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Warriors of the Heart 4
Storm Thompson wants to be anywhere but Liberty Ridge. Especially since his hometown also contains his childhood nemesis, Colleen Gardner. With a young daughter and mentally ill mother to care for, he struggles to simply make ends meet. Every day, his goal of owning an organic farm slips further out of reach.
Psychiatrist Colleen Gardner has her sights set on starting a retreat to help veterans suffering from PTSD. She's done well but her small town fundraisers just aren't enough.
"The Great American Scavenger Hunt" TV show offers a million-dollar prize, and Colleen and Storm are selected as competitors. Both resolve to do whatever is needed to win, even using the other to get ahead. Storm and Colleen compete to fund their dreams, but their already tattered relationship becomes more strained. Only one will win the money. But will love prove the ultimate prize?
Page Count: 300
Word Count: 73487
A strong gust of wind ripped the sign from Colleen Gardner’s festival booth and sent it soaring into the air. The park was filled with a large crowd, but unfortunately at that moment, no one was standing on the other side of her table to help.
“Shoot.” She jumped to grab hold of a corner. The cursed thing had the nerve to slice her finger before the wind swept it up, out of reach. She stood on the ground, totally helpless, while the sheet of white cardstock rode an air current before starting its descent.
“You better hurry before our sign gets away.” Grace sat behind the raffle booth, her baby son snug against her chest.
Colleen sprinted toward the wayward sign as it floated back to the earth before coming to rest at the base of a thick oak tree. She could barely make out the red printing spelling out—Fifty/Fifty Raffle to Benefit Veterans’ Retreat. Two more steps and the sign would be within reach, but the wind picked up again and sent it flying toward the river.
Stupid wind. Her sign wasn’t the only thing being tossed around at the Founders’ Day Celebration. Food vendors waged their own battle, in an attempt to keep their plates, napkins, cups, and even their tents from blowing away.
Eventually, she accepted defeat and returned to the welcome shade of a tent. Beads of sweat slithered down her back like rain on a windowpane. Oh well. She’d return to her booth and rustle up something to create another one. She had six more hours to sell raffle tickets. No way she’d accept defeat so easily.
The sound of a banjo and fiddle duet filled the air, along with the delicious scents drifting from the BBQ pit operating in the booth next-door. A heavyset man wearing striped denim overalls lifted one of the lids, sending up a cloud of thick, sweet smelling smoke. Her hungry stomach growled.
As she waved goodbye to her sign, which flew in the air toward the bank of the river, she observed a hand reached up out of the crowd and grabbed it. She glanced at the hand, and then lingered down a very muscular arm, which connected to a solidly male body. Finally, she looked at the man’s face, and her breath hitched. He was gorgeous.
When their gazes met, the unexpected intimacy nudged her memory. But she didn’t remember seeing him before. Liberty Ridge was the size of a town where, for better or worse, everyone knew one another. Once she’d totally taken in his handsome face, she noticed a little girl held in his other arm.
The girl reached her pudgy hands up toward the sign, causing the man to hide it behind his back.
With a scowl on his face, he took long strides toward Colleen and handed her the sign.
“Thanks.” She gratefully accepted her runaway sign. “You have ninja reflexes.”
His face didn’t crack a smile.
Instead, he watched her with serious, dark brown eyes. A green baseball cap covered his head and shaded his face. The blond hair curling from under it only enhanced his rugged appeal. “I’m Colleen Gardner.” She attempted to break the uncomfortable silence. “Who’s the little princess?” She reached over to touch the girl’s hand.
The man stepped back and scowled.
The little girl started wailing. Her pink face streaked with tears. “I want balloon.” She tugged on the man’s shirt and pointed to the person making balloon animals.
“I said later,” he whispered. “We have to find Grandma first.”
“Now,” the girl cried. Her hair swung wildly as she shook her head back and forth. Her small cheeks burned red.
“Harper, once we find Grandma, then we can get you a balloon.” He brushed back her hair with the palm of his hand. “But if you cry, we’re going home.”
“I want home. I want Momma.” Harper howled and arched her back.
“Would you like me to stay with her here while you find your mom?” Colleen didn’t have children of her own, but she’d learned a lot from helping Grace with baby John. “I promise I’m trustworthy. I’m from Liberty Ridge. Everybody here knows me. Your daughter will be safe until you get back.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said over the crying child and started walking away.
“I’m sorry, but I never got your name?” She followed him, unable to help herself.
He spun to face her, a scowl on his face. “I’m surprised you don’t remember me, Colleen. It’s been a long time, but I thought I’d made a lasting impression.”
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