“Hunter is a master romance storyteller. Falling Like Snowflakes is charming and fun with a twist of mystery and intrigue. A story that’s sure to endure as a classic reader favorite.” —Rachel Hauck, New York Times bestselling author
The first book in the Summer Harbor series from bestselling author Denise Hunter!
Speeding north through rural Maine, Eden Martelli wonders how her life came to this—on the run with her mute five-year-old son dozing fitfully in the passenger seat. When a breakdown leaves them stranded in Summer Harbor, Eden has no choice but to stay put through Christmas . . . even though they have no place to lay their heads.
Beau Callahan is a habitual problem solver—for other people anyway. He left the sheriff’s department to take over his family’s Christmas tree farm, but he’s still haunted by the loss of his parents and struggling to handle his first Christmas alone.
When Eden shows up looking for work just as Beau’s feisty aunt gets out of the hospital, Beau thinks he’s finally caught a break. Eden is competent and dedicated—if a little guarded—and a knockout to boot. But, as he soon finds out, she also comes with a boatload of secrets.
Eden has been through too much to trust her heart to another man, but Beau is impossible to resist, and the feeling seems to be mutual. As Christmas Eve approaches, Eden’s past catches up to her.
Beau will go to the ends of the earth to keep her safe. But who’s going to protect his heart from a woman who can’t seem to trust again?
“Hunter’s fans will want this one.” —Library Journal
“With her usual deft touch, snappy dialogue, and knack for romantic tension, inspirational romance veteran Hunter will continue to delight romance fans with this first Summer Harbor release.” —Publishers Weekly
"Hunter blends a fearful tale of fleeing danger and a heartwarming story of trust and second chances. Readers will thrill with a tingle down the spine when they realize what Eden is facing, and they will cheer as Beau fights to prove he’s the man Eden deserves . . . The will-they-won’t-they pull will keep readers in suspense to the very end." —Booklist
“If you enjoy romance blended with suspense, you’re going to love Denise Hunter’s latest novel. Falling Like Snowflakes will make your heart race twice over—from dread of the bad guys and from the joy of watching Beau and Eden fall in love.” —Robin Lee Hatcher, bestselling author
“Denise Hunter writes the most complex, fascinating, and yummy romances out there! Falling Like Snowflakes has it all: a vulnerable young woman on the run with her child, a hunky hero with the guts and determination to help her, and a rugged setting along the coast of Maine. This is a novel you’ll reread again and again.” —Colleen Coble, USA Today bestselling author
“A handful of authors dominate my must-read list, and Denise Hunter is right at the top. Falling Like Snowflakes is a taut romantic thriller that will warm you to the core.” —Julie Lessman, award-winning author
“Falling Like Snowflakes is a story of letting go, finding home, and discovering who you really are. It’s a story that highlights the importance of community and faith within a romance that will warm your heart. You’ll discover winter in Maine—and find yourself ready to vacation there when the snowflakes fall. And maybe along the journey, you’ll discover the freedom of letting go and trusting God.” —Cara Putman, award-winning author
About the Author
Denise Hunter is the internationally published bestselling author of more than 25 books, including A December Bride and The Convenient Groom, which have been adapted into original Hallmark Channel movies. She has won The Holt Medallion Award, The Reader's Choice Award, The Carol Award, The Foreword Book of the Year Award, and is a RITA finalist. When Denise isn't orchestrating love lives on the written page, she enjoys traveling with her family, drinking green tea, and playing drums. Denise makes her home in Indiana where she and her husband are rapidly approaching an empty nest. To learn more about Denise, visit her website DeniseHunterBooks.com; Facebook: AuthorDeniseHunter; Twitter: @DeniseAHunter; Instagram: deniseahunter.
Read an Excerpt
Falling Like Snowflakes
A Summer Harbor Novel
By Denise Hunter
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Denise Hunter
All rights reserved.
