Expecting Love


Excerpt from Chapter One

Hannah Frederickson stared at the cheerful Christmas-themed static clings decorating the mirror on the wall behind the bar at her tavern, the Country Time Bar and Grill, and tried not to let another wave of nausea swamp her. The queasiness had been coming and going for a few days now, which hardly seemed fair considering she’d gotten pummeled a month ago by the nasty stomach bug that had swept through town. She’d assumed she’d finally kicked it, but it looked like the damn thing was back again.

“Typical,” she muttered as she went to grab a can of ginger ale from a little refrigerator under the bar. Just her luck that everyone else would get better except her.

She did not have time for this, damn it. She had to keep the Country Time alive, had to find a way to re-invent the hundred and fifty-year-old business, and had to bring back the customers stolen by the renovated bar at the bowling alley next door. Easier said than done since her accountant, and uncle, George, had embezzled all of her money a few months ago, and the bank had declined her request for a loan. Which meant that on top of the rest, she had to start a freaking investor fund, too. Not to mention planning for New Year’s Eve and the Christmas party she’d just decided they had to have.

No, she didn’t have time to be sick. She couldn’t keep things alive if she felt half-dead.

It was strange, though. When she’d had the bug before, it had knocked her flat. This time the nausea seemed to come in waves. And she felt strange. Different, somehow.

As she tentatively sipped the soda, the kitchen door swung open, and her friend, Josie Kline, strode into the taproom. She was frowning down at her tablet computer, and Hannah sincerely hoped she hadn’t brought her yet another potential advertisement for approval.

Josie, a graphic designer, among other things, was trying to start her own business in town and had taken it upon herself to haul Hannah and the Country Time kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. That was the only reason Hannah suddenly found herself the proud owner of a domain name, a website, and social media accounts all over the damned place.

She’d never worried about that crap before. After all, how was she supposed to manage social media and a website when there was barely enough time in the day to manage the business they were supposed to promote?

As far as she was concerned, Josie was just going to have to handle all of that, and thank God the other woman was planning on sticking around now. Her friend had fallen head over heels in love with Mateo Guerrero, one of the Country Time’s chefs / bartenders / dishwashers. Mat was ridiculously over-qualified for any of those positions, of course, but he seemed happy to be there. Honestly, Hannah didn’t know what she’d do without him.

So Mat and Josie could never leave. That was all there was to it.

“Don’t tell me you want me to make more decisions,” Hannah whined.

Josie looked up and transferred her frown from the tablet to Hannah. “You’re pale,” she said disapprovingly.

“I feel pale,” Hannah admitted.

“Well, then sit down, for heaven’s sake.”

Probably a good idea. She got a glass of ice and put it and the little can of soda on the bar, then went around to slump onto one of the barstools.

She couldn’t believe how wonderful it felt to get off her feet. She was beat, and it was only noon. That did not bode well, considering neither Mat nor Kevin, the other chef, were working tonight, and she had planned on taking care of the kitchen by herself.

“You should have stayed home,” Josie said, sitting next to her.

The other woman was practically glowing with happiness despite her current look of concern. It was very nice to see. Hannah smiled at her, then shook her head.

“Couldn’t. Too much to do.”

“There’s always too much to do.”

“But Christmas is coming soon, and I have to plan the party.”

“You know, if you’d wanted to have a Christmas party, maybe you should have thought about it a little earlier than today,” Josie suggested equably.

“I know, I know.” Hannah ran her hands through her hair, feeling alarmingly weepy. “But Pat is having a Christmas party, so we have to have one too.”

Pat Murphy, the owner of Murphy Lanes bowling alley, was doing everything in his power to steal her best customers—the bowling league members and the students from nearby Pocono University. His latest effort was a blow-out Christmas party complete with free games, half-priced food, and surprise gifts from Santa.

Hannah had been focusing her efforts on New Year’s Eve—always a high point for the bar—but she’d woken up in a panic that morning with the realization they couldn’t just let Pat walk away with the other major holiday. They had to try to attract some of the business. So she’d come in early, massaged the accounts for money, and managed to line up a band—Roy and the Outlaws—mostly because Roy was basically the brother-in-law of Mary Alice, one of her waitresses, and Pat had already booked another, rival, band.

