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Chance Encounter

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Melanie Hopkins has sworn off dating to focus on her job and her three-year-old daughter, but when a man from her past persists in pursuing her, will she take down the walls around her heart or stay lonely forever?

After a string of bad luck with men, Melanie Hopkins has sworn off dating to focus on her job and her three-year-old daughter. Moving to Emerald Falls to live with her sister, she’s ready to make a fresh start.

Gage Bennett has never had much luck with women. As a teenager he wasn’t exactly a Romeo, but now that he’s all grown up, he’s worked hard to transform himself. Now a successful business owner, when the car he accidentally hits in the grocery store parking lot turns out to belong to Melanie Hopkins, the dream girl from his youth, he decides to parlay this chance encounter into an opportunity to finally get to know her.

Too bad she’s not interested. But he hasn’t gotten where he is by being timid. Will his persistence pay off, or will it put him in the friend-zone for good?

This is a clean and wholesome standalone romance.

Scroll down to read the first chapter.

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Chapter 1

The moment Melanie walked into Emerald Chic Boutique with her sister Ashleigh, her gaze was drawn to a woman with beautiful red hair who was hunched over a work table creating a bracelet made out of an array of stones from milky white to chestnut brown.

“Hey, Amethyst,” Ashleigh said, then the woman lifted her head and smiled at them.

“Hey, Ash.” Amethyst stood and came around the table before giving Ashleigh a quick hug. “How are you?”

“I’m doing great. Looks like you’re keeping busy.”

Amethyst smiled. “Oh yeah. I was busy at Christmas and it’s just gotten busier every month since.”

“Putting your work table right out here was a stroke of brilliance. Now that you’re the owner, everyone can see what beautiful work you do.”

“Aw. Thanks, Ash.”

Ashleigh turned to Melanie before facing Amethyst. “Do you remember my sister Melanie?”

Amethyst smiled at Melanie. “Of course. When Ashleigh and I were sophomores in high school you were a senior and much too cool for us.”

Melanie laughed. “Not really. I just thought I was.”

“Are you here for a visit?”

“No,” Ashleigh said. “She and her adorable daughter Avery moved in with me.” Ashleigh placed her hand on Melanie’s arm. “I’m so excited to have them here.”

Touched by her sister’s enthusiasm, Melanie felt tears push against the backs of her eyes. “Thanks, Ash.”

Amethyst smiled. “That’s great! What brings you back to Emerald Falls?”

Melanie wasn’t about to get into the woes of her love life, although an image of her ex-boyfriend and his new wife popped into her head regardless. “It was time for a change.” That was the understatement of the year.

“Nothing like coming back to your roots,” Amethyst said. “And you know Emerald Falls is a great place to make a fresh start.”

Ashleigh gave Amethyst a knowing smile, then turned to Melanie. “Sometime you’ll have to ask Amethyst how she and Sawyer got together.”

Intrigued, Melanie nodded. “I certainly will.”

Ashleigh smiled at Amethyst. “I’ll let you get back to work. We just wanted to pop in and say hi before we had lunch.”

“I’m glad you did,” Amethyst said. “If you need anything, Melanie, just let me know.”

“Thanks. I will.” In all reality, there was no one besides her sister who Melanie trusted to come through for her. She wouldn’t ask anyone for a thing.

Melanie followed Ashleigh out the door of Emerald Chic Boutique and to a nearby diner. The heavenly scent of grilled burgers wafted into Melanie’s nose, and the sound of several voices talking at once filled her ears.

“Is this okay?” Ashleigh asked as she pointed to a booth near a window.

“Sure.”

They sat across from each other, then took a pair of menus out of a silver holder.

“How much time do you have before you have to get back to work?” Ashleigh asked.

Glancing at her phone, Melanie said, “About forty minutes.” On her lunch break from her accounting job, which was located in the large town adjacent to Emerald Falls, Melanie was happy to eat a quiet meal with her sister. As much as Melanie enjoyed spending time with her daughter, it was also nice to have a meal without her.

Moving to Emerald Falls had been difficult for three-year-old Avery. She desperately missed Kyle, the man Melanie had been hoping to marry and who had been like a father to Avery. Until Jessica had shown up and ruined all of her plans.

Nope. She wasn’t going to go there.

“It’s so fun having you here,” Ashleigh said with a smile. “I hardly got to see you before and now I get to see you all the time.”

Melanie laughed. “Until you get sick of us.”

“You know that will never happen.” A wistful expression came over Ashleigh. “You’re the only family I have.”

Touched by her sister’s words, Melanie set her menu down and reached across the table to place her hand on Ashleigh’s arm. “You and me against the world, right?”

The wistful look on Ashleigh’s face was replaced by raised eyebrows and pursed lips. “That’s right.”

Melanie smiled as she picked up her menu. When their parents had died in a car accident when they were in elementary school, they’d moved to Emerald Falls to live with their grandmother. And now that she’d passed away, it really was just the two of them. They’d always been fiercely loyal to one another, so when Melanie couldn’t take seeing Kyle and Jessica for another day, moving in with Ashleigh had been the obvious answer.

