Hold on TightHold On Tight

The heartwarming story of a young mother and a battle-scarred veteran who must decide if they can rekindle the sparks they once shared.

Fighting for his country gave Jake Taylor’s life shape and meaning. Now as an injured war hero he struggles to find purpose, until he runs into the gorgeous woman he dated briefly—and disastrously—before being deployed eight years ago. Turns out Jake doesn’t just need to figure out how to be a civilian . . . he also needs to learn how to be a dad.

Eighteen, pregnant, and totally lost, Mira Shipley couldn’t track down the soldier who fathered her child, so she put college on hold and focused on making a good life for her son. Now she’s determined to be something more than Sam’s mom, her parents’ daughter, or Jake’s girl—as hot as she finds her old flame’s take-charge attitude in and out of bed. Soon Mira and Jake realize that their passion didn’t disappear when Sam was conceived—and that instead of running away, sometimes it’s better to hold on tight.

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A note from Serena…

I am so grateful, both to all the men and women who have fought to make this country what it is, and also to all the soldiers whose stories became part of Jake’s. As I wrote about his struggles and victories, I decided I needed to give something back to Jake’s community.

Jake comes back to life in Hold On Tight in part through athletic training and competition. So during the first few months Hold On Tight was out, I donated 5 percent of my earnings to Ride 2 Recovery, which organizes challenge cycling rides to promote mental and physical rehabilitation of injured veterans. (You can read more about this terrific organization here, and please consider making a donation!)

Excerpt from Hold On Tight

Copyright © 2014 Serena Bell
All rights reserved — Loveswept Contemporary Romance

Mira Shipley watched her son, Sam, through the window of the physical therapist’s office. He was frowning as the PT explained something. His seven-year-old forehead was wrinkled under too much hair, his skinny body stork-like in shorts and a T-shirt. He needed a haircut and socks that fit and probably, as usual, to have his fingernails cleaned and trimmed. When she’d lived with her parents, she hadn’t fully appreciated how much they took care of. Now all the tasks of a single mom were hers and hers alone.

She wished she were in the office with him, but the physical therapist had asked her to stay in the waiting room. Watching Sam from a distance made Mira feel deeply, peculiarly, tender, some vestige of the way she’d felt when she’d stood outside the newborn nursery and watched him through the glass. That one’s mine. I made him. And now I have to keep him safe. She’d been alone with him in the world, terrified—having no idea how to change a diaper or administer a bath or soothe that spazzy, overstimulated crying he’d launched into at five p.m. on his fourth day of life, a pattern that would continue for ten solid weeks.

She could smile now, thinking of it, of walking the halls of her parents’ house with Sam swaddled tightly to her chest. Of the small, exhausted sighs Sam emitted when he finally dropped into sleep. Of the way he’d nestled against her on the bed as he’d nursed in the early morning. They hadn’t done so badly, she and Sam. Not at all. They were a good team, and they’d get through this crazy summer, too.

Of course, she hadn’t felt at all tender toward him in the car on the way here as he’d griped about physical therapy. She wanted to say, You should have thought of that before you climbed that spindly tree. What did you think was going to happen?

Even if Sam had been able to predict that the branch—half the diameter of his absurdly thin wrists—would snap, he wouldn’t have been able to foresee all the consequences of his risk-taking. He’d hurt his shoulder, arm, and knee, earning himself a couple of weeks of physical therapy. And disqualifying him from going to summer camp.

Now she had no place for him to go while she worked.

She and Sam had just moved out of her parents’ house in Florida, where they’d been living for the last seven years. Under their roof, she hadn’t had to work. They’d paid Sam’s medical bills, supported them both. Now she and Sam were living in Seattle, where she’d been born and raised, and they had no one to depend on but themselves.

That was how she wanted it.

Or so she’d thought.

Behind the plate-glass window, Sam stretched a giant red rubber band while his therapist, a thin woman with gray hair pulled tightly back in a ponytail, corrected his form. Mira was supposed to have started work Monday, but they’d granted her an extra week to find childcare. Now it was Friday, and she was due to plant her butt in her office chair on Monday, but luckily, yesterday she’d finally interviewed and hired a sitter. Penny had been charming, articulate, and a big hit with Sam, who wasn’t always the easiest kid to win over. For the first time since Mira had unrolled sleeping bags on the floor of their new house, she felt like she had all the pieces of her new life—her fabulous, independent new life—in place.

The door of the office swung open and a man stepped in. He went to the check-in desk and spoke in a low voice to the woman there, then came into the waiting area. The slightest hesitation in his step drew her eye downward. One of his legs was prosthetic—an expensive gray running shoe was fitted with a slim shank of metal ankle that thickened to a robotic calf and knee. She tried not to stare—at either the prosthetic or his flesh-and-blood calf, which was lean, well-muscled, and covered with golden curls.

