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Tempting Tessa: His Girl Next Door, #3

Tempting Tessa: His Girl Next Door, #3

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Tempting Tessa: His Girl Next Door, #3

Length:
214 pages
3 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Dec 30, 2016
ISBN:
9780986251351
Format:
Book

Description

Ever since Tessa Wainwright moved into the rundown bungalow next door, Hale Lindstrom has been captivated by the smart and lovely college student. His busy plumbing business helps him keep a responsible distance, but she seems alone in the world, so he lends a hand when he can. His plan works fine, until he accidentally hits her with a snowball and learns she isn’t the kid he assumed. Their tumble into love brings happiness, but he’s got a secret he’s determined to conceal from Tessa at all costs.

After frustrating years of planning and saving, Tessa is pursuing her dream of a literature degree. Shy, sexy Hale is a serious temptation, but her goals leave no room for romance, and she’s done with men trying to fix her life. Despite her resolve, a polar vortex, a goofy dog, and an irresistible guy are rewriting her carefully outlined future. Maybe falling in love is an unavoidable plot twist, but can she risk her hard-won independence, heart, and dreams of a happy ending on a man who’s keeping secrets?

Publisher:
Released:
Dec 30, 2016
ISBN:
9780986251351
Format:
Book

About the author

Babette James lives in New Jersey with her wonderfully patient husband and extremely spoiled cats. A teacher, she loves encouraging new readers and writers as they discover their growing abilities. Her class cheers when it’s time for their spelling test! When not dreaming up stories, she enjoys playing with new bread recipes and dabbling with paints.


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Tempting Tessa - Babette James

Copyright © 2016

Ever since Tessa Wainwright moved into the rundown bungalow next door, Hale Lindstrom has been captivated by the smart and lovely college student. His busy plumbing business helps him keep a responsible distance, but she seems alone in the world, so he lends a hand when he can. His plan works fine, until he accidentally hits her with a snowball and learns she isn’t the kid he assumed. Their tumble into love brings happiness, but he’s got a secret he’s determined to conceal from Tessa at all costs.

After frustrating years of planning and saving, Tessa is pursuing her dream of a literature degree. Shy, sexy Hale is a serious temptation, but her goals leave no room for romance, and she’s done with men trying to fix her life. Despite her resolve, a polar vortex, a goofy dog, and an irresistible guy are rewriting her carefully outlined future. Maybe falling in love is an unavoidable plot twist, but can she risk her hard-won independence, heart, and dreams of a happy ending on a man who’s keeping secrets?

~*~

Chara Press

Table of Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Epigraph

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Thank You

Other Books by Babette James

Kissing Katie: Excerpt

Convincing Cami: Excerpt

Loving Lexi: Excerpt

Copyright

Dedicated To

Mikayla Elizabeth

~*~

O Heart, when Love’s sun goes

To northward, and the sounds of singing cease,

Keep warm by inner fires, and rest in peace.

Sleep on content, as sleeps the patient rose.

Walk boldly on the white untrodden snows,

The winter is the winter’s own release.

Helen Hunt Jackson, A Calendar Of Sonnets: January

~*~

Chapter One

Happy couples everywhere and not even the excuse of an emergency plumbing call to aid an early escape. Hale Lindstrom groaned as he snuck a second wishful glance at his phone.

Hale! Just the guy I wanted to talk to. His friend Stosh Sarnecki raised one of the two girly martinis gripped in his large, work-worn hands. Great party, huh?

Yeah, real nice. What’s up? Resisting the urge to rip off his strangling tie and suit jacket, he downed the last mouthful of wine.

After all, who could complain about a classy wedding reception, a perfect prime rib supper with a bunch of friends, festive music, and decent wine? Even if he did have to wear a suit.

Only this being a week before Christmas and the second wedding in less than thirty days just poured salt on his bachelor situation.

Some of the guys and I are pulling together a fishing weekend. You in?

Sure. Keep me posted.

Great. And hey, I thought Kerr fixed you up with a date for this shindig.

Hell. With friends like this . . . Definitely time for more wine. Plans changed.

Tough deal. A shot of remarkably candid commiseration filled Stosh’s face before his carefree grin fired back up. Okay, I’ll email you with the fishing deets. Got to deliver these. The ladies are getting restless.

As Stosh took off, Hale headed for the bar.

Jack O’Malley joined him in line. Hey, Hale. Damn, it’s good to see Katie so happy. Matt’s so good for her. He nodded at the bride and groom swaying out on the dance floor to Let it Snow by Boys II Men, and sharing that blissful, locked gaze you saw in old, sentimental movies.

Absolutely. Yeah, the holiday blues had hit hard, but he still wished his friends a world of happiness.

If anyone deserved a happy ending, it was Katie after losing her first husband so young. Best friends as kids, Katie and Matt Powell had found each other again last July after twenty years apart.

