Mary Ann Rivers kicks off a new contemporary romance series—sure to please readers of Ruthie Knox, Kristan Higgins, and Jill Shalvis—where love can be found unexpectedly.
If there’s an upside to unemployment, Destiny Burnside may have found it. Job searching at her local library in Lakefield, Ohio, gives her plenty of time to ogle the hottest man she has ever laid eyes on: the sexy wood-carver who’s restoring the building. But as the rejection letters pile up, Destiny finds an unexpected shoulder to cry on. With his rich Welsh accent, Hefin Thomas stirs Destiny so completely that, even though he’s leaving soon, she lets herself believe the memory of his scorching kisses will be enough.
Hefin can’t help but notice the slender, confident woman with ginger hair who returns each day, so hopeful and determined. So when the tears start to fall, his silence—penance for a failed marriage—finally cracks. Once he’s touched her, what Hefin wants is to take her back to Wales and hold her forever. But Destiny’s roots run too deep. What they both need is each other—to learn how to live and love again.
The first book in Mary Ann’s Burnside Family Series is on sale 1/21/14 – pre-order a copy here for just $2.99!
And now, the Snippet – enjoy!
Privately, she called him The Woodcarver.
Which, very strictly, he was. Or at least, she had actually seen him carving wood, and talking to other people about carved wood, specifically the carved-wood panels and decorations that were under restoration in the atrium of the library.
Even more painful—if pain was a sweet ache that felt good when you worried and pressed at it—she walked by his work site every single day.
As close as she dared without his noticing.
She loved beautiful men, had known this since high school when she started watching a certain lacrosse captain lope around campus, the sun glinting off his golden arm hair like he was, well, made of gold. Warm gold. Gold that got gold-er and more liquid the more she watched him move. She particularly remembered the way he shoved his shaggy bangs away from his eyes, impatient, with a little bend in his knuckles as he raked his fingers through the sun-streaky mess of it.
Des had spun many fantasies about that lacrosse captain. Some that surprised her with their new and delicious accuracy. She could never work out how to go to a game and explain to her sister and brothers a reason for her sudden interest in lacrosse, but her best friend, Lacey, would lean against the chain-link fence surrounding the practice field with her, after school, and help her break down his attributes in increasing detail. The trouble came when her history teacher, Mrs. Logan, paired her with him on a presentation project.
It started well, Des thought, though perhaps her rapid chattering about the executive branch of the government had been a little manic. But who knew that this close up he would smell so good?
“So, are you like a genius or something?” he had said, propping his beautiful head on his hand.
Des was flattered, overjoyed that her extemporaneous political speech had so impressed him. “No, not a genius.” She laughed.
“But you’re, like, twelve? Right?”
“Why did you think I was twelve?”
And then his eyes had drifted down, to where Des had her arms crossed over her, well, chest, while he answered, “No reason.”
Des crossed her arms over her chest, reflexively, just remembering the gut-sink of it.
The Woodcarver was a very, very good-looking man, and had the additional kryptonite of having some kind of accent that curled all up in her ears, which always seemed busy trying to overhear him. Des didn’t know what kind of accent, it sounded sort of British, but there was a long and muffled drawl in his vowels and a short burr to all of his r’s.
Not that he had ever said anything to her, specifically, but the printing carrel where she had to work was adjacent to the circulation desk, which was across from the big marble-and-oak atrium where he’d worked for the last two months with a small crew. At first, she didn’t notice him at all because the whole crew wore coveralls and face masks as they disassembled the panels from the walls. And there were often tarps and plastic sheeting protecting the area.
Once all the panels were down, though, tables were set up, and The Woodcarver and his crew worked almost silently, with hand tools. She remembered the morning she had walked past the crew when the tarps and plastic had been taken down and they were in their street clothes, and she saw him, for the first time.
He had been in profile, marking a piece of bright, new wood with a pencil.
He didn’t even look over when one of his crew had to come help her pick up everything that had fallen out of her bag when she tripped on the trailing ends of her sudden lust.
Every day, he wore jeans and heavy shoes, and sometimes a dirty canvas apron over his long-sleeved T-shirts. Des had heard him talk to other patrons and his coworkers and the restoration tour groups. She’s heard him talk enough that she had imagined his lips moving over those long vowels and gruff r’s as he impatiently pushed his shirtsleeves back up over his black-haired forearms.
The printing carrel was situated so that her back was to the atrium, which was why Des could stand it at all. Watching him while he talked would be too much, she was certain.
But listening to him, imagining him, his dark eyebrows pulled into a V over his Roman nose, his teeth sunk into his bottom lip, his corded arm bracing his project over his little bench while he worked his chisel—that was just a way to get through her morning.
Her fantasies, she figured, were not unlike a worry stone in her pocket, something used to soothe her lower brain with repetitive pleasure while her higher brain did its necessary dirty work.
Des typically worked until noon answering emails, searching the city’s various job-list sites, emailing her résumé, and printing any paperwork she needed for her employment search or general household accounting.
