She wants to find a home. He’s ready to move on.
Paige quits her city job for a fresh start in small-town Two Hearts, Tennessee—and brings a stray dog. She bought a Victorian house she plans to turn into a bed and breakfast—no matter how much effort it takes. Romance? She doesn’t have time for it—even with CJ, her handsome carpenter.
CJ enjoys moving from place to place. When matchmakers focus on him, he isn’t sure if he should stay or leave. Then he learns they’re after Paige, too. The two of them may have to plot to avoid becoming the next “I do.”
Will a wedding-loving town bring them together? Or push them apart?
And what surprise awaits Paige as she starts her life over?
Author’s Note: A heroine who’s ready to settle down. A hero who doesn’t want to. A charming small town. Laughter and fun. Sweet and clean romance. Happily ever after.
Paige’s finger hovered over the keyboard. With one touch, she could complete the sale and own a house. She swirled her finger over the enter key, which all but flashed “Danger here!” in neon. She knew it really said, “Unknown here.”
When she started to pull her hand away, the dream of home ownership flickered and began to die. How long would it take her to own anything here in New York City?
With a deep breath, Paige hit the button. And bought a house. A historic house in Two Hearts, Tennessee. The most spontaneous thing she had ever done in her oh-so-predictable life.
Fanning her face, she stared at the computer screen that said she’d finalized the online document.
What have I done?
Paige jumped to her feet and paced across the small room and back. She had never set foot in Tennessee. She’d never even been to the South. Not unless flying over it counted. As the child of an Army officer—a child who had moved eleven times, attended eight schools, and lived in multiple countries and states—that was saying a lot.
Passing the computer with its screen that had now gone dark, she wondered if she could contact the seller. Maybe if she asked, she could still get her money back.
Her phone pinged with a message from her boss.
Come in early.
That usually meant a long day. Longer day. She had left an all-consuming accounting position and moved to one that promised fewer hours and a stress-free environment. Her forty-hour weeks there had quickly become fifty or sixty. She had zero social life.
A car blasting a stereo approached her, growing louder before dying. Minutes later, a door slammed so hard it shook the building. Her neighbor in the other side of the duplex was home, and while she didn’t have time to go to parties, he usually brought his party to her.
His stereo cranked up, and the vibration thumped through their shared wall and her body.
Surely, there would be peace and quiet in a small town. Two Hearts sounded quiet.
Paige grabbed her laptop and went outside. Someone had thoughtfully put a picnic table in the backyard in years past. That made a good escape from her neighbor’s music choices. And his adorable dog was often there and needing attention.
Opening the laptop, she began the email to her boss—her soon-to-be-former boss.
Moving day finally arrived after two final weeks with a boss who wanted to get every hour of work out of her that he could. After work every day, she’d packed long into the night. Paige carried boxes to her small car, the one she’d bought instead of the bigger, more expensive one she preferred. Every bit saved got her closer to her dream of owning her own house and business.
She dropped the box in the trunk and pushed it to the side to make room for the many more still to come. As she turned to get another load, the dog from next door raced toward her with her tail wagging. Paige kneeled and held out her arms as the low-to-the-ground corgi rushed into them.
“Are you ready for breakfast?” She ruffled the fur by the dog’s ears. “I saved some meat scraps from last night.”
The dog woofed in response.
Laughing, Paige headed for her home’s front door with the corgi at her side. “I’m going to miss you.” Saying the words out loud, she realized that this dog had been the one bright light in her life recently. She set the scraps on a plate in front of her side of the duplex, and the small dog dove into them with gusto. “You’re hungry this morning.”
She stared with disgust at the opposite side of the building that she and the other tenant, the dog’s owner, shared—the annoying part of her home sweet home for the past 363 days. He hadn’t blasted his music the last couple of nights, breaking a months-long trend.
The pup, whose name she had only heard as “Dog,” waited on the front step as Paige went inside for each box, then followed her to the car where she snugged that box in beside the one before. Paige soon stood at the trunk with the last box in her arms. Every square inch of space had already been filled.
The back seat held clothes on hangers draped across her camera, tripod, and other photography equipment. She’d need to find time in her busy schedule as a bed and breakfast owner for her hobby.
“What do you think?” Paige turned toward the dog. “Should I abandon what’s in here?” She held up the box for a second opinion.
The dog cocked her head to the side and peered up at her as if to say, “Is that really the best plan?”
