By Phoebe Mills
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They’ve driven each other crazy for years, but were they fighting each other—or the chemistry between them?
As the youngest in her loving, overprotective family, Savannah Lowe has always gone with the flow instead of going out on a limb…until now. Her new job running a preschool requires her to be all in. If only the father of one of her students wasn’t her brother’s incredibly infuriating, impossibly attractive best friend. Savannah has no clue what she ever did to make him dislike her, and now they’re stuck spending even more time together planning her brother’s wedding.
Single father Noah Adams has his hands full between his job as a paramedic and caring for his young daughter. The last thing he needs is a complication like Savannah in his life—a girl he remembers being constantly pampered by her family. But the more he gets to know her, the more he sees how kind and compassionate she really is. Now their long-ignored, off-the-charts chemistry has them on a collision course…with each other.
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If Savannah Lowe had known exactly how many butterflies would be occupying her stomach on the first day of her new job, she wasn't sure she ever would have agreed to accept it. Of course, that would mean letting down her best friend and boss, Abby Engel, which she wasn't inclined to do.
For years now, Savannah had been working with Abby at the Sunshine Corner, a day care center Abby owned and operated out of her and her grandmother's home. When Abby decided to remodel the second floor of the grand old historic building and turn it into a preschool, Savannah had been all for it. Right until Abby had tapped her to be lead teacher for the four-year-olds and to run the entire new addition. That included planning the curriculum, hiring new teachers, scheduling field trips and parent conferences. The works.
At first, Savannah had been proud to be entrusted with such a huge responsibility. But within minutes, an overwhelming feeling had sunk in her gut. She'd never been in charge of something like that—of anything, really. And yet, somehow, Abby had seen something in Savannah that made her think she was the woman for the job. But that was Abby…Not only was she the best friend a girl could ask for, but she was also the sole person in Savannah's life who believed in her, without question or hesitation.
Being the youngest child and only girl in a large family was…challenging, at times. Especially when they underestimated her at every turn. While she knew her brothers and parents didn't necessarily mean it as an insult, they hadn't exactly shown confidence in her decisions. And, okay, so maybe her decisions hadn't evoked much confidence, but was it her fault that she enjoyed trying new things but that nothing ever seemed to stick?
Savannah checked over the four-year-olds' classroom once more, making sure that the children's nameplates were still adhered to the backs of their chairs, that the alphabet signs still hung straight, and that the lists of colors on the wall were still in rainbow assortment. Yep, everything was in order, just as it'd been the past twenty times she'd looked.
"Savannah?" Abby called, poking her head into the room. She wore jeans and a bright green blouse, her light red hair swept away from her face in a side braid. Her smile widened when she saw Savannah standing at the front of the classroom, and Savannah's nerves became turbocharged. That smile spoke of so much confidence. She just hoped she could deliver on the unspoken promise. "T-minus five minutes. Are you ready?"
Nope, but Savannah was willing to fake it till she made it.
"Yep!" she said as cheerily as possible. Her best friend had enough to worry about on this first day than to concern herself with Savannah's uncertainties too.
Abby cocked her head, her eyes intent on Savannah, and her smile softened the tiniest bit. "You're going to do great, you know."
"Of course I am." Except Savannah's voice wasn't firm enough to be believable, and their two decades of friendship meant that her best friend could see right through her facade.
Abby walked over to Savannah and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, squeezing slightly. "You are. I wouldn't have asked you to do this if I didn't think that you were one hundred and ten percent capable."
That much, at least, was true. Abby would never jeopardize her baby by putting its future into the hands of the incompetent. That was slightly reassuring, considering Abby had been there through all of Savannah's starts…as well as all her stops. Like when she'd dabbled in photography in high school, begging her parents to buy her a ridiculously expensive DSLR—one that she'd used for maybe a month before it died a lonely death in the bottom of her closet. Or when she'd gotten lost on Etsy one night in college and by morning had ordered all the supplies to make her own jewelry, intent on starting her own business. She wasn't sure she'd even opened the packages on those. Or when she'd bounced to three different majors before she'd finally been held over the fire and forced to choose.
Early childhood education hadn't seemed like a natural fit at first. She'd rarely spent much time around children who weren't her relatives or babysitting charges of Abby's. But with Abby opening up a day care and making big, hopeful doe eyes at her every time she mentioned needing a great staff, Savannah had figured why not give it a shot? She still wasn't convinced it was her calling in life, but she could do a lot worse. Working with kids was fun, and she got to spend her day surrounded by amazing, caring people.
