by: Debbie Burns
Series: Rescue Me
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: July 4, 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
First in a fresh contemporary romance series from award-winning debut author Debbie Burns.
Every heart has a forever home.
Megan Anderson loves the animals at her no-kill shelter. She’ll do anything for them—even go toe-to-toe with a handsome man who’s in way over his head. She’ll help him sort out his troubles, but getting too close to an adorable puppy’s human counterpart? Been there, done that, got burned.
When Craig Williams arrived at the local shelter for help, he didn’t expect a fiery young woman to blaze into his life. But the more time they spend together, the more he realizes it’s not just animals Megan is adept at saving—she could be the one to rescue his heart.
Soon, Craig and Megan find that the magic of unconditional love can do anything…even lead to their forever home.
Megan drove home through the streets of Webster Grove, trying to sort out a tangled mess of feelings that wouldn’t unravel. When it came to Craig Williams, everything was too knotted together to decipher.
Pulling onto her cul-de-sac, she felt her heart thump erratically when she spotted a BMW 7 Series parked in her driveway. She hit the brakes, then the gas a bit too hard. The engine revved, and heat rushed all the way into her fingers and toes.
Please don’t let him have seen that. She parked in her driveway alongside his car and attempted to step out as gracefully as possible. He was still in his seat, talking on the phone. She headed around and leaned against her passenger door. Meeting her gaze, he held up a finger and offered a secretive smile that lightened her mood more than a whole bag of comfort food could’ve.
She heard a handful of words through his closed window. They were boring ones that had to do with sales and reports and projections. Then he said he had to go.
With a wave of insecurity washing over her, Megan pulled her jacket closed. The sun was setting, and the temperature was dropping.
Craig stepped from his car wearing a dress shirt that was open at the collar and no coat. Keeping one arm draped over his door, he stared at her without saying anything. Just three feet, maybe four, separated them.
“Hey,” she said. Why was the onus on her to talk first? He was standing in her driveway.
“I wanted to give you something. If you have a few minutes.”
She rocked back on her heels. “I think I have a few.”
With a hint of a smile curling his lips, he reached into his car and pulled out a brown-paper gift bag. “It isn’t another donation, so I’m hopeful it won’t piss you off.”
A laugh bubbled out of her. “Based on our history, I’d have to say you never know.” She took it, admiring the gold tissue paper poking out the top. “Did you bag this yourself?”
“I feel compelled to say I’m not that good at domesticity.”
She separated the folds of tissue, then paused. “Let me guess… You bronzed my pooper scooper?” She said it in hope of easing the tension still hanging in the air. He’d commented at lunch that with the new employee they were going to add, her poop-scraping days might well be over.
Whatever he’d given her was flat, wide, and rectangular. Pursing her lips, she pulled it out and held it up in the dim light. “Um, is it a little chalkboard?”
He laughed in the low, quiet way that made her tingle down to her toes. “It’s more of a metaphorical gift.”
Megan tilted her head, looking from him to the chalkboard. “If you’re saying not to use your donation on new technology for the shelter, you could’ve given me a Hallmark card. Nothing says I don’t do technology like Hallmark.”
“Try again, Megan. This is about this afternoon. It has nothing to do with the shelter.”
That word again. Her name. Only when he said it, it was like a tall stack of chocolate chip and pecan pancakes with extra syrup.
With her heart running its own marathon, she forced her attention to the shiny new chalkboard in her hand and tried to figure out how it could be metaphorical. Suddenly she got it. Unable to keep the grin from spreading across her face, she held it up. “Are you offering me a clean slate?”
He smiled wide enough to show a set of very white, straight teeth. “Yes, as a matter of fact I am.” Pulling one hand from his pocket, he held up a finger. “And hopefully a better explanation than the one I gave you this afternoon, if you’ll allow me.”
Her heart plummeted into her stomach, then leaped into her throat. “I will.”
“That’s good. Really good.” He moved a step closer, returning his free hand to his pants’ pocket. Megan suddenly wondered if he wanted to touch her as much as she wanted him to. “Look, you haven’t had kids so you may not understand this, but the thing is, right now my life is about my kids. My ex-wife and I didn’t divorce for the chance to be with other people. Not now. Not at this stage in the game.”
Why did it suddenly feel like he was dumping her? With a chalkboard? Swallowing hard, she nodded. “I get it, Craig.”
“Please let me finish. I hardly ever say things. But I have to say this. To you. Because you’re real and because you matter.”
She swept a lock of hair behind her ear and nodded him on. “Okay.”
“You see, a few years ago, something happened and the kids—” His voice cracked, and he cleared his throat.
Her own throat was so damn tight, but she had to spare him from continuing. “Sophie told me. She told me what happened.”
Craig stared at her for a mile of heartbeats before starting again. “Then you know that I can’t hurt them. Not now. Not more than the divorce already has.”
Her insides turned to mush. “I know, and I get it. Like I said, I’m sorry for the accusation I made earlier.”
With a bitter laugh, he walked away from her, pacing again. “I deserved it. And more. You caught me off guard right from the start. With what you said to me the first time I met you. About rising to the occasion. And just about everything else from then on. But I’m not making decisions for me. I can’t move forward with you in that way. And let’s face it, it’s obvious to the world you aren’t one-night-stand material. I probably wouldn’t be half as attracted to you if you were.” He sighed and dragged his fingers through his hair. “This is a terrible apology. I’ve never been good at them, but now I’m really out of practice.”
“It’s all right. I’m okay with your faults, numerous as they are.” Megan grinned and held up the bag she’d slipped the chalkboard into. “Besides, we’re starting over, remember?”
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Debbie Burns resides in St. Louis, Missouri. Shelter is her first contemporary romance and has finaled in multiple contests. Her writing commendations include first place awards for short stories, flash fiction, and longer selections from the Missouri RWA and the Missouri Writers’ Guild.
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