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Finding Hope

Finding Hope

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Austin believed in waiting until the right one came. When shy Claudia came into town
he knew she was the one. The only thing he has to do is convince her of what he already knows, she's the one.

Main Tropes

  • Small Town Romance
  • Second Chance Romance
  • Women Friendships

Synopsis

A treasure worth having is a treasure worth facing your fears for.

Claudia Lewis was a survivor. She and the two women she had met at the shelter had done all of the classes and had decided to start over in a new place. They’ve come to Coopers Sand, and the wounded women have vowed to thrive in spite of their past. When Claudia meets Austin as one of the first customers in her Baby Registry, she’s sure he’s got to be taken. Not that she’s interested in a relationship. It’s been two years of school and four years since she escaped her toxic relationship. Claudia can’t even think of Austin like that…can she?

Austin believed in waiting until the right one came. When shy Claudia came into town, he knew she was the one. The only thing he has to do is convince her of what he already knows; she's the one.

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Intro into Chapter One

Chapter One

The
way he looked at my stitching, he was either a practitioner of frugality or a
mass murderer.

It was funny how two years of living
a regular life couldn’t erase your past. When the man first came into the shop,
Claudia couldn’t help but notice his expensive black slacks that moved with his
legs and the light blue dress shirt with pinstripes on it. The sleeves were
always rolled up, and his forearms had black smudges on them. She had no idea
how those smudges didn’t wind up on his shirt. Perhaps even the dirt wouldn’t
dare to mar the vision of perfection that he presented. She hadn’t even started
to calculate how the shirt lovingly caressed his chest as if it were the
fortunate one to be there.

He had come in twice a week for the
last two months, and he had instantly been drawn to the baby clothing she had
stitched and designed. After examining them, he promptly bought the baby
designs during the first two weeks. Claudia noticed but didn’t say anything.
She figured he was a tourist. Then when he started to come in and look at the
patterns she had made for moms after they gave birth, she started to watch him
just like she caught him watching her.

He had a look of awe and amazement
on his face, and what a face it was. He was tall and had high cheekbones. He
had those tell-tale lines around the mouth and eyes that said he smiled a lot
and with his whole face. Claudia knew better than to trust a pretty face. Four
years of freedom from a pretty face that thought he owned her. It was daytime,
so there was no hope of calling her friend Tamara Watkins to the store. Claudia
didn't know why she was so nervous. It wasn't like she was in the store all by
herself. While it had been true that her friends Tamara and Tanya had been by
her side in bad times, Claudia thought she had grown stronger than what she was
right now.

It was times like this that Claudia
wished she had brought her two dogs with her to the store. Whisper and Smoke
were rescue dogs that were unfailingly loyal. A part of Claudia moving on with
her life included her being able to go to her own store by herself. After her
sister, Olivia had found her and helped her to recover from the hospital,
Claudia decided to open up a baby registry store. Out of all the things that
she had kept up with, Claudia was an excellent seamstress. She could think of
patterns in her head and then go ahead and create them. The only thing she
couldn’t do was draw them.

Her sister, Olivia, had suggested
that she open up a custom shop. At first, it seemed like Olivia had suggested
it just to keep her in town. Then when Claudia had met back up with her friends
Tamara and Tanya, they had decided that being in Cooper’s Sand was the best
thing for her.

One day, a young woman had come into
the store praising the designs that Claudia had done. The only thing she wished
she could find was a person who made new mothers’ clothing the way that Claudia
made it for babies. Claudia decided to take the challenge, and before long,
there were mothers-to-be and new mothers coming into the shop for the few
patterns she could make and the premade clothing.

One of the workers in the store with
Claudia was Jillian. Jillian was fifty-six and retired. One of the reasons
Claudia hired Jillian was because she knew everyone and everything. When
Jillian walked into the door and waved hello to her boss, Claudia knew she was
less than focused on Jillian. The lack of attention to her arrival made Jillian
look around the store until she pinpointed the stranger.

“So tall, dark, and money-laden is
back,” Jillian said in a low voice. Claudia needed no reminders that he was
attractive. In fact, her whole body seemed to go into hyperdrive whenever he
came into the store. Claudia knew better to listen to anything that she felt.
It was a known fact that she didn't know how to pick a good man. The fact that
she felt any sense of attraction was a confirmation that this was the last man
she wanted to be around.

“I’m not going to let him bully me
in my own store,” she whispered. Jillian placed her hand atop of Claudia’s.