It was amazing, the depth of courage a mother could find when the life of her child was on the line. Eden Martelli frowned at the map on the console beside her. She was somewhere northeast of Bar Harbor, following the coastline on Route 1. She'd made a wrong turn somewhere — it was starting to become a way of life.
She focused on the highway that stretched ahead, the weight of fatigue pushing on her shoulders. How many hours since her last catnap? It would be heaven to stretch out on a hotel bed for a few hours.
Micah slept against the passenger door, his lovey, Boo Bear, clutched in his arms. He had his days and nights mixed up. She wished he could see the pretty harbors and the colorful lobster buoys that dotted the water.
She checked her rearview mirror. The green minivan had been behind them since Ellsworth, a young woman driver with two kids in the back.
The engine made a loud clunking sound, and Eden frowned at the gauges. She had half a tank of gas, and the motor wasn't running hot. The Buick was twenty-three years old, just two years younger than she was. She'd picked it up for a grand in Jacksonville, Florida. It wasn't much, but then, it only had to get them to Loon Lake, Maine.
She'd risked a phone call to Karen on a burner phone that she'd since trashed. The woman had been surprised to hear from her. They hadn't spoken since Karen and her daughter had moved to Sacramento during Eden's senior year. Karen had been like a mother to her. Her property up in Loon Lake was sitting empty, she'd said. She was thinking of selling it. "Of course you can stay there awhile. No, I won't mention it to anyone."
So they had someplace to go. A place no one knew about. And they were almost there. She'd get them new identities, new lives.
She'd pawned her wedding set when they passed through Atlanta. God knew, they hadn't given her what it was worth, but it was enough to buy them time while she got WhiteBox Designs back up and running. She'd had to abandon her clients, but she'd do whatever was necessary to win them back.
A loud clattering sounded, making Eden's heart seize. The noise continued for several moments before blue smoke began billowing from beneath the hood.
No. No, no, no! Leave it to you to buy a lemon, Eden. You're hopeless.
She eased off the accelerator but the clattering continued, and the smell of burning oil reached her nose. She put on her flashers, and a moment later the minivan passed.
There was nothing around but hills and trees. She'd gone through a town awhile back, but if she'd passed a service station, she hadn't noticed. Her mind had been elsewhere for miles, making plans.
So much for that, she thought, watching blue smoke drift past. She spotted a green sign ahead and squinted through the smoke.
Summer Harbor 5 miles, it read.
The sign pointed right, and seeing little choice, Eden took the turn. She hoped the town was big enough to have a garage. She only had fifteen hundred dollars after the purchase of the car, and she was counting on that for her new start.
Her heart clamored inside her chest. This can't be happening. They were so close. The clattering continued, so she kept a slow pace, hoping she wasn't ruining the engine. It began to snow, big, wet flakes splashing onto her windshield, further hampering her vision.
What was she going to do?
First things first, Eden. Find a garage. Get an estimate.
Maybe it was something simple like a loose hose or wire. or something cheap. Maybe a friendly mechanic would take one look at her hollow eyes and her quiet son and have mercy on them.
The two-lane road was hilly and curvy, and the five miles seemed to take forever. Finally, she passed a sign. Welcome to Summer Harbor, Inc. 1895. Houses popped up on the left and right as the road wound along the coast.
The road dipped and leveled as they entered the town proper. Summer Harbor looked like a Christmas postcard with quaint little shops and old-fashioned lamps, all of it glimmering under a fresh layer of snow. She caught a glimpse of the rocky coastline as she rounded a curve, keeping her eyes peeled for a service station.
on a different day, a different time, she might enjoy a visit here. Preferably during the summer when she imagined the wharf bustled with lobster boats and tourists. Though the town had a certain charm even now, primed for a festive Christmas season.
There! She spied a gas station with a tiny garage, tucked down a lane. She turned into the parking lot and shut off the engine. The sudden silence was profound.
She hated to awaken Micah. He hadn't slept soundly since they'd fled. She touched his shoulder, and he startled awake. His body stiffened as reality settled once again on his little shoulders, and his eyes widened in that frightened-doe look she was starting to hate. No child of five should have to endure the things he had.