Well, that’s another of the crew down for the matrimonial count today. Want to bet on who’ll take the fall next? Kerr Driscoll clapped Hale and Jack across the shoulders.

Jack just laughed, and with a love-struck grin, waved across the room to Cami, his radiant bride of exactly three weeks. Their surprise wedding last month had also been a great party.

Hale rolled his eyes. Kerr and his crazy bets. Leave me out. I’d have to be actually dating someone.

Besides, the few times he’d foolishly let his heart run with the ball had all ended badly.

Jack sipped at his beer. Never say never. When it’s the right woman, it’s scarily easy. How about Brian? He and Violet look like a sure thing. They’ve been dating almost two years now.

Out on the dance floor, Brian Fielding and Violet Doyle drifted along glued together, oblivious to the song change and new tempo of All I Want for Christmas Is You.

Kerr frowned thoughtfully at his business partner and long-time friend. Maybe, but the only speedy decisions Brian’s ever made are which houses we’re going to buy and flip. Even if he popped the question tonight, he and Violet both have huge families. Just agreeing on a date would take a year from the logistics problems.

Feeling obligated to join in, Hale turned to Kerr. How about you? Raquel seems nice.

As if summoned, Kerr’s stacked, sequined date spun past snuggled in Stosh’s arms, and the way her hands staked a claim on his ass she had more than a thanks-for-the-drink in mind for later.

After a resigned grimace, Kerr shrugged. Raquel’s fun and all, but it’s not that kind of connection. Know what I mean? On the other hand, you never know what’s around the corner.

True enough.

There’s always Stosh. Think he can settle on one woman? Jack’s question raised a laugh out of them all.

The busy bartender finally reached Hale, and he tuned out Kerr and Jack’s teasing guesswork over which friend or family member stood the best shot at being the next to marry.

Escaping the bar area with his wine, Hale found a quiet place against the wall. Maybe he should have let Kerr hook him up with a date for the evening. Going stag to a wedding was always awkward. Only, a date meant small talk with a stranger, and he sucked at small talk. On the other hand, his last blind date had talked enough for them both, completely oblivious to his lack of participation.

You should have asked Tessa. Like you, she works too much. She might have enjoyed the break of a happy party like this.

Yeah, definitely. His cute next door neighbor Tessa Wainwright always had a sweet smile for him, and she’d captivated him from the day she’d moved in last August. She had warm green eyes, shiny brown hair that would feel like silk, and some real nice curves. She was also tall enough to make a good fit to his height. His Labrador retriever, Gunner, adored her, and she was a good sport about the pup’s clumsy, exuberant affection.

Love me, love my dog.

If only.

Too bad she was too young. He liked her independence, and she was a serious, studious old soul for a college freshman — even if she seemed a cheerful free spirit in many ways — but he was determined to be responsible.

How do you know she’s too young? You’ve never actually asked her.

His swallow of merlot turned bitter. Because he wanted to avoid putting his foot in his mouth around Tessa, and asking a woman her age was hazardous. Because he’d so far failed to scrounge up the nerve to ask her any of the things he wanted to know. Because he’d be as tongue-tied with her as any other date.

At least Tessa never seems to mind your lousy conversation skills.

He should head home. He’d completed the obligatory congratulations and chitchat, and the folks he knew here were all busy being social with family and friends and dates.

He glumly stared at the lively room and dance floor. Kerr was dancing now with Lexi, Violet’s roommate, both laughing, both moving in sync like they’d been partners forever.

Really, who’d miss him if he left?

And thinking of missing . . . Why hadn’t Tessa gone home to wherever she was from for Christmas break? She hadn’t gone home for Thanksgiving either, and he’d never seen any family visit.

Yeah, possible inappropriate age gap or not, he should have invited her to the wedding. A nice person like Tessa shouldn’t be so alone.

The next song, Underneath the Tree, wrenched a twist to his heart that was one twist too many for the night. Yeah, great, another Christmas alone.

He downed his wine and headed for the coat check.

The solitude in his truck was a familiar friend, and the long drive south on the Parkway oddly lifted his mood. When he got home, he’d walk Gunner, put on a movie, and kick back with a glass of wine and a handful of the Christmas cookies Tessa had given him yesterday.

His dead-end street in the small shore community of Mystic Island was dark and quiet. A few folks were simply away for the holidays, but most of the houses were summer homes closed up for the winter.

However, Tessa’s rental shone like a beacon in the night with strings of twinkling, multicolored lights draping the ramshackle raised bungalow, and warm lamps and a tiny Christmas tree glowed behind the plastic-sheeting covered windows. Her flower-painted green Volkswagen Beetle made him grin every time. A little wreath with a shiny red bow now decorated the front bumper.

As for his house — Hale groaned and laughed. The one living room light revealed Gunner perched on the careening recliner, tail wagging madly. Gunner had gotten through or over the kitchen gate and made himself comfortable.

He stepped from the truck and dragged in a deep breath of icy air tinged with the earthy salt scent of the surrounding marshlands and bay. Coming home was always a relief.

