Christmas Countdown: Raising Winter – A Candlewood Falls Novel: Hometown Series Book 2 by Stacey Wilk

Raising Winter
Hometown Series Book 2
A Candlewood Falls Novel
By
Stacey Wilk

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The last thing the man who has it all needs is to become the custodian of a ten-year-old girl. But Brad Wilde has, and he doesn’t know how to handle this new role. Because his plans never included revealing his secret.

The prom queen has fallen off her throne and returns to Candlewood Falls with her tail between her legs. When Lyra Ryan starts a cleaning business because she doesn’t want to be a therapist anymore, the only person willing to hire her is the arrogant and sexy Brad Wilde.

Thrown together by chance, or maybe fate, Lyra and Brad must help each other follow their hearts and learn that love—in all its forms—shows up when you’re least prepared to handle it.

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If you’ve been reading these books from all the authors, you will remember Brad Wilde saying he doesn’t need a doctor to Riesling at Malbec and Eliza’s engagement party.

Well as karma often strikes after a statement like that, Brad falls off an old ladder and breaks his wrist, his dominant wrist. He’s getting a bit antsy not being able to do anything but the paperwork stuff for the Orchard, but that’s all about to change.

Lyra Ryan’s husband has been arrested by the FBI for fraud and other things. With the charges filed she lost her therapy practice, because who wants a therapist married to a fraud. Fortunately, the FBI couldn’t touch her practice, or the bank account attached to it since was solely hers. She and their children are moving to her hometown, Candlewood Falls. She’s rented a small house outside of town to give them some privacy.

I’m not sure who was more surprised to find they are neighbors, Lyra or Brad. She really didn’t acknowledge his recognizing her other than a head nod.

Not long after that Brad gets a phone call from someone he never expected to hear from, Nora Reis. She’s giving him the news her sister Maggie had died, and she needs him to take his daughter Winter for a few weeks while she returns to work. He’s more than a little startled since Maggie had kept him away from Winter from the moment she was born. He never told anyone about her existence, his best kept secret.

With Winter on her way, Brad has to tell his family. Well at least his twin Brooklyn and his father. He didn’t expect them to join him at the train station. Later that day Winter overhears a conversation Brad is having with his dad, running away when she hears he didn’t want a family.

The way Winter meets Lyra and he sons Lucas and Theo, is rather interesting especially when Brad shows up.

This is a favorite scene.

Oh, crap. She was hurt. “What’s your name, honey?” She needed to call her parents or her guardian or whoever was responsible for this girl. Too much time had already gone by.

“Winter!” a male voice called from the tree line. “Where are you?”

“Is your name Winter?” she said.

The girl nodded.

“Is that your dad looking for you?”

“No. I don’t have a dad.” She blinked away the tears.

The hairs on Lyra’s arms stood up. “Were you running from this man?”

“Yes. He’s mean.”

“Lucas, run and get my phone. It’s in my bedroom.” Lucas didn’t move. “Now,” she said with as much conviction as she could muster without totally scaring Winter. They needed to get Winter inside before this man found her. Lucas ran and Theo followed.

“Let me help you up.” She took Winter’s hand and pulled her to her feet. “We’ll go inside and call for help.”

A rustling came from the trees as if a strong wind had picked up. Her feet froze in their spot. The man was coming through the trees. She was a trained therapist. She could handle an escalating situation, as long as the man didn’t have a gun.

A large male body rippling in muscles pushed through the brush. A branch smacked him in the face, knocking him backward a few steps. His head whipped back, and he cursed. His long hair tangled in the branch. She laughed. She couldn’t help it. This wasn’t a mass murderer. It was Brad Wilde. She was pretty sure he wasn’t a kidnapper either, but he was looking for the little girl next to her.

She stole a glance at Winter. She had crossed her arms over her small chest and set her jaw. Her blue eyes had chilled over, and she tapped her foot. This little girl was anything but afraid.

