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Authors: Kara Isaac

Can't Help Falling

BOOK: Can't Help Falling
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Praise for Kara Isaac's
Close to You

“A fabulous debut. Well-written, clever, and warmhearted, this love story with the backdrop of
Lord of the Rings
will delight romance readers everywhere. Add Isaac to your favorites list.”

—Rachel Hauck,
USA Today
bestselling author of
The Wedding Chapel

“Kara Isaac is a fresh new voice in inspirational contemporary romance!
Close to You
is well-crafted, funny, unique, and endearing. A delight!”

—Becky Wade, author of
A Love Like Ours

“Well-written and fun,
Close to You
made me laugh out loud and fall in love. An enchanting romantic escape into the land of Frodo and Aragorn.”

—Susan May Warren, award-winning, bestselling author of the Christiansen Family series

“I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a debut novel so much.
Close to You
is filled with warmth, wit, and more than a few laugh-out-loud moments! Kara Isaac has proven herself to be an exciting addition to the world of Christian romance.”

—Carla Laureano, RITA Award–winning author of
Five Days in Skye
and
Under Scottish Stars


Close to You
is a tasty blend of unlikely romance, lovably flawed characters, and dialogue just snarky enough to make me want to pull up a chair and watch. Kara's unique voice and
fresh premise combine to create a compelling story that lingers like your favorite dessert long after the last page.”

—Betsy St. Amant, author of
All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes
and
Love Arrives in Pieces

“Kara Isaac is a fresh new voice in the world of inspirational contemporary romance . . . and I can't even decide what I love most about her debut novel. The setting, the romance, the wit, I love it all! I especially loved the undercurrent of hope and redeemed dreams. Definitely an author to watch and characters to love!”

—Melissa Tagg, author of
From the Start
and
Like Never Before

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For Melody

World's greatest sister, longest suffering reader, most honest critic, and loudest cheerleader. Thank you.

One

I
T WAS LIKE BEING IN
jail. But worse, because Emelia Mason had paid for it. Nonrefundable. Nontransferable. Not that she hated anyone on the planet enough to try transferring this epic disaster in online booking to them.

Emelia turned around, taking in the full three hundred sixty degrees of the small, dark, cold room. Her breath wafted in front of her. Inside. At four in the afternoon. The space was pretty much bare, save for a rickety desk, an ancient minifridge, a few hangers on a metal stand, and a bed. She suppressed a shudder at the sight of the sagging mattress in the corner. Even from a good six feet away, Emelia could tell it would light up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree if a UV light ever came within a block of it.

Well, she'd wanted to reinvent herself. She'd certainly done that. Even if being one step up from homeless hadn't exactly been in the game plan. Though, after what she'd done, it was about what she deserved.

Stupid, stupid.
Emelia still had no idea how she'd managed to book three weeks at the euphemistically named Magnolia Manor, instead of the Magnolia Inn. A mistake she'd discovered when she'd shown up at the latter, only to be told they
had no record of her. A review of her furiously waved booking confirmation revealed her error.

Emelia stretched her arms above her head and lifted herself onto her toes. Her fingers scraped the ceiling, dust brushing against their tips.

Brilliant. No doubt in a few minutes she'd be sneezing like Earth's rotation depended on it.

“Do you need anything else?” The voice coming from behind her clearly said there was only one acceptable answer. Emelia turned around. She hadn't realized the dour manager had stayed in the doorway. Was watching her with gray, beady eyes.

“No.” Emelia couldn't bring herself to say thank you. She felt ill just thinking about how much she'd paid to stay in this hole. She had no job. Minimal savings. And when she'd come through the front door, its paint flaking, the greasy-haired woman who had opened it had taken one look at her and pointed at the
NO REFUNDS, NO EXCEPTIONS
sign that hung on the wall.

Emelia bit the inside of her cheek to stop the tears she could feel welling. It was a room. With a roof. There were worse things in life. That's why she was here. Squaring her shoulders, she moved to the door and put her hand on the handle, clearly signaling her desire for the woman to leave her alone.

“I finish serving breakfast at eight on the dot.” Even the woman's English accent was unappealing. Guttural and harsh.

If the room was any indication of the quality of the food, Emelia planned on never ever eating anything served under this roof for as long as she was stuck there. “Okay, thanks.”

The woman finally got the hint and shuffled off down the
dim corridor decorated with peeling wallpaper and brown shag carpet that had probably been passé in the seventies.

Emelia had to put her shoulder into getting the door to close properly. The wood finally smashed into the swollen frame.

She dropped her purse on the decrepit desk. The scarred top was graffitied with years' worth of contributions, most of which were R-rated. Emelia reached inside her bag for her gloves so she could strip the bed without risking contact with her skin. Tonight, she'd sleep in her clothes.