Whimpering and leaping in klutzy, wholehearted welcome, Gunner plowed into Hale, almost bowling him down the front steps. Heeling on their walk was still hit and miss, but the pup was still young, still learning, and not his smart old lab Holly.

Gunner head-butted him, begging for another pat.

Hale grinned and scratched the pup’s soft ears. Gunner was a clumsy doofus, but he was a happy, loving doofus. Things could be worse.

Yeah, maybe he should have enjoyed the wedding reception more, and maybe he was lonelier than he liked, but all things considered, his quiet life was pretty damned good.

He glanced over to Tessa’s place.

With a new year coming on fast, maybe the time had come to try out some new resolutions.

~*~

Another icy draft ruffled Tessa’s notebook pages. Renting this tiny bungalow might not have been such a brilliant idea after all.

Only December 29th, she still faced January, February, and March. She groaned and tugged the comforter close. If Native Americans and Colonial settlers had survived New Jersey winters, so could she. However, her optimism was getting a tad frostbitten.

Really, until two nights ago, the weather had been cold, but a few extra layers of clothing and blankets along with her tiny space heater had done the trick.

Another gust shook the house, rattling windows and snapping at the plastic sheeting like pattering snare drums. Pretending she was on an adventure in a rustic cabin in the woods or a romantic Parisian garret was failing miserably. Instead, her usually upbeat imagination swapped in igloos, icebergs, and mad scientist experiments in cryogenics.

She was just plain cold.

Back in August when she’d blithely signed the lease for a year, the unbelievably cheap rent was a budget Godsend, and a sign her crazy promise to herself to follow her dream of going to college and to write for one year was the right decision. The peaceful neighborhood and unspoiled view from the backyard and screened-in porch across the marshland to the Great Bay more than made up for the shabby state of Mrs. Fogarty’s old shore house. Even the town’s name of Mystic Island had felt inspirational.

Now, the truth was clear — the rent was so cheap because no one in their right mind would live here. At least the moaning wind drowned out the leaky bathroom sink’s water-torture plinking. She’d have fixed the sink already, but the old shut-offs were stuck.

Okay, time to focus and write. She tugged her fingerless gloves further down her fingers. The spring semester began in three weeks, and only seven months and two days remained in her grand experiment.

Touching fingertips to keyboard, she stared at the laptop screen.

Think hot thoughts.

She’d left her characters in the middle of a fight for their life in a scorching desert. Time to get them through this battle and to the oasis.

Hissing, pinging taps of sleet joined the next rattling gust. Oh, yes, Mrs. Fogarty had the right idea retiring to Tampa.

Sandstorm. Pretend it’s a sandstorm.

Her cell phone vibrated on the desk, and Shelby’s name popped up on the screen. Tessa almost let voice mail answer, but she was already too distracted, and Shelby was her best friend.

Hi, Shel —

Tessa! Have you seen the forecast? Shelby shrieked.

Flinching, Tessa jerked the phone away. Actually, she hadn’t caught a weather forecast in days because she’d been avoiding Internet and television distractions.

Um, not for a while. Why?

They’re saying eighteen inches now! Maybe two feet. Two feet! Or more! What happened to the happy little three to five inches?

At least you’re on vacation.

But I need to do my shopping tomorrow for the party! Shelby wailed.

You still have Friday. By then, everything should be plowed.

I hate shopping last minute. The stores will be insane.

Everything will work out. Your New Year’s Eve party will be wonderful, as always.

Are you sure you won’t change your mind and come? I’m already missing you.

Shelby’s soft plea chipped at Tessa’s resolve. And I’m missing you, but I just can’t. Not this year. Not with Dean there.

I’d uninvite him if I could, but he’s Frankie’s boss . . . Dean’s coming alone, if that helps change your mind.

Life would be so much easier if Dean did have a date for the party. She wanted him to move on and find some happiness. A fresh pang of the old hurt stung, and she winced. Breaking up last June had been painful, but she’d made the right decision. They both deserved more.

It’s totally okay. I don’t hate Dean. We just need some space from each other. He needs to accept we want different things out of life, and we’re over for good.

Shelby sighed heavily. And New Year’s Eve has too much pressure.

Being the only two people at the party not kissing at midnight was a little much to ask of them. Worse, Dean was a good guy, and she missed him enough that backsliding into the familiar and safe could be dangerously easy.

You could bring a friend, maybe one of the guys from school?

Tessa laughed. "Absolutely not. The guys in my classes are all kids fresh out of high school. That’s a downside of beginning college at thirty instead of eighteen.

Well, eighteen’s totally legal —

Shelby!

Shelby’s laughter pealed. Just teasing.

I’m fine with being single. Besides, I’m too busy for a relationship. My writing’s going well, and I’m excited about my spring term classes.

"You’re still crazy, and I worry about you being alone, but I’m so proud

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