When she’d spoken to Roy, he’d sounded determined. They were both fighting for survival.

“Pat’s really upped his game,” Josie interrupted her thoughts. “He and Louise are doing a good job on the new restaurant,” she added, not very helpfully.

“Shut up.” Hannah’s stomach clenched, because Pat, and Louise, his niece, really were kicking her butt.

Josie shook her head, her sleek dark hair shifting on her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter. You and Deacon are going to pull this place through, and Pat and Louise can suck it.”

“Yeah,” Hannah said and smiled at the mere mention of Deacon Black, her best friend, lover, and partner. Who knew she’d find the love of her life working right under her nose as her main bartender?

God, she loved Deacon, loved him from the top of his brutally short brown hair to the bottom of his big feet, usually clad in running shoes. She especially loved his huge, warm, incredible heart

“If you’re going to pull this Christmas thing off on such short notice, we need to get the word out,” Josie said. “And ad buys are a lot more expensive at this time of year.”

“I don’t need ads,” Hannah grumbled.

“Yes, you do. I know you think it’s fine for Grace and her friends at the sorority to put up hand-made signs all over the place like they did for the carnival you had at the beginning of October, but we need to do a little bit more than that.”

Hannah pouted. “The hand-made signs worked,” she argued even though she knew she was being a stubborn ass. Grace, another one of her waitresses, was a student at the university and she and her sorority sisters had done a good job pimping the hell out of the carnival they’d held to raise money.

“They did,” Josie agreed. “And the fact that you had a giant roller coaster set up in a field right next to the highway didn’t hurt either. But this time, unless you plan on Santa and his eight tiny reindeer landing a sleigh in your parking lot on a sparkly rainbow, you’re going to need a little more exposure.”

“I guess,” Hannah muttered and twisted the soda can on the old wooden bar top. “What do you think we should do?”

Josie looked relieved, and Hannah felt guilty because she really was making her friend jump through hoops.

“We need to put out some ads,” Josie said, pulling her tablet closer to her and tapping out a few commands. “We can get The Hardy Falls Gazette, of course.” The internet newspaper run by Mathilda Gregory, the local librarian, was the only news source specific to Hardy Falls. “And it sounds like we might still be able to get into one or two of the regional newspapers, although you won’t get a great rate.”

Hannah swallowed, her nausea rising again at the mere thought of the cost. “Okay.”

Josie smiled at her. “And we’ll have Grace and her friends post signs on the campus. I called the university, but they won’t let me put an ad up on their student news site since you’re a bar.”

Hannah swallowed again. “Okay. What do you need from me?”

“Well, some clues about this Christmas party would be nice,” Josie said dryly. “I know you booked Roy and his band, but what else were you planning? Half-priced drinks? Food? Raucous good times?”

“I don’t know.” Hannah was horrified to find she was almost in tears. “I don’t have the slightest idea! I just know we can’t let Pat steal all of our business.” Her stomach suddenly roiled sharply. “Oh, God!”

Launching herself off the barstool, she bolted for the ladies’ room and emptied the pitiful contents of her stomach into the nearest commode.

Panting, she settled back on her heels and waited until she was sure that everything was willing to stay in the appropriate place. Then she crawled back to her feet, flushed the toilet, and stumbled out the stall door, coming up short when she saw Josie standing at the sinks waiting for her.

“I would have come in and held back your hair, but you hate that.”

She did. Some things were meant to be private.

Her friend held out the glass of ginger ale, and Hannah took it gratefully, rinsing out her mouth and spitting into the sink. She didn’t want to take the chance of swallowing anything yet, but she thought this might have been the big volcano for today.

“Come on,” Josie said and, with one arm around Hannah’s waist, led her to her office as if she was her patient, which, admittedly, wasn’t far from the truth.

Josie settled her in the desk chair, then straightened and looked worried.

“This happens every day?”

Hannah closed her eyes. “For the last couple of days.”

“You should go to the doctor.”

“It’s just strange. When I had the stomach flu before, I couldn’t even move. This time it’s off and on. And I’m so tired. All I want to do is sleep.”

“Uh huh.” Josie sat in the visitor’s chair on the other side of the desk. “Um, Hannah? Have you ever thought that you might be,” she shrugged, “pregnant?”

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