. She could’ve been angry at God and refused to allow Him to control her life. But instead, she was open to His love and grateful for the opportunity to join a group of supportive friends in a Bible study. Her humble attitude put a crack in James’ hard shell, and bam—just like that—Jesus wormed His way into his heart. Finally, James began to let go of some of his pent-up anger, and he was amazed at how good he felt. At the moment, he was content to have God as a fallback when things weren’t going according to plan. He wasn’t ready to go all radical and give up everything for Christ, the way David wanted him to. James believed in keeping everything balanced.

  All seemed well until five weeks ago when Shara had cut him off, cold turkey. She stopped attending Bible study and church and refused to answer his texts or return his calls. He told everyone he had no idea why she broke off the relationship, but that wasn’t true. The breakup had everything to do with the night the two of them had had a little too much to drink and lost control, violating their mutual promise to follow God’s rules.

  To James, sleepi
ng together hadn’t seemed like a big deal, and he didn’t know why it upset Shara so badly. It wasn’t like either of them were virgins. And hardly anyone held with that antiquated notion of waiting until marriage, even the people in their Bible study. Yet it seemed to trigger something in Shara. The next thing he knew, they were no longer dating or communicating in any way.

  Here he was, going along with his sister-in-law’s impromptu contest, hoping the puppy would provide a venue for reconnecting. This time, he had to make sure he didn’t screw it up.

  He aimed a small smile Shara’s direction, but she blushed from her neck all the way to the roots of her blond hair and jumped out of her seat, mumbling something about going to the ladies’ room. In a flash she was gone. He slumped in his chair, hopelessness settling in once again. If she couldn’t even look at him, nothing would be able to fix what was wrong between them—not even an adorable puppy.

  “I’m worried about her,” Noelle remarked, startling him out of his depressed musing. “I’m pretty sure I heard her throwing up in the bathroom at work yesterday. Seems like she might be doing the bulimia thing again.”

  “I hope not.” His stomach felt like someone dumped a ton of gravel inside. He’d learned enough to know bulimia could be life threatening.

  “Listen, James. I still don’t know what happened with you guys, but I think you still care about her.”

  He answered with a grunt.

  “I’ll take that as a yes.”

  “It could just as easily have been a no.”

  “Not with the way you’re gritting your teeth right now. I can see your masseter muscles flexing so hard you’ve probably split a molar or two.”

  He forced his jaw to relax. “What if I do? It doesn’t matter, because she wants nothing to do with me.”

 
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