Pulling back the taped-down flaps, Paige found kitchen tools, ones in still-new condition. Who had a spare moment to learn to cook? She scattered everything on top of the boxes and closed the trunk, relieved when the stuffed-to-the-top compartment clicked shut without protest. Her entire life—at least the parts of it she wanted to take with her—now filled her car. She did a quick walkthrough of the house she’d rented furnished, went out the door, and locked it for the last time.
Kneeling again, Paige petted the dog.
“Leaving?” A female voice she recognized spoke. Her across-the-street neighbor, Ethel, had been one of the few bright spots about living here.
Paige stood and turned toward the elderly woman. “Yes. I bought a house.” Excitement bubbled up inside her whenever she pictured the adorable Victorian she now owned. She walked closer to the woman who had weathered the neighborhood’s ups and downs—currently a down—over the past five or six decades. Paige had tried to talk her into moving, but this was Ethel’s home, and she was staying.
“That happened faster than you expected.”
That was because she’d cheated on her plan. Slightly. “Small towns have lower-priced houses.”
“I thought you wanted to live nearby, maybe Brooklyn.”
Paige frowned. “That’s true. But I wanted my own place more.”
“I’m glad it’s working out for you. Where is it?”
“Two Hearts, Tennessee.”
Ethel’s eyes widened. “You’re moving from New York City to a small town in Tennessee? That’s surprising.”
She’d been surprised too. Once she’d seen the picture of the house online, though, she’d fallen in love with it and known it was hers. The process of buying it through a real estate agent from the town had moved quickly.
The corgi leaned against Paige’s leg.
“She’s going to miss you.”
Paige reached down to pet the dog. “I’ve been feeding her when her owner forgets.” Paige kept her anger down at the reminder of the number of days the dog’s bowl in the backyard went empty until she filled it. The dog didn’t even get a place to eat inside.
“I’ll do my best to take over feeding her. Now that he’s gone.” Ethel pointed toward the other half of the duplex.
Paige jerked upward. “He left?” That explained the recent wonderful, blissful silence.
“I watched him pack up on Friday. Loaded a truck with furniture—and everything else he owned, from the looks of it.” Sad eyes gazed down at the dog. “Except for her.” Ethel leaned forward, extending her hand. “Come here, girl. I’ll be here for you.”
The dog pressed tighter into Paige’s leg. “You’ll be okay.” Paige crouched in front of the corgi. “Ethel won’t let you go hungry.”
“I’ll do my best. My income only stretches so far, but I’ll try.”
Paige wrapped her arms around the dog and received a gentle lick across her cheek. With a deep breath, she stood and surveyed the neighborhood she’d called home for two years before going over to give Ethel a hug. Stepping back, she said, “You and this dog have been the only good things on this street. That and the cheap rent helping me save for my dream home. Once I’m settled, I’ll send you my address and tell you about the town.”
“I’d love that.”
Paige walked toward her car, doing her best to ignore the dog, who sat watching her.
Inside, she adjusted her rear view and side mirrors. The dog kept her eyes on the car. Paige started the car, gave a final glance back, and swallowed hard as she pulled away from the curb and moved down the street. Ethel would feed the dog. When she could. And what if something happened to the elderly woman?
Paige hit the brakes. She couldn’t leave her. Stepping out, she went around to the passenger side, opened the door, and said, “Are you coming with me?”
The dog ran over and stopped beside the car, looking up at Paige as if to ask if it was okay to jump inside.
“Let’s go. We’re going to have a girls’ trip to Tennessee. Our new home.”
The dog jumped to the floor, her short legs working overtime, then up to the seat, where she sat, waiting for their adventure.
Paige waved to Ethel who watched their progress.
The older woman smiled widely. “I’m glad she has a good home.”
Starting the car again, Paige wondered for a second if she’d made the right decision. When she glanced to her side, the dog woofed and seemed to smile. Yes, she’d made the only decision she could.
CJ swung his pickup truck around the bend in the road. The clear sky overhead sent sunshine down that somehow made the overgrown city park he passed, and the street’s abandoned houses, more cheerful. Just five minutes outside Two Hearts, this area felt rural. Barely visible through the thick brush and trees, glimmers of sunlight sparkled off the lake. The scene was close to poetry, and he wasn’t really a poetic kind of guy.
“Pretty today,” Greg Brantley, the town’s often-serious sheriff, said.
The unfortunately painted-pink Victorian house came into view as they continued down the road.
“Are you sure you want to buy that dump? I mean ‘historic house.’” Sarcasm oozed through Greg’s words.