"Hey, kiddo. We're having a little car trouble. Let's get out and stretch our legs, okay?" She pulled their jackets from her book bag and helped Micah slip into his.
As she headed toward the garage, she pulled her cap low over her newly cut hair, checking over her shoulder as they hustled toward the door. She pulled up Micah's hood and gathered him close.
There was only one guy in the building. He was sitting behind the register with his feet propped on the counter, working his iPhone with practiced fingers. He looked no older than a teenager with his boyish face, though he was making a valiant attempt at a beard.
He looked up, his pale cheeks flushing as his eyes cut to hers. He lowered his feet and sat up straight. "Hi there. How can I help you?"
She gave her best friendly smile. "I'm having some car trouble, and I'm in a bit of a hurry. Any chance someone could check it out?"
"Sorry. our mechanic's off today. He'll be in Monday, though."
Her heart thumped to the floor of her chest cavity. "Is there another garage I can try? I'm really hoping to get back on the road."
He shrugged. "I'm afraid we're it."
She bit her lip. She should've stayed on the main road. Way to go, Eden. Another one of your stupid decisions.
"Well, hey, I can't fix your car or nothing, but I know a little about engines. I could take a peek."
She gave him a grateful look. "Really? Would you? I'd appreciate that so much. Maybe it's just a loose hose or something, and I can be on my way."
He followed her out to the car, Micah hugging close to her side. She explained the thunk and the clattering sound. The smell of burned oil still hung in the air, and a bit of smoke escaped as he lifted the hood.
She bit her lip as she watched him look around. After a few minutes he started the car, listening for a moment before shutting it off and getting back out. "I think you've thrown a rod."
"What does that mean?"
He gave her a regretful look. "It's not good. You'll need to have the engine rebuilt."
"Rebuilt! How much does that run?"
"I'm not really authorized to —"
"Just a best guess. Please. I won't hold you to it."
He sighed, his cheeks flushing. "Normally somewhere between a grand and fifteen hundred."
All the air left her lungs.
"It really depends on the engine, and I'm not qualified to give an estimate. Sorry it's not better news. Wish I could help you."
"Can I drive it like this? If I take it slow?"
"Four, maybe five hours?"
He shook his head. "Driving it'll only cause more damage. And if the rod tears through the side of the engine block, you could have a serious fire on your hands."
Eden sighed. She couldn't risk that. She'd have to wait till Monday for an official estimate, which meant spending two nights here.
"Looks like you'll be stuck here through the storm."
"Six to eight inches, they're saying. First of the season." Fuhst. His Mainer accent peeking through. "Snow's supposed to go all night and all day tomorrow. There's a hotel just down the street, left on Main. Good café close by, too, Frumpy Joe's, if you're hungry. The Roadhouse is a bit of a walk, but it has great chowder." He smiled at Micah. "You like snow? We got some nice hills around here for sledding. The inn might have a sled you can borrow."
Micah buried his face into Eden's side.
"Can I leave the car here? And I can get an estimate Monday?"
"Sure, no problem. Let me get your name and number."
"oh ... I'll just stop back by. Thanks again for your help."CHAPTER 2
Beau Callahan grabbed the stack of mail off the sofa and dumped it on the kitchen table. Newspapers to the trash. He grabbed Riley's Red Sox sweatshirt and tossed it over the recliner. Five minutes later, he'd barely made a dent in the mess. How'd the place get to be such a dump?
The door opened and Zac entered, bringing a gust of cold wind and the tangy smell of buffalo wings. Snowflakes dusted his brother's dark, longish hair. Zac was the middle son, a year younger than Beau, but he towered over Beau's six-foot height. He could grow a beard quicker than anyone Beau knew, and he was sporting one now.
"Sorry I'm late." Zac set down the bag and shed his coat.
"Thanks for bringing the food," Beau said.
"Paige had a work crisis. He took her back into town for me."