Nice.

She made herself look away, feeling vaguely guilty for wondering what had happened and how he felt about it. Even though she wanted to look again, she wouldn’t let herself.

But she peeked. He wore nylon hiking shorts with a red plaid short-sleeved shirt, untucked. Slim hips and waist, nicely sculpted posterior, broad chest and hunky shoulders.

Very, very nice.

He made his way over to a chair and sat down on a diagonal from her. Even in her peripheral vision, she could see that he’d taken over the seat like an alpha male—knees apart, leaning back casually. This is what I’ve got to offer, baby. I’m so good, I don’t even have to convince you.

Sadly, the posture worked on her. But it was somehow at odds with her expectation, and she chastised herself. What? He’s not allowed to be cocky because he has a prosthetic leg?

Her phone buzzed in her back jeans pocket. Penny Dawson. Her life-saving babysitter.

“Hello?”

“Mira? It’s Penny. I’m so sorry to do this to you—”

Oh, shit. Mira’s breath stopped. She couldn’t lose Penny. In her last conversation with her new boss, Haley had been patient but firm: “We can give you till Monday, but we need to know that we can depend on you. We need to know childcare isn’t going to be an ongoing issue.”

Mira had moved across the country. She’d pulled up stakes, broken her parents’ hearts, and bet everything on herself. She needed her job.

“I’m so sorry, Mira. I just got a permanent, full-time offer teaching at Broadview Montessori. Summer and school year.”

A collection of desperate thoughts went through Mira’s head. Bribes, extravagant promises, a willingness to prostrate herself and beg.

“Any chance you could watch Sam just next week?”

“I’m sorry. I asked. They said no. They said they had another candidate who could start right away if I couldn’t.” Penny sounded wretched.

So Mira would have to go back to the drawing board on babysitters. Maybe, if she was lucky, she could still find one for Monday. She swallowed hard. “It’s okay. That’s great about the new job. I’m really psyched for you. Of course you need to take it. You wouldn’t happen to have any ideas about who else could watch a smart, well-behaved seven-year-old for the summer—or even just next week—would you?”

“I’m really sorry,” Penny said. “I wracked my brain this morning to try to think of someone who could do it. I even called a few friends. I swear if I think of anyone, I will let you know.”

“Thank you. I really appreciate that.”

“It was really nice to meet you. And Sam. If you ever need an evening sitter, or weekends—”

“I’ll definitely call.”

“And meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you find someone, and I’ll call you if I think of anyone.”

“Thanks.”

Mira let the phone drop into her lap and took a deep breath.

On the other side of the room, the cocky guy with the prosthetic leg shifted in his seat, drawing her gaze. Brown hair, on the longer side of short, uncombed. A couple of days’ unshaven scruff. Not her type; she liked professional men, clean-shaven. Her mind was about to dismiss him—a guy I ran into in the physical therapist’s office and wasn’t attracted to, but not because he was an amputee, just because he wasn’t my fantasy. But something made her look again.

Holy shit. She knew that face. The strong jaw, the well-formed upper lip, the deep groove that ran vertically between his brows—

She’d memorized his features in the few weeks they’d been together, the quick three-quarters way he smiled, like he couldn’t quite fully commit to happiness, the all-in truth of his smile when he gave himself over. The creases that formed when he frowned, the way his jaw set when something bothered him. That night at the lake—the last night—the look on his face when she’d taken off her clothes. Gratitude and longing and Who, me? For real?

The night came back to her in sharp contrasts, pairs of impressions. The coolness of his wet skin and the heat of his body. The softness of his mouth moving over hers, over her breasts, and the hard tug of his suckling, the yank of desire she’d felt. The rich summer smells, green and overripe, and the clean soap scent of him. How open she’d felt, how boundary-less, melting, flowing, willing—and how her body had betrayed and frustrated her.

How good he’d made her feel, better than she’d ever felt in her life, and the way he’d hurt her. The way they’d dressed, packed up, and driven home in silence. How hard she’d cried, and for how long.

Jake.

His eyes caught hers, caught and held and held and held. Sam’s gray-blue eyes, Sam’s full lower lip, Sam’s absurdly long eyelashes. Jake’s face.

Would Sam someday have a jaw like that, square and strong? Would his nose, which was still a little boy’s pudgy upturned nose, be as bladelike as his father’s?

How many times had she promised herself that if this moment ever came, she wouldn’t hold the truth back from Jake?

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