Shannon here: Jennifer Slattery shares insight into her character’ romance from her latest Contemporary Romance, Her Small-Town Refuge. Comment or answer the question in any post, dated Jan 18th – 21st to enter the drawing for a copy. Deadline: Jan 29th, 11:59 pm central time. Here’s Jennifer:
Excerpt from Her Small Town Refuge by Jennifer Slattery:
When they entered the decorated barn, Caden could practically feel Stephanie’s excitement. Her eyes sparkled as she surveyed the buffet table lining the east wall. It was made from wine barrels covered with a large plank of wood. On eating tables occupying the other half of the room, candles flickered in lace-and-burlap-adorned mason jars. Twinkle lights draped from the rafters, bathing the interior in a soft glow.
“You hungry?” he asked.
“I might be too nervous.”
“Don’t worry. These people will love you.” As the saying went, to know her was to love her. With each day he spent with her, those words became increasingly true.
But what about the missing drugs? He couldn’t believe she was to blame, but neither could he exclude the possibility.
All he knew was he didn’t want it to be her. Because, as much as he fought against it, he couldn’t deny he had feelings for her.
“How about we get us some of those fancy appetizers over there.” He pointed to a barrel covered with a lacy white tablecloth. “Then I’ll introduce you to folks.”
She offered that shy smile he’d grown to love. “Sounds like a plan.”
He looked around at the many familiar faces, most from Sage Creek and at least a handful of former clients. He needed to chat with them, find out why they’d stopped coming in.
As to those he didn’t recognize, he figured there was a fifty-fifty chance they had animals. No, make that seventy-thirty. This was a horse rescue fundraising event, after all.
“Mrs. Herron wanted me to tell you that they’re reserving booth space for you at the festival, free of charge.” Stephanie accompanied him to three towers of onion rings, each maybe fifteen rings tall. “So you can promote the clinic.”
“Yeah? That’s awesome.” People came to the event from all around, maybe too far to be familiar with him or the clinic but close enough to pop in, if they had a need.
She nodded and spooned blue cheese sauce onto her plate.
“You want to help man the booth? We always close the clinic during the peach festival.” Nearly the entire town shut down for local events. Sometimes that felt frustrating, but mostly he valued how much everyone valued community. He appreciated that, even when traditions hit his pocketbook.
“I’ll have to figure out what to do with Maddy, but sure. I’d love to.”
Most likely, someone from Faith Trinity’s quilting club would snatch that child for the day. They’d fill her with laughter and cotton candy, then drop her off content and droopy-eyed. That was another thing he loved about Sage Creek folks—how they supported one another, those with kids especially.
They spent the next hour or so talking with people, and Caden made two new promising connections and engaged in a productive conversation with a client who had left their clinic a year prior.
The DJ urged everyone to get their “honky-tonk” on, as he called it. At first, only a few couples responded. But by the third song, most everyone had migrated to the dance floor.
Stephanie seemed highly entertained by the growing crowd doing the Electric Slide. He loved watching the way she laughed whenever someone stumbled over their steps or acted silly. How she leaned forward, as if enthralled, when everyone’s steps picked up. Her expression of almost childlike delight when an older couple wearing matching outfits took center stage.
There was no way she could be hooked on drugs, or trying to sell them for that matter. She was too sweet. Too innocent.
Then the music slowed, and about half the dancers returned to their seat.
Stephanie turned back to the table and took a sip of her Coke. Set her glass down, then took another drink.
He should ask her to dance. It’d seem normal, wouldn’t it? Maybe even expected? But what if she said no, or worse, said yes because she felt obligated to. He swallowed, his hands suddenly clammy. He’d look the fool.
But he’d be an even bigger fool if he let this night, this moment, slip by.
He gave a nervous cough and dropped his napkin on the table. “Figure I can’t let you leave tonight without giving you the full barn dance experience.” Could he sound any lamer? But the words were out. “What do you say?” He stood and held out his hand, half wishing he’d kept his big mouth shut.
A soft smile lit her face. “I’d like that.”
He felt a sudden urge to make a fist pump. Instead, he calmly took her delicate hand in his and led her out to the dance floor.