She had been forced to sell her laptop and fancy laser printer about six months ago during the Great Rent Lapse, before she got her first unemployment check. The library wasn’t ideal, but it worked, even if she constantly had to steady her physiological response to the man just behind her.
Today, she had dared to skirt a little closer to the work site than usual, feigning interest in the new panels that had gone up, carved over heavily with what looked like flowers and vines and birds in a looping pattern.
He was at the worktable, writing or drawing on a huge sheet of paper, so she let herself take him in, how his shoulder worked below his T-shirt as he drew. Like always, in the mornings, he had a mug of tea at the corner of the table, and a shaft of light caught the scrolls of steam and the tight curls and twists of dark hair at his nape as if the sunbeam were lovingly comparing the prettiness of each to the other.
Walking slowly, she watched how whatever he was doing on the paper made his brow furrow into a line that stopped just above that strong nose. How his wrist looked, working the pencil, banking it.
He was left-handed, and she loved how it made even the surety of his strokes on the paper seem a little awkward.
He set the pencil down, still looking at what he had drawn, and grabbed his mug for a long sip, tugging at the tea tag sort of absently. And why was that sexy, exactly?
She made herself look away and scurried to her station.
She started with her email, her stomach tight since she had just interviewed yesterday. There had been a lot of interviews in the last six months. A lot of postinterview emails that made her stomach hurt, made her wonder if the last person on earth to believe she had something to contribute to society was her former boss, who had hired her right after college graduation. And even he had laid her off before the ink had dried on her fifth perfect annual review.
Oh. She squeezed her eyes shut. It was there. And now she knew, after all the job searches and failed interviews, that an email was never good news. Like her former childhood babysitter and current landlady, Betty, said, They want you, they tell you, right off.
Because Des was to that point where nearly everyone in her neighborhood had offered an opinion on her unemployment and job search. Trading war stories on front porches with the other economy veterans wasn’t so bad, but when Rennie, the kid she used to babysit and now drove to high school every morning, had started awkwardly offering her gas money, it was Too. Much.
At first, in those early days of sudden unemployment, she had secretly enjoyed herself. She’d had no reason to think finding a new job would be any different than the three or so times before she had done so. If it wasn’t a vacation, it was at least time to reassess what it was she really wanted.
Her brothers and sister had always known what they wanted.
How to really live, it seemed to Des.
Her older brother, Sam, was a doctor, the oldest of all four of them, and if he had been serious and overly anxious every single day of his entire life and seemed to actually believe he knew how better, it had worked for him for thirty-seven years and he made it clear he was never changing.
Sarah was Sarah and defied definition, was shameless and anything but a mild, wise, older sister, and whether it was roller derbies or vegan catering or guide-dog training or band-poster design, she was always doing what she wanted. Exactly. With so much passion it always seemed that whatever she was doing, it was her calling.
And PJ—or really, Paul, as he wanted to be called now that he didn’t wear light-up shoes and smell like Cheerios or get called “the baby”—played the cello in the Lakefield Symphony, and at twenty-one was the youngest musician they had ever hired. His talent was sort of baffling to all of them; not one of them could even sing. But he somehow knew. He saw inside himself clearly enough when he was seven years old to ask for cello lessons, when none of them had even been offered a piano lesson from Mrs. Delaney down the street.
After she got laid off six months ago, when Des looked down inside herself, she mostly saw time. Empty time.
But not how to live.
Not a life.
The people most closely related to her saw their entire lives inside themselves.
Right before she lost her job, she had also lost her father to his long battle with lung cancer. She had balanced fifty-hour weeks at work with caring for him, sitting with him in the hospital, then in hospice.
Her brothers and sister lived in the same working-class neighborhood they’d all been born in, and they were there too, with their dad, but the only way Des knew how to help, was to, well, help.
Help everyone more.
After five years of one priority project after another, a last year with her dad at his bedside, losing her job made the time seem endless. How could she possibly know how to fill it?
Six weeks into her unemployment, she started rewriting her personal budget over and over. Like playing a solitaire game, she was always one card away from winning.
Two months in, she finally abandoned the idea she could find something better and started looking for anything that might work. When she paid the last rent check she could afford out of her savings, she waited another two weeks before she sold her car.
Then, she asked her best friend, Lacey, to drive her to the storage unit she hadn’t visited since the week after her dad’s funeral. She hauled opened the doors and rescued his orphaned limousine, which had grieved by taking on rust.
After Des peeled the BURNSIDE’S FINE LIMOUSINE SERVICE decal off its side right there in the storage center’s parking lot, Lacey held her while she wept.
Sam had to sell the house they had all grown up in, and her brothers and sister had long ago found places of their own in the neighborhood. She’d still roomed with her dad, to help dad keep the house, but after his death and the sale she’d had to move and could only afford to rent a tiny house from a family friend.
Her former childhood babysitter was her landlady, she drove a POS limousine, she understood her siblings’ life goals better than her own, and she was starting to think that boxed macaroni and cheese was kind of expensive.
So, she decided, if she couldn’t get a job following every rule written about how to get a job, then she would commit to unemployment-benefit regulations like no one ever had before. She sat through their “suggested job-seeker webinars,” downloaded their worksheets, signed up for their newsletters, and dutifully job searched the requisite number of hours every week. She took her yellow search confirmation form to the librarian at the circulation desk to get signed, every day, without fail.
