Meeting You – A Maple Grove Prequel

You guys!!!!!! I’m so excited! The prequel to my newest series (Maple Grove) is officially OUT! I really wanted this to be a free read for y’all and I’m still working on making that happen over at Amazon. It’s currently free at Smashwords…and will soon be available for free on B&N, iBooks, Kobo, etc.

If you want to see this price drop to FREE on Amazon as well, you can go here and under “Product Details” you can fill out a form to let them know of a lower price.

But in the meantime, you can download it on Smashwords! Also, be sure to like and add it to your To Be Read piles on Goodreads along with the first book in the series, Capturing You (coming December 16th!).

And just for fun, here’s a sample from Meeting You: A Day with the Tripps

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PART ONE: Cameron

“Madelynn, could you please just sit still long enough for me to brush your hair?” Cameron Tripp tugged the hairbrush through his daughter’s snarled dark strands. The bristles snagged on God only knew what, and he pulled again as Maddie’s shrill scream echoed in the bathroom of their lakeside cottage.

“Ow!” she cried. “Stop! Stop it, you’re hurting me!” Tears streamed down her cheeks, and Cam stole a quick look in the mirror. Were they real tears or crocodile tears? He could never tell the damn difference, but Hannah always knew. She’d known without even looking.

“Mommy never yanked!”

Her small shoulders trembled while her ruddy cheeks flushed red, hot with tears, frustration, and anger. An anger that at only nine years old, she probably had no understanding of.

Cam stilled his hands, gently freeing the brush out of her tangled hair and setting it down on the sink. “Sorry, Mouse. I forgot the detangler.”

Giant brown eyes brimmed with tears, eyelashes spiked with moisture. Those eyes—they were all Hannah, a little piece of his late wife reflected there. Cam swallowed, and it went down hard. A heaviness landed in his chest, that too familiar knot twisting into his throat. He pulled his daughter in tight for a hug.

“You always forget.” A staggered inhalation caused Maddie’s lips to tremble, and she clumsily swiped her hands across her cheeks.

“I don’t always forget.” A loaded breath pushed from his lungs as he lowered to search the cupboard under the sink. Cam inwardly cursed. “We’re already late for Grandma’s dinner. Can you cut your old man some slack?”

Damn there were a lot of bottles in the back of the cabinet. Hannah’s? He leaned closer and inhaled, seeking her scent, but after a year and a half, the lingering smell of almonds was gone.

Hannah’s voice in his head was merely a wispy memory.

“You can do this.” It held a gravely rasp that only surfaced when her heart was working too hard.

Cam wiped at his leaky eyes and pressed the cool cloth to her forehead once more. Hair that was a fiery red mere days earlier was now a dull rust color plastered to her clammy skin.

“Don’t say that,” he said, firm but gentle. “You’ll pull through this. You always do.” An eerie silence was all the response he needed to know that neither of them really believed that. Machines beeped beside him, and he brushed his hand down her arm, stopping just short of her IV and the oxygen monitor pinched to her index finger.

Hannah’s smile tilted on full lips, and Cam took the quiet moment to study every curve and dip of her face. Beautiful. Even while ill. But where her cheeks used to be plump, they were now gaunt. Where her blush would normally match the rosy hue of her mouth, it was now a grayish mauve. Even her freckles looked pale. The whites of her deep brown eyes were now a buttery yellow—courtesy of the experimental drug her doctor had recommended.

A cough sputtered out of her lips, and Cam rushed for the bucket, helping her lean over it. Blood and phlegm spurted with more force than he could bear to see, and her bony chest heaved with the movement.

She gasped for breaths between coughs, and Cam scooped her hair out of the way, holding it in a knot at the back of her head. The fit slowed until her breathing returned to normal—or as normal as it could be at the moment. He gently lowered her back to the pillow and wiped her lips and chin.

“Thank you,” she whispered, tracing figure eights across the back of his hand. “When we said our vows nine years ago, I bet you didn’t expect the ‘in sickness’ to come so quickly.”

They both gave a morbid chuckle and Cam shook his head, running a hand down his face. “I’m just glad we had a lot more ‘for betters’ than ‘for worses’ in our life.”

“’Til death do us part,” she recited quietly.

A burning sensation prickled behind Cam’s nose and eyes. “Not even then, Hannah.”

Her smile trembled and her eyes fluttered closed and Cam held her hand, letting the moment pass. She broke the silence after another minute. “Cam—”

“No,” his voice cracked as he shook his head, fisting the shitty hospital blanket with his free hand. “No—Hannah, don’t say it. Please.”

With what little strength she had, she lifted her palm to Cam’s cheek, scraping her nail across his stubble and directing his gaze back to her. Salty tears fell down his nose, over his lips, landing on her hand. “It’s time. You can do this. You’re an amazing dad—with or without me.”

He shook his head, unable to form any additional words. To call what was lodged in his throat a knot would be the understatement of the year. It was like five knots all twisted together. “Don’t give up, Hannah. Keep fighting.”

