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Loving the Beast

Loving the Beast

A Grumpy/Sunshine Romance

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Can her love tame the beast?

MAIN TROPES

  • Grumpy/Sunshine
  • Sheriff
  • New in Town
  • Bakery
  • Protective Hero
  • Dog

Synopsis

Millie Thornton is moving to Hidden Hollows for a fresh start in the only thing she won in her divorce, her ex-husbands Jaguar. The idillic small town setting is just what she needs to help her heal and start over.

Luke St. Clair is stuck in Hidden Hollows with all the regrets of his past. As the small town sheriff, he spends his days handing out tickets and his nights with his dog, Tick, and his only passion in life, beer and fixing cars.

So when Millie shows up with her optimistic attitude and bad driving, he’s annoyed enough to take notice.

After discovering the truth about Luke’s past, Millie takes it upon herself to fix him. She won’t allow himself to close in on himself just like her father did. Luke is reluctant but with the promise of her Jaguar on the table, he agrees. After all, he’s been able to thwart Hidden Hollows do-gooders before, what makes Millie any different?

Except, she’s not what he expected and the feelings coursing through him, were not something he thought he’d ever feel again. If only he could move on from his pain, he just might be able to love her like she deserves.

Chapter One Look Inside

Millie

Millie blew the loose strands of red hair from her face as she shifted in her seat. The eleven-hour drive from New York City to Hidden Hollows, North Carolina was wreaking havoc on her muscles and joints. 

At twenty-seven, she never imagined that an aching body would be something she’d complained about…but if she were honest with herself, moving to some small town in the mountains of North Carolina wasn’t really something she imagined for herself either. 

But what else was she supposed to do? It wasn’t like she had a life left in New York to stay for. Samuel made sure of that. All she got in the divorce was a broken heart and his Jaguar XJS. Which, at this moment, she could care less about. 

Glaring down at the dash, she blew the strands back off her face that were tickling her nose and down shifted, reveling in the sound of the gears scraping against each other. 

It was her small victory, peeling away from their condo complex in Samuel’s baby. Watching his expression harden in her rearview mirror. 

Cheating on her with Tulip, her former best friend? Well, losing his beloved baby served him right. 

He took her happiness, it was only fair that she took his. 

Glancing up, she took note of the sign to her left. 

Hidden Hollows 7 miles

She smiled as she moved into the right lane in anticipation of pulling off the exit. She was ready for her new life—whatever that was. 

When her great-aunt Lucinda announced to the family that she was retiring in an email a month ago, Millie reached out to her. After all, she grew up loving to bake alongside Lucinda. What better way to start her new life than to take over the bakery her great-aunt owned?

Plus, being in a small town meant less people. Which meant less chances of her heart being broken. 

Right now, love was the absolute last thing from her mind. If she never saw the cocky smile of another member of the opposite gender, it would be too soon. 

“Men break your heart,” she muttered under her breath as she tipped the wheel to the right and slowed as she approached the stop sign. 

Not really caring about how she shifted gears, the car groaned as the gears scraped against each other. Finally, she came to a stop and looked both ways before she turned right and headed through the mountains, toward Hidden Hollows. 

Just as she was getting comfortable, flashing lights pulled her attention up to her rearview mirror. A sheriff’s car was tailing her. Groaning, she clicked on her blinker and moved to the shoulder. She down shifted and then pulled the shifter into neutral after engaging the parking brake. 

She reached into her purse where she pulled out her wallet. She forced her slamming heart to calm. She’d done nothing wrong.

Right?

Needing a distraction, she removed her photo ID and insurance card from their slots in her wallet and inhaled slowly. Glancing up, she studied the rearview mirror. The driver’s door of the car opened and the sheriff emerged. She couldn’t get a good look at him as his face was nearly covered from his cowboy hat. 

She snorted as she fiddled with the cards in her hand. 

Cowboy hat? Really? Was he lost or something? Middle of North Carolina was far cry from Texas. 

It didn’t take him long to close the distance between her car and his. Suddenly, he was standing outside, a few solid knocks on her window drawing her attention. She blew out her breath as she rolled the window down. 

“Good evening, officer,” she said as she turned. She forced the biggest, I’m not a crazy person smile as she pushed her hair from her face. 

Two dark, almost black eyes were peering down at her. She swallowed at the depth they held. He was tall—over six feet. A five o’clock shadow covered his, no doubt in her mind, chiseled jaw. 

It was spring in North Carolina, so not quite t-shirt weather. Instead, he wore a dark brown jacket over his uniform. 

Feeling vulnerable under his stare, she cleared her throat and attempted a smile again. 