“Hey there, Ashleigh,” the server said as she stopped next to their table.

Melanie lifted her gaze to the pretty woman with auburn hair pulled into a ponytail and tried to place her.

“Hey, Katy,” Ashleigh said. “This is my sister Melanie. She just moved back.”

No, Melanie had never met her before.

“Welcome back,” Katy said with a warm smile.

Melanie had only been back for a week, but already she was feeling right at home. The people were friendly—and none of them had ever heard of Kyle and Jessica Judd.

“Thanks,” Melanie said.

“Now,” Katy said, “what can I get you ladies?”

They placed their order and Katy walked away.

“She comes in to the library with her two kids all the time,” Ashleigh said, then she chuckled. “They especially love story time. When they sit still long enough to listen.”

Melanie smiled. “I’ll bet you’re the best librarian Emerald Falls has ever had.”

“I don’t know about that, but I do love it.”

Katy brought their food a short time later—a turkey avocado on toasted sourdough for Melanie and a grilled burger with everything on it for Ashleigh. As they ate, they talked about the people they’d known growing up. 

“Don’t be surprised if Amethyst throws a dinner party in your honor,” Ashleigh said as she picked up a French fry and dipped it in catsup.

Melanie swallowed the bite of sandwich she’d been chewing. “She doesn’t need to do that.”

“She loves to throw parties.” Ashleigh smirked. “Not that you ever came to any of them when we were in high school.”

Melanie tilted her head. “That’s right. I was too cool for you guys.”

They both laughed.

“If you have time,” Ashleigh said, “would you mind picking up a few things at the grocery store on your way home from work this afternoon? I’m not off until seven.”

“Sure thing.” Melanie was happy to help out however she could. Ashleigh had let Melanie and Avery take over both of her guest bedrooms, so if Melanie could do anything to make life easier for her little sister, she would do it.

“I don’t want you to be late picking up Avery from day care though,” Ashleigh added. “So if it won’t work…”

“No. Mrs. Johnson can be strict about punctuality, but it will only take a minute to run into the store.”

“Perfect. Thank you.”

Melanie ended up getting off work a little later than she had planned. Being a new employee, it was important that she make a good impression, so when the project she was working on ran into a snag, she stayed long enough to help fix the issue. 

Crossing into the city limits of Emerald Falls, Melanie debated whether to pick up Avery before going to the store. As much as she wanted to see her daughter after the long work day, it would be faster to run in on her own, so she zipped into the nearest parking space and hurried into the store before grabbing a shopping cart.

Keeping an eye on the time, she gathered the few items Ashleigh had requested, then pushed her cart to the check-out. Two registers were open—a regular line, which had three people in it already, and the fifteen items or less line, which had one person nearly done and another customer queued up.

Melanie chose the express line. The man in front of her had his items on the belt, and with her accountant’s mind, she quickly tallied up the total. He had twenty-three items. Holding back a sigh—she only had seven things in her cart—she tried not to think mean thoughts about him, but they filled her mind regardless.

Couldn’t he read? It clearly said fifteen items or less. Maybe he couldn’t count. Typical man. Thinks the world revolves around him and his needs.

His back was to her, but she worked not to notice his athletic build and thick blonde hair. And when he turned slightly so that she could see his profile, she told herself not to notice how attractive he was with his strong jaw, full lips, and perfectly carved cheekbones with just the right amount of stubble.

A minute later the cashier—a pretty girl in her early twenties—smiled at him. “Hey, Gage,” she said. “How are you?”

“I’m good,” Gage said. “How are you, Ellie?”

“Keeping busy.”

Melanie hoped they weren’t going to chat for long. She was already running behind and needed to get to Mrs. Johnson’s to pick up Avery.

Mercifully, Ellie finished ringing up his items and the man was on his way without a backwards glance in Melanie’s direction.

“Hello,” Ellie said to Melanie.

“Hi.” The girl’s smile was warm, and as she rang up Melanie’s items, Melanie began to relax. She would be out the door in mere moments. She paid for her purchases and headed to her car, but as she approached, a new dent was clearly visible on her rear bumper.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she muttered as her blood pressure skyrocketed. Then she saw a slip of paper pinned to her windshield by a wiper blade. Marching to the front of her car, she mashed her lips together in frustration. She didn’t have time to deal with this.

Lifting the wiper blade, she retrieved the note and thought, This guy better have insurance.

She read the note.

Sorry about your car. Give me a call and I’ll take care of the damage.

Gage Bennett

There was a phone number scrawled beneath the man’s name, but when Melanie saw the name Gage, her irritation only increased. It was the same man who had been in front of her in line. The man who thought he didn’t need to follow the rules. Not only had he damaged her car, but he hadn’t even had the courtesy to come inside and find her.

You’d better believe you’re going to take care of the damage.

At least he’d left a note, but that did little to assuage Melanie’s annoyance. When she spoke to him she would give him a piece of her mind. But she didn’t have time just then.

* * *

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