With their faces this close, he couldn’t tell if it was her tears or his running down her cheeks, or a combination of both. She pulled a wheezy breath through cracked lips. “I’ll fight until the last second. But my heart can’t keep up with my spirit anymore.”

“Then we just have to get you a new heart, huh?” Cam squeezed her hand, inwardly cringing at how bony it was. She was first on the list for a donor match—if she could just fight a bit longer.

“Even being at the top of the list can take months. Years, even.”

“I know—”

“Cameron, look at me. Do you think I have months left?”

He knew the answer to that, but he couldn’t respond. Not without admitting the one thing he couldn’t stomach at the moment. “It could take months. Or we could get a call tomorrow.”

She sighed, and though it was quiet, it was loaded with innuendo. “I need you to admit that this is a possibility. I need you to admit it for you, for Maddie… and for me.” The long sentence took a lot out of her, and she paused, catching her breath. Cam lifted the glass of tepid water to her lips, and she sipped. After another moment, she continued. “I know you’re going to be fine without me… but I need you to know it too.”

Cam closed his eyes, and the sterile smell of the hospital flooded his senses. God, he hated that smell. Bending, he felt the familiar tickle of Hannah’s hair against his nose and inhaled deeply, the faint scent of almonds still there. “Maddie and I will be fine,” he said. Only, he sounded nothing like himself. “We will be fine without you. Eventually. But fuck, will it hurt like hell.”

Her sigh was one of relief this time. “At first, yes.”

Pulling back, Cam brushed her hair, running his fingers through the silky strands.

“I know this is the point that I’m supposed to tell you to move on and find love again…” A smile flickered on her lips and grew the widest he’d seen since she entered the hospital. “But she better not be a redhead, too.”

He chuckled quietly. Oh, God, he loved her. “Never. You’re my only ginger, baby.”

Hannah scooted over in the tiny hospital bed, rolling over to her side. “Lay with me,” she whispered, making room for him. He settled in behind her, careful not to take up too much room or put unneeded weight on her frail body. Spooning her, he nestled his nose into her neck. Each breath grew heavier and more peaceful until she fell asleep in his arms. And never woke up.

Grabbing the purple bottle of spray detangler, he mentally cursed when he realized it was empty. He spotted a second purple bottle with a jumping kangaroo on it. “Styling spray,” he read aloud. “Does that work like detangler?”

Maddie shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Shit. Well, here goes nothing. Cam generously sprayed the gunk into her hair. Pulling the brush through, the wide bristles slid through easily enough. But within two minutes, her head turned crunchy… glossy, like a shiny plastic hair-helmet. “What the—Maddie, what is this stuff?”

She scrunched her nose, trying to run her fingers through her hair. “It feels weird. Gross.”

“Well, it looks a little weird.” And gross. Though he didn’t say that out loud. Who knew what kind of complexes he could give his pre-pubescent daughter with a statement like that. “I dunno what to tell you, kiddo. Dumb Dad messed up again. Maybe a bow will help?”

“I think it’s too hard.” Poking at her hair, Maddie giggled. The ends frayed out in a Jetson’s sort of swoop, with her bangs flipped all to one side. As she peered into the mirror, her giggle morphed into full on laughter.

“Sorry, Mouse.”

Her laughter slowed, and despite the moment of happiness, her eyes and mouth tilted down so slightly Cam barely would have noticed. Maddie didn’t say anything else but wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed. “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.”

The lump in his throat swelled once more, and Cam closed his eyes. God, this was hard. Harder than he ever imagined it would be. Leaning down, he pressed a kiss to the crest of her head, getting a mouthful of gel-like chemicals.

He leaned over, spitting into the sink. “Blech,” he said, rubbing his mouth with the back of his hand. A smirk tugged on his lips.

The phone rang from the other room and Maddie ran off to answer it. Cam looked to the right of the mirror where a small shelf that held a framed wedding photo of he and Hannah and one of those diffuser things that had long since run out of perfume.

Maddie footsteps pounded down the hall as she ran up to him, holding the cordless phone out. “It’s some magazine asking about Uncle Noah.”

Cam swallowed a frustrated groan. What the hell had Noah done now? Taking the phone from Maddie, he shooed her out of the room shutting the door behind her. “Hello.”

“Mr. Tripp, this is Dan from the Daily Vi—”

“No comment,” he said and quickly hung up, tossing the phone onto the sink. Looking into the mirror, he barely recognized the man looking back at him. Dark circles framed his eyes. Glancing again at the framed picture of Hannah and himself, he couldn’t believe how much he’d changed.

The candid wedding moment was one of his favorites. Sitting at their table, they were just about to eat dinner—it was the first food either of them had eaten since breakfast and they were starving. And even though Cam could remember the rumbling feeling of his growling stomach crying out in protest, he had been even more hungry for Hannah’s kiss than the meal.

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