The sheriff took his time pulling his ticket book from his pocket and removing a pen as well. “Do they not have stop signs in…New York?” he asked as he held out his hand. 

Realizing that he wanted her info, she moved to slip in onto his outstretched palm. “No, they do,” she said as she racked her brain, trying to remember if she stopped fully. She swore she had. 

“Well, here in Hidden Hollows, we expect everyone to stop so that your car actually stops moving before pulling out, Amelia,” he said as he studied her license. Her name rolled off his tongue in a way that confused her. 

It sounded almost accusatory. 

“And maybe, it wouldn’t hurt to shift correctly next time,” he said as he tapped her cards on his ticket book. “I’m going to go run your license. I’ll be back.”

“It’s Thornton now,” she blurted. Her license still contained the last name of the no good cheat. In her haste to get out of New York, she’d left the nitty gritty of getting divorced until she was actually gone.

The sheriff paused and then glanced back at her. “What?” he asked.

She cleared her throat as her cheeks heated with embarrassment. What was wrong with her? Why had she even said anything? He didn’t ask for her life story and from the way he was glaring at her, she doubted he ever cared.

But he seemed to be waiting for a response so she parted her lips and said, “My last name is no longer Parker. It’s Thornton. I’m…divorced. I’m actually moving to town. You probably know my aunt. Lucinda? She owns the bakery. I’m taking it over as the new owner.”

Wow. That felt surreal to say. Sure, it had been months since she and Samuel had separated, but it had only been days since it was official. Now that she said those words a loud, it was as if her new status was…real. There was no going back. She was alone.

Blinking, she forced her emotions to settle. The last thing she wanted was to break down in front of this total stranger. After a few seconds ticked by, she glanced over to see that the sheriff hadn’t moved his attention. He was staring at her with an unreadable expression. 

It made her nervous. 

But if the sheriff picked up on it, he didn’t move to show it. Instead, he quirked an eyebrow and then glanced down at her license. “Have you legally changed it?” 

Millie bit her lip as she shook her head. “I’m working on it. It’s…new.”

The sheriff’s shoulders tightened as he shrugged. “Then I don’t care. I don’t need to know your current marital status to run your background check.” 

He narrowed his eyes as he turned and disappeared. 

Millie furrowed her brow as she rolled up her window. Well, he was rude. Who did he think he was? Speaking to her like that. 

She folded her arms as she glowered at her dash. The sheriff had just proved her point. All men were full of themselves. 

Why did fate seem to hate her so much?

She leaned her head back and rested it against the seat. She took in a few deep breaths. Soon, she’d be at her new house living her new life. All of this—including the ticket and the extremely rude sheriff—would be a distant memory. 

And that thought caused her muscles to relax. 

It felt like an eternity before the sheriff returned. His knocks were loud and grated her nerves. Determined to not let this man ruin her new lease on life, she forced a smile and rolled down the window. 

“Well, you check out, Amelia Parker,” the sheriff said. 

Millie winced at the sound of her soon-to-be ex’s last name. She’d divorced the man, why did the process of fully ridding him from her life have to be so complicated?

“Good,” she said as she took her license and insurance card that he’d handed back to her. 

“Let’s make sure we stop fully at all stop signs…” his voice drifted as if he had something else to say. Millie glanced over at him to see that his jaw muscles had tightened. 

“Okay,” she said, slowly. There was a moment there, where she wondered if she’d missed read the situation, but then, he parted his lips and she realized that she’d been right, he had more to say.

“And watch the way you shift. You’re going to blow up the transmission.”

She stared at him as his words processed in her mind. Was he seriously lecturing her on her driving? That felt like an overstep. This was her car. What did he care?

But, poking the already cranky sheriff didn’t feel like the best idea, so she just pinched her lips together and nodded. 

He eyed her one last time and then tore off a ticket from his pad and handed it to her. 

She took the grudgingly and threw it onto her front seat. She wanted to say something snarky about the fact that he was still writing tickets on a pad, but decided to bite her tongue. The last thing she needed was to be cuffed and in the back of his squad car. That would be quite the entrance. 

The sheriff didn’t seem to want to linger. He touched his finger to the rim of his cowboy hat and nodded, then turned and walked back to his car. 

She watched in her rearview mirror as he walked back to his car and climbed into the driver’s seat. Once she was sure he wasn’t coming back, she threw on her left blinker and merged onto the road. 

As she started to accelerate, she shifted—making the gears grind. It felt good, the fact that through her crappy driving, she was now sticking it to the two men in her life that had ticked her off. 

Samuel and now, Hidden Hollow’s grumpy sheriff. 