"Speaking of," Savannah said, "I should check in with the other teachers and make sure they're all set for the day."
"See?" Abby said, smiling brilliantly. "Totally and completely capable." With one final squeeze, Abby swept out of the room, calling a quick hello to the other teachers milling about before she headed downstairs, no doubt to greet the incoming parents and children.
Savannah closed her eyes, inhaled a long, deep breath, and willed herself to exude a confidence she certainly did not feel today. After releasing her worries along with her exhale, she strode out of the classroom, nearly colliding with her brand-new teacher's assistant as she did so.
"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry!" Tori said, her eyes wilder than Savannah had ever seen them. Tori was Korean American, petite in stature and young—definitely in her early twenties—with long, pin-straight black hair. Tori huffed out what might have passed as a laugh if it weren't for the tremble in her voice as she said, "I'm a mess."
"No worries." Savannah regarded the other woman and realized there was no hyperbole in her words. "Hey, are you okay?"
Tori laughed, a forced, high-pitched sound, and shook her head. "What gave me away?"
"Call it a hunch," Savannah said with a smile. "Anything I can do? What's going on?"
"Oh, you know…" Tori waved her hand through the air in a flourish. "Just the weight of fourteen four-year-olds' futures settling on my shoulders."
Ah…everything made sense now. Of course she'd be nervous on her first day—she'd never been in charge of something like this. Neither had Savannah, for that matter, but there certainly wasn't room in this scenario for two of them to be losing their minds with worry. That meant Savannah needed to swallow down every bit of apprehension and put on a brave face. If for nothing else than to make Tori's first day in childcare go off without a hitch.
"All you need to worry about is wrangling any wanderers, and I'll handle the rest today, okay? Plus, look on the bright side—we just have a couple of only children in the class."
Tori's brow furrowed, her dark brown eyes questioning as she regarded Savannah. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Savannah flashed her a smile. "It means if we screw the others up too badly, the parents will at least have other children to fall back on."
The joke did what Savannah had intended, and Tori laughed, her shoulders relaxing from where they'd been nearly pinned below her ears as relief appeared to wash over her.
"That's awful to say," Tori said on a giggle.
"And I will deny it with every breath in my body if you repeat it to anyone." Savannah leaned down closer and whispered, "But it worked, didn't it?"
Tori smiled and nodded, no longer wringing her hands. Once Savannah was confident that her teacher's assistant wasn't going to be the first one to vomit in their classroom, she set out to check in with Kiara and Jeremy, the teacher and assistant, respectively, who would be heading up the three-year-old room. Fortunately, they were faring much better than Savannah and Tori were, standing at the front of their room, ready to welcome in the new children. That gave Savannah more relief than it probably should have, but it was a tiny glimmer that maybe she'd done one thing right, at least.
Selecting the teaching staff for the Sunshine Corner's preschool had been one of the many responsibilities Abby had entrusted her with. But maybe she'd screwed up selecting Tori as her assistant instead of Jeremy—after all, it would have been nice to have one person who was confident in their abilities in the four-year-old room. But perhaps this was better. At least now Savannah didn't have a choice but to buck up.
Before she could dwell too much on her teacher-placement decisions, chaos in the form of excited three- and four-year-olds erupted in the preschool, the quick patter of feet on the curved stairs leading to their space on the second floor making her lips twitch.
"Miss Savannah! Miss Savannah!" Sofia was the first to reach her, her eyes bright in her excitement as she gripped Savannah's hand and jumped up and down. "It's the first day! What're we gonna do?"
It didn't surprise her in the least that Sofia was the first child to arrive. She'd been at the Sunshine Corner all of her four years, but besides that, she'd become a staple in Abby's life once Abby and Carter—Sofia's uncle—became a couple. She felt comfortable here and wasn't scared in the least for her new adventure.
Savannah squatted so she could meet Sofia at eye level and smiled at the little girl's excitement. "Well, we have a few activities planned, like getting to know your classmates. But we're also going to be drawing something special for the first day that will go in your portfolios to review at the end of the year. How does that sound?"
"So fun! Drawing's my favorite!"
Savannah smiled at Sofia's catchphrase and nodded. "I know it is. And I can't wait to see what you create."
Becca, Sofia's mom and Carter's sister, poked her head into the room and sighed. "You couldn't wait thirty seconds for me, bug?"
"You were going too slow, Mommy."
