Are you looking for a heartfelt #weekend read?
Take a peek at this week’s From the Heart editor’s choice:
High Country Dilemma
About the book
Fallon Hart has landed her dream job–directing the annual melodrama, Miss May’s Dilemma. But when Fallon arrives in Pine Ridge, Colorado, she finds her new apartment in flames. To make matters worse, her manager wants her to sing an impossible solo. Her family wants her to give up the theater and join the family jewelry business. And her selfish, controlling ex-fiancé wants her back. The biggest dilemma of all, though, is trying to make everyone happy.
Handsome firefighter, Lucas O’Farrell, is searching for his soul-mate, a lady who’ll share his love of the mountains, small-town living, and kids. He knows exactly what he doesn’t want: a sophisticated city girl like Fallon. But when they are cast as sweethearts in the melodrama, the attraction is hard to deny. Before he realizes it, he’s falling for her—hard—and it’s possible she’s starting to love him, too. But is love worth the risk if the she’s planning to return to Denver at the end of the season?
Take a peek!
The blast of a horn jolted Fallon Hart from the pleasant music coming from her car radio. She stifled a cry. A big, red vehicle filled the entire reflection in her rearview mirror. The fire truck sounded its horn again. “Okay, okay, I’m moving as fast as I can.”
She yanked the steering wheel over to the right to get out of the way, her heart rate easily outpacing the tick-tick-tick of the car’s turn signal. The truck roared past and receded from view around a bend in the heavily forested Colorado county road. Seconds later, an ambulance also raced by with its sirens blaring.
She took several slow, deep breaths. Hopefully, wherever the firefighters were going wasn’t anywhere near the mountain cottage she’d planned to move into today. A dart of anxiety speared her stomach. She glanced behind. No more trucks were coming. Hit the gas, girl. Her Lexus thrust its sleek, blue body onto the road. Settling into her new place fast was foremost on her mind, and the last thing she needed right now was a road blocked by fire engines. Trees and rocks sped by in her peripheral view as the car zipped on toward her destination.
Tendrils of smoke floated across the road, and bits of soot settled on her windshield. The acrid scent of burning wood began to fill her car’s cabin. Fallon’s breathing accelerated. Stay calm. Keep your eyes on the road. It seemed like only a minute since she’d left the little mountain town of Pine Ridge. Back there, the high-country sky had glistened a deep, clear blue. But now, the Ponderosa forest seemed ominous. An eerie yellow haze lit the sky.
Farther up, pine trees on the hill above the road crackled with flames. Her pulse throbbed in her ears like the beat of a distant bass drum. This must be how movie heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, felt as she escaped a burning Atlanta. Only, this wasn’t theater. It was real.
Girl, turn your car around and drive back to Pine Ridge. But her clammy hands, gripping the steering wheel, simply wouldn’t obey. Because she had to know. An awful premonition spread through her gut. As she rounded the bend in the road, flashing lights of police cars made her heart lurch. Fire trucks blocked the way.
She jumped when the unruffled GPS voice announced, “You have arrived at your destination.”
But she couldn’t get anywhere near Deer Park Cottages. Vehicles jammed the road and the parking area. Smoke poured from the collection of cottages. Through the haze of smoke, firefighters scrambled about in front of the buildings. Oh no, it’s worse than I thought. Water shot from fire hoses onto the burning cottages. She lowered the window
the rest of the way, but it didn’t help her see any clearer. Were there tenants still inside? Had everyone gotten safely out?
“My place. My new place,” she moaned. The din of trucks, firefighters barking orders, gushing water, and burning buildings made her want to cover her ears. “Please, Lord, keep the people safe. And the firefighters, too.”
Fallon parked and stepped out. Unlike the fake smoke she’d often battled as an actress on stage, this smoke burned her throat, and her eyes welled with real tears. She’d only seen fire scenes on the news, and the frantic activity riveted her gaze. Someone might be injured in one of those apartments. Maybe she could help transport some of the residents away from the fire. That thought propelled her into a swift march toward the shooting flames and hissing smoke.
A firefighter stood near one of the trucks. When he saw her approach, he hurried toward her and thrust out his arms in a gesture of warning. “Ma’am, stop!” he called out. “Please get back in your car.”
She halted. “B-but.” She took a step backward. “That’s my home. I-I mean, it’s where I’m going to—”
She didn’t get to finish her sentence. As she stepped back, her shoe missed solid ground. Fallon’s arms flailed for balance. This time, she did cry out, but it was cut short by an abrupt and painful landing flat on her back. The asphalt dug into her shoulders, and one of her elbows hurt like the dickens. Seconds later, the firefighter crouched over her. Blue eyes—the bluest she’d ever seen— examined her face with concern.
“Are you okay, Ma’am?” He leaned closer and pulled off his gloves. Gentle hands smoothed her hair away from her forehead. “That was some tumble you took. Here, don’t move. Let me check your head.”