“I don’t think it’s his intention to
do so. Why don’t we calm down a minute and think of a calm way to approach the
situation,” Jillian said.

“I don’t need to wait in my store.
Just because he’s bigger and taller than me doesn’t mean he has the upper hand
at all,” Claudia murmured.

“I think I’ll call for backup
because it looks like this train has already left the station,” Jillian said,
pulling out her cellphone.

Claudia wasn’t hearing a thing.
Instead she went right up to tall, dark, and buying and asked him straight out
why he was in her store.

He wasn’t offended by her stature.
He didn’t step closer into her personal space in order to intimidate her, and
it was almost as if he could tell how much it had taken for her to approach
him.

“First, let me say that I’m sorry
that I have disturbed you because that was the last thing on my mind,” he said
in a deep, rolling tone that wrapped around her and lulled her into a calmer
state.

“Well, what was your intention
coming into a baby shop and buying baby clothes and then coming in and
purchasing women’s clothes and patterns?” Then as if she had said something
rude too loud, Claudia’s hands went to her mouth and then her hands fell away,
and she nibbled her bottom lip. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude on your
buying women’s clothes. I just...”

If Claudia thought his voice was
calming, then when she heard him laugh, it was like fire racing up her spine
and traveling along her veins.

“I think I better step in before we
are both embarrassed.”

Claudia looked at him and realized
she was right. This was a man who was used to laughing, and right now, he was
laughing at her. Her temper came back in full force, and she crossed her hands
over her chest and then tapped her foot.

“Well, then explain to me why a
grown man comes into a baby registry and then buys the items you do.”

“Despite how you may see me, I have
nieces and nephews. My family is very prolific to say the least. As for the
women’s designs, I’m doing something very special with those. I don’t suppose
you want to go out with me and find out what that something is, do you?”

Claudia stood open mouthed from his
response, and when she felt her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of
water, she took a step back and then turned to go into the storage room in the
back. The storage room was cool to make sure her yarns didn’t get frazzled in
the California heat and to make sure no insects came into the cool room. Of
course, it didn’t protect against small animals, but for now, it was enough.
She just needed a place where she could cool down from the unexpected heat from
the customers.

Claudia was sure the man meant nothing
by the exchange. It was probably part of his everyday exchange with women. It
wasn’t her; he was just acting. The truth of the matter was she had plenty of
experience designing clothes for a larger woman. For the longest time, she had
been that large woman in her old relationship. Now she turned those fashions
and made them for women who had just had children, but not that long ago, they
had been her everyday clothes. No, the stranger was not interested in her at
all.

Men like him didn't fall for women
like her. When they did fall for women like her, it usually meant nothing good
for the woman. As far as Claudia was concerned, she had been there and done
that, and she wasn't going there again.

Whisper and Smoke had been
lifesavers. Every day, she took those dogs out for a mile-and-a-half walk. They
didn't criticize her, they didn't tell her to hurry up, and most of all, they
loved her unconditionally.

 The truth of it was that it was just her and
Whisper who did the mile-and-a-half walk. Whisper was part German Shepherd. He
was a large dog with a powerful gait, and at first glance, some people might
have even thought he was vicious. After about three seconds though, everybody
would know the truth. Whisper was everybody's friend.

Smoke, on the other hand, was a
different thing altogether. Smoke was a miniature schnauzer and very protective
of Whisper. No one knew exactly how old Smoke was, but what they did know was
that Smoke would take care of Whisper no matter what. Claudia usually carried a
bag on her shoulder. When Smoke got tired, she would pick him up and place him
in her bag and continue the walk with Whisper.

It was those morning walks that
cleared her mind and helped her to slim down. She still had some days when she
could hear her ex, Larry’s, voice in her head. Claudia heard the silent swish
of the door and knew Jillian was at the doorway.

“Jillian, can you please ring that
man up?”

Jillian cleared her throat, so
Claudia had to look up.

“Hmm... You look a bit flushed to
me. You know, I don’t care how big he is. I’ll take him. No one comes in here
and insults you,” Jillian promised.

Claudia reached out her hand and
touched Jillian, hoping to calm her down.

“He didn’t insult me,” Claudia
whispered.

Jillian’s whole demeanor changed
from avenging angel to matchmaker in the wings.

“Well, if the young man hasn’t
offended you, then that flush on your cheeks means he’s been able to do
something no one in town has been able to do. He’s put a bit of color in your
cheeks.”