As Becca and Savannah shared a laugh, Savannah stood to her full height as Sofia ran to the landing area where the circle rug and activity stations sat, as well as the cubbies for each child to store their backpack and coat.
Becca shook her head. "I give her life…feed, clothe, bathe, and house her for four years, and this is how she repays me?" Becca heaved a dramatic sigh. "I suppose it's all downhill from here. Next thing you know, she'll want me to drop her off around the block so she's not seen with me anymore."
Savannah chuckled and shook her head. "I think you've still got a few years."
"I'm not so sure about that." She called over Savannah's shoulder toward her daughter, who was chatting with her best friend who'd just arrived, "Bye, bug! Love you."
Sofia's only response was a wave over her shoulder, and Becca snorted in response. "See?"
"She's four going on fourteen, huh?"
"You've got that right. I've gotta run, but I'll see you later." Becca jingled her keys in her hands and shot Savannah a smile. "And, hey—good luck today."
Savannah waved as Becca dodged the incoming children and their parents, and Savannah was immediately pulled in a dozen different directions by anxious kids and parents both. Katie's dad reminded her of Katie's strawberry allergy—something they, thankfully, had a chart to track. Phillip's mom let Savannah know he had a doctor's appointment so he would need to be picked up early today. After that, it was a whirlwind of excited squeals and a few tears—from both kids and parents alike.
Even though it had only been a weekend since she'd seen many of these children at the Sunshine Corner's day care on the main floor, it somehow felt like they were arriving at school after a long summer away. Because she'd worked with Abby since the Sunshine Corner's inception years ago, she'd had a hand in being part of many of these kids' lives that entire time. Of course, they hadn't had the dedicated day-care staff—or room—to accommodate all twenty-eight kids currently enrolled in the preschool, but Heart's Hope Bay was small enough that Savannah knew, or knew of, every single child who walked through their doors. Some more than others, and not necessarily for the best reasons.
"Stop! Stop it!" Austin, a rambunctious handful of a kid—if Savannah was being honest—shoved at his mom's face as she tried to kiss him goodbye. When she didn't let him go, he slapped her, then laughed before making his escape.
Yep, Savannah definitely knew some of these children better than others. She also knew it was going to be a very long year with that particular charmer in her class.
"Savannah." Megan, Austin's mom, acknowledged her stiffly, her assessing eyes scrutinizing the classroom as if looking for something to complain about.
Thankfully, Savannah, along with Abby, Jenn—a day-care worker who spent most of her days with the under-two crowd—and Hilde, Abby's grandma who owned the house the Sunshine Corner operated out of, had only been subjected to little Austin for a year thus far. But in that time, she and Abby both had had numerous discussions with Megan regarding her son's aggressive behavior. Predictably, his mom was quick to blame other children for her son's biting instances and rough-and-tumble tendencies—the whole boys will be boys adage that Savannah had little tolerance for.
She pasted on a smile that was little more than a baring of teeth. "How are you?"
Rather than answering the pleasantry or offering any of her own, Megan said, "I sent you an email last night and haven't heard back."
Savannah pressed her lips together and stared at the other woman for a beat. Yes, she definitely dropped everything and replied to emails after hours on the eve of a brand-new school year, especially from parents like this. "It must've come in after hours. I'll be sure to check it during lunch today. Unless you'd like to chat about it now?"
She sniffed and crossed her arms. "I'd like a copy of the proposed curriculum you intend to teach this year so I'm able to discuss any alterations I'll expect for Austin."
It was getting harder and harder to maintain this farce of a smile, but Savannah wasn't going to lose her cool before the first day had technically even started. "I'll be happy to set up an appointment for us to discuss any possible changes for Austin that will be necessary for his development."
"Great. I'll expect a copy via email by the end of the day."
What Savannah wouldn't give to be able to drop a house on this wicked witch. She held her fake smile in place as Megan left without another word and did a quick breathing exercise she'd learned during her brief stint as a yogi a few years ago. She may have collected hobbies like stamps and discarded them just as easily, but she'd been able to pick up a few things along the way that still came in handy.
Children and parents like that made this job hard and had her questioning her sanity on a daily basis. Of course, she liked what she did. You didn't consistently put yourself through daily multi-hour interactions with a dozen screaming-crying-laughing-jumping children and not enjoy it. That would just be masochistic.
Still, while she liked her job well enough, she wasn't sure she loved it. In all the time she'd spent exploring different majors in college, different jobs here and there, or different hobbies, she'd never found something she truly loved or that felt completely natural. That was probably why, despite being twenty-nine, she still didn't know what she wanted to truly do for the rest of her life.