He'd hoped Paige could make their family meeting. Maybe she wasn't family, but she was close. She'd been Riley's best friend for years, and now she and Beau were an item. It had been awkward at first, dating his brother's best friend, but things seemed to have settled to a new normal.
He grabbed a few cans of Coke from the fridge and carried them into the living room, where he set them on the bare coffee table. What Aunt Trudy didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
Zac scanned the room. "Dude. What happened in here?"
"You do know Aunt Trudy's in the hospital, right? And that Riley and I are getting ready to open the Christmas tree farm?"
"I know, I know. We'll get it figured out. That's why I called the meeting. You need help."
"I can handle it just fine."
"You're always taking care of us. Moving back home when Dad died, quitting your job for the farm. Let us help you for a change."
"I don't mind." The acres of evergreens had been in the family since his great-grandparents had bought the tree farm years ago.
Beau returned to the kitchen for a stack of paper plates and a roll of paper towels. In truth all the worries of the farm sometimes made him long for his days as deputy sheriff. There was something to be said for steady, interesting work. Not that he didn't enjoy running the farm. There were just a lot of pressures that went along with it.
In the living room he settled on the couch and turned on the TV to ESPN where they were previewing tomorrow's Patriots game.
Zac was unpacking the Styrofoam boxes. His face was a blank slate, but that didn't fool Beau. A month ago, a week before their wedding, Zac's fiancée had left town, without so much as a note. Zac hadn't heard from her since and he was completely wrecked. Aunt Trudy always said the Callahan men loved once and loved deeply. For Zac's sake he hoped that wasn't true.
"How you doing?" Beau asked. "I haven't seen much of you lately."
He scowled. "I'm fine. Wish people would stop asking me that."
Zac had thrown himself into his restaurant since Lucy's departure. Beau had gone days without seeing him. They were all busy. He wasn't sure any of them had time for the crisis at hand.
The front door opened, and Riley strode in. He was the shortest of the three brothers, not quite six foot, but he'd gotten their dad's broad shoulders and beefy arms. He shared the house with Beau and Aunt Trudy and helped on the farm during the winter. During the warm months he worked as a lobsterman.
"Hey, guys." Riley turned his nose up in the air. "That smells like heaven." He set his hand on Zac's shoulder, squinting in pity. "How you doing, man? Holding up okay?"
Zac gave Beau a See what I mean? look.
Beau tossed the roll of paper towels to Riley. "He's getting tired of that question."
"Well, it's not every day your fiancée —"
He cut off at Zac's glare. "okay, okay ...," Riley said. "How 'bout those Patriots?"
They dug into the wings, watching the preview of Sunday's game. outside the picture window, sheets of snow obscured the view of the acres of trees. A fine white powder was beginning to stick to the ground.
"Roads getting slick yet?" Beau asked.
Riley nodded as he chewed.
"I hope Paige doesn't stay too late." Paige ran Perfect Paws Pet Shelter. She dropped everything when an animal was in need.
"How's Aunt Trudy today?" Riley asked.
Beau wiped his hands and muted the Tv as a commercial came on. "Looks like she's going to be laid up awhile."
Aunt Trudy was the Callahan brothers' surrogate mom. She'd fallen on the ice yesterday in the Knitting Nook parking lot and fractured her leg. Now she sported a cast and an ugly outlook on life.
"That's why I called a meeting," Zac said. "You're going to need to put in a lot of hours. I know we're all busy, but we need to figure out something."
"I hired a few teenagers," Beau said.
"But you'll still need people who can manage things when you're not there."
"When's Aunt Trudy coming home?" Riley asked.
Their aunt worked part-time at the visitor center, but they depended on her to keep the house running, and on her spunkiness to keep things interesting. She hadn't let them down yet.
Beau shifted. "The doctor's hoping she'll be able to recover in a rehab center."
Riley gave a puff of laughter. "Bet she loved that idea."
"Yeah, it didn't go so well. But she'll need twenty-four-hour care, and we sure can't do it with the season almost here."
