After losing his kid-brother to consumption, Dr. Michael Jones is obsessed with saving lives. He has no room for love or a wife. But the nights are lonely, and Eden haunts his dreams.
When Eden becomes his backdoor neighbor, she turns his world upside-down with her unconventional healing skills and sweet temptations. Then outlaws return, forcing Michael to confront his past if he is to save the most precious life of all.
(Set up: The Independence Day Jamboree is in full swing. Sera, kid sister of the hero – Michael – and Bonnie, who is trying to lure Michael into marriage, have encountered some unexpected competition while manning the Kissing Booth to raise money for the orphanage.)
"Eden! Good heavens, didn't you hear us calling your name?"
A caramel apple cart rolled by, and Bonnie, her lips kiss-swollen and her eyes spitting fire, materialized in its place. A smirking Sera stood beside her.
"You have got to do something about your aunt!" Bonnie said, storming forward. "Claudia was supposed to be the chaperone at the Kissing Booth. Now she's ruining everything! She thinks she can raise money better than me and Sera, and she won't listen to reason."
"Or to Bonnie," Sera deadpanned.
Eden didn't dare succumb to the twitch in her lips. "What's she doing this time?"
"See for yourself!"
Eden followed the line of Bonnie's quivering finger. As the crowd shifted, Claudia could be seen stomping her feet, shaking her gunstock, and hollering at the top of her lungs. The seventy-five-year-old rascal had climbed onto the Kissing Booth's counter, her dungarees billowing in the wind, her iron-gray hair frizzing in the humidity. Apparently, she was taunting any man too foolish not to give the booth a wide berth. It was a wonder she hadn't had a seizure.
"She's going to break her fool neck," Bonnie grumbled, concern actually creeping into her voice. Then her accusatory eyes drilled through Eden. "Did you let her drink corn mash again?"
"I think Claudia ate Sally McGloughlin's mincemeat," Sera interceded glibly. "Sally always overdoes the rum."
Bonnie muttered something about that blue-ribbon pie hopeful that would have made the members of the Ladies Aid Society blush.
By this time, Bonnie and Sera had hustled Eden close enough to the Kissing Booth to hear Claudia heckle passing bachelors from her stance on the counter.
"You there," the spinster bellowed in a voice three times her size. "Abner Buckbee! I see you skulkin' behind that draft horse. Git yer scrawny arse over here. Kissin' me'll cost you a buck. Fer three bucks, you can go home without my buckshot in yer britches!"
Eden smothered a giggle as Claudia leveled her barrel with deadly accuracy. She could see the coins glinting in her aunt's kisses jar. Claudia and her shotgun had amassed more silver dollars than all of the younger, prettier volunteers combined. No wonder Bonnie wanted Claudia chased from the booth.
Eden nodded politely at scowling, red-faced Abner as he stalked forward, plunked three coins into Claudia's jar, and fled.
Chortling, Claudia squatted, her gunstock balanced across her knees and a sparsely toothed grin creasing her cheeks. "Hello, niece. Dang. I don't know what the deuce Bonnie’s been gripin' about. Raisin' money fer them orphans is easier'n shootin' fish in a barrel."
"Then maybe I will fill a kisses jar," Eden said in resignation. With Michael's lips haunting her dreams, she hadn't thought she could bring herself to kiss another man—at least, not until Cupid's arrow struck her for some other beau.
"That's the spirit," Claudia crowed, jumping off the counter and rummaging through a box beneath the columbine-blue crepe of the drapery. After a series of clanks and rattles, she straightened triumphantly, plunking an empty canning jar in front of Eden. "You got at least an hour to convince some man to bid on yer picnic basket at the auction, so pucker up and get to work."
Eden sighed. One hour to hope that Michael comes by. One torment for every minute he doesn't.
Claudia heaved herself back onto the counter. "Git me my shotgun," she fussed at Sera, who reached for the barrel the way she might have reached for horse dung. "Now git outta the way. I'll show you fillies how to rope a stallion."
Bonnie crossed her arms in annoyance. Eden and Sera exchanged wary looks.
"Hey!" Claudia thumped the gunstock on the counter for attention. "You there in the tight breeches. Yeah, you know who I mean, Four Eyes. You didn't put them pants on to be ignored, I'll wager. Get your pretty mug over here for a kiss."
The sodbuster straightened his spectacles, took one look at Claudia, and fled.
"Dang.” Claudia scowled. "That boy must be deaf as well as blind. Bad breeding stock."
Sera's nails dug into Eden's arm. She was trying so hard not to laugh, she looked like she might cry.
"Hey!" Claudia bellowed next at the blacksmith's boy. "You want my bear traps on credit? Git yer big, brawny self over here fer a kiss!"
"I'll kiss you, old woman."
At the sound of that rumbling Kentucky drawl, Eden turned toward the rear of the booth and caught her breath.
Fascinated by all things mystical, Adrienne writes a weekly blog about dragons, magic, and the paranormal at http://MagicMayhemBlog.com to help her research her upcoming paranormal romance series. She also writes a weekly blog featuring tips about the business of writing at http://WritingNovelsThatSell.com. She enjoys mentoring aspiring authors and offers professional story critiques with her book coaching services.
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