She settled back into her seat as downtown Hidden Hollows came into view. It was a quaint town. Something right out of a Hallmark movie. Stores lined either side of the road. People were milling around on the sidewalk chatting and looking as if this place was exactly where they wanted to be. 

Like they belonged. 

Millie couldn’t help the feeling of jealousy that rose up inside of her. It was a dull ache, one that she’d grown accustom to. She took in a deep breath, hoping to dispel it. She was so ready to leave her old life behind her. She was ready to move on. 

Dragging baggage with her into her new life wasn’t what she had in mind. 

At the far end of Main Street, she found Born and Bread in Hidden Hollows—Lucinda’s bakery. 

She pulled into the parking lot behind the bakery and turned the engine off. After pulling her key from the ignition, she slipped it into her purse and grabbed the handle. 

She opened the driver’s door and stepped out. It was April and lingering bits of cold still clung to the air. She took in a deep breath. It was clean and fresh here in Hidden Hollow. Something that was sorely lacking in New York. 

A surge of excitement coursed through her as she slammed the driver’s door and made her way toward the backdoor. The more she saw of Hidden Hollows, the more confident she became that this was the perfect place for her. 

When she got to the backdoor, she turned the door handle and pulled. It creaked and reluctantly moved. The smell of fresh baked bread slammed into her as she made her way into the small entryway. She wiped her feet and peeked around the corner. 

The kitchen was empty, so she pushed in. 

Lucinda had said to come in when Millie arrived. Lucinda wasn’t sure where she was going to be, and said it didn’t matter anyway. The bakery was going to be Millie’s eventually, it was time she started making it her own. 

“Hello?” Millie called out as she glanced around the kitchen. It was small but neat.

Lucinda utilized every nook and cranny. Ovens lined the back wall. A large, metal island sat in the middle of the room. A large refrigerator hummed behind Millie. 

Everything here was so…quiet. 

It was going to take some getting used to. 

“Aunt Lucinda?” Millie called out as she set her purse down on the island and made her way into what she could only assume was the front counter. 

“Millie?” Aunt Lucinda’s voice startled her.

She yelped and whipped around to see the smiling face of her great-aunt. Lucinda’s familiar blue glasses sat perked on her nose. Her white hair was pulled back in a bun on top of her head. Wispy curls fell out, framing her face.

Lucinda had a style that Millie envied. She wished she had the confidence that her great-aunt did. 

“Hey,” Millie exclaimed as she pulled Lucinda into a hug. 

Lucinda chuckled as she returned the gesture. “It’s so good to see you.” She pulled back. “Your trip was good?”

Millie nodded as she dropped her hands and rubbed her hips. “I’m sore, but that’s sitting for an ungodly amount of time for you.”

Lucinda laughed. “That’s why I don’t do that anymore. If I can’t get there on a plane, I don’t go.”

Millie smiled as she glanced around. The front of the bakery was small but full. Shelves were sparse—no doubt from being picked from throughout the day. The walls were brightly painted in blues, pinks, and yellows. 

It felt so cheerful, being in this store. Millie began to realize that she was going to be happy here. 

“Well, what do you think?” Lucinda asked, drawing Millie’s attention over to her. 

Millie smiled, the feeling of complete satisfaction overtaking her previous frustrations. “This is perfect,” she whispered. 

Lucinda chuckled as she nodded. “I’ve loved it here. I’m happy to hear that you will too.”

Millie ran her hand along the glass cases in front of her. Doughnut trays lay empty inside of them. Excitement brewed inside of her. 

“I’m sure I’ll love it,” she said under her breath. It was almost as if she were worried that if she said it too loud, she’d scare off her future or something. 

“Let’s get you some food, I’m sure you’re starving,” Lucinda said as she nodded toward the kitchen. “I’ve got some soup and bread bowls waiting for you.”

Millie’s stomach growled as she nodded. “I’m ready,” she said, following after her. 

Soon, they were sitting at the island with fresh bread and steaming hot soup. Millie smiled as she listed to Lucinda talk. She was giving Millie the rundown of the schedule and the town. 

Leaning forward, Millie took a bite of her soup and smiled. 

This—all of it—was exactly what she needed. 

This was the fresh start she’d been longing for. 

Coming to Hidden Hollows was the smartest move she could have made and she was ready for the beginning of her new life to start. 

Never again would she allow a man to run over her. To change her into someone she wasn’t. She was going to take this time to discover her true self. 

Out with the old Millie and in with the new. 

Hidden Hollows was the perfect place to start over. 

And she was ready for that first day of the rest of her life.

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