Claudia hated her fair skin and
freckles. No doubt, the heat of the blush made her freckles stand out even
more.

“I’m sure he was just messing around
like he probably does with every woman he meets,” Claudia said.

“Well, I don’t know what he does or
doesn’t do with other women, but I know that I’ve been able to tell you where
he’s most likely going to be around 11:00 am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and
that is something I’m pretty sure he can’t be doing for all of the other women
in town.”

“For a man like that, I'm just
something shiny that's caught his attention for the moment,” Claudia said. 

“Sometimes a piece of gold has to
catch your eye so that you can pick it up and know what it's worth,” Jillian
replied.

“Are you trying to say that you
think I need to be with someone now?”

Jillian put Claudia's hands between
her own and then pulled them both close to her chest.

“I'm not saying you need a man,
Claudia. I'm saying you need to make sure you're not deliberately avoiding them
either. If you never find happiness, he's won, just as sure as if you had
stayed with him.”

Claudia had no response. What made
it worse was she had already heard something similar for the last six months
from her friends.

“He’s a complete stranger, Jillian.”

“Well, in my book that just means
you have a hope of keeping this thing, whatever it is or isn’t, a little quiet
before the whole town finds out.”

Claudia thought about what the man
had said, and then she began to squirm a little. She pulled her hand back and
then just sighed.

“Looks like you want to say something,
so I think you should just come out and say it,” Jillian said.

“Well, he did say that he had nieces
and nephews and that his family was prolific,” Claudia said in a rush.

Jillian took a step back and then
gave Claudia a smile.

“Did he say his family was prolific?
That's a real big word.”

Claudia saw that calculating gaze in
Jillian's eyes.

“If he said he was prolific, he
probably means that he lives on the outskirts. He could be a local person who
just doesn't come into town often,” Jillian suggested.

“Can’t we ask Caroline? She knows
everything, for goodness’ sake,” Claudia said.

Jillian gave her a sad smile.

“You’re right. Caroline would be the
best person to ask, but lately, she’s spending more time with her bestie and
soon-to-be fiancé, Mark.”

Claudia was anxious and frustrated
at the same time. From everything that she had heard, Caroline and Mark
deserved to be with one another. She didn’t want to intrude on that time or
happiness with her petty requests if she didn’t have to. Why was this man here,
and what did he want? Claudia didn't feel like she was in any danger. She just
didn't like not knowing.

Jillian clicked her teeth. “You
know, I'm not the one to tell you anything about your business.”

Claudia almost laughed out loud
hearing that statement. There wasn't a time Claudia could even recall that
Jillian was working at the store where she didn't give her own opinion about
everybody's business.

“Like I was saying, I'm not the one
to say anything about your business, but I think you are putting a lot of
effort into wanting to know about this man who you don't want to know about.”

“I'm just being cautious. You
shouldn't read anything into it at all. A single woman has got to look out for
herself.” Claudia said all of the right words. Jillian was looking at her as if
she wasn't fooled by a single one of them.

“I will go out and ring up Mr. Tall
and Dreamy. By the way, I am all for you being cautious. I just want to make
sure that you're not hiding.”

Claudia took a seat on a nearby
chair. Jillian knew how to leave the room and leave one heavy with thought. The
issue was she wasn't sure that she wasn't hiding. What Claudia was sure about
was that this man was stirring feelings in her she thought she had put to rest.
Obviously, picking a man was not her forte. The last time she did it, it almost
got her killed, and she didn't want to make the same mistake twice.

* * *

Austin Brogan was sitting in his
grandmother's kitchen, drinking coffee so strong he was sure there was hair
growing on his chest as he drank. His thoughts wandered over to the owner of
Chrysalis, the mommy and baby registry store. He had come home to rejuvenate
and to see his grandmother and instead had found a gem.

He was going to have to come up with
another plan because today just showed him that he wasn't making any headway.
The woman who rang him up today said her name was Jillian. This was the first
time that Austin could remember in a very long time that a woman had avoided
him before even knowing his name.

It hadn't taken Austin long to
decide to start over in Cooper’s Sand, just like his cousin Gabriel Brogan, the
local lawyer. The biggest difference was that Austin wasn't coming from
nothing. He had been working in the fashion industry for quite some time. He
had an eye for fashion and a way of being able to draw the finishing touches on
what would have been a miss in the fashion world. Lately work had been sucking
at his soul. The original designs he had been given had all seemed to be the
same. The final touches he provided on the outfits were the only originality to
be seen on the items.

