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My book Until I Met You has just been released below is an excerpt.
Jessica Reid held her seven month old nephew, Wyatt, to her shoulder and paced the length of her living room. She surveyed her once orderly home now littered with baby furniture and toys and smiled. At the moment, the room looked crowded, but the house had never been more animated as it was now. Wyatt had lived with her for only a month since his parent's tragic accident. Unfortunately, he was as fussy today as the day she brought him home.
Three feet into the room the flooring squeaked under her feet for the umpteenth time. Feeling the infant relax, Jessica thought he'd finally fallen asleep and slowed her gait. When Wyatt started crying again, she patted his back and hummed softly in his ear, then resumed her walking.
Blake Hudson, her neighbor and friend since kindergarten, had stopped by for their Saturday morning coffee. She wore her strawberry blonde hair pulled back in a loose tail. If Blake followed her usual routine, she'd just come from a workout at the gym wearing her spandex shorts and lavender top. Blake was the kind of friend who knew everything about Jessica yet didn't use it against her.
Within half an hour, Renee Wilson from the end of the cul-de-sac came over carrying a pink box of pastries. Jessica didn't have to see the contents to know there was a decadent dessert inside which would require an extreme workout to counterbalance the calorie intake. She shook her head.
Renee set the box on the coffee table. "Don't give me that look, Jessie. You know I watch what I eat all week so I can splurge on Saturday. I celebrate every Saturday that I made it through another work week. Some nut case has been calling the office the last couple of days. So I'm indulging in a little emotional eating."
"I'm sorry, sweetie. I didn't' realize your work was so rough this week," Jessica said.
Blake lifted the lid and peeked inside. "What did you bring today?"
"There was a sale on cream puffs." Renee bit into the creamy confection. She closed her eyes and a serene look softened her face. "That's heavenly. You should stop by that new bakery on Court Street. Their pastries are sinful."
Reaching into the box, Blake grumbled. "I'll have to jog another five miles to work this off."
Jessica smiled at her friends' bantering, a normal occurrence in her chaotic life. The three of them had gotten together most Saturday mornings for as long as she could remember. Her friends had often stopped by, offering to help with Wyatt. Jessica didn't want to insult them by not accepting their help, but she knew they had even less experience with infants than she did.
With pastries in hand, her two friends moved to flank both sides of the large window which faced the street. Renee sat on the arm of the couch, her stocking feet on the cushion. Blake stood to the left of the sofa. The women were so intent on what they were watching they seemed unaware of the crying child or Jessie's pacing.
"You would think as new as this house is the floor boards wouldn't make any noise." Her friend Blake opened the curtain wider and held it against the window frame and continued her vigilance.
"Newer is not always better," Jessica reminded her friend.
From her perch on the arm of the couch, Renee's short auburn hair and petite frame gave her the appearance of a pixie. "You can say that again. Last year, I had to call the repairman twice about my new washer."
"That had more to do with the repairman's butt than your washer not working," Blake added.
Renee raised one shoulder. "You've got me on that one." She returned her attention to the scene outside the window.
All three women lived on Sweetbrier Circle, a quiet cul-de-sac in the heights of Forest Ridge. Renee and Blake had lived next to each other for over a year. Jessica was the newcomer to the group; she'd moved into the neighborhood a scant six months ago.
"What are you two staring at?" Jessica walked toward them as she finished pacing the length of the room. Before she turned around for another pass, she too glanced out the window.
A large white and orange moving van with scenic drawings of California was parked across the street. The metal ramp was propped up to the back door.
"I don't see what's so interesting."
The baby started to fuss in her arms, so Jessie turned to wear the carpet out in the other direction.
Before she'd moved two steps, Blake reached out her hand to stop her. "Oh no you don't. You can bounce Wyatt here for a moment. You need to take a good look outside. What do you see?"
Jessica stepped closer to the window and instantly saw the man across the street. Even from this distance she could see his muscular arms strain against the weight of the box he carried. She wondered what it would feel like to be wrapped in his embrace and to experience the heat of his body next to hers. A warm flush enveloped her face. Now she understood why women fanned themselves when they had a hot flash, and why her friends were ogling out the window.
