Book 1 in the Minne-sorta Falling in Love series
General Release Date: 11th January 2022
Word Count: 56,961
Book Length: NOVEL
Heat Rating: Sizzling
Genres: BILLIONAIRE, CONTEMPORARY, EROTIC ROMANCE, MEN IN UNIFORM
He’s always strong, always faithful…but will he be always hers?
Pregnant, alone and temporarily staying at her family’s cabin in northern Minnesota, Clara Olafson is determined to overcome the hurt of her recent past and build a good life for herself and her child. The last thing she expects to find on her morning walk through the state forest nearby is an unconscious and injured former Marine.
Colin ‘Fitz’ Fitzhugh might have initially joined the Corps to prove that he was more than just a wealthy playboy, but he grew to love the brotherhood and purpose he found there—until his last mission in Afghanistan cost the life of one of his men and left him badly scarred in body and mind. Hoping to shed some of his pain and guilt alone in the wilderness, instead he finds a feisty, pregnant angel.
Sparks fly as sassy Clara nurses the gruff and mysterious Fitz back to health, but the happiness and peace they both begin to find in the little cabin is shattered when Clara faces a health emergency. When Fitz reluctantly chooses to return to the wealth and privilege of his family in order to save her and the baby, he plunges them all into a glittering society that Clara doesn’t know if she likes. But Fitz might just prove to her that, whether he’s being a billionaire philanthropist or a sudden stand-in dad, he’s always hers.
Reader advisory: This book contains a mention of attempted murder.
Clara Olafson hummed a little to herself as she walked heavily down the overgrown trail. This far out into the forest, the trails weren’t maintained as regularly as the ones closer to the visitor center. The morning air was crisp—northern Minnesota in late August could feel like October or November in the rest of the country—but she liked it that way. The cool air buffeting her felt like a familiar, albeit chilly, blanket. Like home. Plus, it quickened her steps, which was good for her and the baby. A couple of times lately, she’d had the oddest sensation, almost like a trickle of ice-water down her spine, that she was being watched or followed, but she blamed the crazy pregnancy hormonal imbalance. This morning, though, she felt nothing but the fresh breeze behind her.
She’d started the habit of an early-morning walk when she’d moved out to the cabin two months earlier, and she intended to keep it up until the day she went into labor—which actually could be pretty soon. The OB she’d been seeing in St. Paul—before—had said to stay active, and she wanted to do everything she could to make sure that the little life she carried had the best possible start. She’d read several books, along with what felt like a couple of thousand websites, and she was avoiding lunchmeat, green tea, fake sweeteners, caffeine—even chocolate. Goodness, chocolate had been the hardest to give up, with coffee a close second. She now had a recurring dream where she walked into a dimly lit coffee house and ordered a massive frozen-mocha-latte-smoothie with curls of dark chocolate and mounds of whipped cream on top, but she always woke up before she could take a sip. Her mouth watered just thinking about it.
“No,” she chided, half speaking to herself and also to the baby. “No chocolate for the baby, no matter how much Mama wants it.” She reached down to rub her swollen belly, as she did so often these days, and smiled at the firm kick she got in response, right under her palm. A rush of affection and protectiveness so intense that it almost frightened her swept through, taking her by surprise. It was amazing to hold a tiny, growing human inside her, but also terrifying to be so totally and solely responsible for someone else.
Even in the midst of her awe, the craving persisted, so intense that she could almost taste the chocolate melting on her tongue. Maybe I’m just longing for something sweet? She wasn’t supposed to have too much sugar, but fruit was definitely still okay. The berries on the blackberry and raspberry bushes a little farther down the path were just starting to ripen again. They would be tart and juicy. She licked her lips at the thought and smiled at her own eagerness. Anyone who gets between a pregnant woman and her desired food deserves whatever happens to him. She quickened her pace, thankful she’d worn long pants and sleeves to avoid the prickly bushes. If there were enough berries, maybe she’d even come back later with a pail and pick enough for a pie. Oh, good Lord, the idea of a piece of pie, even just a tiny sliver, warm from the oven with a flaky crust, was so wonderful that she almost groaned aloud.
Practically trotting and out of breath by the time she reached the bushes, she was thrilled to see a few ripe berries straight away, which she snapped off their thin branches and popped into her mouth. Cold juice exploded on her tongue, and she sighed with pleasure. The ripe berries were few and far between, though. Most of them were still hard and green. Even so, there were enough on each bush to take her deep into the thicket as she sought out every last berry that was ready to eat, crunching them with gusto. It could have been some crazy sensory thing, but she didn’t know if she’d ever tasted anything more delicious.
