Excerpt from Second Chance Hero
Verity Leggett took firmer hold of her daughter's hand as they approached the street crossing. There wasn't much in the way of carriage or horse traffic this time of morning but she'd prefer to err on the side of caution, especially where Joy was concerned.
"Look mama, a dog."
Verity stared suspiciously at the hound slinking out of an alley two blocks away. Joy loved animals with all the indiscriminate abandon her five-year-old heart could summon.
"I see him." Verity hitched the handle of the hatbox she carried a little closer to her elbow. "But Miss Hazel's dress shop is this way. And don't forget, you can play with Buttons when we get there."
Distracted by thoughts of the cat, Joy faced forward again and gave a little hop-skip. "I brought a piece of yarn for Buttons to play with."
As Verity guided her daughter's steps onto Second Street, her gaze slid past the closed doors of the apothecary and saddle shop to focus on the last building on the block. Good - the dress shop was already open. She gave the hatbox a little swing and grinned in anticipation of Hazel's reaction to her latest millinery creation. It was just the sort of flamboyant frippery her friend liked.
Then, almost as if drawn to it, her gaze moved back to the closed door of the shop next to Hazel's. The window bore the name Cooper's Saddle, Tack & Supply in crisp white letters. Mr. Cooper, the owner, had only moved to Turnabout a couple of weeks ago. She hadn't officially met him yet-only seen him from a distance. Not that she was in any hurry to get to know him better. After all, she was twenty-four years old and a widow. She definitely wasn't looking to form attachments of that sort.
Besides, Mr. Cooper wasn't at all the type of man she'd be attracted to. There was a guarded air about him that, even from a distance, made her think he wasn't all he seemed, that he held something tightly leashed inside himself. Some women might be attracted to men who seemed just a little bit dangerous or adventurous, but she preferred someone who was dependable and reliable, someone like her late husband, Arthur. Still, something about the man fascinated her, tugged at her...
The saddlery door opened as if on cue, and her pulse kicked up a notch. But instead of Mr. Cooper, a small brown dog padded out. The animal looked around, then sat on its haunches next to the doorway, for all the world as if it were guarding the place.
Joy, who was chattering to Lulu, hadn't noticed the animal yet. Verity braced herself for the gleeful clamor that would come whenever her daughter did notice.
A heartbeat later Mr. Cooper himself stepped out, broom in hand, and Verity paused the merest fraction of time between one step and the next. There was no denying that there was a presence about the man, much more impactful up close than from a distance. It wasn't his size-he couldn't be more than a couple of inches taller than she was, maybe five foot nine. Nor did he seem to be actively trying to command attention, in fact just the opposite. But there was a solid hardness about him, an air of stoicism and confidence that was hard to ignore.
Then he bent to scratch the dog behind the ears and her impression shifted. His countenance softened to something resembling exasperated affection and the dog responded with tail-wagging exuberance. His brown hair, worn a bit longer than normally seen around here, was nearly as dark as his dog's coat and it had the slightest of waves to it.
He straightened, obviously ready to sweep the walk and only then noticed the two of them approaching. His expression closed again and he paused to let them pass.
It seemed she was going to meet the newcomer now, whether she wanted to or not.