“There you are.” Brad wiped at the blood on his face from the fight with the branch. He stopped short when he saw her next to Winter. “Oh, hi. I’m Brad. I live next door.”

“You’re Brad Wilde.” They grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone. It stung a little that he could think she wouldn’t know who he was even if she couldn’t remember the last time she saw him. Maybe high school graduation and that was twenty years ago.

She must look like a mess in her work clothes covered in bleach spots, the sweatshirt with the tear at the hem, and the hole at the knee of her sweatpants. She hadn’t showered, and it was almost dinnertime. Even she could smell the sweat and cleaning chemicals coming off her in waves. She smoothed her hair down in some lame attempt to pull her appearance together.

He narrowed his eyes. “You know who I am?”

“Sure. Your family owns the orchard in town.” She wondered if he knew anything about the scandal. He would have to. Unless someone lived under a rock, they would know what happened with her husband even if he didn’t know the culprit had been her husband. And she wasn’t about to tell him. It would be nice not to be judged for five minutes by her husband’s bad choices. Though Brad might be judging her soiled clothing.

“I thought that was you the other day. I saw you moving in. Sorry about the interruption. Winter, we need to get back to the house.” He waved Winter over, but she didn’t move.

She glanced between the two and wondered what the showdown was all about. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t her business.

Lucas came up beside her with her phone. “Here.” He shoved it at her and went back inside. She put the phone in her pocket, not needing it now. She had overreacted. Too many crime shows and too many years as a therapist. It really was time to move on.

“Winter, we need to go back now. Grandpa came over to see you.”

A gasp of relief almost fell off her lips. Winter had a grandfather. That must mean a parent was nearby. She still couldn’t fathom why Winter didn’t like Brad, but he was a little rough-looking with those tattoos, along with that hair. Though she found them insanely attractive. A rugged man had always made her lady parts sing.

But why would Winter’s grandfather be next door? Unless… She squatted down beside Winter to be eye level with her. “Winter, I need a little truth at the moment. Do you think you can be completely honest with me?”

“Yes. I never lie.”

“Good girl.” She stole a glance at Brad. He had fisted his hands on his hip, the one with the brace was at an awkward angle. He was expertly scowling.

“Who were you running from?”

“Me. She was running from me,” Brad said before Winter could answer. “Winter, can we please go back to the house so I can explain?”

Winter shook her head.

“Why was she running from you?” She stood to her full height which only made her come up to about Brad’s chest. Even though he hadn’t moved from the brush line, she could tell she would have to stand on her tiptoes to meet his smoldering gaze.

“I said something that she misunderstood. I didn’t mean what I said, Winter.”

“But you said it.”

“I did. I shouldn’t have said it like that. Can we go now? I’m sure Ms. Chambers would like to get back to whatever it is she was doing before you showed up at her house.”

The idea of the bath and the glass of wine seemed far away at this point. She hadn’t expected to get dragged into the middle of a family squabble, but she didn’t mind helping out.

“You should know, so you can tell her grandfather or her parent, that she bumped into my son while running and went down pretty hard. She hit the back of her head and got the wind knocked out of her.”

“Does she need a doctor?”

“I don’t think so. But I’m sure her parents will keep an eye on her for any signs of a concussion.”

“Concussion?” His eyes bulged from their sockets. “What do I do if she has a concussion?”

“I don’t know for sure that she does. Wait a second. Are you watching her?” Where was this grandfather? And who was this grandfather Brad mentioned?

“Until her aunt comes back.” His face turned the color of ash. He rubbed at his bad hand.

“What if she doesn’t?” Winter said.

Brad cleared the space between them and dropped down on his haunches to look Winter in the eye. “She’s going to come back for you. You’ll see. Then you can live with her just the way you and she want. Okay?” He lowered his voice into something more soothing than before. “I’m sorry about earlier.”

“What if Aunt Nora doesn’t come back?” Winter’s bottom lip quivered.

