Authors: Nona Raines
Don’t Let Go
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Don’t Let Go
COPYRIGHT © 2014 by Nona Raines
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Champagne Rose Edition, 2014
Digital ISBN 978-1-62830-562-3
Published in the United States of America
Many thanks again to my awesome
critique partner, Denise, and also to Jo,
who read an early draft of the story and gave me much-needed encouragement. I’d also like to thank Maria, who generously gave her time to discuss stuttering with me, and my editor, Diana Carlile, who told me the story made her cry.
PRAISE FOR AUTHOR
AND HER BOOKS
“She has found a place on my auto-buy list and I look forward to reading all I can by her in the future.”
~Sarah L., Romancing the Book
HER PERFECT MAN
“Fabulous book! That is the best way to describe this read.”
~Molly, Coffee Beans and Love Scenes
TAKE THIS MAN
“The writing was smooth, the sex hot and the ending satisfying…This book does not disappoint.”
~Dianthus, Long and Short Reviews Erotic Romance
ONE GOOD MAN
“It’s sweet, hot, romantic, sexy, fun, and funny. Once I started I could not put it down.”
~Michelle, Romance in Review
The stupid squirrel was to blame.
Or maybe it was her own fault. She should have been paying attention while walking Bobo. Instead, Annalee was distracted, thinking about the evening ahead and how much she
looking forward to it.
She was totally unprepared when the squirrel skittered across Bobo’s path. The dog, who was half German Shepherd, half Tyrannosaurus Rex, tore after the bushy-tailed bandit and hauled her across the park.
“No, Bobo. Stop!” Her cross trainers slipped on the fallen October leaves as she tugged at the hound’s leash. But the big dog would not be reined in. The squirrel scrambled up a tree, and Bobo had every intention of following.
Only one thing to do. Sit down before she fell down. Annalee grabbed the leash with both hands, dropped to the ground on her butt, and dug in her heels to brake herself. Her shoes gouged up grass and dirt, leaving tracks. The seat of her jeans grew soggy as she skidded over the damp leaves. It didn’t slow Bobo down any, but at least she avoided a head-on collision with the huge maple.
Whining and barking, Bobo stood on hind legs at the tree’s base, his claws scrabbling at its trunk.
Annalee sighed. “No, goofus. Dogs don’t climb trees.”
Bobo whined again, then dropped to all fours. He glanced at her, and his befuddled expression asked,
How’d you get there?
Then he shook himself and ambled over to give her a lick.
She laughed and pushed him aside. “Nice try, but you’ll need more than that to get on my good side.” She’d just gotten to her knees when Bobo nudged her. Down she went again on her keister.
“Uff.” She groaned, grateful no one was around, especially no one from her fifth grade class. She could imagine one of her students seeing it all and hollering, “Hey, Ms. Mondello! That was cool!”
She groaned again when someone appeared at her side and spoke. “Are you all right?”
Terrific. The only saving grace to this catastrophe had been the hope there were no witnesses to her humiliation. Even that small mercy wasn’t granted her.
“Fine, thanks.” From her vantage point, she saw only jean-clad legs and a large pair of men’s athletic shoes. She struggled to her knees while wrestling with Bobo’s leash and avoided looking at the man, hoping he’d leave her to her embarrassment.
It was not to be. A strong hand gripped her under the arm and helped lift her to her feet. The Good Samaritan spoke. “Sure you’re okay, Annalee?”
Surprise smacked her. He knew her? She looked at him for the first time and blinked. “Eric?”
Eric Sanderson’s lips quirked into the smile she remembered so well, and Annalee swallowed hard to quell the fluttery sensation in her middle. Had the fall rattled her brains? Why was she finding it so hard to speak? “Uh…how are you?”
“Fine. The question is how are you, Anna Banana?”
The silly nickname caused the flutters to expand into her chest. “Pretty well. No broken bones.”
How long since she’d last seen him? Had he always been this handsome? A firm jaw, straight nose, and heavy brows the same color as his dark blond hair. He’d been a cute guy in high school, but now he was a stunner.
She was mooning like a schoolgirl.
Get a grip.
This was her best friend’s kid brother.
She tried to explain how she ended up on her backside. “It was a squirrel.” She nodded to the dog. “He went crazy.”
Eric patted Bobo’s head as the big dog sniffed him. “Is this guy yours?”
“No. He belongs to my neighbors, the Weissmans, but they’re on a cruise.”
“So you’re babysitting Sasquatch?”
“Something like that.” The glow of seeing Eric faded as she suddenly became aware of her muddy shoes, soggy rear end, and tangled mane. He plucked something from her hair and held it up to show her. A small
He tossed it aside. “The last time we were this close, I was pulling leaves out of my hair.” The low rumble of his voice sent a shiver through her.
She remembered. His senior prom. The kiss. The honeysuckle bush.
She broke the gaze and pushed the memories away. It was a long time ago. They’d been kids.
Bobo must have felt ignored. He whined and jumped up to get Eric’s attention.
“No,” he told the dog firmly. “Sit.”
Bobo obeyed, which was a marvel. Annalee shook her head in amazement. “He never does what I tell him.”
Eric grinned and took Bobo’s leash. “Let me walk you both home.”
As they walked, she couldn’t resist giving him covert glances. “Dee didn’t mention you were coming to town.” Delayna McIntyre was Eric’s older sister and Annalee’s best friend.