As she pulled out the leather set, a pale pink slip of paper fell out onto the desktop. Her stepmother's cursive handwriting swirled up at her. An envelope had arrived the day Emelia had left for Oxford. She'd been foolish enough to hope it contained something useful, like cash. But no, all it held was pages of Carolina's deluded social aspirations.

I really don't understand your reluctance about Harry. All the benefits of royalty without the responsibility of the crown. And Kate would be your sister-in-law. Just imagine!

Emelia suppressed a shudder as she crumpled the lavender-scented note and tossed it at the trash can in the corner of the room. The pink ball hit the rim and bounced to the floor, rolling across the worn carpet.

No offense to the duchess, who, from all appearances, seemed like a thoroughly decent human being. But given the events that had resulted in Emelia's transatlantic relocation, her stepmother's obsession with getting a foot in the door of the House of Windsor was about as appealing as the contents of Emelia's inherited minifridge. And she hadn't even opened it yet.

She took a swig from her water bottle as she assessed the disconcerting situation she'd found herself in.

This wasn't exactly the arrival at Oxford she'd imagined.

But then, her childhood dreams had also included visions of a full academic scholarship to study her literary idols. Living at one of the university colleges. Lectures and tutorials and being someplace where everyone spoke the same language as she did.

This. Was. Not. That.

Wiping her hands against her travel-worn jeans, she suddenly couldn't take the silence anymore.

She needed to get out of this grubby room.

She needed to find a wardrobe.

Two

P
ETER
C
ARLISLE HAD SPENT TEN
years hunting for the perfect birthday present for his mother. A saner man would have given up by now and settled for a sweater. But no. He had to go and develop an obsession with a teacup that was more elusive than the White Witch's sense of humor in
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
.

His feet slipped on the icy cobblestones of Oxford's Turl Street. He zipped his jacket up until it covered his chin and tugged his hat down to minimize exposure to the icy February sleet.

Dodging a slow taxi, he cut across the road, one of the few pedestrians crazy enough to be out on a night like this. He checked his watch. Quarter to six. He should make it just in time, even though it was a total long shot that Oxford Antiques would have the prized piece of bone china he was seeking. But he'd spent the last two hours scouring every antiques shop in town, hoping a miracle would happen at the last second. This was the final store.

It had seemed like a fun challenge ten years ago. He'd decided, at his mother's fiftieth birthday party, that by her sixtieth, he would have found the last four teacups for her vintage floral
Aynsley collection. He'd thought it would be easy. And he'd succeeded with the first three for her fifty-first, fifty-fourth, and fifty-seventh birthdays respectively. But the last one, a 1950s corset-shaped teacup with large pink roses, had proved determinedly elusive. Not even the disturbing development of an eBay obsession that saw him losing hours of his life on the site had come through.

So here he was. The day before his self-imposed deadline expired. About to fail. Which pretty much summed up the last twelve months of his life. At least this time only he would know about it. Wouldn't be subjected to the sympathetic inquiries of family and friends asking how he was doing.

Steeling himself against the inevitable disappointment he was about to be dealt, he turned the knob to the door of the antiques store, the bell above announcing his entrance.

The shop was almost the same temperature as the street. Reginald, the proprietor, didn't believe in heating. He proclaimed it better for his wares if customers shivered while they browsed. It certainly had the effect of weeding out anyone who wasn't a serious buyer.

Peter gave a nod to the elderly owner at his usual perch behind the cash register. And he meant
cash
register. The man must have been one of the only retailers still left who dealt in cash and only cash.

Peter ducked into the corner where Reginald stacked his mismatched assortment of vintage crockery. For the second before he saw what sat there, a hit of anticipation buzzed inside him. And left just as quickly. His gaze scanned the five teacups that sat arranged on a sideboard. All familiar. Only one Aynsley, already in his mother's collection.

His phone vibrated deep in his pocket. Probably one of the team wanting his take on how they'd done at training. The famous Oxford vs. Cambridge Boat Race was less than two months away and the provisional rowing crew for Oxford's Blue Boat had been selected. But the men who'd just missed out on the lineup and been consigned to a reserve boat were still putting up a fight. As the brutal sets of five-hundred-meter sprints earlier in the day on Dorney Lake had shown.

He pulled the phone out and glanced at the screen.
Victor
flashed up at him. He would've welcomed talking to anyone else. In the background, the bell rang above the door, signaling someone else doing some last-minute antiquing. He answered the call.

“Hi.” His tone was curt.

“Bunny.” His brother's voice held a familiar cadence. The one that indicated he was a few beers down but not yet obliterated. When Peter had left Victor a few hours before, he'd been drinking beer out of a fellow rower's shoe in the back of the team van. All class, his big brother. “So, whatcha doing?”

Peter almost didn't tell him. An uncharitable part of him hoped his brother had forgotten what the following day was. “Shopping for Mum's birthday present.”

A pause was followed by a muffled curse. “Was it today?”

“Tomorrow.” February 21. Same date every year, strangely enough.

BOOK: Can't Help Falling
13.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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