Title: Sweet Beginnings
Author: Melissa McClone
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Sweet Romance
A little hope changes everything...
Hope Ryan dreams of seeing her work displayed in top galleries again, but after a devastating betrayal destroys her career, she spends her days creating unique items for tourists and wedding couples in her hometown of Indigo Bay. To keep her heart safe, Hope refuses to venture from her comfort zone, even if she longs for…more. Sportscaster Josh Cooper never overcame his bitterness after a football injury sidelined him for good. Finding his solace in alcohol made matters worse until he finally hit rock bottom. Now, he wants to make amends. After flying cross-country as a favor to someone he’s wronged, Josh’s path to redemption leads him to Hope. Hope finds a kindred spirit in the former quarterback. Josh's journey to sobriety inspires her to take charge of her own life—something she's put off doing for far too long. But as their relationship straddles the line between friendship and romance, can Hope and Josh find the strength to overcome their pasts and build a life together? Or will the fear of repeating mistakes drive them apart?
He headed outside, and then through a pair of double glass doors. Large vertical painted panels hung on the wall facing him. The landscapes with dunes, grass, and the ocean in the background made him feel as if he were standing on the sand, not inside on a hardwood floor. Incredible artwork.
To his left, a blonde stood near the top rung on a ladder. Jean shorts showed off long, lean legs. Her pink t-shirt inched up at the back, giving a glimpse of smooth, honey-colored skin. She stretched on her tiptoes to attach the top of a panel to a clip.
That looked sketchy.
The ladder shifted.
Josh ran toward her. “Be careful.”
She swayed, arms sticking out as if trying to balance herself, but the ladder tipped over. The woman fell, limbs flailing.
He stepped forward to break her fall. Somehow, she landed in his arms. The breath he’d been holding rushed out.
“I’ve got you.” He stayed upright without dropping the gift bag, folder, or keys. Then again, he’d spent over half his life making sure he held onto the football no matter who was about to tackle him.
Catching her was unexpected. Not unenjoyable. She didn’t weigh much, was soft in the right places, and smelled like strawberries.
His pulse quickened. Something that hadn’t happened with a woman in months. He wasn’t in any hurry to let go of her. At least until she shifted positions, wiggling as if she wanted down.
Yeah, this was more awkward for her than him.
Josh placed her on her feet but kept his hands on her waist to make sure she was steady. She was tall. Around five-nine to his six-three.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Her cheeks a bright pink, she nodded.
She was thin, not the healthy kind. If his mom were here, she’d make the woman eat a meal and two desserts. “You sure?”
The woman, who he assumed to be the artist, raised her chin, letting him see her hazel-colored eyes—more green than brown with gold flecks. Her pretty face was makeup free, but her clear skin, high cheekbones, and full lower lip didn’t need anything extra.
“Thanks for catching me,” she said, almost breathless.
“Glad I was around.” She was attractive in a girl-next-door kind of way. He’d always preferred women with perfect makeup and designer clothes… camera ready was the term he used. “The floor might have hurt.”
Her gaze dropped to the hardwood before returning to his. “I hope I didn’t hurt you.”
“You didn’t.” Linemen hit harder. Josh was standing too close for strangers, so he stepped back. “Are you Hope, the one making Jenny’s wedding favors?”
“I am. “Hope’s cheeks turned redder. “Are you the groom? I mean, Dare?”
“No, I’m Josh Cooper, a friend of Jenny’s from her hometown.” He felt comfortable calling himself a friend after the times they’d spent together over the past month. Holding up the gift bag, he said, “She wanted you to have this.”
“That’s so thoughtful.” Hope sounded touched, a shy smile gracing her lips as she took the gift. “Jenny sounded so sweet when we spoke on the phone.”
As Hope peeked inside the bag, a lock of hair fell across her face. Josh fought the urge to push the strands behind her ear to see her face better.
What was going on? He wasn’t interested in a vacation romance. Even if he were, he was in recovery. No dating for twelve months. He’d heard that during his stay in rehab, at the sober house, and in therapy.
His interest, if he wanted to call it that, had to be due to holding her so closely, intimately. He was male, and he was missing physical contact. Something he’d had plenty of before rehab. When he’d been drinking—okay, while he’d been playing football, too—there’d been a revolving door of women coming in and out of his life. For months, there’d been none.
“Thanks for delivering this.”
Hope’s words jolted him back to reality. “Did you paint the panels?”
Her satisfied smile zinged through him like a pinball, bouncing off parts and lighting up his insides. Not pretty—beautiful. He gulped.
His reaction was unexpected and unwelcome. Maybe he should call Rudy or Dr. Kettering to see what they had to say about his attraction to Hope. Granted, looking was different than touching. On purpose touching. Catching her didn’t count, but Josh didn’t want to make any mistakes. Not when he’d come so far.
Hope studied the opposite wall where more panels hung. “My boss, Zoe, wants the room to look less multipurpose-ish for social events, starting with this weekend’s wedding.”
“You succeeded.” Thankful to have something else to look at other than Hope, he took in the various panels. Each fit together as if part of a panorama. “You’ve brought the outside in.”
“That was the plan.”
“It’s perfect.” Josh was far from an art expert, but he’d been to galleries and recognized talent, even if the panels weren’t typical canvases or tapestries. “You’re good at what you do.”
She kept her gaze lowered. “Thanks.”
He waited for her to say more—the creative types he’d met might be introverts, but once their art was mentioned they lit up and wanted to talk. Hope, however, didn’t. That intrigued him. Was she shy or embarrassed about winding up in his arms?
“You’re welcome,” he said finally.
She wiped her palms over her shorts. “I better get back to work.”
No way was she hanging that panel by herself. If he hadn’t caught her, she could have broken a bone or hit her head. He didn’t mind putting off his shower.
Josh picked up the ladder. “Want help?”
Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub):
Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CTFB7QN
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The characters face issues holding them back from living their best lives. Meeting each other helps them see what they still must work through before moving forward in life and love. It makes for a heartwarming yet emotional read.
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USA TODAY bestselling author Melissa McClone writes heartwarming women’s fiction and sweet contemporary romance novels for Cardinal Press, Tule Publishing Group, and Harlequin Books. When she’s not writing relatable characters and sigh-worthy happy endings, she spends her time in the rainy Pacific Northwest reading from her Kindle’s ever-growing TBR, napping with her dog and cats, and decorating her Happy Planner. Melissa graduated from Stanford University with a mechanical engineering degree, but discovered she prefers writing happily ever afters to jet engine testing and analysis. She has been published internationally in over twenty-five languages.
Social Media Links:
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/MelissaMcCloneBooks/
McClone Troopers Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/McCloneTroopers/