Six months ago, he had decided that
he had had enough. It was unfortunate that his contracts did not leave him an
out to just walk away then. The first thing he had done was to reach out to his
cousin Gabriel for advice. Four months later, his cousin had managed a miracle.
Austin took this time to put his furniture in storage and sell his condo in the
city. He decided that he would come back to his roots where no one would come
looking for him. If any of his old acquaintances did come looking for him,
they’d have to deal with his family and his grandmother.

Since he had been back home, Austin
had rediscovered his love of drawing. He wondered how long it would take him to
see the beauty and other things around him. Austin wasn't the same boy that had
grown up in Cooper's Sand. In his youth, he had been an unfocused teen who
didn't seem to have much of a future. He spent a lot of his time drawing and
looking in magazines. At the time, no one thought it would amount to much until
his grandmother took a look at his sketchbook one day and decided to send him
to art classes. He had tried to fight her, saying they didn’t have enough money
with so many other Brogans being dropped at her doorstep. She tsked him and
told him to go and make her proud.

At thirty-five, he had done what his
grandmother had asked him to do. Austin had taken his ability to draw on the
fly and his keen eye for beauty and fashion and made money in a field where no
one thought he would. Austin admitted he missed being home. He missed the
strong coffee that he was drinking now. He missed knowing that he had a place
called home where he could lay his head down and nobody would judge him.

Austin had been kicking around ideas
on what he wanted to do, but after fatefully walking into the shop called
Chrysalis, it was all clear to him. He took another sip of coffee, and like
clockwork, his grandmother, Basil, came into the kitchen. She was short,
although no one dared to tell her. At five-foot-two, she was a spitfire. Her
hair was to her waist and as white as clouds on a clear day. She had a basket
in her hand and a straw hat on her head. Right behind her was Sinclair, one of
his six stepbrothers. Austin’s dad was a love-and-leave-them kind of man. He
had a lot of faults. David Brogan, Austin’s dad, always fell in love with the
wrong woman. He was prolific and thought a child would make it better, but when
the relationship was over, he didn’t believe in leaving his child behind, even if
he only brought the child to his mother.

Austin had been kicking around ideas
all week to Grandmother Basil and Sinclair. After leaving the shop this
morning, he now had a plan. At first, he wanted to run into his grandmother's
house, shouting what his idea was. Then he took a deep breath and poured
himself some coffee, sat at the table, and waited. Grandma Basil’s mantra had
always been: If it was such a great idea, then you could calm down, and it will
still be a great idea ten minutes later.

Grandma Basil eyed him from the
side, but she didn't stop what she was doing. Sinclair gave him a small
imperceptible nod and followed behind their grandmother. He knew what he would
be suggesting would be something that hadn't been done before in the small
town. Instead of his idea seeming like something impossible, the idea of doing
something first exhilarated Austin.

Austin wasn't just coming with big
dreams. He had already reached out to the local real estate and found a place
where he could house his dream. He knew that there would be a significant
outlay of cash, and he was more than ready to lay it out. He'd even paid a
company to do a survey of not only Cooper’s Sand, but the surrounding two other
towns as well, to find out how well-received his idea would be.

All of the research that he had done
would still come to nothing if his grandmother couldn't see the logic in it. He
knew a lot of people would think that he was being foolish, letting his
grandmother be the one to decide if he moved forward or not. Most people didn't
understand that his grandmother was a businesswoman first, and she wouldn't
coddle him or any one of the other kids. To make sure all of her grandkids were
fed and each one was given an opportunity to excel in the field that they had
chosen, she had learned to haggle for deals, negotiate for services and sell
baked goods to make ends meet. Grandmother Basil was short, but mighty.

“I can feel the energy coming off of
you, boy. You are sitting still at the table, but you are making the room
warmer than an over. Out with it,” Grandma Basil said.

“I have an idea, and I'd like your
opinion,” Austin said.

Grandmother Basil waved him off.

“You want an old woman's opinion?
You've made more money in your lifetime than I'm ever going to see. What can
this old woman do for you?”

Austin put his coffee cup down and
looked at his grandmother.

“She'll tell me the truth.”

Grandmother Basil smiled, then she
turned and gave the basket she was holding to Sinclair.

“Well then, go on and tell your grandmother the
story,” Grandmother Basil said to Austin as she took a seat at the table.

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