Heat spread over Fallon’s face. The firefighter must think she was an absolute klutz. And a dope. She gritted her teeth and popped up to a sitting position before he could stop her. “I’m fine. Not a thing broken. Except the heel of my sandal.” With a frown, she yanked off the broken shoe and dangled it in front of his face. “I must’ve stepped into that pot hole.”
In spite of the serious fire scene in front of them, he gave her his full attention. He tapped the dainty shoe with his index finger. “Sorry about that. These roads get roughed up every winter.” He stood, reached down under her arms and lifted her to her feet like she weighed no more than a child.
But his touch awoke an emotion inside her she thought had died. Something ancient. Primal. Like the way it felt right before stepping onto a stage in front of a thousand spectators. A sensation as electrifying as his sky-blue eyes. “I-uh…I’m sorry to take you away from your job. I thought maybe I could help some of the residents.”
“That’s very kind of you, Ma’am.” He was still holding onto her, as if he thought she’d fall again. “But we can’t have you endangering yourself.”
He released her, and Fallon dusted off her slacks and slipped off the other shoe. Her elbow throbbed. She’d have to check that out later, but not in front of the firefighter. She probably looked a sight, without shoes, a rip in her sleeve, smudges on her slacks and messed up hair. The man must have read her thoughts, too, because his lips held a trace of a smile.
Now that she was shoeless, she had to look way up. And even though the firefighter’s face was smudged from soot, he had the kind of looks and height that would have made him the ideal leading man on any stage.
“I-I guess you need to get back, Mr., uh…”
“It’s O’Farrell. Lieutenant Lucas O’Farrell.” He wiped at the smudges on his ID badge. “Are you sure you’re okay to drive yourself away from here?” He bent over and studied her face. What sweet eyes. Her ex-fiancé had never gazed at her with such caring intensity. It was one of a hundred different reasons why she’d finally broken up with Sebastian.
“Perfectly.” Though her heart was still pounding from a combination of the awfulness of the fire and her instant attraction to the firefighter, she managed to sound completely in control.
“Well then, let’s get you away from here quick.” He put his hand on the small of her back to usher her in the direction of her car. Fallon’s legs wobbled, and Lucas must have sensed her weakness because he hovered over her. She wasn’t used to being on the receiving end of such care. Lucas’s strength and authority made her feel even more helpless. Sebastian had to be reminded to open doors for her, and yet here was a complete stranger acting the chivalrous knight.
Bending over her, Lucas’s face came close to hers. She glanced up, and he met her gaze with an encouraging smile. “You’re doing just fine, Ma’am. Almost there now.”
When they reached her idling car, he slipped off his helmet and raked his black hair away from his forehead. He glanced at the scene of the fire, and when he turned back to her, he wasn’t smiling anymore. “Ma’am, I need to get back to work, but I don’t want to leave you until I’m sure you’re okay.”
“I-I’m fine.” Fallon stared at the burning cottages. She didn’t want to keep him from his job, but she’d never faced the prospect of being homeless. It was too long of a drive to return to her condo in Denver. “That’s where I was supposed to live. What should I do?”
He opened her car door and helped her into the driver’s seat. “Do you have a relative or friend in town? Some place you can wait?” He leaned his arms on the windowsill.
“No, no one. I just moved here…from Denver, to start a new job.” She gestured behind her where an assortment of boxes and luggage filled the back seat.
His gaze flitted over her things, and when he met her eyes again, he looked even more sympathetic. “Head on back to town and wait at The Hungry Moose Cafe. It’s on Pine Ridge’s Main Street.”
“The Hungry Moose,” she repeated and nodded. But her hands shook slightly.
Lucas reached inside the window and touched the back of her hand. “It’ll be okay,” he said.
She searched Lucas’s eyes while he waited patiently. She didn’t know what to say. How could things be okay when she had no place to stay? And what would happen to all the other people who lived at Deer Park? A spasm grabbed her throat, and she fought to keep her emotions in control.
He backed away from the car and waved an “all clear.” She reversed the Lexus to a point where she could turn around. As she drove away, she looked in her rearview mirror. Lucas was already hurrying toward his truck.
“Lord, what am I going to do now?” Would Mrs. Woodruff, the general manager of the Pine Ridge Opera, allow her a couple of extra days to find another apartment for the summer? The new job had come to her only because Pine Ridge Opera’s director had resigned unexpectedly at the last moment. That already put her two weeks behind in beginning operations there. Fallon doubted she’d be able to begin directing rehearsals for the summer Melodrama in three days. It might be challenging to find another apartment during the Memorial Day weekend. But she wasn’t going to let this set-back stop her. Directing the Opera House’s annual Melodrama was her chance to prove to her doubtful family and friends, and other potential theater managers, that she could make a solid career as a theater director.
“Please, Lord, provide another place for me. I really need this job. And please take care of those other people.”