Although, according to her brothers—and at least one of her brother's friends—that was something she was never going to figure out.
She straightened her shoulders, brushed back the blond flyaways from the ponytail she'd smoothed her hair into, and ran a hand down the front of her blouse. She'd show them. She may not know if this was her true vocation, but she knew one thing—she refused to let Abby down.
And if her succeeding just so happened to make her brothers eat crow, fine by her. All the better if her brother's obnoxious best friend, Noah, had some shoved down his throat too.
Savannah glanced down at her watch before darting her eyes around the space to take a mental roll call, noting how Tori's nerves had seemed to dissipate as she interacted with the children and showed them around. Thirteen of their fourteen kids had arrived, and it was already five after nine, so they should get started.
As she rounded the corner to make sure the missing child wasn't in the common space, she found who she was looking for. Rosie Adams hid behind her grandmother's legs, her wide, dark brown eyes shiny with tears. Savannah didn't have time to feel relief that Rosie's father—the aforementioned Noah—hadn't brought his daughter in. Instead, Savannah went straight into crisis mode and strode toward them with a smile.
She offered a silent wave to Cheryl, Rosie's grandmother, before turning her attention on the little girl, hoping that doing so would calm any anxieties she had. Making her voice as soothing as possible, Savannah said, "Hi, Rosie. I'm so excited you're in my class this year! We're going to have a lot of fun."
Rather than responding, Rosie burrowed farther behind Cheryl's legs, her backpack forgotten on the floor at her feet.
Savannah tried a different tactic. "Sofia is here already. Wanna go say hi?"
While Rosie hadn't attended the Sunshine Corner previously, the little girl had spent some time there in the weeks leading up to the start of the school year in an effort to make the transition easier. It was one of the many things Abby had thought of that went above and beyond and made the Sunshine Corner the best in Heart's Hope Bay.
Fortunately, Rosie and Sofia had hit it off, so the little girl would have at least one friend here today.
Unfortunately, the mention of her friend didn't appear to hold much allure for her, as she didn't budge an inch from the space behind her grandma.
Savannah glanced at Cheryl with a raised eyebrow, her question clear.
"She's been this way since her mother moved away," Cheryl said in a quick, hushed tone. "It takes her a while to warm up."
She'd only heard about Noah's divorce and his wife—ex-wife—bailing to Houston through the grapevine, but grapevines grew plentifully in a town the size of Heart's Hope Bay. There'd been so many theories as to why a woman would leave a man like Noah Adams, each more outlandish and salacious than the last. Savannah might not know much about Noah's life, but she had a theory of her own. Their split was obviously because he was an overbearing, judgmental jerk who shoved his opinions where they didn't belong.
She had no idea what she'd done to attract his ire, but one thing was for certain—he did not like her in the least. That was fine. The feeling was mutual. True, it'd been a little hard to get on that train initially—after all, he was absolutely gorgeous, because of course he was—and she'd met him when she was still a naive preteen who'd blushed over every cute guy. But even then, after a while, she'd been able to see him for who he truly was. And of course, that particular stance had been pushed even further along when he'd started chasing off any boys who held even a modicum of interest in her. He and Caleb—Savannah's second oldest brother—had seemed to take great pleasure in denying her male attention.
Thankfully, she didn't see him as often now that Caleb had moved to San Francisco last year, but the little mood killer still hung out with her remaining three brothers who lived in town. And her opinion of him was always reconfirmed during every one of those inevitable run-ins, which was why it wasn't hard for her to presume why his ex-wife had left.
"Of course." She leaned in close and whispered low enough for only Cheryl to hear, "It might be best to leave without lingering. The prolonged goodbyes can sometimes make things worse."
Cheryl rested her hand on Rosie's dark brown locks and shot a worried look at her granddaughter. She looked back to Savannah, who gave her an encouraging nod. Cheryl leaned down to speak to Rosie.
Savannah gave them a bit of privacy, quickly checking in on the classroom and making sure that Tori was still rocking it, before circling back around.
"I'll see you tomorrow," Cheryl said. "Daddy's picking you up tonight, okay?"
"But I don't want—"
Without waiting for the little girl to finish, Savannah strode up and squatted to Rosie's height. "Oh, I'm so glad you're here, Rosie! I really need help with something. Do you think you can give me a hand?"
Rosie glanced from Savannah to her grandma and back again before giving a small nod.
