They say desperate times call for desperate measures.
Charley Weatherly is about to realize that it’s true.
Life isn’t working out exactly the way Charley Weatherly imagined it might when she walked away from her steady paycheck as a copywriter to start her own business. But as it turns out, not everyone in town is knocking down the door of her tiny independent bookshop. She has lost money every quarter since she opened.
Now, with her grandmother in need of more care than Charley can provide, some difficult decisions have to be made. The rest of her 401k plus the proceeds from selling the bookstore might keep Nana in Pacifico Manor for about a year. That would give Charley time to figure out her next move.
But when that money is irretrievably lost, Charley is faced with an impossible decision. Being a gestational surrogate for a couple who can’t have a baby on their own will bring in the kind of cash she needs. Can she really follow through?
Between trying to keep her small business afloat and caring for her grandmother, Charley’s personal life has been nonexistent. But when she moves to the city for a few months, she finds she enjoys the freedom of her part-time gig at Bravo Java. She especially enjoys chatting up the handsome local artist who spends his mornings there. Now that her life is taking an unexpected turn, has she finally met the right man at the wrong time?
Artist Ben Campbell has had his fair share of romantic disasters. For the time being, he’s content to follow his self-imposed schedule: gym, coffee, work, repeat.
But the new barista at his favorite coffee shop piques his interest. In fact, if he’s honest with himself, she looks a lot like the elusive redhead who haunts his dreams.
She seems to be attracted to him, too. So why does Charley insist on keeping him at arm’s length?
Prefer your romance with plenty of heat and tons of heart?
You’ll love The Girl in the Guesthouse!
In this holiday excerpt, a very pregnant Charley has traveled with Ben to Texas to experience a Campbell family Christmas.
Christmas Eve dinner was a rowdy, happy event, and Charley loved every minute of it. The holidays at her grandmother’s house when Charley was growing up had always been happy and loving, but quiet, with only herself and her mother and grandmother. In contrast, the Campbell table was lively, sometimes raucous, and filled with laughter.
At some point, Delbert had arrived and was sitting to Ava’s right, with Todd and Whit filling out that side of the table. Ben sat facing his mother at the other end, while Charley and Beth sat to his right. Livvi sat next to her grandmother and across from Delbert, who, like Charley, had been absorbed into the Campbell clan without reservation.
Everyone pitched in to help with cleanup, even the children, and before they were whisked upstairs and to bed, they all gathered in the living room where Ben sat between Livvi and Whit to read The Night Before Christmas, a Campbell family tradition.
Once the children were put to bed and sternly warned against getting up again, the adults relaxed in the light of the Christmas tree while holiday music played softly in the background. Ava handed out glasses of mulled wine and hot toddies. Charley gazed longingly at the wine as she made do with a cup of hot chocolate.
While they all laughed at stories of previous holidays, Ben helped Todd assemble a soccer net for Whit. Ben sat on the floor by Charley’s feet when the net was completed while Ava and Beth filled the children’s stockings.
“So, Ben, what’s this momma says about you going to Paris?” Beth asked.
From his spot on the floor, Ben shrugged. “I applied for a six-month residency. There’s no guarantee I’ll even be accepted, so I’m not actually going to Paris. It’s just a possibility. I heard about it from Claire. She applied way ahead of me.”
Beth wrinkled her nose. “Ew! You heard about it from Claire?”
Laughing, Ben balled up a sheet of paper from the soccer net assembly and chucked it at his sister.
“Y’all are going to have to go to bed soon so I can get your stockings done,” Ava said. “I don’t plan on staying up all night, and those babies will be up at the crack of dawn.”
She must be planning on staying up for part of the night, Charley’s cheeky self snarked. Cuz apparently, Delbert is staying here tonight.
Charley shook her head to dismiss those thoughts. Good for you, she smiled in Ava’s direction.
In Ben’s bedroom, Charley and Ben quietly made love before falling asleep in each other’s arms. To Charley, it seemed like she had just closed her eyes when there was a pounding on their door.
“Uncle Benji! Wake up! It’s Christmas,” Whit called through the door.
Ben groaned from the center of his very soul. “Hang on, little man. Let me wake up a minute,” he croaked. “What time is it?”
“It’s six o’clock. Mom made us wait until six to wake you up. Hurry!”
Groaning again, Ben looked over at Charley, who had to giggle. “Merry Christmas,” she whispered.
“I like the kind of Christmas that starts later,” he answered. “Sorry about this.”
“They’re just excited. They’re kids, and it’s Christmas,” Charley said.
Sniffing loudly, Ben pushed his hair back from his brow and shifted onto his elbow. “Are you ready for the mayhem to begin?” he asked.
“Let me just get dressed,” she laughed.
Christmas Day was a whirlwind of activity. While the children opened their stockings, Beth served mimosas to the adults. Ava brought Charley a steaming mug of spiced apple cider.
“It’s wassail,” she said. “You know, like here we come a-wassailing,” she sang in a deep tenor tone.
While Charley enjoyed the cider, she would have given her eye teeth for a glass of Prosecco. She was happy that everyone seemed to like the gifts she had brought. Gift cards to dinner and a movie had seemed appropriate for Beth and Todd. The children thanked her several times for the craft kits she had given them. Ava announced that the perfume gift set was her absolute favorite scent. Of course, Charley had Ben to thank for the hint. She’d even managed to bring an extra something that worked out for Delbert–a winter multi-tool for his car.
She was most pleased with Ben’s reaction to the markers she had purchased. He had started to unwrap the box almost haphazardly until he realized what they were.
“No way!” he said.
“Way,” Charley smiled.
Ben shook his head. “But how did you…”
She arched an eyebrow. “I have my ways.”
Charley was pleasantly surprised by the gifts she received from Ava and Beth, including a gift set of bath beads in her favorite lavender scent and a beautiful hand-knit scarf.
Ava and Delbert went to the kitchen to put together a light breakfast buffet once all the gifts were opened. Small plates and leftovers would round out the rest of the day’s meals. Beth and Todd had the children show them all the gifts they had received.
While everyone else was distracted, Ben sat beside Charley on the soft and placed a small wrapped box in her hands. “You didn’t open my gift yet.”
“You didn’t have to–” she started to protest. Although, to be honest, she had wondered.
“Didn’t have to,” he dismissed. “It’s Christmas. I had to get something special for the most beautiful girl in the world.”
“Ha!” Charley laughed. “If I see her, I’ll send her your way.”
“You’re hilarious. Now open your present,” Ben said, gently nudging her shoulder with his chin.
With a glance in his direction, she carefully removed the paper from the box. The lid was imprinted with the name of a jewelry store Charley had noticed not far from Bravo Java. She lifted the lid to reveal a tennis bracelet of oval amethysts set sideways in a silver setting. Charley’s mouth fell open.
“It’s purple,” Ben said. “I hope you like it.”
“I love it! It’s gorgeous!” She looked at him with a frown. “You really shouldn’t have been so extravagant.”
“You got me Copic markers. Who was extravagant?”
“Well,” she said.
Witty comeback, her cheeky self snarked.
She shook her head. “Well, thank you. I love it.”
“Let’s put it on you,” Ben said, taking the bracelet out of the box.
Charley held out her left hand, and Ben carefully fastened the sparkling piece of jewelry around her wrist. “Merry Christmas,” he murmured with a smile.
“Merry Christmas.” She leaned forward to kiss him.
“Ben and Charley, sittin’ in a tree,” Beth sang loudly, and everyone laughed.
Ben gave Charley a rueful smile. “That about sums up a Campbell family Christmas.”THE GIRL IN THE GUESTHOUSE by Pandora Spocks