But she didn’t want to open this email. Not today.
She didn’t want to look at one more job ad on MetroLink or GovJobs or WorkSeeker.
She didn’t want to tweak her résumé, edit her cover letter, or reorder her references list.
She didn’t want to spend all of her time looking for a job she didn’t even know if she wanted, then spend all of the rest of her time devastated when she didn’t get it.
She didn’t want to put on a brave face for her sister and brothers; they believed her act less than she did.
She didn’t want to hold her life together with empty routines and fantasies.
She wanted to look down inside herself and know something, see something. Something that belonged just to her, Destiny Burnside.
She opened the email.
Des kept toggling the view button to zoom in, because the screen seemed too blurry. She reached up to pinch her nose in frustration, and of course, the screen wasn’t blurry—the tears were coming.
She especially and absolutely didn’t want to cry. Because even though she had lost her job and run through her savings and sold her valuables and drove a POS limo and had received about three dozen rejections for as many jobs and missed her dad so much she’d started moving his things from the storage unit into her house, what she had not done was cry. She had not. Not since that last time in the parking lot of the storage-unit place.
Des was crying.
The horror of crying in public was that if it couldn’t be shut down right away, it got worse by a factor of ten in increasingly smaller increments of time.
She stared straight ahead and used the palms of her hands to move the tears away, trying to take long inhalations through her nose without sniffing or hitching or sobbing. The tears dripped over her fingers as fast as she could swipe them away; her face was getting slick and burning. She tried a breath through her mouth, and fuck, the gasping sob that escaped was so fucking loud.
She tried holding her breath against the next one heaving up after the first, and the noise she made sounded strangled. Des gave up and bent over to blindly shove her things into her bag and make a dash for the ladies’, but then a shadow dropped over the keyboard just as a throat cleared somewhere behind her. Big shadow. Manly throat-clearing.
Des didn’t turn around. “Yeah?” Her voice was whispery. God.
“You need help, then?” His voice was just over a whisper, but that rolling accent made it seem louder.
“No.” She attempted to take a deep breath, but to her horror, it shuddered its way down her lungs. “I’m good.” The shadow didn’t move. “Fine. Thanks.” Go away.
“Miss—” She closed her eyes against embarrassment, against the impossibility of this man, who should be safely ensconced in her most private fantasies, bearing witness to her small breakdown. “It’s just”—his voice dipped to a true whisper—“you seem upset.”
“Nope.” She watched her tears darken twin patches on the thighs of her jeans. Drip. Drip. She couldn’t reach up and wipe her eyes without admitting she was weeping in the public library. She would just have to lean over her own knees and drip.
“You aren’t crying?” He might have moved in closer, but she refused to turn around or look. She refused to acknowledge this was happening. The sheer force of her denial would dry her tears and she would be good goddamned if she would turn around and find The Woodcarver looking at her with pity.
He was quiet. Des held her breath and to her relief, the idea that he was backing off combined with oxygen deprivation seemed to slow the tears. Before she could let the relief take over and slink out of the library, he was suddenly right in front of her, eye to eye, crouching right at her knees, his elbow resting on the bag she had yanked to the desk.
She swallowed. It hurt. Then, horror, staring into his dark, dark, dark eyes furrowed with concern, the tears opened up again, almost cool against her flaming cheeks.
He let out a long sigh that almost sounded—annoyed?
“You said you weren’t cryin’.” His eyes were impossible to ignore, they were very dark and long-lashed under brooding eyebrows, and he was squinting at her, like she was painful to look at so close up.
“I’m not. I never cry.”
He squinted at her again. Then reached up to the little shelf running along the top of the printing carrel and grabbed a box of tissues. Des watched as his big hand, with its square angles and long tendons and rough calluses, carefully balanced the box on her knees.
She slowly pulled a tissue out.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” he answered.
“It’s been a long—year.”
“I’m actually a very stable person.”
“I believe you.”
“I’m unemployed. Like, really unemployed. And I just got rejected from about the three millionth job I’ve applied for.” Des yanked out another tissue to mop the tears that had collected under her chin.
“That many?” His squint turned into small crinkles that might be some kind of protosmile. Des let herself study him for a moment to wonder what would happen to his face if he did smile. She could guess what would happen to her underpants.
“Feels like. At least.” It was his eyes, she decided. They were like a priest’s or something. Well, not exactly. No priest of her childhood had made her feel like this, even the kind-eyed ones. The Woodcarver’s eyes definitely compelled her to confess, but it was more that when he looked at her, crinkled at her so that the corners of his upper and lower lashes tangled together, she felt right. Not wrong.
It was novel. It made her want to test it, just a little bit. And she was a good girl who never tested anything.
“You’re doin’ this all wrong, you know.”
But his eyes still didn’t look at her like she was doing anything wrong.
Not at all.
Chapter Two . . . visit us tomorrow for more! I hope you’ve enjoyed Des and Hefin’s story – Happy Romance!