At first, she thought the moaning might be coming from her stomach. Heaven knew it made all sorts of noises these days—gurgles, churns and growls so loud they woke her up at night. But this sound was too loud and too deep. She froze and tilted her head, listening. When the low moan came again, her heart seemed to jump right up into her throat. What the heck? Taking a slow, calming breath and narrowing her eyes, she scanned the thicket. Probably a deer in distress, she reassured herself. At least she hoped it was a deer, because if it were a moose or a bear, she could be in real trouble. She couldn’t make out much of anything through the thick leaf-cover at first, but finally a slight shaking in the bushes ahead and to her right signaled the location of whatever injured creature was there.
She hesitated. A prudent woman would go back to the cabin and call for help. She knew this. She should be careful and not her usual impulsive self. But then the noise came again, so sad and filled with pain that it made her throat tighten and her eyes fill with tears. Pure, uncontrollable sympathy made her step one foot forward, and her distinctly un-prudent decision was made. If the animal can make a noise like that, she reasoned, it’s unlikely to be able to move enough to hurt me if I stay back. And I won’t get too close.
The stand of bushes was situated in a small valley with steep inclines that were blanketed with pine trees rising high on either side. As she got nearer to the wounded creature, she could see a faint trail of crushed and broken foliage leading to it from the opposite direction, and she guessed that the poor animal had probably fallen from the higher ground. Her heart squeezed with compassion. It must be in so much pain. She slowed her steps, carefully placing her weight on the balls of her feet instead of the heels and trying to breathe silently to avoid startling the mystery animal.
She braced herself for a very ugly scene, but what she found instead made her suck in a surprised breath. Two huge, black boots stood out dark against the green undergrowth, and her eyes followed their forms to two blue-jeans-clad legs, one of which looked somewhat twisted. Her gaze trailed up farther, to where the form was more obscured by leaves, but she could still make out an enormous hand and the weave of a thick green sweater, shifting slightly with the man’s breathing. She hurried forward.
“Oh, my goodness, you poor man! Where’s the worst pain?” she asked, trying to keep her voice quiet so as not to startle him. There was no answer, apart from another piteous groan, and when his face finally came into full view, she saw why. His eyes were closed, and an ugly lump had formed at his temple, already dark with a hint of the bad bruising to come. The blow must have also knocked him unconscious.
She lowered herself to the ground awkwardly, her movements hampered by the clumsiness of late-pregnancy and the ever-present swelling that made her fingers and toes feel like little sausages stuffed into casings that were too small. She wanted to assess where his injuries might be, though, and to do that, she needed to get closer. She’d taken several first-aid classes as a young teenager, practically a requirement as a doctor’s daughter in a rural area, so she felt reasonably optimistic she could stabilize the worst of whatever his injuries were before she ran back to the cabin to call 9-1-1. Why in the world did I choose today of all days not to bring my cell phone? She cursed under her breath, immediately murmuring an apology to her baby.
As her movements brought her closer to him, she couldn’t help but notice that, apart from his injuries, the man appeared to be in extremely good shape. His leg muscles bulged, even through the thick denim of his jeans, and his broad shoulders and chest looked solid and strong. She glanced at his face, noticing that his hair was cropped close to his skull—the length a lot of military and ex-military men keep it, she thought absently. Even if she couldn’t see his eyes, he was undeniably handsome with high cheekbones, dark brows and eyelashes, a strong chin and nose, and soft-looking lips. He was younger than she’d initially thought, too. Maybe in his early thirties.
Running carefully light hands over his legs, she felt the spot where one of his knees was twisted and swollen, but she was relieved that she didn’t feel anything else that seemed out of place on his lower extremities. There were a few areas that were uneven, but she guessed it could be fabric bunching or debris from the fall. She skimmed her fingers over his hips to his chest, which were just as hard and muscular as she’d guessed, to his bulky arms. To her dismay, one of his wrists also felt slightly enlarged. Finally, she moved a tentative hand to his head. She rose onto her knees, leaning over for a better view to see how large and swollen the area was, which should be pretty visible through his ultra-short hair. Head wounds could be tricky, bleeding internally as well as externally. The swelling there was almost certainly what was causing his unconsciousness.
Just as the tips of her fingers made contact with the most swollen spot, without a breath of warning one of the man’s mammoth hands clamped around her wrist, stopping her from moving. She squeaked and tried to take her arm away, but his grip held her firm. When her gaze flashed to his face, he was staring back at her with bright blue eyes that were filled with a mix of suspicion and confusion.
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About the Author
Aurora is originally from the frozen tundra of the upper-Midwest (ok, not frozen all the time!) but now loves living in New England with her real-life hero/husband, two wonderfully silly sons, and one of the most extraordinary cats she has ever had the pleasure to meet. But she still goes back to the Midwest to visit, just never in January.
She doesn’t remember a time that she didn’t love to read, and has been writing stories since she learned how to hold a pencil. She has always liked the romantic scenes best in every book, story, and movie, so one day she decided to try her hand at writing her own romantic fiction, which changed her life in all the best ways.
You can find out more about Aurora at her website here – https://aurorarussellauthor.wordpress.com/
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