He gave her that grin she remembered so well—half cocky, half self-deprecating. “An unexpected visit. I wanted to stay in a hotel, but Dee raised a ruckus. Insisted I park at her house.”
“I’m sure. How long are you staying?”
“Oh, a few days, maybe more. It depends.” The smile he gave her made her want to ask
Depends on what?
But she chickened out and stuck to ordinary topics. “And they can spare you from the job that long?”
“Oh, sure. I’ve got days coming.”
“There are a lot more exciting places to spend a few days off.”
He shrugged. “It’s always good to be home. Some of my favorite people live here.” The glint in his eyes sent a quiver through her. Warmth rose in her cheeks.
She looked away to hide her flush. “Dee says you’re having all kinds of success at Stillwell-Hayes.” Eric was an engineer. He lived and worked in Albany, which was about an hour’s drive from their hometown of Tiptree, New York.
Eric shook his head with a rueful smile. “My sister really should stop boring people with my exploits.”
“She’s proud of you.” Though Annalee could take no credit for his success, she was proud of him, too.
He tilted his head. “Why are you smiling?”
She cleared the thickness from her throat. Heat crept into her cheeks. “Am I? Just glad to see you, I guess. You look good.”
As they strolled through the park, Annalee wished the walk home was a longer one.
Bobo continued to surprise by walking at Eric’s side, every once in a while looking up at him with a doggy grin, his tongue lolling.
“Good boy, Bobo.”
Catch them being good
. It worked for children, why not for dogs?
“Hey, we guys aren’t hard to figure,” Eric said. “Feed us, praise us, rub our bellies once in a while, and we’re yours for life.”
Annalee smirked. “I don’t think my ex ever got the message.” Crap. Why had she brought
The tone instantly turned from silly to serious. “Yeah. I heard about your divorce.”
Her chest tightened, but she kept her voice even. “Ah. It was a long time coming.”
Eric’s eyes narrowed, and his lips flattened to a thin line. “I should say I’m sorry, but the truth is, I’m not. I never liked the guy. Never thought he was good enough for you.”
His bluntness made her laugh but at the same time comforted her. The demise of her marriage began with Denny thinking
wasn’t good enough.
She’d married Denny Donovan right after graduating college. She became a teacher, and Denny worked with his father in automotive sales. He’d been successful—so successful, in fact, it went to his head. That’s when the lies started—the credit card statements he could never explain, the late nights “entertaining business associates,” the phone calls he always had to take in another room.
She tasted the bitterness that always filled her whenever her ex-husband intruded on her thoughts.
Don’t go there
Eric’s voice pulled her from thoughts of her past. Of her failed marriage. “Dee says you don’t go by Donovan anymore.”
She gave him a tight little smile. “That’s right. I’m Annalee Mondello again. Right back where I started.”
“No, you’re not. You’re light years away from the girl I took to my senior prom.”
“Oh.” She could hardly recall the girl who’d been so sure her life would unfold perfectly, complete with a romance novel ending. She’d have the right job, the right man, the ideal life. How silly and naïve she’d been.
“She was a pretty young girl,” he said. “Who’s become a beautiful woman.” His words were simple, matter of fact. He wasn’t trying to shine her on or butter her up.
She turned her head to hide her trembling lips. Of course he didn’t mean the compliment literally. But too few men understood what those words meant to a woman. What a balm they were to a bruised soul.
They’d reached the park’s playground area, which was deserted this morning. Seizing the chance to change the topic, she gestured to the swing set. “I used to love the swings.”
“When was the last time you were on one?”
She laughed. “Not since I was a kid.”
“Sit down,” he urged. “I’ll push you.”
It was ridiculous. “I’m too big.”
“No, you’re not. Those seats look plenty strong enough to hold an adult.”
Rolling her eyes, she plunked down on an empty swing. Eric tied Bobo’s leash to the slat of a nearby bench.
Eric stood behind her. “Ready?”
She stifled a giggle and gripped the chains. Was she really doing this? “Ready.”
He started out slow, with a solid push, but quickly built up steam. Soon, Annalee was flying, her toes pointed toward the clouds. Eric knew what he was doing, pushing the seat. Together they achieved a perfect rhythm that was almost hypnotizing. No matter how high she sailed, he was at her back. He’d never let her go too far.
But they fumbled when a child’s voice piped up. “Hey, mister, can you push me, too?”
Annalee dropped her feet, scuffing her shoes in the dirt to slow the swing. She joggled on the seat as Eric grasped the chains to bring her to a stop. A little girl about five or six stood off to the side, next to a woman with an infant in a stroller.
Annalee flushed and hopped off the seat, giving the mom an embarrassed little grin. She recognized the woman as Todd Luisi’s mother. Todd had been one of Annalee’s students last year. Mrs. Luisi looked a bit befuddled by the two adults who’d taken over the swing set.
Eric, on the other hand, smiled without a trace of embarrassment as he answered the child. “If it’s all right with your mom.”
The girl looked expectantly at her mother, who nodded permission. “All right, Marissa.” She hopped onto the swing vacated by Annalee.
“All set?” Eric stood behind her. “Hold on tight.”
“Okay.” She bit her lip in concentration and gripped the chains tightly. She was a blondie like Eric. For a moment, Annalee could imagine them as father and daughter.