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Four Weeks

After the sudden death of his estranged father, Trent Parker finds himself the reluctant owner of a riding stable on Michigan's beautiful Mackinac Island. With the shadow of his unresolved relationship with his father weighing on him, Trent wants to sell the stable and get back to his life. When new manager Louise Hart asks for four weeks to turn the run-down place around, he sees the time as an opportunity to explore his father's secret past, but he gets more than he bargained for. Not only does Louis succeed at making the riding stable a booming business; she challenges his ideas about loyalty, family, and love.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


Melissa Ford

     Melissa Ford lives in rural Michigan with her husband, two sons, and three goats. During the day she assists students with their academic writing at the local community college; her evenings are spent driving her kids around, avoiding housework by playing Scrabble, and of course, working on her next book. Author of both adult and young adult fiction, she enjoys all kinds of stories-as long as they have a happy ending.

Reviews

5 Hearts

"An interesting twist in the plot makes for moving and romantic ending. But the road to get there is well worth he read. A story that will touch your heart and make you want to know the real reason why the elder Mr. Parker really kept the stables a secret all these years."

Louise Riveiro-Mitchell -- The Romance Studio
Excerpt


Chapter One

LOUISE HART LEANED against the sagging split rail fence and frowned. Even under usual circumstances, the sorry sight before her would've depressed her. A small muddy paddock, enclosed by the neglected fence, gave way to a weather beaten structure she guessed was the barn.

She hitched the duffel bag up her shoulder and straightened her back. If only she could get rid of the discomfort treading through her body so easily. She sighed. It was useless, because the weight of the bag wasn't the cause of the stiffness in her spine and the knots in her stomach. It was plain old-fashioned fear.

Fear that she'd made another really bad mistake.

This latest new job couldn't end up like all the others she'd accepted with high hopes and left when things didn't work out the way she'd fantasized. Over the past four years, the only career achievement she laid claim to was a too-long resume. The miserable reality in front of her did little to quell the dread weighing on her. In fact, it made matters worse.

A gust of wind blew, carrying with it the fresh scent of late spring lake water. The sign above her squeaked as it swung on its hinges and confirmed what she had to face as the truth. She stood before Hawk's Riding Stable located on Michigan's Mackinaw Island, her new place of employment. The job she'd left home for. The job she'd wanted so badly she'd accepted over the phone.

Louise lifted her chin, yanked open the crooked gate, paused long enough to close it behind her, and moved toward the wide barn doorway. No going back. She'd made herself a promise that no matter what lay ahead, she would make the most of this situation. It was a promise she'd made too many times to count, but this time she meant it. Really.

Familiar smells of fresh hay and horse greeted her at the entrance of the barn, lifting her spirits a tiny bit. Impatient hooves thudded against the ground and were accompanied by the easy swish of a tail. Although none of her short careers involved horses, she'd spent every summer during high school working as a riding camp counselor. Her love for horses and riding had never faded.

While her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she pulled in another breath. The comforting smell of the barn should inspire her to get excited about this job adventure. In a quick puff, she blew it out again. She needed more than a head full of memories. She needed to find the mysterious Mr. Parker and get on with her new life. It didn't seem likely that the wealthy new owner would be lingering about in the barn, doing anything as mundane as mucking out stalls, but she had no idea where else to look for him.

Louise glanced around, gave up searching for a clean spot to set down her duffel bag and tossed it into a corner. The low timbre of a man's voice growled across her skin before it reached her ears. The gentle rumble rolled through her, making a warm tremor zip down her spine. She paused at the center aisle of the small barn and rubbed her palms down her arms to chase away the odd sensation.

A tall black horse flipped its ears and studied her. The inside of the stable wasn't much better than the exterior, but the animals looked healthy. The laugh, a rolling, easy chuckle, came again. She had to find someone who could help her locate her new boss, so she moved toward the sound.

She didn't have to go far to find the man behind the voice. When she did, she drew in a sharp breath and jerked to a stop. Although the office he stood in must have been a converted stall, he seemed to fill up the whole room.

Neatly dressed, he stood by a bare desk with an old phone cradled under his chin. His thick shoulders filled out a deep blue polo shirt while tailored casual pants hugged his long legs. Expensive leather shoes covered his feet. Dressed as he was, she might've guessed he was the owner, but that was impossible. Mr. Parker was her father's age.

The man twisted from his lean hips. His strong jawbone was accentuated with a classically straight nose. He gazed out an opening that was probably once used by a horse to breathe in the fresh northern Michigan air. A detached smile lifted his mouth.

He listened to the person at the other end of the line and laughed again. As before, the potent sound roused a reaction deep within her body. The sensation wasn't expected or welcomed.

She had to move on. Her goal was to make the most of her new job, and that did not include mingling with wealthy island tourists. Mackinaw Island was a favorite midwestern vacation spot, so there were bound to be lots of handsome men around. Guys, like this one, who looked like he had nothing more on his mind than having a good time.

She shifted from the doorway, but didn't get away fast enough. The slight sound of her shoes sliding on the grubby floor caught his attention and he turned. His gaze darted across her face and he grinned. His smile deepened just before he glanced down to take in the rest of her. His slow scrutiny left her strangely light-headed.

She let her own stare trace the outline of his athletic body. A rush of heat flooded her cheeks and the fire under her skin burned even more. What was she doing? Maybe she'd get lucky and he wouldn't notice. This guy didn't need any encouragement. Judging from her own response, neither did she.

He made a careful study of her expression and his lazy smile shifted to one of approval.

"I'll get back with you," he said to the person at the other end just before dropping the black receiver into its cradle.

The urge to walk away burned in her feet, but she stayed put. Although tomorrow was her first day, as far as she was concerned, her new position started the second she stepped onto the property. Turning away from her customer would be bad business and plain rude.

Lingering by the desk, he continued to take his time. Finally, she gave in and smiled back. To break the odd tension swirling in the stuffy room, she asked, "Is there something I can do for you?"

Surprise registered in his eyes and he blinked. "I'm sure there is." Even though the flirtatious meaning behind his soft-spoken words was clear, Louise noticed that his expression didn't quite reach his eyes. Tension tightened his handsome features. Behind the casual banter, Louise knew something in his world wasn't right.

Even so, she had to steer this conversation away from the personal turn it had taken. "Are you looking for someone?"

He lifted one thick shoulder. "Maybe."

She sighed. With his rich hazel eyes and sun streaked brown hair, he was handsome all right, and charming in a carefree way, but this conversation had no potential. She had more important things to do than stand around talking nonsense with one of the tourists. She turned to leave.

"Wait."

She swung back around. An awkward silence settled between them. For some reason, her gaze was drawn to his long legs and muscular forearms. With effort she pulled it to his face.

"What about you? Are you looking for someone?" He lifted his eyebrows. "Did you want a trail horse for a few hours?"

The knot in her stomach, loosened by the pleasant distraction he presented, tightened again. His question pushed her mentally off balance and she remained speechless.