"How long will she be in the rehab center?" Zac asked.
"If insurance approves it, several weeks. Her leg needs a lot of therapy."
"There goes Thanksgiving," Riley said.
Beau shot him a look. "Did you really just say that?"
"What about the visitor center?" Zac asked.
Beau shrugged. "They'll probably just shut it down till she's back on her feet. It's the slow season anyway."
"I can put in some hours early in the day and on Mondays," Zac said. "I know evenings and weekends are busiest, but that's peak hours for the restaurant too."
Beau had a feeling staying busy was a priority for Zac right now.
"That's all right. That'll give me time to keep up with the business end and visit Aunt Trudy."
"I'll work as much as you need me," Riley said.
"You're still going to need more help."
Zac was right. Beau needed to staff the gift shop, needed people to handle the tree shaker and assist customers with loading. And he needed enough employees to work shifts.
"I have a couple interviews this afternoon. And I was hoping Paige could help out," Beau said. "Might be good for her to be on the farm, get a feel for the business."
"Paige has her own business to worry about," Riley said, his voice gruff.
Zac gave Riley a strange look, then popped open his Coke and addressed Beau. "You two getting serious?"
"Heading that way. Heck, she's practically part of the family anyway." Beau had an instant gut check. They'd gotten off to a pretty good start, but things had been kind of ... off between them lately. They were just busy, that was all.
Riley stood, wiping his hands. "I have to go."
"What?" Beau said. "You just got here. We're having a meeting."
Riley shrugged into his coat. "Forgot I promised old Mrs. Grady I'd look at her hot water heater. Sounds like you got it all figured out anyway."
Wind tunneled through the room on Riley's exit. The door clicked shut behind him, and a moment later his truck started, the engine revving low.
"What's his problem?" Beau asked, frowning as his truck receded down the drive.
"Probably just tired." Zac reached for another wing. "Don't worry, he'll be fine."CHAPTER 3
Eden hoisted the book bag higher on her shoulder. The wind picked up, blasting her with frigid air. Cold seeped through her thin jacket, chilling her to the bone. She knew Micah was no better off. They weren't prepared for Maine's brutal winter. Weren't prepared for any of this.
Her empty stomach twisted hard. There was nothing she could do about her car for the moment, but she could do something about their hungry stomachs. Spying a diner up the sidewalk, Eden headed toward it.
The sign on the glass window read Frumpy Joe'S CaFé.
"Brrr! It's cold out there," she said to Micah as they entered the restaurant. The smell of grilled burgers wafted over, and she inhaled deeply. "Doesn't that smell good?"
The restaurant bustled with the lunch crowd. Servers ran about in green aprons, filling coffee mugs and balancing trays. All the booths were full, but there were a few open seats at the counter.
Through the kitchen pass-through, a man in his fifties called out orders as he flipped burgers and dropped fries. A gray ponytail hung from his white paper hat, and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses perched crookedly on his nose. Eden wondered if he was Frumpy Joe.
Micah's eyes darted around as he clung to her leg and to Boo Bear with equal fervor. At a server's nod, Eden pulled Micah to the empty stools closest to the door, casting another look around the place.
A young family of three, a gray-haired businessman squint- ing at the Harbor Tides, two middle-aged women laughing loudly. A scruffy-looking man stared back from a couple stools down. He leaned forward, his beady eyes sweeping over her.
She looked away as a shiver passed through her. He's nobody, Eden. Just a random creepy guy. Her grip tightened on the menu.
They ordered, then used the restroom while they waited for their food to arrive. Eden's mind was awhirl with plans. She'd check them in to the cheapest motel Summer Harbor offered, and over the next two days they'd both catch up on their sleep. It wasn't ideal, but she'd been so careful. Surely it was safe to lie low a couple days in this off-the-beaten-path town.
Excerpted from Falling Like Snowflakes by Denise Hunter. Copyright © 2015 Denise Hunter. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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