Savannah exaggerated a relieved sigh. "Thank you. You're a lifesaver." She stood up and reached for Rosie's hand. "First, let's get your backpack hung up in your cubby. Do you think you can find your name?"
While Rosie was preoccupied looking for the nameplate that matched her name, Savannah lifted her chin toward Cheryl, who looked on with relief and gratitude before waving and silently slipping down the steps.
Even though Savannah wasn't sure this was what she'd spend the rest of her life doing, she couldn't deny the hint of pride that settled in her chest when she soothed a scared child, encouraged a friendship of a lonely one, or praised the activities of one with low self-esteem. That was enough to make her float through her morning, high on the idea that she was doing this. And not only that, but she was actually doing it well.
At least until she remembered what Cheryl had said earlier and that Noah would be picking up Rosie later. He was sure to be the rain on her parade.
Most days in Heart's Hope Bay were downright boring for public safety officers. Other times—especially during full moons—Noah Adams could hardly find time to inhale something to eat between the calls. Today fell somewhere in the middle.
He and his partner, Cash, were on a run for a suspected broken hip of an elderly male. Since Cash was a paramedic, and thus higher ranking, he always called dibs on driving for the duration of the day. Although, that was probably best considering Noah's duration was half that of his partner's.
Noah and his ex-wife, Jess, had been slowly working their way through the process of separating for the better part of a year now. They'd fallen out of love even longer ago. When she'd announced that she wanted a divorce, his first thought had been for Rosie, which had told him everything he needed to know about his chances of salvaging their marriage. It had been tough, trying to figure out how they were going to co-parent their little girl as he started looking for apartments, but they'd made it work.
Until this summer, when Jess got a huge new job in Texas.
Since that moment, Noah's life had been turned upside down. They'd decided together that Rosie would stay here with him, where she was comfortable and where he had a support network—namely his mom. He wouldn't have it any other way, but he couldn't pretend it hadn't been a struggle. Out of nowhere, he had to figure out how to survive as a single father and as an EMT whose schedule didn't exactly lend itself to single parenthood.
Fortunately, his captain—a man he'd known his whole life…one of the benefits of living in a small town—had allowed for some temporary concessions to his typical schedule as he figured things out.
"I don't know why you don't just let me drive every day. You know I'm better at it." Noah glanced at Cash from the passenger's seat as they pulled up to 412 Maple Street.
Cash parked in front of their destination and snorted. "Only in your wildest fantasies, Adams."
"Hate to break it to you, but you're not even in the realm of my consciousness when I'm fantasizing."
"Your loss." Cash shrugged a single shoulder before opening his door. "I'll grab the gear. You get the gurney."
"Sure, boss." The nickname Noah had given him years ago rolled right off the other man, who didn't even spare him a second glance.
They'd worked together for a few years now, and even though their routine had been disrupted by Noah's scheduling concessions, they still worked great together. It was like a dance most days, sometimes following and sometimes leading, always in sync and attuned to what the other one needed to get the job done.
By the time Noah made it to the front door, gurney in tow, Cash stood on the stoop, calling through the closed door. "Sir, we're with Heart's Hope Bay EMS. Can we come in?"
A muffled yes sounded from inside, so Cash tried the knob, and Noah exhaled a relieved breath when it turned with ease. Another plus to small-town living—no need to lock your doors in the middle of the day. Or ever. That made their entry into homes with single, elderly patients much easier.
Leaving the gurney out front for now, Noah followed Cash inside. The home was a small, cluttered ranch-style house, which allowed for minimal movable space. It was easy to see how someone could lose their footing and fall.
They found the older gentleman between the living room and the kitchen, prone on the ground, his face pinched with pain.
Noah and Cash made their way straight to the patient, their gear in tow. Cash squatted by the man's head, focusing on ABC first—airway, breathing, and circulation—while Noah went to the man's side in order to be in his line of sight.
"Hi there, I'm Noah. My partner Cash and I are going to get you all checked out. Can you tell me your name?"
"Bill Evers." The man's voice was tight with strain.
- “Mills captures the small-town atmosphere beautifully, populating it with down-to-earth characters who are easy to care for. This uplifting tale will leave readers eager to return to Heart’s Hope Bay.”—Publishers Weekly
- “Mills makes good use of the best-friend’s-sister and enemies-to-lovers tropes and creates delightful chemistry and fun in this engaging contemporary small-town romance.”—Booklist
- On Sale
- Mar 29, 2022
- Page Count
- 368 pages