The man was approximately seventy-five feet away, yet she felt an instant attraction to him. His hair was cut as short as the military cadets Jessica had seen on the college campus. On this man the style actually accentuated his masculinity. The simple faded orange T-shirt he wore molded to his chest, hugging his muscular physique.
He had a straight aristocratic nose. Stubble darkened his face, and she longed to feel the roughness against her palm. Jessica shook her head, wondering why such personal thoughts were directed to this stranger.
He glanced up. The man's gaze locked with hers. Predatory was the first word that came to mind. He gave a simple nod then continued on with his work. Tall and lean, his body equaled that of a professional quarterback. His eyes were hooded from this distance, so she couldn't see what color they were but instinctively knew his piercing gaze didn't miss anything.
Blake and Renee's nonstop debate on jogging verses speed walking flowed around her. Both of her friends were oblivious to Jessica's nonverbal exchange with their new neighbor.
Returning her attention to the action across the street, Blake asked, "What do you see?"
Studying the man again, Jessica couldn't remember the last time she had a date. A meaningful exchange with a man seemed like a life time ago.
"I see a beautiful spring day with the deep blue sky. And a van is blocking my view."
Blake reached over and patted her shoulder. "Honey, if that's all you see, you definitely need to get out more often."
"Who's Hercules?" Renee asked.
"I don't know but he's fun to watch." Blake pretended to wipe her brow. "Why don't you go over and introduce yourself, Jess. Then you can tell us all about him." Blake released the curtain then sipped her coffee.
"The man definitely has some muscles." Jessica couldn't help but stare. "Did he buy the house?" For the last six months, the three women were the only ones living on Sweetbrier Circle.
"That's a nice house. I almost bought that one. But the backyard had too much grass," Renee said.
Jessica rolled her eyes at her friend. "Since when do you mow your own lawn?"
"I didn't know at the time I'd date a landscaper who'd offer to do my yard work."
The room fell silent when the newcomer walked outside again. From this distance, he appeared to be nearly six feet tall but obviously more brawn than the average Joe. His t-shirt fit tight, clinging to the well-defined muscles underneath.
"A man in the neighborhood; that's a nice change." Blake met Jessie's gaze and lifted her mug to her. "You should go for him."
"Right," Jessica exaggerated the word as she nodded. "What are the odds of a man dating a woman with a baby? Besides, when do I have time for a man in my life?"
"Renee is dating her yard boy, and after my last relationship, I've sworn off dating so that leaves you." Blake started to reach for Wyatt. "Go introduce yourself."
Anxious that the other woman was serious, Jessica stepped back then started pacing again.
"I finally got the baby to sleep. You're not moving him." Curious about the man, she decided to give him a second look. Trying to look nonchalant, she turned in the middle of the room and strolled back to the window. Although spying on him was a little juvenile, she enjoyed watching the stranger. His agile body moved purposefully as he walked out of the van carrying an office chair.
After setting the piece of furniture on the driveway he turned and looked in their direction. Jessica felt his gaze burn into her. She froze. Her two friends frantically waved to catch his attention. A curt nod was given by the buff man.
"Jessie, you're not going to wave to your future boyfriend?" Renee asked.
"Are we in middle school again? The two of you are ahead of yourselves. I'm not going out with him, and he's not my boyfriend. Besides, I smell like the baby." As excuses go, her reply was lame. They all knew that, but her friends surprisingly let it pass without a comment.
Shifting Wyatt up, Jessie pointed with her free hand across the street. "A man who looks that good is probably married and has half a dozen kids. I know where I'd be every night if he were my husband."
At that moment the man in question glanced up as she was gesturing across the street and waved to her in return. With a sigh, she stepped away from the window. Joking with her friends about a boyfriend was one thing. The thought of a man in her life, one who wanted to date her, was unrealistic.
Feeling Wyatt's body relax with sleep, she walked down the hall to the baby's room.
Returning a strand of hair behind her ear, she looked down at the sleeping infant. A lot had happened to the little fellow in his seven months of life. He'd lost his parents in a car accident and moved in with her. Adjusting to the baby's schedule was all Jessie could handle at the moment. She didn't have time for a man in her life. After placing Wyatt in the crib, she tucked his blanket around him. Jessica whispered, "You're the only man for me."