CJ laughed. “Don’t let Cassie hear you talk that way about an old house.”
Greg winced. “That’s the truth. My fiancé loves the place she bought. But it was livable from day one, and I will happily live there once we’re married. I don’t remember seeing anything I’d call ‘livable’ here on the lake.”
Livable. The building up ahead was anything but. The beauty—or the potential for beauty, once it was cleaned up—made up for it, though. And the details inside were amazing. Some of them were lost under layers of paint and grime, but he knew they were waiting to be rediscovered. Once upon a time, this must have been a beautiful street to live on, but time itself hadn’t been kind.
“Do you remember coming out to the lakefront park when you were a kid?” CJ asked.
“Barely. Even then, Two Hearts didn’t have money to keep up the picnic area. And no one cared enough to take it on.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Yes, it is. But I think that’s what happens when a town slowly fades away.”
The large home became more visible as they drew closer, and so did his real estate agent Randi’s For Sale sign out front. He’d all but decided to buy the house a couple of weeks ago. If Greg agreed with his assessment, then he would call her today and get the deal going.
Pulling to a stop in front of the house, he reached for his door latch. Greg’s hand on his arm stopped him. CJ froze when he looked at where his friend had pointed.
A SOLD sign proudly perched atop Randi’s sign. The sign he’d seen every time he’d driven out to see the house and ponder over it. First once a week and then every day. Last week, he’d been here twice every day. Moving slowly had served him well in the past. “Act in haste, repent in leisure,” had been one of his grandmother’s favorite sayings. Grandma had failed him this time.
“Who was willing to take on that thing?” Greg pointed at the big house. “It needs a massive amount of work.”
CJ stared at the house in front of him. His house. But it didn’t look like it would be his house after all.
He could picture the building brought back to life. Windows not replaced but restored so they kept their historic charm. Paint scraped, and the old wood siding and gingerbread details saved, if they could be.
But none of that mattered now. Not the house, not the brick walkway that would have been weed-free on his watch, and not the stunning view of the lake he’d have had once he’d removed the overgrown brush between it and the house.
“I’m sorry,” Greg said. “I don’t know anyone in town who wanted it.”
CJ nodded and stared straight ahead. For the first time in his adult life, he’d found a place to turn into a home. But it looked like the charmer on the lake was going to be somebody else’s.
He put his truck in motion and continued down the road. He just hoped whoever the buyer was knew how to fix up houses.
Greg’s thoughts must have mirrored his own. “I wonder if the guy who bought it knows what he’s getting into.”
“I know you didn’t see the inside—”
“The outside is bad. I can’t imagine the amount of work on the inside, too.”
“When I toured it with Randi, I realized that it would take all of my savings and a lot of sweat equity before it moved beyond basic living. That broken window upstairs lets in rain.”
Greg gave a rueful chuckle. “And when it rains in Tennessee, it can be a sideways downpour. It may have flooded that side of the house.”
“I would have had to pull it apart to check the full damage. The bird’s nest in the kitchen was worthy of note, too.”
“Are you saying there’s a nest inside the house?”
“Yep.” CJ laughed in spite of his disappointment. “Maybe I’m better off not having to repair everything.” Besides, hadn’t he, just a month ago, been ready to get out on the road again and go to a new place?
“I’m sure another house in town will be even nicer.”
CJ didn’t reply. This house had been the only one. With that gone, it was time to leave. He’d always wanted to see Oregon. A little voice in his heart whispered, It’s already fall. Maybe you could wait until after Christmas. That thought brought a surprising smile to his face.
“Greg, has your mother said what she’ll do about the holidays now that’s she’s in charge?”
“My mother the mayor? I have to tell you that I did not see that coming.”
CJ came to a full stop at a stop sign. After a few seconds, he drove on. He was always extra careful to obey traffic laws when Greg was in the vehicle.
“I know she wants to have a fall festival to bring people to Two Hearts. I overheard her talking to Cherry and Levi about a corn maze at their farm.”
Mayor Brantley would do whatever it took to revive this town. Now that she had been officially elected, she was doing even more good than usual around town. Christmas would be worth the drive from Nashville.
“Don’t panic, but she did mention something about renovating a building or two on Main Street to try to attract more new businesses. Whatever she has planned, I’m sure she’ll want your help with that and her fall-season fun.”
And there was the problem. Well, one of them. He liked the people and this town.
But he’d already stayed here far longer than anywhere else. He knew he’d want to leave soon. He always did.