At first, she seemed stiff, uncertain and reluctant to make eye contact. So he started talking—about the band, a group of guys who’d graduated from high school a couple years ahead of him. About one of the ranchers, a friend of the family who’d had him, his dad and his brothers over for skeet shooting numerous times when he was growing up. And about the early days of the horse rescue.
“To think, if not for that flood, and that emergency rescue, those two might never have reunited,” she said. “The entire story is so romantic. Like it came straight out of a novel or something.”
“Guess when it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, huh?”
She studied him for a moment, her expression unreadable, and he wondered if she was thinking the same thing he was, feeling what he was. More than that, he wondered when he’d get up the nerve to ask. But in not knowing, there was hope.
If he voiced his emotions and she didn’t feel the same, what then?
A male voice, angry, rose to their left, and the talking surrounding them ceased. He turned to see Maxwell, a guy one of his brothers used to hang around with, yelling at some other guy. Caden only caught bits of the conversation, but it sounded like Maxwell felt cheated out of something and was ready to throw blows.
“That man can be such a jerk.” He shook his head. “One would think—”
Her face looked tight, her eyes wide.
“You okay?” He touched her elbow. She flinched and hugged her torso. “Stephanie, what’s wrong?”
“I need some fresh air.” She darted off, zigzagging through the crowd, and disappeared out the barn doors.
He stared after her. What had just happened?
“Caden, my man.”
A hand fell on his shoulder.
“Excuse me.” He pushed his way through people and out into the inky night, searching for Stephanie.
A shadowed form sat against the trunk of a tree about fifty yards away. Gravel and twigs crunched beneath his boots as he made his way to her. Silver moonlight caressed her face and shimmered on her sleek hair.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked.
She motioned to the ground beside her, and he sat, the two of them in silence for a moment.
“I’m sorry about that.” Her voice seemed to catch, as if she was fighting tears. “You must think I’m strange. Unstable.”
“Upset about something, but not unstable.” He paused. “Want to talk about it?”
She didn’t respond.
“Did I do something?” He mentally replayed the moments leading to her rapid exit.
“It’s not you. It’s…” She plucked a blade of grass from the ground. “No. You’ve been perfect.” She gave a weak, almost sad smile. After a long pause, she said, “That man’s anger. It… I’m a domestic abuse survivor.”
“What do you mean?”
“My ex-husband. He used to…take his anger out on me. Using his fists.” And then, it all came out. The things John had said, how they’d cut so deeply, and the all-consuming fear that had overshadowed her for so long. “I guess I’m still learning to catch my breath.”
He felt like he’d been punched in the gut. “I’m so sorry.” Was that why she seemed so nervous all the time? Why, when they’d first met, she’d stiffened whenever she climbed into the truck with him or stood near him? “Where is he now?” A surge of anger shot through him, followed by a fierce desire to come to her defense.
“California. He doesn’t know where I am.”
He took in a deep breath and released it slowly, forcing his tense muscles to relax. As much as he wanted to pummel the guy for hurting such a delicate creature as Stephanie, she needed him now.
He placed his arm around her shoulder. She stiffened. Then, with an exhale, she leaned into him.
If only they could remain like this, him holding her and her tucked so securely in his embrace.
One thing he knew for certain—no man would hurt her ever again if he had anything to say about it.
About Jennifer: Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who has addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and other writers across the nation. As the founder of Wholly Love Ministries she and her team help their local, national, and global community experience increased spiritual and emotional freedom through an ever-deepening relationship with Christ. She cohosts, with Grace Fox, the Your Daily Bible Verse podcast and also cohosts, with her Wholly Loved Ministry team, the Faith Over Fear podcast. She is a regular contributor to iBelieve.com. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband. Contact her through her website to book her for your next women’s event. Learn more & connect:
About the book – Her Small-Town Refuge:
To secure the future she’s been wishing for, she must earn her boss’s trust.
Escaping to the Texas Hill Country with her daughter for a vet tech internship is Stephanie Thornton’s chance at a safer life. But when medicine goes missing from Caden Stoughton’s struggling vet clinic, all evidence points to Stephanie. With the new life she’s been searching for hanging in the balance, Stephanie must convince Caden to trust her with his business…and his heart.
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Question for Readers: Have you ever located for a job or your career? If so, where and why? If not, would you want to?
Come back Jan 25th for Betty Woods!