She seemed more concerned about this Aunt Nora returning than what Brad may have said. Everyone has said things they’ve regretted. She certainly had, even to the boys. But it couldn’t have been too bad. At least she hoped it wasn’t.

“She will.” Brad placed his good hand on Winter’s head. “Does this hurt?”

“A little. Do you promise she’ll come get me?”

“I promise.” A sadness passed over his blue eyes. Blues that resembled Winter’s…

“My shoe is untied.” Winter stuck out her foot. “I think I tripped on it when I bumped into that boy.”

“Can I tie it for you?” he said.

She should slip away and allow this conversation to happen without an audience, but she stayed put as Brad softened into a teddy bear. She wanted to ask them questions, to learn more about their dynamic, but she wasn’t a therapist anymore. She had no right to pry.

“I can tie my own shoe.”

She stifled a laugh. A future independent woman. Lyra liked Winter more and more.

“I bet you can. I bet you’re good at it too. You’re probably better than me.”

Winter scrunched up her nose and kept her gaze on Brad. Brad just squatted there with an adoring grin on his face. “Okay. You can do it.” She lifted her leg to bring her foot closer to him.

He looked downright endearing while he propped Winter’s foot up on his knee and tied her sneaker. Winter pushed Brad’s hair behind his shoulder and smoothed it down. His head snapped up and that small smile burst wide open, igniting the lines around his eyes.

“Thanks, my hair was in my face,” he said.

“We can go home now.” Winter held out her hand for him to take, then turned to her. “Thank you for helping me.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Brad stood, taking Winter’s hand.

“No problem. Winter, if you want to come back over to play with Theo, he would like that. Or maybe you two could ride the bus to school together.”

“I’m being homeschooled.”

“She’s only here through the new year. Her aunt arranged for online classes while she stays with me.” The light in his eyes went out.

Winter tugged Brad’s hand. “Can I come back to play?”

“If it’s okay with Ms. Chambers.”

“You can call me Miss Lyra or just Lyra. Whatever you’re more comfortable with. And yes, you can come over anytime. Theo loves company.” She debated on saying something for a minute, but her curiosity got the best of her. “I should probably mind my own business, but may I ask a personal question?”

“I’d rather you didn’t.”

“How are you two related?” The words blurted out before she could stop them. She should know better than to pry; she never forced her clients to answer anything they weren’t comfortable with, but she had been enamored with their dynamic. She needed more information like a flower needing the sun.

“She’s my daughter.” He squared his broad shoulders and set his jaw, his gaze never wavering.

“I don’t understand. You said she’s only here for a short time.”

“Like you said, it’s none of your business.”
Wilk, Stacey; Falls, Candlewood. Raising Winter : A Candlewood Falls Novel (Hometown Series Book 2) (Kindle Locations 659-735). Stacey Wilk . Kindle Edition.

While this first meeting wasn’t the best, Brad does make the effort to be neighborly.

Winter gets along well with the boys and starts warming up to Brad as he takes her around different places. She really likes the alpacas at Brooklyn’s. While Winter was trying not to like Brad, she’s finding he really isn’t the bad guy her mother and aunt made him out to be.

There’s much going on in this story, and a lot of it surrounds Brad and Winter. However, there is also quite the attraction between Brad and Lyra.

With ups and downs, laughter and tears, I could put this book down.

5 Contented Purrs for Stacey!

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Stacey Wilk

From an early age, Stacey Wilk told tales as a way to escape. At six she wrote short stories in composition notebooks, at twelve she wrote a novel on a typewriter, in high school biology she wrote rock star romances in her binder instead of paying attention.

But it wasn’t until many years later, inspired by her children and a looming birthday, that she finally took her story-telling seriously. And published her first novel in 2013. Since then, she’s gone on to publish fourteen more so women everywhere could fall in love and find an escape of their own.

She isn’t done telling stories. Not by a long shot. If you want to read her emotional and honest books about family, romance, and second chances.

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